Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Addiction

Scott Weiland died on December 3 from an overdose due to a variety of drugs in his system, complicated also by his regular medication, as well as his asthma and heart disease from years of cigarette smoking. I love my 90s music, which is heavy on the Grunge, and I've seen too many of my rock favs die from drugs. Just off the top of my head, I think of Kurt Cobain (if the gun didn't kill him, the drugs would have), Layne Staley from Alice in Chains, Bradley Nowell from Sublime, and Shannon Hoon from Blind Melon. Addiction is a terrible thing. Phil Anselmo from Pantera OD'd on heroin and died for nearly five minutes before being resuscitated. James Hetfield from Metallica had the sense of going to rehab before alcohol and drugs could take his life. And there are many more out there.

I've been blessed with the realization that I, too, am an addict. By God's good graces, He has saved me from being addicted to alcohol, however I have always struggled with weight and, at one time, cigarettes. Normally, I'd smoke two packs a day, except for nights that I'd hang out all night with friends - then I'd hit three packs in a day; I did this every day for over a decade, until it became too expensive to smoke cigarettes anymore. Some people say that we should raise the prices on junk food the same way we've raised it on cigarettes, but I don't think that's right. As an addict, I'm still going to try to buy junk food or order out - it's just that the quality, like with drugs, will get worse and worse in order to buy the cheap stuff.

Scott struggled with faith, going from a practicing Christian to an atheist by the time of his death (I still hold on to the hope that he had a change of mind as he lay dying, or that God, in his infinite mercy, understood that Scott wasn't in his right mind for decades as he struggled with drug addiction, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, depression, and schizophrenia). But I remember hearing the line in his song Barbarella, "Let go - let God, they say..." and as I read the Alcoholics Anonymous book, I realize now that he was quoting what he must have heard in his many, many trips to rehab. The key to any 12-Step program is the Third Step, when you realize that you are powerless to fight against your addiction and you turn everything over to God: God, I offer myself to Thee, to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life. May I do Thy will always! I am sure part of his atheism stemmed from those countless times when he prayed that AA prayer, trying to let go and let God do it instead, and felt no change, no cure, no relief from his struggles. That is why I cannot judge Scott or any addict (not that we should judge anyone - criticizing or condemning sinful actions is quite different from "being judgmental", as the Bible indeed tells us to be judgmental of sinful actions - but we're told to not judge the person; we are not better than that person. They are not evil for what they do or did. We can never say a person is going to Hell for any reason. THAT is the judgmentalism the Bible warns us about).

No, I cannot judge alcoholics or other addicts because, despite many Americans believing that there's no such thing as eating as an addiction, it very much is an addiction. The same chemicals are released in the brain when an addict gets their fix, be it food, alcohol, drugs, sex, porn, or whatever it may be. Your body and brain then starts to crave those waves of feeling good, so you keep doing that bad behaviour. The AA book says that for the addict, this is an allergy; an addict reacts differently than others to a certain stimuli. Just like an alcoholic can't have *just* a single drink, or maybe two, someone like me can't *just* have a handful of something unhealthy. I hear that often, like from people at work, where they know I struggle with food and support me when I try to eat healthier, but the moment they are having a party or cake or something and you say you don't want any candy or cake or chips, they say, "Oh come on! Just a little bit won't hurt!" Yes, for an addict, it will. People just don't believe that overeating can be an addiction - to most people, I'm just fat and lazy and should just stop eating. Simple as that. Well, yeah, and all Scott Weiland had to do was just stop using drugs. Easy, right?

The theory behind the "allergy" is that when an addict has "a little bit", that's never enough. For the addict, we react in a manner completely unlike "normal" people. Whereas a normal person might buy a bag of Doritos and make it last several days, I'm lucky if a bag lasts me more than an hour. Alcoholics react in this manner, as do sex addicts or porn addicts or whoever - a little is not enough; we need more! And you go until you can't go anymore. It might take me an entire medium pizza, an appetizer of cheese fries, a bag of popcorn, and a pint of ice cream to feel satisfied, but until I reach that point, then I'm going to keep eating. This isn't normal; it's compared to someone's allergic reaction to certain foods or pollen or bee stings - for some people, these things affect them not, but for others it creates a major reaction, one that could even be deadly.

The AA book also explains how addicts have an "obsession of self". When I read this part, I knew it was me. Let's say I'm at work and my coworker starts talking about how he's going to eat Chinese food when he gets home. Now, I could have gone all day - all week - without once thinking about Chinese food. But now he's planted the seed and "obsession of self" takes over. I start thinking and thinking and thinking about how good Chinese food tastes and I start to imagine eating it. I think about what would really hit the spot: fried pork dumplings? Egg rolls? General Tso's Chicken? And I just keep thinking about it, even if someone changes the subject. Even if I forget about how badly I wanted to get Chinese food and I go home and eat something else, the obsession comes back the next day, and the next, and the next until I finally get it out of my system and bring home some Chinese food. The AA book acknowledges that this isn't normal, that other people don't have this reaction.

It doesn't help that some research is indicating that food producers are purposely manipulating the ingredients in our food (mostly junk food) in order to keep us coming back for more, like when the tobacco companies were manipulating the nicotine levels to keep people addicted to smoking.

James Hetfield, singer for Metallica, wrote about addiction in their song Master of Puppets: "Taste me, you will see more is all you need; You’re dedicated to how I’m killing you!" Whether the act or item is killing us physically, mentally, spiritually, or all the above, it's the quandry of addiction - you know it's killing you, but you don't really see a way out. When I see those old pics of myself from five years ago, the healthiest I ever looked and felt, I can't help but think how absolutely far away that seems now, and how nearly impossible it feels that I'll ever be that size again. "Come crawling faster. Obey your master. Your life burns faster. Obey your master."

