Today is the 444th year after the battle of Lepanto, the most important naval battle in history. Without it, Muslim Turks would have taken over Italy in 1571. Because of the Mother of God’s role in this naval battle, Pope St. Pius V asked that every first Sunday in October be thenceforth remembered and honored as the Feast of the Holy Rosary. The full story of the naval battle is at Catholic Answers, but this homily ties in the current battle in the Church, and the victory that will come through the Rosary:
“One will be sent in the flesh,” thundered the most beautiful Trinity to the angels and all the courts of heaven eons ago. In perfect harmony they rejoiced. But later, they wondered if anyone but a lowly archangel like Raphael (still more glorious than a burning star) could dare condescend again to take flesh as Raphael did for Tobit. Their best guess for the new assignment was Gabriel. God said “Gabriel will go…but in spirit as preparation. One much higher than he will become flesh.” “But how?” the angels wondered, “A cherubim’s eyes would melt the trees and mountains. No human warrior’s body could even instantaneously hold the power of a seraphim. Who will go in the flesh?” And they intuited through each other like laser beams, seared and alit by the thought of leaving the splendor of heaven for the dirt and sorrow of earth with man. And then the answer came from God:
“I will become man.”
After ages of silence, awe, wonder, war and adoration, a high angel said “The Lord’s voice flashes flames of fire. What warrior shall you absorb for your powerful and wise task?” And God replied “I shall assume the body and nature of a poor baby, and I will eventually be nailed to a tree to die quietly, without friends. This will be for mercy, for all.” All fell down in confused adoration that the essence of God would be humility.
Here’s a song I wrote in seminary about the Passion of Jesus Christ. Lyrics here 1
You’re in the garden, thinking of me. Blood falls like water, so I could be free. Taken in the night, for the sins of my flesh. Those were my chains, Lord, on your chest.
Jesus….You love me more…than I could imagine
I adore…Your Sacred Heart…silent before me.
Stretched a the pole with blood in your eyes. Skin torn to pieces so that I might rise…Whips start smashing, what do you see? Your mother and me Lord, looking to thee…
Jesus….You love me more…than I could imagine
I adore…Your Sacred Heart…silent before me.
‘Forgive them Father,’ you say from the cross. Naked and helpless, since I was lost. I’ll live forever, cuz you bore it for me. Yet you thirst for my love, Lord, so now I may say…
Jesus….You love me more…than I could imagine
I adore…Your Sacred Heart…silent before me.↩
This is today’s homily, the 18th Sunday after Pentecost in the TLM calendar, preached in Steamboat Springs for this new groom and bride, Keenan Fitzpatrick and Brianna Fitzpatrick (née Lawson.)
Today is the feast of the 7 Sorrows of Mary. I’m convinced that if she had an 8th and 9th sword pierce her heart, they would be abortion and child sex-slavery.
Regarding all forms of slavery, in fact, there are more slaves today than there were during the days of the Trans-Atlantic slave-trade. Today, there are between 20,000,000 and 40,000,000 slaves in the world. The numbers include such a wide range because of the hiddenness of the modern industry. We know that close to 100,000 of these slaves are child-sex-slaves here in the United States, most of whom were born here in the USA. Below is a Theology on Tap (1 hour) that I did in Colorado last year with my good friend, Loren Fardulis, an evangelical protestant who has done much on this front.
(If you don’t have time to listen, this single short letter contains more heartbreak and redemption than anything we say.)
In the 16th Sunday after Pentecost (Traditional Latin Mass Calendar) the Apostle Paul writes I bow my knees before the Father, from Whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.—Eph 3. In the homily I only quoted five of these, but included here 1 are all of the promises that the Mother of God made (through St. Dominic) to all people who pray the Rosary daily.
1) To all those who shall recite my Rosary devoutly, I promise my special protection and very great graces.
2) Those who shall persevere in the recitation of my Rosary shall receive some signal grace.
3) The Rosary shall be a very powerful armor against hell; it will destroy vice, deliver from sin, and dispel heresy.
4) The Rosary will make virtue and good works flourish, and will obtain for souls the most abundant divine mercies; it will substitute in hearts love of God for love of the world, and will lift them to the desire of heavenly and eternal things. How many souls shall sanctify themselves by this means!
