Tuesday, January 20, 2009

This Present Darkness

It begins.

Brothers and sisters in the womb, forgive us. Darkness has ascended the throne, and your lives are now offered to the spirit of the age. Pray for us.

"For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens." (Ephesians 6:12)

Warriors of Christ, take up your arms.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Prayers for Our Beloved Dead

It's high-time I make good on a promise I made, some time ago. When I talked about grief (and the difference between the world's grief and the grief of one who has Faith), I promised to write a bit about praying for our loved ones (and others) who have preceded us in death. I'm keenly aware that there are Christians of many traditions, who read this blog (as well as a sprinkling of other faiths, and even those of no faith)... and I'll try not to tread harshly on anyone's sensibilities. But at very least, walk with me as I explore this idea, and see what you think...

First, I'd offer the idea that all of us, when we suffer grief at the death of a loved one (or even hear about the tragic death of someone we don't know), part of the pain comes from the idea that we feel helpless; after all, what can you do for someone who's died already? We can comfort those who're left behind (and that's very good, and necessary!), but that's only part of our experience. It's a parallel to our reaction to pain: not only does it hurt us by its "active" effects on us, but it hurts when it's apparently pointless, or without meaning. (I'd direct anyone wondering about the possible meaning behind suffering to Colossians 1:24, and pray hard over it, for some time. Maybe, later, I'll need to write about the idea of redemptive suffering... if anyone's interested?) If day-to-day suffering, in general, has been given purpose and meaning by God, is it such a stretch that such meaning--such purpose which transcends earthly things--might encompass death itself?

Christians (by that, I mean those who can pray/say the Apostles' Creed without lying) believe in the Communion of Saints--which, for 2000 years, has referred to the fact that all who are united in Christ, through God's Grace and through Faith, are connected one to another by bonds that only damnation can break; distance, time, and even earthly death shall not separate us from one another in Christ Jesus (cf. Romans 8:35-39, Luke 20:38, etc.).

For those who accept the 73-book canon of Scripture, look at II Macabees 12:36-46, with special attention to verse 46:

"It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins."

If you accept this as Scripture, then the matter is settled. If not, then may I tease your mind with what a friend of mine calls the "Eternity Loophole"? Here's how it goes:

If you've slogged through my interminable attempt at a proof of God's existence, you may remember the description of how God is eternal--not just "living lots of years", but eternal: that is, completely outside of (and independent of) time (and space). Try to wrap your brain around that idea, for a moment; God doesn't "wait" for anything. Whereas we need to wait for the year 2010, He's already there, eternally present to it, and embracing the whole of it. And whereas we can only remember last year (or read about someone else's memories, committed to paper or computer or what-have-you), God is there, eternally present to it, and embracing the whole of it. I could say, with only some inaccuracy, that God is "watching" the Crucifixion of Christ as we speak, and as we speak, He's listening to the prayers of (and strengthening with His grace) faithful Jews and Christians who are walking into the Auschwitz gas chambers in 1943. He's also there, as we speak, at our own deathbed (or wherever we're to die), holding us, on whatever future day that might be. God waits for nothing; He's already there. God remembers nothing; He's already there.

So: is it possible for us to pray for those who have died, and have it do any good for them? Well... any Christian who believes in the Communion of Saints (or even in the Mercy of God at all, for that matter!) believes that our prayers for other living people are beneficial; if you ask me to pray for you (and Scripture has examples too numerous to count of people asking others for prayer), and I pray for God to heal/help/strengthen/etc. you, we believe that God always responds proactively to every such prayer. He may respond in ways that we don't expect (e.g. if we're asking for something which would ultimately harm us, or which would ultimately interfere with a good that God plans for us), but He never fails to intervene in such cases.

Now, think of prayers for someone who has died. They died in the past, so it can seem (to us) as though it's as impossible to pray for them and have it help them as it would be to write a letter to them and have them read it! And that's true... for all of us who live inside of time. But do you remember that God is eternally and actively present to all times, no matter how remote in the past or future? God is with that person, right now, as they're being conceived, as they're being born, as they're first learning to walk, and at the moment their soul is leaving their body in death. Even if you're of the view that "only the physically living can benefit from our prayers"--what are we to make of praying to God, Who's eternally present to that person as they're living and breathing, right now (in whatever "past" time that might be)? If God can bless those among the (to us) "presently" living for whom we pray, God can bless those among the (to us) "previously" living for whom we pray... since God is there with them, as they live, move, and have their being.

There is no barrier, whatsoever, which could possibly keep our prayers and their benefits from our beloved dead. None.

If you've never done this before, it can be anything from awkward to agonizing; if you've never before believed that your prayers could benefit those whom you love, and who've died (no matter what the circumstances--even death while rebelling from God, or even suicide), even imagining the attempt can bring a flood of spiritual grief and agony that can knock you emotionally blind... especially if someone you love died in grievous circumstances (e.g. not right with God, or by suicide, etc.), and if you'd felt it necessary to block the episode from your mind, just to keep your sanity and emotional stability. But please believe me: this is true.

