Monday, April 27, 2015

Our Saul Experience: What we are searching for is right in front of us.

"Saul, still breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord,went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, that, if he should find any men or women who belonged to the Way, he might bring them back to Jerusalem in chains. On his journey, as he was nearing Damascus, a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” He said, “Who are you, sir?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, for they heard the voice but could see no one. Saul got up from the ground,but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing;so they led him by the hand and brought him to Damascus.For three days he was unable to see, and he neither ate nor drank." Acts Chapter 9

St. Paul tells us elsewhere that he was the chief of sinners because he persecuted the Church. However, he persecuted the Church because he was zealous for God; he truly believed that those who followed the "Way" were heretics, were sacrilegious. He--it appears to me--that he was desirous of truth, believing the Law was truth. Because of this desire to know truth, God brings us to the Truth, through Jesus Christ, His Son, the manifestation of Truth. When we are zealous for God, desirous of Truth, we do not focus on what we will receive; we, out of love, just want to please God. The only way that this can occur is if we become an image of Jesus. We cannot accomplish this; God must do this in us. He accomplishes this through Baptism, Confirmation, Reconciliation, and the Eucharist. He also does this through Marriage and Holy Orders. It is not for only the individual but for the entire Body.

Because Saul was desirous of truth but not living in Truth, he was struck down by the Truth, by a "light from heaven." We are all "struck down" because of our sins, for our sanctification. Saul was blind for three days. The first day is when he is struck down with blindness; the second, repentance; and the third, he receives his sight. Saul is not an island; he needs help from the Church. Therefore, the Head, Jesus, sends a part of the Body, Ananias, to him. This is for the benefit of Saul, Ananias, and the entire Body. We all have a Saul experience. We have it in a myriad of ways, but we still have a Saul experience: Christ manifests Himself to us in some; we repent; we are healed. We are struck blind to the things of the world and the world's wisdom. We enter a "world" of darkness, seeking light from God.

Often, we grope for this light in the wrong places--through our senses and our feelings. We are looking for a "spiritual high." Many leave the Fullness of Truth, the Catholic Church in search of this "high." This "high" will not last, and it often leads to pride and gnosticism, "super-Christians." All we have to do is "scratch the surface" of Catholicism, and we begin to experience the manifestation of Love of God, Love of Neighbor. Christ is bodily present in the Catholic Church, speaking to us, teaching us, forgiving us. It is so subtle and gentle that we overlook it--because we are searching for miraculous signs. We cannot see the trees for the forest. In the Catholic Church, we see God and Man working in union. To see this, all we have to do is read about the Liturgy, why we do what we do and say what we say. We can meditate on one thing in the Mass, and we very well could become overwhelmed.

"The Lord be with you." We have entered into the very presence of God. He is there body, blood, soul, and divinity. We are sinful, and He has not struck us dead. Instead of striking us dead, He invites us. "Who are You, sir?" we are asking subconsciously. "I am Jesus, Whom you persecutes by way of your sins, loving the world and death instead of Me and Life." "The Lord be with you." God approaches us, gently calling us. We are in the parish because Jesus has called us and compelled us by means of others to come. He is so anxious to sanctify us that He does not leave us to our own means; He utilizes others. "I am with you; I desire that you know Me. I will forgive you if you desire My forgiveness, desire to be an image of Me." Each of us can add to this if we only meditate, "scratch the surface." The relightious leaders crucified Jesus because He wasn't the type of messiah they visualized. People leave the Catholic Church for the same reason. The Messiah was manifested to the religious leaders, and Christ is manifested to us in the Catholic Church. They couldn't see Him; often, we do not see Him.

"Ananias" means "whom Jehovah has graciously given." Saul was given Ananias to gain his sight; we are given Ananias--the Catholic Church--to receive sight. The Catholic Church is "the street which is called Straight;" it is also the "house of Judas," the house of praise. What we are searching for is right in front of us, as plain as the nose on our face--we just can't see it for our nose, our nose being in the way.

Lord Make Me More Like You

"For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world."
John 6:30-35

We Catholics know and understand that this "manna" is the Eucharist, the body, blood, soul, and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. Knowing this, it is still extremely easy to receive the Eucharist nonchalantly, without much thought. It is then that we begin to drift towards a state similar to our reading in Acts 7: "You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you." We begin to "do what is right in our own eyes."

Why are we baptized? Why are we confirmed? Why do we go to confession? Why do we receive the Eucharist? If our only desire is to escape hell, well, that very well may be where we will find ourselves. Jesus did not become incarnate, undergo His passion and crucifixion just for us "to not go to hell." No, He did everything in order that we may be like Him. He took on our humanity so that we may take on His divinity--at Baptism. In Baptism, we are His very image, without sin. However, due to concupiscience, we look very much like we were before Baptism; but we--usually, very slowly--grow more and more back into the image of Christ--if we consciously desire this, pray for this. This is part of the power we receive in Confirmation.

