source

Jimmy Carter was the U.S. president (pres. 1977-1981) that oversaw the giving of military aid to the government of El Salvador during the bloody Salvadoran Civil War. Carter was the first American president that I became aware of as I began to pay attention to the news as a boy. The first American president I voted for was Ronald Reagan (pres. 1981-1989), who came immediately after Carter. The Reagan administration increased the giving of military aid and support to the Salvadoran government. In 1980 the Salvadoran government was behind the brazen assassination and martyrdom of the then archbishop of El Salvador, Óscar Romero, now a saint of the Catholic Church. Thus, my first vote as an American citizen, though not for Carter, and actually for Reagan’s second term which happened years after Romero’s death, is nonetheless indirectly but forever linked to the death of a saint. I only just realized this. Unfortunately, this is the reality of being an American voting for candidates who then go on to promote questionable and sometimes terrible foreign policies. Of course I plead ignorance, but we’re all ignorant of many things, and that doesn’t mean we are not complicit at some level, even if not actually guilty. Perhaps its “structural complicity?”

Anyway, I am learning more about one of the Church’s most recent saints, Óscar Romero. I believe Romero’s concerns were ultimately spiritual and heavenly, but they played out within a volatile political context, and he was martyred for them.

The battle lines of politics are always much more than politics. There are narratives competing with narratives, ideologies with ideologies, and almost always class struggle. In the U.S. we are not allowed to talk about class struggle or the structures of economic inequality or we are immediately labeled a socialist or communist. There is a powerful narrative in that labeling, and that narrative and the hegemonic forces behind it drive a great many other narratives. Human beings, being sinners and fearful, will all too readily kill other human beings for the sake of the narrative they hold dear, often for very selfish and ignorant reasons. From Cain until now we have been killing our brothers. But Christ calls us to love our brothers, our neighbors, and even our enemies. Saint Paul tells us our battle is not against flesh and blood, but is against spiritual forces of darkness. The entire narrative of salvation being written by God in the very fabric of creation tells us to trust in Him and that He will fight our battles. We forget this every day. They forgot that in El Salvador too. But many, including and perhaps especially Óscar Romero, did not forget it.

I know very little about the Salvadoran Civil War, but that is the historical context of Saint Romero’s assassination. I perhaps know only a little more about Saint Romero than I do about the war, which is to say almost nothing. Here are three contemporary news reports on the war, its brutality, and role of faith and the Church.

This 1983 documentary takes a look at both sides of the war and provides an intimate overview of the attitudes and perspectives of each side:

Made by the same filmmakers as the above film, this is an excellent documentary from 1983 on the religious aspects of the war, in particular the ideas of Liberation Theology:

Here is an in-depth documentary about the Salvadoran civil war and the life of Óscar Romero. It was made before he was canonized a saint.

Here is a great lecture by Michael Lee (Fordham University) on the life, legacy, and meaning of Saint Romero’s martyrdom and case for sainthood:

I suppose little seeds were planted in my life along the way to prepare my heart and mind for caring for and wondering about the life, legacy, and meaning of Saint Romero’s martyrdom and case for sainthood.

In 1984 (the same year I voted for Reagan) a largely unknown, but with a passionate fanbase, Canadian singer-songwriter and brilliant guitarist released a song that became a surprise hit. I vaguely remember that song, but I was so politically, geographically, historically, and socially unaware that I didn’t get what the song was about, except for the fact that I felt as much as anybody that we all need a rocket launcher sometimes. But the song was specifically about the brutal wars in Central America, the dictatorships that promoted and leveraged them, the support those dictatorships received from the U.S. government, and the terrible havoc they wrought on the lives of the people. Here is Bruce Cockburn, 30 years later, performing live and acoustically his song If I had a Rocket Launcher:

We live an age that desperately wants to deny the existence of Hell, that wants to believe that all will go the Heaven, that God will not really judge us (at least not judge *me* but probably should judge others) but is, rather, pure love which, translated according to our desires, means God is really more a feeling than our creator. But the Truth is different. All of us will face the four last things: Death, Judgement, Heaven, and Hell.

