The former things have passed away… Behold, I make all things new (Rev. 21:4-5)

Archive for April, 2008

Trees, Walking

The following is one of the strangest stories in the Gospels and is found only in St Mark (8:22-25). Not only is this account not in the other Gospels, nothing even resembling it can be found. So it’s worth examining, to see what we can learn.

“Some people brought to [Jesus] a blind man and begged him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village. And when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, ‘Do you see anything?’ And he looked up and said, ‘I see men; but they look like trees, walking.’ Then again he laid his hands upon his eyes. And he looked intently and was restored and saw everything clearly.”

One detail we can clear up right away is that this man was not, as was the man in John 9, blind from birth. He must have lost his sight later in life. If, in his partially restored condition, he could say that he saw men, but they looked like trees, then he must already have known what both men and trees looked like. But this is not the point of the story.

The incredible and unique issue is that in this case only in all the Gospels, Jesus laid hands on someone to heal him, and he wasn’t completely healed! Was the Lord not feeling well that day, or did he forget his prayers that morning, or were his miraculous powers somehow defective or running out? No, of course not. There’s another unique detail in this account that makes it clear that Jesus knew exactly what He was doing. In all other healing miracles, Jesus either touches the sick person or addresses the person or the illness or the demon, without ever questioning them about the results. In this present case only, Jesus asked if he could see anything—which means He knew very well that his sight was not fully restored. He then laid his hands on the blind man again and completely healed him.

There’s still another detail that indicates Jesus deliberately wanted to handle this case differently from the others. In other healings crowds were present, or at least those who brought the person for healing. But here, once the people brought the blind man, Jesus took Him by the hand and led him out of the village. This was meant to be a personal encounter with Jesus and the blind man alone. What must it have been like for the man to walk hand in hand with the Son of God to a place where they could be alone together!

We may never know for sure why Jesus healed the man in two stages, and why the first stage was not only diminished sight, but distorted sight. The man didn’t see men that were merely blurred or out of focus; he saw men that looked like trees! We find nothing in the text of the Gospel to explain this; the narrative immediately moves on to another place and event and this healing is never referred to again. But I think the evangelist recounted this event to teach something to his readers.

It is clear from all the other healing accounts in the Gospels that Jesus has full authority and power to remove instantly and totally any illness or infirmity. But I think St Mark wanted to include this event in his Gospel so that we might understand why we aren’t always completely healed when we turn to the Lord. The likely reason is that there is some defect in us: an obstacle created by sin, lack of faith and trust, or perhaps an incapacity to receive what God wishes to grant—due to spiritual immaturity, lack of purity of heart or some other reason.

But it may also be that this is simply the way God wills it. Perhaps his gradual work of enlightenment or healing is a way of keeping us in constant reliance upon Him, constant dialogue with Him, which means being in constant relationship with Him. God didn’t become man merely to heal our illnesses or compensate for our defects. He came to take us to Himself, to deliver us from evil and to lead us to eternal life. Physical or other healings may indeed be a part of the process, but they are means and not ends.

We are also perhaps instructed by this account that a little enlightenment, like a little knowledge, can be a dangerous thing. How many people, having just begun to learn something about the Lord, think that they are already qualified to be teachers and then proceed to foist their own ideas and opinions on others as if they were the word of God? True, such people may no longer be as blind as they were; they have begun to see. But what they presently see is as far from the whole truth as trees walking are from men walking. The whole life of faith is a gradual enlightenment, and the Lord must repeatedly lay his hands upon the eyes of our souls to sharpen our perception and ensure that we see clearly what He wants us to see.

I think we ought to go to the Lord in prayer and ask Him for an evaluation of our spiritual vision. Maybe we think we see clearly while all the time there is some distortion. Maybe He needs to lay hands upon us yet again so that we can see things as they really are and thus be in a better position to do his will.

Let Jesus take you by the hand and lead you away from the crowds, that is, the busyness of daily life. Go with Him to a quiet place, you and Him alone. “Do you see anything?” Turn to the Lord, look intently, clear out all inner obstacles to the purity of heart which enables us to see God. And your sight will be fully restored.

