Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

19 November 2018

Sloth: Get Around To It!

For this series on the Seven Capital Sins, I figured I’d better start with Sloth, lest I never get around to it. I haven’t gotten around to reading more than the first couple cantos of the Purgatorio of Dante’s Divine Comedy, around which Bishop Barron and Mark Shea base their series, so I’ll have to take their word [“on fire”;] for it.

Midway through Dante’s odyssey up the mountain of Purgatory he finds the domain of those whose hearts have become indifferent to divine realities. Sloth classically was called “the noonday devil” (cf. Ps 91:6) because it can be likened to the lassitude that lassos you at that point in the day, the dip in glucose that starts you nodding. 

Yet sloth is more than “Sluggishness, Unspecified” (what would be the medical billing code for that?), for the slothful person seems to marshal more than enough resources for earthly pursuits like internet surfing and other addictions. Another term is “acedia,” from the Greek a (privative form meaning “not” or “without”) + kedos, “care”): fitting because the slothful person simply cares not for spiritual matters. If he cared enough, he’d pay time and attention. (Starting to sound like a relationship, isn’t it? But that’s what God desires and deserves from us.)

One anonymous writer noted how sloth is usually disguised as a five-syllable word: procrastination. My favorite method of procrastinating is rearranging furniture. Over the years if I had a difficult task ahead of me, I’d suddenly start moving couches and books. I seemed to implement spatial plans with aplomb, but I couldn’t get in optional or even mandatory prayers. 

Swiftness in one area of life doesn’t make up for tardiness or inactivity in another. To borrow from a sage sacerdotal figure in my life, we can’t neglect mandatory things in favor of optional ones. True, the occasional “change-up pitch” can start good habits, but all change-ups and no fastballs gets you replaced in the top of the fifth. We may putz around waiting for an “ideal” time to do something, but it just ain’t gonna happen. Sloth often serves as a thin veil for guilt, anxiety, and the sense of failure that only gets stronger. “My delay will eventually become my decision.”

Spiritual disciplines need not become immense, but only consistent. Doing something every day with and for the Lord, however small, can become a channel of grace. One discipline has been undertaken for us by Father Austin Fleming of the Archdiocese of Boston. He hosts a blog called “A Concord Pastor Comments” ( Sign up for and read his daily richly prayerful and playful emails. Alternately, try, where you can get signed up for numerous nine-day prayer exercises throughout the year. Just as one click can eventually get you down a terrible rabbit hole, it also can start you along sound habits of Catholic prayer and study.

Capital Offenses

For the next seven posts, patient reader, I shall wax on the seven “capital” or “deadly” sins. Mindful of the famous dictum of my Hebrew patron Qoheleth, “There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecc 1:9), I acknowledge most of this material is not original. For that matter, most sin is unoriginal, too—a dreadfully boring venture. My sources are a presentation I composed years ago for an eighth grade class, and a video/study guide by Bishop Robert Barron and Mark Shea. Someday the parish will air the series since they can express these realities better than I can.

Consideration of virtue must accompany any words about sin; we can’t eat the literal hole of the donut (not the Dunkin’ kind). In philosophy, sin is called a “privation”: a lack of good that ought to be present but is not. Evil parasitically resides within good entities. Recall I described illness in similar terms in my earlier column on Anointing of the Sick, as a deficit in health that nonetheless persists to varying degrees insofar as a person is living.

The Good News isn’t just a response to the Bad News; the two are not on equal footing (except for *the* [daily, “Breaking”] news, where it seems the bad holds sway). Rather, the Bad News comes from people who, at least at some point in their lives, and likely even at present, have contributed to the Good News. By “Good News” I obviously mean the Gospel par excellence, though it extends also to “favorable reports.”

The Good News in our regard is (drumroll, please): we exist! Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI fondly reminds people of the goodness of their existence, thanks to a wise and loving God. God doesn’t need us, yet He chooses to create and sustain human beings and everything else to further manifest His generous goodness, truth, and beauty. Saint John pithily reminds us that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8), so everything God does is an act, or as it were an “episode,” of love. 

The good of our existence is a given, but paradoxically not something we ought take for granted. Saint Thomas Aquinas described love as “willing the good of the other as other,” and acting accordingly. “As other” means we choose in ways that promote the good of the other for their own sake and not merely for whatever benefit we might get out of it; otherwise, deep down, we are really just loving ourselves in and through them, practicing veiled egotism.

Our existence is for our good, our flourishing. We can relax and breathe, and go out there and love actively, now that we know that! That’s how the saints operate. Fears can be boldly encountered and dispatched. No more self-justification and self-proving through power, pleasure, wealth, and honor.

15 November 2018

Marriage: Willing Mutual Submission

Thank you, kind reader, for accompanying me through this trek through the seven sacraments, signs (1) perceptible to the senses, (2) instituted by Christ and (3) entrusted to the Church, (4) that impart the divine life. 

