Monday, October 31, 2011

Europe and the Faith

I heard about Hillaire Belloc about 5 years ago from a classmate.  I had yet to delve into any of his works, until this past month.  Europe and the Faith was a great work introduction to his work.  His life work was to reconnect Britain with the Church.  He recognized modern man and his slow and sometimes violent turning away from Church established by Christ and maintained by his spirit.  

One of the modus operandi of Belloc's vision of history is that history is not merely material.  The effects of history are not merely human.  The thrusts and forces that move history toward or away from God and His Church are "not of this world."  There are things in history, like the Reformation, especially in England, that cannot merely be explained by human forces.  Cultural things collided.  Greed was rampant.  All would have fell had it been in on the shoulders of German princes and few radical minds.  It, however, gained force and permanency through the ascendancy to its minor positions by a single monarch, Henry VIII.  The schism exists because of one misguided man who made a decision many monarchs had previous, but at the most inopportune of times.  

Belloc makes the statement at the beginning and end of the book, "Europe is the faith, and the faith is Europe."  Europe, as he knew it, in the early 20th Century was shaped by the faith of Jesus Christ handed down from the Apostles in the Roman Catholic Church.  The Church pushed forward the positive organization of the dying Roman empire and subsumed indeed in an almost perfect way, inculturated it.  

It is at the turn of the Reformation that Europe began to self destruct.  Fiefdom by fiefdom, kingdom by kingdom, nation by nation, Europe has slowly degraded the farther it has moved away from its foundation, that is, the Church.  

If Belloc was alive today, he could see almost the logical conclusion of his arguments.  France is in utter ruin being repopulated by Arabs, a peaceful version of what the Iberian peninsula experienced 1200 years ago.  Germany is still trying to recover from Fascist and Communist oppressions.  England welcomes riots and a general apathy even disgust, i.e. Dawkins, et al, of religion, Catholic or otherwise.  Italy even has its problems.  Finally, the last bastion of the Roman Catholic nation, Ireland is in total shambles, due in part to the clergy abuse scandal, but also to a lack of anything to root for.  No longer do they have to fight for their faith which had been so dear to them for the past four centuries.  To them it doesn't seem worth fighting for pedophiles and liars.  

There is hope.  Hope only in one thing, that is the Church.  She, as the bride of Christ, can reform and transform the European culture.  In its current state, the New Evangelization is ripe for the picking.

The book takes a rather sweeping look at history.  He goes through each period selecting certain things to help make his point.  He desires for brevity as opposed to unnecessary depth.  As for a history book, it would work well in a Western Civ course, especially for those in a home school situation.  If I were a parent, I would give this to my child as supplementary reading because it corrects so much erroneous thoughts and assumptions regarding European history.

Highly Recommend.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Friday Thoughts - Secularism

I have started the mini-mester here at the seminary.  Our professor for the Sacraments of Healing has us reading Bl. John Paul II's Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia.  I am thoroughly enjoying it.  It is backing up with theology what I have intuited.  Many things have struck me so far but JP II's definition of secularism is spot on, so I want to share it with you.  (For you long time readers, i.e. me, this goes back to the beginning of the blog, sharing quotes)

"Secularism" is by nature and definition a movement of ideas and behavior which advocates a humanism totally without God, completely centered upon the cult of action and production and caught up in the heady enthusiasm of consumerism and pleasure seeking, unconcerned with the danger of "losing one's soul." 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Guest Post: How to Understand Scandals and Other Things - Insights from Archbishop Fulton Sheen

Now for the final installment on Archbishop Fulton Sheen from Luke from Quiet, Dignity, and Grace.


Insight #3: "If you do not live as you believe, you will begin to believe as you live."

This gem comes from what is now called the Sheen Catechism.  The Archbishop's skills as an orator are alive and well in this collection of 50 talks which are now available on mp3.  They were originally recorded in his private study and are truly beautiful.

