Plan One From Outer Space

Posted on: September 20th, 2017 by editor No Comments

The life of every person is an unfolding story. The plot, however, is not always clear.  We plan our lives, but our best laid plans are often turned awry. It has become a cliché that if we want to make God laugh, we tell Him our plans. Our petty plans are spoiled by the whims of chance or sabotaged by the plans of others. And when our plans fail, we adopt another plan that is subject to the same fate.     

God has His own plans for us. It would have been negligent of Him to cast us into the world without providing us with a plan. Although we must keep on planning, we must acknowledge that God’s plan has top priority. “Plan One From Outer Space,” we might say, is part of God’s gift to us.  Our plans– from one to nine–are inevitably short-sighted and marked for failure. “There is no road has not a star above it,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson. When we subordinate our plans to God’s, we begin to discern the development of our authentic story.  Our road to meaning requires supernatural guidance.

Our plans are linear. They proceed from step to step. We plan a picnic, but it rains. We plan to get to the theater on time, but get caught in traffic. We plan a delightful vacation, but the weather is persistently inclement. We do not have possession of the Master Plan that coordinates all plans. The linear plan is for one, God’s Plan is for everyone.

If rational plans can end in disappointment, they cannot end with pleasant surprises. We cannot plan to be surprised. When C. S. Lewis writes about “being surprised by joy,” he is alluding to something that cannot be planned. Joy-filled surprises come from outside of planning. Life would certainly be dreary if there were no surprises.  Moments of happiness take us by surprise. They seize us; we do not seize them. In addition, there would be no humor without the element of surprise. “The secret to humor is surprise,” said Aristotle. Excessive planning leads to a gloomy and humorless life. We need a higher plan, one that we cannot conceive on our own.

The poet Robert Browning has made the remark that “all human plans and projects come to naught”. When one plan is fulfilled another plan takes its place. Graduation from high school gives way to graduation from college, securing a job, buying a house, and so on. One flies to Chicago, then taxis to a hotel, proceeds to the dining room, finds his room, etc.  Each plan, when fulfilled, reaches its destination and steps aside for another plan. One’s destiny, however, remains unfulfilled. When we plan, we have a series of destinations in mind. God has our destiny in mind, and it is one that can be fulfilled only by adherence to His moral laws. And that destiny is to be fully ourselves, what God intended us to be.

The Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung, in his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, relates a dramatic instance of a plan gone horribly awry. He describes what happened to a female doctor, a member of society’s upper crust, who confessed to him that she had poisoned her best friend in order to marry her friend’s husband. She had been confident that her crime would go undetected and that she would not experience any remorse. A series of misfortunes, however, proved her wrong. Her new husband died shortly after her marriage, relatively young, and his daughter from his earlier marriage withdrew from the fold as soon as she could.  According to Jung’s account, even animals, including her favorite horse and pet dog, turned away from her. She was so struck by the silent verdict of both her friends and her animal companions, that she was plunged into unbearable loneliness. Jung’s judgment, which he left for the reader, is harsh, though not unrealistic: “She was a murderess, but on top of that had murdered herself.  For one who commits such a crime destroys his soul.”

Plans that violate God’s Commandments are essentially incompatible with one’s destiny. Our plans must be consistent with the moral order.  If a person wants to make God weep, one might say, tell Him that by having access to abortion allows a woman to gain control of her destiny. God’s Plan is convergent in the sense that it is co-ordinated in order to accommodate the plans of more than one person at the same time. Thus, God has a plan that synchronizes the destinies of husband and wife within the context of marriage, as well as the destinies of a mother and her unborn child.  God’s Plan harmonies a multiplicity of individual destinies. Only God could arrange things in such a manner. Our own linear plans belong to the realm of tunnel vision. On our own, we are incurably myopic.

Abby Johnson’s exposé, Unplanned Parenthood (2010), reveals the severe short sightedness of Planned Parenthood.  God’s plans for the unborn are thwarted by abortion. He is the Creator; abortion is the de-creator. Abortion contradicts both the destinies of the mother and her unborn child. Planned Parenthood’s “plans” are regressive. They cannot be coordinated with a higher destiny. They implode upon themselves. Abby Johnson learned what Planned Parenthood has yet to learn, namely, the supremacy of God’s Plan. In her words: “Everything about my journey since running out of the Planned Parenthood clinic into the waiting arms at the Coalition of Life house was unplanned—by me, I mean.  I look back in the journey and see God’s fingerprints all over it.”  She goes on to say that the one seed she wants to plant in the hearts of everyone who hears her story it is that “God is worthy of our obedience and trust.  When we step out in obedience, God rolls out the red carpet (p. 207).”

Dr. Donald DeMarco is a Senior Fellow of Human Life International. He is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ontario, an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College in Cromwell, CT, and a regular columnist for St. Austin Review. His latest works, How to Remain Sane in a World That is Going Mad and Poetry That Enters the Mind and Warms the Heart are available through Articles by Don:

What We Can Learn About Near Death Experiences

Posted on: September 11th, 2017 by editor No Comments
By Catherine Mendenhall-Baugh

Her name was Dorothy and she was my mother.  She left us 21 years ago. Two years before she died she was hospitalized for a serious illness. At one point she suffered a cardiac arrest and nearly died. She survived her experience and was able to go home after recovering from her near death scare. I made it a point to visit her the summer after she came home. She couldn’t wait to tell me about her experience.  Several months had passed since she came home and she was still in awe of what had happened to her during those moments so close to death.

Let me start by asking the question, what is a Near Death Experience (NDE)? Answer: It is a profound psychological and spiritual experience that normally occurs during intense situations such as clinical death or trauma causing sensations, including detachment from the body, feelings of levitation, total serenity, security, warmth and the presence of a light (Wikipedia). There are thousands of reports of Near Death Experiences from all over the world happening every day. In 1997, a US News & World Report stated it was estimated that as many as 15 million Americans have experienced a NDE.

