|Devotion to Our Lady||
“Final call! The Lenten train is about to depart! All aboard please!” If you don’t get on board, you may not make it to the destination—for it is the only train that goes there! “I say to you: but unless you shall do penance, you shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). “The Lord delayeth not His promise, as some imagine, but dealeth patiently for your sake, not willing that any should perish, but that all should return to penance” (2 Peter 3:9).
Let the Countdown not be a Letdown
These three days, following on from Quinquagesima Sunday, were a countdown to Ash Wednesday—the beginning of our modern-day Lent. It is the final call for our entry into the arena, where we will be called to do battle with the devil, the world and our own weak and sinful flesh, body and soul.
Dumbed Down and ‘Muscle-less’
The battle—like schooling—is obligatory. Yet, just like schooling or education—which has been “dumbed-down” to produce non-thinking ‘sheeple’ (sheep+people)—Lent , likewise, has been “toned-down” to produce ‘muscle-less’ Catholics, who will then be too weak to fight their way through the jungle and jingles of this seductive world, in order to reach Heaven.
“Fight the good fight of Faith: lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art called” (1 Timothy 6:12). “The Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away” (Matthew 11:12). “Know you not that they that run in the race, all run indeed, but one receiveth the prize? So run that you may obtain!” (1 Corinthians 9:24).
Time for Violent Efforts
As St. Paul says: “I therefore so run, not as at an uncertainty: I so fight, not as one beating the air: but I chastise my body, and bring it into subjection” (1 Corinthians 9:26-27). The violence, the effort, the struggle―necessary to obtain Heaven―is accomplished and realized through PENANCE. “Let him do penance for his sin” (Leviticus 5:5).
But of the enemy that we face, Our Lord said: “this kind is not cast out but by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:20)—which, in other words, means PENANCE. “God hath given him place for penance, and he abuseth it unto pride” (Job 24:23). “Hear, I beseech you, my words, and do penance” (Job 21:2). To which Our Lord ominously adds this warning: “I say to you: but unless you shall do penance, you shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3).
Separate from the World
As Dom Guéranger writes: “The fundamental rule of Christian life is, as almost every page of the Gospel tells us, that we should live out of the world, separate ourselves from the world, hate the world. The world is that ungodly land which Abraham, our sublime model, is commanded by God to quit. It is that Babylon of our exile and captivity, where we are beset with dangers.” …
“The beloved disciple, St. John, cries out to us: ‘Love not the world, nor the things which are in the world. If any man love the world, the charity of the Father is not in him’ (John 2:15). Our most merciful Jesus, at the very time when He was about to offer Himself as a sacrifice for all men, spoke these awful words: ‘I pray not for the world’ (John 17:9). When we were baptized, and were signed with the glorious and indelible character of Christians, the condition required of us, and accepted, was that we should renounce the works and pomps of the world (which we expressed under the name of Satan); and this solemn baptismal promise we have often renewed.” …
“But what is the meaning of our promise to renounce the world? Is it that we cannot be Christians, unless we flee into the desert and separate ourselves from our fellow-creatures? Such cannot be God’s will for all, since, in that same Scripture, wherein He commands us to flee from the world, He also tells us what are our duties to each other, and sanctions and blesses those ties which He Himself has willed should exist among us. His apostle, also, tells us to use this world as though we did not use it (1 Corinthians 7:31).” (The Liturgical Year, Tuesday of Quinquagesima Week).
Choked by the World
So deeply are Catholics entrenched and rooted in the world today, that talk such as this falls on deaf ears—as Jesus points out: “He that received the seed (the Word of God) among thorns, is he that heareth the Word, and the care of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choketh up the Word, and he becometh fruitless” (Matthew 13:22). “Seeing they see not, and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand” (Matthew 13:13). The Word of God goes in one ear and passes out the other, bearing little or not fruit—whereas the word of the world is the word that is retained and bears [bad] fruit a hundredfold.
In the World, but Not of the World
Yet, we find ourselves among this worldly world and our daily lives must necessarily unfold therein. If it is not, therefore, forbidden for us to live in, and to use, the world, then what does all this talk about renouncing the world mean? Can there be contradiction in God’s commandments? Is it possible that we are condemned to wander blindly on the brink of a precipice, into which we must at last inevitably fall?
There is neither contradiction nor snare. If by the world, we mean these visible things around us, which God created in His power and goodness; if we mean this outward world, which He made for His own glory and our benefit; it is worthy of its divine Author, and it us to us—if we would only use it correctly—a ladder by which our souls can ascend to their God. With such an attitude, let us gratefully use this world; go through it, without making it the object of our hope; not waste upon it that love, which God alone deserves; and ever be mindful, that we are not made for this, but for another and a happier, world.
Lastly, let those who must go, on these days, and mingle in the company of worldlings, be guided by St. Francis of Sales, who advises them to think, from time to time, on such considerations as these: “that while all these frivolous, and often dangerous, amusements are going on, there are countless souls being tormented in the fire of Hell, on account of the sins they committed on similar occasions; that, at that very hour of the night, there are many holy Religious depriving themselves of sleep in order to sing the divine praises and implore God’s mercy upon the world, and upon them that are wasting their time in its vanities; that there are thousands in the agonies of death, whilst all that gaiety is going on; that God and His Angels are attentively looking upon this thoughtless group; and finally, that life is passing away, and death so much nearer each moment” (Introduction to a Devout Life, Part III, Chapter 33).
What’s YOUR Name?
But the majority of men, century after century, were not and are not prudent, nor correct in their use of the world. Their hearts are fixed upon it, and not upon God and Heaven. Thus the Creator decided to come into this world, in order that He might save it and to show us how to use the things of the world correctly―but “the world knew Him not” (John 1:10). Men are called after the name of the object of their love―for example, “sports fans”, “hunters”, “party-goers”, “movie-goers”, “smokers”, “drinkers”, “gamblers”, etc., etc. God gives most men the name “the world.”
Light or Darkness?
Now the men, whom God came to save, shut their eyes to the light; they became darkness; so God calls them “the world”―“You are of this world, I am not of this world” (John 8:23)―or He calls them the children of darkness―“The people that sat in darkness, hath seen great light: and to them that sat in the region of the shadow of death, light is sprung up” … “And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” … “For all you are the children of light, and children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness” … “For you were heretofore darkness, but now light in the Lord. Walk then as children of the light” (Matthew 4:16; John 1:5; Ephesians 5:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:5).
Whatever your nationality may be, you retain that nationality wherever you may happen to go in the world. Whatever your first name or Christian name may be, you retain that name throughout your life, no matter where you may go or who you may marry. By your Baptism, you have been marked for eternity with the seal or mark of Christ—you are a Christian, no matter where you may go or what you may do—even if you end up in Hell, that mark of Christ will still be upon your soul. In Confirmation, you were given another mark or seal—that of a Soldier for Christ—and that, too, will always be upon your soul for eternity. We are Christ’s—Christians by family name, belonging to Christ, and Christians by job, being soldiers for Christ—but are we merely Christians by name, or are we also Christians by nature? Do we simply carry the name, or do we also carry the spirit? Are we, perhaps, Christ’s by name and the world’s by spirit? Are we vainly trying to serve Christ and world simultaneously—God and mammon?
Lent has a habit of sorting the men from the boys―the wheat from the chaff—the good fruit from the bad fruit. There is an axiom that says that you see the true mettle of man when he is placed under great stress—it is then that you see what he is really made of. The same could be said about Lent—you see the true colors of souls during Lent, for they will either go through it with humility and love, or they will murmur and grumble and cheat like the Israelites in the desert with Moses, pining for the fleshpots, onion and garlic of Egypt. In the heat and desert of Lent, we will see whether the prayers come from merely the lips or from the heart; whether fasts and other penances are performed from a spirit of pride and boastfulness or from a spirit of humility and contrition for past sins.
See the Profit!
Let us look upon Lent with joy! For the monetary-minded, look upon the season as the “LENTEN SALES” with 95% reductions on every sin you have ever committed—buy mercy now and you won’t have to pay for it later at the full price with added interest! If you are sports-minded, take St. Paul’s analogy of having to “RUN A RACE” and get ahead of spiritually flabby worldly couch-potatoes, who “talk a good race” but gasp for breath after just a few days of Lent—when they find out that “talking the talk” is nothing like “walking the walk”. If you “LOVE TO TALK”, then now is your chance to “bend God’s ear”—for He certainly would like to hear from you and will be “all ears” to what you have to humbly say about your past sins— “saying: ‘If we do not penance, we shall fall into the hands of the Lord, and not into the hands of men!’” (Ecclesiasticus 2:22).
We should take note of Solomon’s prayer to God: “If they sin against Thee (for there is no man that sinneth not) and Thou be angry with them, and deliver them up to their enemies, and they lead them away captive to a land either afar off, or near at hand, and if they be converted in their heart in the land to which they were led captive, and do penance, and pray to Thee in the land of their captivity, saying: ‘We have sinned! We have done wickedly! We have dealt unjustly!’ and return to Thee with all their heart, and with all their soul, in the land of their captivity, to which they were led away, and adore Thee: then hear Thou from Heaven, their prayers, and do judgment, and forgive Thy people, although they have sinned” (2 Paralipomenon 6:36-39).
And God will reply to us: “And My people, upon whom My Name is called, being converted, shall make supplication to Me, and seek out My Face, and do penance for their most wicked ways: then will I hear from Heaven, and will forgive their sins and will heal their land” (2 Paralipomenon 7:14).
The Reason for the Season
The “Reason for the Season” is sin! Know that for Heaven “The entrance is the penance” and that “Where there’s prayer, there’s no despair” while “Those who fast, won’t be aghast, when judgment is passed”!
The Pinnacle or Goal of Life
For those lucky enough to be celebrating Quinquagesima Sunday, Holy Mother Church presents two magnificent thoughts to Her children today. In the Epistle of the Mass, we have what could be called “St. Paul’s Hymn of Charity” or “A Litany of Charity”—while in the Gospel we have Our Lord explicitly telling His Apostles of His forthcoming Passion and Death, which epitomizes His Last Supper pronouncement of “Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Suffering is the test and proof of true charity. “As silver is tried by fire, and gold in the furnace: so the Lord trieth the hearts” (Proverbs 17:3).
Here You Are!
For those not lucky enough to celebrate Quinquagesima Sunday, here are the key points from the Epistle and the Gospel, which will then examine:
Charity and Love
St. Paul’s Epistle says: “If I speak with the tongues of men, and of angels, and have not charity―I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal! And if I should have prophecy and should know all mysteries, and all knowledge, and if I should have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity―I am nothing. And if I should distribute all my goods to feed the poor, and if I should deliver my body to be burned, and have not charity―it profiteth me nothing!” He then proceeds to list the effects of charity: “Charity is patient; is kind; charity envies not; deals not perversely; is not puffed up; is not ambitious; seeks not her own [will]; is not provoked to anger; thinketh no evil; rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Charity never falls away: whether prophecies shall be made void, or tongues shall cease, or knowledge shall be destroyed. And now there remain faith, hope, and charity, these three―but the greatest of these is charity” (1 Corinthians 13:1-13).
Passion, Suffering and Death
In the Gospel, Our Lord shocks His followers, saying: “Then Jesus took unto Him the twelve, and said to them: ‘Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things shall be accomplished which were written by the prophets concerning the Son of man. For He shall be delivered to the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and scourged, and spit upon: and after they have scourged Him, they will put Him to death; and the third day He shall rise again!’ And they understood none of these things, and this word was hid from them, and they understood not the things that were said” (Luke 18:31-34).
St. Matthew also reports this incident, and from him we glean a few more details: “And Jesus going up to Jerusalem, took the twelve disciples apart, and said to them: ‘Behold we go up to Jerusalem, and the Son of man shall be betrayed to the chief priests and the scribes, and they shall condemn Him to death. And shall deliver Him to the Gentiles to be mocked, and scourged, and crucified, and the third day He shall rise again!’ Then came to him the mother of the sons of Zebedee with her sons, adoring and asking something of Him. Who said to her: ‘What wilt thou?’ She saith to Him: ‘Say that these my two sons may sit, the one on Thy right hand, and the other on Thy left, in Thy kingdom!’ And Jesus answering, said: ‘You know not what you ask! Can you drink the chalice that I shall drink?’ They say to him: ‘We can!’ He saith to them: ‘My chalice indeed you shall drink; but to sit on My right or left hand, is not Mine to give to you, but to them for whom it is prepared by My Father!’” (Matthew 20:17-23).
Poor Peter! Blind as a Bat!
The occasion is so important in the eyes of the Evangelists, that St. Mark also reports it (Mark 10:32-40), without adding anything new to the previous two accounts. Interestingly, though, St. Matthew, in an earlier chapter to the above quote, mentions Our Lord’s preoccupation with speaking about His future Passion and Death, which provoked a sharp confrontation between Our Lord and St. Peter: “From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples, that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the ancients and scribes and chief priests, and be put to death, and the third day rise again. And Peter taking Jesus, began to rebuke Him, saying: ‘Lord! Be it far from Thee! This shall not be unto Thee!’ Jesus, turning, said to Peter: ‘Go behind Me, Satan! Thou art a scandal unto Me! Because thou savor not the things that are of God, but the things that are of men!’ Then Jesus said to His disciples: ‘If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For he that will save his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for My sake, shall find it! For what doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his own soul? Or what exchange shall a man give for his soul?’” (Matthew 16:21-26).
Peter takes Our Lord aside out of a tender love, respect and zeal for his Lord and Master’s honor, and begins to argue with Him, as though to rebuke Him, saying, as it were: “Lord, far be it from Thee to suffer death—this is not what you deserve, and it is way below your dignity to be treated in such a manner!” But Our Lord said to Peter: “Get behind Me, Satan!”
These words shock and indeed they were meant to shock Peter out of his human way of seeing things. By these words Our Lord shows Peter to be an adversary to the will of God—for in Hebrew, the word “satan” means “adversary” or “opponent”. He criticizes Peter for “not savoring the things that are of God, but savoring the things that are of men”—in other words, Our Lord merely repeats the words God the Father spoke through the prophets Isaias and Ezechiel: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts: nor your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are exalted above the earth, so are my ways exalted above your ways, and my thoughts above your thoughts” (Isaias 55:8-9) … “And you have said: ‘The way of the Lord is not right!’ Hear ye, therefore, O house of Israel! Is it my way that is not right, and are not rather your ways perverse?” (Ezechiel 18:31).
Peter's Blindness—Jericho's Blind Man—Our Blindness
The say “Love is blind” and Peter certainly blindly loved Our Lord! So much so that he wanted Our Lord to adopt and accept human tokens of love, whereas Our Lord was talking about a higher form of love—a divine, supernatural love—which Holy Scripture expounds thus: “For God so loved the world, as to give His only begotten Son” (John 3:16) … As Jesus said: “that the world may know that Thou hast sent Me, and hast loved them” (John 17:23) … “By this hath the charity of God appeared towards us, because God hath sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we may live by Him. In this is charity: not as though we had loved God, but because He hath first loved us, and sent His Son to be a propitiation for our sins. My dearest, if God hath so loved us; we also ought to love one another!” (1 John 4:9-11).
But the world was blind! Blindly in love with itself and refused to come out of its darkness to receive and profit from the word, the light and love of Christ: “The Word was with God, and the Word was God … In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it … He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. He came unto His own, and His own received Him not!” (John 1:1-11).
Even the Apostles and disciples found it hard to grasp and understand—they were shocked, scandalized and sorrowed by Our Lord’s increasingly frequent references to His ignominious forthcoming Passion and Death; the fled and abandoned Him during the event; and, after the event, they were downcast, depressed and disillusioned. “And he taught His disciples, and said to them: ‘The Son of man shall be betrayed into the hands of men, and they shall kill Him; and after that He is killed, He shall rise again the third day. But they understood not the word, and they were afraid to ask Him … And they were in the way going up to Jerusalem: and Jesus went before them, and they following were astonished and were afraid” (Mark 9:30-31; 10:32). During the Passion, in the Garden of Gethsemane, when “they laid hands on Him, and held Him … Then His disciples, leaving him, all fled away” (Mark 14:46-50).
Following the crucifixion and death, all were sad and sorrowful, which we see perfectly epitomized in the encounter that the resurrected Jesus had with two of His disciples on the road to Emmaus―who bear more than a striking resemblance to ourselves and our way of thinking:
“And behold, two of them went, the same day, to a town which was sixty furlongs from Jerusalem, named Emmaus. And they talked together of all these things which had happened. And it came to pass, that while they talked and reasoned with themselves, Jesus himself also drawing near, went with them. But their eyes were held, that they should not know Him. And He said to them: ‘What are these discourses that you hold one with another as you walk, and are sad?’ And the one of them, whose name was Cleophas, answering, said to Him: ‘Art Thou only a stranger to Jerusalem, and hast not known the things that have been done there in these days?’ To whom He said: ‘What things?’
“And they said: ‘Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet, mighty in work and word before God and all the people; and how our chief priests and princes delivered Him to be condemned to death, and crucified Him. But we hoped, that it was He that should have redeemed Israel: and now besides all this, today is the third day since these things were done. And certain women also of our company affrighted us, who before it was light, were at the sepulcher, and not finding His body, came, saying, that they had also seen a vision of angels, who say that He is alive. And some of our people went to the sepulcher, and found it so as the women had said, but Him they found not!'
"Then Jesus said to them: ‘O foolish, and slow of heart to believe in all things which the prophets have spoken! Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and so to enter into His glory?’ And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures, the things that were concerning Him” (Luke 24:13-27).
The Blind Man of Jericho
The second part of the St. Luke’s Gospel for Quinquagesima Sunday relates the encounter between Jesus and the blind man, whom St. Mark names as Bartimeus. Whereas the Apostles, at this point, were still partially spiritually blind, Bartimeus was totally blind physically—yet he had eyes of Faith, which eventually also restored to him his eyesight!
“Now it came to pass, when Jesus drew close to Jericho, that a certain blind man sat by the way side, begging. And when he heard the multitude passing by, he asked what this meant. And they told him, that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. And he cried out, saying: ‘Jesus, son of David! Have mercy on me!’ And they that went before, rebuked him, that he should hold his peace: but he cried out much more: ‘Son of David! Have mercy on me!’ And Jesus standing, commanded him to be brought unto Him. And when he was come near, Jesus asked him, saying: ‘What wilt thou that I do to thee? But he said: ‘Lord, that I may see!’ And Jesus said to him: ‘Receive thy sight! Thy faith hath made thee whole!’ And immediately he saw, and followed Him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God!” (Luke 18:35-43).
We Are Blinded Too!
Just as the Apostles were afraid of Christ’s prophecy of having to suffer, so too are we blind to the necessity of having to suffer. We are prepared to suffer a little with fear and clenched teeth—but we are not prepared to suffer greatly with love and joy! Yet Heaven is only attained through suffering—there is no other way there! We must either suffer greatly here below, or suffer even more greatly if Purgatory if we are to avoid the sufferings of Hell.
The Increasing Stages of Holiness, Love and Suffering
Dom Chautard, the famous Benedictine Monk and author of the equally famous book The Soul of the Apostolate, paints a picture of the gradually increasing levels of holiness and describes the trademark characteristics of each stage. These nine stages that he describes are subjections of Three Major Stages of the spiritual life so frequently explained by the saints and spiritual masters. When you examine these stages—almost like going through the successive classes or grades in a school, you will see how things get tougher and more demanding with each successive level.
1. HARDENED IN SIN
MORTAL SIN: Stubborn persistence in sin, either out of ignorance or because of a maliciously warped conscience.
VENIAL SIN: Not even aware of venial sin. It is seen as totally acceptable and pleasant.
PRAYER: Deliberate refusal to have any recourse to God.
2. SURFACE CHRISTIANITY
MORTAL SIN: Considered as a trifling evil, easily forgiven. The soul easily gives way and commits mortal sin at almost every possible occasion or temptation. Confession almost without contrition.
VENIAL SIN: Not even aware of venial sin. It is seen as totally acceptable and pleasant.
PRAYER: Mechanical; either inattention, or always dictated by temporal interest—such souls enter into themselves rarely and superficially.
3. MEDIOCRE PIETY
MORTAL SIN: Weak resistance. Hardly ever avoids occasions but seriously regrets having sinned and makes good confessions.
VENIAL SIN: Complete acceptance of this sin, which is considered as insignificant. Hence tepidity or lukewarmness of the will. Does nothing whatever to prevent venial sin, or to extirpate it, or to find it out, when it is concealed.
PRAYER: From time to time, prays well.—Momentary fits of fervor.
4. INTERMITTENT PIETY
MORTAL SIN: Loyal resistance. Habitually avoids occasions. Deep regrets if there is a fall into mortal sin. Does penance to make reparation.
VENIAL SIN: Sometimes deliberate. Puts up weak fight. Sorrow only superficial. Makes particular examination of conscience, but without any method or coherence.
PRAYER: Not firmly resolved to remain faithful to meditation. Gives it up as soon as dryness is felt, or as soon as there is business to attend to.
5. SUSTAINED PIETY
MORTAL SIN: Never. At most, very rare, when taken suddenly and violently by surprise. And then, often it is to be doubted if the sin is mortal. It is followed by ardent compunction and penance.
VENIAL SIN: Vigilant in avoiding and fighting it. Rarely deliberate. Keen sorrow, but does little by way of reparation. Consistent particular examination of conscience, but aiming only at avoidance of deliberate venial sin.
IMPERFECTIONS: The soul either avoids uncovering them so as not to have to fight them, or else easily excuses them. Approves of the thought of renouncing them, and would like to do so, but makes little effort in that direction.
