Is there such a thing as “Harmless” Idolatry?

14779551701_3ca5405fa4_oThe First Commandment given by God to Moses says:

I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them.

It is written: “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.”

14761911056_3ec1ca43f7_oNowadays most of us don’t find ourselves out in the desert melting precious metals to form the likeness of a cat, or a bull, or whatever, which we then bow down before and adore as another god. Yet, the Catholic Church rightly teaches that there is far more to idolatry than to worship graven images:

The first commandment requires us to nourish and protect our faith with prudence and vigilance, and to reject everything that is opposed to it….. (CCC 2088). 

The social duty of Christians is to respect and awaken in each man the love of the true and the good. It requires them to make known the worship of the one true religion which subsists in the Catholic and apostolic Church. Christians are called to be the light of the world. Thus the Church shows forth the kingship of Christ over all creation and in particular over human societies. (CCC 2105). 

It is under this framework that the Church states that “Human life finds its unity in the adoration of the one God” (CCC 2114) and thus that idolatry is such a grave problem for those who indulge in it: “Jesus says, ‘You cannot serve God and mammon.’ … Idolatry rejects the unique Lordship of God; it is therefore incompatible with communion with God.” (CCC 2113). 14597409667_14699ab50b_o

In the simplest terms, whenever we intentionally put anything ahead of God, we are guilty of idolatry. In our first world culture, idolatry takes on a number of forms, some of which are immediately recognizable while others require a bit more examination to properly discern.

This week I was impressed with a blog post by Msgr. Charles Pope, who writes about idolatry in the form of “service to the poor”. Anti-Catholics frequently raise the Church’s “wealth” or inclination to build “grand edifices” as a red herring argument that the Church is self-serving and avaricious with regard to the poor.

Msgr. Pope states: “Nothing, absolutely nothing, not even the service of the poor, takes precedence over the worship, honor, and obedience due to God. Nothing. If the service of the poor takes precedence over this, then it becomes an idol—an idol in sheep’s clothing—but an idol nonetheless.”

14801092223_3574f78d47_oJesus said, “What you do to the least of my brethren, you do unto me.” In essence, it is possible to worship and adore Jesus by doing to the least of these, but it never supplants the duty and honor that we owe to Jesus by following the precepts of the Church and attending holy mass. Replacing adoration and worship of Jesus with something even so laudable as service to the poor would be idolatry indeed.

If something as virtuous and charitable as caring for the poor can be a form of idolatry, exactly where does that leave us when instead of caritas, we attempt to get our fill of things without similar value — things like television, celebrity gossip, mindless tabloids and magazines, spending on consumer products like cosmetics, gadgets, wardrobe accessories, wasted time on social media, and so on?

Sadly, we are still a people wandering the desert — albeit figuratively. Consider that one clever writer asks “Would Jesus watch ‘Game of Thrones’?” and returns a surprising answer: Jesus not only would, but in fact does watch such programming, just as He watches pornography as it’s made, brutalizing the participants and killing the spiritual life of the end consumer, and just as He watches slavery and children laboring in sweatshops to make the stuff we buy. Jesus watches because He loves us, and He suffers to see us there.

14596578227_0d6f52b83a_oRather than burning incense to an ancient ancestor, how often do we elevate the celebrity or famous athlete (or a sports team) to demigod status? How often do we exhibit our devotion to the Dallas Cowboys or Oakland A’s while wearing our crucifixes under our clothes? Are we visible {insert music group here} fans but invisible Christians?

The sad part is — and I’m speaking from experience now — that the objects of our idolatry never bring us any of the joy or comfort that we expect. “I deserve it” and “I believe it will make me happy” are simply untruths whispered in our ear that will only lead to greater cravings and stronger attachments to things other than God.

Idolatry is enslavement. Whether we make ourselves, someone else, or a thing into an idol is irrelevant; the result is always the same: we return ourselves to the house of bondage. And it doesn’t matter how many shades of grey, bondage is never harmless. 

Japanese Tea Garden, San Francisco

This past weekend, we were in San Francisco again for a fun little trek. I will try to get up some other photos from our adventure, which included some churchy stuff. Here are some good pictures from our visit to the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park:

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My oldest son took this one.

My oldest son took this one.

