From Tragedy to Glory

Homily for the 5th Sunday of Lent

Deacon Doug McManaman

This gospel reading, the raising of Lazarus, is so important, because it reveals Christ’s power over death. Only God has the power to open the grave, as we read in the first reading from Ezekiel: “Thus says the Lord God:  O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them” (Ez 37, 12). Jesus opens the grave of Lazarus and has him rise from it. In other words, Jesus is God. He is divine. And this miracle announces what is to come, namely, Jesus’ own resurrection. Lazarus, although he rises from the dead, will also die again, so this is not a complete victory over death. That will take place on Easter Sunday, when Jesus rises from the dead, never to die again. And that is the good news of the gospel: the resurrection. Death has been defeated. 

This is such an important point to grasp. There is so much suffering in this world, so many people whose lives are beset by a tragedy of one sort or another. And tragedy, which has many different origins, is always connected in some way with death. At the root of tragedy is often human error, or incompetence, or worse, human sinfulness and malice. Sometimes the root of tragedy is not human error or sin at all, but the course of nature. Nature’s disasters, however, often lead to human loss and death, and so they are designated as tragedies–without human loss, we would not refer to such events as tragedies. 

But tragedies rooted in human error are more difficult to deal with, and these are tragedies which often are in turn rooted in human sin, such as laziness or overconfidence or arrogance–think of the sinking of the Titanic. But then there are tragedies that are simply rooted in malice, such as the senseless murder of a loved one, a life cut short. Parents can suffer such loss, the loss of a child for example. Such tragedies leave wounds that stay with them throughout their lives, and their lives are practically defined from that point onwards by that very tragedy. 

But here is the point. The word gospel means ‘good news’, and the good news has gravitas. It is weighty and has real consequence. Christ’s death destroyed death. The good news is that Christ has power over death; he conquered death. If we really believe this, then it is the case that whatever tragedy has befallen us, it need not define our very existence. It no longer has the power to crush and deprive us of light and hope. We can allow it to crush our lives and redefine our entire existence, shrouding our lives in darkness, if we so choose. But because Jesus rose from the dead, and because he raised Lazarus, not to mention a twelve-year-old girl and the son of the widow, it need not do so. Death does not have the final word over our lives. Resurrection does. 

All those whom we have loved and who have died, some even in the most tragic circumstances, we will see and touch them again. The resurrection was for us. The Second Person of the Trinity joined a human nature to himself, uniting himself to every human person, as it were; he died and rose in our humanity, joined to his divinity. If we live our lives in him and die in him, he will raise us up as well: “For if we have been united with Him in a death like his, we shall also be united with him in his resurrection” (Rom 6, 5).

And that is why those who have suffered a terrible tragedy as a result of the sinfulness and malice of another person are able, in time, to forgive that person, because they know, through faith, that tragedy is relative. That is what Christ’s death and resurrection has accomplished: he has reduced tragedy from the absolute to the relative. The crucifix, once a symbol of horror, has become a symbol of power, victory, and glory. Death is no longer absolute and final. And so despair is no longer absolute and final, but relative and temporary. 

Those who have no faith in the resurrection of Christ, who do not live out of that faith, will be unable to rise above the tragedy that besets them, and so they are hardened and imprisoned in unforgiveness. But the power of the risen life of Christ is revealed in those who choose to believe in him and in the one who sent him, and they will not allow tragedy to imprison them in the darkness of perpetual resentment and unforgiveness. These are the people who know the risen Christ, whose lives have been illuminated by the hope of resurrection, by the good news of Christ’s victory over tragedy, sin, and death. 

Indigenous Religion and the Sacrifice of the Mass

Deacon D. McManaman

It is always inspiring to teach a World Religions course. What becomes obvious to anyone studying the religions of the world is, first and foremost, that man is naturally a religious animal; he has always aspired to seek a relationship with his origin, the very source of his being, either God, or the gods, or both. Particularly fascinating are the myriads of creation myths of the indigenous peoples around the world, from Australia to Africa, to North America and the Amazon basin. For the indigenous, life itself is religion, that is, life is ritual. The more one becomes familiar with these myths, the more one understands the essence of ritual, that the day-to-day activities of the indigenous peoples are really an emulation of the gods of these myths. Everything they do, i.e., hunting, cooking, giving birth, basket weaving, etc., it is all sacred to the degree that it imitates the acts of the gods or ancestors whose deeds are recounted in myths and legends. 

The indigenous believe that the great sky god created lesser deities, who in turn created the earth, mountains, rock formations, trees, rivers, and man, and the basic pattern of his daily life. All this took place in what the indigenous refer to as the creation period (or the dreaming), a period of time that is sacred, for it is a time that measures the very work of the gods. This sacred time is of an entirely different dimension than ordinary time. To get a better understanding of this notion of sacred time, consider C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, specifically The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. When the children pass through the wardrobe, they enter a different world, the world of Narnia, and many years in Narnia amount to about a minute or two of earth time. Similarly, for the indigenous, there is earth time, which is profane time (our time), and there is sacred time in which the gods dwell, and the two are not parallel. Ritual is precisely the way that the indigenous bring sacred time into contact with profane time. In performing ritual, such as an elaborate initiation ritual—which may require an entire season to complete—, they imitate the ancestors or lesser deities, and in doing so, sacred time is made contemporary with profane time. The two different realms are in contact, all as a result of ritual. In other words, the acts of the gods are made present, in the here and now, through the ritual acts of the indigenous, and it is by virtue of this contact that they are renewed, strengthened, and made holy. 

There is one feature of their myths and legends, however, that I have always found particularly striking, and this feature is found all over the world, in the myths of the Australian, African, South and North American tribes. In their myths, there is very often an account of a murdered god. It is an unjust murder of an innocent deity or ancestor, and from the body of this murdered deity will come vegetation of all kinds, i.e., beans, melons, corn, tobacco, or a certain tree from whose wood are made flutes that produce enchanting sounds, like the archetypal flute that was played by the murdered god in sacred time. To create such a flute out of the wood of this particular tree is a ritual that makes present the murdered deity. And to harvest the crops in the fall is a ritual act that includes sacrificial offerings to the deity and festivities, since it is from his sacrificed body that the fruits of the earth come to us year after year. Even the headhunting and cannibalism of certain tribes can only be understood in light of the tribes’ myths, for these acts are always offerings to the murdered god, a re-enactment of the myth carried out for the sake of the blessings that will inevitably follow upon such ritual. 

What is it in the human subconscious that can account for this universal theme found in the creation myths and legends of tribes separated by oceans and thousands of miles? The Church may have an answer for that, and the clues are in the first reading from the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ: 

Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine. He was a priest of God Most High. He blessed Abram with these words: “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, the creator of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who delivered your foes into your hand.” Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

How do we explain this reading in which the ancient king of Salem and priest of God the Most High, Melchizedek, brings bread and wine to Abraham, with a blessing? Melchizedek, a pre-Israelite, prefigures the priesthood that Christ established, and of course Melchizedek knew nothing about this foreshadowing or prefiguring, nor did Abraham. And well after Abraham, at the time of the Exodus, the Passover feast was established. The Seder plate prefigures the Eucharist as well. Here the original Passover lamb is sacrificed, and it is the blood that marks the doorposts of the Israelites that is their deliverance. 

To share in the Seder meal is to be part of that Exodus; for the Jews, to share a meal is to enter into communion with all who are at table, because all share in the one food, which is a source of life. When they celebrate the Passover, they believe that what is past is made present, in the here and now, and so each time the Passover is celebrated throughout the centuries, Moses is present in their midst; Jews who celebrate Passover believe they leave Egypt with all of Israel at the time of the Exodus. 

In the gospel reading for that same Solemnity (Corpus Christi), the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish also prefigures the coming reality of the Eucharist. We see this prefiguring of the Eucharist not only in the New Testament, and not only in the history of Israel, which includes a small account of the pagan king Melchizedek, but it goes back further, as far back as the indigenous peoples of the world. God leaves clues throughout history, in every continent and in every people, clues about where He will be found. In the Person of Christ, myth becomes reality. All that the indigenous dreamt of, believed in and articulated is affirmed by God and is brought to reality. We (Catholics) worship a murdered God, a crucified God, and from his body come the fruit of the vine and the work of human hands, the bread of life and the cup of salvation. To partake of this thanksgiving sacrifice is to enter into him, to live in him. And just as the indigenous regard ritual as the way of making sacred time contemporary with ordinary time, a way of making it touch profane time, thereby renewing it, so too has this come to reality in the Eucharist, because to be present at an ordinary Mass is to be just as present at the foot of the cross as Mary and John were two thousand years ago. The sacrifice of Good Friday, which took place 2000 years ago, is made contemporary, that is, re-presented in the here and now. It is not this or that priest who is offering the sacrifice, it is Christ who is the priest who offers the sacrifice, and Christ is the victim, the murdered God, who is being offered. The individual priest is only acting in the Person of Christ (in persona Christi).

And Catholics believe that Christ is the new Passover lamb, whose blood frees us from the slavery of sin and death, and of whose flesh we partake, making us one with that sacrificial offering. And so to eat of this Eucharistic meal is to become one not only with every member of Christ’s mystical body, past and present, but it is to become intimately one with all the faithful of Israel, as well as the indigenous peoples who knew something of this sacrifice, however obscure that understanding might have been. 

One year as I was explaining to some students that the Eucharist is truly the body and blood of Christ, not merely a symbol of his body and blood, a girl raised her hand and said: “It can’t be. That would make us cannibals”. And of course, she had no idea the religious significance of ancient tribal cannibalism. She saw primitive man with the condescending eyes of the western world, that is, as backward and unintelligent. But it is not that we cannot be like them; rather, when we understand the significance of indigenous myth and the rituals that enact them, we begin to see that we can be like them, we are like them, and indeed they are like us. They yearned to participate in the life of the gods, that is, they yearned for the sacred to repeatedly touch their ordinary existence and make it holy and complete, as we do now. They yearned for the deification of the earth, the deification of creation. God answers man’s deepest longings and aspirations in the mystery of the Incarnation, and ultimately in the Eucharist. God reveals His mercy and humility in joining a human nature and entering into human suffering, and dying on a cross. Like every child, God loves to play hide and seek, and like a good player He hides Himself in unexpected places, under a humble disguise of one form or another. He continues to hide in our midst under the ordinary and humble appearance of a wafer of bread. After consecration, it is no longer bread, although it looks like bread, tastes and feels like bread; it is the substance of his murdered and resurrected body. The sacred has joined itself to the profane, matter is made holy, the food which is creation itself has become the Bread of Life, the bread of angels. Had we in the west paid more attention to the deeper significance of indigenous myth and allowed indigenous knowledge to open our eyes to what has always been present but hidden in our own theology, we would have become more fully cognizant of the deeper brotherhood that unites us all.  

The Necessity of Battle

Deacon D. McManaman

As I reflect back upon the more than thirty years I spent as a teacher, I realize that out of all the school principals I had worked with over those years, only two were brave and relatively exemplary Catholic leaders. One was a man, a priest of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, the other a strong and bright Trinidadian woman. In between these two were a number of men whose leadership style emboldened the enemies of the school, i.e., drug dealing thugs, who, as a result of the timidity they witnessed, eventually gained a level of control over the fearful students of the schools.

I will never forget the day this Trinidadian principal came on the PA and instructed everyone in the school to put down their pens and to listen up very carefully. Her message was specifically addressed to the drug dealers in the school who had begun to provide free marajuana to some of the younger grade nine students, as a way of increasing their clientele. She was incensed at the news that this was happening. With great indignation in her voice, and after instructing everyone to stop what they were doing and listen, she said: “All you drug dealers out there, know this: your days are numbered at this school. I’m coming after you, and I’m your worst nightmare.” She went on for another minute or two chastising them, reiterating her foretelling. All I could think of were all the male principals I worked with in previous years and how they would react if they were to hear such an announcement; without question, every single one of them would have insisted that this woman had lost her mind, that she was a fool for initiating a battle she could not win.

But before her announcement was over, the “kingpin” of the school had been nabbed, for during it, he was out of class wandering the halls and at one point began to jump up and down crying out: “Catch me if you can! Catch me if you can!” At that very moment, a vice principal turned the corner and witnessed it all: “You’re caught”, he said.  He was sent home and expelled the next day. By the end of June, every drug dealer was caught and expelled. At the end of the year, I overheard a vice principal saying to a colleague: “We don’t know how it happened, but we always found ourselves at the right place at the right time”. 

I had to shake my head at this man’s dull witted remark; for it was obvious to anyone with faith how it happened. This woman loved the students enough to enter a frightening battle for them; she had the faith, the trust, and the intensity of love to take the first step in that battle, and when that happens, the Lord takes the next step and battles on our side: “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (Ja 4, 8); for “the Lord is a warrior, Lord is his name” (Ex 15, 3). When a person in a leadership position steps out in faith to do what in fact he or she has an obligation to do, to protect the vulnerable and engage in the battle that life in Christ fundamentally is, the Lord joins us: “But during the watch just before dawn, the Lord looked down from a column of fiery cloud upon the Egyptian army and threw it into a panic; and he so clogged their chariot wheels that they could drive only with difficulty. With that the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from Israel, because the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.” (Ex 14, 24-25). 

I remember the year my best friend, a priest of a nearby diocese, was assigned to a new parish. On his first day, a group of women introduced themselves to him, referring to themselves as “the bitches of St. Basil’s”, assuring him that “we’re here to give you a run for your money”. These were women who saw themselves as catalysts of true progress; needless to say they did not like the straightforward, back to the basics preaching of my friend. They opposed him at every turn. But my friend too was a “warrior” who loved the congregation enough to actually preach with substance and grit. I recall the Sunday he actually called the ladies out, publicly, loudly and clearly telling them: “If you don’t like it (i.e., the principles and fundamental teachings of the Church), get out!” A few days later, my friend received a call from the bishop, who insisted: “You can’t be telling them to get out”. My friend simply replied, “Well, I have been telling them to get out, and the more I do, the more people come, and the collections are steadily increasing”. In time, my friend even moved the tabernacle to the center of the Church, and just as he began to call the congregation’s attention to the change on the sanctuary, a thundering applause erupted. The ladies never returned after that, and the collections continued to increase. 

What is it that accounts for the increase in Church attendance, not to mention collections? Although determining the causes and factors that explain a phenomenon like this is more complex than intuition would suggest, who can doubt that a significant factor is courageous leadership and a challenging kerygma, as opposed to the innocuous and insipid preaching they were subject to for years, a style of leadership that typically does not appeal to men?

There are many anomalies in our lives, but struggle is not one of them; on the contrary, a life without struggle would be truly anomalous. I recall one principal I worked with who typically identified a good day with a smooth day; conversely, a bad day was one beset by frustrations, conflicts, and difficulties–in short, a struggle. Most people make that identification, but a smooth day is not necessarily a good day, and a day full of frustrations, confrontations, and difficulties might very well be the best and most fruitful day of the week. Many of our leaders today typically identify good days with smooth days, and doing so causes them to regard setbacks, conflicts, uncomfortable confrontations and challenges as anomalies. When this occurs among clergy, Catholic leaders will employ strategies designed to avoid battle altogether. The result is that the Lion of Judah is slowly tamed, and preaching becomes mind numbingly innocuous. However, one cannot win a battle that one refuses to fight, and a lion tamed is not the Lion of Judah (Christ), but an imposter. Moses directed Joshua, both of whom prefigure Christ, to go to battle:

At Rephidim, Amalek came and waged war against Israel. Moses, therefore, said to Joshua, “Pick out certain men, and tomorrow go out and engage Amalek in battle. I will be standing on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.”

So Joshua did as Moses told him: he engaged Amalek in battle after Moses had climbed to the top of the hill with Aaron and Hur. As long as Moses kept his hands raised up, Israel had the better of the fight, but when he let his hands rest, Amalek had the better of the fight. Moses’ hands, however, grew tired; so they put a rock in place for him to sit on. Meanwhile Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other, so that his hands remained steady till sunset. And Joshua mowed down Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword. (Ex 17, 1-16)

Moses with raised hands prefigures the crucified, the sign under which we are always victorious. But the decision of a “king” to siesta while his army is at war makes himself vulnerable to a serious fall, as we see in king David:  

At the turn of the year, the time when kings go to war, David sent out Joab along with his officers and all Israel, and they laid waste the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. David himself remained in Jerusalem. One evening David rose from his bed and strolled about on the roof of the king’s house. From the roof he saw a woman bathing; she was very beautiful… (2 Sam 11, 1-2)

The Christian is not called to a life of peace, rest, and tranquility: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set a man ‘against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s enemies will be those of his household’” (Mt 10, 34-36. See also Eph 6, 10-12; 2 Cor 10, 3-5). Peace and tranquility are only moments of reprieve in a long war; they are gifts from God, and although we would like that state of affairs to endure perpetually, as did Peter, James, and John on the Mount of Transfiguration, the Lord assures us we don’t know what we are talking about and directs us to come down from that mountain to continue the struggle. 

The decision to face conflict for the sake of the gospel is rooted in a love of God that extends to our neighbor; on the other hand, the decision to avoid all conflict is a decision to avoid battle. Immediately following these verses, Christ points out that “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me”. In other words, whoever loves his own peace of mind more than the division and conflict that life in the Person of Christ inevitably brings about is not worthy of Christ, for such a love amounts to a refusal to fight under the sign of the cross: “…and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me” (Mt 10, 38). The follower of Christ has to be willing to lose his life in battle if he is to find life: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt 10, 39). 

The effeminate, which includes both males and females, are characterized by an unbecoming delicacy or overrefinement. They tend to confuse an argument with a quarrel. If these people are teachers, they often discourage debate; disagreement with his/her point of view is often taken as a personal affront. The more “manly” among us, which includes strong women as well as real men, tend to enjoy a good debate. Such people appreciate the fact that the other was willing to act as an obstacle. In this light, cancel culture is fundamentally a phenomenon rooted in the increased feminization of western culture. However, the fear of being canceled is also fundamentally effeminate. It is particularly ironic to uncover this fear in the Church, for Christ was canceled; the very redemption of humanity was the result of a “cancellation”, and we are called to share in that cancellation (Jn 15, 18; Mt 10, 17-19). Catholic leaders who find themselves in the midst of a war must indeed fight with prudence and strategy, for one has to be able to discern what battles are worth our attention and which ones waste time and energy–a prudence not always exemplified in conservative Catholics; for there’s a fine line between audacity and strong leadership, but there is a difference between a prudence that has as its end the avoidance of battle and a prudence that has victory as its end. Avoiding battle for the sake of peace does not achieve peace in the end, because peace must be “made” (Mt 5, 9), and “making” is an activity, not a passivity. Those who fear being canceled to the point of rendering the kerygma of the Church palatable to the enemies of the Church essentially love their own livelihood over the spiritual and moral integrity of the vulnerable. Such fear is unbecoming of a Christian, let alone a pastor or bishop, for each one of us is called to be a peacemaker, and the harmony that peace is (pax) can only be achieved by engaging in a difficult battle that upsets those who love evil and despise everything the Church loves. 

Catholic Education and the Proclamation of the Kingdom of God

Deacon Doug McManaman

I’d like to focus on the notion of the kingdom of God, which is so prominent in the New Testament. It is such an important notion, but it is rather difficult because it is so multifaceted. The kingdom of God is at the heart of Christ’s preaching. 

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mk 1, 14-15)

Jesus speaks specifically of the good news of the kingdom of God (Lk 4, 43). I’ve often asked my students in the past: “You have had about 10 years of Catholic education, and you’ve heard the words “good news”, and of course the word ‘gospel’ means good news. Tell me: what is the good news?” More often than not, they simply have no clue. I once met a Catholic nun in the U.S who was beginning to buy into the latest ideological fads, political in nature, that are typically nothing more than temporary substitutes for the authentic kerygma of the Church, and as I was arguing with her, it became rather obvious that she seemed to me to lack a basic understanding of the faith. So at one point I asked her: “What is the good news of the gospel?” She too was stuck for an answer, which is why over the years I have wondered whether or not she is still a Catholic nun. I say this to stress the point that political ideologies are not the gospel. Christ was not a political revolutionary; he did not speak of “social justice”–which is not to suggest that Christ’s teaching and his life have no social implications, they certainly do, but the cart must never be placed before the horse. Christ came to proclaim the good news; he came to establish it. He is the good news. 

The good news is the establishment of the kingdom of God in him. But what does that mean exactly? Certainly this is strange language to modern ears; for we don’t speak of kingdoms, but provinces, nations, countries, and we speak of Prime Ministers and Presidents, not kings. So what does this really mean? 

Consider this historically. Under king David, the nation of Israel became a kingdom that subjugates other nations. In fact, at the time of Christ, the Jews were expecting a Messiah who would restore Israel to its former status as a kingdom. They were expecting a Messiah like David, a soldier who would lead the defeat of the Romans and free Israel from Roman occupation. But that is not the kingdom Jesus came to establish. He said to Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world” (Jn 18, 36). And in the synoptic gospels, Jesus foretells his passion three times. The reason is that he is preparing his followers so that they may come to understand his true mission. He came to defeat another enemy, the one enemy that man cannot defeat; for he came to conquer sin and its offspring, which is death. The good news of the gospel is the resurrection. And if death has been conquered, sin has been conquered, because death is the effect of sin; for death entered into the world as a result of the sin of the first parents of the human race. 

