Friday Fathers #3 – St. Eusebius of Caesarea on Peter and Paul

Today we look at St. Eusebius of Caesarea’s important work “Church History.” In Book II, Eusebius follows the history of the early Church and the aftermath of the public ministry of Christ, including giving us some interesting details about Jerusalem, Rome, and all sorts of things. The work is valuable for its vast descriptions of the goings-on of the entire Mediterranean and the lives of the Apostles and their first successors, but since I return to Rome Sunday, today we are lasering in on Peter and Paul, with chapters 14, 15, 22, and 25 from Book II.

Chapter 14

1. The evil power, who hates all that is good and plots against the salvation of men, constituted Simon at that time the father and author of such wickedness, as if to make him a mighty antagonist of the great, inspired apostles of our Saviour.

2. For that divine and celestial grace which co-operates with its ministers, by their appearance and presence, quickly extinguished the kindled flame of evil, and humbled and cast down through them every high thing that exalted itself against the knowledge of God. (2 Corinthians 10:5)

3. Wherefore neither the conspiracy of Simon nor that of any of the others who arose at that period could accomplish anything in those apostolic times. For everything was conquered and subdued by the splendors of the truth and by the divine word itself which had but lately begun to shine from heaven upon men, and which was then flourishing upon earth, and dwelling in the apostles themselves.

4. Immediately the above-mentioned impostor was smitten in the eyes of his mind by a divine and miraculous flash, and after the evil deeds done by him had been first detected by the apostle Peter in Judea, he fled and made a great journey across the sea from the East to the West, thinking that only thus could he live according to his mind.

5. And coming to the city of Rome, by the mighty co-operation of that power which was lying in wait there, he was in a short time so successful in his undertaking that those who dwelt there honored him as a god by the erection of a statue.

6. But this did not last long. For immediately, during the reign of Claudius, the all-good and gracious Providence, which watches over all things, led Peter, that strongest and greatest of the apostles, and the one who on account of his virtue was the speaker for all the others, to Rome against this great corrupter of life. Clad in divine armor like a noble commander of God, He carried the costly merchandise of the light of the understanding from the East to those who dwelt in the West, proclaiming the light itself, and the word which brings salvation to souls, and preaching the kingdom of heaven.

Chapter 15

1. And thus when the divine word had made its home among them, the power of Simon was quenched and immediately destroyed, together with the man himself. And so greatly did the splendor of piety illumine the minds of Peter’s hearers that they were not satisfied with hearing once only, and were not content with the unwritten teaching of the divine Gospel, but with all sorts of entreaties they besought Mark, a follower of Peter, and the one whose Gospel is extant, that he would leave them a written monument of the doctrine which had been orally communicated to them. Nor did they cease until they had prevailed with the man, and had thus become the occasion of the written Gospel which bears the name of Mark.

2. And they say that Peter — when he had learned, through a revelation of the Spirit, of that which had been done — was pleased with the zeal of the men, and that the work obtained the sanction of his authority for the purpose of being used in the churches. Clement in the eighth book of his Hypotyposes gives this account, and with him agrees the bishop of Hierapolis named Papias. And Peter makes mention of Mark in his first epistle which they say that he wrote in Rome itself, as is indicated by him, when he calls the city, by a figure, Babylon, as he does in the following words: The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, salutes you; and so does Marcus my son. (1 Peter 5:13)

Chapter 22

1. Festus was sent by Nero to be Felix’s successor. Under him Paul, having made his defense, was sent bound to Rome. Aristarchus was with him, whom he also somewhere in his epistles quite naturally calls his fellow-prisoner. (Colossians 4:10) And Luke, who wrote the Acts of the Apostles, brought his history to a close at this point, after stating that Paul spent two whole years at Rome as a prisoner at large, and preached the word of God without restraint.

2. Thus after he had made his defense it is said that the apostle was sent again upon the ministry of preaching, and that upon coming to the same city a second time he suffered martyrdom. In this imprisonment he wrote his second epistle to Timothy, in which he mentions his first defense and his impending death.

3. But hear his testimony on these matters: At my first answer, he says, no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge. Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. (2 Timothy 4:16-17)

4. He plainly indicates in these words that on the former occasion, in order that the preaching might be fulfilled by him, he was rescued from the mouth of the lion, referring, in this expression, to Nero, as is probable on account of the latter’s cruelty. He did not therefore afterward add the similar statement, He will rescue me from the mouth of the lion; for he saw in the spirit that his end would not be long delayed.

5. Wherefore he adds to the words, And he delivered me from the mouth of the lion, this sentence: The Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom, (2 Timothy 4:18) indicating his speedy martyrdom; which he also foretells still more clearly in the same epistle, when he writes, For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.

6. In his second epistle to Timothy, moreover, he indicates that Luke was with him when he wrote, but at his first defense not even he. Whence it is probable that Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles at that time, continuing his history down to the period when he was with Paul.

7. But these things have been adduced by us to show that Paul’s martyrdom did not take place at the time of that Roman sojourn which Luke records.

8. It is probable indeed that as Nero was more disposed to mildness in the beginning, Paul’s defense of his doctrine was more easily received; but that when he had advanced to the commission of lawless deeds of daring, he made the apostles as well as others the subjects of his attacks.

Chapter 25

1. When the government of Nero was now firmly established, he began to plunge into unholy pursuits, and armed himself even against the religion of the God of the universe.

2. To describe the greatness of his depravity does not lie within the plan of the present work. As there are many indeed that have recorded his history in most accurate narratives, every one may at his pleasure learn from them the coarseness of the man’s extraordinary madness, under the influence of which, after he had accomplished the destruction of so many myriads without any reason, he ran into such blood-guiltiness that he did not spare even his nearest relatives and dearest friends, but destroyed his mother and his brothers and his wife, with very many others of his own family as he would private and public enemies, with various kinds of deaths.

3. But with all these things this particular in the catalogue of his crimes was still wanting, that he was the first of the emperors who showed himself an enemy of the divine religion.

4. The Roman Tertullian is likewise a witness of this. He writes as follows: Examine your records. There you will find that Nero was the first that persecuted this doctrine, particularly then when after subduing all the east, he exercised his cruelty against all at Rome. We glory in having such a man the leader in our punishment. For whoever knows him can understand that nothing was condemned by Nero unless it was something of great excellence.

5. Thus publicly announcing himself as the first among God’s chief enemies, he was led on to the slaughter of the apostles. It is, therefore, recorded that Paul was beheaded in Rome itself, and that Peter likewise was crucified under Nero. This account of Peter and Paul is substantiated by the fact that their names are preserved in the cemeteries of that place even to the present day.

6. It is confirmed likewise by Caius, a member of the Church, who arose under Zephyrinus, bishop of Rome. He, in a published disputation with Proclus, the leader of the Phrygian heresy, speaks as follows concerning the places where the sacred corpses of the aforesaid apostles are laid:

7. But I can show the trophies of the apostles. For if you will go to the Vatican or to the Ostian way, you will find the trophies of those who laid the foundations of this church.

8. And that they both suffered martyrdom at the same time is stated by Dionysius, bishop of Corinth, in his epistle to the Romans, in the following words: You have thus by such an admonition bound together the planting of Peter and of Paul at Rome and Corinth. For both of them planted and likewise taught us in our Corinth. And they taught together in like manner in Italy, and suffered martyrdom at the same time. I have quoted these things in order that the truth of the history might be still more confirmed.

Friday Fathers #2 – St. Ambrose on Modesty

Today we continue our weekly series in patristics with a blunt, interesting, and helpful set of chapters (18-20) from Book II of St. Ambrose of Milan’s work “On the Duties of the Clergy.” In this text, he not only lays out what clerics should aspire to in their moral life and ministry, but he gives a thorough treatment of the virtues in general, applicable to anyone. However, in this section the Saint is concerned primarily with some special aspects of temperance, namely, modesty, including in view of chastity and prudence.

St. Ambrose, pray for us!

Chapter 18

67. Lovely, then, is the virtue of modesty, and sweet is its grace! It is seen not only in actions, but even in our words, so that we may not go beyond due measure in speech, and that our words may not have an unbecoming sound. The mirror of our mind often enough reflects its image in our words. Sobriety weighs out the sound even of our voice, for fear that too loud a voice should offend the ear of any one. Nay, in singing itself the first rule is modesty, and the same is true in every kind of speech, too, so that a man may gradually learn to praise God, or to sing songs, or even to speak, in that the principles of modesty grace his advance.

68. Silence, again, wherein all the other virtues rest, is the chief act of modesty. Only, if it is supposed to be a sign of a childish or proud spirit, it is accounted a reproach; if a sign of modesty, it is reckoned for praise. Susanna was silent in danger, and thought the loss of modesty was worse than loss of life. She did not consider that her safety should be guarded at the risk of her chastity. To God alone she spoke, to Whom she could speak out in true modesty. She avoided looking on the face of men. For there is also modesty in the glance of the eye, which makes a woman unwilling to look upon men, or to be seen by them.

69. Let no one suppose that this praise belongs to chastity alone. For modesty is the companion of purity, in company with which chastity itself is safer. Shame, again, is good as a companion and guide of chastity, inasmuch as it does not suffer purity to be defiled in approaching even the outskirts of danger. This it is that, at the very outset of her recognition, commends the Mother of the Lord to those who read the Scriptures, and, as a credible witness, declares her worthy to be chosen to such an office. For when in her chamber, alone, she is saluted by the angel, she is silent, and is disturbed at his entrance, and the Virgin’s face is troubled at the strange appearance of a man’s form. And so, though she was humble, yet it was not because of this, but on account of her modesty, that she did not return his salutation, nor give him any answer, except to ask, when she had learned that she should conceive the Lord, how this should be. She certainly did not speak merely for the sake of making a reply.

70. In our very prayers, too, modesty is most pleasing, and gains us much grace from our God. Was it not this that exalted the publican, and commended him, when he dared not raise even his eyes to heaven? (Luke 18:13-14) So he was justified by the judgment of the Lord rather than the Pharisee, whom overweening pride made so hideous. Therefore let us pray in the incorruptibility of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price, (1 Peter 3:4) as St. Peter says. A noble thing, then, is modesty, which, though giving up its rights, seizing on nothing for itself, laying claim to nothing, and in some ways somewhat retiring within the sphere of its own powers, yet is rich in the sight of God, in Whose sight no man is rich. Rich is modesty, for it is the portion of God. Paul also bids that prayer be offered up with modesty and sobriety. (1 Timothy 2:9) He desires that this should be first, and, as it were, lead the way of prayers to come, so that the sinner’s prayer may not be boastful, but veiled, as it were, with the blush of shame, may merit a far greater degree of grace, in giving way to modesty at the remembrance of its fault.

71. Modesty must further be guarded in our very movements and gestures and gait. For the condition of the mind is often seen in the attitude of the body. For this reason the hidden man of our heart (our inner self) is considered to be either frivolous, boastful, or boisterous, or, on the other hand, steady, firm, pure, and dependable. Thus the movement of the body is a sort of voice of the soul.

72. You remember, my children, that a friend of ours who seemed to recommend himself by his assiduity in his duties, yet was not admitted by me into the number of the clergy, because his gestures were too unseemly. Also that I bade one, whom I found already among the clergy, never to go in front of me, because he actually pained me by the seeming arrogance of his gait. That is what I said when he returned to his duty after an offense committed. This alone I would not allow, nor did my mind deceive me. For both have left the Church. What their gait betrayed them to be, such were they proved to be by the faithlessness of their hearts. The one forsook his faith at the time of the Arian troubles; the other, through love of money, denied that he belonged to us, so that he might not have to undergo sentence at the hands of the Church. In their gait was discernible the semblance of fickleness, the appearance, as it were, of wandering buffoons.

