Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Science is delicious.

The main components of a good vinaigrette salad dressing are oil and vinegar. Vinegar is mostly water and water and oil do not mix. Vigorously shake before use to break up the water and oil into little droplets that will mingle with each other for a time. In just a short time the dressing in the bottle starts to separate, oil floating to the top and water sinking to the bottom.

Mayonnaise is also a mixture of oil and water but unlike the vinaigrette the water and oil stay suspended in a creamy goodness that doesn’t separate. How is this possible? The secret lies with a component in the egg yolk called lecithin. Lecithin is a compound that binds to other compounds on two ends. One side of lecithin binds to fats. The other side binds to water. In mayo the lecithin holds the oil and water together in a suspension called an emulsion.

God created man to be in perfect relationship with him. God dwelt with man, first walking with him in the Garden of Eden, then in the Tent of Dwelling, finally finding a home in the Holy of Holies inside the Temple. But God and man are even more different than oil and water. No matter how hard you shake up the bottle God always rises to the top and man sinks to the bottom. What was God to do? He introduced lecithin into the mix.

The Father sent the second person of the Trinity, his only begotten son, Jesus to live among us and show us how to live in right relationship with the Father. Jesus is fully human and fully divine. One side of Jesus binds perfectly with us humans. The other side binds perfectly with the Father. Jesus creates the ultimate emulsion where we can live in a perfect relationship with him and he lives in the perfect relationship with the Father. Through Jesus we can know the Father in a way that we were not capable of before.

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split.

Matthew 27: 50-51

When the Sacrifice was complete and the emulsion set God no longer needed a special dwelling place among mankind. The perfect relationship with his creation was fulfilled. The Kingdom of God is at hand, here and now. It will reach its full completion when Jesus returns to render final judgment and bring forth the new heaven and the new earth. The Kingdom of God is here and now and we can experience it each and every day.

To be continued…

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The desert is calling.

I was fourteen and starting my sophomore year in high school. We were given the assignment in one of our classes to write a paper on the career we wanted to pursue after we graduated high school. Some wanted to be doctors, other veterinarians. We even had some that though a career in the military was in their future. I wanted to be a hermit. My paper was returned to me ungraded with a note to rewrite it. Hermit was not a career and no one seriously wanted to be a hermit.

Here we are thirty years later and I still find myself figuratively drawn to the desert. I have always enjoyed my solitude. Growing up it was not uncommon to find me outdoors foraging for stuff to eat. My mother would often come home from work to find me cooking up the day’s harvest. Plants and berries from the yard or nearby field, fish and crayfish from the creek; if it were edible and I could find or catch it I wouldn’t hesitate to eat it. This lead to my love of gardening and hunting I still enjoy today.

I have been all over this planet. I have dove the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and been in many countries in Asia. I have traveled through the United Kingdom from Wales to Scotland. I have never had a problem boarding a plane and coming home, that is, until I went to Alaska. I spent two weeks one mid November traveling between Anchorage to just north of Fairbanks. It averaged about eighteen below zero with over two feet of snow. At times my coworker and I were the only two people to be found for five-hundred square miles. It was the most isolated place I had ever been and I was in heaven. If I didn’t have a family at home that I dearly love I would probably be there still today.

In studying the Desert Fathers many in my class struggle to understand why anyone would choose such a lifestyle. Who in their right mind would choose to live alone? Silence is a treasure few people know the real value of. One is never truly alone if they are in communion with God. Obi Won explained God best when he tried to explain the force to Luke.

                It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together."

God speaks to us in a small, still voice. Knowing this the devil has filled our lives with as much noise and clutter as he possibly can. Those he can’t make bad he makes busy. You can no more hear the voice of the Lord any more than you can feel the soft breeze blowing through the field when you are inside sitting in your favorite recliner watching the big game. We become so accustom to the noise that we cannot function without it. Many who have lived their entire lives in a big city find it very unnerving to spend a night in the country. It is too dark, there are no alarms or sirens, there is no bright blinking neon and what is that? Crickets chirping?

The Desert Fathers did not like the path society was following. They sought to isolate themselves from society to be alone with God. Looking at the path modern society is on it is hard to argue with their idea. This is why it is so important to find time to be alone with God. If the devil had his way we all would be swept away in the current of the culture, knowing that current ultimately flows over the falls and leads to doom. Spending time alone with God allows us to stay safely tethered to the shore as others float speedily by. This is even more important for the clergy. If they become so busy that they begin to neglect their prayer life it is only a matter of time before they begin to neglect God as well.

