Muhammed Ali and the Call to Greatness


It may seem strange to think of a man who thought of himself as “the greatest” as being humble. But from what I’ve read, those who were close to him say that he was, in fact, quite humble. What most people saw was just one aspect of Muhammed Ali, his public boasting and colorful trash talking. Maybe his humility was more obvious in his later days, towards the end of his life. Whatever the case may be though,  Ali’s desire for being the greatest boxer was not necessarily at odds with being humble–-it is very possible to be humble and great at the same time.  God is paradoxically both. As a devout Muslim, Muhammed Ali very much believed that God was great and that his pursuit of greatness was a means of reflecting God. I think that the greatest, most powerful lesson that Ali taught was on the necessity of being great.

At age 12, Muhammed Ali took an interest in boxing on the occasion of the theft of his bicycle. He was motivated by a desire to whoop the kid who stole his bike. After all, those who want to be great have to start off somewhere, right?  Apparently he eventually saw that he had a talent for boxing and that this would be the means of achieving greatness. At age 22 he beat the reigning champion Sonny Liston to win the world heavyweight title, for the first time. By the time he retired, he fought 61 major fights of which he only lost 5. Total number of knockouts: 37. In the ring, Ali delivered on his claim to be “the greatest.” He wasn’t just talk. He proved what he said, backed it up with action.  When he laced those gloves up, he meant business. Muhammed Ali believed that he was created for greatness to the point where he actually became great. Hits desire was realized because he cooperated with it.  For all his bragging,  he was telling the truth. And for what it’s worth, humility is defined as the acknowledgment of truth about one’s self.

Far from being opposed to humility, wanting to be great is a noble thing. It is a virtue that complements the former, and it’s called magnanimity, which comes from the Latin words for great and soul. Ali Was great soul-ed. he was magnanimous.

I can think of countless places in the New Testament where magnanimity is extolled: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven,” “I have appointed you to bear much fruit that will last,” “run so as to win,” “we exist for the praise of his glory,” etc. Many  Saints taught magnanimity and exemplified it, such as St. Catherine of Siena who said that if we are what we should be, we would set the world on fire. St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Francis Xavier, St. John Bosco. And of course, there is St. Therese who aspired to to greatness and taught that it could be achieved by the faithful and loving fulfillment of what is required at every moment. I am reminded of the words of a Missionary of Charity sister, a member of the religious congregation founded by soon-to-be Saint, Mother Teresa. She looked right at me and demanded me to be a saint, “and not just any saint, you must be a great Saint!”

Now I don’t mean to suggest that Muhammed Ali was free from pride and arrogance. Some of his taunts, while highly entertaining and humorous, came across as being unmistakably arrogant. What I am saying however, is that Ali teaches us that greatness is the only option. We only have one opportunity to get it right, we are to make the best of the life we have been given and achieve the greatest degree of glory possible.

Even when Parkinson’s robbed speech from the man known as the Louisville Lip, he remained strong and was an advocate for those in need.  And if not speaking made him humble, it made him all the more greater.

Rest in peace Muhammed Ali.

Mother Angelica’s Influence on my Life

On the evening of Easter Sunday, I tuned into EWTN to watch the Pope’s message. Shortly after it was over, it was announced that Mother Angelica had died. I was stunned to hear the news. Mother Angelica played a crucial role in my life. I am deeply indebted to her for teaching me to love Jesus Christ and his Church. Everything I am today, spiritually speaking, is in some way or another, a result of Mother’s cooperation with the grace of God.

Back in the early 1990s my family got cable, in large part because Mother Angelica’s network was on it. As an adolescent, I wasn’t all that interested in watching EWTN. My mother would always leave it on until it became like background noise, which caused me to complain that the electricity was being wasted. At the same time however, I took in bits and pieces of teachings, more than I would have cared to admit. Once, I heard Mother Angelica speak about the dangers of the occult and playing with Ouija boards. That Christmas, someone gave a Ouija board to my sister and me as a present. Due to my insistence, we threw it out that very evening—I remembered what Mother said.