Another one of my son's pictures

Another one of my son’s pictures

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A Caveat Emptor Re “Craft Beer”

Prior to that scourge of time commonly known as Prohibition, when, from 1920 to 1933 the Eighteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution did away with alcohol in these United States, there were hundreds if not thousands of small-scale and regional breweries that checkered the nation’s landscape.

14761884426_c43edfd790_oBack then brewing and beer was a local business, because nationwide or even multi-state distribution required things like refrigerated freight cars that made importing beer rather cost-prohibitive. So when you visited Pittsburgh you sampled the local beer, and then again you had another brand in Racine, Wisconsin, and wherever else thirsty folks happened to be.

With Prohibition, all those little breweries folded up their tents, never to return. For the most part, in the decades following the repeal of Prohibition, only the large-scale brewers like Anheuser-Busch and Miller or Coors took up the brewing of beer again.

14578203838_2055d52ec4_oAnd these megalithic companies sent lobbyists to Washington to get legislation favorable to their megapoly in the form of restrictive laws relating to the distribution of beer in interstate commerce. Essentially, a brewer could no longer brew and distribute, so each major company spun off its own major distributorship, and would charge highly unfavorable rates to the little guys to get their products onto the big trucks, keeping a corner on the market.

It’s only been the last two decades that craft brewing has seen a real resurgence in America, and if you ask most craft brewers, they will tell you that the major hurdle for expansion is still….. distribution.

Adding insult to injury, the big breweries aren’t merely satisfied with keeping their 80% market share, or whatever. They’d also like to reap some of the craft brewing money, using less than excellent methods to do it. Take a look here for a really interesting infographic on all the “regional” or “craft” beers nationwide that are actually owned and produced by the major brewers like InBev (Anheuser-Busch) or MillerCoors.

A couple of prime examples of terrifically bad “craft” beer that nonetheless enjoys a tremendous market share based upon public misperception: Shock Top and Blue Moon.

Shock Top is made in Fort Collins, Colorado by Anheuser-Busch InBev and Blue Moon is brewed by MillerCoors in Golden, Colorado. But you’d never know it because the big companies don’t want you to know it. The labelling, branding, the corporate subsidiary name, the failure to mention anywhere on the label who actually owns these companies. These beers only pretend to be craft beer.

The Quartermaster, Fr. A and "Ms. S" enjoying actual craft beer in San Francisco

The Quartermaster, Fr. A and “Ms. S” enjoying actual craft beer in San Francisco

For myself, I don’t appreciate the artifice. I don’t go to a little wood-fire pizza place that is operated by Pizza Hut. I don’t want Kentucky Fried pretending to be your great aunt’s soul food. And I don’t want a company that spends more money on Clydesdale horses and Super Bowl commercials than the entire budget of Russian River or Firestone Walker telling me what constitutes craft beer.

Craft beer belongs to us. It is consumable democracy. When a brewer combines top-quality ingredients, a carefully planned recipe, and the purest water that can be sourced with his love and respect for the process and style, that is craft beer. Craft beer is not a label, a fancy name, or anything to do with a corporate subsidiary shielding the actual multi-billion-dollar owner. It is about an honest approach to one of the oldest and most honored foods ever made.

Seriously. Someone has filed a class-action lawsuit over Blue Moon. Now that someone has called them on it, I hope that the big brewers stop pretending.

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Pope Francis: the Vocation of Families is to Educate Children

At today’s Wednesday General audience, the Holy Father spoke about the importance of families and their primary responsibility in educating children:

Dear Brothers and Sisters:  In our catechesis on the family, today we consider the vocation of families to educate their children, to raise them in the profound human values which are the backbone of a healthy society.  This educational mission, essential as it is, nowadays encounters a variety of difficulties.  Parents spend less time with their children and schools are often more influential than families in shaping the thinking and values of the young.  Yet the relationship between family and school ought to be harmonious.  Our children need sure guidance in the process of growing in responsibility for themselves and others.  Christian communities are called to support the educational mission of families.  They do this above all by living in fidelity to God’s world, cultivating faith, love and patience.  Jesus himself was raised in a family; when he tells us that all who hear the word of God and obey are his brothers and sisters, he reminds us that for all their failings, our families can count on his inspiration and grace in the difficult but rewarding vocation of educating their children.

