Monday, December 26, 2011

Arrogance or Accuracy?

Here's a Q&A from a Facebook Catholic Q&A group of which I am a part:
I was talking to my uncle today (who was baptized Catholic, but is now Buddhist), and he said he feels the Church is "arrogant" to say that she holds the fullness of the truth when so many other religions have "similar myths and legends" (virgins giving birth, a god impregnating a human, etc.). He said that he didn't understand why the Church couldn't just admit that she was one among many and that he didn't see any difference between Catholicism and the other religions. 
I did talk about how, if all of creation was awaiting the coming of Jesus since the beginning, it makes perfect sense that there should be "echoes" of this in all of man's searching for god (thus the similar myths and things), but as far as how Catholicism is different from these...I just had no idea what to say or where to start. I know there are huge differences, but...any ideas on how I should have responded?
My Response (slightly edited--I always think of better ways to state things aftewards):
Prayer. That's the best response. 
As for actual dialogue with your uncle, you could start with the Trinity (no other religion comes close to holding the idea of 3 persons in the one God), you could also try to distinguish the Incarnation (God retaining the full nature of God while taking on a full human nature, hypostatically united in one person) from the myths (half god/half man status, or fully god, but only seeming to be human, etc.).
You were right with the "echoes" idea. If Christianity is entirely true, that doesn't mean it has to be entirely unique. In fact, it likely means that Christianity is not entirely unique. It's extremely unlikely that no other religion would have ever come up with any correct doctrines, and that only the one true faith would have a single correct doctrine. Just because some other religions may have happened to have gotten certain aspects correct doesn't mean that Christianity copied them, it just means that they found pieces of the Truth, whereas the Catholic Church has received the fullness of the Truth. We, as Catholics, commend others (even atheists) in the places where they are correct. It is always good to urge others on toward goodness, truth, and beauty. God is the source of all of them. If someone truly strives for any of them, he will find himself growing closer to God and coming closer to realizing the fullness of Truth, which God has revealed. God established the Catholic Church to make sure that His revelation would be handed down accurately. Our claim of fullness of truth is not for the sake of self-righteousness; rather, it is for the sake of the Truth--something infinitely higher than elevating ourselves in our own (and other men's) esteem.

Personally, I find your uncle's attitude more arrogant than the Catholic claim. Taking his mindset (that Catholics are arrogant to claim the fullness of the truth) to it's logical conclusion is to say that no one will ever know anything that is correct--or at least it will be arrogant to think so. Just because I think I'm correct in knowing that 2+2=4 doesn't mean I'm arrogant, it just means I'm right, and I know it. If I were to flaunt my knowledge of addition and make those who believe otherwise into lesser persons, then I would be arrogant. Merely to state that I have the truth and to propose it for you to accept, however, is not arrogance. That's what the Church does. She proposes the Truth to others; She never imposes it. The Catholic Church doesn't force anyone to accept the Truth; She only makes it public so that others may freely accept it. To me, your uncle's attitude seems to incorrectly (and slightly arrogantly) elevate tolerance and diversity over Truth.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Advent Enigma

Every year, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, we become bombarded with the trimmings of the "Christmas Season:" Christmas songs, Christmas parties, Christmas cookies, Christmas decorations, etc. This begins with the stores decorating for Christmas and piping Christmas music over their speakers beginning sometime in October--all under the label of putting customers in the "Christmas Spirit." To the average retail store, this "Christmas Spirit" is really just an excuse to hope that people will start thinking about Christmas much earlier, and so buy more gifts in this extended time of preparation.

Many people follow this lead and try to "get into the Christmas spirit" by listening to Christmas music, having Christmas parties, putting up Christmas decorations, etc. The unfortunate side-effect to that is the actual celebration of Christmas becomes an after-thought. I can remember being a boy and getting all excited for Christmas, listening to songs, wearing a santa hat, going to parties, etc., but when Christmas Day actually came, we excitedly opened presents, and then I was left with this feeling of "now what?" It seemed to me that all the songs sung of Christmas Day as this great occasion, but by the time that the clock struck noon, the excitement had already waned, save the fascination with whatever new toys I had received. Something about Christmas Day seemed a little empty, but I could never place it.

On the other hand, we have the Church, and Her seemingly antiquated approach of preparing for Christmas by holding off from any celebratory activity until the event itself, and then following through with a full season of celebration (what was previously the 12 days of Christmas and is now a variable length season). This is the 4th week of Advent--the final approach to the celebration of Christmas, yet when I go to Mass, I won't hear songs like Oh Come all Ye Faithful until Saturday evening. What I will hear is something more like O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. Advent is a time of preparation and anticipation (building with it's Gaudete on the third--rose-colored--Sunday, and it's O antiphons of this week), but not yet a time of celebration.

The question I wrestle with every year is this: To what extent should my personal life be like the liturgy (no Christmas until Christmas), and how much it should be like the retail industry (Christmas begins in October and ends on Christmas morning)?

Msgr. Pope has written a great post about the Advent practices of previous generations of Catholics, and he aptly considered them giants (performing penance for 40 days in preparation for celebrating the Christmas season). Surely their feats were greater than mine (perhaps staving off the consumption of a few cookies until Christmas day has arrived). These ancient practices are fascinating, but I wonder how one could perform them today (or if one should not bother). How can one avoid every Christmas party that occurs before Christmas? (Should one do so?) How can one encourage others to delay their parties until the Christmas season has begun? What about those who will only be able to be home before Christmas? There are, indeed, many questions, but as the years pass, and I try to conform myself a little more to the liturgy, and each year, the celebration of Christmas Day and the Christmas Season continues to be more meaningful. I wonder how to balance being in the world (not being a snob to those who celebrate Christmas early) while trying not to be of the world (not falling to the commercialized over-celebration of Christmas before it actually gets here).

Amanda and I have implemented a few ways for us to have a spirit of Advent:

  • Making a Jesse Tree
  • Using an Advent Wreath at the dinner table with special prayers when lighting the candles
  • Trying to listen to anticipatory Christmas songs (I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas, I'll be home for Christmas, etc.) Advent songs, neutral winter songs (Let it Snow, etc.)

What do you think? How do you balance the Advent & Christmas seasons?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Communion Blessing?

Extraordinary Ministers (people who aren't deacons, priests, or bishops)
  may distribute Communion when there is a lack of ordinary ministers
and there is an unduly large number of communicants.

