Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Glory of the Crusades - Book Review

This past April, Pope Francis called upon the international community to stop the murder and displacement of Iraqi Christians by ISIS. My mind immediately went to the eleventh century and Pope Urban II's call for European Christians to intervene in the Seljuk Turks' slaughter of Christians in the Holy Land. 

Naturally, I wanted to read up on the subject. Hillaire Belloc's The Crusades had been on my shelf for over a decade, but something in the style kept me from going past the first few pages. I'm happy to say that I had the opposite experience with Steve Weidenkopf's The Glory of the Crusades (Catholic Answers Press, 2014). I sailed through it in the course of a weekend.

You are probably wondering about the use of the word "Glory" in the title. Weidenkopf certainly doesn't glorify violence. He using the word in its original Hebrew sense, meaning "heavy in weight." In the preface he explains, "To recognize the glory of the Crusades means not to whitewash what was ignoble about them, but to call attention to the import in the life of the Church" (p.14).

Weidenkopf is a fantastic story teller, and he uses that talent to rather effortlessly lead the reader, in just over 240 pages, through six centuries of crusading history. In this sweeping narrative we are introduced to characters such as Godfrey de Bouillon and Richard the Lionhearted, as well as saints like Francis of Assisi, Bernard of Clairvaux, and St. King Louis IX of France. 

What I value most about this book is the way it unmasks the many myths about the Crusades - that they were wars of aggression, motivated by greed, the first movement in European colonialism. Weidenkopf shows how these false characterizations arose in the Reformation and Enlightenment. He provides a good review of the early Church's view of military service and the requirements of a "just war," contrasting these with Islamic jihad.

When you finish this book, however, I doubt that you will have a triumphant feeling regarding the Crusades. You will understand the noble motivation that set them in motion - defense of pilgrims to, and Christians living in, the Holy Land - but you will see how frequently participants' fallen natures led them astray. There are many bright spots to be sure: acts of courage and sanctity - as well as divine providence, as at the Battle of Lepanto. More often than not, however, you will be reading accounts of failure, both moral and military. 

Weidenkopf's The Glory of the Crusades is a marvelous history - concise and eminently readable. Given the state of the world today, and the conversations going on around us, we need a reliable guide to understanding the religious/military conflicts of the past.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Pope Francis & Cardinal Burke - A Flashback to Peter & Paul?

With all of the press coverage on the synod this past week, I had several opportunities to hear from my former shepherd here in St. Louis, Cardinal Burke. I wrote about Cardinal Burke in one of my first blog posts and how I admired his ability to take stands that were unpopular in the culture at large (even among large swathes of his flock) - but completely faithful to Christ and his duty as a shepherd.

When the release of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family's relatio post disceptationem (report after the debate) earlier this week caused tremendous confusion throughout the Catholic world, Cardinal Burke felt compelled to speak up as to how the relatio did not faithfully reflect the bulk of the conversation engaged in by synod participants. The Vatican released a new, more precise English translation days later; but it did little to allay the difficulties seen by synod participants.

In his interview with Carl Olsen, Cardinal Burke said:

"The document lacks a solid foundation in the Sacred Scriptures and the Magisterium. In a matter on which the Church has a very rich and clear teaching, it gives the impression of inventing a totally new, what one Synod Father called “revolutionary,”teaching on marriage and the family. It invokes repeatedly and in a confused manner principles which are not defined, for example, the law of graduality."

The relatio was largely seen as being in agreement with Cardinal Kasper of Germany's proposal to change the Church's discipline that those who had divorced and remarried (without having their first marriage investigated and found to be sacramentally invalid) were unable to present themselves to receive Holy Communion (see Mt. 19:9; 1 Cor. 11:28-32). Over the past year, when giving interviews, Cardinal Kasper had presented his proposal as representing Pope Francis' own wishes for a change in discipline. The release of the relatio - granted, only a working document - was still taken by the mainstream media as a confirmation of this.

When Cardinal Burke was asked about how important he believed it was for Pope Francis  to make a statement reaffirming, for the faithful, the ancient, orthodox teaching of Christ and the Church on this serious matter, the Cardinal replied:

"In my judgment, such a statement is long overdue. The debate on these questions has been going forward now for almost nine months, especially in the secular media but also through the speeches and interviews of Cardinal Walter Kasper and others who support his position. The faithful and their good shepherds are looking to the Vicar of Christ for the confirmation of the Catholic faith and practice regarding marriage which is the first cell of the life of the Church."