Many survivors of NDEs will give an account similar to other survivors. In essence, the person whose life is ending will tell about slipping down a dark space or a long tunnel heading towards a bright light and ultimately experiencing a feeling of profound peace and great love; some may even receive a message, “It’s not yet your time.” Some will recall seeing deceased relatives or even talking with God while they are technically brain dead and being kept alive in a coma like state. They don’t see a person that is God, but feel an overpowering sense of love which they are certain is God. Some will even see Jesus or his mother, Mary. These survivors’ stories share consistencies after their experience. The primary one is they come back changed. They are not the same person they were before they experienced being in what they perceived as heaven. For the most part, they all report no longer having a fear of death. They also have a strong desire to become a better person. They become more spiritual and they are more willing to help others in whatever capacity they can. Oftentimes, their loved ones don’t recognize the person they have become and it will cause issues in their relationships.

A huge percentage, as much as 80-90% who have experienced a near death occurrence claim they are certain that life continues after death.

A book by Dr. Eben Alexander entitled Proof of Heaven, has received a huge reaction across the world on the subject of NDEs. Largely this is because Dr. Alexander is a Harvard trained neurosurgeon, a man expected to know what is possible and not possible about human consciousness. He fell into a deep coma where the entire cortex, the part of the brain that registers thought and emotion, was eaten away by E. coli bacteria. In spite of his state or because of it, he recalls an encounter with God and an angelic figure allowing him a view of heaven from a flying butterfly. Primarily, he remembers the feeling of unconditional love that surrounded him.  Yet another story told by Crystal McVea in a book called Waking up in Heaven, she shares the story of the nine minutes that followed after she stopped breathing while being treated for pancreatitis. In her words, “I didn’t see the human form of God. I didn’t see hands and feet and a face. I just saw the most incredibly beautiful light.” She says she could see, smell, taste, touch and hear God with more than the five senses she had on earth.

How do we as Catholics feel about the numerous stories of near death experiences?

One of history’s most memorable pontiffs, Pope Gregory the Great, recorded NDEs in a book called Dialogues written in the sixth century.  There are striking similarities in this book to what is reported by thousands of survivors today.  Many celebrities such as Jane Seymour and Sharon Stone also reported they had NDEs after suffering a serious illness.

I think many of us are fascinated and want to hear more about research being done on these accounts of NDEs. Why do these accounts of near death experiences cause both skepticism and excitement all at the same time?

I think the answer to this lies in the fact that there are so many reported NDEs that for many people the concept of life after death has now been validated. A great many feel since we are all sinners and sometimes have an image of God being upset or frustrated and angry at us because of spending our lives sinning. As a result, the fear related to dying comes from feeling the likelihood of making it to heaven for sinners is slim to none. It’s as if these stories of NDEs experiences suggest otherwise. They talk about encounters with a very loving and forgiving being. They validate what we as Catholics always knew; life after death is not only possible, but real. God is all knowing and loving and He offers forgiveness for our sins. He sent His son Jesus to insure that forgiveness was possible.

On one hand we should realize each incident has to be looked at with certain scrutiny because many things can cause such experiences, based on some scientific research studies. These scientists have said that these NDEs are explained because these individuals are having a reaction to various chemicals introduced into their bodies to help keep them alive while their brains, although clinically dead, may still be active. Cardiologist, Pin Van Lommel said “Our results show that medical factors cannot account for occurrences of NDEs since they push the limits of medical ideas about the rage of brain consciousness and the mind and brain relations.”

One thing that is certain, the more that science and medicine advance in saving people’s lives so close to death and continue to improve ways to save them, the more we will continue to hear about NDEs. There is some scientific evidence that would seem to point in the direction that these are real, if in fact, these NDEs occur during clinical death.

Father Steven Scheier, a priest at Holy Trinity Church in Little River, Kansas, suffered a head-on collision in an auto accident with a broken neck. He doesn’t remember a tunnel, but does recall being on the verge of dying.  He was aware of the Blessed Virgin Mary praying on his behalf. “We as Catholics take life after death for granted. The experience I had has made me realize that we are all accountable to God and that this life is just a shadow world.”   

The medical profession has taught there are scientific reasons for these occurrences. Consequently, some scientists and medical professionals still find this type of thing nonsense. Once you are dead, you are dead, plain and simple. These scientists say NDEs are the result of high carbon dioxide levels, oxygen deprivation, and surges of steroids epinephrine or adrenaline. This is what causes the images of a tunnel, pearly white gates and angels. They say the brain goes on fighting even when the heart stops. What they can’t explain, however, is how so many people share the same kind of experience. How can people have clear consciousness in a state of cardiac arrest with no brain activity and a flat EEG? Clearly these cases should be called “after death experiences, not near death experiences?”

I can only offer what was told to me by my mother. She saw her parents who died when she was in her teens. She was in the presence of Jesus. She described feeling such immense peace and love at the same time that she knew heaven was a reality. She knew her love of God all those years was a gift. “Think of the most amazing moment in your life Cathy, and multiply that by a billion, and you still have not come close to what it feels like to be in the presence of perfect love with God.”

The apostle John gives a firsthand account in the Book of Revelations of the glory and immensity and power of the beauty of heaven. There are times when he has trouble putting into words but clearly it seems his vision of heaven is overwhelming to him (Revelation 2:21).

I respect all of this information. But, as a Catholic I refer to the Apostle’s Creed:

“I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.  He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, He shall come to judge the living and the dead.  I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, and the resurrection of the body and life everlasting Amen.

rsz_1cathyCatherine Mendenhall-Baugh (Cathy) completed her education at the University of Nebraska majoring in Special Education and minoring in English Literature and now works in the insurance industry. A mother and a grandmother, Cathy grew up in a large Catholic family and has spent the last 30 years as a caregiver for her husband, Jack. A writer for Tuscany Press, she is also working on several longer writing projects.
Articles by Catherine Mendenhall-Baugh:

The Blurring of Logical, Natural Distinctions

Posted on: August 26th, 2017 by editor No Comments

The mind naturally distinguishes between the true and the false, recognizing the difference between the real and some substitute or imitation for the authentic, between the true and the ersatz, the natural and the artificial. So many errors of judgment and foolish and immoral decisions begin by the failure to recognize these logical, inherent distinctions that form the structure of reality. For example, subtle but vital distinctions separate appearance from reality: love from lust, marriage from cohabitation, contraception from natural family planning, annulment from divorce, and a traditional family from an artificial social construct that can assume a plurality of forms. While seeming similar and showing slight differences, the real thing and the imitation have profound metaphysical dissimilarities and share little in common besides some superficial resemblance.