Photo found at

Can extraordinary ministers give blessings to those who cannot receive Holy Communion?

In short: No.

Fr. Z posted a statement from the Diocese of Madison, explaining the issue.

[Note: the author happened to get a MTS from a highly reputable university.]

Friday, August 26, 2011

Thomas’ 5 Ways Simplified

I'm teaching high school theology and we're covering Thomas' 5 ways to approach God philosophically. I'm trying to simplify the material down for their level. Below is my attempt. If any of my theologian friends would like to check my theology to make sure that I am properly representing Thomas (as well as possible for 9th-11th grade theology), please do so.

Argument From Motion:
    • Given: Nothing makes itself move, but things are in motion.
    • Therefore: Something must have given motion to things.
    • Therefore: Some “First Mover” must exist that gives motion, but never needed to be moved.
    • Finish: We call this First Mover “God.”
Argument From Cause
    • Given: Things don't cause themselves.
    • Therefore: Something must have begun the causing of things.
    • Therefore: Some “First Cause” must exist that caused things, but was not caused.
    • Finish: We call this First Cause “God.”
Argument From Possibility and Necessity
    • Given: Things are generated and decay.
    • Therefore: It is possible for things to not exist.
    • Therefore: At some point in the past, there must have been a time when nothing existed.
    • Given: Nothing can come from nothing.
    • Therefore: There must have been some Necessary Being who always existed and gave existence to other things.
    • Finish: We call this Necessary Being “God.”
Argument From Gradation
    • Given: Things can be "more" or "less" of various perfections
    • Therefore: There must be a "most" to every perfection.
    • Therefore: There must be some Maximum Being which is the most perfect.
    • Therefore: Since this Maximum Being must be the most perfect, He is the most of all other perfections as well (goodness, truth, beauty, etc.).
    • Finish: We call this Maximum Being “God.”
Argument From the Governance of the World (Intelligence)
    • Given: Things in the universe naturally move toward a goal and work in an orderly way.
    • Therefore: Because the order is so intricate, we must assume that these things accomplish their goal by design, not by chance.
    • Therefore: There must be something that has designed the whole universe to act so orderly and acts to direct all things to their natural goals.
    • Finish: We call that designer “God.”

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Relics in Altars

St. Thomas Chapel in St. Peter's Basilica
is so named b/c of the altar piece rendition of
St. Thomas' famous inspection of Jesus' wounds.
The relics below the altar are of St. Boniface,
so it is also called St. Boniface Chapel.
A question was posed to me today: Do all altars have to have relics in them?
My initial response was that while it is preferred to have a relic in the altar, it is not required, but I did a little research to make sure.
Here is what I found:
First, let's consider why we put relics under the altar to begin with:
Dedication of a Church or Altar (DCA) IV, 5. All the dignity of the altar rests on its being the Lord’s table. Thus the martyr’s body does not bring honor to the altar; rather the altar does honor to the martyr’s tomb. For it is altogether proper to erect altars over the burial place of martyrs and other saints or to deposit their relics beneath altars as a mark of respect and as a symbol of the truth that the sacrifice of the members has its source in the sacrifice of the Head. Thus ‘the triumphant victims come to their rest in the place where Christ is victim: he, however, who suffered for all is on the altar; they who have been redeemed by his sufferings are beneath the altar.’ This arrangement would seem to recall in a certain manner the spiritual vision of the Apostle John in the Book of Revelation: ‘I saw underneath the altar the souls of all the people who have been killed on account of the word of God, for witnessing to it.’ His meaning is that although all the saints are rightly called Christ’s witnesses, the witness of blood has a special significance that only the relics of the martyrs beneath the altar express in its entirety.
[As Jesus' sacrifice is made present on top of the altar, He is made present above those who have died for Him. He is the head and they are the body. This also foreshadows the Resurrection of the Body, when at the end of time, God will bring our mortal bodies back from decomposition and reunite our souls to them in a glorified manner, and those who are going to Heaven will rise together as one Body with Jesus as our head.]

Revelation 6:9: “I saw underneath the altar the souls of all people who had been killed on account of the word of God, for witnessing to it.”
[Revelation is St. John’s record of the vision of Heaven that he was given. Our tradition of building altars above relics is tied up with this vision.]
Now to our question: Do all altars have to have relics?
Canon Law 1237 §2: The ancient tradition of placing relics of martyrs or other saints under a fixed altar is to be preserved, according to the norms given in the liturgical books.
[While this says that the tradition is to be preserved, it doesn't give any specifics about the tradition, nor what the liturgical books say.]
GIRM 302: The practice of placing relics of Saints, even those not Martyrs, under the altar to be dedicated is fittingly retained. Care should be taken, however, to ensure the authenticity of such relics.
[This is basically what Canon Law states, but it also gives the stipulation that the relic needs to be authentic. We don't want just a random person's bone(s) below our altars. The altar honors the saint's bones.]
DCA II, 5. The tradition in the Roman liturgy of placing relics of martyrs or other saints beneath the altar should be preserved, if possible. But the following should be noted:
a) Such relics should be of a size sufficient for them to be recognized as parts of human bodies. Hence excessively small relics of one or more saints must not be placed beneath the altar.
b) The greatest care must be taken to determine whether the relics in question are authentic. It is better for an altar to be dedicated without relics than to have relics of doubtful authenticity placed beneath it.
c) A reliquary must not be placed upon the altar or set into the table of the altar; it must be placed beneath the table of the altar, as the design of the altar permits.
[So, the tradition “should be preserved, if possible.” That answers the original question: not every altar must have a relic. It also specifies more about the relic requirements. They should be sizable, not just those little bone chips you normally see. Note: there is a distinction between “shoulds” and “musts” in Church documents, but “shoulds” are still to be followed, if possible. The relic must not be on top, but must be below the table of the altar. This fits more with Rev. 6:9 - the souls are underneath the altar.]
DCA II, 14. When relics of a martyr are not available, relics of another saint may be deposited in the altar.
[This also fits with Rev. 6:9. The souls who were underneath the altar “had been killed no account of the word of God, for witnessing to it.” They were martyrs. “Martyr” means witness. It is then fitting that we prefer the relics of martyrs to be underneath our altars.]
DCA VI, 3. [I]t is not permissible to place the relics of saints in the base of a movable altar.
[This also sheds light on our initial question. Moveable altars cannot have relics, so it is necessary that not all altars will have relics, though it is preferred that fixed altars do, indeed, have relics.]
To clarify this point, lets go back to Canon Law:
Canon 1235: An altar . . . is called fixed if it is so constructed that it adheres to the floor and thus cannot be moved; it is called moveable if it can be removed.
[This begs the question as to how much effort is necessary to remove an altar for it to be considered fixed and not moveable. If a wood altar is screwed into the floor, I would imagine that it would be considered fixed, but it takes little effort to move it. Whereas a heavy stone altar might not be screwed to the floor, but it would take a great effort to move it. Would the wood be considered fixed while the stone be considered moveable, even though the stone altar is really much more fixed than the wooden one? I don’t know. Perhaps they are both fixed because more than a little effort is required to move either of them.]