Sometimes what we need most is a straightforward, no punches pulled presentation of the Truth we all must and will face. Matthew Plese does that in the video below.

Perhaps it’s always been this way, but certainly today, and unfortunately within the Church, people tend to roll their eyes at descriptions of Hell. But we know that the last four things are real. We know that Hell is real. To know the Truth is not a bad thing. It is, in fact, a very good thing, a necessary thing. One reaction we too often hear is that at the very first mention of Hell people complain that we don’t need to constantly and always be hearing about Hell; why all this talk about Hell; why all this doom and gloom? Why can’t we talk about grace and joy? But grace and joy contain their meaning because they stand in contrast to sin and Hell. We ought to seek being saved from Hell. Christ spoke bluntly about Hell. He said many people are going there. We ought to think about it. Fear of Hell should ultimately be subservient to a love of God and the light of Christ, but Hell must not be forgotten. The fear of Hell is, in fact, a good thing, and gives deep meaning to the salvation being offered us.

Thirteen years ago, just as advent began, my wife and I were battling a difficult pregnancy. After years of infertility, the joyful adoption of our eldest daughter Lily, years more struggles to get pregnant, we were finally awaiting the birth of our second daughter. But about halfway into the pregnancy we got bad news. The ultrasound technician seemed to be taking a lot longer than we thought it should take. And she was being a little too evasive in her answers to us. We waited. The doctor came in and told us our daughter had a serious heart condition–treatable with open heart surgery within a few months after her birth, but very serious. We took in that sobering news with a lot of prayer and mutual support. Then we found ourselves in the hospital a couple of times with our daughter’s heart rate plummeting and my wife having contractions–months too early for any of that. We were bracing for losing our daughter. But she hung in there. And so did my wife. Then in early December things again turned worse. We rushed to the hospital. For a moment things calmed a bit, but given the serious nature of the situation we were sent to a better equipped hospital in another city thinking we were going to wait it out a bit longer. But again things quickly turned worse and the doctors performed an emergency c-section. Our daughter Coco Madalena was born on December 7th, the date of both my grandfather’s and godson’s birthday, the day before the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and a month before her due date. And she was beautiful.

Heart scans indicated that she immediately needed a less invasive heart valve operation to help her survive until the major heart surgery she would need in a few months. Naturally we agreed to the surgery. It seemed to go well. The doctors were happy. All looked good. But then she had a heart attack. Emergency procedures were done. She pulled through. But then she began to struggle. During either the operation, or more likely the emergency procedures from the heart attack, she got a rare form of meningitis. The meningitis attacked her brain, and in only one month’s time she died in my arms. She never left the hospital.

All during that Christmas season my wife and I lived in a kind of limbo. My wife was at the hospital every day. I came many days, but was also juggling work. Our oldest daughter was just old enough to be both super excited to get a sister and to know something serious was going on. Family and friends all helped as they could. Many people were praying. And when Coco died our community gave us great support.

Yes, this was a big tragedy for us. A very hard time. But, the truth is, God also came so close to us. It is hard to describe, and even harder to convey. Through all the struggle, all the tears, all the difficult days and nights, We felt God’s presence. God was with us. Often I so desperately wish our girl was with us now. I think of her a lot. I also know of God’s love in the midst of trials. The journey for me was about going from head knowledge to heart knowledge, from my mind to my soul. I would never wish suffering on another, but I do believe suffering may be the only way or, ironically, the best way to come closer to God because in suffering God comes closer to us. The cross gives us a picture of this most profoundly.

We live in a hard and harsh world. So much evil, so much suffering. And that doesn’t stop just because Christmas is here. But God is with us. Christ came as a light into the darkness. Someday He will return in the awesome fullness of His glory. For now we have the Holy Spirit, we have the gospel, we have the Church, we have fellowship, we have the poor and needy all around us, and we have the communion of saints. In these ways God is with us even now.