PRAYER: Always faithful to prayer and meditation, no matter what happens. Often affective. Alternating consolations and dryness, the latter endured with considerable hardship.
MORTAL SIN: Never.
VENIAL SIN: Never deliberate. By surprise, sometimes, or with imperfect advertence. Keenly regretted, and serious reparation made.
IMPERFECTIONS: Wants nothing to do with them. Watches over them, fights them with courage, in order to be more pleasing to God. Sometimes accepted, however, but regretted at once. Frequent acts of renunciation. Particular examination of conscience aims at perfection in a given virtue.
PRAYER: Mental prayer gladly prolonged. Prayer on the affective side, or even prayer of simplicity. Alternation between powerful consolations and fierce trials.
7. RELATIVE PERFECTION
MORTAL SIN: Never.
VENIAL SIN: Never deliberate.
IMPERFECTIONS: Guards against them energetically and with much love of God. They only happen with half-advertence.
PRAYER: Habitual life of prayer even when occupied in external works. Thirst for self-renunciation, annihilation, detachment, and divine love. Hunger for the Eucharist, and for heaven. Graces of infused prayer, of different degrees. Often, passive purification.
8. HEROIC PERFECTION
MORTAL SIN: Never.
VENIAL SIN: Never.
IMPERFECTIONS: Nothing but the first impulse.
PRAYER: Supernatural graces of contemplation, sometimes accompanied by extraordinary phenomena. Pronounced passive purifications. Contempt of self to the point of complete self-forgetfulness. Prefers suffering to joys.
9. COMPLETE SANCTITY
MORTAL SIN: Never.
VENIAL SIN: Never deliberate.
IMPERFECTIONS: Hardly apparent.
PRAYER: Usually, transforming union. Spiritual marriage. Purifications by love. Ardent thirst for sufferings and humiliations. (Few and far between are the souls that belong to the last two, even to the last three categories.)
Let Us Not Be Fluffy Fairweather Catholics
It is terrible how the modern world—and perhaps too our family upbringing—has inclined us, or even made us, to be fluffy fairweather Catholics, who prefer comfort to the cross, to play rather than pray, to gratify rather than mortify, to feed rather than read! Our Lady was pretty much right when she said of our times: “The true Faith to the Lord having been forgotten … People will think of nothing but amusement!” (Our Lady of La Salette) … “Many hearts will fall into lukewarmness … Moreover, in these unhappy times, there will be unbridled luxury which, acting thus to snare the rest into sin, will conquer innumerable frivolous souls who will be lost!” (Our Lady of Good Success).
Our Lady condemns those who shun suffering and flee the cross—to the Venerable Mary of Agreda she rebukes fairweather Catholics, saying: “In this life, any punishment, or tribulation, fills mortals with fear and dread, merely because it affects their senses, but the guilt of sin does not affect them, nor fill them with dread. Men are entirely taken up by that which is visible, and they therefore do not look upon the ultimate consequences of sin, which is the eternal punishment of Hell. Though this is imbibed and inseparably connected with sin, the human heart becomes so heavy and forgetful that it remains as if it were stupefied in its wickedness, because it does not feel the wickedness present in its senses. Though it could see and feel it by Faith, this itself remains listless and dead, as if it were entirely absent. O most unhappy blindness of mortals! O lukewarm negligence, that holds so many souls oppressed in deceit! There are not words or sentences sufficient to describe this terrible and tremendous danger! Hasten away, and fly with holy fear such an unhappy state, and deliver thyself up to all the troubles and torments of life, which soon pass, rather than incur such a danger―for nothing will be wanting to thee, if thou do not lose God. To be convinced that there are no small faults, is a powerful means of saving thyself; fear greatly the small things, the small sins, for, in ignoring small faults, the Most High knows that the human heart invites other greater faults. That is not a blameless love, which does not avoid all displeasure of the beloved one.”
The Mystery of Suffering—the Key to Love
Suffering is not a biological necessity. We were not created in a state of suffering. Suffering and the ultimate suffering, which is death, came into the world because of Adam’s sin and we contributed to that sin. “Wherefore as by one man sin entered into this world, and by sin death; and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned” (Romans 5:12). We suffer because we sinned, and we die because we sinned. “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). God did not design us for death but for life―“Is it my will that a sinner should die, saith the Lord God, and not that he should be converted from his ways, and live?” (Ezechiel 18:23)―and he did not design us for suffering but for joy: the joy of sanctity, the bliss of self-forgetful love―“Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation” (Psalms 50:14). “A patient man shall bear for a time, and afterwards joy shall be restored to him” (Ecclesiasticus 1:29). “The expectation of the just is joy” (Proverbs 10:28). “I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them joyful after their sorrow” (Jeremias 31:13).
Suffering is the Caterpillar of the Butterfly of Love
Sorrow is the beginning of love. If it is allowed to work and develop properly, as God intends, then it goes through a metamorphosis similar to the caterpillar’s metamorphosis into a butterfly—or we could say the sinner’s metamorphosis into a saint.
The caterpillar’s metamorphosis from a tree clinging, 12-legged pest into the majestic flying butterfly is one of the most used metaphors to describe a “180 degree transformation”—this can be compared to a “spiritual conversion” which is a 180-degree turnaround from the world back to God. It’s truly a fantastic mechanism developed by nature, yet while all may seem fantastic on the outside, this transformation is a tough transformation and looks pretty gruesome deep inside the chrysalis (true conversion happens on the inside of the soul and is often a pretty gruesome and painful thing). In short, for a caterpillar to turn into a butterfly, it digests itself (we need to digest our sinful past) using enzymes triggered by hormones (the grace of God triggered by prayer), before sleeping cells, similar to stem cells, grow into the body parts of the future butterfly (where latent seeds of holiness begin to grow into what will be future sanctity). If you thought puberty was mean and tough―wait till you read on.
Stage 1: Eggs
Our story begins with an egg (an embryo in the mother’s womb). A butterfly starts life as a very small, round, oval or cylindrical egg. The coolest thing about butterfly eggs, especially monarch butterfly eggs, is that if you look close enough you can actually see the tiny caterpillar growing inside of it. Some butterfly eggs may be round, some oval and some may be ribbed while others may have other features. The egg shape depends on the type of butterfly that laid the egg (a child will not only resemble its parents physically, but also spiritually—which brings to mind Our Lord’s words: “A good tree produces good fruit, a bad tree produces bad fruit”).
When the egg finally hatches, most of you would expect for a butterfly to emerge, right? Well, not exactly. In the butterfly’s life cycle, there are four stages and this is only the second stage. Butterfly larvae are actually what we call caterpillars. Caterpillars do not stay in this stage for very long and mostly, in this stage all they do is eat (symbolic of a worldly person if all they eat is worldly information, or a spiritual person if they feed themselves on spiritual things).
Stage 2: Larva or Caterpillar
When the egg hatches, the caterpillar (larva) will start his work and eat the leaf they were born onto (if a child is born into a worldly family, it will eat worldliness; if born into a spiritual family, it will feed on spiritual things). This is really important because the mother butterfly needs to lay her eggs on the type of leaf the caterpillar will eat – each caterpillar type likes only certain types of leaves. Since they are tiny and cannot travel to a new plant, the caterpillar needs to hatch on the kind of leaf it wants to eat (children are bound to their family and its environment—they cannot choose to go elsewhere).
Caterpillars need to eat and eat so they can grow quickly. When a caterpillar is born, they are extremely small. When they start eating, they instantly start growing and expanding. Their exoskeleton (skin) does not stretch or grow, so they grow by “molting” (shedding the outgrown skin) several times while it grows (likewise we need to shed the worldly ‘skin’ time and time again).
When they’ve outgrown their current skin, a hormone called ecdysone is released instructing the larva to molt (likewise we have the three stages of the spiritual life that we have to pass or “molt” through). After it molts about five times, the larva stops feeding, hangs upside down from a twig or leaf, and then spins itself a silky cocoon, or molts into a shiny chrysalis. This process is driven by the same hormone, ecdysone, only this time in conjunction with another hormone – the juvenile hormone. Actually, it’s the lack of the juvenile hormone that triggers the metamorphosis mechanism (once we stop thinking, acting and reacting like “juveniles” we can begin to grow spiritually). The juvenile hormone acts like a delay for the metamorphosis throughout the whole larva stage.
Once the larva reaches its final molt and begins its metamorphosis, strange things happen to its body. Cells in the larva’s muscles, gut and salivary glands are digested (we get rid of or “eat-up” or “swallow” our past worldliness) and act as spare parts for the soon-to-be butterfly. Each cell is programmed to self-destruct through the activation of enzymes called caspases (the crosses, sacrifices, penance and mortification).
The caspases (the crosses, sacrifices, penance and mortification) tear through the cell’s proteins, releasing prime butterfly-making (saint-making) material. Were it not for the juvenile hormone, this could have happened at any time killing the caterpillar (spiritually, we can try to go too fast and too far too soon and thus fail by finding ourselves out of our depth). Instead, nature programmed the hormone to lower in levels at exactly the right moment, when metamorphosis is ripe.
Stage 3: Pupation
With less juvenile hormone around, instead of inducing a regular molt the ecdysone now drives the caterpillar to pupate. The pupa stage is one of the most fascinating stages of a butterfly’s life. As soon as a caterpillar is done growing and they have reached their full length/weight, the caterpillar stops eating, hangs upside down from a twig or leaf and spins itself a silky cocoon or molts into a shiny chrysalis. Within its protective casing, the caterpillar radically transforms its body, eventually emerging as a butterfly or moth (we have to separate ourselves from the world, ‘cocoon’ ourselves in our soul and build a barrier against the world, so that we can continue to develop spiritually into the saints that God expects everyone to become).
Thus form themselves into a pupa, also known as a chrysalis or a cocoon. From the outside of the pupa, it looks as if the caterpillar may just be resting, but the inside is where all of the action is. Inside of the pupa, the caterpillar is rapidly changing (we still look the same to the world, but inside we are changing).
Now, as most people know, caterpillars are short, stubby and have no wings at all. Within the chrysalis the old body parts of the caterpillar are undergoing a remarkable transformation, called ‘metamorphosis,’ to become the beautiful parts that make up the butterfly that will emerge. Tissue, limbs and organs of a caterpillar have all been changed by the time the pupa is finished, and is now ready for the final stage of a butterfly’s life cycle.
Stage 4: Butterfly
Once a caterpillar has disintegrated all of its tissues (love of worldliness) except for the imaginal discs (love of God), those discs use the protein-rich soup all around them (the “soup of God’s grace) to fuel the rapid cell division required to form the wings, antennae, legs, eyes, genitals (all the virtues) and all the other features of an adult butterfly or moth.
Finally, when the caterpillar has done all of its forming and changing inside the pupa, if you are lucky, you will get to see an adult butterfly (a fledgling saint) emerge. When the butterfly first emerges from the chrysalis, both of the wings are going to be soft and folded against its body. This is because the butterfly had to fit all its new parts inside of the pupa.
Metamorphosis isn’t just some beautiful physical transformation, though. It’s a stunning display of God’s creative power and mechanism at work. Butterflies and caterpillars don’t just look different, they behave differently too (just like human beings—all saints are different). One lives in trees, the other flies. Most importantly, one eats leaves, and the other solely feeds on nectar. There’s plenty of room for both kinds throughout the ecosystem since they don’t interfere with each other’s food stocks. It’s brilliant!—Just like God and His brilliant Providential care for us! And this is just one tiny aspect of God’s creation! It goes to show how much God tries to teach us through all of His creation, like an artist trying to communicate through his paintings, or a musical composer through his music. If only we would be less superficial and take more time to really look, listen and learn!
Loved and Hated
Humility! Never has anything provoked such diametrically opposed reactions! God loves it! The world hates it! God sees it as a strength—the world sees it as weakness. Until Christ came to teach us humility and to recommend humility, it was seen by the pagan world as being a vice, not a virtue! Neither the Romans nor the Greeks had a word for humility. The very concept was so foreign and abhorrent to their way of thinking that they had no term to describe it.
Pride was the mark of the unconverted St. Augustine, and humility a goal of the rest of his long life. Because of his own experience in conversion to the Christian religion, St. Augustine went on to teach that humility (the opposite of pride) is the basic Christian virtue. For St. Augustine, humility was far more than simply one of many virtues that a Christian should practice. St. Augustine regarded humility central to the Christian faith. Through the experience of his searching during his own first thirty years of life, he came to see clearly that only a person with humility can follow Christ. In his Confessions, Augustine regularly contrasts pride and humility.
Back to Beginnings
Both pride and humility are at the root of so many things! Pride is the root of all sin: “For pride is the beginning of all sin” (Ecclesiasticus 10:15). Pride from Lucifer and the other angels that followed him, saw the beginnings of Hell. Pride from Adam and Eve brought about Original Sin and the ‘death sentence’ for the entire human race: “By one man sin entered into this world, and by sin death; and so death passed upon all men” (Romans 5:12).
Humility, also, is the foundation of all virtue: “Humility is considered in all Christian tradition as the foundation of the spiritual life, since it removes pride, which is, says Holy Scripture, the beginning of every sin because it separates us from God. Thus humility has often been compared to the excavation which must be dug for the erection of a building, an excavation which should be so much the deeper in proportion as the building is to be higher” (Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, The Three Ages of the Interior Life).
And humility is what Our Lord told us to learn from Him: “Take up My yoke upon you, and learn of Me, because I am meek, and humble of heart” (Matthew 11:29). The fact that Our Lord mentions the word “yoke” is no joke or laughing matter, for humility (if it is to be true humility) is a heavy thing―for some! “Humility is an abomination to the proud” (Ecclesiasticus 13:24). Yet for others, though hard, it is pleasant for some--“For My yoke is sweet and My burden light!” (Matthew 11:30).
How Light and Sweet is the Yoke of Humility?
The road to humility is not as sweet and light as we would like it to be! We cannot pray for humility at night, go to sleep and wake up humble, with God having poured large doses of humility into our soul while we slept! Just as strength comes from lifting weights and resisting pressures, similarly, humility comes through lifting or sifting truth and accepting humiliations! Ouch!
The chief truth to be lifted, sifted and chewed-over, is our relation to God. “Why is earth and ashes proud?” (Ecclesiasticus 10:9). St. Bernard distinguishes two kinds of humility: humility of mind and humility of heart. It is obvious that the knowledge of our nothingness must precede any interior and exterior act of humility, for man cannot humiliate himself, nor gladly suffer humiliations, unless he be contemptible in his own eyes. “Humility,” says St. Bernard, “is a virtue by which man becomes contemptible in his own eyes by the true knowledge he has of himself.”
What Are We?
What are we in the order of nature? Let us go back, say one hundred years, and what were we then? No one even thought of us. We were pure nothingness. Possibly, the house we now occupy, and the surrounding land, perhaps with mountains or hills, its valleys, its rivers, its forests, grass and flowers, all existed for thousands of years, but we, ... we were nothing!
A hundred years ago the same sun shone by day and the same moon and stars by night, and that was from the first day, thousands of years ago, when the Creator said: “Let them be made,” but we, during those six thousand years more or less, we were nothing!
What were we during that eternity of duration that preceded the creation? We were nothing! But now we exist! But for how long? Soon our bodies must return to dust: a forced separation, that fills the strongest hearts with dread, will, tear the soul from the body. “Why is earth and ashes proud?” (Ecclesiasticus 10:9).
Still, it is something to have lived even a few years! But what belongs to me of all the things that surround me, that I possess and that makes up my existence? Surely I did not make myself, for nothingness cannot make anything. What have I that I have not received? Besides, are we able to keep and preserve our being and our endowments? Undoubtedly not! If God should withdraw His omnipotent hand from us, even for one instant, we would return to nothingness from which we came.
Therefore, whatever good and desirable things we claim as ours―all of these are given us by the Creator and are given continuously, and thus God’s providence is rightly called a continual creation. “Why is earth and ashes proud?” (Ecclesiasticus 10:9).
If only we could disclaim what is truly and solely our own making―sin. God cannot be the author of sin and iniquity, because sin aims at the destruction or dethronement of God, and man by sin vainly allies himself with the wicked spirits to annihilate the infinitely good and necessary Being—God Himself.
This is precisely what makes man even more contemptible than nothingness, for whosoever is in the state of sin, he is in rebellion against God, and whosoever dies in the state of mortal sin, he continues in his hatred of God for an endless eternity. Truly of such a man the Savior speaks when He says: “It were better for him, if that man had not been born” (Matthew 26:24). “Why is earth and ashes proud?” (Ecclesiasticus 10:9).
St. Catherine of Siena, in the 63rd chapter of the her book The Dialogue, shows that the imperfect soul, which loves God with a love which is still mercenary, must do what Peter did after his denial. Not infrequently Providence allows us, too, at this stage to commit some very palpable fault, in order to humiliate us and cause us to take true measure of ourselves.
“Then,” says the Lord, “having recognized the grievousness of its sin and repented of it, the soul begins to weep, for fear of punishment; then it rises to the consideration of my mercy, in which it finds satisfaction and comfort. But it is, I say, still imperfect, and in order to draw it on to perfection... I withdraw from it, not in grace but in feeling ... This I do in order to humiliate that soul, and cause it to seek Me in truth... without thought of self and with lively faith and with hatred of its own sensuality.” And just as Peter compensated for his threefold denial by three acts of pure and devoted love, so the enlightened soul must do in like manner.
Our Humble Knowledge of Humility
Since the religious knowledge of most Catholics is very superficial, very few people have a true or in-depth knowledge or understanding of humility. They only have a kiddies idea of humility and do not grasp it depths and extent. Some of the saints—notably St. Benedict, St. Bernard and St. Thomas Aquinas—have written on humility in varying depths and degrees. They are well worth the read—especially as there can be no real virtue in anyone without humility as its foundation and charity as its perfector.
All of the writers give humility a varying level of steps or degrees. Some as little as three levels of humility, others give seven degrees of humility, others as many as twelve degrees of humility. The differences are merely finer nuances in the gradually growing and deepening virtue of humility. Let us briefly look at some of their writings (a PDF download will be available on these degrees will be available once this article is completed).
The Ladders of Pride and Humility by St. Bernard
St. Bernard wrote a treatise, now available as a book, The Twelve Degrees of Humility and Pride, wherein he lists and then commentates in some detail the descending steps of pride that lead to Hell and ascending steps of humility that lead to Heaven. Since pride is the opposite of humility, the steps toward full pride are the opposite of the steps toward full humility. The steps to humility are the antidote to the steps to pride. One step leads to the next.
The 12 Steps of Pride
The first step (#1) is the opening or lowest degree of pride, the last step (#12) is the highest and worst degree of pride.
(1) Curiosity about what is not one’s proper concern
(2) Light mindedness: chatter and exclamation about things which do not matter
(3) Laughing about nothing; foolish merriment
(4) Boasting and talking too much
(5) Trying to be different: claiming special rights
(6) Thinking oneself holier than others
(7) Interfering presumptuously with the affairs of others
(8) Self-justification: defending one's sinful actions
(9) Insincere confession
(10) Rebelling against superiors
(11) Feeling free to sin
(12) Habitual sinning
The list is a very sobering one, for there are many souls who will recognize several if not more traits of pride in their character! One of key symptoms of pride is the failure to see oneself as proud. "Me proud? No way! I'm not proud! You must be mistaken!" And they blindly continue, proudly marching into the Day of Judgment to proudly (?) meet their Judge and their fate!
The 12 Steps of Humility
The first step (#1) is the opening or lowest degree of humility, the last step (#12) is the highest and best degree of humility.
(1) Containment of one's interests, which shows itself in a humble bearing and lowered eyes
(2) Quiet and restrained speech
(3) Reluctance to laugh
(4) Keeping silent unless asked to speak
(5) Regarding oneself as having no special rights in the community
(6) Thinking oneself less holy than the others
(7) Thinking oneself unworthy to take initiative
(8) Confessing one's sins
(9) Patience in the face of accusation
(10) Submission to superiors
(11) Desiring no freedom to exercise one's will
(12) Constant watchfulness against sin
The Twelve Degrees of Humility of St. Benedict
From St. Benedict's “Steps to Humility”
Brethren, the Holy Scripture cries to us saying: “Every one that exalts himself shall be humbled; and he that humbles himself shall be exalted.”
(1) The first degree of humility, then, is that a man always have the fear of God before his eyes shunning all forgetfulness and that he be ever mindful of all that God has commanded… .
(2) The second degree of humility is, when a man loves not his own will, nor is pleased to fulfill his own desires, but by his deeds carries out that word of the Lord which says: “I came not to do My own will but the will of Him that sent Me.”
(3) The third degree of humility is, that for the love of God a man subject himself to a Superior in all obedience, imitating the Lord, of whom the Apostle says: “He became obedient unto death.”
(4) The fourth degree of humility is, that, if hard and distasteful things are commanded, nay, even though injuries are inflicted, he accept them with patience and even temper, and not grow weary, or give up.
(5) The fifth degree of humility is, when one hides from his Abbot none of the evil thoughts which rise in his heart, or the evils committed by him in secret, but humbly confesses them.
(6) The sixth degree of humility is, when a monk is content with the meanest and worst of everything, and, in all that is enjoined him, holds himself as a bad and worthless workman, saying with the Prophet: “I am brought to nothing and I knew it not; I am become as a beast before Thee, and I am always with Thee.”
(7) The seventh degree of humility is, when, not only with his tongue he declares, but also in his inmost soul believes, that he is the lowest and vilest of men, humbling himself and saying with the Prophet: “But I am a worm and no man, the reproach of men and the outcast of the people.”
(8) The eighth degree of humility is, when a monk does nothing but what is sanctioned by the common rule of the monastery and the example of his elders.