In the “Declaration on Christian Education” Gravissimum Educationis 
(1965), the Church sets forth the following concepts:

First, Parents “must be recognized as the primary and principal educators” of their children. Their rights include: the primary and inalienable right and duty to educate their children and true liberty in their choice of schools.

Second, the family is the first school of the social virtues that every society needs.

Third, since the family often needs help to carry out their primary duty, certain rights and duties belong to civil society, whose role is to direct what is required for the common temporal good, and functions:

a. to protect the duties and rights of parents and others who share in education and to give them aid;

b. according to the principle of subsidiarity, when the endeavors of parents and other societies are lacking, to carry out the work of education in accordance with the wishes of the parents; and, moreover, as the common good demands, to build schools and institutions. (See also, CCC 2229).

c. to carry out the obligation that public subsidies are paid out in such a way that parents are truly free to choose according to their conscience the schools they want for their children.

d. to see to it that all citizens are able to come to a suitable share in culture and are properly prepared to exercise their civic duties and rights.

e. to protect the right of children to an adequate school education, check on the ability of teachers and the excellence of their training, look after the health of the pupils and in general, promote the whole school project. But it must always keep in mind the principle of subsidiarity so that there is no kind of school monopoly, for this is opposed to the native rights of the human person, to the development and spread of culture, to the peaceful association of citizens and to the pluralism that exists today in ever so many societies.

The Church clearly teaches that while the state has a legitimate interest in promoting the common temporal good, there is no kind of school monopoly, for this is opposed to the native rights of the human person… I am happy that Pope Francis uses positively the opportunity to reflect upon the family and its vital role in the education of children.

Tea, Earl Grey, Hot…..

Screen Shot 2015-05-08 at 1.17.50 PMOf course, a lot of people already have a machine that can do that. However, another technological convenience is on its way: Israeli technology company invents the precursor to the Replicator from Star Trek: The Next Generation. It uses “pods”, similar to a Keurig for coffee, except instead of coffee there are freeze-dried food ingredients. You use your smartphone to control it. Looks like it’s capable of making a lot of different items and may be available for purchase “for several hundred dollars” next year.

Does Failing to Pray *Cause* Bad Things to Happen?

A lot of us know that we should pray, and a lot of us do pray, but not all of us fully understand why we pray or what prayer does. And, we might wonder, if prayer has good effects, does not praying cause bad effects?

What is Prayer? Gift, Covenant and Communion

For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy. – St. Therese of Lisieux

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, prayer can be viewed (1) as a gift from God, (2) as a covenant with God, and (3) as communion with God.

14758187256_190892b699_oIn terms of gift, “Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God.” (CCC 2259). “Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for him.” (CCC 2260). “Prayer is the response of faith to the free promise of salvation and also a response of love to the thirst of the only Son of God.” (CCC 2260).

As covenant with God, it is understood that “Christian prayer is a covenant relationship between God and man in Christ. It is the action of God and of man, springing forth from both the Holy Spirit and ourselves, wholly directed to the Father, in union with the human will of the Son of God made man.” (CCC 2264). In praying to God, we offer ourselves as part of the covenant, furthering the personal relationship that we form with Him.

Prayer is communion with God, and “…the life of prayer is the habit of being in the presence of the thrice-holy God and in communion with him… Prayer is Christian insofar as it is communion with Christ and extends throughout the Church, which is his Body. Its dimensions are those of Christ’s love.” (CCC 2265).

The Five Types of Prayer

God wills that our desire should be exercised in prayer, that we may be able to receive what he is prepared to give. – St. Augustine

According to the Catechism, there are five primary types of prayer:

