Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Passing Scene: 2014

Another year, another retrospective, and thanks to Wikipedia for refreshing my recollection:


1: Marijuana stores open in Colorado.
3: A deadly winter storm hits the northeastern United States.
9: "Bridgegate": Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey apologizes for senior aides abusing their power by deliberately causing a traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge in September of 2013.
25: Murder spree, Columbia, Maryland: three are killed and five wounded in a shopping mall by a gunman who was afterward found dead.
26: 33 same-sex couples are "married" at the 56th annual Grammy awards.
30: U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announces that the death penalty will be sought against Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Deaths: Jay Traynor (Jay and the Americans); Phil Everly (Everly Brothers); Ariel Sharon; Carmen Zapata; Alicia Rhett (India Wilkes in Gone with the Wind); Pete Seeger; Stanford Tischler (producer of M*A*S*H); Ruth Duccini (Munchkin, The Wizard of Oz); Russell Johnson (the Professor in Gilligan's Island); Dave Madden (Reuben Kincaid in The Partridge Family); Margery Mason (ancient boo-er in The Princess Bride).


4: Scotland legalizes gay "marriage."
6: Jay Leno hosts The Tonight Show for the last time.
7: Opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.  I personally couldn't care less.
9: The U.S. federal government recognizes gay "marriage."
13: Belgian makes it legal to euthanize persons under 18.  
15: Bangui, Central African Republic: a mass grave full of Christian dead is found in a neighborhood formerly occupied by Muslim rebels.  Also: a federal judge strikes down Virginia's ban on gay "marriage."
20: Murder spree, Alturas, California: 4 are killed and 2 more wounded in a gun and knife attack at the Cedarville Rancheria Tribal Office and Community Center before the murderer is taken into custody.
22: Pope Francis names 19 new cardinals.  Also: ouster of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.
28: Russia confirms that it has moved troops into the Crimea.

Deaths: Maximilian Schell; Philip Seymour Hoffman; Richard Bull (Nels Olsen on Little House on the Prairie); Shirley Temple Black; Sid Caesar; Ralph Waite (The Waltons); Bob Casale (Devo); Garrick Utley; Harold Ramis.


8: Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappears over the South China Sea between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing, carrying a crew of 12 and 227 passengers.
13: Over 100 rockets are fired from Gaza into southern Israel, with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement taking responsibility.

21: Russia annexes Crimea.  Also: a federal district judge in Michigan throws out that state's ban on gay "marriage."
22: A mudslide engulfs a neighborhood in Oso, Washington, killing 43.
23: Two shooters invade a Christian church in Mombasa, Kenya, killing six and wounding more than a dozen.  There is reluctance to pin the attack on Islamists.
27: Barack Obama meets Pope Francis.
29: Same sex "marriage" commences in the U.K.

Deaths: Glenn McDuffie (the sailor in the famous Times Square V-J Day kiss photo); David BadEagle Yeagley (Comanche conservative writer); David Brenner; Fred Phelps (founder, Westboro Baptist "church"); James Rebhorn; Dane Witherspoon; Richard Black (artist, creator of Mr. Clean and Smokey the Bear); Charles Keating.


2: Murder spree, Fort Hood, Texas: shooter kills four and wounds 16 before turning the gun on himself.  Also: Australia's highest court recognizes a neuter "third" sex.
4: Beginning of the west Africa ebola outbreak.
9: A student stabs 20 people at Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville, Pennsylvania.
12: Armed protesters drive off BLM agents come to gather cattle in the Cliven Bundy standoff in Nevada.
13: Murder spree, Overland Park, Kansas: a 73-year-old shooter kills three at two Jewish community centers before being apprehended.
15: The Supreme Court of India recognizes transgender as a "third gender."
22: The U.S. Supreme Court upholds the right of states to ban affirmative action under their state constitutions.
27: Pope Francis canonizes two of his predecessors, Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII.  Also: a three-day tornado outbreak begins in the southern U.S., resulting in 36 deaths.
29: Convicted murderer Clayton Lockett dies of a heart attack after a botched attempt at execution by lethal injection.

Deaths: Mickey Rooney; Peaches Geldof; Reid Buckley.


5: The U.S. Supreme Court affirms the constitutionality of opening legislative sessions with prayers.
15: Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, a pregnant Christian woman, is sentenced to death in Sudan for the crime of apostasy.  Also: The National September 11 Memorial and Museum is dedicated.
19: a judge throws out Oregon's ban on same-sex "marriage."
23: Murder spree, Isla Vista, California: a shooter travels around town killing six and wounding 13 before turning the gun on himself.
31: Bowe Bergdahl is freed by the Taliban in exchange for the release of five Guantanamo Bay prisoners.

Deaths: Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.; Mary Stewart (novelist, author of the Merlin series); Jeb Stuart Magruder (Watergate scandal figure); Jerry Vale; Maya Angelou; Wojciech Jaruzelski; Mary Soames, Baroness Soames (daughter of Winston Churchill).


8: Murder spree, Las Vegas, Nevada: a married couple fatally shoots two police officers and one other person before themselves dying in a murder-suicide.
19: King Felipe VI ascends the Spanish throne.
30: Yosemite National Park celebrates its sesquicentennial.

