St. Francis, the Sultan and Pope Benedict

The following excerpt is from yesterday’s Wednesday audience of the Holy Father in which he offered a reflection on the life of St. Francis.  This particular passage concerns St. Francis’ meeting with the sultan in Egypt in 1219, (my unofficial translation from the Italian):

Also the successor of Innocent III, Pope Honorius III, with the bull Cum dilecti of 1218 supported the singular development of the first Friars Minor, who went opening missions in various countries of Europe, and in Morocco. In 1219 Francis obtained permission to go and speak, in Egypt, with the Muslim sultan Melek-el-Kâmel, in order to preach the Gospel of Jesus there also.  I wish to underscore that this episode of the life of Saint Francis that has great relevance.  In an age marked by an ongoing conflict between Christianity and Islam, Francis, armed only with the faith and his personal gentleness, effectively followed the path of dialogue. The reports speak about a benevolent acceptance and cordial reception to us from the Muslim sultan.  It is a model that even today must inspire relations between Christian and Muslims: promote dialogue in truth, in reciprocal respect and mutual understanding.  (cfr Nostra Aetate, 3).

Continue reading

The Knight and His Supreme Model

Dawn Eden has written an essay for Headline Bistro about Father Daniel A. Lord, S.J.(1888-1955) and his witness to the value of suffering—a valuable contribution, especially in the light of all the horrific suffering in Haiti.

From Dawn I have learned about a wonderful little book written by Father Lord,  Christ Jesus our King:  A Eucharistic Prayer Book, a kind of handbook for “The Knights and handmaids of the Blessed Sacrament.” This Eucharistic association was founded by Father Edmund Lester, S.J. in 1914  to encourage young men receive communion at least weekly in order to lead a life modeled on Christ according to the highest ideals of chivalry.  In 1917 the association was extended to women.

The little book of Father Lord deserves much attention and will get it here in time.  (I already have an unfulfilled blogging commitment.)  For now I reproduce part of a chapter entitled “Jesus Christ the Perfect Knight”:

Knighthood is not something won on the battelfield and awarded the accolade of the broadsword’s dubbing the armored shoulder.  It is not a matter of gold spurs and splendid trapping.

A knight may wear coveralls and ride an ancient coupe.  Knighthood may be as modern as the evening’s newspaper, as prosaic as a paycheck handed to a wife by her husband, as far from battle as the teller’s window in an uptown bank, as unknown to history or poetry as a single rose placed at the bedside of a new mother.

Every Knight, whatever his age occupation, or costume, has certain easily distinguishable characteristics:

A knight is dedicated to the slaying of the dragon of evil.

A knight is an individualist fighting, not in the serried ranks of a disciplined army, but alone.

A knight hates injustice and battles the unjust, loves innocence and protects human needs.

A knight may be harsh with the strong; he is gentle with the weak.

A knight knows that he is on a level with those who are better armed and with those who need the arms he carries.

A knight’s honor is high; he would rather lose a battle than win it by trickery, dishonesty or lies.

Above all a knight respects and honors women for their virginity, their motherhood, their meaning to the human race, their purpose for life today and in the future.

A knight has high courage that never admits that a cause is lost.

A knight’s ideal is to do all thing well.

Christ the Supreme Knight

Never in His life did Jesus wear armor.

Never did He wield a sword.  He did not break the bruised reed or extinguish the smoking flax.

He spoke the endless call to peace—through he knew that in the end He would bring for His followers, not peace, but the sword.

Yet His whole life conformed to our standards of truest knighthood.

Alone and far in advance of all others, Jesus is the true knight without fear or reproach,  His own knightly practice was the standard for His followers.  He challenged them to be perfect as His heavenly Father was perfect, to match His simple formula, which He lived out—to do the things that pleased His Father.

St. Francis, the Sultan and the President

I wrote the following essay some weeks ago, but never found time to edit and post it.  Since today is the feast of the Protomartyrs of the Franciscan Order, St. Berard and Companions, I thought it would be an auspicious time to bring this to light.