In a discussion on the moral life, he lays out the idea that if we don't live as we at least claim to believe, eventually, our beliefs will change.  Why is this so?  Well, we human beings, as good as we may be at fooling others, are just not capable of fooling ourselves.  When there is a tension or a hypocrisy in our life, we want it gone.  If we Say we are Catholics, for instance, but begin gradually not living the way we ought to, then the eventual consequence is that we will very likely give up the belief.  We will choose a belief that better fits the way we live our lives.

Pithy though the quote may be, this quote has serious power from a spiritual, rational, practical, and even psychological point of view.  Sheen not only studied philosophy and theology, he also read heavily in modern psychology, trying to find the best of its efforts, even if it meant sifting through a lot of less useful ideas.  This quote has the power to transform your life if you understand it at an early enough age.  If you believe your religion is important, you had better live like it.  This doesn't mean you have to be perfect, of course.  Nobody is.  But you better do your best and you better make it a priority to live up to that standard.  If not, eventually, the battle gets more difficult.  And Sheen was expounding this in the golden age of American Catholicism.  What has happened since his era?  Mass attendance has fallen by almost 50%.  People have created a whole new brand of Catholicism in which they consider themselves Catholic but disagree and disobey major Church teachings as well as almost completely abandon sacramental practices.  Unfortunately for many people, they stopped living in a way that lined up with their belief.  And in due time, their beliefs changed.

Insight #4: How to Understand Scandals

First, a fact: There Are scandals.

This shows us that Christ chose the people of His Church in their human condition, he chose them as they are, not as they should be.  After all, Christ was a cause of many scandals; why should his Church, his Mystical Body, be exempt from scandal?  For instance, Christ's disciples knew that He was God made flesh.  But they witnessed his humiliations and, ultimately, his death on the Cross.  What greater scandal could there be than a dead God?

Christ experienced wants of hunger and thirst and even died at the hands of sinners.  So his Church experiences tragedy, scandal, and sin.  But Christ being in pain didn't mean that He was not God.  Christ's own death couldn't even triumph over the fact that He still was, is, and always will be God.  Similarly, Christ guarantees that his Church teaches the truth, but he doesn't guarantee that his teachers will always be perfect.

It is true that there are bad Catholics. But remember this.  While "our faith increases responsibility, it does not force obedience.  It increases blame, but it does not prevent sin.  If some Catholics are bad, it is not because they are members of Christ's Mystical Body, but it is because they aren't living up to its demands."

An Interesting Point

Think of the concept of a scandal.  Someone has to do something that disappoints someone else.  In other words, if a Catholic priest commits a sin and it becomes public knowledge, the only reason it would be a scandal is if you would expect a Catholic priest to be good.  So when people throw their arms up in disgust at the Church, they are really displaying that they look for something good in the Church.  Namely, they expect holiness.  That's a very important psychological point!  The media can only draw the scandal out and make great headlines because everybody Expects the Church to be Holy.

You never hear someone complain that a sun-worshiper or atheist has fallen in his or her duties.  No news headline would ever grab attention if it read "sun-worshiper steals money from church" or "humanist steals money from school."  Nobody expects anything from a sun-worshiper, humanist, etc.  But insert the word priest and we have a scandal.  It's easy to be a communist or an atheist, and it's very morally lax.  But it is demanding and morally difficult to be a Catholic.

Furthermore, if the Church, which some people criticize for its human failings, was actually a perfect institution....would anybody want to be a part of that?  If the Church was actually perfect, then most of us would be ineligible to join.  In fact, aside from Christ, Mary, and a few saints, we'd nearly all be cast out with the plants that grew on bad soil.  Christ told us some of the harvest would be thrown out at the end.  If being Catholic really kept us perfect, then Christ's words would be either a lie or they'd be impossible.  Because if we were all perfect, there would be none cast aside at the end.

I apologize for this but blogger was acting up so I had to highlight in a weird color for you to see the most important text of the blog.  Go check out Luke's blog Quiet, Dignity, and Grace.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Guest Post: Insights in the Writings of Archbishop Fulton Sheen

Now for the second edition of Luke's piece on Archbishop Fulton Sheen.  Don't forget to check out Luke's blog, Quiet, Dignity, and Grace.


