Around this time of year the sky is an acute focus for Catholics, particularly those in Japan. The Feast of the Assumption, when Mary was lifted up to heaven, is August 15th. On August 15, 1945, Japan surrendered to the Allies. A few days earlier an atomic bomb named "Fat Man" came down from the heavens, obliterating Nagasaki, the heart and soul of Catholic Japan. Speaking of descent, the nuclear weapon design of Fat Man was that of "implosion-type." Detonation occurred by a descent of the plutonium fission. This was different than "Little Boy," the Hiroshima bomb that used a "gun-type" that fired a uranium bullet into the core.
Tassel of the Cloak
I once received the following image in contemplative prayer. I am a child in search of cookies on the kitchen counter. I am not tall enough to see over the counter, let alone to reach up and grab them, but I know they are there. In my effort to obtain the treats there is a hope that I will have them, so much so that makes it as if I am, in reality, possessing the cookies.
The cookies, in my prayer, stood for holiness and, ultimately, for total unity with Jesus. I don't possess perfect holiness. I am striving for it, and in my striving and my total occupation with holiness, it is as if I possess it. That is why I, or the child in my image, do not get upset and either give up or break down.
Ah Love, could'st thou and I with fate conspire
To smash this sorry scheme of things entire,
Would we not shatter it to bits—and then
Remold it nearer the heart's desire?
Those are the lines of Omar Khayyam, a Persian scientist from the early middle ages. His beautiful poetry makes me think of a part of the Mass known as the "Fraction Rite." This is when the priest, during the Lamb of God, breaks the large host into three pieces. One of these pieces is small and he drops it into the chalice, saying quietly, “May the mingling of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ bring eternal life to all who receive it.”
Because you have a particular negative trait or habit doesn't mean you have to be defined that way. There's always an opposite virtue to your vice. Look at Moses. This supreme prophet was regarded as perhaps the meekest man who ever walked the earth (cf. Num 12:3). He was calm in the face of Pharaoh's obstinacy, patient with the complaining Israelites in the desert, and obedient to the Lord's decision to not let him enter the Promised Land. But Moses wasn't always this way. He had an extreme temper. He killed an Egyptian in his youth and literally smashed the two tables upon which the Ten Commandments were written. Moses recognized his temper and countered it with meekness, so much so that he became known as a meek, and not a hot-headed, man.\
“We heard God speak here today!” shouted Senator Dewey Short above the din on the floor of Congress. “God in the flesh! The voice of God!”
There was pandemonium in the room, as people jumped over one another to touch the man. Others were literally prostrating themselves before him. It was April 17, 1951, and General Douglas MacArthur had just given his farewell address to a joint session of Congress. Afterwards, Herbert Hoover said he was a “reincarnation of St. Paul,” while a woman from New Jersey was a little more praiseworthy, claiming, “he has the attributes of God: he is kind and merciful and firm and just.”
Acedia is probably the most underrated of the seven deadly sins. We think of it is sloth or laziness, but acedia is more complicated than that. Fundamentally, St. Thomas Aquinas tells us, acedia is a sadness over a spiritual good. Something that should bring us joy and excitement does not. For example, being around one's children should bring happiness. A man suffering acedia will avoid his family because they make him sad. Or, going to church and praying should be an uplifting experience. The afflicted person will feel sad around God and not attend Mass. He will, instead, sleep in. This is where the notion of laziness enters, but again, laziness is the aftereffect. We do not fulfill the obligations that will satisfy us because of that antecedent sadness. Acedia, therefore, is referred to as the "Noonday Devil." At noon when the sun is at its peak and we should be enjoying the day and active, we are, instead, sad and paralyzed.
On July 2, 1951 Fr. Tong Che-Tche disappeared. One month earlier, he had said this before the civil authorities: “I am a Chinese Catholic. I love my country; I also love my Church. I dissociate myself from everything that is opposed to the laws of my country, just as I dissociate myself from everything that is opposed to the laws of my Church, and above all things I dissociate myself from everything that can sow discord.”
This painting is one of my favorite depictions of both the crucifixion and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I'm afraid I do not know the artist, nor the date it was painted. I came across the canvas in a small chapel in an Italian town in the mountains about a half hour outside of Rome, called Rocca di Papa. (The town is actually where the Pope has a summer residence.) It was about six years ago and I was a seminarian at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. I was so struck by the image that I pulled out my phone and captured a shot.
Acts of the Apostles chapter 27 recounts the naval voyage of St. Paul to Rome. Paul was a prisoner in Jerusalem and, being a Roman citizen, was transferred to the capital for trial. During the voyage his ship encountered a severe storm. Badly damaged and having drifted out to sea, way off course, the crew was despondent. The captain and sailors had lost hope and were refusing to eat. All was lost. Then Paul, the least of the apostles, took charge. Standing up in chains, he exhorted the men. “I urge you, therefore, to take some food; it will help you survive. Not a hair of the head of anyone of you will be lost” (Acts 27: 34-35).
When I hear the song One by Three Dog Night I hear a hymn about the Holy Trinity. "One is the loneliest number" is the refrain sung over and over again in the song. So true! One is lonely. That is precisely why God is not one, but three. “But I am not alone, because the Father is with me” (Jn 16:32). Our God is three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If God was not Triune—if he was one, that is—he would be alone, which means he would have needed to create the world. He would have depended on the world for companionship. This would make God jealous, angry, and vengeful. He needs our worship. He needs our love. If he doesn't receive our love, we will be punished. This is how the Ancient Greeks and Romans viewed God—and sometimes us too, I think. But, as it stands, this is not the case. God is not alone. He is already in relation with himself. He is independent and happily so. Thus, God does not need the world and he is not angry. The reason God chose to create the world was so that we could share the awesome love that he experiences in heaven in himself.
There's a lot of evil and tragedy in this world. One way we can react to it is to fault God, to blame him for being absent. Or we can look a bit more closely and see perhaps how some good has arisen from the tragedy. What comes to my mind, as an example of this, is alcoholism. It's destroyed careers, families, even lives. In the darkness of alcoholism, however, God has brought forth a light. Just look at Alcoholics Anonymous. What AA fosters in the individual is the virtue of abandonment. The alcoholic learns it is not willpower or some intellectual conviction that will bring him or her out of the addiction. It is a surrender of the will over to our Lord. God's grace alone can bring the alcoholic out of the stranglehold. If the person hands himself over to Jesus completely, Jesus will save him. “With God, all things are possible” (Matt 19:26).
Attending Chicago's priesthood ordination last week had me thinking of piety, one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Piety means we love God with such a childlike love that we are willing to make offerings for him. A pious person makes the appropriate gestures in church and says his prayers and devotions, like the rosary, because he has a deep love of God. The pious person then respects his neighbor because he sees Jesus in his neighbor. We are all sons and daughters of God, therefore to be pious to our neighbor is to be pious to God.