Doubt and Christian Faith

Ever since the age of Descartes, doubt has become fashionable. When Descartes introduced methodical doubt as a means to certainty, the intentional exercise of doubt has been the hallmark of the sophisticated. From the philosophes of the Enlightenment who adopted a position of radical skepticism towards the possibility of divine revelation, to the modern scientific establishment that doubts even the rationality of the human mind, doubt has become the disposition through which modern man views reality. Doubt has become such a prevalent part of the modern mindset that it has seeped into Christian thought, which has tended to baptize doubt as a virtue. This appears under the guise of confusing doubt with the "Dark Night" of Catholic mysticism. In this article, we shall contrast doubt with the traditional Dark Night and demonstrate that, while the latter is often a sign of emerging holiness, the former is nothing Christians ought to celebrate as a virtue.

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Problems with the Bayside Apparitions

What you are about to read represents probably the biggest waste of time in my life, though that does not mean it will be a waste for time for you. This is my magnum opus against the false and stupid Bayside apparitions. For the past three years I have spent my spare time reading through every single message of Bayside, going all the way back to the late 1960s. Thousands of them. The monotony. The stupidity. The banality. It was horrendous, mind-numbing work, and many times friends of mine urged me to just drop it and move on to something more rewarding. It is waste for two reasons - one, just wasting my years reading all these banal, stupid messages; and two, the fact that, for those caught up in Bayside, nothing will convince them otherwise.  So yes, I fear this effort was a waste. But, who knows. God may bring something fruitful from it.

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The Experience of Prophetic Revelation

Saints are humble people. They know that whatever gifts and graces they have come by the goodness of God, not by any merit of their own. They are extraordinarily fearful of their own pride, and consequently do not like to talk about their own mystical or miraculous experiences. Those who do - like St. Therese of Lisieux - often do so only under obedience. It is thus very mysterious, from a layman's perspective, what it is really like experientially to receive these special charisms from God - what it is like "behind the veil" for those who truly receive prophetic revelations and visions. In this article, we examine two saints - Columba of Iona (d. 597) and Hildegard of Bingen (d. 1179) who, in confidence to their friends, explained in luminous detail what it is like receiving prophetic messages from God.

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Despair and Presumption

"O Israel, hope in the Lord, now and forever more" (Ps 131:3). The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines hope as  "the confident expectation of divine blessing and the beatific vision of God; it is also the fear of offending God's love and of incurring punishment" (CCC 2090). Most of us are familiar with despair and presumption as two sins against hope; presumption claims to have already laid hold of something that we do not yet fully possess, while despair leads us to believe it is impossible to ever possess it. The object of hope is a good which is difficult but possible to obtain - in our case, eternal life. Despair sins against hope by making impossible something possible, while presumption sins against hope by making certain what is merely possible. Let us look at each of these sins in greater detail, using the golden wisdom of St. Thomas Aquinas to find our way.

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A Miserable Cup of Coffee

Some time ago, we featured an article on the acceptable, good and perfect will of God. Looking at passages from the Scriptures, some of the Fathers and the life of St. Galgano, we endeavored to explain that there are varying degrees of holiness a Christian is capable of obtaining. One degree is merely doing what is acceptable to God; i.e., not sinful. This may allow one to eek one's way into heaven, but it does not constitute holiness in the strict sense. Another degree is doing the good, that is, orienting our life around God and making a sincere effort to be a good Catholic. Then there is the third degree, the way of perfection, which consists in denying attachments to this world in a heroic degree to attain sanctity above all else. Those who make progress in this way of perfection are saints in the most perfect sense of the word.

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What's wrong with Religious Orders in America?

The Apostolic Visitation to American female religious orders - begun under Benedict XVI - has just been wrapped up with the issuance of a Vatican document. The tone of the document leaves one wondering what the problem was to begin with. All of the original problems identified under the Benedictine pontificate (pantheism, paganism, spiritualized environmentalist earth worship, rampant lesbianism, dissent, etc) are simply omitted in the new document, which almost goes as far as to apologize to the nuns for bothering them for the past few years. Nothing to see here folks, move along. To those who love our Church's monastic-religious tradition, this is obviously a huge disappointment. The Vatican has chosen to ignore the real problems in American religious life, which really are the same problems endemic throughout the west. Since the Vatican has failed to act, we present our own assessment of what is wrong with religious life in America and what ought to be done about it.

