Friday, October 02, 2015

Convalescent Cogitations

Sts. Cosmas and Damian: physicians and martyrs.
Going to the hospital for, if not a life-threatening, at least a life-inconveniencing procedure under general anesthesia causes one to pause and meditate upon one's vulnerability and mortality.  In the weeks leading up to this morning's surgery I mostly went about my daily business; but now, while I rest and metabolize the various sedatives out of my system, I have little to do except ponder Great Issues.  I probably should also make room in my cogitations to consider the wisdom of publishing their fruits while still in a condition that would make it illegal for me to drive; maybe I will hold off on clicking that button until tomorrow.  On the other hand, maybe today is the day to announce the happy news that I came through the surgery very well, with very little pain, and the doctor said everything looked good.  I should have lab results on the biopsy in a week.

-- I have to first express my gratitude to my aunt, Margie Blake, who got up at an ungodly hour to drive out all the way from a neighboring county and get me to the hospital at 5:30 a.m.; stayed with me until I went into surgery; stayed at the hospital all morning until I was ready to go home; talked to the doctor for me after the surgery; and provided me with a very delicious potato soup and Jello.  Her response to being so sorely put out by me?  Happiness at being able to do it.

-- I have to also express my gratitude to the doctors and nurses and orderlies at St. Luke's Hospital in Boise for the extraordinary care they took to be kind and gentle, see to my physical comfort, avoid inflicting unnecessary pain and assuage my anxieties.  These were people who get up extremely early in the morning, work long hours, perform strenuous and sometimes stomach-churning duties, ford innumerable streams of government red tape, and treat difficult and demanding people with kindness and compassion on a daily basis.  I, who roll out of bed at the latest possible minute I can get away with and still make it to work, and then spend my days being difficult and demanding, don't know how they do it.

--  One point that forced itself upon me with great clarity this morning was the necessity of preparing spiritually in advance for that supreme moment when one is about to leave this life.  The only real way to do this is to get into the habit of praying -- in particular, praying for protection from a sudden and unprovided death -- and frequenting the Sacraments.  It is rash and foolhardy to count on being able to slide into heaven at the last minute after a lifetime of neglecting the things of God.  After all, even if you don't die suddenly, you may nevertheless be in excruciating pain at the end, or you may not have all your marbles, or you may suddenly lose consciousness.  (I tried but failed to be aware of the moment when I would lose consciousness in the operating room: I was waking up in recovery before I knew I had gone to sleep.)  But even if you have the capacity for quiet concentration, a hospital is too full of distractions and interruptions for it.  Make your preparations and intentions and resolutions for that time now, while you are still capable, and keep renewing them.

-- I did not seek the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, or Extreme Unction, before my surgery.  This was because Extreme Unction is for persons who have begun to be in danger of death through bodily infirmity and not an anticipated cause from without.  All the evidence up to now indicates that, apart from certain symptoms, I am otherwise quite healthy, so that to the extent, if any, that I was in danger of death, it was from an external source and not from one internal to myself.  However, there are other ways to prepare for situations like this: going to confession and receiving Holy Communion ahead of time; getting in the daily Rosary before going in (even if you can't quite finish it); wearing the brown scapular (though the doctors will make you wear it someplace other than around your neck); arranging in advance to have a priest contacted in the event something goes wrong.  If -- which God forbid -- my biopsy turns up something potentially life-threatening, then I will seek Extreme Unction in the hell-whipping traditional form.

-- You never want to eat a thick, juicy steak so much as on Ash Wednesday or Good Friday, and you never want to go out and run errands so much as when you're not supposed to drive.  I also would really like to take a shower tonight but can't.

-- I hope the Swedish chemist Nils Löfgren made it straight into heaven without stopping in purgatory for inventing Lidocaine.

-- One downside to the Internet is that the ready accessibility of limitless information makes people think they can be experts without the expense and arduous labor of going to school and gaining experience.  Doctors and nurses must get really tired of having constantly and daily to burst people's Internet research bubbles.