Now that I that I reflect on it, my having muscular dystrophy and being in a wheelchair led to quite a bit of involuntary exposure to EWTN. During World Youth Day 1993, I watched and followed the Pope’s visit to Denver. I was impressed by Mother’s commentary highlighting obedience to the Vicar of Christ, and I remember the time she announced that her sisters would be going back to wearing traditional habits. She had guts for sure.

About a year before that, when I needed surgery on my spine and had to be hospitalized for the 1st time in my life, my parents wrote to Mother Angelica. She sent a letter along with a package of her mini books and assured us of her prayers. I never forgot her kindness to me.

In my teenage years, I became depressed because I didn’t really know how to deal with my physical disability. After school, I would watch my own shows and music videos, hogging up the TV in the living room in addition to the one in my bedroom. But suddenly, before 2000 I decided to watch EWTN and nothing else, as a Lenten penance! That literally changed my life. I learned much more than I had ever known. It was like I discovered the treasure in the field, and the pearl of great price that Jesus mentions in his parables. Pretty soon, my Catholic faith came alive and I was hooked on watching the network because I actually wanted to. From that point on, I looked forward to watching Mother Angelica Live every week.

Mother Angelica taught me so much about Jesus Christ, his Mother, and devotion to the Holy Eucharist. From listening to her, I learned that I could offer my suffering in union with the sufferings of Christ on the Cross on behalf and for the good of others. This teaching (which I’m sure Mother practiced til the end of her life) was reinforced when my family I went to Lourdes, where I received the grace of acceptance.

I really enjoyed watching Mother Angelica and I always looked forward to seeing her every week. She was so entertaining and engaging. I especially loved the humor with which she read the Gospels and added her own colorful dialogue. Her down-to-earth spontaneity and comedic timing made her a delight to listen to.

Before her stroke, my family and I had the tremendous blessing of meeting Mother in person. That was in the Great Jubilee Year 2000, the year we had gone to Lourdes. And it so happened, according to Divine Providence, to be on my birthday. It was one of the best birthday gifts I’ve ever received. She gave a talk at the Basilica of the National Shrine here in Washington DC. Just as my family and I arrived, Mother Angelica and one of her sisters were making their way from the parking lot! We got to take a picture with her, which I still have. After her talk, which was a lot more fun than a standup comic’s routine, she redirected the applause to Jesus by pointing to him in the monstrance on the altar.

In 2001, Mother Angelica appeared on her show one night with her mouth contorted and wearing an eye patch. I was in awe over the fact that she had a stroke but decided to make at television appearance nevertheless.When she could no longer host her live program, I missed her greatly.

Her words touched me; they are indelibly etched on my heart and soul. Whenever I find myself worrying about the future, Mother Angelica’s quotes about trusting in Divine Providence and living in the present moment give me a sense of peace and hope. Sometimes I think about how God always came through for her, how she founded a television network with hardly any skill, knowledge, or money. She trusted in God, like Abraham (who Mother enjoyed teasing) or Our Lady, always willing to take another leap of faith. I love her definition of faith: “one foot on the ground, one foot in the air, and a queasy feeling in the stomach.”

After reading Raymond Arroyo’s biography of Mother Angelica, I got a new appreciation of everything that Mother went through. If a movie is ever produced on her life, I hope and pray they stick to the script. I also bought Raymond’s other books on Mother’s prayer life––I bought one for one of my home health nurses, a Pentecostal who was fascinated by Mother Angelica.

There is a lot more that I could say about Mother, but for the sake of brevity I will conclude by saying that I will never forget Mother’s practical, childlike approach to holiness. As she reminds us, “We’re all called to be great saints. Don’t miss the opportunity.” A wise Franciscan priest once told me, “[Listen to Mother Angelica,] she will take you to heaven.”

Fittingly, Mother left this earth in the Jubilee Year of Mercy: EWTN personality, Father Charles Connor pointed out that just as Mother Teresa will be remembered for the corporal works of mercy, Mother Angelica will be remembered for the spiritual works of mercy. Thank you for everything Mother Angelica, especially for constantly reminding us that God loves us and you do too.