Healing Blindness and Seeing God

There are several healings of blind men in the Gospels, but today’s is unique (Jn. 9:1-38). It is much more elaborate than the others, and the whole event and the accompanying dialogues are points of departure for theological reflection. We are offered here not simply the fact of a divine healing, but the deeper meaning of Jesus’ giving sight to the blind.

For our point of departure, let us look at the first few verses. Jesus and his disciples came upon the blind man, and immediately the disciples began their own theological reflection: “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” It was commonly assumed that physical infirmities were a punishment for sin, either one’s own or that of one’s ancestors. Jesus immediately challenged that assumption by saying: “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him.” The Lord does not deny in principle that there is no relation between sin and suffering—for this relation will certainly be manifested on Judgment Day!—but that in this case, the man was afflicted not because of sin but in order that God’s glory and power would be revealed in him at the hands of Jesus. We cannot assume that a physical infirmity has a spiritual cause, but we cannot categorically deny it, either. We have to be in the grace of the Holy Spirit to know the difference.

The next question might be whether or not spiritual infirmities have a spiritual cause, and this must usually be answered in the affirmative. If we are spiritually blind—and this relates more directly to us than physical blindness—then, yes, most likely it is because of our sin that we are thus afflicted. So we ought to take a closer look, if the glory of God is to be manifested in us as well.

I read something recently that sheds some light on this issue, from the Dominican Father Simon Tugwell’s book on the Beatitudes. The Beatitude in question is, of course, “Blessed are the pure of heart,” because to be healed of spiritual blindness is to be given the capacity to see God. And to see God is the ultimate goal of our existence, yet we are called to discover his presence in this life as well, for if our souls are so blinded by selfishness and sin that we cannot recognize his presence in faith here and now, we will not be granted the eternal, unhindered vision of Him when all the veils are finally removed. To acquire a pure heart is to be healed from spiritual blindness.

Tugwell says that to have a pure heart is to have an interior life that is “unmuddied” by sin, which clouds our spiritual perception. He writes: “A very important factor here is what we may call Christian spontaneity. It does not, perhaps, in the last analysis, matter all that much what you do with forethought; what really matters, what is really revealing, is what you do without thinking… what you do when you do not have time to work out how to respond. It is this that will reveal what kind of person you are, and that is what is important. After all, the kingdom of heaven comes like a thief in the night (1Thess. 5:2), with a suddenness which will not allow us to work out how we are going to react.”

This, I think, is an important point. Our spontaneous reactions to other persons and situations reveal to us, and to others, who we really are. If we spontaneously react to people and events with anger, fear, suspicion, hatred, defensiveness, unkindness, criticism, or merely irritation, then we are in fact angry, fearful, suspicious, hateful, defensive, unkind, critical, and irritable people. The evidence is uncontestable. This is the measure of our actual purity of heart (or rather, lack of it), even though we may be struggling to overcome these things. It is in fact the present state of affairs, even if we are working to correct it, and we ought to honestly and humbly admit it. This issue of Christian spontaneity is something like saying actions speak louder than words, but it is more to the point. It’s more like saying unrehearsed actions and words speak louder than rehearsed ones. St Thomas Aquinas says that as long as we have wrong desires (that is, if our interior is not yet pure), even if we do not give in to them, we are not yet virtuous. We may be on the way to becoming virtuous, but we’re not there yet. We may not find prayers in liturgical books that say, “O God, re-create my spontaneity!” But the reality to which this points is essential for our spiritual growth and hence the healing of our blindness.

Tugwell goes on to say: “We must unmuddy the very source of our reactions, so that our spontaneity itself is transformed. This can only come about through the Holy Spirit. He is given to us by God to be in us a source of living water, welling up from our own hearts… But purity of heart is not just a matter of our own interiority… If we have a clean heart, it is because God has given us a clean heart… It is God dwelling in us who gives us a true interiority that is genuinely ours, but is not simply our own… Western man…does not feel secure about his identity, and feels that as a grievance. In response to this, he generally tries to find ways of bolstering up his ‘Ego’, to reassure himself that he is something…” We ought rather embrace the “no longer I, but Christ,” which is one of St Paul’s most profound insights.