While sacramental marriage commits couples to vows of fidelity, recognizes indissoluble unions, and practices generosity in the self-giving love that welcomes children as blessings, cohabitation does not pledge promises of faithfulness, a lifetime of commitment for better or for worse, an openness to children, or an obedience to God’s commandments. When unwed couples live together in the intimacy of conjugal love as if married and establishing a home, the relationship is tentative and transitory with no defined obligations to uphold or solemn promises to honor in the course of a lifetime. The real thing offers permanence, the blessing of God, a sense of security and stability to endure the vicissitudes of life, and a source of lifelong joy. Marriage has a foundation like the strength of a rock, but cohabitation has no moral structure on which to build. Thus the real thing passes the test of time; the imitation is ephemeral. The real thing is founded on a timeless truth, but the imitation is based on the lie that marriage and cohabitation are one and the same thing with no existential differences.

While contraception and natural family planning appear to have a common goal of spacing children or preventing conception, this minor resemblance obscures the crucial differences. Contraception violates Mother’s laws that govern fertility by forcefully rendering asunder what Nature and God have intended to be inseparable—the procreative and unitive aspects of marital love. Contraception carries with it health risks such as cancer-causing pills, abortifacients that prevent implantation, abnormal alterations of a woman’s body’s equilibrium, serious side effects such as infertility, and emotional changes in temperament. Natural family-planning, on the other hand, poses no dangers to health, does not interfere with nature’s fertile and infertile cycles, cooperates with Nature’s plan and God’s design rather than frustrates Nature’s purposes with chemicals and barriers. Natural family planning relies on the human virtues of self-denial, temperance, and abstinence whereas contraception depends on technology and pharmaceutical drugs and lacks the sensitive personal dimension of the communion of love. Contraception uses and abuses the body in unnatural ways never intended or designed by Nature or God whereas natural family planning respects the integrity of the body and does not deliberately violate its purpose of fertility. The real thing, then, speaks the truth and does not lie with the body by pretending to give life-giving love while purposely denying it.

Marriage and family too have a fixed, objective, real nature that imitations can simulate, but no substitutes for the real thing carry any equivalence, conviction, or moral authority despite Supreme Court decisions or laws that legalize same-sex marriages or ignore the emotional or psychological health of children. The institution of marriage does not “evolve,” progress, or change according to the ideological or political climate of the age. Despite some aberrations or exceptions like polygamy, all cultures and societies throughout the ages have understood marriage according to its self-evident meaning—the union of one man and one woman—that Sacred Scripture affirms beyond a reasonable doubt as authoritative divine law: “Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.” God’s injunction, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it” makes sense only in the light of the marital union of man and woman, no other substitute versions of marriage. The real thing respects the language of the body, the natural purpose of Nature’s design, and the truth of God’s words and commandments. The imitation ignores the knowledge of the five senses, the fact of fixed sexual identity, and the wisdom of Nature’s laws.

Because marriage is ordered to the procreation, care, and education of children, the complementary virtues of mothers and fathers benefit sons and daughters who learn the nature of both justice and mercy, love and discipline, and strength and gentleness from the example of both parents. All human families require a father and a mother to provide special attention and tender love for the young and instruct them in the distinct vocations of fathers and mothers, not two mothers or two fathers who imagine themselves married or as entitled to special rights for the adoption of children. The real and the true are fruitful, and because “by their fruits you shall know them,” true marriages bless the young in abundant ways that protect them from the attacks against their innocence propagated by modern agendas that advocate sex education, alternative lifestyles, gender theory, and ideological indoctrination in public schools. All substitutes for authentic marriages and traditional families remain barren and produce no works that fill human life with joy, love, or peace in the knowledge that one is cooperating with God’s wise plan and Nature’s great purpose for the happiness of all members of the family and for the common good of future generations.

Though divorce and annulment both signify the dissolution of a marriage and the abrupt end of a loving relationship, one renders asunder what God has joined together and the other acknowledges that no valid marriage occurred in the first place. Divorce finds a multitude of reasons to justify the termination of marriage, citing incompatibility, unhappiness, boredom, reproductive freedom, or lack of romance. It makes light of the vows of marriage and its great obligations, placing self-interest and personal pleasures and desires above the common good of the family and the welfare of children. A valid marriage cannot suddenly be made invalid by the whim of one person tempted by “no-fault divorce” laws to end a lifetime commitment for any reason or no reason. A declaration of nullity, on the other hand, signifies that the various conditions for a valid or sacramental marriage were wanting, conditions like matrimonial consent. As explained by the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The consent must be an act of the will of each of the contracting persons, free of coercion or grave external fear . . . . If this freedom is lacking the marriage is invalid.”

Divorce, then, wantonly ruptures the oneness of an intact, inseparable union (“the two shall become one flesh”) whereas annulment presumes the absence of mutual consent, a man or a woman saying but not meaning “I take you to be my wife” or “I take you to be my husband.” Divorce and annulment do not carry the same meaning, even though separation occurs in both cases. If man and woman are united in body and soul in a valid marriage, divorce is forbidden (“It was not so from the very beginning”), but if this union of mutual consent or marital consummation is lacking, then no licit marriage follows. This difference is a logical, natural distinction that recognizes the unchangeable truth of marriage as a free, responsible choice that makes a commitment for a lifetime till “death do us part”–a truth divorce does not honor. Again the real thing rests upon speaking, meaning, and acting upon the truth, not pretending the truth of marriage varies from situation to situation.

Likewise the difference between a person and non-person is not arbitrary or indistinguishable as abortion advocates contend in claiming that the child in the womb is not a person until born. The pre-born infant exists, lives, breathes, moves, and grows in the womb. Its sex, genes, heredity, and DNA have been determined since the moment of conception. To deny the humanity of the child in utero amounts to denial of the obvious and self-evident and the rejection of scientific, empirical evidence available through ultrasound technology. The child in the womb is the same person who will be a man or woman at age forty or seventy, the only difference being the age or stage of development. Abortion advocates who argue freedom of choice, reproductive rights, respect for privacy, biological material, or unwanted child also evade truth, Nature, and God by failing to acknowledge the meaning and value of life as pre-determined, fixed, objective, real, and true and not subject to political opinion or secular thinking.

