Imagine for a moment the utter despair of the disciples on Holy Saturday. For three long years they had toiled ceaselessly with their Master, leaving livelihoods, families, and everything else behind. They had loved him devotedly, spending their days learning the deepest wisdom from him, accompanying him on wearying journeys, enduring scorn for his sake, eating and sleeping with him, and witnessing his jaw-dropping miracles—all the while confident that they would enjoy an exalted place in his earthly kingdom, which would certainly be ushered in at any moment.
Then began Holy Week, which was the week of shattered hopes for these faithful men. Their beloved Jesus, whom they expected to utterly destroy the powers of evil and national oppression, was stripped of both his clothes and his dignity. He was savagely beaten, mocked, and tortured. Finally, he was nailed to a gibbet, bloodied beyond recognition, for everyone in the world to gawk at.
I recently wrote a column on the importance of fatherhood that was published in Truth and Charity Forum.
Recently, at the park with my wife and son, I witnessed one of the saddest sights I’ve seen in a long time. A little boy, about five or six, was there with his dad. Normally, this would be a wonderful thing, but the tragedy was, they weren’t spending time with each other. The dad was engrossed in his phone — ignoring his child.
No matter what he tried, this little boy could not get his father’s attention. He jumped up and down yelling, “Dad! Dad! Look at me!” He climbed up the jungle gym, went down the slide, raced in circles, all the while hoping that he might win the affectionate glance, the loving interaction, of his father. But the dad wouldn’t even look up from his phone. He would respond with a distracted grunt, if that.
“Satan was the most celebrated of Alpine guides, when he took Jesus to the top of an exceeding high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the earth. But the joy of Satan in standing on a peak is not a joy in largeness, but a joy in beholding smallness, in the fact that all men look like insects at his feet. It is from the valley that things look large; it is from the level that things look high; I am a child of the level and have no need of that celebrated Alpine guide. I will lift up my eyes to the hills, from whence cometh my help.”
– G.K. Chesterton
“Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but — more frequently than not — struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.”
“Reason is the Devil’s greatest whore; by nature and manner of being she is a noxious whore; she is a prostitute, the Devil’s appointed whore; whore eaten by scab and leprosy who ought to be trodden under foot and destroyed, she and her wisdom … Throw dung in her face to make her ugly. She is and she ought to be drowned in baptism… She would deserve, the wretch, to be banished to the filthiest place in the house, to the closets.”
“But, although faith is above reason, nevertheless, between faith and reason no true dissension can ever exist, since the same God, who reveals mysteries and infuses faith, has bestowed on the human soul the light of reason…
And, not only can faith and reason never be at variance with one another, but they also bring mutual help to each other, since right reasoning demonstrates the basis of faith and, illumined by its light, perfects the knowledge of divine things, while faith frees and protects reason from errors and provides it with manifold knowledge.
Wherefore, the Church is so far from objecting to the culture of the human arts and sciences, that it aids and promotes this cultivation in many ways. For, it is not ignorant of, nor does it despise the advantages flowing therefrom into human life; nay, it confesses that, just as they have come forth from “God, the Lord of knowledge” 1 Samuel 2:3, so, if rightly handled, they lead to God by the aid of His grace.”
Dei Filius, Dogmatic Constitution of the First Vatican Council
The May Magnificat
by Gerard Manley Hopkins
May is Mary’s month, and I
Muse at that and wonder why:
Her feasts follow reason,
Dated due to season—
Candlemas, Lady Day;
But the Lady Month, May,
Why fasten that upon her,
With a feasting in her honour?
Is it only its being brighter
Than the most are must delight her?
Is it opportunest
And flowers finds soonest?
Ask of her, the mighty mother:
Her reply puts this other
Question: What is Spring?—
Growth in every thing—
Flesh and fleece, fur and feather,
Grass and greenworld all together;
Throstle above her nested
Cluster of bugle blue eggs thin
Forms and warms the life within;
And bird and blossom swell
In sod or sheath or shell.
All things rising, all things sizing
Mary sees, sympathising
With that world of good,
Their magnifying of each its kind
With delight calls to mind
How she did in her stored
Magnify the Lord.
Well but there was more than this:
Spring’s universal bliss
Much, had much to say
To offering Mary May.
Bloom lights the orchard-apple
And thicket and thorp are merry
With silver-surfèd cherry
And azuring-over greybell makes
Wood banks and brakes wash wet like lakes
And magic cuckoocall
Caps, clears, and clinches all—
This ecstasy all through mothering earth
Tells Mary her mirth till Christ’s birth
To remember and exultation
In God who was her salvation.