And I have seen how the mainstream media has pounced: "Cardinal Burke at odds with Pope Francis." No.  The Cardinal retains his complete allegiance to Pope Francis as the Vicar of Christ. In his words, at every step, Pope Francis has articulated Christianity's ancient understanding of Christ's words on the indissolubility of marriage, as well as how marriage is constituted by the union of man and woman.  What Cardinal Burke has given voice to is the confusion he sees being expressed among the faithful, in response to the relatio and its coverage in the media; and how the Cardinal sees Pope Francis' silence as adding to the misunderstanding. It cannot be easy for Cardinal Burke to say that, but I believe he does so out of a sincere love for Pope Francis and the entire Church.

My mind immediately goes back to the disagreement between Paul and Peter recounted in Galatians.  Paul, who had nothing but respect for Peter, and recognized the preeminent authority entrusted to him by Christ (Gal. 1:18; 2:1-2, 7-10), took issue with Peter's behavior.  Yes, Peter who had so clearly articulated God's welcome of the Gentiles into the Church - and without need for them to follow the ceremonial portions of the Mosaic Law - was behaving as if those things were necessary...and in the process, causing confusion.  And so Paul tells us how:

"...when Cephas [Aramaic for Rock, Peter] came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he ate with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And with him the rest of the Jews acted insincerely, so that even Barnabas was carried away by their insincerity. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, 'If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?' We ourselves, who are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, yet who know that a man is not by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ" (Gal. 2:11-16).

Cardinal Burke's words should be understood in this same way. And please, I hope no one is jumping to the wild conclusion that papal infallibility is being called into question!  As all of us know, papal infallibility applies only to the Pope's official teachings, (1) as the Successor of Peter, (2) addressed to the entire Church, (3) on matters of faith and morals.  Cardinal Burke is simply pointing out what he believes to be a negative effect of Pope Francis' silence on a matter of great importance. The Pope and the Cardinal are brothers, intent on serving the same Master. In their heart of hearts they both want what is best for Christ's flock. You and I should pray that the Lord remove every obstacle that might stand in the way of that goal. Pray for Pope Francis, and please pray for all who, with him, and under his authority, share the responsibility of shepherding the Lord's flock.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Lord Loves a Sharp-Dressed Man

"Lord loves a workin' man" - so saith Navin R. Johnson, of 1979's The Jerk. I am sure Navin was right, but today's Gospel reminded me that the Lord also loves a properly attired-man. 

In Matthew 22, the Lord Jesus compared the Kingdom to a king who threw a wedding feast for his son. When the invited guests ignored the king's invitation and murdered his servants, the king sent his soldiers to burn their city (an image of Rome's sack of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., in response to the repeated actions of its leaders). The king then dispatched more servants:
"'Go therefore to the thoroughfares, and invite to the marriage feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment; and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen" (Mt. 22:9-14).
As in the parables of the wheat and the tares (Mt. 13:41-42), and the net containing both good and bad fish (13:47-50), the parable of the wedding feast reminds us that Christ's Kingdom on earth, His Church, is made up of both the righteous and unrighteous. Professing Jesus as Lord and Savior and receiving Baptism are incredibly important, but they are just the beginning.  To enter the wedding banquet - the life of Heaven and the establishment of the Kingdom in power at the end of time - we have to put on the right garments, and towards the end of the Book of Revelation we are told what they are:

"'Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure'—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
And the angel said to me, 'Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb'" (Rev. 19:7-9).

Proper wedding attire = righteous deeds.  A well-dressed man and workin' man are one and the same! (I always felt Navin was a lot more clever than people gave him credit for.)  Or as James concluded, "You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone" (Jas 2:24).

If you want to read more about the synergy between faith and works, you may want to look here and here.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Radio Replies - Catholic Answers Edition (Book Review)

Radio Replies is more than a gem; it’s an apologetic gold mine.  Father Charles Rumble was the original Catholic radio apologist in the 1920s and 30s. His answers to a whopping 4,374 questions were originally published as a three volume set.  Todd Aglialoro (editor of Catholic Answers Press) has now produced a one-volume abridgment consisting of 836 answers to the most important questions facing today's apologist.

I was thrilled that Catholic Answers retained Abp. Fulton J. Sheen's Introduction to the First Edition. (Sheen was but a “lowly” Monsignor at the time). You are no doubt familiar with his quote, “There are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church...” Well, this is the source! By themselves, Sheen’s nine pages are worth the price of the book: “If you would find Christ today, then find the Church that does not get along with the world…Look for the Church which is accused of being behind the times, as our Lord was accused of being ignorant and never having learned.” The Introduction is a masterpiece and yet, only an appetizer to the feast that follows.