The biggest challenge is admitting you need help, and that's a process; many addicts will lie to themselves and to others, never wanting to realize they need help, but for me, I know I need help. Last year I spent nearly as much on food as I did on rent - had it been spent on cocaine instead of food, I'd probably be dead by now. Chances are, I might be dead soon anyway for all I know. This is the third time in my life I've exceeded 300 pounds and twice before I've lost over 100 pounds in order to get to a healthy weight - the human heart wasn't made for that kind of stress. But I trust God. I try to remain in a state of grace, even if that means going to Confession more than once a week, just in case my time comes, for the Lord promised that he can come "like a thief in the night, at a time we least expect". I stay close to God in the Sacraments, the Scriptures, and with prayer. Scott asked God for help and when it didn't happen right away, he probably thought that was his *proof* that there is no God. As for me, I do believe in God and in "all the truths which the Holy Catholic Church teaches because [God] has revealed them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived." I pray that Step Three prayer every day, and every day I wind up falling on my face, still spending money I don't have, in order to pig out another day, diabetes be damned. But that's not proof that there is no God; it's just proof that I haven't finished Step One yet: We admitted we were powerless over [food] - that our lives had become unmanageable. Scott and I parted ways over Step Two, which acknowledges that there is "a Power greater than ourselves [who] could restore us to sanity." I do believe in God and I do believe he can restore me to sanity - but it has to be after I've accepted Step One, that my life is unmanageable and that I am powerless to defeat the problem. As I said, it's a process - an expensive one, coupled with all the aches and pains and embarrassment of having so much weight on my frame; I literally have to lose half of myself in order to be a healthy weight. But then I'll hear Scott's lyrics from Creep in a totally different way than how he meant it when he sang, "I'm half the man I used to be." That day seems so far away...

My heart broke when Scott died, because I had always hoped he'd make it through this trial. I wasn't surprised by the news, but it was still sad. And all I can think in retrospect is, "there, but for the grace of God, go I." For me it's food, but it could have been drugs. It could have been alcohol. I could have been like Charlie Sheen and bed-hopped until I got HIV. It could happen to you; it's currently happening to me, but thank God it's not drugs, alcohol, or sex. But losing Scott was sad for me. I've heard Scott's singing for the last 22 years, even running a website dedicated to Scott and STP back in the OLD days of the internet (I named the site Comotose Commodity after a line in a song from their third album, my favorite of theirs). He was like a cousin that you never see, but you know they exist and you care about their welfare - still, they are far away and you don't really think about them until they do something stupid, which Scott did very often over the past two decades. Sadly, he'll probably be remembered more for his addiction and the way he died, which is sad because he was super-talented and he made some great music with STP, Velvet Revolver, the Wildabouts, and his various solo stuff. Still, his addiction feels like a wakeup call for me; perhaps it's enough to push me from Step One to Step Two and finally attending Overeaters Anonymous. I'm sure I won't think about it again all weekend, as I eat Christmas leftovers and Christmas cookies. But maybe my first New Year's resolution I've ever made could be to give OA a chance, to see some worth in those silly meetings, that this is a burden I can't carry on my own. Maybe that's why God is taking his time with me, so that I learn to lean on other people for help, something I don't like to do.

Since his death I've been watching tons of videos of Scott through the years, seeing him slowly shrivel into the wiry, gaunt, stick figure he became - slowly losing his voice and talent - and I just shook my head and asked, "What's wrong with us? Why do we do it? Why is it so hard for us?" As God would have it, Scott died from his addiction before I could die from mine, but that doesn't mean I have all the time in the world to get my act together, though.

No, I can't judge the behaviour of addicts, for I am one. And I could really use your prayers. Rest in peace, Scott. May the immeasureable mercy of God grant you peace and enternal rest, for hopefully you knew not what you were doing. God's mercy endures forever.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Muslims & Mary

One thing that Muslims, Catholics, and Orthodox have in common is a devotion to Mary. In the Qur’an, women are never mentioned by name - only by their relationship to men (such as "the daughter of so-and-so", or "the wife of so-and-so"); however, there is one woman in the Qur’an who is named: Mary. She is mentioned in the Qur’an more times than in the entire New Testament. And, like with the beliefs of Catholics and Orthodox, Mary is never considered alone from her son, but is always connected to him; she is referred to as Maryam bint Imran, Mother of Isa (The Greatest Woman Mary, Mother of Jesus).

Going further, the Qur’an starts the story of Mary from her Immaculate Conception in the womb of Holy Anna. The story shared in the Qur’an is somewhat similar to the Orthodox's non-canonical Protoevangelium of James. In both testimonies it speaks of St. Anne offering her offspring (Mary) to the service of the Lord...

Orthodox: "And Anna said: As the Lord my God lives, if I beget either male or female, I will bring it as a gift to the Lord my God; and it shall minister to Him in holy things all the days of its life."
Qur’an: "When a woman of ‘Imran said, My Lord! Surely I vow to Thee what is in my womb, to be devoted (to thy service); accept therefore from me, surely Thou art the Hearing, the knowing.” (3:35)

In a Hadith attributed to Mohammad, he taught, "Every child is touched by the devil as soon as he is born and this contact makes him cry. Excepted are Mary and her Son." The Qur’an states, "...the angels said, "O Mary, indeed Allah has chosen you and purified you and chosen you above the women of the worlds..."

In line with what we've discussed with Islam, the Catholic document Lumen Gentium explains, "Redeemed by reason of the merits of her Son and united to Him by a close and indissoluble tie, she is endowed with the high office and dignity of being the Mother of the Son of God, by which account she is also the beloved daughter of the Father and the temple of the Holy Spirit. Because of this gift of sublime grace she far surpasses all creatures, both in heaven and on earth" (53).