(9) The ninth degree of humility is when a monk withholds his tongue from speaking, and, keeping silence, does not speak until he is asked; for the Scripture shows that “in a multitude of words there shall not want sin.”
(10) The tenth degree of humility is when a monk is not easily moved and quick for laughter, for it is written: “The fool exalts his voice in laughter.”
(11) The eleventh degree of humility is that, when a monk speaks, he speak gently and without laughter, humbly and with gravity, with few and sensible words, and that he be not loud of voice, as it is written: “The wise man is known by the fewness of his words.”
(12) The twelfth degree of humility is, when a monk is not only humble of heart, but always lets it appear also in his whole exterior to all that see him; namely, at the Work of God (meaning the recitation of the Divine Office or Breviary), in the garden, on a journey, in the field, or wherever he may be, sitting, walking, or standing, let him always have his head bowed down, his eyes fixed on the ground, ever holding himself guilty of his sins, thinking that he is already standing before the dread judgment seat of God, and always saying to himself, in his heart, what the Publican in the Gospel said, with his eyes fixed on the ground: “Lord, I am a sinner and not worthy to lift up mine eyes to Heaven” and again with the Prophet: “I am bowed down and humbled exceedingly.”
Having, therefore, ascended all these degrees of humility, the monk will presently arrive at that love of God, which being perfect, casts out fear. In virtue of this love all things which at first he observed not without fear, he will now begin to keep without any effort, and as it were, naturally by force of habit, no longer from the fear of Hell, but from the love of Christ, from the very habit of good and the pleasure in virtue. May the Lord be pleased to manifest all this by His Holy Spirit in His laborer now cleansed from vice and sin.
The Three Kinds of Humility by St. Ignatius Loyola
(1) The First Kind of Humility. This is necessary for salvation. It consists in this, that as far as possible I so subject and humble myself as to obey the law of God our Lord in all things, so that not even were I made lord of all creation, or to save my life here on earth, would I consent to violate a commandment, whether divine or human, that binds me under pain of mortal sin.
(2) The Second Kind of Humility. This is more perfect than the first. I possess it if my attitude of mind is such that I neither desire nor am I inclined to have riches rather than poverty, to seek honor rather than dishonor, to desire a long life rather than a short life, provided only in either alternative I would promote equally the service of God our Lord and the salvation of my soul. Besides this indifference, this second kind of humility supposes that not for all creation, nor to save my life, would I consent to commit a venial sin.
(3) The Third Kind of Humility. This is the most perfect kind of humility. It consists in this. If we suppose the first and second kind attained, then whenever the praise and glory of the Divine Majesty would be equally served, in order to imitate and be in reality more like Christ our Lord, I desire and choose poverty with Christ poor, rather than riches; insults with Christ loaded with them, rather than honors; I desire to be accounted as worthless and a fool for Christ, rather than to be esteemed as wise and prudent in this world. So Christ was treated before me.
The Power and Beauty of Humility
Every soldier of Christ is expected to win a medal for humility. Yet the moment you start to wear it, it gets taken away! It’s like saying: “I am humble and proud of it!” It is better to follow Christ as a humble sinner than a proud saint! It is the unsung hero who really wins the medal of humility.
St. John the Baptist had it pretty much “worked-out” and was on the right road when he said, referring to Jesus: “He must increase, but I must decrease!” (John 3:30). The actual full quote is: “John answered, and said: A man cannot receive any thing, unless it be given him from heaven. You yourselves do bear me witness, that I said, I am not Christ, but that I am sent before him … He must increase, but I must decrease. He that cometh from above, is above all. He that is of the Earth, of the Earth he is, and of the Earth he speaketh. He that cometh from Heaven, is above all!” (John 3:27-31). Our Lord would later sum it up with six words: “Without Me, you can do nothing!” (John 15:5).
That, all at once, is humbling and beautiful! Without Him, we are useless! Yet with Him, anything is possible! “With men this is impossible: but with God all things are possible!” (Matthew 19:26). Yet how often do we “got it alone” and either run ahead of God or leave God out of it? Sadly, we do that very often—for the world has conditioned us to think that we really are something, that we really do achieve something, and the world will praise us and not God when we seem to achieve something—whereas we are nothing and can do nothing without God.
In fact, Our Lord’s words to Sr. Josefa Menendez hit this nail on the head: “The better you know what you are, the better you will know what I am … You are the echo of My voice, but if I be silent, what are you then? … The word ‘little’ still implies some being, but, Josefa, you are less than that, you are nothingness personified! You must not be troubled, Josefa. I want you to be nothing, that I may be All!” (Fr. Robert Gottemuller, Words of Love). To Sr. Mary of the Trinity, Our Lord said: “With ruins, on ruins, I can build magnificently. It gives Me joy to use that which has humbled itself before Me, because My action is free … It is with coal that I make diamonds. What would I not do with a soul, however black she might be, who would give herself to Me!” (Fr. Robert Gottemuller, Words of Love).
True Humility is Rare and Costly
Real humility is only found in few souls and is purchased at great cost—fake humility is cheap and only costs a few words. Our present day world is a very fake world—we have cheap imitations of everything: imitation leather, fake marble and fake stone for buildings, imitation wood paneling, imitation crystal and fake jewelry—the list goes on endlessly. The same is true of all the virtues. If all the fake virtues of people were true virtues—then why do most people fail to save their souls? Let us take this virtue of humility seriously this Lent and strive, whatever the cost may be (and it will be costly), to acquire as much of it as possible—for there is no sanctity without humility. Heaven is filled with humble, just as Hell is filled with the proud! That is why Our Lord says: “Learn of Me, for I am humble of heart!” (Matthew 11:29).
Hey! What’s Wrong With Being Proud?
What’s all this insinuation about pride being wrong? What’s wrong with feeling proud about the good things we do? What’s wrong in feeling good about accomplishing things? What’s wrong in being proud about our projects turning out successfully? If I work hard at something and succeed, what’s wrong with being proud about it? If my family, children, relatives and friends succeed, what’s wrong in feeling proud of them? Isn’t pride a virtue?
No Pride in Being Proud!
Pride is listed as being among the Seven Cardinal Sins, or their other popular name of Seven Deadly Sins. Pride is the root of all sin: “For pride is the beginning of all sin: he that holdeth it, shall be filled with maledictions, and it shall ruin him in the end” (Ecclesiasticus 10:15).
Pride ruined Lucifer and the other angels that followed him. Pride, likewise, ruined Adam and Eve. In both cases—the fallen angels and our fallen first parents—they were filled with maledictions and it ruined them in the end. The fallen angels fell into Hell, and our fallen first parents fell from Original Sin into the death that God had threatened them with. Thus, the Church defines Original Sin as first and foremost a sin of pride and then disobedience, for disobedience is one of the branches that grows out of the trunk of pride.
The Trunk of Pride
As a result of Original Sin, each one of us has an inborn tendency to assert himself, to make himself the “center” of things, to make his will prevail over that of others. Our great passion is for our highest good, but, too often, we do not understand or grasp what this highest good is, and we seek for it in a wrong way or we other things to be our highest good. We need to understand that our highest good is GOD. God has made Himself our last End and Reward. He has shown us the way to Himself through Christ, who called Himself “The Way”—“ Jesus said to him: ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life!’” (John 14:6).
We must recognize our relationship to God as creatures who have the duty to love and serve Him in the manner He wills and desires, in order that we may possess Him in Heaven, or “save our souls,” as we commonly express it. However, when we are wrapped up in our own ego, even though we may not realize the fact (and many don’t realize it), everything we think, say and do revolves around our own self. We are really “seeking self,” though we may try to convince ourselves that we are following Christ and seeking God.
Who Do We Think of the Most?
In theory (and that’s where it stays and stops for most people), we know that should “love the Lord thy God, with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength. This is the first commandment” (Mark 12:30). Yet in practice, God is loved only with a fraction of the heart, soul, mind and strength! Instead—without advertising or even admitting the fact—we have placed ourselves on the pedestal that is reserved for God. A quick litmus test of that is to see how often we complain, grumble, moan, resist, try change, and even reject the things that God’s Providence sends us each day! There’s a whole lotta grumblin’ goin’ on!
That grumbling is a sign of pride, as it was with the Chosen People who grumbled and murmured during the Exodus from Egypt and during the journey to the Promised Land, which irritated God no end: “And all the congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness” (Exodus 16:2). “And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: ‘How long doth this wicked multitude murmur against Me? I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel!’” (Number 14:26-27). “For I know that the people will not hear Me, for they are a people of a stiff neck!” (Baruch 2:30). “And again the Lord said to Moses: ‘See how this people are stiff-necked! Let me alone, that My wrath may be kindled against them, and that I may destroy them!’” (Exodus 32:9).
This murmuring—even though it was made to Moses and Aaron—was really directed at God and the "penance" that God had imposed upon them in the desert with little to eat and drink and which, as a consequence of this endless murmuring, would last for 40 years (much longer than our 40 days of Lent with little to eat and drink!!).
Pride—First One There! Last One to Go!
The spiritual masters—of which, in recent times, Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange is undoubtedly one of the best, having taught Ascetical and Mystical Theology at the famous Angelicum seminary in Rome for many decades—tell us that pride is first arrives as part of the package of Original Sin with which we are born, and it is one of last things to be cast out of the soul (if it ever is). Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange writes:
“Many imperfections remain even in those who have advanced in the way of God. If their sensibility has been to a great extent purged of the faults of spiritual sensuality, inertia, jealousy, impatience, yet there still remain in the spirit certain ‘stains of the old man’ which are like rust on the soul, a rust which will only disappear under the action of an intense fire, similar to that which came down upon the Apostles on the day of Pentecost. This comparison is made by St. John of the Cross.
“‘This rust remains deep down in the spiritual faculties of the soul, in the intelligence and the will; and it consists in an attachment to self which prevents the soul from being completely united to God. Hence it is that we are often distracted in prayer, that we are subject to sluggishness, to a failure to understand the things of God, to the dissipation of the spirit, and to natural affections which are hardly, if at all, inspired by the motive of charity. Movements of roughness and impatience are not rare at this stage.’
“Moreover, many souls, even among those that are advanced in the way of God, remain too much attached to their own point of view in the spiritual life; they imagine that they have received special inspirations from God, whereas they are in reality the victims of their own imagination or of the enemy of all good. They thus become puffed up with presumption, spiritual pride and vanity; they depart from the true path and lead other souls astray. The proficient is apt to take some complacency, through some remnant of spiritual pride which he still retains. Together with spiritual pride there remains often in the soul intellectual pride, jealousy, or some hidden ambition.
“The proficient begins to take complacency—by reason of an unconscious pride—in this great facility in prayer, working, teaching, or preaching. He tends to forget that these are God’s gifts, and he rejoices in them with a proprietary air which ill beseems one who adores in spirit and in truth. It is true that he is working for God, he is working for souls; but he has not yet sufficiently forgotten himself. An unconscious self-seeking and self-importance cause him to dissipate himself and to lose the sense of the presence of God. He thinks that his labors are being very fruitful; but it is not quite certain. He is becoming too sure of himself, he gives himself too much importance and is perhaps inclined to exaggerate his own talents, to forget his own imperfection and to be too greatly aware of the imperfections of others.
“All this, says St. John of the Cross, shows the need of the ‘strong lye,’ that passive purgation of the spirit, that further conversion which marks the entrance into the perfect way. Even after passing through the night of the senses, St. John says, ‘these proficients are still at a very low stage of progress, and follow their own nature closely in the communication and dealings which they have with God; because the gold of their spirit is not yet purified and refined; they still think of God as little children, and feel and experience God as little children, even as St. Paul says, because they have not reached perfection, which is the union of the soul with God. In order to cure the soul of all spiritual and intellectual pride, and to show it what dregs of poverty it still has within, He leaves the understanding in darkness, the will in aridity, sometimes even in bitterness and anguish.’” (Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, The Three Conversions of the Spiritual Life).
Good People Still Have Bad Pride
Thus, from the above comments, we see that people who are making good progress in the spiritual life, are still loaded with pride—though it becomes more and more subtle, and hence more and more hidden, as time goes on. We see this “Do-Gooder-Pride” exposed in Our Lord’s parable about the Pharisee and the Publican.
“To some who trusted in themselves as just, and despised others, Jesus spoke also this parable: ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray: the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee standing, prayed thus with himself: “O God, I give thee thanks that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, as also is this publican. I fast twice in a week: I give tithes of all that I possess!” And the publican, standing afar off, would not so much as lift up his eyes towards heaven; but struck his breast, saying: “O God, be merciful to me a sinner!” I say to you, this man went down into his house justified rather than the other: because everyone that exalteth himself, shall be humbled: and he that humbleth himself, shall be exalted!’” (Luke 18:9-14).
No Praise for the Proud
The Pharisee, in Our Lord’s parable, was actually DOING NOTHING WRONG (apart from being proud). He was keeping the law and was truthful in what he said—He even praised and thanked God that he was good—yet it was the “doing everything right” that went to his head! Our Lord gave no praise to the Pharisee of his parable, and there is no praise for the proud—or rather, there may well be lots of applause for the proud from Earth, but there is no applause for the proud from Heaven. “Where pride is, there also shall be reproach” (Proverbs 11:2).
Holy Scripture backs this up in numerous other places: “I hate arrogance and pride” (Proverbs 8:13). “Pride is hateful before God and men” (Ecclesiasticus 10:7). “A vain man is lifted up into pride” (Job 11:12). “Mockery and reproach are of the proud” (Ecclesiasticus 27:31). “Know also this, that, in the last days, shall come dangerous times. Men shall be lovers of themselves, haughty, proud, stubborn, puffed up! Having an appearance indeed of godliness, but denying the power thereof. Now these avoid!” (2 Timothy 3:1-5). “Nor from the beginning have the proud been acceptable to Thee!” (Judith 9:16). “Thou hast rebuked the proud: they are cursed” (Psalm 118:21).
“God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble” (James 4:6). “He hath shown might in His arm! He hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart! He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble!” (Luke 1:51-52). “Humility is an abomination to the proud” (Ecclesiasticus 13:24). “The Lord will destroy the house of the proud” (Proverbs 15:25). “Why is earth and ashes proud?” (Ecclesiasticus 10:9). “Every proud man is an abomination to the Lord” (Proverbs 16:5). “Hear ye, and give ear! Be not proud, for the Lord hath spoken!” (Jeremias 13:15). “Never suffer pride to reign in thy mind, or in thy words: for from it all perdition took its beginning” (Tobias 4:14). “Thy pride is brought down to Hell” (Isaias 14:11). “For pride is the beginning of all sin” (Ecclesiasticus 10:15). “Pride goeth before destruction” (Proverbs 16:18).
The World Encourages Pride!
When we look at the world’s customs, we notice that the world is trying to breed pride and grow pride in us. Pride oozes from every pore and its flag flutters in every household! It gushes forth from the TV and the internet! Businesses cannot live without it—"We are proud to announce....!" Politicians wallow in it! Film, music and sports stars are loaded with it! Children are addicted to it from their infancy. Schools promote it with their grades of 110% (??). Children are “high-fived” at every opportunity. Bumper stickers proclaim it--“I’m the Proud Parent of….”
Eye of an Eagle, yet Blind as a Bat
Similarly, we tend to exaggerate our personal qualities, while ignoring our defects. We have the eye of an eagle, when it comes to our qualities, but are blind as bats, when it comes to our sins. Yet with regard to our neighbors, the reverse principle is true! We have an eagle eye for their faults, but are blind to their virtues! This pride is the source of many faults: through pride we are unyielding, even when in the wrong; we become caustic and sarcastic in speech; we get involved in harsh and heated discussions, which bring about dissension and discord; which then lead to bitter words, unjust words and actions against our rivals, in order to belittle them. “When thou wast mad against me, thy pride came up to my ears” (Isaias 27:39).
I Will Not Serve, only Myself
Pride also leads to the bitter criticism of superiors and a refusal to obey their orders; or a bitter criticism of one’s subordinates and a refusal to take their advice. Hence, too, the demi-god of prideful obstinacy and lack of humility in superiors, by never admitting a fault, or changing a course of action, when they realize that they are in the wrong. Pride also accounts for our refusal to consult others; our refusal to admit they may be right; our refusal to put the advice or counsel of others into practice; our refusal to take the blame; our refusal to apologize; our refusal to see the truth; our refusal... our refusal... our refusal! The cry of Satan: “I will not serve!” Just like the Original Sin of our first parents—likewise a sin of pride. Because of that Original Sin, we are born with that tendency to pride. A spirit of refusal—a refusal of humble service of God and those above us, as well as others below us! In fact, it is, in reality, a service of self—a ‘self-service’.
This is far from imitating and learning from Jesus, the Superior of all superiors, Who said “Learn of Me, for I am meek and humble of heart” (Matthew 11:29). This pride of life leads and keeps us within an atmosphere of anxiety and unhappiness, wherein we find no peace, nor any real lasting contentment, because we want to excel in all things and lord it over all others.
Pride is Not a Virtue
If we are trying to be humble, people flatter us to fan the fires of pride! Then there is the fake humility, that pridefully fishes for flattery! Pride is growing out of everyone's ears! It is on everyone’s tongue and in everyone’s eyes! Their hearts and heads are inflated with it, ready to burst! We end up thinking that PRIDE IS A VIRTUE AND NOT A VICE!!! Yet nowhere in Holy Scripture is there a good word to found about pride! We are twisting truth when we try to make pride to be a virtue, when it is a vice. “Woe to you that call evil good, and good evil: that put darkness for light, and light for darkness!” (Isaias 5:20).
All Credit to God, Not Man!
If there is anyone who could be proud without sinning, then it is God. It is only God who can things without relying on anyone or anything else. We are incapable of doing anything without the assistance of God and God’s creation (persons, places, and things). This is why Our Lord punctures our pride by saying: “Without Me, you can do nothing!” (John 15:5). Nothing means NO THING, NOT EVEN THE SLIGHTEST THING.
You pride yourself on you beauty, your strength, your health, your wealth, your education, your job, your achievements, your knowledge, your influence, your connections, your power, your reputation, etc., etc. ALL OF THOSE THINGS depended upon the Providence of God, God’s inspirations and God’s grace. Which is why St. Paul warns: “For your sakes learn not to be puffed up one against the other … For who distinguisheth thee? Or what hast thou that thou hast not received? And if thou hast received, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:4-7). “Every best gift, and every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father” (James 1:17). “Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15).
All Credit to Man, Not God!
No matter how much good we may have done and may still do—it was not done and it will not be done without God! This is why Our Lord tells us: “Doth the Lord thank that servant, for doing the things which he commanded him? I think not! So you also, when you shall have done all these things that are commanded you, say: ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which we ought to do!’” (Luke 17:10). The only thing we can be proud about is the only thing that we have managed to do without God—and that is SIN! Sin is our own personal, “I did it by myself!” achievement!
That’s Why We Must Fight Self!
Plainly, then, the battle against self-seeking and pride is fought within ourselves. Specifically, the battle is in in our will—we must become less self-willed. It is in this fountainhead of self-love and self-will, that pride and all the other Capital Sins have their origin and bring forth a host of offspring, great and small. If we are strongly motivated by self-seeking, we will rarely “deny” ourselves, as Our Lord taught, by charity, love, sacrifice, humility, obedience, patience, generosity, or whatever the calls of duty and virtue may be. Instead, our self-love will nourish the vices and we will become more and more ensnared in them.
To follow the path of self-love is to continually refuse to love to God as He should be loved, and such a course is a great danger to salvation. No soul can enter Heaven until it has been purged of all self-love and self-will and exists only for God; that is to say, until it is sanctified. For most persons who are saved, a great part of this purging has to be done in Purgatory, because the soul did not do it on Earth.
The Interior Remedy For Pride
In principle, the remedy for pride is humility. Humility, for it to be true, must spring from the interior; otherwise we put on a fake exterior humility, which has no foundation in reality. So we must think thoughts that will help us admit our true worth and which will cultivate a spirit of humility in our minds. We must tell ourselves that we are nothing! We came from dust! We will return, as the Ash Wednesday liturgy says, into dust! Without God we can do nothing good! As St. Paul says: what have we to glory about, except our sins? What is it that we achieved when left totally to ourselves? Nothing but sin!
Furthermore, let us ask searching questions of ourselves. What can I do without the help of others? How much success would I have had, were it not for the help and talents of others? How much success would I have had, without the agreement and help of God’s Providence? Nothing happens without God putting his signature to it! Absolutely nothing! Was I the source of my own existence? Did I survive without the care of parents? Did I teach myself? Did I create all the talents that I have? Will I avoid all illness and suffering? Will I escape death? Will I escape the final judgment? Will I create and build a Heaven for myself in Hell? No! Remember, man, that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return!
The Exterior Remedy For Pride
However, thought always manifests itself in some way by words and actions! When we have prideful thoughts, our words and actions reflect those thoughts to a greater or lesser degree. It has to be the same for thoughts of humility. If we are truly growing in an interior spirit of humility, then it will reflect itself exteriorly.
With regard to God, our interior realization of the incredible dependence that we have upon Him, will manifest itself by more frequent recourse to Him through prayer for His Providential assistance in all our needs and affairs. It will show itself by a humble, uncomplaining acceptance of Divine Providence, especially in the painful and sorrowful events He allows or wants to send our way. In will be seen in an increased spirit of thanksgiving and gratitude towards God for both the joyful and sorrowful gifts and graces He grants us. We will show that humility by a clear and visible putting of God first in all the duties and activities of our life. “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33).
Anger, Anger, Everywhere! What Are We to Think?