Father Rumble used his immense knowledge, keen reason, and razor-sharp wit to succinctly answer questions as relevant today as they were almost a century ago.  He tackled questions of faith and science, God’s triune nature, the Incarnation, sacraments, authority of the Church, and Blessed Mother.  He answered the same questions of morality – contraception, euthanasia, overpopulation, abortion, suicide – that we face on a daily basis, even addressing matters of social justice.  I found myself amazed, time and again, at the way Rumbles’ answers became part of our modern apologetic patrimony. Like Catholic Answers-Live today, no topic was off limits.

At 450 pages, Radio Replies – Catholic Answers Edition  has the apologetic girth of an entire shelf of similar books. You'll definitely want this for your collection. (Also available in e-book, at a sweet price!)

Saturday, August 30, 2014

"In Suffering, You are Perfected"

I'm not sure why; but, as I was praying yesterday morning, St. Paul’s “thorn in the flesh came to mind.” I tried to remember what Jesus said to Paul after the apostle’s prayers for relief went unanswered. The phrase that came to mind was, “In suffering, you are perfected.” It didn’t sound right, but…those words…there was something to them. Were they true? Was that the gist of what Jesus said to Paul? I was getting ready for work as I prayed, so it was another hour before I had a chance to check the Bible. Reading Paul’s account again, I am touched both by its richness and how much Paul’s experience resonates with me. Let’s look at it:
“[T]o keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:7-10).

Isn’t it significant that Paul never disclosed the specifics of his thorn in the flesh? Many have speculated that it was an illness – others, a persecution. By leaving it undisclosed, however, the Holy Spirit allows us to more easily project our own sufferings and difficulties onto the thorn.

Like Paul, all of us have surely had the experience of praying for relief from some difficulty or suffering, only to have it continue on for an extended period. So what did Jesus say to Paul, and what does He wish to say to us? Is it akin to saying that God can perfect us through suffering?

Jesus’ actual words to Paul were, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I think we are justified in equating “weakness” with suffering, especially since Paul went on to link it with examples of suffering – hardships and calamities. Jesus spoke of “grace,” or “my power”, being perfected during Paul’s experience of suffering. Paul was forced to fall back upon the Lord – the very thing he and all of us need to do if we are to grow to maturity.  It is, after all, Christ’s life that we are called to live; and that flows not from ourselves, but from Him.

I have to wonder if Jesus’ message to Paul didn’t lie behind the apostle’s own message to the Philippians:
For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ...and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead (Phil 3:8-11).
You see, when we suffer, when we endure the Cross in union with Jesus, we are taking on His image in the most profound of ways. When our petitions for deliverance are met with the same silence His were in Gethsemane, and we obediently continue on with faith in the Father’s love for us, this is when we are truly conformed to the Master. Our life’s goal is being realized; we are being perfectedin the midst of that suffering.

Paul went on to say one more mysterious thing in his account of the thorn, that I want to draw to your attention.  He wrote how he came to be content in his suffering, because it was “[f]or the sake of Christ.” Paul was the one being strengthened as he was infused with Christ’s grace, and yet it is somehow “for the sake of Christ.” I would suggest that this is linked to the mystery of redemptive suffering that Paul later wrote about in his epistle to the Colossians:
"Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col. 1:24).

There is much for us to meditate on here. I look forward to your comments.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Saved by Grace - Manifested in Both Faith AND Works

C.S. Lewis wrote how the question of what leads one to Heaven, works or faith, was like "asking which blade in a pair of scissors is [more] necessary." His words came back to me as I sat down to write about my recent meditation on Paul's words to the Ephesians:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God— not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:8-10).
We enter into a saving relationship with God through God’s grace and the gift of faith.[1] It is a gift. Nothing we did beforehand could ever merit such a stupendous gift. That is the beginning of our salvation. But notice, we were created, and then recreated in Christ, “for good works.” They are an integral part of the Christian life. When some people point out how these works have been prepared by God “beforehand,” they speak as if we have no active part to play in the process. That isn’t what Paul wrote. God prepares us for these works by providing the grace to perform them; but it is up to you and me to “walk” in them. There is activity on our parts, and this activity has a part to play in our obtaining final salvation.

Paul fleshed this out in his Epistle to the Philippians. Allow me to quote at length, so as to provide you with a fuller context for Paul’s explanation:
"Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain"  (Phil. 2:12-16).
Paul taught that if we did not actively cooperate with God in producing good works in our lives, then on the day of judgment, we will find that we began the Christian life, we received the gift of faith and justification, in vain! Paul was only teaching what the Lord Jesus had at the Last Supper:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit… As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me…[M]y Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples…If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love…This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (Jn. 15:1-13).
We can bear fruit, can obey Christ's commands, can lay down our lives - but only because Christ is living in us! We obtain final salvation through both faith and works, but both are the result of Christ's grace...and our humble cooperation. That's Scripture, and that is the Faith of the Church.  Can I get an "Amen"?

