Monday, August 29, 2016

Fashions. What do they mean?

It is often said almost with passive resignation
that fashions reflect the customs of a people.
But it would be more exact and much more useful to say
that they express the decision and moral direction that a nation intends to take:
either to be shipwrecked in licentiousness
or maintain itself at the level to which it has been raised by
religion and civilization.

Pope Pius XII

The Passion of St. John the Baptist

Shortly after he had baptized Jesus on the banks of the Jordan, John the Baptist had denounced Herod, the tetrarch of Galilee, to his face. For thirty years the dissolute ruler had indulged himself and his every whim, while holding court in his palace overlooking the Dead Sea. His latest crime: Herod had divorced his own wife and married Herodias, the wife of his elder brother Philip.

Tolerated by his Roman overlords and useful to them for their own purposes, the licentiousness and excess of the revelries he held were notorious and scandalous, and yet none dared to confront him for fear of the cruelty that lurked just below the surface of his unpredictable character. None dared to speak out. None, that is, until this John, known as the Baptist, and believed by many to be a prophet – if not indeed the Messiah. In the same direct and fearless manner in which he censured the Jewish nation for the moral decadence into which it had fallen, and called sinners to repentance, John the Baptist spelled out clearly to Herod the evil he had done: “It is not lawful for you to have her.”

For proclaiming the truth, John was imprisoned. And yet Herod dared not take any further action against him. As is common with his kind, he was superstitious, and he knew him to be a “righteous man.” Moreover, John had for him an irresistible fascination. Who was this man? Herod’s anger gave way to curiosity. During the next four months, Herod’s visits to his prisoner began to have a strange affect on this master of revels. An irresistible awe gradually took possession of him, to be replaced by fear, which in turn gave place to respect. This did not go unnoticed by his courtiers, foremost among them, Herodias, and she bided her time, watchful for any opportunity that might be used, but impatient for John’s destruction.

A favorable occasion soon presented itself in the form of Herod’s birthday for which an elaborate banquet and lavish entertainment was to be laid on. His marriage to his brother’s wife and his arrest of John the Baptist had not been well received, though none but John dared to voice any open criticism. Thus, both Herod and Herodias took care that the celebrating and feasting should be more brilliant than usual, a luxurious affair that would purchase him the favor of his flatterers once again.

Influential and powerful officials, chiefs and magnates, from near and far, gathered at the palace – their differences dissolved round Herod’s loaded table. At a certain moment, well calculated for its affect, the succession of entertainers is replaced by a single dancer: Herodias's daughter, Salome. Her performance so pleased Herod that, caught up by the adulation of the crowd, he promised her whatever she should ask for, even if it be half of his kingdom. Thus was the elaborate trap set, that having pronounced a rash oath before such an audience, his pride would not permit him to withdraw it cost him what it may. Upon asking her mother’s advice, Salome requested the head of John the Baptist on a platter.

Although inwardly regretful, in his pride Herod could not refuse the request. As St. Augustine so aptly described what followed, “an oath rashly taken was criminally kept.” A guard was sent to behead John in prison. Thus, the "voice crying in the wilderness" was silenced. The head of the Precursor was placed on a platter and presented to Salome, who gave it to her mother.

John’s holiness was so evident that the Jews thought he might be the Messiah who had been promised, but John had protested and denied it. At the Jordan, John had pointed out Christ in person exclaiming: "Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sin of the world. This is he, of whom I said: After me there comes one, who is preferred before me: the latchet of whose sandal I am not worthy to loose.” And that there be no doubt as to Whom he meant: “And I saw, and I give testimony that this is the Son of God.”

From that moment onwards, an eclipse takes place: “He must increase, and I must decrease.” His mission was to announce the Messiah. Therefore, once the Lamb of God had arrived, the prophecy of St. John Baptist was fulfilled, and his public mission decreased as he headed toward his martyrdom. On the contrary, Our Lord would increase until the complete fulfillment of His divine mission. The humility of St. John the Baptist was rewarded. After his martyrdom, his name was covered with glory. Our Lord said that no man born of woman was greater than he. It is impossible to have a higher praise or more honorable glorification. But this glory had as its foundation his most profound humility.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Why God allows evil

God judged it better

to bring good out of evil

than to suffer no evil to exist.

St. Augustine of Hippo

St. Augustine of Hippo

Augustine was born on November 13, 354 at Tagaste, on the northern coast of Africa, in what is now Algeria. He was raised as a Christian by his mother, Monica, despite his father, Patricius, being a pagan. His mother’s example of fervent faith was a strong influence on the young boy, one that would follow him throughout his life.

