Harry Potter Books & the Occult

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A person recently asked me the question,  “Are the Harry Potter books a dangerous introduction to the occult and demon possession?”  The inquiry was a response to a news topic.  A Catholic school in Tennessee reportedly has removed the popular Harry Potter book series from its library because they “risk conjuring evil spirits.”

How might I answer?  I would not routinely presume to second-guess the prudential decision of another Catholic pastor. When the Harry Potter books were removed from the school library, Rev. Dan Reehil, the pastor of St. Edward School in Nashville stated:

“These books present magic as both good and evil, which is not true, but in fact a clever deception. The curses and spells used in the books are actual curses and spells; which when read by a human being risk conjuring evil spirits into the presence of the person reading the text.”

It may be that he knows something that I do not. Have there been any exposed cases of possession due to reading children’s books? I really cannot say. It has not been my experience.  Reasoning along these lines, I have warned against the use of Ouija boards for incidents that are clearly documented.

Rebecca Hammel, the superintendent of schools for the Catholic Diocese of Nashville, stated that the Catholic Church does not have an official position on the Harry Potter books. I think this would be a sufficient answer to the question posed here. Admittedly, as someone who cringes against censorship, I do have my own “personal” opinions about the matter.

The universal catechism does not address the Harry Potter books directly, but it does speak about sorcery or the occult:

[CCC 2116]  All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to “unveil” the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.

[CCC 2117]  All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one’s service and have a supernatural power over others – even if this were for the sake of restoring their health – are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion. These practices are even more to be condemned when accompanied by the intention of harming someone, or when they have recourse to the intervention of demons. Wearing charms is also reprehensible. Spiritism often implies divination or magical practices; the Church for her part warns the faithful against it. Recourse to so-called traditional cures does not justify either the invocation of evil powers or the exploitation of another’s credulity.

Does such exclude fiction?  If not then Doctor Who television shows and books as well as the Back to the Future films would also be prohibited as there is certainly “a desire for power over time, history, . . . .”  I am well aware that there is a doctrinal issue with time-traveling as it puts into question the delineation of divine providence.  Exorcists have warned us that psychics might be performing their paranormal feats by means of a demonic presence; however, one of the exorcists of Rome related that he sometimes employs sensitives to help discern the presence of demons or suffering souls.  The boundary line is also blurred in the lives of certain saints like Fr. John Vianney who often argued with the devil and could read souls.  Some of the events and manifestations around Padre Pio are downright terrifying.  While many are drawn in faith to the sites of Marian apparitions; it must be related that there are some simply attracted to sensational spectacles.  They want secret messages, weeping statues and miraculous signs from heaven.  All this is mentioned so as to emphasize that it is not the supernatural as such that is condemned; rather, it is any source or intervention outside of Jesus and the communion of the saints.

The Vatican has criticized the Harry Potter books although the final movie in the series based upon them was praised by its authorized newspaper reviewers. If the books truly pose a danger of enticing children into witchcraft and the occult; then I would agree with a Church censure. However, the question must be asked, do these books and stories really pose such a threat? It seems to me that if the Church feels that Harry Potter is “the wrong kind of hero” then we should do more to promote good literature that appeals to the youth with proper characters for emulation. I am also an advocate of parents and children reading together and discussing what is read. Might we be able to baptize the books, sharing what we find problematical and talking about those moral themes that help build good character? As a child I was a fan of horror comics, fairytales with all sorts of magic, and television shows like Dark Shadows, The Addams Family, Bewitched, The Monsters, The Twilight Zone, and the animated Sabrina the Teenaged Witch. Nevertheless, I learned my catechism, knew what was real and what was not, and eventually became a fairly conservative (i.e. orthodox) Catholic priest.

The Greek term for sorcery in the New Testament was “pharmakeia,” from which we derive the English word “pharmacy.” This folk science mixed with superstition often had to do with potions or so-called magical drugs. The practitioners provided abortifacient concoctions that caused miscarriages. The biblical prohibition against sorcery, while viewed as an offense to the power and providence of God, was also a condemnation of abortion or the murder of children.