-- I told myself to pick up some dark chocolate with almonds when I went to the store last night.  Should have listened.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Notes and Images from the Mary Magdalene Retreat

Our chapter's annual Mary Magdalene retreat on July 17-19 was a success.  A big thank you to all those who made it possible, from the cleanup crew to the cooks to Maria Turner and the chant schola to the newly-ordained Fr. Gabriel Mosher, O.P. who stepped in for Fr. Vincent Kelber, O.P. as our retreat master.  He offered a Dominican Rite Mass every day of our retreat, culminating in sung High Mass on Sunday.  We were glad to see a fair number of folks from outside the chapter join us for Mass in the main room of our chapter house, where we have set up a temporary chapel with a real battlefield altar.  Herewith some images (hopefully discreetly shot) from the retreat:

Adoration on Friday night.  Father leads us in the Holy Hour of Reparation to the Sacred Heart.

The Dominican Rite, which belongs particularly to the Order of Preachers and which predates the Council of Trent, is similar in many, but not all respects, to the traditional Roman Rite.  Here the altar is set up for High Mass in the Dominican Rite.  Notice that the chalice is not set up as it would be for the Latin Rite.  In the Dominican Rite the chalice is set up at the beginning of Mass.  Also notice the extra, unlit candles at either end of the altar.  These are the Sanctus candles.  They are lit during the Sanctus.

Vesting for Mass.  Father has the amice over his head and is putting on his maniple.

The sprinkling rite, done sans chasuble.

Altar servers are much more integral in the Dominican Rite than in the Roman Rite.  There were three servers at this High Mass, and they had a lot of complicated maneuvers to perform.  There is a constant orbiting around the altar, like a solar system.  In fact, it is a kind of solar system, with Christ -- represented by the altar -- as the center around which all of creation revolves.  This makes the liturgy a sort of dance, proving that there is a legitimate form of liturgical dance, with no gauze involved.

Preparing the incense.  Notice that there are a lot of candles in the Dominican Rite.

Elevation of the Host, with incensing.

After Mass, Father blessed candles, rosaries, salt and water for us according to the traditional Dominican rites of blessing and the Rituale Romanum.  If you have access to a Dominican friar who is willing to use the traditional formulas, there is a special Dominican blessing on rosaries that allows one to gain a plenary indulgence with each use of the beads.  We have now a tsunami of holy water, and enough exorcised salt to carpet-bomb every level of hell. 

There are many places where the old guard from the '70s and '80s still has the upper hand; but, as we saw this weekend, many of our new young priests and friars love the treasures of our Catholic patrimony and have very little use for the "wonderful" "new" ideas that so captivated their elders. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

St. Ann Novena: July 17-25

St. Ann, my name saint, is also my patroness for the year 2015.  July 26th is her feast day, so today is the day to begin her novena.  Here is the novena prayer I am saying.

Novena Prayer to St. Ann to Obtain 
Some Special Favor

O glorious St. Ann, you are filled with compassion for those who invoke you and with love for those who suffer! Heavily burdened with the weight of my troubles, I cast myself at your feet and humbly beg of you to take the present intention which I recommend to you in your special care.

Please recommend it to your daughter, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and place it before the throne of Jesus, so that He may bring it to a happy outcome. Continue to intercede for me until my request is granted. But, above all, obtain for me the grace one day to see my God face to face, and with you and Mary and all the saints to praise and bless Him for all eternity. Amen.

Good St. Ann, mother of her who is our life, our sweetness and our hope, pray to her for us and obtain our requests.  (3 times)

Hail Mary...

Good St. Ann, pray for us.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Dies Irae

For behold the sovereign the Lord of hosts shall take away from Jerusalem, and from Juda the valiant and the strong, the whole strength of bread, and the whole strength of water.  The strong man, and the man of war, the judge, and the prophet, and the cunning man, and the ancient.  The captain over fifty, and the honourable in countenance, and the counsellor, and the architect, and the skillful in eloquent speech.  And I will give children to be their princes, and the effeminate shall rule over them. 
Isaiah 3:1-4

One thing we have to realize about this week's Supreme Court catastrophe is that it is not merely calculated to bring down the wrath of God upon us.  This is the wrath of God.