73. Some there are who in walking perceptibly copy the gestures of actors, and act as though they were bearers in the processions, and had the motions of nodding statues, to such an extent that they seem to keep a sort of time, as often as they change their step.

74. Nor do I think it becoming to walk hurriedly, except when a case of some danger demands it, or a real necessity. For we often see those who hurry come up panting, and with features distorted. But if there is no reason for the need of such hurry, it gives cause for just offense. I am not, however, talking of those who have to hurry now and then for some particular reason, but of those to whom, by the yoke of constant habit, it has become a second nature. In the case of the former I cannot approve of their slow solemn movements, which remind one of the forms of phantoms. Nor do I care for the others with their headlong speed, for they put one in mind of the ruin of outcasts.

75. A suitable gait is that wherein there is an appearance of authority and weight and dignity, and which has a calm collected bearing. But it must be of such a character that all effort and conceit may be wanting, and that it be simple and plain. Nothing counterfeit is pleasing. Let nature train our movements. If indeed there is any fault in our nature, let us mend it with diligence. And, that artifice may be wanting, let not amendment be wanting.

76. But if we pay so much attention to things like these, how much more careful ought we to be to let nothing shameful proceed out of our mouth, for that defiles a man terribly. It is not food that defiles, but unjust disparagement of others and foul words. These things are openly shameful. In our office indeed must no word be let fall at all unseemly, nor one that may give offense to modesty. But not only ought we to say nothing unbecoming to ourselves, but we ought not even to lend our ears to words of this sort. Thus Joseph fled and left his garment, that he might hear nothing inconsistent with his modesty. (Genesis 39:12) For he who delights to listen, urges the other on to speak.

77. To have full knowledge of what is foul is in the highest degree shameful. To see anything of this sort, if by chance it should happen, how dreadful that is! What, therefore, is displeasing to us in others, can that be pleasing in ourselves? Is not nature herself our teacher, who has formed to perfection every part of our body, so as to provide for what is necessary and to beautify and grace its form? However she has left plain and open to the sight those parts which are beautiful to look upon; among which, the head, set as it were above all, and the pleasant lines of the figure, and the appearance of the face are prominent, while their usefulness for work is ready to hand. But those parts in which there is a compliance with the necessities of nature, she has partly put away and hidden in the body itself, lest they should present a disgusting appearance, and partly, too, she has taught and persuaded us to cover them.

78. Is not nature herself then a teacher of modesty? Following her example, the modesty of men, which I suppose is so called from the mode of knowing what is seemly, has covered and veiled what it has found hid in the frame of our body; like that door which Noah was bidden to make in the side of the ark; (Genesis 6:16) wherein we find a figure of the Church, and also of the human body, for through that door the remnants of food were cast out. Thus the Maker of our nature so thought of our modesty, and so guarded what was seemly and virtuous in our body, as to place what is unseemly behind, and to put it out of the sight of our eyes. Of this the Apostle says well: Those members of the body which seem to be more feeble are necessary, and those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, upon these we bestow more abundant honor, and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. (1 Corinthians 12:22-23) Truly, by following the guidance of nature, diligent care has added to the grace of the body. In another place I have gone more fully into this subject, and said that not only do we hide those parts which have been given us to hide, but also that we think it unseemly to mention by name their description, and the use of those members.

79. And if these parts are exposed to view by chance, modesty is violated; but if on purpose, it is reckoned as utter shamelessness. Wherefore Ham, Noah’s son, brought disgrace upon himself; for he laughed when he saw his father naked, but they who covered their father received the gift of a blessing. (Genesis 9:22) For which cause, also, it was an ancient custom in Rome, and in many other states as well, that grown-up sons should not bathe with their parents, or sons-in-law with their fathers-in-law, in order that the great duty of reverence for parents should not be weakened. Many, however, cover themselves so far as they can in the baths, so that, where the whole body is bare, that part of it at least may be covered.

80. The priests, also, under the old law, as we read in Exodus, wore breeches, as it was told Moses by the Lord: And you shall make them linen breeches to cover their shame: from the loins even to the thighs they shall reach, and Aaron and his sons shall wear them, when they enter into the tabernacle of witness, and when they come unto the altar of the holy place to offer sacrifice, that they lay not sin upon themselves and die. (Exodus 28:42-43) Some of us are said still to observe this, but most explain it spiritually, and suppose it was said with a view to guarding modesty and preserving chastity.

Chapter 19

81. It has given me pleasure to dwell somewhat at length on the various functions of modesty; for I speak to you who either can recognize the good that is in it in your own cases, or at least do not know its loss. Fitted as it is for all ages, persons, times, and places, yet it most beseems youthful and childish years.

82. But at every age we must take care that all we do is seemly and becoming, and that the course of our life forms one harmonious and complete whole. Wherefore Cicero thinks that a certain order ought to be observed in what is seemly. He says that this lies in beauty, order, and in appointment fitted for action. This, as he says, it is difficult to explain in words, yet it can be quite sufficiently understood.

83. Why Cicero should have introduced beauty, I do not quite understand; though it is true he also speaks in praise of the powers of the body. We certainly do not locate virtue in the beauty of the body, though, on the other hand, we do recognize a certain grace, as when modesty is wont to cover the face with a blush of shame, and to make it more pleasing. For as a workman is wont to work better the more suitable his materials are, so modesty is more conspicuous in the comeliness of the body. Only the comeliness of the body should not be assumed; it should be natural and artless, unstudied rather than elaborated, not heightened by costly and glistening garments, but just clad in ordinary clothing. One must see that nothing is wanting that one’s credit or necessity demands, while nothing must be added for the sake of splendor.

84. The voice, too, should not be languid, nor feeble, nor womanish in its tone — such a tone of voice as many are in the habit of using, under the idea of seeming important. It should preserve a certain quality, and rhythm, and a manly vigor. For all to do what is best suited to their character and sex, that is to attain to beauty of life. This is the best order for movements, this the employment fitted for every action. But as I cannot approve of a soft or weak tone of voice, or an effeminate gesture of the body, so also I cannot approve of what is boorish and rustic. Let us follow nature. The imitation of her provides us with a principle of training, and gives us a pattern of virtue.

Chapter 20

85. Modesty has indeed its rocks — not any that she brings with her, but those, I mean, which she often runs against, as when we associate with profligate men, who, under the form of pleasantry, administer poison to the good. And the latter, if they are very constant in their attendance at banquets and games, and often join in jests, enervate that manly gravity of theirs. Let us then take heed that, in wishing to relax our minds, we do not destroy all harmony, the blending as it were of all good works. For habit quickly bends nature in another direction.

86. For this reason I think that what ye wisely do is befitting to the duties of clerics, and especially to those of the priesthood— namely, that you avoid the banquets of strangers, but so that you are still hospitable to travelers, and give no occasion for reproach by reason of your great care in the matter. Banquets with strangers engross one’s attention, and soon produce a love for feasting. Tales, also, of the world and its pleasures often creep in. One cannot shut one’s ears; and to forbid them is looked on as a sign of haughtiness. One’s glass, too, even against one’s will, is filled time after time. It is better surely to excuse oneself once for all at one’s own home, than often at another’s. When one rises sober, at any rate one’s presence need not be condemned by the insolence of another.

87. There is no need for the younger clergy to go to the houses of widows or virgins, except for the sake of a definite visit, and in that case only with the elder clergy, that is, with the bishop, or, if the matter be somewhat important, with the priests. Why should we give room to the world to revile? What need is there for those frequent visits to give ground for rumours? What if one of those women should by chance fall? Why should you undergo the reproach of another’s fall? How many even strong men have been led away by their passions? How many are there who have not indeed yielded to sin, but have given ground for suspicion?

88. Why do you not spend the time which you have free from your duties in the church in reading? Why do you not go back again to see Christ? Why do you not address Him, and hear His voice? We address Him when we pray, we hear Him when we read the sacred oracles of God. What have we to do with strange houses? There is one house which holds all. They who need us can come to us. What have we to do with tales and fables? An office to minister at the altar of Christ is what we have received; no duty to make ourselves agreeable to men has been laid upon us.

89. We ought to be humble, gentle, mild, serious, patient. We must keep the mean in all things, so that a calm countenance and quiet speech may show that there is no vice in our lives.

Principles for Chaste Relationships – Part I

Eamonn Clark, STL

“How far is too far?” This is simultaneously the most popular and most wrongheaded question that star-crossed lovers can ask. And they are often given well-meaning but misguided advice based on intuitive but terrible or at least incomplete ideas. These latter are often dependent on a rightly developed sense of shame – guidelines like “Would you do this in front of x person” fall into this category.

I don’t think depending on such principles is all that bad for group talks with high schoolers, but it leaves much to be desired. It does not explain the “why” behind chastity’s concrete applications in courtship, and it is insufficient for a real examination of conscience; it is thus especially unhelpful for confessors and preachers trying to sort through these complex issues when souls are really on the line. We can do better by going to the heart of the matter, though it takes some work. Let’s take on the question in appropriate detail then, shall we?

In this series of posts, we will investigate 5 great principles for chaste courtship. They are:

  1. Distinguish between love, desire, and delight (the three positive concupiscible passions)
  2. Don’t start what you can’t finish
  3. The emotions are not the body
  4. Risks can be justified by proportionate rewards
  5. If you can raise your mind, do that

First of all, the entire idea of “courtship” or “dating” is quickly being replaced by a bizarre imitator… Nowadays, one is either “hooking up” or going around in a group or just carrying on a “relationship” by text and social media. Men don’t care for the challenge and risk of a serious “pre-commitment commitment” by asking a girl out on a proper date – and unfortunately, many women don’t care to wait around for a man willing to do this. That’s a shame. But we’ll leave this aside and assume that we have two fine young people who are seeing each other regularly, alone, with romantic intentions clearly expressed, but without “benefits” being openly offered by either.

Those who dabble in the writings of the great moralists, especially St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Alphonsus Liguori, might come away from their writings on chastity aghast – “Did he really just say what I think he did? He is SO out of touch!” Well, maybe he didn’t say what you think he said, and maybe his being “out of touch” with what is actually going on in your own life is why it’s difficult for you to grasp the point, as you are not his main audience (which was the confessors of their own times and places, though many points still stand). On the other hand, they do both lay down some hard (but freeing) truths, and sometimes being “out of touch” is just what one needs in order to get perspective on an issue – so maybe there is some wisdom to take from anyone who is “disconnected,” let alone from great saints who are geniuses of moral theology. Let’s dive in then, with these two saintly friends as guides… (I won’t quote much, but I will synthesize instead with just a few references.) NB: These are principles especially useful for courtship, but plenty would also apply for married life, albeit in a slightly different way.

The first great principle: distinguish between love, desire, and delight (the three positive concupiscible passions).

The paradigm of “love-desire-delight” is the road map for our appetites’ relationship with pleasant things that are easily achieved; love corresponds with the perception of a good, desire with the motion towards a good, and delight (also called “pleasure” or “joy” in some cases) with the possession of a good. (With unpleasant things, we have “hatred-aversion-sorrow.” And with difficult goods and evils, we have the passions of fear, despair, hope, daring, and anger, the passions of the “irascible” appetite.)

“Desire” is also sometimes called “concupiscence.” Both are words with diverse meanings. Here, by “desire” and “concupiscence” we mean the felt inclination towards a definite sensible good to be obtained by a particular kind of act.

Let’s go through these emotions – or “passions” – one by one.