I cannot say how many outright Satanists there may be in the world today. I suspect the most egregious witnesses to such a twisted religion are really soured Christians who delight in blasphemy.  It strikes me as a kind of sickness of the soul.  Many who identify themselves as such are actually atheists who delight in tormenting the sensibilities of Christians and Jews.  Others have embraced the label of Satanism due to a rejection of charity or self-sacrifice as espoused by the Gospel.  Theirs would be a philosophy of selfishness.   Groups of this type are distinct from the Wiccans or neo-pagans.  Often connected to radical feminism, they speak of finding the goddess.  In truth they may worship a deity of their own fancy or no god at all.  All this makes their religion hard to define.  Modern witches and their craft reflect a naturalistic type of faith. Their worldview is immanent and pantheistic.  They would seek to employ the so-called cosmic energies in the world around us.

While they attempt to exploit a pedigree that goes back to pre-Christian times (as with the druids), in truth modern witchcraft probably only goes back to the 1940’s.  It is argued that Gerald Gardner was inspired by the masonic secret rituals in his reimaging of witchcraft.  What is the interpretation given to all this by Christianity?  If you call upon any spirit other than God then you are likely summoning demons.

Just as Christianity has its sacramentals like holy water, holy salt, the rosary, etc. so too do they.   We are familiar from scary movies where fortune tellers use crystal balls, read tarot cards and cast spells.  While it is used in psychiatry, witchcraft also employs hypnosis and sensational forms of faith-healing.  Much of the superstition is merely to exploit the gullible.  Connected to the current fascination with the paranormal, these poor people and their so-called psychics deceive others and themselves.

Many of the practitioners of witchcraft like the late Aleister Crowley accented the philosophy of selfishness and defined magic as real but as natural and not supernatural.  He and his disciples thought they could manipulate reality or creation by acts of will. I suspect he would be offended by the magic of Harry Potter and regard it as rather silly and contrived.  Condemnations toward the belief system of Satanists or Wiccans or Neo-Pagans would not seem to really apply to the magic in Harry Potter.  It literally is the witch on the broomstick parody.

We would no longer condemn conjuring tricks like slide-of-hand, but would question an appeal to invisible powers or spirits. The fundamentalist might equate all magic with devil worship. According to this mindset, there is no good magic, only the bad that sometimes masquerades as good.  If it is not God then the danger is we might be appealing to the demonic. The most impressionable might imagine that magic is a mysterious power untapped by most humans. A skeptic by inclination, I would view much of this as empty superstition or trickery to fool others. This would still make sorcery a sin as it becomes an occult religion and false worship.

While I would assume in truth that all sorcery is from the evil one, I am not convinced that J.K. Rowling’s witchcraft is anything more than a fanciful literary device to motivate and to drive her various storylines. Is it really witchcraft that is proposed as a positive ideal? While it is employed by both sides in the books, it seems the gravity is upon themes like family, friendship, loyalty, goodness, and mercy.

The author, herself, is a member of the Church of Scotland. She is honest about her struggles in faith and how she desperately wants to believe in life after death. Granted her Christianity may not be as mature as C.S. Lewis or Tolkien or George MacDonald, but it should not be dismissed. Indeed, it is reflective of the agnosticism that infects so much of contemporary Christianity. She is a woman of her times. Toward the end of the Harry Potter book series, she makes a few explicit references to Christianity— in particular about the themes of life beyond the grave and resurrection.

The Greyfriars Cemetery in Edinburgh is purportedly the inspiration for the Godric’s Hollow graveyard. Harry and Hermione find his parents’ grave. It is Christmas Eve. This inscription is written on the tombstone: “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26). Let us look at the larger context (1 Corinthians 13:20-28) from which the verse is taken:

“But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him. And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.” (KJV)

We are given to understand that the character Albus Dumbledore, the Headmaster of Hogwarts, is the source. Note that he does not cite books of magic but turns to the Bible. He gives gravity to the Scriptures with his inscriptions.

The book Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows also has the following inscription on the tombstone of Ariana Dumbledore: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21 or Luke 12:34). Here’s the full passage, Matthew 6:19-24:

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” (KJV)

J.K. Rowling has confessed (in 2007) that these two verses “epitomize” or sum up the entire series. Admittedly, Harry Potter (probably like many readers) seems not to understand what the verses really mean. Did Dumbledore understand, that Christ would defeat all enemies, the last being death?

