Click here to read Fr. Paul's blog on the American Regime.
I wish that the faithful in these parishes would learn to pray and to appreciate the Book of Psalms (the Psalter) found in the Old Testament. Since the first century, the Psalms of the Chosen People have become the prayer book of the Church as well. Several of you have asked that I select a few psalms to help you begin this prayer discipline. Click here to see a partial listing of psalms. Click here for the Book of Psalms.
Catholic around the world heard at Mass today (2/17) the words of the devil spoken to Jesus in the wilderness: “I shall give to you all this power and glory...if you worship me.”
Demonic temptations to gain “the power and the glory” are rampant in human affairs, gaining such a stronghold in the human heart.
Pope Benedict has given a remarkable example of humility and prudential self-knowledge by resigning from his position as the Supreme Pontiff, the Bishop of Rome. One can locate photographs of his on the internet, as he announced his resignation. But look around him, and look at what he is wearing, and where he sits: on a throne, apparently laced with gold, wearing a lush vestment with gold and ermine. And the throne is in a room with a gorgeous marble floor, and huge paintings hanging around him. And seated around his gilded throne are Cardinals, all dressed in red, with white aprons. What a picture of “the power and the glory,” and how it contrasts with the Pope’s humble face, and his gentle and utterly sincere words of resignation. Inwardly, I have little doubt, Pope Benedict is a man of God, and follows faithfully on the way of Christ. But outwardly, there is no connection between the carpenter from Nazareth and the Pope as a most powerful ruler, surrounded in such obscene wealth. In his book on Jesus, Pope Benedict asked a superb question: “Has the Church misinterpreted Jesus?” Well, look around, and behold the enormous gulf between Jesus the carpenter and the Pope as potentate. One was utterly humble and lived poorly and in simplicity. The Pope, regardless of how humble, is hidden beneath layers of gaudy wealth and most earthly splendor. “Has the Church misinterpreted Jesus?” To quote Jesus from another context, “You have said so.”
The same utter contradiction is seen in American government and politics. We still use the language of democracy, of limited governments, of the rights of the people, but the reality is utterly different: enormously powerful men and women--usually living high on the hog off the fat of the land--making decisions “for the people,” when they themselves have so little contact with everyday, middle or lower class Americans. We are in fact ruled by a power elite drunk on power, and so much so that they have turned “limited government” into a most empty phrase, and in fact have effectively turned us in to a dictatorship--not of the Proletariat, but of the ruling elite. Our central government today is perhaps as unlike the intentions of the Founders for limited government as the Church hierarchy has become removed in lifestyle and appearance from the reality of Jesus of Nazareth.
Hierarchy and central government rulers in the USA have something in common: “the power and the glory.” Men chose power and glory, and signs of the same, rather than virtue, simplicity of life, self-restraint. And so we see decadent and decaying institutions in the Church, and in our own political society. “Sic transit gloria mundi.” “Thus passes the glory of the world.”
I look at the face of Pope Benedict, and I feel strong pity for the man: a scholar, a quiet man, no doubt a humble man, smothered under the burdensome weight of a vast Roman bureaucracy that has dressed itself up in all of the signs of power and glory it could gather over the years. The man, Joseph, now Pope Benedict, has surely served his time in purgatory, and more than deserves to live out his days “in prayer,” as he stated before the world. One must wonder how a man who no doubt wanted to live a life of prayer and study ended up as functionary in a huge institution. Even before resigning, there is indeed a time to say, “No.”
Everyone must resist the allure of the evil one who promises “the power and the glory.”
It is good and beneficial, and encouraged by our Church, that we all increase our spiritual exercises during Lent. These exercises may be more prayer, meditation, study of our faith, personal discipline such as fasting, additional works of charity to benefit our neighbors in need. Each of us should consider now what we plan to offer to Christ as our Lenten penances (or spiritual exercises). For the sake of our parishioners, we shall be offering a number of additional services during Lent.
First, at our three Ash Wednesday Masses (see schedule), parishioners are invited to bring forth lists of their sins, burdens on their hearts, concerns for neighbors, and Lenten penances, and offer them to God in fire. This offering is sacramental, if done in faith.
Second, adult faith class for both St. Mark’s-St. Mary’s and for Holy Trinity start up again in the first full week of Lent. I strongly urge you to consider attending adult faith class. Here we can study and discuss different teachings of our Catholic faith. Mere passive attendance at Sunday Masses is not sufficiently nourishing for the mind and spirit. I will be offering classes on Thursday at 6:30 pm in the parish hall of St. Mark’s (beginning 21 February), and Sunday at 12:25 pm, following Mass and a light lunch, in Centerville (beginning 24 Feb.) An adult or interested teen may attend either class during the week. Please bring your Bible, and a note pad. The topic for our classes is under consideration. In addition, study is continuing in Raynesford on Tuesday evenings at 7:00 pm at the home of Lois and John Hill.