[1] Baptism is the free gift whereby we receive salvation. It is where we profess our faith in Christ, are reborn, and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The Lord Jesus taught, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:5), and “[h]e who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mk. 16:16). Peter and Paul echoed the Lord: “Baptism…now saves you” (1 Pet. 3:21); “he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5)

Monday, August 25, 2014

Someone Broke Into Our Car

When the kids and I went out to the car this morning, we quickly realized that someone had been in it overnight.  (I forgot to lock it.)  I usually leave my wallet and cell phone in the compartment between the driver and passenger seats; but I had brought in the cell phone for an early morning call, and I had my wallet in my pocket when I came in from the store last night. Fortunately, I hadn't loaded my work laptop into the trunk either (here's to putting things off until morning!).

The thief had to be pretty bummed when all he could find to take was a small bag of change.

I have lived in my house for five years and never experienced something like this before. What really made me chuckle was the timing of the theft: Just an hour before going out to the car, I had been talking to Matt Swaim on EWTN's Son Rise Morning Show, and one of the things we discussed was Jesus' prayer, "Father, forgive them." Matt and I talked about the way Jesus taught us to pray the same way in the Our Father, "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." You have to love it when the Lord gives you a chance to walk the talk. Had I not just spoken with Matt, my heart may have been in a different state.  Thanks to the preparation, however, the kids and I launched straight into our morning prayer:
"Lord, we ask you to forgive, to pardon, the person who was in our car last night.  Please make him truly sorry for what he did and cause him to turn to you, ask for forgiveness, and never do this again.  If he or his family needed that bit of change to buy some food, we ask that they receive what they need.  And Lord, we thank you that you made sure we brought everything of value into the house last night. You take such incredible care of us, Lord. I will stop leaving my phone and wallet in the car overnight, and I'll be sure to double-check that it is locked.  Thank you, Lord.  Our Father..."
I recognize that I didn't have much to forgive. It was a small lesson ... but even small lessons have their purpose. My mind went to words I reread last night in preparation for my talk with Matt:

"I know what you are thinking: when you imagine yourself on his cross, praying 'Father, forgive them' seems impossible. But baptism makes it possible! It unites my soul to his. I could never pray those words on my own, apart from the action of the Holy Spirit. But through the Spirit, through the action of grace upon my soul, Jesus can pray those words in me; and they can become mine! Each time I pray the Our Father and cooperate with his grace to forgive people their small wrongs against me, my soul grows toward forgiving those who would take my life." (Through, With, and In Him, p.76)

Thank the Lord for baby steps.

Friday, August 8, 2014

On the Wrong Side of History?

Several months back, a friend posted a meme on Facebook. It compared segregationists in the 1960's to people today who want to maintain the traditional definition of marriage. The point of the meme was how, in 40 years time, such a view will look just as ridiculous, just as morally reprehensible, as that of segregationists. In effect, anyone continuing to agree with 2500 years of natural law (running from Plato and Aristotle up through Kant and MLK) or 3500 years of Judaeo-Christian belief, will find themselves “on the wrong side of history.”

Because my friend is a fellow Catholic my initial reaction was one of sadness:  Doesn’t she know that Christ’s definition of marriage would never seek to demean anyone? It was Christianity’s cultural influence that moved society to recognize the existence of human “rights” to begin with. Didn’t anyone explain the Church’s beautiful, intricate understanding of the human person, sexuality, marriage, and children to her?

My reaction quickly turned from sadness to wanting to correct her point about how those holding Christianity's understanding of marriage will soon find themselves on the wrong side of history. The OT prophets announced, and Jesus and the apostles insisted, that God’s kingdom – God’s vision for human life and the ordering of our relationships – will ultimately be recognized by all. When Jesus returns, He will make it clear who has or hasn’t been on the wrong side of history.  But then I realized that my friend was…technically, absolutely correct. Scripture and Tradition agreed with her. All those who maintain that Christ and His Church have spoken the truth, not just about marriage, but a host of issues, will most assuredly find themselves on the wrong side of history.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church does a wonderful job of summarizing the teaching of Scripture on this point (italics added):
675   Before Christ's second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers (Lk. 18:8; Mt. 24:12). The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth (Lk. 21:12; Jn. 15:19-20) will unveil the "mystery of iniquity" in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh (2 Tess. 2:4-12; 1 Thess. 5:2-3; 2 Jn. 7; 1 Jn. 2:18-22). 