On the day of his ordination venerable Fulton Sheen made a resolution to spend a holy hour each day alone with God. He gave three reasons doing so. These are taken from his autobiography Treasure in Clay.

First, the Holy Hour is not a devotion; it is a sharing in the work of redemption. Our Blessed Lord used the words "hour" and "day" in two totally different connotations in the Gospel of John. "Day" belongs to God; the "hour" belongs to evil. Seven times in the Gospel of John, the word "hour" is used, and in each instance it refers to the demonic, and to the moments when Christ is no longer in the Father's Hands, but in the hands of men. In the Garden, our Lord contrasted two "hours" - one was the evil hour "this is your hour" - with which Judas could turn out the lights of the world. In contrast, our Lord asked: "Could you not watch one hour with Me?". In other words, he asked for an hour of reparation to combat the hour of evil; an hour of victimal union with the Cross to overcome the anti-love of sin.

Secondly, the only time Our Lord asked the Apostles for anything was the night he went into his agony. Then he did not ask all of them ... perhaps because he knew he could not count on their fidelity. But at least he expected three to be faithful to him: Peter, James and John. As often in the history of the Church since that time, evil was awake, but the disciples were asleep. That is why there came out of His anguished and lonely Heart the sigh: "Could you not watch one hour with me?" Not for an hour of activity did He plead, but for an hour of companionship.

The third reason I keep up the Holy Hour is to grow more and more into his likeness. As Paul puts it: "We are transfigured into his likeness, from splendor to splendor." We become like that which we gaze upon. Looking into a sunset, the face takes on a golden glow. Looking at the Eucharistic Lord for an hour transforms the heart in a mysterious way as the face of Moses was transformed after his companionship with God on the mountain. Something happens to us similar to that which happened to the disciples at Emmaus. On Easter Sunday afternoon when the Lord met them, he asked why they were so gloomy. After spending some time in his presence, and hearing again the secret of spirituality - "The Son of Man must suffer to enter into his Glory" - their time with him ended and their "hearts were on fire."

“Not for an hour of activity did He plead, but for an hour of companionship.”  The Desert Fathers longed for this companionship more than anything else in the world. They were not content with just an hour. They wanted a lifetime. When you truly love someone you seek to spend every minute you can with them. Couples young in love can sit for hours on the telephone with each other without saying a word content knowing that the other is on the other end of the line.

Ask yourself, is spending an hour in silence adoring the Blessed Sacrament a joy or a burden? Do you find it rewarding or boring? Do you find time to sit in silence and listen for that small, still voice? Do you answer the Lord’s plea for companionship or do you allow the devil to reign by filling every moment with noise and distraction?

Monday, January 9, 2017

It is that time of year again.

On January 22, 1973 the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that a right to privacy under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment to our Constitution extended to woman’s decision to have an abortion, overruling the abortion laws in many states. SCOTUS did recognize that states do have an interest in the potential human being growing inside the woman and allowed states to pass laws making abortion illegal during the third trimester. This time frame was later changed in another ruling allowing states to intervene only after the fetus becomes viable around the 23rd or 24th week.

This is only possible because we, as a society, have never officially defined when a human life begins. Some believe that life begins at conception. Others believe that the fetus becomes a person at some undefinable moment between twenty weeks to actual birth. There are some who believe that partial birth abortions are perfectly fine. Partial birth abortion is where a fully grown baby is partially born backwards and then the spinal cord is snipped before the head is fully removed. The most disturbing group of people believe that we should be able to abort babies anywhere from twelve months to twenty-four months post partum. Yes, that means being allowed to kill a child up to two years of age.

Abortion for a Catholic is a non-negotiable. We are not allowed to participate in one. We are not allowed to support one. We are not allowed to vote for someone who openly supports this action. There are many Catholics today who ignore this. There are many who believe it is far past time for the Church to get with the program and change some of its archaic teachings.

Abortion for every American should be a non-negotiable. The American ideal is that all humans are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights; among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Our Constitution recognizes the fact that each human life is valuable and that a person cannot be deprived of their life without due process of the law. Our court system has recognized that at some point a fetus is a human life but intentionally leaves that point as vague as possible to allow as many abortions as possible.

