Catholic Exchange: Confronting Death in a Culture of Avoidance

Death comes to us all. It is a hard reality, but it is a reality that we can face with hope through our faith in Christ Jesus. Meanwhile, we live in a culture that largely ignores death. We hear mantras such as “You only live once” or “Live today like it is your last”, but these are typically expressions to assuage guilt over leading an immoral life. The reality of death is also ignored by the majority of people because death is something that is hidden or locked away in Western culture until we are faced with it. The only time it seems to be discussed is when a group is pushing for “mercy” through euthanasia.

I know I have largely lived as if death was some far-off reality. This makes little sense since I was a 9/11 relief worker and confronted the hard realities of violence and death at 20 years of age. I profess, along with my fellow Catholics, the teachings of the Church each Sunday which discuss the Last Things. It was not until recently, when my husband’s health took a dramatic turn, that I began to confront death. We are confronting it together, as married couples must.

Two months ago, I woke up at 4:30 AM to my husband yelling for me. He was standing over our sink coughing up a large quantity of bright red blood. He had coughed up blood a few years ago and had a lesion on his lungs, but it healed and we thought it was some kind of fluke. It wasn’t. Instead, what happened a few years ago was the first sign of symptoms of a mysterious disease. Over the course of the last couple of months, doctors have ruled out every normal possibility from tuberculosis to bronchitis to fungal infections. He’s been negative on every single test and more cavitary lesions (holes, for lack of a better word) continue to form in his lungs. We are now faced with a series of intense tests to definitively see if my husband has a very rare disease known as pulmonary vasculitis. He will have an open lung biopsy performed by a thoracic surgeon in the next couple of weeks along with a MRI, MRA, even more bloodwork, and the list goes on. A neurologist has also been brought in to begin seeing if he has the even rarer form of brain vasculitis. It’s a difficult disease to diagnose and treat. It comes with serious risks, including premature death.

This period has been marked by immense grace. God truly gives us the strength we need to confront the hardships of this life as they come. It doesn’t mean any of this is easy.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Catholic Exchange: Advent-Our Hope is Not in This World

In many of our cultures the Christmas season is in full swing. It is the version of Christmas when we are told to buy more things and to accumulate as many material possessions as we can for ourselves and others. This is an understandable mentality in wealthier nations, only because we have been inundated with this message since childhood. Pay close attention to advertisements and commercials this time of year and throughout the year. Buying item X will bring you happiness, joy, comfort, or pleasure. You need this car, dress, computer, shoes, TV, and the list is endless. We are also told that we need an endless supply of fast food and junk food to provide for our immediate gratification as we spend hundreds or thousands on a credit card while shopping for Christmas. How often do you feel the need for a cheeseburger after a Hardee’s commercial? I know I have in the past and still do depending on the food being advertised. What are we preparing for exactly? It is supposed be the upcoming celebration of Our Lord’s Birth; or these days, the winter solstice?

If I could sum up this time of year in one word it would be: busy. The second word would be: noisy. There is an endless array of distractions, colors, dazzling displays, and blaring Christmas music telling us this is the “most wonderful time of the year”, and yet, everyone seems harried, hurried, unpleasant, and overwhelmed. We absolutely mustbuy a gift for Aunt Jean twice removed on our mother’s side. There must be a mountain of presents under the tree by December 24th and we absolutely have to attend every single soiree we are invited to, even if it means little to no silence or preparation for the coming of Our Lord at Christmas or in the Second Coming.

Where did all of these imperatives come from? In all of this busyness, are we truly ready to receive Christ into our hearts more fully at Christmas? Can we be ready in this craziness? Are we ready if Our Lord decided to come tomorrow in Glory to usher in the end of time and the new earth and Heaven? Whose birthday are we getting ready for at this point in time? Does a mountain of gifts point to Christ or our own desires? He was born in a stable, after all. My point here is not to denigrate the giving side of the upcoming (no it is not Christmas, yet) Christmas season. It is to help us consider if there is another way and whether or not we truly believe our hope dwells outside of this world.