There is no doubt about it—it is an angry world and it is getting even angrier! Political anger; financial anger; social anger; anger in the home; anger in the workplace; anger in the school; anger in the church—wherever you turn, you see anger. We might be short on money, but we certainly are not short on anger! We may not have much to love or be happy about, but we can certainly find much to be angry about!
Of course, some temperaments are more prone to anger than others—cholerics seem to be top of the anger rankings, closely followed by sanguines—the difference being that sanguines are angry for a short time, whereas cholerics can be the marathon runners in the race of anger. Those two are the extroverts—yet the introverted melancholics and phlegmatics can also be and often are angry—but their anger is more of a ‘closet anger’ that is partially or totally hidden, with the melancholic more prone to seeth for a long time, whereas the phlegmatic lets go of anger much sooner.
Yet there is nobody who can claim to be free of anger—be it exterior anger or interior anger. When we get down to the very roots of anger, we will find the spark of pride, which ignites anger because things ARE NOT GOING MY WAY, OR THE WAY I WANT THEM TO GO! “For pride is the beginning of all sin: he that holdeth it, shall be filled with maledictions, and it shall ruin him in the end” (Ecclesiasticus 10:15). If you like, pride is the trunk, and from that trunk there emerge all the other branches of sin—anger included.
Anger is an inordinate desire of revenge against any one we imagine has offended us. The Apostle has left us a good medicine against this vice, when he says, “Let all bitterness, and anger and wrath … be removed from you, with all kind of malice. Be kind and merciful to one another, as God has given you in Christ!” (Ephesians 5:21-22). Our Savior, speaking in St. Matthew of this vice, says, “Every one that is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment; but he that shall call him fool, shall be in danger of Hell-fire” (Matthew 5:16).
The Anger of God
Yet not all anger is sinful—there is unjust anger and justified anger. Obviously, God cannot sin, yet there are many striking quotes from Holy Scripture that show the just anger of God. Therefore anger can also be justified. “In Thy anger Thou wilt tread the Earth under foot: in Thy wrath Thou wilt astonish the nations” (Habacuc 3:12). “Who can stand before the face of His indignation? And who shall resist in the fierceness of His anger? His indignation is poured out like fire: and the rocks are melted by Him!” (Nahum 1:6). “Thus saith the Lord God: ‘Lo, I will cause a stormy wind to break forth in my indignation, and there shall be an overflowing shower in my anger: and great hailstones in my wrath to consume!’” (Ezechiel 13:13).
Our Lady of Akita, as recently as 1973, reiterates the existence of this justified anger of God: “Many men in this world afflict the Lord. I desire souls to console Him to soften the anger of the Heavenly Father. In order that the world might know His anger, the Heavenly Father is preparing to inflict a great chastisement on all mankind. With my Son I have intervened so many times to appease the wrath of the Father. Prayer, penance and courageous sacrifices can soften the Father’s anger” (Our Lady of Akita).
Anger―Good & Bad
Anger is one of the passions of the soul. It proceeds from a real or imaginary offense, which makes us want to “get even” with the offender. When the desire for revenge is not suppressed, it is a sin and a vice. It is opposed to charity and justice. Every kind of anger, however, is not a vice. An occasional fit of temper is not the vice of anger, but it may be a sin. There is also a form of anger that is good and virtuous, when it proceeds from a proper cause, as in the case of Our Lord whipping and driving the buyers and sellers from the Temple.
We have given way to anger and hate when we harbor resentment in our heart against a certain person or persons; when we plot harm for anyone by word or deed; when we use insulting language toward the offender. We are guilty of anger when we become excited and incensed to such a degree that we strike or hurt another; when we wrangle and quarrel violently with another; or when by the sullen expression on our face, or by our silence, we show our resentment toward him. Our sin is very, very serious if we harbor rancor or hatred in our heart for days, or months, or even years and abstain from marks of kindness and friendship. We are also guilty of anger if we abuse our authority and punish an inferior more than he deserves. We may even direct our anger toward God, interiorly, or exteriorly by passionate blasphemy.
Anger is a destructive and highly injurious vice. A fit of rage deprives us of reason; it estranges us from God. It separates us from friends and relatives. Anger clouds the intellect, and its unreasoning obstinacy makes us trample on the rights of others. Anger destroys peace and produces disastrous wars. It causes all sorts of evils, discords, enmities, long-standing quarrels, insults, spites, slander, blasphemy, hatred, revenge, murder. All these things kill charity and are obstacles to grace, our greatest gift from God.
Lawful & Justified Anger
As already stated, anger is not always a sin. There is a lawful sentiment of anger, a just indignation, which is an ardent, but rational, desire to punish a guilty party with some form of just retribution. As an example of this, we see Our Lord, with a whip, angrily cast out the money-changers from the Temple. Whereas, on the other hand, we see the high-priest Heli, severely rebuked for not showing enough anger in correcting his sons.
Thus for anger to be legitimate, it must be:
(a) Just—by punishing only those that deserve punishment;
(b) Tempered—by moderation in the degree of the punishment that is given; by giving a punishment that fits the crime and not exceeding that;
(c) Charitable—not vented out of a spirit of hatred, revenge or animosity, but out of a sincere desire of helping the wrongdoer.
Anger is sinful when it is unjust, immoderate or uncharitable. Sometimes, we have a violent and inordinate desire to punish someone, regardless of the conditions we have mentioned above. Our anger is accompanied by hatred, which does not merely seek to correct, but seeks to exact some form of revenge. There are several degrees of intensity within anger, which are worth remembering:
(a) Interior Anger of the Mind:
Firstly, we become increasingly impatient with others, whereby the least annoying thing, or the smallest degree of failure, causes dissatisfaction.
This is followed by agitation, producing an unnecessary irritation, which we manifest outwardly in some way—facial expressions, agitation, etc.
Then, by brooding upon the facts, this anger or irritation can become so deep rooted, that it engenders sentiments of varying degrees that pass from resentment, to bitterness, hatred and eventually a desire for revenge.
(b) Exterior Anger
The interior anger manifests itself outwardly, beginning with exterior signs of impatience. The earlier anger manifests itself, the weaker it shows the person to be. This exterior anger can, if uncontrolled, easily develop into violence, which in turn can lead to an insane rage, wherein we no longer know what we are saying or doing.
(c) Sinfulness of anger
When anger is impulsive and spontaneous, it is usually a venial sin. If it is so intense that self-control is lost and grave insult is shown to neighbor, then it would be mortal, but this is often not the case. Anger that goes as far as hatred and rancor, when it is deliberate and willful, is, of itself, a mortal sin.
The Terrible Dangers of Anger
Here are a few thoughts taken from a sermon by St. Alphonsus Liguori on anger, wherein he depicts the manifold dangers and sins emanating from this passion when it is uncontrolled.
Anger resembles fire―hence, as fire is vehement in its action, and, by the smoke which it produces, obstructs the view, so anger makes men rush into a thousand excesses, and prevents them from seeing the sinfulness of their conduct; and thus exposes them to the danger of the judgment of eternal death. Anger is so pernicious to man, that it even disfigures his countenance. No matter how comely and gentle he may be, he shall, as often as he yields to the passion of anger, appear to be a monster and a wild beast full of terror.
St. Jerome says that anger is the door by which all vices enter the soul. Anger plunges people into resentments, blasphemies, acts of injustice, detractions, scandals, and other iniquities; for the passion of anger darkens the understanding, and makes a man act like a beast and a madman. Hence, according to St. Bonaventure, an angry man is incapable of distinguishing between what is just and unjust. A man who does not restrain the impulse of anger, easily falls into hatred towards the person who has been the occasion of his passion. According to St. Augustine, hatred is nothing else than persevering anger.
But some will say: “I am the head of the house; I must correct my children and servants, and, when necessary, I must raise my voice against the disorders which I witness!” I say in answer: It is one thing to be angry against a brother, and another to be displeased at the sin of a brother. To be angry against sin is not anger, but zeal; and therefore it is not only lawful, but it is sometimes a duty. But our anger must be accompanied with prudence, and must appear to be directed against sin, but not against the sinner. To be angry, then, against a brother’s sin, is certainly lawful. But, to be angry against a brother on account of the sin which he has committed, is not lawful; because, according to St. Augustine, we are not allowed to hate others for their vices.
Hatred brings with it a desire of revenge; for, according to St. Thomas, anger, when fully voluntary, is accompanied with a desire of revenge. But you will perhaps say: “If I resent such an injury, God will have pity on me, because I have just grounds for resentment.” As long as the passion of anger lasts, you will consider your neighbor’s conduct very unjust and intolerable; but, when your anger shall have passed away, you shall see that his act (even if it was bad) was not so bad as it appeared to you.
But, though the injury is grievous, or even more grievous, God will not have compassion on you, if you seek revenge. No; He says: Vengeance for sins belongs not to you, but to Me; and when the time shall come, I will chastise them as they deserve. “Revenge is mine, and I will repay them in due time” (Deuteronomy 32:35).
If you resent an injury done to you by a neighbor, God will justly inflict vengeance on you for all the injuries you have offered to him, and particularly for taking revenge on a brother whom He commands you to pardon. “He that seeketh to revenge himself, shall find vengeance from the Lord Man to man reserveth anger, and both he seek remedy of God? He that is but flesh nourisheth anger; and doth he ask forgiveness of God? Who shall obtain pardon for his sins?” (Ecclesiasticus 28:1, 3, 5). How can he who will not obey the command of God to pardon his neighbor, expect to obtain from God the forgiveness of his own sins? (End of the extract from the sermon of St. Alphonsus Liguori).
REMEDIES FOR ANGER
Learn from Nature
Whenever you find yourself in danger of running into this outrageous vice, do not forget to make use of the following considerations, and to arm yourself as much as you can against the temptation. Consider, in the first place, that even beasts live peaceably with those of their own kind. We see that elephants are friendly to one another, that sheep and oxen are in their flocks and herds, that the little birds fly together; that cranes take it by turns to stand sentry in the night; that storks, stags, dolphins, and many other creatures, do the same; everybody knows the friendships there is between the ants and the bees; nay, even wild beasts, be they ever so cruel, are at peace with one another. The lion does not vent his fury on lions, bears do not fight with bears, one wolf does not devour another, nor do dragons fall out amongst themselves.
In fine, the very devils, the first authors of all our discord, have their mutual ties, and exercise their tyranny by common consent. Man, whom peace most becomes, and who stands most in need of it, is the only creature that entertains an inveterate hatred against his own kind. Nor is it less remarkable, that nature has furnished all other creatures with arms to fight, as the horse with his feet, bulls with horns, boars with tusks, bees with stings, birds with beaks and talons, and even gnats and flies are not without the power of biting; but thou, O man, whom she has designed for peace and concord, she sent into the world naked and unarmed, that thou mightest have nothing at all to do harm with. Reflect, then, how unnatural it is for you to endeavor to be revenged, or to return an injury that has been offered you, especially with weapons sought without yourself, which nature denied you.
Don’t Lower Yourself to the Level of Beasts
Consider, in the next place, that anger and the desire of revenge is a vice that becomes none but wild beasts, of whose savage fury Solomon says, God gave him the knowledge, and that you consequently degenerate and fall very low from the generosity and nobleness of your condition, as often as you imitate the fury of lions, serpents and other wild creatures (Wisdom 7). Aelian relates a passage of a certain lion, that had been wounded once with a lance in a chase. Twelve months after this incident, the person that had given him the wound passed by the same way in company with King Juba, who had a great train attending him; the lion knew the man again, and breaking through the guards, notwithstanding all their endeavors to beat him off, made no stop till he came up to the man that had hurt him, fell on and tore him to pieces. We see bulls do the same every day to those that vex them. Men that are given to anger and revenge imitate these brutal motions, for when they might quiet their fury with reason and human discretion, they choose rather to follow the fury and impulse of beasts, and to make use of that baser part of their souls, which even brutes have as well as they, neglecting at the same time that part of them which is more divine, and which they share in with angels.
Follow the Example of Our Lord
If you say it is very hard to quell and tame a heart when once it is provoked, why do not you consider how much harder that is which the Son of God has undergone for your sake? What were you when He shed His blood for the love of you? Were you not at that time His enemy? Why do you not consider how patiently He bears with you, despite the sins you are hourly committing against Him, and with what mercy He is ready to receive you when you return to Him? You will say, perhaps, your enemy does not deserve to be pardoned: do you deserve any better that God should pardon you? You will have God show His mercy to you, whilst you yourself will exercise nothing but justice upon your neighbor. Consider that if your enemy does not deserve to be forgiven, you yourself are unworthy of pardon, and Jesus Christ is most worthy that you should pardon your enemy for the love of him.
Consider that as long as you keep any malice in your heart, you cannot make God any offering that He will accept of Our Savior, for this reason, says, “If you offer your present at the altar, and should there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, and go first and be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). This sufficiently shows what a grievous crime brotherly discord is, because, as long as it continues, you are one of God’s enemies, and do what you will in this state, you will never be able to please Him: whereupon St. Gregory says, “That all our good actions can have no merit, unless we suffer with patience the injuries that are offered us” (21 Moral, c. 16).
As You Judge...
You are also to consider what he is whom you look on as your enemy, for he must of necessity be either a just man or a sinner. It is certainly a very deplorable thing to wish any ill to such a one, and to reckon him your enemy whom God looks on as your friend; but if he be a sinner, it is a case no less lamentable to desire to be revenged of another man’s wickedness, by being wicked yourself, and by making yourself judge in your own cause, to commit an injustice yourself that you may the more easily punish another man’s. If the other person should endeavor to revenge his injuries as much as you do yours, when will your quarrels be at an end?
Overcome Evil with Good
The Apostle teaches us a much more generous way of overcoming our enemies, when he says, “Overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21); that is to say, another man’s bad actions by our own good ones. For whilst you are endeavoring to return evil for evil, and are unwilling to yield in any points whatever, you may often happen to be shamefully foiled, whilst you are carried away by anger and overcome by your passions; whereas if you had resisted it, you would have shown yourself much stronger than him who should have taken a town by force of arms.
For the conquering of a city, which is a thing beyond you, is not half so considerable a victory as is the subduing of the passions that are within you, the putting of yourself under your own equitable laws, and the bridling and stopping of your anger in its heat and its most vigorous sallies. For if you do not suppress it in time, it will rise up against you, and make you do that which you will afterwards be sorry for.
And, what is worst of all, you will scarce be able to know what mischief you do, because an angry man thinks that whatever he does in order to revenge himself, he has always justice on his side; nay, he is often deceived so far as to imagine, that the very heat of his anger is nothing but a zeal for justice, and thus vice hides itself under the color of virtue.
Labor to Acquire Patience
One, therefore, of the most sovereign remedies for the better overcoming this vice, is to endeavor to pluck up this evil root of an inordinate love for yourself, and of everything else that belongs to you; otherwise the least word, spoken against either you or yours, will make you fly out into a passion; and besides the more naturally you shall find yourself inclined to anger, you ought to labor so much the harder for the acquiring of patience, by considering beforehand, and preventing all kinds of grievances which you are like to meet with in your affairs.
Pray, then Pray Again, then Pray Some More
For the foreseeing of any misfortune lessens the influence it would otherwise have had over us. For this reason you are to make a strong resolution, as often as you shall perceive yourself breaking out into a passion, not to say or do anything whilst you are in that condition, nor to believe even your own self, but to suspect whatever your heart shall at that time dictate to you, let it seem ever so just and reasonable; put off the execution till such time as your passion is over, or say the Our Father or Hail Mary, once, or more often, or some other devout prayer. Plutarch tells us of a very eminent and learned philosopher, who, taking his leave of a prince, his greater friend, advised him never, when he was in a passion, to order anything to be done till he had first said the letters of the alphabet over; to give him to understand what rash and inconsiderate actions the heat of anger would excite him to.
Drunk on Anger
And it is very observable that though this is the worst time that can be for a man to resolve on anything he has to do, yet at no time has he a stronger desire to do anything in than this, which obliges you to be very prudent and rigorous in the resisting of the temptation. For as a man that is drunk is incapable of acting according to reason, and afterwards repents him of what he has done, as is written of Alexander the Great; so that he that is drunk with the wine of anger, and blinded with the vapors of this passion, cannot follow any advice or counsel to-day, but let it appear ever so sound and wholesome, he will dislike and condemn it tomorrow.
For it is certain that the worst counselors in the world are anger, wine, and the desires of the flesh. And, therefore, Solomon says, “That wine and women make wise men beside themselves.” Where, by wine, he means not only real wine, which is wont to blind the reason, but any violent passion, which in some manner blinds the senses; and yet whatsoever a man does in such a disposition is, nevertheless, a sin. It is very advisable, whenever you are angry, to employ yourself about something else, and to put the thing out of your mind which was the occasion of your passion; because, if you take away the fuel that nourishes the fire, the flame must, of necessity, go out.
Endeavor also to love what necessity obliges you to suffer; for, if suffering and love do not go together, the patience which appears on the outside is very often turned into hatred. Whereupon St. Paul having said, “Charity is patient,” immediately adds, “It is kind” because true charity never fails to have a kind and tender love for those persons who suffer patiently. In fine, it is further advisable to give your neighbor time to let his anger work off; for if you will but retire a little when you see him in a passion, you will give him room to overcome it by degrees: or, at least, in such a conjuncture you must answer him with a great deal of civility and mildness; because, as Solomon says, “A soft answer appeases anger” (Proverbs 15:1).
Above All, Be Angry With Yourself
“Be angry, and sin not!” (Ephesians 4:26). If you want to be angry about something, then above all, be angry with yourself and your sins. Just as Our Lord says: “And why seest thou the splinter that is in thy brother’s eye; and seest not the plank that is in thy own eye? Or how sayest thou to thy brother: ‘Let me cast the splinter out of thy eye!’ and behold a plank is in thy own eye? Thou hypocrite! Cast out first the beam in thy own eye, and then shalt thou see to cast out the splinter out of thy brother’s eye!” (Matthew 7:3-5), it could also be said: “Why are you so angry with the little wrongs that your brother does, and yet you fail to show anger at the great wrongs you yourself have wrought? You hypocrite! Pour your anger on yourself first before pouring it out upon your brother!”
If we were as quick and as vehement in being angry with ourselves and our sins, as we are about others and their sins, then we would make quick progress along the road to holiness and Heaven! Yet, as we well know, “attack is the best form of defense”—and so we attack others to avoid having to focus on ourselves, or to avoid others focusing upon us and thus being obliged to change what we do not really want to change! “Be angry, and sin not!” (Ephesians 4:26)—be angry with yourself for sinning and let that anger put a stop to those sins!
The Cripple of Jerusalem
“Now there is at Jerusalem a pond, called Probatica, which in Hebrew is named Bethsaida, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of sick, of blind, of lame, of withered; waiting for the moving of the water. And an angel of the Lord descended at certain times into the pond; and the water was moved. And he that went down first into the pond after the motion of the water, was made whole, of whatsoever infirmity he lay under. And there was a certain man there, that had been eight and thirty years under his infirmity.
“When Jesus had seen him lying there, and knew that he had been now a long time, He said to him: ‘Wilt thou be made whole?’
“The infirm man answered Him: ‘Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pond! For whilst I am coming, another goeth down before me!’
“Jesus said to him: ‘Arise! Take up thy bed, and walk!’
“And immediately the man was made whole: and he took up his bed, and walked.
“Afterwards, Jesus found him in the Temple, and said to him: ‘Behold thou art made whole! Sin no more, lest some worse thing happen to thee!’” (John 5:2-14).
Another Cripple of Jerusalem
“Now Peter and John went up into the Temple at the ninth hour of prayer. And a certain man who was lame from his mother’s womb, was carried: whom they laid every day at the gate of the temple, which is called Beautiful, that he might ask alms of them that went into the Temple. He, when he had seen Peter and John about to go into the Temple, asked to receive an alms.
“But Peter with John fastening his eyes upon him, said: ‘Look upon us!’
“But he looked earnestly upon them, hoping that he should receive something of them.
“But Peter said: ‘Silver and gold I have none; but what I have, I give thee! In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, arise, and walk!’ And taking him by the right hand, he lifted him up, and forthwith his feet and soles received strength.
“And he leaping up, stood, and walked, and went in with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God. And they knew him, that it was he who sat begging alms at the ‘Beautiful Gate’ of the Temple: and they were filled with wonder and amazement at that which had happened to him” (Acts 3:1-10).
The Lame Walk—The Blind See
Just as Jesus comes to seek and save that which was lost, so too does He come to heal the sick and the lame: “The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). “And there came to Him the blind and the lame in the Temple; and He healed them” (Matthew 21:14). “And there came to Him great multitudes, having with them the dumb, the blind, the lame, the maimed, and many others: and they cast them down at His feet, and He healed them, so that the multitudes marveled seeing the dumb speak, the lame walk, and the blind see―and they glorified the God of Israel” (Matthew 15:30-31).
Lame, Blind, Maimed and Dumb Families
God often speaks to us spiritually through the natural, physical and material things of this life. Our Lord even uses such a method in His many parables: the Cockle and the Wheat; the Sower of the Seed; the Laborers in the Vineyard; the Talents and Servants; the Good Samaritan; the Rich Fool; the Unjust Steward; the Prodigal Son; and whole host of other parables. He does this because we can more easily access and understand the invisible (spiritual) through the visible (physical and material).
