Thursday, December 4, 2014

What is Progress?

          In his interview-book with Peter Seewald, Light of the World, Pope Benedict XVI responded to the question of the consequences of “Modern Progress” in this manner: “A major examination of conscience should begin today.  What really is progress? Is it progress if I can destroy?  Is it progress if I myself can make, select, and dispose of human beings?  How can progress be achieved ethically and humanely?  But not only would the criteria for progress have to be reconsidered.  Besides knowledge and progress, it is also a question of the other fundamental concept of the modern era: freedom, which is understood as the freedom to do anything.”  Our world today is so influenced by the lies relativism, consumerism, and greed (among others), that we have forgotten what it actually means to pro-gress.
The meaning of progress has been lost in between the lines of the great technological advancements of the twentieth century on the one hand, and in the bloodiest dictatorships this world has seen on the other hand.  Before the French Enlightenment and the birth of Modernity, progress was determined by the cooperation of two defining factors: advancement in the intellectual realm (which were mainly determined by means of technological advancement and/or political thought) and advancement in morality.  Both of these factors had to be present for progress to be authentic.  In cases where one was present without the other, progress was determined inauthentic and thus just a fa├žade.  In Modernity however, this criterion for progress has been lost with the popular notion of separation from tradition, which selfishly seeks to regulate the truth and make it something controllable.  This divorce of tradition, has led to a world that has seen great advancements in technology and science, but, on the other side of the coin, has immensely regressed in the realm of morality.  In fact, moral values are now something to be laughed at.  They are now only something that was once useful generations ago that have now become outdated in our modern world that “knows better.”  But do we really know better?  Is it the case that our advancements in science have given us power beyond our capacity to maintain, inasmuch as it poses a threat to humanity?   Pope Benedict states: “It is urgently necessary to fill in the gaps in the list of values that our society appreciates and demythologize those values that have undergone a mythical distortion.”
I think it is important for us to re-evaluate our criteria for progress before we can get into any kind of conversation about the advancements of our generation.  I find it rather ironic that it has taken the complete distortion of ethical values in our world for us to even become conscious of the fact that ethics have been lost.  This of course has not happened over night, but it is certainly something that has become an immense problem in our world.  I am not just referring to the atrocities of the Nazi party, or the failed Marxist and neo-Marxist dictators of the last century, but to the complete loss of identity of the human person.  We now live in a country where the institution of marriage has lost its sacredness; where anyone can choose to change their sexual gender for any number of reasons; where politics have been completely controlled by selfish interest of the greedy upper-class; where a mother can choose to abort her child for any reason at all; where the illusions of relativism and pragmatism has infected the minds of almost every university; where we have completely lost any sense of the Truth. 
I will admit, these are difficult times that we are faced with.  And yet there is still hope.  Our world is in desperate need of a rediscovery of our human identity.  We have forgotten where we have come from.  Our disconnectedness with the world we live in and ultimately with the creator of this world, have led us to this new dictatorship of pragmatic relativism.  We must strive to seriously re-investigate the fundamental question of metaphysics: who am I?  If I do not know my identity, I have posed the greatest threat to my humanity.  The miracle of life is the greatest gift that we have received, we must strive therefore to defend its integrity at all stages. It is indisputable that every human being begins their life as a fetus in the womb of their mother, precisely because that is what a human being is at that stage of life. This does not mean that a fetus in the womb of a mother who has decided to abort her child is any less human than the fetus in the womb of a mother who chooses to carry to term.  The mother cannot deny this, the abortionist cannot deny this, this is true for everyone- life begins in the womb.  Ethics begins with remembering who we are, it asks two questions: who should I be? And what should I do?  This is called ontological ethics.  In our modern era we now practice what is known as deontological ethics, and it only asks one question: what should I do?  There is no reflection about what kind of person one is.  The presumption then becomes this: one’s actions are divorced from what kind of person one is (my choices don’t define me; my actions don’t have moral consequences). Yikes.
As a Christian I must have the courage to say “yes” to God without restraint, for within this obedience, freedom becomes a reality.  Mary’s fiat was not just a difficult decision that was made out of fear.  Rather, it was a decision made out of perfect love for God and for humanity that was so free and unrestricted that God himself was made flesh.  As we ponder this great mystery of our salvation this Advent season, let us draw close to the heart of Mary and ask for the grace to say with all our heart—in consoling moments and in difficult ones—the very words that filled Mary with the Holy Spirit and in which God became man: “Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum” (let it be done unto me according to your word). 

Veni Sancti Spiritus, veni per Mariam.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Pentecost: Sin, Righteousness, and Condemnation

     Pentecost. The birth of the Church, the descent of the Holy Spirit, the day of enlightenment.  Jesus told his disciples at the last supper that where he is going they cannot go, but he will send them the Advocate, the Spirit of truth.