Perhaps I have always known that, but I know it better because of the gift God gave my wife and I of our daughter Coco. In that difficult time I came to know Advent a little bit better.

francechurchesdestroyed

It’s sad to see a beautiful Catholic church building destroyed. The video below shows some demolition moments from a church destruction earlier this year in France. But for how sad the video is, the churches demolition is really just a symptom of many other factors.

Those factors include such things as:

  1. The French government and not the Church itself owns all the Church buildings. And many of these buildings are old and in need of major repairs, and are unsafe if not repaired — the one above was going to be quite expensive to repair. And though beautiful, they don’t attract enough tourism to warrant their survival.
  2. A Church whose membership numbers have been in free-fall for decades. Thus there just are not the numbers to keep the churches filled with parishioners and, consequently, financially supported. There are a lot of reasons for this, but certainly they include: Too many priests and bishops who no longer believe in the faith, but have found careers essentially live action roll-playing being priests and bishops. Modernism and all its mutant children, including bad theology, a lightweight view of marriage, and rampant sexual immorality seem to have replaced a hearty and robust faith — and few are interested anymore. And many Church leaders often seem eager to dismantle the Church.
  3. Consequently very few Catholics are left who have the means and are willing to save these old churches. It’s easy to bemoan the loss on social media, it’s another thing altogether to step up and contribute where needed, even to fight for it.

And the list goes on. The point is, however, that we should not be surprise at all about the destruction of this church. What we should be is sad. But not so much for this building as for the Church itself, and for the world that is so actively and happily rejecting Christ. If anything, the above video is a powerful reminder of how the Church has been, and is continuing to be, assailed from within by a Catholic leadership who no longer has faith, and a laity who follows suit.

This is the text from the video* notes:

This is the last moments of Église Saint-Jacques d’Abbeville (St. Jack’s Church Abbeville). France is paying for 2,800 Cathedrals & Churches to be Demolished across France. The Saint-Jacques church was a neo-Gothic parish church located in Abbeville The building was constructed from 1868 to 1876 at the site of 12th century church which was rebuilt in 1482. It gradually deteriorated for lack of maintenance at the beginning of the 21th century and was demolished from January to May 2013. Architect Victor Delefortrie was responsible for the design of the church. The church contained two bells, Jacqueline from 1737 and another, mute, dated 1645. Inside, there was a particular organ called Mutin Cavaillé-Coll from 1906. During World War I , Abbeville was bombed but Saint-Jacques church was not affected. Only impacts shattered the windows. It also survived World War 2. In 2008, it was estimated that it would cost 4.2 million euro to restore the church from weather damage and disrepair. In 2010, an association was created to safeguard the church and a petition was launched. In spring 2011, while deciding on its fate a crack was noticed which had caused stone to fall from the church. The 31 January 2013, Nicolas Dumont, the mayor of Abbeville, issued an order to demolish the church as a safety hazard. The next 7 February, the city council voted to demolish the church at estimated cost of EUR 350 000. On April 27, the foundation stone was found and preserved by the city. In November 2013, the rubble of the church are used by two artists to create a work of contemporary art entitled Build/deconstructed. A town square was proposed for its replacement. The project was the work of an architect in the city, Jean-Marc Demoulin, who accommodated the desires of the residents. A lawn of grass covers the church’s location, taking its shape and orientation. Two pathways form a cross. At the site of the choir, a memorial will be erected to honor veterans and Achilles Paillart, the pastor responsible for the church’s reconstruction in 1868. A small pond will occupy the site of the altar The conversion also included the creation of forty-two parking spaces on the perimeter of the square, including three for people with reduced mobility.

The story as told above doesn’t seem as horrible as the video images first seem, but it’s still a terrible situation. I do not know if it’s entirely true about how many churches France is paying to demolish. 2,800 seems rather high, but my gut says it’s probably true. Is there hope for France and its churches? Can these buildings be saved? Can the Catholic Church in France rise from the ashes? If Christ returns will He find faith in France?

I pray every day for the Church in France.


∗ The original source for the video has disappeared. I found another source, posted above, but it does not contain the text in its notes.