Sicknesses of Body and Soul
The sicknesses of the body can be correlative to sicknesses of the soul. We can be spiritually blind, spiritually dumb, spiritually, deaf, spiritually lame, etc. Fr. Faber, writing on Lukewarmness, in his book Growth in Holiness, says: “The diseases and evils of the body are in a great degree typical of the miseries and misfortunes of the soul. If we seek the correlative of lukewarmness, we shall find it in blindness. It is a blindness which does not know even its own self, and does not suspect that it is blind, or that other men see better than itself. It is a judicial blindness, because it once saw better itself, and now does not remember either what it saw, or that it ever saw at all.” In this passage Fr. Faber correlates physical blindness with a spiritual blindness in the form of lukewarmness.
Our Lord, speaking of the Scribes and Pharisees, also uses the idea of physical blindness and correlates it to a spiritual blindness on the part of the Scribes and Pharisees: “Let them alone: they are blind, and leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into the pit!” (Matthew 15:14).
Our Lord does not mean that they are physically blind, but that they are spiritually blind. This same correlation could just as well be used with the notion of being deaf, dumb, lame and even dead! There are, in fact, very many families (or, at the very least, many members of families) who are spiritually blind, spiritually deaf, spiritually dumb, spiritually lame and even spiritually dead. If Our Lord came “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10); and if “there came to Him the blind and the lame in the Temple; and He healed them” (Matthew 21:14), then He must want to seek and save, heal and cure those members of our families too!
Deaf, Blind, Dumb, Lame and Dead
You could say that there is a progressive downward spiral in spiritual sickness—we are first of all spiritually deaf, which leads to us becoming spiritually blind, which, in turn, makes us spiritually dumb, then lame and finally spiritually dead. Let us briefly examine those states—though entire articles or even books could be written on each particular stage.
As a springboard for this—to show that it is not just an arbitrary or novel idea—we have the following words of Our Lord Himself, which pave the way for this examination: “‘He that hath ears to hear, let him hear!’ And His disciples came and said to Him: ‘Why speakest Thou to them in parables?’ Who answered and said to them: ‘Because to you it is given to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven: but to them it is not given. For he that hath, to him shall be given, and he shall abound: but he that hath not, from him shall be taken away that also which he hath. Therefore do I speak to them in parables: because seeing they see not, and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And the prophecy of Isaias is fulfilled in them, who saith: “By hearing you shall hear, and shall not understand: and seeing you shall see, and shall not perceive. For the heart of this people is grown gross, and with their ears they have been dull of hearing, and their eyes they have shut: lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them!” But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear. For, amen, I say to you, many prophets and just men have desired to see the things that you see, and have not seen them, and to hear the things that you hear and have not heard them!’” (Matthew 13:9-17).
The above words of Our Lord were spoken in the context of the Parable of the Sower of the Seed (Matthew 13:3-8; 18-23; Mark 4:2-20; Luke 8:5-15)—where, as Our Lord explains, “The seed is the word of God … He that soweth, soweth the word” but the word of God is received in various ways that do not bear any fruit—which is depicted as being “by the wayside” or “upon stony ground” or “among thorns”. These are symbolic, as Our Lord says, of “those that hear the word of God and understand it not” and “those that hear the word with joy, but do not let it take root” and “those that hear but are choked up by the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches.”
Since three of the four Evangelist record this parable, it is evident that it is of the utmost importance—especially since the parable and its explanation almost takes an entire chapter with each Evangelist. Therefore, here is a composite (blending together of all three: Matthew 13:3-23; Mark 4:2-20; Luke 8:5-15) for you instruction—for this explains much of the spiritual deafness that exists among Catholics.
“Hear you therefore the parable of the sower. The sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and it was trodden down, and the birds of the air came and ate it up. And other some fell upon stony ground, where it had not much earth; and it shot up immediately, because it had no depth of earth. And when the sun was risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no fruit. And some fell upon good ground; and brought forth fruit that grew up, and increased and yielded, one thirty, another sixty, and another a hundred. Saying these things, he cried out: ‘He that hath ears to hear, let him hear!’”
“And His disciples asked Him what this parable might be. To whom He said: ‘To you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to the rest in parables, that seeing they may not see, and hearing may not understand!’”
Our Lord then proceeds to explain the symbolism: “The seed is the word of God. He that sows, sows the word. When any one hears the word of the kingdom and understands it not, Satan comes and takes away that which was sown in his heart, lest believing they should be saved―this is he that received the seed by the way side.
“Now they upon the rock, are they who when they hear, receive the word with joy: and these have no roots; for they believe for a while, and, in time of temptation, when there arises tribulation and persecution because of the word, they fall away.
“And that which fell among thorns, are they who have heard the word, but going their way, are choked with the cares of the world and pleasures of this life and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts after other things, and it is made fruitless and yields no fruit.
“And the seed that is sown upon the good ground, are they who hear the word, and receive and understand it, and yield fruit, the one thirty, another sixty, and another a hundred.”
How true is this of our present day! There are so many who hear the word of God, but do not hear it—that is to say, they do not hear what is really being said; they hear selectively; they hear only what they want to hear; they hear and like and remember the “nice bits”, but they “tune-out” the “tough bits” and “rough bits”—they refuse to “take the rough with the smooth”.
For them there is only a “God of Love” and there is no such thing as a “God of Justice”! They hear only want they want to hear—and they are the ones Holy Scripture speaks about when it says: “The heart of this people is grown gross, and with their ears they have been dull of hearing, and their eyes they have shut: lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them!”(Matthew 13:15). They are spiritually deaf to the true word of God as St. Paul says: “For there shall be a time, when they will not endure sound doctrine; but, according to their own desires, they will heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears! And will indeed turn away their hearing from the truth, but will be turned unto fables” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
Curing the Spiritually Deaf
The usual cures are—as St. Ignatius Loyola writes in his Spiritual Exercises—are to “agere contra”, meaning: to do the contrary, to the opposite. Thus St. Paul writes: “What son is there whom the father doth not correct?” (Hebrews 12:7). “And he that will not hear his words, which he shall speak in My Name, I will be the revenger!” (Deuteronomy 18:19).
“Even so it is not the will of your Father, Who is in Heaven, that one of these little ones should perish. But if thy brother shall offend against thee, go, and rebuke him between thee and him alone. If he shall hear thee, thou shalt gain thy brother. And if he will not hear thee, take with thee one or two more: that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may stand. And if he will not hear them: tell the church. And if he will not hear the church, let him be to thee as the heathen and publican!” (Matthew 18:14-17).
“Preach the word: be instant in season, out of season: reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine. For there shall be a time, when they will not endure sound doctrine…” (2 Timothy 4:2-2) … “By what doth a young man correct his way? By observing Thy words” (Psalm 118:9). “All Scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice” (2 Timothy 3:16).
The Dethroned Word of God Needs Re-crowning
Let us not pretend that the word of God rules supreme in families today—it is the word of the world that rules in most families. The word of God might not be totally ignored, but the word of the world is given equal footing, if not more. The finger of blame for this can be pointed in many directions: parents, parish priests, school teachers, peers, media, etc. Yet whatever the secondary cause may be, we are the ultimate responsibility for what enters the family—there is no escaping that. We can play the “Adam and Eve” games of passing the buck of blame, but it finally comes back to us. We have a free will and we have the opportunity to seek, research and learn—but we prefer not to, for we are infected, some more and some less, with the spirit of today’s world, and religious study comes pretty low on totem pole of our preferred activities—and then we complain in disbelief that most souls are lost! Figure that one out!
Until the word of God is replaced (or, in some cases, placed for the first time) in its rightful place at the head of the family, then families will continue to be spiritually deaf, dumb, blind, lame and even dead. You do not speak much about things you don’t love. You cannot love what you do not know, but you cannot know unless you listen and read. The word of God must be read and spoken and preached in the family; the word of God must reign in the family. God, and attention to God, must come first. If your family has lost that—then you have to do something to bring it back! Will it painful? You can bet your last dollar that it will be painful—for the devil is not going to give up years of investment and profit just because you suddenly decide to stop playing his game! There are two Scriptural quotes that bear this out:
Firstly, on the word of God: “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord, shall be saved. How then shall they call on Him, in whom they have not believed? Or how shall they believe Him, of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear, without a preacher? … Faith then cometh by hearing; and hearing by the word of Christ. But I say: Have they not heard? Yes, verily, their sound hath gone forth into all the Earth, and their words unto the ends of the whole world ... But all do not obey the Gospel ... But I say: Hath not Israel known? … All the day long have I spread my hands to a people that believe not and contradict Me!” (Romans 10:13-21).
If you family is spiritually weak, lukewarm and worldly, it is because it is not being sufficiently fed the word of God: “Not in bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). You are allowing the world to feed your family far more than you are allowing God to feed your family—as you sow, so shall you reap, what you feed is what you get. If the majority of the diet is worldly, you will get a worldly family; if the majority is of God, you should get a godly family.
Secondly, the devil is not going you relinquish any crafty control that he has over your family. Jesus said: “When a strong man armed keepeth his court, those things are in peace which he possesses. But if a stronger than he come upon him, and overcome him; he will take away all his armor wherein he trusted, and will distribute his spoils. He that is not with me, is against me; and he that gathers not with me, scatters. When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walks through places without water, seeking rest; and not finding, he saith: ‘I will return into my house whence I came out!’ And when he is come, he findeth it swept and garnished. Then he goeth and taketh with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and entering in they dwell there. And the last state of that man becomes worse than the first!” (Luke 11:21-26).
Most families are so weak in their knowledge and awareness of the spiritual, that they fail to realize the omnipresence of devils all throughout the day—with the result that little or no measures are taken to combat them. These families live ‘at peace’ amongst this infernal subtle onslaught, totally forgetting that “The life of man upon earth is a warfare” (Job 7:1) and that “our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and power, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places” (Ephesians 6:12).
It is not for nothing that the Church, on the First Sunday of Lent, gives us the Gospel reading of Christ doing battle with the devil in the desert, after having fasted and prayed for forty days and forty nights in the desert. Spiritual warfare is our daily fare—from birth to death: “The life of man upon earth is a warfare” (Job 7:1). Woe to those who do not train for the battle and who refuse to do battle—but most persons and families DO NEGLECT this critical aspect of life! Small wonder, then, that most souls are lost! As you sow, so shall you reap.
Spiritual reading—which is nothing other than sowing the seed of the word of God—may not be the most popular family activity, but it is the most crucial and the most neglected. Plan to put that right this Lent! Get a wise supply of books ready and just as the Church lays down the law concerning Lent, so too must you lay down the law concerning the Lent that your family will follow. The bottom line has to be: “Are we truly Catholic, or are we pagans? Whose word comes first? God’s or the world’s?” You may well be in for a fight--“For there shall be from henceforth five in one house divided: three against two, and two against three” (Luke 12:52)—but it is probably partially your fault anyway that things have slid downhill as far as they have! If you caused it, you must try to put it right!
The Spiritually Blind
We do not want to see those things that we do not like. We do not like to see ourselves as we really are. We do not want to admit to the truth about ourselves and our families. It is all very natural, but it is not very supernatural. Such a blindness is closely connected to pride. “Seeing they see not” (Matthew 13:13) … “They do not see, nor understand, that they may be ashamed!” (Isaias 44:9) … “Seeing they see, and do not perceive; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them” (Mark 4:12). “His watchmen are all blind, they are all ignorant: seeing vain things, sleeping and loving dreams” (Isaias 56:10).
Worldliness leads to spiritual blindness. The glitz and dazzle of the world blinds the eyes of the worldly so that they cannot see the truths of the Gospel: “Our Gospel is hid to them that are lost, in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of unbelievers, that the light of the Gospel should not shine unto them” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). “The sensual man perceives not these things that are of the Spirit of God; for it is foolishness to him, and he cannot understand” (1 Corinthians 2:14). “Go to this people, and say to them: ‘With the ear you shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing you shall see, and shall not perceive!’ For the heart of this people is grown gross, and with their ears have they heard heavily, and their eyes they have shut; lest perhaps they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them” (Acts 28:26-27). “Let them alone! They are blind, and leaders of the blind! And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into the pit!” (Matthew 15:14). “Love not the world, nor the things which are in the world. If any man loves the world, the charity of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, is the concupiscence of the flesh, and the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life, which is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 John 2:15-16).
Denial of Spiritual Blindness
Why can some people just not get it? Why can they not see things that are as clear as the nose on their face? The saddest part about spiritual blindness is that a person who is spiritually blind, usually cannot recognize the fact that he cannot see! People who are physically blind are very aware of the fact that they are blind and that everything around them is dark. But the spiritually blind actually think they can see and, in fact, often think they can see better than anyone else! Is this not what Jesus meant when He spoke about the man with the plank in his eye, wanting to remove the small splinter from another person’s eye? (Matthew 7:3-5). God also told the church in Laodicea: “Thou sayest: ‘I am rich, and made wealthy, and have need of nothing!’―and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind!” (Apocalypse 3:17).
Religious leaders are often amongst those who are spiritually blind. Many times Jesus accused the Pharisees of being “blind leaders of the blind” (Matthew 15:14; 23:24; 23:26, etc.). Jesus said to the Pharisees that the very fact that they say they can see is proof that they are blind! “And Jesus said: ‘ I am come into this world; that they who see not, may see; and they who see, may become blind!’ And some of the Pharisees, who were with Jesus, heard: and they said unto Him: ‘Are we also blind?’ Jesus said to them: ‘If you were blind, you should not have sin! But now because you say: “We see!” your sin remains!” (John 9:39-41).
Causes of Spiritual Blindness
There are a few things that cause spiritual blindness. The first is pride. Remember that “All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes” (Proverbs 16:2). After Saul had disobeyed the command of the Lord, he actually erected a statue to himself, and with the bleating of the cursed sheep in the background, greeted Samuel with the words: “I have performed the commandment of the Lord” (1 Kings 15:13). His arrogance had made him so blind, that he really thought that wrong was right. Even after Samuel had clearly explained to Saul how he had disobeyed, he still did not get it. The story of the first king of Israel is a sad saga of a man who was so blinded by his arrogance, that he never understood a single thing the prophet Samuel said to him. Even once David had been anointed in Saul’s place and clearly carried God’s blessing, Saul still thought he could hold onto the anointing by killing David. In a similar way, we can be so proud that we ignore the word of God that comes to us through Holy Scripture, the Liturgy, and the writings of the Church Fathers, Popes and Saints. We are deaf to their entreaties and warnings, and so our spiritual deafness leads us into spiritual blindness. If we don’t listen, then we won’t see!
In the same way we develop the sad ability to see the specks in the eyes of others without seeing the log in our own eye. We see so clearly how unruly other people’s children are, but are blind to the faults of our own. We see the addiction of others to drugs, but cannot see our own addiction to criticism, gossip, revealing of faults, uncharitable thoughts, impure thoughts, eating, drinking, television or other forms of entertainment. But it goes further. Whenever we hear or read Holy Scripture, we see how all the positive things (promises, blessings etc.) apply to us, and how all the negative things (rebuke, correction, admonition, punishment) apply to everyone else.
This kind of selective vision is very dangerous, because it soon becomes permanent, so that we are no longer able to see the realities even if we want to―we see everything through tinted glasses. They say that if a person is given a pair of glasses to wear, that turn everything upside down, it only takes a few days for the mind to invert the image and to make everything look the right way up. The mind is powerful and it causes us to see wrong as right and black as white.
The antidote to blindness that comes through pride is obviously humility. Take every rebuke personally and receive every message you hear for yourself. Read every word in Holy Scripture as a personal message to you, especially those that contain admonition, warning and rebuke. Ask others to be honest with you and to tell you how they see you and be humble enough to listen to their advice. Above all, ask the Lord daily to open your eyes so you may really see. When you see others stumbling about in darkness, you should never look down on them, but rather allow it to be a warning and immediately flee to the Lord and ask Him to help you see and to keep you from developing blind spots.
“I counsel you to ... anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see!” (Apocalypse 3:18). That eye salve is the word of God.
The Spiritually Dumb
We have all heard the saying: “Hear no evil! See no evil! Speak no evil!” Well, something similar could be said of the spiritual life and the Faith. “Hear nothing spiritual! See nothing spiritual! Say nothing spiritual!” If we do not hear anything spiritual, then we will not be accustomed to seeing or understanding spiritual things, and consequently our minds will be empty of spiritual knowledge to the extent that we will be incapable of speaking spiritually about spiritual things. Thus we end up being spiritually dumb.
The dumb person is ‘tongue-tied’ and cannot speak. This is also the effect of lacking knowledge about the Faith—we become ‘tongue-tied’ in the sense that we are afraid to open our mouths and risk showing how dumb or stupid we really are. Do not try fool yourself, the average Catholic is pretty dumb doctrinally—some do not even have the level of knowledge to pass an old-fashioned First Holy Communion test, or the Sacrament of Confirmation test. This is why they cannot argue logically and persuasively on points of doctrine—when faced with opposition, the discussion is either abandoned, or transforms itself into anger, insults, recriminations, or emotional illogical statements.
As Pope St. Pius X wrote, speaking of the ignorance of Catholics: “We are forced to agree with those who hold that the chief cause of the present indifference and sickness of soul, and the serious evils that result from it, is to be found above all in ignorance of divine things. This fully agrees with what God Himself declared through the Prophet Osee: ‘And there is no knowledge of God in the land. Cursing and lying and killing and theft and adultery have overflowed’ (Osee 4:1-2). It is a common complaint, unfortunately too well founded, that there are large numbers of Christians who are entirely ignorant of those truths necessary for salvation.
“And when we speak of Christians, We refer not only to the masses or to those in the lower walks of life—for these find some excuse for their ignorance—but We refer to those especially who do not lack culture or talents and, indeed, are possessed of abundant knowledge regarding things of the world, but live rashly and imprudently with regard to religion. It is hard to find words to describe how profound is the darkness in which they are engulfed and, what is most deplorable of all, how tranquilly they repose there. They rarely give thought to God, the Supreme Author and Ruler of all things, or to the teachings of the Faith of Christ … How many and how grave are the consequences of ignorance in matters of religion! And on the other hand, how necessary and how beneficial is religious instruction! It is indeed vain to expect a fulfillment of the duties of a Christian by one who does not even know them … How many there are, alas, not only among the young, but among adults and those advanced in years, who know nothing of the chief mysteries of Faith …
“It follows, too, that if Faith languishes in our days, if among large numbers it has almost vanished, the reason is that the duty of catechetical teaching is either fulfilled very superficially or altogether neglected. It will not do to say, in excuse, that Faith is a free gift of God bestowed upon each one at Baptism. True enough, when we are baptized in Christ, the habit of Faith is given, but this most divine seed, if left entirely to itself, by its own power, so to speak, is not like the mustard seed which “grows up. . . and puts out great branches.” Man has the faculty of understanding at his birth, but he also has need of his mother’s word to awaken it, as it were, and to make it active. So too, the Christian, born again of water and the Holy Spirit, has Faith within him, but he requires the word of the teaching Church to nourish and develop it and to make it bear fruit. Thus wrote the Apostle: ‘Faith then depends on hearing, and hearing on the word of Christ’; and to show the necessity of instruction, he added, ‘How are they to hear, if no one preaches?’ … We pray and entreat you to reflect on the great loss of souls due solely to ignorance of divine things!” (Pope St. Pius X, encyclical Acerbo Nimis).
The Spiritually Lame
At the start of the Septuagesima season—on Septuagesima Sunday itself—the Church presents us with the Epistle of St. Paul saying: “Know you not that they that run in the race, all run indeed, but one receiveth the prize? So run that you may obtain!” (1 Corinthians 9:24). Yet the lame man cannot run! If we have not listened to the word of God, if we do not if we cannot clearly see the spiritual mechanisms in our life, if we cannot understand the workings and paths of the spiritual life, if we are spiritually deaf, blind and dumb, then we will invariably also become spiritually lame. Every step along the spiritual path to Heaven will see us dragging our feet, barely moving along. The race cannot and will not be won in that state. Small wonder, then, that most souls are lost! As St. Paul says: “With most of them God was not well pleased!” (1 Corinthians 10:5).
The spiritually lame have to drag themselves to pray—and they even pray lamely! The spiritually lame cannot make it to an extra Mass, or very rarely. Any spiritual exercise seems like having to move the Earth! Spiritual reading or meditation is a torture that keeps them away from the fun things in life! They trudge and limp though life like spiritual cripples. It is the combination and final consequence of being spiritually deaf, spiritually blind, and spiritually dumb. Only a miracle of grace can help them now—for as we live, so shall we die!
Lent could be a remedy, but who will have the courage, strength, and endurance to take a remedy that one instinctively finds "gut-wrenching"? Now is the time to pray to Our Lady that she mercifully obtain for us this grace! There are only 11 days to go! Prepare and be prepared! No preparation leads to inevitable deterioration.
Life is Just One Long Battle!
We all would like peace, but with the advent of sin—Original Sin and our personal sins--“The life of man on Earth is a warfare” (Job 7:1). And who is the enemy? The devil, the world and the flesh—as is shown by the following Scriptural verses:
THE DEVIL IS AN ENEMY: “Be sober and watch: because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour!” (1 Peter 5:8). “For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and power, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places” (Ephesians 6:12).
THE WORLD IS AN ENEMY: “Know you not that the friendship of this world is the enemy of God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of this world, becometh an enemy of God” (James 4:4). “Love not the world, nor the things which are in the world. If any man love the world, the charity of the Father is not in him” (John 2:15). “If you had been of the world, the world would love its own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you!” (John 15:19).
THE FLESH IS AN ENEMY: “Watch ye, and pray that ye enter not into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh weak!” (Matthew 26:41). “For when we were in the flesh, the passions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members, to bring forth fruit unto death” (Romans 7:5). “There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, who walk not according to the flesh … For they that are according to the flesh, mind the things that are of the flesh; but they that are according to the spirit, mind the things that are of the spirit. For the wisdom of the flesh is death; but the wisdom of the spirit is life and peace. The wisdom of the flesh is an enemy to God … and they who are in the flesh, cannot please God” (Romans 8:1, 5-6).