We all can agree that a fetus becomes a human being at some point. This point has to be a definite point that applies to all fetuses and the only point that is definite is conception. Conception is the same for each and every person. Fetal viability is not. Some fetuses will survive earlier than others. The same goes for a hard time mark like the third trimester. It is wrong to say that a baby can be aborted thirty seconds before the beginning of the third trimester and not be aborted thirty seconds after the beginning of the third trimester. The same argument applies to life beginning at actual birth. Babies born one hundred days premature survive more and more with the advancement of modern medicine.

Officially defining when a human life begins ends the debate on abortion. If this country were to ratify into law that a human life begins at conception the constructional protection each human is recognized to have would immediately extend to the unborn. A person seeking an abortion would have to prove in a court of law what crime, punishable by death, an unborn baby had committed before the abortion could be granted. Short of undeniable proof that a continued pregnancy puts the mother at great risk of death or serious bodily harm, there isn’t much an unborn baby could do to warrant a death sentence.

The ramifications of officially defining when a life begins is what gets pro-lifers to start to side with the pro-choicers. If an unborn baby is a human life and has the full protection of the law any activity a mother engages in that is known to cause injury or defect to that baby could be viewed as neglect or abuse by the mother. In other words, if a mother drinks to a certain extent, smokes, uses recreational drugs, or any number of other activities that medical science has proven to be harmful to a developing human that mother could be prosecuted for a crime. Habitual offenders could be sentenced to incarceration until the baby is born. A zealous prosecutor could even move to take the child away from the mother as soon as it is born because of the neglect or abuse. The matter only gets more and more complicated when we begin to look into things like in vitro fertilization when a human is conceived outside of the womb and medically implanted, or when fertility drugs cause multiple embryos to implant at one time. Both procedures help struggling couples have a child but would be highly questionable if life begins at conception were the law of the land.

But not doing the right thing just because it is hard or complicated is never ok. Every day more humans die in this world because of our inaction and inability to make a decision. Almost 60 million babies alone in the United States have been murdered since the Roe vs Wade decision in 1973 made it legal to do so. Forty-four years it has been legal to kill children as long as you do so before they take their first breath.

As a good friend once told me, “I don’t want to make abortion illegal. I want to make it unthinkable.” Amen to that.

Every day Catholic clergy and laity pray Psalm 95 as part of our Liturgy of the Hours. In it we pray –

For forty years I have endured that generation;

I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts have gone astray,

And they do not know my ways.’

So I swore in my anger,

They shall not enter into my rest.

How much longer will God continue to endure us?

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Where have all the demons gone?

First, let me say that I have never had any instruction in demonology, the study of demons or demonic belief, but I am intrigued by it. Holy Scripture mentions demons frequently and it was one of the many signs Jesus performed during his three years of public ministry. His disciples also worked the miracles of healing, resurrection, and exorcism through his authority.

Exorcist was a respected trade at the time of Christ. Exorcists attempted to cast out demons by fear. They kept lists of demons names; a guarded trade secret. An exorcist would try to scare the demon away by invoking the name of a greater demon. Jesus cast out demons through his authority over all creation. The priests of the temple did not understand this and believed he cast out demons because he was the greatest of all demons.

Then a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute was brought to Jesus, and He healed him, so that the mute man spoke and saw. All the crowds were amazed, and were saying, “This man cannot be the Son of David, can he?” But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons.”

And knowing their thoughts Jesus said to them, “Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand. “If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand? “If I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? For this reason they will be your judges. “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. “Or how can anyone enter the strong man’s house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house.” – Matthew 12, 22 - 29

We read in the Book of Revelation that Satan, through his disobedience, fell to earth. When he fell from heaven he took a third of the heavenly host with him. Catholic tradition holds that there are three hierarchies of angels each with three separate orders or choirs: Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominions, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Archangels, and Angels.

Then another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems. And his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child.” – Revelation 12, 3 - 4

Let’s think about this for a moment. When Satan fell from heaven he took a third of the other angels with him. If we take this at its word what could be possible? Another Catholic tradition holds that each person is assigned a guardian angel to help him or her get to heaven. These guardian angels come from the general angel choir. It is unknown if a guardian angel only has one person to watch over or has multiple. If we make the assumption that being a created person an angel cannot be omnipresent, that is in all places at all times. If a guardian angel is present with each human who is living there would have to be at least six billion guardian angels in existence at this time. Guardian angel is only a segment of the angel choir and if you consider the other choirs is would be reasonable to believe there to be billions of angels in existence at any moment in time. For argument sake let’s put that number at a firm ten billion.