Our neighbors are overwhelmed and overburdened. They are enslaved by the notion that buying one more item or one more gift will fulfill them. The problem is, that far too many of us Catholics are also enslaved by this aspect of our culture. This is a battle all of us wage as we fight our desire for lower goods over our ultimate good: God. Do our lives reflect our Catholic Faith and this Advent season, or do we look the same as our frenzied neighbors?

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Confronting Hard Truths About Facebook and Myself

Anyone who has been reading my blog over the last couple of years knows that I battle being addicted to Facebook. Yes, addicted. I think a lot of people are addicted, but we don’t like to admit it, myself included. Social media is a part of the post-modern experience. At face value it is indeed a good. It allows us to connect worldwide in real-time and to reconnect with people from our past. It is a blessing to see how people we knew decades before are doing at this point in their lives. All of this is good, but I think we  need to be honest with ourselves about a few things.

We live in a lonely culture.

We are able to connect in real-time, and yet, we are more lonely now than ever before. We can spend hours engaged in discussions, arguments, or reading news feeds, but feel completely and utterly disconnected. A computer screen does not provide the needed interaction of authentic relationship with a person who is present to us fully. We can get a million “Likes” to something and it will not put a dent in that loneliness or sense of isolation. In reality, deep down, we realize that our Facebook friends are more of a type of acquaintance than true friendship. Our Facebook friends may offer us prayers and kind thoughts during difficult times, but only a few of them will walk into the darkness with us. This is, of course, human  nature. We avoid suffering at all costs. As painful as it is, we have to acknowledge that we are in a sort of shadow relationship with our Facebook friends. We are social beings by nature. We need community, but authentic community in which we interact with people in person and engage in relationships with those people.

We have stopped listening to one another.

Listening is something we all struggle to do in our interactions. In our pride, we want to have an immediate response at the ready before considering all of the information being presented. We already have our ideas, preconceived notions, and biases at the ready. We also desire to protect ourselves from any perceived attack, even if it is meant merely as a charitable reminder or correction. We all seem to do this in both social media and in our daily relationships.

The problem with this lack of listening in social media is that it is dividing us even more with each passing day. When we begin a discussion with someone–whether a friend or a stranger–we do not meet on even ground. There is no mutual understanding or defining of terms. I have discovered that discussions go much more smoothly if they are entered into with an understanding of mutual respect and a clear defining of terms to be used. If we enter into a conversation in social media with someone without these two principles in place, the conversation will devolve very quickly. It then turns into a group of people ganging up on one person or one person ranting and raving at the others or a whole host of other problematic situations will occur. Ad hominems, presumptions, misunderstandings, and irrationality inevitably take over the whole conversation.

Facebook and the like allow us to talk, and talk, and talk. We have a platform and we use it. It is hard to admit to ourselves that in reality, nobody cares, or if they do, it is not that much. A passing “Like”, emoji, or thumbs up does not equate to genuine concern or interest. Typically we “Like” and move on to “Like” a dozen more things before shutting off social media for a few minutes and then reaching for our phone again or laptop.

We do not appeal to prudence.

The Queen of the Virtues is prudence. She is the most important of the cardinal virtues for all of the other cardinal virtues flow from her. Prudence means truly discerning how to respond in a situation. Think of prudence in relation to wisdom. For a Catholic, this includes considering God’s will or proper responses in a given situation. We cannot be just if we are not prudent. True justice is founded on prudence and charity. We cannot be truly courageous if we are not prudent, because we may get ourselves killed in the process. We cannot be temperate if we do not first understand prudent choices, because the Passions would like nothing more than to have free run of our lives. Prudence is the crucial habit that needs to be learned in virtuous living and in going deeper into the spiritual life.