The real is not obscure, inscrutable, evasive, or confusing. It is as solid as rock, as wet as water, as hot as fire, and as true as 2+2=4. Appearance is not reality, and the ersatz is not the authentic. Common sense, natural law, and the five senses do not deceive. Only sophistic minds who misuse language and do not respect the actual meanings of words and things imagine that they can rename things and restructure morality to conform to their wishes as if reality is an illusion or a dream they do not have to accept or take seriously, as if reality will just mutate and develop to suit their personal preferences rather than loving the truth, obeying it, surrendering to it, and rejoicing in it.

Mitchell Kalpakgian, Ph.D. has completed fifty years of teaching beginning as a teaching assistant at the University of Kansas, continuing as a professor of English at Simpson College in Iowa for thirty-one years, and recently teaching part-time at various schools and college in New Hampshire. As well as contributing to a number of publications, he has published seven books: The Marvelous in Fielding’s Novels, The Mysteries of Life in Children’s Literature, The Lost Arts of Modern Civilization, An Armenian Family Reunion (a collection of short stories), Modern Manners: The Poetry of Conduct and The Virtue of Civility, and The Virtues We Need Again. He has designed homeschooling literature courses for Seton Home School, and he also teaches online courses for Queen of Heaven Academy and part-time for Northeast Catholic College.
Articles by Mitchell:

Is it a sin to be judgmental?

Posted on: August 14th, 2017 by editor No Comments
By Fr. Basil Cole, O.P.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is quoted as saying: “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn and will not be condemned.” Is our Lord demanding that his followers become naive? And while he is not a “Thomist” who makes distinctions but a divine-human who expressed himself with a Semitic mind frame of reference, further distinctions have to be made in light of revelation to understand the Lord correctly.

Too often many Catholics going to the sacrament of Penance confess that they have been judgmental. But what does this statement not mean? If a daughter is contemplating an abortion, a grave injustice is being committed on an innocent human being. If she tells her parents her desires, they are obliged to persuade her against committing this grave offense to God. They cannot say, “We do not judge you. Go and follow your conscience.” Likewise, if a son rapes a girl in college, his parents cannot say,”We love you as you are rapist and all. We will not judge you.” Or, if another son lives with his girl friend, parents cannot pretend to say, “We know what you are doing is wrong, but we will not judge you.” In these three cases, intrinsically moral evil actions are about to exist, have already been accomplished or are being committed. These young people are seeking happiness on their own terms and objectively violating God’s wise commandments. It is not loving to pretend that these loved ones are not doing grave evil and refrain from correcting them. Indignation is a virtue and becoming upset with loved ones is also a manifestation of love for their persons since moral evil goes great harm to their persons and others. Without such a feeling of repulsion, nothing will be said and done.

Actions can be judged negatively when it is evident that the actions are manifestly wrong. If I slap someone in the face, that may be an major or minor insult or I may be killing a poisonous spider on someone’s face (a virtue). Some human acts are not always as clearly known but slashing someone’s tires in a fit of anger is clearly wrong unless I am a policeman and have solid reason to know there are drugs inside them. Only a fool would not judge what really happens when it is clear and evident.

However, it is never evident if a subjective sin has been committed because defects of the intellect and will may interfere with freedom. Moreover one may be under a constraint from an outside source like a bank teller who willingly hands over money to a robber lest he be killed. A judge has to condemn a person to prison after a guilty verdict in a trial has been handed down by a jury.

We can never know immediately with absolute certitude the state of someone else’s soul. He may reveal it to us or there may be consequences of doing evil acts that lead one to know with only moral certitude that at the time, moral evil was done but not the loss of grace. Moreover, no one can ever know the depth of another’s guilt nor ever know if repentance is true and sincere in another. Between objectively evil actions done in the external forum and subjective imputability, our knowledge of the former may be clear but not the latter. St. Thomas Aquinas has some light to guide us in this matter with his treatment judging someone in his Summa Theologiae, (II-II 60, 3 & 4).

Thomas poses a question: Whether it is unlawful to form a judgment from suspicions?

He begins his answer from a citation of St. John Chrysostom: “By this commandment our Lord does not forbid Christians to reprove others from kindly motives, but [does forbid ] that a Christian should despise another Christian by boasting his own righteousness, by hating and condemning others for the most part on mere suspicion.”

He then goes on to say that there are three causes of rashly thinking evil of others: first projecting one’s own faults onto another’s action, second, envy or anger at another, “he is led by slight indications to think evil of him, because everyone easily believes what he desires,” and third from experience of old age. These problems lead one to either doubt another’s goodness on slight indications or develop a fixed certitude of a person on slight indications. Thomas goes on to cite another author “If then we cannot avoid suspicions, because we are human, we must nevertheless restrain our judgment, and refrain from forming a definite and fixed opinion.” Mortal sin can be committed if we judge another as evil from slight indications and have contempt for him or her. Like lust, one can commit the sin of contempt by these kinds of thoughts and desires.

In article 4, Thomas raises a further question: Whether doubts should be interpreted for the best?

He answers:

…[F]rom the very fact that a man thinks ill of another without sufficient cause, he injures and despises him. Now no man ought to despise or in any way injure another man without urgent cause: and, consequently, unless we have evident indications of a person’s wickedness, we ought to deem him good, by interpreting for the best whatever is doubtful about him.

He then also offers some very wise advice:

He who interprets doubtful matters for the best, may happen to be deceived more often than not; yet it is better to err frequently through thinking well of a wicked man, than to err less frequently through having an evil opinion of a good man, because in the latter case an injury is inflicted, but not in the former (ad 1).