Friday, July 15, 2011

Review: Courageous

My wife and I were recently invited to a sneak preview of the upcoming movie Courageous. While I found the movie entertaining and emotionally moving, it was not quite blockbuster caliber. Overall, I give the movie a B.

The Message
The movie is an effort to sound a wake-up call to dads across the country--trying to get them to step up and be real fathers. I heartily agree with their great, redeeming message of good fatherhood (and it's a message we desperately need to hear), but I think Michael Catt and company try to beat the audience over the head with it, and I think this will make the movie ultimately less effective.

The opening scene draws all of us in to wonder "Would I have done that?" Nathan Hayes (played by
Nathan Hayes (Ken Bevel) watching out for his daughter,
who is being romantically pursued by a young gang member.
 Ken Bevel) is filling up with gas when a man sneaks into his truck and drives away. Hayes jumps into action, sprinting after the truck and diving half-way into the driver's window. Clinging for life, fighting with the thief, and trying to avoid traffic, Hayes eventually gets control of the wheel and steers the truck off the road and into a tree as he bails out into the ditch. The thief exits the scene with his accomplice as shocked witness minivan moms call the police and rush to Hayes to see if he's okay, but he fights through them to get back to his vehicle and reveal that the motivation for his motor vehicle daredevilry was more than a mere machine. He opens the back door to reveal a crying baby in a car seat. Each viewer is stuck with the real question: "Would I have done that?" I thought this was an excellent way to set the stage for the audience to consider that question throughout the film.

This, however, is where we start to get hit over the head. Instead of letting the audience naturally come to this question and grapple with it, Catt & Co. force the issue. Police officer Adam Mitchell (Alex Kendrick) is driving away after having helped with Hayes' accident when he asks his partner "Would you have done it?" As they tried to discuss the issue without losing any of their macho bravado between each other, I couldn't help but wonder: are they trying to spoon-feed us this question? This particular scene wasn't a bad addition, but it really was a harbinger of what was to come: plenty of emotionally charged scenes with an almost after-school-special-esque dialogue, explaining the moral of the situations.

The movie mostly revolves around four police officers (and also includes a construction worker who becomes their friend), and how they come to see that most of the men they are putting in jail come from fatherless homes, or homes where the father shows little attention to (or appreciation of) the kids. Instead of them being drawn to realize this throughout the movie, and allowing the viewers to do the same, the fact is presented to them by their chief in a meeting of the police force, starting something like "an e-mail came across my desk the other day with some surprising statistics." This situation could be believable, but the person cast for the police chief wasn't chosen for his public speaking abilities and the e-mail was given no credible source. For all we know, it could have been from his Aunt Martha who sends on every forward she receives without checking any of the facts. Again, I wondered: are they spoon-feeding us these statistics?

Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed my time. I certainly cried at a few of the tear-jerking scenes and laughed at some of the funny parts--there were elements of action, drama, some bits of suspense--but where I think this movie really breaks down is the dialogue in the crucial moments. When the drama gets thick, the dialogue goes flat. I think the writers did a great job of creating an environment in which the questions they're dealing with come up, but I found the actual conversations that work through the difficult situations to be contrived and unnatural.

The Effect
I predict that the problem with the dialogue will plague the movie's effect on secular audiences. While Christian audiences will understand the words and forgive the clunkiness, I think it will be a turn-off to many who don't believe. Yes, the message is a Biblical message, so there will be certain parties automatically disaffected, but the lingo and style is distinctly Evangelical Protestant, which (in my experience) tends to have its own lexicon, and a false assumption that everyone else knows what they're talking about or at least gets the idea right when it is spoken. I've found this particular conversational style to be ineffective when dealing with people outside of the particular group to which the jargon belongs.

The movie also draws the viewer through some extreme emotional situations, trying to pull down any
defenses, in the hope that the head-whacking with the message will be well received. This approach of selling an idea (and, again, this is a really good idea) through the use of pathos (emotion) is often effective (commercial advertisers capitalize on it all the time), but that effect isn't always lasting. It isn't always enough for someone to change his/her life. It rallies the troops and makes some converts, but it doesn't sustain the morale. What is needed for that is a strong logos (reason). This movie has some good logos at some points, but it chiefly relies on pummeling us with pathos, and I can't help but think that a number of non-Christian viewers will be turned off. I've had many conversations with many non-believers who are turned off by this sort of emotion-based faith. It lacks real substance. I agree. I'm turned off by it, too. That's one of the benefits of the rich intellectual treasures of the Catholic Church: a fantastic combination of faith and reason. I think the movie brings up a really good topic (one that is much needed) and shows some men trying to strive for excellence in fatherhood (quite commendable), but the dialogical potholes and the overflowing emotional tide/head-whacking will keep it from being a huge success.

Effective Post-Climax
In order not to give too much more away, I'll just say that the climax of the movie is arguably a special scene for which the main characters get all dressed up. It is an exclamation point in the movie for the men and their families, and Catt & Co. do a good job of not stopping there. They continue on, showing that even when men are being real dads, there will still be trials. The movie doesn't simply end with a "happily ever after." There is still a fair amount of drama to go, but the men have changed, and the viewers are able to see how these particular men put biblical notions of fatherhood into rubber-hitting-the-road practice when the going gets tough. I thought this area was quite exceptional--it inspired me to work even harder at being a good husband (and hopefully a good father someday).