While I realize the historical figure of St. Francis lends itself to romanticizing and mythologizing because of the singularly extraordinary nature of his person, as a Franciscan it irritates me to see his life used as a political tool.  Paul Moses on the CNN Opinion website, does precisely this as he attempts to have St. Francis sucked into vortex of Obama-mania.  In addition to being the author of the CNN article entitled “Is Religion about War—or Peace?” Mr. Moses is the author of a new book called The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi’s Mission of Peace. Mr. Moses is at pains to state that he does not “mean to liken Obama to Francis,” but, goes on to do precisely that and, in the process of expressing his admiration for Mr. Obama, he historically misrepresents the Seraphic Saint. Continue reading

Theology of the Body in Context

The brothers at AirMaria were able to obtain an interview with Dawn Eden during Christmas week, when she was in the area.  We are privileged to bring Dawn’s first interview on the Christopher West controversy to the public.  Dawn is working on a masters degree and is focusing comparisons and contrasts between the popular catechesis of the Church before the Second Vatican Council and after the Council.

See also her article from Headline Bistro written along similar lines.

MaryVictrix Miscellany

For no reason at all, really.

  • Cat lovers, click here, but only if you can handle the TRUTH.
  • A tribute to the president for deciding to bring Khalid Sheikh Mohammed  here to the United States to stand trial for his involvement in 9/11. New York Mayor Bloomberg wants all the US taxpayers to flip the bill for the show trial that is estimated to cost the city 216 million dollars the first year and 206 million dollars every year it continues after that.
  • The following is all CGI.  Pretty amazing:
  • more about “Teasers : the third & the seventh“, posted with vodpod

more about “Compositing Breakdown (T&S)“, posted with vodpod

Guarding Hearts

The Kingdom of God is both an internal and external reality, the walls and ramparts of which need to be watched and guarded.  Internally that kingdom is the heart of man.  Externally it is the Church, the Christian family and, hopefully, an evangelized society.  The protection of that larger external kingdom, however, depends on the transformation of individual hearts.

Holes are torn into the walls of the Church only because the sanctuaries of individual hearts have been breached. Even though the Church is a social, external reality that communicates supernatural life to individual souls, it has no life at all unless it is animated by the interior life of the Savior.  During the itinerary of this life, the paradox remains that we cannot live without the grace of the Church, but the Church will not thrive unless we guard the grace within us.  All of this depends on our connection with the Heart of Christ.

Heart to Heart Talk

We speak of the heart as though it was the whole person.  For example, we personify Our Blessed Lord and His Mother in terms of their Hearts when we say:  “Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us!  Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us.”  The heart represents the moral and spiritual center, source of unity, and principle of organization and life.  It is, again, an internal reality.  Just as the physical organ is literally at the center of the body, so as a symbol the heart represents all that is central to supernatural life, the interior life of prayer and union with God.  It represents the highest part of man’s spirit that is most completely “transubstantiated” into the Trinitarian Communion by means of his cooperation with grace.

We freely personify the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, because the heart is also symbolic of an enclosed vessel in which all the treasure of life and grace are contained.  The abundance of life, promised to us by the Lord himself, is nothing other than the fullness of His own life (cf. Jn 10:10).  The fullness of grace by which the angel Gabriel names the Blessed Virgin is poured out for us in the mystery of the Incarnation and our own rebirth as children of God (Lk 1:28).  At Fatima, for instance, Our Lady makes grace-filled promise to Lucia: “My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and the way that leads you to God.”

By means of the Church that Christ established, there is an open path from the fullness of grace in Christ through Mary to the vessel of our own hearts.  For those who have not yet found that grace, or who perchance, have lost it, the task is to make room, by casting out from the heart the refuse deposited there by the world, the flesh and the devil.  This is the necessary prerequisite for receiving the sacraments worthily and fruitfully.  For those have experienced that grace and seen it grown, unworthy though they are, their work is by no means over, for the Kingdom of God, which is the heart of man, is under constant attack.

Heart Attack

Spiritually, the enclosed space of our hearts is not protected by flesh and bone, but by the heavenly host and by the sword of the spirit (cf. Ep. 6:17).  Our Lord warns us:  Fear ye not them that kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him that can destroy both soul and body in hell (Mt. 10:28).  At the Cross, the enemy of hearts mockingly executes the transfixion of the Heart of Christ and the Soul of His Mother, believing falsely that in so doing he violated the very sanctum of the House of God.  But in reality what he did was to open the floodgates of grace.

One of the paradoxes of the Cross is that the Hearts of Jesus and Mary secure the Kingdom of God by suffering and seemingly succumb to the assault of the enemy.  But in reality to suffer is not to be conquered.  For the enemy, death, shall be destroyed last (1 Cor 15:26), and even now in the death of Christ we are brought to life.  The heart of man is protected, then, by incorporation into the mystery of the sacrificial love of Christ and the coredemptive love of the Immaculate.