He further cautions against harsh judgments leading to contempt of person:

…[W]e ought, in this kind of judgment, to aim at judging a man good, unless there is evident proof of the contrary. And though we may judge falsely, our judgment in thinking well of another pertains to our good feeling and not to the evil of the intellect, even as neither does it pertain to the intellect’s perfection to know the truth of contingent singulars in themselves (ad 3).

We can have contempt for evil doing because doing morally good acts with the right motives keep one united to God’s will who asks for them as a condition of being his friend. Rash judgments of a grave nature harm another potentially because they often lead to an act of injustice, namely contempt, much like deliberately lustful thoughts and desires often lead to fornication or adultery.

The Catechism sums it up:

2477 Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty:

– of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;

2478 To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way:

It is evident then that a rash judgment is not the same as a reasonable judgment of another’s actions. In addition to having a benign judgment of people and assuming the best, tolerance and forgiveness are necessary qualities for human relationships. However fraternal correction and expressed indignation and outrage are necessary as well lest grave moral evil, which ultimately harms the doer and the common good of a society, becomes accepted as a good to be desired. Even today abortion is accepted as a false common good for the economic welfare of both individuals and society under the banner of a women’s rights due to indifference on the part of the many.

Father Basil Cole, O.P. is currently a Professor of Moral and Spiritual Theology, Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception, at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. Father is also author of Music and Morals, The Hidden Enemies of the Priesthood and coauthor of Christian Totality; Theology of Consecrated Life. A native San Franciscan, Father has been a prior in the Western province of the Dominicans, a parish missionary and retreat master, and invited professor of moral and spiritual theology at the Angelicum in Rome.
Articles by Fr. Cole:

Iconoclasm in Flannery O’Connor’s “Parker’s Back”

Posted on: August 10th, 2017 by editor No Comments

One of the virulent attacks on Catholic and Orthodox churches in the past has assumed the form of “image-smashing,” the literal meaning of the Greek word iconoclasm. Eamon Duffy’s book on this subject entitled The Stripping of the Altars explains how the Protestant Revolt in England denuded churches of statues, paintings, stained glass windows, vestments, and every vestige of ornamental beauty that adorned churches to glorify God and express the beauty of holiness. To iconoclasts the beautiful signifies the idolatrous worship of false gods and the pompous expression of vanity. The physical, the material, and the sensuous detract from the spiritual and violate their sense of godliness. This rabid desecration of churches, holy places, and sacred art appears in human history not only in sixteenth-century England and in Moslem destruction of Christian churches during the Crusades but also in Communist nations that have confiscated church property and reduced churches to warehouses or buildings to serve the state.

Iconoclasm, however, continues in the modern world in many other forms that assault the sacred and holy as Flannery O’Connor’s short story “Parker’s Back” especially illustrates. It portrays an unlikely marriage between a man and a woman with nothing in common: the Bible-quoting, self-righteous Sarah Ruth, the daughter of a fundamentalist preacher and a woman with contempt for the body married to the licentious, sensual Parker who lives for carnal pleasure and has no use for religion or the Bible. In his first impression of Sarah Ruth whom he describes as unspeakably plain and ugly with a face that needed “paint” to improve it and with eyes resembling “the points of two icepicks,” Parker asks “Who in God’s name would ever marry her?” The beautiful is the attractive aspect of the good as St. Thomas teaches, but Sarah Ruth cannot imagine their co-existence.

Sarah Ruth has similar negative reactions in their first encounter. Railing against Parker’s habitual foul language (“You don’t talk no filth here”) and condemning the tattoos on his body as vanity (“I don’t like it. I ain’t got any use for it”), she was “ever sniffing up sin.” Drinking, dancing, and gambling she regards as deadly vices. The spiritual, moralistic Sarah Ruth and the hedonistic Parker who lives to eat, drink, womanize, and do as he pleases with no commitments have nothing in common and no basis for marital compatibility. She despises the body and the sins of the flesh, and Parker gives no thought to heaven, hell, death, or the soul. Sarah Ruth loathes tattoos, and Parker takes special pleasure in decorating his body with new pictures. Anything related to the body by way of beauty or pleasure Sarah Ruth judges as inherently evil and Parker regards as absolutely good. In the story, she represents the typical iconoclast who equates the physical with the world, the flesh, and the devil. Her contempt for every form of visual representation, especially tattoos, reveals her brand of iconoclasm.

With his love for whiskey, women, and tattoos Parker—with no idea of God, the soul, or the sanctity of marriage–cannot understand why he is attracted to a woman like Sarah Ruth. Even though he vows “to have nothing further to do with her,” he finds it impossible to end the relationship and marries her even though he cannot comprehend why Sarah Ruth would accept his proposal. However, he speculates: “Sometimes he supposed that she had married him because she meant to save him.”  Sarah Ruth’s notion of saving Parker means rescuing him from the way of all flesh. He also conjectures that Sarah Ruth, puritanical and straight-laced, actually admires Parker’s ability to enjoy pleasure and to delight in the gratification of the senses that she pretends to despise. Presumably opposites attract, and Sarah Ruth and Parker secretly admire in the other qualities they lack in themselves—a plausible basis for their strange marriage. In any case, they marry in the office of a public official “because Sarah Ruth thought churches were idolatrous.” To her way of thinking the spiritual and the physical are as opposed as the beautiful and the good.

Shortly after marrying Sarah Ruth, however, Parker is determined to leave her. He finds it unreasonable to stay married when his wife is pregnant, ugly, and unskilled in cooking. Nevertheless, while Sarah Ruth, for all her moralizing and religiosity, is unable to “save” Parker, he, for all his worldliness, comes to know God in a personal, tangible way that surpasses Sarah Ruth’s fundamentalism.  In a tractor accident in which Parker strikes a tree, falls and lands on his back while the tractor overturns and bursts in flame, he yells in terror “GOD ABOVE!” Nearly killed, Parker attributes his miraculous escape to divine intervention and encounters the concrete reality of God’s presence in his life. Out of gratitude to God’s mercy and to win favor from Sarah Ruth because the painting is religious, he decides to place on his back, not the usual tattoo of a rifle, a tiger, or some famous historical figure like Queen Elizabeth II but “the haloed head of a flat stern Byzantine Christ with all-demanding eyes.” The incarnate God “saved” Parker, not Sarah Ruth’s crusade against the sins of the flesh.