If this number is anywhere close to accurate and it is true that Satan took a third of the heavenly host with him in his fall there would have to be at least five billion demons present at any point in time. Let that number sink in for a moment.

Demonic influence seemed to be very prevalent throughout Holy Scripture. Today it seems to be thought of as nothing more than a gimmick for television, movies, or to sell costumes. Society doesn’t take it as a reality. Even the possessions written about in the bible are explained away as what we now know as mental disorders. All Jesus really did was cure someone of a mental sickness, not free them from demonic influence.

Jesus sure believed in them. He commanded them out by his ultimate authority. He forbad them to speak or utter his name. The demons we compelled to comply. They had no choice. It is too bad Jesus didn’t have a PhD in psychiatry. Think of the good he could have done had he understood the human mind a bit better.

The Catholic Church still believes in demons, even if some priests and laity do not. They hold a conference every year to help train priests and lay people in the art of spiritual warfare. Exorcism is a ministry of mercy. What good does it do to make sure a person has food, clothing, and drink when the temple of their body is host to the unclean? We must care for all parts of a person, both physical and spiritual.
I believe demons roam freely among us. Because of our disbelief they no longer have need to hide. As the prayer to St Michael says, "who prowl through the world seeking the ruin of souls."

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

An image is worth a thousand words

The Road to Emmaus

And behold, two of them were going that very day to a village named Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem. And they were talking with each other about all these things which had taken place. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus Himself approached and began traveling with them. But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him. And He said to them, “What are these words that you are exchanging with one another as you are walking?” And they stood still, looking sad.
 One of them, named Cleopas, answered and said to Him, “Are You the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days?” And He said to them, “What things?” And they said to Him, “The things about Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people, and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to the sentence of death, and crucified Him. “But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, it is the third day since these things happened. “But also some women among us amazed us. When they were at the tomb early in the morning, and did not find His body, they came, saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said that He was alive. “Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just exactly as the women also had said; but Him they did not see.”
 And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! “Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.
 And they approached the village where they were going, and He acted as though He were going farther. But they urged Him, saying, “Stay with us, for it is getting toward evening, and the day is now nearly over.” So He went in to stay with them. When He had reclined at the table with them, He took the bread and blessed it, and breaking it, He began giving it to them.  
 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight. They said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?” And they got up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found gathered together the eleven and those who were with them, saying, “The Lord has really risen and has appeared to Simon.” They began to relate their experiences on the road and how He was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread.”  -
 Luke 24, 13-35

I have never been a big fan of pictures or images of Jesus. It’s not that I think it is idolatry. Idolatry is something you pray to. An icon is something you pray through. I like crucifixes. Unless you get to the larger ones the image on the cross is pretty vague. I know that it represents Jesus without it trying to show what he looks like.

No, the reason I don’t like pictures of our Lord is firmly rooted in the above story from sacred scripture. The disciples of this story were not just some people who followed Jesus here and there during his ministry. Catholic tradition believes that Cleopas was the brother to Saint Joseph, Jesus’ foster father. These were Jesus’ earthly aunt and uncle. These are people who would have known Jesus from his birth. Yet they were unable to “see” him for who he was after the resurrection.

The problem I have with every picture or image of our Lord is that it is someone else’s idea of what Jesus looked like. There were no photohuts or Polaroid cameras back in the day so the best we have are what other people imagine him to look like. If you look at an image long enough that is what you train yourself to see. Then when you see the real thing you may not recognize it because you are looking for that image you have been trained to see.

Jesus concealed his image from his aunt and uncle to see what they would say about him without knowing it was him. As Christians, we believe that each and every human being was made in the image and likeness of our creator. Jesus is in every one of us. He conceals himself in the gardener, the lawyer, and the homeless guy on the street corner. He is concealed in the ones we love and the ones we can’t stand to be around.

I do not want to train my mind to only see Jesus when he looks like that painting of him that hung in every room of the church I grew up in. I want to train my mind to see Jesus in everyone I look at. Cleopas surely would have acted differently if he had known it was Jesus walking on the road with him towards Emmaus.

How would you treat that homeless person or the punk with sagging pants if they looked like the image you associate most with Christ? We all would act much differently towards people if we could see the Christ within them.

Stop seeing what your mind is telling you is before you and yearn to see the hidden reality within.