A people without the Church

I have been reading The Diary of a Country Priest by George Bernanos, an excellent novel written in the form of a diary of a fictitious young country priest who has been assigned to a poor parish in the French-Flemish countryside. The most colourful character in the novel is the Cure de Torcy, an old priest in whom the narrator often confides. During one of the young priest’s visits, the Curé de Torcy makes an observation about the lack of faith in France and it applies to this day to us.

A people without the Church will always be a nation of bastards, foundlings. Of course, they can still cherish the hope of getting the devil to acknowledge them. And what a hope! Let ’em wait for their little black Christmas! Let ’em hang up their stockings! The devil’s tired of filling ’em with stacks of mechanical toys that are out of date as soon as they’re invented. These days he just leaves a tiny pinch of morphia or “snow” behind him — or any filthy powder that won’t cost him too much. Poor blokes! They’ve worn everything threadbare — even sin. You can’t have a ‘good time’ just because you want to. The shabbiest tuppence doll will rejoice a baby’s heart for half a year, but your mature gentleman will go yawning his head off at a five-hundred-franc gadget. And why? Because he has lost the soul of childhood.”

I read “The Diary of a Country Priest” in a couple of days. It is difficult to put down. Such a well-written book is almost impossible to find among contemporary authors.

What is it about? There isn’t much of a plot. It is the diary of a young rural priest who comes from a very poor family. He is ashamed of his poverty. He is assigned to a poor parish. He has to deal with hostile inhabitants who gossip incessantly, the snobbish count who lords it over the village, his own struggle with his faith and with fulfilling his onerous duties while battling a painful illness. The poor priest’s heroic struggle is a testament to Bernanos’s own deep faith in the Catholic Church.

What is a true friend?

The corruption of language reveals the corruption of society. When people toss around words such as “friend”, “community” and “sharing” without knowing what they mean and when people misuse them for personal gain, they get what they deserve: social networks where you can acquire thousands of “friends” and feel lonelier than ever, and the gig economy, also known as the “sharing” economy by Silicon Valley billionaires who share none of their billions with you. They want you to be part of a “community” so they can fleece you and steal your data.

If you do not know what a true friend is, you will be defrauded, not just in your finances but in your personal life. You will waste time on people who will betray you. If you believe that the sharing economy is about community and friendship, you are in big trouble. While you are free to remain ignorant and deluded, it does have terrible consequences.

Thus, I present to you the epistle for today’s Mass (9 May 2020) on this feast of St. Gregory Nazianzen (in the traditional Catholic calendar), Sirach (Ecclesiasticus 6:6-14) on true and false friends. It’s nothing new. Your grandmother probably told you about it as grandmothers are wont to do. In summary, it goes like this: a true friend does not take advantage of you and he does not abandon you.

[6] Be in peace with many, but let one of a thousand be thy counsellor. [7] If thou wouldst get a friend, try him before thou takest him, and do not credit him easily. [8] For there is a friend for his own occasion, and he will not abide in the day of thy trouble. [9] And there is a friend that turneth to enmity; and there is a friend that will disclose hatred and strife and reproaches. [10] And there is a friend a companion at the table, and he will not abide in the day of distress. [11] A friend if he continue steadfast, shall be to thee as thyself, and shall act with confidence among them of thy household. [12] If he humble himself before thee, and hide himself from thy face, thou shalt have unanimous friendship for good. [13] Separate thyself from thy enemies, and take heed of thy friends. [14] A faithful friend is a strong defence: and he that hath found him, hath found a treasure.

Sirach 6:6-14 (Douay-Rheims Bible)

How many of your so-called friends would you consider a good counsellor, someone whose advice has proven trustworthy, who has kept you from going down the wrong path? How many of your friends came to your aid when everyone abandoned you?

How do you find a true friend? Here’s Sirach again:

[16] A faithful friend is the medicine of life and immortality: and they that fear the Lord, shall find him. [17] He that feareth God, shall likewise have good friendship: because according to him shall his friend be.

Sirach 6:16-17 (Douay-Rheims Bible)

Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Faith, good works, observance of the Commandments and fervent prayer are the marks of a person who fears the Lord. To him shall wisdom be given, the wisdom to discern a friend from a fraud. Such a person will repel bad company and attract those who are seeking an upright, trustworthy companion. Pray to Our Lord that He may give you true friends.

What is the spiritual life?

I am reading “Progress Through Mental Prayer” by Fr. Edward Leen. I mentioned another book by Fr. Leen entitled “In the Likeness of Christ” in two previous blog posts (Why do we suffer and Life on earth is not a satisfaction). I have found great spiritual advice from Fr. Leen and his writings have given me excellent material for meditation.