Now Parker, saved from death, touched by God’s grace, and in awe at God’s image in the icon, wishes to edify his devout wife. When he asks Sarah Ruth to look at his back and see a picture of the living incarnate God, she does not identify the painting of the tattoo as an image of Christ. When Parker insists “It’s him,” she acts ignorant: “It ain’t anybody I know.” To Sarah Ruth, God “don’t look like that!” God “don’t look . . . . He’s a spirit. No man shall see his face.” Instead of rejoicing that Parker has found God and undergone a conversion, Sarah Ruth vents her fury, shouting “Idolatry!” She beats Parker with her broom and defaces the face of the tattooed Christ with large welts in her version of image-smashing. In his own simple, natural way Parker senses the reality of the Incarnation and the Word that became Flesh. God is not only spirit but also flesh and blood, a spirit who became man, who was born of a woman, who united a body and a soul, and who assumed a human shape, form, and appearance—true God and true man.

In his own unsophisticated understanding of God from his near-death experience, Parker comes to a greater knowledge of Christ than his holier-than thou wife. The body is not inherently evil, pleasure is not naturally immoral, art is not vain, and beauty is not idolatrous. Parker intuitively grasps these fundamental truths of Christian faith. Because of the wonder of the Byzantine Christ, he also recognizes the power of art and beauty in giving glory to God and in leading the mind to a contemplation of heavenly realities. Because of the Incarnation the Word that has become Flesh has redeemed the material world. Just as Christ’s body reveals his soul, the invisible things of God are known by the visible as St. Paul teaches. This knowledge also forms the basis of the sacramental life of the Church. Physical elements like the water used in baptism, the oil in Chrismation, and the bread and wine consecrated in the Eucharist embody the matter used as a visible sign of inward grace which the  the Holy Spirit sanctifies with the supernatural gifts which the Sacraments bestow.

Sarah Ruth’s failure to recognize God’s face and eyes in the Byzantine icon depicts the iconoclast’s ignorance about the educational power of the arts to lead the senses, the emotions, and the mind to a greater knowledge of God’s truth, goodness, and love. Her attack on Parker’s back with her broom reflects the iconoclast’s insensibility to beauty as a manifestation and attribute of God. Without the poetry of the Psalms celebrating the grandeur of creation(“The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows his handiwork”); without sacred hymnody and Gregorian chant elevating the spirit to a knowledge of the sacred; without Gothic and Romanesque cathedrals and the religious art of Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, and iconography making visible the invisible; and without the sublimity of the rituals and language of holy liturgy man lives an impoverished spiritual life in which he can barely “taste and see the sweetness of the Lord.” Parker was attempting to tell Sarah Ruth that God is present, near, and real. Images are not lies but glimpses or hints of the divine. The body is not the root of all evil but the temple of the Holy Spirit. Beauty is not false allure but a revelation of the image of God.

Mitchell Kalpakgian, Ph.D. has completed fifty years of teaching beginning as a teaching assistant at the University of Kansas, continuing as a professor of English at Simpson College in Iowa for thirty-one years, and recently teaching part-time at various schools and college in New Hampshire. As well as contributing to a number of publications, he has published seven books: The Marvelous in Fielding’s Novels, The Mysteries of Life in Children’s Literature, The Lost Arts of Modern Civilization, An Armenian Family Reunion (a collection of short stories), Modern Manners: The Poetry of Conduct and The Virtue of Civility, and The Virtues We Need Again. He has designed homeschooling literature courses for Seton Home School, and he also teaches online courses for Queen of Heaven Academy and part-time for Northeast Catholic College.
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Who Are the Barbarians?

Posted on: August 7th, 2017 by amioni No Comments

The word ‘barbarian’ originated in ancient Greece. The barbarian (bàrbaros) was someone who spoke in a non-Greek language and, therefore, was unintelligible to the Greek ear. The term was specifically directed to Persians, Egyptians, Medes and Phoenicians. It was as though these so-called barbarians were simply uttering “bar-bar-bar”. Consequently, the barbarians were incoherent “babblers”. Late in the Roman Empire, the term applied to those who lacked Greek or Roman traditions, specifically to Goths, Huns, Vandals, and Saxons.

We have now come to think of barbarians as uncivilized, uncouth, and lacking appreciation for anything outside of their own insular frame of reference. Ironically, according to the modern usage of the term, the real barbarian was the ancient Greek or Roman since they shut themselves off from a broader awareness of things. The modern barbarian is one who regards anything outside of his own frame of reference as incoherent and consequently worthless. He is like the British soldiers during the India rebellion who defaced the Taj Mahal, or Oliver Cromwell going on a rampage, destroying numerous Catholic churches.

Here we may ask the question, “Who is the barbarian? Does the word apply to the Catholic whose doctrine is regarded by many as unintelligible, or to those who do not make the effort to understand the richness of Catholic teaching? The word Catholic, meaning “universal,” would suggest that the true Catholic is interested in a wide variety of things. By the same token, the pro-life person, often denigrated as extremely narrow, is interested in defending the life of all human beings.

Alistair MacIntyre, in his book, After Virtue, contends that we are now in the same situation as the ancient Greeks and Romans. With regard to moral discourse, the new barbarians are those who neither speak nor understand the language of the moral tradition that has shaped the relatively humanitarian world we call Western civilization. They regard arguments put forward to defend traditional marriage, the dignity of life, the natural law, and even God’s existence as unintelligible. The late Rev. Richard John Neuhaus has added the statement that “Once anyone steps outside this [Western] tradition, then that person is considered a barbarian”. C. S. Lewis offered an antidote to the cultural blindness that forms the mind of the barbarian when he advised people “to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds . . . by reading good books”.

Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953), fittingly known as “Old Thunder,” dedicated a chapter called “The Barbarians” in his 1912 book, This That and the Other. He speaks about how we sit by and watch the barbarian and find his antics amusing. To our discredit, we tolerate that which we should oppose. “We are ticked by his irreverence,” he writes, “his comic inversion of our old certitudes and our fixed creeds refreshes us: we laugh. But as we laugh we are watched by large and awful faces from beyond: and on these faces there is no smile.”