Insights Gained
I am young in my knowledge of Fulton Sheen.  I have read 10 of his books and listened to hours of his audio catechism (the same one which John Paul II used to learn English).  It is not possible to succinctly state everything I have learned from this very amateur study.  However, I will try to explain what I consider to be the four most powerful things I have learned from this Servant of God.

Insight #1: The Importance of the Eucharist and the Holy Hour
Reading Sheen, one constantly runs across Eucharistic metaphors.  He frequently employs analogies of wheat being sifted, ground, chewed, etc. to our world today.  We in a sense are that grain and our lives, if we unite them to Christ's, will follow the pattern He set.  The world will chew us up; we will suffer.  On the other hand, Christ, by becoming the bread of life for us, enables us to receive the merits he won on the cross through the Eucharist.

So the suffering we encounter is a sign that we're living the way Jesus did.  The world reacts against us because it knows that if our love is real and our faith is true, it is doomed.  What could possibly keep a Christian on the path in the face of so much resistance?  Only the very gift of Christ, who both gives us the true bread from heaven and IS the true bread from heaven, containing in itself all delight.

Fulton Sheen makes the Eucharist the source and summit of his thought precisely because it was the center of his spiritual life.  This was one of two promises he made on his ordination to the priesthood: he would make a holy hour in the presence of the Eucharist every single day.  It is one he never failed to keep, no matter how busy he might have been or how ill his health may have been.  In the later part of his life, Sheen spent years doing retreats for priest.  He noted that he felt people needed some concrete advice after coming out of a retreat if it's going to make any real difference in their life.  His advice was always the same: make a Daily holy hour.  It was simple advice to give, but challenging advice to follow.  But precisely its simplicity is what also made it attainable.

This practical goal he set wasn't always practical for him.  He writes in his autobiography of having to do some extra convincing sometimes to get into churches for his Holy Hour.  When did he find time in his schedule?  In the morning.  Sometimes, Very early in the morning.  He writes in his autobiography of once having to climb out of a window because the church he was visiting had been locked up by an impatient pastor.

And don't forget: this wasn't a man with lots of free time on his hands.  He wrote and studied constantly.  His work as a professor at Catholic University kept him in the books and he even destroyed his course notes every year at the end of the year.  Any teachers out there know how much extra work that would entail.  Archbishop Sheen had early morning flights, plenty of train rides around the country and Europe doing extra catechetical and evangelical work for no extra money.  He was the head of the Propagation of the Faith apostolate in the United States, and the private theologian to a handful of celebrities.  How many times did he fail to keep his daily holy hour?  Zero.  This is his first recommendation in building a spiritual life and anyone who has ever tried this, even temporarily, knows how powerful it is.  Sheen was built up by this grace for decades!!

Insight #2: The Beauty of True Humility and Piety

Modern day readers who look back on Fulton Sheen's works may find his piety a bit pervasive.  We're not used to it these days.  We expect people to keep their religion to themselves and not to let it out of the box too often.  Certainly we don't expect religious fervor to permeate every conversation we have or sentence we write.  But, when you read Sheen, you read piety.

For instance, whenever the late archbishop wants to refer to Jesus, he has a handful of options available to him.  He could use the following: Jesus, Jesus Christ, Christ, the Son of God, the Son of Man, the Lord, the Messiah, etc.  There are countless ways to refer to the second person of the Trinity.  And if you were typing on a typewriter or heaven forbid using an actual pen and paper, some of them would save more space than others.  Sheen constantly used the title "Our Blessed Lord."  Now, this may seem like a small thing.  But when you read book after book and listen to talk after talk you start to see just how much extra time it would take to say "Our Blessed Lord" rather than Jesus.  Add to this that whenever Jesus was referred to as "he" or "him," those words are capitalized, you start to see how much reverence Sheen had for Our Blessed Lord.  Archbishop Sheen's respect for God's name was no doubt due in large part to his devotion to the Holy Hour.