But ‘good news’ (gospel) and ‘kingdom of God’ are often used together in the New Testament.  A king governs a kingdom, and a kingdom is an empire that subjugates other nations. Christ came to establish the kingdom of God over and against the kingdom of darkness. The kingdom of darkness is a different kingdom. Recall the story of Genesis: “God said ‘Let there be light’, and God separated the light from the darkness”. This is the creation of the angelic realm. Angels are immaterial, pure spirits, created intellectual lights, and so they are not limited by matter and subject to time as material things are, such as human persons, who are composites of spirit and matter. And angels choose instantaneously whether to serve God or rebel against God. And so, immediately after God created the light of the angelic spirits, God separated light from darkness, that is, He separated the good angels from the rebellious, the angels of darkness. And we know from a study of the fall of man in Genesis chapter 3 that the devil, the prince of darkness, draws the first parents of the human race into the current of his own rebellion. Through his inspiration, darkness enters into the world. The result of the first sin is death, concupiscence, and a loss of the life of grace and the sense of the divine. Sin and darkness spread throughout the world as history continues. 

Moving right into the New Testament to the biblical story of the temptation in the wilderness, the devil tempts Jesus in the desert. In the second temptation in the gospel of Luke, we read: “Then the Devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant. The devil said to him, “I shall give to you all this power and their glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish. All this will be yours, if you worship me.” Jesus said to him in reply, “It is written: ‘You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.’” Notice what the devil says: “…the kingdoms of the world have been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish”. And in the first chapter of the gospel of John, we read that the light entered the darkness. Jesus came to free man from the kingdom of darkness. He came to defeat that kingdom, to take back what rightfully belongs to God, to free man from the dominion of Satan. In the first letter of John, we read: “Indeed, the Son of God was revealed to destroy the works of the devil.” 

Christ came to buy back (redeem) the human race, to deliver man from the darkness of this kingdom. And so a battle ensues. This temptation in the wilderness is the first round of this battle, and the first round goes to Christ. This kingdom, the kingdom of darkness, is both a visible and an invisible kingdom. Its origin is invisible (the demonic realm); its effects are visible in human sinfulness manifest in history. This is a kingdom that was established in the beginning, not at a particular time in history, as was the Roman or Alexandrian empires. When the first parents cooperated with the evil one and chose to taste radical independence from God, for themselves and their offspring, they submitted themselves to him. They rejected their status as children dependent upon God. Christ came to undo the work of the evil one, and the work of the evil one was to draw humanity into his own sin and rebellion, with all its effects. Christ came to reverse that. 

But how is Christ going to reverse that? He reverses that in his Incarnation, death, and resurrection. By his Incarnation, the Second Person of the Trinity joins his divinity to our humanity. The Son dwells among us. The signs of the impending defeat of the kingdom of darkness occur almost immediately, beginning with the overcoming of temptation in the desert, but they continue in the miracles Christ worked, in his miracles over nature (changing water into wine, the calming of the storm, etc.), in the raising of a 12 year old girl from the dead and the raising of Lazarus, which imply his power over death, and most importantly in his forgiving others of their sins, something only God can do. All these are signs that the kingdom of God is among us. 

When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it became known that he was at home. Many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them, not even around the door, and he preached the word to them. They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd, they opened up the roof above him. After they had broken through, they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Child, your sins are forgiven.”

Now some of the scribes were sitting there asking themselves, “Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming. Who but God alone can forgive sins?” Jesus immediately knew in his mind what they were thinking to themselves, so he said, “Why are you thinking such things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, pick up your mat and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth”, he said to the paralytic, “I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home.” He rose, picked up his mat at once, and went away in the sight of everyone. They were all astounded and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this.” (Mk 2, 1-12)

Christ, who is Messiah, exercises power over the kingdom of darkness; he forgives sins and cures the sick. Rise up, he says, just as he will say to Lazarus and the 12 year old girl whom he raised from the dead. Christ exercises dominion over death. But his definitive defeat of this kingdom takes place on Good Friday. By dying, he destroys death, by rising, he restores life. His blood is the price he paid for the sins of man, and the proof that they have been forgiven is his resurrection, for sin begets death, but divine grace begets life. 

So what is this kingdom of God? The kingdom of God is something that cannot be adequately expressed in one answer, which is why we have a multitude of parables of the kingdom. Each one highlights one aspect of that kingdom. What we can say is that it is not of this world. Indeed, it is in this world, but it is not of this world. It is not a political kingdom. And like the kingdom of darkness, it is both visible and invisible. Its origin is invisible; its sustaining source is invisible–the Holy Spirit is invisible. But it is visible insofar as Christ is visible, and insofar as the kingdom has a grip on visible human beings, in particular the visible Church that Christ established on the twelve foundation stones of the Apostles. And, it is a kingdom that grows and develops in history. Consider the parable of the mustard seed: 

He proposed another parable to them. “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the ‘birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.’” (Mt 13, 31-32)

A very short parable, but it conveys only an aspect of that kingdom, namely, its developmental nature: the kingdom of God develops and evolves in history; it begins small, but grows, develops in time, within history. 

The kingdom of God is an invisible kingdom that is here, within the confines of space and time, developing like a plant. The kingdom of God is the redemptive presence of God through the power of the reconciling Spirit. Christ said that he has overcome the world. Christ redeemed us. His presence, his influence, his life, his grace, is in the world. It has been joined to matter. The divine life, divine grace, is intimately present to a sufficient degree to each individual person, and it is up to each person to accept that grace or reject it. Those who accept his grace and cooperate with it will possess sanctifying grace, which is a supernatural quality that is indwelling and habitual, unlike sufficient grace. To be in a state of sanctifying grace does not mean one has achieved spiritual perfection. Rather, it means that one has freely opened himself to the divine nature, which now dwells within; for grace is a sharing in the divine life. This makes one a member of Christ’s Mystical Body, for the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles on Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is the very soul of the Church. Hence, the kingdom of God is present in the world, through that Mystical Body. 

The king, who is Christ, is the king of the universe, but he does not reign by force. He does not compel. First and foremost, he reigns within; he reigns through the free cooperation of human persons, and so Christ reigns in his Church. But he does not yet reign in the world of which he is king. Not yet. The world will not allow him to. There is still darkness, enmity, strife, war, between the offspring of the evil one and the offspring of the woman (Gn 3, 15). And so we see history as a battle. We are at war. You are at war. It is not a war fought with conventional weaponry. It is a spiritual battle. My spiritual director would always remind teachers: “There is a war for the souls of our students”. And our responsibility as teachers is to enter into this battle and go to war for them, for their sake, to protect them from the subtle influence of darkness. And that means coming to know that faith, and above all witnessing to the joy of Christ’s resurrection, the joy of belonging to that kingdom, being under the influence of that kingdom, allowing that kingdom, that redemptive presence, to have dominion over your own life; it involves praying for our students, helping them to see the world through the eyes of faith. It is a highly dignified vocation. A very noble one. It’s no longer completely in the hands of the clergy, the religious, as it was of old, when the schools were run by the religious orders. Now, it is up to you and me to carry on that mission, to enter into that battle. 

So, even now, Christ is still in the process of defeating his enemies, but he defeats his enemies in the same way that he did when he came among us 2000 years ago in Palestine: as a servant, a humble servant, through the power of the cross. He does not come in military and political power, as did the kings of history. He defeats the kingdom of darkness in “weakness”, for “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength” (1 Co 1, 25). God is so powerful that he defeated the one enemy that man could not defeat, namely sin and death, and he did so by dying on a cross. The eternal Person of the Son, who is Life and Light, allowed himself to be swallowed up in death, like a mound of earth would swallow up a stick of dynamite, only to be detonated. Christ’s life fills the darkness of death with the light of life. For the rest of us, dying is loss, it is defeat, but for God, dying is victory. And our dying becomes light and victory in him. 

And so the crucifix has become the most powerful sign under which we operate–that is why it is so important to have a crucifix in every room of our house, especially in each classroom, and not the resurrected figures fixed to a cross, but a crucifix; Satan recoils from the crucifix, because it is the sign of his definitive defeat.

Another parable of the kingdom that illustrates an aspect of the kingdom is the following:

“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened.” (Mt 13, 33)

Yeast takes time to influence the entire loaf. The kingdom of God is in the world like yeast. A teacher is above all yeast, and a good teacher has influence. That’s the power of a teacher. Influence. It is a real tragedy to have a teacher spend over 30 years in the classroom, with a mission to witness to the good news of the kingdom, to inspire kids to enter that world of grace, truth, and joy, and to neglect that mission completely, to waste those years, by seeing his teaching profession merely as a job, to become totally preoccupied with making his life easier, doing as little as possible. The light that they could have brought into the classroom but did not, because their faith was lifeless, limp, unenlightened and ineffective. Such teachers are forgettable, for instead of bringing light into the classroom, they bring tension, darkness, and hardness. 

It is the faith of the Church that it is impossible for man, outside of Christ, to establish peace and justice on earth. Man is inclined to sin. In the Psalms we read: “Unless the Lord builds the house, in vain to the builders labor” (Ps 127, 1). The fullness of the kingdom will only be achieved in the Second Coming of Christ, the Parousia. What we do in the meantime is allow Christ the King to reign in our own lives, and we influence people that way. When Christ the King reigns in our lives, we begin to love with the heart of Christ. We love with humility. We love with the love that we see from the cross, which is a love the world cannot understand, because the world only understands power and politics. It does not understand the humility of the divine love. The world admires strength, wealth, fame, youthfulness, etc. But God the Father admires His Son, who:

…though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2, 6-11)

The kingdom of God, as we said above, is an invisible kingdom, but it is visible insofar as it dwells within the hearts of visible sinful, flawed, neurotic human beings who make up Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church. Christ the king reigns in his Church, and Christ reigns in the hearts of our Protestant brethren who speak and act in his name, and he also reigns implicitly and perhaps pre-consciously in many of our Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, etc., brothers and sisters of good will, who are open to divine grace, whose decisions are moved by divine grace, even without them knowing it explicitly. These are part of the invisible Church.

There will always be conflict between the two kingdoms. We know this from the words of Christ himself who said: “If the world hates me, know that it will hate you too” (Jn 15, 18). We also know this from as far back as the book of Genesis: “I shall put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and hers. She will crush your head, while you will bite at her heel” (3, 15). The woman is Israel, as well as the New Israel, Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church, and the Blessed Mother, whose offspring is Jesus. That battle plays out in history, and we are part of it. The specific task assigned to us is to bring the light of the gospel, the commands of Christ, and the message of Christ’s forgiveness of sins to the students entrusted to us. We labor for the next 30 years or so, but in the end, the Lord will take our labors, all our works of charity, as a builder takes wood, glass, and steel, and he will make the final product. But he will usher in the fullness of the kingdom, and when that will occur, no one knows. In large part it does depend on us in that we create the conditions for his ushering in the fullness of that kingdom; we delay that coming or we hasten it by our cooperation or lack of cooperation. Moreover, eternal life with God in the fullness of the kingdom will include the resurrection of the body, our bodies, for we profess this in the Creed, and it will include the Beatific Vision, which is the vision of God as He is in Himself. To see God as He is in Himself is to possess the Supreme Good, the source of all that is Good. Everything you and I desire in this life is ultimately a desire for God, for everything we desire in this life is only a finite good which does not satisfy indefinitely, but only temporarily. The human heart was created by God and for God, and in the human heart is an infinite thirst, and only one thing in reality is infinite, and that is God Himself. The happiness of the eternal possession of God (heaven) is unimaginable. It is not in any way comparable to a Club Med vacation. Any depiction of heaven in film or media is necessarily false, for it is beyond our ability to conceive. However, the more you grow in prayer and begin to experience the joy of intimacy with God and grow in a deeper sense of the divine, you will begin to get glimpses of what the happiness of heaven really is and what it is not; for this is a very subtle joy that is indescribable. 

But the joy of heaven begins now, in this life. Christ said that “the kingdom of God is within you”. Too often, Catholic teachers speak as if our mission is to build a utopia, that the kingdom of God is some sort of utopian society that we create, and so the gospel is once again reduced to politics, and what happens then is that political action takes priority, rather than the personal action of the pursuit of holiness, through prayer, confession, Eucharist, works of charity, etc., and soon the teaching of religion becomes a matter of encouraging students to political activism. The fact is social justice will naturally proceed from a life that is growing in holiness. 

St. Paul tells us that you are the temple of the Holy Spirit, and so each one of us is called to be a sacred space, a temple that houses the presence of God. The light that will fill that temple if we are open will certainly illuminate our own life, our own interior, but as teachers, that light will illuminate the space outside of us so that others can begin to make their way through the darkness. That is the great blessing of the vocation of a Catholic teacher. The greatest joy in store for those who have sought first the kingdom of God and left all else to God’s providence will be the awareness that they’ve loved God far more than they thought they did and that the Lord has accomplished so much more, through their efforts, labors and sufferings, than they could have possibly imagined. 

The Sense of Sin and the Sense of the Divine

Homily for the 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Deacon Doug McManaman

Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.

Those are really great lines from the second reading. The one time that we see Jesus particularly angry in the New Testament is when he drives the money changers from the temple, overturned their tables, grabbed a chord and beat them with it; for it was the desecration of the temple that angered him above all. And now St. Paul says that you are the temple: “If anyone destroys that temple, God will destroy that person”. The parallel is the gospel text that says anyone who is a scandal to one of these little ones who believes in me, it would be better for that person to have a millstone tied around his neck and be thrown into the sea. That was the harshest thing Jesus ever said, and he seems to have said many harsh things. 

A couple of weeks ago I asked a group of confirmation students in Toronto: “How many of you have a “sense of the divine” (sensus divinitatis), an interior sense of God’s presence in your lives. The majority of the 40 or so grade seven students put up their hands. I was very impressed with this, and I urged them to value that and protect it, because it may not necessarily stay with them all their lives. They can lose it, if they’re not careful, especially in their adult years. A week later I asked them: “How many of you have a sense of sin?” Again, the same majority put up their hands.

What is interesting is that the two are connected; for the only way to have a sense of sin is to have a sense of the divine. If one does not have an awareness of the personal presence of God within one’s own interior, one will not have a sense of offending him by doing something contrary to His will, which is what sin is.

It was popular in the 60s and 70s to downplay any talk of sin, both at the parish level and in the schools. It was considered unduly negative. And so the words error, mistake, or weakness, were substituted for the word sin. Instead of “…let us call to mind our sins and ask the Lord for pardon and strength”, we would sometimes hear at Mass: “…let us call to mind our frailties and ask the Lord for pardon and strength. The problem here is that frailties are not sins. We’re all frail, we’re all weak, but that is no sin. 

My first 10 years of teaching were in the heart of Jane and Finch in Toronto, and I can assure you that talking about sin was the students’ favorite topic, especially those students of mine who had criminal tendencies, and there were many. Naming the disease that was keeping them in darkness was intriguing to them, and it gave them a genuine hope that there is a way out of that darkness and that one day, when they are ready, they can make their way out.

But more importantly, the good news of the gospel is precisely the revelation of the divine mercy. God’s mercy is incomprehensible. It is pure grace, pure gift. But it is not possible to know God’s mercy without a profound awareness of sin. If I have no sin, I am not in need of God’s mercy. If I am aware of my sins and am aware of how undeserving I am of God’s gifts, and if I am aware that I am addicted to certain sins and cannot free myself, and then suddenly I am told that I am forgiven of everything, that God has separated my sin from himself as far as the east is from the west (which means they will never meet), only then will I experience tremendous joy and relief. This is especially the case if I realize that I have been given the interior grace and strength to rise above those sins. 

And so those people in the past who, perhaps with good intentions, worked hard to play down sin and the sense of sin in the lives of the faithful, have really only indirectly deprived the faithful from experiencing the deeper joy of the divine mercy. 

Unless the message of the gospel includes the call to repentance from sin, it cannot be experienced as the good news of salvation. And of course, the first words out of Jesus’ mouth at the start of his Galilean ministry were: “Repent, and believe in the gospel.” We cannot repent if we have no awareness of sin. And life without any struggle against ourselves soon becomes boring and banal. There’s no challenge. And when the faith ceases to be a challenge, people, especially men, walk away and move on to other more challenging things. 

“Gospel” means good news, and the good news is the forgiveness of our sins, the resurrection, that is, it is the good news that the new life of Christ is available for us, to fill our interior, to give us the power to rise above the darkness and to make a significant difference in this world. I’ve worked with young people for 35 years now, and they always want to make a difference in this world; the problem is we don’t have the power to endure or to be effective. We need to be empowered by Christ, and it is only when we die to ourselves and give ourselves to him and allow his divine life to penetrate deeply into us that we actually begin to achieve anything at all. All we have to do is look at the great saints, such as Pope John Paul II, a man of true guts who went to the very end, rising above the crippling effects of his Parkinson’s disease out of love for the faithful, especially the young, or Mother Teresa, who also labored to the very end of her life, or St. John Bosco who devoted his life to the young at the time of the Industrial Revolution, or St. Katherine Drexel who tirelessly served the indigenous in 16 states. The list goes on and on. These are people who made a difference in this world because they went out into the world, but they did not rely on their own strength, but on the power of Christ. But it all begins with repentance and the forgiveness of sin and the experience of the divine mercy.

Paul says that we are temples of the Holy Spirit. Each one of us is called to be a sacred space, a temple that houses the presence of God. The light that will fill that temple if we are open will certainly illuminate our own moral deficiencies and sins, but renouncing those sins with determination is the path to the joy of living with an ever increasing sense of the divine in our lives. Such a temple will then illuminate the space outside of us so that others can begin to make their way through the darkness. 

The Heart of a Shepherd

Homily for the Memorial of St. John Bosco

Deacon Doug McManaman

            These are fabulous readings, and they are so appropriate for this feast day of St. John Bosco. Just take that opening in the first reading: 

Thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.

            That’s the heart of Christ right there. He is the good shepherd who goes searching for the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And if you know anything of the life of Don Bosco, you know that he too had the heart of a shepherd, the heart of Christ. Don Bosco was no “sanctuary priest”. He was not one to shelter himself in the rectory, only to come out to say Mass, and then go back in. Some young priests today choose to live out their priesthood in precisely this way, believing that all one needs to do is have a reverent liturgy with nice candles, elaborate vestments, a bit of Latin thrown in here and there, a sanctimonious countenance and nicely folded hands, and a strict observance of the rubrics, and the world will automatically be saved. Where these young men got this idea I have no clue, but that certainly was not Don Bosco’s vision of the priesthood. Like a true missionary, he went out in search of the lost, out into the streets to meet with the young and unemployed, to interact with them, to pay attention to them, to really know them. 

            I’ve known a lot of priests in my life, but there are three in particular who stand out, for they were widely beloved priests. The first priest was from the Archdiocese of Washington D.C., who back in 1979 picked me up hitchhiking outside of Columbus, Ohio, and who was the turning point in my life. He was a great friend from that point onwards. He witnessed our marriage, baptized our daughter, but he was murdered on June 8th, 2000. The rectory was robbed and the housekeeper found him dead the next morning, stabbed to death. I remember that day looking at the Washington Post online and seeing, on the front page, the face of Father Tom Wells. That was probably the only time the anti-Catholic Washington Post spoke positively about the Church. The headline included the caption: “Widely beloved priest…”. And he was widely loved. Going anywhere with him was always a bit of a pain, because no matter where we were, someone would know him and come up to him. The other priest friend of mine, Father Don Sanvido, is also widely loved. He’s retired, but he is still pestered by all sorts of former parishioners to do weddings, funerals, Masses, visits, etc. And the 3rd priest in my life who is also widely loved is a Salesian in this parish. 

            Very recently I began to reflect upon these three priests, wondering what it was that made them so widely beloved. It certainly was not any kind of theological liberalism; they are very faithful to Catholic teaching and were always willing to preach the hard and difficult truths, much more than I am. The reason they are so widely loved is that they have a genuine interest in people. When you meet them, they are genuinely interested in you. They want to know about you. They ask about you, they listen to you with great interest, about your life, what you do, how you got there, your unique gifts, and they are genuinely delighted in you. And that’s a rare quality. Not many people are like that. Many people have known you a long time, but they don’t know anything about you, because they don’t ask, and they don’t ask, because they are not interested. 

            But the heart of Christ is a heart that is interested in people. Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, who was a bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church, points out that the more we pray, the more we enter the heart of God, but there in the heart of God, we discover our neighbor, who was conceived there from all eternity. At that point, we are moved to return to earth to seek out that neighbor. That’s why the more a person grows in holiness, the more interested they are in concrete individual human persons, that is, interested in their world. 

            And that’s why St. John Bosco was so widely loved, why he befriended countless young people and influenced the world through those young people in ways that are simply beyond our ability to conceive. He was genuinely interested in people, young people in particular.

            The next portion of the readings that struck me was from the gospel: 

Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones, for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven.

            This is the harshest thing Jesus ever said in the New Testament: it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the sea. I don’t know where people get the idea that Jesus was always nice and accepting of everyone and everything, that he’d never say an unkind or offensive word to anyone. This is what the Cardinal of Toronto refers to as the “meringue Jesus”, sweet and light, like the meringue on top of a lemon pie. Followers of the “meringue Jesus” don’t read the New Testament; if they did, they’d see that Jesus can be rather offensive at times, especially to Pharisees. In any case, what’s the issue here? The issue is scandalizing these little ones who believe in Christ. There is nothing that Jesus values more than the heart of a child, which is why he commands us to change and become as little children. That alone is the condition for entering into the kingdom of God. But the heart of a child can be corrupted by the bad influence of others. 