We have lain under God's wrath for many years now, and most of us can't see it.  Many of us -- maybe most of us -- are positively pleased with the way things are going, both within and without the Church.  That is part of the punishment.

The Church is filled with bad priests and bishops.  Sorry, but I just do not subscribe to the Pollyanna view that most priests and bishops are good and that it is just a few bad apples that give the rest a bad name.  If that were true, the bad apples would be swiftly dealt with and would have no influence.  But the reality is that they are not dealt with at all, and run riot throughout the Church, doing incalculable damage.  Good priests and bishops are vastly outnumbered by those who, at best, are negligent, and at worst, are devoid of the Catholic faith and actively seeking to stamp out faith in their flocks.  Even most of the good ones are a mixed bag.  We have, in our time, hardly any outstandingly holy priests, and these are despised and persecuted by their own people and by the bad bishops who are over them.  This is a chastisement, as St. John Eudes declared:
The most evident mark of God's anger and the most terrible castigation He can inflict upon the world are manifested when He permits His people to fall into the hands of clergy who are priests more in name than in deed, priests who practice the cruelty of ravening wolves rather than charity and affection of devoted shepherds....When God permits such things, it is a very positive proof that He is thoroughly angry with His people, and is visiting His most dreadful anger upon them. That is why He cries unceasingly to Christians, "Return O ye revolting children ... and I will give you pastors according to My own heart". (Jer. 3:14,15) Thus, irregularities in the lives of priests constitute a scourge upon the people in consequence of sin.
A wicked secular government is also a sign of God's wrath.  We as a nation gleefully threw ourselves into the arms of a lawless president who is an enemy of this country and all the ideals enunciated at her founding, who rules by executive fiat, who has swept away the last remnants of constitutional government and the rule of law, and -- make no mistake about it -- has pitted himself irrevocably against the Catholic Church.  We suffered an unmitigated defeat the day he was elected, and many of us still don't know it.

Why is this part of the punishment?  Consider the story of the Exodus out of Egypt, where we read repeatedly about the hardening of Pharaoh's heart:
And the Lord said to Moses: Behold I have appointed thee the God of Pharao: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet.  Thou shalt speak to him all that I command thee; and he shall speak to Pharao, that he let the children of Israel go out of his land.  But I shall harden his heart, and shall multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, and he will not hear you: and I will lay my hand upon Egypt, and will bring forth my army and my people the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt, by very great judgments.  Exodus 7:1-4.
The excellent gloss in the Douay-Rheims Bible explains what God means here:
I shall harden: not by being the efficient cause of his hardness of heart, but by permitting it; and by withdrawing grace from him, in punishment of his malice; which alone was the proper cause of his being hardened. 
Every thinking person ought to find this frightening.  Spiritual blindness is a punishment for continually hardening our hearts against the graces God sends us.  To be so steeped in sin as to not recognize it for what it is is to be foreclosed from repentance and conversion; and if we persist in that state until death, we are damned.  Sometimes God even permits people in this state to be surrounded at the moment of death by others who make sure they are cut off from the Sacraments and confirmed in their errors to the end.  That is why it is so horrible that the popular culture supports the gay lifestyle.  In the name of "compassion," society hermetically seals its practitioners into their prison of lust, cutting them off from their only real avenue of retreat, until they die, despairing.

There are some delusional Catholics who think that, if only we just believe, any minute now, God will just swoop down and rescue us from our dire straits, as though we are somehow entitled to such.  Scripture is indeed full of promises that God will rescue us from disaster, and we even have the example of the Ninevites, whom God decided to spare from destruction.  But the Ninevites were spared because they listened to Jonah's warnings and repented and did penance.  If we want to be spared, we must do likewise; there has been no shortage of warnings.  But so far, it seems, we are going to continue to ignore them.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

You Will Be Assimilated. Resistance Is Futile.