676  The Antichrist's deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the "intrinsically perverse" political form of a secular messianism (Pope Pius XI, Divini Redemptoris). 

677  The Church will enter the glory of the kingdom only through this final Passover, when she will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection (Rev. 19:19). The kingdom will be fulfilled, then, not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancy, but only by God's victory over the final unleashing of evil, which will cause his Bride to come down from heaven (Rev. 13:9; 20:7-10; 21:2-4). God's triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of the Last Judgment after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world (Rev. 20:12; 2 Pet. 3:12-13).

Now, I am certainly not claiming “this is it,” and Jesus will return at any moment. Rather, I am writing to remind myself and others that, in the end, everyone who remains in the Faith will find themselves on the wrong side of history. We will look like fools to everyone around us. Our convictions will be mocked, we will be persecuted, and eventually a great number will be martyred. There will be no rapture to whisk us away to safety. No - to share in Christ’s resurrection demands that we first share His cross.

History, for Christians, has always been a roller coaster. Periods of triumph (think King St. Louis IX) are followed by periods of darkness (think French Revolution). And at the end of our earthly journey stands the cross.  That should not shock us though; we are walking the path of Christ himself. While the apostles were still basking in the glory of Jesus' transfiguration and the expulsion of a demon, he told them squarely, “The Son of man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” (Mt. 17:22).

Recall Peter's reaction to Jesus' prediction of the Passion. "God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you." No one wants to suffer; we don't want it for ourselves, and we certainly don't want it for those we love. Jesus' words are as jarring to us as they were to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men” (Mt. 16:22-23).

Our salvation is to be caught up into the very life of Christ, his relationship with the Father. That also means that we share his relationship with the world:
If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it...For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels (Mk. 8:34-38). 

In the end, it's about love. "If you love me, keep my commands" (Jn. 14:15). We don't follow Christianity's moral claims out of a blind sense of duty, but because we love Christ and are convinced that the Faith he entrusted to his apostles is meant to bring us, to bring all of humanity, to fullness of life. To reject Christ's teachings out of a sense of shame is to reject him; and that robs the soul of eternal life.

A quote from J.R.R. Tolkien has been making its rounds on the internet, and it summarizes my thoughts well, "I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a ‘long defeat’— though it contains...some samples or glimpses of final victory" (Letters 255). 

So what are we to do, lock ourselves away in Catholic ghettos and await our inevitable defeat? Tolkien sure didn't think so. Neither did Jesus nor the millenia of saints who have preceded us. We are not meant to be paralyzed by the shadow of the cross. Instead we are to be a people animated by the deep joy of the world to come, a world already mysteriously present within us.  How is that possible? There is only one answer:  Communion - literally "union with" Christ Jesus.

Jesus' entire life was lived in the shadow of His cross, and yet that knowledge never impeded the joy He took in doing His Father's work, ministering to the people. Even when the cross was mere hours away it did not prevent him from realizing one of his most profound desires. "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer...This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me...This cup is the new covenant in my blood" (Lk. 22:17-20).  He achieved union, Eucharistic Communion, with those for whom He would offer His life on the cross. 

The NT tells us that because of the joy set before Him - you and I, sharing Jesus' life with the Father, for eternity - Jesus endured the cross, disregarding its shame (Heb. 12:2).  Even in the midst of His horrific suffering upon the Cross, in His praying of Psalms 22, 31, and 69, Jesus looked ahead to the moment when, in the Eucharist, He would both celebrate his Resurrection and renew His union with the disciples. 

The Eucharist is where the Lord Jesus shares His life, stronger than death, with us. "Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me" (Jn. 6:57). A life of prayer, with the sacraments - especially the Eucharist - at the center, is how we can continually move forward, even in the shadow of the cross. The grace Christ give us in the sacraments imparts a peace that defies human explanation: 
[The LORD] leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul...Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for you are with me...You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.You anoint my head with oil...and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever (Ps. 23:2-6).

Whether times are good or bad, whether enduring the cross or experience some small foretaste of the resurrection, we are called to love the Lord by obeying Him and witnessing to His Truth. C.S. Lewis provided a literary example that has always stuck with me:
In King Lear (III:VII) there is a man who is such a minor character that Shakespeare has not given him even a name: he is merely "First Servant." All the characters around him...have fine long-term plans. They think they know how the story is going to end, and they are quite wrong. The servant has no such delusions. He has no notion how the play is going to go. But he understands the present scene. He sees an abomination (the blinding of old Gloucester) taking place. He will not stand it. His sword is out and pointed at his master's breast in a moment: then Regan stabs him dead from behind. That is his whole part: eight lines all told. But if it were real life and not a play, that is the part it would be best to have acted. (The Joyful Christian, 70-71).