God pours His grace out upon us, but we must cooperate with that grace. How do we do that? Let me give an example. God gives us patience. We have it; nevertheless, we must exercise it. If we allow ourselves to be impatient, we are not exercising that grace. When we exercise impatience, we can receiving healing and more grace at Confession. Then we try again--and again, and again. Each time, we return to the confessional for more healing. After time, we begin to see more and more patience in ourselves. We cannot excuse impatience by saying, "Well, God hasn't given me that grace yet." He has; we just don't exercise it all the time. We cannot expect "quick fixes."

In Baptism, we receive eternal life. "Eternal" is defined as: lasting or existing forever; without end or beginning. One will probably think that that means going to heave and never dying again. In a sense, that is true, but it is more than that. "Eternal life" is what God is. He is life without beginning or end. "Life" is no sin, for sin is death. This "eternal life" is what we receive in Baptism. Is it what we still desire today, at this moment? If it is, then it is a desire to be the image of God our Father, as shown to us by our Lord Jesus Christ, the Begotten Son, and as the Holy Spirit is making us--if we allow Him.

As we receive the Eucharist, we can say a short prayer, "Lord, make me more like You."
--Tommy Turner

Saturday, April 18, 2015



          This a study of good versus evil.  It uses two factual examples of evil, one of which was historical, and the other one contemporary, as real-life symbols of depravity. The historical example comes from Nazism, and focuses on the Nazi death camp that was set up by the Nazis near the Polish village of Auschwitz.  The contemporary example is ISIS, (abbreviating "The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria"), also called ISIL ("The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant").  We will portray the nature and character of evil in these two factual examples. We will then consider the role that goodness played in opposing the historical example of Nazi evil, and argue that the power of goodness displayed in history against this evil should be used against our contemporary example of radical evil, or ISIS.  Wit respect to Auschwitz. we find that the essence of goodness was defined and displayed most powerfully in the life of a canonized saint, Father Maximilian Kolbe, as we will discuss in more detail toward the end of this article.

Defining Evil

          If we are looking for a working definition of evil, we can conclude from Scripture that evil is that which opposes life and light, and is bound up with death and darkness, as depicted in John's Gospel:. 

                    "[T]he light came into the world, but people preferred
                    darkness to light, because their works were evil.  For
                     everyone who does wicked things hates the light...But
                     whoever lives the truth comes to the light so that his
                     works may be clearly seen as done in God."
                     (Jn. 3:19-21).                 

          Evil has to do with killing, but not just with killing the body.  Evil is also that which kills spirit.  Thus evil is that force residing within human beings that seeks to kill life or liveliness.  And goodness is its opposite:

                    "I have set before you life and death, the blessing and
                     the curse.  Choose life, then, that you and your                                            descendants may live."  (Dt. 30:19 (b).
          Jesus preached that light and life are inseparable:

                    "I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will
                     not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."
                     (Jn. 8:12 (b).
          The apostle Paul, when he was converted by Jesus on his way to Damascus experienced this light of life as so bright that it impaired his vision:

                    "[A]s I drew near Damascus, about noon, a great light
                     from the sky suddenly shone around me...I could see
                     nothing because of the brightness of that light...I saw
                     a light from the sky brighter than the sun shining around
                     me." (Acts 22:6,11; 26:13).

          Thus, while "light" refers to a spiritual reality, in certain cases it is not simply a metaphor for a "spiritual" light, as Paul learned, but an actual heavenly light that is perceptible by those who are given the grace to perceive it.
          Goodness is further that which promotes life and liveliness.  Jesus said, "I have come that they may have life, and that they might have it abundantly (or to the fullest)." (John 10:10). Yet Jesus, freely giving up his life at an early age, was not so much concerned with the length of life as with its vitality.  He focused his preaching and actions on the spirit of life and of liveliness.  And of Satan, the very spirit of evil, Jesus said, "He was a murderer from the beginning." (John 8:44).

          We would expect that many theologians have written on the subject of evil. In recent times, behavioral scientists have also laid a foundation that makes the development of a psychology of evil possible. Freud's discovery of the unconscious and Jung's concept of the Shadow are both basic to this effort. In other words, evil is now regarded both as a spiritual reality and a scientific reality. The Jewish psychoanalyst, Erich Fromm, fled Hitler's Germany and spent the rest of his life studying the evil of Nazism.  He was the first and only scientist to clearly identify an evil personality type, to attempt to examine evil people in depth, and to suggest that they be studied still further. Fromm gave a place in psychology to evil that made it a serious disorder, such as schizophrenia, for example.

          In addition to Fromm's scientific approach to defining evil, the Jewish theologian, Martin Buber, distinguished between two types of evil.  One type concerns people in the process of "sliding" into evil.  The other concerns those who have already slid, "fallen victim" to and been taken over by "radical evil." For Buber, sliding into evil is similar to sin, whereas being taken over by radical evil is so totally powerful that it permanently locks evil into place -- as happened for example in the lives historically evil people such as Hitler and Stalin.

Evil and Sin

          We should draw a distinction between evil and sin.  It is not their sins per se that characterize evil people.  Rather it is the subtlety, persistence and consistency of their sins, and most of all, their refusal to acknowledge this sinfulness to themselves that characterizes evil people.  The Catholic Church has known this fact for two millenia. One of the greatest goods that the Church has provided to humanity is the Sacrament of Reconciliation, a sacrament in opposition to evil, most powerfully, a haven for sinners to acknowledge their sins and to be absolved from them.

