Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Everything hinges on these: The Cardinal Virtues

I imagine the Cardinal Virtues as the trunk and main branches of our Tree.    The Latin word from which cardinal is derived means hinge; the remaining virtues turn, or are hinged, by our practice of these four:   

Prudence - Look before you leap.  Prudence disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it (CCC 1806).  By this virtue we apply all the Truth we have learned, with the Wisdom God has given us, through prayer, to discern the best course of action.   

Justice – Right relationship.  Justice consists in a person’s constant and firm will to give their due to God (religion) and to neighbor (respecting civil rights) (CCC 1807).  Thinking of the artistic rendition of “Lady Justice”, she is blindfolded and holds a scale.  Justice therefore, shows no preference for persons, but weighs the truths involved in a situation and acts accordingly.  

Fortitude – Perseverance.  Fortitude ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of good.  It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life…even to fear of trials, persecutions and death (CCC 1808).  Fortitude is the “good cheer” we have in the tribulation of the world, knowing God has overcome it.  This virtue is epitomized by the martyrs, those saints who gave their very lives rather than deny Christ. 

Temperance – Not too much of a good thing.  Temperance moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods.  It ensures the will’s mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable.  (CCC 1809).  God has given us a beautiful created world full of things to delight our sensory appetites.  With temperance, we put our delight and love of God first, and balance our appetites for everything else after.  We give Him honor, and grant ourselves peace, when we enjoy the fruits of this world in the order He desires. 

Through our efforts and by Divine grace, the practice of these virtues will enable us to draw ever nearer to Our Lord, who personifies all virtue.  Let us endeavor to practice doing good.  This good will bless us, our families, our friends, our world and our Lord.  Our Lady, Queen of all Virtue, please pray for us.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Virtue versus Vice

When I think about the Virtues, I picture a tree.  Its roots go wide and deep, supporting a large trunk which branches off into strong limbs that bear much foliage, flowers and fruit.  In this image, the roots and base of the tree are the Theological Virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity.  They are “theological” because, by engaging them, we interact directly with God.  Faith is the virtue by which we believe in God and all that He has said and revealed to us (CCC 1814).  Hope is how we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ and not our own strength (CCC 1817).  Finally, Charity is how we love God above all things for His own sake and love our neighbor as ourselves (CCC1822).  We see that charity, known simply as Love, has two parts:  love of God and love of neighbor.  These three foundational virtues inform the way we live with God and behave in the world.  Our morality must be based in them or it will not be moral.  For any of the subsequent virtues to be true, they must flow out of Faith, Hope and Love. 

The Theological virtues are infused into our souls through Baptism allowing the Holy Spirit to be present and act through our lives.  There is a reason that the names Faith, Hope and Charity have always been popular choices.  As Christians, indeed as humans made in the likeness of God, these names reflect our very nature.   To become more truly human, we must walk in the virtues as the saints do, by acting as if we have already been perfected in them.  Lord I believe; help my unbelief!  Let us accept the daily challenge to behave each day in a way which reflects the Faith we have received, the Hope we aspire to and the Love of the Father without which we could not exist.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Sin and the Receiving Eucharist

“Whoever knows what is right to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” James 4:17

Don’t read this article!  If you do, you’ll know what is right to do and will have to do it!    There is much confusion among Catholics about what is required in order to receive Holy Communion.  The Baltimore Catechism states, “To receive worthily it is necessary to be free from mortal sin, to have a right intention and to obey the Church’s laws on the fast required out of reverence for the body and blood of Our Divine Lord.”  The question thus arises:  what is mortal sin? 

In order for a sin, an offense against God, to be considered mortal, three conditions need be met.  “Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.”  (CCC 1857).  For a sin to be of “grave matter” it must violate one of the Ten Commandments (murder, stealing, lying which will destroy a person’s reputation, etc.).  “Full knowledge and deliberate consent” means that you know what you are about to do is wrong, but you intentionally do it anyway.  The remedy for mortal sin, which is spiritual death, is sacramental confession to a priest.  If you know you are in a state of mortal sin, you must receive the Sacrament of Penance before receiving the Eucharist.  To paraphrase the Baltimore Catechism, a dead man cannot eat, and souls in mortal sin cannot receive Eucharist.  Receiving outside of the state of grace heaps sacrilege on top of our other mortal sins. 

