Friday, January 27, 2006

Speaking of the devil

I found this cool article on Zenit, and thought that you might be interested in reading it, especially with the Gospel this weekend. - Deacon Greg

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 22, 2006 ( Cardinal Georges Cottier, while he was still the theologian to the Pontifical Household, wrote an introduction to the book "Presidente degli Esorcisti -- Esperienze e Delucidazioni di Don Gabriele Amorth" (President of the Exorcists -- Experiences and Clarifications of Father Gabriel Amorth).

Father Amorth is an exorcist of the Diocese of Rome, and founder and honorary president of the International Association of Exorcists.

The book has been recently published by Edizioni Carismatici Francescani. Here is a translation of Cardinal Cottier's introduction.

* * *

The Church must speak about the devil. Though he sinned, the fallen angel has not lost all the power he had, according to God's plan, in the governance of the world. Now he uses this power for evil. John's Gospel calls him "the prince of this world" (John 12:31) and also in the First Letter of John one reads: "the whole world is in the power of the evil one" (1 John 5:19). Paul speaks of our battle against spiritual powers (cf. Ephesians 6:10-17). We can also refer to Revelation.

We must fight not only against the human but the superhuman forces of evil in their origin and inspiration: Suffice it to think of Auschwitz, of the massacres of entire peoples, of all the horrendous crimes that are committed, of the scandals of which little ones and the innocent are victims, of the success of the ideologies of death, etc.

It is appropriate to recall some principles. The evil of sin is done by a free will. Only God can penetrate the depth of a person's heart; the devil does not have the power to enter that sanctuary. He acts only on the exterior, on the imagination and on feelings of a sentient origin. Moreover his action is limited by the permission of Almighty God.

The devil generally acts through temptation and deceit; he is a liar (cf. John 8,44). He can deceive, induce to error, cause illusion and, probably more than arouse vices, he can support the vices and the origins of the vices that are in us.

In the Synoptic Gospels, the first apparition of the devil is the temptation in the desert, when he subjects Jesus to several incursions (cf. Matthew 4:11 and Luke 4:1-13). This event is of great importance.

Jesus cured sicknesses and pathologies. Altogether, they refer to the devil, because all disorders afflicting humanity are reducible to sin, of which the devil is instigator. Among Jesus' miracles are liberation of diabolical possessions, in the precise sense.

We see in particular in Saint Luke that Jesus orders the devils who recognize him as Messiah.

The devil is much more dangerous as tempter than through extraordinary signs or astonishing external manifestations, because the gravest evil is sin. It is no accident that we ask in the Lord's prayer: Lead us not into temptation. Against sin the Christian can fight victoriously with prayer, prudence, in humility knowing the fragility of human freedom, with recourse to the sacraments, above all Reconciliation and the Eucharist. He must also ask the Holy Spirit for the gift of discernment, knowing that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are received with the grace of Baptism.

Saint Thomas and Saint John of the Cross affirm that we have three tempters: the devil, the world (we certainly recognize this in our society) and ourselves, that is, self-love. Saint John of the Cross maintains that the most dangerous tempter is we ourselves because we alone deceive ourselves.

In the face of deceit, it is desirable that Catholic faithful have an ever more profound knowledge of Christian doctrine. The apostolate must be promoted for the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, of extraordinary usefulness to combat ignorance. The devil perhaps is instigator of this ignorance: He distracts man from God, and it is a great loss that can be contained by promoting an adequate apostolate in the media, in particular television, considering the amount of time that many people spend watching television programs, often with contents that are culturally inconsistent and immoral.

The action of the devil is also unleashed against the men of the Church: in 1972 the Supreme Pontiff Paul VI spoke of the "smoke of Satan that has entered the temple of God," alluding to the sins of Christians, to the devaluation of the morality of customs and to decadences (let us consider the history of the religious Orders and Congregations, in which the need has always been noted of reforms to react to the decadence), to yielding to the temptations in the pursuit of a career, of money and of wealth in which the members of the clergy themselves can incur, committing sins that cause scandal.

The exorcist can be a Good Samaritan -- but he is not the Good Samaritan -- as sin is a graver reality. A sinner who remains set in his sin is more wretched that one who is possessed. The conversion of heart is the most beautiful victory over the influence of Satan, against which the Sacrament of Reconciliation has an absolutely central importance, because in the mystery of the Redemption God has liberated us from sin, and gives us, when we have fallen, the restoration of his friendship.

The Sacraments have in truth a priority over the sacramentals, a category in which exorcisms are included, which are requested by the Church but not as a priority. If this approach is not considered, the risk exists of disturbing the faithful. Exorcism cannot be considered as the only defense against the action of the devil, but as a necessary spiritual means where the existence of specific cases of diabolic possession have been confirmed.