Aside from his piety and the beautiful way in which he utilizes poetic imagery in his theology, Fulton Sheen also displayed a deep-rooted humility.  He famously said at a retreat given for inmates that there was only one thing which separated him from the men imprisoned: they got caught!  His autobiography is filled with deep looks into his own self and almost uncomfortable descriptions of his own failures.  He feared, at the end of his life, that he had been too flashy, accepted too many of the world's comforts, and had too much pride.  He also has a painful recollection of a moment in which he, ever so briefly, hesitated when greeting a leper.  He had meant to place a crucifix in the hand of an African leper when he hesitated and dropped it.  After that, he picked up the crucifix, and proceeded to kiss the hands of every single leper in the village as he greeted them.  That moment and the description of it shows how penetrating Sheen's self-knowledge was.

And what is the great mark of a saint?  Seeing himself in God's eyes.  Holding himself accountable the way God would.  Surely Fulton Sheen knew what great good he was called to.  The slightest imperfections were things he saw clearly about himself.  That humility is probably what further spurred his great piety and devotion.  You see, when we, like Sheen, realize how lowly we really are, suddenly genuflecting, praying before meals, using reverence when speaking the divine name, a morning offering, nightly examination of conscience, and all the other common practices of piety which Sheen constantly recommended become a natural reaction to the simple truth that we are not God.  The Archbishop knew this truth intimately.


Check in soon for the final installment.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Friday Thoughts - George Harrison and True Freedom

I watched a Martin Scorsese directed documentary on the quiet Beatle, George Harrison. As a musician, I have profound respect for him. He was a terrific songwriter because he was able to communicate in song what people were feeling. He was able to direct emotion outwards from his Rickenbacker, or Strat, or Martin. "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" remains one of my favorite songs of all time.

This documentary went through not just his musical life but his personal life. I found out he was raised Catholic. Baptismal graces laid latent with him, even when he pursued Indian mysticism. I have no doubt he pursued the God whom he encountered as a child. He said he was turned off by the rules and lack of encounter, no doubt in line with the thinking of his contemporaries. He found "what was lacking in Catholicism" in Indian mysticism. Where rules bound him as a child, a freedom in meditation allowed him to roam unchartered territory.

What I found interesting was the general distrust or desire to be free from his body both expressed by him and by his widow about him. For a man who was so sensual in his style and demeanor, he desired nothing more than to be free from the senses.

What he saw in his sensuality was incomplete and so he made the false assumption that it is in spirituality devoid of sense that one is free and at peace.

We are made as body and soul and are meant to be such, to be perfected as such, despite our own degradation of the body we have been given. Original sin doesn't get enough credit here.

I believe he desired freedom, but was led not towards true freedom in the cross of Christ, but, rather ironically enough, only a material freedom. Spiritual freedom cannot occur by our own work, even through meditation. We only become free through the salvation of the Paschal Mystery.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Guest Post: Archbishop Fulton Sheen

We are lucky and honored to have our very first guest post. I've wanted to do this for a while, but have not pursued it enough to see it to fruition.

Welcome to the thoughts of Luke Arredondo, the author of a fellow Blogspot blog Quiet, Dignity, and Grace (which was nominated for best new blog over at the Crescat's Annual Cannonball Awards). I have know Luke for nigh on six years. We were in the seminary together. We played music together (he is an accomplished trumpeter). We prayed together and we've laughed together (a unique experience for the who have had the pleasure).

Luke, now a DRE at a local parish, is married with a beautiful baby girl. I've known for a long time that he is an avid reader and no author is more close to his heart than Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. When I asked to write a post, it seemed most appropriate for him to write on Sheen. Due to the breadth of his writing, it will be spread out over three posts.

Without further ado ...


An Ambassador of Faith

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, to older Catholics, is a household name. Unfortunately for the younger generations, his name is not yet awell-known one. However, it seems the tide may be turning in the other direction, even if slowly. Seminarians are reading his works,YouTube users are seeing some of his great tv spots, and in parishes around the world, prayers are being offered for his case for canonization.

I first discovered the writing sof Fulton Sheen while a seminarian. I'll forever be in debt spiritually to Neil Pettit, whose pile of books sitting on his desk attracted my attention on a number of occasions. On a whim, while heading out the door to my week of vacation in Destin, I asked if I could borrow his seminal volume on priesthood entitled The Priest Is Not His Own. Never will I look at the world with the same eyes.