Here is what Fr. Leen says about the spiritual life in the introduction to his book, “Progress Through Mental Prayer”:

“The spiritual life is sometimes spoken of as the seeking after perfection. If this be understood to mean that the man aiming at spirituality is to set before him his own perfection as an object after which he is to strive, it is apt to lead to serious mistakes in the spiritual struggle. It is true that the development of a full spiritual life involves in its attainment man’s perfection; yet it is not precisely at this perfection that he must aim, but at God. God is the final end of man and therefore the object after which he must strain in all his spiritual and moral endeavors. The spiritual life may be more clearly, simply and correctly described as the “cultivation of intimacy with God” and the following pages are an attempt to show how, ordinarily speaking, the soul may cultivate that intimacy, and how it is to overcome the obstacles it encounters in its efforts to become intimate with its Creator. God has smoothed the path for the human soul by becoming man. To become intimate with God, the soul has only to become intimate with Jesus, who is like to the soul in his humanity, like to it in all things except sin. Man can grow in friendship with God by growing in friendship with One Who is a fellow-man. The spiritual life is the process of growth in charity, that is in love of Jesus, true man and yet true God. This love not only binds the soul to Jesus, but has the intrinsic effect of assimilating it to Him, transforming it to His likeness.”

So the question for us is: how does a mere creature cultivate intimacy with God? According to Fr. Leen, we must first follow Our Lord’s command: “Learn of me, that I am meek and humble of heart.” The virtue of humility is necessary if one is to become intimate with God.

Fr. Leen says:

“All that is required on the part of the Christian to make perfect his calling, is to efface himself before God. Hence it is that the whole burden of the Savior’s teaching to men is the practice of self-abnegation. Self- abnegation is something much larger than either suffering or mortification. The instructions on prayer that follow are an exposition of the mode by which this conquest of self is carried to a final and successful issue. Prayer, properly carried out, will have as its effect the gradual revelation to the soul of this disease of self-love which so intimately penetrates the very fibers of its being as to pass unobserved by the person that does not lead an interior life. In prayer the soul gradually draws into the radiant purity and truth of the soul of Jesus. It becomes bathed in and penetrated through and through with that radiance; and in this splendor all in it that is of self and not of God, all that is in it unlike Jesus, stands clearly revealed to that soul’s own gaze. When this unlikeness is purged away by the action of suffering and the sacrament of the Eucharist, then the close union of the soul with God takes place.”

“Prayer, mortification and silence prepare the soul for the action of the Blessed Eucharist. Once the obstacles are cleared away from the soul this great Sacrament of union accomplishes in its perfection that which is its special effect, namely the creation of a union of spirit between the soul and Jesus. Prayer prepares the way for this, for prayer that is good must have as its effect the gradual growth in self-abnegation. The presence of self-love in the soul is the great obstacle to the action of grace. Prayer reveals the presence of this self-love and secures the aid of God to its extermination. The grace of Jesus flowing to the soul through prayer and the Sacraments carries out this process of extermination. As the Christian soul empties of self, it fills up with God, not merely with some thought or aspect of God as visualized by a self-centered spirituality or even as revealed in created reflections, but with God as He is in Himself and as He reveals Himself to ” little ones”. To be filled with God is to be perfect with the very perfection of our heavenly Father, but this happy result is conditioned by the soul’s practical application of the means explicitly stated by Our Divine Guide and Exemplar: “Learn of Me that I am meek and humble of heart.” It is in no narrow or particular sense that God is said ‘to resist the proud and to give grace to the humble.'”

Why do we suffer?

From “In the Likeness of Christ” by Fr. Edward Leen:

“When, at our being broken on the Cross, all the false idols which we worshipped in our hearts tumble into dust before our eyes, we must not allow ourselves to be still and motionless in the tomb of our dead selves. We must, laying hold on Christ, rise to a new life by setting up God Himself exclusively as a new object of love and worship in our hearts.”

“God permits us to suffer, not because He takes pleasure in our suffering, but because He sees that as things now are, it is only by suffering that are burned away in our souls the obstacles to the free operations of grace . . . The fruits of sin effects the destruction of sin in our souls.”

“Not all sufferings are salutary; it is only those that are endured in union with Christ.”