He never tires of forgiving

Divina Misericordia (Eugeniusz Kazimirowski, 1934).jpg
Public Domain,

A few days ago, it was Palm Sunday and Jesus entered Jerusalem to the joyful cries of “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” he is recognized and hailed as the rightful heir to the throne of King David. At the time of the Babylonian Exile that saw the destruction of the Temple and the collapse of the Davidic kingdom, the prophet Ezekiel had a vision of the Shekinah Glory of God leaving the Temple because of the corruption of the Israelites. The people out right rejected God, so he let them have their way—They rejected him so he just up and left. However, Ezekiel also prophesied that the presence of God would return. The people lamented the loss of the Glory Cloud of God and waited for the restoration, for the return of the presence of God and the return of the King. Palm Sunday is when both occurred. It’s when Jesus, God AND King is royally welcomed to his city. Jesus, the New Temple enters the old one. But things take a turn for the worse and the tragic words of St. John’s Gospel come to pass, “He came to his own people but his own people didn’t recognize him.”

Just after entering the gates of the city though, Jesus weeps over it. He knows that in a few days, just as quickly as the shouts of joy could be heard, cries of “We have no king but Caesar,” and “Crucify him” will take their place.  And Jesus weeps because a few years later, the Temple will be destroyed by the Romans. Jerusalem failed to recognize “the time of her visitation.” It’s hard to believe that such a devastating reversal could happen so fast. People can be like that though… we are up one moment and down the next. It’s a pretty sobering thought. In the Gospel Reading, again from St. John, yesterday, Jesus announces to the Apostles that one of them will betray him. They are stunned by this possibility, and yet maybe they’re not so surprised at the same time–because they ask “Is it I?” They don’t put betrayal past themselves. And yet, paradoxically, they do: St. Peter says that even if all the rest betray Jesus, he will never do so. The fact is, Peter does end up denying him. Scarier still, we al betrayed him.

Judas betrays Jesus and is remorseful about it. But instead of really repenting like St. Peter, he gives into the fatalistic sin of despair. Ultimately, he takes his own life instead of seeking the mercy of God— and that’s why Jesus had prophesied that it was better for him if he had not even been born. This was a guy  who spent 3 years of his life with Jesus. It’s unbelievably sad that Judas forgot how merciful Jesus was. He saw Jesus forgive so many notorious public sinners: tax collectors, prostitutes, and the woman caught in adultery just to name a few. He heard Jesus’ words about the Good Shepherd leaving the 99 sheep to go in search of the lost sheep. Judas heard the Parable of the Prodigal Son for crying out loud! Judas didn’t really know Jesus Christ. Jesus’ whole mission was––is––about mercy. He is the face of mercy, he is Mercy, as Pope Francis reminds us. This is the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, because we need mercy so badly. Even if our sins are as scarlet, even if we have rejected God and knowingly expelled him from the Temple of our hearts, we can be made white as snow and he will take us back (provided we repent). If terrorists, abortion doctors, the worst of sinners can be forgiven— even, if Judas could have been forgiven, anyone can be forgiven. On the cross, the floodgates of mercy were opened. God goes to extreme measures to administer life, to give us the cure to death.

I write this as a reminder to myself. May I and all those read these words never tire of running to the Merciful Savior, for he never tires of forgiving.

The Quiet Strength of St. Joseph

Every year during Lent I usually watch parts of The Passion of the Christ to facilitate my meditation on the suffering and death of Jesus in order to more consciously enter into Good Friday and Easter Sunday. I began watching it again the other day and was reminded how much I appreciate that flashback to the home at Nazareth. You know, the scene in which Jesus in the carpentry shop finishing up a wooden table for one of his clients, probably a foreigner as the lighthearted son and mother dialogue suggests. It’s pretty clear that Jesus is a skilled craftsman and knows how to work hard. This was a natural human talent that he acquired––his foster father St. Joseph taught it to him. That scene the from the movie can be seen as a credit to St. Joseph even though he’s not in it. Even though he is silent in the pages of the Gospels, the role that he played in the life of Jesus and Mary, in the Holy Family, is definitely recorded and provides material to fill in blanks.