Social media is almost the anti-thesis of prudence. We say whatever comes to mind without any appeal to prudence. Yes, we are all works in progress, including myself. We are all sinners, but that is not a get out of jail free card or an excuse. We know better, so we acknowledge our weakness, but we don’t justify it. I often lack prudence and it always gets me into trouble. As Catholics, we do not have a right to do and say whatever we want. We are obliged–through the gift of the supernatural virtues–to learn the habit of prudence. Not every comment on Facebook we disagree with needs to be responded to. I am talking to myself here too. I am a work in progress, so please keep in mind this is not some kind of morally superior lecture. I am right there in the gutters with everyone else. These are merely insights I have gained from my own broken, and at times, sinful use of social media. Not every thought that comes to our heads needs to go out into cyberspace. We do have an obligation to consider how our thoughts and actions will impact the people around us.

Does social media help me on the path to holiness?

All of these insights come down to the main question that I must ask myself as someone who is clearly addicted to Facebook. This is the same question we must all ask ourselves in every moment of the day. Will this X, Y, or Z help me attain holiness? Some people are masters of properly ordering social media and they are able to use it for God’s purposes. I know that I am not one of those people. God has made it plain to me, and yet, in my shame and weakness I persist. Internet usage is a constant in my regular Confessions. Unequivocally Facebook does not help me on the path to holiness. It is a hindrance. It makes me think too much about myself and my own thoughts, which are not nearly as exciting as they seem in my head or in black letters glowing on my computer screen. Nobody cares! I am going to tell myself this again: NOBODY CARES! There I said it. What a relief!

I think that far too many Catholics do not understand that our mission is holiness. The meaning of our lives is to become a saint. That is not a goal reserved for a lofty few. It is the end for which all of us are created. If we approach our daily living from this standpoint we would begin, by God’s grace, to order our lives to that purpose. I know this truth, but there are times I fall into habits that take me away from that mission. Facebook takes me away from my vocation and the mission. I have asked God to make me a saint and that means relinquishing my will to His will. He has asked me to cease and desist Facebook. I will not progress, and I may back slip, if I do not take heed.

Facebook can become a near occasion of sin.

Facebook is a near occasion of sin for me because of the incessant outrage. The constant need to be angry or upset about something, anything. The onslaught of news and division can be downright overwhelming. This is a distraction aimed at keeping us from focusing on Christ and the mission of bringing the world to Him. The world has been a horrifying, bloodthirsty, and violent place since the Fall. The Bible and human history are filled with humanity’s evil, stupidity, arrogance, blindness, and depravity. We have been wounded by the Fall and we live in a world that struggles with sin. We still wait for the Second Coming of Our Lord at any moment. That is one of the main purposes of Advent. To remind us to wake up! Christ will come again and we do not know the hour, so be alert!

Spending hours upon hours dwelling on the Fallen world is not good for me and I would argue it is not good for anyone. I worry about some of my Facebook friends. I see their loneliness. I know their loneliness. I see their pain and struggles. They may not realize that I see them.We reach out for human interaction for someone to “see” us and our pain, but Facebook does not provide the needed compassion and charity. My Facebook friends cannot truly see my grief and pain. The tears I shed on a nearly daily basis as I grieve my lost babies and struggle to accept my infertility do not appear in my newsfeed. A crying emoji wouldn’t quite do justice to my struggles. They do not sense the ache I feel at all of their children and pregnancy announcements. Not because I am envious, although I have my moments, but because I am a mother who wants to love more children.

I know deep down most–not all–of my Facebook friends do not truly see me, understand me, or love me as a friend is meant to love. I think this is something we all need to acknowledge and accept. This is understandable. We are no longer in the same place in our lives or geographically. Facebook allows for facades and the pretense of everything is dandy and fine. Nobody wants a “downer” to share what it is really like in periods of intense grief. It is an illusion and that is precisely why so many people are lonely and feel empty in a world of immediate connection.