Ireland Votes In Favour of Law Reform In Abortion Referendum
Irish celebrating their pro-abortion “victory” (source)

Ireland voted for abortion. Ireland voted in anger against the Catholic Church. The majority of Catholics in Ireland, and about a third of the Church hierarchy voted for abortion too (so I have heard). The New York Times ran a headline: “Ireland Votes to End Abortion Ban, in Rebuke to Catholic Conservatism.” Many today have asked how did this happen, how did Ireland, once one of the world’s most visibly Catholic countries, become so anti-Catholic in both spirit and in public will.

Naturally many will say the fault lies with the Church in Ireland. Who could blame them? The Church has not been so saintly in Ireland. (Of course, neither have the Irish people, who are just as wicked as people are anywhere, but I digress.) Some would say this is what happens when a government tries to legislate morality. But are not the prohibitions against bank robberies, blowing up parliament, or murder legislating morality? Are there not laws prohibiting the killing of one’s three year old child? Or even one week old child?

My guess is that the real cause is not so much what the Church did or didn’t do (mostly good, some bad), or whether morality should or should not be legislated (which it should), but that faith simply and tragically drained away, and that it began happening a long, long time ago.

Consider this newsreel film of a Corpus Christi procession through Bandon in West Cork, Ireland from 1941:

What a magnificent display of public piety and cultural cohesion. But is it truly a picture of actual faith? See, it gets tricky. When Catholicism becomes so deeply enmeshed with a people’s national and cultural identity, heredity, and national concept, it is not only possible, but nearly inevitable that actual faith becomes irrelevant and even unwelcome to daily life. Great public displays of piety can so easily become a way to signal faith in a group, being “of this group” or “of this people,” in other words it becomes all about being Irish and not about being followers of Christ. Being Irish becomes the thing to be, not being Christian. No matter how many layers of Catholic tradition, habits, actions, language, postures, images, and trinkets populate the Irish landscape, these things become the very things that not only hide faith from the people, they make it easy to not need faith.

Catholicism became the Irish “identity cloak” because of Irish history with its profound and bloody battles with England and its Protestant church. One might argue that Irish “Catholicism” killed true Catholicism in Ireland. But this happens all the time. People claim the name Catholic so they be protected from the truths of Catholicism. One could also argue that the worldly promises of capitalism killed modern Catholicism in Ireland. Regardless, and for whatever reason, faith drained away, and after Ireland’s relationship with England changed, and economic markets opened up, the Catholic cloak of national identity and rebellion became too heavy to wear (except as a commodity), then finally it was all too noxious to bear anymore.

In short, although the Catholic Church in Ireland is inextricably enmeshed in all of this, it’s the Irish people who have turned away from God. It is their own choosing, a product of their own free will, Church or no Church. They no longer love God. Probably none of us wants to suggest this, but could it be possible the God has withdrawn His Spirit from Ireland and is withholding His grace? If so, the withdrawal seems to have begun a long time ago. (We see this already in James Joyce’s novel Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, published in 1916. In that novel Stephen Daedalus, the protagonist, leaves the Catholic religion behind in order to be free. A shot across the bow for Ireland and a theme resounding down throughout the twentieth century.) And if so, why? What did Ireland do to earn God’s wrath?

I just don’t know.

But consider these Irish abortion referendum voting numbers from the same county that the video above is from.

Cork vote

These numbers tell us there are people in that video above from 1941 that voted in for abortion in 2018, people who, as children, knelt before the Real Presence as it passed by, people who could not imagine in 1941 being anything other than devout Irish Catholics. Now they are no longer Catholic and just barely Irish in any meaningful sense of that term, other than as a surface overlay to a thoroughly modernist world view — the Irish jigs danced in the streets celebrating their victory were only a hollow shell of a better and more humane past. They have become merely just more neo-liberal humans traveling in a selfish and lost modern world digging wells wherever they think they will find water. I believe it is inevitable they will eventually die of thirst or turn once again to the living water.

Pray for Ireland. God save them.

Will you be saved? This is a profound and fundamental question. Fr. Anthony Mary, C.Ss.R pushes hard on this question and its implications. His talk is powerful, and its content will be almost entirely foreign to Protestant ears.