Bartolome murillo-huida egipto

Evidently, St. Joseph was the kind of person who listened more than he spoke. He listened and obeyed. Because he was “a righteous man,” he wanted to follow the law of God even though it meant the silent separation from his betrothed. And because he was a good man, he didn’t want to put the Blessed Virgin to shame even though she was unexplainably pregnant. When the angel tells him to take Mary as his wife, he gets up and does right away. After Jesus was born, circumcised, and redeemed with the sacrifice of turtledoves as it was prescribed, St. Joseph took his family into Egypt after listening to the angel again in his dream. I think that no words of his are recorded in order to show how faithful he was, that he listened and acted, doing what God wanted him to do, right away. Another movie with a good depiction of St. Joseph is the 1977 movie Jesus of Nazareth. I like the scene where he’s got the Christ Child and tells him about God, pointing up at the stars.

He didn’t need to teach Jesus anything, because he is God after all, but he chose to be able to learn––which is pretty incredible to think about. I think some early church writers marvel about how St. Joseph taught the Word how to speak, held the one who created the universe in his arms, saved the Redeemer, Life itself, from death. Pretty crucial stuff. Jesus needed a human father just like all kids do. Because he was such a loving dad, the devil was in the dark about the Infant Jesus’ Divine origins according to some… that’s probably why some prayers like the Litany of St. Joseph refer to him as, “Terror of Demons!”

Well I can’t say that I really cared about it as a whole, the movie “Nativity Story” also had a good depiction of St. Joseph. I like how it took the time to imagine the Holy Family’s journey into Egypt and what they must have had to endure––something that can’t be overlooked. St. Joseph did indeed have much to suffer, physically, and mentally as well, traveling to an unknown country to flee for your life, along other difficult situations before and after that. The movie didn’t gloss over the hardships and the sacrifices that St. Joseph made to keep his family safe. I think it caused audiences to really think about someone who was indisputably one of the closest people to Jesus. “Nativity Story” is commendable because of the way the movie filled in the blanks as far as the human father of Jesus Christ goes. Other than that, the movie pretty much stunk I have to say.

Jesus and Mary would have talked about him and the time that this, that, or the other thing happened. It goes without saying that they would have missed him a lot. St. Joseph was blessed to have them present in his life, especially at the moment of his death, which occurred before Jesus’ public ministry. If he were still alive, he would have certainly been at the foot of the cross too. Maybe, in a way, that’s why his Feast Day almost always occurs during Lent.


A share in the Rock


Here is an article I wrote several years ago that I would like to share today, the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter– a  day celebrating the teaching authority that Christ conferred on St. Peter and his successors.

GOD is referred to often as the Rock in Sacred Scripture. In Deuteronomy, for example, we read:

He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he. (Deut.32:4)

Also many times in the Psalms, the Lord is invoked as rock. Jesus is the type of the rock in Exodus from which water flowed (1 Cor. 10:4). He is indeed our Rock of Refuge!

When we read the Gospel of Matthew chapter 16 we see Jesus call Simon Bar-Jona rock! Peter (Greek: Petros) means rock. What are we to make of this? Let’s look:

[17] And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not r evealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.
[18] And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.
[19] I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Simon had just declared “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (v16) in answer to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?” (v15). Notice how Jesus responds! Jesus tells him who he is (v18)! Jesus says to him, “you are Rock (Petros) and upon this rock (petra) I will build my church.” One might ask—why are 2 different Greek words used? The Greek word petra is feminine and thus, is not used in the first instance. Instead, the masculine word petros is used—both words meaning the same thing. In Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus, the word for rock is kepha. Had we been there when Jesus spoke verse 18 we would have heard kepha twice. The Aramaic word for Peter is actually preserved in John’s Gospel and elsewhere as “Cephas” (a transliteration of kepha). Jesus has renamed Simon as “Rock” and on him (this rock) will Jesus build His church!

Does that take anything away from Jesus? On the contrary, it illustrates perfectly Jesus’ words “apart from me you can do nothing”. Jesus imparts His “Rock-ness” on Peter! Because of Jesus and the empowering of the Holy Spirit, can Peter, a weak sinner, be a sure strong Rock. Remember, it was not Peter by himself who confessed Christ the Son of the living God. The Father revealed this to him. After Pentecost, the place of Peter takes on a more visible prominence above the other Apostles.