Blessed will we be if Christ find us faithfully doing our work when He returns. Finding ourselves on the wrong side of history is one thing, but the wrong side of eternity quite another! I do not wish that upon Christianity's worst persecutors. Let us pray, offer our Eucharists, and work as hard as we can that they too will come to know the all-surpassing love of Christ.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Why Do We Address God as "Father," Instead of "Mother"?

Well, because that is what Jesus did, and as Christians we don't have an independent relationship with God; we participate in Jesus' relationship.

Over the years I have heard a number of people object, "But Jesus only did that because of the patriarchal nature of ancient cultures" - the underlying assumption being that Jesus' word choice was culturally conditioned.   

The difficulty with that assumption is the freedom Jesus demonstrated throughout his ministry in breaking with the gender conventions of the time:  meeting with women privately, welcoming them to travel with him independent of their husbands, and his selection of women (unable to testify in courts of law at that point in history!) as the first witnesses to His resurrection.  His decision to name only males as apostles and address God with the masculine “Father” was not circumscribed by the outside culture.  In fact, priestesses and female deities existed throughout the Middle East as well as among the Greeks and Romans.  As the Word made flesh, Jesus’ revelation of God as Father was both free and deliberate. But why?

In Hebrew and Christian thought God is bigger than gender.  Both male and female are reflections of the Deity (Gen.1:27).  Scripture compares God to a mother (Is.49:15; Hos.11:3-4).  And yet, throughout the whole of Scripture, God is never addressed as “Mother.”  There is something about fatherhood that is more analogous than motherhood for describing God’s relationship to us.  Scripture does not come out and explain it, but I would suggest that male and female have been invested by God with an “iconic character.”  By this I mean that the differences we observe between male and female can give us insight into spiritual realities.

Think about the complementary roles the mother and father play in the conception of the child.  The father comes from the "outside," and the mother welcomes the father into herself.  The ovum produced by the mother awaits the father's sperm cell, and the union of the two produces the child’s body.  The child then grows within her mother, unable to see her father’s face until birth.   

God also plays a "Fatherly" role in every conception - coming from outside of all creation to breathe a spirit, an intellectual soul, into the child at the instant of his/her physical conception.  All of God’s actions come from “the outside” so to speak, and in this way are Fatherly.  The Church on the other hand – and the individual souls that make it up - is the  part of creation that has received God into itself and allowed him to bring forth new supernatural life.  In this analogy, whether biologically male or female, each human soul resembles the feminine.  This explains why Scripture refers to the Church as Christ’s Bride (Eph.5:22-23), and the Mother of the faithful (Rev.12:17).

As members of Christ's Body we approach God the Father through, with, and in Jesus.  In union with him we pray "Our Father, who art in heaven ..."

Question:  If we think about the "iconic character" attached to gender, might that yield an insight as to why the ministerial priesthood has been reserved to males?  If the priest is ordained to function "in the person of Christ" in ministering to the Lord's Bride, then doesn't the priest's masculinity function as a sacramental sign of Christ, the Divine Groom?

fatherhood and Fatherhood

I have been recalling how it felt when my first child arrived – ecstatic, scared, awed. Awed – that’s a good word. I was awed at the new life in my arms. Looking at him, how could anyone doubt that there was a God when they saw the beauty of this boy? I remember attending Mass a couple of Sundays afterward and, as the Eucharistic prayer began, just weeping in a loving awe at the realizations sweeping over me:

The first was in regard to Jesus: My little boy, the most important person in the world to me, was loved by Jesus. Jesus had stretched out His arms and let nails be driven through them for my child. I was grateful that Jesus had died for me, but now I felt an unspeakably deeper gratitude because He had laid down His Life for my child !

The second was in regard to God the Father: I know that theologians have explored why the Son became incarnate instead of one of the Other Persons of the Trinity. But what I saw, becoming a new dad, was that the Father's sending of His Son was an even greater act of Love for us than if the Father had come Himself. In sending His Son, the Father sent the One He Loves and cherishes even more than Himself ! And the Father sent Him, knowing how we would treat Him, knowing that we would torture and kill Him. Paul's words from Romans never penetrated me so deeply, "God proves His love for us in this: that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."