Pray for them. Offer sacrifices to God (e.g. fasting, almsgiving to the poor, etc.) on their behalf, and ask Him to unite your sacrifices (which have no eternal worth by themselves) to Christ's ultimate sacrifice on Calvary (which has infinite worth, and which can enrich our offerings with incredible grace and merit, as St. Paul promises us in Colossians 1:24). Pray with gratitude, especially that God is Who He Is--Who is not limited by what limits us--and Who loves our beloved dead far more than we ever could.

More on this later, if anyone wishes. But pray about this... and when you're ready, try it. God bless your attempts; I'll be praying for you!

The Patron anti-saint

As I was in the middle of typing my last blog entry, my wife (who's reading "Preparing Yourself for Mass", by Fr. Romano Guardini--good author!) shared a theological observation with me. (Yes, I'm not the only one. She does it too--quite often, in fact... and usually with far less rambling than I use! I'd encourage her to start a blog, if I didn't think it would take the last bits of her spare time, push her beyond her last scrap of endurance, and put her in an asylum for the duration of her natural life. But I ramble...)

She mentioned the story in John 6, where many of Jesus' disciples abandoned Him, because they simply couldn't believe His teaching about the Eucharist (cf. John 6:22-72)... but mentioned something that hadn't struck her until now: remember when, after the mass abandonment, Jesus turned to the twelve and asked, "Do you also wish to leave? (John 6:68)" St. Peter spoke for all of them, in saying "no", but did you notice? Judas Iscariot, the one who would betray Jesus, didn't leave! But the twist comes with Jesus' reply to St. Peter: "Have I not chosen you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil", speaking of Judas. The traitor didn't leave when the unbelievers left. Did that make him a believer?

Let's look at that for a moment. Now, this isn't conclusive--I'm just following my nose, here (with help from Fr. Guardini!), but think about this:

- After St. Peter says, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life, and we have come to believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God!", Jesus follows up with the "Have I not chosen you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil! Doesn't this suggest, at least somewhat, that Judas didn't believe? Nothing iron-clad, true... but suggestive.

- Earlier, St. John writes (describing Jesus speaking at the moment when the disciples were about to abandon Him en masse), "'The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some among you who do not believe.' For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was who should betray Him." (John 6:64-65) Again, nothing provable in a court of law... but again, see the close association with disbelief and betrayal?

- St. John, in his first letter, writes: "[...]many antichrists have arisen [...] They have gone forth from us, but they were not of us. For if they had been of us, they would surely have continued with us;" (I John 2:18-19) This suggests that, among others, Judas was not "of them" in the sense of being true followers of Christ (i.e. those who believed).

- plain common sense suggests that, if Judas had truly believed Jesus to be the Messiah of God, and the Son of God, he would never have betrayed Him.

So... we have Judas, who (at least according to strong evidence) doesn't believe. That begs a question:

Why didn't he leave?

I wish I could answer that question with certainty; I can't. But I can tell you one thing: we have modern evidence of the same, with every Faux Catholic who walks the earth. They don't believe, but they still don't leave (for many possible reasons, I'm sure). Some seek to remake the Church in their own image. Others truly wish to destroy the Church from within. Others sense the power and authority of the Church of Christ, but want to take (or manipulate) that power for themselves. Still others are too weak, complacent, and comfortable to leave, or even to face their lack of faith. (I was of that number, I'm ashamed to say.)

It would certainly fit. Consider the sense of betrayal felt by the Church as Faux Catholics sacrifice unborn children to Moloch (with the updated name of "Planned Parenthood") for the sake of personal thrills and promised material gain; doesn't it mirror the betrayal felt by Christ as Judas sold Him for thirty pieces of silver? Judas wasn't honest; he didn't leave (or convert). Faux Catholics aren't honest, either; they don't leave (or convert). It looks as if the patron anti-saint of Faux Catholics is none other than Judas Iscariot.

I'd add this: Judas could have repented. He could have gone back, begged forgiveness, and been received back... to the point where we could have had a "St. Judas Iscariot" in the Church martyrology. (It happened with the murderer known as Saul of Tarsus, after all.) Likewise: Faux Catholics can come back. Or, if they refuse to repent, they can embrace honesty, and leave the Church (which is often a large step toward ultimate repentance and reception as a *true* Catholic!). The only thing they can't do, without remaining a Faux Catholic, is remain in the Church while still falling under the condemnation of Christ: "There are some among you who do not believe."

The truth will set you free... but you must embrace it, first.

A Spade Is, In Fact, A Spade

(In atonement for neglecting this poor, starving blog for so long, I thought I'd feed it a 3-course meal; sit back, and let the rhetoric fly! :) )

I need to start this post with two confessions.

First: not only am I a sinful man, but I find it extremely hard to live up to the exhortations that I offer to everyone else. I can spend an entire evening teaching catechumens about the glories of redemptive suffering, and then I can mope for the entire following day because of my physical ailments. I can teach about the moral imperative of charity (and rejecting all ill-will toward our neighbour), and then sulk interminably over an offense that someone gave me. Oh, to be sure: I very rarely let these sins out of my head and into the external world (where others might see them)--and I sometimes even congratulate myself on my self-restraint in that regard--but, lest anyone think that I'm capable of "preaching from an ivory tower", I assure my readers that my feet are composed of the poorest quality of clay. I need that clear, lest people think that the fingers I wag at others are not equally wagged at myself. I assure you, they are.