To continue the analogy, sick people have a harder time eating than the healthy.  Venial sin does not break our friendship with God, but it does injure it and lessens the amount of grace we receive from the Eucharist.  A venial sin is committed when we do not live charity or observe God’s law in less serious matters.   A sin can also be considered venial when the matter is grave but when we are somehow ignorant of the truth or do not give our full consent to the sin.  Confession brings down grace in our lives to help us to turn away from venial sins, especially those we have constant trouble with.   

An elderly woman once told me, “You don’t hang clean curtains in a dirty kitchen,” which was why she always took her venial sins to confession before receiving our Lord in Holy Communion.  This is a beautiful and pious practice; however the Church does not require it.  Because frequent confession is not possible for everyone, the Church in her wisdom and generosity gives us the Penitential Rite at the beginning of each mass.  According to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, number 51:

"Then the priest invites those present to take part in the Act of Penitence, which, after a brief pause for silence, the entire community carries out through a formula of general confession. The rite concludes with the priest's absolution, which, however, lacks the efficacy of the Sacrament of Penance."

In this prayer, and indeed in the acts of listening to the Liturgy of the Word and of receiving the Eucharist itself, we are cleansed from all venial sins.  All of this is to ensure that when we say, “Amen” (so be it) before receiving Jesus, we are open to all of the graces and gifts He wants to give us.   Because the Eucharist is a gift and not something we take, let us remember to open and cup our hands or open our mouths and our hearts, to receive our Lord. 

For those of us who are “minimalists”, we can look to the canonical precepts of the church.  The second precept states, “You shall confess your sins at least once a year.”  The Church does not ask this to set an arbitrary rule, but because she knows that God desires that we receive all of the graces He gives.  God won’t take control of our lives; He wants us to give Him control that we may receive His order.  As we accept His order over all aspects of our lives, we will see His plan for us unfold mercifully and beautifully.  The ultimate fruit of His plan is never some sort of dictatorial control, the kind we often try to have over our own lives, but instead, is a loving union with Him. 

Subsidiarity and Catholic Social Teaching

With Federalized Health Care being a continued hot topic, many are confused about what the Catholic faith has to say regarding this and other government involvement in our lives.  Even when we set aside the overarching issue of Respect for all Human Life, another large principle is violated by our Government expanding into managing our Health Care.  That issue is “subsidiarity”.  In #1883-1884 the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains subsidiarity in the following way:

“…The teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity, according to which "a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co-ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.”
God has not willed to reserve to himself all exercise of power. He entrusts to every creature the functions it is capable of performing, according to the capacities of its own nature. This mode of governance ought to be followed in social life. The way God acts in governing the world, which bears witness to such great regard for human freedom, should inspire the wisdom of those who govern human communities. They should behave as ministers of divine providence.”

Subsidiarity teaches us that all functions, from health care, to industry to education should be performed at the “most local” level possible to avoid interfering with each individual’s God given free will and to preserve each individual’s dignity.  In the end, violating subsidiarity will lead to violating the sanctity of each Human Life.  When the society as a whole is valued at the expense of the rights of the individual, individual humans become dispensable.  Our bishops clearly spoke out against this double-edged danger prior to the Health Care Law’s passage.  We thank them and pray for their continued fortitude in standing up for the Truth of Jesus’ teachings on the value of each of our lives.  We also thank and pray for all of the Catholic doctors, nurses and staff who have historically brought so much health care and blessing to our nation, and who will continue to do so as long as they are able. 

From “God Is Love” n. 29, Pope Benedict XVI

The State which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing which the suffering person—every person—needs: namely, loving personal concern. We do not need a State which regulates and controls everything, but a State which, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from the different social forces and combines spontaneity with closeness to those in need.

The Universal Call to Chastity

We are all called to live a chaste life.  That’s right; not just priests and religious, but all of us.  Falling under the cardinal virtue of temperance, “which seeks to permeate the passions and appetites of the senses with reason,” chastity applies this virtue to our human sexuality.  It is not the same thing as celibacy or abstinence, but refers to the, “successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being.  It involves the integrity of the person and the integrality of the gift.”  Our sexuality is a gift we freely choose to give over to God in the consecrated or ordained life, or to God through our spouse in the married life. 