5) Those who trust themselves to me through the Rosary, shall not perish.
6) Those who shall recite my Rosary devoutly, meditating on its mysteries, shall not be overwhelmed by misfortune. The sinner shall be converted; the just shall grow in grace and become worthy of eternal life.
7) Those truly devoted to my Rosary shall not die without the Sacraments of the Church.
8) Those who recite my Rosary shall find during their life and at their death the light of God, the fullness of His graces, and shall share in the merits of the blessed.
9) I shall deliver very promptly from purgatory the souls devoted to my Rosary.
10) The true children of my Rosary shall enjoy great glory in heaven.
11) What you ask through my Rosary, you shall obtain.
12) Those who propagate my Rosary shall be aided by me in all their necessities.
13) I have obtained from my Son that all the members of the Rosary Confraternity shall have for their brethren the saints of heaven during their life and at the hour of death.
14) Those who recite my Rosary faithfully are all my beloved children, the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.
15) Devotion to my Rosary is a great sign of predestination.↩
Bear with the background story before a bit of a show-stopper.
My good friend Msgr. Philip Reilly, founder of Helper of God’s Precious Infants is my hero of diocesan life. This Irish priest from NYC fasts all day (until 5pm) in front of an abortion mill in Brooklyn. God has closed over 60 abortion clinics due to his work. He trained the Franciscan Friars in sidewalk counseling. They believe he’ll be canonized (literally, not figuratively.) This man lives all three munera of the priesthood to the maximum! (See my last post to get that one.)
In any case, he was in front of an abortion clinic in Brooklyn when he could see the towers in Manhattan go down 14 years ago today. Msgr. Reilly had a priest friend in lower Manhattan at the time, and this is a little known (but true) Catholic story from this day in American history:
After the World Trade Center towers had been hit, several pumpers of men arrived to help the victims. Was it 50 firefighters? Was it 100 firefighters? Was it the north tower or the south tower? Msgr. Reilly is too busy to confirm all the facts of this story, but here’s the basics of his story:
Before the firefighters went into that burning building to try to save a few fellow Americans, one of those men saw this priest-friend of Msgr. Reilly. He said to him:
“Father, I think this fulfills the requirements
for a general absolution.”
Father agreed. All 50+ men got on their knees. All men received absolution. All men stood up and went into the tower. Every one of those firefighters died that day for our country.
These may not be Christian martyrs at the hands Islam, but they laid down their lives as Jesus said: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”—John 15:13 Having received general absolution, and dying for our country—I bet every one of them was saved by Jesus at their particular judgment.
Today is the feast of the 17th century Jesuit, St. Peter Claver. He’s seen above in his untiring work in Cartagena, Columbia to the slaves who were brought there from Africa.
The “end of the priesthood” doesn’t mean that the Catholic priesthood is coming to an end. By “end,” I mean the final-end of something. As I wrote in the post The End of the Mass, “end” simply means telos or goal of its existence. What is the end of the priesthood? The answer: The glory of God and the salvation of souls.
What is the means to this end?
If you answer “the sacraments,” then you’re only a third correct.
The Catholic Church (even Canon Law) teaches that there are three munera (gifts or duties) to the holy priesthood that are necessary for the salvation of souls:
1) Teach (Teaching people the Faith.)
2) Sanctify (Sacraments)
3) Govern (Leadership)
Let’s look at the bad news in the Church and then we’ll get to the remedy.
The most shocking part of my priesthood has been the lack of respect from other Catholics, especially from pastors and parish-employees.
For example, when I was a parochial vicar (the #2 priest) at a campus ministry parish at Colorado State University in 2014, a 60 year old female employee was allowed by my pastor (the #1 priest) to have two nervous breakdowns against me. On 30 July 2014, she had her third nervous breakdown against me (this time regarding a disagreement on who should have access to the Eucharist in the tabernacle.) After numerous warnings, I called the police to have her removed. The police came and removed her. Later that week, she was so embarrassed that she threatened to sue unless the pastor fire me.
He took the bait and betrayed me. I was removed overnight like a criminal. Since I was physically gone, I could not tell our parishoners in-person that the reason for my removal was so silly. I told my parishoners what happened in an email. They weren’t happy with the decision of my pastor, and he knew it. The students were devastated at my departure, especially for such a trivial reason. Scrambling to maintain order, the pastor put up on his parish website a set of pious lies (still up years later) where he stated it would be “awkward” for him to describe why I was ejected from campus ministry. “Awkward”? In campus ministry? hint, hint… He even quoted Scripture in pitting me against our Archbishop.