In the Qur’an, Mary grows directly under divine protection, is nourished daily by angels, and has visions of God every day - NOT because she is so special by herself, but because she was chosen by Allah to bear Isa (Jesus), in their minds the greatest prophet (except for Mohammad). "O Mary, indeed Allah gives you good tidings of a word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary - distinguished in this world and the Hereafter and among those brought near [to Allah ]...He will speak to the people in the cradle and in maturity and will be of the righteous...And He [Allah] will teach him writing and wisdom and the Torah and the Gospel."

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "Mary's role in the Church is inseparable from her union with Christ and flows directly from it...No creature could ever be counted along with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer; but just as the priesthood of Christ is shared in various ways both by his ministers and the faithful, and as the one goodness of God is radiated in different ways among his creatures, so also the unique mediation of the Redeemer does not exclude but rather gives rise to a manifold cooperation which is but a sharing in this one source." Giancarlo Finazzo writes in L'Osservatore Romano, "Mary is unimaginable if dissociated from her Son: the divine election and the purity of the Mother are directly proportioned to the qualities of the Son; the moment of their interdependence is greatly felt, therefore, since the historical greatness of Mary is conditioned by that of her Son, and the Son in his turn depends on his Mother, who constitutes the indispensable promise for his presence on earth. In the Qur’an, Christ is called repeatedly Issa ibn Maryam — Jesus son of Mary."

Mohammad had a daughter named Fatimah. Muslims throughout the world revere her. Inspired by her love and support towards her father, Fatimah is one of the most popular name for girls in the Muslim world; Fatimah is seen as the perfect role model for Muslim women. For Catholics, there is a significance to the name 'Fatimah'. In 1952, Archbishop Fulton Sheen wrote in The World's First Love:

...after the death of Fatimah, Mohammed wrote: Thou shalt be the most blessed of women in Paradise, after Mary. In a variant of the text Fatimah is made to say; I surpass all the women, except Mary.

This brings us to our second point; namely, why the Blessed Mother, in this 20th Century should have revealed herself in the significant little village of Fatima, so that to all future generations she would be known as “Our Lady of Fatima.” Since nothing ever happens out of Heaven except with a finesse of all details, I believe that the Blessed Virgin chose to be known as “Our Lady of Fatima” as pledge and a sign of hope to the Moslem people, and as an assurance that they, who show her so much respect, will one day accept her divine Son, too. Evidence to support these views is found in the historical fact that the Moslems occupied Portugal for centuries. At the time when they were finally driven out, the last Moslem chief had a beautiful daughter by the name of Fatima. A Catholic boy fell in love with her, and for him she not only stayed behind when the Moslems left, but even embraced the Faith. The young husband was so much in love with her that he changed the name of the town where he lived to Fatima. Thus the very place where our Lady appeared in 1917 bears a historical connection to Fatima, the daughter of Mohammed.

Muslims have named buildings after Mary, such as the Mary Mother of Jesus Mosque in Hoppers Crossing, Victoria, Australia, and the Mosque Maryam, the Nation of Islam National Center in Chicago, IL. Each year, millions of Muslims come on pilgrimage to the Catholic Marian shrines in places such as Fatima, Harissa, Damascus, Samalut, Assiut, and Zeitun. There are at least a dozen places of pilgrimage dedicated to the Virgin in Egypt, commemorating the journey the Holy Family made there as they escaped the murderous rampage of King Herod. During some pilgrimages, Muslims make up nearly a quarter of the participants! Seeking to use Mary as a bridge between Muslims and Christians, the Lebanese parliament declared August 15, the Solemnity of the Assumption (the day Mary died and was delivered, body and soul, into Heaven) as a national holiday, a decision supported by both Christians and Muslims in that country.

Aynur Gunenc, Ottawa native and practicing Muslim, said, "For us, Mary is a symbol of purity and patience, honesty and believing 100 per cent in God, even when things are difficult. I am full of respect and love for her. I cannot imagine, myself, keeping your faith when you have had a baby without a husband, close to people who disapprove. It would not be bearable. If there had been a woman prophet, it would have been Mary. She knew this life is temporary." Benedict XVI, on his 2006 visit to the pilgrimage House of the Virgin Mary in Ephesus said:

Strengthened by God’s word, from here in Ephesus, a city blessed by the presence of Mary Most Holy – who we know is loved and venerated also by Muslims – let us lift up to the Lord a special prayer for peace between peoples. From this edge of the Anatolian peninsula, a natural bridge between continents, let us implore peace and reconciliation, above all for those dwelling in the Land called “Holy” and considered as such by Christians, Jews and Muslims alike: it is the land of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, destined to be the home of a people that would become a blessing for all the nations (cf. Gen 12:1-3). Peace for all of humanity! May Isaiah’s prophecy soon be fulfilled: “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Is 2:4). We all need this universal peace; and the Church is called to be not only the prophetic herald, but even more, the “sign and instrument” of this peace. Against the backdrop of universal peace, the yearning for full communion and concord between all Christians becomes even more profound and intense.

Muslims believe Jesus Christ is a great prophet, and will return to earth at the end of time to judge the living and the dead; and they love and revere his mother, Mary. The Second Vatican Council's document Nostra Aetate declares, "The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting. Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Moslems, this sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve, as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind, social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom."

Mary, Mother of God - Mary, Mother of Jesus - Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us. Our Lady of Fatima, bring peace between Christian and Muslim. As you are portrayed standing on the crescent moon on the tilma of St. Juan Diego, be that bridge between the Cross and the Cescent that we so desperately need in this violent and dark hour. Amen.

Blessed Are the Merciful...

On December 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Jubilee Year of Mercy began, a year that will highlight the great mercy Christ gives us, most especially through the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession), and in the way we've been asked by God to mercifully treat one another. The Year of Mercy began when Pope Francis threw open a special set of doors at St. Peter's Basilica. These Holy Doors, at St. Peter's and at cathedrals and holy sites around the world, symbolize Jesus Christ's declaration, "I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture" (Jn 10:9). A photo making rounds online shows the retired Benedict XVI embracing Pope Francis after having walked through the Holy Doors. I've seen both popes together several times and every time I cannot help but thank God for his mercy; my, how we've changed since Pope Celestine V.