Deaths: Ann B. Davis; Ruby Dee; Casey Kasem; Patsy Byrne (Martina the poisoner in I, Claudius); Eli Wallach; Meshach Taylor; Bob Hastings.


2: Former French president Nicholas Sarkozy is brought up on corruption charges.
4: The United Nations announces that it will recognize the same-sex "marriages" of its staff members.
8: Israel launches Operation Protective Edge, to stop the firing of rockets into Israel from Gaza.
9: Murder spree, Spring, Texas: a shooter murders six and wounds one before being taken into custody after a stand-off.  The dead are the shooter's former in-laws and include four children.
15: Croatia recognizes same-sex life partnerships.
16: Typhoon Glenda hits the Philippines and will also strike in south China and Vietnam, killing 195 people.
17: Eric Garner dies after a confrontation with New York City police over his illegal sales of cigarettes, in which police use a headlock maneuver on him.

Deaths: David Greenglass (Soviet atomic spy, brother of Ethel Rosenberg); James Garner.


9:  NASCAR driver Tony Stewart runs over and kills another driver, Kevin Ward, Jr., during a race.
10: Rioting begins in Ferguson, Missouri over the police shooting of Michael Brown, who had just robbed a convenience store
15: The centenary of the Panama Canal.
19: James Foley, kidnapped American journalist, is beheaded by ISIS.

Deaths: Robin Williams; Lauren Bacall; Arlene Martel (Spock's betrothed, T'Pring); Don Pardo; Richard Attenborough; Glenn Cornick (bassist, Jethro Tull); James Brady (Reagan's former press secretary, wounded in the assassination attempt on the President).


2: ISIS releases a video of the beheading of American journalist Steven Sotloff.
11: Oscar Pistorius is found not guilty of murdering his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, but will be convicted of a lesser charge.
18: Murder spree, Bell, Florida: shooter kills his daughter and six grandchildren, ages 10 years to six months, before turning the gun on himself.  
19: Results of September 18th referendum on Scottish independence: Scottish voters reject independence, 55.3% to 44.7%.
20: Pope Francis appoints Bishop Blase Cupich of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Spokane to succeed Francis Cardinal George as head of the Archdiocese of Chicago.
24: A fired former employee of Vaughan Foods who had converted to Islam returns to the plant and beheads one female employee and stabs another before being shot and wounded by the plant's owner.
25: Eric Holder announces his resignation as Attorney General of the United States.

Deaths: Joan Rivers; Polly Bergen; Ian Paisley.


2: The United States relaxes a ban on the sale of lethal weapons to Vietnam.
8: Death of Liberian Thomas Eric Duncan, the first documented ebola victim in the United States.
9: Estonia legalizes same-sex partnerships.
19: Closure of the disastrous Synod on the Family, and beatification of Pope Paul VI.
22: A gunman murders a guard on ceremonial sentry duty at the Canadian National War Memorial in Ottawa, then runs into the parliament building, where he is taken out by Kevin Vickers, the Commons Sergeant at Arms.
24: Murder spree, Marysville, Washington: a freshman at Marysville Pilchuck High School fatally shoots five other students before turning the gun on himself.  Also: Murder spree, Sacramento County, California: a gunman kills two two sheriff's deputies, and wounding a third and a civilian, before being captured.
25: Unconstitutional government interference adds Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, North Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming to the number of states with gay "marriage."

Deaths: Fr. Benedict Groeschel; Paul Revere (Paul Revere and the Raiders); Jan Hooks; Oscar de la Renta; Marcia Strassman; Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier.


1: Brittany Maynard, an activist for physician-assisted suicide who suffered from brain cancer, very publicly takes her own life.
3: Official opening of the new 1 World Trade Center.
4: The Republicans take Congress.  Meanwhile, citizens of Alaska, Oregon and Washington, D.C. vote to legalize recreational marijuana.
17: The Church of England adopts legislation in favor of female bishops.
19: The beginning of the Bill Cosby sexual assault allegation scandal.
21: The House of Representatives sues Barack Obama over executive orders in connection with the implementation of Obamacare.
24: A grand jury returns a no bill in the shooting death of Michael Brown.  More riots ensue in Ferguson, Missouri.  Also: Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel resigns.
28: Finland legalizes same-sex "marriage."

Deaths: Jimmy Ruffin; Richard Schaal; S. Donald Stookey (inventor of CorningWare).


4: A grand jury returns a no bill in the death of Eric Garner.  Protests ensue.
15: Murder spree, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania: a man travels around the county murdering his ex-wife and her family, then commits suicide.  Also:  The U.S. Supreme Court creates a good-faith legal mistake exception to the warrant requirement.
15-16: An Islamist held the employees and patrons of a Sydney, Australia chocolate cafe hostage until police raided the cafe.  Two hostages and the Islamist died.
16: Scotland legalizes same-sex "marriage."  Also: a federal district judge in Pennsylvania declares Obama's immigration executive order unconstitutional.
17: The United States and Cuba resume diplomatic relations.
20: Two New York City policemen are assassinated, supposedly in retaliation for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, by a shooter who later turns the gun on himself.  Moral microbes across the country applaud the murders.

Deaths: Joe Cocker; Mary Ann Mobley; Ken Weatherwax (Pugsley on The Addams Family); Queen Fabiola of Belgium; Edward Hermann.