I see the cheeseburger, and I know that it is a good thing to eat, full of juicy grade-A beef, fresh lettuce and tomatoes, and maybe even some bacon. “That looks so good to eat! I bet it’s delicious!” Maybe my love is so strong that my salivary glands start to work as well, and my stomach starts to make itself felt. This is love, in the sense we mean it.

Could this be true love?

When I start actively wanting to eat the cheeseburger, feeling myself impelled towards picking it up and sinking my teeth into it, I have desire, or concupiscence, towards the cheeseburger. In desire, (which passion is accompanied by pleasure St. Alphonsus calls “inchoate” to the act one is being inclined toward,) I actually begin to anticipate having its succulent and savory goodness. This desire is separate from the sensation of merely perceiving that the cheeseburger is a good thing to eat, and also even from some kind of remote preparation for eating in the future, should I be so lucky.

Finally, the glorious moment has come: I devour the cheeseburger, and I have the passion proper to possession of the good – delight. This is a unique sensation of feeling fully satisfied in relation to the cheeseburger. It is also distinct from the actual taste and feeling of the physical consumption of the cheeseburger. I enjoy the pleasures that come from eating the cheeseburger. This completes the passions’ arc.

It would also be possible to create an imaginary act of eating the cheeseburger, whether it was really in front of me or not. If I am attempting to derive the pleasures of eating the cheeseburger without actually eating it, even just by running it through my mind, I have moved into a kind of delight in its possession without actually possessing it. And I could physically mimic the act of eating the cheeseburger, even with the cheeseburger itself! My stomach will remain empty, but I have a kind of mental satisfaction nevertheless in enjoying the desire itself for the cheeseburger for its own sake, which feeling is spurred on by the imagined act of eating the cheeseburger – and this act might actually impel me even more strongly towards really eating the cheeseburger moments later, when I snap out of my food fantasy back into reality.

It’s also the case that I could simply have the pleasant experience of imagining eating the cheeseburger without feeling a real desire to eat it. This is a subtly different act, but it is important, as we will see.

Digestion deals with self-preservation. Sex deals with the preservation of humanity. So while eating is important for the individual, sex is more important for the whole community as such. As it turns out, we can map this paradigm onto sexual attraction quite easily. He sees and even feels the woman’s beauty… He feels various inclinations in anticipating the possibilities right in front of him that he is moving towards fulfilling… He obtains what he was looking for. It is certainly no problem to have love for sexual goods – in fact, it would be unnatural not to have a disposition towards the opposite sex as such, just as it would be unnatural not to want good food – but unlike food, sex is not appropriate for everyone to “possess,” or even to have the desire for (in the strict sense of the word which we are using).

Loving the cheeseburger is a good and natural act. However, when the circumstances do not call for eating the cheeseburger there could be a problem if this passion is allowed to remain very long – rather, one should move the mind away to other things, like work or study or healthy recreation. (To deny this passion’s movement entirely is typically not healthy suppression but unhealthy repression, which can cause neurosis and possibly even despair, ending not infrequently in giving in to all manner of illicit pleasures. To acknowledge that one finds the lettuce or tomatoes of the cheeseburger to look delicious could be fine once in a while simply to relieve mental pressure which keeps pulling one away from other considerations and tasks; this acknowledgement might cause an accidental and momentary swelling of love and even could begin a movement of desire. Even though an accidental movement of desire would still be venial sin if delight is taken in it without deliberation, it would not seem to be a sin to indulge in this psychological release in cases of acute pressure unless done frequently or, of course, if done for the sake of arousing desire. This is my own view on the basic dynamic of suppression vis-à-vis repression… Take it for what it’s worth. There are better ways to avoid such temptations, which should be used more frequently… of course, I am not talking about cheeseburgers.) When one starts actively “desiring” (not simply “loving”) an object of an act which is not allowed (and in this case, feeling that desire by an inclination towards an individual instance of that act), that passion needs to be suppressed or fought against somehow immediately, often by distraction, such as moving around, a short prayer, etc. When desire begins, one is already in venial sin. (See my other post on practical chastity here.) To be sure, the line between love and desire is a bit blurry, though love is mostly felt in higher parts of the body like the head and chest, while desire has a lower “center of gravity,” more around the stomach. Whatever the case, the motion of desire, which already contains a kind of “pre-delight,” can itself become the object of “delight,” namely, when one enjoys the feeling of anticipation of the exterior act, often by imagining the act or simulating it in some way.

St. Thomas calls this pleasant and deliberate attention to anticipation “morose delectation.” (See Articles 6, 7, and 8 – they are complex.) It’s one thing to take delight in the thought of a sin (a kind of “curiosity”), it’s another to delight in the sin which one is thinking of. Deliberately enjoying the “desire” for a sin is itself convertible with the commission of the sin which is being virtually enjoyed. Such a thought, to be clear, has to have been chosen with sufficient deliberation, more than a split second or two, somewhat depending on the person – and if we are honest, one can generally determine the moment when one really has the freedom to choose… it’s the moment where one has gotten over the initial intrigue or shock of the pleasant thing and realizes that he could stop if he wanted to but freely decides to simulate the immoral act as a kind of virtual-reality playground, actually wanting to do this act despite really refraining from it for whatever reason. (This arguably even extends to the reason, “Because it is immoral,” as one then shows a kind of contempt for the Wisdom of God which has ordered things thus – we are bound to want to follow the moral law because it is actually good for us. But it is a bit dubious – and this is a more complex discussion.) And given enough time, one will have forfeited the excuse for not driving away desire in the first place even without positive deliberate consent, which reduces to morose delectation. This feeling is also distinct from the actual physical preparation of the body, which means morose delectation is not the same as autoeroticism – though clearly, the one can lead to the other. It seems important also that the anticipation must be of a concrete or determinate exterior act, even if virtual (“not really going to happen”), and it needs to be considered without circumstances which would excuse the action (viz., being married to this individual). While St. Thomas balks on a strong position on morose delectation of mortal sin as being mortal sin itself (stating merely that it is the more common opinion and is more likely than not), with the distinction of determinacy and proximity to circumstance, we begin to see how to solve the puzzle. The more concrete the action is which one desires (i.e. “to go home with this person right now, and … etc.”), and the less one is concerned with remotely achievable circumstances (viz., marriage, which consideration will both quickly melt away and would not excuse from venial sin anyway), the more likely it is to be mortal sin, because the latter is more tied to the passion of desire inclined toward a real act which is (or would be) mortal sin. So, the average “impure thought” is venial sin, even if dwelt upon (barring the advertence to the danger of slipping further – which does need to be considered in a moral evaluation), as long as there is not desire which develops and then is deliberately taken pleasure in. That is my take, at least.

If you wanted a simple explanation, there really isn’t one. The passions are not simple things. But, as close to a shortcut as you can get might be to say that mere desire to sin, without deliberation, is “to want to sin,” while deliberately enjoying that desire to sin is “to want to want to sin,” and just enjoying thinking of something which would be a sin on account of its illicit pleasures is “to want to think about sin.” The first is venial, the second is mortal if it has a concrete goal and venial if it does not, the third is venial.

TL;DR: wanting sex in general is natural and good unless dwelt on too much, feeling the pleasure of anticipation of a real and illicit sexual act is venial sin, and deliberately enjoying that feeling of anticipation, especially including by simulating sexual activity, is mortal sin.

In the next post, we will explore the second great principle: don’t start what you can’t finish.

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A Saint’s Prayer for a Good Death

Eamonn Clark, STL

At some point in the future, I will write a nice little book offering a semi-devotional, semi-historical take on the lives of four great contemporaries: Bl. Pope Pius IX, St. John Vianney, St. Anthony Claret, and St. Joseph Cafasso. It is a stretch, but not a huge one, to say that the western Church in the 19th century is summarized by the lives, ministries, and teachings of these men. Pius IX’s influence goes without saying – but the other three fill in the picture. In Vianney, we have a “normal parish priest” in France, who was a miracle-factory. In Claret, we have a Spanish religious bishop called to the missions of the Americas, also a miracle-factory (read his autobiography – it is excellent). In Cafasso, we have an “Italian” (Piemontese) priest who preoccupied himself with ministering to condemned men and teaching theology to Turin’s clergy.

It is the latter whose prayer for a good death I leave below, in a slightly amended form (original here). The paragraph relating to priesthood is marked with an asterisk.* It is a shame that the saint has been so forgotten – I can recommend everything Don Cafasso wrote (unfortunately there is little available in English), including especially his famous priests’ retreat, available in a book here (it could be a great gift for Father So-and-So!). We know that he is a good mentor for clergy, because his star pupil and most devoted disciple, Don Bosco, also became a saint and founded what is now the second largest religious order in the world. (Don Bosco has some funeral orations for Don Cafasso here, which also contain this prayer of his and others.)

The Saint would pray this prayer each first Friday of the month kneeling before a crucifix. The first time I went through the whole prayer, I actually had the great grace of being at Calvary. I now offer this beautiful and powerful prayer here on these pages for your use and profit. Please share liberally.

St. Joseph Cafasso – pray for us!

Prayer for a Good Death (Amended)
St. Joseph Cafasso

Great God, prostrate before Thee, I accept and adore that sentence of death which Thou hast pronounced over me. I stand awaiting the coming of my last hour and, knowing that it may come upon me at any moment, I carry myself in spirit to my deathbed to bid adieu to this world and to make now for that occasion a clear and solemn protestation of those sentiments and affections with which I intend to terminate my mortal career and enter into my eternity.

I have sinned. I confess it with all the bitterness of my soul. I detest with my whole heart all the faults that I have committed during my life. For each of them I would be ready to die in reparation for the offense to God, and I would wish to have died a thousand times rather than have offended Him. I ask pardon of God and of men for the evil that I have done, and I will ask it until the last moment of my life in order that I may find mercy on the day of judgment.

Since my wretched body has been the cause of my offending my dear God so much, with my whole heart I make a total sacrifice of it to my Lord as a just punishment for it. Not only do I resign myself to descend into the tomb, but I rejoice and thank God who has given me this means of paying my debt. Through these ashes which will remain from me in the sepulcher and by these bones which will speak for me, I will confess until the day of my resurrection that the Lord is just, and just also the sentence which has condemned me to death.

I thank my parents, companions and friends for the charity they have shown me in putting up with all my defects, and I thank them for all the favors and all the assistance which in their goodness they have given me. I ask pardon of them for having given such a poor return, and for the scandal I have given them. I ask them to continue to give me the charity of their prayers, and, when I am separated from them, I firmly hope that I will see them again one day in Paradise.

As God in His inscrutable Providence has wished that I should have the disposal of temporal interests, I ask pardon if I have not made the use of them that He expected of me. As He alone is Lord of all, I again place everything in His hands.

I intend that the disposition that I have made or that I shall hereafter make may be for His greater glory, and, in that portion of life that remains for me on earth, it is my firm will and determination to spend all that remains to me when my needs are satisfied, for the work of the Lord, being disposed and indeed desirous to strip myself of everything whenever God wishes it of me.

With regard to the most important point, which is the spiritual preparations for that day which will be my last, I render the most sincere thanks to God for having thus disposed of me and taken me out of the world. I salute and desire and bless that day that will put an end to my own sins, and take me away from the midst of so many sins that are committed on the earth. I now in advance thank that person who will give me the consoling message, and, until that day arrives, I shall regard it as so dear to my heart that I would not exchange it for the greatest day of this world.

I entrust my death to the love and care of my heavenly Mother. In her tender heart I place my last hour and my last sighs. It is in the arms of this Mother that I wish to leave this world and enter my eternity. I intend that every sigh which I shall give at that moment, every breath and every look, shall be voices which call her, which solicit her help for me from Heaven, so that I may soon see her, contemplate her, embrace her and may be able to die with her help. But if, by special favor of her tender heart, she wishes to call me on a day consecrated to her, it would be a still greater consolation for me to be able to present to her the offering of my life at a time when Heaven and earth celebrate a feast in honor of her name and of her great mercies.