          When we acknowledge our sins in the confessional the Church is not suggesting that we are evil people, but just the opposite, as people who are seeking to keep evil, as Buber put it, from being "locked into place."  Sinning is defined in the Old Testament as "missing the mark," suggesting that sin is nothing less than being continually imperfect.  Because none of us are continually perfect, we are all sinners.  It was us sinners whom Jesus came to call to salvation (Mt. 9:13).

          Jesus called attention to the fact that human sinfulness is not evil when he said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit." (Matthew 5:3).  By that he meant, in its later and fuller expression, "Blessed are you for having the sense of your personal sin and for acknowledging it to yourself and to God, and seeking God's forgiveness through the Church."  After his resurrection he connected this universal human sinfulness and its forgiveness to the ministry of the Church, when he told his disciples, "Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained,." (John 20:23).

          In Jesus' day, those who lived evil lives -- such as many of the Pharisees -- did not feel poor in spirit.  They felt they had it all together, hated Jesus and killed him because he exposed their refusal to acknowledge their sinfulness. Unpleasant though it may be, acknowledging our sin is precisely that which keeps our sin from getting out of hand and sliding into evil.  Saint Therese of Lisieux put it succinctly when she said, "If you are willing to serenly bear the trial of being displeasing to yourself, then you will be for Jesus a pleasant place of shelter."

Today's Pharisees
          In our criminal justice system we have set up a recurring legal defense for evil people to avail themselves of, by allowing them through their lawyers to argue that, because of a "mental disorder," they are not guilty of a crime. President Obama takes the same position when he refuses even to use the phrase "radically evil Islamists" to describe ISIS murderers, incredibly blaming their evil deeds on the fact that they are engaged in vaguely innocent mischief because they are without work and are looking for "job training."  Yet he has no difficulty painting Christians with a brush dripping with evil.  As he put it in a press conference, Christians should get off "their high horse" for criticizing the actions of Moslem murderers and instead focus on the supposed evil that somehow percolates down to 21st-Century Christians from the eleventh-century Crusades.

          His misrepresentation of the history underlying the Crusades as the start of an evil epoch by Christians is abysmal.  European Christians undertook the Crusades because Moslems first took over Jerusalem and the Holy Land, killing and otherwise persecuting both the Jews and Christians inhabiting Palestine.  The Moslem murderers then moved to conquer the Greek-Orthodox Christian capital of Constantinople.  European Christians were urged on to stop the Moslem invasions of Christian centers of life not by a warlord, but by that era's most famous and peaceful contemplative saint, St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153).  St. Bernard was a monk and abbot of the Cistercian Order, and vigorously preached the need for a Crusade against Moslem evil.

          Let us turn now to the historical example of evil, which is best symbolized by the Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz.  Then we can regard how the goodness growing from this horrible site of evil can be said to apply by analogy to undermining the evil caused by ISIS. 


          The death camp Auschwitz became the killing center during World War II where the largest numbers of European Jews were murdered by the Nazis.  One Christian man who died there became a martyr to Nazism's evil.  Maximilian Kolbe was a Polish priest who died as prisoner number 16770. On August 14, 1941, when a prisoner attempted escape from the camp the Nazis selected ten others to be killed by starvation.  (In actuality, the prisoner's escape attempt failed, as the would be escapist drowned in the camp's latrine.)  One of the ten men selected to die was Franciszek Gajowniczek, who began to cry out, "My wife! My children! I will never see them again!"  At this Maximilian Kolbe stepped forward and asked to die in his place.  His request was granted.

          Kolbe was born as Raymond Kolbe on January 8, 1894, the son of a poor weaver near Lodtz in Poland. In his youth he had prayed to the Virgin Mary and asked her what was to become of him.  As he wrote later:  "She came to me holding two crowns, one white, the other red.  She asked if I was willing to accept either of these crowns.  The white one meant that I should persevere in purity, and the red that I should become a martyr.  I said that I would accept them both."

          In 1910 Kolbe became a Franciscan, taking the name Maximilian.  He studied at Rome and was ordained in 1919. He built a friary just west of Warsaw, which eventually housed 762 Franciscans. When Germany invaded Poland, he and the other friars organized a shelter for Polish refugees, among whom were 2,000 Jews.  The Friars shared everything with the refugees. Inevitably the community came under suspicion and was watched closely by the Nazis.  In May, 1941, the friary was closed down and Maximilian and four companions were taken to the death camp Auschwitz, where they worked with the other prisoners.

          Prisoners at Auschwitz were slowly and systematically starved.  When food was brought, everyone struggled to get his place and be sure of a portion.  Father Maximilian, however, stood aside in spite of the ravages of starvation, and frequently there would be none left for him.  At night, in the bunker where four men had to sleep together in wooden bunks, Maximilian moved from bunk to bunk, saying, "I am a Catholic priest.  Can I do anything for you?" 