Pope Benedict was elected in 2005; prior to his election, he often spoke of retiring, but Pope St. John Paul II talked him out of it. Even in interviews, Benedict (as Cardinal Ratzinger) spoke of the joys of being able to just disappear into quiet retirement and spend the rest of his days reading and writing. On April 29, 2009, Benedict visited the tomb of Pope Celestine V (1215-1296). Now, when a bishop is ordained, he receives a special wool stole to wear around his neck, called a pallium - it represents a bishop's authority. Going largely unnoticed, Benedict XVI removed his pallium and laid it upon the tomb of Celestine. Most people shrugged and saw it as just having a devotion to some medieval pope - just a nice gesture - but it was much deeper than that...

Pope Celestine V (born Pietro da Morrone) was elected pope in 1294. He was a devout Christian and hermit, founding a strict order of monks called the Celestines, who followed the Rule of St. Benedict. Pope Nicholas IV died on April 4, 1292 and for two years the conclave debated who should become pope. As the story goes, Morrone wrote the conclave and chastised them over the scandal of having such a long conclave (something that was apparently normal back in the Middle Ages). Morrone was forced to regret his letter, because the conclave (pretty much out of spite) chose him as the next pope! Morrone was devastated by the news of his election. As a hermit living in a cave and striving to live a life like John the Baptist, he believed he wasn't worthy to be pope and worried that being pope would disrupt his life of strict penance. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Celestine's "hair-cloth [shirt] was roughened with knots; a chain of iron encompassed his emaciated frame; he fasted every day except Sunday; each year he kept four Lents, passing three of them on bread and water; the entire day and a great part of the night he consecrated to prayer and labour..."

He initially refused to serve, and even attempted to flee! But, they insisted that he serve, which he did - after they dragged him from his cave. Even after he accepted the papacy, he continued to live like a hermit, staying in Castel Nuovo in Naples, and in preparation for Advent had a little cell built on the model of his beloved hut. As pope, Celestine V wanted to make sure the Church wouldn't endure another long and painful conclave, so he re-enacted the Apostolic Constitution of Pope Gregory X; another thing he did was declare that a pope could resign his position.

Five months after his election, Celestine V resigned the papacy. In his declaration of retirement, Celestine wrote why he was abdicating the papacy: "The desire for humility, for a purer life, for a stainless conscience, the deficiencies of his own physical strength, his ignorance, the perverseness of the people, his longing for the tranquility of his former life."

After Celestine's papacy, he expected to retire back to his hermitage, however, that wasn't meant to be. Celestine's successor, Pope Boniface VIII - the man who encouraged Celestine to resign - was now worried that Celestine's supporters would prop him up as a competing anti-pope. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, "After revoking many of the provisions made by Celestine, Boniface brought his predecessor, now in the dress of a humble hermit, with him on the road to Rome...Celestine yearned for his cell in the Abruzzi, managed to effect his escape at San Germano, and to the great joy of his monks reappeared among them at Majella. Boniface ordered his arrest; but Celestine evaded his pursuers for several months by wandering through the woods and mountains. Finally, he attempted to cross the Adriatic to Greece; but, driven back by a tempest, and captured at the foot of Mt. Gargano, he was delivered into the hands of Boniface, who confined him closely in a narrow room in the tower of the castle of Fumone near Anagni. Here, after nine months passed in fasting and prayer, closely watched but attended by two of his own religious, though rudely treated by the guards, he ended his extraordinary career in his eighty-first year," dying in prison on May 19, 1296. Popular culture ridiculed Celestine, seeing him as a failure and a coward. In the most popular Italian work of the Middle Ages - Dante's Divine Comedy - the poet portrayed Celestine as being in hell, as "the shade of him who in his cowardice made the great refusal".

Fast-forward to Benedict XVI, only the second pope to resign the papacy under his own volition, announcing his abdication on February 11, 2013. Now his two visits to Celestine's tomb made sense to people (especially his leaving his pallium behind). Perhaps he was asking Celestine for his prayers, for strength to do what he was about to do. The papacy has taken many forms over the years, having - out of necessity for survival - grown to the power of a monarch through the Middle Ages. However, that was not the original role of the Pope; one of the papal titles is 'Servant of the Servants of God'. But due to the power the papacy grew to hold due to needing to protect the office from attacks by the powers of Europe and invaders of Arabia and Turkey, the thought of a pope retiring was unheard of! It had been over 700 years since the last one...

How would the Church react to Benedict? Would he go to prison? Would the Church faithful ridicule him and call him names, like so many had done to Celestine? Would he go down in history as a coward and a failure? God is good and his mercy endures forever - the exact opposite would happen.

Orthodox priest Fr. Johannes Jacobes said that Benedict showed "towering intellect" but also "a deep humility." Touched by Benedict's love and respect for the Orthodox churches, Fr. Jacobes said, "May God grant us more teachers like him...May his remaining years bear much fruit. We still need him." Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, the second highest person in the Russian Orthodox Church, said Benedict's choice to retire was "an act of personal courage and humbleness...Pope Benedict XVI is not a media star. He is a man of the Church."

Bartholomew I, the Patriarch of Constantinople, said, "It is with regret that we have learned of the decision by His Holiness Pope Benedict to retire from his Throne, because with his wisdom and experience he could have provided much more to the Church and the world...We Orthodox will always honor him as a friend of our Church and a faithful servant of the sacred proposition for the union of all."