This was the first lie, however, because the Archbishop did not want to remove me from my post in campus ministry. The Archbishop and the Vicar for Clergy both told me that I was removed at the behest of the pastor, not the Archbishop as the parish website erroneously states. In fact, the Vicar for Clergy told me that the Archbishop purposely resisted removing me from campus ministry. After numerous phone calls from the pastor, however, the Archbishop felt he had to do his bidding.
Why would a relatively-orthodox priest do this to me? One man will never know another man’s intentions this side of the veil, but the solution seems obvious: If the students found out the truth, namely, that I was canned for keeping a boundary against an unstable employee, there would be upheaval. The other option would be to piously imply criminal behavior against me. Now, I know that sometimes pastors scapegoat their assistant priests when there’s a problem, but to lie using holy Scripture (as the above website does) goes a step further. I am reminded that the Catechism of the Catholic Church says that it is “blasphemous to make use of God’s name to cover up criminal practices, to reduce peoples to servitude, to torture persons or put them to death.”—CCC 2148
And to have your reputation destroyed by a brother priest is death. It had far-reaching effects: The very day I was removed, the Vicar for Clergy told me I could no longer hear confessions or offer public Mass. (In other words, I lost my faculties, which is usually reserved for civil criminals and doctrinal heretics.) Knowing I had done nothing wrong, I immediately got a Canon Lawyer who fought and got my faculties back. I strangely got an email two weeks later from my Archbishop saying: “I am sorry if you understood that you have no faculties as that is not the case.” However, a few days later, on 16 September 2014, my Archbishop gave me a letter saying that although I have my faculties, he would not give me another parish as things stood. 1
As I look back, I think that my former pastor pushed harder than he thought. He probably thought that scapegoating me with the screaming employee was going to be a small price to quiet the unrest at the parish. But his betrayal contributed greatly to the ending of my active priesthood in the Archdiocese of Denver… the very city where I was born, baptized and confirmed. Also, I suppose that good decisions are hard to make when you have a high-paid campus minister pushing for the assistant priest’s departure because I was “gunning for his job” as my pastor told me right before I left. (The young campus minister had to have a say in what I taught my students. I denied him this months prior.)
To my knowledge, most of the solid University students rejected the rumors that parish staff had spoken directly against me or started surreptitiously around me. I think the only lie that they nearly-all believed was that the Archbishop initiated my departure. I blog about this today because Canon Law 220 obliges me to counter publicized lies. It is not vengeance but justice that forces me to write. It’s really unfortunate I have to defend my good-name online against a priest. Christ surely did not want this of His priests. Still, Christ is the King of Canon Law, and I believe that Canon Law may require me to given an honest account online, especially after a dishonest account was up for so long.
One last thing to clarify: Why should employees at a parish be able to influence superiors to piously euthanize a young priest’s priesthood? One, because bill-paying pastors are afraid of even non-legitimage lawsuits after all the abuse lawsuits of the 1980s and 1990s. The pendulum has swung from protecting bad priests to attacking good priests. Two, when a young priest does more than the Mass—and tries to affect young people’s lives—he becomes a threat to the world of lay paychecks and the status quo of preaching.
If I ever get to the active priesthood again, I will continue to do more than just the sacraments, even if it costs me. Of course, Holy Mass is the summit of the Catholic priesthood but it is not the sum limit. Why? Because the sacraments are sacraments of faith. An American can receive Holy Communion at any parish, coast to coast on Sunday with almost no geographical hinderance, whether he be in sanctifying grace or not. Number of priests is not our first crisis. Concurrent with a return to the 1962 sacraments, I propose that priests again learn the art of teaching, of fatherhood, of leadership. Then we will see the salvation of more souls (and of course the inspiration of many more young men answering their God-given call to be a priest.)
I am a huge fan of FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) but one of the reasons they succeed is because priests since Vatican II seem to be ordained to be sacramental-distributors at mega-parishes or dying parishes, but rarely with a placement in view of friendship and leadership being an integral part of the priest’s own salvation. The past 50 years have produced an unspoken ethos that creative thinking about the Gospel is best left to the laity. Thus, teaching, discipleship and even fatherhood follow suit.