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Good, Acceptable, and Perfect Will of God

"Do not imitate this world, but be transformed by the renovation of your minds, and you shall distinguish what is the good, acceptable and perfect will of God" (Rom. 12:12).

It is a teaching of the Faith that there are unequal degrees of beatitude in heaven. The Council of Florence taught that those in heaven "
behold the triune God as he is, yet one person more perfectly than another according to the difference of their merits" (Session 6). This inequality of is predicated upon the inequality in merit among souls. Some fulfill the will of God in a nearly perfect manner, conforming themselves intimately to the image of Christ, merit much glory; others, like the workers called at the end of the day in the parable of our Lord (cf. Matt. 20:1-16), are received into heaven, as it were, by the skin of their teeth. Each group will be saved, some close to perfect when they die, others only after enduring the purifying fires of Purgatory.

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Christian Contemplation vs. Pagan Meditation

We live in a world which increasingly rejects Catholic tradition while simultaneously professing great interest in spiritualities influenced by the New Age. Christians have been traditionally reluctant to embrace such practices, as they contain elements that are fundamentally opposed to the most basic tenets of Christianity. Some, however, have merged various elements of eastern mysticism and New Age neo-paganism with traditional Catholic spirituality, thrown in some Christian vocabulary and are now peddling these practices as compatible with Catholicism. The method of "Centering Prayer" promoted by the late Cistercian monk Basil Pennington is the most famous example, but there are others. These practices are promoted as Christian forms of "contemplation", and Catholics are encouraged to participate. In this article we will look at how to discern whether a spiritual practice is authentically Catholic or just New Age esoteric mysticism in a Christian veneer.

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Monastic Joy

There is an unfortunate stereotype out there that traditional Catholic spirituality is a dour, mournful thing; that the medieval monks and ascetics were long-faced sourpusses whose minds were bogged down by the oppressive contemplation of their own sins, and who mistakenly thought that God's pleasure in them was proportional to the amount of physical, even masochistic suffering they imposed upon themselves - essentially, the stereotype that traditional Catholic spirituality is all cross but no resurrection. Of course, this has never been the case; traditional Catholic spirituality, whether of the monastic or lay sort, was always characterized by a profound joy in the midst of ascesis. Yes, our Lord tells us we must take up our cross daily. But He also promises that His yoke is easy and His burden is light (cf. Matt. 11:30). Of course, the thing is you have to actually take up the yoke and carry the burden before you realize its lightness.

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Defense of the Divine Mercy Devotion (part 3)

While I figured this would be my shortest article on the Divine Mercy, it's going to be my longest as I came across a widely read article attacking the devotion. Again, by a priest, and again, the attacks hold no merit. Whether Father was being dishonest or was simply misinformed, that is between him and God. The first part will deal with what took place at the BBQ mentioned in Part 1. The second will deal with a miscellaneous objection I was told of that took place in an internet forum, and the last will deal with the article written by Msgr. Patrick Perez, published by Tradition in Action.

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Our Greatest Lie

If you are a Catholic striving after sanctity, you make a sincere effort to avoid all mortal sin and even venial sin. You certainly value truthfulness as a basic requirement for living a vibrant spiritual life and never intentionally tell lies or deceive others. Yet even so, there is one lie I have learned that Catholics, even very pious, faithful Catholics, are guilty of telling. And they tell it time and time again, sometimes every day. We go on deceiving others with this lie, and then tell the same lie again, sometimes to the same people. Most likely it is not intentional; we do not set out to be untruthful - but we become untruthful nonetheless. And this untruthfulness is not harmless; it is an untruth that can do grave harm to our own spiritual life and deprives those we lie to of very necessary graces. If not rectified, this habitual lie can lead to a devastating habit of spiritual neglect. And yet, even then, even knowing this, we continue to do it.