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, wrote, "It was with a heavy heart but complete understanding that we learned this morning of Pope Benedict’s declaration of his decision to lay down the burden of ministry as Bishop of Rome, an office which he has held with great dignity, insight and courage...I speak not only for myself, and my predecessors as Archbishop, but for Anglicans around the world, in giving thanks to God for a priestly life utterly dedicated, in word and deed, in prayer and in costly service, to following Christ...We pray that God will bless him profoundly in retirement with health and peace of mind and heart..." The Anglican Archbishop of York said the Christian world will "miss a great theologian with great spiritual depth...He was unafraid to proclaim the Gospel and challenge a culture that is so self-referential, managing to lift our eyes to God's glory.

"

Pope Francis, when asked how it was having Benedict XVI so close, living a quiet life of prayer in a monastery in the Vatican, the Pope referred to Benedict as "a very wise grandfather...a grandfather is honored, loved, and he is listened to...If I am in a bind, or if I'm faced with something I don't understand, I can call him." He also said, "I am in favor of what Benedict did [retired]. I think what Benedict so courageously did was to open the door to the popes emeritus...Benedict should not be considered an exception, but an institution."

Out of humility, Benedict XVI said he would be happy to be called Father Benedict, but the Church declared him "His Holiness Benedict XVI, Supreme Pontiff Emeritus." He wanted to retreat into the quiet of the monastery, offering prayers for the Church and the world, but Pope Francis has routinely encouraged Benedict to be present for significant events of the Church, such as the canonizations of particular saints or the celebration of significant holy days. But, for the most part, Benedict has the retirement he sought, and instead of being thrown in prison and considered a coward or anti-pope, he is revered by Christians across denominations as a man of great humility and courage. His immediate successor, Pope Francis, speaks of Benedict fondly in interviews and quotes him many times in his writings. In this Year of Mercy, we can reflect on how the Church has grown in mercy over the centuries, remembering that God's mercy endures forever. The way we react to things can make a deep impact on others - who knows how many other popes considered retiring, but upon remembering the imprisonment of Celestine V, reconsidered the thought? Not knowing what the future would bring, Benedict XVI took the chance - and the Church, remembering the mercy of her head, Jesus Christ, embraced Benedict and wished him well. Thank God that times have changed.

As for Celestine V, he wouldn't be considered a coward or a failure forever. He was canonized in 1313 and many miracles have been attributed to his intercession. Blessed Paul VI visited his tomb, as well as those famous visits by Benedict XVI. In 2014, Pope Francis declared a Jubilee Year of Pope St. Celestine V. In his address, Pope Francis said, "Like Saint Francis of Assisi, [Celestine V] had a very strong sense of God's mercy, and the fact that God's mercy renews the world." Celestine went down in history as one of the most humble and holy of popes, while his successor Boniface went down in history as one of the most wicked and corrupt.

Thanks to the examples of Celestine and Benedict, even Pope Francis has thought that, if necessary, he would follow their lead. Francis said that Benedict "opened a door, a door to retired popes. Will there be others? God knows. But this door is open...A pope who feels that his strength is failing - because these days we are living longer - has to ask the same questions Pope Benedict asked..."

St. Celestine V, pray for us, that we may learn from your humility and love for God, and apply your example to our own lives. In 2010 Benedict XVI had this to say about Celestine - let's reflect on it.

...it is important to learn to live in our days moments of inner silence in order to hear the Lord's voice. You may be sure that if we learn to listen to this voice and to follow it generously, we have nothing to fear, we know and feel that God is with us, that God is Friend, Father and Brother. In a word: the secret of the vocation lies in the relationship with God, in prayer that develops, precisely, in inner silence, in the capacity for listening, hearing that God is close...St Peter Celestine was first and foremost this: a man of listening, of inner silence, a man of prayer, a man of God...may you always make room in your day for God, to listen to him and pray to him!

Being with God, listening to his word, in the Gospel and in the Church's Liturgy, protects you from the dazzle of pride and presumption, from fashions and conformism, and gives you the strength to be truly free, even from certain temptations masked by good things...None of this removes us from life but instead helps us truly to be ourselves in every context, faithful to the voice of God who speaks to our conscience, free from the conditioning of the time! This is how it was for St Celestine V. He was able to act according to his conscience in obedience to God hence without fear and with great courage even in difficult moments such as those linked to his brief Pontificate, not fearing to lose his dignity but knowing that it consists in existing in truth. And the guarantee of truth is God.

Dear Friends, faith and prayer do not solve problems but rather enable us to face them with fresh enlightenment and strength, in a way that is worthy of the human being and also more serenely and effectively...let yourselves be totally won over by Christ! ...Here is another badge (distinctive sign) of the Christian: he is never an individualist. Perhaps you will say to me: but if we look, for example, at St Peter Celestine, in his choice of the heremitical life might there not have been individualism or an escape from responsibility? This temptation does of course exist. But in the experiences approved by the Church, the solitary life of prayer and penance is always at the service of the community; open to others, it is never in opposition to the community's needs. Hermits and monasteries are oases and sources of spiritual life from which all may draw. The monk does not live for himself but for others and it is for the good of the Church and of society that he cultivates the contemplative life, so that the Church and society may always be irrigated by new energies, by the Lord's action.

I am happy as I leave, like a father who is serene because he has seen that his children are growing up and growing up well...Walk on the path of the Gospel; love the Church our mother; be simple and pure in heart; be gentle and strong in truth; be humble and generous. I entrust you all to your holy Patrons, to St Peter Celestine and, especially, to the Virgin Mary, and I bless you with deep affection. Amen.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Why Catholics Especially Should Condemn Trump's Promise to Halt Muslim Immigration

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has called for the complete halt of all Muslim immigration to the US. "Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in Jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life." Nice to say they have "no respect for human life" while also being a candidate who supports abortion (depending on what day of the week you ask him, but I digress).