The scene is poignant in the film. The church in the background is called St. Clementine in a video game; but it is otherwise revealed as St. Jerome. There is a large image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus over the entry door.

As an aside, St. Jerome as a learned man of his time, was challenged for his study of a Greek philosopher Apollonius of Tyanna who was a contemporary of Christ. His life paralleled the Lord somewhat in that he had disciples and also apparently performed miracles. He contributed to the development of reasoned arguments. The purported paranormal elements had him branded by early churchmen as a sorcerer in league with demons. But he proved to be nothing to worry about as his following quickly disappeared with no school or church as a legacy. It is likely too far-fetched to imagine a deliberate connection here by J.K. Rowling in reference to the charges of the occult leveled against her. I suspect it is simply a case of a curious and unfathomable synchronicity.

While sorcery is condemned by Scripture and the Church, there are many fantasy books that portray magic as good and evil. Indeed, one might argue that C.S. Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles and Tolkien’s stories about The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings portray magic as such, even if as a metaphor for other things that we regard as real like the sacraments and the Eucharist. The news story comes from a Catholic school deep in the Bible belt where even these books by notable Christian authors might come under negative scrutiny and prohibition, too.

Indeed, it might be argued that Tolkien’s Sméagol is to Sam and Frodo what Tom Riddle is to Ron and Harry. The battle is essentially between good and evil. Harry has been marked by Voldermort and he could easily be corrupted by the same hate and anger. However, his friends, especially Ron, keep him rooted in goodness. Frodo is tempted as was the Gollum. Notice the name change in both stories. If it were not for Sam’s friendship, he would likely have destroyed himself like the pathetic Gollum. Arguable Tolkien has given us a masterpiece while there are more than a few literary critics who criticize the level of Rowling’s composition, even if she does present a good action yarn. But that may be beside the point.

One reviewer postulated that the Harry Potter saga promoted the old heresy of Gnosticism, particularly in reference to secret truths, power and ultimate salvation. Really?  Are we not projecting what is really not there?  I must admit that I saw little theological depth in J.K. Rowling’s writings.

It is a fantasy story told by a woman who claims to be a Christian but not one who seeks to endow her story with many overtly Christian elements.  We might equate something of our battle with powers and principalities; but it is the world of fanciful creatures, flying brooms and dragons. In a sense, she has given us modern fairy stories.

While another critic saw the derisive criticism of the “muggles” or normal humans as “diabolical” I simply saw it as an imaginative way to detail the division we know among people in the modern world. There is serious ethnic and religious division. People are looked down upon and even being killed by other people for being different. The world of Harry Potter mirrors the real world and its bigotries; indeed, she presents the corrupted face of Voldermort to stand for the evil that we confront daily in the many faces and souls distorted by hatred, anger and selfishness.

We live in a culture of death. We are surrounded by the lovers of death. How else could we explain New York politicians clapping and rejoicing over the legalization of terminating children who are nine-months old in the womb and ready to be born? J.K. Rowling is apparently blind to this connection as she supports legalized abortion; could it be that along with many of our own Catholics, she has been figuratively seduced by her own “death eaters”? How does death come into the world?  It is the result of the fall and the temptation of Satan.  Obviously she draws upon ancient Hebrew mythology regarding the devil as a serpent in the garden when she characterizes her villain as associated with an enormous snake (Nagini who also has a name change, Maledictus). How is death defeated?  Christ makes himself our sin-offering and redeems us with his Cross.  Harry is a Christ-figure.  He must be willing to sacrifice himself.  He must also be willing to die.  Of course, he does not stay dead.  He is also not alone.  Harry faces Voldemort.  His classmate Neville slices off the head of the snake.  It must be said that the theme of sacrifice is essential in the Potter universe.  We see it with both Severus Snape and Albus Dumbledore, as well.  We must note it at the very beginning with Harry’s parents who died so that their child might live.  (This is a theme that young people might find benefit in a guided reflection.)