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Resisting Temptation

As long as we are in the flesh, we shall never wholly be free of temptation. The greatest saints were all sorely tempted, and our Lord Himself was tempted numerous times by the evil one as He began His public ministry. The Book of Job tells us that "The life of man upon earth is a temptation" (Job 7:1). Yet though temptations may lead us to sin if we yield to them, they can also be of great profit when we successfully resist them. When we first swing a hammer or do a great labor on the first day of a new job, the strain of the work often wears us down. But if we persevere and continue, choosing to master the task rather than letting it master us, the work which wore us down at the beginning becomes easier and actually is an occasion for growing stronger. Similarly, the temptation which weakens us when we surrender to it becomes a source of strength and spiritual fitness when it is successfully resisted. But how to resist temptation?

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Power of Patrick's Breastplate

It is the time of year that we turn our thoughts to the holy Apostle of Ireland and the marvelous conversion of Eire wrought by St. Patrick and his successors. His life and mission bore extraordinary fruit in the abundance of spiritual treasures that have come out of Ireland over the centuries, and in Ireland we see first hand what is possible when zealous men and women are willing to lay down everything for the Gospel - and when a people embraces it with their whole heart. Can the Church ever sufficiently express her gratitude for the blessings conferred upon her by her Irish sons and daughters? And it all goes back to the Holy Youth, St. Patrick, Apostle of Ireland.

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Why do we bless our meals?

In most devout Catholic families, the prayer of blessing before meals is ubiquitous. "Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty, through Christ our Lord. Amen." In some particularly pious households, the blessing after meals is also said regularly. "We give Thee thanks, Almighty God, for these and all Thy benefits, who livest and reignest for ever and ever. Amen." We say these blessings, of course, in order to acknowledge that all our blessings, even the barest material necessities, come to us from God's goodness. Because of this provision, thanksgiving is the appropriate disposition of a creature to his loving Creator. The aspect of thanksgiving is well understood. But there is another reason, no less important but much less understood.

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Sacred Heart: No Baroque Sentimentality

In the distressed years surrounding the Second Vatican Council, a great debate raged among the theologians of the day on how a Conciliar vision of Catholic spirituality ought to look. We are familiar with the debates over Marian devotion between the so-called "Minimalists" and "Maximalists", the former who effectively sought to suppress Marian piety as hyper-sentimentalism and dangerous to ecumenical progress. A similar though less intense dispute arose over the propriety of the Sacred Heart devotions. The progressives essentially argued that this devotion was too bound up with Baroque era piety, meaning it suffered from a kind of sappy sentimentalism that was not fitting for the modern Church. Furthermore, it was argued that it was not fitting for such a devotion to have such a central place in the Church's life, since it sprung from a mere private revelation and was not integral to the Gospel message. In this article, we will endeavor to show that the Sacred Heart devotion is no mere Baroque sentimentalism, and that far from originating in some private revelation, it is a devotion whose origins are found in the deepest Traditions of the Faith.

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The Distraction of That One Sin

We all have that one sin. That one sin that we feel drags us down, oppresses us, and particularly embarrasses us. It is the one sin that we find ourselves confessing time and time again, much to our shame. Often times we may believe that this sin and this sin alone stands between us and holiness. "If I could just get past this one sin, then I would truly be saintly," we tell ourselves. What the sin is exactly does not matter; it differs from person to person. For some it may be masturbation; for others, screaming at the children or talking down to the wife. Maybe it is using bad language at work or some similar accommodation with the mores of the world. Whatever the sin is, we have all had the experience. That one sin.

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Novena to St. Bernard of Clairvaux

St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), Doctor of the Church, theologian and zealous promoter of the monastic life was undoubtedly the most eminent ecclesiastic of 12th century. Pope Pius XII called him the "last of the fathers" and referred to him as Doctor Mellifluus (the "sweet doctor", in reference to the sweetness of his doctrine and spirituality) in a 1953 encyclical of the same name. In pursuing perfection through the monastic life, St. Bernard's character exuded such a sweetness that his entire family was drawn away with him, such that the majority of his immediate and extended family took vows. It was said that women used to lock up their sons when Bernard came to town for fear they would become monks after discoursing with the holy man. His theological and spiritual writings still nourish millions of souls today, and his holiness and strength of character molded the age in which he lived and made him a pillar in the Church and society of the 12th century.