“If we can unmuddy the source of life in us, if we can allow God to re-create us from deep within, so that there is a pure life in us, Christ’s life as well as our own, then this must inevitably affect the way that we are and the way that we see. There is an interaction between seeing and being. The kind of person you are affects the kind of world that you see… And conversely what you see affects what you are. If you see the world as a rather grim affair, you will become a grim person. If you see the world as a place where there are butterflies, you will probably be a rather more light-hearted kind of person. If our life is rooted in God, so that the wellspring of life in us is God, then we shall see as God sees… If we have a pure heart, a source of life welling up from the eternity of God, then what we shall see is God.”

This is a very important teaching. Attaining purity of heart is the healing of our spiritual blindness. Purity is not merely a matter of trying to avoid impure thoughts or actions. It is a much more thoroughgoing inner transformation. It determines how we see the world and other people, and hence how we will spontaneously react to them. And if the life of Christ through the grace of the Holy Spirit really is the source and driving power of our whole inner life, then we will see as God sees, and our unrehearsed words and acts will reveal that we are in fact Christ-like people, both inside and out, and we will bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit in all our actions and relationships.

When Jesus healed the blind man, the first thing the man saw was the face of God, that is, the face of God incarnate in Christ. This is symbolic of the movement from darkness to light, from inner blindness to sight, from a muddy interior to purity of heart. The Gospel makes it clear, however, that it was not only a physical healing of blindness. For when the man saw Jesus the second time, he fell down and worshiped Him, recognizing, with his newfound spiritual vision, the presence of God in Jesus.

We must begin with the humble admission that we are still spiritually blind, still not pure of heart. Even a quick examination of our spontaneous reactions (whether external or internal) will give us plenty of evidence for that. The greatest error that could be made here is to claim that we can see when in fact we are still blind. Jesus made that clear to the Pharisees, who resented the fact that He implied they were still blind, when He said to them: “Now that you say, ‘we see,’ your guilt remains.”

Let us also realize that, unlike the blind man in the Gospel, it is our sin that is the cause of our spiritual blindness, because only sin can destroy purity of heart. If we do not yet see everything as God sees it, if we do not yet recognize the presence of God everywhere, if we spontaneously react in unkind or self-centered ways, then we are still suffering from a sin-induced spiritual blindness, a lack of purity of heart.

So let us pray fervently—and not mechanically as we may do every day as we pray psalm 50(51)—“Create in me a pure heart, O God!” Let this be our constant entreaty to the Holy Spirit as we prepare for his coming at Pentecost. This matter is too important to be tossed in the mental dustbin with hundreds of other long-forgotten Sunday homilies. We need the grace of the Holy Spirit to effect a radical change in our inner lives—we can’t afford to remain how we are! It is crucial for our own salvation and our beneficial influence upon others that our inner life is free from all the darkness that is all too often revealed in our spontaneous reactions. The Lord can heal us, can enlighten us, but we must want it with all our hearts, and diligently strive to co-operate with his grace. For our goal is nothing less than complete purity of heart—nothing less than to see God.

Diplomacy or Evangelization?

There has been quite a controversy, and much media attention (mostly in religious but also in secular media) over the prayer for the conversion of the Jews in one of the Good Friday prayers of the restored traditional Latin liturgy. Under pressure, the Pope changed the wording, though he did so in a way that 1) did not compromise the meaning or intent of the original prayer; 2) actually added a strong element that wasn’t in the original prayer; and 3) still left most Jews, at least those who voiced an opinion about it, unsatisfied.

Now it’s not my intention here to examine the text of the prayer or comment on the Pope’s decision. I’d like to reflect rather on why this whole thing is an issue at all.

We first have to ask ourselves why the Church exists, that is, what is her mission in the world. It seems that many people, both inside and outside the Church, think that a prayer for the conversion of the Jews should be completely eliminated from the Church’s liturgy, and that any prayer for them should only be couched in the most bland and “inoffensive” terms. You see, they say, praying for the conversion of the Jews disrupts our dialogue with them and is a setback to our ecumenical relations.