This form of self control is a, “long and exacting work. One can never consider it acquired once and for all. It presupposes renewed effort at all stages of life. It can be more intense in certain periods, such as when the personality is being formed during childhood and adolescence.”  Like all of the virtues, we work on, fail at, go to confession for, resolve to do better at chastity, all of our life.  We assist ourselves in this pursuit through frequent reception of the Sacraments and fidelity to prayer. 

St. Augustine said, "Indeed it is through chastity that we are gathered together and led back to the unity from which we were fragmented into multiplicity." Without living chastity, our lives become “fragmented”, disconnected, duplicitous, a mess.  On the contrary a person living chastity by the grace of God, is, “training in human freedom. The alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy.”  What our culture promotes as “freedom” is actually only a dark shadow of freedom, called “license”.  Freedom is the ability to do what is best for us, what we should do.  License leads only to enslavement to our passions, and to doing, as St. Paul said, not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” (Rom. 7:19) 

As usual, the Church wants what is best for us, a true understanding, integration and enjoyment of God’s gift of our sexuality.  The world tries to sell us a cheap imitation (the words “dumpster diving” come to mind).  Chastity is a way we honor our own and others’ dignity.  It is a facet of our lives, most beautiful, and most easily scarred.  Protect it as you would any other precious gem.  But don’t forget, God can polish any “scratch” in His confessional.

All quotes are from the Catechism of the Catholic Church 2337-2345, which is definitely worth a read. www. Chastity.Com is also a great source of information.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Be Present Now

Early in the 18th century Jean-Pierre de Caussade, a Jesuit priest, spiritually advised nuns to actively surrender their wills to God. In the book compiled from his letters, The Sacrament of the Present Moment, de Caussade teaches us to be in constant communion with God that we might do His will for us, not just every day, but every hour and every moment. By reading de Caussade’s book, we learn to receive the blessings of the present moment, whatever it holds, and to walk in God’s will for our lives.

Often in August our brains go into overdrive; we start planning for the hyper-busy months to come. Is this why God gave us August? Is this why He gave us a lush, hot month which just about throws itself at us trying to get our attention with its beauty and abundance? No, August is a time to slow down enough to listen to what God is calling us to do and not do. Soon enough the voices of the world will crowd in with ideas of how we should spend the precious resource of our time. Let us use August to allow God to free us from the dead wood of false obligations and free us to do the things He wills, including re-creating ourselves.

Expounding on Mary’s ability to be present, de Caussade wrote:

Her spirit, ravished with joy, looked upon everything that she was called to do or suffer each moment as the gift of God, who always fills with blessings a heart that is nourished neither by the world nor by fantasy, but by Him alone.

By using God’s gifts for His purposes we grow closer to each other and to Him. When we go our own way we may experience worldly success, but not lasting fulfillment and joy. How often have we been frustrated trying to bring our own plans to fruition, but amazed by how easily work flows when we act on God’s plans? God wants our work to fulfill us and our rest to restore us. He wills all good things for us. August is the perfect month to give God’s plan a try. Let us be present to Him. Let us be absent from regret and anxiety. May we thus realize the gift that God gives us in the present moment.

The Root of the Weed Called Abortion

On Teresa Tomeo’s radio show May 29, 2009, she and Janet Morana were discussing a study released on the cost to the US Government of treating and dealing with the “human wreckage” related to alcohol and drug abuse. The obvious connection which came to their minds was that a good portion of this, in both women and men, was caused by abortion. No professionals believe or inform their patients that abortion causes psychological problems which lead to behaviors such as alcohol and drug abuse. Ignoring this truth amounts to malpractice, not to mention the fiscal costs to our society. We cannot be healed of what we will not admit is a wound. The cost of abortion, to the individual and to society outweighs the supposed benefits handily. This is very important information from a secular point of view. This has nothing to do with religion or even morality. Abortion costs our society dearly.

There is one point that I would like to make to compliment what my fellow patriots in the pro-life movement say. Abortion is the cause of many deep, lasting and costly problems. However, I do not believe abortion is the root cause. Abortion is the terrible and disgusting flower, or weed, of another root. I believe that root is the degradation of the feminine person. A girl or woman who has been affirmed in her femininity and personhood would not consider abortion as a solution to a “problem”. Indeed such persons would not likely be in a position to have an “unwanted” pregnancy in the first place. The cause of abortion is that we are raising little girls to be prostitutes. For several generations we have taught them that their value lies in what they give to or trade with society first through their sexuality, second through their ability to generate income. Gone is the value given to them first as daughters of God, second as bearers and nurturers of life. In denying the true value of the female person we destroy her ability to care for herself and make choices which respect her own integrity and humanity. By the time many girls are at an age to become pregnant and make their choices, they have been wounded and damaged to such a degree that their choices are necessarily selfish ones. No one has taken care of them; they must take care of themselves.