I recommend in a special manner my passage to eternity to St. Joseph, the spouse of Mary, to my Guardian Angel, to my patron saints, to all the Angels and Saints of Heaven, and to those souls in Paradise who remember me. I salute them all from this valley of tears, and I appeal to each one of them to pray for me that the happy day will soon come when I shall meet them face to face and enjoy with them that feast that will have no end.

For everything concerned with the time and circumstances of my death, after the example of my Divine Redeemer, I resign myself fully to whatever the Heavenly Father has arranged for me, and I accept the death that God in His eternal decrees considers best for me. To fulfill His will, I accept all the pains that He wishes me to suffer at the time of death. In this hardest sacrifice and in my most painful agony, I wish and intend that His holy will be always done.

With my whole being I give thanks to the good God who, by His special mercy, has willed to call me to the Faith at my birth and place me, unworthy that I am, as a son in the arms of the Church. I today renew those promises that were made for me at the sacred font. I grieve for and detest whatever there has been in my life not in conformity with those promises. I condemn and regret anything that during my life may have been wanting in obedience and respect to the Holy Roman Catholic Church. Today and always I formally declare that I wish to live in the closest communion with that good Mother. To her I entrust my ashes that she may bless them and keep them in her custody until the day of judgment.

I desire and ask for all the Sacraments and comforts which our holy religion has reserved for her dying children at the hour of death; and when the Lord shall demand the sacrifice of my life, I intend to unite it to that which so many confessors of the Faith have made and to breathe forth my spirit in homage of and for the support of our holy Faith.

*As I am about to finish my mission on earth, I give back and consign to God that grand vocation with which He has willed to adorn me. I have no words here below to thank Him worthily for it, and I await eternity to do so. I thank with all my heart all those who have employed themselves to this end for me, and I recommend myself to each of them in order that I may obtain mercy at the great moment in which I shall be called upon to render an account of my earthly career. I shall die, and the thought consoles me that with my death there will be one less unworthy minister upon the earth, and that another more zealous and fervent priest will come to make up for my coldness and other defects.

As I am certain with the certainty of faith that God can, and that He wishes, to pardon all those who repent of their sins, relying on that firm confidence which cannot be deceived, and penetrated with the most lively sorrow for my past faults, I protest that I hope most firmly for pardon of all my failings and for the attainment of my eternal salvation. Whatever be the assaults that my enemy may launch against me in life or in death, I will repeat that I believe in my God, that I hope in Him and that He will save me.

Now that my days are about to finish, and that time is about to vanish for me forever, I know and understand better than in the past my duty on earth, which is to know and serve my God. As long as life remains I will lament that time in which I have not loved Him, and I will repeat continually from now on, “Either to love or to die.” Whatever I shall have to do or suffer in this miserable life, I intend that it be a proof of love for my God, so that living, I shall live only to love, and dying, I may die in order to love still more.

The sorrow which I experience, O Lord, for not having loved Thee, the desire which I feel to love Thee ever more, renders this life burdensome and distasteful, and makes me pray Thee to shorten my days on earth, and to pardon me my Purgatory in the next life, so that I soon may arrive at loving Thee in Paradise. I ask of Thee this grace, O Lord, not through fear of punishment – which I confess that I deserve a thousand times more – but from the sincere desire to love Thee much, to love Thee soon, and to love Thee face to face in Paradise. Let the anguish which I feel, O God, for not having loved Thee, and the danger which I am running of offending Thee and not loving Thee more, serve as my Purgatory!

Finally, when I shall have departed to the grave, I desire and pray the Lord to make my memory perish on this earth so that no one shall any longer think of me except to pray for me – a favor which I ask from the charity of the faithful. I accept as penance for my sins all that shall be said against me after my death. I condemn and detest all the evil that may in the future be committed because of me. I wish that I could prevent all the sins of the world by my death and so I would be ready to die as many times as there are committed on the earth. Oh! May the Lord accept this poor sacrifice so that when dying, I may have that sweetest consolation of sparing one offense to my Lord on that day.

This is my firm will and testament with which I intend to live and die in each and every moment that God may wish to dispose of me.

I place the moment of my death in the hands of my dear Mother Mary, of my good Guardian Angel and of my patron saints, all of whom I expect to assist me at the hour of my death and in my voyage to eternity. Amen.

Come then, welcome death. Come, but conceal thy coming, so that the hour of my death may not give life back again.

It will be no longer death for thee, my soul, but a sweet sleep if, when thou art dying, Jesus assists thee, and if when thou art expiring, Mary embraces thee.

A Pop Quiz on Canon 915

Eamonn Clark, STL

In my recent post on introducing Canon 915, I had hoped to help bring some clarity to the discussion about “worthiness,” Holy Communion, and political life. Evidently, the Bishop of San Diego is not reading my blog. So, it is time for a pop quiz. See if you can spot what is wrong with this introductory paragraph in the Bishop’s May 5th article for America Magazine.

“In the six months since the 2020 election, a growing movement has emerged in the church in the United States that calls upon the bishops of our nation to publicly exclude President Joseph R. Biden and other Catholic public officials from the Eucharist. Those who support this action make a concise, three-part argument: The president supports positions on abortion that clearly depart from the teaching of the church on an extremely grave moral issue; the long tradition of the church requires personal worthiness to receive the Eucharist; and the persistent rejection of clear Catholic teaching extinguishes that worthiness.”

One might make a number of observations about this paragraph (and the rest of the article, which is overall a fine example of a bad argument made well), but there is a singularly fatal defect in these opening lines. It is not so much what is said but rather what is not said (and which is never mentioned in the article). What is it? What is the key principle that is lacking which sets up the rest of the Bishop’s case against what he calls a “theology of unworthiness”?

The answer is that Canon 915, which is the hinge of the whole discussion, is not a law binding recipients of Holy Communion in relation to personal worthiness, as is implied by the Bishop (who never actually mentions canon law at all, oddly enough) and which is even believed by many well-intentioned “conservative” clergy and laity. Rather, Canon 915 is a law which binds the minister of Holy Communion in relation to the possibility of giving scandal, in this case, a scandal of imitation. If a Catholic who publicly and obstinately supports or tolerates in principle the murder of innocent children can receive Holy Communion, onlookers can and eventually will infer that such support or toleration is not at odds with what is required of a disciple of the Lord, thus becoming liable to take up such behavior themselves. (And yes, this certainly would and should extend to other obstinate public support or habitual commission of grave intrinsic evils… even some kinds of racism!) The minister of Holy Communion then becomes a teacher of bad morals in the very act of distributing the Sacrament.

THIS IS THE BASIC PROBLEM. NOT PERSONAL WORTHINESS. Personal worthiness is the purview of Canon 916, and it involves a separate discussion.

Furthermore, there is a universal legal code the Church has which tells us all of this when read in its proper context in light of the interpretive tradition that accompanies it. So why there would ever be a need for a “national policy” on such things is, frankly, beyond me. We profess belief in a universal/catholic Church, not in a collection of national Churches. There is already a world-wide “policy” which is simply being misunderstood or ignored.

Not 100% of the issue could be solved by turning attention to what the law actually says… but it would definitely be a good start.

Hidden Signs in the Final Resurrection Appearance in John’s Gospel

Eamonn Clark, STL

The Sea of Galilee is a very important symbol in the Gospels. Briefly, it stands for the possibility of life – with the Jordan River running southward to the Dead Sea (“not life”), close to which we find the Baptismal Site (hidden in the valley which is the lowest point on planet Earth). To the west is the Land of Promise, to the east are the Nations, especially Assyria and Persia. Canaan was also initially entered from the east bank, after the Exodus from Egypt. It should then be no surprise that the Word habitually enjoys hovering over the waters of Galilee – by natural means (like a boat) and by supernatural means (like without a boat!) – and exercising power over the life hiding in the darkness beneath.

In John’s Gospel, we find the strange and stirring encounter with the apostles by the shore of the Sea of Galilee after the Resurrection. There are many signs, but let’s focus today on just a few.

The first thing to note is that Greek has two words for “life” – bios (like “biology”), which means physical or bodily life, and zoe (like “zoology”), which means something more like a fulfillment of one’s purpose in possessing physical life, some kind of spiritual “living-ness.” When the Lord claims to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life, He uses the word “zoe,” not “bios.” (John 14:6)

The Sea of Galilee was and still is a real means of supporting physical life, but merely chasing after sustenance is not what human beings exist for. Mere bios is not worth the effort and eventually becomes futile – we need zoe. As it turns out, the same Lord Who controls the weather and fish in the Sea of Galilee is zoe itself. What is merely biologically alive can and ought to become spiritually alive as well in Christ. We see this symbolized by the fish in the Sea of Galilee.

The Lord has fish already cooking on the beach, though only just a few. As we know, the apostles will haul in a miraculous catch of 153 large fish – a clear sign of the Nations (of which there were reckoned to be 153). The Lord has caught several fish in Canaan during His public ministry – those He is already cooking, perhaps two, maybe symbolizing the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah? – but the main work will be done by the apostles and their successors. They will participate in His grace to help souls come to Him. This approach, after the initial work of “catching” by preaching, pulling souls out of the chaotic darkness of worldly waters, entails a threefold process of initiation and sanctification.

First, the fish are pulled up out of the water, dying to their old life, allowing their nature to be changed in view of something higher which awaits them. This is surely Baptism. Then, the fish are to be cooked in the fire, changing them even further, brightening them and filling them with heat and light. Of course, we can only think of Confirmation. At last, what all of this is for, on the biological level, the fish are consumed, by the Lord… Which is precisely the point of the Eucharist, namely, to be united with Christ in His very Flesh and Blood. (To be sure, that we are eating and drinking Him is no obstacle to Him consuming us as well, though in a different way.)

All of this corresponds rather neatly with the three great ages of the spiritual life as well. From the sea, we have the initial conversion, leaving behind mere biological cares without greater purpose, and even the beginning of purgation. From the fire, we have the continuation of purgation and the entry into illumination and purity. And at the meal, we have union.

Thus, in these few short verses, we see at a minimum a description of the entire mission of the Church, a catechesis on the Jews and Gentiles, a theology of the Sacraments of Initiation, and a fundamental outline of the basic pattern of the spiritual life.

The CDF Declaration: A Meta-Reaction

Eamonn Clark, STL

For those who are outside of “Church-news world”, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (to oversimplify by some magnitudes – the “doctrine officials” for the Catholic Church) put out a statement not long ago stating that the Church cannot bless same-sex unions, which statement was approved by the Holy Father Pope Francis. This has triggered a number of reactions…

My favorite comment was from Orthodox Jew and conservative political commentator, Ben Shapiro, posting a reply to the AP’s headline on Twitter (March 15)… the line read: “In which we learn that the Catholic Church believes in Catholicism.” This is the most appropriate reaction – it is a “nothingburger,” insofar as there is nothing new here, as even pointed out by a certain archbishop of Chicago. What is newsworthy is that such a statement was made at all, precisely given the fact of its lack of novelty. The impetus, of course, was primarily the “Synodal Path” in Germany.

Other reactions, ranging from shock to anger to sadness to accusations of various types, I submit, should be understood in light of the foregoing. Unless one was truly unaware of the constant teaching of the Church on marriage, sexuality, and sacramentals, the problem likely lies elsewhere, probably deriving from a warped understanding of what the Church is.