May 2015 be an improvement over 2014.

Monday, December 08, 2014

The Immaculate Conception

Yesterday was the 73d anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor; today, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, is the 73d anniversary of our declaration of war on Japan.  Mary under the title of the Immaculate Conception is the patroness of these United States.  Have you ever thought about whether there is any significance in the fact that we entered the Second World War on our patronal feast?

This year it seems good to link to a couple of apologetics posts on the subject of the Immaculate Conception:

Mary, Conceived without Sin, You DID Know: why a certain popular song about Mary must never be sung in a Catholic Church

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Remember Pearl Harbor

That awful December 7th, 73 years ago, was also a Sunday.  At a stroke, the lives of millions were turned upside down and changed forever.

A Japanese camera captured that stroke on the morning of December 7, 1941.  The images of Japanese planes, tiny yet unmistakable, can be seen passing over Ford Island.  The U.S.S. West Virginia and U.S.S. Oklahoma, on the far side of the island, have just sustained torpedo hits. 

One of the iconic images of the Pearl Harbor attack: the U.S.S. Arizona burns.  The explosion of the Arizona's forward magazines claimed 1,177 of the 2,403 American lives lost at Pearl Harbor.  The crew of the nearby U.S.S. Tennessee attempts to fend off burning oil with fire hoses.  

The first two American chaplains to die in World War II -- one Protestant minister, one Catholic priest -- died at Pearl Harbor.  Protestant chaplain of the Arizona, Capt. Thomas Leroy Kirkpatrick, sprang to action in sick bay as soon as the attacks commenced.  Sick bay was so near to the forward magazines that he was killed almost instantly in the great explosion while ministering to the wounded.  Chaplain Kirkpatrick still lies with his crewmates in their sunken ship at the bottom of the harbor.
Chaplain Kirkpatrick's clock was recovered from the wreck of the Arizona, the hands frozen at the moment the forward magazines exploded.  

The U.S.S. Oklahoma, capsized and burning.  429 men perished aboard the Oklahoma.

The total number of the Oklahoma's dead would have reached 441 if it were not for Fr. Aloysius Schmitt, Lieutenant Junior Grade, Acting Chaplain.

On December 7, 1941, the young priest from St. Lucas, Iowa, had only been ordained for six years, appointed a chaplain for two and a half years, and had celebrated his 32nd birthday only three days earlier.  Did he have any suspicion that that was to be his last birthday, and indeed almost his last day on earth?  Yet although death came to Fr. Schmitt suddenly, it did not find him unprepared, nor even without Viaticum: when the Japanese attack began, he had just finished celebrating Mass.  

When disaster struck, Fr. Schmitt went to sick bay to minister to the wounded and dying. Mission Capodanno gives the following moving account of what happened next:
When the Oklahoma was struck and water poured into her hold, the ship began to list and roll over. Many men were trapped. Schmitt found his way -- with other crew members -- to a compartment where only a small porthole provided enough space to escape.

Chaplain Schmitt helped other men, one by one, to crawl to safety. When it became his turn, the chaplain tried to get through the small opening. As he struggled to exit through the porthole, he became aware that others had come into the compartment from which he was trying to escape. As he realized that the water was rising rapidly and that escape would soon be impossible, he insisted on being pushed back through the hole so that he could help others who could get through the opening more easily. Accounts from eyewitnesses that have been published in the Arizona Memorial newsletter relate that the men protested, saying that he would never get out alive, but he insisted, "Please let go of me, and may God bless you all."

Fr. Schmitt, martyr of charity, was posthumously awarded the Navy/Marine Corps Medal for his selfless bravery, which saved the lives of twelve crewmen who otherwise would have been trapped in the sinking ship.

Remember Pearl Harbor, soon to pass from living memory.  Remember and do not forget.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

General Thoughts

Better thinkers and more diligent observers than I have already picked over and dissected the particulars of the Synod and its emanations.  Herewith some general thoughts about what is going on right now in the Church and the world:

-- I have said many times before, and continue to maintain, that the majority of Catholics simply do not have the Catholic faith.  This includes priests and bishops, as well as Catholics who attend Mass every Sunday.  Too many Catholics are so busy trying to make friends with the world that they no longer feel obliged to believe the content of the Deposit of Faith.  The most worrisome ones are those who still keep up the appearance and external observances of Catholicity.  They will be the most impervious to repentance.

-- The current corruption in the Church set in more than a century ago, though it is only in the last 50 years or so that it began to be obvious. I think the attempt to bury the traditional Mass was the lancing of the boil. The beauty of the liturgy had covered up the fact that we were worshiping with our lips and not with our hearts. Once that was taken away, the infection was set in front of our faces.  Yet this did not make us recoil in horror and repent. Instead, we rejoiced in the exhilaration of finally having our own way, as opposed to doing things God's way. Now, we are practically in a state of prostration, though there are still many who don't see this. But the reality is that evil is having its hour, both in the Church and in the world at large. We are so overwhelmed with evil that we try desperately to spin things that come out of Rome as harbingers of reform. We hail the tiniest victories as great successes and a sign that things are getting better. Yet these soon get swallowed up in the status quo ante, and before you know it, we are back to square one.  Proverbs 27:7: A soul that is full shall tread upon the honeycomb: and a soul that is hungry shall take even bitter for sweet.

