Wednesday, January 08, 2020

The priority of the interior

We do not know the interior life of others, even those prominent orthodox Catholics that we admire so much. They may be doing and saying the right things in public, but are interiorly disordered. It will eventually show. Their sin will bring them down. 

This has happened to so many prominent Catholics in the past 30 years that it could be quite discouraging. I hesitate to name names, but I think you can fill in the blanks. We tend to make idols of those who publicly manifest values we hold dear. Of course, if you do not admire the person in the first place, or think that he is off base, you may be inclined to gloat at his fall.

The danger of inattention to our interior life applies to us all. If we are not taking care of our interior life, all the good that we do will be destroyed and others will be scandalized or vindicated. We can't continue with a false front. You will know a tree by its fruits.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019


If my life were focused on the Lord and the Blessed Mother...

If I could be in him and he in me at all times...

If I could just set aside my concerns for a time and listen to his voice...

If I could quit thinking about what might be...

If I could let God guide me...

If I could become docile to the Spirit...

If I could accept my life as a gift from God...

If I could be constantly thankful...

If I could root out those biases that prevent me from loving others with a pure and open heart...

Monday, November 25, 2019

Reshaping Catholicism

I just don't see how people can so thoroughly reshaped Catholicism, especially the spiritual tradition. It is not even ideas that I'm talking about: it is attitude, especially toward sin, devotion, the commandments. We should want to free everyone from slavery to sin--including, if not especially, the 6th and 9th commandments.

There are four commandments that Satan has had his way with recently: the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 9th. What can we do? I mean, first of all, in the Church. If the Church doesn't have Her act together, how can we help the world find the way?

Can you imagine anyone saying the following without being accused of hating. These are the words of St Francis.
But all those men and women who are not doing penance and do not receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ and live in vices and sin and yield to evil concupiscence and to the wicked desires of the flesh, and do not observe what they have promised to the Lord, and are slaves to the world, in their bodies, by carnal desires and the anxieties and cares of this life (cf. Jn 8:41).
These are blind, because they do not see the true light, our Lord Jesus Christ; they do not have spiritual wisdom because they do not have the Son of God who is the true wisdom of the Father. Concerning them, it is said, “Their skill was swallowed up” (Ps 107:27) and “cursed are those who turn away from your commands” (Ps 119:21). They see and acknowledge; they know and do bad things and knowingly destroy their own souls.See, you who are blind, deceived by your enemies, the world, the flesh and the devil, for it is pleasant to the body to commit sin and it is bitter to make it serve God because all vices and sins come out and “proceed from the heart of man” as the Lord says in the gospel (cf. Mt 7:21). And you have nothing in this world and in the next, and you thought you would possess the vanities of this world for a long time. 
But you have been deceived, for the day and the hour will come to which you give no thought and which you do not know and of which you are ignorant. The body grows infirm, death approaches, and so it dies a bitter death, and no matter where or when or how man dies, in the guilt of sin, without penance or satisfaction, though he can make satisfaction but does not do it. 
The devil snatches the soul from his body with such anguish and tribulation that no one can know it except he who endures it, and all the talents and power and “knowledge and wisdom” (2 Chr 1:17) which they thought they had will be taken away from them (cf. Lk 8:18; Mk 4:25), and they leave their goods to relatives and friends who take and divide them and say afterwards, “Cursed be his soul because he could have given us more; he could have acquired more than he did.” The worms eat up the body and so they have lost body and soul during this short earthly life and will go into the inferno where they will suffer torture without end. (Taken from the rule of the Secular Franciscan Order.)
If we can't talk this way anymore does that mean that the great spiritual masters of the Catholic faith for the last 1900 years who did talk this way were wrong? Or has our "situation" changed so much that such language can never have the salutary effect it is intended to?

I have to say I don't think so, but I also have to say I don't know how to negotiate our current evangelical need when so much of this language is considered insensitive.

I'm just wondering.  

Friday, November 15, 2019

Interior Life challenges

Although God does not demand perfection of us in order to work in us and through us, the Christian Life Is impossible without an interior life. The Christian interior life has prayer as its centerpiece. Thinking the right thoughts, performing the right acts, being liturgically correct accurate, working for justice, all have prayer as a prerequisite. These acts are hollow without it, at least as far as being meritorious. It is like trying to use an electric blender while unplugged.

This is, in fact, true of everything we do. all must be done in the context of a loving, trusting, and attentive relationship with God. And not just saying prayers, but being in prayer. This is where practicing the presence of God comes in.

It is so hard to be “in prayer” when concentrating on temporal matters, especially those things that have no religious context or content. I work at a seminary and I still find it hard to be attentive to my participation in God's activities in my work. Maybe I shouldn't worry about it, but I do. So much in life is not drenched in prayer. What would my personal, familial, and professional life be like if I had done all the “good” things “in the Spirit. In the Lord.”

“Where two or three are gathered....” Yes, but if I don't have my antennae up, I am not receiving the signal that will help animate The Presence in the here and now.

It is pretty obvious to me when I am “on”. There is a richness and a peace that envelops the situation. I am not a calm person. Like so many people seem to be, I am haunted by worry, if not anxiety. I often don’t feel like I am doing the right thing, that I am pleasing to God without remainder.

All of this I believe is a sign that I am not cultivating well an interior life a prayer. After all this time, I am still an amateur, a beginner in the interior life. I need to learn to be in prayer without doing. I need exterior and interior silence and quiet.

Come Holy Spirit, fill my heart. Lead me deeper into prayer. Help me be with you and get to know you in my here and now.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Concerning subsidiarity

Two things about having such immediate global knowledge. 
1. it can be overwhelming since there is so little you can do about things far away, and 2. trying to redress global issues can cause you neglect tending to the local issues over which you have more influence and for which you have greater responsibility.

