Friday, August 22, 2008

Satan: The Original "800 Pound Gorilla"

In one of the rare instances where Hollywood actually got it right, Roger "Verbal" Kint, played by Kevin Spacey in the movie The Usual Suspects, tells a police interrogator: "The greatest trick the devil ever played was to convince the world that he didn't exist."

With that in mind, I went back and reread a 2000 interview that appeared in the Italian Catholic magazine 30 Days with Fr. Gabriele Amorth, who as an exorcist for the Diocese of Rome and author of two bestselling books on the subject, is probably the most famous real-life exorcist in the world today. The subject of the interview was the 2000 revision of the Ritual for Exorcists, a revision Fr. Amorth wastes no time in denouncing as counterproductive to the work of the exorcist. The interview is also of interest because it addresses the problems in the world and within the Church's hierarchy in failing to take seriously the spiritual threat the devil poses to our immortal souls. The link to the interview can be found here, and I strongly encourage you to read it. In the meantime, I wanted to post this excerpt from the interview, which I found of particular interest:

"30 Days: Is it down to the bishop to appoint exorcists?

Fr. Amorth: Yes. When a priest is appointed bishop, he is faced with an article in the Code of Canon Law which gives him absolute authority to appoint exorcists. The minimum one can ask of a bishop is that he has taken part in at least one exorcism, given that he has to make such an important decision. Unfortunately, this is almost never the case. But if a bishop finds himself before a serious request for an exorcism - that is to say one that has not been made by someone deranged - and he does nothing, he commits a mortal sin. And he is then responsible for the terrible sufferings endured by this person. Sufferings which sometimes last for years or even an entire lifetime, and which he could have prevented.

30 Days: Do you mean to say that the majority of the bishops in the Catholic Church are in a state of mortal sin?

Fr. Amorth: When I was a child, my old parish priest taught me that there are eight sacraments: the eighth is ignorance. And the eighth saves more than all the others together. To commit a mortal sin, there must exist grave matter, but also full awareness and deliberate consent. To fail to give one's aid is, for bishops, a grave matter. But these bishops are ignorant: there is therefore no deliberate consent and full awareness.

30 Days: But if one does not believe in the existence of Satan, does one's faith remain intact, is it still the Catholic faith?

Fr. Amorth: No. I will tell you a story. When I met Don Pellegrino Ernetti for the first time, a celebrated exorcist who had practiced in Venice for forty years, I said to him, "If I could speak to the Pope, I would tell him that I meet too many bishops who do not believe in the devil." The following afternoon, Father Ernetti came back to see me to tell me that that same morning he had been received by John Paul II. "Holiness," he had said to him, "there is an exorcist here in Rome, Father Amorth who, if he met you, would tell you that he knows too many bishops who do not believe in the devil." The Pope answered him briefly: "He who does not believe in the devil does not believe in the Gospel." That is the reply which was given to him and which I repeat.

30 Days: Explain to me if you would: does this mean that there are many bishops and priests who are no longer Catholic?

Fr. Amorth: Let us say that they do not believe in a Gospel truth. Therefore, I would possibly accuse them of propagating a heresy. But let us understand: someone is only formally heretical if he is accused of committing an error and he persists in it. But because of the situation in the Church today, no one would ever accuse a bishop of not believing in the devil or in demonic possession and of not appointing exorcists because he has no belief in these things. I could mention a great number of bishops and cardinals who, as soon as they had been appointed to a diocese, withdrew from all exorcists the faculty of exercising their powers. Or of bishops who openly maintain: "For myself, I do not believe in these things. They are beliefs of the past." Why is this? Because unfortunately there has been an extremely pernicious influence exerted by certain biblical experts, and I could mention the names of some very well-known people. We who every day come into close contact with the world beyond, we know that this influence has had a hand in many of the liturgical reforms."

To wit: no one this side of Heaven is fully safe from the wickedness and snares of the devil. This is especially true in an age when those entrusted with the task of protecting us from such wickedness and snares become hopelessly entangled themselves.

Please read the full interview and post your comments. I am very interested to hear your take on this. God bless!

In Jesus and Mary,

Friday, August 15, 2008

Random Musings On The Assumption Of Our Blessed Mother

Today is the Feast of the Assumption. On November 1, 1950 His Holiness Pope Pius XII proclaimed as dogma that the Blessed Virgin Mary was assumed, body and soul, directly into Heaven at the conclusion of her time here on earth.

Whether or not the Blessed Mother experienced an earthly death prior to her Assumption remains open to debate, as the proclamation made no attempt to address the issue. I myself have not really taken a stance on the matter, preferring instead to think about what those final moments must have been like.