"But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world in regard to sin and righteousness and condemnation: sin, because they do not believe in me; righteousness, because I am going to the father and you will no longer see me; condemnation, because the ruler of this world has been condemned." John 16 7-11

     Sin, because they do not believe in me. The spirit will convince us of sin because of our lack of belief in Jesus. Think about it, God, the creator of the universe, humbled himself and became a human being. He walked with us, dined with us, and in the end, he only was able to convert a small number of people to believe in him.  Their faith was weak, they did not believe in him.  In the same way, today we encounter a world that is full of violence, oppression, greed, lust, power, selfishness, and so on.  It is evident that this world is sinful, and we are naive in thinking that just because those of us who are blessed enough to believe in him are free from sin.  Even more so are we held accountable for our sinfulness: to whom much is given, much more is expected.
     Righteousness, because I am going to the father, and you will no longer see me. The way in which he was to go to the father was certainly not an easy way.  In fact it was the way of a shameful death, just outside the gates of the garbage dump of Jerusalem; the king of the universe was nailed to a tree next to one of the largest cesspits of the known world. Yet, in this death, life was born; sin and death have been conquered, the new way has been opened up for us. In his return to the father he was justified.  No matter how shameful, how embarrassing his death was, in returning to the father, all was made right again; his mission of love came to completion: from the cross into death, into the depths of hell, back to earth to spread the good news to his disciples, and finally the ascension back to his father, back home. Now, at the right hand of the father, all is realized; all is justified--the journey is complete.
     Condemnation because the ruler of this world has been cast out. By the completion of the paschal mystery, satan, the ruler of this world, was cast out, he was condemned. That which had gone wrong from the beginning was rectified. In the garden Adam and Eve were led astray by disobeying God and falling for the deception of the evil one by eating from the tree.  Now, in the garden of Calvary, God himself is nailed to a tree to become the food for all. The evil one was at this tree too, but this time, the one being tempted was without sin, was without blame, was the Son of God, was the unblemished lamb.  And this time, the evil one had lost.  Banished from this world forever, that at the name of Jesus, even the demons must obey, and fall to their knees.
     This Pentecost, let us pray that the Holy Spirit fills our hearts and continues to guide and sanctify the Church.  Let us pray for a deeper conviction of sin, righteousness, and condemnation. That we may be filled with the grace to continue the work of the Church on earth, and truly change the word in which we live in. In the same way that Peter, and the other disciples did, despite their persecutions, death threats (and eventual deaths) were able to convert thousands at a time.  Let us pray that we may be able to bring the truth of the Holy Spirit to those who have already heard the name of Jesus, and who do not believe, or who believe partially, or who even go to mass regularly but still live a lifestyle contrary to the gospel, or who have become stale and complacent in their faith.  Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love, send forth your Spirit and they shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Daughter, Mother, and Spouse

     A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of watching my brother graduate from Ave Maria School of Law in Naples, Fl. In his homily during the bacheloriate mass, Francis Cardinal Arinze, stated the uniqueness of Mary as: "daughter of the Father, mother of the Son, and spouse of the Holy Spirit."  It had not occurred to me before to think of Mary in this multidimensional way, in relation to the Trinity. Since then, and throughout this month of May, the month of Mary, I have begun to reflect more particularly in this triptychal way of our Blessed Mother.
     As daughter of the Father, Mary is for us the exemplar of what it means to be totally human. That is, by the singular grace of the Father, she has been saved from the stain of original sin. Her life is thus uncorrupted by concupiscence, which allowed her to live authentically the life of selfless love that we are all called to.
     This being true, she was still human, she had all of the same sufferings and temptations that we have. Among all of the daughters and sons of the God of Abraham, from Adam and Eve, to our young ones being born this very moment, Mary stands in our company. Because of her, we have a model of holiness; we have a new way of living--all that had been hoped for is now possible because of the faith of this little girl from Nazareth, the daughter of Joachim and Ann. Without Mary there is no Jesus; without this daughter of the Father, our salvation would not have been made possible.
     Theotokos--literally "God-bearer," is a title often attributed to our Blessed Mother. As mother of the Son, Mary is at the same time creature of the Creator, and mother of the Creator. For: "the Father and I are one" (John 10:30). In her created flesh, the flesh of the creator takes form. As the mother of God, she is also our mother, for the human family has been redeemed, and at the same time finds it's identity in the Paschal Mystery of our lord Jesus Christ. Without the Mother, the  Son's redemption is not made possible.
     In the Theotokos, Jesus is given his human identity. That is, literally he gains all that he is through his mother (his DNA, his looks, his voice, his dialect, facial expressions--everything)! As spouse of the Spirit, the mystery of the Trinity came to dwell within her, in order for the Son to become human. In her fiat, the human race was forever changed, for God humbled himself and became one of us! This is why we refer to her as "full of grace," for in her the fullness of God dwelt among us; in the mystery of the Incarnation, Mary shares perfect communion with God, full of grace, so much so that God came to dwell in her womb. In her fiat, the hope of humanity is made possible.
     Devotion to Our Lady is of utter importance. It is sad that our Protestant brothers and sisters see this devotion as idolotrous, because they miss completely the essence of who Our Lady is: Theotokos, the one who brings us Jesus, who knows him more intimately than any other human being, who intercedes to him on our behalf, who is our Mother.  Yesterday, we celebrated the feast of a great Italian friend of mine, St. Phillip Neri, who said that we should pray these words in repetition like a rosary if we are serious about our prayer life: "Blessed Mary, virgin Mother of God, pray to Jesus for me!" He says that it is a complete prayer because it recognizes Mary by invoking her blessed name, along with honoring her for who she is as virgin, and mother of God, and it invokes the most holy name of our savior. So let us follow his example and turn to our Mother who is daughter of the Father, mother of the Son, and Spouse of the Holy Spirit. Queen of Peace, pray for us!