It seems that the possessed are more numerous in pagan countries, where the Gospel has not been disseminated and where magic practices are more widespread. In other places a cultural element endures where Christians conserve an indulgent tendency in regard to ancient forms of superstition. Moreover it must be considered that alleged cases of possession can be explained by present-day medicine and psychiatry, and that the solution to certain phenomena may consist in good psychiatric treatment. When a difficult case is manifested in practice it is necessary to get in contact with a psychologist and an exorcist; it is advisable to make use of psychiatrists of Catholic formation.

A course on these topics has recently been instituted in the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum. It also seems opportune to include such formation in seminaries, in a balanced and wise dimension, avoiding excesses and constrictions.

Cardinal Georges Cottier, O.P., Pro-theologian of the Pontifical Household

[Translation by ZENIT]

Monday, January 23, 2006

Why we march

Today, the annual March for Life takes place on the streets of downtown D.C. March organizers are expecting around 150,000 people from all over the country- most of them will be youth. It's one of the great experiences during the year for most of us. While the March coincides every year with the anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade (Jan.22, 1973) to legalize abortion in the United States, its purpose is much larger than protesting the evil of abortion.

So, why do we march? You would undoubtedly get a variety of answers to this question from marchers, but the main point is to witness to the sanctity of human life. God has given an immeasurably beautiful gift with each life that He has created. He has given a part of Himself with every new creation, for He Himself is Life. Because God creates every male and female in His own image and likeness, every human life is sacred and has great dignity.

While we lost it due to original sin, God restored human dignity and raised it when He took on human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. In Christ, human and divine life become one. Every human life is in Christ, and Christ is in every human life, especially the most vulnerable persons ("least of my brethren" - Matthew 25). Christ is in the embryo, the baby in the womb, the poor, the handicapped, the homeless, the lonely, the victim of violence, the suffering, the elderly, et al. An attack on any human person is an attack on Christ himself.

The March for Life is a witness to the dignity and sanctity of all human life, especially for those persons who have been attacked (over 46,000,000 by abortion in the U.S. since '73). It is a witness to Christ, preaching his Gospel of Life. It is a witness to Truth, exposing the lies of the culture of death. It is a witness to Hope, believing that the culture of life will return again in this great country of ours. It is a witness to Love, sacrificing parts of our own lives for the sake of Life.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The holiness of sex

Well, the Skins finally lost, and their season is over. Oh well, they did much better than anyone thought. But, still, they could have beaten Seattle. As poorly as their offense played, they missed two easy chances at ten points (the margin of victory) - 1) an interception that we had in our hands and would have been a touchdown, and 2) a missed field goal that pretty much crushed us and killed our late momentum. Well, great teams win those games...some ways to go to be great!

Next year, baby!!
While we heard in this Sunday's second reading, "the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord" (New American Bible), the translation from the New Jerusalem Bible reads, "the body is not for sexual immorality". In 1 Corinthians 6, then, St Paul is speaking specifically against sexual immorality. 'Why is sexual immorality such a big deal for St Paul?' is much like the question that many people ask today, 'Why is sexual immorality such a big deal to the Church?'

Either we will use sex for good, or we will use sex for evil. St Paul is among the first to make this clear and profound distinction. Objectively, sex is a very good thing!! It is a beautiful gift from God, one of the most incredible gifts He's given us. It can be a very holy act, one in which a husband and wife give themselves completely to the other (holiness means "otherness"). The love that each has for the other becomes one love; this is representative of the love that exists between the divine persons of the Trinity. Through sex, then, couples can imitate and participate in the love between Father, Son, and Spirit!

God has intended from the beginning that sex be used for two reasons: 1) union of the spouses ("they become one flesh"- Gen 2:24) and 2) procreation ("be fertile and multiply" -Gen 1:28). He has given us this incredible gift (and made sexual desire our strongest desire) so that a man and a woman might experience intimacy and love on Earth that is a preview of the intimacy and love of Heaven. The holiness and sanctity of sex goes to the very depths of human and divine love if it's used within the context that God intended.

However, misusing this precious gift can be a very unholy act. We are horrified to hear of acts of desecration of the Eucharist, and rightfully so. Well, desecrating the sexual act with immorality is an extremely unholy act, and that's what St Paul is trying to tell us. The sexual act is sacred and is to be treated with great respect and reverence. Any sexual act that does not involve both the one-flesh union of husband and wife and procreation is an immoral and unholy act.

"Or do you not realize that anyone who attaches himself to a prostitute is one body with her" (1 Cor 6:16). Because of the one-flesh union, we should be very careful with whom we become one flesh. If we are one with evil and immorality, we cannot be one with Christ. St Paul is making a plea for Corinthians and us to be one with God, and not evil, through the gift of sex.