These lights went up the same day the opinion was published.
This photo is from the White House's Twitter feed, which also now has a cartoon of a rainbowed White House as its avatar.  The Executive Mansion, owned and kept up by the American taxpayer, is currently the residence of a man who, just a few short years ago, declared that he believed marriage to be between one man and one woman.  Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has discovered the "right" to same-sex "marriage" in the Fourteenth Amendment -- a right hitherto undetected by any human being since the Constitution was ratified -- that same man has turned the house first lived in by Thomas Jefferson into a gigantic billboard for homosexualism. 

But, lest we be too distracted by this puerile display and mockery of an historic monument of the nation's founding, let us take special note of Obama's speech celebrating the Supreme Court's travesty.  You can read the whole thing here; this is the money quote:
I know that Americans of good will continue to hold a wide range of views on this issue. Opposition, in some cases, has been based on sincere and deeply held beliefs. All of us who welcome today’s news should be mindful of that fact and recognize different viewpoints, revere our ["]deep["] ["]commitment["] to religious freedom.

But today should also give us hope that on the many issues with which we grapple, often painfully, real change is possible. Shift in hearts and minds is possible. And those who have come so far on their journey to equality have a responsibility to reach back and help others join them, because for all of our differences, we are one people, stronger together than we could ever be alone.
Let us leave to one side the hypocrisy in this divide-and-conquer president of appealing to national unity.  I have already been ridiculed as a paranoiac because I perceive this new development as a frontal assault on my free exercise of my Catholic faith as formerly guaranteed by the First Amendment.  Now along comes Obama, vindicating my point and proving that, like always with leftists, this victory is not enough.  It was never going to be enough, just like all the previous victories garnered after long years of shoving gay propaganda down everyone's throats.  Nothing is never enough.  It's not enough that government at all levels supports the gay lifestyle. It's not enough that big business supports it.  It's not enough that the entertainment industry supports it.  It's not enough that the education system, from kindergartens to universities, supports it.  It's not enough that the media support it.  It's not enough that popular culture supports it.  It's not enough that some heretical Catholic bishops and priests support it.  It's not enough that Disneyland supports it.  It's not enough that now five out of nine Supreme Court justices support it.  No: I must also support it.  And since I must support it, if I will not do so voluntarily, the next step is to use force to make me.  And if I still refuse to give way, then I guess the next step is liquidation.  Because leftists think they can only have peace when there is an absence of opposition.

Yet that still will not be enough.  Even after all the intractables are liquidated, opposition will continue to be redefined.  One day, opposition will consist in all those who are not actively participating in the gay lifestyle and gay sex, even though they condone it.  Meanwhile, the misery of homosexuals increases as they struggle, pathetically, to re-invent reality in the face of nature, reason and God, their carefully-constructed edifice of imaginary "rights" having turned into a maximum-security prison from which there is no escape -- not even death.

Martin Luther said: "Reason is a whore, the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but more frequently than not struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God."  This idea of reason as a whore has borne much evil fruit over five centuries, and perhaps none more poisonous than the current assault on marriage and the free exercise of religion.  We are in a mess now that can be fixed only by divine intervention; we had better pray and strive to somehow deserve it.

Psalm 36

Be not emulous of evildoers; nor envy them that work iniquity.
For they shall shortly wither away as grass, and as the green herbs shall quickly fall.
Trust in the Lord, and do good, and dwell in the land, and thou shalt be fed with its riches.
Delight in the Lord, and He will give thee the requests of thy heart.
Commit thy way to the Lord, and trust in Him, and He will do it.

And He will bring forth thy justice as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday.
Be subject to the Lord and pray to Him. Envy not the man who prospereth in his way; the man who doth unjust things.
Cease from anger, and leave rage; have no emulation to do evil.
For the evildoers shall be cut off: but they that wait upon the Lord shall inherit the land.
For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be: and thou shalt seek his place, and shalt not find it.