            The other day I had a Confirmation class of about 40 grade 7s. We were talking about Original Sin and I asked how many of them have a ‘sense of the divine’ (sensus divinitatis), that sense or awareness of the presence of God within your life. I wasn’t expecting many hands to go up, but many hands went up, a clear majority. There’s a remarkable innocence in these kids; they believe, they are open to the Lord, and I did tell them that they could lose that sense of the divine in their lives as they get older, that they really need to make sure they don’t lose that, but to value it, nurture it, protect it. 

            There are, however, adults in this world–basically the culture in which we live–who will be in the lives of these kids, perhaps their teachers, or their professors when they are old enough, or a family doctor, a next door neighbor, or even their own parents, who through their words, their demeanor, their own lack of faith and devotion, etc., might cause these little ones to stop believing, stop praying, and eventually lose that sense of the divine. This is death penalty material for Jesus. The reason is that there is nothing he values more than the heart of a child that believes in the Lord. And that’s why he commands us to change and become as little children. In the garden of Eden, after the sin of the first parents, God approaches: “When they heard the sound of the Lord God walking about in the garden … the man and his wife hid themselves from the Lord God among the trees”. One of the effects of Original Sin is this tendency to flee at the approach of God, which is the root of the loss of the sensus divinitatis. Man cannot tolerate the truth about himself. After the first sin, they saw that they were naked and felt shame. This is significant because children are fine with walking around naked, and they do so without shame, but the first sin was a rejection of our status as “child” dependent upon God. The first parents chose to be their own god, independent and sufficient unto themselves, and so man’s natural tendency now is towards prideful self-sufficiency.

            But here, in this gospel, Christ commands us to reverse all this. We are to become as children, naked and without shame, unself-conscious like children, humble like children. Humility is a strange and interesting virtue, for so many people believe they have it; moreover, you can believe you have it, without having an ounce of it. Moreover, the truly humble will not perceive that they have it, because a virtue is a certain kind of excellence, but the truly humble do not for a minute entertain the thought that they possess such excellence. They never look at themselves in the spiritual mirror and delight in what they see; they are empty of any kind of self-satisfaction and complacency. That’s what we are called to, and the more we go down that road, the more joyful we will be, like children who are full of wonder and delight in the simplest things. So too will our lives become full of wonder, for we will begin to see the hand of God everywhere.

A Short Reflection on the Royal Priesthood of the Faithful

Homily for the Solemnity of the Epiphany
Deacon D. McManaman

This gospel reading for this celebration of the Epiphany is the fulfillment of what we heard in the first reading, from Isaiah, 60: “Jerusalem, …Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance”. In the gospel, we read that the Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem and said to Herod: “We saw his star at its rising and we have come to do him homage.”

On the basis of these readings, I’d like to make two main points: 1) about the cosmos, and 2) about man’s original vocation   

The first point on this solemnity of the Epiphany is that the world that God created, the cosmos in its entirety, is an epiphany. The word ‘epiphany’ means manifestation. The created world manifests the divine presence; it speaks of God, of his divine generosity, his benevolence. It praises the beauty and intelligence of God. Scripture makes this very clear. For example, in Psalm 19, we read: 

The heavens proclaim the glory of God
and the firmament shows forth the work of his hands.
Day unto day takes up the story
and night unto night makes known the message.

And so, creation announces, proclaims, speaks of God’s glory. 

Or consider Psalm 148:

Praise him, sun and moon;
praise him, all shining stars.
Praise him, highest heavens,
you waters above the heavens.
Let them all praise the Lord’s name;
for he commanded and they were created,
Assigned them their station forever,
set an order that will never change.

Just as a work of art is in many ways an epiphany of the artist, revealing so much about the artist, creation in all its diversity manifests and praises God.

But there is more. In the first story of Creation in the book of Genesis, God says to man:

Have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth. I have given you every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food.

In other words, God created the world as a banquet for us, to feed us. For the Jews, a meal has much more significance than simply a means of sustaining biological life; a meal is a source of communion with all those at table, and so creation, which is given to man for food, is a source of communion with God.

My next point is that a priest is one who offers sacrifice, in particular the sacrifice of thanksgiving. The word Eucharist means ‘thanksgiving’. Man’s task is to receive the food that is creation and give thanks for them, and we give thanks by offering something in return. In other words, man was created to be a priest of creation–he was created to offer, to thank, to praise, to adore. He is to take what is given and lift it up to God, that it may become what God intended for it to become–namely, a means of communion with him. 

This pattern is visible at every level of creation. The lowest level of the hierarchy of being in the physical universe is the mineral level, the level of non-living matter. Above that are living things, i.e., plants, but plant life takes non-living matter and consumes it, that is, raises it up through the power of nutrition and transforms it into living matter (this is what happens when we water plants). Non-living matter is food for living matter, and life lifts it up, so to speak. But brute animals eat plants, and through the process of metabolism change plant life into living animal tissue, a higher mode of life. It does this, however, by killing it first and then raising it up. Plants must be sacrificed first in order to be lifted up to serve something higher. But man exercises dominion over the animal kingdom, raising it up to serve human needs, in a number of ways, not always for food. Man, who contains within himself the entire hierarchy of being within himself, is to take all that he is and has become, and all that he possesses, and offer it to God, in the service of God, in a spirit of thanksgiving or Eucharist. Man is a priest of creation. 

But the fall of man was a rejection of this priesthood. He chose to make himself his own god. As a result, he gradually became deaf to the praises sung by creation, he no longer possessed the eyes and ears to understand the universe as an epiphany. He no longer had the mind to see the entire cosmos as gift, as food given to him by God out of his superabundant generosity, for the sake of communion with him. And so, he no longer gave thanks. His life ceased to be Eucharistic. 

However, God made a covenant with Abraham, the father of Israel, in order to make her a holy nation, a priestly kingdom (Ex 19, 6). And so, Israel is a light to the nations, a holy people, set apart from all others, a priestly people, and the first reading says: 

Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come,
the glory of the Lord shines upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth,
and thick clouds cover the peoples;
but upon you the LORD shines,
and over you appears his glory.
Nations shall walk by your light,
and kings by your shining radiance.

And the Magi walk by the light of Jerusalem, and that light is a star. In other words, the Magi, these ancient non-Israelite priests of Persia, had eyes for this cosmological epiphany; their priestly existence made them able to discover the Christ child. The Lord was preparing the nations for something new. The Magi follow a star that leads them to Christ, who is the Epiphany of epiphanies, who is God in the flesh. And they have come to worship, to do him homage, to offer him gifts. They do not walk in darkness, they walk by the light of Israel.

What this announces is that the New Covenant will be an international covenant–it will extend beyond the borders of Israel to embrace the whole world. That is why Christ sent his disciples out to all nations. Christ came to restore the world to its status as God’s kingdom (house, palace, covenanted family). Christ, who is God, is everything that man hungers for, his kingdom is everything that man searches for, everything that the great religions of the world are searching for–God become man. And what man was and is called to be is right there in the image of the Magi, who do homage to Christ. We were created “through him and for him”, for Christ’s priesthood; we were created to worship, to adore, to offer. We were created to become Christ, which is what happens in an ordinary Mass. That’s our completion. That was our original vocation, that our entire life, every day, be a sacrifice of thanksgiving, a constant lifting up all we have and are to God, to receive what the Lord gives us and to offer it to him in thanksgiving, whether that be our work, our children, every moment of time in our lives. We are priests. In baptism, we were anointed priest, prophet and king; we are members of the Royal Priesthood of the Faithful. What the ordained ministerial priest does is he takes what we offer, namely bread and wine, which represent the fruit of our labor, our sacrifices, our daily stresses and frustrations, our efforts and the love behind that labor, we offer it here, at the altar, and he takes it and lifts it up on our behalf, and Christ, who is the priest at the altar, receives that bread and wine that we have offered to him and changes it into himself, his own body and blood, which in turn is the sacrifice that Christ offers to the Father. And that is returned to us as food, but it is no longer bread and wine, but the actual food of his body and blood: “for my body is real food”, he says, and “my blood real drink”. Through this exchange, we are deified, united to his sacrificial and Eucharistic offering. Like food that is metabolized, we are raised up to a higher life, a divine-human life. And now, our entire life is subordinated to God; for we are his servants, and servants follow orders. We live under his commands. That’s our fulfillment, and that’s what we were created for.

In this gospel, Herod represents all those who refuse this priesthood. To preserve his power, he sacrifices the innocents, those children called to be priests of his creation, whom he sees as a threat to his status and power, because among them is a king. He is his own god; he does not worship. He is a liar and a murderer for the sake of making his own life more convenient. 

And this world is still divided accordingly. I was watching a debate on abortion recently, which was 2 hours and 20 minutes. This is unusual, because abortion is no longer debated; people won’t talk about that. But it was very interesting because the debate was very civil. And both sides were very intelligent and articulate. A young female medical student was arguing for abortion rights, while a young man was arguing against abortion, for the rights of the unborn child. But what I found interesting is that despite the brilliant arguments and points made by the young man arguing for the rights of the unborn child not to be murdered, he was not making any progress; it was like sound waves bouncing off a wall. And there was a wall that divided them, the same wall that divides the world, which Christ came to erect: “Do not think I have come to bring peace; I have come not to bring peace, but a sword of division.” (Mt 10, 34). For the young woman, the issue is all about my consent, my will, my rights, my body, my decision. In other words, my life does not belong to the Lord, it belongs to me. But for the young man, the issue was about obeying, submitting to a higher law, that is, not my will, my rights, my consent, but “Thy will be done”. Although she was very civil, not to mention bright and persistent, she was in some ways a daughter of Herod. His attitude, on the other hand, represented the priesthood of the faithful, our original vocation that was restored in Christ. 

Some Thoughts on Teaching Catholic Sexual Ethics

Deacon Doug McManaman

Sexual morality has become a rather difficult area to approach at both the high school and university levels. It is not easy to find the most effective approach that will allow students to begin to question popular sexual mores and at least begin to appreciate, to some degree, the beauty and wisdom of Catholic sexual ethics. There is no doubt in my mind that a necessary prerequisite for students is an appreciation for some of the fundamentals of plausible reasoning. This permits us to see that knowledge is not easy to acquire and that a conclusion or position we hold is always derived from a set of data. That body of information may be empirical data, or rational data, or a mixture of both.[1] But what is particularly noteworthy about conclusions implied by a set of data is that new information–often the result of more life experience and/or studying what others have discovered and written–can and often does call a person to revise his/her position on an issue. This process occurs in the sciences all the time. It occurs less so with human beings dealing with issues outside the sciences, because most people today, it seems, are less aware of just how much of a role plausible reasoning plays in our everyday lives. The bottom line is that since we are always information deficient, we ought to cultivate a healthy skepticism regarding our own way of seeing things, that is, a sense of the tentativeness of “truth as I currently see it”, as well as a genuine openness to dialogue and learning. This is more difficult to do when treating moral issues than it is scientific questions; for scientific discoveries typically do not impact our lifestyle choices in a way that is subjectively unsatisfying–they often make life much easier (i.e., warmer houses in the winter, cooler houses in the summer, more convenient travel from one place to another, cures for diseases, vaccines, computers, cell phones, etc.). But discovering that some choices that we’ve been making are not as morally innocent as we might have thought can offend a person’s sense of pride, for example, and those newly discovered values call us to change, which is almost always uncomfortable, at least to the degree that our choices have become habitual. This is especially the case in the area of sexual ethics.

What also makes moral matters somewhat more difficult to discuss is value-blindness. What we choose to love above all in life has repercussions in terms of what we are able to see. If the self is at the center of a person’s life, his or her perception of value will significantly differ from the person who has made God the center. In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle points out: “As a person is, so does he see”. What this means is that our moral character shapes what we see as a value and a disvalue. The coward, for example, will regard the brave man as reckless, and the foolhardy will regard the truly brave as cowards. The impatient will regard the truly patient person as impassive, and the unchaste will regard the chaste as prudish, etc. We have a tendency to make ourselves the measure of what is true and good, and in the area of morality, this makes life easier because in doing so we keep the demands that moral norms make on us to a minimum. And so the study of morality requires a tremendous amount of honesty with oneself and a genuine openness to personal moral reform. But honesty and openness are moral virtues, and so the serious study of morality presupposes a degree of morally noble character; without it, a person will simply be indifferent to the science of ethics.[2]

I’d like to start with the distinction between three categories of importance, a distinction made explicit by German moral philosopher Deitrich von Hildebrand. First, there is an importance that he refers to as 1) the subjectively satisfying, i.e., a compliment, the consumption of tasty pizza, the enjoyment of a cool breeze on a hot day, etc. There is also a kind of importance that is best described as 2) “objectively good for me”, such as “my education”, or “my life”, “my friendships”, “my skills”, “my marriage”, an act of generosity directed towards me, etc. These are intelligible human goods that contribute to my well-being as a human person. Finally there is what von Hildebrand refers to as 3) the important-in-itself, that is, “value”, without any necessary reference to “me”. I am not a skilled poet, nor do I read poetry, but I recognize beautiful poetry as something that is important-in-itself, that is, a value. I recognize the intelligible human goods that contribute to my own flourishing, but as a result of my ability to apprehend the other as a person of the same nature as myself as well as my ability to grasp the natures of things as they are in themselves, I understand that human life is a good not just for me, but is a value in a way that transcends me as an individual–that is, in itself. So too with beauty, integrity, justice, etc. An act of honesty is important-in-itself, a value, regardless of the fact that this act might make my life temporarily uncomfortable, or might even result in my death; an act of great generosity and sacrifice that has no bearing on my life is something we typically notice and whose nobility we admire—at least those who are not entirely value-blind. These are morally significant values that are important in themselves.[3]

Joy has something to do with the ability to recognize value, the important-in-itself, and to live for what is true, good, and beautiful in itself, not merely insofar as these are objectively good for me, or subjectively satisfying. In other words, joy has something to do with learning to love and live for what is truly larger than the self. Pleasure, on the other hand, is always “in me”, or “in us”; but joy is something else entirely; it is probably more accurate to say that “we are in it”. As such, joy has something to do with being able to see that we live in the midst of a reality that has an intelligibility, a complexity, and a beauty that is forever larger than us. Life is an ever-expanding frontier of ignorance,[4] and this experience is joyful for the person with humility and a profound sense of wonder–for the more we discover, the more we realize how much more there is to know and contemplate. But the mystery of the universe is summed up in the ordinary human person, who is  important-in-himself or herself, that is, who has an intrinsic ontological value. A significant part of charity towards others is learning to recognize that value and being willing and able to mirror that importance back to the other, so that he/she is more fully awakened to it.

Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Anthony Bloom once said that the more we pray, the more we enter into the heart of God, who is the unutterable mystery. But within that heart, we discover our neighbor. At that point, we are moved to return to this world in order to seek out that neighbor, who is henceforth seen as one who exists first and foremost, from all eternity, in the heart of God, which is the realm of mystery. And so we look upon each person as one who is always more than what we understand him or her to be. It is no longer the self that is loved most, but God, who is Goodness Itself, Beauty Itself, and Truth Itself, and our responses to every value, especially a morally relevant value, is an implicit and indirect response to God.[5]

Wedded love is such a value. What is it that two people want when they say they want to be married? This is not always easy for people to articulate, but in the end, after much prodding, what they seem to want is to give themselves entirely, completely, totally to another, and to have the other freely receive that total self-giving. Moreover, they want the other to give themselves completely, entirely, and totally in return, and to receive that complete self-giving. However, according to biblical anthropology, I am my body–as opposed to some a-sexual pseudo-angelic entity within that body–, and so to give myself is to give my body.[6] For another to receive my self-giving is to receive my body within her own. That is why sexual union between a man and a woman has been called the act of marriage; for marriage is a joining of two into a one flesh union, and the natural expression of that union is sexual intercourse, in which the two become reproductively one organism. 

Now to give one’s bodily self to another completely, not partially, implies an exclusive self-giving, and if it is total, it is until there is no longer any body, that is, until death–otherwise the giving is divided, partial, and limited, which is not marriage. Such a nuptial relationship is unique and it demands an extraordinary generosity. A nuptial union is much more than a friendship; it is an indissoluble bond, a one body union, that transcends the two of them.[7]

A marriage is sustained by the perpetual will to bestow that unique nuptial value upon the other, a value that is exclusive, permanent, indissoluble, and healing. The act of sexual intercourse is an act of “being married”; it is a celebration and expression of that one flesh union. However, because it is so vehemently pleasurable, it is very easy to isolate the sexual act from its marital context for the sake of that pleasure. Doing so, however, changes its meaning entirely; for without marriage, the sexual act is no longer a celebration and expression of marital union (which is a morally relevant and ontological value), but an act that is reduced to the subjectively satisfying. 

Reverence for purity is rooted in reverence for the value of marriage. To reduce sexual activity to the subjectively satisfying is to abuse the marriage act, and to abuse the marriage act is to abuse marriage. Subjectively satisfying sexual acts (i.e., masturbation, oral sex, pornography, fornication, adultery, etc.) do not and cannot promote the fullness of a person’s moral nature, a nature that is only expanded by the surrender to morally relevant values. Such acts, on the contrary, very easily dispose a person to a predominant love of the subjectively satisfying and contribute to dulling a person’s ability to respond to morally significant values, in this case wedded love, which requires an ability to transcend oneself and to love the other for the sake of the other, not for the sake of what he or she does for me.

Not every adult is able to love another for the sake of the other, thus perpetually and unconditionally. What we are identifying is a morally and psychologically immature individual who is nevertheless old enough to marry. Although we always hope we are wrong, we are inclined to predict that such a person’s marriage will be relatively short lived, and any children from such a marriage will inevitably be hurt by such a state of affairs. It is not easy to develop eyes for the value of marriage when there are relatively few examples of good and faithful marriages around, that is, in a society in which the pursuit of the subjectively satisfying and separation and divorce have become the norm. Moreover, the separation of sex from its marital context, which contraception has made much easier, tends to keep us from regarding sex as anything more significant than going on a trip together or going out to the Dairy Queen for a sundae.

Questions of same-sex relationships are particularly difficult today, especially at the high school level. A necessary pre-condition for treating such issues is an overall framework of profound reverence for persons with same-sex attraction and a real sensitivity to the various needs, aspirations, fears, and difficulties that persons with same sex attraction might have. It is of the utmost importance to have established a very good rapport with all students before trying to teach anything on sexual matters–a patronizing, dogmatic, even slightly condescending approach that lacks understanding will often do more harm than good. I find that the best people to listen to with regard to same-sex issues are those who are gay and Catholic, that is, who have same-sex attraction and at the same time are committed to living lives of chastity. Eve Tushnet is one such writer; I found her chapter entitled “Order in Same Sex Love” in her book Tenderness, which is an account of the relationship between Dunstan Thompson (American poet) and Philip Trower, to be particularly inspiring. Thompson was a Harvard dropout who served in the U.S Army, while Trower was a British intelligence officer. The two met in England in 1945 and became lovers. Thompson’s early poetry was risky, erotic, and inflamed with “existential panic” [8], but after a number of years into their relationship, Thompson’s poetry began to change. Eve Tushnet writes: 

… in the aftermath of war, under the influences of country life and domestic happiness, Thompson’s poetry grew calm. He shifted from romantic, urgent, confessional poetry to classical themes handled elegantly. He began to experiment with form rather than sticking to a percussive iambic, that meter which thuds, inescapably, like a hangover headache or a fearful heart. Now he can write lines like, “The end of love is that the heart is still….Here I have found, as after thunder showers,/The friend my childhood promised me”….[9]

It was at this time that Thompson became, for the first time since Harvard, a practicing Catholic; for he had been slowly picking up pieces of the discarded faith of his youth, “the Rosary, a quick stop in a church to hear a homily, even a trip to Rome in 1950 to attend Pope Pius XII’s proclamation of the dogma of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. He and Trower bicycled together to witness a pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, not far from where they lived–and when the procession with the Eucharist passed by them, Thompson fell to his knees and crossed himself.” [10] It was in 1952, after seven years with Trower, that Thompson announced to him that he planned to return to the Church. Trower himself recalled: “If he took this step, Dunstan explained before he set out for London, the nature of our relationship would have to change. We should have to live chastely. Was I prepared for this. I said Yes.[11] Trower himself had begun to have doubts not so much about his relationship to Dunstan, but rather about the sexual aspect of that relationship. Trower soon followed Thompson into the Church. Although they renounced genital sexual activity, they did not stop loving one another, and they sought and received ecclesiastical permission to continue to live together.[12]

It is not possible to persuade someone of the wisdom and beauty of chastity, gay or straight, by abstract argument alone. Much of our data is empirical, the result of experience, which young people typically lack, and only a few of us were able, in our youth, to combine our limited experience with an apprehension of moral principles so as to allow us to see clearly what is morally right in these personal matters and choose accordingly. So we cannot expect all our students to immediately embrace what we teach them in these matters–or ought to be teaching them if we wish to be faithful to our Catholic mandate. However, our students still need and have a right to be introduced to the fundamentals of Catholic sexual ethics by a teacher who lives and breathes the faith, and loves the students and mirrors to them their fundamental importance. They may not buy what we have to say at this time in their lives, but the conditions might very well be in place years down the road that might help them to eventually realize, as did Trower and Thompson, that joy really does not come from an intimate sexual relationship, but comes from an ever deeper entry into the heart of God, our origin and end.