There is no denying that there are many hard sayings within the Catholic faith—many beliefs radical in their nature which demand our faith.
And among these hard sayings, there is perhaps none more difficult than the Catholic teaching on the nature of the blessed sacrament, the eucharist. For we are taught and must confidently believe that, in the mass, the eucharist is substantially changed into the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We must believe that when the priest utters the words of consecration, we no longer behold mere bread and wine, but quite literally the Ancient of Days, the King of Kings, the Alpha and the Omega, the Amen, the living and true God; and we must, with all the angels and saints, give him the honor due his name.
Now, this is our duty and our salvation, and yet it is difficult for at least two reasons, the first of which is that the Eucharistic elements simply don’t look any different. They appear to remain bread and wine. Indeed, they taste like bread and wine. And so, each Sunday, each mass, we are challenged like the Jews who witnessed Christ’s first coming, whether or not we will believe him at his word, or trust our own judgement.
The second reason is that there are no miraculous signs to attend this making-present of Christ. There are no lightnings, nor clouds, nor any fanfare. One would expect these things would attend the presence of Almighty God.
While it is not my purpose here to defend the validity of the doctrine of the eucharist, I will add that perhaps it was because Jesus knew that the eucharist would test our faith that he left so much evidence for it. For there are the explicit words of Jesus himself (My flesh is true food, my blood is true drink) among countless other Scriptures, and the unanimous witness of the early fathers of the church testifying to the true nature of the eucharist. And yet many still doubt.
That said, here is the point I would like to make: The eucharist is no more radical nor difficult to believe than the first coming and Incarnation of Christ. It demands no more faith, and no less.
For indeed, to the Jews who first encountered Christ, the ideas of God having a Son, and that Son having a body, were blasphemous in the extreme. It struck at the very heart of their understanding of God, for, to them, God was one in a way that made a Divine Son impossible and transcendent in a way that made it unthinkable for him to ever incarnate himself.
In short, the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation was as radical and possible to the Jewish and pagan minds. Even many of Jesus’ followers did not believe him to be speaking literally when he said, “I and the Father are one,” or, “Before Abraham was, I am.” How could he mean what he said? God does not have a body, nor a Son—much less this poor, unsightly carpenter from a disreputable neighborhood. He couldn’t possibly mean it, they thought. He must mean something else.
It was the Pharisees, the teachers and students of the law, who understood exactly what Jesus meant. After seeking clarifications again and again, Jesus left no doubt in their minds as to whom he claimed to be. He did not intend to. And this is why they hated him and sought to kill him.
No, the doctrine of the Incarnation has never been easy to believe. And that is why, from the beginning, there have been hordes of heresies seeking to deny it. It took all the weight and authority of the Church to clarify once and for all that orthodoxy consisted of believing that Jesus was true God and true man.
As I have said, to believe that Jesus can appear as bread and wine is no more blasphemous or radical than saying that Jesus is God or that God can take on a body. If we say otherwise, we betray that we do not understand that earth-shattering reality that is the Incarnation.
Simply, if one is impossible the other is impossible. If one is blasphemous the other is blasphemous. If you deny one, you must deny the other. For there is at least as much Scriptural and historical evidence for Jesus in the eucharist as there is for Jesus being the Son of God the Father, coequal and of one substance with him, eternally existent, consisting of two natures in one indivisible person, and all the details of the orthodox Christological creeds.
No, it is not for lack of evidence that some would deny the nature eucharist—it is rather discomfort and doubting.
In a sense, this discomfort and incredulity is understandable, for these are hard sayings. Yet, I maintain that all orthodox doctrines should make us uncomfortable and test our faith. If they do not, we do not truly understand Christianity. For Christianity was never meant to be a religion easily believed. Jesus did not intend to make it easy to follow him or believe in him.
And yet, the Church is never satisfied with anything less than the fullness of the Catholic and Apostolic faith. Far from denying it or seeking to soften it, she teaches it from age to age with authority, demanding our obedience and our allegiance. And she alone can confidently and joyfully believe the fullness of those words—not of symbol, but of sacrament and salvation—Lo, I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the age.
“Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.”
-Blessed Teresa of Calcutta
There is a common and yet mistaken idea that poverty is solely a financial state, and that helping the poor consists primarily in providing them with food, clothing, and other material goods. In a way, this idea is understandable, for materials needs are the most easily seen and met.