While contemplating the sufferings of the Blessed Mother during the events of the Passion, I often rely on the visual and mental imagery supplied by two primary sources: Maya Morgenstern's heart-wrenching performance as the Blessed Mother in Mel Gibson's powerful film The Passion of the Christ and the book that served as the film's chief inspiration, Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich's The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ. These two works paint a very vivid picture of the anguish Mary felt in seeing her beloved Son take upon Himself all the sufferings of the world. But what one most comes to understand in both the movie and the book is the incredible love that the Blessed Mother has for her Son, a love surpassed only by that of the Father and the Holy Spirit and unmatched by any other creature. It is a love so intense, a union of two hearts so intertwined, that the Blessed Virgin's sufferings parallel those of her Son even when they are not physically near each other. We think back to the sorrow she felt when she lost Him at the age of twelve, the grief that struck her as she searched for Him, and the obvious relief (tempered with the maternal instinct to scold her child for worrying her so) when she found Him in the Temple. The intense pain of being separated from her 12 year old Son for three days foreshadows the infinitely more painful three day separation from her 33 year old Son. This pain of separation from the beloved Son, in fact, is a recurring theme in Mary's life; and it mirrors the pain that we feel at being separated from God here on earth. Paradoxically, this sense of separation becomes more pronounced the closer we grow to the heart of God. A trademark of all Saints - indeed, a trademark of all those who live a life of heroic virtue - is a growing alienation from the world and a growing desire to be with God in Heaven. How much more intense, then, must this feeling have been for the one who among all creatures was closest to the heart of God, the one who lived a life of such heroic virtue as to be surpassed only by that of the Word Incarnate Himself?

We hear often of the pain Mary felt when she searched for her Son in Jerusalem, the joy when she found Him in the Temple, the sorrow that defies all understanding during the events of the Passion, and the equally indescribable joy that must have come over her when He rose again. But how often do we hear of yet a third instance when Mary must have felt the pain of separation from her Son, the pain she must have felt after His Ascension into Heaven? Certainly, she must have felt great joy for her Son when He returned to His rightful place at His Father's side; but this joy had to have been tempered by the realization that she would live the rest of her earthly life separated from Him once again.

We know little of the life she led after His Ascension, other than the bits and pieces that have been handed down to us. Most sources seem to agree that she remained in Jerusalem for a time after the Ascension, though at some point in her life she ended up in Ephesus (present-day Turkey), where tradition holds that she spent her final years on earth. She was no doubt a beloved mother figure to all those who knew her Son to be the Son of God, just as she would become a beloved mother figure to all the faithful in the ages to come. We know she lived a life free from sin, and no doubt was, after her Son, the greatest model of human holiness to those who knew and loved her, just as she has been to all the faithful who have known and loved her throughout the ages. Even so, it would be impossible for the rest of mankind, who suffer the effects of the Fall, to grasp how hard it must have been for her to live from day to day, obediently following the will of God and living her earthly life, all the while fervently desiring with a desire no other creature could ever possess to be reunited with her Son in Heaven.

If Mary died an earthly death, there were no doubt those who gathered around her bed to mourn the passing of one they loved so dearly. If she simply looked heavenward and stretched her arms out towards the angels who were to carry her to her beloved and to the queenly accolades that awaited her - with few if any witnesses to mark her passing from this life - there were no doubt those who still grieved at her removal from their midst. Still, those who knew her best - especially St. John the Apostle, who was there when her Immaculate Heart was pierced, and who may even have been holding her in his arms and consoling her at the exact moment of that piercing - must have been overjoyed at the thought that her greatest desire was even then being fulfilled.

What must it have been like for the Blessed Mother - she who had known the joy of finding her Son in the Temple, and had known the joy of His Resurrection? In those last moments before she was taken from this world, what wonderful sense of anticipation must she have felt, what tears of joy must she have shed, knowing that she would presently be reunited with the One whom she loved most - this time forever? What ecstasy must have gripped her tender and loving heart - a heart once broken by the many evils unleashed upon her Son - at the thought of seeing that Son in all of His divine splendor? Whatever the circumstances of her departure from this world, there is no doubt in my mind that no one save Jesus Himself looked forward to the life that is to come more fervently than did our beloved Mother. Where we are moved to tears of sorrow for the sufferings visited upon her pure, innocent heart, let us be moved to tears of joy at the knowledge that her life had a happy earthly ending, and an infinitely happier heavenly beginning.

Happy Feast of the Assumption! God bless!

In Jesus and Mary,

Saturday, August 9, 2008

"Well, I'm Personally Opposed, But Unwilling To Impose," Said The Smiling Politician As He Handed The Scissors To The Doctor...