As believers we appreciate that ours is a God who is both independent of his creation and yet he sustains it.  We are stewards of creation but not the masters of God.  In contrast to this, a realm of magic usually implies an immanence where the divine is either associated with the physical world or where the world itself is divinized.  I suspect this is where the more thoughtful might be somewhat critical of Rowling. The worlds imagined by Lewis and Tolkien always make room for a transcendence that Rowling only hints at. Rowling is not well versed in Christian theology and philosophy. Her world is much more chaotic and lacks order. Must we fault her for what most secular authors today would utterly dismiss?  The magic of Harry Potter is employed much as science and invention is presented to us in the real world. Do we not sometimes treat our tablets and portable phones and the internet as a scientific kind of magic? People even live out much of the lives in virtual gaming worlds. My fear in the latter is whether we are abandoning the real for that which is only make-believe.

As a Christian what I brought to the story was that Harry Potter was fighting against a variant of Satanism. In truth, one could not use sorcery because one should not battle evil with evil. But I think there is a crucial disconnect between the magic that Christians would condemn and the make-believe antics portrayed in the books and on the cinematic screen. It is no more real than the Marvel and DC superheroes with their fantastic powers.

I suppose I would ask young Christian readers a series of questions.  We would examine the themes of goodness, evil, sacrifice, love, justice, death, redemption, mercy, etc.  We would also seek to make a leap from fiction to reality.  How would we fight against evil?  Who or what are our enemies in the world today?  What are our weapons?  We could then talk about, not spells, but the power of prayer. We could open the newspapers and give the real devils of our times the names they now go by. We could invoke, not fanciful spirits or the occult, but Christ with his communion of the saints and the holy angels. And then, we would seek to be heroes and heroines in the real world with apostolates that seek to make a difference for the oppressed, the poor, the hurting and the unwanted unborn. While there is no denying the malicious efforts of our ancient enemy, the devil; we would also appreciate that many of our battles are with a secular modernity imbued with selfishness and not so much with a juvenile attention to magic.  When it comes to the Harry Potter series, and much else in our culture, we would do what people of faith have done for two thousand years— we would seek to understand and to transform that which is in the world for the purposes of Christ.

 

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God Became Man So That He Might Cry

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The scene in the Gospel of John where Jesus encounters Mary, the sister of Lazarus, weeping is more significant than many may know.  Jesus is the response from heaven for her tears.  Indeed, he mixes his tears with hers.

“When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Sir, come and see.’  And Jesus wept. So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him’” (John 11:32-36).

This is a poignant moment of intense union.  Ours is not a God that ignores or abandons his children.  The Church teaches that God becomes a man so that he might die and offer atonement for sin.  This is true, but more, God inserts himself into the human family so that the tears which are impossible in heaven might be shed on earth among men.  God wants to cry with and for us.  I suspect that his eyes would again well up upon the Cross— tears of anguish because of the great cost, tears of sorrow over all who would play the role of Judas, and tears of satisfaction that his mission among men is accomplished.  A people have been redeemed.

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Ours is no stoic Messiah or Gnostic or Manichean Christ who only pretends to be human.  He is the unique God-Man who by grace would divinize his creatures in holiness.  Death is the vile price for disobedience.  His fidelity overthrows the primordial rebellion and liberates humanity from the bondage to the serpent.

Too often when we see a person suffering lamentation, our initial impetus is to offer a hollow consolation and to impede the flood of tears.  We think we are helping but in truth we are thinking as men do and not as God.  The serpent or devil never truly weeps; if he appears to do so they are the cold tears of manipulation and seduction.  He wants his way or else.  How many times have we seen the most selfish of children weep in such a manner?  They feel sorry for themselves because they cannot tolerate the good fortune of others.  It is in this that greed and deception are often bedfellows.  The tears of Jesus, and by extension the saints, are those that pour forth from the font of truth— about the human condition, about suffering humanity, and about the tragic price of sin.  Tears of this sort should not be stemmed by any desire to maintain appearances.  These are the tears that give us a share in the saving passion and the cross that we are commanded to carry.  The tears of Jesus draw to themselves all the tears of righteous men and women, bringing them to a spiritual perfection.  The tears of Christ would wean our tears of loss from any taint of selfishness. 