Cheesy Conclusion
In an almost shameless-self-promotion style, the movie wraps up with the predominant character, Adam Mitchell, standing up in front of his Sunday service, flanked by his buddies, giving a testimony about being a man. As he reaches the climax of his talk, he raises his hand Billy Graham-style (appropriately, since this is, after all, a Baptist congregation in a movie made by a Baptist congregation) and calls out men to stand up and be real fathers. This was fine in itself, but as his words reached their peak and he raised his hand, the scene immediately flashes to the COURAGEOUS title block and intros the credits. It almost seems as though the whole movie was a commercial for the movie. Something about it just stood out as awkward.

Also, that Sunday service scene will lose some appeal for high-liturgy Christians. Granted, the movie is made by a Baptist congregation, so they have Baptist sensibilities and tend to cater toward Baptists, so it really should come as no surprise that their worship space looks more like a theater than a house of God. If it weren't for the cut-scene of the sign out in front of the building and the alb-laden choir in the stadium seating behind the stage, a Catholic might wonder why their congregation meets at the local concert venue.

Bottom Line: Is it worth going to see, or is it a "rentable"?
I have mixed thoughts on this one. Hollywood generally puts out a bunch of junk movies that have no redeeming moral quality. This one, however, has a great message, no scantily clad women, no sex scenes (nor even any innuendo), no obscene language, and generally leaves you inspired to live better. I really want to send Hollywood the message that this is the type of movie we're looking for, so our ticket dollars would be a good way to turn the tide a bit in Hollywood. Because of the above-menitoned downfalls, however, I know some will be turned off. I'd say that the good of the movie ultimately outweighs the bad, and that (if you can forgive a little cheesiness and heavy-handed message making) you'll have a really good movie-going experience. Ultimately, if men are inspired to be better fathers by this movie, it will be well worth the price of the ticket.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Importance of Proper Definition

I have been in a discussion lately regarding marriage, and the reaction to the State of New York’s decision to start calling same sex relationships “marriages.” One of my interlocutors thought that when I had distinguished between valid marriages and invalid marriages, I was saying that all non-Catholic marriages were invalid (and how unfair that would be). This was obviously not the case, and I will explain it below. Another was having a similar difficulty. Both were confused about the distinction yet validity of religious marriages and non religious marriages, and they were confused about the idea that marriage means more that simply a "boyfriend and girlfriend telling the state of their love." The discussion stemmed from a response to an article, which included the above statement and claimed that by redefining marriage to include same sex couples, the state effectively undefined marriage, and that there is a great loss in this.
Photo courtesy of Isela Maria Photography 
First, let’s get things straight. God is involved in all marriages, whether the vows are expressed in a religious setting or not. When my wife and I exchanged our vows in the traditional Catholic wedding Mass, God was (and is) involved in our marriage. When a non-Christian man and woman go to the justice of the peace and get married, God is involved in that marriage too. The only time God does not unite a couple in marriage is when a marriage is prevented by some impediment from coming about. This is discussed below.

Marriage is a thing into which the couple enters, not something the state created for couples to enter. What the state chooses to recognize as “marriage” has no effect as to whether the couple is, in reality, married or not. The state could call anything a marriage, but that doesn’t bring a marriage into existence. Similarly, the state could legally call an apple an “orange,” but that doesn’t make the apple an orange. Would such a redefinition preclude the orange from being an orange? No. Does such a redefinition remove the state’s distinction between apples and oranges? Yes. Is something lost? Yes, it becomes harder for the average person to truly understand what an orange is, as distinct from what an apple is.
Photo found here
Particularly with regard to the question about the distinction of Catholic marriages: There are two different levels of marriage: natural and sacramental. If a marriage is valid, it is always at least a natural marriage. My marriage is a natural marriage. The marriage between a non-Christian man and woman would also be a natural marriage. Both of those marriages are valid marriages. The particular Christian extra is that marriages between baptized persons are also sacramental--that is, they cause grace in the lives of the couple (a discussion for another time). My marriage is not only natural, but it is also supernatural (sacramental). The catch, with respect to our conversation, is that it takes certain requirements for a marriage to be valid (for various reasons, generally revolving around the fundamental definition that marriage is a full gift of self to the each other) including, but not limited to:
  • Marriage can only come about between two people - a full gift of self can only be given to one person, otherwise it is a divided gift. (This rules out polyamory.) This statement also requires that the parties be humans--animals plants and inanimate things are unable to consciously choose to give themselves, so they cannot enter marriage. (A man could not marry his cow.)
  • Marriage can only come about between willing people - it is not a gift of self at all if the persons are unwilling. (Shotgun weddings are generally invalid--even though the state would recognize them.) Here is it helpful to note that even arranged marriages are entered into willingly (only the bride and groom don’t get to choose the person to whom they give themselves), so they are completely valid.
  • In order to be willing, a man and a woman need to know the covenant to which they're vowing themselves. You can't totally agree to give yourself fully to another person for the rest of your life without a minimal understanding of what that really means. This area is greatly effected in our society. With the continual redefinition/undefinition of marriage, it becomes harder and harder for couples to know what marriage truly is, so it is harder for them to fully give themselves to each other.
  • If either the man, the woman, or both is/are a Catholic, the wedding must take place according to the rules of the Catholic Church (in a Catholic church, by a Catholic priest/deacon, they must intend to raise their children as Catholics, and they must conform to all of the other requirements for marriage). Catholics are not free to get married on the beach, in the forest, in a mansion, or elsewhere. Doing so fails to bring about a marriage. They are not married. They can always have their marriage convalidated by the Church, so that it becomes real, but they remain unmarried otherwise (even if the state considers them married).
  • Marriage can only come about between people who are able to give themselves - the mentally retarded, the insane, and similar others lack the capacity to truly choose to give themselves to another person for as long as they both shall live. This lack of the ability to give themselves prevents those people from entering a state of self-gift. (The drunk are also not able to give themselves at the time, so drunken Vegas weddings are generally not valid--even if the state recognizes them. This couple could always convalidate their marriage later.)
  • The couple must be able to consummate their marriage at least once - if the couple is unable to complete the marital act, they cannot consummate (“bring to perfection”) their gift of self to each other. A man who cannot become erect cannot consummate a marriage. I have heard of cases of women who are unable to receive a man--they would be unable to consummate a marriage. The marriage must be consummated by at least one marital act. The marital act does not need to be a fertile act, but it needs to be the KIND of act that would be fertile. The marital act is the act by which a man and woman would normally generate children (the man must climax within the woman’s vagina--wether or not they are fertile). If the couple is unable to perform this function, they cannot consummate the marriage, so they are unable to give themselves fully to each other. (*As an aside, when a couple forcibly removes their fertility from this act--through contraception, etc.--they change the act which they are performing, reserving themselves from giving a full gift and failing to perform the marital act, so a contracepted act wouldn't consummate a marriage.*)  This act doesn’t need to generate children, but it must be the same act by which children would normally be generated. That being said, obviously a man cannot climax within another man’s vagina (because the other man has no vagina). Men cannot FULLY give themselves (fertility and all) to men. The same goes for women--they cannot FULLY give themselves (fertility and all) to women. Same sex couples cannot enter into a real marriage. No matter what the state calls their relationship, same sex couples lack the ability to enter the reality of what marriage is because they lack the fundamental elements (one man and one woman).