I struggle like a lot of people to use Facebook properly. I have not mastered prudence enough to be temperate in my Facebook usage. Another sign that I am stumbling up the path with everyone else. Have you considered your own social media interactions and usage? Is it a hindrance or a good for you on the path to deeper communion with Christ? I think we all need to pray for God to help us develop the habit of considering every element in our lives through our eschatological purpose, which is to be a saint, so that we can enter into full communion with the Blessed Trinity at the end of our lives.

The Strange Ways God Heals Our Sufferings

**I will be on Al Kresta’s radio program, Kresta in the Afternoon, on Wednesday, October 19th at 4pm EST.**

To be a Catholic is to live paradox. We may not be consciously or intellectually aware of this fact, or refer to it as paradox. Our Faith is centered on the greatest paradox of all, namely, the Cross. It is death that brings new life. Christ’s bloody, tortuous self-gift on the Cross brings about salvation for all of mankind. Saint Paul says it best in 1 Corinthians 1:18-25:

The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the learning of the learned I will set aside.” Where is the wise one? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made the wisdom of the world foolish? For since in the wisdom of God the world did not come to know God through wisdom, it was the will of God through the foolishness of the proclamation to save those who have faith. For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

While I study and marvel at the paradoxes of our Faith, it is only recently that I found myself living paradox at a visceral level. In fact, when the world looks at someone in my circumstances it sees either “folly”, envy, or hatred. The truth is always stranger and much more interesting than fiction or perception.

My Cross becomes heavier.

Two months ago I lost my fourth baby in miscarriage. We named him Andrew Thomas. We discovered his death on August 8th, the Feast of St. Dominic. We named the baby after my hero, St. Thomas Aquinas, on a Dominican feast day. The pain of the last couple months has been intense and filled with questions, anguish, anger, and confusion. The sorrow of this miscarriage is coupled with the very likely reality that I will not be able to bear any more children to term. The NaPro hormone treatments I was on throughout the pregnancy did not increase my hormone levels at all, and after seeing a beautiful healthy baby with a strong heartbeat twice, our baby boy died. My family and I carry the dual Cross of the death of another child and infertility. We are living proof to a world that thinks it can control fertility that only God decides family size. It should also be a reminder to Catholics who struggle with being self-righteous, that not every family with one child is using contraception.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Guest Post: An Old Fisherman Waves Good-Bye

***The following is an article my dad wrote over at Ricochet and I wanted to share it here on my blog. My penchant for writing comes from my very talented father: A lawyer by trade in years past, philosopher by hobby, and writer by night. This is a story based on my grandfather with the occasional creative license. It caused knowing tears to stream down my face. My grandfather taught me how to fish and all of us grand kids. I will forever remember him fishing the ponds and lakes near Lewistown, Montana. Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon him. He’s been gone 15 years, but looms large in our family’s memory.***

As the sun traveled westward a single tear dropped slowly down the old man’s face. He stared transfixed. Diamonds seemed to float atop the surface of the lake. He’d fished the lake for nearly thirty years, but he’d always been busy with the trout, unaware of the revelation atop the waters. He tried to add up the days he’d spent here. Like another old man, he’d seen many a great fish, and it was always bad news for those fish.

Today, though, he knew that the fish would have the final victory. The old man, bent and crippled now, quietly accepted that his fishing days were over.

Still, he couldn’t quite lay hold of the thought. Wetting a line was his entry into transcendence: Timeless and eternal. He knew now he’d deluded himself. He had always believed that God had revealed himself in the fish teeming in the depths. How could it be that God would take away the old man’s link to Him?

But God had spoken through the old man’s sufferings. The journey was at an end.

Now there was only time to reminisce, and what great memories the old man had!

So as he stood paralyzed with awe, the old man thought of the days when, as a boy, his father took him and his brother from New Mexico, across Texas, to Corpus Christie and the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico. These were glorious times. The old man’s father was a master of the sea, and guided his apprentices through the eternal truths of angling. Especially the lessons of humility. The fish, after all, prevailed far more often than the fishermen.