Custody of the Heart

In The Soul of the Apostolate by Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard (1858– 1935), we are counseled to practice custody of the heart, that is, to guard our hearts, by means of cultivating purity of intention and the practice of the presence of God.  Religious people often find themselves “swarming like an anthill with venial sins,” or justifying their own tepidity with the righteous outrage about the state of the Church, society and “sinners,” because their deep motives for practicing religion are tainted by so much self-love and self-deception (part 5, section 4).  How often do we need to stop and center ourselves on the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, begging for the strength to stay focused solely on them, to remain in their presence and to shut out every other voice to the contrary.

It is this vigilance of the heart, and only it, that brings about the rebuilding of the larger Kingdom of God.  Dom Chautard makes little of grand schemes and apostolic gimmicks as means of appealing to the masses of modern men. Together with the Church he says that “God is a hidden God, Deus absconditus,” and that deep transformations among men take place by means of the revelation of that hidden supernatural character of holiness through those already so transformed.    “How does this diffusion of the supernatural come about?” asks Dom Chautard:

It is the visible brilliance of sanctity, the shining-forth of that divine influx which theology commonly calls sanctifying grace; or, better still perhaps, we may say it is the result of the unutterable presence of the Divine Persons within those who They sanctify (part 4, section c.).

Radio-contemplative-active

Dom Chautard calls this effulgence of holiness “supernatural radiation.”  By means of its blast wave, the enemies of the heart and of the Church are flung back to hell.  Thus, real and effective vigilance on behalf of Christ’s Church and all the souls entrusted to Her care will always depend on the defenses of our own individual hearts.

Dom Chautard was a contemplative monk, who, at the behest of Holy Mother Church, left his monastery in order to conduct Church’s work of saving souls, but he was always so wary of allowing the ego to supplant the grace of Christ.  May we never fall into that trap.  May we, rather, remain vigilant in the custody of our hearts, which is the only way to place the fortification of grace around the larger, external Kingdom of God.

Ditching the Marital Biases

I recently posted a video under the title “Male Buffoonery from the Christian Media.”  The comedic vignette portrayed in the video humorously critiques men’s lack of appreciation for their wives in terms of the amount of work involved in running a household.  As humor operates by way of exaggeration, the husband in the video comes off as a consummate jerk.

I facetiously commented that such things never happen.  What set me off is that the video is just another example of media stereotype against men, and in this case it comes from a Christian source.  I know there are two sides to this.  I was just trying to make a point.

The reason I am posting about it again is that the video generated an interesting discussion in the comments that I think needs to be addressed.  I don’t mean to single anyone out, but to address erroneous ideas that are very commonly held.

Holy Baloney

The first is that somehow the exercise of legitimate authority is contingent on the personal holiness of the one who presumes to wield authority.  So it often happens that one who is subject to authority thinks they are only obliged to obey if their superior is, in their estimation, worthy of exercising authority.  Another way of putting this notion is “only the one who shows himself to be above the average man is worthy of being superior,” or “the one who is worthy to lead is only that one who morally, intellectually, or by way of popular acclaim, rises above the rest.”

The teaching of the Catholic Church on the matter of authority is that anyone who possesses an office of authority, as long as they act within their competence, and not beyond it, and do not command something contrary to the law of God, exercises authority legitimately regardless of their personal merit, talent, intelligence, holiness, etc.  It is not true, for instance, that a superior must be in the state of grace to legitimately command.  Our Lord Himself, while publically correcting the Pharisees for their hypocrisy, defends their right to command.  He tells the apostles: All things therefore whatsoever they shall say to you, observe and do: but according to their works do ye not (Mt 23:3).

All of this applies with respect to the obligation of a wife to obey her husband.  So says the Catechism of the Council of Trent:

[L]et wives never forget that next to God they are to love their husbands, to esteem them above all others, yielding to them in all things not inconsistent with Christian piety, a willing and ready obedience (“Holy Matrimony”).

Later on, I will explain the phrase “yielding to them in all things not inconsistent with Christian piety,” but first I want to deal with an issue, about which my silence on the matter has been criticized.