Hmm. What is the purpose, the goal of our dialogue with them (or with Muslims or other non-Christians)? What is the goal of our ecumenical relations? Perhaps scholars have discovered an ancient manuscript of the Gospel of Matthew in which Jesus concludes his earthly ministry by saying: “Go therefore and dialogue with all nations and try to establish diplomatic ecumenical relations with them, but for heaven’s sake, don’t ask them to believe in Me!” Somehow, though, I think the traditionally accepted text is the correct one: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, and teach them all I have commanded you, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…”

Now I’m not talking here about forced conversions or jihad or arrogant denunciations of someone else’s beliefs. I simply wish to affirm that the Church has a right to her own beliefs, and hence to her own expression of them in her prayers and liturgy, and hence to the attempted fulfillment of the missionary mandate given by her Lord. I would also affirm the right of Jews and Muslims to seek the conversion of Christians in their own prayers, and with the non-violent means I would advocate on all sides.

The Jews and Muslims and Hindus do not present proposals for the prayers they wish to use in their services to the Catholic Church, so that we can censor anything in them that is incompatible with our faith, and we rightly don’t ask or expect them to do so. So I find it quite uncalled-for that people of a different religion than ours are indignant that we would use a prayer in our services that does not reflect their faith.

We believe in the Most Holy Trinity, the Incarnation of the Son of God, and the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We believe He is, as the Pope’s revised prayer states, the Savior of all men. We have reason to believe that this is in fact the case, and even if we didn’t have much reason, we still have the right to choose to believe it. But we believe it, not as the mere exercise of the right to freedom of religion, but because we are convinced that it is in fact true. Believing this to be true, we wish to obey the Savior’s command, for like God, we too desire that “all men should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1Tim. 2:4). Now if we believe that the highest good is “eternal life: to know the true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent” (Jn. 17:3), then we desire that everyone would come to this knowledge, this salvation unto eternal life. So we pray that it may be so—that those who do not yet believe in Jesus will do so, and thus be granted the gift of eternal happiness in Paradise.

It’s only if we couldn’t care less about their salvation that we would settle for diplomacy, non-confessional language, and mere friendly relations in this passing life, in our relationships with non-Christians. If we believe that Jesus is the Way to the Father, why don’t we just come right out and say it? This “I’m OK, you’re OK” stuff really has nothing to do with the Gospel of Christ.

Now we still must respect the beliefs of others, and if they wish to retain them, even after we’ve made our case for Christ, then we must not badger them about it or try to coerce them (though we should go on praying for their conversion). But we shouldn’t act as if we are embarrassed by our own beliefs or that we think one religion is as good as another for the salvation of mankind. Jesus suffered and died for the truth. He could have maintained a friendly dialogue with the Pharisees and Sadducees (and Romans, for that matter), not stepped on any toes, preached Unitarian sermons and lived a long life. But that is not why the Father sent Him! He had a very specific revelation to bring, a very distinct call to believe in Him and to follow Him unto eternal life, for many were following the wide path to perdition and He had come to save them. He didn’t ask the Pharisees to vet his discourses to make sure there was nothing that would prove “offensive” to them! He came to speak the word of God without compromise and, frankly, without diplomacy (though not without skill and certainly not without love).

I think the Church has to clear a few things up about her mission in this world. What is it going to be—evangelization or diplomacy? Are immortal souls at stake or not? If not, then by all means let’s be diplomatic; let’s not broach sensitive subjects. But if so, then let’s preach the Gospel! It’s bad enough that we don’t use every opportunity to invite the world to believe in Jesus—but to cower before the criticisms of non-Christians about what kind of prayers we should pray in our own liturgy? That is utterly abandoning the Great Commission.

The Church must be more concerned about the salvation of souls and less about a good media image or about a “let’s be friends” approach that reduces the priority of truth. We indeed ought to be friends even with those who do not share our beliefs, but let’s be clear on what those beliefs are, and let’s also be clear that we are not compromising or hiding our beliefs in order to be friends. Let’s at least try, in the case of individual friendships, to bring the love of Christ into such relationships, and perhaps God will make us instruments for the salvation of those who, for the sake of a temporary “peace,” we might otherwise allow to be lost.

Me, Me, Me

A few weeks ago the media feasted on the fall of New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, exposing his liaisons with the high-priced hooker Ashley Dupre. I have little sympathy for him, not only because of the immorality of what he was doing, but also because he was viciously pro-abortion and was in the process of drafting legislation to make abortion a fundamental civil right in New York State, just in case Roe v. Wade ever would be overturned.