Marriage, by its nature, is ordered to the procreation and education of children. Not every marriage will generate children, but marriage requires the KIND of people who would normally be able to give themselves to each other so fully that their self-giving love MIGHT produce another life. (An infertile man and woman may marry each other because they are the KIND of relationship that is necessary.) Anything else is not a marriage. The state may call it a “marriage,” but that’s like the state calling an apple an “orange”--it doesn’t make it so.
To the next point: is anything lost by this altered definition of marriage? Yes, but the loss is subtle (great, but subtle). Over the last century, we have seen a great breakdown in the family unit. This has been caused by a societal watering-down of the understanding of what it means to "be married" and to "be a family." Much of this has been because of the disassociation of marriage and the marital act. Instead of the marital act being looked at as the fullest gift of husband and wife to each other possible, society has slowly turned it into a mere pleasure act. To be sure, there is much pleasure involved, and that is good, but sexual intercourse purely for pleasure robs it of such self-giving properties. It becomes a form of using the other person for mutual pleasure--even if consensual, it fails to be a true gift. When society treats the marital act as though it’s just a pleasure time, why should it treat marriage like it’s anything special? Problems like adultery have been troubling mankind for practically as long as history records, but should they be considered acceptable? No! We know people shouldn’t cheat on their spouses. Our society, however, has slowly started to brush that problem (and others) under the carpet.
Widespread contraception was one of the first big falls. First, it removed the telltale sign of infidelity--another woman’s pregnancy--but it also dissociated the marital act from being open to generate children, which only stoked the burning fires of lust (sexual intercourse for pleasure instead of pleasure as a part of marital self-gift). This split between marriage and the marital act also gives any man who views women as sexual objects further leeway to treat them as such. It also greatly increases the temptation for men who otherwise wouldn’t treat women as objects to treat them as such--and vice versa. The same can be said for abortion, which became the fail-safe for contracepting couples. Preventing and killing babies from such illicit relationships made it easier for the relationships to occur, and they became more common, more mainstream--such relationships are even lauded in television shows. All of this erodes at the definition of marriage--they are both the sign of a lower view of marriage and contributors to lowering it further.
As our society’s view of marriage lowered, divorce became more prevalent, and to make this easier, lawmakers created “no-fault” divorce, which only further lowered the view of marriage. Not only is marriage separated from the marital act in society’s eyes, but they now look at marriage as a relationship of convenience. While stating, “until death do we part,” people are often really thinking, “as long as I feel good and he/she meets all my needs, but if things turn sour, we’ll just get a divorce.”
Adultery and fornication both went rampant, exploding in the 1960s and 70s. These vices which have historically been seen as evil, were now being seen as not only acceptable, but “freeing.” This libertine “freedom” (which is really just a license to indulge in lust, and become enslaved to one’s passions) has led to a further deterioration of society’s view of the family. As contraception became more available and society’s general view of marriage lowered, the increase of divorce, teen pregnancy, out of wedlock pregnancy, single families, spousal abuse, etc. skyrocketed. The more a society deviates in its understanding from what marriage really is (1 man and 1 woman, committed to giving themselves to each other for a deepening love, for generation and education of any children they might be given as the building block of society, for as long as they are alive), the more prevalent marital evils (divorce, teen pregnancy, infidelity, abuse, etc.) will be in that society.
Has something been lost? Yes. Our society no longer knows what marriage really is, so it will seemingly label anything it wishes a “marriage.” (What is the next apple to be called an “orange?” It looks most likely that the polyamorous crowd will be the next to push their agenda, but I assume they will wait and push the gay agenda first to first try to more fully establish the same sex crowd and lessen the understanding of marriage further before trying to add more partners). With same sex relationships now being called “marriages” by some state governments, it is a further erosion of the real definition of marriage, which will result in a further increase of our society’s marital ills. Unfortunately, people often only live up to the minimum expectation you give them, and as you keep expecting less and less from marriages, they will keep giving themselves less and less to a relationship that requires to give themselves fully. Marriage and family are the building block of society. Our society will not thrive on a faulty foundation--in fact, it is nearly guaranteed to get worse. As we keep lowering our society’s expectations of marriage, we will continue to see worse rates of marital and social evils in our country.
There is a silver lining. Individuals can resist. People can come to learn the real definition of marriage and try to live up to the higher standard to which truly married couples are called. They can raise children who understand marriage and plan to fully give themselves (for life) into a marriage (if God so calls them to that state someday). That’s what my family is doing, and we are not alone. We are just one couple among millions who understand what marriage really is, and we have pledged to live up to that calling, and to teach our children to live up to that calling.
Lastly, and perhaps, most importantly, we can pray. We can pray that God helps us to understand marriage even more deeply, and we can pray for mercy for any time we have offended the truth of marriage, and for mercy on others who have committed offenses against the truth of marriage. We can also pray for mercy on us as a country, for the country's offenses against the truth of marriage.

“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Deals in the Dark

I just saw the news over at Whispers in the Logia that the New York state government has redefined its own understanding of marriage. He quoted Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn: "It is mystifying that this bill would be passed on the last day of an extended session under the cover of darkness."

To me, this resounds of another political action that took place at a "special session," under the cover of darkness . . .

Men, who think they have power, casting out what is truly good in exchange for what is politically favorable.

This is a sad day for the State of New York, and for our nation. We have divorced ourselves from the true definition of marriage, and offered instead a cheap whore.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Abram's Unrighteousness

Sarah Supplies Abraham Hagar by Adriaen van der Werff

In today's 1st reading, we hear of the account of Abram, Sarai, and Hagar (Genesis 16). I have often seen people misinterpret this chapter or use it to prove what it speaks against. It has to be understood in the proper context. To get a bit of that, let's look at yesterday's reading (Genesis 15:1-18).