“God forbid that I should disapprove the mourning of a husband, who after having raised his eyes to heaven, there to see his spouse crowned with immortality, feels them fill with tears as, turning them down to earth again, he no longer finds this beloved companion by his side. This sentiment which causes us to regret the person whose companionship formed our happiness, cannot be blamable when it is not the only source of tears which we give to our loss.  This desire to enjoy the society of those we love is so natural to man that God offers him its gratification as the eternal reward of his fidelity to the divine love during life” (Louis Provano de Collegno, The Consolations of Religion at the Death of Those Who are Dear to Us, Letter 1).   

Inspired by and quotations taken from an old pamphlet entitled IN HEAVEN WE KNOW OUR OWN by Fr. Blot, S.J.

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The Shedding of Tears

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I once heard a young preacher argue that Christians should be so thoroughly sure of their redemption in Christ that no loss might ever result in tears.  While one could appreciate what he was trying to say; his message was naïve and ridiculous.  He was too young and healthy to appreciate the darkness that is both a part of the story of salvation and which is still attached to human nature.  There is no wrong or sin or betrayal of Christ in weeping.  Indeed, it signifies a profound and mysterious solidarity with Jesus Christ.  We read of few instances of emotion from Christ but those revealed in the Bible are telling.

He demonstrates righteous indignation or justified anger at the money-changers who had transformed the temple from a house of prayer to what he labeled as “a den of thieves.”  He turned over the tables of the money-changers to awaken them and the crown to what they had done.  The love that we are to have for our heavenly Father must be uncompromising.  This is the truth of this episode and is the first of the commandments.  Who is to say that there were not tears in the eyes of Jesus?  The religious leaders, who should have been the first to embrace him, reject him instead.  The temple in Jerusalem which was the focus of sacrifice and prayer— indeed a symbol of their identity as a people called by God— had been reduced to something crass and political.  I suspect he shed tears for those who shed none.  How could the sacred heart not lament the many cold and hardened hearts around him? Ours is a jealous God.  He will not share us. Neither should we compromise our devotion to him.  The two-fold commandment of Christ speaks both about this overwhelming love of God and how it cannot be contained but spills over in our love of neighbor.

The Bible makes it clear that Jesus wept when informed of the death of his dear friend Lazarus.  It is here that he most shares the tears of those who mourn.  Death was not the way things were supposed to be.  It entered our world because of sin.  And yet, Jesus was told that he was ill. Why did he not race to him?  Again, he is thinking about all of us.  Jesus did not come into the world to do parlor tricks; he came to save a people.  Death is real and in the face of human mortality we often feel weak and impotent.

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Demonstrating that he has the power over life and death, he will raise Lazarus back to life, a man four days dead in the tomb.  It has been suggested that here was another cause for the tears of Christ.  It is bad enough to die once; however, poor Lazarus would have to live and die again.  Once enough is bad enough.  Our Lord knew that this miracle would deprive Lazarus of a far more wondrous life, where there is joy and all tears are wiped away.  The third instance of weeping is simply appreciated in terms of the angst or agony of Christ in the garden before his betray and arrest.  He prays that if possible his Father might take this cup from him.  Jesus does not want to suffer torture and death.  None of us want pain and we similarly cling to life.  However, no sooner does he make his prayer, acknowledging the full reality of the incarnation and the human condition; he resolves as a divine person, his dedication to the mission given him by the Father— “not my will but thy will be done.”

St. Paulinus: “Why condemn the mourning of holy mortals?  Did not Jesus himself weep for Lazarus, whom he loved?  Did he not deign to commiserate our unhappiness so far as to shed tears over one that was dead?  Did he not, humbling himself to the level of human infirmity, weep for him whom he was about to raise to life by means of his divine virtue?  It is for this, O my brother (Pammachius who had lost his wife Paulina), that your tears are pious and holy; for a similar affection causes them to flow; and yet if you weep for a worthy and chaste companion, it is not that you have doubts of the resurrection, but it is that your love has its regrets and its desires” (St. Paulinus, Letter 11, No. 4, 5).

Inspired by and borrows from an old pamphlet entitled IN HEAVEN WE KNOW OUR OWN by Fr. Blot, S.J.