          When Maximilian stood in the group observing the Nazis' selection of men to be killed because another prisoner tried to escape, he asked the commandant, "I am a Catholic priest.  Let me take his place.  I am old.  He has a wife and children."  The commandant stood silently for a moment, but then accepted Maximilian's request. Franciszek Gajowniczek, the man Maximilian saved, later wrote:  "I could only thank him with my eyes.  I was stunned and could hardly grasp what was going on.  The immensity of it.  I, the condemned, am to live and someone else willingly and voluntarily offers his life for me -- a stranger.  Is this some dream?  The news spread quickly all around the camp."

          Father Kolbe was thrown down the stairs of Building 13 along with the other victims and simply left there to starve.  The building was totally dark, with no places to sit or lie down other than the concrete floor.  No food or water was ever brought in.  Some men tried licking the walls to gain moisture from the humidity. Kolbe encouraged the others with prayers, psalms and meditations on the passion of Christ. A personal testimony was given by the Polish prisoner who was assigned to take care of the starvation bunker: "The ten condemned to death went through terrible days. At every inspection, when almost all the others were lying down on the floor, Father Kolbe was seen kneeling or standing the the center as he looked cheerfully into the face of the SS guards.  One of the guards remarked, "This priest is really a great man.  We have never seen anyone like him."

          Father Kolbe outlived the others starving in the bunker. Eventually, however, the SS decided that they needed to kill Maximilian in order to put more men in the starvation bunker.  Father Kolbe was given an injection of carbolic acid, a poisonous solution that produced terrible pain through the body's cramping and being forced to curl arouind itself into a ball as death ensued.  When his body was taken to the crematorium the Nazis had to exert great effort to make his balled-upbody straight enough to insert into the oven.

          He died on August 14, 1941, at the age of 47.  The heroism of Father Kolbe spread throughout the death camp.  One survivor wrote that Father Kolbe's death was a "shock filled with hope, bringing new life and strength.  It was like a powerful shaft of light in the darkness of the camp."  The cell where Father Kolbe died is now a shrine.  He was beatified as Confessor by Pope Paul VI, and canonized as martyr by Pope John Paul II in 1981.

          As for Franciszek Gajowniczek, whom St. Maximilian Kolbe saved from execution, he was evetually released from Auschwitz by victorious troops.  His wife had survived, but his two sons were killed in the war. He died in 1995 at the age of 95, 53  years after St. Maximilian saved him from certain death.  Every year on August 14 he returned to Auschwitz to pay homage to St. Maximilian, honoring the man who died on his behalf.

          We can conclude from our study of St. Maximilian Kolbe in his imprisonment at Auschwitz that his saintly goodness played a role in weakening the evil of Auschwitz.  No, his sacrifice did not bring an immediate end to Auschwitz.  But his goodness affected everyone in the camp, from the SS guards to the other inmates, and from that influence on the camp St. Maximilian brought the spiritual force of holiness to bear on the existence and operation of the camp. His life and light blunted the evil and darkness of the camp.


          Today's equivalent to Auschwitz is ISIS.  ISIS (or ISIL) follows an extreme interpretation of Islam, promotes religious violence, and regards those who do not agree with its interpretations as infidels or apostates.  ISIS aims to return to the early days of Islam, rejecting all innovations in the religion, which it believes corrupts its original spirit.  All of the most influential jihadist theorists are criticizing ISIS, calling its self-proclaimed caliphate null and void. They have denounced it for its barbaric crimes, such as beheading of journalists and captured military opponents. In addition, ISIS combatants have crucified and otherwise murdered Christians, carried out sex crimes against women, including selling them as sex slaves, buried children alive and burned prisoners to death within cages, routinely videotaping all of their crimes because they seek publicity for their evil.  The United Nations, European Union, United Kingdom, United States and dozens of other states have declared ISIS a terrorist organization that is committing war crimes and genocide.

          Christians living in areas under ISIS control who want to remain in the "caliphate" face three options: converting to Islam, paying a religious levy ("jizya") or death.  Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights warned of war crimes and genocide being committed in the Iraqi war zone.  ISIS has implemented a school curriculum based on sharia, or Islamic law, which bans the teaching of art, music, national history, literature and Christianity.  After capturing cities in Iraq, ISIS issued guidelines on how to wear clothes and veils.  ISIS also engages in public and mass executions, sometimes forcing prisoners to dig their own graves before shooting lines of prisoners and pushing them in.  ISIS' ongoing crimes and destruction of cultures and religions in the areas of their prominence are not a means to an end, but an end in themselves.

          Needless to say, ISIS is the basis and foundation -- the very core of evil.  There is nothing the Nazis did during their period of criminality that exceeds what ISIS is now doing. What can be done to end the ISIS evil, outside of a massive military invasion of their inhabited territories and the destruction of their entire system by force of arms?  Such a solution would seem to be called for, in accordance with the same spirit that animated the Crusades of the Middle Ages. However, in this article we have seen how St. Maximillian numbed the evil of his SS guards simply by doing great goodness, not by stirring up an attack on the guards by his fellow inmates, or otherwise pursuing violence to blunt the camp's evil.  If evil can insinuate itself into a system that is essentially good, then by the same token good can insinuate itself into a system that is essentially evil.