Even organizations like “40 days for life” are actually doing the “duties” of the priesthood, but when priests exercise similar leadership of the “gifts” they have been given, they are often told to stop rocking the boat. Why? Because people have seen little priestly leadership the past fifty years. When faced with a Church bleeding priests, FOCUS and 40 Days for Life have become wound control—a great wound control—but a wound control nonetheless, taking responsibility to end Satan’s decent success in reducing priestly discipleship, teaching and inter-personal communion that could have effected the salvation of millions of souls in a better way, possibly even ending abortion if every priest and bishop had come together like 40 days for Life did.
These attacks began in the seminaries. Even Dr. Brandt Pitre (my favorite theologian teaching at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans who is a husband and a father) admits that most of the great Catholic apologists today are lay precisely because the seminaries eradicated the apologetics departments in the 1970s (in favor of “ecumenism” being taught to the Church’s ordinandi.) The New Evangelization talks a lot about spiritual fatherhood, but in practice it is in the hands of lay groups. I don’t have proof, but I have my suspicion why: Strong lay-leadership costs a diocese less investment than priestly communion, discipleship and leadership—a leadership that Jesus promised would bring some persecution. Standing by a priest in persecution may reduce one’s personal advance—ecclesiastically or financially.
But it wasn’t always like this: The priestly model of discipleship and leadership was effecting an unprecedented level of conversions in the missions of Africa and Asia for the hundred years leading up to Vatican II. In the Index of Leading Catholic Indicators, Dr. Kenneth Jones reveals that even in the United States, the teaching office of priesthood was taken seriously, but then trailed off. Priests who primarily fulfilled the teaching office in high schools and universities are seen in the below graph of Index of Leading Catholic Indicators. Notice the years:
What did the three munera (teach, sanctify and govern) of the priesthood look like through the centuries?
15th Century: St. Bernadine of Siena would have tent-revivals with up to 30,000 people in attendance. Known as the “Apostle of Italy,” this saint would preach for hours with scores of confessing-priests on hand. Notice that in his case, the Mass was not the means of evangelization but the end.
17th Century: St. Peter Claver preaches the Gospel to slaves collapsing off of slave ships before baptizing them if he finds a shred of faith. In the decades of his monotonous work and outrageous miracles, he baptized over 300,000 slaves. See picture at the top of this post. Notice that in his case also, the Mass was not the means of evangelization but the end.
20th century: Fr. Mateo Crawley of the Sacred Heart Fathers preaches the family enthronement of the Sacred Heart on 6 continents to possibly hundreds of thousands of people. He disciples priests all over Asia, teaching them about the Sacred Heart. As dozens of languages were spoken among them, he taught them in Latin, as it was the first half of the 20th century. Because they had all learned Latin in seminary, all of these priests understood him, and these priests took this discipleship and lit huge areas of Asia on fire with the love of Jesus Christ. Notice that in his case too, the Mass was not the means of evangelization but the end.
The Novus Ordo seems particularly geared to entertainment by the priest and blurred lines between laity and the priesthood. Thus, it is no wonder that the New Mass becomes the priest’s main interaction with the laity—his one outlet for creativity. But the saintly priests before Vatican II had to use their gifts and creativity outside of the sacraments to bring people to the sacraments.
The problem now is that the implementation of the new Mass will never be able to keep up with the entertainment of evangelical “Mega Churches” with which both are geared. So, we will continue to lose Catholics to those communities until we return to the roots of Peter and Paul’s way of worship (surely the primitive form of the Tridentine Mass.)
Jesus did establish the Mass when He said “Do this in memory of me.” To be sure, this is the most important work of the priest, but how can it make a man a good priest if he does nothing ex opere operantis for the salvation for souls? Nowadays, many priests who only offer the Mass will be honored by diocese-wide parties for being great pastors, simply for having never rocked the boat.
But if priests don’t step up to the altar for leadership-based teaching, then the Holy Spirit will still raise up heroic young families who will demonstrate leadership (governance) and teaching (also a duty of the priesthood.) Thus, we have the concessionary but powerful work of FOCUS, FMC, Endow, Totus Tuus, 40 days for life and the Augustine Institute.