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Friendship in Heaven

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While I obviously have yet to cross that celestial boundary from this world to the heavenly plain; it is amazing how many people come to me with questions about the nature of the afterlife and paradise.  The Christian faith gives us a few insights even though much can only be known as through a thick veil.  A number of the non-Catholic Christian cults insist that the dead sleep and have no conscious awareness on the other side of the grave until the resurrection day.  Others insist that there is no soul and that they go out of existence; according to this estimation, the righteous will be restored and the damned will never awaken or be seen again.  This group would also deny the existence of hell.  They seem unworried about how this conflicts with either the creative economy of God or how it undermines divine justice.

While there is some debate as to whether the saved remember the damned; Catholicism argues that there is life and awareness on the other side of the grave.  The body might return to corruption; however, the soul is immortal.  The blessed saints will see God and they will know one another.  The ties of love and friendship are not destroyed by death.  There is still an attachment of the mind and heart with loved ones on earth and with family and friends in heaven.

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“We do not want you to be unaware, brothers, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

Saint Augustine:  “It is natural to grieve at the death of those who are dear to us, since death is abhorrent to nature, and faith teaches us that it is one of the chastisements of sin.  Sorrow is a necessity when those whom we love depart us by dying.  For, though we know that they have not departed us forever, as if we were to remain always on earth, but they have preceded us by a little, because we are destined soon to follow them, nevertheless how shall death, taking possession of our friend, not afflict our natural affection? Let it then be permitted to loving hearts to sorrow for the decease of their beloved, provided that there is a remedy for this grief, a consolation for these tears, in the joy of which faith gives us some foretaste, in rendering us confident of the fate of our dear deceased, who go only a little before us, and pass into a better life” (St. Augustine, Sermon 172, No. 13).

Inspired by and borrows from an old pamphlet entitled IN HEAVEN WE KNOW OUR OWN by Fr. Blot, S.J.

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Invitation to the Little Ones

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We read in Matthew 11:25-30:

At that time Jesus said in reply, “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him. “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

We may remember, that long ago, when the Messiah at last came into the world, he was not all that well accepted. The stories of his rejection are numerous; indeed, they fill the entire Gospel. When he came into the world, he chose to be born like all the rest of us, as a child. In the quiet of a cold night he came, with only a small star shining above to herald this newborn king. But, if he were a king, the only mantle he wore was his swaddling clothes, and his throne, a meager manger among a court of animals. His mother and foster father were simple people, and yet a people made rich in their holiness and love for him. The first to see him were not the elite among his own people, but mere shepherds still covered in the dust and sweat of a hard day’s labor.

Perhaps they saw something of the lamb in him, in a city filled with wolves? And when the wise men or kings finally did come, they saw something akin to them in this child, for they were all strangers in an alien land. So much did they realize it that they fled instead of informing the Jewish king, Herod, of the Messiah’s presence. They did well, for Herod would be the forerunner of all those to come who would reject this child of promise. As a man, Jesus would even speak of himself as the prophet rejected in his own land. The zealots looked for a military general who would come with great bloodletting might and power. The Pharisees looked for one who would come hopefully in the distant future, one who would be like themselves and who would reaffirm their own legalism and security. It was no wonder that they were all terribly disappointed in this Jesus.

He ate with tax collectors and sinners. He associated with the poor and with the unclean. How could he really be important if he found it so easy to relate to these kinds of people? Perhaps, they thought, he was no better than the rest of the trash? He forgave sins — by what authority? He healed the sick — could it be by the power of demons? The so-called learned of Israel would charge him with this!

How could he be the Messiah? He traveled around; surrounded not by other learned scribes but by stupid men of the earth — dumb fishermen and traitorous tax collectors. The only one among them that showed some promise in his foresight and knowledge was the last to join him, that one they called Judas Iscariot. Jesus had virtually nothing more than the clothes on his back and lived essentially from the charity of others. Even the room in which he and his friends celebrated his last supper was simply on loan to them. He himself said one time that the son of man has nowhere to rest his head. Jesus is the most shining example that just because people may have nothing, it does not mean they are nothing. His life and message has touched us like no other has.