Second: for all my talk of "faith, hope and love are choices, not feelings!", I was an enthusiastic proponent of "feelings-faith" (and basically making emotions the dominant guiding force in one's life) as recently as 7 years ago. When I condemn that error now, I do not do so as one who has no experience with such; in fact, the past 7 years have largely been a repudiation of that same philosophy which I embraced (and defended strenuously) for the majority of my life. (All right, all right: for the incurably nosey: I'm 40 years old, as of a week ago; okay? :) Now that *that's* out of the way...)

Why do I now fight so strenuously against this "emotion-driven" approach to life? Three reasons, primarily:

1) Rational: I've since examined the "emotion-driven" view of faith, and I've found it to be not only flawed, but completely unworkable (and--quite frankly--utterly insane).

2) Practical: it doesn't work. Or rather, it works to bring evil and ruin, all too successfully; what it does not do is bring about any substantial or lasting good.

3) Personal: with apologies for being vague, suffice it to say that the "emotion-driven" approach to faith leaves one open to horrors about which no sane person would even care to dream. I was lucky, and I survived... and I learned that the fight against "squishy, feelings-based faith" is not simply a matter of taste, or merely a fastidious distinction of systematic theology, or even a "good and laudable idea"; it's a matter of life and death. (Again: I hate to tantalize with a story that I won't tell... but to Little eye, my respected "sparring partner" on Jen's Wonderful Blog, I can say that--if it's any comfort--you're not the only one with stories which, if told to the general public, would cause many others to doubt your sanity!)

As the President-Elect of Death prepares to mount his new throne, won for him in large part by Faux Catholics (and Faux Christians, and squishy-thinking emotion-worshippers of all flavours) in two days, I'm tempted to stand in amazement at the sheer lack of all awareness of the darkness threatening to engulf us. Does that sound extreme? Hyperbolic? "Fanatical Apocalyptic Right-Wing?" (That last one was in honour of--and virtually quoted from--the hundreds of hard-working trolls out there, who work tirelessly to mock and neutralize truth in orthodox Christian blogs throughout the world.) Not only have the pagans of our land voted for the foremost champion of death of our time and country, but feelings-worshipping Catholics (and other self-proclaimed Christians) pushed him over the top... by quite a margin. The man:

- who's promised to re-legalize partial-birth abortion,

- who's promised to mandate all health organizations to provide "abortion services" to whomever asks for them,

- who's promised to throw wide the floodgates of taxpayer funding for abortions of all kinds--at home, overseas, and even after being born, (no reason why poor women should be denied the "right" to have their baby, born-alive after a botched abortion, strangled or left to die on a shelf; it shouldn't be an exclusive privilege of the wealthy, after all!),

- who's promised to throw open the taxpayer coffers in support of Embryonic Stem-Cell Research (what Paul, at his masterful blog, fittingly calls "recreational cloning/killing").

Need I go on? (Don't answer that, please.) Death is coming to our country's highest elected office in a way never before seen, and a majority of Catholics rejoice. I know of few other sentences which contain the very essence of heartbreak, as does that. May God have mercy on us.

So... in addition to a lament for the evil that's coming upon us (and which has already settled on the hearts of misled and/or morally corrupt members of our land--including at least a plurality of Catholics and other Christians), why do I mention this? I mention this because of three things:

1) Even in the midst of this ugly and perverse time: this battle--bloody, grotesque, and inhuman as it is--has already been won. Christ Jesus, Lord of All, has won. Don't despair. Grieve, certainly... but don't despair. Be faithful until the bitter end. If you grieve, know that faithful members of the Communion of Saints are grieving with you... and, God willing, you'll see them--face-to-face--rejoicing with you in the Kingdom, when all will be made new.

2) I offer this as another wake-up call to those who are "Faux Catholics/Christians", but who are sensitive enough to harbor twinges of doubt and unease at the agenda of the new "secular pseudo-messiah" who's ascending the "throne" of the presidency... and to those who are honest enough to be willing to re-examine the dynamics which brought them to their heterodoxy in the first place. (I was one of your number, for over 20 years of my adult life; I do not condemn you, but I also urge you to question where you are... and, God willing, to move out of it!)

3) I believe that Edmund Burke was correct when he said that the only thing necessary for evil to be victorious is for the good to do nothing. I don't claim to be "good" in any absolute sense... but I certainly claim to follow the good, found within the Lord of Perfect Goodness, Himself: Jesus Christ; and I don't want any non-Christian who's ignorant of the Gospel to accept the "Obama-led culture of death", simply because it seems to be the only game in town, and no one has said anything to the contrary.

Two days until the war takes a new and bitter turn. Pray, followers of Christ. Pray, and mean it. Rearrange your lives for it. Pray, fast, offer mortifications. I suspect this type of demon can only be driven out by prayer and fasting (cf. Mark 9:28). Get on it, warriors for Christ!