Seeing Scarlet

I have dealt with at length the question of women as the weaker sex and their need to be protected, and have emphasized the singular responsibility of men to perform this task, that is, to make sure that women are treated according to their proper dignity.  My blog is about Marian Chivalry, so my emphasis should be understandable.  Yet, as we all know, it takes two to tango. Unquestionably, those who hold authority have a special obligation to avoid its abuse.  However, each of the sexes within marriage is prone to its own particular vices.  Pride and selfishness have their own specifically masculine and feminine dimensions.  If men must not abuse their authority, women, in a particular way, must not use their weakness as an excuse to cultivate the habit of emotional and sexual blackmail.

One of the problems with feminism and the emasculization of men is that the abuse of authority, especially within the family, has given credence to the idea that only those who are holy can exercise authority legitimately.  In fact, men have been emasculated precisely because they have bought into this lie.  They have willingly abdicated their authority because others, most notably their wives, have convinced them that they are not worthy to command.

Without underestimating the problem of the abuse of authority, one cannot neglect to condemn in the most strident terms this pernicious notion that a man must prove himself to be free of his faults (so obvious to his family) before he can be taken seriously.  This notion, quite frankly, is so bogus and destructive that it defies sufficient condemnation.  It is an excuse for willfulness.  It is the ruin of the unity of the family.

A man’s wife is his most brutal critic.  This almost universally true and not altogether a bad thing.  The principle contribution of women to the tradition of Christian chivalry has been the high standard to which women were expected to hold men.  The ever-present cultural and moral influence of Mary on the development of Christian civilization was in fact Her humanizing influence on the male sex.  But the ladies should not forget that most men who love a woman desire to be her hero, even if they know that, more often than not, they fall short.  Traditional women talk all the time about how much they want to have their husbands lead, but then they subject his every choice to microscopic scrutiny, and nag and complain about all his shortcomings.  Emotional and sexual blackmail become tools of the weaker sex to maintain a safe independence, that is, a way of maintaining control, while indulging all her feminine weaknesses.

Mutual Submission

It seems to me that the comment section of the post to which I referred above tended to be one-sided, either asserting that authority is only legitimate where the husband shows himself worthy, or on the other hand, is virtually always exercised legitimately, regardless of what he commands, or at least that the woman should just shut her mouth and do what she is told without question.  And this is the second error that I must address.  Indeed, the Catechism of the Council of Trent affirms that wives are obliged to

love their husbands, to esteem them above all others, yielding to them in all things not inconsistent with Christian piety, a willing and ready obedience.

That phrase is specific, and does not suggest that a woman, who is the “helpmate,” and not slave, of her husband must yield in a mindless and servile obedience to her husband.  Ancient cultures, and some of them Christian, though not thoroughly Christianized, have regarded women as virtually the property of their husbands to be disposed of in an arbitrary way.  However, the famous passage of St. Paul, invoked by traditionalists to put women in their place does not affirm the wife-as-chattel mentality.  In Ephesians 5, St. Paul does indeed mandate the obedience of a wife to her husband, but he also states that husbands and wives are to be subject one to another, in the fear of Christ (22).  St. Paul goes on to explain this mutual subjection in terms of a wife’s obedience to her husband and the husband’s sacrificial love for his wife.  The next chapter (6) goes on in parallel manner to reaffirm the obligation of children to obey their parents, while at the same time, commanding fathers not to provoke their children to anger (1-4).  This makes it pretty clear that an arbitrary or abusive execution of authority within the family finds no mandate in sacred scripture.  No man may presume that his wife and children must swallow the consequences of his capricious will without question.

In fact, Ephesians 5 compares marriage to the love of Christ and His Bride, the Church, and the paradigm for husbandly love is Christ on the Cross.  The abuse of authority within the family is not going to be solved by feminism.  Emasculated men are a plague upon society and the family.  But neither is the problem of feminism and effeminacy going to be solved by ignoring abuses of authority or by absolutizing the rights of husbands.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church and John Paul II placed a great emphasis on the dignity of the human person and the obligations of those in authority to respect that dignity and to command according to the demands of the common good.  The Church regards as particularly pernicious the abuse of authority, because human authority is never absolute but entrusted to individuals specifically for the care of the persons, created in the image and likeness of God.  For this reason John Paul II placed a particular emphasis on the obligation of men toward women, while not at all dispensing from the obligation of obedience of wives to their husbands.  One would think that the need to address the problem of the abuse of authority, as well as the unwillingness to exercise it with legitimate forcefulness for the common good, would be obvious in the light of various modern forms of totalitarianism, fascism and fanaticism.