1. By rational data we mean such things as first principles that have the character of necessity, i.e., moral precepts such as “one may not do evil that good may come of it”, or “one ought to respect the other’s status as equal in dignity to oneself”, or “one ought to revere a value more than the merely subjectively satisfying”. Empirical data, on the contrary, lacks the transparency that universal principles possess by virtue of their level of abstraction. For example, “the divorce rate for couples who practice NFP is under 4%.” One cannot discover this through reason alone, but only through empirical investigation.

2. Openness to change seems to diminish with age. Dietrich von Hildebrand writes: “…when men become older and, within the framework of natural tendencies their characters and peculiarities undergo a process of solidification, the natural mobility and urge for change will tend to disappear. Such persons will then become much less accessible to elevating influences, less receptive to fresh stimuli (we are still speaking on purely natural presuppositions). We can no longer expect them to revise their mentality and to re-educate themselves, for they are already cast in a rigid mold” Transformation in Christ, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2001. P. 14. However, when we consider these vital phases of youth from a supernatural point of view, the situation is entirely reversed. Hildebrand continues: “The readiness to change, the waxlike receptiveness towards Christ will tend not to vanish but to increase as man grows into a state of maturity. Accidental concerns and complications recede into the background; the pattern of life wins through to simplicity; the great decisive aspects of life become more clearly accentuated. The unrest incident to youth, the vacillating response to disparate appeals, the insatiable hunger for whatever appears attractive or beautiful will subside, and a steady orientation towards the essential and decisive become dominant. …this attainment of full maturity also implies eternal youth in a supernatural sense. It implies that the readiness to change, the determination to become a new man, and the unconditional willingness to crucify the old self should increase; that the impatience for Christ should not abate.” Ibid., p. 15.

3. Socrates said that it is better to suffer an injustice than to commit an injustice. To suffer an injustice is subjectively unsatisfying, but if it is better to suffer an injustice than it is to commit an injustice, then there must be something higher, a higher importance, than that which subjectively satisfies, namely morally relevant value. The saint would sooner die than to bring into existence a disvalue through his own free choice, such as denouncing Christ, or lying, stealing, perjuring himself, etc., in order to save his life.

4. This expression comes from Physicist Richard Feynman who referred to science as an ever expanding frontier of ignorance. The more we learn, the more we discover how much more there is that we do not know, and this frontier of ignorance expands alongside our learning.

5. Dietrich von Hildebrand writes: “For our knowledge of moral values, of the moral obligation, of the natural moral law, the knowledge of God is not required. But objectively these data presuppose God. We do not pretend that the type of demonstration leading to God in both cases is the same. But without any doubt God manifests Himself in moral values; He speaks to us in moral obligation. The moral values, the moral law, the moral order, the moral obligation, the voice of our conscience, objectively presuppose God and are thus for our minds and knowledge hints at God’s existence. The undeniable world of values, and especially of moral values, testifies to the existence of God for the one who has “eyes to see, and ears that may hear.” Ethics. Steubenville, Ohio: Hildebrand Press, 2020. P. 483.

6. We have a tendency to think in dualistic terms, like the early Greek thinkers or more recently, Rene Descartes: we tend to regard the soul as the true self, while the body is regarded as something accidental or non-essential. But this is inconsistent with the biblical understanding of the human person. The Hebrew word soma, which is translated as body, refers to the whole person. Hence, you are your body.

7. The couple enter into a covenant, an agreement, to be a one flesh union, but what they intend cannot be achieved by them alone. The specific relationship of husband and wife can only be brought into being by God. The couple cannot unite themselves into a bond that only death can sever; they intend that, they commit to that, agree to that, they profess that in public, but at that point it is up to God to bring that relationship which is a “one flesh union” into existence. God joins the two. We know this through Scripture; for Christ said: “What God has joined together, let no man divide.” That includes the couple; they too are not to divide this; for it is an indissoluble union. For a realistic treatment on the nature of marriage, see Frank Sheed, Society and Sanity. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2013. Pp. 110-132.

8. See Dana Gioia, “Two Poets Named Dunstan Thompson,” Hudson Review, Spring 2015, 

9. Eve Tushnet. Tenderness. Notre Dame, Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 2021. Kobo Version. “Order in Same Sex Love”. 

10. Ibid.

11. Gregory Wolfe, introduction to Here at Last Is Love, xxvi-xxviiQuoted in Eve Tushnet, Tenderness. 

12. See William Doino Jr., “A Witness, in Life and Letters,” First Things, December 15, 2014,

Our Identity in the Kingship of Christ

Deacon Doug McManaman

            There is a noticeable contrast between the kingship depicted in the first reading (2 Samuel 5. 1-3) and kingship depicted in the gospel (Luke 23. 35-43). In the book of Samuel (1 Samuel 18. 6-8), we get an insight into the kind of king Israel longed for, when David returned from battle. I quote: “When the men were returning home after David had killed the Philistine, the women came out from all the towns of Israel to meet King Saul with singing and dancing, with joyful songs and with tambourines and lutes. As they danced, they sang: “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands”. And this refrain of course angered king Saul, who from that point onwards, scripture tells us, kept a jealous eye on David. A very different kingship is depicted in the gospel. Here, the leaders scoffed at Jesus, they mocked him: “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God.”

            That’s our king. The one we are called to worship, and that’s the type of kingship we are called to live and embrace. When we were baptized, we were anointed priest, prophet and king, with sacred chrism. These are the three principal offices found in the Old Testament, and they are all summed up in the Person of Christ. He is the priest and the victim who offers himself on the altar of the cross for the salvation of the world; he is the final prophet because he is Truth Itself, the Word of the Father; and he is the true son of David, the king of kings. But what kind of king is he? He is a king who overcomes his enemies through the power of the cross. He does not come in military and political power; rather, he defeats the kingdom of darkness in “weakness”, for “the weakness of God is stronger than human strength” as St. Paul said (1 Corinthians 1. 25). For human beings, dying is loss, it is defeat, but for Christ, who is light and life, dying is victory and power. And our dying becomes light, life, and victory in him. 

            Christ did not redeem us from sin and death through his Sermon on the Mount, nor did he redeem us through the miracles he worked, or the parables he taught. He redeemed us by his suffering and death, by the offering of himself on Good Friday. And following our king means nothing other than taking up our cross, which is a sharing in his suffering, and in doing so we share in his work of saving. His kingship is the secret to our identity, who we really are and who we are meant to be. 

            Today marks the end of the liturgical year, and the readings focus our attention on this unique kingship, and next week marks the beginning of the liturgical year, Advent, which is a penitential season in which we prepare for the birth of our king. You wouldn’t know that it is a penitential season looking at the stores and malls and listening to the radio, etc. It seems we’ve begun to celebrate Christmas already. But advent is a silent penitential preparation for the birth of this king, whose throne is the cross on which he died and in doing so conquered the darkness of sin and death, the one enemy that man was unable to defeat.

            German theologian Karl Rahner said that the greatest glories of the Church are and remain completely unknown and unrecognized by all the members of the visible Church. These people will not be canonized. Such unique individuals are given a profound share in the suffering and humiliation of Christ, who was also unrecognized by the religious leaders of Israel and the people in this gospel today. One or two of those glories of the Church might very well be among us here. We wouldn’t know it, and if it is you, you wouldn’t know it. But the suffering lives of such people share deeply in Christ’s work of redemption, in winning souls for God. It’s a very mysterious thing how this works, how it is that Christ takes our sufferings, difficulties, frustrations, sacrifices, humiliations, and joins them to himself, to his own offering to the Father, in order that God the Father may deliver someone else from darkness, just as the sacrifice of St. Stephen was offered by Christ to God the Father in order to transform Saul to Paul, in the New Testament. 

            Why did Jesus put up with all this mockery and rejection? Basically, to show us that life in him is in many ways a learning to put up with one another. Life in him is about enduring, suffering, patiently putting up with one another. No one is exempt from this. We’re always aware of the difficulty of having to put up with certain others, but we are typically not aware of how difficult it has been for others to put up with us. But God does reveal it to us gradually, He reveals to us our flaws and imperfections slowly and piecemeal, to the degree that we are open and able to handle it. But becoming aware of that is important because it makes it much easier for us to accept the prospect of having to endure one another patiently, and most of all, the more we are emptied of illusions about ourselves, the more space we create within us for God to fill.  

Safe Spaces and Safe Classrooms

Deacon Douglas P. McManaman

Throughout my teen years and my early years as a teacher, I was a devoted practical joker. I fooled teachers, priests, friends, relatives and students with some of the most devious but enjoyable of practical jokes–not always enjoyable for the victim, however. From the very start of my teaching career, I was committed to studying the analytical moral philosophy of Germain Grisez, Joseph Boyle and John Finnis, primarily for the sake of my students, because it was a highly structured system and adolescents like and need structure. I recall many years ago flipping through Volume III of Grisez’s Magnum Opus and noticing a subsection entitled “Jocose Lying”. I felt a physiological reaction at the sight of it. I did not want to read that, for fear of what I would discover. Is he going to argue that jocose lying is morally wrong? I closed the book and left it, but my conscience would not leave me alone, so a few days later I chose to read it. Much to my chagrin, the jokes I so loved to play on people, of which temporary lying was always a part, involved the manipulation of other peoples’ emotions, and so they violated the basic requirement to treat others in a way that respects their status as equal in dignity to oneself. It was obvious to me as I was reading it; for I hated it when my own emotions were being manipulated by the lies of a friend playing a good practical joke on me. And so I had to stop.

Although initially I found Grisez’s treatment of the issue subjectively unsatisfying, it was nevertheless beneficial. At least now there is one less manipulator in the world, and much less victims of emotional manipulation. The irony is that I had studied for years under some of the best moral philosophers in the world, but I still had to have something so basic pointed out to me. Although this idea of his was at the time unpleasant, subjectively unsatisfying, disappointing, even humiliating, and contrary to what I had always believed to be true, not for a second could I maintain that it was “unsafe”, much less “harmful”. The idea was true to the facts, and so it was pre-eminently safe, by virtue of that very fact. 

But “safe” and “unsafe” mean entirely different things within the context of postmodern woke culture. The father of postmodernism is Friedrich Nietzsche who maintained that reality is absurd, because it is unintelligible. It is unintelligible because it is unstable, in a constant state of pure flux, without permanency of any sort. Being is an illusion; there is only becoming. It follows that if reality is entirely without meaning in itself, then meaning is constructed, imposed upon reality through the vehicle of “sounds” or language. All science is a fiction. This of course means that there is no such thing as “truth itself”–the mind cannot conform to what is in a pure state of change; the mind must be able to grasp what is to some degree unchanging, stable enough for it to apprehend, but there is no stability, and so according to Nietzsche, knowledge is impossible. In this postmodern framework, education is fundamentally about power, not the pursuit of truth–for there is no such thing. And if truth is nothing but a product of an artificial power construct, one that has no more objective validity than any other construct, then “safe” or “unsafe” no longer mean the same thing as they would in a realist frame of mind. In a common sense realist perspective, an idea or claim that is true to reality is safe and beneficial to everyone by the very fact that it is true. If there is no “truth”, then a claim or idea is “unsafe” merely by virtue of the fact that it makes me uncomfortable, is disappointing, or contrary to my own personal worldview, which is my own or the dominant culture’s linguistic construct. “Unsafe” ideas are to be “deconstructed” and made “safe”, that is, pleasant. This latter perspective describes postmodern “wokeness”.

But this postmodern ideological narrative is entirely self-refuting and has it entirely backwards. It completely undermines the educational process, which in turn leads eventually and inevitably to a closed society, which according to Karl Popper is fundamentally “tribal” and governed by power, and whose social institutions are grounded on taboos. Is there anything more harmful and unsafe than a society closed to the pursuit of what is true, good, and beautiful in itself?

Science begins with a passionate interest in a problem. The logic of the scientific method proceeds from that starting point on the basis of the facts in evidence, and it moves towards a possible explanation of those facts (hypothesis), in order to solve an interesting problem. However, there are always a number of possible hypotheses that can account for the particular facts in evidence, and so each hypothesis must be tested in order to determine the most plausible one, given the limited information at our disposal. The most plausible hypothesis, given our limited set of data, may not remain so for long; new information may raise what was less plausible earlier to the place of maximal plausibility later. This logic describes not just scientific methodology, but our everyday knowledge acquisition as well. To test an idea in the humanities means “push back”, argument, dialogue, discussion, a dialectical process best illustrated in Plato’s dialogues. Over the years, I spent a great deal of time and effort trying to convince my own students to trust me, that their opposition, their disagreement with me, their difficult questions, in short, their push back, are not going to offend me, much less cost them marks. There is no education without “dialectic”–otherwise education becomes indoctrination, which is the method proper to a closed society. It was a difficult sell, because some of my brightest students, who could readily imagine difficulties with what they were being taught, were routinely “shut down” by their teachers throughout their entire Catholic school career. 

The woke language of “safe spaces”, “harmful” and “unsafe” classrooms simply has no place in Catholic elementary schools, high schools and universities. It is a language that has its roots in the absurd and self-refuting principles of postmodernism, completely incompatible and contrary to the fundamentals of a Judaic and Christian worldview. At the University of Chicago, the study of economics was said to be a “full contact sport”; one is free to embrace socialism, Keynesianism, classical liberalism, anarcho-capitalism, or anything in between, but one has to be ready and willing to debate it, defend it, and back it with evidence, because the plausibility of every idea needs to be tested. If the claims are true, they will withstand the test and everyone will be better off for it; if they are unsound, they won’t stand up to the pressure of a rigorous opposition. To impede that educational process for the sake of keeping students “safe” from feeling bad, “safe” from disappointment, from the painful process of growing in humility and the love of truth above the love of self, is to impose on them a most devious and harmful ideology that will keep them perpetually adolescent. That Catholic educators have begun to employ such ideological terminology is shameful.

Looking Up and Looking Down

Homily for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Deacon D. McManaman

The readings today are all about humility. There is so much to say about humility and its importance. At the risk of oversimplifying reality, I would dare to say that all the world’s problems come down to a lack of humility, or pride. A proud man is going to have lots of problems and difficulties in his life, and the source of those difficulties and sufferings is none other than himself, his own prideful character. The proud are their own worst enemy. C. S. Lewis said: “As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down you cannot see something that is above you.” 

Proud people rarely look up to others, except perhaps to those who think as they do. And the Scriptures say very clearly that the Lord looks upon the proud from a distance. The great Hasidic rabbi, the Baal Shem Tov said that “Pride is more serious than all sin. For to all sinning applies God’s word about Himself: “Who dwells in the midst of their uncleanness.” But of the proud man God says, as our sages teach, “I and he cannot dwell together in the world.” 

What is interesting about the word humility is that it comes from the Latin word humus, which means dirt or soil. But the word “human” also comes from the same root word. To be human is to be from the ground. This of course recalls the second story of creation where we read that God formed man from the mud of the earth, from the ground, from the soil. And of course, we return to the soil eventually. 

What this suggests is that the more humble we become, the more human we become. But the more proud we become, the more ridiculous we become, for we are trying to become more than human, and of course we end up being less than human, because we have created nothing but a facade. 

There’s an old expression: a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. That’s why sophomores are dangerous. They have one year of university under their belt, they have a bit of knowledge, but they don’t have enough learning to have realized how little they know and how much more there is to know. And so they tend to speak with great confidence, and they pronounce on things that they know almost nothing about. The only thing to do is wait patiently–hopefully, after a few more years, they will realize that reality is much more complex than originally thought and they will begin to speak with much less confidence and self-assurance. Some people get to that point, but many people do not, unfortunately. 

One of the great physicists of the 20th century, Richard Feynman, said that science is an ever expanding frontier of ignorance. The more we discover, the more we realize how much more there is to know about the universe. Every new scientific discovery is accompanied by a myriad of new questions that we cannot answer. As we answer them in time, as a result of new discoveries, even more questions arise. Our ignorance expands exponentially with every new discovery. And that’s why very experienced scientists have much greater humility than their students; they have more experience in being wrong.

The glory of man is not intelligence. Rather, intelligence is the glory of the angels. Your guardian angel is inconceivably more brilliant than the most brilliant human being. Angels are not hampered by matter, sense perception, time and geography. An angel is an immaterial entity, and so they are far superior intellectually than we are. Even the most brilliant human being is terribly slow and rather dumb compared to an ordinary angel. The glory of the angels is intelligence. Man’s glory, on the other hand, is humility. We can never outdo an angel in terms of knowledge or intellectual brilliance, but we can certainly outdo them in humility, if we are willing. We can recognize our littleness and embrace it. Mary is higher than the angels, for she is Queen of Angels, but she was not intellectually superior to them; rather, she had greater humility. In her magnificat, she said: “My soul magnifies the Lord, … for he has looked upon the nothingness of his handmaiden.” She saw her nothingness only because she had a profound knowledge of God. When you are close to something large, you see your own littleness in relation to it. Mary was closest to God, and so she had a deeper sense of her nothingness. And so she was pre-eminently human.

However, there is another word that is also derived from humus, and that word is “humour”. The ability to laugh. A person who is truly humble is able to laugh at themselves. A humble person does not take himself too seriously. They take themselves lightly. And so the more humble a person is, the greater will be their sense of humour and they will be able to laugh more. This is the problem with religious movies. They tend to depict saints as overly serious, never laughing. Jesus movies are the worst. He sometimes speaks with a slight British accent, and he rarely smiles or laughs. I believe this depiction is rooted in a lack of understanding of what holiness is and how holiness is related to humility, and how humility is related to humour. 

Taking yourself lightly, being able to laugh at yourself, in other words, humour, is the key to conflict resolution. Marriages fall apart as a result of unresolved conflict, and behind that collapse is always a couple who cannot laugh at themselves, who take themselves too seriously, who are oversensitive and proud. If a person has a difficult time admitting they are wrong, there’s little chance they can be married for very long.  

And this is the case with all human relationships. Just as a proud person is his own worst enemy, creating the conditions for endless problems and difficulties, the more you grow in humility, the more peaceful your life becomes. The problem is that pride blinds the mind, and so proud people do not notice their lack of humility. They’re not embarrassed about their lack of humility. This is especially the case if they are religious, because it is easy to hide our vices behind a cloak of religious orthodoxy. And so the only hope is to pray that God will enlighten our minds. To pray for humility. At the back of the church we printed out a powerful prayer, which is the Litany of Humility. Feel free to take one. This is how we overcome that blindness, namely, by assuming we don’t see accurately, and so we ask God to take over and enlighten us gradually, so as to become the persons He intends us to be.

Litany of Humility

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.

From the desire of being esteemed,

Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being loved…

From the desire of being extolled …

From the desire of being honored …

From the desire of being praised …

From the desire of being preferred to others…

From the desire of being consulted …

From the desire of being approved …

From the fear of being humiliated …

From the fear of being despised…

From the fear of suffering rebukes …

From the fear of being calumniated …

From the fear of being forgotten …

From the fear of being ridiculed …

From the fear of being wronged …

From the fear of being suspected …

That others may be loved more than I,

Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be esteemed more than I …

That, in the opinion of the world,

others may increase and I may decrease …

That others may be chosen and I set aside …

That others may be praised and I unnoticed …

That others may be preferred to me in everything…

That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…

I do not know where you come from

Homily for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Deacon D. McManaman

What is interesting about this gospel reading (Lk 13, 22-30) is that Jesus does not answer the person’s question: Lord, will only a few be saved? He simply said to him: “Strive to enter through the narrow door”. By refusing to answer the question, Jesus clearly implies that it’s the wrong question. Focus instead on entering through the narrow door.

The narrow door of course is Christ. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. The way to perdition, he said, is wide and broad and many take it. And this is very interesting terminology, because today, in our culture, “narrow” is not a good word, while “broad and open” are regarded as good. And of course, Jesus is not referring to narrow mindedness, nor is he saying that open mindedness is a bad thing. Open mindedness is a virtue and closed mindedness is a vice. What he said is that the way to eternal life is through a narrow door, and so it is a way that has a definite trajectory. However, a way that is wide and broad is open to many different directions, even contradictory paths. That’s a sure way of getting lost. If you want to know the way to Florida and someone tells you the highways are open, there are many paths, take whatever way you feel like, the person will likely not make it to Florida–he might end up in Texas or Nova Scotia. A narrow way is a determinate way; good directions will include what highway to take and what exits to avoid.  

But postmodern culture today frowns on anything that suggests that there really is a right way, a definite way to choose the good, and a definite course of action that will lead to our own destruction. The world says the way is broad and open, and you can take whatever way you choose, because they are all right ways. There was even a Supreme Court Case in the U.S, Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, which said that one has the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. That, of course, is pure nihilism (that philosophical school of thought which holds that reality, human existence, etc., has no intrinsic meaning, only the meaning we give it). It is a ruling that completely undermines the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, insofar as they were written within the framework of a definite philosophical anthropology. If anyone thinks about it long enough, those lines really amount to anarchy. 

But Christ says very clearly, strive to enter the narrow door. Many will try but will not be able to do so; for they’d rather do what they want to do, not what God wants. 

The other point I’d like to focus on is the following: “We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets’. But the Lord will say, “I do not know where you come from”. 