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Dark Nights, True, False and Fashionable

There is a rich tradition in the Catholic west of describing the progress of the soul along the path to God in terms of stages of development, with certain characteristics proper to each stage. St. Teresa of Avila famously spoke of seven "mansions" corresponding to different levels of spiritual attainment; others divide the spiritual life into three stages: purgative, illuminative and contemplative. Medieval mystics such as Robert Grosseteste, Julian of Norwich and the author of the Cloud of Unknowing, following the tradition of Pseudo-Dionysius, take an apophatic approach to their theology, viewing the ascent toward God as a stripping away of assumptions and images about God in order to grasp the divine essence itself.

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Evaluating Private Apparitions

One of the most appalling phenomenon in the modern Church is the rise in false visionaries who draw away large segments of the faithful into sectarian groups intent on promoting their own visionary. These range from the very large movements like Medjugorje to the very small, like Our Lady of Emmitsburg. In America and Europe, much credence has recently been given to an anonymous web-based locutionist known only as "Maria Divine Mercy." That an unknown locutionist can get such a following posting anonymous messages on a website is astounding, but it is a symptom of the sad state of affairs in Catholic spirituality these days, where the position of many Catholics seems to be to give implicit credence to any alleged apparition without a thought. As with other issues, the answer is to look to Catholic Tradition to bring back some sanity to the problem of evaluating alleged apparitions.

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Revisiting the Cloud of Unknowing

 This week I have been revisiting a classic work of Catholic spirituality, the Cloud of Unknowing, written in the early 14th century by an anonymous English monk. The work was unknown for many years and is not even mentioned in the 1917 "Catholic Encyclopedia", the first modern translation of it in English having only appeared in 1912. It was scorned for the first half of the 20th century as a piece of foolish medieval enthusiasm and only became an object of intense scholarly study in the late 1970's. Nevertheless, in its time it inspired St. John of the Cross and many of its ideas are found in Thomas a' Kempis, though it is uncertain whether the Imitation predated the Cloud, or vice versa.

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The Art of Fasting

No ascetic discipline is so universally recommended by Scripture and Tradition as the practice of fasting; and, paradoxically, no practice is so universally neglected in modern Catholicism. From the tales of Abraham to the fasting of the Ninevites, who averted the wrath of God by their penance, to the tale of Sarah who fasted before her wedding to Tobias, to the words of our Lord that certain demons could only be overcome by fasting, Scripture is replete with examples of the importance of fasting and its efficacy in purifying the soul and obtaining God's favor; the lives of the saints afford us with thousands more examples. But how necessary is fasting to the advancement of the spiritual life, and what fruits do we derive from the practice? Let us examine these questions in light of Tradition, Scripture and the teaching of St. Robert Bellarmine.

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Viators seeking Perfection

For two millennia the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience, first practiced as a discipline of life by the desert fathers, have continued to draw faithful men and women into spiritual solitude and contemplation for the end of the perfection of the soul. Endless treatises from the Life of Antony to letters of Augustine to the Dialogues of Gregory the Great and the Ecclesiastical History of St. Bede have extolled the glories of the religious life and been instrumental in leading Catholics to seek perfection through the evangelical counsels. This continues today; the Catechism speaks about the perpetual fruit borne by observance of the evangelical counsels:
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Defense of the Divine Mercy Devotion (part 2)

Last time in this series, we examined some objections to the Divine Mercy Devotion of St. Faustina presented by Fr. Peter Scott, SSPX, and found them wanting. In this article will be dealing with the objections made by Mr. (more commonly known as “Brother”) Peter Dimond, Sedevacantist. He seems to deliberately twist the facts of the Divine mercy so he can continue to add to the reasons that he hates Bl. John Paul II. That is quite a claim, but it is a claim that I intend to back up. Some of his objections are similar if not the same as those of Fr. Scott, and to those objections I will provide a link to my previous article.