But that’s not what I’m interested in here. I did a bit of research on Miss Dupre (purely for religious reasons, I assure you!). I will quote below some excerpts from her blog, which was written before the scandal surfaced (I corrected most of the atrocious errors in spelling and syntax, but hey, if I made $5000 for an hour’s “work” I might not take the trouble to write correct English, either). Now I know that human beings as such are innately selfish, due to original sin, and that this defect has been greatly exacerbated in the past several “me-generations.” But I was under the (evidently mistaken) impression that most people try to conceal somewhat their radical self-absorption and generally avoid making public statements about how they believe the world revolves around them. But Miss Dupre seems not to have any scruples about that. I may be out of the loop, but the following sounds “me, me, me” in the extreme:

“The past few months have been a roller coaster with so-called friends, lovers, and family…but it’s something you have to deal with and confront in order to move on… I stepped away from each situation that happened and asked myself:

“1) What is this person doing to make my life better? (financial, intel [sic], drive, networking, etc.) 2) How does this person make me feel? (happy, sad, motivated, depressed, constantly doubting, drama, etc.) 3) How is this person a positive influence in my life? (do they share the same interests, same dreams, does that person make me better when I am with them, or when they are in my life… I would be the same person if they weren’t in my life, but it’s just better with them in it…is my best interest always number one in their head and heart, etc.)

“From all this, I mean… Does that person make you feel good? Does that person drive you to be better? Is that person right there behind you when things aren’t that good, or even if they are? Will that person be an asset to your life…

“If you are in a relationship, and it is ‘doing absolutely nothing’ for you, makes you feel bad about yourself or situations, just causing unnecessary drama, and ruining things that you may actually care about…why would you want that in your life? You need to surround yourself with the people that make you feel good, and that will help you get to that next step in your life. That is what a relationship is all about…

“Surround yourself with people that are making moves, and doing what ‘they want and love’ with their lives, positive energy…that’s what life is all about…living. Because if you don’t, misery loves company, they will only try to bring you down with them…but the question is, are you strong enough, to not let that happen?

“…and then from all those answers you have to decide if that person is worthy of being a part of ‘your’ life….because it is your life, your show…you decide who you want the characters to be…not the other way around.”

Instead of simply saying “how incredibly into herself she is, how she views others merely as disposable means to her own happiness!” I’d like to juxtapose a few of her sentiments with the corresponding biblical contrast or antidote. In that way, maybe we too can realize that we’re more selfish than we’d like to think, and also that the Lord has shown us a better way.

“What is this person doing to make my life better?” It must not be so with you. Whoever would be great must be a servant… even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve (Mt. 20:26-28).

“Is my best interest always number one in their head and heart?” They all look after their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ… Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others (Phil. 2:21, 4).

“Does that person make you feel good? … Will that person be an asset to your life?” Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’ (Acts 20:35).

“Surround yourself with people that are making moves, and doing what ‘they want and love’ with their lives, positive energy… surround yourself with the people that make you feel good.” The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but… will surround themselves with teachers to suit their own likings and will turn away from listening to the truth (2Tim. 4:3-4).

“If you are in a relationship, and it is ‘doing absolutely nothing’ for you, makes you feel bad about yourself or situations, just causing unnecessary drama, and ruining things that you may actually care about…why would you want that in your life?” [If the “relationship” is a valid marriage]: They are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together let no man put asunder (Mt. 19:6). [If not]: Shun fornication… the fornicator sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit…? You are not your own (1Cor. 6:18-19).

“You have to decide if that person is worthy of being a part of ‘your’ life….because it is your life, your show…you decide who you want the characters to be…not the other way around.” People will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant… swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God… Shun all this; aim at righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness… What does it profit you to gain the world and lose your soul in the process? (2Tim. 3:2-4; 1Tim. 6:11; Mk. 8:36).

“How does this person make me feel?” Deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it (Lk. 9:23-24).

Can anyone give Miss Dupre a Bible?

Memento Mori

I recently read the novel, The King’s Achievement, by Robert Hugh Benson (written in 1905). It is set in England during the time of Henry VIII’s looting and destruction of monasteries and convents, and his many executions of those who professed the Catholic faith. There are a couple of excerpts I’d like to present here, for the sake of the venerable practice of the “remembrance of death,” which is part of monastic spirituality, but ought to be part of every Christian’s awareness. The first is the description of the natural death of an old monk, and the second is a reflection on the martyrdom of several priests and monks. Life is always more profound than that which we live on the surface, and life is in continual dialogue with death, the door to eternal life.