Still, it is a trick of Satan to make people think of the priest as a magician who simply transforms things. This error misses the truth that the sacraments are sacraments of faith, and we will not see the Catholic Church rejuvenate until priests are ordained to do all three munera of the priesthood, for Jesus asked His priests to do more than the sacraments a few times a week:
- “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Luke 18:22)
- “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.” (Matthew 10:8)
- “Teach them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:20)
Notice those verbs include a lot more words than confect and absolve. A hypersacramental view has no place in the Gospel. Even the Council of Trent explains that faith must be demonstrated before the sacraments are administered. If we don’t return to teaching and exorcising, it could be the end of the priesthood!
But we know this won’t happen because Christ’s promise will come true again: The Church will have priests of fatherhood and orders with leadership, perhaps looking something like the old orders of ransom. I’d encourage any young man reading this to obediently ask his superior (bishop or religious order superior) if, upon ordination, he will be allowed to exercise all three munera of Canon Law (teach, sanctify and govern.) The young man should then respectfully ask his superior or bishop if he’ll stick behind him when he is persecuted for hard teachings. If not, then know, young man, that you may possibly do more for Christ’s kingdom as a celibate contemplative or even as a husband and father who—at least—is allowed to teach his own children.
Up to this point, I had admittedly been through a lot of parishes in five years since my ordination. Like this parish, my departures came down to arguments with pastors regarding Extraordinary “ministers” of Holy Communion (EMHCs.) But this situation was different with all of the dishonesty. The sad thing is that I could have left peacefully like previous parishes. For example, my previous parish in Fort Collins—I was not fired from. I requested to leave it because of arguments surrounding EMHCs. My pastor and my previous bishop peacefully allowed me to move on to another assignment. Most everywhere, parish staff has always found me hard to work with. For this last parish, the honest announcement from the pulpit would have been: “Fr. Nix was dismissed for calling the cops on an employee” or even “Fr. Nix was dismissed by the pastor because the staff found him hard to work with.” But this would not have criminalized me, and the students would have known that my stubbornness would not justify the termination of a successful apostolate (10-40 hours a week in the confessional.) It is as if my superiors predicted that the young faithful students would see that my self-confidence (and even arrogance at times) was not a crime worthy of the punishment of overnight-removal. In fact, one Sunday between my calling the cops and my pastor dismissing me, he actually told me that I could stay if I apologized to the woman for calling the cops on her. I remember my response verbatim: “Not only will I not apologize. I hold you responsible for not protecting me.” And yet, to this day, I do not regret calling the cops to protect myself. Even if I’m wrong about that, the main point here is that I could have stayed if I had apologized, meaning there are no “awkward” explanations like their website says. I think that their nearly-ending my priesthood in Colorado was simply vengeance for me making staff feel inadequate. ↩
A friend recently e-mailed me and he said that reading my blog is “like drinking sparkling water while pulling nose hairs.”
Well, this is going to be one of those sparkling water ones without the pulling of nose hairs. Despite the seemingly-boring topic of this post, the Offertory of the Mass, I’m going to make a tall promise: What I show you on the Offertory of the Mass will transform your weekly worship into something new, interpersonal, meaningful and even thrilling if you enact it, as Mega-Churchy as that promise sounds.
The offertory is the part of the Mass after the homily when the priest prepares the altar for the sacrifice. In sung Masses, the offertory prayer is sung. In the sung Latin Mass (TLM) the offertory prayer is sung by the choir and whispered by the priest. In the vernacular Mass (Novus Ordo, say, in English) it’s sung by the priest.
Then, the altar is prepared.
Normally, people see the offertory as essentially the “intermission ” of the Mass. That’s why you use this time to talk quietly about the homily, scratch your wife’s back, read the bulletin, check your texts, use the bathroom, correct your kids, wonder if you should give 1% or a 2% of your income in the offertory basket. Ok, one nose-hair part.
If we only knew what was really about to happen. The Mass is the re-presentation of the entire Last Supper and murder on Golgotha to the point that every Mass is as real as if you took a time machine back to Calvary at the consecration. This is true, whether there’s good or bad music/homilies. Yes, the consecration is indeed the most underrated part of the Mass.