We too need the same kind of humility. The Lord showed just how much when he reprimanded his disciples for keeping curious children away from him. Jesus told them that it was for such as these that his kingdom belonged. We need to become, not childish, but child-like in our lives and faith. It is in this kind of witness that God most brilliantly shines forth. Sometimes things like wealth, social position, and even religion (when they fuel self-righteousness and snobbishness), get in the way of this kind of humility. Like a small child trusting his parents, no matter what — that is the trust we need in regards to our Heavenly Father. The disposition of humility makes us more aware and receptive to the needs of those who are small, weak, broken, and hurting. The irony of our faith, which shines in figures like St. Francis of Assisi and Mother Teresa, is that in Christ weakness can become strength, and adversity an opportunity for miraculous witness.

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Knowing and Loving in God

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God the Father exists of himself from all eternity. God the Son is eternally begotten of the Father. Using an analogy from human consciousness, the Father perfectly knows himself. While we have many fragmented and imperfect ideas, God has only one idea and it encapsulates the identity of God and all that is. We speak or write our ideas for others to share. God’s one idea is called the Word and it is written upon human flesh, Jesus. God’s “knowing” perfectly mirrors who he is and thus the second Person of the Blessed Trinity must by definition be divine. The Father and the Son share an infinite love which brings both mortal life and eternal life to believers. This procession or generation of “Love Personified” also perfectly reflects God’s identity and constitutes the third Person of the Blessed Trinity. We call him the Holy Spirit. This divine love is poured into our hearts. He is the Helper (Paraclete) whom Christ promises to send to assist the Church, to sanctify her, and to preserve her from error. Distinctions between the Persons can only be made according to the various relations and generations. They are joined into a perfect unity. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son with whom he is equal. The mystery of the Trinity is not easy to understand, and every analogy, including this one, becomes erroneous if taken too far. It is ultimately beyond the full grasp of finite mortals. However, we know it is true from the testimony of Scripture and the teaching Church.

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The Doctrine on the Trinity

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God makes himself known, as a Trinity, in the revelatory message of Jesus Christ. This truth is not simply academic, but relational. Despite our unworthiness, the eternal Son of God offers his Father to us as “our” Father. In contrast to the Cosmic Watchmaker of philosophical Deists, the Judeo-Christian God called a people to himself and established covenants with them. The same Spirit that hovered over the waters of creation would overshadow a Virgin in Nazareth and bring forth forgiveness, healing, and life in the ministry and life of Christ. God delivered his people from political oppression and slavery. He gave them both the Prophets and his Law. Finally, he gave them his Son. Ours is a God who never forgets us. This abiding reality is most forcibly expressed in the saving mission of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. He is sent into the world as one of us. He comes to rescue us from the sin and death, which was of our own making. God the Creator offers us the opportunity of a re-creation and of a new life in Christ.

God is the Father of us all. He calls us into union with him. He is the Supreme Being, infinitely perfect, and the maker of all things, keeping them in existence. Created things reflect the glory of God, their Creator.

As the source of all goodness, God willed certain things into existence so that they might enjoy his benefits and participate in his goodness. His infinite power brought all things out of nothingness into being and he keeps them in being. Otherwise, and it is against the divine economy, they would sink once more into nothingness. Above all creatures, he is self-existing; indeed, he is existence, itself. He is an infinitely perfect Spirit. All perfections find their eminent degree in him. All the goodness, beauty, truth, and power we appreciate in created things are but the merest shadows of the perfections found in their source, almighty God.

God is revealed through the laws of nature and, in a more personal way, through his revelation as assembled in God’s Word. Because of the limitations of human knowledge, many of the ways we know and speak about God are through analogies and stories. God identifies himself with Truth and with Love. He is all-good. He is mercy itself and ever forgiving. He is all-knowing. He is just. He is without limit. He is perfect and therefore, unchangeable. He is omnipotent (all-powerful) and present everywhere. He has no need of anything or anyone outside of himself. He creates freely, to give glory to himself, to share his life with his creatures, and to have them return thanks and praise to him. While there is ONE God, his identity is Triune: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These three Persons of the Trinity are not “persons” in the sense of contemporary usage dealing with psychology. Rather, it implies a sort of divine dynamism wherein there are three mysterious interlocked equal cores of God’s identity. The Scriptures never use the word “Trinity,” but the doctrine resonates there clearly in the New Testament.