“Where you come from” is your origin, or your home. In Hebrew, the word for ‘family’ (be’tab) is ‘My father’s house’. In other words, Jesus will look at them and say: I don’t know where your home is; it is clearly not here with me. Your home is somewhere else. Your heart is somewhere else. But what is particularly noteworthy is that in the parallel gospel in Matthew it says: “Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ And the Lord will reply: I never knew you. In other words, you can be religious, come to Church regularly, teach in the name of Jesus, work miracles in his name, and still he may not know where you come from. In Hebrew, knowledge means union, it means experience. ”I never knew you” means I have never experienced you, never experienced intimate union with you. In the book of Revelation, Christ says: “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and dine with him, and he with Me.” For the Jews, to dine with a person is to enter into communion with that person; for those at table share in the same food that is before them, which is a source of life, and so they share a common life. Jesus says he will enter if you open the door, referring of course to the door of the heart. But Jesus is the light who has entered into the darkness, and the light chases the darkness, not the other way around. It’s one thing to have Jesus in the head, but it is quite another thing to allow the light to enter into the heart, because the light chases the darkness, and some people are comfortable in the dark. I’m referring particularly to the darkness of anger, envy, pride, bitterness, hypercriticism, etc, and these vices, for many religious people, are like an old leather coat that is very comfortable to wear and so they won’t part with it. And you have to wonder how it is that such people don’t see the irony, the contradiction, the hypocrisy. There are all sorts of possible explanations for this, but one in particular has always stood out to me over the years: many of them are very conservative, they are “orthodox”. For them, Catholicism is about “being right”, that is, “having the right answers”. It’s all in the head. And so they can hide behind the cloak of their orthodoxy, which allows them to feel righteous, which is why they are very often self-righteous, very dogmatic; religious know it alls. 

Catholicism is first and foremost the good news of salvation, that the light has come into the world, and we can invite him into the depths of our own hearts if we are tired of the darkness, and he will bring light and life to our lives. And then we will know God in a way that no one else does, a knowledge that arises from that unique relationship that He offers us, if we open ourselves to him and allow him to drive out our darkness so as to breathe fresh air and live in light.

Contemplatives in Action

Homily for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Deacon Doug McManaman

This gospel reading on Martha and Mary has often been misinterpreted over the centuries and has given rise to a kind of dualism, a false dichotomy between the active life on the one hand, and the contemplative life on the other (Martha representing the active life, Mary the contemplative life), as if the two are mutually exclusive. But of course, the two are not mutually exclusive. Even someone like St. Theresa of Avila, who founded 17 religious houses in her efforts to reform the Carmelite order in the 16th century, was a contemplative in action. Mother Teresa also referred to herself and her sisters as contemplatives in action. A contemplative life without action would soon dry up and become lifeless, but an active life without contemplation is without ultimate purpose and quickly becomes neurotic and fanatical. 

All work, all labor, is to be ordered towards the contemplation of God, and of course, our entire life is really a preparation for the eternal contemplation of God with the entire communion of saints. That is the basic message of the 6-day work week which we inherited from the Jews, from the first story of creation in the book of Genesis. The creation allegory depicts God creating in 6 days and resting on the 7th. So, God is both active–He is always creating–, and He is contemplative; He beholds the goodness of what He creates. What is interesting about this story is that after all His work was done, “God saw all that he had made and indeed, it was very good”. That’s what an artist does when he finishes his work; he stands back and takes it all in, contemplating it. If he’s a good artist, he is pleased with it. The sabbath, in other words, is primarily a day of contemplation, which is the highest kind of activity. But, in that same chapter of Genesis, God also sees what He creates after each day of creation, and after each day, the scriptures indicate that “God saw that it was good”. So, there is a contemplative element weaved throughout the week. 

For the Jews, the work week is an imitation of God, in which we co-create, we share in God’s perpetual creation of the world, but it also includes a contemplative element every day. After each day, we are called to reflect upon the goodness of the day, to reflect upon the hand of God present in our daily life, how God has manifested himself during the course of the day. In the end, at the end of our lives, we enter into his rest, symbolized by the 7th day, to delight in his supreme goodness forever. 

The more we love something, the more we think about it. Those people who are “in love” usually can’t think of anything other than the one they’re in love with. They see the beloved’s face everywhere. And of course, the purpose of this life is to grow in the love of God, to prepare for an eternal life of contemplation of God, to behold His face forever. God loves each one of us as if there is only one of us–as if we are the only person who exists, and we have his undivided attention at every instant of the day. The purpose of our life here is to come to know that love, to experience it. If we really knew it, not much in life would trouble us, and we’d be thinking of God all the time. And just as the one who is “in love” sees the beloved’s face everywhere, so too, we’d see the Lord everywhere, in all things and in all situations. And then life becomes more and more ecstatic, like the experience of being in love. When God looked upon all He had made and saw that it was very good, He saw Himself in His creation. Creation is good and beautiful because God is the Supremely Good and Beautiful. A work of art always reflects the personality and character of the artist, and the cosmos is one large and continuous hymn to God–that is actually one of the titles of a great book by Jesuit priest and scientist, Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Hymn of the Universe¾there’s nothing like scientists who have a deeply religious and contemplative spirit; for they see parables everywhere in creation. Teilhard writes: “Blessed be you, universal matter, immeasurable time, boundless ether, triple abyss of stars and atoms and generations: you who by overflowing and dissolving our narrow standards of measurement reveal to us the dimensions of God.” 

But of course, not everyone is a scientist. Mother Teresa certainly was not, but she was a contemplative in action, and she could see the Lord in the concrete situations that she found herself in, which enriched so much of her writings. She saw the Lord in the faces of the poor and she saw the Lord in the faces of her Hindu and Muslim brothers and sisters in India. Wherever we are called to be, the Lord is there, and if we are reflective enough, we will begin to see Him there. 

Our own unique active life, whatever that is, provides us with unique experiences, and when we reflect deeply upon those experiences, we begin to know God from a unique angle. At that point, we have something unique to offer the Church, because our experience is unique. And so the active life with its rich and diverse experiences provides material for the contemplative life, and the contemplative life in turn enriches the active life. 

But as we get older, we begin to feel the body slowing down. Old age is supposed to be more and more contemplative, more and more reflective. One could say that after retirement, life becomes less active, and as our age increases, our life becomes increasingly less active, but this may not be entirely true. The activity we are called to in our old age is of a different sort. When my daughter was a little girl, after the 5 o’clock Mass, she’d always go out for coffee with “the ladies”. These were seniors of the parish whom she really liked and clicked with. Some have died, and the rest are shut-ins who can’t get to Mass–although Mass can come to them. But I recently told one of the ladies just how significant that friendship and those moments at Tim Hortons were for my daughter and her growth as a person. She didn’t really know what I was talking about; she didn’t see that just her presence, her being there, was a great work of mercy. But it was.

Also, as we get even older, we may get to the point where we can barely take care of ourselves anymore. In this case, we are still called to serve others actively by allowing others to take care of us. That’s how we are of service to others at the end of our lives. 

And so our life in the Person of Christ is both active and contemplative at the same time. A contemplative habit allows us to discern what activities really amount to nothing in the end¾and there are many¾, and which ones are significant and have eternal value. And a genuinely active life provides us with the experience that allows us to continually grow in the knowledge and understanding of God, who is always infinitely more than what we currently understand Him to be. 

Proclaiming the Kingdom

Homily for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Deacon Doug McManaman

            What today’s gospel reading reveals is that we are a missionary Church. The word missionary, like the word “mass”, comes from the Latin word “missa”, which means sent (mitto: I send). At the end of Mass, the deacon says:  “Go forth…” We come here to worship, to praise God, to listen to His word addressed to us, and to consume his body and blood, but there is a purpose to all of this, and that is “to be sent out into the world”, to walk in the power of the cross, and to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God, that the kingdom is at hand, that is, within reach. 

            But what does it mean to be sent out into the world to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is at hand? The way some people behave, it would appear they take it to mean being “preachy” and having all the answers to all religious questions; they are audacious, which to others usually comes across as obnoxious and pushy. Of course, that’s not what it means to proclaim the kingdom. The key to this question is in the Second Reading. Paul says: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither does circumcision mean anything, nor does uncircumcision, but only a new creation.”

            It’s this last line: “but only a new creation” that I would like to focus on. In baptism, we have become a “new creation”; we entered into his death, symbolized by immersion into the waters of baptism, and we rose from that tomb with the life of grace infused into our souls, symbolized by the lifting up out of the water. Everyone who is baptized is a different person leaving the Church than when he or she first arrived at the Church. He or she is a new creation, an adopted son or daughter of God, deified, filled with the life of divine grace. This is significant, for we are not born in a state of grace; we are born in need of a savior. In baptism, we become Christ, so to speak; for we are anointed with sacred chrism, and the Greek word for “anointed one” is Christos. We become “little Christs”. That is why St. Paul says: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me”.  

            Immediately after baptism, we enjoy a baptismal innocence; we are completely and utterly innocent, free of sin. But we still carry the wounds of Original Sin, so it does not take long to tarnish that innocence–if it is adult baptisms that we are talking about. And our battle, for the rest of our lives, is to overcome the effects of Original Sin, in particular concupiscence (our tendency to sin and self-seeking). And we do that, of course, by allowing ourselves to become Christ more fully. As John the Baptist says: “He must increase, I must decrease”. It’s about becoming Christ increasingly, daily¾not about becoming a preachy and obnoxious religious bugaboo. It’s about carrying in our bodies the death of Christ so that the life of Christ may be made manifest to others (2 Cor 4, 10). 

            What this means is that to the degree we achieve this, those who come in contact with us will come in contact with Christ, without their knowing it. If the atheist, or the Muslim, or the Sikh knows you, and loves what he sees in you, then he loves Christ without necessarily knowing it explicitly. If he is influenced by your charity and humility and even begins to emulate you, then he is following Christ without necessarily knowing it explicitly; and such people will find themselves with the sheep on the right side of Christ on the day of judgment, asking the Lord: When did we see you hungry, naked, thirsty, etc. 

            The kingdom of God is the redemptive presence of God in the world, through the power of the reconciling Spirit. Christ himself said the kingdom of God is within you (Lk 17, 21). That divine presence is within us, especially after receiving him in holy communion. 

            We have tremendous power when we are transformed into Christ. The spirit is far more powerful than matter, far more powerful than sounds and sights. When I was in the hospital back in 2003 to have a cancer tumor removed, lying in bed like a fileted fish, I noticed that I had an increased intuitive sense. When a nurse walked into the room, I knew immediately what kind of person she was, whether she cared, didn’t care, whether she was smart or incompetent, kind or indifferent, etc. It was a very interesting experience. When people are in a weakened and vulnerable state, something in them compensates, like we see with those who are blind; their sense of touch and hearing compensates and becomes far more acute. Something similar happens on the level of spirit. Some people know almost immediately what kind of person you are; they know it through their spirit, because your spirit radiates who and what you are, and they have the capacity to pick up on it. So, the more you and I die to ourselves and allow Christ to increase within us, by growing in charity and humility, by growing in faith, hope, and a very devoted prayer life, the more we influence others quietly but effectively. That’s what it means to proclaim the coming of the kingdom, and that’s how we move this world forward towards the fullness of the kingdom. In doing so, we are curing the sick and driving out demons. So much of human illness is psychosomatic. It begins in the soul and manifests in the body. But if the sick–and this includes the emotionally sick, those who are not well psychologically, as well as physically–, are in your presence and you have become Christ to a significant degree, you will bring healing to their souls, their emotional lives, and that can heal the body as well. And if you are full of light, you will drive out the darkness, because light chases the darkness, not the other way around. And so those who live in darkness, whose lives are entangled in the diabolical, will feel the difference in your presence, and they will either reject you in favor of darkness, or they will begin to escape the clutches of the evil that oppresses them. You become an exorcist without even knowing it. 

            You have that power. Christ said it in this gospel: Behold, I have given you the power to ‘tread upon serpents’ and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you.” The disciples he sent out discovered they had that power. However, they began to delight in it: “The seventy-two returned rejoicing, and said, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name.” That delight can be dangerous, which is why Jesus said: “…do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”

            This is the reason why for the most part we are unaware of the good we accomplish in this life as a result of our insertion in the person of Christ. If we knew, we’d likely take pleasure in it, and then we would stop decreasing, and if we stop decreasing, he no longer increases in us. And so we have to trust in the power of the cross. Our task is to reform ourselves first and foremost, to work for the increase of the kingdom of God within our own selves; if we do that, the Lord will provide everything else.

I have come not to abolish the law and the prophets

Deacon Doug McManaman

The ethics of redemption is very different from the ethics of law, but the one does not cancel out the other. The ethics of redemption of course refers to the ethics of the New Law, which is written on the heart. It is an interior law, because in the New Covenant we have become a New Creation; human nature has been transformed. Divine grace is a sharing in the divine life, and it transforms everything we are and everything we do. Divine grace makes it possible for us to rise above our own inclination to sin and actually fulfill the demands of the law. 

What makes New Age religion so popular today and within the past 40 years is that it promises “salvation” or happiness (fulfillment) without moral reform, that is, without the moral law. It is religion without moral reform, religion without personal conversion and sacrifice. And in fact many of our protestant brethren have begun to drift into that mindset–a 90 year old Baptist woman I recently visited in hospital was complaining about just that: make no moral demands on the congregation, don’t talk about morality, the moral life, especially on a personal level; the idea is that if you are going to talk about a moral issue, make sure it is one that everyone can agree on, and that usually involves issues that are rather obvious, like racism, unjust oppression, or poverty. 

The problem is that these evils begin on the level of the human person, and so if individual human persons are not challenged and called to personal moral reform, as we see in the Commandments, then we are going to continue to see racism, unjust oppression and poverty, because evil does not begin nor exist on the level of the system, it begins and exists on the level of individual human persons. 

The Commandments go even further. You’ll notice that the first three have to do with God, the last seven have to do with our neighbour. What this implies is that if we do not fulfill the first three commandments (You shall have no other gods besides the Lord your God; Do not take the Lord’s name in vain; Keep holy the Sabbath), we won’t be able to fulfill the last seven having to do with our neighbour (Honour your mother and father; You shall not kill; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal, bear false witness and envy). We’ll end up violating those if we deem it necessary for our own personal happiness, because we’ve essentially made ourselves the center of our own lives, not God. 

So New Age religion is really a false promise, and it’s a false promise that makes money every ten years or so–makes money for publishers, that is, which is why every 5 or 10 years we see a new one on the bestseller list. It’s sort of like new diets that promise that we’ll lose weight without having to give up the foods we like. Take it from someone who has a lot of extra pounds on him to lose: they don’t work. There’s only one way to lose weight: stop eating so much and exercise; it’s the same with the spiritual life. The first words out of Jesus’ mouth were “Repent and believe in the gospel”. Confession, Eucharist, prayer, that’s the road to salvation. 

The New Eve

Standing near the Cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

In this gospel reading, the Cross is the New Tree of Life, the New Tree in the center of the universe. Just as the First Eve, standing next to the tree “in the middle of the garden”, reached out her hand and took the fruit from that tree, which was a choice to taste independence from God–the tree representing self-sufficiency–, the Second Eve, who is Mary, standing next to the tree of the cross, through her fiat–let it be done to me according to your word-, surrendered the fruit of her womb and grafted that back onto the New Tree of Life. The First Eve brought death into the world through her own disobedience, infecting every member of the human race, the Second Eve brought life and light into the world through her own obedience and humility, affecting every member of the human race. We live in a different world now, one that has been deified. The Second Person of the Trinity became flesh, his feet touched the earth, he entered the waters of the Jordan, he breathed the same molecules that we breathe in every day, his blood dripped from the wood of the cross onto the ground, he made matter holy by his union with it, and the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles, giving birth to the Church, Christ’s Mystical Body. The Kingdom of God is truly within, it is immanent, in the heart of the world, hidden in the heart of each man. And all this began with Mary’s absolute surrender to the will of God: ‘let it be done to me according to your word’. That Word, the Second Person of the Trinity, joined a human nature in her womb. He received his body and blood from her, and so when we receive His body and blood in the Eucharist, she becomes our Mother. We become his body, and his blood runs through our veins, and so she is really and truly our Mother. Hence, she knows us intimately, as a mother would know her own child. She does not suffer the same limitations that she did here on earth, and so she really can know each one of us, and love each one of us, as if we are her only child, because she knows each one of us in the Beatific Vision. She knows us individually, but it is very important that we come to know and experience her gaze upon us, that we become aware of her knowledge of us. And we do that by praying to her and opening ourselves up to her, to her intercession, her guidance, and her concern for us.

Humanity: God’s “Other Self”

Homily for the Solemn Feast of the Ascension

Deacon Doug McManaman

At Christmas, we celebrate the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity: God the Son descends and joins his divinity to our humanity. But today, on this solemn feast of the Ascension, God the Son takes that humanity and ascends to the right hand of the Father. At Christmas, divinity is humanized; today, that divinized humanity is raised and glorified.  

This is interesting because God the Father loves God the Son; the Son is the Father’s “Other Self”. But the Son joined himself to a human nature, and in doing so, he joined himself to every man. If this is the case, then our humanity has become the Father’s “Other Self”. The result is that when the Father looks upon humanity, he sees his Son, His ‘other self’, and when He beholds His Son, he beholds our humanity and every individual who shares in that humanity.  

And so, there is a tremendous dignity in being a human person. But the point I want to emphasize is that there is a real dignity associated with all that belongs essentially to humanity, namely the limitations imposed by matter, and the wounds and scars that our material nature makes us vulnerable to. 

First, the human person is both spirit and matter, and because of the spirit’s union with matter, the human person is profoundly limited: we depend upon the environment, we depend on one another, human intelligence is profoundly limited by matter and sense perception, we learn very slowly throughout our lives, etc., but the problem is we still have an aversion to our limitations. The first sin was fundamentally a rejection of the limitations that constrain us. The first parents of the human race desired to be more than human; they chose to taste independence from God, to be their own God; they rejected their status as “child” of God, dependent upon God. That choice has affected each one of us; for each and every one of us has a propensity to reject the limitations that constrain us, we have an inclination to self-sufficiency, an aversion to that child-like status, which is why Christ said: “Unless you change and become as little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”. In Christ we become that original child. In him we choose to depend upon God. We become entirely his, to be used by him in whatever way he wishes. Christ’s ascension is the glorification of our humanity, and so it is the glorification of those limits. We should not be ashamed of those limitations, but at ease with them. The glory of man is not intelligence–intelligence is the glory of the angels; the glory of man, on the contrary, is humility, the total embracing of our limitations and radical dependency upon God and upon one another. 

The next point I want to make has to do with the wounds of Christ. He still had his wounds when he rose from the dead. He invited Thomas to touch them. But those wounds that he touched were glorified wounds; they were not ugly scars, but they reveal the glory and beauty of his love. They became badges of glory. 

All of us have wounds of one sort or another. Some of those scars are physical, and some are invisible. If we have no physical scars, we all have invisible scars, to some degree or another. We cannot live in this broken world without acquiring these invisible wounds. And some of us have even had to go through life battling mental illness of one kind or another, to one degree or another, and you might carry deep but invisible scars that this illness has left–whether that is clinical depression, or bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, paranoia, etc. What is so remarkable about the ascension is that Christ’s humanity, with all his scars, has been raised and glorified, placed at the right hand of the Father. And so those invisible scars that you might carry will achieve that glorified status, and those scars, even the invisible ones, will become badges of glory that will reveal the depth of the friendship that your illness has helped to establish between you and the suffering Christ. Whatever scars we possess from the battle of earthly life will, in the end, glorify us and reveal who we really are before God. 

A Mountain of Treasure

Homily delivered to the Confirmandi of Blessed Trinity Parish, North York, Ontario. 2022

Deacon Doug McManaman

I just want to say that I really had a great time teaching you all this year. Of course, the two candidates that really stood out were ______ and ______. I do want to say how much I appreciated their thorough participation, raising their hands so often. I do want to extend my congratulations to all the parents for the good work that you have done, but I do have to offer a special congratulations to _______’s parents, because you certainly taught him the faith–I’m assuming it was you. 

But it is always frustrating teaching a course like this because there is just so much more to do, so much more to cover, and there just isn’t the time. We barely scratched the surface, and all we were able to do is open a few doors for you and hope that you’ll walk through those doors into this inexhaustible treasure house that is ours. When I speak about the rich heritage that is ours in the Church, I often think of the movie The Hobbit, the scene where Bilbo finds himself in this massive cave of treasure, walking on a mountain of jewels, gold and silver coins, diamonds, and precious stones, etc.; the camera moves to a panoramic angle, and you see how tiny he is in this massive cave. Of course, there is a huge dragon underneath all that treasure that Bilbo slowly awakens. The scene is spectacular. The Catholic heritage that you were born into is like that cave, but so much more, and our hope is that you explore that limitless cave for the rest of your lives. 

During the Winter and Spring, I teach adults, prospective Catholic teachers, at Niagara University, and the reflections I get from the students very often speak about the regret they feel that they had left the faith in their youth, that they allowed themselves to drift away, and they almost always point out that they had no idea how deep, meaningful, and beautiful the Catholic faith is. They seem to have come to the realization that it is so much larger than they thought, and they do genuinely feel regret for dismissing it. 