          There is no quantifiable measurement that we can make of "how much" evil a good and holy person can strip from an evil system like Nazism or ISIS.  Suffice it to say that the effect of St. Maximilian on Auschwitz spread into the concentration camp's evil core through the saint's life and light. There were no angels singing. Nor did the camp's commandant convert to Christianity.  If it is easier to see evil than good, it is because the effect of good on evil is often subtle and unsubstantial.  But consider how the man whose life St. Maximilian saved responded to the holy goodness spread into Auschwitz by St. Maximilian. For fifty-three years, on the precise date of Maximilian's death, August 14th, Franciszek Gajowniczek made a pilgrimage to the very place that he hated intensely in order to honor the effect that the saint's holiness and goodness had on him. No doubt Maximilian's holiness affected everybody at Auschwitz -- both prisoners and guards -- to some extent. 

          Such goodness is desperately needed to bring down the evil of ISIS.  It is likely that there are saints, or potential saints, among the victims of ISIS' evil.  As with Auschwitz, if there are such saints, we can't expect them to overthrow ISIS by force.  But, as with St. Maximilian's good and holy deed at Auschwitz, which stayed hidden from the outside world for years, the power of human suffering inflicted on innocent people by ISIS would be a butress against ISIS' success in spreading its satanic evil crimes throughout the world.  This would be so if such suffering was accepted similarly to St. Maximilian's reliance on divine providence at Auschwitz, where he submitted to his suffering and death as God's will.

          Absent the United States' leading the world's armed forces in a military campaign against ISIS, which will not occur because of the acceptance of ISIS as a normative Islamic-religious movement by this country's Moslem president, sainthood seems to be the only force left to bring the life and light of goodness into the hellish pit of barbarism and radical evil upheld by ISIS.
--Tony Gilles

What Was Occurring on Holy Thursday?

What was occurring on Holy Thursday in Jerusalem? Our Lord, in the Upper Room, said to His disciples, "With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer." His passion and death are vivid in His mind, especially when He institutes the Eucharist. Then, in the Garden, it appears that there is an 180-degree turn.. What is going on?

In another part of Jerusalem--or the vicinity of Jerusalem--there are two men imprisoned. The Roman guards are taunting them regarding their upcoming crucifixions. They describe it as graphically as they can, not omitting a single detail. The two men do their best not to show any fear. They do not desire to see the guards receive any satisfaction of seeing fear in them; therefore, they curse them, showing a bravado that probably was not in them. It is doubtful that they prayed a single prayer. They were determined to face death bravely. Now, back to our Lord. At the Supper, He is the General, stating what was going to occur. After the Supper, which He greatly desired to eat with His disciples, He stands up, and marches to the Garden so He could be easily found by His enemies. He tells His disciples, "Sit here, while I go yonder and pray." He then takes Peter, James, and John, and at that time "began to be sorrowful and sore troubled." It is as if He "flipped a switch." He tells them, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death." What is going on? Not only that, what does that have to do with us, with our salvation?

St. Hilary points out that our Lord was not sorrowful till He took them but that all His fear began after He had taken them. Therefore, says St. Hilary, our Lord's agony was not for Himself but for them whom He had taken. Likewise, St. Jerome tells us, "The Lord therefore sorrowed not from fear of suffering, for for this cause He had come, that He should suffer, and had rebuked Peter for his fearfulness, but for the wretched Judas, for the offense of the rest of the Apostles, for the rejection and reprobation of the Jewish nation, and the overthrow of unhappy Jerusalem."

Jesus had to be tempted in every way that we are tempted in order that we, in our weaknesses, may be made strong. He had to be tempted in every way in order to identify with us. The author of Hebrews informs us, "Though He was a Son, yet [He] learned obedience by the things which He suffered; and having been made perfect, He became unto all them that obey Him the author of eternal salvation." It is the mystery of the Incarnation: Being the Son of God, nevertheless He had to become the Son of Man--wholly God, wholly Man. Being perfect by nature of His divinity, nevertheless He, as Son of Man, had to be made perfect by the things He suffered. As Son of Man, He depended not upon Himself but the Father. It was in this way that He overcame human weaknesses. In the same fashion, we are able to overcome our weaknesses. He showed us that God can, and will, make us strong in our weaknesses, making true President Roosevelt's assertion that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." It is necessary that we face hardships, in order that we may see the power of God in delivering us. Too often, we are "blind," unable to see God at work in, and around, us.

Many people had been crucified prior to our Lord. Some probably went kicking and screaming, terrified of what was going to occur; some perhaps went bravely. However, they suffered the same. They were not rewarded or punished more severely by God by virtue of how they faced crucifixion. Our Lord knew vividly what was awaiting Him. St. John of Damascus reminds us: "All things which have not yet been brought into existence by their Maker have a natural desire of existence, and naturally shun non-existence. God the Word then, having been made Man, had this desire, through which He desired food, drink, and sleep, by which life is supported, and naturally used them, and contrariwise shunned the things that are destructive of life. Hence in the season of His Passion which He endured voluntarily, He had the natural fear and sorrow for death. For there is a natural fear wherewith the soul shrinks from separation from the body, by reason of that close sympathy implanted from the first by the Maker of all things." St. Jerome: "Our Lord therefore sorrowed to prove the reality of the Man which He had taken upon Him; but that passion might bear no sway in His mind, 'He began to be sorrowful' by pro-passion; for it is one thing to be sorrowful, and another to be very sorrowful."