In Genesis 15, God tells Abram (who is at this point childless) that he will have a son. In fact, He tells Abram that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars. At this time, Abram and Sarai are quite old--beyond child-bearing years--but Abram trusts God anyway, and God "credited it to him as an act of righteousness"(Gen 15:6). That was good; Abram trusted what God said. Unfortunately, He didn't trust God enough to make it happen. After not conceiving for a while, Sarai thinks: maybe this son isn't supposed to come through me, so (instead of turning to God for help) she devises a plan to ensure that her husband has the promised heir. She offers her maid, Hagar, to her husband as a concubine. Though this may have been a custom for some people at the time, this was not what God wanted.

God created man and woman to enter into a marriage and remain in that marriage "until death do they part," and the only way God wants man and woman to commit the marital act is within a marriage. God created the first covenant with Adam, the husband of a marriage. Here, Abram broke his marriage covenant by sleeping with a woman who was not his wife--both an offense against his wife (even though it was her idea) and an offense against God's first covenant with man. As always, when a seed is planted by a bad act, bad fruits come.

Abram is generally looked at as a great man, and that he was, but he was not perfect. Here (and in other places) he chose poorly. Although he was trying to do what he thought God might possibly want, he forsook his conscience in order to accomplish the task. He chose to get an heir "his way." To be sure, Sarai and Hagar were complicit in the act, so they were all accountable--they chose to get an heir "their way." They all broke the marriage covenant, and there were consequences. Too often, I have heard people try to use this account as an argument against the Judeo-Christian view of marriage. They just don't get it. Not every story in the Bible shows how to do things rightly--often it shows how not to do things, and this is one of them. Lesson of the day: don't commit the marital act with someone who is not your spouse (also, there are right ways and wrong ways to bring a child into this world: don't try to have a baby in a way that God does not want).

As we continue to read, we will see that the son of this union (Ishmael) is not the heir that God promised; Isaac is that man. As God's messenger predicted (verse 12), much strife between Hagar/Ishmael and Abra(ha)m's true heir, Isaac will come. This will lead to great contention and battles down through the years. The Muslims claim their lineage through Ishmael. The Christians & Jews claim their lineage through Isaac. Thus, we see in the many wars between Muslims and Christians/Jews that Ishmael and Isaac have been fighting down through the centuries, and it all started with a sin against the covenant of marriage. Obviously this story is one of what not to do.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Redemptive Suffering

Redemptive suffering is the concept of being able to suffer for someone else's benefit. It is the basis of Jesus' death on the cross: God took on human flesh man so that He could suffer in His human nature (His divine nature is perfect, so it could not suffer). That suffering was not for some sadistic purpose; rather, it was for atonement. Jesus died on the cross to help us. His death paid the debt of our sins. The picture above is of the "scapegoat" the animal in Jewish culture on whom the people's sins were cast and who was driven away into the desert (a foreshadowing of Jesus who would really take the people's sins away). Every imperfect act of ours separates us from God (who is ultimate perfection) and makes us the devil's property (think of Edmund in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe--see the video below, particularly 3:20-5:20).

Sin also enslaves us--it is truly addicting (when we sin, it becomes more habitual to sin again and easier to sin more gravely). Prior to Jesus' death, we had no way of repaying the debt of our sins, so even those "good" people still committed some sins in their lives, and their souls were not in a state where they could enter Heaven.

God loves us so much that He became one of us in order to die for us (see the rest of that movie clip, understanding Aslan as a representation of Jesus). Jesus' death is applied to us particularly through the sacraments. In the Sacrament of Baptism, we are washed with water, but it is not just symbolic; it actually affects our souls. When someone is baptized, he is drowned; His life that he lived up to that point is ended--including all sin (Original Sin, which we inherit from Adam and Eve, and any actual sins, which we have committed up to that point)--and he is raised to a new life for God. The Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) applies Jesus' death on the cross to us to forgives us of any sins we commit after Baptism (provided that we are humble enough to own up to them, that we tell them to God through one of His priests, that we are sorry, and that we intend to try not to do them again). The Sacrament of Holy Communion (the Eucharist) is the main sacrament. It is the bread and wine that are changed into Jesus' Body and Blood at Mass every day. Jesus' sacrifice on the cross is made present on the altar at every Catholic Mass. That sacrifice is re-offered to the Father, and then we are allowed to partake in it. We consume what used to be bread/wine and has now become Jesus' Himself. We eat His living Flesh (offered for us) and drink His living Blood (shed for us) under the appearance of bread and wine. God became man to die for us and give us these sacraments (and the 4 others, which I won't go into here).

In the same way, God also allows us to suffer for others. In our pain (of whatever sort: mental, physical, social, etc.), we can unite ourselves with Him on the cross and offer that suffering as a sacrifice to help other people. We understand that all suffering we go through now is trivial compared to the complete joy to be experienced forever in Heaven or (conversely) the complete agony to be experienced forever in Hell. We welcome suffering insofar as it makes us more like Jesus, who suffered for us, and enables us to suffer for others. Though I may have great pain in suffering (and I may lose a lot of temporal goods), it is worth it to save someone's soul from eternal damnation. The suffering through which I go, I can offer up to God because He often wishes to use us as tools for bringing about His mercy. In His mercy, He might grant some sinner extra graces to see the wrongs in his actions, and recognize the harm he causes through his sins. This may be enough for the sinner to repent, to turn back to God and seek forgiveness. That may ultimately lead the sinner to be in Heaven instead of Hell for all of eternity. Thus, the sacrifices we Catholics offer up to God are acts of love--to love is to will for what is ultimately best for someone. While I may not like the daily trials which life throws at me, I recognize that they are opportunities to love people (those around me, or those whom I may never meet). They are opportunities to offer myself up and take their punishment on my flesh, so that they might one day return to a relationship with God avoid eternally separating themselves from Him: "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." [John 15:13]

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Spirit of the Liturgy - Chapter 1

This is a continuing report on the book The Spirit of the Liturgy by Cardinal Ratzinger.