If I could summarize this talk in the least number of words, I would say it is a warning against the sin of presumption. However, to Protestants it will sound like Fr. Anthony is promoting salvation by works. But we see in Holy Scripture that we are to “work out our salvation,” and that “faith without works is dead,” and that we should “run the race as to win,” etc. It is precisely because we are saved by God’s grace alone that we can work, strive, run, hold fast, put on armor, be holy, and seek perfection with all our might. If we do not care to do this, or if we always have a quick reason at hand declaring we don’t need to, then how badly do we want salvation?

Modern Christianity, certainly born out of the Protestant rebellion, but also part of so much modern Catholicism as well, downplays the seriousness of all this because: 1) Christianity should be about being happy, and thinking of judgement makes us uncomfortable and unhappy; 2) sola fide, a heresy on its own, has morphed into the the “funny inner feeling” that allows oneself to forgive oneself and to declared oneself saved based on one’s feelings about oneself; and 3) we fear that it’s true that faith is actually hard work, and that we are in fact called to holiness and perfection, and that we cannot truly know who will be saved, so we create a Christianity of convenient excuses and social conformity that supports our excuses, which lay the foundation for the sin of presumption. I admit this is an indictment of much of my life.

So… are the examples of the saints mentioned in Fr. Anthony’s talk good pictures of how we should consider our own salvation? I cannot say for certain, but I would rather err leaning towards them than towards modern Christianity’s mostly saintless example.

And how am I doing with this? Terrible. God help me. Queen of Heaven pray for me.

fatima

When we honestly ask ourselves
which person in our lives
means the most to us,
we often find that
it is those who,
instead of giving advice,
solutions, or cures,
have chosen rather
to share our pain
and touch our wounds
with a warm and
tender hand.
— Henri Nouwen

I am fascinated with L’Arch, the community for people with disabilities begun by Jean Vanier, and now spread throughout the world. Such a simple idea. So basic: just listen, be present to each other, celebrate life, touch, care, encourage, do not judge, love, show mercy, bestow grace, joke, sing, etc. Somehow I know the vision, the mission of L’Arche should not be the exception, but it is.

The above documentary gives a great overview and insight to the L’Arche history and mission. The video below gives an intimate portrait into how the L’Arche mission gets lived out in one community, one person’s life, and in response to one profoundly tragic act turned, as it were, on its head because of that mission of love, community, and mercy.

As I watched these videos I got to wondering. Is it not true that all of us have disabilities in one form or another? Certainly we are all sinners — a far bigger handicap that any physical or intellectual ones. We also cary with us all sort of emotional baggage. Some of the scars run deep. Those who have suffered abuse at the hands of others, especially those whom they have trusted and loved, can spend their entire lives working through the damage. We are just all disabled in one way or another. Could it be the picture we see in such an obvious way in L’Arche is truly the picture for us all, for our families, our communities, and the Church? I think so.

And then I wondered about my place of work. It is not a religious community, but a typical place of employment. We have sales and production goals, we have an organizational structure and group dynamics and all the common issues to overcome. I feel we often work hard to keep what is most important to us out of the work place. Rarely do we tell others how we truly feel, what we really think, if we are hurting, struggling, or depressed. I realize this protects us from strife and issues in the workplace that might not be related directly to generating profits. It is common to tell employees to leave their personal life stuff at home. Still, I wonder if the principles of L’Arche can be applied even in the workplace.

With the careful use of language to avoid offending anyone (most people, I assume, would not like being compared to someone with an intellectual disability), what might it look like to adopt and adapt the mission of L’Arche to a business environment, with the understanding that we are, in a sense, overcoming or accepting the disabilities in us all through listening, being present, building trust, and creating a place where disagreement and struggle are necessarily a part of being bonded together? How that might look is, I believe, worth exploring.

photo
My daughter Wilder Rose speaking of her music teacher and the joys he gave her, and her sorrow of losing such a good and fine teacher.