Recently I met an elderly woman, close to 90 and who is in a nursing home, who said to me that the greatest blessing that she’s received in her life was the stroke she had that paralyzed her. She said that her biggest regret in life is that she’s spent most of it without thinking about God, without thanking God, living as if God does not exist. She said she had money, her husband had a very good job, she had a very good job, and they would often have dinner parties for their friends. But one day her husband asked her to go downstairs to the cellar and get some more soft drinks to bring up for the guests, and when she opened the fridge, she felt funny, and then fell to the floor. Her husband wondered what was taking her so long, so he sent a guest down to check on her. When he saw her on the floor, he called 911 immediately. She had a stroke. Her life would never be the same again, and lying there in a hospital bed, paralyzed and in despair, she thought to herself: my life is over. But she remembered the Our Father from her youth, and she started to pray that prayer for the first time in decades. She told me she suddenly felt a profound sense of peace come over her. And she just continued to pray that same prayer every day. And of course, all she could do at that point was develop her spiritual life, which she had neglected. And developing a spiritual life is very much like physiotherapy, which can take a long time to restore the strength to the injured part of the body. The spiritual life is like that, but she kept at it, and she is a woman of great faith and charity. Her husband died and now she is in a nursing home, not a very luxurious one I’ll tell you, but she says she’s happy. Joyful. And I see how much she brings to the lonely and suffering residents every day. She is a remarkable woman. But what struck me is that she told me she’s profoundly happy, but at the same time feels regret that most of her life was wasted on the pursuit of wealth and luxury. The stroke was her greatest blessing, because it was as a result of that stroke that she returned to God. 

That’s sort of been the recurring theme in my life this year; I’ve met so many people who have discovered this boundless cave of treasure that they didn’t know was under their very noses, the spiritual, intellectual, philosophical, theological, literary, and artistic heritage of the 2000-year-old Church that Christ established. 

One of these great treasures of the Church is Julian of Norwich, who was a great mystic who lived in the 14th century and died in the early 15th. And she says this about heaven.  She writes: 

Every man’s age will be known in heaven, and he will be rewarded for his voluntary service and for the time that he has served, and especially the age of those who voluntarily and freely offer their youth to God is fittingly rewarded and wonderfully thanked. 

That’s such a great line: “…those who voluntarily and freely offer their youth to God are fittingly rewarded and wonderfully thanked.”  

As you know, most people, the vast majority, do not offer their youth to God, and have not offered their youth to God. Most people usually keep their youth for themselves. Only much later on in life do they come to the realization that the things they’ve been pursuing in life are just empty bubbles with very little substance. So only a small minority offer their youth to God. We really hope that you will offer your youth to God, that you will hang on to the faith in which you have been baptized, that you survive your teenage years with your faith and morals intact.  

It was easy to be a Catholic in the 1950s; everyone agreed with you if you were a Catholic who embraced Catholic principles. The problem is the 50s did not produce many heroes. But today, in 2022, it is not easy to be a Catholic at all. It is very difficult. If you don’t know that now through experience, you will when you enter university, because virtually everyone disagrees with you if you are a serious Catholic who lives and breathes the faith. And so, unlike the 50s, the early 21st century will produce many heroes, because if you do survive the next 10 years of your life with your faith intact, you are a hero. This is the age of Christian heroes. You’ll be up against some serious opposition: ridicule, cancel culture, and you’ll be made to feel like a hateful bigot for the views you hold. But if you survive those years with your faith intact, you will be especially rewarded in heaven and wonderfully thanked by God, as Julian of Norwich says.  

In my 35 years of teaching, I will say this: the happiest students that I have every year are those who practice their faith, who live and breathe the faith, who study it, and who develop a strong spiritual life. These are the ones who exhibit the greatest mental and emotional health, who radiate a real spirit of joy and who have the strength to endure the sufferings and difficulties that life brings to each one of us. 

So, I beg you to continue to pray, to grow in a love for the Eucharist, to take advantage of the sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) by going regularly, at least once a month, but more than that if you can, to develop a real devotion to Our blessed Mother, to pray the rosary. Stay close to God and give Him permission to do with you what He wants to do with you. If you give God permission to take over your life, to use you, to do with as He pleases, you are going to live a life that will be profoundly rich in meaning. 

A Thought on Cognitive Systematicity

D. McManaman

After sending my brother an interview with Victor Davis Hanson on the situation in the Ukraine, my brother replied by saying: “So far I don’t find it anywhere near as enlightening as Mearsheimer” (Professor John Joseph Mearsheimer, the R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago. He is an American political scientist and international relations scholar, and he belongs to the realist school of thought).

This is the problem I have with this political commentary (i.e., Mearsheimer, Col McGregor, Hanson, Tucker Carlson, etc), and it goes back to the criteria for what is true versus the definition of truth. I can read someone, a theologian, scripture scholar, economist, historian, whatever, and I can find it very enlightening, and the exhilaration that goes with that is wonderful. But here is the problem: what is false may feel just as exhilarating, interesting and fascinating as reading what is true. In fact, reading what is “true” may at times feel less exhilarating. I remember reading Patrick Woods and Technocracy Rising (which I now dismiss as nonsense) and watching him on video–I was at a local and run down coffee shop that has now been turned into a Starbucks, unfortunately, and I remember sitting there with a coffee and headphones and really enjoying that video series, feeling very enlightened, fascinated, exhilarated, etc. I know that were I to listen to that now, I wouldn’t feel anything, except perhaps like I was drinking a cold cup of coffee. This is the difficulty: truth is conformity with what actually is in reality; that’s its definition. Unfortunately, we don’t have direct access to reality in all its complexity and details, and uncovering it is a matter of induction, or plausible reasoning. Hence, all we have is the criteria for truth, and the criteria are the parameters of cognitive systematicity: completeness (comprehensiveness, avoidance of gaps or missing components, unity and integrity as a genuine whole that embraces and integrates all its needed parts); cohesiveness, consonance, functional regularity, functional simplicity and economy, and functional efficacy. We see these criteria at work especially in biblical studies.  

The difficulty–and people like Nicholas Rescher see this well–is that “all that is true will have these properties”, but “not everything that has these properties is true” (just as “all men are animals”, but it is not necessarily the case that “all animals are men”). Given the information we (or specific individuals) have at this time, the most consistent, efficient, consonant, complete and cohesive answer or conclusion may turn out to be false with the addition of a new piece of data, that is, new information–scientists know this experience well. When we discover that with this new piece of information, the case that was being built up in favor of a very specific conclusion turns out to be false, we will notice that this does not undo the experience we had earlier on, namely, the exhilarating experience of being “enlightened”, of being apparently on the right track, of being apparently “right”. Being wrong felt the exact same way as being right. Hence, being wrong can feel exactly the same way as being right. In fact, it often does feel the same way. More to the point, the cause of the exhilaration and fascination was not the fact that what we were hearing or learning was in accordance with reality (truth), rather, it was caused by the internal consistency, coherence, harmony, regularity and economy of what we were hearing, or learning. We often assume that we have enough information, until suddenly a new piece of data is discovered that upsets the applecart of our previously held theory, contention, conclusion, etc. 

So, it is very much like art and the experience of the beautiful. I can stand before a beautiful piece of art, a painting, and experience delight, fascination, exhilaration, etc., but that is due to the harmony and integrity of the work, which are properties of the beautiful. But we cannot speak of the “truth” of a work of art. We can’t say that Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring is more true than Mahler’s Tenth Symphony, for example. Truth participates in beauty, but truth has the added feature of being related to the real and measured by the real. 

So any one of us can listen to Mearsheimer, or whoever, and experience the feeling of being enlightened, but we really have no idea whether or not what he says is actually true (in conformity with the real). This is especially the case when what he, or whoever, says coincides with what, deep down, we want to be true. 

The Lord Delights in You

Homily for the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Deacon D. McManaman

“No more shall people call you ‘Forsaken, ‘ but you shall be called ‘My Delight, ‘ for the LORD delights in you.”

            There is no doubt that in this reading, the Lord is addressing Israel, who is His bride. However, the deeper and ultimate meaning of these verses is that they address each individual human person, each one created in the image and likeness of God. We know this from the gospels, for Christ healed individual persons. This is what has been so difficult for human beings throughout history to understand. We tend to see ourselves as members of a larger group, and of course we are, but the problem is that the group can and often does overshadow the concrete person; for the person does not exist for the group, rather, the group exists for the person (just as man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was made for man). The group as a whole is not a person, but you are a person. Christ, who is the Second Person of the Trinity of Persons, came to redeem the human person, and if you were the only person who needed to be redeemed, Christ would have come for you and you alone.

            On one of my pastoral visits to a local elementary school, a young grade 5 girl said to me that she was told by her parents that, with respect to this pandemic, “God is taking a vacation”. Although there is something hopeful in this claim–insofar as vacations come to an end and the vacationer returns and takes care of outstanding business–, it is a rather dangerous claim to make, for God does not leave us alone even for an instant. In fact, you and I have God’s undivided attention at every instant of our existence, and children above all need to understand that. It is not possible for a limited human being to give undivided attention to more than one person at the same time, but God can give each individual person His undivided attention simultaneously and perpetually, because God is unlimited. 

            It is remarkable to consider what it means that we have God’s undivided attention at every instant of our existence; for it means He loves each one of us as if there is only one of us, that is, as if you are the only one for Him to love. It is as if everything in the universe was created ultimately for you alone, that all this exists to sustain and serve you, i.e., the environment, the law of gravity and all the other laws of physics, the cycles, and the entire order of nature, etc. In fact, if you or I really knew how much God loves us, we would die of joy. And this life is precisely about learning to be loved like that. This means allowing myself to be loved like that, for you and I tend not to allow that for ourselves because we have a very uncompromising and narrow sense of justice for ourselves and thus don’t see ourselves as deserving of that love, so we choose not to open ourselves to it. But His love for us is not a matter of justice–of course, no one deserves to be loved like that–rather, His love is a matter of pure gift. 

            The Lord delights in you, completely attentive to you at every instant of your existence. He does not delight in you because you are so talented and have achieved so much–that’s the love of this world; this world loves you by virtue of your gifts and talents or is indifferent to you by virtue of your lack of them. God, on the other hand, loves you because you are His, you are in His image and likeness; He sees you in Himself, and Himself in you.  

            It is so important to get a handle on this. It is difficult to do so because the culture in which we live does not see the value of the individual person, or as Berdyaev would have put it, the privileges of the nobility have not been extended to all mankind, which would raise all to the level of nobility, “since human dignity was first recognized for the aristocracy” (See his The Fate of Man in the Modern World). We continue to think in terms of the group–general democratization rather than general aristocratization–, and we value others on the basis of how useful they are to the group as a whole. We award students for their contribution to the group, for their achievements, which reflect well on the group, the school, the school board, etc., and whose talents promise to serve society well in the future. But in terms of the person himself or herself, we still don’t quite get it; for we still have legalized abortion. Medical schools are permeated with a pro-abortion/pro-choice mentality. The developing child in the womb is simply not recognized as “person”.

            Upon conversion, however, when a person becomes a new creation in Christ, when he is awakened to the knowledge of how much he is loved by God, that God really does pay undivided attention to him at every moment of his existence and is loved as if he or she is the only one that exists, it is then that he or she begins to notice the person, is awakened to the absolute and intrinsic value and dignity of the person–for we only see in others what we see in ourselves. It is at that point that morality suddenly becomes easy. To have a moral discussion with people today can be very difficult; they can become upset rather quickly. It is generally true that morality is painful for most people. But after a true conversion experience, it is no longer painful, and moral science becomes a “no brainer”. The problem is there are a lot of people in the Church, who regularly come to Mass, but who still have yet to convert. These are the people who write letters to the bishop when moral matters are preached in a way consistent with the teachings of the Church, but which upsets them nonetheless. Such people want religion without conversion. It’s not that they are nasty or horrible people; they just have not been awakened to the “personhood” of others, because they haven’t been awakened to their own personhood through an acute awareness of the divine gaze upon them. The purpose of this life is to come to know the delight that the Lord has for you personally and to allow yourself to be moved by that love. 

Thoughts on Systems, Being, and the Superconscious

Douglas P. McManaman

There are many avenues one may take to demonstrate the existence of God. As our starting point for this discussion, let’s consider systems. There are all sorts of systems in the world: complex and non-complex–it does not matter what particular system we consider. But let us ask: “What is the most certain thing we can say about systems?” We can say, without a doubt, that a system is composed of simpler units. A system is a multiplicity of some kind, and so it is made up of parts. Moreover, a system depends upon the behavior of its parts. Emergent properties, for example, depend upon the interactions of the parts of the system (i.e., a swarm of bees, traffic, the market, etc.). Most systems are composed of parts which are in turn smaller systems, and these too are composed of parts or smaller units, which in turn are often systems unto themselves.

Now if the system, whatever system we are talking about, depends upon its smaller units, which may in turn be systems, we can determine with certainty that there cannot be an infinite number of smaller units upon which a larger system depends.  How do we know this? We can employ the same reasoning (reductio ad absurdum) used to show that not everything can be “relative”–in the most general sense of that term.  

What is relative depends upon something outside itself, in relation to which we understand it. For example, ‘John is tall’ is relative; for there is no “absolute” tall, only ‘relative’ tall. In other words, John is tall “in relation to” something other than John, namely the national average, or the class average, or the team average, etc. Without that “in relation to”, it is impossible to come to a determinate or definite understanding of the claim: ‘John is tall’. So, let’s call a relative claim (like ‘John is tall’) the “final term” of a series. We both know John and we both agree that John is tall, because we both understand that in relation to which the claim is true, i.e., the national average (let’s say John is 7’,2”). The final term of a series will, if it is truly relative, depend on the term that is immediately prior, whatever that is.  Let’s label the final term Z, and its predecessor Y, and Y’s predecessor X. In order to understand that Z is relative, I must at the same time know that Z is relative ‘in relation to’ Y. If I did not understand Z “in relation to” Y, if my understanding of Z did not depend upon anything outside itself, then Z would be understood “through itself” (per se), rather than ‘in relation to’ something other than Z, such as Y, and thus Z would not be relative. So, my understanding of Z depends upon my understanding of Y–if Z is truly relative. But we are testing the claim that everything is relative, so we have to maintain that even Y is relative, and thus my understanding of Y depends upon my understanding of X, whatever that turns out to be. Since everything is relative (or so we believe at this point), my understanding of X depends upon my understanding of W. So, in order to understand, here and now, Z, I must here and now understand Y, X, and W simultaneously–otherwise my understanding of Z is “indeterminate” (without “term” or end, that is, indefinite). Indefinite understanding, however, is unachieved. But I truly do understand that John is tall, and I understand that it is a relative claim (He’s not absolutely tall, but only in relation to the societal average, or the team average, etc.). This means I understand, here and now, all the factors that are conditions for my understanding of the claim: “John is tall” (i.e., Y, X, W, etc.). 

There cannot be an infinite series of “relatives” upon which my understanding of Z depends. If there were, I would never achieve a definitive understanding of Z, which is a claim that is relative. My understanding would depend upon an indeterminate (or infinite) number of factors, and so my understanding would be perpetually indeterminate, indefinite, without term or end. Hence, not everything is relative, and thus there is something that is “absolute”.  We need not know what that is. All we know for certain is that an infinite series of relatives is impossible. 

Similarly, not everything can be a system. In other words, not everything can be a unit that is constituted by a multiplicity of smaller units–if the system depends upon those smaller units (as atoms depend upon subatomic particles, for example, or a society depends upon people, or a body depends upon cells, etc.); otherwise, the system that is constituted by an actually infinite number of smaller systems would never achieve the status of a determined system. Hence, there are units that are non-systems. These non-systems are one and indivisible. 

This is what led the first atomists to say that the one indivisible unit (atomai = uncuttable) is being in its truest sense. The atomists claimed that the reality that we perceive outside of us is not being per se, but appearance, the result of the interactions of true beings or ‘atoms’. We need not get into atomism at this point–for there are definite problems with it. But what is important is their insight that being is one and indivisible. They borrowed that from Parmenides.  Here’s how it works.

“Is” is one and indivisible. A circle, for example, is not indivisible–it can be divided into two (i.e., halves). By dividing the single quantity, which is the circle, it becomes multiple. Whatever has quantity is divisible, even if only logically divisible. But “is” or “being” in its most general sense has no parts. What is it that is outside of “is” or “being”?  The answer is “non-is”, or non-being, or what amounts to the same thing: nothing. In other words, what is “outside” of my hand? A possible answer is “my leg”, for example. My leg is not my hand. This part is outside of that part, or “is not” that part. But “being” or “is” cannot be a “part”. The reason is that outside of ‘is’ is non-is, or nothing. So “being” is one and indivisible. In sum, there is nothing outside of being. There is something outside of this or that circle, or this or that system, but there is nothing outside of “is” considered as such. Hence, being is not a quantity.

An infinite series of multiple units, in the here and now, that go to make up systems, which in turn make up larger systems, etc., is impossible; for no definite system would result. Multiplicity is eventually reduced to a single indivisible unit. What is that unit? This single unit is either at the bottom of the system, or at the top of the system. In other words, the unit determines the system to be, but it does so either from below and proceeds upwards or from the top and proceeds downwards. The single determines the multiple, which is to say that being determines the potential. The reductionist habit of mind tends to see the direction as proceeding from below and up towards the top. But that would seem to imply that the result, namely reality as it appears to us, is not being per se. 

So, let’s consider what it means to proceed from the top downwards. A being can be a system. For example, the human being is a complex system. But system describes “what” a thing is. Thus, system as system is not being, because being is one and undivided, and so the system must be determined by being. That by virtue of which a system is (or exists), cannot be a system. Hence, system does not explain being; rather, being explains system, at least ultimately. It is the act of existing (esse) of the system that accounts for the very existence of the system–as long as the system we are talking about is a single being–a swarm of bees or even a beehive, for example, is a complex system, but it is not a single being. “I”, on the other hand, am a single being and I experience myself as such. 

A multiplicity of beings, however, does require explanation, unless those beings contain within themselves the sufficient reason or explanation for their own being. As long as there is a distinction between “what” a thing is (system or not) and its very existence, that thing is contingent and does not contain within itself the sufficient reason for its existence. Whatever being contains the sufficient reason for its own being within itself will be “Being Itself” (its nature is “to be”), and thus absolutely One–there cannot be two beings that are “is” pure and simple. 

At the very foundation of reality is a single, indivisible One. The relationship between this One and everything else is something for later, but at this point, let it be said that multiplicity cannot go on forever, just as “relativity” cannot constitute an infinite regress. 


I am conscious of the fact that I know things outside of me (objects). When I close my eyes, I am also conscious of the fact that I am imagining or remembering things that are not me; these are objects of internal sensation. I know, but I also know that I know, or know that I am knowing things other than me. And so, my knowledge is twofold. I certainly know, albeit imperfectly, the object before me (objective knowledge), but I also know un-objectively, or subjectively, that is, I know myself as subject. I can certainly make myself the object of my knowledge, but in so doing, that objective knowledge of myself is at the same time accompanied by an intuition, a subjective knowledge, an awareness that I am knowing myself as object. This subjective knowledge, or knowledge of myself as “subject”, is intuited and does not become objective. It is always behind me, so to speak. 

There is much about myself of which I am aware. For example, I am aware that I am not necessary. What this means is that I know that I am an actualized potentiality–I did not always exist but do exist now. I also know that I am limited. Although I know myself as a being per se, thus relatively independent, it is also true that I am to a certain degree “relative”; for I know myself “in relation to” things other than me. And so, I know that I am not absolute. I have a profound sense of my own contingency–I am aware that I exist, but I am aware that existence is that which I “have”, not that which I am–I cannot say that “I am being”. I am a human kind of being, I am a complex being, a system if you will, but I am not my own existence. Rather, my existence is “had” or possessed–not possessed by a part of me, but by the whole of me. But that awareness of my own contingency (that I need not be) can only be had against the background of what is non-contingent, because contingency is a relative term, and as such can only be understood in relation to that which is non-contingent. In other words, on some level, I am aware of non-contingency, that is, I am aware of necessity, or that which “is” necessarily, and I know that I am not it. But that knowledge or awareness has not always been explicit; it has been implicit or preconscious before it was made explicit. That knowledge, which is an intuition, comes from the “subjective” plane or realm. It accompanies me always, but it is in the background, so to speak. It is a real knowledge that is non-objective, or subjective. In short, I know that I am not the Necessary Being, but the awareness of the Necessary Being is a condition that renders it possible for me to know myself as non-necessary or contingent. 

This is the realm of spirit. Spirit includes a preconscious knowledge of God, which is not to be confused with an objective and explicit knowledge. Mystical knowledge, or an awareness of the presence of God (the Necessary Being), occurs in this realm, the realm of the superconscious. It is real, non-objective, subjective (not in the sense of a purely individual construct), spiritual, and superconscious. 