THE FAMILY CAN BE AN ENEMY: “A man’s enemies shall be they of his own household!” (Matthew 10:34-37). “And the brother shall betray his brother unto death, and the father his son; and children shall rise up against the parents, and shall work their death. And you shall be hated by all men for My Name’s sake!” (Mark 13:12-13).
All of the above is nothing else but a continuation and echo of the painful and worrisome words of Our Lord, spoken while He was still on this Earth: “Think ye, that I am come to give peace on Earth? I tell you, no; but separation! For there shall be from henceforth five in one house divided: three against two, and two against three. The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against his father, the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother, the mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law!” (Luke 12:51-53).
“Do not think that I came to send peace upon Earth! I came not to send peace, but the sword! For I came to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a man’s enemies shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than Me, is not worthy of Me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than Me, is not worthy of Me!” (Matthew 10:34-37).
Who Doesn’t Have Family Fights or Feuds?
Family feuds and fights “are as old as Adam” as they say. The very first one saw Cain kill Abel—and the reason for this feud and killing was to be ever-present throughout the history of mankind. Cain was envious of Abel because God looked more favorably upon Abel and his sacrifice than He did upon Cain’s.
“Cain offered, of the fruits of the Earth, gifts to the Lord. Abel also offered of the firstlings of his flock, and of their fat: and the Lord had respect to Abel, and to his offerings; but to Cain and his offerings he had no respect. And Cain was exceedingly angry, and his countenance fell. And the Lord said to him: ‘Why art thou angry? And why is thy countenance fallen? If thou do well, shalt thou not receive? But if ill, shall not sin forthwith be present at the door?’” (Genesis 4:3-7).
From that time onwards, the good have been persecuted by the “not-so-good”, or the “I-don’t-wanna-be-good”, or the downright “no-good”. Holy Scripture mentions only a handful of real-life cases—such as (1) Isaac and Ishmael; (2) Jacob and Esau; (3) Joseph and his envious brothers; (4) David and Saul. Our Lord Himself was hated by most of His own nation and He also gave us the parable of the Prodigal Son, who, after his return, was disliked by his brother.
With all this as a background, Our Lord warns us to expect the same: “If the world hate you, know ye, that it hath hated Me before you. If you had been of the world, the world would love its own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (John 15:18-19). “For there shall be from henceforth five in one house divided: three against two, and two against three” (Luke 12:52). “And a man’s enemies shall be they of his own household!” (Matthew 10:36).
He then adds that we should not avoid this confrontation out of a desire of “not rocking the boat” or “going along to get along”, but that we must stand up for Him and truth: “He that loveth father or mother more than Me, is not worthy of Me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than Me, is not worthy of Me! … “Everyone therefore that shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father Who is in Heaven! But he that shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father Who is in Heaven!” (Matthew 10:37; 10:33).
Our Lady Also Speaks of These Feuds and Fights
“God will allow the old serpent to cause divisions among those who reign in every society and in every family” (Our Lady of La Salette). “The work of the devil will infiltrate even into the Church in such a way that one will see cardinals opposing cardinals, bishops against bishops. The priests who venerate me will be scorned and opposed by their confreres” (Our Lady of Akita). “The true Faith to the Lord having been forgotten, each individual will want to be independent and be superior to others … for disorder and the love of carnal pleasures will be spread all over the Earth … All order and all justice will be trampled underfoot … hate, jealousy, lies and dissension will be seen, without love for country or family!” (Our Lady of La Salette).
Why All This Fighting and Feuding?
Ultimately, all the fighting and feuding in families comes down to each person’s relationship or lack of relationship to God. As Our Lord says: “And you shall be hated by all men for My Name’s sake!” (Mark 13:13). “Remember My word that I said to you: ‘The servant is not greater than his master!’ If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they have kept My word, they will keep yours also” (John 15:20). Jesus was to be the “sign of contradiction” foretold by St. Simeon to Our Lady at the Presentation in the Temple: “And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother: ‘Behold this Child is set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted! And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed!” (Luke 2:34-35).
It is because some are more or less for Him, while others are more or less against Him, that disagreements, jealousies, resentment, arguing, feuds and fighting take place. “He that is not with Me, is against Me; and he that gathereth not with Me, scattereth!” (Matthew 12:30).
Feuds Come From a Fake Godliness
St. James tells us that these contentions, fights and feuds basically stem from a preference for worldliness rather than godliness: “From whence are wars and contentions among you? Are they not from your concupiscences, which war in your members? You covet, and have not! You kill, and envy, and cannot obtain! You contend and war, and you have not, because you ask not! You ask, and receive not; because you ask amiss: that you may consume it on your concupiscences! Adulterers [by trying to love God and the world], know you not that the friendship of this world is the enemy of God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of this world, becometh an enemy of God!” (James 4:1-4).
St. Paul also speaks in the same vein, saying that this worldliness leads to a fake godliness—having the appearance of godliness in theory, but in practice being worldly lovers of themselves: “Know also this, that, in the last days, shall come dangerous times. Men shall be lovers of themselves, covetous, haughty, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, wicked, without affection, without peace, slanderers, incontinent, unmerciful, without kindness, traitors, stubborn, puffed up, and lovers of pleasures more than of God, having an appearance, indeed, of godliness, but denying the power thereof. Now these avoid! … For there shall be a time, when they will not endure sound doctrine; but, according to their own desires, they will heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears, and will, indeed, turn away their hearing from the truth, but will be turned unto fables” (2 Timothy 3:1-5; 4:3-4).
Getting the Family on the Same Page
St. James and St. Paul both hit the nail on the head in their own way. St. James asks why are there feuds and fights between you? He then says that it basically comes from being worldly and having our passions out of control—we want things out of concupiscence. He says that such a mindset and attitude is inimical to God—meaning that we become enemies of God. St. Paul puts it another way, but hits with same truth, saying that, in a nutshell, “men shall become lovers of themselves … having an appearance of godliness” but being far from godly, for they “will not endure sound doctrine and will turn away from the truth [and] will turn to fables.” How many are they who have turned the truth of God’s teaching into their own personal fable by twisting, exaggerating, bending, diluting, ignoring and reinterpreting the teaching of God. Then, instead of one objective truth, you have hundreds and thousands of subjective truths. Instead of reality, you have virtual reality or pure fables.
There is only one way to redress and correct that—it is by bringing our passions under control, attacking worldliness, focusing on God’s teaching (rather than our own lax interpretation of that teaching) and starting to love God more than ourselves. However, that will and cannot be achieved until we pull-out the one and only true spiritual yardstick by which we can objectively (not subjectively) measure everything and every ‘opinion’ to see if it measures up with God’s teaching. The family needs the humility to subject itself unreservedly, without argument, to God’s truth, God’s teaching, God’s commandments, God’s counsels and God’s way. The family must be asked: “Who is in charge here?” And the only acceptable answer is: “God!”
There Can Be No Separation Between Church & State
One of the most pernicious modern errors today is the false principle that there is a separation between Church and State. This is neither the time or place for a thorough examination of the subject, but suffice it to say that, in essence, the separation of Church and State arose in no small degree from the refusal of God’s Objective Truth, which was replaced by “My Personal Subjective Version of the Truth”—which then, in turn, allows for hundreds and thousands of differing “Personal Subjective Versions of the Truth” to exist. The only way around that is to say: “What you believe may well be true for you, but it is not true for me! I prefer my truth to your truth! You can stick to your truth and do what you want! I will stick to my truth and do what I want!”
With the advent of Protestantism on a large scale, in the 1500’s, there arose an ever-increasing clash in Europe between ‘Truths’—with the result that the adherents to one ‘Truth’ started to persecute the adherents of other ‘Truths.’ This saw over a century of religious fighting in the so-called “European Wars of Religion” from 1524 to 1648. The conflicts ended with the treaty at the Peace of Westphalia, which recognized three separate Christian traditions in Europe: Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism, and Calvinism.
The problem was, however, that one split leads to another. Lutheranism and Calvinism, being based on personal subjective interpretation of religious truth, led to further internal divisions. This, in turn, led to a persecution of these dissidents within Lutheranism and Calvinism, which—to cut a long story short—led to the emigration of these dissidents from Europe, in order to escape persecution and to be able to freely practice their own personal subjective version of religion. The religious persecution that drove settlers from Europe sprang from the conviction, held by Protestants and Catholics alike, that uniformity of religion must exist in any given society.
Come to 'Free' America and Do What You Want!
Many emigrated to America and formed the religious melting-pot or religious stew that we have today. Even though their personal versions of religion differed on many points, they had to agree to “go along to get along” and the governing political bodies had to “go along to get along to” in what was to be become a fledgling American nation. Hence the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States which reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...etc.” In other words, believe what you want—we won’t interfere. Likewise, the government will believe what it wants—and you had better not interfere!
As one American historical Liberal and Protestant website puts it: “Many of the British North American colonies that eventually formed the United States of America were settled in the seventeenth century by men and women, who, in the face of European persecution, refused to compromise passionately held religious convictions and fled Europe. The New England colonies, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland were conceived and established "as plantations of religion." Some settlers who arrived in these areas came for secular motives―‘to catch fish’ as one New Englander put it―but the great majority left Europe to worship God in the way they believed to be correct. They enthusiastically supported the efforts of their leaders to create ‘a city on a hill’ or a ‘holy experiment,’ whose success would prove that God’s plan for his churches (??) could be successfully realized in the American wilderness. Even colonies like Virginia, which were planned as commercial ventures, were led by entrepreneurs who considered themselves ‘militant Protestants’ and who worked diligently to promote the prosperity of the church.”
What’s With All This History Stuff?
Well, what “goes around comes around” and “there is nothing new under the sun”--“If we do not learn and know our history, then we will know and learn it by repeating it!” This false idea and principle of separation of Church and State, together with the false principle of “Freedom of Religion” has inescapably and imperceptibly, like air that has been poisoned by an odorless gas, drifted into the families of so many Catholics—even ‘good’ Conservative Catholic families. What Fr. Salvany covers in the opening chapter of his book Liberalism Is A Sin, is at the root of the fighting and feuding that we find in Catholic families today. In essence, Catholic families are becoming Protestant families, because of their constant exposure to an overwhelmingly Protestant and pagan environment. In the following extracts, the population data has been updated for our present day, according to the latest available figures. Fr. Salvany writes:
“Swarming in the atmosphere of our spiritual lives are innumerable deadly germs, ever ready to fasten upon the depleted and weakened soul and, propagating its leprous contagion through every faculty, destroy the spiritual life. Against the menace of this ever-threatening danger, whose advances we cannot avoid in our present circumstances, the ever-healthy soul alone can be prepared … To be prepared is to be armed, but to be prepared is not sufficient; we must possess the interior strength to throw off the germ. There must be no condition in the soul to make a suitable nidus for an enemy so insidious and so efficacious as to need only the slightest point of contact whence to spread its deadly contagion. It is not only through the avenues of disordered passions that this spiritual disease may gain an entrance; it may make its inroad through the intellect, and this under a disguise often calculated to deceive the unwary and incautious ... Intellectual torpidity, inexperience, ignorance, indifference, and complaisance, or even virtues, such as, benevolence, generosity, and pity may be the unsuspected way open to the foe, and lo, we are surprised to find him in possession of the citadel!
“As we are addressing ourselves to those who live amidst the peculiar circumstances of our American life … Let us then consider these surroundings in a general way for the moment. [the following population date has been updated for our day] The population of this country is at present something over 325 million. [2016 census]. Of these, 70 million are Catholics, and according to their claim, 150 million are Protestants, leaving a population of 100 million or more who do not profess any form of Christianity at all. Amongst the 150 million Protestants, every shade and variety of belief in the Christian dispensation find easy lodgment … A Protestant may freely range from one end of the scale to the other and still be considered orthodox according to Protestant estimates. A loose indefinite belief in Christ … suffices to place the Protestant within the compass of his own standard of orthodoxy.
Outside of these various bodies of loosely professed Christians stands a mass of our population [around 100 million] who are either absolutely indifferent to Christianity as a creed or positively reject it. In practice, the distinction is of little moment whether they hold themselves merely indifferent or positively hostile. This mass … holds itself aloof from Christianity, and in some instances virulently antagonistic to it. This mass of infidelity and Protestantism is enhanced to an even more frightening percentage by the vast majority (70%) of Catholics today—2016 figures—who either do not practice their Faith at all or who are ignorant of its teachings. This brings the total of practical non-believing, or non-practicing and infidel people to probably over 90 percent, Heresy and infidelity are irreconcilable with Catholicity. ‘He that is not with Me is against Me’ (Matthew 12:30) are the words of Our Lord Himself, for denial of Catholic truth is the radical and common element of both heresy and infidelity.
“We live in the midst of this religious anarchy. Some 300 million (out of 325 million) of our population can, in one sense or other, be considered anti-Catholic [2016 figures]. From this mass—heretical and infidel—exhales an atmosphere filled with germs poisonous and fatal to Catholic life, if permitted to take root in the Catholic heart. The mere force of gravitation, which the larger mass ever exercises upon the smaller, is a power which the most energetic vigor alone can resist. Under this dangerous influence, a deadly inertia is apt to creep over the souls of the incautious and is only to be overcome by the liveliest exercise of Catholic Faith. To live without harm amidst an heretical and infidel population requires a robust religious constitution. And to this danger we are daily exposed, ever coming into contact in a thousand ways, in almost every relation of life, with anti-Catholic thought and customs. But outside of this spiritual inertia, our non-Catholic surroundings beget a still greater menace.
“It is natural that Protestantism and infidelity should find public expression. What our 300 million non-Catholic (including the non-practicing Catholics) population thinks in these matters, naturally seeks and finds open expression. They have their organs and their literature, where we find their current opinions publicly uttered. Their views upon religion, morality, politics, the constitution of society are perpetually marshaled before us. In the pulpit and in the press they are reiterated day after day. In magazine and newspaper they constantly speak from every line. Our literature is permeated and saturated with non-Catholic dogmatism. On all sides do we find this opposing spirit. We cannot escape from it. It enfolds and embraces us. Its breath is perpetually in our faces. It enters in by eye and ear. From birth to death, it enslaves us in its offensive garments. It now soothes and flatters, now hates and curses, now threatens, now praises. But it is most dangerous when it comes to us under the form of “liberality.” It is especially powerful for seduction in this guise.” (Fr. Felix Salvany, Liberalism Is A Sin, chapter 1).
The Above is True for the Family Too!
Since we pay scant attention to our Faith and rarely do serious reading on the subject, we become prey to falsehoods, fallacies, novelties and errors that creep past the ‘sleeping sentries’ of our Faith. We are strong in earthly, worldly knowledge, but weak in doctrinal, spiritual knowledge. We know pretty well the history of favorite sports team, but very little about the history of the Church. We know all about the celebrities of this life, but very little about the saints. We have, in essence, diluted our knowledge of the Faith with knowledge of world—going diametrically against the command of Holy Scripture: “Love not the world, nor the things which are in the world. If any man love the world, the charity of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). We have committed adultery of sorts, which is what St. James call us, when he says: “Adulterers! Know you not that the friendship of this world is the enemy of God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of this world, becometh an enemy of God!” (James 4:4).
Once our knowledge of the Faith is weak, anyone could tell us almost anything, and we would be stuck for a powerful argument or answer. Like Our Lady of Good Success warned: “In this supreme moment of need of the Church, those who should speak will fall silent!” Yet this silence is deafening, not only in Church, but also in the family. Just as Our Lady of La Salette condemned the leaders of the Church, when she said: “The leaders of the people of God, have neglected prayer and penance, and the devil has bedimmed their intelligence. They have become wandering stars which the old devil will drag along with his tail to make them perish!”—she could just as well say the same of parents (the family ‘clergy’ so to speak), who have neglected, not only prayer and penance in the family (the mini-Church), but who have also neglected to ensure the study of the Faith at home, which would have furnished the principles required to stand any kind of chance from being corrupted by the 90%+ of the population that are indifferent or even hostile to the Faith.
Protest-olic and Cath-estant Families
Little by little the Catholicity of families has been eroded. The modern Church—with its discounted spirituality of less prayers and less penance—has removed the backbone of Catholicity and replaced it with a spineless worldly rapacity. Our Lord’s command to “watch and pray” has become “watch TV and play”—with the result that there is insufficient grace being called down from Heaven to battle, overcome and control our passions and penchant for worldliness, comfort, ease, indulgence and gratification. The windows and doors of the home are open to the non-Catholic world and its pernicious influence as it pours into the home through the TV, computer, i-Pads, smartphones, music, magazines, newspapers and catalogues. The result is the de-Catholicization of one family after another. Without being specifically told that a family was Catholic, you could not differentiate it from a Protestant or pagan family in some (or even many) cases.
Family Civil Wars
This leads to the family ‘civil wars’ that Our Lord speaks about: “Think ye, that I am come to give peace on Earth? I tell you, no; but separation! For there shall be from henceforth five in one house divided: three against two, and two against three. The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against his father, the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother, the mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law!” (Luke 12:51-53). Those who dislike or even refuse to go down the path of de-Catholicization and worldliness end up arguing with those who do not mind the worldliness. That is the devil’s way—divide and conquer—and it has all come about because of doctrinal and spiritual laxity that, in many cases, is now irreversible. Hence the statistics show that around 90% of youth, once they reach the age of maturity, no longer practice the Faith on a regular basis. Missing Mass, neglecting Confession, praying little, doing spiritual reading even less, doing penance rarely and meditating never. The parents—who in some cases are barely any better—can either “go along to get along” or vainly “shut the barn once the horse has bolted.”
Are You Up for the Fight or the Flight?
What is the solution to this gradual crumbling of Catholic families—and you had better believe that they are crumbling. Go online yourself and check the stats. Look at the closing down of churches due to insufficient numbers in attendances—the only reason some churches are fairly full today, is because they have closed two churches and amalgamated then with a third parish—that way you can magically transform three dwindling parishes into a seemingly thriving parish! A great sleight of hand!
So what is the solution? Do stand and fight, or do you take flight? Do you sit and talk, or do you avoid the talk and off you walk? “Sweet-talkin’ ain’t gonna work, honey!” That’s all the Church been doing for the last 50 years and numbers have gone down, down, down; while sins have gone up, up, up. You can talk till the proverbial cows come home, or you go blue in the face—the world and its prince, the devil, talk a smarter talk than you can talk, because you have been greatly dumbed-down over these last 50 years since the Second Vatican Council “opened its doors to the world”—and instead of the world jumping into the Church, most of the Catholics have jumped out into the world and are quite happy with their choice.
Sit and Do Nothing?
So do you do nothing but sit there and watch the demise? If you do that, then you will likely hear God’s words to Cain being also addressed to you--“And the Lord said to Cain: ‘Where is thy brother Abel?’ And he answered: ‘I know not! Am I my brother’s keeper?’ And the Lord said to him: ‘What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth to Me from the earth!’” (Genesis 4:9-10).
Something has to be done, for, as Our Lady said: “Lucifer, together with a large number of demons, will be unloosed from Hell; they will put an end to Faith, little by little, even in those dedicated to God” (La Salette) … “ You have seen Hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved … Pray, pray very much, and make sacrifices for sinners; for many souls go to Hell, because there are none to sacrifice themselves and pray for them!” (Fatima).
She says “many souls go to Hell”—and that was way back in 1917, one hundred years ago! Do you think less souls to go to Hell today? She says they go to Hell “because there are none to sacrifice themselves and pray for them”—Do you think that there are more people praying for sinners today? Hey, only 2% of USA Catholics pray the Rosary daily! Only 25% go to Sunday Mass regularly!
A Few Extra Hail Marys Just Won’t Cut-It!
Do we truly realize the price of grace? Do we really appreciate what it takes to bring about a conversion? To get a true picture of this it is recommended to read a little of The Way of Divine Love by Sister Josefa Menendez, to see the “hell” that Christ puts her through just to bring about the conversion of a lukewarm soul—never mind a big sinner! It all comes back to the way we cheapened the divine and expect ‘bargain-basement’ deals for a pittance on our part.
Your family cannot and will not change without heavy duty weapons being used! It is no rocket science, but it certainly will take some rocket power, or the thrust of rocket, to get a family out the pull of the gravity of worldliness. We could well react like the Apostles: “And when they had heard this, the disciples wondered very much, saying: ‘Who then can be saved?’ And Jesus beholding, said to them: ‘With men this is impossible! But with God all things are possible!’” (Matthew 19:26-27).
Two Chief Weapons for the Fight
To God you must turn and you must put away the pea-shooter and pull-out the rockets or “big-guns”! Our Lady gives us a clue as to what to use when she says: “The only weapons that will remain for you will be the Rosary and Sign left by my Son” (Akita). We can most certainly take this to mean the Rosary and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (with its ‘child’, the Holy Eucharist).
Sr. Lucia of Fatima had already indicated in 1957 that the Rosary was one of the weapons chosen by Heaven for our day and age: “Prayer and sacrifice are the two means to save the world. As for the Holy Rosary, Father, in these last times in which we are living, the Blessed Virgin has given a new efficacy to the praying of the Holy Rosary. This in such a way that there is no problem that cannot be resolved by praying the Rosary, no matter how difficult it is ― be it temporal or above all spiritual ― in the spiritual life of each of us, or the lives of our families, be they our families in the world or Religious Communities, or even in the lives of peoples and nations. I repeat, there is no problem, as difficult as it may be, that we cannot resolve at this time by praying the Holy Rosary. With the Holy Rosary we will save ourselves, sanctify ourselves, console Our Lord and obtain the salvation of many souls” (Sr. Lucia to Fr. Fuentes, December 26th, 1957).