“Outside the night was still and frosty; only now and again the heavy stroke of the bell told the town that a soul was passing. Dom Augustine had received Viaticum an hour before. Chris had heard the steady tinkle of the bell, like the sound of Aaron’s garments, as the priest who had brought him Communion passed back with his sacred burden, and Chris had fallen on his knees where he stood as he caught a glimpse of the white procession passing back to the church, their frosty breath going up together in the winter night air, the wheeling shadows, and the glare of the torches giving a pleasant warm light in the dull cloister. But all that was over now, and the end was at hand.

“As Chris knelt there, mechanically responding to the prayers on which the monk’s soul was beginning to lift itself and flutter for escape, there fell a great solemnity on his spirit. The thought, as old as death, made itself real to him, that this was the end of every man and of himself too. Where Dom Augustine lay, he would lie, with his past behind him, of which every detail would be instinct with eternal import. All the tiny things of the monastic life—the rising in time for the night office, attention during it, the responses to grace, the little movements prescribed by etiquette, the invisible motions of a soul that had or had not acted for the love of God, those stirrings, falls, aspirations, that incessant activity of eighty years—all so incredibly minute from one point of view, so incredibly weighty from another—the account of all those things was to be handed in now, and an eternal judgment given.

“He looked at the wearied, pained old face again, at the tight-shut eyes, the jerking movements of the unshaven lips, and wondered what was passing behind—what strange colloquy of the soul with itself or its Master or great personages of the Court of Heaven. And all was set in this little bare setting of white walls, a tumbled bed, a shuttered window, a guttering candle or two, a cross of ashes on boards, a ring of faces, and a murmur of prayers!

“The solemnity rose and fell in Chris’s soul like a deep organ-note sounding and waning. How homely and tender were these last rites, this accompaniment of the departing soul to the edge of eternity with all that was dear and familiar to it—the drops of holy water, the mellow light of candles, and the sonorous soothing Latin. And yet—and yet—how powerless to save a soul that had not troubled to make the necessary efforts during life, and had lost the power of making them now! When all was over he went out of the cell with an indescribable gravity at his heart…”

A priest and a young monk walked together at the place where the martyrs had just been executed:

“It was here that they had suffered, these gallant knights of God; they had stood below these beams, their feet on the cart that was their chariot of glory, their necks in the rope that would be their heavenly badge; they had looked out where he was looking as they made their little speeches, over the faces at the Tyburn-gate, with the same sun that was now behind him, shining into their eyes… The grey wood ashes had drifted by now far across the ground, but the heavy logs still lay there, charred and smoked, that had blazed beneath the cauldron where the limbs of the monks had been seethed; and he stared down at them, numbed and fascinated by the horror of the thought. His mind, now in a violent reaction, seemed unable to cope with its own knowledge, crushed beneath its weight…

“He told him more details as they walked home; as to what each had said, and how each had borne himself. Father Reynolds, the Syon monk, had looked gaily about him, it seemed, as he walked up from the hurdle; the secular priest had turned pale and shut his eyes more than once; the three Carthusian priors had been unmoved throughout, showing neither carelessness nor fear; Prior Houghton’s arm had been taken off to the London Charterhouse as a terror to the others; their heads, he had heard, were on London Bridge.

“Chris walked slowly as he listened, holding tight under his scapular the scrap of rough white cloth he had picked up near the cauldron, drinking in every detail, and painting it into the mental picture that was forming in his mind; but there was much more in the picture than the other guessed.

“The priest was a plain man, with a talent for the practical, and knew nothing of the vision that the young monk beside him was seeing—of the air about the gallows crowded with the angels of the Agony and the Passion, waiting to bear off the straggling souls in their tender experienced hands; of the celestial faces looking down, the scarred and glorious arms stretched out in welcome; of Mary with her mother’s eyes, and her virgins all about her—all ring above ring in deepening splendor up to the white blinding light above, where the Everlasting Trinity lay poised in love and glory to receive and crown the stalwart soldiers of God.”

Amen.