Of course the corollary of this attack is the destruction of true masculinity. Its retributions are just as severe and as related to abortion as the destruction of femininity. A boy or man who has been affirmed in his true value, first as a son of God, second as co-creator and protector, would abhor the idea of killing his own child. A man raised in the truth of his masculinity would regard his purity and eventual vocation in such a way that he would be much less likely to be in a position to support the ending of his child’s life for his convenience or perceived material necessity.

This cycle of human degradation feeds upon itself. There is more human wreckage now than a generation ago. There will be exponentially more a generation from now if hearts and minds (and laws) are not changed. A society in denial teaches the wounded and proud young American that abortion is sanctioned and thus a valid “choice”. We have generations of legalized American murderers. The dignity of the human person disappears. We see and are living with the fruit. A child sexually abused by her stepfather or teacher or brother survives by counting on herself and what the world tells her will bring her happiness and peace. The world denies the truth of who she is but she has no reference point to see the lie.

We in the pro-life movement must see in every angry pro-choice person a wounded lamb whom God desires to heal. We must pray first and foremost for conversion of each soul. We see the promise of the youth. We speak out and teach truth. We pray to avoid the prophetic words of Blessed Mother Teresa, “The fruit of abortion is nuclear war.” We see that abortion is in itself the terrible fruit, or flower, or weed, of the enemy’s lie about the dignity of the human person. The attacks are personal, individual and devastating. Let us pray personally, individually and with the assurance of where the great power lies. Jesus, I trust in You.

Don't Take Offense

From one of my pastor's, Fr. Joe Gatto, homilies: We are all called to take ourselves out of the center of the circle, or to allow Jesus to do so, and place Him there instead.

From spiritual directions of our dear Franciscan, Fr. Francis: Write our hurts in the sand where the winds of forgiveness can blow them away. Carve our blessings in stone to keep them always before us.

So, Fr. Francis, what should we do when we are offended? His answer was to first discern whether they even meant to offend you. Are they even aware of what they are saying or doing? It is rare that intent is malicious.

This has been rolling around in my soul. What keeps bubbling up is: Don’t Take Offense. If you do, what you receive is offense. Instead, receive the wound, the hurt, and then give it to Jesus. If you are offended, you are in the center, you are not seeing the offender’s wounds and you cannot pray for them. You end up ruminating on the wound, or even the perceived wound, instead of moving forward with grace that can help the offender.

Jesus was not offended by His rejection, trial, scourging, being spit upon, being humiliated. He was not offended by His Passion and Death. He was wounded throughout, but always kept before Himself our need for forgiveness, mercy, atonement and salvation. He alone had the right to be offended, yet He forfeited that right for us.

When someone does something offensive to you, receive the hurt, give it to Jesus, ask for the wisdom to see the offender’s wounds and offer the suffering and a prayer for their conversion and healing. In this way you receive grace, forgiveness and mercy yourself. Choosing the other way, being offended, all you receive is offense and you still do not avoid the hurt.

My response to Fr. Francis’ thoughts on discerning intent is yes. This view will allow you to offer suffering and pray for the offender, who is himself or herself a wounded lamb. However I would add that someone can unintentionally wound you. A drunk driver can be as deadly as a crazed killer, malicious intent aside. The wound, the hurt is still real and still needs to be given to Jesus. Don’t take offense, receive the wound and offer His Mercy. This is how we receive His Mercy and His Peace.


I guess I am a ludite at heart. Saying I'm not a trendsetter when it comes to new technology would be a gross understatement. I am wary of Facebook. It seems a time gobbler. Heck, I haven't made time to blog in almost a year, how am I going to "manage" a Facebook account? Yet there are all of these amazing, beautiful pictures of people who have been, and are, a big part of my life! I see their children, from newborns to having babies of their own, and I think how good life is. What a blessing to be able to share in this way. So, I reluctantly log on to another modern mode of communication. Just when I was getting used to there being no card catalog at the library...