The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is quite simply the weapon par excellence! It is nothing other than the sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ on Mount Calvary, though in an unbloody manner. Nothing can hold a candle to its power. Yet, much like the Rosary today, it is underused, misused, unused and abused. A weapon is only as good as the person using it. It was revealed to Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich that if a priest would say the Mass with the devotion that the Apostles had for the Mass, then many if not all the dangers threatening us would be allayed: “Mass, badly celebrated, is an enormous evil. Ah! It is not a matter of indifference how it is said! . . . I have had a great vision on the mystery of Holy Mass and I have seen that whatever good has existed since creation is owing to it … Our Lady said what is most painful for me to repeat, that if only one priest offered the unbloody Sacrifice as worthily and with the same sentiments as the Apostles, he could ward off all calamities from the Church!” (Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich).
Get Serious! Get Real!
The end to family fighting won’t come without a fight! Mere talking has got you nowhere! Giving them books and pamphlets has got you nowhere! Doing nothing has got you nowhere! Biting your tongue has got you nowhere! Being nice has got you nowhere! Getting angry has got you nowhere! Becoming depressed and discouraged has go you nowhere!
There is a fundamental principle that we must never forget—as we were taught in our early catechism days—“Faith is a supernatural gift of God freely given by God.” No person can give another person the Faith. No person can truly convert another person. These things come from God—and they COST! God could convert all the sinners in the world in one single second—but He will not do so if we do pay for it! This is why Our Lady came at Fatima and Akita to ask for LOTS OF PRAYER and LOTS OF SACRIFICES. “Pray, pray very much, and make sacrifices for sinners; for many souls go to Hell, because there are none to sacrifice themselves and pray for them” (Fatima) … “Pray very much the prayers of the Rosary. I alone am able still to save you from the calamities which approach. Those who place their confidence in me will be saved … Prayer, penance and courageous sacrifices can soften the Father’s anger!” (Akita).
Spiritual Aspirins and Band-Aids
You will not heal a gunshot wound by giving the victim an aspirin and a Band-Aid. It takes far more than that! The same is true of spiritual healing—most people are riddled with the devil’s and the world’s gunshots. We are naïve and senseless if we think that a few Hail Marys are going to bring about massive conversions. We need to get serious and get real! If little Francisco at Fatima was told that he would have to pray MANY Rosaries before he would get to Heaven, then what about us and our worldly family members? How many more need to be said—especially given our super-sinful times! Look at the many years of prayer, penance and tears the St. Monica went through to bring about the conversion of her wayward son, the future St. Augustine! And we expect the same for a pittance!!?
The same applies to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass—how few are the people who have Masses regularly offered for the conversion of family members! They will pay a fortune for the best doctor available if a family member gets sick, but will not even pay a fraction of that to have a regular series of Masses said to cure their spiritual sickness! Senseless! Crazy! Foolish!
Those are the ‘big-guns’ that are neglected—and the devil rejoices over that! He simply pours more and more gasoline on the fires of family fights and feuds, waiting for the day when can carry on fighting and feuding in the fires of Hell! God help them! Unless they help themselves now by using what God has put before them!
Once that foundation has been laid, THEN you can start talking, encouraging, threatening, warning, pleading, explaining, teaching, etc. But without Him, we can do nothing! Lay the proper spiritual foundation first, then you can start to build on it.
Lent is a Spiritual Vineyard
While the Epistle for Septuagesima Sunday speaks of running a race; the Gospel of Septuagesima Sunday speaks of working in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). Just as the householder calls men to come and work in his vineyard, so too does God us to come and work in the vineyard of Lent:
“And going out about the third hour, he saw others standing in the market place idle. And he said to them: ‘Go you also into my vineyard, and I will give you what shall be just.’ And they went their way. And again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did in like manner. But about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing, and he saith to them: ‘Why stand you here all the day idle?’ They say to him: ‘Because no man hath hired us.’ He saith to them: ‘Go you also into my vineyard.’” (Matthew 20:3-7).
Roll Up Those Sleeves
You could look upon Lent as being the eleventh hour, where God almost forces us into the vineyard through the laws of the Church, that require penance to be done during Lent. In the parable, some were called in at dawn and worked all day—which symbolizes those souls who make many sacrifices for God and do penance all year round. If we have been more or less idle so far, let us go into the Lenten Vineyard and work.
Salvation has been lost by most souls because they “stood idle all day in the market place”—or could we say stood idle all their life in shopping mall, engrossed in material things and idle talk and entertainment—neglecting what Our Lord calls the “one thing necessary” (Luke 10:42), which is the spiritual life and the salvation of the soul.
The Gates of Heaven’s Vineyard Call for Work
Heaven has its gates open to those who are willing to work--“Work out your salvation!” (Philippians 2:12). “Jesus answered them: ‘My Father worketh until now; and I work!” (John 5:17). “For He will render to a man his work, and, according to the ways of every one, He will reward them!” (Job 34:11). “Every man’s work shall be manifest; for the day of the Lord shall declare it, because it shall be revealed in fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work, of what sort it is!” (1 Corinthians 3:13). “Therefore, be ye steadfast and unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord!” (1 Corinthians 15:58). “Therefore, whilst we have time, let us work good to all men, but especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Galatians 6:10). “Walk worthy of God, in all things pleasing; being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God … All whatsoever you do in word or in work, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him!” (Colossians 1:10; 3:17). “So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father Who is in Heaven!” (Matthew 5:16).
Let Us Not Be Idle in Spiritual Work
Would that we were able to say to God the same words Jesus addressed to Him: “I have glorified Thee on the Earth; I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do!” (John 17:4). Or will we find ourselves addressed by these terrible words: “And his lord answering, said to him: ‘Wicked and slothful servant! Thou knewest that I reap where I sow not, and gather where I have not strewed! Thou oughtest therefore to have committed my money to the bankers, and at my coming I should have received my own with usury! Take ye away therefore the talent from him, and give it to him that hath ten talents. For to everyone that hath shall be given, and he shall abound: but from him that hath not, that also which he seemeth to have shall be taken away. And the unprofitable servant cast ye out into the exterior darkness. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth!” (Matthew 25:26-30).
Let Us Not Pride Ourselves on Our Earthly Works
“Extol not thyself in doing thy work” (Ecclesiasticus 10:29). “Their land is full of idols: they have adored the work of their own hands, which their own fingers have made” (Isaias 2:8). “They are vain things and a ridiculous work: in the time of their visitation they shall perish” (Jeremias 10:15). “Can those things then that are made by them be gods? How then can they be thought to be gods, that can neither deliver themselves from war, nor save themselves from evils? For seeing they are but of wood, and laid over with gold, and with silver, it shall be known hereafter that they are false things, and it shall be manifest that they are no gods, but the work of men’s hands, and that there is no work of God in them” (Baruch 6:46-50).
“Every work that is corruptible shall fail in the end: and the worker thereof shall go with it. And every excellent work shall be justified: and the worker thereof shall be honored therein” (Ecclesiasticus 14:20-21). “The work of the just is unto life; but the fruit of the wicked, unto sin” (Proverbs 10:16).
Good Fruit and Bad Fruit
However, in the vineyard of the Lord, as well as the vineyard of the world, there are good and bad trees, or as another parable states, Wheat and Cockle. God has planted, but the enemy has corrupted: “I planted thee a chosen vineyard, all true seed: how then art thou turned unto Me into that which is good for nothing!” (Jeremias 2:21).
How does God view your family? St. Paul tells us that, regarding the Chosen People, “with most of them God was not well pleased” (1 Corinthians 10:5). What does God see when He looks down upon your family? Would the following verses apply? “God looked down from Heaven on the children of men: to see if there were any that did understand, or did seek God. All have gone aside, they are become unprofitable together, there is none that doth good, no not one!” (Psalm 52:3-4).
Does your family belong to the stereotype of the modern worldly family that forms the majority of families in the world today? If so, it is a bad sign according to the words of Our Lord: “Enter ye in at the narrow gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there are who go in thereat. How narrow is the gate, and strait is the way that leadeth to life: and few there are that find it! Beware of false prophets, who come to you in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. By their fruits you shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, and the evil tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can an evil tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, shall be cut down, and shall be cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits you shall know them” (Matthew 7:13-20).
We Know Not the Day Nor the Hour
Prophecy speaks of two apostasies in the End Times—the “Minor Apostasy”, which really is far from being minor in the sense of trivial, and then, in the time of the Antichrist, there will the “Great Apostasy”, which precedes the Second Coming of Christ, of which Our Lord says: “The Son of man, when He cometh, shall He find, think you, Faith on Earth?” (Luke 18:8).
We can be sure that we have entered the time of the “Minor Apostasy” because of Our Lady’s warning at Fatima, where she implies that most of the Catholic world will lose the Faith, for she says “In Portugal, the dogma of the Faith will always be preserved” to which can be added the words of Fr. Malachi Martin, who had read the Third Secret of Fatima: “The apostasy in the Church forms the backdrop or the context of the Third Secret. The apostasy is just beginning now. But the chastisements foretold in the Secret are very real, physical chastisements, and they are terrible!”
Thanks to the words of Our Lady and many other prophets throughout the annals of time, we have a good idea of what lies in store for us! What we do not know is the exact time that it will happen. As Our Lord says: “But of that day and hour no one knoweth, not the angels of Heaven, but the Father alone!” (Matthew 24:36). “Watch ye therefore, because you know not the day nor the hour!” (Matthew 25:13). “Watch ye therefore, because ye know not what hour your Lord will come! Wherefore be you also ready, because at what hour you know not the Son of man will come. The lord of that servant shall come in a day that he hopeth not, and at an hour that he knoweth not!” (Matthew 24:42-50). Therefore, “Take ye heed, watch and pray! For ye know not when the time is!” (Mark 13:33).
Cultivate a Strong Faith
How string is your family in the Faith—the question is not about being strong in theory, but strong in practice. Yet it is unlikely that the Faith of anyone is strong in the practice of the Faith, if it is not also proportionately strong in its knowledge of the Faith. It is a string Faith that overcomes the world: “This is the victory which overcometh the world―our Faith” (1 John 5:4).
Yet today’s weak Faith has been overcome by the world, Lent is the time to turn the tables onto the world, a time to push back the worldly tide, a time to recover a strong Faith again. Yet there cannot be too many Lents left, we seem to be living on borrowed time. Will this another unplanned, insipid, lukewarm Lent, or will we truly get to work at reforming ourselves and the family around us? Will this Lent be a blaster or a disaster?
Work is a Cross
Work, usually, is more of a cross than it is a pleasure—and the work of reform is even less of a pleasure and even more of a cross. This is the result of Original Sin, whereby God punished Adam and Eve by making work difficult, whereas before it had been a pleasure:
“And to Adam he said: ‘Because thou hast hearkened to the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldst not eat, cursed is the earth in thy work; with labor and toil shalt thou eat thereof all the days of thy life. Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herbs of the earth. In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread till thou return to the earth, out of which thou wast taken: for dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return!’” (Genesis 3:17-19).
We are reminded of these words of God to Adam on Ash Wednesday, as we enter the toil and labor of Lent, when our forehead is marked with dust (ashes) and we are told: “Remember, man, that thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return!”
Penance is for Sin and Sinners
Because we have such a warped and cheap idea of sin—failing to see its true gravity—we therefore feel little or no need to do penance. If we hear the term “the sinners of this world” used, we do not really include ourselves among that group. Faced with the adulteress and the crowd of stone-throwers, Jesus said: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (John 8:7) for “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:10).
The Pharisees were quick to see and tackle sins in others, but blind and reticent about tackling their own faults and failings. There can be no arguing with Holy Scripture when it says: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all iniquity. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:8-10).
“There is none that doth good. God looked down from Heaven on the children of men: to see if there were any that did understand, or did seek God. All have gone aside, they are become unprofitable together, there is none that doth good, no not one!” (Psalm 52:2-4).
The problem today is that many things, that are evil, are instead looked upon as good—or at least not too bad! The prophet Malachias could well address these words to us as did to the Chosen People of old: “You have wearied the Lord with your words, and you said: ‘Wherein have we wearied Him?’ In that you say: ‘Everyone that doth evil, is good in the sight of the Lord, and such please Him!’ or ‘Where is the God of justice?’” (Malachias 2:17). The prophet Isaias has a condemning response to such a complacent attitude: “Woe to you that call evil good, and good evil: that put darkness for light, and light for darkness: that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaias 5:20).
We All Need Penance! Your Family Needs Penance!
We are all in need of penance; whether we think we are good or bad. For God judges differently to man. We judge merely on the surface, but God, Who notices the loss of one single hair from our head and takes note of every idle word we utter (Matthew 10:30; 12:36), also takes into account everything that contributes to our sins. “They have no excuse for their sin” (John 15:22).
Some are tempted more frequently, others less frequently; some are tempted with great vehemence, others lightly; some have many souls praying for them, others have few praying for them; some may have a natural temperament that will open them up to more temptation, others have a naturally strong blend of temperaments that help them resist temptation; some are hated more by the devil, others hated less; some are trying hard to be spiritual and will thus attract the devil’s attention and temptations, others are lukewarm, and so they are partially doing the devil’s work for him.
The list of possibilities is endless. That is why the ex-Pharisee, St. Paul, writes: “It is a very small thing to be judged by you, or by man’s day; but neither do I judge my own self” (1 Corinthians 4:3). The important thing is that do not try to play the “Adam and Eve Game” by pointing the finger at others and blaming them for OUR SINS! “And they began all at once to make excuse” (Luke 14:18)—which provoked the answer of “I say unto you, that none of those men that were invited, shall taste of my supper!” (Luke 14:24).
Christ Came Looking For Sinners!
Why do we downplay our sinfulness and our guilt when Christ came to seek and save sinners. But we will not be found and saved if we deny our sinfulness. A sick man cannot be cured unless he recognizes himself as sick and seeks out a doctor and takes the remedy the doctor gives him. The same is true for a sinner—who happens to spiritually sick. Christ does not come to condemn the sinner (at least not now, but He will at the end of time, or at the sinner’s death), but He comes to seek, find, reform and cure the sinner.
“For God so loved the world, as to give His only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in Him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting … God hath sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we may live by Him” (John 3:16; 1 John 4:9). “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). “I came not to call the just, but sinners to penance” (Luke 5:32). “No, I say to you: but unless you shall do penance, you shall all likewise perish!” (Luke 13:3). “The light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the light: for their works were evil” (John 3:19). “God hath given him place for penance, and he abuseth it unto pride!” (Job 24:23).
We Work Hard, But at the Wrong Things
Most people can work hard and do work hard at some things. Yet, invariably, it is the wrong thing! Not necessarily a sinful thing—but they are piling efforts into a project, hobby or area which will do little or nothing towards their salvation—thus triggering the truth of Our Lord’s words when He said: “For what doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his own soul? Or what exchange shall a man give for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26).
Which is why The Imitation of Christ opens with the following words: “This is the greatest wisdom — to seek the kingdom of Heaven through contempt of the world. It is vanity, therefore, to seek and trust in riches that perish. It is vanity also to court honor and to be puffed up with pride. It is vanity to follow the lusts of the body and to desire things for which severe punishment later must come. It is vanity to wish for long life and to care little about a well-spent life. It is vanity to be concerned with the present only and not to make provision for things to come. It is vanity to love what passes quickly and not to look ahead where eternal joy abides” (Imitation of Christ, Book 1, Chapter 1).
The World Crisis is due to a Reversal of Values
Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange comments: “God is now showing men what a great mistake they make when they try to do without Him, when they regard earthly enjoyment as their highest good, and thus reverse the whole scale of values … As though in the hope of compensating for the poor quality of earthly goods, men are striving to increase their quantity; they are trying to produce as much as possible in the order of material enjoyment ... The present state of the world is called a crisis. But in fact it is more than a crisis; it is a condition of affairs which, if men only had eyes to see, ought to be revealing, it ought to show men that they have sought their last end where it is not to be found, in earthly enjoyment—instead of God. They are seeking happiness in an abundance of material possessions which are incapable of giving it … for, so long as earthly possessions retain their nature and man retains the nature which is his, he will never find his happiness in them. The remedy is this, and this only: to consider the one thing necessary, and to ask God to give us saints who live only on this thought, saints who will give the world the spirit that it needs. God has always sent us saints in troubled times. We need them especially today” (Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, The Three Conversions of the Spiritual Life).
Clever People Showing What Fools They Are
The above quote comes from Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange’s summary of his two-volumed The Three Ages of the Interior Life, wherein he speaks of this misguided effort, placed on secondary things, while neglecting the one thing necessary: “Unfortunately, some great scholars, mathematicians, physicists, and astronomers have no interior life, so to speak, but devote themselves to the study of their science as if God did not exist. In their moments of solitude they have no intimate conversation with Him. Their life appears to be in certain respects the search for the true and the good in a more or less definite and restricted domain, but it is so tainted with self-love and intellectual pride that we may legitimately question whether it will bear fruit for eternity. Many artists, literary men, and statesmen never rise above this level of purely human activity which is, in short, quite exterior. Do the depths of their souls live by God? It would seem not.
“This shows that the interior life, or the life of the soul with God, well deserves to be called the one thing necessary, since by it we tend to our last end and assure our salvation. This last must not be too widely separated from progressive sanctification, for it is the very way of salvation. There are those who seem to think that it is sufficient to be saved and that it is not necessary to be a saint. It is clearly not necessary to be a saint who performs miracles and whose sanctity is officially recognized by the Church. To be saved, we must take the way of salvation, which is identical with that of sanctity. There will be only saints in Heaven!” (Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, The Three Ages of the Interior Life).
Sowing the Wrong Seeds
Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange shows how we have planted the wrong seeds and now we are bearing the bad fruit. What he says for the world as a whole, is equally true of families, parishes and schools. They have all become far too materialistic and more world orientated than Heaven orientated. As Our Lord says: “By their fruits you shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, and the evil tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can an evil tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, shall be cut down, and shall be cast into the fire!” (Matthew 7:16-19).
What kinds of seeds have been mainly planted in your family, parish or school? Spiritual seeds or worldly seeds? Of course there will be both. But what is the predominant kind of fruit tree? Good or bad? What preoccupies most of everyone’s time? What is the topic of conversations? What are the activities? How much religion enters into all of this? Is it superficial or profound. Rare or frequent?
Which is why Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange writes: “What we have just said is true at all times; but the question of the interior life is being more sharply raised today than in several periods less troubled than ours. The explanation of this interest lies in the fact that many men have separated themselves from God and tried to organize intellectual and social life without Him … To wish to get along without God, leads to an abyss; not only to nothingness, but also to physical and moral wretchedness that is worse than nothingness. Likewise, great problems grow exasperatingly serious, and man must finally perceive that all these problems ultimately lead to the fundamental religious problem; in other words, he will finally have to declare himself entirely for God or against Him. This is in its essence the problem of the interior life. Christ Himself says: ‘He that is not with Me is against Me.’
“The great modern scientific and social tendencies … converge, whether one wills it or not, toward the fundamental question of the intimate relations of man with God. When man will no longer fulfill his great religious duties toward God who created him and who is his last End, he makes a religion for himself―since he absolutely cannot get along without religion. Man may, for example, place his religion in science, or in the cult of social justice, or in some human ideal, which finally he considers in a religious manner and even in a mystical manner. Thus he turns away from supreme reality, and there arises a vast number of problems that will be solved only if he returns to the fundamental problem of the intimate relations of the soul with God.
“It has often been remarked that today science pretends to be a religion. Likewise Socialism and Communism claim to be a code of ethics, thereby trying to captivate hearts and minds. As a matter of fact, the modern scholar seems to have a scrupulous devotion to the scientific method. He cultivates it to such a degree that he often seems to prefer the method of research to the truth. If he bestowed equally serious care on his interior life, he would quickly reach sanctity.
“This is simply a reiteration of the statement that the religious problem of the relations of man with God is at the basis of every great problem. We must declare ourselves for or against Him; indifference is no longer possible, as our times show in a striking manner. The present world-wide economic crisis demonstrates what men can do when they seek to get along without God. Without God, the seriousness of life gets out of focus. If religion is no longer a grave matter, but something to smile at, then the serious element in life must be sought elsewhere. Some place it, or pretend to place it, in science, or in social activity … If the serious element in life is out of focus, if it no longer is concerned with our duties toward God, but with the scientific and social activities of man. If man continually seeks himself, instead of God, then events are not slow in showing him that he has taken an impossible way, which leads not only to nothingness, but to unbearable disorder and misery. We must again and again revert to Christ's words: ‘He that is not with Me, is against Me: and he that gathereth not with Me, scattereth.’ The facts confirm this declaration.
“We conclude logically that religion can give an efficacious and truly realistic answer to the great modern problems, only if it is a religion that is PROFOUNDLY LIVED, not simply a superficial and cheap religion made up of some vocal prayers and some ceremonies, in which religious art has more place than true piety. As a matter of fact, no religion that is profoundly lived is without an interior life ... The logical conclusion to be drawn is that religion, the interior life, must be profound, must be a true life of union with God if it is to keep the pre-eminence it should have over scientific and social activities. This is a manifest necessity!” (Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, The Three Ages of the Interior Life).
Creating Our Own Seeds of Religion
Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange hit the nail on the head when he said: “When man will no longer fulfill his great religious duties toward God Who created him and Who is his last End, he makes a religion for himself―since he absolutely cannot get along without religion.” Many a Catholic would be shocked and scandalized if you accused them of having made a religion of their own—yet that, very sadly, is the case with a great number of Catholics.