“The Visibility of the Fetus”

I read recently that some pro-abortion activists were getting all bent out of shape over the advances in technology—specifically ultrasound imaging of unborn babies—that make it easy to see that an unborn baby is in fact an unborn baby. So they lamented that the most formidable obstacle to their deadly agenda is the “visibility of the fetus.” Let us be glad that some states are enacting laws that will force Planned Parenthood and other baby-killers to offer ultrasound imaging as part of the decision-making process for pregnant women. This has wrought havoc in the unholy halls of “reproductive health.”

But let’s look at the dishonest attitudes and approaches of those who should have finally seen the light. One would think that if abortion providers and promoters really were honest and sincere in their assertions that a pregnant woman was just carrying a “blob of tissue” in her womb that was in no way a child (though for that they would have to ignore decades of scientific research and, for some, their own gruesome experience—as well as common sense: “if you’re pregnant, it’s a baby!”), one would expect a different response at the ultrasound image. An honest response would be: “Look, we’ve been wrong all along! It really is a baby, even at very early stages of development! We’ve got to get the news out because babies are being killed and we have been a part of it. What can we do to make up for what we’ve done?”

That would be the normal, ethical reaction when one is presented with such clear evidence—unless one isn’t interested in truth. The actual reaction was: “It really is a baby, even at very early stages of development! Damn! Now what do we do? We have to keep this information from the public. We can’t let anyone see this. Why, they won’t want to have abortions anymore if they know they are really killing their children, and our lucrative positions will simply disappear!”

All the rhetoric about women’s rights and women’s health is pure baloney. If they cared about women they wouldn’t profit off their vulnerability and be so aloof to the physical and psychological (not to mention spiritual) damage they heedlessly inflict on them. They’re not concerned about women or children. They are concerned about money and political power. Period.

Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, who is viciously pro-death (Obama is just as bad), is making abortion one of her key rallying points. Here are a few things she has said about the necessity of promoting abortion (from Catholic World Report, March 2008). People who think unborn children have a right to life are, in her words, “anti-choice forces.” She says: “We should be careful about our complacency. Many of these policies [like making it a crime against two persons when a pregnant woman is harmed] sound perfectly reasonable to the untrained ear. But they are not reasonable when you realize the true intention… These policies are meant to chip away at all reproductive rights” [emphasis in original].

So one has to be properly “trained” to realize the intentions of pro-lifers. One needs special training to dislodge one’s common sense, high moral standards and willingness to follow the evidence where it leads. And the pro-abortion people like Clinton are not interested in looking at any particular cases or any particular level of abortion practice. They’re not even willing to say: this should be legal but that shouldn’t. That is because, again, they are not interested in truth but in a particular agenda. The argument she gave above is the same one given for people who promote partial-birth abortion, even when they themselves find it barbaric: we have to allow this because if we don’t, they’ll come after our other “rights.”

Then her spiritual blindness becomes obvious. I quote from the article: “As a Methodist, Hillary Clinton sees no incompatibility between her position on abortion and her views of a loving Jesus… [Clinton’s gynecologist and friend William F. Harrison] estimates that he has conducted at least 20,000 abortions since the 1970s. He candidly calls himself an ‘abortionist’ and concedes, ‘I am destroying life.’ He believes he is giving life by saving women from botched abortions, and thus declares his patients ‘born again.’” Such language is blasphemous; he is not even allowing children to be born at all, yet he speaks in Christian terms about the blessings he’s bestowing upon the women whose children he slaughters. That’s what “born again” means to this machete messiah.

There is a distinct possibility that soon our country will be led by someone who will push abortion “rights” to the maximum and enact legislation to firmly entrench it in our society. We haven’t fared very well in the present administration either, for despite the rhetoric and a few token vetoes, the abortion business goes on as usual. But at least now the veils are lifted, for anyone who cares to see. Gone are the arguments that the unborn child somehow isn’t a child. That has been scientifically proven beyond a shadow of a doubt (not to mention that it has already been known everywhere and by everyone for millennia). Now the argument is no better than: we want to do this so we are going to, and just try to stop us! Money talks, power drives, and the altars of convenience are set up everywhere for human sacrifice.

God help America. He has been patient with us for a long time, but who knows when He will finally pronounce judgment on a country that routinely slaughters its young—and this not only without lamentation but with triumph and banners of freedom and prosperity. How shall we pray, for they do know what they do?