There's fatherhood, and then there's Fatherhood. And I stand in awe.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014


Hey my friends, on Monday, June 9th, I will be visiting with the Catholic Answers - LIVE radio program about my new book, Through, With, and In Him

I've listened to the program for years and am a huge fan of their work. That said, I know that a LOT of people both listen and CALL IN WITH QUESTIONS.  I was hoping that you good folks might lend me a hand by: (1) Praying that the Lord gives me wisdom and allows the words to flow easily that afternoon; and (2) Putting yourself in a "Patrick Coffin state of mind" and posting some questions you think he or callers may ask regarding the book, their prayer lives, Jesus' prayer life, and/or Catholic devotions.

If you post a question in the comment section, it would be a real help; and I will do my best to have an answer up within 36 hours. My thanks in advance! 


Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Rosary & Our Mother Mary's Jewish Prayer Life

When I ponder what it means for Mary to be the mother of God incarnate, one of the most astounding aspects is to recognize the role she played in shaping Jesus’s human prayer. Yes, in the heights of His soul Jesus beheld the Father as clearly as the angels in heaven; but as a child, “He learns the formulas of prayer from his mother. . .He learns to pray in the words and rhythms of the prayer of his people” (CCC 2599).  When Jesus entrusted the Church to Mary at the Cross (Jn. 19:26-27; Rev. 12:17), He extended her motherhood to His entire Mystical Body. She became, in an utterly unique way (next to her Son of course), the Church’s great instructor in prayer. I think we see this most especially in the Rosary, and the way it mirrors the prayer times Mary and Jesus shared as devout Jews.

As faithful Jews, Jesus and Mary stopped three times each day to pray together.  They recited Israel’s creed, the Shema: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD; and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart. . .  .” (Deut. 6:4–9, 11:13–21; Num. 15:37–41). They also prayed the Eighteen Benedictions, a beautiful, comprehensive tapestry of praise and petition. And between those times of prayer, as Mary went about the business of the day, she pondered the words of the Torah and the Prophets that she had heard in the synagogue and discussed with Jesus and Joseph. Through her meditation the Holy Spirit planted the words of Scripture so deeply in Mary’s heart that they naturally permeated her spontaneous prayer (see 1 Sam. 2:1-8 and Lk. 1:46-55) Most importantly, Mary’s heart was fixed upon her Son’s every word and action, contemplating the divine condescension to which she was exposed on a daily basis and how the covenants with Abraham, Moses and David were all reaching their fulfillment in Jesus. Mary’s prayer, so intimately united to the prayer of her Son, is the most beautiful imaginable – and that is what the Holy Spirit wants to give us in the Rosary!

You see, in the New Covenant, the magnificent prayer of God’s people has been to new heights. Jesus commanded His disciples to pray the Our Father, a prayer whose seven petitions encapsulate all others – the Eighteen Benedictions included. And when it is prayed slowly, with the proper awe and love expressed in the words, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name,” it can encapsulate all blessing and thanksgiving as well. The early Church recognized this quite clearly (CCC 2767). The revelation of God’s oneness constantly confessed by the Jewish people in the Shema, has been completed by Jesus’s revelation of the Trinity and our confession of it in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds and our making of the Sign of the Cross (the Creed in miniature) each time we prayer. All of this, and more, is present when we pray the Rosary.

We also join in Mary’s contemplation of her Son – contemplating Him in the light of Scripture. We invoke her intercession, softly praying the words of Scripture (the Hail MaryLk. 1:28, 42-43), as we mediate upon the mysteries of her and Jesus’s lives, narrated in the gospels. As we think and rethink the evangelists’ inspired words the Holy Spirit blesses us with deeper understanding of their significance and calls us, as He did Mary, to ever more profound discipleship. We complete our meditation on each mystery with the Glory Be – even more Scripture (Lk. 2:14; Matt. 28:19; Rev. 1:8). It’s such an amazing reflection of our Lady’s own prayer life! Pope St. John Paul II called Mary’s meditation, “the ‘rosary’ which she recited uninterruptedly throughout her earthly life;” and he invited us to join her: “With the Rosary, the Christian people sits at the school of Mary and is led to contemplate the beauty on the face of Christ and to experience the depths of his love” (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, 11; 1). Is it any wonder that when our Blessed Mother has been sent to earth – such as at Lourdes and Fatima – she beseeches us to pray the Rosary? It is one of the most important ways she nourishes and instructs the children entrusted to her by Jesus, at the Cross. It is one of the main ways she cooperates with the Holy Spirit to mother the Body as she did our Head!

If you enjoyed the information shared in this post, you may also enjoy the book, Through, With, and  In Him: The Prayer Life of Jesus and How to Make It Our Own (Angelico Press, 2014), which explores these points in further detail.