Third, I strongly encourage each parishioner to attend at least one week-day Mass each week during Lent. If you cannot attend a Mass offered at St. Mark’s, perhaps you can attend at one of the churches in Great Falls. Daily Mass is a different kind of experience from a week-end (Sunday) liturgy. Certain temperaments may prefer the quiet of a weekday Mass. In any case, it provides some additional time to hear the Word, to respond in prayer, and to receive Christ in his sacred banquet.
Fourth, Stations of the Cross will be offered at least as listed in this bulletin, but my hope is that lay persons will continue the practice at St. Mark’s and at Holy Trinity when I am unable to lead them. As a form of prayer service without a Sacrament, the Stations need not be lead by a priest. When I lead them, I intend to use a traditional Scriptural-based meditation, but a lay person is free to choose another form of the Stations. I would suggest, however, that they should not explicitly promote action (such as social justice or pro-life); it is better to keep to the Scriptures, and let the Spirit work in each heart, promoting each to take action accordingly.
Fifth, the Church’s ancient tradition teaches that the best personal penances for Lent are prayer, study, moderate fasting, and almsgiving, or forms of charity for those in need. Give of ourselves, as Christ gives of Himself to us.
Can America be restored? How does a soul, whirling into nothingness, stop the process of decay? How can a country, degenerating from within, turn around? Is it possible?
It is far better and easier to raise a child well than to restore adults and a country that have become a spiritual and mental wasteland. Some human beings pass through severe trials and manage to turn their lives around. Consider, for example, some alcoholics, whose lives had become a restless voyage on “a sea of booze,” who by the grace of God and their utter cooperation with their “higher power” stopped drinking and learned to live soberly and with spiritual purpose. Victory is never gained once and for all, but one must engage in an unending journey out of the darkness of addiction and spiritual emptiness and onto the upward path of difficult and unending spiritual growth. Real life demands enormous mental and spiritual effort. Life is not for the spiritually lazy.
Spiritual turn-around and renewal are heart-wrenchingly difficult tasks for any human being. For a culture of death to become a culture of nourishing life may be well near impossible. More many-worded speeches by politicians whose main attribute is their ability to deceive the masses and the media elites will accomplish nearly nothing of any good, but in fact contribute to the decent into a spiritual wasteland. Promising so much, these politicians in truth deliver next to nothing of any true and lasting goodness. These politicians can rake in and redistribute enormous wealth under cover of the law, but they cannot help human beings out of the spiritual morass in which we live. The damage they do is in convincing people that they have solutions they do not have, and that they have healing powers they do not possess. These men are deceived deceivers, and in time their deceptions increase the cynicism and alienation visible in many Americans. These charlatan-leaders people all walks of life in our country, and the most deceptive among them usually rise to the top in their chosen profession. Why? Because they are more willing to deceive, to use fraud, to cheat, to lie, to use power to weaken enemies and to advance their “cause.” These maniacal leaders make ever-greater promises, and dupe ever-larger numbers of people. So rather than help cure spiritual and mental illnesses, they mask problems and keep us from setting about to the real and proper task of recovery.
Considering the unfolding of life in America since the Second World War, if one looks honestly and well, he will see a pattern: in all walks of life, in all of the formative industries and pursuits, increasingly degenerate and deceptive leaders have risen to the fore. Whether one considers politics, media elites, the educational establishment, or mass entertainment, one can see the same pattern: the men and women who should set examples of noble character and guide our people to more healthy, more life-enriching pursuits, are in fact often so full of themselves, so full of self-seeking, self-preservation, self-absorption, self-exaltation, and sheer power-and-wealth seeking that they have been helping to liberate Americans from God and reality and ground us further in the emptiness of our own self-inflated delusions. Consider, for example, how popular television transitioned from fairly harmless light entertainment in the 1950‘s into what has been on public display for several decades: propaganda encouraging all sorts of deviant and destructive “life-styles” (which are really various ways of dealing death). Consider the array of self-important politicians over the past fifty or more years, and wonder how can any country survive, let alone thrive, under such mental dwarfs and pretenders. It seems that the only way to get and to maintain power--the primary goal of our politicians--is through deceptively promising far more than they can or will deliver. And “we the people” are duped, again and again. We the people are we the deceived.
Given this pattern of the rise of incompetent and self-deceived and deceiving “leaders” in various walks of life in America, how can there be a genuine cultural revival? If governments, educational establishments, religious institutions, mass media and entertainment industries, and so on, are more often the source of greater corruption than of genuine mental and spiritual growth, what can be done? If institutions such as government and churches which should enrich and renew actually mislead, deceive, and further destroy, how can there be spiritual renewal? Is our country in fact doomed to pass away, the victim of its own material successes and sheer spiritual emptiness?