“If we look upon the pains of this life as an evil thing only, we . . . intensify the bitterness of life. If, on the other hand, we look upon sufferings as the necessary instrument in the purification of our souls . . . and if we draw from Christ’s passion the strength to bear them in humble submission to God’s providence, we, through them, free our souls from the contagion of mortality . . . “

“When nature is dead in us and its rebellious stirrings are quieted, we walk in the newness of life and in the peace of the Resurrection. If we consent to die with Christ, then we also shall rise from the tomb of our dead selves to live with Christ.”

(Note: The quotations above come from the chapter “The Resurrection” in the book “In the Likeness of Christ” by Fr. Edward Leen (access for free online at Internet Archive or order from Angelus Press)

Life on earth is not a satisfaction but a purification

The title of this post will shock most people because we live in a post-Christian age. Even those who call themselves Catholic (the spirit of Vatican II variety) will recoil at this statement. It’s not mine. It comes from the book, “In the Likeness of Christ” by the Fr. Edward Leen, published in 1936. Let me provide the full quote:

In language of stark and compelling simplicity, the cross expresses the christian theory of life on earth, namely, that life here below is not a satisfaction but a purification. Every instinct of fallen human nature revolts against this theory. To it, the world seems made for the enjoyment of such a being as man, and man is put into it. He has the capacity for enjoyment and the world supplies the means. This is the philosophy of natural man; it is utterly different from the philosophy of the cross.

In the Likeness of Christ, pp. 270-271.

Trials given to us by God are designed to purify us, to make us die to the things of this world, so that we are born into a new life, right here on earth, in God and for God. Pain and sorrow are the instruments which detach us from our sinful desires and our concupiscences.

When governments around the world ease the restrictions on work, leisure and travel, will we simply go back to business as usual?

I recommend reading “In the Likeness of Christ” especially the chapter on the Resurrection. Unfortunately the book is difficult to find. You can buy the book from Angelus Press or access it online for free on Internet Archive (difficult to read though). I will post more about this book later.

I discovered this book via a terrific podcast series called “The Spiritual Life” from Novus Ordo Watch. The series and the books by Fr. Leen (referred to in the series) have greatly benefited my spiritual life and given me a deeper understanding of the passion of Our Lord, the Resurrection, and the purpose of life.

An Easter Sunday unlike any other

What a strange Easter Sunday! The churches are silent. Even Easter Sunday parties have given way to sombre reflection, as we sit alone in our houses with few family members or none at all.

We may try to cheer ourselves up with Easter Sunday lunch, but even if we have laid out on our table, the roasted lamb, Easter cakes and cookies, and a fine bottle of Pauillac, it’s just not the same without the Easter Sunday Mass to precede our festivities.

It seems as if Our Lord has disappeared and left us alone. Yet that isn’t so. He is here. He never left us. It is us who have deserted Him so many times. Perhaps Our Lord is asking more from us this Easter, more than just participating in Easter egg hunts. He wants us to sit down in a quiet place and reflect, to meditate upon the Resurrection. We have the Octave of Easter to do just that. Eight days of praying, meditating in a quiet place, and doing a lot of spiritual reading. Eight days to understand and know deep in our bones that without the Cross, there cannot be a Resurrection and unless we deny ourselves, take up our crosses daily and follow Him, we will not be resurrected.

It is a time to rejoice, yet, it’s hard to do when so many people are suffering, not just the loss of loved ones, but the loss of livelihoods, businesses, opportunities, dreams. Think about poor people who live on day wages – the Thai tuktuk driver, the Mexican day labourer, the American Uber driver, the Italian cleaning lady, the Filipino jeepney driver. All of us are united by our suffering.

To those who harbour hatred against the Chinese people, I have this to say: pray for the Chinese people. Pray for the soul of the late Chinese doctor, Dr. Li Wenliang, who at grave risk to his livelihood, tried to alert the authorities about the spread of the virus, and at the risk of his life, continued to serve his patients unto death. I cannot think about Dr. Li without tears coming to my eyes. I pray for him all the time and for people like him. May the Lord have mercy on Dr. Li and grant him a wonderful place in heaven. That is what Christian charity is: giving up you life for other people. Remember what Saint Paul said. It goes something like this: you can have all the knowledge in the world about Christian dogma and follow all of the duties of our religion, but if you have no charity, you have no place next to Our Lord in heaven.

You think you’re better than Dr. Li? You think you have the right to curse the entire nation of China, including its doctors, nurses and healthcare workers who have died serving their patients? Think about Dr. Li’s parents. He’s probably an only child. If his parents are alive, what are they going through? Is your heart so hard that you cannot weep for them? Our Lord always had such a soft heart for widows and parents of children who died. Many of his miracles involved raising their children from the dead.