  1. Blessing and Adoration: “The prayer of blessing is man’s response to God’s gifts: because God blesses, the human heart can in return bless the One who is the source of every blessing.” (CCC 2626). “Adoration is the first attitude of man acknowledging that he is a creature before his Creator. It exalts the greatness of the Lord who made us and the almighty power of the Savior who sets us free from evil.” (CCC 2628).
  2. Petition: “In the risen Christ the Church’s petition is buoyed by hope, even if we still wait in a state of expectation and must be converted anew every day… ‘with sighs too deep for words’ the Holy Spirit ‘helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.'” (CCC 2630).
  3. In Intercession, “he who prays looks ‘not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others,’ even to the point of praying for those who do him harm.” (CCC 2635).
  4. Thanksgiving: “As in the prayer of petition, every event and need can become an offering of thanksgiving. The letters of St. Paul often begin and end with thanksgiving, and the Lord Jesus is always present in it: ‘Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you'; ‘Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.'” (CCC 2638).
  5. Praise: This form of prayer “…recognizes most immediately that God is God. It lauds God for his own sake and gives him glory, quite beyond what he does, but simply because HE IS. It shares in the blessed happiness of the pure of heart who love God in faith before seeing him in glory.” (CCC 2639).

14796299733_0e2b23f163_o“The Eucharist contains and expresses all forms of prayer: it is ‘the pure offering’ of the whole Body of Christ to the glory of God’s name and, according to the traditions of East and West, it is the ‘sacrifice of praise.'” (CCC 2640).

Is Prayer Effective?

He “prays without ceasing” who unites prayer to works and good works to prayer. Only in this way can we consider as realizable the principle of praying without ceasing. – Origen

In a word, YES, prayer is effective. Christian prayer is cooperation with the providence of God and His plan of love. (CCC 2738). Jesus is the model of Christian prayer, whose heart “…seeks only what pleases the Father…” Thus, the prayer of the children of God should be centered on the Giver, rather than the gifts. (CCC 2739).

According to the entry on prayer found in the Catholic Encyclopedia maintained at NewAdvent.org, God does not change His will or action in hearing our prayer, “…but simply puts into effect what He had eternally decreed in view of our prayer.” He can do this directly by imparting “…some supernatural gift, such as actual grace, or indirectly, when He bestows some natural gift.” God can and does also sometimes miraculously intervene, “…and without employing any of these causes, He can produce the effect prayed for.”

14796299243_26cb9b2e38_oSeeing the effects of prayer require proper orientation. As the Catholic Encyclopedia states, in praying “…we should ask for nothing unless it be strictly in accordance with Divine Providence in our regard… We are to ask also for temporal things, our daily bread, and all that it implies, health, strength, and other worldly or temporal goods, not material or corporal only, but mental and moral, every accomplishment that may be a means of serving God and our fellow men. Finally, there are the evils which we should pray to escape, the penalty of our sins, the dangers of temptation, and every manner of physical or spiritual affliction, so far as these might impede us in God’s service.”

When we ask for things in prayer that fall outside of Divine Providence, then we are not well disposed to observe the effects of prayer, because we are looking for the wrong effects.

Regardless of whether God answers a prayer by delivering the particular gift that we request, prayer advantages us in many ways. Praying “…elevates our mind and heart to a knowledge and love of Divine things, greater confidence in God, and other precious sentiments.” Often what we actually receive is “…of far greater benefit than what we ask for. Nothing that we might obtain in answer to our prayer could exceed in value the familiar converse with God in which prayer consists.”

Does Failure to Pray Cause Bad Things to Happen?

We pray, not that we may change the divine decree, but that we may impetrate [beg for] that which God has decreed to be fulfilled by our prayers. – St. Thomas Aquinas

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, prayer is necessary for salvation, because “Without prayer we cannot resist temptation, nor obtain God’s grace, nor grow and persevere in it.” However, the “bad thing” that appears to occur does not come about because you fail to pray.

When we pray we are admitted to an opportunity to be (not necessarily the) cause of an effect. St. Thomas Aquinas states that Divine Providence concerns not only “…what effects that shall take place, but also from what causes and in what order these effects shall proceed.” (Summa, Q. 83). And, the order of effects is key to our conception of prayer, because we live on a temporal plane, while God lives outside of time and space. Thus, we cannot always adequately see the fulfillment of God’s will in prayer, at least until we see God in Heaven.