Now, I'm not naive when it comes to radical Islam - we're seeing the death of Europe over it (coupled with the voluntary sterilization of the post-Christian world). So, yes, some Muslims are very, very bad. Yes, the Koran indeed has verses encouraging death, murder, and terror - and this is NOT a misinterpretation of the Koran, as so many politically-correct politicians have insisted. However, as a Catholic, I cringe whenever I hear an American call for the halt of immigration due to religion, since Catholicism felt that bigotry since before the United States was a nation.

For instance, the state constitution in New Jersey granted religious freedom to all residents except Catholics. In fact, most of the 13 colonies either banned Catholics from settling there, or at least severely restricted (or banned) the celebration of Mass. During the mid-1800s, reacting to the large wave of German and Irish Catholic immigrants coming to the US, a new political party emerged - the American Party, powered by the anti-Catholic "Know Nothing" movement and their secret society, the Order of the Star Spangled Banner. Their platform demanded that anyone who has "any allegiance or obligation of any description to any foreign prince, potentate or power" - in other words, the Pope - should never be allowed to hold political office. My ex-wife had to reside in the US for three years before she was entitled to citizenship - for other immigrants, the wait is five years; the American Party called for a 21-YEAR waiting period. They demanded the repeal of all existing immigration laws, demanded the establishment of an American public school system in order to counteract the Catholic school system, "war to the hilt" on Catholics in politics, the protection of "Protestant interests", the sending back of all "foreign paupers", and "eternal enmity" against anyone who tries to carry out "the principles of a foreign Church or State" - i.e., Catholics.

The American Party won many seats in local and state elections, and even won some national seats. Anti-Immigrant/anti-Catholic violence erupted around the country. Things got so bad that Mass was suspended in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia because too many Catholics were being assaulted on their way to Mass. The basilica in Philadelphia has very high windows because the builders, knowing the hatred of the area, built them too high for rock-throwing bigots to reach. There were riots in several cities, priests and nuns were harassed and sometimes assaulted, and several people even died.

The Civil War basically disrupted all the Catholic immigrant hatred for a while, but it would rear its ugly head again in the early 20th Century when more poor Catholic immigrants from Poland, Germany, Italy, and parts of Eastern Europe flooded American cities. The Ku Klux Klan would re-emerge across the nation, demanding a halt to immigration; that these immigrants were a threat to our jobs, our culture, and "our religion". Even during the call for Prohibition, many of the supporters of that movement said that banning alcohol was a way to "punish the Germans" who were waging war in Europe and stealing our jobs at home. The same thing that politicians and Protestant ministers were shouting in the 1840s are shouted today at Latinos: immigrants are stealing our jobs, bringing in diseases, raising the crime rate, and are endangering our culture and our religion. And now, Trump is saying the same thing that those Know Nothings shouted - kick out the immigrants, ban certain religions from coming here.

And many Americans are eating it up. We haven't really changed much. That's very sad.

My advice to America is the same as to Europe - you want to combat radical Islam and stop Muslims from "taking over"? Then start having bigger families and teach them to be devout in their faith. A Christian West will never be conquered by Islam, and a nation that is fertile will never be scared of immigrants. And stop hating Catholics. Isn't 500 years long enough to stop being so bitchy about things? If we don't learn to work together, everything is lost.

The Reformers' Love For Mary

This isn't a posting arguing who is right and who is wrong; it isn't to argue teachings or where in the Scriptures this is or that. Rather, it's a posting showing the Protestant Reformers and their love for Mary. Devotion to Mary wasn't something foreign to the Reformers, but sadly, it was something that's been lost. If they ever return to loving the Mother that Jesus so dearly loves, then they will share with Catholics and Orthodox - and even Muslims - a love to the Mother of Jesus, that perfect and spotless tabernacle for the Lord. May Mary be the vehicle that brings all Christians together to celebrate our commonalities and may she encourage us to work and grow together until we all may be one.

The following quotes are from the Protestant Reformers - and are mainly in line with the teachings of the Catholic Church.