By giving him the “keys of the kingdom” Jesus is bestowing His own authority (Rev. 3:7) onto Peter. In the Old Testament, kings would appoint a chief steward or prime minister to govern his people. Isaiah 22:18-23 speaks of a prime minister given authority—a father to the people, with the “key of the House of David” (v22) and “when he opens, no one shall shut, when he shuts, no one shall open” This is what Jesus is alluding to in Matthew 16:18-19. Jesus, the King of Kings, has appointed a Prime Minister! And the prime minister’s office was successive—the keys are handed down through the ages.

Jesus confirms the man renamed “Rock”, before His Passion and death, at the Last Supper:

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.”

When Jesus says, “Satan demanded to have you” you is plural. This is evident in the Greek text, which some Bibles render as “you all”, or “all of you”. But when Jesus says, “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again” both times the “you” is singular. Jesus is saying, “Satan wants to sift all of you [Apostles] like wheat, but I have prayed for you [you, Simon] that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.” Jesus prayed for Simon to be Rock! To strengthen his brethren!

Yet again, after Jesus’ Resurrection, we see the following:

[15] When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
[16] A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
[17] He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.

Jesus entrusts Peter with the mission of feeding and tending His flock—His church. He asks three times as a reversal of the three times Peter denied Him.

From all of this we see undoubtedly that Jesus– the Living Stone —-has chosen to build His Church on Peter. Not that Peter was anything—it was Jesus the King who imparted His “Rock-ness”, His Strength and Authority upon a sinful man. Thus, Peter, is the visible representative head of Christ’s Kingdom—the Church on earth. This office of Peter is successive. The current Pope of Rome (as evident in secular history ) is His successor. God provides for His sheep by ensuring protection (from the powers of death) through the ministry of the Pope to feed and tend, bind and loose.

The Rock in Heaven is represented by the Rock on earth. And that rocks!

The Light Still Shines

Just a view short weeks ago, it started looking kind of grim outside, at least here in the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia) and in other parts of the country and world where it is obvious that winter is coming. Well, it’s here, Yesterday was the longest, and darkest day of the year… the winter solstice, the 1st day of winter. The trees are withered and lifeless, and the grass is no longer green. Although it may seem to be a morbid way of putting it, nature has painted a portrait of death outside. And it’s in this environment that Advent comes along to bring to mind the fact that all things will end. Just as the universe had a beginning, so to it will have an end as science attests. But Advent is a time of hope––at the end of all things, Christ comes again and ushers in a new, transformed creation where all things will be well and it will be all sunshine all the time––beyond time. At the beginning of Advent, the Church has us think about this so that we can be prepared for the last things, and the end of our lives in this present state. But it’s time for hope, because the end brings Jesus along with it. In the final stage of Advent (today is the final day of Advent)  as Christmas approaches, joy is in order: we are entering into the event of the birth of Our Lord and Savior. Either way, Jesus is coming and he comes to bring peace and joy into our lives.

It may be dark outside, but tomorrow the Sun of Justice will arise with healing in his rays. The Light will shine in our darkness.

Maybe it’s an overreaction but the last few days of my life have been kind of dark. Prompted by pain I’ve been having for a while, I thought that a new wheelchair with comfortable seating would help. Well, in the process I also opted for a better way to control my wheelchair instead of a standard joystick because of the progressive weakening of my hand and arm. it was just suggested to me that I use a head controller– but I brushed the idea aside because, well, I can still use my hand and arm and I was managing to drive my wheelchair fairly well. Because the ATP (adaptive technology professional) from the wheelchair company kept insisting that it would work better for me, I  gave in and bit the bullet so to speak. It’s left a bitter taste in my mouth.  I got the new wheelchair about 2 weeks ago and it’s been a difficult trial for me— i struggle to drive the thing with my head and have come to realize that using my hand was a whole lot better.  A representative from the wheelchair company actually agreed with me that I was struggling more than I had to in order to drive straight with the head array— basically a headrest with sensors built into it— I lean on it with my head and “tell” the chair which way to go. I kept hitting the doorframe of my room. Yes, it requires practice but it seems to me that driving in tight corners will always require assistance. There is a joystick in the back of the chair for this. The chair will actually make me more dependent, not less. The vendor said he would make modifications for a  joystick. But spacing must be just right for me to drive. The trouble with new wheelchairs is that they are different and require adjustment, even if the standard joystick will be there. Anyway, I’m waiting for this to happen after Christmas, and so the chair is sitting in the living room as an eyesore. Every time I look at it I get the sense that I was better off with the old chair in which I’m currently sitting in. To be sure, the new one is more comfortable.