Jesus calls upon God as Father. Jesus does the things that only God can do, like forgiving sins and making atonement. The Holy Spirit is experienced as God, giving life to the community just as he breathed life back into the crucified Christ. The Lord gives the command to go out to all nations and to baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Baptism in the name of a creature would be meaningless, thus all three Persons constitute the one God of supernatural faith.

We give thanks and glory to God in response to his gift of creation and the act of re-creation wrought by his Son through the power of the Holy Spirit. A sin offering had to be made and only one who was sinless could offer it. It is the teaching of the Church that the Lord’s human origin was the work of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Jesus’ conception, unlike our own, is the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit and is untouched by original sin. The Holy Spirit can directly create nothing sinful. Further, the fact that Jesus is God would make the presence of sin an inner contradiction. Jesus is viewed in the incarnation as the eternal Son of God born in the flesh of Mary. This revelation of Christ’s identity is derived from a comprehensive look at the details of the Gospels. The early centuries of the Church were a pivotal time for debate and reflection where a precise appreciation of Christ’s identity emerged under the light of God’s guiding Spirit. A formula was issued which still applies today: Jesus is one divine Person, existing fully in two natures, divine and human.

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God Reveals Himself

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Proverbs 8:22-31 personifies Wisdom as begotten from God before all ages. Wisdom was one with God when he created the universe and established his wondrous order. This text foreshadows the later revelation of a plurality of divine Persons in the Godhead. Wisdom, literally the Word of God, will become incarnate in Jesus Christ.

“The LORD begot me, the beginning of his works, the forerunner of his deeds of long ago; From of old I was formed, at the first, before the earth. When there were no deeps I was brought forth, when there were no fountains or springs of water; Before the mountains were settled into place, before the hills, I was brought forth; When the earth and the fields were not yet made, nor the first clods of the world. When he established the heavens, there was I, when he marked out the vault over the face of the deep; When he made firm the skies above, when he fixed fast the springs of the deep; When he set for the sea its limit, so that the waters should not transgress his command; When he fixed the foundations of earth, then was I beside him as artisan; I was his delight day by day, playing before him all the while, Playing over the whole of his earth, having my delight with human beings.”

Romans 5:1-5 speaks of the experience of the Trinity by early Christians. Faith in Jesus Christ has justified them before God the Father. Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit upon them so that divine love now flows through human hearts.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith to this grace in which we stand, and we boast in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us.

We are literally invited into the inner divine and Trinitarian life. The Gospel has Jesus assuring his disciples that the Holy Spirit will make the significance of his mission and teaching clear to them. Something of the intimacy in the Trinity is hinted when Jesus says, “All that the Father has belongs to me” (John 16:15). The Spirit will draw them into this intimacy and saving truth.

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God’s Fatherly Concern

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Luke 11:5-13 has Jesus pointing toward the natural relationship of fatherhood as self-reflective of the Heavenly Father’s love.

And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend to whom he goes at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine has arrived at my house from a journey and I have nothing to offer him,’ and he says in reply from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked and my children and I are already in bed. I cannot get up to give you anything.’ I tell you, if he does not get up to give him the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence. “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

It begins by speaking of the Christian’s obligation to be charitable, even when it is inconvenient and difficult. However, it then switches gears somewhat and refers to the kindness of earthly fathers to their children. This passage ends with the sentence, “If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the holy Spirit to those who ask him?” Throughout the long history of the Church, it may be that we sometimes took the analogy too far in imaging God above as a stern, vengeful, and punishing Father. It is true that while he is a just Father, he is also merciful. There is something self-reflective about this most special Fatherhood. In his love we see something of who we are to be as fathers (and mothers) to one another. Conversely, in our love as Christians we need to find something of God’s fatherly concern for us. It is interesting to note that Christ uses the most familiar of relationships to reveal something of the God we follow. In the order of grace, Christ makes us adopted sons and daughters to the Father and shows us that he cares about us. In Christ’s relationship to us, we are reminded of the analogy of Christ as the groom and the Church as his bride. Between the pages of these two relationships, the whole story of salvation is written.

 

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Soup Dinner Before Stations

Prior to the Stations of the Cross on Friday, March 22, the Knights of Columbus sponsored our weekly soup dinner.

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The bread was good, too!  Special thanks goes out to BK Pete Rozanski!

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