Objectification and Abortion

Deacon D. McManaman

Very often while serving at a Mass, I will look out at the congregation and reflect upon the fact that there are so many people in front of me about whom I know virtually nothing. I also know that if I were to sit down with any one of them and begin a conversation about their life, a whole world would open up before me and I would never see that person the same way again. They would go from an object before me to a ‘thou’, a concrete subject with a history. In other words, their personhood would gradually come into focus. What this means is that they would become increasingly real to me. I believe this is what Nicolas Berdyaev means when he insists that there “is no greater mistake than to confuse objectivity with reality. The objective is that which is least real, least existential.”[1] What, then, is most real? In short, it is “subjectivity”, or personhood. That is why the more this unknown person communicates, the more he reveals his status as spirit, as subjectivity with a history that is still moving, and thus a subject with meaning. That is “real being”. Berdyaev writes: “…my inward spiritual experience is not an object. Spirit is never object: the existence of that which exists is never an object.”[2]

The general mass of people that I might behold looking out at the congregation is not entirely real for me until each one begins to reveal himself or herself. And so it is in community that the truth of things is revealed, and the truth revealed is that these are not things, but persons with a depth of meaning that always exceeds what I am able to know at any one time. 

We live in a fallen world. This means that the community of humanity is broken, and if it is broken, we don’t really come to an understanding of the truth of who we are in and through this community. We, like everything else, have been objectified. We have become less than real in the eyes of others. This or that person standing in line for a coffee is a non-entity to me, I am a non-entity to him, and we tend to forget that an hour or two in conversation will bring into greater focus the existential and subjective density of this person. We know ourselves to be “subjects”, that is, persons of intrinsic worth, but the assurance of that knowledge does not settle upon us until it is reflected back to us through the eyes of others. The “objectification” that impedes this is in many ways the source of a great deal of personal anger and feelings of alienation in people; for anger is a response to a perceived injustice, and “objectification” of the human person is a terrible injustice; in fact, it is the most fundamental injustice. 

Years ago I recall showing my “Right to Life” Club the Silent Scream, narrated by Dr. Bernard N. Nathanson. It is a short, half hour film that shows, via ultrasound, what takes place in the womb during a suction abortion. After the film was over, much to my dismay, a young girl in the class burst out in tears. She was clearly overcome by the sadness of witnessing the cold destruction of a real human subject, engaged in a futile struggle to live as the suction tube probed the womb in search of the child’s body. Her tears were deep with emotion, and her sadness expressed our own and perhaps even intensified it.

But I’ve often wondered what it is that happens to some of these girls, as they go off to university, either to medical school or to university nursing programs, that changes them from their earlier pro life position to their current pro-choice stance. There is no doubt in my mind that much of it has to do with peer pressure. Many people simply don’t have the strength of character to stand alone against the larger crowd. Perhaps it is rooted in a lack of conviction regarding the status of their own personhood; after all, that awareness of our own spiritual center, our own subjectivity, is rooted in community, and perhaps the only way I can maintain that sense of my own status as subject is through the approval of the group. And so I capitulate, for the sake of my own personhood, for fear of the alienation that results from objectification, that is, being regarded as a thing, an opponent, an enemy of the state or enemy of the group. There is tremendous irony in this: in order to salvage my own personhood, I join in the objectification of other human persons (i.e., the unborn), refusing to see them as human persons created in the image and likeness of God. The unborn as “person” becomes an obstacle in the way of my right to a life in community.


1. Nicolas Berdyaev. The Beginning and the End. Translated by R. M. French. San Rafael, CA. Semantron Press, 2009. P. 53.

2. Ibid., p. 58. Berdyaev also writes:  “There is a tendency in the reason to turn everything into an object from which existentiality disappears. The thing-in-itself is not an object or “non-I”, it is a subject, or ‘Thou’. The subject is not, as in Fichte, the absolute or the deity. The subject, the human ‘I’ and ‘Thou’ are turned into objects and things as a result of a fall in the relations between us.” Ibid., p. 59. Further on he writes: “Objectification is above all exteriorization, the alienation of spirit from itself. And exteriorization gives rise to necessity, to determination from without. The horror which Pascal felt when confronted by the endless expanse of space is the horror of objectification, the horror of strangeness.” Ibid., p. 63

Theotokos: God-Bearer

Dcn D. McManaman

And Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.

            This is a very revealing line of the gospel, and it tells us something of Mary’s inner life. She treasured all these things, all that the Shepherds said regarding the message told to them by the angel who appeared, and she pondered them, treasured them. Jesus said in the gospel of Matthew: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”. Where is Mary’s treasure? It’s in the gospel message of her son, and her heart was, from the very beginning and to the very end of her life, entirely focused on her son, Jesus.

        Mary is Theotokos, which means “God-bearer”. She carried Christ in her womb for nine months, and after that, she carried him in her heart, by pondering the mystery that he is. And Mary was “full of grace”. That was the title used by Gabriel to address Mary. The angel did not address her by name; but rather: “Hail, full of grace”. That is the only place in the entire Scriptures where an angel addresses anyone by a title. She was full of grace right from the beginning, in the womb, because if a container is full vertically, it is also full horizontally. If Mary was full of grace as a young teenager, worthy to be addressed by a title, then she was full of grace extensively as well, right from the womb of her mother, St. Anne. And, of course, this has been the faith of the Church since the beginning: the Immaculate Conception.

        If Mary was full of grace, then she was completely empty of all inordinate love of self. And thus, her prayer life was perfect, completely focused on her son, the eternal Son of God, the savior of the world. That is our purpose in this life: to become a Theotokos, a God-bearer, and John the Baptist expresses in words just what that means: “He must increase; I must decrease” (Jn 3, 30). Mary does not use that expression, because she is perfectly decreased. She said it herself in her Magnificat: “The Lord has looked with favor upon the nothingness of his handmaiden.” She saw her creaturely nothingness, embraced it totally, and so there was complete room in her soul for the fullness of divine grace to be poured into it. The rest of us, on the other hand, have to struggle to actually see and embrace our nothingness, to decrease, so that he, Christ, may increase within us. But that is something that we will never finally achieve in this life. 

        I remember reading from the writings of the early Greek Desert Fathers, from the 4th, 5th, and 6th centuries, and I have to be honest, I’ve never encountered such profound instruction on the inner life, on prayer and the need for constant watchfulness. As I was reading this one day, the thought occurred to me; I said to myself: “I don’t think I pray very well.” I’ve been at this for many years now, totally focused on theology and spirituality, and I turned 60 this year, and I can say at this point that “I don’t think I pray well.”

        And then I remembered something. My good friend, Monsignor Tom Wells of the Archdiocese of Washington D. C, about 24 years ago, told me the very same thing. He said: “I’m beginning to realize that I don’t pray well”. He was in his mid-50s at the time, and I didn’t understand what he was talking about back then. It didn’t make sense to me; he was a very dedicated priest, did a holy hour every day, was loved by countless people, is a martyr of the Church, there is a large golf tournament in his name every year in Washington, there are about 20 priests in the Archdiocese of Washington whose vocations were inspired by this great priest, and he’s telling me that he is beginning to realize that he doesn’t pray very well.

        I recall another very holy and influential priest, in his 70s, asking me to pray for him, because, he said: “the Lord is revealing to me things about myself that I’m finding very difficult to face, my superficiality, my pride, etc.…so pray for me, please, as I leave the country to see my spiritual director”. I was astounded at this; 70 years old, and this man is so far ahead of me on the spiritual life. In short, when it comes to the spiritual life, we never arrive; we are always en route.

        But we must keep moving, because although we might think we’re far advanced along the way, if we have the courage to ask God to let us know just how far along we are or what is it we need to become aware of in ourselves, He will slowly, gradually, piecemeal, reveal it. It has to be piecemeal, because we couldn’t take the full truth about ourselves, we’d probably despair. But it seems to me, from listening to these two great priests and the wisdom of the Desert Fathers, we’re always very far from our goal, so far that we just might despair if it were fully revealed to us.

        The good news is that there is work to do, and our life can only become more joyful, because the more we decrease, the more He increases, and as He increases in us, our lives become more joyful, and our souls become more beautiful.

        Years ago, I remember being in the sacristy of a Church in the U.S, and I heard this small choir of a few young university students singing for a Mass. These were not professional singers, just amateurs. But the thought came to me as I heard them: “God must be really good to be sung to like that”. Their voices immediately directed my attention to God’s goodness. Again, they were not professional singers, just students on summer break and who were part of the regular choir during the year. And it wasn’t the type of music they were singing either; they were singing standard contemporary Church choir music. But there was something about their voices that turned my attention to God’s goodness.

        Let me contrast this with a Christmas special I saw years ago, featuring Andre Bocelli, singing traditional Catholic hymns. And of course, his voice is powerful, and he’s very handsome, but I found that he was not all that inspiring. The reason is that I was too focused on the power and distinct quality of his voice, unlike those university students. But after the commercial break, a bunch of monks were on stage–not real monks, I’m guessing–, and they were dressed in what looked like traditional Benedictine monastic habits, with the hoods up. And they sounded very good. I immediately turned up the volume and thought, wonderful, I’m beginning to feel the inspiration. And then the monks started moving around in a circle, and this one monk comes to the center. And I thought: “Oh, no, please, don’t let it be”. He pulls off the hood, and it’s Andre Bocelli, and he starts belting it out.

        Well, I have to be honest, the inspiration was gone. You see, now the focus was entirely upon him, and yet these hymns were written to praise and glorify God, and the hoods of the monastic habits had the effect of eclipsing the self, of decreasing, so that He may increase. Even the voice of the monk is not to be distinctive and outstanding. But Bocelli pulls off his hood. Why? Well, because it’s really about him, not God. And I think that’s an example of how beauty works; it emerges with the decrease of the self, but is eclipsed as the self increases.

        Even in iconography, you are not supposed to sign the icon. As you know, in western art, the artist signs his painting at the bottom right, but the iconographer is not to do that. The writer of the icon is nothing but an insignificant instrument. But iconographers in the west have begun to sign their icons at the back, and it’s something like “written through the humble hands of so and so”. Well, that’s not supposed to be. And if those hands are so humble, then disappear and say nothing. Icons are not supposed to be entirely original either. You learn the trade from a master, and stay within the tradition, but some people have a very hard time observing that self-cancellation, and so they sign their icons.

        We must decrease, He must increase. The more we decrease, the more beautiful we become, because the more room we make in ourselves for Christ, and he is supremely beautiful. It’s really about becoming Theotokos, pondering the mysteries, treasuring the Person of the Son and his words and actions, and keeping watch over our own tendency to distraction during prayer, not allowing any thought that gives rise to disordered passion. It’s about bringing stillness to the heart and focusing on the real treasure that is there waiting for us. The Lord delights when we pay so much attention to him, but our attention is often very short, thanks to a wandering thought that makes its way in. The secret to that splendor, the secret to real joy, is to become more and more like our Blessed Mother, Theotokos, God-bearer, still in the silent night of this life, pondering the miracle of Christ. Amen.

A Thought for the Feast of St. John the Apostle

Deacon D. McManaman

Today is the feast of St. John, Apostle and evangelist. He is “the other” disciple mentioned in the gospel:

“Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first”. 

What is interesting about the gospel reading is that although John runs ahead and gets to the tomb first, he does not enter, but allows Peter to enter first. An Irish philosopher of the 9th century, John Scotus Erigena, has an interesting interpretation of this passage. He interprets the tomb as representing sacred scripture, while Peter represents faith, and John represents contemplative understanding. Thus, according to the narrative, John waits for Peter to arrive at the tomb and allows him to enter first, and then John follows. The meaning is that in order to understand Scripture, faith must come first, and then understanding follows. St. Augustine often made the same point: “Believe in order to understand”. In other words, do not wait to understand before giving your assent of faith, rather, believe first, and understanding will follow in due time. So there is a risk involved, and understanding is the reward given to those who are willing to risk looking like fools by choosing to believe.

What did John find when he followed Peter into the tomb? He saw the linen wrappings. In other words, he saw that Christ had risen. He did not find a dead Christ, but an empty tomb. And those who enter into the mysteries of the Scriptures with faith, will come away with an experience of the risen Christ. They will know that Christ is risen. This knowledge is a genuine knowledge rooted in faith. We know through faith, that is, we have an interior sense, like a sensus divinitatis, that Christ is risen. We have looked for the dead Christ as an object to behold and we have not found him, because he isn’t dead. He is alive and he is behind us, looking at us, and we are aware of this. It’s very much like the experience of someone who says “I feel like someone is watching me”. That is the experience; an awareness that I am known. 

To those without faith, Scripture is a dead letter. It’s just a historical text, but with faith, it is experienced as the word of the One who knows us, who is watching us from behind us, so to speak. And it is that gaze of his that guides our interpretation of Scripture. This is sort of like looking out at the objects before us which we can see because the sun that is behind us provides the light, making it possible to see the objects before us. But we cannot behold the sun directly. Wherever we turn, the sun is behind us, never in front of us as an object of our gaze, very much like the experience of the “I”. At this point, the sun is too bright for us to behold directly anyways, but one day we will be able to stare directly at the sun, so to speak. The more we grow in an awareness of his presence behind us, that interior and spiritual presence, the more we will understand the deeper meanings of Scripture.  

A Few Thoughts for the Feast of the Holy Family

Dcn D. McManaman (Chaplain of the CTG, Toronto)

This year our pastor in Aurora assigned the pastoral team to visit the schools within the parish boundaries, and we’ve each been assigned a specific number of classes to visit, to read a scripture with the kids, and discuss it, and we do that once a month. This year we are reading and discussing one miracle a month. One thing that always impresses me about the students I visit in grade 4, 5, and 6, is the amount of faith they have, as well as the amount of understanding of what it is we have just read. That testifies to two things: the light of faith, which is a light that is rooted in the gift of faith which they received in Baptism, and it also testifies to the good work of the parents–not to mention some teachers.

In the gospel today, the teachers of the Law were astounded at Jesus’ understanding and his wisdom. Where did Jesus get his understanding? Well, there are two sources. First, there’s no doubt from this gospel that he had an understanding of his divine sonship. He said to Mary and Joseph: “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Mary didn’t quite understand what he meant, but he did. He had an understanding of his divine sonship, which is why he refers to God as ‘my Father’, which was unique in the history of Israel.

But Jesus is fully human as well. When and in what way did the divine mind of the Son intersect with Jesus’ human mind? We don’t really know the answer to that question. But if he was like us in all things but sin, then it follows that he must have experienced human constraints and limits and to some degree needed the guidance of others, like his parents. And so, the other source of his understanding and wisdom would have come from Mary and Joseph. The primary duty of the father of a Jewish household was to pass down the teachings of the Torah to his children. Jesus also got his learning from his mother, because the mother of a Jewish household has a significant role as teacher, as it says in Proverbs, chapters 1 and 6. 

And what were they doing in Jerusalem? Like a faithful Jewish family, they were there for the feast of Passover, and the gospel tells us that they would go every year. The reason that Jews celebrate feasts is that history exists in the memories of people, and memories fade, unless we work to keep them alive. That is why the Lord commanded Israel to celebrate feasts throughout the year, feasts that commemorate God’s action in history. If they remember God’s action in history, they will remain grateful. If they forget, they will lose gratitude and become an irreligious people–the virtue of religion is always rooted in gratitude. All the requirements of the Torah, the rituals in all their detail, exist for the sake of reminding, keeping history alive in the memories of the Jews. The parents’ primary duty was to pass down the teachings of the Torah to their children. Everything else was secondary. Mary and Joseph fulfilled what was their primary duty, and the reaction of the teachers of the law clearly shows this. 

And, of course, Catholicism comes out of Judaism, and we too have a liturgical year dotted with feasts and solemnities, and it is all geared to remembering and re-living, and entering into the mystery of Christ’s life. It is rich in content. One of the things that Father Arthur Lee began doing for weekday Mass was to provide a brief homily on the life of the particular saint whose feast it is that day. And it is always very inspiring to hear, and others have said that as well. I think the reason it is inspiring is that the saints are our older siblings, and when we hear about them, we are learning about our own family, our own family history. We get a better sense that we really do belong to a larger family that extends all the way back centuries, and we belong to a historical tradition that is much larger than our current situation in the world. 

I remember the weekend I visited my friend Father Don Sanvido–which I would do quite often, to give him a break from preaching. One Saturday morning I woke up early, about 5 a.m, and so I went to his living room and prayed the breviary, and when I was done, I looked up and across the living room at the far end was a bookshelf, and I noticed the four volume set of Butler’s Lives of the saints. So I got up and walked over to it, closed my eyes, reached out and grabbed a volume, opened it up and put my finger on the page, and where my finger landed, I would read the life of that saint. I’d randomly picked a 3rd century saint that I’d never heard of before, and just read the page and a half of her life. And I remember, after reading it, feeling so inspired, built up as if I had just consumed something nutritious. I put the volume back and did it again, closed my eyes and randomly selected a volume and a page, and I got some 5th century unknown saint, and his life was so different from the previous, such a different personality, but I remember again feeling so exhilarated by his life. 

If it is true that we only really know ourselves in community, especially and above all in the first and smaller community of the family, then we really do come to a deeper understanding of ourselves when we come to know the lives of the saints, because we come to a deeper understanding of our own larger family, our own siblings. 

And this brings me to a final point. The students I had over the years were always interested in the diabolical, and they had all sorts of questions about exorcism, possession, the demonic, and in many ways that’s a problem. They bought into the lie of Hollywood, a lie that many in this world have bought into. The lie is that evil is interesting, but goodness is boring. Newspapers function on that lie, which is why they won’t publish stories about a school raising over 50 thousand food items for the poor at Christmas, for example, but they will publish a story about a stabbing that took place in a school. The truth is the complete reverse: goodness is profoundly interesting and inspiring, but evil is ultimately boring. Goodness has depth; evil is nauseatingly empty. But many people typically think otherwise. There’s an exorcist in the US who sometimes gives talks at universities. The lecture halls are always jam packed, not even standing room. Why? Students think evil is intriguing. If someone was there giving a talk on Scripture or the lives of some saints, the lecture hall would be virtually empty. But there’s no depth to evil, and in the end, it disappoints. Only goodness has the capacity to inspire, and when we are in touch with that historical tradition of ours that goes all the way back to the Old Testament, through the New Testament and through the centuries with the lives of the saints, we are enriched, and when we pass that on to our children, they too are enriched. 

Young people love the faith, they love it when the Scriptures are explained to them without draining them of their mystery, and they love the stories of the lives of great saints. And that’s the great dignity of parenting. It’s the most important work. I used to ask students what’s the most important work, and they’d give me all sorts of answers from politician, medical doctor, police officer, court judge, etc., but of course the answer is parenting. That they don’t know that is revealing. But parenting is the most important work. And if you think about it, everything we do in the Church, from daily Mass to baptism prep, confirmation prep, marriage prep, baptisms, Confirmation, first communion, and marriages, funerals, etc., it is all ordered to the service of the family. 

Thoughts on the Magnificat

The readings today are joyful. They announce good news.  The gospel today is the magnificat; Mary’s magnification of the Lord.  

After reading the magnificat, one could ask the question: “When did God scatter the proud, and when did he bring down the powerful from their thrones and lift up the lowly? When did he send the rich away empty?”  These are joyful words, for they speak of victory, but when in history did this ever happen? He certainly didn’t do that in the first century. Herod slaughtered the innocents, and the first 300 years of the Church’s existence was trial and persecution by ruthless emperors. The lowly were being killed; the mighty and the powerful remained where they were.

In many ways, this magnificat is like the first story of creation in Genesis. At the end of the creation story, after the creation of the world, God saw all that He had made and it was very good. But what did God see? I think the best interpretation of this text is that God beholds the entire order of creation, including time and history, not simply a portion at the beginning of time. And so we know that history will end in a way that is pleasing to God. He will be victorious over darkness, which entered the picture on the first day of creation, if you recall that account–God said ‘let there be light’… and he separated light from darkness.

In this magnificat of Mary, she rejoices at the coming of the Messiah, the son of David. He is king. He came to establish his kingdom, and his kingdom will have no end. He will be victorious, according to Scripture. This magnificat takes in the entire picture, it sees the completion of the Messianic age. If the Messiah has come, if she carries the Messiah in her womb, then victory is assured. But this victory is to be worked out in history. The kingdom of God has been established, and Christ reigns in the lives of the faithful. But he does not reign in the hearts of everyone. His kingdom grows not by coercion and force, but by the free assent of the individual person to allow Christ to reign, to have dominion over their lives. And we know from the parables that the kingdom of God grows gradually, larger and larger, throughout history. That kingdom is victorious, but the victory unfolds gradually, through time. In the end, God saw that it was very good. The proud of this world who govern according to their own principles will in the end be on the losing side. And so our task is to continue in the knowledge, through faith, that Christ is victorious, and not to despair, but to do our small part, and in doing so we become part of that victory in the end, and Mary’s joy that we discern in this gospel will be a reflection of our own, just as the song of Hannah in the first reading is a mirror of this joyful song of Mary in the gospel. 

We Have God’s Undivided Attention

(to be published in Shalom Tidings, 2022)

Deacon Doug McManaman

On one of my pastoral visits to a local elementary school, a young grade 5 girl said to me that she was told by an adult in her life that, with respect to this pandemic, “God is taking a vacation”. Although there is something hopeful in the claim–insofar as vacations come to an end and the vacationer returns and takes care of outstanding business–, I certainly wouldn’t frame it like that. It is a rather dangerous claim to make, for God does not leave us alone even for an instant. In fact, we have God’s undivided attention at every instant of our existence, and children above all need to understand that. It is not possible for a limited human being to give undivided attention to more than one person at the same time, but God can give everyone His undivided attention simultaneously, because God is unlimited. 