Friday, April 18, 2014

DON'T FORGET - Divine Mercy Novena Starts Today!

For those unfamiliar with it, the Divine Mercy is a beautiful devotion consisting of several elements to unite our prayers with Jesus’ offering on the Cross.  One of those elements is a Novena (nine days of prayer) beginning today, Good Friday.  Here's a quick summary:  

On February 22, 1931, St. Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun, saw an apparition of our Lord.  He was clothed in a white garment, one hand raised in blessing, and the other slightly parting the garment at his chest.  Two large rays, one red and the other pale, emanated from his heart.  The Lord directed her to, “Paint an image according to the pattern you see, with the signature, ‘Jesus, I trust in You.’  I desire that this image be venerated. . .throughout the world”[1]  When asked to explain the image, our Lord responded, “The two rays denote Blood and Water.  The pale ray stands for the Water which makes souls righteous.  The red ray stands for the Blood which is the life of souls. . .These two rays issued from the very depths of My tender mercy when My agonized Heart was opened by a lance on the Cross.”[2]

“Jesus, I trust in You.”  Trust, the absolute conviction that Jesus’ heart is filled with mercy for us, is a striking feature of the devotion.  Faustina reported the Lord saying, “The graces of my mercy are drawn by means of one vessel only, and that is – trust.  The more a soul trusts, the more it will receive. . . I am sad when souls ask for little, when they narrow their hearts.”[3]To implore God’s mercy, Jesus imparted a prayer to Faustina.  It has become known as the Chaplet of Divine Mercy:
First of all, you will say one Our Father and Hail Mary and the I Believe in God.  Then on the Our Father beads you will say the following words: “Eternal Father, I offer You the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your dearly beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.”  On the Hail Mary beads you will say the following words:  “For the sake of His sorrowful Passion have mercy on us and on the whole world.”  In conclusion, three times you will recite these words: “Holy God, Holy Might One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”[4]

The chaplet recalls the great truths that we are a priestly people (1 Peter 2:9) and that Jesus’ sacrifice is the most precious offering we can bring before the Father, the reason for all the grace that flows to us.  With this central truth in mind, we listen to the promise made to Faustina: “My daughter, encourage souls to say the chaplet which I have given to you.  It pleases Me to grant everything they ask of Me by saying the chaplet.  When hardened sinners say it, I will fill their souls with peace, and the hour of their death will be a happy one.”[5]

Jesus further instructed Faustina to immerse herself in prayer for his mercy from 3 to 4 p.m. daily  – the hour of his death:

Invoke [My mercy’s] omnipotence for the whole world, and particularly for poor sinners . . . it was the hour of grace for the whole world . . . try your best to make the stations of the Cross in this hour . . . and if you are not able . . . immerse yourself in prayer there where you happen to be, if only for a brief instant.[6]

Jesus also told Faustina that he wanted the Sunday following Easter to be a celebration of Divine Mercy.  He promised, “Whoever will go to confession and Holy Communion on that day will receive complete forgiveness of sin and punishment.”  In preparation, he requested that Faustina make a yearly novena, nine days of prayer to begin on Good Friday and finish on the Saturday before the feast“On each day you will bring to My Heart a different group of souls, and you will immerse them in this ocean of My mercy:”[7]

1.      All humanity, especially sinners

2.      Priests and religious

3.      Devout and faithful souls

4.      Non-Christians and atheists

5.      Christians not united to the Church

6.      The meek and humble, and children

7.      Those who glorify and love Jesus’ mercy

8.      Souls in purgatory

9.      Those who are lukewarm

Like the Solemn Intercessions of Good Friday, these intentions invite us to participate in Jesus’ intercession.

As a matter of private revelation the Church can never make the Divine Mercy Devotion incumbent upon her people.  I doubt anyone reading this however would dispute it as a singular way to enter into the intercession Jesus made through his Passion.  John Paul II was devoted to it.  In the year 2000 he invited the entire Church to turn anew to God’s mercy by establishing the Second Sunday of the Easter season as Divine Mercy Sunday and attaching a plenary indulgence to its celebration – but more on that later.

[1] Kowalska, Mary Faustina, Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul, (Stockbridge, Massachusetts: Marians of the Immaculate Conception, 1996), p.24.
[2] Ibid, p.139.
[3] Ibid, p.561.
[4] Ibid, p.207-208.
[5] Ibid, p.547.
[6] Ibid, p.558
[7] Ibid, p.435.  The intentions for each of the nine days are discussed in detail on pp.436-442.