Our Lord Jesus Christ had to drink the cup, including all the dregs, in order that that cup, with the dregs, may not be passed on to us. "For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup, and the wine foameth (continuously); it is full of mixture, and He poureth (continually) out of the same: surely the dregs thereof, all the wicked of the earth shall wring them out, and drink them" (Ps 75:8). Our ewarthly father, Adam, was placed in the Garden by God, but fell when tempted. Our Brother, our Lord and Savior, entered the Garden as the Son of Adam to voluntarily face temptation in the weakness of human flesh and destroy sin and death by keeping focused upon the Father's will and the victory that was to become of His obedience. He entered the Garden not for Himself but for the Father and us. The Garden is D-Day. Yes, we all have to drink from the cup; however, we do not drink the dregs. When we eat His Body and drink His blood, oh, may we contemplate what He was, and is, doing in reconciling us to the Father. May we no longer commune thoughtlessly. The Son of God left heaven to be born of the Virgin, to become Man, in order that He might suffer and die for us, becoming our High Priest.

"For every high priest, being taken from among men, is appointed for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins: who can bear gently with the ignorant and erring, for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity; and by reason thereof is bound, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins. And no man taketh the honour unto himself, but when he is called of God, even as was Aaron. So Christ also glorified not himself to be made a high priest, but he that spake unto him, Thou art my Son, This day have I begotten thee: as he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever After the order of Melchizedek. Who in the days of his flesh, having offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and having been heard for his godly fear, though he was a Son, yet learned obedience by the things which he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became unto all them that obey him the author of eternal salvation; named of God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek" (Heb 5:1-10).
--Tommy Turner

If God is God, Why Does He Not Give Us a Sign?

Let's reflect on MK 8:11-13 It is one of the shorter readings for weekday Masses. I find this intriguing. Why did the Church make the reading so short? At first blush, it doesn't appear that significant. I already believe, so why this passage, and why this length? It causes me to pause and think.

Jesus sighed when the Pharisees came forward and began arguing with Him, seeking a sign from heaven to test Him. It was not a sigh of exasperation; it was a sigh "from the depth of His spirit. Often, I think, we get the perception that Jesus did not like the Pharisees. Perhaps there are many times when He doesn't like us; this is why He is constantly trying to change us. The Pharisees were men, part of the human race. God loves the human race. His heart goes out to us. For this reason, Jesus, the Son of God, true God, became incarnate, to give His life for us. He sighed from the depth of His spirit out of love for them.

"Why does this generation seek a sign? Amen, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation." Why didn't He give them a sign? Was there not a possibility that maybe one of them would believe if He gave them a sign? The same question is still being asked some 2000 years hence: If God is real, why isn't He still doing miracles; why isn't He giving us signs, proving He is God? Jesus had already performed many miracles and they had not believed. If He had given them a sign from heaven, they would have rationalized it away, as people would today, because they did not want to believe. These Pharisees "knew" sin, enjoyed the pleasures of sin, "knew" self and pride. Jesus did not "fit" their idea of what the Messiah was to be. They "knew" the world, had the world-view--although they hated some of the circumstances, e.g. the Romans, Samaritans, Gentiles, etc. Mankind has not changed because sin has not changed, only more abundant. The Pharisees believed in God, the God of Abraham, Moses, and David--or so they thought. In reality, in their minds they had formed a god of their own making, of their own image, a god that pleased themselves. They made up reasons to not believe Jesus; people, even today, make up reasons to not believe.

Adam had sinned; now, he "knows" sin, "knows" evil. Then, he "knew" his wife, and what is the first-fruit of this "knowledge"? You will know the tree by the fruit it bears. The first-fruit is Cain, a murderer. This is what everyone is prior to Baptism. Although we may not commit the actual crime of murder, our Lord tells that we murder when we get angry at our brother.

Now, Cain was not rejected because of his sacrifice; his sacrifice was rejected because he, the man, was first rejected. "Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you..." "Why do you recite my statutes, and profess my covenant with you mouth though you hate discipline and cast my words behind you? You sit, speaking against you brother, against you mother's son you spread rumors. When you do these things, shall I be deaf to it? Or do you think that I am like yourself? I will correct you by drawing them up before your eyes." The Pharisees' sacrifices were rejected because they were first rejected--although the sacrifices were in accordance with the Law. Although we are first born as Cain, through Baptism we are born of the second Adam and the second Eve and become as Abel.

Although God had rejected Cain and his offering, He still continued to reach out to Cain because Cain was His creation, was human; and, out of love, He reached out to him: "What have you done!" After Adam sinned, God reached out to him; now, He does the same to Adam's fruit. Cain does not accept his punishment; he accuses God of being too harsh. We do the same: We do not think we deserve some of the "bad" things that happen to us. These are all "signs from heaven." God chastises those He love; however, we must accept our punishment out of love, realizing that we deserve a much harsher punishment. If we do not believe we deserve what we receive, we are belligerent children. St. Irenaeus said that our life in this world is our punishment. Therefore, we need to accept all our circumstances with the right frame of mind, the right attitude, taking everything in stride.,knowing God is sanctifying us because of His love for us. We need His grace and mercy to do this.