Yet even in the midst of all this, “the fetus is visible”—for those who will see, for those who still have a shred of conscience left. The little person on the sonogram says, “I am human; I am a person; I am created in the image of God. And I will see you on Judgment Day.” The more eyes that are finally opened, the better chance we have, as a nation, to say NO to those who think they have a right to kill children. Not the White House for such, but the jailhouse.

The Risen Christ Draws All to Himself

St John the Evangelist writes profoundly of the death and resurrection of Christ. He presents to us the many-faceted mystery of Jesus’ suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven, and refers to all of it flower-cross.jpgwith one term: glorification. This Johannine theological vision has been embraced by the Byzantine Churches.

Jesus says that when He is lifted up He will draw all men to Himself (Jn. 12:32), and here He is referring simultaneously to his crucifixion and resurrection/ascension. “Lifted up” is a euphemism for crucifixion, but it also means “exalted.” This is one way that the evangelist unites the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection in his Gospel. It is the glorified Christ, that is, Christ both crucified and risen, who calls us all to eternal life in Him.

It should be clear that if we are all being drawn closer to Christ, then we are also being drawn closer to each other. We all “meet” in Him. God is love, and Jesus came to reveal that divine truth, to love us to the full, and to give us the new commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn. 13:34-35). Christians are supposed to be recognized by their love for one another.

St Paul makes a similar point when he writes that Christ has “broken down the dividing wall of hostility,” since He unites us in His peace (Eph. 2:14). We all like to sing “Christ is risen” at Easter, but do we fully understand what His resurrection requires of us? The One who draws all to Himself in love, expects us to love not only Him, but also those whom He loves. If Jesus has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, why do we insist on rebuilding it? Such walls are built not only between different churches, but even within the same church.

It is the sad situation in many parishes and communities and families that walls of hostility are still standing, that people have not learned to love one another as Jesus has loved us. We profess our faith in Christ, yet we ignore His commandments. “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ but not do what I tell you?” (Lk. 6:46).

Now, it is clear from St Paul’s writings (see 1Cor. 5:13) that unrepentant evildoers must be cast out of the Christian community. But most of the problems that Christians encounter with one another are simply differences of opinion or agenda, or worse, prejudices and arrogance. These are things that build up dividing walls, but Christ wants them to be torn down. Are we willing to swallow our pride and live as humble followers of our crucified and risen Lord? To love others even when it is difficult is to be “crucified,” and to experience the love of Jesus in return is to be raised up again.

The resurrection of Christ has introduced something radically new into the world and human history. He has not only broken down dividing walls, He has freed us from the evil powers that urge us to build walls in the first place. It is up to us to accept his gift, to walk in newness of life, and to experience freedom from all the negative attitudes and selfish behavior that reflect bondage to satan instead of faithfulness to Christ.

I think that sometimes people live in unchristian ways because they haven’t yet experienced the grace and freedom given to the children of God. They don’t realize what God has given them through the resurrection of his Son. So they live as if they were never redeemed, as if they hadn’t heard the Gospel of love, as if they had no hope for eternal life—that is, they live according to their own will and hold others in contempt. To bear hatred or any other disordered passion in one’s heart while participating in the Liturgy of the Church is a deplorable contradiction. This will certainly be exposed on Judgment Day, but we had better settle things before then, if we want to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven!

Jesus is risen from the dead, and He calls us to rise, too. But before we can rise in heavenly glory, we have to learn how to rise above animosity and pettiness and all that keeps us from loving one another as Jesus has loved us. If only we could look at this life through the eyes of eternity, we would see that the bottom line of life in this world is the Great Commandment: love God and love others. Without this we will not be able to enter eternal life when we cross the threshold of death.

The Lord is drawing us to Himself. Let us go to Him willingly and humbly, denying ourselves and bearing the crosses that life brings, for they pave the way to resurrection. On Easter we sing the following words, which must be manifest in our daily lives if we wish to call ourselves Christians: “This is the resurrection day. Let us be enlightened by this feast, and let us embrace one another. Let us call ‘brethren’ even those who hate us, and in the resurrection forgive everything, and let us sing: Christ is risen from the dead…”

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