They do not like God’s ‘very demanding’ version of religion, so they pick and choose, ignore and discard what they want. They replace dogmas and Church teaching with their own ‘dogmas’ whose authority is merely their own twisted imagination. This attitude has almost as many degrees as there are Catholics. Everyone has his or her own version. It ranges from everybody goes to Heaven to very few go to Heaven; from Hell is empty to Hell is full. Sin is only sin when I think it is wrong—to hell with what the Church teaches! God is given a ‘makeover’ whereby He is stripped of His garments of justice (which are all thrown into the trash can) and is made to put on layers and layers of clothing of mercy.
This is how and why most Catholics practice contraception; this is how and why only 2 out of 100 pray the Rosary daily; this is how and why most Catholics no longer go to Mass regularly on Sundays; why barely anyone goes to Confession anymore but almost everyone goes to Communion—all the while thinking that they are good Catholics. But the words of St. Paul are more likely to be true: “With most of them God was not well pleased!” (1 Corinthians 10:5).
Time to Reseed the Garden of Your Soul & Family
If we are going to be humbly truthful, then we have to admit that we as individuals and our families, parishes and schools, are far from being what God wants us to be! We are the complacent children of the modern Church’s 95% Lenten penance discount. We do 10 times more for ourselves than we do for God—and then we pretend that we are fulfilling the command to love God with our whole heart, with our whole mind, with our whole soul and our whole strength—while our nose grows longer each time we utter that lie.
It is time to admit that the majority of the seeds that have been sown in our own lives and our families, parishes and schools have been material, earthly, worldly seeds and that the fruits are not the fruits of God, but fruits of the world. As Our Lord says, those trees need to be cut down and thrown into the fire—and new spiritual seeds need to be sown—before we end up in the fire ourselves! God is not a merciful doormat upon Whom we can wipe our worldly or even sinful feet time and time again without there ever being any repercussions or consequences.
Our Lady has warned us for the last 170 years of those terrible and awful consequences, which, when they come, will prove the truth of the Holy Scripture when it says: “Be not deceived, God is not mocked! For what things a man shall sow, those also shall he reap. For he that soweth in his flesh, of the flesh also shall reap corruption. But he that soweth in the spirit, of the spirit shall reap life everlasting!” (Galatians 6:7-8). “The Lord delayeth not His promise [of chastisement], as some imagine, but dealeth patiently for your sake, not willing that any should perish, but that all should return to penance!” (2 Peter 3:9). “No, I say to you: but unless you shall do penance, you shall all likewise perish!” (Luke 13:3).
Now is the time to work on your family, parish and school to cultivate and prepare the right attitude of mind for the start of Lent. That right attitude of mind is the not the mindset of the “95% Lenten Penance Discount”—for Our Lady already foretold, warned and condemned that attitude at La Salette, saying that prayer and penance would be neglected with the consequence that many souls would be lost. Much prayer and much penance is needed—you need to convince yourself and those around you of that truth. If not, then we have all read and know the terrible penance that God is preparing to impose on the world. Better pay now, which is mere cents on the dollar, than pay then, which will see an interest rate that goes through the roof!
Get the Spiritual Engine Serviced Before Lent
Before we know it, Lent will be upon us! This Sunday, Septuagesima Sunday, the Church will place before us the words of St. Paul, about running in a race in such a manner that we may win. “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain” (1 Corinthians 9: 24). In our lazy modern times, the car has replaced the two feet as the chief means of running around; but whether it is the athlete with his feet, or the driver with his car, the bottom line is that, to win a race, the athlete or the car has to be in peak condition. Most Catholic cars (souls) are far from being in peak condition—much like the Israelite ‘cars’ (souls) crossing the desert—most of whom were not pleasing to God, as the reading from the Mass of Septuagesima Sunday points out:
God’s Viewpoint of the Racers
“For I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea. And all in Moses were baptized, in the cloud, and in the sea: and did all eat the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink; and they drank of the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. But with most of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the desert” (1 Corinthians 10:1-5).
Hence St. Paul warns us that “Now these things were done in a figure of us, that we should not covet evil things as they also coveted. Neither become ye idolaters, as some of them, as it is written: ‘The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play!’ Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed fornication, and there fell in one day three and twenty thousand. Neither let us tempt Christ: as some of them tempted, and perished by the serpents. Neither do you murmur: as some of them murmured, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now all these things happened to them in figure: and they are written for our correction, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore he that thinketh himself to stand, let him take heed lest he fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:6-12).
In a certain sense, they all ran in the race for the Promised Land, but only two of the original 4 or so million that started out from Egypt, actually entered the Promised Land and successfully crossed the ‘finish-line’—the remaining finishers were born in desert during those 40 years. With most of the ‘starters’ God was not well pleased! They ended up being starters and losers, not starter and finishers and winners.
Secondly, no athlete will win a competitive race without training beforehand. The car has to be tried out beforehand also, to see if all is running smoothly and well. This is what the Septuagesima season, with its three countdown Sundays (Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinquagesima) is for: a serious time of preparation for the even more serious time of Lent.
The means to win are fairly simple, but most engines misfire and overheat by using the means badly. The means, as Our Lady has tried to tell us many times, as PRAYER and PENANCE. You could say prayer is the gasoline and penance is the oil for the engine. Prayer is of the utmost importance to our ‘spiritual engine’; it is what drives our ‘spiritual body’ forwards and it is what gives it power.
The Power of Prayer
“Do we believe in the power of prayer? We know the common teaching of theologians: that true prayer—by which we ask something for ourselves with humility, confidence and perseverance, the graces necessary for salvation—is infallibly efficacious (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, IIa IIae, Q.83, Art.15, ad 2). We know this doctrine, and yet it seems to us, at times, that we have truly prayed without being heard. We believe in, or rather we see, the power of a machine, of an army, of money and of knowledge; but we do not believe strongly enough in the efficacy of prayer.” (Rev. Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, The Three Ages of the Interior Life, chapter 23).
The Gasoline of Grace comes through Prayer
“The modern world cannot do without God. This is the root of its ills. The great truth is that we have an absolute need of God…He normally bestows His grace only in response to prayer. Since our need exists at all times....”We ought always to pray and not to faint” (Luke 18:1)....The true nature of Christian prayer is perfectly expressed in the following definition given by St. John Damascene and St. Thomas Aquinas: prayer is “a raising of the mind and heart towards God” to offer Him our homage and to ask Him for all those things of which we stand in need” (Dom Marmion, Abbot of Maredsous, Christ—The Ideal of the Priest, chapter 15).
Spinning Wheels and Going Nowhere
People often pray without realizing what it is that they are doing, or Whom they are addressing! God so rightly complains in Scripture saying: “This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me” (Matthew 15:7).
“It happens to some souls that, when they have recited many formulas, they realize that they have said nothing to God from the bottom of their hearts. Our mind may be far distant from the words that fall from our lips....In our prayer, we must give up to God our whole heart and our whole mind....Just as the sanctuary light burns itself up without reserving anything, so our soul, in its conversation with God, must be entirely dedicated to the Almighty. We must free ourselves from preoccupations and from vain thoughts, which tie the soul down to Earth and prevent it from being entirely given over to the Lord” (Dom Marmion, Abbot of Maredsous, Christ—The Ideal of the Priest, chapter 15).
Winning Races Requires Intensity
Many find prayer difficult. That is only natural, since we are trying to communicate with the supernatural world.
“Prayer always requires a certain effort, even from those who find in it their delight, because a certain strain is involved in the concentration necessary to speak to God; it is always more or less difficult to maintain the soul in an atmosphere which is above its usual level. That is why prayer can serve as a sacramental penance. We must not be surprised at this difficulty in applying ourselves to prayer: for to raise ourselves towards God, even in the smallest degree, is to exceed our natural powers” (Dom Marmion, Abbot of Maredsous, Christ—The Ideal of the Priest, chapter 15).
Focus on the Race, the whole Race, Nothing but the Race
Too many people limit prayer to an isolated part of the day—first thing in the morning or last thing at night. Yet God should be part of our whole day, not just a mere ten minutes.
“Prayer in our life, must not be limited to a number of isolated, passing incidents. We must cultivate a spirit of prayer. What must we understand by this? A spirit of prayer is an habitual disposition of soul whereby, in our troubles and discouragements, as well as in our joys and successes, our hearts turn towards Our Lady and Our Lord, as to our best friends and most intimate confidants of our feelings. And it is not only in the morning and in the evening that the soul should be raised heavenwards, but always: ‘My eyes are ever towards the Lord’ (Psalm 24:15)” (Dom Marmion, Abbot of Maredsous, Christ--The Ideal of the Priest, chapter 15).
All Enter the Race, Not All Finish the Race
Prayer is actually a bending of our will towards the will of God. He wishes the salvation of all, but all will not be saved—and one of the contributory causes of failing to make it to Heaven is a lack of prayer; a lack of prayer by those who will be damned (the driver) and a lack of prayer on the part of others for the conversion of those unfortunate souls (the mechanics and maintenance crew).
“For material harvests, God prepared the seed, the rain that must help it germinate, the sun that will ripen the fruits of the Earth. Likewise, for spiritual harvest, He has prepared spiritual seeds, the divine graces necessary for sanctification and salvation. Prayer is one of the causes meant to produce that sanctification and salvation” (Rev. Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, The Three Ages of the Interior Life, chapter 23). We can add to this the Biblical axiom of we reap what we sow: “For what things a man shall sow, those also shall he reap. For he that soweth in his flesh, of the flesh also shall reap corruption. But he that soweth in the spirit, of the spirit shall reap life everlasting” (Galatians 6:8). Prayer is sowing in the spirit. Playing is sowing in the flesh. The Angel said to the children at Fatima: “Don’t play, but pray!”
“St. Gregory the Great says: ‘Men ought, by prayer, to dispose themselves to receive what Almighty God, from eternity, has decided to give them’ (Dialogues, Book 1, chapter 8). Thus, Christ, wishing to convert the Samaritan woman, led her to pray by saying to her: “If thou didst know the gift of God!” In the same way, He granted Mary Magdalen a strong and gentle actual grace, which inclined her to repentance and to prayer. He acted in the same way to Zacheus and the Good Thief. It is, therefore, as necessary to pray in order to obtain the help of God, as it is necessary to sow seed in order to have wheat. To those who say that, what was to happen would happen, whether they prayed or not, is as foolish as to maintain that, whether or not we sowed seed, wheat would still appear once summer came! Therefore, prayer is necessary to obtain the help of God, as seed is necessary for the harvest” (Rev. Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, The Three Ages of the Interior Life, chapter 23).
The problems we face, arise from the fact that God is prepared to give far more than we are prepared to ask for—we are so lazy and negligent, lacking in confidence and perseverance, that we receive only a fraction of what God is prepared to give. The efficacy of prayer, correctly made, is infallibly assured by Christ:
“Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you....And which of you, if he ask his father bread, will he give him a stone? Or a fish, will he give him a serpent?...If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father from Heaven give the good Spirit to them that ask Him?” (Luke 11:9-13). The problem does not lie with the Giver, but with us.
Some Racing Tips
Many of us become discouraged with prayer because our prayers are rarely, if ever heard. It is like entering the race just to make up numbers—but we never win! Yet, there are ways in which we can, almost infallibly, get our prayers answered and win that race! The spiritual writers or racers list the following chief tactics as “infallible” or guaranteed means of having our prayers favorably heard and answered:
1. Pray for what is good and not sinful or harmful to our salvation — We should always remember that what we want is not always what we need. At times, adversity is a better route to Heaven than prosperity. St. Augustine says: “We ought to be persuaded that what God refuses to our prayer, He grants to our salvation.”
2. Our prayer must be humble — Remember the prayer of the Pharisee and the Publican. Remember, too, Our Lady’s prayer, the Magnificat, wherein she says that God has “regarded the humility of His handmaid…He hath put down the mighty from their seat and hath exalted the humble.” The Old Testament says: “...nor from the beginning have the proud been acceptable to Thee: but the prayer of the humble and the meek hath always pleased Thee” (Judith 9:16). “May the Lord destroy all deceitful lips, and the tongue that speaketh proud things” (Psalm 11:4). “Thou hast rebuked the proud” (Psalm 118:21). “Every proud man is an abomination to the Lord” (Proverbs 16:5).
3. Our prayer must be fervent —Too often our prayers are said listlessly, routinely, mechanically; our heart is not in them. Of such Our Lord said: “This people honoureth Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me” (Matthew 15:7). Our prayers should be like grains of incense, placed on the hot coals of our hearts.
4. We should amend our life — If we persist in leading a life of sin, even venial sin, then we greatly handicap the chances of having our prayers heard. “He who turns his ears from hearing the law, his prayer is an abomination” (Proverbs 28:9).
5. We should forgive those who have injured us — This was the example of Christ dying on the cross: “Father, forgive them...” “If, therefore, thou offer thy gift at the altar, and there thou remember that thy brother hath anything against thee—Leave there thy offering before the altar, and go first to be reconciled to thy brother: and then, coming, thou shalt offer thy gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7). “Forgive thy neighbor if he hath hurt thee, and then shall thy sins be forgiven to thee, when thou prayest” (Ecclesiasticus. 28:2).
6. Our prayer should be united to good works or sacrifices — “Prayer is good with fasting and alms” (Tobias 12:8). That is why penance is so crucial in strengthening our prayer. Our Lady asks not only for prayer at Fatima, but prayer and sacrifices. The power of this is expressed in Scripture, where the Apostles failed to cast out a demon from one particular person, and asked Our Lord why they had failed. Our Lord replied: “This kind is not cast out but by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:20).
7. We should pray with confidence — Our Lord praised the Faith and confidence of persons on many occasions, saying: “Go, thy Faith has made thee whole…” (Matthew 9:22; Mark 5:34; 10:52; Luke 17:19; 18:42). He also told us that “all things whatsoever you shall ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive” (Matthew 21:22). Do we have that confidence in prayer?
8. We should pray with perseverance — “He defers the granting to increase our desire and appreciation” says St. Augustine. Our Lord Himself said: “Yet if he shall continue knocking, I say to you, although he will not rise and give him because he is his friend; yet, because of his importunity, he will rise and give him as many as he needeth. And I say to you: Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and you shall find: knock, and it shall be opened to you” (Luke 11:8-9).
If we would only pray in the above manner, we would be amazed at the response our prayers would bring from Heaven! Keep in mind the words of St. Augustine: “The man who knows how to pray well, is the one who knows how to live well.” Which, for our purposes, translates into “Drive well, and you’ll win the race! Pray well, and you’ll get the grace!”
Make a Lenten Prayer "Check List"
Make a Lenten Prayer "Check List" with the above eight points, make many copies and carry and post them where they will serve as a reminder to you and family members throughout Lent Make some small enough to place and carry in your missal or wallet. Larger ones to post on the fridge door, on the wall, etc.
The sad truth is that most people pray more or less badly and more or less inefficiently. Hence any helps or prompts can only be of benefit. Our prayer life is the "make or break" of the graces that we obtain. A halfhearted approach to prayer will significantly reduce, or even fail to get, the graces that we need both daily and for our salvation.
The Penance Part
You could say that the “prayer part” to Lent is like an athlete’s mental attitude. The “penance part” of Lent to be likened to the athlete’s bodily fitness. Winners are usually those athletes who are both mentally strong and physically fit and strong. The same can be said to be true of the spiritual life—which is why, when asked by His Apostles why they had failed to cast out the devil from a young boy, Our Lord replied: “But this kind is not cast out but by prayer and fasting!” (Matthew 17:20).
Wholly Wholesome Holy & Whole
Therefore, we need to use our WHOLE being in our spiritual warfare and in the spiritual race for Heaven—not just soul, but body too—for a human being is a composite of body and soul. Which is why Holy Scripture powerfully and almost severely commands both elements in unmistakably strong terms: “We ought always to pray, and not to faint!” (Luke 18:1) … “Pray without ceasing!” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) … “Watch ye, therefore, praying at all times, that you may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that are to come, and to stand before the Son of man” (Luke 21:36) … “No, I say to you: but unless you shall do penance, you shall all likewise perish! [and Our Lord then repeats Himself two verses later] … No, I say to you; but except you do penance, you shall all likewise perish!” (Luke 13:3-5) … “The Lord delayeth not his promise [of punishment], as some imagine, but dealeth patiently for your sake, not willing that any should perish, but that all should return to penance” (2 Peter 3:9) … “God hath given him place for penance, and he abuseth it unto pride” (Job 24:23).
In fact, things are so intertwined, that we could say that prayer and penance are just as necessary for one and the other. We must pray with the mind and mortify the mind. We must pray with the body and mortify the body.
Furthermore, just as in a good healthy, nourishing diet, there has to be a balance and a variety in our prayers and penances. As in a diet we must have proper proportions of proteins, carbohydrates and fats, so too in our spiritual diet we have to have a balance between various bodily ‘proteins’, ‘carbohydrates’ and ‘fats’ and mental ‘proteins’, ‘carbohydrates’ and ‘fats’—in order to avoid become one-dimensional and restricted in our spirituality.
Specific Penances for Specific Sins
Prayer and Fasting are among the best penances that can be undertaken—as Our Lord points out: “This kind is not cast out but by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:20). Yet we must also remember that—in both Hell and Purgatory—sins are punished in a specific way that somehow corresponds to the type of sin committed. Thus, the murderer will be punished differently to the drunkard. The adulterer differently to the slanderer or detractor. The thief differently to the blasphemer, and so on and on and on. Likewise, our penances can and should correspond to our sins, even while we live on Earth. Everyone is different and so everyone’s sins differ from his or her neighbor’s sins. Therefore the appropriate penance will also be different. The general rule of thumb being—as St. Ignatius says in his Spiritual Exercises—“agere contra”, which literally means “act against” or “act in opposition to”—which more precisely means “do the opposite.”
Therefore, if you are naturally a critical person, then be more praising and more accepting. If you are stingy, then be more generous. If you are lazy, be more industrious. If too inattentive, show more attention. If too untidy, show a greater tidiness. If too timid, be more courageous. If too angry, be more meek. If never wrong, start apologizing for your errors. If lukewarm, be more fervent. If a constant complainer, thank God more for your lot in life. If greedy, be temperate. If proud, accept humiliations gladly. If always excusing yourself, blame yourself more. If unhelpful, be more helpful. You see the principle being used—the list is as endless as sins are endless in their nuances. The bedrock or foundation to all this can and should be prayer and fasting, but built on top of the foundation should be an individual building of tailor-made penance that corresponds to one’s own personal sins.
Start Planning Now!
Let’s be honest and admit it—we are not going to plan and put into practice such a tailor-made approach to penance on Ash Wednesday. The only place “winging-it” will get you to is the “Hall of Fame of Failure!” As you sow, so shall you reap. “He who soweth sparingly, shall also reap sparingly: and he who soweth in blessings, shall also reap blessings” (2 Corinthians 9:6).
Take a sheet of paper and write down your CHIEF faults—which are often those we do not want to face, or downplay, or even deny! If you’re not sure—then ask some honest, non-flattering, people around you who know you very well. Just don’t fall-out with them or injure them when the hit the nail on the head!
Once you have a STARTER list (you can add more as you start to diminish the frequency in committing the sins list in this first batch), then start to examine them in detail—when, where, how to they arise? With or against whom? What means are you avoiding to take, that could reduce these sins? Do you pray daily, even many times daily, asking for the grace to overcome them? Do you mortify yourself to avoid them? Do you punish yourself in some way after having committed them? List a variety of ways and methods open to you to overcome them—if unsure, consult with your confessor. Write down a series of heavier and heavier self-inflicted punishments or sanctions for every successive time you fail and fall. Make those sins the regular part of your confession, reporting if they have increased or decreased since your last confession.
Make Lent a Family Affair, Not Just Individual
Our Lord sent out His disciples in pairs—two-by-two—knowing full well that mutual support is necessary for courage, perseverance and success. The Legion of Mary also works this way—sending out its Legionaries in pairs as much as possible. In normal times, parishes had a least two priests stationed there—until the Post-Vatican fall in vocations shot-down that ideal in many places. God even made man and woman as a twosome in marriage. Pilots have their co-pilots. Presidents have Vice-Presidents. We often—though not always—work better as a team than we do alone.
Furthermore, on Judgement Day, it will not only be individuals that are judged, but also nations, states, communities, religious orders, parishes, schools, and even families. Therefore, as a family, it makes sense to approach Lent, not just from an individual perspective, but also from a family perspective. What was said of an individual assessment of one person’s chief sins, can also be applied to a ‘family’s sins’—though this is a little more difficult to pinpoint and address, for everyone’s participation in a ‘family sin’ is likely to be of a different degree—some being more guilty (instigators) and other less guilty (the followers or the coerced).
Nevertheless, there are certain family traits that can be either virtuous or sinful. It takes great humility and honesty to both see and admit to those faults. To attack one or two such family faults would be a marvelous communal penance for Lent. However, this will not happen on Ash Wednesday, at the flick of a switch—serious reflection and discussion is needed to see where a family has, as a group, let God down and offended Him, either directly or indirectly by sinning against our fellow human beings: “Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these My least brethren, you did it to Me!” (Matthew 25:40).
So now is the time, in a general way, to start planning for Lent—both individually or as a family or as a school or class. Parents, especially, should help their children well in advance and talk about Lent often during this Septuagesima Season, to prepare the mind and attitude of their children in good time, so that they hit the road running and with zeal, not distaste and trepidation. Some of the future Daily Thoughts articles will try to help with suggestions—while a special website page has been created to focus on this in particular: Ash Wednesday Countdown—which can be accessed under the LENT tab or click here.