-- This chastisement in which the Church finds herself was never going to play itself out until we got a Pope imbued with the "Spirit of Vatican II."  Let us face the fact that Francis is that Pope.  Francis can no more sink the Barque of Peter than could the most decadent and corrupt of the Borgia Popes; but he can -- and does -- give us a very rough ride.  That Pope Francis does not get the effects of what he does and says is frankly laughable.

-- The Pope Francis effect, incidentally, is an example of one disastrous consequence of the current spirit of experimentation born of self-will, namely, the cult of Personalities.   As long as doctrine and liturgy are givens, it doesn't matter nearly as much who occupies the Throne of Peter -- or, for that matter, who is bishop or pastor. But after half a century of tinkering with the liturgy, with doctrine also seeming to be "changeable" and "evolving," personalities take on an exaggerated importance. The same thing happens in secular society when the rule of law is undermined. That is how we get tyranny in secular society, and how we get chaos in the Church. When Liturgy ceases to be a given, the impression is created that Doctrine is also no longer a given; and when the givens disappear, so do vital checks on the behavior of those in authority.  Thus we find ourselves constantly on the edge of our seats, wondering what new shocks our superiors are going to administer to us, and hoping and praying for slightly less sadistic new shepherds.  We need to repent of our self-will and submit ourselves to the givens, and then personalities will shrink back down to their proper insignificance.

-- Meanwhile, the bishops, priests and laymen who are without the Catholic faith are openly declaring themselves, thinking -- wrongly -- that Pope Francis has sung a new church into being and ushered in the Age of Aquarius.  The great sifting of men is well underway. 

-- Bringing to mind the stanza from the Dies Irae, which our betters have tried so hard to bury along with the bodies over which it should always be sung:

Inter oves locum præsta.
Et ab hædis me sequestra,
Statuens in parte dextra.

With Thy sheep a place provide me,
From the goats afar divide me,
To Thy right hand do Thou guide me.

Things are so bad that only God can turn them around. We are long past the point of being able to rely solely on our own efforts. We must amend our lives, pray and do penance. Then, when the Holy Spirit does make His move, we will not need to wonder whether things are starting to turn around. There will be no doubt.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Still Alive

I am indeed still here.  The energy I spend at work, plus my preoccupation with other things going on in my life, have contributed to my silence since July, and the sparse postings for about the last year. 

I feel the need of more silence.  I am not sure how much good I do opening up my trap.  And there is something else going on, too.  Three months ago, Father Blake commented on the growing silence in the Catholic blogosphere, and raised some good points.  I will see what he has to say about the uncertainty of the times and raise him.  Evil is clearly having its hour right now.  The world and the Church are engulfed.  Despite the assurances of the false prophets proclaiming, "Peace, peace!", there is no peace.  The armies of darkness are on the move, both within and without the Church, and most of us in the Church who are not marching with evil are nevertheless in a state of prostration.  It seems clear from their conduct that most Catholics, even among those who attend Mass every Sunday, do not believe the content of the Catholic faith.  Many priests and bishops and even cardinals do not believe the content of the Catholic faith.  In my own diocese, the liturgy has been reduced to a bourgeois entertainment; people behave in church as if they were in their own living rooms; priests act as though the priesthood is just another job; and there have been no priestly ordinations for two years.  Let us not kid ourselves that there is no connection between Catholic laxity and the tidal wave of evil sweeping the earth.

What can one say in the midst of all this?  I feel that I am up against an immovable, implacable will.  Nobody is listening.  Nothing I say changes anything.

Perhaps I need to focus my energies on prayer, on setting and keeping my own house in order, and on fighting the small battles in my immediate sphere.  Or, perhaps I am just copping out.  Maybe I am yielding to selfishness and cowardice.  Maybe I am yielding to sloth, my besetting sin and predominant fault.  The ardor of my charity is cooling, like that of everyone else.  It was never all that it should be.

I can only pray for the grace to do and say what I ought to, when I ought to; for the grace to correspond to grace and not waste God's inspirations; and for forgiveness for all the times I have failed Him.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

To Men in Holy Orders: A Cri de Coeur

Choosing the hard path: Athanasius contra mundum.
I know it's easy for me to say this.  I also know that what I am about to say will sound harsh.  But I am going to say it anyway.  Those of you to whom this does not apply know who you are, and know I am not talking to you.  If it does apply to also know who you are.

I hear it often said that, despite the headline-making scoundrels in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, there are nevertheless many faithful bishops, priests and deacons.  

Where are they?

As I shade my eyes with my hand and scan the ecclesiastical landscape, straining my sight toward the horizon, I find it hard to make very many of them out.  As I cup my hand to my ear, listening with all my might for the rolling thunder of the Gospel, I hear an isolated voice here and there; but mostly, what I get is the chirping of crickets.

You orthodox men in Holy Orders, why are so many of you undetectable?  Why are you hiding?  What are you afraid of?

Are you afraid of being suspended?  Are you afraid of being called on the carpet by the bishop?  Are you afraid of trumped-up accusations?  Are you afraid the contributions will dry up?  Are you afraid of the powerful feminist crowd at the chancery?  Are you afraid of being transferred to a remote corner of the Dry Tortugas?