Life is up-and-down, just when you get the hang of something, when you are used to carry a cross,  another difficulty comes to take its place. There are always things to be grateful for, but  still, we all struggle with hardships and inconveniences that come along. This past weekend after Sunday Mass, I got to talk to Sister Mary of the Sisters of Life. It was good to talk to her. She encouraged me and basically reminded me that I give hope to others who are suffering because I know what it is to suffer.  This is why, she told me, that I should continue writing on this blog and offer encouragement through it. Then I realized that I was not alone in my trials— Jesus knows what it is to suffer and is with us in our suffering. He lived our life. And this is Christmas. God enters into our world, to be with us, to experience everything we go through so we wouldn’t be alone. Whether we know it or not, we’ve been longing for him. Christ is the longing of every human heart. God himself leaps down from his heavenly throne, compelled by love because the one who loves is never content to be more than an arms length away from the beloved.  How unbelievably merciful is the Creator of the universe… he doesn’t leave us to our devices, he leaps from his throne above the heavens to come down to us, to lift us up out of the mire of our misery. So, while suffering through hurts,  it’s a bit easier to endure. There is hope— because the light shines in the darkness and he can never be extinguished.

Please keep me in your thoughts and prayers, dear reader. And I will do the same for you.  Merry Christmas!

A king unlike any other.

Last week, I watched “The Great Dictator,” a film written and directed by Charlie Chaplin. Well-known for his silent films, the comic actor speaks for the first time in this political satire revolving around World War II. Chaplin plays the 2 main characters, an unnamed Jewish barber and a dictator named Hynkel, a parody Hitler. The humble barber stands up to Hynkel’s injustice and becomes a wanted man. Throughout the movie we see the contrast in personalities between the characters who look alike. [Spoiler alert:] Eventually, towards the end of the movie, the 2 men are mistaken for each other: the dictator ends up in jail while the barber finds himself having to give a speech to the warring nation. The barber reluctantly goes up to the microphone, and starts off by saying that he doesn’t want to rule over anyone, he just wants to help everyone. Suddenly, before he knows it, he goes into a powerful address about the state of humanity due to the hardness of hearts and the thirst for power that leads to hate, and how meaningful life becomes when it is lived for others. I think that the whole movie was made just for that one scene decrying machine hearts and minds—its a scene thats viral on YouTube or Facebook because it rings true to this day.  It was recently mentioned by rapper Mos Def in an interview.

Obviously, the message from “The Great Dictator” is especially relevant today in light of recent violence all over the world, in Lebanon, France, Kenya, and Nigeria, not to mention Iraq and Syria. “ISIS” and Boko Haram persecute and murder human beings, distorting religion and dehumanizing themselves in the process. People persecute and destroy their own brothers and sisters, because their machine hearts and minds fail to see human dignity. They are all tyrants who seek to dominate and subjugate, like the imitation Nazis in “The Great Dictator.” They need to regain their long-lost humanity by replacing their brutality and hatred with kindness and love.  And we shouldn’t think that we don’t need to change ourselves— the barber’s admonition is for all of us. Every last one of us must be the change that we wish to see in the world. We need to look out for one another and strive to make the world a better place in which to live. The transformation of society begins when love rules hearts. That is the only power that should dominate our lives. That brings me to the point of this post.

This past Sunday was the Solemnity of Christ the King. The kingdom of Jesus Christ is not of this world— he is a king unlike the kings and rulers of this earth. His kingship is one of love and mercy.  Jesus Christ laid aside his heavenly crown and took upon a crown of thorns, he stepped down from his celestial throne and ascended the throne of the cross. Kings don’t usually love their subjects with a self sacrificial love.  Jesus Christ is a king who serves, who lays his life down freely so that his people can be free, truly free every sense of the word. His dominion is not one of domination and subjugation. He doesn’t take our free will away or force us to serve him. If we choose to serve this King, our lives will change. He is the King of hearts and he wishes to reign in hearts. And if the Prince of Peace, the very source of love is enthroned in hearts, they would no longer be machine hearts, hearts of violence and hate.The more hearts that allow him to reign within, the more society itself changes, the more love reigns over society. The kingdom of Jesus Christ is what this world needs now more than ever before. “Thy Kingdom come!”