In reading Belloc the spectacle of marches that promote the homosexual life-style come to mind. Their participants live off the capital derived from the very tradition they denounce. But they have no real contribution to make for a replacement. They are a spectacle cut off from both the past and the future. They demand attention but have nothing positive to offer.

Belloc, however, is more concerned about the factors that create a place for the barbarians. He recognizes that society is an organism and as such, it must be able to reject elements that are inimical to it. Therefore, he writes, “Whoever would restore any society which menaces to fall, must busy himself about the inward nature of that society much more than about its external dangers or the merely mechanical and numerical factors or peril to be discovered within it.”

Applying Belloc’s thinking to the present day world, a weakened society that cannot protect itself against harmful alien elements is like an organism with AIDS whose immune system is too enfeebled to reject harmful substances that attack it. The society that goes out of its way to invite harmful elements into its system is like a society afflicted with AIDS. Belloc’s comments, though penned in 1912, are valid for all times.

In returning to the question, “Who are the barbarians?” the answer devolves upon those who have cut themselves off from tradition and regard its contribution to religion, education, and morality as unintelligible. By contrast, the educated person, for whom Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Milton, Shakespeare, Bach, Beethoven, Newton, and Einstein are always relevant, is open to the great lessons of history. He is the person who does not allow himself to be limited by either time or space. Nor is his philosophy of life circumscribed by a slogan.

Hence, the person who ignores what science has to say about the nature of the unborn child and rationalizes his position solely on the basis of “choice,” would belong to the class of barbarians. Likewise, the reduction of marriage to sex, the dismissal of the natural law, and the disregard for the dignity of life is tantamount to a preference for the barbarian’s narrow habitat.

Because society functions as an organism, it must be nourished by what is healthy and it must safeguard itself against what is harmful. There is no middle ground. Human existence is inevitably a relentless moral drama. In his book, Christian Reflections, C. S. Lewis put this point in a theological context when he said the following: “There is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan.”

Civilization, it may be said, is a race between education and barbarism. José Ortega y Gasset alluded to the barbarian assault on modern civilization in his book, The Revolt of the Masses (1931), when he referred to “the sovereignty of the unqualified”. We need a less affirmative attitude toward the barbarian than tolerance. At the moment we seem to be giving him supremacy.

Dr. Donald DeMarco is a Senior Fellow of Human Life International. He is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ontario, an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College in Cromwell, CT, and a regular columnist for St. Austin Review. His latest works, How to Remain Sane in a World That is Going Mad and Poetry That Enters the Mind and Warms the Heart are available through Articles by Don:

“There but for the grace of God, Go I”

Posted on: August 3rd, 2017 by editor No Comments
By Catherine Mendenhall-Baugh

I’m sure you’ve heard the expression or maybe even said it yourself after avoiding a near misstep from a catastrophe or frightening experience; “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” When saying it, you have acknowledged outside factors like “the grace of God” having just played a role in avoiding a similar fate or catastrophic event as that of someone not as fortunate.

Initially, this phrase was thought to be credited to a mid-sixteenth century statement made by John Bradford. “There but for the grace of God goes John Bradford.” He was referring to a group of prisoners being led to their execution (Wikipedia). The irony of Bradford’s statement was that he was eventually burned at the stake for alleged crimes against Mary Tudor. He did not avoid execution.

I think that when you examine the meaning of this statement which was initially intended as an expression of sympathy, it makes you wonder if the person saying it, although empathetic, somehow believes they are luckier than someone else or they have more grace granted to them by God than someone else.

One example that comes to mind is when I have come upon a homeless person asking for a handout.

Quite honestly, I have made this same statement in that instance but I am also putting myself in the place of someone less fortunate. Essentially, I try to remind myself not to sit in judgement of their misfortunes. If I’m being totally honest with myself, there is a certain sense of relief that things I have done in my life make me more fortunate to have not come to a similar outcome.

But what I am now, I am through the grace of God and the grace which was given to me has not been wasted. Indeed, I have worked harder than all the others, not I but the Grace of God which is with me” (Corinthians 15:10).

Is it possible that some people are more blessed than others when it comes to God’s grace?

Grace – The preparation of man for the reception of grace is already a work of grace. God brings to completion in us what He has begun “since he who completes his work by cooperating with our will began by working so that we might will it.” (Catechism, 2001).

I like to understand this with a question. Isn’t it true, we all have had good and bad things happen? That is life!

I’m referring to things like loss of jobs, loss of someone special in our lives, loss of a pet, loss of our financial security, health issues and concerns, a frightening diagnosis, the list goes on and on. Coping with these things can be a challenge. But, does it appear that some people have more than their fair share of bad things than others? Do we sometimes look at people who seem to have numerous concerns they are coping with and make the statement, “There but for the grace of God go I?”

I think the answers all lie with Jesus.

Remember, Jesus had upset in His life. He lost friends who betrayed Him, he was put through temptation. He was persecuted and suffered at the hands of his tormentors; eventually being crucified and hung on a cross to die. He knew that life would have difficulties. Through Scripture He repeatedly reminded us that all of us will face challenges, but in the end everything will lead to Him.

I have often believed that some people who seem to have more burdens than others is simply Jesus putting people in our lives to be examples showing us the importance of perseverance and coping with difficult times and showing that everything we face good and bad is about bringing us to our knees. We are all who we are based on our life story. Finding God’s grace in all of that is what refers us back to the example of Jesus.

The grace of Christ is the gratuitous gift that God makes to us of His own life infused by the Holy Spirit into our soul to heal it of sin and sanctify it. It is the sanctifying grace received in Baptism (Catechism, 1999).

So how do we obtain this Grace needed to help us through life? I remember as a child in Catholic schools the Sisters teaching us that we have one goal – We should always try to be Christ-like!