Of course, nobody wants to have to face any of these things.  But facing up to such was part of the deal you signed up for; and in the Sacraments of Confirmation and Holy Orders, you were given the supernatural assistance and the authority you need to do it.   Why don't you use these?  Can you really serve the Church from under your beds?  Are you really doing your flocks and the Church any good by neglecting the graces you were given, and allowing yourselves to be muzzled in order to avoid repercussions?

Redemption and salvation are founded upon suffering.  Does Christ not enjoin us to take up our crosses and follow Him?  St. Paul rejoiced in his sufferings, filling up those things that were wanting in the sufferings of Christ in his flesh, for His Body, which is the Church (Colossians 1:25).  And Tertullian is credited with the saying that martyrs are the seedbed of the Church.  Has the Church ever taken root in a mission field, from Rome to the Americas, that was not first consecrated by the suffering and even blood of Christians, especially priests?  What if these martyrs had refused suffering?

If you men in Holy Orders have to suffer for Christ's sake, do you honestly suppose God cannot make anything out of your sufferings?  Do you honestly suppose God will not support you in doing the right thing?  Do you honestly suppose He will not reward you for doing the right thing, either in this life or in the next?  Have you forgotten about the supernatural order, in which your sufferings draw down graces upon your flocks?  Put it another way:
Do you do your sheep more good by suffering unjustly; or by letting us see you stand around, mute and impotent, wringing your hands, while the wolves run riot amongst us?
I get that you have to pick your battles.  But many of you have gotten so used to passing up opportunities to fight in the name of "picking your battles" that now there is no battle you will fight.  Many of you have gotten so used to keeping your mouths shut that now silence is your default setting, even when you should speak up.  So the wolves do whatever they want, secure in the knowledge that there will be little or no push-back from the shepherds.

Let me ask you this: what if ALL the priests who labor under the rule of modernist bishops did the right thing?  If these bishops order you to suppress the Gospel you were ordained to preach, are you bound to obey them to that extent?  They can't send you ALL to the Dry Tortugas.  What if ALL faithful bishops did the right thing without fear or favor?  Even if they take ALL of you out, do you really think your courageous example will not inspire others to spring up to take your place?

We live in a time when charity has run cold and very many Catholics -- even many who attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days -- simply do not believe the content of the Catholic faith.  This is obvious from the way they conduct their lives.  Our enemies outside the gates do not fail to notice this, and to plan accordingly.  This is no time for you who are supposed to be shepherds to be shrinking violets.  By keeping your head down and your mouths shut, men in Holy Orders, you avoid repercussions -- for now.  But the repercussions that you avoid for yourselves fall on your sheep.  How do you expect to explain this to God, when you stand before Him in judgment?

Saturday, July 12, 2014

On Hell's Doorstep

Battlefield Mass: Korean War
When I saw For Greater Glory a couple of years ago, I was struck by the scenes showing the Cristeros at worship in their desert hideaways.  The priest at the altar was like a general leading his troops into battle -- onward and upward to Calvary, where the titanic battle for the salvation of the world was fought and won upon the Cross.  Reason number 454,823,231 to put an end to facing the priest toward the congregation at Mass.

Battlefield Mass: Iwo Jima
The Tridentine Mass on the field of battle, amid death and destruction, is simple, stark, masculine and beautiful.  Here, hell is crushed underfoot.  There is no room for the decadent displays that most of us are forced to settle for Sunday after Sunday, with their narcissistic accretions, beneath which the August Sacrifice is almost totally undetectable.

Fr. Willie Doyle, S.J., the "Trench Priest" of the First World War, describes offering Mass in the trenches during the Battle of the Somme in October of 1916:
By cutting a piece out of the side of the trench, I was just able to stand in front of my tiny altar, a biscuit tin supported by two German bayonets. God's angels, no doubt, were hovering overhead, but so were the shells, hundreds of them, and I was a little afraid that when the earth shook with the crash of the guns, the chalice might be overturned. Round about me on every side was the biggest congregation I ever had: behind the altar, on either side, and in front, row after row, sometimes crowding one upon the other, but all quiet and silent, as if they were straining their ears to catch every syllable of that tremendous act of Sacrifice - but every man was dead! Some had lain there for a week and were foul and horrible to look at, with faces black and green. Others had only just fallen, and seemed rather sleeping than dead, but there they lay, for none had time to bury them, brave fellows, every one, friend and foe alike, while I held in my unworthy hands the God of Battles, their Creator and their Judge, and prayed to Him to give rest to their souls. Surely that Mass for the Dead, in the midst of, and surrounded by the dead, was an experience not easily to be forgotten.
What could be more fitting than Holy Mass on hell's very doorstep?  Did not St. Paul say that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more?  Where is the Blood of Christ more needed than those places lashed by the fury of demons?  There is nowhere that Blood has not penetrated.  Not even Hitler's death camps.

In 1941 Karl Leisner, a young deacon of the Diocese of Münster, was thrown into Dachau for his opposition to the Nazi regime.  Already tubercular, his health deteriorated further, until it seemed that he would never fulfill his dream of becoming a priest.  But Divine Providence had other plans.