The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ. When the Church truly teaches something regarding faith or morals, those data are to be definitively held as true – by the authority of God Himself, in Christ, through His Mystical Body. Surely, many people do not know that this is what the Church sees Herself as – they therefore wonder why the pope doesn’t just “update” Catholicism to suit the tastes of today’s Western progressive elites (or any other group). Such people could use a healthy dose of study on the topics of apostolic succession, papal infallibility, and basic Catholic ecclesiology. This would at least remove some of the surprise when the Church doesn’t “get with the times.” (For what it’s worth, St. Augustine noted similar criticisms of the Church in his own era, some 1,600 years ago.)

The Church is also not a club, or an ethnicity, or a “cultural heritage.” This was much the attitude of many of the Jews whom Our Lord dealt with in the pages of the Gospels. Being a “son of Abraham” in the flesh does not save a person anymore than having went to Catholic school, having been an altar server, having some kind of relationship with the local parish, etc., and yet this is unfortunately what “Catholicism” means to many people who consider themselves to be Catholic. The high priest Caiphas was not really a Jew, you see, or else he would have recognized the coming of the Christ which Judaism is all about.

What is more interesting than the uncatechized and unchurched masses of millennials and Gen-Z’ers having such a negative reaction to a direct reiteration of basic Catholic moral-sacramental teaching is a similar response from clergy. The cloud of priests and bishops trying to do “damage control” on the CDF’s statement are, unfortunately, a great starting point for considering the entrance into Holy Week. Minimizing the necessity of the need to suffer and deny oneself in order to do God’s will is not an admirable impulse in clerics, but it is not a new one either.

We turn to a small group of men gathered around the Lord one day in Caesarea Philippi. In that area, there was a very large rock, under which there was a cave with a spring gushing forth a little stream. This place (close to the Temple of Pan) was considered an entrance into the underworld, where the demons – or pagan deities, especially fertility “gods” – would come up from sometimes, especially in winter. All kinds of sexual perversion took place there in “worship” of these demons. This was all quite well-known.

“Who do others say that I am?” The answers were given – John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the other prophets – a report of empirical observations which anyone could make about what is going on in the world. “Who do you say that I am?” Peter gives his confession of faith: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Flesh and blood did not reveal this, as with the answer to the former question; rather, it was God Who taught it to the blessed soul of Simon bar-Jonah, who is henceforth finally to be known to all as Cephas, Peter, the Rock. The Gates of Hell – as symbolized by the source of the little spring in Caesarea Philippi – will not prevail against the Church, which will rest upon Peter’s public teaching and public ministry, which will bind and loose in the power of the Holy Spirit, unlike the squabbles between the Jewish schools of Hillel and Shammai that were raging at the time, over how to wash one’s hands, how to pick grapes, etc…

Then it all goes south – first metaphorically, then literally, back down toward Jerusalem. Christ begins to speak about the Cross… and we know that Peter, the newly appointed public representative of the Twelve and of the whole Church, immediately fails in his new role, albeit in a semi-private conversation. Peter’s failures continue all the way until the triple-denial of the Lord while in the courtyard, when he finally completes the trajectory of his hope for a worldly messiah who would solve the problems of the day by natural means. Perhaps many are still following this part of Peter, the weak and private side of his life and ministry. It is a hope which will disappoint – there is no Resurrection without death.

Luke gives us the following speech from Christ after Peter’s declaration of faith at Caesarea Philippi. “And He said to all: ‘If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in His glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.'” (Luke 9:23-26)

The Cross awaited the Lord down in Jerusalem, and so too do crosses await for anyone who wishes to follow Him. He said this Himself: “Anyone who does not pick up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me.” (Luke 14:27; Matthew 10:38) And those who counsel the would-be followers of the Lord to avoid their crosses do no better than Peter at Caesarea Philippi. It was the Devil speaking through Peter that day. We know this not only from the words of Christ’s rebuke (“Get behind Me, Satan!”), but also from the experience already had by the Lord in the desert… He was tempted by Satan to jump from the Temple and fly around Jerusalem to coerce belief in His power by an open miracle, as opposed to the signs He worked in hidden ways (in the chaos of a crowd, in the obscurity of a storm, etc.), before dying and rising. No – the Cross must be endured… no short cuts, no softening of the blows, and no way out. Those who climb over the fence instead of going through the gate are robbers and thieves. (John 10:1) Here, on the Cross, the desires of the body must be denied, even the desire for biological life itself. And yet in giving up biological life, a higher life is obtained. With this consideration we can begin to enter into the heart of the Paschal Mystery… This is what Holy Week is the platform for.

The rebukes that the disciples will receive after the Resurrection are accusations of not having understood the teaching of the Scriptures that “the Son of Man must suffer and so enter into His glory.” The disciples were not stupid – but something blocked their minds nonetheless. There is some kind of willful blindness, both in reading the Scriptures and even listening to the Lord directly. One is inclined to make a connection between the darkness of the minds of the Apostles before the Resurrection and the failure of “academically sophisticated” clergy who either cannot understand that unnatural sexual acts are horrible offenses against the Creator, cannot make the clear distinction between blessing a person and blessing a relationship which constitutes and is even centered upon a near occasion of sin (a distinction which the CDF document went out of its way to stress), or both.

All who wish to explain away or even merely compromise the clear teaching of the Church on any number of moral imperatives often take up where the Devil left off in the desert and where Peter left off at Caesarea Philippi. The Devil gave good arguments for taking an easier way – “Use your power to eat and to feed many forever, to appear openly without suffering, to make a compromise to gain everything in the world…” The Devil used argumentation based on Scripture. He was quite sophisticated and apparently reasonable. And yet he was and is a liar.

A road that is wide and easy is rarely the way through the Cross, even if that road is “synodal” or claims to be “merciful,” “accompanying,” “pastoral,” and so on. The gate to life is narrow and the road to life is hard. (Matthew 7:14) Christ alone is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. (John 14:6) Those who wish to be saved from everlasting death must enter into the Lord through His Cross, the new “doorpost and lintel,” marked with the Blood of the Lamb, the Blood of the New Covenant. (Exodus 12:7) It is a gate that is narrow – our many sins and attachments cannot fit through but must be left behind… and yet it is a wide gate as well, ready to welcome all, Jew and Gentile both. And the “burden” of virtuous living is an easy one to carry for those who love the Lord as a true friend. (Matthew 11:30) True pastors encourage souls to carry their crosses and help them to do so – one gets the idea today that the opposite is the case: that the role of the priest is to convince souls they do not need to carry crosses, at least not “moral crosses,” and to help them put those crosses down.

We must not be ashamed of our Friend, or His Word, or His Cross, even if we gain the whole world thereby. We must follow Him all the way to Golgotha – a place where the Lord alone satisfies and where Divine Love was shown even more than on Mount Tabor, in the Transfiguration which directly followed the failure of Peter at Caesarea Philippi. To be deprived of Tabor is frustrating… but to be deprived of Golgotha is the ultimate tragedy.

The time for protests, petitions, and pressers will soon be at an end. Eternity will not allow for “nuanced” debates, and all souls will be utterly helpless before their destinies, then sealed forever. In the end, the Church and Her Faith will prevail. She will identify the demons that have crept up from the underworld and roam the Earth, and She will confess the Deity and Lordship of the Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, Who will have all subjected to Himself. (1 Corinthians 15:28) Today, then, is the day – “Repent, and believe in the Gospel!” You can carry the cross which the Lord Himself has handed to you – and it is the only way to true happiness in this life, and it is the only way to everlasting glory in the next.

A blessed Holy Week to all my readers, near and far.

A Short Introduction to Canon 915

Eamonn Clark, STL

“Weaponizing the Eucharist” is a phrase I have now unfortunately heard from several clergy, most recently the Bishop of San Diego (1:18:00) attempting to persuade people that the President of the United States (and others), despite perfectly clear, consistent, and efficacious support for abortion, should not be denied Holy Communion. Of course, this relates to the meaning and application of the ever-relevant Canon 915, which describes the conditions for the public reception of the Eucharist.

In this post, I want to give a very brief primer on this severely misunderstood law. (In this task, I rely largely on the great work of Dr. Ed Peters, whose trove of resources on this point can be accessed here, along with other items of interest.) For what it is worth, I am not a trained canonist but have done a good deal of study of this area of the law.

The text of the Canon 915 in the 1983 Code of Canon Law is as follows: “915. Those upon whom the penalty of excommunication or interdict has been imposed or declared, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.”

For this post, we leave aside the first part of the canon, which is more or less straightforward and is rarely at issue. (Whether such mechanisms should be used with more frequency is a different question, but it is one worth asking.)

So, we shall go through each of the parts of the second part of the canon (“obstinate perseverance/persistence,” “manifest,” “grave,” and “sin”), but first we will look at two other things: first, what the canon does NOT say, and second, what is the relevant proximate context of the canon which is required for understanding its meaning.

What does the canon NOT say? Well, to cut to the point, obviously the canon does not add qualifiers beyond what it actually contains. The word “dialogue” is missing, one can note immediately, though dialogue in the right sense is important indeed. And while the “judgment of a proper authority” can sometimes be quite important and relevant, this relates to a specific phrase already included in the canon (“obstinately persist”) and so the more general judgment of the pastor, the bishop, etc. is actually not very relevant. Perhaps a wealthy “pro-choice” donor to the diocese will cease his donations if he is denied Holy Communion, and the bishop does not like that consequence and judges it would be better not to make this person upset. Well, this is quite unfortunate, and the judgment is wrong. It is not the purpose of the canon to preserve the financial (or political/diplomatic) integrity of a diocese, a parish, etc. These things, while important, sit beneath what the canon obliges, not above it, as is clear from the common sense effects that any sort of public humiliation could possibly have – as if we are only now first discovering “mercy” and “dialogue” and realizing that politicians and wealthy people (and others with influence) can bully or help the Church in various ways, and that this might depend on how such people are treated by the Church, including in the public administration of the sacraments… Of course we are not only first learning about all this. This is very old news. In the most proper sense, the “proper authority” is whoever is functioning in the moment as the minister of Holy Communion, and other judgments are secondary – the canon especially obliges bishops and pastors, but it directly obliges anyone administering the Eucharist in public. As Newman put it, “A toast to the Pope, but first to the conscience.” I certainly understand the squeeze that this puts many people in. But those taking up the grave task of assisting in the distribution of Holy Communion – most of all, clergy – need to gird their loins and be prepared for contradictions. (Coincidentally, this is one more reason to diminish the prolific use of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, especially “on the fly.”)

Note that the word “conscience” is missing, as is “sacrilege.” More on that in a bit, as clearly they do somehow play a role, but they are not the direct concern of the canon.

The two pieces of context which I wish to present here are the following: first, Canon 855 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law, the current Code’s predecessor, which helps us to understand the legal framework out of which the current Code was developed and must be interpreted within to a significant degree. Second, Canon 916, which, as one might expect, immediately follows Canon 915.

Canon 855 of the 1917 CIC reads as follows, with its two sections: “855 §1. All those publicly unworthy are to be barred from the Eucharist, such as excommunicates, those interdicted, and those manifestly infamous, unless their penitence and emendation are shown and they have satisfied beforehand the public scandal [they have caused]. §2. But occult sinners, if they ask secretly and the minister knows they are unrepentant, should be refused; but not, however, if they ask publicly and they cannot be passed over without scandal.”

From this text, we begin to get an idea of what Canon 915 is up to. Let’s look at Canon 916 before drawing our conclusions here: “916. A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to celebrate Mass or receive the Body of the Lord without previous sacramental confession unless there is a grave reason and there is no opportunity to confess; in this case the person is to remember the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition which includes the resolution of confessing as soon as possible.”

