The archbishop of Milwaukee, His Excellency Jerome Listecki, has just shared a story about a frightening allergic reaction he suffered the other day. In it he tells of his throat and face becoming completely swollen to the point where he could hardly talk to the operator on the other end of his 911 call and receiving the Sacrament of the Sick from Fr. Luke Strand.
Quoting from his story, his overall message, along with his humor, is indeed something everyone should reflect on more often.
…I apologize for missing my normal deadline [no pun intended] for the Tuesday LOA on August 8.
Last Sunday’s gospel was “be prepared,” because you know not the hour or the time of day. Monday was close to being my day. I realized how many things I did not have in order. But, thanks to the kindness of a good priest, I was oiled up in the sacrament, understanding that I might have been standing before Jesus…
How many of us have our houses in order for when our time comes? Thank God for the sacrament of confession and parishes who make it easy to frequent! ☩
Last weekend I had the opportunity to spend time with some people I love in Wisconsin’s beautiful Northwoods. Time was spent outdoors during the day and in supper clubs at night. As is often the case, some of the best conversations came with cocktails. Also as is often the case, some points were not made the most effectively.
Reflecting on the day and beyond, someone rightly pointed out how short life is. This person said that he has been thinking about this more lately and how important good memories with loved ones are. I responded that I also have been thinking about this lately and concurred on the importance of good memories with loved ones, punctuating the end by saying “and being in a state of grace”. I mentioned this because it’s something that often crosses my own mind as I reflect on the complexities of our short lives and how it’s important that we seek to always be in a state of grace in case our final day comes as a thief in the night (1 Thes 5:2). I was directing my statement to my entire group because I love them. Also, I mentioned it because it was relevant to everyone seeing as, due to mankind’s fallen nature, it is something everyone regularly fails at. Unfortunately, the matter-of-fact tone with a pat of the bar might have sounded a bit unctuous immediately before being ushered to our table, preventing me from expanding on my point. So I’ll expand now since it makes for a nice little blog post.
Being in a state of grace at the time of death is what gets us into heaven. This is accomplished by one continually strengthening themselves in following the example of Christ and frequent confession. No one wants to be caught off-guard when the “thief” comes in the night.
Grace: Condition of a person who is free from mortal sin and pleasing to God. It is the state of being in God’s friendship and the necessary condition of the soul at death in order to attain heaven.
-Online Catholic Dictionary
The Catholic Church understands this properly and encourages Christians to constantly look for new ways to become better. A stagnant spiritual life is actually a spiritual life slipping backwards. Or, as GK Chesterton says and as Bishop Robert Barron coincidentally quoted in his homily yesterday, the worst way to keep a fence post white is by doing nothing. In order for us to heed the words of Saint Paul, we need to run the “race” of life by constantly moving forward to claim the “imperishable wreath” waiting in heaven (1 Cor 9:24). Thus, we need to be in a perpetual state of conversion for the sake of our souls.
Life and Death, Bodily and Spiritual
“If you could meet anyone, who would it be?” A lot of people answer this ice-breaker claiming they want to meet Jesus Christ. I want to meet God too, but often people (including myself) assume this first meeting will be filled with smiles, hugs, and flowers. It’s telling that a common response to coming face-to-face with Jesus in the Bible is to fall onto one’s knees trembling in utter humility and even shame, probably because the moment someone meets God, Who embodies the fullness of love, truth, and justice, they are held to account for the way they lived life. I view it as analogous to a teenager trusted by his parents to stay at home while they go out of town. Allow me to elaborate:
While the parents are gone, the child, thinking he has plenty of time to tie up loose ends before they return, does many things he knows his parents wouldn’t be pleased with: has parties, makes messes, lets people sleep over, dings up the car, etc. The entire time the teen is enjoying himself and ,while perhaps not doing anything “that bad” (after all, no one has died!), he knows his parents love him very much. But how would the child act if, unannounced, the parents returned before he could get the house in order?
The parents open the front door to find a destructive mess, lingering smoke, and empty beer cans. The teen now knows his parents have just arrived and is upstairs. Sure, he knows his parents love him more than anything else, but does he rush down the stairs to joyfully embrace them or does he become fearful. Chances are, at that moment, he’d do anything for just one extra day to make things right.