Chapter 1: Liturgy & Life: The Place of the Liturgy in Reality

In the 20's it was common to describe liturgy with the analogy of a game (having its own rules, stepping outside the pressures of daily life, often being "a rehearsal for later life," [14] and thus allowing us to see daily life as a prelude to eternal life - offering us hope). This analogy, however, lacks a concrete orientation towards eternal life and towards God Himself, so Ratzinger wishes to offer us a new approach [which is really an old approach looked at anew]: liturgy as revealed in the Bible, particularly the Exodus.

The Exodus
The whole purpose of the Exodus is not just to give God's people the Promised Land, but to give them the freedom to worship Him (in whatever way He requests): "Let my people go that they may serve me in the wilderness." (Ex 7:16) [Not: "Let my people go that I may give them land."] "The only goal of the Exodus is shown to be worship, which can only take place according to God's measure." [16] They don't know the means by which God wishes them to worship Him--only out in the wilderness will they be given that knowledge. [They had to take every person and everything they owned, so that they would be prepared to worship God in whatever way He wanted.] "The land is given to the people to be a place for the true worship of the true God." [17] God makes a covenant with His people and "concretiz[es it] in a minutely regulated form of worship . . . [this form of worship shows them] how to worship God in the way He Himself desires." [17] [God tells them how He wants to be worshipped. They don't make it up on their own.] This worship is an entire way of life. It includes both "cult, [which is] liturgy in the proper sense," [17] and morality, the proper way to live. "Ultimately is it the very life of man, man himself as living righteously, that is the true worship of God, but life only becomes real life when it receives its form from looking toward God. Cult exists in order to communicate this vision and to give life in such a way that glory is given to God."[18] [Don't get confused with the popular definition of "cult"--something like a strange or evil group of fanatics. Cult means ritual. We worship in a ritualistic liturgy because that is what we have received from God. Those rituals draw us out of our daily lives, point us toward God, and allow us to receive His life. Only by looking toward God can we get the proper perspective of how to live the rest of our lives (and live them to the fullest). Without that orientation towards God, life is like being in a maze, but not knowing where the end is--there is no goal to direct our actions to the proper end. We have received the rituals for worship from God and from His Church. It is not something that we invent out of our creativity. Our worship is affective because it was given to us by God as a foretaste of how we will worship Him in Heaven.]

Worship, Law & Ethics
"Worship, law, and ethics are inseparably interwoven." [18] Law must be founded in morality and both must be oriented toward God, otherwise they trap man in a world-centered vision, forcing him to bow to the whims of the ruling majority, rather than the all-good, unchanging truths of God. People need law so that they may be free to live and worship. "God has a right to a response from man." [19] Law must preserve this right, otherwise man cannot live the life for which he was made. "When human affairs are so ordered that there is no recognition of God, there is a belittling of man." [19] The Israelites were given regulations for both cult and morality at Sinai. "This and this alone is what makes the land a real gift." [19] If Israel sticks to these regulations, she is free; if not, she loses her freedom. "When the loss of law becomes total, it ends in the loss even of land . . . steadfast adherence to the law of God . . . must be the necessary condition [foundation of existence] for life in community and freedom." [20]  [Proper worship directs us to God, who allows us to see how to live properly. That orientation toward God forms our morality/ethics. Law exists to encourage people toward right conduct (virtue) and discourage people from vice. Without proper worship, we are trapped in a mindset that thinks only of this world and its concerns. It fails to see things from the God's perspective and what is eternally best for our souls. Without the true goal in mind, our efforts can easily become misguided. Many of our civil law makers have lost the proper perspective, or have been trained in an environment which rejects God, and therefore, rejects the proper goal of all of life. Law should protect and promote worship, but that is far too often not the case in our society.]

The importance of worship.
Cult, then, "goes beyond the action of the liturgy . . . embrac[ing] the ordering of the world of human life." [20] Worship is "man glorifying God" and man does this "when he lives by looking toward God." [20] Law and ethics must be "anchored in the liturgical center and inspired by it." [20] Man's relationship with God (liturgy) must first be right before his other relationships (with other men, with creation - law, ethics) can be rightly ordered. [God gives man his relational orientation. Man must first encounter the Truth, Goodness, Justice, Love that God is in order to know how to be truly true, good, just and loving.] "The right kind of cult, or relationship with God, is essential for the right kind of human existence in the world. It is so precisely because it reaches beyond everyday life." Worship takes us out of the world and gives us a taste of Heaven. Life without that foretaste is empty, so those without true cult end up creating 'their own forms of cult, though, of course, they can be only an allusion and strive in vain by bombastic trumpeting, to conceal their nothingness." [21]
[I'm reminded of this at the end of every Super Bowl (or other sports finales). The whole profession is "bombastically trumpeted" with fancy graphics, lively commentators, jarring music, and memorabilia galore, which all conceal their real nothingness. I used to be a devout follower of the worship of football. Ever since I was introduced to it, I have loved to play the game, so it only naturally followed that I would love to watch the professionals play the game. Growing up, my family had our Sunday tradition of watching the games together. I was enthralled by the games, looking up statistics, buying the video games, collecting the cards, and eventually playing fantasy football. None of these are bad in themselves, but they can become dominant foci in someone's life--as it did in mine. Every year, though, as the confetti paper fluttered in the air to mark the end of that year's Super Bowl, something about it seemed anti-climactic. All this build up throughout the year (and intensifying as the game day drew nearer) seemed to leave me with an empty feeling when the game was accomplished. As the years went by, that emptiness pointed to something: all the hype around this contest is really hiding that it's just a game. It's entertaining to watch them compete, but the flashy decorations are all ways that they try to make the game seem as though it has some great importance.]