Have you ever noticed how every single politician who uses the "personally opposed, but unwilling to impose" argument as a cop out when confronted about their views on abortion just happens to have a 100% voting record in support of abortion according to NARAL and seems to have no problems with imposing support for abortion on unwilling taxpayers? Seems to me that anyone who is genuinely conflicted on abortion would just abstain from voting on the issue rather than consistently voting against their conscience. Then again, politics and common sense did go through a messy divorce well before my time.

Still, why is it that the "personally opposed, but unwilling to impose" argument gets used only when referring to abortion? Why is it alright to express this idea on abortion but not, say, on racism? I can only imagine how quickly the press would devour the politician who says, "I'm personally opposed to racism, but I don't see how I have the right to tell a restaurant owner that he can't hang a 'Whites Only' sign in the front window of his establishment." If such a politician were given a 100% rating for his voting record on race issues by the KKK (no offense meant to any elderly senators from West Virginia), I imagine he would be tarred and feathered and run out of Washington. Certainly, this politician's claims to be "personally opposed" to racism would be ridiculed, and Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton would do their usual round of chasing down the nearest available TV camera and calling for this politician's resignation in righteously indignant tones.

And if a politician whose voting record consistently favored capital punishment were to say, "I'm personally opposed to capital punishment, but I don't see where I would get off telling a government how to punish its convicted felons," I seriously doubt anti-capital punishment activists would shrug their shoulders and say, "To each his own." Instead, they'd come out in full force and denounce the politician as a supporter of capital punishment who was trying to have it both ways.

Yet the politician who says, "I'm personally opposed to abortion, but I don't see what right I have to tell a woman what to do with her body" is not only not challenged by the media on such a stance, but is usually praised for having such strong "principles." Well, I'm used to the double standard the media employs concerning the issue of abortion (and in general concerning Christian moral teachings they happen to reject), but that doesn't make this any less cowardly or pathetic.

I have just one question for those who think they can pass themselves off as pro-life despite refusing to oppose the horror of abortion just because they claim to be "personally opposed": do you or do you not believe that it is a human being growing inside a pregnant woman's body? If the answer is yes, then no amount of "personal opposition" will change the fact that you are condoning the slaughter of innocents by others on a scale that King Herod could never have imagined. If the answer is no, however, then you do not believe that abortion is murder; and if this is the case, then what logical reason can there be for being "personally opposed"? No matter how you view it, the "personally opposed but unwilling to impose" argument is a dishonest and cowardly way of trying to avoid having to make one's true beliefs on the issue of abortion known.

I'd like to say that in this case actions speak louder than words; but given the proliferation of obnoxiously loud politicians infesting our nation's capital, I think it's better to say that actions speak more forcefully. God bless!

In Jesus and Mary,

Friday, August 1, 2008

An Uplifting Story...As Promised

Some of you may or may not subscribe to Fr. Tom Euteneuer's weekly e-mail newsletter. As President of Human Life International, Fr. Euteneuer is a leading voice in the pro-life movement and a fervent supporter of Pope Paul VI's landmark encyclical, Humanae Vitae. In his latest newsletter, he shares a touching letter from a laicized priest who signed the infamous 1968 protest letter encouraging Catholics to defy the Church's stance on contraception as a matter of "conscience". The letter is reprinted in its entirety here:

"Dear Fr. Euteneuer,
I have signed and am returning the Pledge of Assent to Humanae vitae for the Laity. There is for me a special significance in signing this Pledge, and [it] will give me a peace of mind and heart that I have not experienced since 1968. In 1968 I was a young Franciscan priest studying in the Graduate School of Religious Education at Catholic University. I personally knew Fr. Charles Curran and Fr. Dan Maguire, and was a student of Fr. Robert Faricy, SJ. Since they, as well as many other professors and graduate students were signing the Protest Document, I went along and did so also.
In 1975 for personal reasons not related to any doubts or questions about the Faith, or the Church, or the Religious Life...I requested and obtained...a dispensation from Pope Paul VI returning me to the Lay State. Later, I was married in the Church and raised my two children in the Faith....I have had many conversations with my Pastor and with his assistant (who is my spiritual director) about my days as a Franciscan Priest, and have been active in many of our parish's lay apostolate and ministries.
But I have always regretted having signed the Protest Document against Pope Paul's teaching in 1968, and having learned a few years ago that Fr. Faricy had publicly repudiated signing the Protest, I had wished that I, too, could repudiate in some official way, having signed the Protest....And so your "Pledge" document offers me an opportunity to correct my mistake, and find healing - and telling you about all this helps me to feel that my repudiation of the Protest is now known and accepted in a kind of semi-official sort of way by an "authority" in the Church.
And thank you for reading this, thereby humoring an old man, who despite everything else, knows that he is a "priest forever, according to the Order of Melchizedek.'"

It serves as a reminder that we should never assume that our sinfulness is greater than God's mercy. God bless!