All the times we turned our back on God without seeking forgiveness will be brought forth in the presence of the light of Christ (lumen Christi) just as dust collected on a desk is observed when the morning sun hits it. So, seriously, how would you act and feel the moment you meet Christ? Would you confidently approach Him with your arms extended or would you suddenly recollect all the ways you turned your back to Him. If we were all to answer honestly, it would probably be anything but the former.
Anyone familiar with Scripture knows that the words “life” and “death” are often used in two ways. Life and death have their obvious bodily meanings, such as when Lazarus was raised from the dead but Scripture, perhaps more frequently, uses these terms in a spiritual sense also.
When God says “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die” (Gen 3:3), He was not implying the fruit was poisonous and Eve would clutch her stomach and topple over. He was warning her that her spirit would die, she’d fall from grace. And, as Christians should know from the words of Jesus Himself, a dead soul is far scarier than a dead body. Eve might have thought she dodged a bullet when she ate the fruit and continued breathing, but in reality what happened was far worse. A dead soul is a damned soul, a soul that has permanently shut out the light of God. That’s why Hell is sometimes described not as a place of hot fires, but as motionless, lonely, and bitter cold. Cold because it is so far away from God’s love (described as burning fire in Scripture). In fact, this is where the name for the highest of the nine choirs of angels originates. The angels closest to God are called Seraphim, which is Hebrew for “consumed with fire”.
<Infobit> These angels are guardians of the Lord’s Throne and sing:
Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth
Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of Hosts
Does this sound familiar to anyone??
So too does Scripture use the term “life” in the spiritual sense. When Jesus said “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever” (Jn 6:51), he isn’t implying we will walk earth forever like a zombie. He is saying that, by the consummation of the covenant between us (the Church) and Himself that takes place at Communion (which can only be valid if the communicant is in a state of grace just as for a marriage to be valid certain requisites need to be met),our souls may have eternal life in heaven which is absolute spiritual perfection.
::wipes brow:: – whew
And I tried to convey all that with a quip so quick, the bartender couldn’t even garnish my martini with a bleu cheese-stuffed olive in time.
The Point I was Trying to Make
This is something we all need to think about more. Everyone has their own attachments and appetites that need to be heroically battled in daily life–even if we think they are relatively small. And, if we care for the well-being of the souls of others (including our enemies) as we are commanded to do, we will try to not avoid this topic!
The life of our soul is born when we are baptized and dies every time we turn our back on God. It is reborn each time we come face to face with God–the priest in persona Christi–in the confessional. The older we get, the more vigilant we need to be that our body does not pass away at a time when our soul is already deadened. Good memories are good on earth, but I’d image they’re great in heaven. ☩
Saint Michael, Saint Raphael, and Saint Gabriel, the archangels (note: the third choir of angels), please intercede for the strength of all the faithful men and women reading this.
Our country lost a remarkable Supreme Court justice over the weekend. Justice Antonin Scalia, despite being considered a foe of many progressives, was still generally admired by all for his keen intelligence and thoughtful (if not downright entertaining) decisions. Justice Scalia saw the Constitution as the objective beacon that anchored the United States instead of a document that could be manipulated to conform to the fashions of the day (I’ll spare you the Catholic/protestant analogies here). While he issued opinions on many cases, many supporters consider his District of Columbia v. Heller to be a crowning achievement wherein he opined that our God-given right to self-preservation, and according to our Second Amendment, allowed Americans to bear arms on and in their property regardless of what state or boundaries they found themselves within (in this case, Washington DC).
“Putting all of these textual elements together, we find that they guarantee the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation. This meaning is strongly confirmed by the historical background of the Second Amendment. We look to this because it has always been widely understood that the Second Amendment, like the First and Fourth Amendments, codified a pre-existing right.”
– Antonin Scalia’s Majority Decision in DC v Heller, 2008
But you can find plenty of other places to read about his opinions, I want to talk about his very public Catholic identity. Antonin Scalia’s career and jurisprudence was formed by classical Catholic thought. As a staunch intellectual and defender of moral law, he venerated Saint Thomas More, patron to politicians, statesmen, and lawyers. A portrait of the JPII-canonized saint hanged in his office and he even wore a replica of More’s famous hat to President Barack Obama’s 2013 inauguration.