We must receive worship, not create it.
True Worship is the worship that God reveals. Man cannot "creatively" plan worship how he wishes. It must be received, otherwise "man is clutching empty space." [21] "Real liturgy implies that God reveals how we can worship him . . . [in bad liturgy] worship is no longer going up to God, but drawing God down into one's own world." [22] He gives, as an example, the Golden Calf narrative--the people created their own version of God and worshipped him how they felt like worshipping him. They weren't patient enough to receive the proper form of worship from God. Ratzinger says that this narrative "is a warning about any kind of self-initiated and self-seeking worship." [23] When man tries to create his own worship, "man is using God . . . a festival of self-affirmation. Instead of being worship of God, it becomes a circle closed in on itself . . . no longer concerned with God but with giving oneself a nice little alternate world, manufactured from one's own resources . . . an apostasy in sacral disguise. All that is left in the end is frustration, a feeling of emptiness. There is no experience of that liberation which always takes place when man encounters the living God." [23] [Here, Ratzinger turns the spotlight from the banal pursuits of secular society's worship of empty things to those who try to impose such empty things into the received worship of God (particularly the Mass). This is one of the greatest travesties of our time. As we saw above, man needs proper worship, so that he can be directed outside of himself and rightly oriented to God (and thereby rightly oriented to all of creation), yet so often today, people who style themselves as "liturgists" try to turn this received worship into a display of their own "creativity." In doing so, they turn the focus of the liturgy away from God and onto the people (either the ones performing the "creative" innovation or the community gathered in the pews). Later, Ratzinger will describe this as "replacing the true essence of the liturgy with a  kind of religious entertainment." How true his words are! All too often, I have attended Masses where it seems like the priest is trying to entertain the people instead of point them toward almighty God. The few I have questioned about this have made comments about "not wanting to be too 'high Church' for the people" or "wanting to make people feel welcome," etc. This makes me sick. I can't believe that someone would forego thousands of years of cultivated Church practice (based on revelation and handed on to us faithfully by the Magisterium and which has drawn countless people toward sainthood) for the sake of what amounts to creature comforts. It becomes a form of settling for the lowest common denominator instead of a pursuit of what is highest.]
Good liturgy: solemn, dignified, beautiful, inspiring, directing us beyond ourselves/daily life and toward God
It orients us to a proper relationship with God.

Bad liturgy: campy, showy, people-centered, uninspiring, banal, base, empty . . .
"It becomes a feast that the community gives itself, a festival of self-affirmation. Instead of being worship of God, it becomes a circle closed in on itself: eating drinking and making merry . . . no longer concerned with God but with giving oneself a nice little alternative world, manufactured from one's own resources . . . an apostasy in sacral disguise. All that is left in the end is frustration, a feeling of emptiness." [23]

Friday, April 8, 2011

Book Report: Spirit of the Liturgy - Preface

About six years ago, I was introduced to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's (now Pope Benedict XVI's) Book Spirit of the Liturgy. This was at a conference by one of his students: Fr. Joseph Fessio. At this conference, Fr. Fessio was able to make use of his many years both as a student and friend of our current Holy Father to help explain the Pope's book. I had previously started to take an interest in liturgy (the official public prayers of the Catholic Church - how they are celebrated and why). Quite impressed with the ideas presented to explain the Pope's views on liturgy, I was instantly intrigued. I bought the book and couldn't put it down. Ratzinger's view on the beauty of the liturgy and its power to inspire us toward God are evident in his liturgical example as pope. At this point I was determined to write an explanation of the book to help spread the Pope's message, but God knew better--I still needed more understanding and a better venue. At the conference, Fr. Fessio had introduced the crowd to Ave Maria University, and he mentioned how AMU was trying to put the Pope's thoughts on liturgy into practice. Through a series of miraculous situations (about which I should write one day), God allowed for me to enter AMU's graduate program, study, and receive an MA in Theology. While studying there, we covered Ratzinger's book in Dr. Roger Nutt's Liturgy &; Sacraments class, which helped me to gain an even greater understanding of the book, the Mass (and our other liturgies), and led me to an even greater understanding of how desperately our Church needs to hear this message.

Recently, I have started re-reading the book, and I have decided to prepare a chapter-by-chapter explanation, so that everyone may hear and understand this great call to deeper and more beautiful liturgy "as the animating center of the Church, the very center of Christian life," [7] to inspire souls toward even greater relationships with God and to glorify Him with their lives. This has rekindled my desire to share the book with you. Today's first post will only cover the Preface. I will write a summary in black and I will make my extra comments in red. Without further ado, I present to you The Spirit of the Liturgy:


Ratzinger states his purpose for writing the book: to assist the renewal of the understanding of the liturgy by building on what Guardini wrote in his 1918 book The Spirit of the Liturgy, updating it for a contemporary setting, hoping to encourage a liturgical movement "toward the right way of celebrating the liturgy, inwardly and outwardly." [9] [Later, we will get into what the right way is.]

He mentioned that one of the difficulties that had crept into the Mass prior to the Second Vatican Council was the "instructions for and the forms of private prayer," [8] that distracted the faithful from seeing the beauty of the liturgy (which he likens to a fresco). The fresco, he states "had been preserved from damage [in Guardini's time], but it had been almost completely overlaid with whitewash by later generations." [7] [Those private devotions distracted the people and covered over the beauty of what was happening before them.]

Guardini's book "helped us to rediscover the liturgy in all its beauty, hidden wealth, and time-transcending grandeur" [7] and inspired a Liturgical Movement in Germany, which helped to preserve its beauty despite the white-washing. The Second Vatican Council again showed us the beauty of the liturgy, but
since then the fresco has been endangered by climatic conditions as well as by various restorations and reconstructions. In fact it is threatened with destruction, if the necessary steps are not taken to stop these damaging influences. [8]
I'm sure that many of us have been witnesses to destruction of elements of the beauty in the Mass: art, architecture, music, and (even more sadly) reverence. I will not dwell on them here because he treats them later, but I cannot stress enough the importance that we Catholics need to return to a sense of beauty, reverence, and majesty in our liturgies, for the sake of the souls in the pews. We need an inspiring liturgy--one that doesn't just speak to us where we're at (or worse: tries to entertain us), but one that draws us up out of our daily life and inspires us to look toward God and order our whole lives accordingly. Pope Benedict XVI has not changed his views since becoming pope. He has not made many top-down liturgical commands, rather he has led by example--restoring, in the Masses he offers, the beauty that had been damaged. He gave us Anglophones an excellent example of this when he celebrated Mass in Westminster Cathedral. Below is a video excerpt from that Mass. Note how beautiful and inspiring everything is and how different it is from our everyday lives--Mass provides us that time to step away from everyday life and focus on what is really important: God. Ask yourself: "how can my parish (with what resources it has) offer Masses more like that?"

I pray that God will bless me with a better understanding of this book, and the liturgy, and that what little work I am able to do will be done with love, and will help preserve the beauty of the fresco. I pray, too, that you, dear readers, will be inspired to give greater glory to God--particularly in the liturgy.

Trying to glorify God in my work,
- Casey

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