Although he had been enrolled amongst the catechumens in his youth and had received a Christian education in Tagaste, Augustine had nevertheless deferred the reception of Baptism, and was as yet unbaptized when the question of his advanced studies arose. Proud of his son’s academic prowess and prospects, Patricius was determined to send Augustine to Carthage, but had not the means available and thus it was that his eldest son spent his sixteenth year in an idleness that proved fatal to his virtue.

Having thrown himself wholeheartedly into the pursuit of pleasure and gradually given up the practice of prayer, by the time Augustine reached Carthage late in the year 370, he was easily won over by the seductions of the half-pagan city. When his father died in 371, soon after he arrived in Carthage, Augustine became the nominal head of the family and set up a household with a concubine, the mother of his son, Adeodatus, born about 372.

At the university Augustine studied literature and poetry, Latin, public speaking, and rhetoric. A terrible crisis of faith followed close upon his moral dissipation and Augustine fell into the snares of the Manich├Žans, a heretical sect that believed all flesh and matter to be evil, denied free will and attributed the commission of a crime to a foreign principle. Once he was won over by the sect, Augustine devoted himself to it with all the vehemence of his ardent nature and drew into it a number of friends by his proselytizing. Over time Augustine became disenchanted with the irresolvable contradictions he observed in the teachings of the Manich├Žans, but it took nine years for the illusion to die completely.

At the age of twenty-nine, Augustine set off secretly for Rome, resorting to subterfuge to avoid being followed by his mother, Monica. After a brief sojourn in Rome, he applied for a vacant professorship in Milan, where he was soon joined by his mother. His meeting with St. Ambrose so impressed him that he became a regular attendant at the bishop’s sermons. Cicero’s work Hortensius was also instrumental in Augustine’s final conversion, inspiring him with the desire to seek the truth. His passions, however, were to enslave him for another three years. Finally, through the reading of the Holy Scriptures light penetrated his mind. Grace soon followed and the thirty-three-year-old Augustine resigned his professorship, put aside a prospective marriage arranged by his mother, and retired to a country estate to devote himself entirely to the pursuit of true philosophy, now inseparable in his mind from Christianity.

With his son, and the friends who had accompanied him into retirement, he was baptized on Easter Sunday in 387 by St. Ambrose. His ordination to the priesthood in 391 was followed by his consecration as Bishop of Hippo four years later. His priestly and episcopal ministries were both admirably fruitful: he fought heresy with lionlike tenacity, challenged heretics to public debates, attended Church councils, and was a prodigious writer and zealous preacher. One of the greatest theologians of all time, among his extant works can be found more than 300 sermons, 500 letters, and numerous other writings on a wide variety of topics. Whilst refuting a Pelagian heretic, Augustine was stricken with a fatal illness. For three months he suffered with unconquerable patience amid continuous prayer, and died on August 28 in the year 430.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Hell or paradise, even in this world

In this life there is no purgatory;
it is either hell or paradise; for
to him who serves God truly,
every trouble and infirmity turns into consolations, and
through all kinds of trouble he has a paradise within himself
even in this world: and he who does not serve God truly, and
gives himself up to sensuality,
has one hell in this world, and another in the next.

St. Philip Neri

St. Monica

Monica was born in 332 in Tagaste, North Africa. Although her parents were Christians, they gave her in marriage to a local pagan official. A violent and immoral man, Monica's married life with Patricius was far from being a happy one, especially as her husband's mother, who lived with them, seems to have been of a like disposition with himself. His wife’s almsdeeds and her habits of prayer annoyed him, but it is said that he always held her in a sort of reverence. Monica’s persistent prayers and untiring sweetness finally won out and, in 370, both her husband and mother-in-law converted to Christianity.

Patricius died a year after being baptized, leaving Monica to raise their three children alone. Augustine, the eldest of the three, had fallen prey to the Manichean heresy (which professes that all flesh and matter is evil) while yet an adolescent and was living an immoral life. She banished Augustine from her home for some time, but welcomed him back after she had a vision in which she was assured that her firstborn son would return to the faith. From that time on, she stayed close to her son, praying and fasting for him. She would beg the prayers of priests who often avoided her because of her persistence at this seemingly hopeless endeavor. When Augustine secretly set sail for Rome, she followed him. When, upon her arrival in Rome she discovered that he had left for the northern city of Milan, she set out at once in pursuit of him.

For seventeen long years, the faithful mother continued undeterred in her prayers and fasting for the conversion of her son until finally, in 387, Augustine was baptized by St. Ambrose in Milan. As if in confirmation that her earthly mission had been fulfilled, Monica died later that same year.
St. Monica with her son, St. Augustine 

Friday, August 26, 2016

In danger of losing your soul?

Fly from bad companions
as from the bite of a poisonous snake.
If you keep good companions, I can assure you that
you will one day rejoice with the blessed in Heaven;
whereas if you keep with those who are bad,
you will become bad yourself, and
you will be in danger of losing your soul.

St. John Bosco