The Unspoken Issue

Worthy of particular note is a matter that goes largely unuttered when the topic of authority within marriage is discussed but which certainly underlies much of what is said, namely, the marriage debt.  It is a matter of grave obligation for men and women to yield to the reasonable request of their spouse and offer their bodies freely for the conjugal act.  This request is made legitimately where there is no serious reason to refuse (For particulars ask your confessor, and when in doubt, by all means seek counsel.)  In a particular way, this responsibility lies heavily on the shoulders of the woman for obvious reasons.

Again, it takes two to tango:  the man has the power to physically or emotional intimidate the woman into an unreasonable use of marriage, but the woman has the feminine power of turning her sexuality into a tool or into a weapon.  And we all know exactly what I am talking about.  There can be no one-sidedness here.

All this being said, the position of authority of the man and his superior strength and power places a special obligation on the man to respect and protect his wife from his own lusts.   Only women get pregnant and men generally do not have to worry about being abandoned with a child.  One of the greatest fears of women around the world is abandonment by the father of her children.   Women are vulnerable in this matter in way in which there is no comparison in men.  They are also expected to satisfy their husband, and unfortunately, culture has left many men under the delusion that their masculinity is defined by their libido and specifically by their need to have their sexual desires satisfied whenever they want, on demand.  This is to a large extent what many men mean by their expectation of the unquestioning obedience of their wives.

Here is a special notice to men (if the shoe fits, wear it):  Wake up!  Do you wonder why you wife has lost interest in intimacy with you and why you are less and less satisfied with your relationship with her?  It is because you act like a pig, and you keep justifying it because in reality you are insecure in your own masculinity.  Grow up and stop acting like a teenager.

I am particularly irritated by Christopher West’s ambiguity on the question of imperfect sodomy, precisely because it has certainly become an excuse on the part of “demanding” husbands to subject their wives to behavior that is demeaning and sinful.  One of West’s followers in Poland, a priest, asserts that

Attempts to set limits to the expression of love as well as arbitrary exclusion of some ways of experiencing pleasure inhibit spouses and introduce doubt, fear and moral anxiety into their sexual life. This attitude may result in frigidity and lead to serious marital problems.

In spite of the fact that the writer of these words qualifies his statement by the assertion that mutual consent must be part of the decision making, he is foisting a bill of goods on women, who generally are more passive and are expected to consent without argument.  Needless to say, many men will take words like this as justification for subjecting their wives to sins against nature and other demeaning behavior.

I have always considered the Westian interpretation of Theology of the Body to be the lustful man’s boon, notwithstanding all the exalted views of sexuality and the dignity of women.  If men truly wish to find satisfaction within their intimate relations with their wives and to maintain their moral authority, then they had better learn to behave themselves.  That means not only do they need to have a more exalted view of women and sexuality, it also means that they need to be a good deal less attached to eroticism and more willing to love selflessly, by being satisfied with less.  (A lack of sacrifice and generosity on the part of both men and women in this regard can lead to dire consequences within a marriage.)

While it is true that legitimate authority has nothing to do with whether one is holy or not, it is also true that it is better and more effective to lead by example. Such is the example of Christ, who died for his Bride.

Saving Marriage

It takes two to tango.  One-sided answers will get us nowhere.  I have favored the position of women here, because they belong to the weaker sex, but that is no excuse for the ladies to invoke what I say like a club to wield against their husbands.  I know there are really situations in which men are grossly abusive, but there are also many situations in which women can be little manipulative monsters.  Everyone clean your own house.

Christian marriage is about self-donation and self-forgetfulness.  Husbands and wives must bear each other’s burdens.  There is no way around this.  There are no pat answers.  Finger pointing is useless unless we are willing to point the finger at ourselves first.  My purpose here is not to provide the solutions to individual problems, but to point out that if we do not get the theoretical side of the argument right, then our efforts at providing practical solutions are hopelessly wrecked.

We have the whole two millennia of Christian history as our moral experience and if we find ourselves unable to learn from our mistakes the institution of marriage will continue to erode until it becomes something unrecognizable. Effeminate and homosexual men are a plague upon a structured society.  Self-centered and crabby women only exacerbate the problem.  But neither does the restoration of masculine authority involve the institutionalization of the arbitrary exercise of authority by men or the legitimization of husbands treating their wives like prostitutes.