But the meek shall inherit the land, and shall delight in abundance of peace.
The sinner shall watch the just man: and shall gnash upon him with his teeth.
But the Lord shall laugh at him: for He foreseeth that his day shall come. The wicked have drawn out the sword: they have bent their bow. To cast down the poor and needy, to kill the upright of heart.
Let their sword enter into their own hearts, and let their bow be broken.

Better is a little to the just, than the great riches of the wicked.
For the arms of the wicked shall be broken in pieces; but the Lord strengtheneth the just.
The Lord knoweth the days of undefiled; and their inheritance shall be for ever.
They shall not be confounded in the evil time; and in the days of famine they shall be filled:
Because the wicked shall perish. And the enemies of the Lord, presently after they shall be honoured and exalted, shall come to nothing and vanish like smoke.

The sinner shall borrow, and not pay again; but the just sheweth mercy and shall give.
For such as bless him shall inherit the land: but such as curse him shall perish.
With the Lord shall the steps of a man be directed, and he shall like well his way.
When he shall fall he shall not be bruised, for the Lord putteth His hand under him.
I have been young, and now am old; and I have not seen the just forsaken, nor his seed seeking bread.

He sheweth mercy, and lendeth all the day long; and his seed shall be in blessing.
Decline from evil and do good, and dwell for ever and ever.
For the Lord loveth judgment, and will not forsake His saints: they shall be preserved for ever. The unjust shall be punished, and the seed of the wicked shall perish.
But the just shall inherit the land, and shall dwell therein for evermore.
The mouth of the just shall meditate wisdom: and his tongue shall speak judgment.

The law of his God is in his heart, and his steps shall not be supplanted.
The wicked watcheth the just man, and seeketh to put him to death,
But the Lord will not leave in his hands; nor condemn him when he shall be judged.
Expect the Lord and keep His way: and He will exalt thee to inherit the land: when the sinners shall perish thou shalt see.
I have seen the wicked highly exalted, and lifted up like the cedars of Libanus.

And I passed by, and lo, he was not: and I sought him and his place was not found.

Keep innocence, and behold justice: for there are remnants for the peaceable man.
But the unjust shall be destroyed together: the remnants of the wicked shall perish.
But the salvation of the just is from the Lord, and He is their protector in the time of trouble.
And the Lord will help them and deliver them: and He will rescue them from the wicked, and save them, because they have hoped in Him.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Starri, Starri Blight

If you pay a creepy-looking, tattoo-covered, bushy-armpitted, ritual sex magick-performing New Age guru-ette up to $7,000.00 a year to educate your children at a place founded on pagan principles, named after a pagan earth goddess and staffed with pagans and womyn's studies majors, should you be surprised to find out that "do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law" at that school?

Apparently it does come as a surprise to parents at Minneapolis' Gaia Democratic School, whose kids were taken on a field trip to a sex shop as part of a year-long (!) sex ed classSchool director Starri Hedges, who arranged and led the field trip, claimed that the children were not exposed to anything that was considered pornographic, although they could see sex toys and other unspecified products.  "What I saw happening on our trip, I thought it was beautiful because kids could talk to these sex educators without any shame, without any fear," said the delusional Hedges.  Regarding the outrage of parents, who were not consulted ahead of time, Hedges said: "It was certainly the first time we have taken that kind of field trip and it will probably be our last, which I feel bad [about] because the kids had so much fun" -- "fun" being a core principle upon which the school's educational philosophy is based.  Hence, no doubt, the school's board of directors' issuance of a press release defending Hedges and her misbegotten field trip.