The old man half chuckled as he remembered the morning he and his brother woke early and sneaked off to rent an eight foot skiff and took to sea in pursuit of the creatures of the deep. Boys, of course, are boys, which means they are often too young to know they are fools. Not paying attention to anything but the fish, they’d not seen the tanker bearing down on them until the wake lifted the skiff skyward. At the last moment they heard a horn blast and looked up. Blue words shot from their mouths like a Gatling gun in perfect rhythm with the frantic oars: “Sh#t! Sh#t! Sh#t! Sh#t! Sheee###t!!!”

Needless to say, they’d kept that story to themselves. They would live to fish another day, so long as they didn’t tell their mother.

Back in New Mexico the old man fished the tributaries of the Rio Grande or hiked the rugged Organ Mountains in a sometimes fruitless effort to find a promising fishing hole. In springtime he could spy the full reaches of the Mesilla Valley. When the rains came the Valley would burst in the colors of the wild flowers; then in an hour the colors would be gone. That’s life, he thought, a now you see it, now you don’t affair.

Life never stands still for long and the day came when the family’s prospects in New Mexico dimmed. Like so many families of the times they set off for California in search of the promises of that land. They settled along the shores of Monterey where the old man cast his line into the bay. He loved to try the patience of the nuns by skipping school and disappearing into cannery Row to buy bait before heading to the Wharf. He learned so much more from the schools of fish than from the schools of fancy learning.

But he grew up and life would not leave him to himself. The war came and with it his sense of duty. Three years in the South Pacific left little time to fish; only time to seek the enemy. He’d been tempted to try the waters off Saipan, but the blood of battle had yet to wash out to sea.

But, with God’s good grace, and his mother’s endless petitions to St. Jude, the old man made in back, all his fingers and toes where they were meant to be.

He went back to the Wharf in search of peace and redemption. And he sought out a soul mate, someone who could tame the demons that chattered in his mind. He found her, or rather she found him, and they quickly joined hands—and created many children.

And he fished with a new urgency. Kids have a nasty habit of wanting to eat. There was little money, but there were many fish, and he cast his line and filled his creel, offering a prayer of thanks for each catch. In later years, his oldest son would say that no man ever praised God more.

And he taught his boys to praise through the fish. Now living in Montana, where fly fishing is the unofficial religion, he took them to the rivers and ponds and tirelessly guided them in the finer aspects of catching big ones. Three of the four turned into scholars of the art, while the fourth excelled at throwing rocks to scare the fish away. The boy had no concern for the fish; he simply lived to irritate his brothers, who themselves learned something about blue words. The old man was stern in his warnings, but lax in enforcement. Boys must fight their way to manhood, and the old man figured his sons wouldn’t kill each other—probably.

Later, when the kids headed off on their own roads to the straight and true, he’d made peace with the fish, which he now caught and then released. He thought often of those days of family fish feasts. Now, however, he heard a whisper reminding him that there were other young fathers and other small children who would need the ones he threw back. Now with each fish he threw back, he added a prayer for young fathers everywhere.

The years wait for no man, but they are also abundant in new gifts. He had time now to sneak off to the lake in the middle of the day, the only fisherman in a suit and tie.

Sometimes his wife would join him. After all those years of cleaning fish she had no desire to wet a line, so she would sit on a lawn chair or nestle in the car reading a book while the old man fished. Truth be told she came along only to make sure the old man was still afloat. He’d taken to fishing by inner tube, a Rube Goldberg contraption made of canvass to cover the tube, which wrapped around the waist. With flippers on his feet, and a plaid newsboy cap on his head, the old man backed into the lake with a Daffy Duck waddle. Sometimes she could almost hear his glee, a Daffy voice shouting “Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy.” Then he would paddle hither and yon in search of the perfect spot.