All of our efforts toward that goal I believe now are gifts of grace. When realizing that, we can honestly say with true humility; “there but for the grace of God, go I.”

rsz_1cathyCatherine Mendenhall-Baugh (Cathy) completed her education at the University of Nebraska majoring in Special Education and minoring in English Literature and now works in the insurance industry. A mother and a grandmother, Cathy grew up in a large Catholic family and has spent the last 30 years as a caregiver for her husband, Jack. A writer for Tuscany Press, she is also working on several longer writing projects.
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Pontius Pilate, Regnative Fortitude, and the Culture of Life

Posted on: July 31st, 2017 by editor No Comments

In many ways the story of Pontius Pilate is a narrative of the Culture of Death. His words embody the antithesis of the Culture of Life. Yet, this account of the Roman Governor still has much to say about the importance for standing up for truth and life. Many may ask what exactly ate Pilate has to teach us today? To answer this question the account of Christ’s trial before Pilate ought to be explored in depth.

While Pilate’s notorious reply to Christ, “What is truth?,” is a testament to relativism, he does provide a model of what not to do for those in positions of authority. In particular are 2 points that need to be explained in detail: 1) Pilate’s lack of virtue and 2) his reliance on political expediency.

It is clear that Pilate does not view Jesus as guilty of any crime against Rome. Each Gospel makes this obvious. In Matthew 27: 18 it is stated “For he knew that it was out of envy that they handed him over” (it is similar in Mark 15: 10). In some of the Gospel accounts, Pilate goes even further by stating, “What evil has he done” (see Mark 15: 14)? Or “I find this man not guilty” (Luke 23: 4; again a similarity found in John 19: 4). It becomes even more certain that Pilate is uncomfortable with finding guilt in Jesus when he asks the crowd to choose between Barabbas and Christ. It is when the crowd becomes unruly that Pilate relents and allows the execution to go forward.

Much of this goes back to the question that Pilate asks Jesus, “What is truth?” While the Gospel accounts do not give much insight into the man of Pilate, they do give an impressive glimpse. For example, it is clear that Pilate is not a man of virtue, particularly the virtue of justice. On one hand, it is very evident that Pilate has some ambivalence about condemning Jesus to death since he has not formally broken any Roman law, yet he it allows it to happen by “washing his hands”. In many ways, this passage of the story is quite interesting since it is about the secular authority’s ultimate refusal to stand up for justice. Pilate is presented with the facts yet refuses to act properly on them. It is a clear rejection of justice based purely on the Natural Law. Pilate, who does not have the faith, but is human and has a human nature, and therefore is subject to the moral law, refuses to do the just act.

The crowd gathered before Pilate is on the verge of becoming riotous. As the Gospel of Matthew states, “When Pilate saw that he was not succeeding at all, but that a riot was breaking out instead…” (see Matthew 27: 24). This simple observation of Pilate also seems to indicate that not only did Pilate not act justly but that he lacked the fortitude to do what was politically and morally correct. He does not want to deal with the political ramifications of doing the morally correct thing, even though his own wife pleaded with him to “Have nothing to do with that righteous man” (see Matthew 27: 19). Rather he would fall into the act of political expediency.

No doubt many politicians face circumstances in which they ought to do something that is just yet may be politically unpopular. This seems to be a constant dilemma within any political system and it is quite evident within the story of the Christ’s Passion. And, unfortunately, like Pilate, many politicians try to wash their hands of their responsibility. The part of the Passion where the Messiah speaks with Pilate is not only a story for every Christian to be brave in a world that wishes to condemn truth, but it is also a very telling story for those who hold (or wish to hold) public office. Those who are in public office will face the truth in a way that the everyday person does not since those in authority will have to be accountable to the common good of society especially when it comes to a Culture of Life.

This, naturally, leads into the idea of regnative fortitude. Much like regnative prudence, this type of fortitude is applicable to those who hold public office. It is a type of courage to stand up for what is just and true in the realm of politics even when public opinion or one’s own party stands against it. In fact, St. John Paul II is very explicit in his papal encyclical Evangelium Vitae about this kind of prudence when he states, “This task is the particular responsibility of civil leaders. Called to serve the people and the common good, they have a duty to make courageous choices [emphasis mine] in support of life, especially through legislative measures” (no. 90). It is clear that Pontius Pilate did not make the courageous choice in defense of life and it is in this sense he fails as a proper public authority.

Fortitude, as a virtue, is extremely important in the political world. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI spoke of this in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est when he states, “The Church wishes to help form consciences in political life and to stimulate greater insight into the authentic requirements of justice as well greater readiness to act accordingly [emphasis mine], even when this might involve conflict with situations of personal interest…” (no. 28). It is important to note here, that what both St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI are saying is that it is more important and bravely stand up for truth and justice even if it may cost the politician party support or even an election. Politicians have the moral duty not only to be just and prudent, but to be courageous and to stand up to the face of evil that is trying to prevent justice from being enshrined in the law.

Political expediency, as a habit, is not always virtuous. Christian civic leaders who are “personally opposed to abortion, but…” are not brave. They hide behind an absurd statement that is akin to “I’m personally opposed to rape, but…” These leaders are called to defend life in all of its stages of existence. Pontius Pilate dodged the question of life of the Culture of Life embodied before him. Pilate is a testimony as to how not to act on these deeply important questions for those in authority. He chose political expediency to preserve his political and personal interests. As a result, he shows all who read the Gospels how much of a coward he is.

Joe Kral has been involved in the pro-life movement since he has been in college.  His MA in Theology was completed at the University of St. Thomas where he specialized in bioethics.  From 1996-2003 he was the Legislative Director for Texas Right to Life.  During that time he was also a lobbyist for the Department of Medical Ethics at National Right to Life.  From 2004-2007 he consulted the Texas Catholic Conference on pro-life legislative initiatives.   In 2006 he was awarded the “Bishop’s Pro-Life Award for Civic Action” from the Respect Life Ministry in the Diocese of Dallas.  He currently serves as a voluntary legislative advisor to Texas Alliance for Life, is a member of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, taught as an adjunct professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas, teaches as a Forward Toward Christian Ministry instructor for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, is a member of the Knights of Columbus, and is doing doctoral studies at Harrison Middleton University where he is specializing in the ethical and legal theory of St. Thomas Aquinas. He has been married to his wife, Melissa, since 2004 and they have 2 children together. They attend St. Theresa’s Catholic Church in Sugar Land.
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