The truth about the devil

In his preface to the Screwtape Letters, CS Lewis writes that, “There are 2 equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. one is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.” I’m halfway through reading the book and its a very interesting read. The Letters is a collection of letters from an uncle devil to his nephew instructing him how to tempt his “patient” to go to hell through subtle snares and traps. It’s a very clever and creative look into the spiritual life through the other side. The preface statement gets at the way we human beings can fall into extremes regarding the devil, both of which equally please him.

Many people, especially on this day, Halloween, have been deceived into thinking that the devil has more power than he actually does. Halloween by the way is not the “devil’s birthday” contrary to what some actually think! It comes from the Vigil of All Saints Day, as I’ve written before somewhere on this blog, but has gotten mixed up with a unfortunate resurgence in paganism with its harvest festivals and with commercialization––the selling of candy and costumes. Anyway, on this day, there is this kind of crazy fascination with the demonic. There are so many horror movies out there, some of which have a lot of truth to them, but kind of get people to relish in the glorification of evil. This is the excessive and unhealthy interest that CS Lewis is referring to. An example would be the showing of an exorcism on live TV, something that goes against the legitimate ministry of exorcising people possessed by the devil––it’s not something to be televised. Another example would be those ghost hunting shows and stuff like that. And then there are those who actually worship the devil and carry out satanic rituals.

On the other hand, there are a lot of people who don’t believe in the existence of the devil. Anyone who denies the supernatural and spiritual realities, especially materialists and atheists, falls into this kind of error. We’re talking about those who only believe what they can see in front of their own eyes, and only in things that can be measured, qualified, and observed, scientifically speaking. They, and others, may have the idea that the devil is a literary device or a kind of symbol for evil. The devil gets people lulled into thinking he doesn’t exist so that he can be more effective in bringing them over to his side and catch them unaware. One of the main characters in the movie The Usual Suspects, Verbal, refers to the devil when he talks about the shadowy criminal Keyser Soze whose existence is doubted: “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince the world he didn’t exist.” If you deny his existence, then you give him the power to work unoticed, slowly, until it’s too late, because he stuck up on you when you didn’t even know he was there. Subtlety is one of the main tactics he uses against souls according to Mr. Lewis.

The middle ground between preoccupation with the devil and denial of the devil is to be on guard against him as a malicious and highly intelligent creature and to know that he indeed is a creature, with limited power, and that Jesus Christ has already vanquished him.  When I was a kid, somebody gave us a ouija board… thankfully, I knew that it was nothing to play with and that it was a doorway to the demonic so we threw it out that night without opening it. I heard a priest recently quote an exorcist who was asked if the devil has more power today than he did before; he replied that he does not, but there are more doors being opened to him today. In other words, the devil is more active these days through people willingly giving in to him. And it’s not the sensationalistic means so much as the simple temptations that the devil uses. As the Screwtape Letters point out, the main forms of temptations are just to get people to commit serious sins and gradually numb their consciences–“the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” That’s why it’s so necessary to be on guard. “Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith…” (1 Peter 5:8-9). Ultimately though, the devil is a coward. He wants us to miss the mark so that we will not realize our full potential because he fears our true potential, which is to be Christ. Like Bruce Wayne’s dad says in Batman Begins, “they [the demons] are more afraid of you than you are of them.”

Again, Jesus Christ has already vanquished satan destroying his power along with that of sin and death. If Jesus Christ is the Light of the World, then Christians are supposed to be lights, exorcisms, to cast out the darkness. Just something I wanted to share today.

Back to the Present…

Great Scott! I can’t believe that its been months since I last posted… I hope I’m not too late and that I still have readers. Sometime in July I lost the domain name because I forgot to renew it! Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait 180 days to get it back. And now that it’s up again, I better make the most of it.