Once, when his wife decided he was on his own, the tube burst and the old man floundered, pretty sure he was headed for the reaches down under. But his guardian angel, probably a celestial fishermen himself, transferred just enough heavenly power for the old man to lurch and paddle his way to the shore. Shades of the Gulf of Mexico.

But today the old man had only time to reflect. His life, he mused, had been a constant fishing trip. There had been days of abundance when the catch nearly swamped the boat, and days of frustration when nothing would bite. But it was the journey that mattered. He’d traveled far. He had seen a thousand fish, and floated a thousand waters, but his energy sapped, it was time to hang ‘em up. But not a time to give up. Rather a time to keep moving toward a new beginning. Old men ought to be explorers, after all.

In a final valediction, the old man waved his hand to bless the lake, thanked both God and the fish, turned, and waved goodbye.

Catholic Exchange: A Brief Introduction to the Catholic Position on Evolution

There is a great misperception in the culture that Catholicism is anti-science. Many college students confront this error when they encounter reductionism, rationalism, and materialism through their professors. These students do not know how to respond–and far too often–dismiss Catholicism outright because they don’t realize answers to their questions exist within the Church’s 2000-year history. One of greatest causes of confusion is the topic of evolution.

The reason for this confusion is two-fold. First, many Catholics do not realize the Church’s position on evolution and may not even look for answers before accepting the materialist position. Second, the abandonment of philosophy as the joining discipline between science and theology has destroyed much of the dialogue that has taken place between these two fields over the centuries. An example is the bridge created throughSt. Thomas Aquinas’ first-cause argument. The first-cause argument grounds scientific inquiry in the first-cause, who is God. Without this argument, science quickly devolves into materialism, and ceases to look out beyond itself.

The divorce from philosophy creates an environment where both theology and the natural sciences overstep their bounds. This is most evidenced by the rationalist-materialist declaration that there is no God, while the biblical literalist tells us the world is only 6000 years old, even though God-given reason tells us otherwise, on both accounts. Answers to the complexities of life are reduced to either a material level or turned into a faith-based system devoid of reason. The Catholic approach is not an either/or, it is a both/and system. We say yes to scientific discovery, yes to Aquinas and Aristotle, and yes to the Book of Genesis. That’s far more yeses than we are given from either the scientism camp or the creationism camp. I only have the space to provide a brief overview of the Church’s view of evolution, but I will return to the philosophy problem at a later date.

Today I will briefly outline the Church’s historical position on evolution through a series of documents and talks given by Popes in the last 66 years. First, it is important to understand that the Church makes no official pronouncements on matters of science. That is not within her authority. She promulgates teachings of faith as given to us through Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. She cannot overstep her boundaries and make judgments on matters of science. The only time she formally responds to scientific matters is when theological or spiritual issues are involved. Popes and theologians discuss scientific discoveries, but the Church has no official position on any scientific theory. Which leads us to the Church’s first discussion of evolution.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Catholic Exchange: Reaching Out to the Suffering

One of the dangers of our weakness in the face of suffering, is the propensity to cave in on ourselves. We can turn inward and isolate ourselves from the people around us and the world. This is a natural response to pain. We want to lick our wounds and deal with the pain on our own. The problem with this tendency is that it cuts us off from others and our loved ones. Suffering and grief are not experienced in a vacuum. Oftentimes we overlook the people grieving beside us. We also can forget that suffering is not a unique experience. We are not the only ones who suffer, far from it. This is not to limit, deny, or ignore our own personal sufferings. Suffering is universal, but the experience of suffering is as varied as there are evils and pain in the world. There are people who are starving, victims of violence and war, cancer patients, those battling natural disasters, and yes, people like me who are grieving the loss of a child in miscarriage. It is important that we not isolate ourselves or the notion of suffering when grief and pain come our way. We must suffer, but it is important for us to avoid self-pity.