Martin Luther:
"Christ, ..was the only Son of Mary, and the Virgin Mary bore no children besides Him... 'brothers' really means 'cousins' here, for Holy Writ and the Jews always call cousins brothers." (Sermons on John, chapters 1-4.1537-39).
"He, Christ, our Savior, was the real and natural fruit of Mary's virginal womb.. .This was without the cooperation of a man, and she remained a virgin after that." (Ibid.)
"God says... "Mary's Son is My only Son." Thus Mary is the Mother of God." (Ibid.).
"God did not derive his divinity from Mary; but it does not follow that it is therefore wrong to say that God was born of Mary, that God is Mary's Son, and that Mary is God's mother...She is the true mother of God and bearer of God...Mary suckled God, rocked God to sleep, prepared broth and soup for God, etc. For God and man are one person, one Christ, one Son, one Jesus. Not two Christs...just as your son is not two sons...even though he has two natures, body and soul, the body from you, the soul from God alone." (On the Councils and the Church, 1539).
"It is a sweet and pious belief that the infusion of Mary's soul was effected without original sin; so that in the very infusion of her soul she was also purified from original sin and adorned with God's gifts, receiving a pure soul infused by God; thus from the first moment she began to live she was free from all sin" (Sermon: "On the Day of the Conception of the Mother of God," 1527).
"She is full of grace, proclaimed to be entirely without sin — something exceedingly great. For God's grace fills her with everything good and makes her devoid of all evil." (Personal {"Little"} Prayer Book, 1522).
"There can he no doubt that the Virgin Mary is in heaven. How it happened we do not know. And since the Holy Spirit has told us nothing about it, we can make of it no article of faith... It is enough to know that she lives in Christ." (Sermon on the Feast of the Assumption, 1552)
"The veneration of Mary is inscribed in the very depths of the human heart." (Sermon, September 1, 1522).
[She is the] highest woman and the noblest gem in Christianity after Christ...She is nobility, wisdom, and holiness personified. We can never honor her enough. Still honor and praise must be given to her in such a way as to injure neither Christ nor the Scriptures." (Sermon, Christmas, 1531).
"No woman is like you. You are more than Eve or Sarah, blessed above all nobility, wisdom, and sanctity." (Sermon, Feast of the Visitation. 1537).
"One should honor Mary as she herself wished and as she expressed it in the Magnificat. She praised God for his deeds. How then can we praise her? The true honor of Mary is the honor of God, the praise of God's grace...Mary is nothing for the sake of herself, but for the sake of Christ...Mary does not wish that we come to her, but through her to God. (Explanation of the Magnificat, 1521).
"It is the consolation and the superabundant goodness of God, that man is able to exult in such a treasure. Mary is his true Mother, Christ is his brother. God is his father." (Sermon. Christmas, 1522)
"Mary is the Mother of Jesus and the Mother of all of us even though it was Christ alone who reposed on her knees...If he is ours, we ought to be in his situation; there where he is, we ought also to be and all that he has ought to be ours, and his mother is also our mother." (Sermon, Christmas, 1529).
"Whoever possesses a good (firm) faith, says the Hail Mary without danger! Whoever is weak in faith can utter no Hail Mary without danger to his salvation." (Sermon, March 11, 1523).
"Our prayer should include the Mother of God.. .What the Hail Mary says is that all glory should be given to God, using these words: "Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus Christ. Amen!" You see that these words are not concerned with prayer but purely with giving praise and honor.. .We can use the Hail Mary as a meditation in which we recite what grace God has given her. Second, we should add a wish that everyone may know and respect her...He who has no faith is advised to refrain from saying the Hail Mary." (Personal Prayer Book, 1522).
"A new lie about me is being circulated. I am supposed to have preached and written that Mary, the mother of God, was not a virgin either before or after the birth of Christ..." (That Jesus Christ was Born a Jew (1523)
"Scripture does not say or indicate that she later lost her virginity...When Matthew [1:25] says that Joseph did not know Mary carnally until she had brought forth her son, it does not follow that he knew her subsequently; on the contrary, it means that he never did know her...This babble...is without justification...he has neither noticed nor paid any attention to either Scripture or the common idiom. (Ibid.)
"Men have crowded all her glory into a single phrase: The Mother of God. No one can say anything greater of her, though he had as many tongues as there are leaves on the trees." (From the Commentary on the Magnificat)

John Calvin:
"Elizabeth called Mary Mother of the Lord, because the unity of the person in the two natures of Christ was such that she could have said that the mortal man engendered in the womb of Mary was at the same time the eternal God." (Calvini Opera [Braunshweig-Berlin, 1863-1900], Volume 45, 35)
"Helvidius has shown himself too ignorant, in saying that Mary had several sons, because mention is made in some passages of the brothers of Christ." (Bernard Leeming, "Protestants and Our Lady", Marian Library Studies, January 1967, p.9)
"It cannot be denied that God in choosing and destining Mary to be the Mother of his Son, granted her the highest honor." (John Calvin, Calvini Opera [Braunshweig-Berlin, 1863-1900], Volume 45, 348)
"To this day we cannot enjoy the blessing brought to us in Christ without thinking at the same time of that which God gave as adornment and honour to Mary, in willing her to be the mother of his only-begotten Son." (John Calvin, A Harmony of Matthew, Mark and Luke (St. Andrew's Press, Edinburgh, 1972), p.32)

Ulrich Zwingli:
"It was given to her what belongs to no creature, that in the flesh she should bring forth the Son of God." (Ulrich Zwingli, In Evang. Luc., Opera Completa [Zurich, 1828-42], Volume 6, I, 639)
"I firmly believe that Mary, according to the words of the gospel as a pure Virgin brought forth for us the Son of God and in childbirth and after childbirth forever remained a pure, intact Virgin." (Ulrich Zwingli, Zwingli Opera, Corpus Reformatorum, Volume 1, 424)
"I esteem immensely the Mother of God, the ever chaste, immaculate Virgin Mary." (E. Stakemeier, De Mariologia et Oecumenismo, K. Balic, ed., (Rome, 1962), 456)
"Christ ... was born of a most undefiled Virgin." (Ibid.)
"It was fitting that such a holy Son should have a holy Mother." (Ibid.)
"The more the honor and love of Christ increases among men, so much the esteem and honor given to Mary should grow." (Ulrich Zwingli, Zwingli Opera, Corpus Reformatorum, Volume 1, 427-428)

Heinrich Bullinger (Zwingli's successor):
"In Mary, then, everything is extraordinary and even more majestic, because it has sprung from the purest faith and burning love for God." (Sermon on Mary)
"Therefore we believe that the most pure chamber of the Bearer of God and Temple of the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary, that is her holy body, was carried to heaven by angels." (Das Marianlob Der Refermatorum)

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Despelling the Lie Against Christianity & War

Western leaders are still hesitant to condemn Islam for the terrorist attacks that have been perpetrated against us, although for many Americans, the connection between terror and Islam is abundantly clear. For many, especially atheists, this fuels their hatred and bias against religion. For many irreligious Christians, this reinforces their belief that organized religion is the main cause of war. There is no doubt that Mohammed taught his followers to spread his religion by the sword and through terror, but is it fair to say that all religion is responsible for most of the world's armed conflicts? And let's be honest here - you only usually hear this charge against religion made by atheists and irreligious Christians and the target is usually against Christianity. Is it true to say that Jesus Christ - the Way, the Truth, and the Life (Jn 14:6) - founding a Church on the rock of Peter (Mat 16:18) - doesn't want us to have "organized religion"? Do the followers of the Prince of Peace (Is 9:6) use his name to start wars?