From Canon 916, we see by inference that Canon 915 is not a law binding the would-be communicant, it is a law binding the minister of Holy Communion. The language of Canon 915 is already talking about “admittance,” but 916 helps us to see with precision that the one bound by this law is the minister, not the would-be communicant. Canon 916, on the other hand, binds the would-be communicant.

From these two texts together, we can conclude that there is a distinction between the reception of Holy Communion in private and reception in public. The difference relates to what the 1917 Code refers to explicitly, and the 1983 Code refers to implicitly, which is scandal. Thus, the law is concerned with two things – the soul of the would-be communicant, and scandalizing others looking on at his reception (and even scandalizing the recipient himself). In public reception, in fact, it is the primary concern of the law, as demonstrated by the fact that the 1917 Code requires ministers to cooperate with what he knows with good certitude to be a sacrilegious reception of Holy Communion.

There are two types of scandal to consider here: “imitatio” and “admiratio”… The former is connected with known sins, the latter with secret sins. The scandal of “imitatio” (imitation) is to teach others that a sin is not a sin – or at least not grave sin, in this case – and thus to imitate it, while the scandal of “admiratio” (wonder) comes after a denial of Holy Communion which encourages others to inquire into the motive for that denial, thus creating untold gossip, prying, and possibly the complete ruin of a person’s good name. And, after all, who knows, maybe the person who did some very terrible thing in secret which the minister happens to know about has actually already made confession or at least a good act of contrition (with a grave reason for receiving Holy Communion and no prior opportunity to confess), or was even for some reason not gravely culpable for his sin. However, if his action was public, people already presumably know about it and will not go hunting for information. Thus, the known sin is also typically presumed to be known by the minister as well… thus possibly putting the minister into the role of a teacher of morals.

Now we are ready to look at the individual conditions laid out in Canon 915. Remember, this canon relates to the public reception of Holy Communion only (whereas Canon 916 and its roots in Canon 855 §2 would correspond to private reception), and ALL of the conditions need to be present for the canon to be justly applied. (This is where many well-meaning and “conservative” people can go astray – it is actually quite difficult, outside of a few textbook cases, to meet ALL of the criteria.) We will start with the end and work our way back.

Sin

In morals, “sin” is a voluntary deed, word, or thought against the preceptive will of God. Some might be surprised to know that there is a category outside of morals which “sin” relates to – well, there is, and it is canon law, our present concern. “Sin” in canon law does not actually always mean the same thing as it does in morals, though of course it is connected. Rather, sin in the canonical sense, as used in Canon 915 in particular, corresponds to an outward reality which is able to be judged by onlookers, not a reality of the soul of the individual. More specifically, “canonical sin” is a “moral sin” as judged by people with well-formed consciences that might observe the act. For example, a man takes some hostages in a bank robbery and begins to murder them one by one. A person with a well-formed conscience who sees this act would reasonably assume that this man is committing sin in the moral sense. However, if we suppose that the robber is actually a schizophrenic or has some other serious mental disability, he may actually bear no moral guilt at all. And yet, until his mental condition is made known publicly, thus clarifying his lack of guilt, he would be guilty of the kind of sin which Canon 915 speaks about.

Grave

The sin must be grave. It cannot be venial sin, which is an unfortunate part of everyone’s daily life. It must be sin of the sort which, according to its matter, separates a soul from the love of God. (Recall the immediately preceding point – it is not the concern of Canon 915 whether one is gravely culpable for the sin or not. In the bank robbery example, the act is pretty clearly grave matter, despite the schizophrenic robber’s lack of guilt.)

Manifest

This is where Canon 855 of the 1917 Code is helpful, as it makes this distinction very explicit. In public administration of the Eucharist (and other sacraments by extension), the immediately invisible disposition of the soul of the individual is irrelevant for whether or not they have a claim on the minister of the sacrament to receive it. If we reimagine our bank robbery to have been a heist, in which the pastor of the local parish was involved as a conspirator, the successful heist is a grave sin indeed but one which is unknown as being connected to any given individuals. If Father decides to celebrate the parish’s daily mass the next morning (which is its own problem, as the canon also notes,) and his co-conspirator presents himself for Holy Communion, Father cannot deny him Holy Communion based on their secret crime. It matters not one bit whether there is any realistic chance of there having been confession, contrition, reparation, or even regret. The grave sin is not manifest, it is secret. However, if his co-conspirator arrived at the rectory and asked to receive Holy Communion privately outside of the normal parish mass, there would indeed be grounds for denial – it is a clear sacrilege, unless he has made confession or has some grave reason to receive after a perfect act of contrition (which is not particularly realistic, of course).

Obstinate Perseverance

The manifest grave sin must be intentionally habitual, not a “one off” or some occasional act. Sometimes this comes by implication of the person himself – such as the public contraction of an obviously illicit “marital” union. In the standard sort of case, a person’s manifest grave sin is rightly judged to be obstinately perseverant after an explicit warning given to that same person by the proper authority, such as the pastor or the bishop. (This is where the judgment of the pastor or bishop would be relevant. He may have given a warning with the condition to make public amends by such-and-such a time. So in these cases, those assisting the pastor and bishop in distributing Holy Communion are “off the hook.”) However, some cases are so clearly grave that one or two acts without public reparation or apology would suffice of themselves to constitute obstinate perseverance, without the need for any special decision or declaration from the bishop or pastor. This would seem very much to be the case with voting in favor of intrinsically and egregiously immoral acts, such as abortion, euthanasia, etc. (While such a person perhaps might have some special and secret strategic reason for such voting behavior which would justify his outwardly horrific action, this is truly abnormal and would still exclude the individual from publicly receiving Holy Communion, though not privately. I will explore this strange kind of case in an upcoming book on the topic of voting… Stay tuned.) It could also apply to political symbols being used during the reception of Holy Communion itself (i.e. a “rainbow sash” – and one can even imagine the wearer of such a thing being ignorant of its actual meaning, thus removing subjective guilt but still meeting all of the conditions of the canon).

Practical Conclusions

The claim that merely enforcing the legislation of the Church which sits upon apostolic roots and is primarily aimed at protecting weak souls from being led astray is “weaponizing the Eucharist” is simply absurd. The law is there in part to protect the individual would-be communicant from committing sacrilege (normally), but it is primarily to prevent people from being taught that grave sin is not so bad (including the would-be communicant himself). In the case of pro-abortion politicians, clergy who support “mercy” and “dialogue” over enforcing a rather low bar in the Church’s law actively teach Catholics and non-Catholics alike that the Church does not consider abortion to be particularly sinful, such that one who tries to expand legal rights to abortion by a public vote can still carry on a loving relationship with Jesus Christ, which is the whole center of the reception of the Eucharist. This is false. (Alternatively, the lesson could be that the Eucharist is not that important, or that a good reception does not require the state of grace, etc. – also false.) A clear-thinking adult who deliberately supports the direct killing of the unborn or even deliberately tolerates it as acceptable, cannot be a friend of God and thus cannot receive Holy Communion, at least under Canon 916 by committing sacrilege, even if not barred under Canon 915. We are gravely bound to understand the basic requirements of the 5th Commandment, which includes understanding what a human being is in a basic way. And those who are bound to know well both ecclesiastical and moral law who neglect their duty as shepherds of souls in this respect, as in others, will have to answer for their actions and inactions on the Last Day. It is indeed a terrifying thought to think of what that “dialogue” will look like.

We do not need more “dialogue” here, we need more good instruction and more good examples. We need to focus on saving those who are hovering in the middle of the divide – not on trying to pretend that despite the angry mob’s commitment to egregious sins, we can still find enough common ground to have a healthy ecclesial relationship in the bonds of mutual charity. This was more or less the thinking of St. Paul, for example, when he counsels the excommunication of heretics from even the social life of the Church after one or two warnings. (See Titus 3:10 and especially 1 Corinthians 5 – where is the call for dialogue!?)

There is more to talk about, including but not limited to the extension of the logic of this law to other acts of sacramental administration, but for now I give the last word to Cardinal Arinze… Let us pray for our bishops and our governors, and for the protection of the most vulnerable in our world.

The Real Reason for Priestly Celibacy

Eamonn Clark, STL

Do you remember the Amazon Synod? Well, it seems it failed to give certain people what they wanted: widespread married priests in the Latin Church. Of all the many arguments made in both directions, one consideration in favor of the discipline deserves our full attention today.

It is not that of economics, though the problems of time and energy and money are real. “But the East does it, so why can’t we?” Well, never mind that they have been doing this a long time and have gotten used to it, but the real question is: why are there so few Eastern Catholics? It’s because their priests are typically not very free for mission work, for frequent mobility, for constant preaching and teaching… due to marriage. They cannot nearly as easily embrace the faithful as fathers, because they have a biological family. They are not as available in their ministries as celibates, even though they are certainly valuable ministries nonetheless.

It is not that of the eschatological sign of celibacy. Though this is certainly powerful – one knows that the Catholic priest is different, in part because of this. He is a counter-cultural symbol. And to “cave” on this is to give up a massive moral authority over a world which the Church seeks to convert, a world which, to reiterate, stands in need of missionaries who are not tied down by the demands of domestic life.

The reason of reasons is neither of these important things. Rather, it is contemplation.

I was reading up a bit just the other day on the Carthusians. You may have heard of them because of a famous documentary which took 21 years to make. Well, they do exist, and they are a nice starting point for the discussion. What exactly is the point of Carthusian life? What do they do all day? Why don’t they go preach and hear confessions or even at least allow for retreats in their monasteries? They walk into the mountains, live practically alone in a room for their entire lives, and don’t hardly even communicate with the outside world at all except when absolutely necessary.

The Order explains it bluntly: the only goal of Carthusian life is the contemplation of God.

After all, “Mary has chosen the better part, and it shall not be taken from her.” (Luke 10:42) Apostolic activity is good, and it is even necessary in a way, but it is not the best thing to do absolutely speaking, and it is not, ultimately, the most necessary thing to do either. The higher thing is to meet God face to face – the real “one thing necessary.”

We bracket here the question of apostolic life that comes from an “overflow” of contemplation… In fact, from my reading of Thomas, it seems the objectively highest vocation for him is to be a bishop freed from administration, living in a hermitage under religious vows, who occasionally comes into public to preach and administer the sacraments out of an abundance of mystical illumination from the depths of his prayer. Not exactly the norm – but the argument is strong. And its strength comes in part from his doctrine on the contemplative life, a doctrine which beautifully matches his teaching on the ascetical (“penitential”) life. Let’s dive in with Thomas on fasting. (And no – St. Thomas Aquinas was not “fat,” or at least not large from overeating. Stay tuned for a post on that in a few weeks.)

There are three purposes for fasting, and by extension, other ascetical practices. First, to do penance in reparation for sin. By taking on some small pains, we atone for what wrong we have done, thus alleviating some of our due punishment (greatly aided by the Church’s generosity in granting indulgences). Second, fasting is for cooling the passions. It is really difficult to be pining after a beautiful woman if you are really hungry. (And this is not the only good trick to help with chastity, as I’ve explored elsewhere.) Third, we fast to elevate our minds to God. The passions being cooled allows for the mind to be freed of preoccupation with the lower things and to move instead to higher things, such as meditation on the Passion, or a consideration of the meaning of our lives in the light of eternity, to examine our consciences clearly, to think on the love of God and the Mysteries of the Life of Christ… and simply to be attentive to God with an habitual, loving gaze, longing for Him and His Will, no matter how distasteful it may be to our lower appetites. This is the Wisdom which comes from the Cross, which is where perfect freedom was and is still. Christ, though physically tormented – and even physically trapped – manifested the highest degree of personal freedom on the Cross. By draining Himself of all earthly desires, He fully and completely accomplished an act of superabundant charity in accord with the Will of the Father Who had sent Him for this precise purpose. And, though physically trapped, we must remember that every moment was nonetheless chosen deliberately and without constraint; indeed, He could have come down if He had willed to. This is the pattern for growth in discipleship – to deny the lower self in favor of uniting the higher self with God, to do His Will for its own sake, and for its own sake alone. Contemplation is the highest part of our mind dwelling on the Almighty God, a quiet foretaste of the exhilarating enthrallment of Heaven.