Perhaps. No one knows the future--i.e., what will develop in time. It is possible that our country will be conquered by a more energetic, spiritually-focused society. It is possible that we will tear apart from forces of division within, and more or less dissolve as a people in history. It is possible that we drag along for decades as an enlarging cesspool of personal, moral, spiritual corruption, held together by power and manipulation. It is indeed possible and perhaps likely that more noble souls will opt out of social life, as they realize that active involvement does themselves and others virtually no good. It is possible that increasing doses of political power and psychologically manipulative force will be applied to a decultured, decadent civil society that will not control itself; and then America, “land of the free,” will become even more a land ruled by sick and self-seeking totalitarians. What increasingly looks and feels like an insane asylum will become a vast prison governed and peopled by destructive criminal types.
Perhaps. No one knows the future, but the course on which we are set looks dark and destructive, perhaps frightening to some. Yes, there are still to be found in our midst some better, self-giving, generous men and women. But these more healthy souls have increasingly little effect on the American way of life. Goodness is marginalized by socially predominant forms of evil: love of power, greed, violence, deception. The sicker types are prevailing and coming to the fore in the socially predominant walks of life. That is the reality that shows up, and can be seen by anyone who cares to look.
America, look and see what you are becoming: not “a shining city set on a hill” to give light to the world, but a spiritual wasteland mired in self-destructive forces.
As things stand now, my guess is that the United States of America is passing away, killed by its rejection of God and of reality, and immersion in its decadent and destructive self. As is said, “time will tell.”
The mind that is not seeking to learn, to love, to live well, to accomplish various duties, becomes an empty wasteland. For a while, one can people the wasteland with all sorts of diversions--hours of “entertainment,” of watching television or movies; of listening to purposeless music; of playing games; of endless chatter with others; of eating and drinking; of restless carousing for a paramour; of shopping to shop; of frenetic money-making in one form or another. The empty soul tries to stuff its emptiness with whatever it can find to divert itself from the truth of its reality: the mind that is not seeking truth, learning, applying itself to duties, has become a spiritual and mental void. And that void tastes of hell.
The human mind must, according to its nature and purpose, love well and seek truth. The intellect needs to discover and contemplate reality in order to fulfill itself. The passions need to be focused on achieving good, and particularly on right loving and energetic fulfillment of life’s demands and duties. When the mind is not properly engaged, it becomes unhappy, sick, malcontented, restless, anxious, depressed, destructive, violent, obsessive, fearful. The soul that will not spend energies seeking truth and doing good becomes, over time--as diversions fail to divert--a haunt of jackals and wild beasts, of demonic forces over which one has ever-decreasing control. Into the empty mind come destructive, dominating forces that gradually take over, leaving one disintegrating under their power, which effectively severs the soul from its grounding in God and in reality. This is spiritual death.
I see these forces at work in my friend Mark, who is diagnosed as suffering from depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. These clinical terms do little to assess the real problem: his mind is emptying of truth, his soul not engaged in doing good. The divine presence, the Spirit, which grounds and illuminates and enriches, has been ignored and effectively shut out of his existence. So what happens? Gradually Mark is becoming divorced from reality and living in a kind of hell of imagined reality, a hell of darkness, depression, waves of anxiety, obsessive thoughts, stupid compulsions such as repetitive hand-washing. His spiritually empty soul is indeed becoming a wasteland, and as he disintegrates into the emptiness of self-enclosed-self, he becomes increasingly unwilling and unable to accomplish anything good or beneficial. He is dying mentally and spiritually, and soon, physically.
Mark is an American, and his soul is a portrait of our culture, of us as a people. We have become a mental and spiritual wasteland. Having ignored the divine presence, having removed God in various forms from our lives, what is left? Having failed to concentrate, to focus the mind on acquiring truth for its own sake, and to love and do what is good and right, what has happened to us? Many Americans spend a large portion of each day in mindless entertainment, in pursuing various lusts, in shopping, in social chatter, in gambling, in sexual fantasies, in viewing sports, and so on. And many Americans spend many hours of their lives under alcohol and drug influences. Our country is spiritually and mentally dying. Education becomes increasingly about trivial pursuits, bits and pieces of information whirling around in bored and boring minds. Some persons revolt, engaging in senseless violence. Some persons spiral into depression. Others live anxious and worried lives, endlessly, as if on an unending treadmill of joylessness. America is a portrait of spiritual death.
Having turned from God, from the Spirit of truth and of genuine love meant to fill and guide our minds, we are a decaying, deadening, dying culture filled with human beings suffering all sorts of spiritual and mental illnesses, or just engaged in mindless diversions--intended to prevent people from recognizing their emptiness and the futility of their lives, and turning around to the source of life. Our self-inflated politicians can talk endlessly, and order all manner of policies to be effected, and pass volumes of excessively detailed laws, but they cannot prevent the decent of America into the wasteland of spiritual and mental death. Indeed, they share in the same wasteland, whether they know it or not. For our political and social leaders seem oblivious of the causes of our decay. Human being without the Divine is destructive and endlessly unhappy. America is killing itself: unborn, children, adults, elderly. We are killing ourselves and others. America has become a spiritual-mental wasteland.
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