Suffering is often a missed opportunity. We live in a world that runs from suffering. This is of course logical, since suffering is to endure immense pain. The reality is, however, that we live in a Fallen world where suffering and sorrow are an everyday occurrence for somebody. Oftentimes that suffering is a shared experience, like miscarriage. There are many, even millions of people, who know the profound pain of loss. The opportunity in the face of this type of suffering, or any type of suffering, is to learn to minister to one another. In giving of ourselves, our pain is lessened. In giving away love, we are filled up. It is one of the great paradoxes of Christianity.

I thank all of you who took the time to write to me or post a comment on my recent piece on miscarriage, both here at Catholic Exchange and on my personal blog. Your comments were appreciated, but they also revealed to me that the suffering brought on through the loss of a child in miscarriage is widespread and often ignored. It showed me that by sharing my own pain, I am able to share in the burdens of others. This is one of the great lessons of suffering. If we turn inward and ignore others while resting in the delusion that we are alone, then our pain intensifies. We become cut off from others and from God. In suffering we are called to give of ourselves in order to lessen the pain of those around us. Grief cannot be taken away. It must be endured by the individual who has lost a loved one, but we can reach out to others and simply remind them that they are not alone. We make helping others too complex. We can’t take away another’s pain, but we can recognize it. All we can tell the grieving is, “I am so sorry for your loss” and continue to be a presence walking with them on their journey.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

The Annunciation: Antithesis to Terrorism and Nihilism

It should be apparent to the world that Islamists like those in ISIS are at war with everyone who does not submit to their prescribed religious tenants. Terrorists are not nihilists. There was an article published about a year ago on how terrorists are nihilists. This is false. The only thing nihilists and terrorists have in common is the use of violence and power to achieve an end. Nihilists believe in nothing. They believe there is no objective truth and that the strong must prevail over the weak. Islamists believe that the world must be brought to Allah through violence and war and that Islam is predicated upon violent domination. There is a great chasm of difference between these two ideologies, but the author is correct in seeing commonalities in violence.

As Catholics we are doing battle with both nihilism and Islamism at the same time because they are both opposed to the Living God. While force is necessary in certain circumstances in response to great evils in the world, we must also remember the spiritual weapons at our disposal. We must remember to turn to Our Heavenly Mother and to show the world God’s love. We must pray, fast, and give alms to those in need.

Mary is the antithesis of both nihilism and Islamism. Both use force, coercion, and violence in order to achieve their goals. The Triune God does not force us to come to Him. This is clearly demonstrated through the power, beauty, and love of the Annunciation.

In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his Kingdom there will be no end.” But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.” Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Luke 1:26-38

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Practical Lessons from St. Athanasius

Today the Church celebrates the feast of St. Athanasius of Alexandria who is a Doctor of the Church, as well as a great theologian who united the Eastern and Western Churches. A great deal of his work and mission was responding to the Arian heresy running rampant in his day. In fact, the Arian heresy has proved to be one of the most virulent heresies and can be seen in various forms even in our own day.

He was born around 300 AD in Alexandria, Egypt. After receiving a quality education, he became a deacon and secretary to the Bishop of Alexandria. He worked closely with the Bishop and attended the first Ecumenical Council at Nicaea in 325 AD. This Council focused primarily on the divinity of Christ in response to the Arian heresy which had been advanced through the Alexandrian priest Arius.

Arianism greatly threatens an authentic understanding of Jesus Christ. It teaches that “the Logos was not a true God but a created God, a creature “halfway” between God and man who hence remained forever inaccessible to us” (Pope Benedict XVI, Doctors of the Church, 14). It was at Nicaea where the Creed incorporated Greek term homoousios, which means “of the same substance” as the Father. It was the first and only term to be added with no theological or biblical link, and it pointed to the Church’s willingness to integrate philosophy and theology together into the Faith.