Unlike the rest of the modern world, I do not consider the Crusades as a religious war, even though they were fought between Christians and Muslims (and once in a while, against Christians and Christians). It is very important that we rediscover philosophy and that words mean something - we must be accurate. Although Christians and Muslims were fighting, it wasn't a war of religion, it was a war of territory and safety. Up until the time of the first Crusades, it was Islam that was spreading its religion by murder, by force, by intimidation, by slavery, and by invasion. The African slave trade became an industry because of Muslim Africans selling their captives to other Africans and eventually to wealthy Europeans. Islam had conquered all of the Middle East and northern Africa, which were devout Catholic nations, kingdoms, and tribes (although much of the Arabian peninsula remained pagan up to Mohammed's time). Christianity, meanwhile, left things alone. We had the pagan invaders from the lands of the barbarians to worry about. Eventually, though, Islam would rear its ugly head as it made war against the land evangelized by St. Paul - the future Turkey - and threatened the eastern capital of the Roman Empire, Constantinople. Coupled with that threat, the "highways" for pilgrimages to the Holy Land were cut off by the Muslims and Christian pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem were being robbed, beaten, and sometimes even slaughtered by the Muslims. Finally, after about 400 years, Christian Europe had enough and fought a war to liberate Palestine from Muslim control - not in the name of Christ, per se, but so that Christians who want to visit the holy sites can do so without fear or harm. It was for territory. It was for safety.

Eventually, however, Original Sin rears its ugly head and Christian turns on Christian, but was it motivated by religion, or by greed? Constantinople makes another cry for help and promises that if an army from Western Europe comes to its rescue that they would be rewarded handsomely. A large Western army arrives, but Constantinople doesn't pay them - the result? The sacking of Constantinople, which involved horrific crimes against humanity and the humiliation of their religious way of life. But, was this war one of religion? No, it was greed. The army wanted to be paid - when they weren't, they robbed the city blind and destroyed whatever was left. It was greed, not religion.

Time continues and eventually the Reformation happens. The only reason why the Reformation succeeded in northern Europe (as in, the only reason why it wasn't dispelled and forgotten) was because many kings and princes - especially in Germany - were eager to get their hands on Church land. Again, greed showed up at the door. Kingdom after kingdom, principality after principality, seized Church land. Monasteries were destroyed. Any money or property they held went to the king. All over northern Europe, this is how it played out. Kings and princes converted to Protestantism, with many doing so because the people - roused by their rejection of Roman power - would eagerly fight to rid their land of what they saw as paganism and heresy. Religion became a big factor here, but it was used as a tool to encourage the people to fight in order to protect their families and nation from eternal damnation. Religion was being used, but not for religion's sake - not for Christ's sake - but it was being used by the powers that be for....once again, greed.

So, for a posting that supposedly wants to exonerate Christianity for the charges made against it, that religion (especially Christianity) is responsible for the wars of the world, I'm not doing a very good job at it, am I? Well, not exactly - I cannot ignore the fact that Christians have fought Christians and have committed horrible acts, crimes against humanity - any opinion I have would be immediately discredited if I ignored this fact, of which I don't. However, I will show that, now that I've admitted our horrible crimes (which for the most part aren't religiously motivated), I will put all of that into perspective, using only the 19th and 20th Centuries as examples.

Ancient wars were numerous and deadly - the Mongol invasion of Russia and Europe alone killed 30 million people - but, as I said, we'll only look at fairly recent history. Were any of the wars fought by the United States religious wars? Let's look just at our wars (and police actions). Believe it or not, in the American Revolution - if you consider all the dead and wounded of the US, our allies, Britain and her allies, and the civilians, there were roughly 116,700 casualties. In the War of 1812, there were roughly 23,100 casualties. The war with Mexico - 29,000 casualties. The US Civil War - 1.5 million casualties. The war with Spain - 63,500 casualties. World War 1? 38 million casualties. World War 2? 60 million casualties. Korean War? 3.8 million casualties, mainly civilians. Vietnam? 1.14 million casualties. The First Persian Gulf War? Over 116,000 casualties (in a conflict that lasted only 6 months). The war with Serbia? Over 19,000 casualties, again, mostly civilian. Our second war with Iraq (2003-2011) - over a million casualties (although many experts believe this amount is underestimated). How about in the current insurgency? Nearly 163,000 casualties. The war in Afghanistan? Roughly 149,000 (so far).

So, just in the wars the US has been involved in (which covers a span of only 239 years), we're talking over 106 million casualties. Now, add to that the amount of people killed in the name of atheistic communism - that's another 300 million. How about the genocide in Khmer Rouge? That's another 1.7 million killed.

So, if we're taking the war casualties committed JUST during the lifetime of the US (and ONLY including conflicts the US fought in - we all know that wars rage across the globe throughout all history) and if we include in that total the major pogroms fought in the name of nationalism, atheism, communism, then our number has expanded to roughly 408 million casualties in only 239 years of world history - nearly all of which can be called non-religious in nature.

Let's compare that to how many deaths occurred at the hands of Christians in the name of their religion. According to the extensive research performed by the history department of Baylor University, all the wars in the name of Christ have resulted in roughly 5 million deaths.

5 million deaths over several centuries versus nearly half a BILLION deaths in just over 200 years. And when you add into the equation one of the "lies of Russia" - abortion - that number climbs from 408 million deaths to 1.5 BILLION non-religious casualties.

Let's be honest with ourselves. Religion, for the most part (the small amount of militant Muslims and radical Christians excluded) does NOT result in countless wars. The statistics are irrefutable, especially in the course of JUST the 20th Century's events. The leading cause of war is NOT religion and certainly not Christianity; it's a lack of religion; it's due to the lack of hope in the spiritual, as you fool yourself into thinking that a perfect Utopia can be created here on earth. Religion as the cause for most wars is a lie that unrepentant people like to tell themselves. The truth of the matter is that irreligion - atheism - and greed are the causes of most wars. Simply put, Original Sin is the cause of most wars. And the Gospel of Christ is the solution of - not the cause of - war and conflict. Jesus Christ was, is, and always will be the answer. And his Church subsists in the Catholic Church.