Although Jesus said no sign would be given, He did give them, and us, a sign: He left them, got into the boat again, and went off to the other shore.We have to leave the world-view and pick up our crosses and follow Jesus. The boat is the Catholic Church. To the Pharisees, it would be the cross. The two go together. Because of the Cross, the Catholic Church aids us and keeps us safe. It will take us "to the other shore."

For this, God deserves praise, but how do we "offer to God a sacrifice of praise"? Through obedience and thanksgiving. Children honor and praise their parents through obedience and doing deeds that please them. In return, they receive blessings. If this is true with sinful humanity, how much more so with God, who is all-loving. As belligerent children, the Pharisees failed to see the love of God in Jesus. Today, we oftentimes, as belligerent children, fail to see the love of Jesus Christ, Son of God, in the Catholic Church. We rebel many times because we are not in agreement with its teachings, as if we are the authority. This is exactly what was occurring with the Pharisees. Nevertheless, God is still reaching out to us to repent--through the Catholic Church.

Why doesn't God give us a sign? Truthfully, He does; it is just not the one we are looking for, not the one we want to see. If He did give us a sign from heaven, we would rationalize it away.
--Tommy Turner

Deliver Me, O Lord

"But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. I cry aloud to the LORD, and he answers me from his holy mountain. I lie down and sleep; I wake again, for the LORD sustains me... Arise, O LORD! Deliver me, O my God!"

Although this psalm is entitled "a psalm of David when he fled from Absalom his son," it is also about our Lord Jesus Christ. On its face, one would think that the Father did not deliver Jesus. This is what the spectators probably thought. They were not thinking that God the Father was Jesus' shield or deliverer. We often feel the same way when we deem that God has not delivered us out of our difficulties. The outcome seems so "natural." We want to see God do something big, something miraculous. That would build pride in us, not humility.

O Lord, how many are the foes of the Catholic Church! Many are rising against her; many are saying of her, there is no held for her in God. But you, O Lord, are a shield about her, her glory, and the lifter of her head. She cries aloud to the Lord, and He answers her from His holy mountain. It is necessary for the Church to suffer. Because the world hated Christ, the world will hate His Church, the Catholic Church. In order to deliver her, she must go through trials and tribulations. Otherwise, there would be no deliverance, and we would not see the power and greatness of God. Because, the Catholic Church is the Body of Christ, of which we are the members, we must also undergo the trials and tribulations. We will be delivered, for He has promised--if we endure to the end. It is the deliverance from the wicked one that God has promised. What is more important than that?

"Arise, O Lord! Deliver me, O my God! For You strike all my enemies on the cheek, You break the teeth of the wicked. Deliverance belongs to the Lord; Your blessing e upon Your people!"
--Tommy Turner

Why Do We Need to Know Peter and John Ran Together?

What did John believe? Did he believe that Jesus had risen, or did he believe what Mary had said: that Jesus' body was gone and they had no idea as to what had occurred?

Now, John is writing his gospel some years after the resurrection. St. John seems to be saying in hindsight that, although the evidence was clear that our Lord had risen, they nevertheless did not believe it "for as yet they knew not the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead." If John had believed Jesus had risen, he would have attempted to convince the others of the resurrection. Also, his actions following this event also lends credence to the fact he as of yet did not believe Christ had risen. All of them were fearful, not excited, when Jesus appeared to them. They also did not go to Galilee to meet Jesus, as they were commanded to do. St. Augustine astutely concludes: "If he did not yet know that He must rise again from the dead, he could not believe that He had risen; they had heard as much indeed from our Lord, and very openly, but they were so accustomed to hear parables from Him, that they took this for a parable, and thought He meant something else."

So why did St. John feel it important that his readers know these details? St. Gregory says, "This account of the Evangelist must not be thought to be without some mystical meaning." It appears, on its face, that he is right. For what purpose is it that we should know he and Peter ran together, he arrived first but did not go in, that Peter ran inside, and then he followed, if it was not for some mystical meaning?
St. Gregory says, by John, the younger of the two, the synagogue is meant; by Peter, the elder, the Gentile Church is represented: "for though the synagogue was before the Gentile Church as regards the worship of God, as regards time the Gentile world was before the synagogue. They ran together, because the Gentile world ran side by side with the synagogue from first to last, in respect of purity and community of life, though a purity and community of understanding they had not. The synagogue came first to the sepulcher, but entered not: it knew the commandments of the law, and had heard the prophecies of our Lord’s incarnation and death, but would not believe in Him who died. Then comes Simon Peter, and entered into the sepulcher: the Gentile Church both knew Jesus Christ as dead man, and believed in Him as living God.