Nevertheless, many of the parents of children enrolled at Gaia Democratic are calling for Hedges' ouster, and several have pulled their children out of the school.  One parent has instigated a criminal investigation on the grounds that children were exposed to pornographic material -- an allegation that may be supported by the fact that the sex shop has since been cited for keeping sexually explicit materials in the view of minors.  “I want her done and out, and that school closed,” said one parent. “I want her away from children.  It’s borderline predation.”  It seems that otherwise progressive, forward-thinking, open-minded, neo-pagans do not want their own kids to be groomed for early sex, proving that the Age of Aquarius has its limitations after all.

Concerning this imbroglio, a few observations:

-- We are constantly preached at that one should not judge another based on appearances.  This is true -- up to a point.  We should not automatically assume that a person who is physically beautiful must therefore also be beautiful on the inside, lest we cast aside ordinary prudence.  Likewise, we should not think ill of a person based on external factors that are more or less out of his control, like skin color or body type or poverty or illness.  But what about deliberately self-inflicted physical oddities?  Should we not pay attention to the red flags raised by persons like Starri Hedges who give the appearance of great personal creepiness based on things she's done to herself?  Does not her willingness to take children as young as 11 to a sex shop prove this creepiness to be more than skin-deep?

-- Sex is a basic human drive and an instinct so deep as to require no training, except in self-control.  Why, then, does any school have a year-long course in sex -- manifestly not about self-control, since it includes a trip to a sex shop -- except to break down the inhibitions of children?  This is what is known as grooming, a practice formerly restricted to child molesters, but which now parents are paying schools to do to their children.

-- What is the rationale for keeping kids away from porn if it's okay for them to be exposed to sex toys?  What is the rationale for keeping kids away from sex toys if it's okay to subject them to a year of sexual indoctrination in the classroom?  Where were the outraged parents while this was going on?

 -- Incidents like this prove that when you reject the natural law -- as these parents did implicitly by sending their kids to a school that operates explicitly on principles directly opposed to the natural law -- you leave yourself defenseless in the face of evil.  Worse, you leave defenseless those who are entrusted to your care.   

-- Do any of these parents think it's okay or even actively support the exposure of other people's children to the filth that they do not now want their own children exposed to?

The father who has filed a complaint with Minneapolis police against Starri Hedges has been quoted as calling the incident "a major breach of trust," and observing that "you just can't erase those images."  He is absolutely right; and he is absolutely right in declaring Hedges unfit to have anything to do with children.  But there is a legion of reasons why neither he nor any of the other parents should ever have reposed any trust in Hedges or her school in the first place, and no knowing when, if ever, the damage to their children will ever be undone.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

The New Alchemy

Bruce Jenner is now officially pretending to be a woman, and we are advised from nearly every quarter that he deserves respect and support and plaudits for this "courageous" and "difficult" decision to pursue his "right" to be whatever he wants to be.

This sort of thing is possible only in a world that rejects (a) God, and (b) objective reality.  The recognition of an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good and loving God necessarily rules out the idea that a person can be a woman "trapped in a man's body" and vice versa.  God cannot make mistakes or fail to carry out His ordaining will.  And contrary to the fevered imaginings of the so-called Enlightenment philosophers, it is possible to perceive and grasp reality, and to distinguish it from that which is unreal.  Sex (not "gender": funny how, in an age saturated with sex, we cavil at using the word) is inescapable.  The sex chromosomes, which inhabit every single cell in the human body, are inescapable.  Persons who think they can create their own reality should think about trying to apply that principle to their checking accounts.  Go ahead and decide you're a billionaire, and then start trying to spend accordingly.  See where that gets you.

With God and objective reality out of the picture, no one is safe, not even from himself.  Now anything is not only possible, but permissible.  The willingness to traverse boundaries previously understood as being impassible marks the death of human dignity.  The body is nothing more than fodder for experimentation, to be used and abused as we please.  We are just human chattels.  We are reverting back to the slavery that our forebears fought and labored so hard to abolish, only this time it will be without even the minimal protection of the law.  The idea of the integrity of the human person is meaningless.