These posts are born of a deepdesire to do two things:
First, to impart some of the most powerful insights I have gained from reading Sheen's works.
Secondly, to hopefully encourage those who read this post to go directly to the source and read some of the Archbishop's beautiful meditations and deepen your own faith in Christ.
If all goes well, reading these posts will lead you to read Fulton Sheen's own works and will in turn lead one deeper into the mystery of faith and particularly to a devotion to the Eucharist.

Short Biography

Fulton Sheen was born in El Paso, IL. His name was actually Peter John Sheen, but he became known by the name Fulton as a child and it stuck withhim. Although Sheen grew up in arural, farming community, his intellectual gifts would take him to some of themost prestigious places of study in the world. And he would succeed in everysingle challenge placed before him, even earning the highest possible honors in postgraduate work at the prestigious theology school in Luvein, Belgium.

After earning his doctorate, here turned to the US where he became a professor of philosophy at Catholic University of America and went on to host an Emmy-winning television program, Your Life Is Worth Living, which attracted viewers of all faiths and walks of life. His charisma came through the tv screen as well as his humor. At his acceptance speech for his Emmy award, he thanked his four writers Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

All throughout his life, Sheen was busy studying and writing. He is theauthor of over 30 books. His most well-known works are his Last Seven Words and his magnum opus Life of Christ. Shortly before his death, he met Pope John Paul II in New York, and the Holy Father told him that he had written well and spoken well of the Church. He died in his private chapel during a holy hour in 1979.


Stay tuned next week for the second post by Luke!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Rediscover Catholicism!

A few months back I was listening to one of the Lighthouse Catholic Media cd's by Matthew Kelly. I thought it was a pretty good CD and that he had some good reflections. At the end of the disc they spoke about his website,, and the ministry he runs that enables him to sell his book Rediscover Catholicism: A Spiritual Guide to Living with Passion and Purpose at a really low cost in hopes that large numbers will read it and hopefully be inspired in their faith or return to the faith if they've been away. Interested in the program, I bought a copy of the book to read through it first.

In reading it, I found it to be very readable and rather straightforward. He talks about his experience of the faith, but more importantly, he looks at the situation of the world around us, the Church, and the reality that we are all called to holiness. While this is not my usual book type to pick up, the simple text is certainly something to consider with reference to the average Catholic and fallen-away Catholics because it makes the faith accessible and understandable via practical examples from things most people experience or can at least relate to. While a great little motivational book that repeatedly encourages us to become the 'best-version-of-ourselves' (I always read 'holy'), it does come in at a hair over 300 pages, which might seem a bit daunting for someone at first glance. The program he runs also has a few other books that are worth looking at and possibly bringing into the parish in large quantities. Check his website for more information on the book and program.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Friday Thoughts - Point out the Light

In our culture today, self is the modus-operandi. It is from oneself that one acts. From oneself moral absolutes come. From oneself judgement is enacted. From oneself (insert problem).

Yet, we are made for charity. We are made to give ourselves away. No matter the depth of our sin and how far we have pushed away from our own true nature, gift of self can still manifest.

This my brothers and sisters is a key to evangelization. Use what is given you. Each person, no matter the depravity, has done something good for someone else (even if for spurious or nefarious motives). This is the glory of God shining through the darkness of sin. Point out the light!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Friday Thoughts - Episode 1

I desire to write more about reading, but reading requires time and soapboxing/reflecting/postulating/pontificating takes much less time.  So welcome to the beginning of an inconsequential series I will not follow up on, Friday Thoughts.

It has been over a month since the last post.  My life has been a whirlwind and I still can't manage my time well enough to write.  So here I am, broken, weak, and distracted.

These last few weeks for me have been great.  I single-handedly planned a youth lock-in, micro-managing Steve Jobs (R.I.P.) style.  We had our parish fair last weekend which was a blast.  I coached a loosing flag football season (0-5, upwards from here!).  The archbishop emeritus and New Orleans icon, Archbishop Philip Hannan was laid to rest yesterday.

Needless to say, sitting down to write has not been on my mind (football plays have taken up way to much space!).

What is important: Prayer.