I hear all kinds of nonsense from people who call themselves devout Catholics, but who are filled with hatred in their hearts against the Chinese, inciting people to hate them. Instead pray for the Chinese people that God may deliver them from the CCP. This Easter, look into your hearts and root out all hatred. Stop blaming other people. If the corona virus is indeed a chastisement from God, it’s because of OUR sinful lives that we are being chastised. Yes, OUR sinful lives, my dear Christian people. Look into the mirror first before you point the finger at other people. If you fail at that, then the entire Lent, despite all your fasting and praying and meditating, has been a total waste.

It is a time to pray for those who are suffering the most and to ask Our Lord for mercy, to end the corona virus pandemic. It is time to reform our own lives. Pray the Rosary. Pray the Divine Office. Spend time in meditation. Do spiritual reading (see my recommended list of books).

Here is a lovely Easter poem by George Herbert (who was a Welsh-born poet in the 17th century and a priest in the Church of England).

Easter Wings by George Herbert

Lord, who createdst man in wealth and store, 
      Though foolishly he lost the same, 
            Decaying more and more, 
                  Till he became 
                        Most poore: 
                        With thee 
                  O let me rise 
            As larks, harmoniously, 
      And sing this day thy victories: 
Then shall the fall further the flight in me. 

My tender age in sorrow did beginne 
      And still with sicknesses and shame. 
            Thou didst so punish sinne, 
                  That I became 
                        Most thinne. 
                        With thee 
                  Let me combine, 
            And feel thy victorie: 
         For, if I imp my wing on thine, 
Affliction shall advance the flight in me. 

Check out this Resurrection painting (part of a triptych) by Peter Paul Rubens. It’s one of my favourites. Here’s Our Lord, muscular and healthy, showing no signs of having been tortured and crucified, like He just finished training at Gold’s Gym, stomping on the silly soldiers who think that a piece of rock was going to stop Him from leaping out of the tomb.

Thoughts on the third anniversary of my return to the Catholic Church

Resurrection of Christ by Piero della Francesca

March 2020 marks the third anniversary of my return to the Catholic Church. Before March 2017, I had spent 40 years outside the Barque of Saint Peter. Our Lord Himself came to save me — read about the miracle that brought me back to the Church.

For the past 3 years, I have been very busy making up for lost time. I have been praying the Rosary everyday. I added the Divine Office a couple of years ago. Sometimes I manage to pray only Compline, but when I have more time, I pray Lauds or Prime in the morning, Vespers at dusk and Completorium before I go to sleep. I use the Trent 1910 version of the Divine Office on the BrevMeum app. I pray mostly in Latin (including the Rosary). I have been reading many spiritual books and to my surprise and delight, the older books, untainted by the heresies of Vatican II, are available free of charge online. You can find them in my list of my recommended reading.

I cannot imagine a life away from the Catholic Church even though most of my adult life was spent outside it (I am 59 yrs old). What an idiot I was! I enjoyed worldly success. I went to an Ivy League university, I did well in my professional life and made a lot of money. I had the wrong friends. I wasted my talents and the money I earned on frivolous objects. Despite all the material success, I was depressed and anxious. I was not at peace. I hated my life even then. I was pretending to be happy. Underneath the smile, the laughter, the designer clothes and expensive car, I was utterly miserable. I delved into Buddhism and for a while, I was somewhat happier. But after several years of that, I realised something critical was missing.

Since my return to the Catholic Church, the things I used to value and become obsessed about, no longer have a hold on me. They disgust me. What things are they? The ones our materialistic, God-less society tells us to devote our lives to – obsession with money (the more the better), power (over other people), sex and vanity (beautifying the body for illicit purposes). What a terrible, purposeless life I had!

My old life disgusts me and fills me with revulsion. On coming back to Holy Mother Church, I made a habit of going to Confession regularly (every 2 weeks) and going to Mass. I examine my conscience at the end of everyday. Who knows – maybe I won’t wake up in the morning. I thank our Lord every single day, several times a day, for having saved me on that day in March 2017. From then on, I never again doubted that Our Lord is real. He will never abandon us. He is closer to us than we can ever imagine. Our Lady is real, the saints are real.

I would be happy to pray two hours a day or more, and spend more time meditating and reading spiritual books. I listen to sermons given by traditional priests (via podcasts and YouTube videos).

What keeps me going in the spiritual life is PRAYER.

Now I’m thinking of what more I can do to boost my spiritual life. I am thinking of going on a retreat. But it has to be a traditional Catholic one without the modernist nonsense. If you have any recommendations, please post in the comments section below.