But the second most underrated part of the Mass is the Offertory. Here’s why: The Mass is also an entire ecosystem of death and new life in the supernatural organism of the mystical body of Christ (the Church) for the life of the world—everyone from your family to a pagan you’ve never met.
There’s a modern day mystic (and possibly stigmatist) in Bolivia named Catalina Rivas. I believe her private revelations from Jesus and Mary have the approbation (or at least allowance) of the Bishops of South America. Mary, the Mother of God, walks Catalina through the Mass, and today I want to highlight what Mary shows Catalina about the Offertory. It’s worth reading the long quote, with Mary’s quotes in bold font:
A moment later the Offertory arrived, and the Holy Virgin said: “Pray like this: (and I repeated after Her) Lord, I offer all that I am, all that I have, all that I can do. I put everything into Your Hands. Build it up, Lord, with the little thing that I am. By the merits of Your Son, transform me, God Almighty. I petition You for my family, for my benefactors, for each member of our Apostolate, for all the people who fight against us, for those who commend themselves to my poor prayers. Teach me to lay down my heart as if on the ground before them so that their walk may be less severe. This is how the saints prayed; this is how I want all of you to do it.”
Thus, this is how Jesus asks us to pray, that we put our hearts as if on the ground so that they do not feel its severity, but rather that we alleviate the pain of their steps.
Suddenly some characters, whom I had not seen before, began to stand up. It was as if from the side of each person present in the Cathedral, another person emerged, and soon the Cathedral became full of young, beautiful people. They were dressed in very white robes, and they started to move into the central aisle and, then, went towards the Altar.
Our Mother said: “Observe. They are the Guardian Angels of each one of the persons who are here. This is the moment in which your guardian angel carries your offerings and petitions before the Altar of the Lord.”
At that moment, I was completely astonished, because these beings had such beautiful faces, so radiant as one is unable to imagine. Their countenance was very beautiful with almost feminine faces; however, the structure of their body, their hands, their height were masculine. Their naked feet did not touch the floor, but rather they went as if gliding. That procession was very beautiful.
Some of them were carrying something like a golden bowl with something that shone a great deal with a golden-white light. The Virgin Mary said: “They are the Guardian Angels of the people who are offering this Holy Mass for many intentions, those who are conscious of what this celebration means. They have something to offer the Lord.”
“Offer yourselves at this moment; offer your sorrows, your pains, your hopes, your sadness, your joys, your petitions. Remember that the Mass has infinite value. Therefore, be generous in offering and in asking.”
Notice this shortened version of the prayer that Mary asks us to pray at the Offertory:
Lord, I offer all that I am, all that I have, all that I can do. I put everything into Your Hands. Build it up, Lord, with the little thing that I am. By the merits of Your Son, transform me, God Almighty.
This is why this is the most interpersonal time during the Mass. As the priest is setting up the chalice, simply think or pray onto that altar every part of your life: every hope, every dream, every disappointment, every friend, every family member, every enemy, every act of love, every betrayal, every son, every daughter, every neighbor, everyone in prison, every Christian in Syria, everyone in ISIS, everyone working on Sundays, everyone who cut you off in traffic, everyone you learned about on the news, every circumstance at work, every medical problem, every financial problem, every mission, every marriage, every upcoming dentist appointment, every fearful anticipation, every hopeful anticipation, every physical suffering, every psychological suffering, everything you have, everything you are, everything you’re called to be, everyone you want to follow Christ. Think big. Your guardian angel can handle it.
As the priest is at the offertory, so also should you be. After you have thought of all those things, memorize now so you can say Lord, I offer all that I am, all that I have, all that I can do. I put everything into Your Hands. Build it up, Lord, with the little thing that I am. By the merits of Your Son, transform me, God Almighty.
Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen said those who have nothing to offer become “parasites on the body of Christ” when they receive Holy Communion.
But for those who take the Offertory seriously, here’s the final great news: At the consecration, not only is the bread and wine transformed, but so also everything else you prayed onto the altar: every suffering, every hope, every family member. This is the mystery of the immolation not only of the physical body of Christ, but the transformation of the Church—the mystical body of Christ.