And since we need not respect our own integrity, others need not respect it either.  Maybe someone else should be able to decide for us that we should be the opposite sex.  That day in fact has already come: already we are seeing stories about parents putting their children -- even five-year-olds! -- through this process, and attributing it to the child's "choice."  Is it not the height of immorality to hold a child -- manifestly too immature to make life-changing decisions, possibly not even having yet attained the use of reason -- to a whim?  What if the child decides to pretend to be a dog or a cat?  Should he be held to that, even to the extent of being surgically mutilated to look like a dog or a cat?  Where are the laws to protect children from this extreme form of abuse inflicted on them by those whose duty it is to love and care for them?  In the end, where will we get laws to protect adults from this kind of treatment?

Bruce Jenner is not a woman, and he is not a hero for trying to live like one.  He is properly an object of pity, not only on account of his deep disorder but also because he is surrounded by people who do not love him enough to uphold the truth to his face.  And the truth is this.  God made him a man, on purpose, and it is His will that Bruce live like the man he was made to be.  He can put on women's clothes; he can fill himself full of hormones; he can go through the "counseling"; he can pay some quack tens of thousands of dollars to mutilate his body; he can even bully the rest of the world into playing along with his fantasy.  But he can never, ever make himself into something that he is not, much less find happiness in the effort.

Friday, May 01, 2015

God Does Not Mess with Our Heads

Fracassini, Execution of the Martyrs of Gorkum.
Today I found myself reflecting on Protestantism, and it occurred to me that among its fundamental flaws is that it is okay with the idea of a God Who messes with our heads.  This is because Protestants hold that Christ established an invisible church of true believers, rather than a visible Church of true teachers.  In other words, God leaves us to figure out for ourselves what we need to do to save our souls.  

The idea that God allows us to puzzle out our own path to salvation gives us way too much credit for brains, and God no credit at all for being a loving Father.  What loving human parent allows a child to figure out for himself whether to stick his hand in a pot of boiling water, or light matches, or run out into traffic?  What loving parent fails to pass on to the child wisdom and knowledge that the child cannot learn without being told?  So God sets up visible authority figures for the child in the person of his mother and father in order to teach him the things he will need to know in order to survive in the world -- and also in order to give him a reason to believe what he has been taught without having to find it out through tragic experience.  If God does this in order to secure our temporal good, why would He not, to secure our eternal good, set up a true Church of visible teachers with authority to teach in His Name?  After all, the avoidance of hell and attainment of heaven is the paramount business of our lives.  Nothing else equals it in importance.  It is why we were created.  Failure to achieve our supreme objective is catastrophic and irreversible.  And, if we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that there is a reason Holy Scripture constantly compares mortal man to sheep.  We are not very bright.

So why would anybody even want private judgment to be a true doctrine?  Clearly, the purpose of private judgment is to allow us to rationalize doing whatever we want.  It provides us with a built-in scorn for, or at least suspicion of, authority -- especially the authority of the Successor of Peter -- that permits us to doubt and ultimately disregard any authoritative teaching that goes against our perverse inclinations.  It blinds us to the truth by allowing us to replace reality with our own fantasies and stamping them with the imprimatur of the Holy Spirit.  It gives us a basis to conclude that, after all, breaking our marriage or religious vows or neglecting our kids or accumulating an Everest of possessions or furthering the cause of socialism or apostatizing from the Catholic faith may indeed be our own personal path to salvation.  In the end, private judgment must lead to a forgetfulness of salvation at all, in favor of idolizing the transitory happiness of this life.  Private judgment is ultimately rooted in pride.  This has to be why the confidence of its adherents is not shaken by the proliferation of contradictory and mutually exclusive judgments, each of which is held by someone claiming to have been inspired by God.

But God does not inspire chaos.  He does not leave us without guidance in the pursuit of our most vital interests.  He does not deprive us of light in our search for Truth.  He does not make the most vital truths obscure and indiscernible.  God does not mess with our heads.

Friday, April 03, 2015

The Harrowing of Hell (Re-Post)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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