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Defense of the Divine Mercy Devotion

While for many Traditionalists dismissing St. Faustina's Devotion to the Divine Mercy seems in vogue, this article by Kasey Moerbeek examines the arguments against the Divine Mercy devotion and comes to the conclusion that the devotion is not only praiseworthy and orthodox, but that it is in keeping with traditional Catholic piety and that attacks against it are based more on guilt by association, hearsay and double-standards than on an actual critical analysis of the text of the Diary itself. While mercy is emphasized by St. Faustina, it is by no means at the expense of justice, and in that vein the Divine Mercy is in keeping with the messages of Fatima and other revelations that call for penance and prayer as a condition of mercy. This article reminds us that attaining heaven is a matter of holiness and working with God's grace, not necessarily of being against anything "new."

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Seven Reasons Why the Charismatic Renewal Does Not Foster Deep Spirituality

There have been many responses to the modern crisis of faith in the Catholic Church. While Traditionalist Catholics have typically sought refuge in the traditional doctrines and liturgical practices of the Church's pre-Vatican II history, other Catholics have looked to the Charismatic Renewal as a means of restoring devotion, prayer and enthusiasm to parishes. Many bishops in particular, wary of the traditionalist movement, have adopted the Charismatic Renewal (CR) in their dioceses. I once had a chat with the former Director of Seminarians for my diocese. He told me that our bishop had a "strategy" of geographically spreading priests formed in the CR all around the diocese so that as much of the flock as possible would be exposed to charismatic Catholicism. The Director of Seminarians lauded this decision as a means to promoting genuine Catholic spirituality in the diocese...


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Mass Marketing Mysticism

A while back I came across a very excellent Op-Ed piece in the New York Times by Ross Douthat entitled "Mass Market Epiphany" on the way in which Americans have taken mysticism, which is the most interior and personal element of religious experience, and turned it into a mass market phenomenon. With clarity that is unusual in the mainstream media, this columnist states quite plainly that what currently passes for mysticism in America is no substitute for true, radical mysticism.

Perhaps I am giving this columnist too much credit for his insightfullness; after all, he is basically repeating what Luke Timothy Johnson said in "Commonweal" in a February 2010 article called "Dry Bones" on the struggle between the exoteric and esoteric religious traditions in Christianity, Islam and Judaism (here). At any rate, it was refreshing to see somebody outside of the Catholic circle make this observation.
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"Spiritual but not Religious"

No one can deny that we are in a dark time in the history of the world, and that this stems mainly and fundamentally from a loss of faith and an eclipse of the sense of God among mankind. Churches of all denominations are emptying, skepticism and atheism are rampant and for most God is something that has very little relevance to the living out of their day to day lives. Religion, at least Christianity in the West, is experiencing a massive apostasy.

Yet, paradoxically, we are living in an age that is also hyper-spiritual. New Age philosophies are more popular now than ever, and Wicca is one of America’s fastest growing “religions.” Spiritual books are consistently on the New York Times best-seller list and everywhere you go Eastern religion is gaining in prominence in society. So, while we are losing faith daily, we are as a culture adopting a more “spiritual” outlook. How do we resolve this paradox?

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On Gluttony and Lust

 The widespread dominion of the vice of lust, with all its attendant sins, is one the most serious crises facing the Catholic Church in the modern world. The extent to which the scourge of pornography has penetrated the Christian world is well documented. Whereas once upon time men needed to make a special trip to an adult bookstore in order to purchase pornographic materials, the advent of the Web has made an unlimited abyss of pornography available anywhere there is an Internet connection. In 2008, the evangelical publication Christianity Today featured the results of a study that suggested as many said 50 percent of Christian men have looked at porn recently. One Protestant pastor, skeptical of the statistic, polled his own congregation and found the result was 60% within the past year and 30% within the past 30 days.[1]

Even if we can thankfully say that we are part of the 50% who have not viewed pornography either ever or in the recent past, how much more prevalent is the sin of masturbation? Though the statistics are harder to come by here, the evidence seems to suggest that regular masturbation among Christian males across denominational lines is somewhere around 87%; some estimates place this as high as 95%.

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