If you want to change the world via the Mass, you don’t need to be an extraordinary “minister” of Holy Communion. You can live your baptismal, common priesthood for the glory of God and the salvation of countless souls if you pray the offertory ardently as you give your whole life to your guardian angel, who in turns presents it to the Blessed Trinity for the miraculous transformation of evil into good, and good into glorious.
Salvation is a free gift that we receive from God at our baptism (1 Pt 3:21.) However, for salvation to be realized, we must cooperate in a life of virtue (Mt 24:13). Maybe we ask the question: Does virtue come from God or from me? Even the gift of virtue or discipline comes from God. While some Catholics try to earn their way to heaven without any trust in Jesus Christ, other Catholics commit the opposite heresy of “once saved always saved,” which usually leads to a life of laziness. This post is not a Scriptural apologetic for the Catholic view of salvation. It’s a short writing where I look at a few clues from the saints to understand the balance of trust and virtue.
A post on Scripturally-defending-the-Catholic-view-of-salvation would be very fun and easy for me. But this topic is harder: I have to admit that the spiritual life often gives me a headache because I either end up trying too hard or not enough. In other words, I usually fail in either trust or generosity. Most of us have all come to somehow believe those two are opposed, so I simply want to ask: Why would an infinitely powerful God require me to show up to the battle that He could win without me? Why do I have to enter into spiritual warfare to beat the devil when Jesus already defeated him at the cross?
I don’t have answers, but here’s a few clues:
Who defeated Goliath? God or King David? David himself said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.”—1 Sam 17:45. God defeated Goliath. But David had to step out in courage. David had to choose five small rocks. He had to swing his hardest and aim his best. He even had to train for years (1 Sam 17:34). Maybe we could apply Wisdom literature to King David, that God “gave him the knowledge of the holy things, made him honourable in his labours, and accomplished his labors.”—Wisdom 10:10. Notice that it was God who actually accomplished King David’s labors!
When priests asked St. Joan of Arc why God needed soldiers, she answered with the simple brilliance that marked her short life: “The soldiers will fight and God will give the victory.”
Sometimes God acts powerfully when we’re not trying (St. Paul on the road to Damascus) but usually God works powerfully when we give our measly 100% (like Peter’s fishing ability.) Not that God needs that, but He wants us to act as sons, not magicians. That’s why Jesus meets Peter’s repeated failures on the boat with Divine Power: Peter is giving it everything he has, even though it’s objectively very little compared to God’s Almighty power.
In the French movie The Bear, the final scene is where a small orphaned bear is running for its life from a cougar. This reminds me of the spiritual life where we fight the devil so hard we often become bloodied and beat. But, the little Bear doesn’t give up. If you can ignore the strange noises the cub makes that surely must have been overdubbed by a little French woman, it’s a beautiful scene:
Notice that even when the cub is beat up by the cougar (the devil, in my analogy) he has to give his best fight, even when the cub feels defeated and near-dead. The little bear (you and me) is almost required to give his loudest yell (weak as it is) for the enormous grizzly behind him to show all of his might (God and His angels)
This is why Mother Teresa said: “God has not called me to be successful. He has called me to be faithful.” Then God is ultra-faithful. Not that His faithfulness is anything less, but if we approach Him, we are invincible in a Providence that even allows suffering. Jesus and Mary, the closest human souls ever created to God, suffered more than anyone else, but in a certain sense they were invincible under God’s sovereign Providence. (Yes, Jesus as a Person is God, but He also has a created human body and even a created human soul that suffered a lot.)
The interior life of the saints takes us straightaway to the of the question Trust or Virtue? The answer is simply that trust leads to virtue. When the Missionaries of Charity were first having tremendous success in Kolkata, India, some of the sisters asked Mother Teresa to eradicate the Holy Hour (the hour of meditation) for they were all too busy. Mother Teresa agreed they were all too busy for one Holy Hour a day…and switched it to two Holy Hours a day!
CS Lewis (a crypto-Catholic?) also avoids old pitfalls of the faith and good works debate by simply pointing out how both God and man come into play in man’s salvation in the most simple Bible quote: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”—Phil 2:12b-13. Lewis points out that for the Apostle Paul, even that fear and good work is a gift from God! But you still must “work out your own salvation.” What a marvelous combination if you think about it.
Man’s nearly-ineffectual but total faithfulness has been willed by God (who needs no one) to be a key component in God’s always-effectual Providence in man’s life.