The napkin about our Lord’s head is not found with the linen clothes, i.e. God, the Head of Christ, and the incomprehensible mysteries of the Godhead are removed from our poor knowledge; His power transcends the nature of the creature. And it is found not only apart, but also wrapped together; because of the linen wrapped together, neither beginning nor end is seen; and the height of the Divine nature had neither beginning nor end. And it is into one place: for where there is division, God is not; and they merit His grace, who do not occasion scandal by dividing themselves into sects. But as a napkin is what is used in laboring to wipe the sweat of the brow, by the napkin here we may understand the labor of God: which napkin is found apart, because the suffering of our Redeemer is far removed from ours; inasmuch as He suffered innocently, that which we suffer justly; He submitted Himself to death voluntarily, we by necessity. But after Peter entered, John entered too; for at the end of the world even Judea shall be gathered in to the true faith."

Albeit this is one of the rudiments of our faith, does this passage really impact us? I mean, we already believe in the Resurrection; otherwise, we would not go to Mass, correct? So, is this reading just something we already know; therefore, it really "goes in one ear and out the other"? Maybe not.

Did you know that the name "Mary" means "a tear, rebellion"? The word "Magdala" means "elegance, a tower." All of those can be accurately applied to the Catholic Church, to Catholics--to you and me. I like reading a version of the Bible that utilizes Old English, with the usage of "thee," "thou," "ye," etc. I like this version because it gives me a better understanding. For example, "ye" is second person singular, meaning I must put my name in its place. If it says "you," that is second person plural, meaning a group. In the first verse of our gospel passage, we have the word "cometh," not "went" or "came." "Cometh" means a continuous coming; therefore, it is occurring today.

The first day of the week is a new beginning. It is yet dark; we see darkly. Although we should see clearly, taking Christ into us body, blood, soul, and divinity, we do not. Since "Mary" is feminine, this denotes the Catholic Church, the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ. While we are still in our "darkness," we run to the leaders of the Church, to the teachings of the Church. St. John did not say that she runs and comes to Peter, but to "Simon" Peter. "Simon" means "that hears, that obeys." Although we may not understand clearly, although we may initially disagree, we run to the Catholic Church and its doctrines and dogmas, and we try to walk in obedience. We no longer do "what is right in our eyes;" we have now awakened unto a new day, having put on Christ.

"If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory." Because we are baptized into Christ and because of the Eucharist: "We are witnesses to all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and made him manifest; not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him (in the Eucharist) after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that he is the one ordained by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that every one who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name." "O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his steadfast love endures for ever! Let Israel say, 'His steadfast love endures for ever. the right hand of the LORD is exalted, the right hand of the LORD does valiantly!' I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the LORD. The stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner. This is the LORD's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes."

Let us live, knowing He lives in us, not as if we do not know, just wishing He lives in us. We are BAPTIZED! He LIVES in us by virtue of the EUCHARIST! Let us BE what we ARE: the BODY OF CHRIST! When the world sees and hear us, may they KNOW who they see and hear: CHRIST!
--Tommy Turner

Walk, Stand, Sit, and Perish, or Be Planted in Unity

"Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers..." Psalm 1:1-6

St. Augustine says this is to be understood of our Lord Jesus Christ. If this is to be understood of our Lord Jesus Christ, then it must also be understood of the Catholic Church because the Catholic Church is the the Body of Christ. If this is to be understood of the Catholic Church, then it must also be understood of each of us due to our being members of the Body.

The question comes to mind: Why does not the psalmist begin with "blessed is the man who walks, delighting in the law of the LORD"? Why does he begin with "blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked..."? It very well may be: because this is what comes natural to fallen humanity. Although our Lord was without sin, He was tempted in every way as we are. He was tempted; however, He rejected the temptations because of His love for the Father and for His fellow man, His neighbor. Although the counsel of the world may seem plausible, perhaps even good, we must pause and consider what Christ says through His Church. If we disagree with the Church and walk in agreement with the world, we are detesting the law of the Lord and are walking in the counsel of the wicked.

Notice the graduation: First he walks; then he stands--standing firm; and then he sits--at rest, on a throne, making himself a god, scoffing at those who disagree with him. He sits as a judge, putting himself over others.

Now, the blessed man--because he desires to be the image of his Head, Jesus Christ--delights in the law of the Lord, meditating upon it day and night. He is not under the law, being burdened down with rules he cannot obey, because the law is in him and he in the law. Jesus is the fulfillment of the law; we are in Him, and He in us. We are a new creation, delighting ourselves in Him, desiring to be as He is. For this reason, we are not standing--so that we can be knocked down--but we are planted, rooted in God Himself. For this reason, we--a unity, the Catholic Church, with Jesus as its Head--yields fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither; in all the unified Catholic Church does, he prospers. We are Catholics unified, strong, walking in unity, as a Body. We walk in agreement with the Head. Scoffers are individuals, divided; we are ONE. Because the world is divided, each doing what is right in his own eyes, the world must perish. Their way must perish. A house divided cannot stand.

Why do we delight in the law of the Lord? Why do we delight in being an image of Jesus? Because He delighted Himself in us. "When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, 'Woman, behold, your son!' Then he said to the disciple, 'Behold, your mother!' And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home." Perhaps, St. John did not use his own name for the reason that we should put our names before the words "the disciple whom he loved." When we take our Blessed Mother into our lives, we are also taking the Catholic Church into our lives, living its doctrines and dogmas.
--Tommy Turner