For right now I will end here.  And since October 21, 2015 is also the vigil of the feast day of Pope St. John Paul II, in addition to it being Back to the Future Day, I will share this quote of his, one of my favorites, from World Youth Day 2002, Toronto:

“We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son.”

Whoa, pretty heavy stuff.

The Philosophy of Resurrection

In the online philosophy class I took last year, there was a concept, a great achievement of classical philosophy, that really struck me and drilled into my mind. Throughout these last few days of Easter, the idea has come up to the surface so I thought I’d write about it (and it’s about time that I write about something in this blog). It has to do with human nature and the importance of the soul–specifically, as it applies to life and death.  According to Aristotle, body and soul are two principles of one thing, forming a composite unity. He was onto something for sure. The philosopher reasoned that something that is alive has a soul animating it, causing it to live. In other words, the soul is the animating principle of every living creature. The soul is the form or “whatness” of a creature… it makes a creature what it is. For example, the form or soul of a pig is what makes a pig a pig. (My philosophy teacher raises pigs and has a blog called baconfromaco     ). Now, the separation of soul from the body of the creature–death––causes the creature to cease being what it is. A dead pig is no pig at all. It’s just a clump of dead cells, a rotting mass.

This is where it gets particularly interesting. Amazingly, some ancient philosophers were able to reason that the human soul is immortal, because of its unique powers of reasoning. Pythagoras, for whom the is named said that the human soul must be immortal because it can understand immaterial, unchanging mathematics. Herein lies the problem: the human soul can’t prevent body and soul from being ripped apart in death. But if it (the soul) were immortal, and it is, you would think that it could prevent this from happening or at least go on existing somewhere until it could be somehow reunited to the body, now decomposing, which it left. How is it that soul lives forever while the body doesn’t? Aristotle, although he believed that the soul had immaterial powers, couldn’t understand the immortality of soul–when the body ceases, so does the soul. A disembodied soul doesn’t make sense. The necessity of the resurrection of the body then is something that can be arrived at through good philosophy. But there is no evidence of this happening (or is there?) so philosophy (temporarily) comes to a screeching halt–or more accurately, a dead end (see what I just did there?).

Now this is where the divine revelation of Christianity comes in. The problem is solved because someone has indeed risen, his body reunited with his soul never to be separated again: Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead, as attested to by witnesses who saw him alive. Because of this historical reality, St. Thomas Aquinas and others are able to pick up where Aristotle left off! The immaterial soul of a human is immortal because it is possible for it to be reunited with the body, resurrected. Soon after the Resurrection of Christ, the good news reached the land of the philosophers who unknowingly longed to hear it. On one of his missionary journeys, the Apostle St. Paul found himself in Athens, Greece at the Areopagus, a renowned stomping ground and place of discussion for philosophers and seekers of knowledge. Being well educated in the rich Hellenistic culture of the Greco-Roman civilization in which he lived, St. Paul would have been acquainted with the ideas of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle and the writings of other such learned men, so he knew exactly how to tell them about the Resurrection.

While there, he observed the shrine dedicated to a whole pantheon of gods included one in particular to an unknown God. This unknown God was the one that St. Paul proclaimed to the Areopagus.  Interestingly, Socrates had been labeled an atheist because he reasoned that there  could only be one God rather than a plethora of gods locked in constant rivalry. Within the non-Christian Mediterranean world then, it was not a totally novel idea to believe in one God. St. Paul brought the attention of his hearers to this monument to the unknown, invisible God and made known to them that he was real, known by those to whom he revealed himself. And this God, St. Paul informed the Athenians, was ultimately the one the poet Epimenides actually referred to when he wrote the words “in him we live and move and have our being.”  it turned out that he wasn’t talking about Zeus. The Holy Spirit is the breath of life, the principle of reintegration of body and soul, Who animates the soul. In his power, the power of Jesus Christ and God the Father, Christ was raised from the dead. And he causes Christ to live in us,  thereby making us to be offspring of God (as another Greek writer, Aratus, wrote unknowingly) that we too may rise!  God is the one who can answer the philosophical dilemma of death with the bestowal of eternal life, the permanent restoration of body and soul.