But there is a second kind of poverty perhaps more devastating than material neediness, a greater and still more tragic poverty—the poverty of soul.
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta saw this second kind of poverty most clearly, and spoke about it often. She knew what it was to work among the truly materially desolate in the slums of India, and yet, among these men, women, and children whom the world would pity, she saw many hearts full of joy, gratitude, and even contentment. In their utter desolateness, many were happy. Paradoxically, it was among the rich of the world, those who had everything materially, that she saw this second poverty in the form of depression, anger, hurt, isolation, loneliness and despair.
Jesus acknowledged that poverty would exist even among material plenty when he said, “The poor you will always have with you.” Some have twisted this into a financial prophecy of sorts, and have used it as an excuse not to help those in need—to their own condemnation, I might add, for the poor are Christ. But Jesus meant something more than the financially poor, although he certainly meant them also. He meant that the needy we will always have with us. And in the materially wealthy West, the needy most often are the emotionally and spiritually hurting.
As evidence of this, I daresay that many of us would be hard pressed to think of anyone we know who is without the necessities of food, clothing, and shelter—and so we think we do not have any poor toward whom we can show compassion. But this simply isn’t true.
I can say confidently that every one of us knows someone who is hurting emotionally—someone who feels abandoned, lost, lonely, doubting, despairing, or hungry for affection—but so often we are ignorant of it because we simply do not take the time to notice or to listen. And the hurting, in their isolation, often put on a mask of happiness so that their pain will not be discovered.
These are the poor and they are Jesus. If we are so self-absorbed that we do not notice, or we notice but do not care, we are quite literally abandoning Christ, and no amount of prayer or work in God’s name will matter to him if we are not serving with love the silently suffering around us.
How frequently, too, are the spiritually poor in our own families. Our husbands, wives, or children are hurting and craving affection, and yet they are the last ones we think of when we think of the needy. They are so close that we no longer see them. We must give ourselves to them with our time and attention.
This is love and it is not easy. In fact, in many ways, it is more taxing than meeting material needs. Distributing our money or possessions—paying the bills or donating to charity, for example—doesn’t cost us nearly as much as giving of our time and emotional energy to listen, and more importantly, to hear, with true understanding. Yet, it is what we must do if we would follow Christ.
Jesus solemnly promised, “When you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me.” Let us then pray for hearts overflowing with compassion, so that we can hear and help with joy the hidden Christ veiled in the faces of our friends.
“It is to far happier, far higher exaltation that we owe those fair fronts of variegated mosaic, charged with wild fancies and dark hosts of imagery, thicker and quainter than ever filled the depth of midsummer dream; those vaulted gates, trellised with close leaves; those window labyrinths of twisted tracery and starry light; those misty masses of multitudinous pinnacle and diademed tower; the only witnesses, perhaps, that remain to us of the faith and fear of nations. All else for which the builders sacrificed has passed away. But of them and their life and their toil upon earth, one reward, one evidence, is left to us in those great heaps of deep-wrought stone. They have taken with them to the grave their powers, their honors and their errors; but they have left us their adoration.”
The advent of Christmas is one of the busiest and noisiest times of year—a season of getting and spending in which we lay waste our credit cards. It should be a holy time, but it has become an orgy of consumerism in the temples of commerce. It is not peaceful, and it is certainly not silent.
It is a sign of the shrinking of the modern soul and the jaded and scientific cynicism of the contemporary age that we have nearly lost our capacity to wonder—even at the greatest of miracles. We have replaced it with a materialistic obsession and a voracious greed. But it is wonder that would make us feel small and selfless, that would cause us to give. It is materialism that makes us feel large and greedy and causes us to take. We have traded our souls for stuff, and we have lost them.
But despite, or perhaps because of, the materialism that is so prevalent, it is obvious that humanity is desperate for something to believe in, something to wonder at. The shallow satisfaction of Things dies as soon as there is something new to be had. Which is to say, immediately. And so we grasp after something deeper, something unbelievable to believe in.
Nowhere is this better evidenced than Hollywood. The unending theme of Christmas movies is the unbelieving cynic who needs to gain or regain the “spirit” of Christmas—that spirit being a sense of wonder and joy and faith in something that cannot be understood.
Pop culture is very often right about what is wrong, but it is almost always wrong about what is right, and this certainly true of Christmas movies. In these films, Hollywood has indeed stumbled on a profound theological truth: We must believe, we must wonder like a child at something to be truly happy. But it is what we should believe in and what we should wonder at that they go wrong. For the thing that brings the spirit of Christmas in these movies is almost always the wrong thing: It is family, it is being together, it is believing in Santa Claus.