This last one is first in terms of its establishment because it is the relationship by which the Creator got the proverbial ball rolling. Before there was a Church strictly speaking, there was a man and a woman, and there was Love, divine and human. 

This ends up telling us nearly everything about the Church, at least according to Saint Paul: Recall from a recent Sunday second reading (Eph 5:21-32) his meditation on the mutual submission of wife and husband. Jesus’ total Love-Investment took the form of His entire life, especially His passion and death, the paschal oblation from which the Church has grown by yielding to that supreme Gift. Human families grow from the same seed of willing submission of bride and bridegroom.

Marriage is not merely incidental to human society or Catholic life. “The Church passes by way of the family,” said Pope St. John Paul II. The family is the fundamental building block of society, of the Church at large and our parishes at small. The love of husband and wife, expressed and fortified by children, is both our “social security” and our “ecclesial security.” Jesus Himself is our security par excellence, but we can experience His security more…securely…within the context of a vibrant family—for which reason the family is often called “the domestic Church.”

Spouses unite body and soul in the act of conjugal love, expressing and nurturing the total gift of self, holding nothing back. Among the vast variety of life arrangements out there, sacramental marriage alone can sustain a total, faithful, permanent, exclusive union that is open to new life. The Catholic Church is among a shrinking (but no less bold) few who insist despite our own failures that man and woman alone express the total gift of self through conjugal acts that are not closed off to new life by intention, chemicals, or devices. 

Note the comprehensive nature of this affirmation: extending it to “intention” demonstrates the totality of the gift. A “fingers-crossed,” corrupted intention, pleads for a deeper commitment from the spouses. “The struggle is real,” we say nowadays, and this in truly trivial matters; but fidelity to that struggle yields blessings in this life and the next.

Here’s the rub: Do we honestly believe in the next life and its impact on our decisions in this life? As they say, “Click here to find out.” When the “link”—i.e. the marital covenant—seemed never to be truly made, that’s the stuff of declarations of marital nullity. We celebrate the proper functioning of the marital relationship, properly situated within the divine-human relationship of which it is an analogue.

Just as in medicine, we can learn more about the proper function of a tissue or organ by way of the improper function. Learn now, and do everything in your power with God’s grace and others’ help to move forward in the best direction. Learn from your mistakes and repent of your sins: that’s the human way along the Divine Way!

06 November 2018

Holy Orders: What are yours?

I recently came across business cards sponsored by the Vocations Committee and Knights of Columbus council of Holy Guardian Angels Parish, where I was Assistant Pastor from 01/2008 to 06/2014. I may consider reprinting them at my parish just as I print copies of my “Treasury of Prayer” for the hospitalized. 

Meanwhile, I share the content of the card. On one side, you have: Everyone has a vocation. What is yours? On the other side, a prayer: Father in heaven, bless our parish to be a nurturing faith community that encourages people to pursue their vocation. Amen. Since this post concerns the Sacrament of Holy Orders, it seemed appropriate to mention the card. 

Vocation starts at the baptismal font, with the “Universal Call to Holiness” that configures us to Jesus the Prophet (proclaimer of the Gospel), Priest (offerer of sacrifice), and King (caretaker of souls). We activate that call by making what St. John Paul II called “a sincere gift of self,” further specified in Holy Orders, Marriage, Religious Profession, or what I’ll call “Purposeful Celibacy” (as opposed to involuntary or default non-marriage). Religious Profession and Purposeful Celibacy are not sacramental expressions of vocation, but they are paths for lifelong consecration. Holy Orders, however, is a sacrament precisely because the Lord Jesus instituted it to generate and nourish the spiritual life of God’s people.

Priests and deacons often emerge from the “domestic Church” of the family, where habits of faithful Mass attendance, regular Confession, and personal prayer begin. They often receive support from fellow parishioners and (please God!) from clergy and religious. Or they may develop while in college or at work. We prayerfully consider and discuss our experiences to glean what about them pleases God and us. The signs generally aren’t cataclysmic, but rather simple: people’s suggestions, affirmation of talents, and our own areas of interest.

I believe it’s no coincidence that I originally wrote this column in the aftermath of the scandalous findings of the PA Grand Jury and a recent testimonial from a former Vatican representative to the United States who claims that numerous bishops and priests, and even the Pope himself, knew but acted improperly about the activities of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, DC. These events have shaken the faith of many Catholics, and the respect of many non-Catholics, around the world. Would a young man or woman even want to give his or her life to the Church, to help row this boat in such torrential waters?

Out of curiosity I looked up the word “aftermath” found in the previous paragraph. In farming, it means, “new grass growing after mowing or harvest.” If the sickle of sin has taken away some prideful weeds (mindful that weeds and wheat grow together; cf. Mt 13:24-30), by Our Lord’s own promise a new crop will grow. But it will be all the more incumbent upon us to engage in those perennial spiritual disciplines (prayer and the self-sacrifice of fasting and generosity), so the soil can be rich and ready for new seeds.