Here indeed is a subject for meditation.  Picture the young deacon lying awake in his hard bunk, staring up into the darkness.  He imagines himself at the altar, holding his Eucharistic Lord in his hands; or in the confessional, freeing souls from the bondage of sin; or at a sickbed, bringing the comfort of Extreme Unction to the dying.  But now he himself is weak, and sinking toward death, and cut off from his bishop, and apt to be put to death as an unproductive prisoner at any moment.  It seems as though God does not want him for His priest after all.  

Then, one day, a group of French prisoners is brought to Dachau.  Among them is a bishop.  Here is a man who can confer the sacred priesthood on Karl!  But bishops cannot act without jurisdiction.  Permission from the local ordinary is needed.  With the aid of the other prisoners in his block, all clergy, and the intrepid Sister Imma Mack, who regularly visits the camp, Karl petitions the local cardinal for permission to receive ordination at the hands of his fellow prisoner.  Imagine Karl struggling to be patient as he awaits the cardinal's response.  Finally, the following week, it comes.  Not only does the cardinal grant his permission; he also sends along chrism, a stole, and the book containing the Rite of Ordination, all of which are to be returned after the ordination, along with credible documentation that it has taken place.  

Now the camp is abuzz with activity.  Secret preparations are afoot for the ordination that is to take place right in the heart of Hitler's extermination complex.  Imagine prisoners -- some Catholic, some not -- in various parts of the camp, risking their lives and sacrificing precious spare moments and hours of sleep in order to work on vestments for the bishop and for Karl.  The angels must have doubled their vigilance, for no hint of what is going on reaches the enemy.  At last, all is ready, and on Gaudete Sunday, December 17, 1944, Karl becomes Father Leisner.

A unique photo: Blessed Father Karl Leisner, moments after his ordination at Dachau.
Here was a thing unheard of inside a death camp and, so far as known, absolutely unique.  Imagine the bishop and the newly ordained priest in their simple yet lovingly-made purple vestments; the candle-lit faces of the other prisoners; the Litany of the Saints being sung; the smell of holy chrism pervading the air of Dachau itself.  Here, surely, is a little taste of what the Harrowing of Hell must have been like: when Christ descended into hell to liberate the souls of the Just; whereupon, in that moment, that part of hell ceased to be hell.  Now Christ stooped down to hell on earth to raise up a priest out of its depths.  

But Father Leisner's ministry would consist mainly in suffering.  His health would not permit him to offer his first and only Mass until December 26th -- fittingly enough, the feast of St. Stephen.  Meanwhile, the fortress of death where he was consecrated to God was doomed.  Only a few months later, on May 4, 1945, the Allies liberated Dachau.  On August 12, 1945, Father Leisner -- now Blessed Karl Leisner -- closed his eyes forever on this fallen world that had been his battlefield.

When we find ourselves wondering where God is in the midst of our trials and tribulations, perhaps it would pay to think about Holy Mass on the battlefield, and the priestly ordination at Dachau.  The God Who has never failed to make His presence known and felt on the very doorstep of hell is surely with us now in our own troubles.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Aeterne Rerum Omnium

Conversion of the Paravars of India

Prayer of St. Francis Xavier, Apostle to the Far East, for Unbelievers

Aeterne rerum omnium effector Deus, memento abs te animas infidelium procreatas, easque ad imaginem et similitudinem tuam conditas. Memento Iesum, Filium tuum, pro illorum salute atrocissimam subiisse necem. Noli, quaeso, Domine, ultra permittere, ut Filius tuus ab infidelibus contemnatur, sed precibus sanctorum virorum et Ecclesiae, sanctissimi Filii tui Sponsae, placatus, recordare misericordiae tuae et, oblitus idololatriae et infidelitatis eorum, effice ut ipsi quoque agnoscant aliquando quem misisti Dominum Iesum Christum, qui est salus, vita et resurrectio nostra, per quem salvati et liberati sumus, cui sit gloria per infinita saecula saeculorum. Amen.

O God, everlasting Creator of all things, remember that the souls of unbelievers were made by Thee and formed in Thine own image and likeness. Remember that Jesus, Thy Son, endured a most bitter death for their salvation. Permit not, I beseech Thee, O Lord, that Thy Son should be despised any longer by unbelievers, but do Thou graciously accept the prayers of holy men and of the Church, the Spouse of Thy most holy Son, and be mindful of Thy mercy. Forget their idolatry and unbelief and grant that they too may some day know Him Thou hast sent, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is our Life and Resurrection, by whom we have been saved and delivered, to whom be glory for endless ages. Amen.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Seventy Years

FDR's address to the nation on June 6, 1944.

My Fellow Americans:

Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our Allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.

And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:

Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.

They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest -- until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men's souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.

And for us at home -- fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them -- help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.

Many people have urged that I call the nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.

Give us strength, too -- strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.

And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.

And, O Lord, give us faith. Give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons; faith in each other; faith in our united crusade. Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment -- let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.

With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace -- a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

Thy will be done, Almighty God. Amen.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

"I Don't Care What Your Faith Is!"

I recently had a conversation with a dear friend on the subject of religious strife.  At one point, in connection with his status as a fallen-away Protestant and mine as an observing Catholic, he said to me: "I don't care what your faith is!"