A couple of weeks ago my kids music teacher died. He was a brilliant, generous, uniquely gifted man who was loved by many people and many families in and beyond our town. He was primarily a percussionist who played in various bands, played many other instruments than drums, taught numerous students over the years, and also handbuilt wooden canoes.

A year ago we purchased a traditional drum kit for our son who was 6 years old at the time. We began looking for a drum teacher. This man came highly recommended. We had some worries because our son is young and prone to fidgetiness (some might say he’s a touch ADHD). However, this teacher was perfect for our son, working with his natural tendencies, and helping him discover the music within him. Then he offered to add our daughter for just a few dollars more. So we bought her a guitar. Our daughter is deeply musical and sings, plays piano and fiddle, and has great natural gifts in music. But as she began guitar something beautiful began to happen. Suddenly her musically talent blossomed like it had not before.

This man, a musician, husband, and wonderful teacher, gave my children, and our family, the gift of himself. After he died we cried and cried, and then we began to discover just how much he meant to so many other people in our community. Today we went to a memorial geared more towards his students, who are mostly kids. There was a drum circle, sharing, tears, laughter, and good fellowship.

The world needs more teachers like him. His loss, as is the loss of any human being’s life, is very significant, but our community also lost a special teacher. We also lost a wonderful musician.

As a Christian I know that this life is not the end. I know that death is the severing of one’s soul from one’s body, and that someday they shall be reunited. The memorial only addressed this sense of continuation in terms of us remembering him and carrying with us what he put into us through his teaching and his person–which is no small thing. But I realize that our society today adds to the natural difficulty of dealing with the tragedy and sorrow of death the lack of deeper knowledge of God’s goodness and the ultimate end in which we are made share.

I pray for his soul. I pray that God will have mercy on him, and bestow His graces upon his soul, if only for the generosity, kindness, and love he showed my kids.

I am not familiar with St. Pius X. Below are some videos explaining his life, work, and death.

Here’s an overview of St. Pius X’s life and work (plus great pictures). Lecture by Fr Pius X Harding, O.S.B. at the 2016 Day of Reflection for The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem (Northwestern Lieutenancy, USA.) Held at Mount Angel Abbey in Oregon, USA.

Pathé silent newsreel of his death:

And here’s a sermon on modernism being warned about by Pope St Pius X:

I’m not sure I am fully in line with all the critiques of modernism and of certain individuals in this last video, but it’s a perspective worth contemplating. And the video speaks to something of the saint’s life and passions.

A woman carrying flowers cries in front of the Carillon cafe and the Petit Cambodge restaurant in Paris Saturday Nov. 14, 2015, a day after more than 120 people were killed in a series of attacks in Paris. French President Francois Hollande said at least 127 people died that Friday night when at least eight attackers launched gun attacks at Paris cafes, detonated suicide bombs near France's national stadium and killed hostages inside a concert hall during a rock show. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
A woman with flowers cries in front of the Carillon cafe and the Petit Cambodge restaurant in Paris Saturday Nov. 14, 2015, a day after more than 120 people were killed in a series of coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

What can we say about France? The image above says more than any words can.

What horrors, what unspeakable terror; these words seem to lack meaning.

And it’s not just France, it’s the world really. Tragedy everywhere. Broken hearts.

Even for the Christian, who claims a future hope, there is no escape from weeping.

Pray for Paris. Pray for France. Pray for the world.

My heart breaks.

“Villagers said some were praying in the name of Jesus, others said some were praying the Lord’s Prayer, and others said some of them lifted their heads to commend their spirits to Jesus,” the ministry director told Christian Aid Mission. “One of the women looked up and seemed to be almost smiling as she said, ‘Jesus!'”

She saw Jesus like St. Stephen saw Heaven open up before he was stoned to death.

Killed. Hung on crosses. Men, women, and children. Tortured and killed for their faith in Jesus. The Devil working through his worshippers.

But not forever. Lord come.

Story and brutal details here.

Deliver me from my enemies, O my God,
protect me from those who rise up against me,
deliver me from those who work evil,
and save me from bloodthirsty men.

(from Psalm 59)

Oh Lord, where are you? Be their refuge.