Now, these things are good things, and even the story of Santa—which has become somewhat of an obsession—is a story with merits. It is one of giving, of faith, of asking and receiving, of childlike simplicity. It is a story just strange enough to be fiction. But it is not strange enough. We need a story yet more wonderful.
Fortunately, truth is indeed stranger than fiction, and there is a more wonderful story. It is the story of a small town in the Judean countryside, Bethlehem, the City of David, and what happened there. In this tiny town, a weary peasant girl—with God in her womb—was helped by her husband into a cave filled with the aroma of animals. Here, deep in the night, an infant cry startled the stillness, and in the dark, the Light of the world was born. Infinity had invaded space and eternity time. God had become a baby, and behind the starry curtain of heaven, angels danced to see it.
In the pungent dampness of the cave, the loving mother laid the great Strength of the Ages in a manger. The animals, unlike the men who had had no room for Him, were only too happy to share their feeding trough with God. Soon, the divine child was asleep with the first weariness he had ever known—but not the last he was to know. It was the weariness of tiny muscles and strained lungs. It was the pain and helplessness of humanity.
At this story we shrug, we pass by with a sweet and sentimental smile. We would prefer Santa Claus. It is only ignorance that makes it so. But this is the story really worthy of wonder, the story of the divine invasion, the story that is too good to be true—the True story. It is the most terrible and stupefying of miracles. It is the miracle that quite literally shattered the world. For in that tiny struggling form of a helpless child, a Vastness beyond vastness had become too small to ignore, and God forevermore took on the face, even the body of a man.
I am in the midst of reading Victor Hugo’s epic novel Les Misérables—and I will be for some time as it is a massive work. In the midst of the novel, Hugo digresses, as he is wont to do, into a fascinating discussion of atheism. Hugo lived in a time of great upheaval intellectually and morally, a time of revolution. Of course, one of the battle cries of the revolutionaries of his day was, “God is dead.” It is to this he responds. Now, Hugo himself was by no means a traditionalist. He considered himself a free-thinker—one who had progressed beyond the archaisms of traditional religion. Nevertheless, he recognized that atheism was not an answer to anything. Here is what he said.
To erect a sense which we lack into a source of truth is a fine blind man’s self-sufficiency.
The curious thing is the haughty, superior, and compassionate airs which this groping philosophy assumes towards the philosophy which belongs to God. One fancies he hears a mole crying, “I pity them with their sun!”
There are, as we know, powerful and illustrious atheists. At bottom, led back to the truth by their very force, they are not absolutely sure that they are atheists; it is with them only a question of definition, and in any case, if they do not believe in God, being great minds, they prove God.
We salute them as philosophers, while inexorably denouncing their philosophy.
The remarkable thing about it is, also, their facility in paying themselves off with words. A metaphysical school of the North, impregnated to some extent with fog, has fancied that it has worked a revolution in human understanding by replacing the word Force with Will.
To say, “The plant wills,” instead of, “the plant grows,” this would be fertile in results indeed if we were to add, “the universe wills.” Why? Because it would come to this: the plant wills, there for it has an I; the universe will, therefore it has a God.
As for us, who, however, in contradistinction to this school, reject nothing a priori, a will in the plant, accepted by this school, appears to us more difficult to admit than a will in the universe denied by it.
To deny the will of the infinite, that is to say, God, is impossible on any other conditions than a denial of the infinite. We have demonstrated this.
The negation of the infinite leads straight to nihilism. Everything becomes “a mental conception.”
With nihilism, no discussion is possible. For the nihilist logic doubts the existence of its interlocutor , and it is not sure that it exists itself.
From its point of view, it is possible that it may be for itself, only a “mental conception.”
Only, it does not perceive that all which it has denied it admits simply by the utterance of the word “Mind.”
In short, no way is open to the thought by a philosophy which makes all end in the monosyllable, No.
To No, there is only one reply: Yes.
Nihilism has no point.
There is no such thing as nothingness. Zero does not exist. Everything is something. Nothing is nothing. Man lives by affirmation even more than by bread….
For our part…we will confine ourselves to saying that we niether understand man as a point of departure nor progress as an end, without those two forces which are their two motors: faith and love.
Progress is the goal, the ideal is the type.
What is the ideal? It is God.
Ideal, absolute, perfection, infinity: identical words.
— Volume II, Book VII, Chapter VI: “The Absolute Goodness of Prayer”