Most of the current Church's teaching about human sexuality comes from Pope John Paul II, especially from his book, "Love and Responsibility". In a brief synopsis of the thought of JP II with regard to the holiness of sex, George Weigel writes about the importance of sexual morality: "Sexual morality transforms sex from something that just happens into something that expresses human dignity. Sex that just happens is dehumanized sex. Sex that is the expression of two persons - two freedoms - seeking personal and common goods together is fully human and fully humanizing". - "Witness to Hope", p.142

Friday, January 13, 2006

Seeing the Light

So, one more win and the Skins are in the NFC Championship game! It will be a tough game on Saturday, but I feel good about our chances. Been a long time since we've gone deep in the playoffs, but even longer for Seattle (they haven't won a playoff game since '84!). GO SKINS!!
To continue last week's post...I was in darkness around the age of 20 and knew it. I was set to make a new start by moving to California because of the darkness of my life here. My bags were packed and I was ready to go. Then, some things happened...

I finally received an acceptance letter from the University of Maryland (to which I had applied as a transfer) for the fall of '92. Ok, that was a good thing. I unpacked my bags, and started classes at UM. Then, a friend called to ask me to volunteer at his youth group at St Mark's in Hyattsville (next to UM). Three weeks went by, and I never called him back about it. Then, on the UM campus of 35,000 people, who do I run into? My buddy. "So, are you going to help us or not?", he asked. "Yeah, sure, I'd love to. I like working with kids. It'll be good".

That youth group changed my life. We had to teach the kids about Christ and his Church, and I was learning at the same time that I was teaching. The Gospel and the teachings of the Church never really sank in before even though I grew up in a solid Catholic home and went to Catholic school for twelve years. I was ignorant about Christ before '92; 21 years of darkness.

My real Epiphany came one day when I was speaking with my good friend, Fr. Wells, who was the pastor of St. Mark's. Fr Wells and I talked about everything under the sun - religion, politics, sports, etc. So, we're sitting in his office, talking about faith, and I said something to him that shows the ignorance in which I had been living for so long. "Well, you know, Father, the Eucharist is a symbol".

Fr Wells, who was a HUGE believer in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, gave a look of utter disbelief at the words that had just come out of my mouth. The following words of his are ones that I will never forget. "Greg, 'This is my body' means THIS IS MY BODY."

Where did I get the idea that the Eucharist is only a symbol? I didn't know, and didn't really care. I just wanted to investigate this further. I started to go to weekday Mass and hear the words of the Eucharistic prayer. Everything I heard and saw pointed me to the truth: the bread and wine really do become Jesus' body and blood on the altar, and then I receive Him in Holy Communion! I started to adore Jesus in the Eucharist on Thursday mornings for an hour, apologizing for twenty years of ignorance and improper receptions of Holy Communion (don't worry...I also went to Confession). "Jesus, I'm sorry, I didn't know".

Like the wise men, I was called out of darkness to the worship Him. Every Sunday (and every day for those who can make it), we imitate the magi by coming to the altar at Mass and worshipping Jesus in the Eucharist. God calls us out of darkness to his Son's house so that he can manifest himself to us as the Messiah. The magi saw a baby; we see bread and wine. It is the same Jesus, the Savior of the world. He is the light in our darkness.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The light in my darkness

Yeah, Redskins!!! Woo-hoo!! Playoffs!! Joe Gibbs is the man! For all of you non-Redskins fans, first of all, whadya thinking? Second, yeah, it's been a long time, but this is sweeeet! I like our chances against Tampa Bay (revenge time) tomorrow, and really would like to see how we'd fare against Seattle. We're the hottest team in the NFL right now!

Oh, last question: "hey, Cowboys fans...whadya doin tomorrow around 4:30?" (that's when I'll be watching my team in the playoffs!)
Ok, back to business here (hey, we haven't been very good for a long time, so we have to enjoy it while it's here!). So, this Sunday is the feast of the Epiphany. "What exactly do we celebrate on the Epiphany anyways?", you ask. Good question...I have an answer (I should, right?). The Epiphany celebrates the manifestation of Christ as the Messiah, particularly to the magi, the three wise men who followed a star to the baby Jesus.

Christ shows himself to these men who came to "pay him homage". But, they were from lands foreign to Jews, and were commonly known as magicians and astrologers. Hardly the pious crew you would expect to be at the Nativity scene. Can we say that these men were in darkness until they saw the light who is Christ? Can we say that about ourselves...that we are in darkness? If we haven't found Christ, we haven't found the light. He is the Light of the World. Without Him, yes, we are in darkness.

I lived the first 20 years of my life in darkness. Not complete darkness because I vaguely knew Christ. I would get into Holy Week every year, and pray to God when I needed stuff (real solid spiritual life, huh?). But, I really didn't know Christ at all. I was in darkness, and I knew it at about the age of 20. I was miserable, lonely, and discouraged (ewww, bad combo). I went to other things to bring me out of the darkness, but they just made things worse.

I actually had an idea to move to the West Coast and start over in life. That was my light! The light of California...sunshine, beaches, ocean, blondes...that was it. The mere thought of it brightened up my dark life. But, that would probably be the only way it could be my a fantasy. Fantasy usually appears much brighter and better than reality. That's why we fantasize so much. It wouldn't have been a real light, or THE light.

Yes, I knew I was in darkness. I just didn't know Christ was the light ...

(to be continued)