Astute readers will notice an opening for the teaching of St. John of the Cross to sneak in. While John certainly is valuable in many ways, I would suggest that his specific teaching on the active purgation (“doing penance/fasting/deprivations,” especially in order to initiate the first passive purgation or “dark night of the senses”) is a bit too narrow or strict, even if rhetorically helpful when set alongside the more moderate approach of Thomas. In fact, Thomas seems to say precisely this, in a roundabout way, both in his teaching on the usefulness of marriage (which John seems to have been rather suspicious of, given his comment in Ascent of Mount Carmel that the married ought to be “perplexed” by the lack of a higher vocation) and in his critique of the Stoics, the Greek philosophical sect that disdained the enjoyment of any physical pleasures. We should recall that this was a very hot topic for Thomas, as the Albigensian heresy was not yet dead… This made it all the more necessary to stress the goodness of the physical world and its proper use, yes, even of physical pleasures.

However, despite his mockery of the Stoic doctrine – which he says nobody follows anyway, including the teachers of such things – Thomas insists on the usefulness of asceticism for the sake of better contemplation. This is a function not of physical pleasures being “bad,” nor of suffering or deprivation being “good” on their own, but because of the brokenness of human nature in the context of the body-soul composite. Physical pleasures drag the mind toward the things from which they derive, thus tending to drag the mind away from God, unless, as John rightly points out in Book I of Dark Night of the Soul, they are enjoyed precisely on account of elevating the mind to God, a point which St. Paul himself indicates should come through the mode of thanksgiving, in 1 Timothy 4:1-5: “We are expressly told by inspiration that, in later days, there will be some who abandon the faith, listening to false inspirations, and doctrines taught by the devils. They will be deceived by the pretensions of impostors, whose conscience is hardened as if by a searing-iron. Such teachers bid them abstain from marriage, and from certain kinds of food, although God has made these for the grateful enjoyment of those whom faith has enabled to recognize the truth. All is good that God has made, nothing is to be rejected; only we must be thankful to him when we partake of it, then it is hallowed for our use by God’s blessing and the prayer which brings it.”

But that much gratitude is difficult to keep up. In many cases, it is better to forego the pleasures entirely rather than count on having a perpetual habit of thanksgiving, which is certainly as laudable of a goal as it is an unreachable one, especially over a long period of time, wherein one becomes habituated to the use of pleasures, especially in marriage, and may even grow a bit entitled in spirit. Even barring this, one’s mind will nevertheless still be pulled down by the mere fact of the energy of the intellect and will being drained in the use of intense pleasures with any kind of frequency. It is not immoral, it is simply not ideal.

However, the flip side is that many do not have the gifts to give up certain pleasures in favor of contemplation – a point running somewhat contrary to the spirit of John’s teaching – and this attempt can even become the sin of presumption (against magnanimity by excess, not against hope by excess). The one whose mind is dragged down even more by the lack of certain licit pleasures, such as in marriage, after some attempt at getting above this struggle, is in fact better off resigning to weakness, at least for the time being. By a moderate use of these pleasures, he will free his mind more than he was able to without their use. The fixation will disappear, and he can move on with life, including in prayer, and perhaps later on he can go higher up if there is occasion, for instance, by a mutual agreement to live in perpetual continence with his spouse.

This brings us almost all the way to the point. It belongs to the priest especially to know God, and the things of God, and to judge well as an administrator and spiritual father. This requires the sharpest and freest of minds. This means, first of all, that priests should be doing a lot of fasting and other penances. It also means that they should be free of the weight of the pleasures of marriage, ideally freed from the married state altogether (which perhaps relates more to availability than to contemplation, though it still does free the mind of the activities proper to domestic concerns).

The capital vices (the “seven deadly sins”) each have “daughters” – these are other vices or sins which tend to flow from the capital vices. The capital vice of gluttony, opposed by abstinence (moderation in food and normal drink) and especially by fasting (which is an act of infused temperance properly speaking), has five daughters: unseemly joy, scurrility or foolish manners, loquaciousness, uncleanness/pollution, and dullness of mind as regards the understanding. This doesn’t mean that enjoying food is sinful, but even a lot of licit enjoyment of food will tend towards these unfortunate actions… The last one is especially pertinent, namely, dullness of mind as regards the understanding. The daughters of lust, we should note, are eight: blindness of mind, thoughtlessness, inconstancy, rashness, narcissism, hatred of God, love of this world, and hatred or despair of the world to come. Again, several of these relate directly to the well-functioning of the rational part of the soul with respect to contemplation… especially blindness of mind.

The dull and blind in mind have a hard time understanding spiritual things without a lot of help. Their attention is too focused on worldly pleasures – even licit ones – to be easily elevated to the world of the spirit.

Where are all the discussions about this, I wonder?

The great Carthusian dictum is true: “Stat crux dum volvitur orbis.” The Cross is still, while the world turns. If we want spiritual fathers who are “alter Christi,” “other Christs,” then conformity with the unchanging dynamic of the Cross, at least in a basic way, is of the utmost importance. As we see, the availability for ministry is only a part of the equation. What does one bring into his ministry without easy access to the deeper kind of contemplation which is generally only available to the celibate? The flesh must be brought into subjection – crucified, as it were – so that spiritual strength and power may lead the priest into the wisdom proper to his office as a teacher, judge, intercessor, and administrator. For, “we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” (1 Corinthians 1:23-25) Let the world have its misguided opinions about clerical celibacy – for they have such opinions about the Cross, too. And let the Church stand as still as the Cross, while the world continues to turn.

Inaugural Speech of The Oratorio – Rome, October 21, 2020

A blessed Feast of St. John Paul II to all, in these strange days in the Church.

Please enjoy my speech at the opening of the lay men’s group I have just begun with several friends here in Rome. A reminder that we are still fundraising – more info here.

Eamonn Clark, STL, President of the Oratorio

Rome and the Spiritual Life

“Memories” and “opportunities.” Perhaps there are no two words which capture what Rome is better than these. It’s not “splendid architecture,” “fine wine,” or even “beautiful women” – I assure you, you can find all these things in Paris, and in other places too! No, Rome is a place of memories and a place of opportunities. In fact, in some way, for us they are one and the same.

First, some memories.

About 14,000 years ago, the Palatine Hill began to be host to a small village. How could these people have known what was to come of their small foundation? Certainly, they could not have dreamed of it.

As more settlements were built over the millennia, they slowly merged into one until a city was formed. By the time we reach the end of the reign of the mythical King Romulus near the close of the 8th century B.C., Moses had already left Egypt some 500 years ago, and Isaiah was then busy confronting King Ahaz about the sign to come of a Virgin with Child – evidently, God had been working more quickly than men.

The City grew. Seven kings of Rome came and went, and the Republic began, initiating a period of non-stop conflicts and crises which somehow never seemed to destroy the City entirely – not unlike the Kings of Israel and Judah and their nemeses – but rather saw its incremental expansion of power and terrain, all over the Mediterranean. The Republic ended with an ironic catastrophe: the ambitious and extraordinarily popular Julius Caesar slowly secured himself a position as the “dictator pro vita” through various power-grabs, which alarmed the senate who feared the end of the Republic and a return to a kingdom. They killed him, of course, and accidentally paved the way for the inauguration not of a mere kingdom, but of an empire. Strange things are reported to have happened in the moments following the death of Caesar, here in the City, supernatural things, says Virgil: “Who dare say the Sun is false? He and no other warns us when dark uprising threaten, when treachery and hidden wars are gathering strength. He and no other was moved to pity Rome on the day that Caesar died, when he veiled his radiance in gloom and darkness, and a godless age feared everlasting night. Yet in this hour Earth also and the plains of Ocean, ill-boding dogs and birds that spell mischief, sent signs which heralded disaster. How oft before our eyes did Etna deluge the fields of the Cyclopes with a torrent from her burst furnaces, hurling thereon balls of fire and molten rocks. Germany heard the noise of battle sweep across the sky and, even without precedent, the Alps rocked with earthquakes. A voice boomed through the silent groves for all to hear, a deafening voice, and phantoms of unearthly pallor were seen in the falling darkness. Horror beyond words, beasts uttered human speech; rivers stood still, the earth gaped upon; in the temples ivory images wept for grief, and beads of sweat covered bronze statues. King of waterways, the Po swept forests along in the swirl of his frenzied current, carrying with him over the plain cattle and stalls alike. Nor in that same hour did sinister filaments cease to appear in ominous entrails or blood to flow from wells or our hillside towns to echo all night with the howl of wolves. Never fell more lightning from a cloudless sky; never was comet’s alarming glare so often seen.” It was at this moment in time that everything began to change. An imperial reign began with Caesar Augustus which he would oversee for some 40 years – a familiar number – and 27 years into that reign – 3 years short of 30 – a Child was born of a Virgin. No mere king had come into Judah, either. Interestingly, it is rumored that Augustus was inspired by a dream one night, around the year 1 AD, to build an altar to a ruler that had been born far away, and this altar supposedly now rests buried underneath the Ara Caeli, atop the Capitoline Hill.

Augustus’ adopted son Tiberius became his successor. He regarded Augustus as a god, we should remember, beginning the whole sad cult of the emperors. It was Tiberius who sent Pontius Pilate to the north to govern what they both must have thought of as the ancient version of “flyover country.” In fact, Tiberius signed the document giving Pilate authority to use capital punishment in a little room just on the slope of the Quirinal Hill, right near the Angelicum, which you can see preserved today. The governor of Judea would find himself caught up in a conflict eerily similar to what had been unfolding in far-away Italy just a generation ago and into his own time – a figure rising to an alarming degree of power and influence, claiming His Father to be God and maybe Himself as well, killed by those pleading their loyalty to Rome… and then the ironic catastrophe was followed by the ushering in of something even greater and more powerful than had been feared – not a kingdom, and not even an empire, but a Church, with a true “dictator pro vita,” One Who will never die, and truly supernatural things coming in the wake of His booming voice crying out from the Cross – the sun was darkened, the curtain of the Temple was torn from top to bottom, the Earth shook, and many of the dead were raised up and later appeared in Jerusalem. Just as well, prophetic and Divine words were spoken by mere men not too long after – like mere animals using human speech! The Roman guards who “became like dead men” (Matthew 28:4) and no doubt eventually ran away at the second earthquake which occurred when the Emperor of the Universe rose from the grave were a sign of things to come. Some weeks later, the fire of the Holy Spirit came down, at the “dedication” of the New Temple, so unlike to the Temple whose remnants now possibly sit as prizes in the Arch of Titus in the Forum after its final destruction, and the Good News was preached for the first time from the cenacle by the foremost representatives of Christ’s Mystical Body. As Acts 2:10 tells us, there were Romans there to hear the first apostolic preaching – this was certainly not by chance. The “death of Rome” was now the Holy Spirit’s special goal, in order to replace it with something much more glorious.