Not that you should ignore global issues. You do have some influence and responsibility. And some will have a special vocation that is either distant or global in reach. Distant can mean local in another place.

Thursday, November 07, 2019


It snowed. There is something about a snowfall that elicits in me a sense of peace. I associate it with softness and quiet. And stillness. 

 The liturgical emphasis on the dead in early November is sobering, solemn. It has its own quiet and stillness, but not the softness of freshly fallen snow.

The calmness is a perfect prelude to Advent. It is almost too bad that Thanksgiving and Christ the King interrupt the slow, hushed fading into winter..

We don't like to prepare 

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Prayer of St. Bernard to the Blessed Virgin Mary

No, not the Memorare. The one at the beginning of Canto XXXIII in Dante's Paradiso. This is a gorgeous prayer no matter the translation. I'm going to provide two translations, then the original italian.  HT Digital Dante from Columbia University.

“Virgin mother, daughter of your Son,
more humble and sublime than any creature,
fixed goal decreed from all eternity,

you are the one who gave to human nature
so much nobility that its Creator
did not disdain His being made its creature.

That love whose warmth allowed this flower to bloom
within the everlasting peace—was love
rekindled in your womb; for us above,

you are the noonday torch of charity,
and there below, on earth, among the mortals,
you are a living spring of hope. Lady,

you are so high, you can so intercede,
that he who would have grace but does not seek
your aid, may long to fly but has no wings.

Your loving—kindness does not only answer
the one who asks, but it is often ready
to answer freely long before the asking.

In you compassion is, in you is pity,
in you is generosity, in you
is every goodness found in any creature.

This man—who from the deepest hollow in
the universe, up to this height, has seen
the lives of spirits, one by one—now pleads

with you, through grace, to grant him so much virtue
that he may lift his vision higher still—

may lift it toward the ultimate salvation.
THOU Virgin Mother, daughter of thy Son
Humble and high beyond all other creature,
The limit fixed of the eternal counsel, 
Thou art the one who such nobility
To human nature gave, that its Creator
Did not disdain to make himself its creature.
 Within thy womb rekindled was the love,
By heat of which in the eternal peace
After such wise this flower has germinated.
Here unto us thou art a noonday torch
Of charity, and below there among mortals
Thou art the living fountain—head of hope.
Lady thou art so great, and so prevailing,
That he who wishes grace, nor runs to thee
His aspirations without wings would fly.
Not only thy benignity gives succour
To him who asketh it, but oftentimes
Forerunneth of its own accord the asking
In thee compassion is, in thee is pity,
In thee magnificence, in thee unites
Whate’er of goodness is in any creature.
Now doth this man, who from the lowest depth
Of the universe as far as here has seen
One after one the spiritual lives,
Supplicate thee through grace for so much power
That with his eyes he may uplift himself
Higher towards the uttermost salvation.


Vergine Madre, figlia del tuo figlio,
umile e alta più che creatura,
termine fisso d’etterno consiglio,

tu se’ colei che l’umana natura
nobilitasti sì, che ’l suo fattore
non disdegnò di farsi sua fattura.

Nel ventre tuo si raccese l’amore,
per lo cui caldo ne l’etterna pace
così è germinato questo fiore.

Qui se’ a noi meridïana face
di caritate, e giuso, intra ’ mortali,
se’ di speranza fontana vivace.

Donna, se’ tanto grande e tanto vali,
che qual vuol grazia e a te non ricorre,
sua disïanza vuol volar sanz’ ali.

La tua benignità non pur soccorre
a chi domanda, ma molte fïate
liberamente al dimandar precorre.

In te misericordia, in te pietate,
in te magnificenza, in te s’aduna
quantunque in creatura è di bontate.

Or questi, che da l’infima lacuna
de l’universo infin qui ha vedute
le vite spiritali ad una ad una,

supplica a te, per grazia, di virtute
tanto, che possa con li occhi levarsi
più alto verso l’ultima salute.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018


Here is an insightful essay by Fr. Dwight Longnecker about the distinction between faith and ideology. "Faith Walks on the waves--Ideology stays in the boat."

I think his analogy about the relationship of sheet music to a musical perforance is very good. It makes me think of those composing software programs. If you enter a piece into one of them, it always plays it back exactly as written and very mechanically (although you can still appreciate the beauty). But there is a world of difference between a computer playback and a live performance of the same piece. Personal interpretation is the key--on the part of the composer and, to a certain extent, the players. Like when my son plays one of his compositions on the computer. You know that when you hear it life it will make all the difference. It is like one of my favorite analogies: the first few minutes of The Wizard of Oz vs the rest of the movie in color.

Monday, December 10, 2018

The name of demons

Since C.S. Lewis wrote The Screwtape letters, there are many writers who seek to imitate Lewis's insights using a similar conceit. One thing I've noticed about these efforts is that they most often use names for the demons that are two syllables long and end in a percussive consonant (voiced or unvoiced). I wonder why? It seems to make sensse, though.

Monday, December 03, 2018

When bad things happen to good people

This generation seeks a sign. The only sign it will receive is the sign of Jonah.

Faith in Christ is not a quid pro quo. God knows what we need to be holy. All that happens in our lives, in our families, in our country, in our Church, and in the world, no matter how seemingly bad, is an opportunity to cultivate and exercise virtue, natural and supernatural. This is why we need to pray perseveringly for the gifts of the Holy Spirit. As Archbishop Martinez says, we need the gifts in order to exercise the virtues, because we are too weak to do so without them.