14783192753_9c42e5cc3a_oAquinas continues that “human acts [e.g., prayer] are the causes of certain effects….. it must be that men do certain actions, not that thereby they may change Divine disposition, but that by those actions they may achieve certain effects according to the order of the Divine disposition… For we pray not that we may change the Divine disposition, but that we may impetrate that which God has disposed to be fulfilled by our prayers, in other words, ‘that by asking, men may deserve to receive what Almighty God from eternity has disposed to give’…”

So, in reply, Aquinas would state that we need to pray to God, not to make known our needs and desires (because God already knows all of that), or even so that God’s will may be done (as though our praying is the condition precedent to His will being accomplished) but so that we may be reminded of the necessity of having recourse to God’s help. And, our motive in praying is not to change God’s will but that by praying “we may obtain what God has appointed.” (Id.).

When we pray, we are joined with God in communion, and He frequently builds up our faith by giving us a vision of ourselves as a cause of an effect. And we are all called to be united more fully with God in seeing that His will be done.

Our Visit to the Poor Clares on Divine Mercy Sunday

On Divine Mercy Sunday, we drove up the winding roads of Los Altos Hills to visit the Monastery of the Poor Clare Colettines, a discalced community of nuns, where the members of the order are “cloistered”, that is, they do not interact with outside visitors, except under limited circumstances. The grounds are secluded and harmonious with the surroundings, and even reminded me a bit of Assisi.

They operate a small gift shop, where items handcrafted by the Sisters are available for an at will donation that goes to support the Monastery. It seems the most popular items are cards and books, but there are also rosaries and framed religious art.

The Sisters sang the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, and later, Vespers. There were a handful of people, along with the Sisters, “behind the veil”. I recorded some of the Chaplet on my phone, because it was absolutely beautiful:

Following the Chaplet but before Vespers, there was Eucharistic Benediction and a brief talk by Fr. Vito Perrone, who it seems visits fairly regularly and thanked the Sisters for their prayers and support. During his talk, Fr. Perrone referred to a “new appointment” by Archbishop Cordileone, which he discussed as though they were already “in the know” about it.

On our way out, we introduced ourselves to Fr. Perrone, but I thought it impertinent to inquire about the appointment he referred to when speaking with the Sisters, although given how friendly and affable he was, I’m sure he wouldn’t have minded sharing his news. Then I read this earlier this week and understood.

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Apparently, in addition to his other duties as part of a newly-formed religious order (The Contemplatives of St. Joseph) operating in the Bay Area, Fr. Perrone has also been made the Chaplain of the Star of the Sea School, which will no doubt be welcome relief for the beleaguered Fr. Joseph Illo. Please pray for him and that whole situation, although it is encouraging to see that many have rallied behind the Parish in support.

Fr. Perrone relies upon the Sisters for their prayers. This is good because they are powerful prayer warriors. If you leave them a prayer request, you receive lovely mailings, including things like this:

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St. Patrick’s Seminary, Menlo Park

Our nine-year-old son, JP, believes that he may have a calling to the priesthood! Recently, during our visit to the Bay Area a few weeks ago, we met up with a seminarian from our diocese (with whom I traveled to Guatemala last year), who gave us a nickel tour:

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The main chapel

The main chapel, facing away from the altar

The main chapel, facing away from the altar

Taking a break

Taking a break

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The Blessed Sacrament Chapel

The Blessed Sacrament Chapel

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Library

Library

JP, testing the swivel feature of one of the chairs in the lobby of the library

JP, testing the swivel feature of one of the chairs in the lobby of the library

Shrine of St. Francis, San Francisco, CA

A few weeks ago the Quartermaster’s Clan piled into the family conveyance and visited the Bay Area for the weekend. While there, we made a stop at the Shrine of St. Francis, who is the patron saint of the City by the Bay.

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The side altar (left) houses a relic from St. Anthony of Padua

The side altar (left) houses a relic from St. Anthony of Padua

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The side altar (right) houses relics from St. Francis and St. Claire

The side altar (right) houses relics from St. Francis and St. Claire

I rather liked this statue of St. Joseph and the Infant Jesus

I rather liked this statue of St. Joseph and the Infant Jesus

A replica of the San Damiano crucifix, the original of which is housed in the Basilica di Santa Chiara, Assisi

A replica of the San Damiano crucifix, the original of which is housed in the Basilica di Santa Chiara, Assisi

The shrine also has a complete replica of the Portziuncula (the ancient chapel where St. Francis started his religious order, in Assisi) but alas, the gate was locked as there were apparently no volunteers on hand to staff it on the day of our visit:

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