I think he meant this in the spirit of tolerance, which too many people in what now passes for Christendom think is the highest good.  I think he meant to say that he accepts me even though I believe a lot of stuff he disagrees with.  But the words are wrong on so many levels, beginning with the fact that they happen not to be true.  For one thing, my friend has explicitly acknowledged that he comes to discuss things with me precisely because of my religious convictions, which he knows are central to who I am, even though he does not share them.  For another, the essence of this statement is a callous indifference that I don't believe he really has toward me or, for that matter, anyone else.  For still another, it is contrary to the good will in respect of God and the hunger for truth that I know he possesses.  

I gave him the first response my mind could lay hold of: "I care what your faith is!"  I meant it, and mean it, with all my heart.

People who say things like "I don't care what your faith is!" are either malicious or not thinking what they are saying.  A Catholic who can say this cannot be living his faith.  It means he does not take seriously that the entire business of our lives is, first, to save our own souls, and second, to help others to save theirs, and that the Catholic faith is the means by which this is to be accomplished.  If I were to say to my friend what he said to me, what I would really be saying is: I don't care whether you go to heaven or burn forever in hell when you die; it's all one to me.  What a horrible thing to say to anyone, let alone to a friend!  In fact, it's hard to decide which would be worse: that, or affirmatively to wish for his eternal damnation.  I doubt this is what he really meant to say to me, though it is in effect what he did say; he simply did not know any better.  But if I, who do know better, were to say that to him, he should not be pleased; on the contrary, he should be very hurt.

What does it mean for me to care about my friend's faith, or lack of faith?  Does it mean I want him to conform to me?  Not at all.  I want him to conform to God, because God made him to know Him, love Him and serve Him in this life, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.  I have neither the right nor the desire to do what not even God will do, and shove the Faith down his throat.  He has to want it for himself.  But I would be faithless both to him and to God if I tried to get out of sharing with him the greatest treasure I possess.

If some little bit of joy falls into our hands and we want to share it with our friends -- a bottle of good wine, or some fudge, or a piece of good news or a funny story -- how much more should we want to share the joy that the world cannot take away?  If we have the Catholic faith, then we have a gift beyond price that we were given out of pure gratuity and on account of no merit of our own whatsoever.  With that gift comes the solemn obligation to share it -- if we need more motivation beyond love for friends and family and associates.   Of course we cannot bludgeon them into accepting it -- nor should we want to.  But they deserve to have the option of knowingly accepting or rejecting it, and we have no business withholding it from them.  I not only do care what your faith is; I must care what your faith is.               

Sunday, April 20, 2014


I will deliver them out of the hand of death. I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy death; O hell, I will be thy bite....
Hosea 13:14

This is the Resurrection of Christ and Women at the Tomb, a fresco by Bl. Fra Angelico (1442).  Fra Angelico liked to place Dominican saints in his scenes from Scripture.  Obviously, there were no Dominicans personally present at the Resurrection, but including one in this scene shows that he placed himself there spiritually by contemplation.  We are all called to become saints, and mental prayer is an essential element in the process.  This saint has a star over his head, so it is probably Holy Father Dominic himself.

Today only marks the beginning of Easter, which is an octave.  The really important feasts are octaves: thus the Church pauses time so that we may contemplate their meaning from various angles.  Easter means that hell and death and destruction and chaos are vanquished.  Therefore, no matter what happens, never despair.  The devil does not get the last word.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Holy Saturday: The Harrowing of Hell

I will deliver them out of the hand of death. I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy death; O hell, I will be thy bite... 
Osee (Hosea) 13:14 (Douay-Rheims translation)

Because Christ also died once for our sins, the just for the unjust: that He might offer us to God, being put to death indeed in the flesh, but enlivened in the spirit, in which also coming He preached to those spirits that were in prison: which had been some time incredulous, when they waited for the patience of God in the days of Noe, when the ark was a building: wherein a few, that is, eight souls, were saved by water. 
1 Peter 3:18-20 (Douay-Rheims translation)

...He suffered, died and was buried.  He descended into hell...
From the Apostles' Creed

In this age of modernist obfuscation and general graying out of vivid supernatural reality, the Harrowing of Hell is probably the most ignored of the creedal doctrines.  Yet as Catholics, we are bound to believe that sin shut the gates of heaven against the souls of men; that it was only Christ's Passion and Death on the Cross that opened heaven; that until then, the souls of the Just were imprisoned; and that, after His death, Christ liberated these souls.  Perhaps one reason we do not devote more time to considering this stupendous event is because it has been obscured by the modern obsession with avoiding any and all mention of Hell: its edge has been blunted by the milquetoast English rendition of the event as "He descended to the dead."  This bland, pedestrian translation fails to confront us with the startling fact of Christ in Hell; we are not inspired to inquire further into its meaning.  It seems obvious that while His Body lies in the tomb, the Son of God is among the dead, having died on the Cross; but how can He, pure and sinless, be in Hell, and why?