It was Rome, then, where Jesus Christ’s Church would have to go to be most firmly established, going out of Jerusalem, much as God had “escaped” from the old Temple whose veil He tore from top to bottom and went out into the Nations – out to the wicked Assyrians, Babylonians, and even the Romans who had crucified Him. And so it was that the very same fisherman from Galilee would find his way down here, to preach especially to the Jews who had already been dwelling in this place for quite a while. Peter stayed here until his brutal death, just around the corner, which he must have known would come, not only from common sense but also from the time that he walked on the shores of Galilee with the Risen Christ, Who told him of his coming martyrdom, and Who had turned him back along the Appian Way as he tried to move on from here, a site which is known and preserved as “Quo Vadis Domine.” When Peter was living on the Aventine at what is now S. Prisca, he would have looked over in this direction at night and seen the glowing embers of the bodies upon the pikes atop what was the Vatican Hill, a warning to would-be rebels that the cruelties of Nero’s wicked circus awaited them should they have a mind to oppose him. John also made a famous appearance, though the attempt at killing him did not go the way it was planned – he emerged from a pot of boiling oil unscathed, converting the crowd to the Faith, though the Emperor Domitian was unfortunately not persuaded. But of all the wonders Our Lord has worked in the hearts of men, perhaps none has been greater than what was done in Paul, who, lest we forget, was the one-time leader of the Jewish version of ISIS who became “the Apostle.” It is Paul, a Roman citizen, who most especially confirms the integrity and veracity of the witness of the original disciples – he came from outside the apostolic college of Jerusalem, though being no less appointed by Christ to preach, especially to the Gentiles. For about two years he ministered in this City alongside Peter unto his own all-too-predictable martyrdom, and his sacred bones are with us today, still crying out in testimony to the immense sanctity he received from the Lord – “I want to know Christ, and the power of His Resurrection and participation in His sufferings, so that I might somehow attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11)

There is no need to describe the bitter persecutions of the wicked Emperors Nero, Domitian, Decius, Valerian, and Diocletian and the ultimate heroism of the early martyrs – Clement, Agnes, Cecilia, Ignatius, Sebastian, Pancras, Lawrence – especially Lawrence, who, like Peter, had made it out of Rome but turned back to face his impending death, which came on the Viminal Hill by fire… Almost every stone it seems has been marked with the blood of a saint, who chose the distant joys of the Heavenly Jerusalem over the worldly glory of Rome.

I’ve already mentioned the Ara Caeli. Constantine’s mother St. Helen rests there, whose collection of relics from her Holy Land excursion are kept at her old palace in what is now Santa Croce in Gerusalemme – and if one stands beneath the Capitoline Hill in Piazza Venezia looking north down the Via del Corso, through Piazza del Popolo and basically straight up the Via Flaminia – a long way to look, but not so far to walk – there one finds the bridge where her son was converted, Ponte Milvio, where he fought 1,708 years ago one week from today. This event triggered the first Golden Age of Christendom, bringing us the great construction projects and politico-religious shifts that we still enjoy the fruits of today. Our brothers and sisters came up from obscurity and stopped their semi-clandestine worship in the farmlands and catacombs and emerged victorious through Christ’s Providence into the center of the City, with Pope St. Sylvester leading the charge. The conciliar Tradition began shortly thereafter, with First Nicaea, at the request of none other than Constantine himself. Soon after this, the canon of Sacred Scripture was being solidified, by Pope St. Damasus and St. Jerome, right here, just down the road.

The Empire slowly waned – the Church did not. As the Emperors became less relevant, the popes became more relevant, among them St. Innocent I, St. Hilarius, St. Zosimus, and so on, all here, each knowing the same hills and many of the same churches which we know.

With the Donation of Pepin in 756, the Papal States came into existence, and the Bishop of Rome became a sovereign king, as is right and just. Only 44 years later, the Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor on Christmas Day, on a round piece of porphyry which today sits near the entrance of the new St. Peter’s Basilica. The tables had turned; the Church, and the Bishop of Rome, were now the reference point in the “caput mundi,” the capital of the world.

While we certainly face a troubling period in the Church today, the centuries around the turn of the First Millennium were arguably much worse. The wicked Counts of Tusculum, the Theophylacti family, rose to power and brought a level of perversion to the papacy that is practically unthinkable, with so many clergy of the Church, including especially here in the City, falling into the most shameful of sins, as St. Peter Damian relates in his ever-relevant book on the topic. But this was not to last. From the Benedictine abbey at St. Paul’s tomb, the Abbot Hildebrand rose to the Throne of St. Peter as Gregory VII, initiating a reform that the saint would use to purge so many evils from the Earth. In the century and a half afterward came some of the most important moments in the world of religious life: the Cistercians were formed at Cîteaux, St. Norbert founded his Premonstratensians, and then came the two great mendicant orders of St. Francis and St. Dominic. These two great men were both in the City, but Dominic had more of a personal impact here, not only by bringing so many of his own men to Rome to study, and working countless miracles in various locations, but also by reforming female religious life, bringing the women together from S. Maria in Trastevere to San Sisto Vecchio, which convent was eventually moved to Ss. Domenico e Sisto on the Quirinal Hill, before finally going on to Monte Mario, where the same community dwells today.

St. Dominic’s greatest spiritual daughter, St. Catherine, would help steady the Bark of Peter in the following unbelievably turbulent century full of plague and anti-popes, in part by dragging Gregory XI from France back to his true home here, and she rests now just down the road at S. Maria Sopra Minerva. Not too long after this tumultuous time came the terrible errors of the so-called “Reformation.” So many men and women in Rome met the challenge, including St. Ignatius of Loyola and our own special friend St. Philip Neri, who became active in the years around the great Council of Trent, at which point the level of religiosity in Rome was perhaps at an all-time low. Philip spent a long time in Rome as a layman, until finally he realized that God wanted Holy Orders for him. His little group of men, many of them laity, who gathered around him not long after his ordination sought to fix the problems of a lack of devotion and pious learning in the City, starting with themselves.

The Roman liturgy by now was proliferating all over the Earth, including in the New World, the missions of which were watched closely by the popes, into the 19th Century. Special mention must be made of Blessed Pope Pius IX of happy memory, whose epic reign included the unfortunate loss of the Papal States with the violent and anticlerical unification of Italy. He still had the guts to hold an Ecumenical Council in the Vatican, while the unifiers looked on with hunger at their desired capital before finally taking it in 1870. The First Vatican Council only officially closed 90 years later, in 1960.

At last, we emerge into the realm of living memory. The World Wars touched Rome but only barely – perhaps the confused and ambitious bully Napoleon had had a worse effect some 140 years earlier, to whom we owe the injustice of so many churches belonging to the State; though, it is true, this no doubt saved many sanctuaries from being “improved” in the 1970’s. The kindness, zeal, and prudence of the Venerable Pope Pius XII not only kept the Germans from flattening the City but it also converted the rabbi of Tempio Maggiore. Then came several saintly popes who would lead and implement the most recent Council, especially our dear friend John Paul II, who charged students to “learn Rome,” “imparare Roma,” and whose impact on this City was enormous, even approaching that of Pius IX. As we can see, there is plenty to learn, and it is worth learning – it is spiritual food, is it not? Of course, this is only an appetizer; the omissions of this summary are vast, as you well know.

All this brings us to today, to current joys and sorrows, and to our own personal memories. Just as the first settlers on the Palatine came here and lived together in a tight-knit group, so have we, and we too draw closer and closer to become a “little city” of our own. The same question is before us: how can we know what awaits us and our small foundation? Well, we have looked at the past, and that helps us to think of our future.

Now then, onto some opportunities.

We all know that we can go to Mass with the Holy Father, or visit the tombs of several apostles and other saints, both those well-known and those somewhat obscure to us, or climb to one of the great vistas of the City and marvel at its reality as a present testimony to its past, which is itself a testimony to the Faith. Likewise, we know of the ancient churches and the sprawling subterranean complexes which lie just beneath the visible City, both of which have such a special place in Christian history. All of these are indeed opportunities – like a spiritual playground, and I want to emphasize this; the City is a place to be used to elevate the heart and the mind to God. It is a spiritual tool. And its great instrumentality in the present is directly a function of its past which we have just examined, if only briefly. It is an immense treasure trove of material for deep reflection on what God did in the Incarnation, and on what it means to be a Christian. However, there is more to consider.

The fact is in front of us in this moment: Rome is international. After all, here we are. It’s not simply that we are some “stranieri” passing through, like the foreigners in Jerusalem at Pentecost who were brought there for Divine instruction through Providence alone. No, rather we have come here intentionally from afar to meet God and listen to Him by sitting around the feet of St. Peter. We are here to study, to teach, to work for the Lord in various ways. Rome remains the “caput mundi” for those of us who wish to know the Church from a global perspective, that is, to understand the “catholic” part of the Catholic Church. They say that Rome is a village – well, it is in some ways, but it can also be quite isolating, especially for us laymen, and above all for those among us who haven’t yet quite mastered Italian, or maybe still can’t even use the subjunctive correctly! So, the reality is that many of us are in need of intentional community, and by that community so many possibilities can manifest themselves. The whole world opens up through these friendships, let alone the City of Rome.

But not only can we not flourish here without a good social network; we also require support in the spiritual life. No matter how far we have advanced in the life of prayer, there is always further to go, and the diversity of experiences which we have in virtue of our different backgrounds makes us each have something to contribute, even if it is small. Each of us is an expert in our own life history, from which we can hopefully draw edifying spiritual lessons for the whole group. On top of this, we have the chance to plead the Lord on each other’s behalf. Praying together for one another, for our intentions, for our families, creates a bond of spiritual fraternity which goes to the heart of the purpose of our efforts. Transcending mere natural association helps us to orient our lives around our common destiny in eternity. In spiritual concord we find that the narrow gate becomes a little bit wider, so to speak. As the Psalm says, “How pleasant it is when brothers live in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down upon the collar of his robes.” (Psalms 133:1) With a union of charity magnified by fervent prayer and mutual edification, we tap into the graces which God has already shared with each of us. “Without cost you have received. Without cost you are to give.” (Matthew 10:8) This verse speaks of the initial preaching of the Twelve, wherein they are instructed not only to preach that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand but also to “cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and drive out demons.”

We must indeed help each other in our spiritual journey here on Earth as brothers. But the whole world too stands in need of help. To be more specific, Europe needs to be evangelized – including Italy – and Rome is no exception. Just as St. Phillip Neri faced a Rome full of spiritual squalor, so too do we. The secular state of Italy has weakened the Catholic heart of the peninsula to the point of being overflowing with an anemic and grotesque kind of “cultural Catholicism” which poisons minds much like the culture of Judaism did the Pharisees, leaving those of us who insist on the plain truths and demands of the Gospel and of the Church as “unmerciful,” “unpastoral,” “unkind,” and so on. It is a mindset which chiefly afflicts the young, and also a certain type of clerical subculture. Yet let us be on our guard, for this attitude has a grip not only on those who seek to interpret the Gospel into a bizarre mix of feel-good storytelling and impossible moral ideals, but also on those who might be tempted to announce the truth in a corner and leave the rest of the works of mercy to others. It is just as easy to forget not to try to turn stones into bread in the desert as it is to forget that there are people stuck out in the desert who need food – both material and spiritual. Such “country club Catholicism” is a species of “cafeteria Catholicism”: taking only a part instead of taking the whole. Granted, we are not pastors, designated missionaries, or any such thing, yet there are indeed works of mercy which we can undertake, and there are indeed pastors and missionaries and others whom we can encourage and aid in their important ministries. Rome is full of clergy and religious who would more than appreciate having a little help with their work. Why not assist where we can? And why not take other initiatives that are appropriate for us as laymen?

The last opportunity to note is the one which pulls these other opportunities into itself, and it is what draws us here today: the Oratorio. It is my sincere prayer that our diverse backgrounds, connections, and talents will allow our common faith and zeal to bring forth wonderful fruit in this, our little village, and in the City of Rome for years to come.