It is remarkable to consider what it means that we have God’s undivided attention at every instant of our existence; for it means He loves each one of us as if there is only one of us, that is, as if you are the only one for Him to love. It is as if everything in the universe was created ultimately for you alone, that all this exists to sustain and serve you, i.e, the atmosphere of the planet, the law of gravity and all the other laws of physics, the cycles and the order of nature, etc. In fact, if you or I really knew how much God loves us, we would die of joy. And this life is precisely about learning to be loved like that. That means allowing ourselves to be loved like that, for we tend not to allow that for ourselves because we have a very uncompromising and narrow sense of justice for ourselves and thus don’t see ourselves as deserving of that love, so we choose not to open ourselves to it. But His love for us is not a matter of justice; of course, no one deserves to be loved like that; for one cannot earn the right to be brought into being if one does not exist. And so although His love for me is not a matter of justice, it is a matter of pure gift. After all, God’s justice has been revealed, in the Person of Christ, as absolute mercy.

There is a relationship between that divine love and how we understand ourselves. A person only really knows himself to the degree that he knows how much he is loved by God, and so the more we allow ourselves to “be loved like that” (as if there is only one of us), the deeper will be our own self-understanding; for we will begin to see ourselves as He sees us. If we don’t see ourselves through His eyes, that is, as He sees us, then we are left to see ourselves as we are seen by others. The problem with this, however, is that others rarely if ever see us as we really are–especially if those in our lives do not look at us through God’s eyes–, and if they don’t see us as we really are, they do not love us as we ought to be loved. When the world looks at you, it does not see an inexhaustible mystery; rather, it sees an object, something to be valued according to its utility. But there is nothing mysterious about tools. On the other hand, when God sees you, He sees a genuine mystery, because each human person has been created in the image and likeness of God, and God is the unutterable mystery. Hence, each human person is an inexhaustible mystery whose secret lies hidden within the depths of the inexhaustible mystery of God. 

We have two interiors: 1) a physical interior, and a 2) spiritual interior. A surgeon has access to our physical interior, but he does not thereby have access to our spiritual interior. No one has access to that interior except you and God. In fact, God dwells always in the deepest region of that interior. The way to begin to come to an awareness that you are known by God is to enter into that “universe within”. That is what it means to place ourselves in the presence of God. Few words are necessary within that space; it is enough to simply repeat over and over: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”. The more time we spend within that space, without distraction, the more we will come to sense that we are being watched, that we have someone’s attention. That is a very positive and enlightening experience; for we begin to see ourselves as someone worthy of attention. We begin to see ourselves as persons, rather than mere individuals. But it begins with entering into the “universe within”, and that experience makes all the difference in the world, because most of us for most of our lives have been reduced to objects, but we know ourselves to be “subjects”–persons of intrinsic worth. This “objectification” is in many ways the source of a great deal of personal anger and feelings of alienation, but as we spend more time within that interior where the Lord awaits us, the less alienated we will begin to feel and the more peaceful our life becomes. 

Looking Forward

Homily for the 1st Sunday of Advent. St. Anthony of Padua Church, Brampton, ON
(to be published at

Deacon Doug McManaman

            The gospel today is not easy to interpret, but I think it is correct to say that it is and was relevant to everyone who has read it and will read it. This means that it does not just refer to events of the 1st century, such as the destruction of Jerusalem–otherwise it is not relevant to us–, nor does it only refer to the period that marks the end of the world–which means it would not have been relevant for those in the first, second, third, fourth centuries, etc. This gospel says: “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap. For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth.”

            What is this mysterious “day” that he speaks of here? It is the “day” of eternity. Eternity is a single day that is forever; it is the “day” when eternity breaks into history and history breaks into eternity. And so, it refers to a number of things. It refers to Christmas, in which the eternal Son of God entered into history; it refers to Easter when the eternal Son of God rose from the dead, and it refers to the Parousia, the Second Coming of Christ, and of course it refers to the end of our own individual lives. 

            Christianity is forward looking. The Kingdom of God has been established by Christ in this world, and it began as a tiny seed, but it continues to develop and grow throughout history as individual human beings permit Christ to reign over their lives. Christ’s kingdom entered this world at Christmas, when he joined a human nature to himself, that is, when he became flesh. A king is born, and if he is a king, he has a kingdom. A king also goes to war to firmly establish that kingdom, and Christ came in order to defeat in battle the one enemy that no earthly king could defeat, namely death, and the paschal mystery is that defeat (Good Friday and Easter Sunday). He entered into death in order to inject it with his divine life, and his resurrection is his victory over death. And so, Christmas looks forward towards Easter; for Christmas takes place during the darkest and coldest days of the year. We have to endure the darkness and cold of late December, as well as the cold of January and February, but light and heat always follow the darkness and cold. December 25th is precisely the day when it is possible to notice that the days are beginning to get longer, gradually getting lighter and warmer as we move towards Easter. 

            But just as Christmas looks towards the victory of Easter, at the same time we today look towards the victory of Christ’s Second Coming, when time will come to an end and he will usher in the fullness of the kingdom of God. It’s precisely that end that gives meaning to human history. If time were not to come to an end, history would have no meaning; for it is always the ending of a novel that gives the story its ultimate meaning, which is why we’re anxious to get to the end when we are reading a good book. I find nothing more frustrating than those Netflix series that just continue on and on, without any hint of a resolution–I feel I’m being strung along and manipulated in order to keep me watching. If I sense that this is just an artificial prolongation, I’ll stop watching. It’s the end that gives meaning to all that goes before, and without an end, it is all meaningless. 

            The meaning of human existence is precisely that Second Coming of Christ, the day that Christ ushers in the kingdom of God in its fullness. And so, Christ commands us to be vigilant, to stay awake, to pray, to beware that our hearts do not become drowsy from being so focused on the goods of this world that we no longer look forward, that we no longer look ahead, and thus lose awareness of the shortness and brevity of our existence. Because life is short. Every day is really 24 hours closer to the grave than the day before. And when we become aware of our own death, life becomes less burdensome and more enjoyable. My final 20 years of teaching were at a high school in which the chapel was on the 2nd floor, just at the top of the main staircase, and at the bottom of the same staircase going down from the 3rd to the 2nd floor. And on both walls beside the chapel doors are the pictures of those students who died while they were students at the school. There are about 10 students there, each one looking at all of us as we climb or descend the staircase. I used to tell my students that when you see them, smiling at you from the other side, just remember that they’re saying: “You might be next”. I used to get quite a reaction out of my students when I said that; they are just not used to thinking about their own death; they find that repugnant.

            But the irony is that when we come to terms with the fact that we are going to die, that our life here is brief and fleeting, we begin to experience a joy that we would otherwise miss. Our eyes are opened to the richness and beauty of the present moment. The result is we stop wasting our present moments. The more detached we become from the world, the more we are able to enjoy the world around us. If we covet the goods of this world, if we become anxious to acquire more and more, we lose our own peace of mind and life becomes burdensome. 

            So let us continue to look forward to Christ’s Second Coming. We have no idea when the end of history will be, but we do know our own end is relatively near. Whatever sacrifices we make in this life for the sake of eternal life will be returned to us in the end anyways, and it will be returned one hundredfold, so there is no need to be anxious. People are anxious when they are afraid that their lives or their livelihood will be taken away. Well, the fact is we are going to lose everything we have; everything will be taken away. It has to be. We cannot rise to eternal life unless we die to this world. And the sooner we begin dying to this world in the hope of the fullness of the kingdom of God, the sooner will the joy of heaven begin now. 

Adele and some fundamentals about love

(to be published at
Douglas P. McManaman

On the 14th of November of this year (2021), Adele put on a One Night Only special concert at the Griffith Observatory in Hollywood, which earned more than 10 million viewers. There were some interesting ironies in this; for all of Hollywood’s talk of inclusivity and its aversion to anything that smacks of exclusivity, this outdoor concert was only for the invited, which included the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Selena Gomez, Drake, Ellen DeGeneres, Gordon Ramsay, Seth Rogen, Tyler Perry, Lizzo, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Nicole Richie, etc. I tried to see if the uninvited “plebeians” were at least permitted onto the trails behind and around the Observatory to listen, but the trails appeared to be empty. Nonetheless, it was her interview with Oprah that was aired intermittently during the televised concert that was particularly distressing. In that interview, she spoke of her “unhappiness” and of her divorce from Simon Konecki. She had made the point earlier in her interviews with British and American Vogue that neither of them did anything wrong, that neither of them hurt one another,[1] and she pointed out to Oprah that she still loves Simon very much; but, she said, she is no longer “in love”. 

Why is this disconcerting? There are certain very basic truths that young people need to understand well, one of the most important of which is that love is not a feeling; rather, love is an act of the will. Emotion and will are two essentially different kinds of appetites. Because the human person is a “rational animal”, there are two kinds of love in the human person that correspond to the two distinct appetites: 1) love on the level of the emotions, and 2) love on the level of the will. The former we have in common with animals, and this involves loving something or, God forbid, someone, primarily for what it/him/her does for me; i.e., I love chocolate, not for the good of the chocolate, but for what it does for me–makes me feel good. But the specifically human kind of love, which the Greeks knew as agape, involves “willing the good of another for the other’s sake”. Romantic love, or eros, is fundamentally emotional; it is the passionate attraction between two people–hence, the origin of the word ‘erotic’. Conjugal or married love, on the other hand, is a type of agape. What establishes a marriage are not “feelings”, but a freely given consent or act of the will–it is a decision to give oneself entirely to another exclusively and totally, that is, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, until death severs the union. The implication here is that there are periods in married life when one does not “feel” like continuing in the relationship. A person’s love is challenged when his or her spouse is sick, perhaps sick with cancer and has lost hair or possibly more, or when both are getting on in age and do not look as attractive as they might have in their younger days, or when the couple is going through very difficult and trying situations that put a tremendous strain on the relationship, etc. Romantic love is not strong enough to act as the foundation for such a total commitment, because romantic love is temporary. One of the best chapters ever written on the nature of romantic love comes from M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Travelled. He writes: 

Of all the misconceptions about love the most powerful and pervasive is the belief that “falling in love” is love or at least one of the manifestations of love. It is a potent misconception, because falling in love is subjectively experienced in a very powerful fashion as an experience of love. When a person falls in love what he or she certainly feels is “I love him” or “I love her.” But two problems are immediately apparent. The first is that the experience of falling in love is specifically a sex-linked erotic experience. We do not fall in love with our children even though we may love them very deeply. We do not fall in love with our friends of the same sex—unless we are homosexually oriented—even though we may care for them greatly. We fall in love only when we are consciously or unconsciously sexually motivated. The second problem is that the experience of falling in love is invariably temporary. No matter whom we fall in love with, we sooner or later fall out of love if the relationship continues long enough. This is not to say that we invariably cease loving the person with whom we fell in love. But it is to say that the feeling of ecstatic lovingness that characterizes the experience of falling in love always passes. The honeymoon always ends. The bloom of romance always fades.[2]

It is typical of adolescence to expect romantic love to last forever, but if we reflect on our own emotional experiences, we notice that the various emotional loves that we experience in our lives are always fleeting and eventually “get old”. Only agape love is enduring and humanly-divinely meaningful, for it is freely chosen–we do not choose to “fall in love”–, and agape is sacrificial and fundamentally selfless. There is nothing heroic about “falling in love” with someone, but to will the good of another and work to achieve that good, regardless of how one feels, all throughout a life that has its share of difficult and trying moments, is truly heroic. If young people graduate from high school without a firm grasp of these basic truths and are allowed to remain under the illusion that married love is essentially “romantic” (erotic, emotional) in nature, we should expect to see a continued decline in marriage with all its social repercussions, which in all likelihood directly impact teachers much more than those of any other profession.  

Another important revelation for young people that came out of Adele’s interview with Oprah was her admission that she was unhappy. This is a woman who is universally admired as one of the best voices of all time, a woman who has more money than the vast majority of us will ever see in our lifetime, who can purchase almost anything that money can buy, and who is practically treated as a goddess wherever she goes, etc. The obvious implication is that happiness does not consist in money, wealth, financial security, comforts, pleasures, fame and honors, etc. Adele seems to understand that happiness has something to do with love, but she conflates authentic love with the experience of “falling in love” and expects romantic love to endure. 

Once again, however, a very basic principle of the moral life is that happiness is virtue, not pleasure, honors, fame and power. Moreover, genuine love is channelled through virtue; for it is the virtues that dispose the emotions to follow the demands of reason, and the emotions have an innate need to be guided by reason. When the emotions are so governed, they become more fully what they are intended to be, and the result is that the virtuous person is much more passionate than he or she otherwise would be. It is for this reason that happiness is difficult to achieve–because virtue is difficult. If happiness were as easy as falling in love, and if romantic love were permanent as young people tend to believe it to be, we’d be living in heaven on earth. But happiness is work, it is an achievement, a moral achievement, one that is rooted ultimately in the will, not the emotions. When a married person is no longer ‘in love’, that’s when the difficult work of genuine love begins–unless of course one turns one’s back on one’s spouse in the pursuit of adolescent excitement. 

Genuine love, and thus real joy, demands an “exit of self”. Consider that the word ecstasy is derived from the Greek word ekstasis, which means ‘to stand outside of oneself’. That is why those who are inordinately preoccupied with themselves, that is, with their body image, with how they are feeling at every moment of every day, with their own personal state of happiness, etc., are always unhappy. But the more a person exits the self in a self-forgetting posture of genuine agape love of others, the more that person finds himself, or herself, and marriage is precisely that context in which the conditions for a continuous exit of self are established. If the highest and most noble kind of love were romantic love, marriage would be the last place to secure the conditions of its continuance. That is why when love was identified with eros in the period of the late 60s and 70s, marriage went on the decline, and rapidly so. Adele says she’s been on a journey to find her true happiness ever since, but hopefully the majority of those ten million viewers understand that we only really find our true happiness when we no longer search for it, but forget about it, and focus on willing, despite our feelings, the true good of others, first and foremost our own spouse. 


1. Christina Montford. “Adele Reveals the Real Reason She Got Divorced”. <> Showbiz Cheatsheet. Oct 8th, 2021. 

2. He writes: “Falling in love is not an act of will. It is not a conscious choice. No matter how open to or eager for it we may be, the experience may still elude us. Contrarily, the experience may capture us at times when we are definitely not seeking it, when it is inconvenient and undesirable. We are as likely to fall in love with someone with whom we are obviously ill matched as with someone more suitable. Indeed, we may not even like or admire the object of our passion, yet, try as we might, we may not be able to fall in love with a person whom we deeply respect and with whom a deep relationship would be in all ways desirable. This is not to say that the experience of falling in love is immune to discipline. Psychiatrists, for instance, frequently fall in love with their patients, just as their patients fall in love with them, yet out of duty to the patient and their role they are usually able to abort the collapse of their ego boundaries and give up the patient as a romantic object. The struggle and suffering of the discipline involved may be enormous. But discipline and will can only control the experience; they cannot create it. We can choose how to respond to the experience of falling in love, but we cannot choose the experience itself.

Falling in love is not an extension of one’s limits or boundaries; it is a partial and temporary collapse of them. The extension of one’s limits requires effort; falling in love is effortless. Lazy and undisciplined individuals are as likely to fall in love as energetic and dedicated ones. Once the precious moment of falling in love has passed and the boundaries have snapped back into place, the individual may be disillusioned, but is usually none the larger for the experience. When limits are extended or stretched, however, they tend to stay stretched. Real love is a permanently self-enlarging experience. Falling in love is not. 

Falling in love has little to do with purposively nurturing one’s spiritual development. If we have any purpose in mind when we fall in love it is to terminate our own loneliness and perhaps insure this result through marriage. Certainly we are not thinking of spiritual development. Indeed, after we have fallen in love and before we have fallen out of love again we feel that we have arrived, that the heights have been attained, that there is both no need and no possibility of going higher. We do not feel ourselves to be in any need of development; we are totally content to be where we are. Our spirit is at peace. Nor do we perceive our beloved as being in need of spiritual development. To the contrary, we perceive him or her as perfect, as having been perfected. If we see any faults in our beloved, we perceive them as insignificant—little quirks or darling eccentricities that only add color and charm.

If falling in love is not love, then what is it other than a temporary and partial collapse of ego boundaries? I do not know. But the sexual specificity of the phenomenon leads me to suspect that it is a genetically determined instinctual component of mating behavior. In other words, the temporary collapse of ego boundaries that constitutes falling in love is a stereotypic response of human beings to a configuration of internal sexual drives and external sexual stimuli, which serves to increase the probability of sexual pairing and bonding so as to enhance the survival of the species. Or to put it in another, rather crass way, falling in love is a trick that our genes pull on our otherwise perceptive mind to hoodwink or trap us into marriage. Frequently the trick goes awry one way or another, as when the sexual drives and stimuli are homosexual or when other forces—parental interference, mental illness, conflicting responsibilities or mature self-discipline— supervene to prevent the bonding. On the other hand, without this trick, this illusory and inevitably temporary (it would not be practical were it not temporary) regression to infantile merging and omnipotence, many of us who are happily or unhappily married today would have retreated in wholehearted terror from the realism of the marriage vows.” The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth. M.D.Touchstone Books. 1978. p. 84-90.

The Faith of Bartimaeus

Homily for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Deacon D. McManaman

            What always strikes me when I read this miracle story is Jesus’ question to the blind man, Bartimaeus. He repeatedly calls out: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me”, and he’s rebuked for doing so, and they try to silence him, which turned out to be counterproductive. And of course, Jesus heard him, because he tells them: “Call him”. The blind man leaves his cloak behind, which was personally valuable, so much so that by law a lender could not take possession of a person’s cloak as collateral, only his tunic. Bartimaeus leaves that behind and goes to Jesus. Furthermore, the blind man refers to Jesus as “Son of David”, in other words, Messiah. Also, he would not have witnessed any of Jesus’ miracles with his own eyes; he would only have heard about them. And that was enough for him. He believed that he was the son of David, the King of Israel, and he believed in the power of the son of David to heal him. That shows tremendous faith.

            But note the question Jesus asks: “What do you want me to do for you?”  Isn’t it obvious? Do we really think Jesus wasn’t sure what the blind man wanted? It was patently obvious. So why would Jesus ask? To make him say it. Come out and say it. And he was healed immediately when he did so. 

            This is a tremendous lesson on the power of faith. We would see many more miracles in our lives if we had the faith of this blind man. Most people today do not see miracles, because they don’t ask for them, and they don’t ask for them because they don’t really believe that God pays too much attention to them, that God really wants to permeate their lives with His joy, and so they don’t believe He would answer their prayer if they turned to Him. But all we have to do is believe that he has the power and will to heal our lives, and have the humility to ask Him, to beg for His mercy, like Bartimaeus.

            A fellow parishioner years ago had a serious stroke which landed him in the hospital, and I remember him telling me that when he was in a coma, he experienced a tremendous love surrounding him, an otherworldly love; he described it as being loved like the dearest brother, the most intense love for him that he’s ever felt directed to him. There is a rather thick veil that separates us from experiencing that love from the other side, from God and from the communion of saints. That love has been there from the first moment of our existence; for that love is the source and origin of our existence. But all we really know here in this broken world is the imperfect love of others, and it really is an imperfect and defective love, and it is the experience of this defective, inconsistent, and rather impure love that gives rise to that thick veil that blocks the radiance of this deep and divine love behind the veil. This life is about learning to be loved like that, that is, allowing ourselves to be embraced by the Father. It’s a very difficult thing to do, but the more we spend time with the Lord, the more we listen to Him in silence, the thinner that veil becomes, and the light of His love begins to seep through it. We begin to see what St. Catherine of Siena was able to see, that God loves each one of us as if there is only one of us, in the sense that we are the only one who exists for God to love. That is supposed to be what we experience from God; for although He does not have our undivided attention, we have God’s undivided attention at every instant of our existence. But as we spend more and more time with the Lord in silent prayer, the more we begin to see that we really do have his undivided attention, and thus God knows about the apparently insignificant matters of our lives, and they matter to Him as they matter to us, and so, we ought to take the liberty to ask Him to address these matters as well, confident that He will; for “nothing displeases Him more than cold reserve” (Father John Nicholas Grou, S.J.). 

            But when we pray a prayer of petition, we have to then leave it up to God. What some people do is they ask, but their asking is a test: “I will ask and see what happens”. Deep down underneath that sentiment is a faith that will depend on how God answers: “If He does not answer, I’m done with prayer”. But God knows the human heart, He knows what’s in the deepest regions of our own heart, more than we do. In fact, that deep region is often closed to us–we don’t really know ourselves at that level, but God does, and He will not answer prayer that is conditional. He waits, holds back, and when we then decide to rely on another source–because God did not act on our terms–, He allows us to go our own say. The result is we no longer rely on God for everything, which is why we see so few miracles in our lives. 

            What has to happen is that we resolve to trust and follow Him regardless of the outcome. God knows whether the answer to our prayer will bless us or curse us. Very often we pray for things that will, in the long run, destroy us by actually turning us away from God. And so, we have to pray with absolute trust, aware that God’s knowledge is not limited: “For as the heavens are exalted above the earth, so are my ways exalted above your ways, and my thoughts above your thoughts” (Is 55, 9). If God does not answer our prayer on our terms, it is because He knows better. His decision is always rooted in the very same love for you that was the very origin of your existence and the source that is sustaining you in existence at this very moment. This life is about coming to know that love, allowing ourselves to be loved as God wants to love us, and of course eventually channeling that love to others.