First of all, what is the Hell to which Christ descends?  We think primarily of the Hell of the damned, from which there is no escape, and from whose punishments there is no reprieve.  Before the coming of Christ, sin barred the gates of heaven to men.  The souls of the Just could not get into heaven until after Jesus had sacrificed Himself to pay the penalty for our sins.  As St. Thomas Aquinas says in the Summa Thelogica:
[T]hrough Christ's Passion the human race was delivered not only from sin, but also from the debt of its penalty.... Now men were held fast by the debt of punishment in two ways: first of all for actual sin which each had committed personally: secondly, for the sin of the whole human race, which each one in his origin contracts from our first parent, as stated in Romans 5 of which sin the penalty is the death of the body as well as exclusion from glory, as is evident from Genesis 2 and 3: because God cast out man from paradise after sin, having beforehand threatened him with death should he sin.
So what happened to all the good people who lived before Jesus' time, and died without ever having the opportunity to believe in Him or receive the Sacraments?  They dwelt in a place of waiting -- variously called, among other things, the Bosom of Abraham, or the Limbo of the Fathers, or the Limbo of Hell.  There they did not suffer the torments of the damned, but they did suffer privation.  Aquinas elucidates:
After death men's souls cannot find rest save by the merit of faith, because "he that cometh to God must believe" (Hebrews 11:6). Now the first example of faith was given to men in the person of Abraham, who was the first to sever himself from the body of unbelievers, and to receive a special sign of faith: for which reason "the place of rest given to men after death is called Abraham's bosom," as Augustine declares (Gen. ad lit. xii). But the souls of the saints have not at all times had the same rest after death; because, since Christ's coming they have had complete rest through enjoying the vision of God, whereas before Christ's coming they had rest through being exempt from punishment, but their desire was not set at rest by their attaining their end. Consequently the state of the saints before Christ's coming may be considered both as regards the rest it afforded, and thus it is called Abraham's bosom, and as regards its lack of rest, and thus it is called the limbo of hell. 
Aquinas goes on to explain that the Limbo of the Fathers is not qualitatively the same as the Hell of the damned, because the damned suffer eternal torment without hope of reprieve, whereas the Just before the coming of Christ suffered no sensible torments and had hope for a release from imprisonment.  On the other hand, situationally, the Limbo of the Fathers was probably the same as the Hell of the damned:  
For those who are in hell receive diverse punishments according to the diversity of their guilt, so that those who are condemned are consigned to darker and deeper parts of hell according as they have been guilty of graver sins, and consequently the holy Fathers in whom there was the least amount of sin were consigned to a higher and less darksome part than all those who were condemned to punishment.
So, as Aquinas says
Directly Christ died His soul went down into hell, and bestowed the fruits of His Passion on the saints detained there; although they did not go out as long as Christ remained in hell, because His presence was part of the fullness of their glory.
We come to the reasons for the Harrowing of Hell, which we have already begun to touch on.  The Angelic Doctor gives three reasons why it was fitting for Christ to descend into Hell.  Firstly, to bear the penalty for sin -- namely, death of the body and descent into Hell -- in order to free us from penalty (though we are not yet delivered from the penalty of bodily death).  Secondly, to force Hell to disgorge its righteous captives.  And thirdly, to show forth His power and glory even in the domain of the devils.

This last point is worth lingering over.  Because the wills of the damned are confirmed in evil at the moment of their deaths -- just as the wills of the righteous are confirmed in goodness and charity at the moment of their deaths -- Christ did not rescue any of the damned from Hell.  In His essence, He visited only the Limbo of the Fathers; but the effects of His power reached every part of Hell.  Aquinas:
A thing is said to be in a place in two ways. First of all, through its effect, and in this way Christ descended into each of the hells, but in different manner. For going down into the hell of the lost He wrought this effect, that by descending thither He put them to shame for their unbelief and wickedness: but to them who were detained in Purgatory He gave hope of attaining to glory: while upon the holy Fathers detained in hell solely on account of original sin, He shed the light of glory everlasting.
In another way a thing is said to be in a place through its essence: and in this way Christ's soul descended only into that part of hell wherein the just were detained. so that He visited them "in place," according to His soul, whom He visited "interiorly by grace," according to His Godhead. Accordingly, while remaining in one part of hell, He wrought this effect in a measure in every part of hell, just as while suffering in one part of the earth He delivered the whole world by His Passion.
He puts it briefly in another place thus:
When Christ descended into hell, all who were in any part of hell were visited in some respect: some to their consolation and deliverance, others, namely, the lost, to their shame and confusion.
With Christ's visitation, the spoliation of Hell was complete.  A final extract from the Angelical that is worth many hours of meditation (emphasis added): 
When Christ descended into hell He delivered the saints who were there, not by leading them out at once from the confines of hell, but by enlightening them with the light of glory in hell itself.
Think of it.  Hell is the privation of God and His glory.  For the imprisoned elect who found themselves in the presence of the living God and beheld the light of His glory, Hell, in that moment, ceased to be Hell.  Hell was overthrown.  No wonder it is written in Philippians 2:10-11 "That in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth: And that every tongue should confess that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father."

Today at Matins (Office of Readings) according to the revised Breviary, we read the following ancient, anonymous Holy Saturday sermon:
Something strange is happening - there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and He has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.
He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, He has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, He who is both God and the Son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the Cross, the weapon that had won Him the victory. At the sight of Him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”
I am your God, who for your sake have become your Son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by My own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of My hands, you who were created in My image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in Me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.
For your sake I, your God, became your Son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden. See on My Face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in My image. On My back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See My hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree. I slept on the Cross and a sword pierced My side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced Me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.
Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.