Shortly after the Council in 328 AD, the Bishop of Alexandria died and St. Athanasius was elevated to Bishop. Even though the Church had firmly and unequivocally affirmed the divinity of Christ, the Arian heresy raged on creating painful and destructive divisions within the Church. St. Athanasius fought hard against the heresy and created powerful enemies in the process. He spent 17 years in exile. He continued to spread the Faith in the West, as well as monasticism which he had learned from the hermit, St. Anthony, during his time in exile. After many years of suffering for the authentic and true Faith, St. Athanasius returned to Alexandria to finish out his days. He died on May 2, 373.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

The Cardinal Virtues: The Queenship of Prudence

The moral life has been hampered greatly by the prevalence of both nominalism (a system based on opposition) and a system of morality based on obligation over charity. For the first 1500 years of the Church, the moral life was seen as the movement of grace within the individual who then strives to live the virtues both supernatural and human. The supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and charity drive the individual to conform their lives to the good who is God. The human virtues, or cardinal virtues, are those lived daily through habitual action and choices. Thus morality is seen as a movement towards love and the New Law of Christ rather than a system of external obligation. The Decalogue and other moral teachings are inherent parts of the Christian life, but they are lived more fruitfully through charity and a life of virtue, rather than as an external force dictating each of our actions. The first cardinal virtue we will examine is prudence.

The foundation and highest of the cardinal virtues is prudence.[1] Joseph Pieper begins his chapter on prudence in his book The Four Cardinal Virtues by pointing out the strangeness most people experience in learning that prudence must come before the other virtues.

No dictum in traditional Christian doctrine strikes such a note of strangeness to the ears of contemporaries, even contemporary Christians, as this one: that the virtue of prudence is the mold and “mother” of all the other cardinal virtues of justice, fortitude, and temperance. In other words, none but the prudent man can be just, brave, and temperate, and the good man is good in so far as he is prudent.[2]

Most people assume the cardinal virtues are separate and belong to no set order, which is why the idea of prudence being primary is so foreign to most people, including many moral theologians.

Prudence in its contemporary usage has become confused from its original meaning and understanding. In the contemporary psyche it is confused with a form of utilitarianism rather than as a grounding force to the other virtues. Pieper points out that most people think of prudence as that which “always carries the connotation of timorous, self-minded preservation, of a rather selfish concern about oneself.”[3] This idea of prudence forgets the human drive for goodness, truth, and nobility. One who is selfish is not concerned with virtue, rather they have turned inward away from truth. The prudent person desires to live according to truth.

Prudence is inextricably linked with choices. It is to choose the good in each moment of the day. One cannot be just, courageous, or temperate if their choices are not ordered to the good. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines prudence as: “…the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it; “the prudent man looks where he is going”…Prudence is “right reason in action”, writes Saint Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle (CCC 1806).” This means “prudence is the “measure” of justice, of fortitude, of temperance.”[4] It is through prudence where emotions and passions are tempered by reason in order for good decisions to be made. A person who is not ruled by reason easily falls into error and sin. Prudence’s primary concern is truth and how best to achieve and conform to that truth. This conformity to the truth propels the man or woman into action.

All of the virtues have at their heart an action in response to truth. The intellect processes the information presented to examine whether or not it conforms to the ontological need for goodness and the will chooses an action in conformity to this truth.[5] The truth can be blocked by the individual’s will, but in the formation of prudence the individual comes to choose the good more and more frequently. The Catechism explains, “The prudent man determines and directs his conduct in accordance with this judgment. With the help of this virtue we apply moral principles to particular cases without error and overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to avoid (CCC 1806).” In a proper examination of prudence, it is clear why the other cardinal virtues rest on this virtue. A man cannot be just if he is not conformed to the truth, nor can a person be willing to die a martyr’s death through fortitude without the aspiration to live truth, or temper bodily desires if the need for balance is not rightly understood.

[1] Joseph Pieper, The Four Cardinal Virtues: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, Temperance, Kindle Edition (San Diego, CA: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1965), 88.

[2] Ibid, 88.

[3] Ibid, 108.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Thomas Aquinas, On Human Nature, ed. Thomas S. Hibbs, (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1999), 133-34.