Furthermore, Justice Scalia showed that the Catholic intellectual tradition provided a deep reservoir of insights into law, the role of judges, and even our own written Constitution. It’s no coincidence, for example, that Justice Scalia argued that originalism should accept some nonoriginalist precedent to protect the rule of law. The rule of law, fully articulated by the time of St. Thomas, is a central component of the common good, and originalism should protect it, where it can, for the sake of the common good.
But he wasn’t just some shallow CINO (Catholic in name only). He wasn’t a ‘cultural Catholic’ politician that used his religious identity to his benefit. From all third-party accounts available, Justice Scalia walked the walk. Scalia was the father of nine children and a grandfather to 36! When asked in a 60 Minutes interview about his large family, he said he and his wife “didn’t set out to have nine children […] We’re just old-fashioned Catholics, playing what used to be known as ‘Vatican Roulette,’”
One of his sons actually is a priest. Fr. Paul Scalia served a number of dioceses before most recently being the pastor at Saint John the Beloved parish (which offers TLM) in the Arlington, VA diocese. In fact, Paul is apparently very active in the Latin Mass movement in Washington DC. Paul is known to preach about orthodoxy and the “errors of modernism”–indeed similar to his father’s philosophy of the Constitution.
Actually, Antonin Scalia was a “Latin Masser” himself. He was frequently spotted at the Solemn High Mass at St. Catherine of Siena in Great Falls, VA. Actually, he often went with his colleague, Justice Clarence Thomas. Pretty cool huh? For a biography (American Original) he was asked about his liturgical preferences, “We have always traveled long distances to go to a church that we thought had a really reverent Mass, the kind of church that when you go in, it is quiet — not that kind of church where it is like a community hall and everybody is talking,”
The justice proved obedient to the Faith that had done such a good job forming him. Many people expect a ‘traditionally-minded’ Catholic to openly criticize some of Pope Francis’ endeavors and quotes, but when asked by New York Magazine what he thought of Francis’ quote (which was interpreted by many secular sources to mean Catholics need to focus less on marriage and abortion), Scalia retorted, “He’s the Vicar of Christ. He’s the chief. I don’t run down the pope.”
Also in the New York Magazine interview, he was asked if he “believes in the Devil”, unable to wrap their head around the fact that an otherwise [very] intelligent person could possibly buy into such an antiquated concept of an immaterial presence seeking to do harm in the world. I mean, surely this successful, smart, and thoughtful man only calls himself a Catholic to keep up appearances and for a sense of childhood nostalgia. But the justice answered, “Of course! Yeah, he’s a real person. Hey, c’mon, that’s standard Catholic doctrine! Every Catholic believes that.”. The interview goes on:
NYM: Every Catholic believes this? There’s a wide variety of Catholics out there …
Justice Scalia: If you are faithful to Catholic dogma, that is certainly a large part of it.
Have you seen evidence of the Devil lately?
You know, it is curious. In the Gospels, the Devil is doing all sorts of things. He’s making pigs run off cliffs, he’s possessing people and whatnot. And that doesn’t happen very much anymore.
It’s because he’s smart.
So what’s he doing now?
What he’s doing now is getting people not to believe in him or in God. He’s much more successful that way.
[…Y]ou’re saying the Devil is persuading people to not believe in God. Couldn’t there be other reasons to not believe?
Well, there certainly can be other reasons. But it certainly favors the Devil’s desires. I mean, c’mon, that’s the explanation for why there’s not demonic possession all over the place. That always puzzled me. […]
What happened to him?
He just got wilier.
He got wilier.
Isn’t it terribly frightening to believe in the Devil?
You’re looking at me as though I’m weird. My God! Are you so out of touch with most of America, most of which believes in the Devil? I mean, Jesus Christ believed in the Devil! It’s in the Gospels! You travel in circles that are so, so removed from mainstream America that you are appalled that anybody would believe in the Devil! Most of mankind has believed in the Devil, for all of history. Many more intelligent people than you or me have believed in the Devil.
I’m sorry to have offended you!
Have you read The Screwtape Letters?
Yes, I have.
So, there you are. That’s a great book. It really is, just as a study of human nature.
Scalia will be remembered as a champion for legal and spiritual truth. He understood that the Constitution’s strength lay in its rock-hard objectiveness, rights adhering to the truth of God. It’s hard to imagine being such a staunch defender of this understanding had he not first understood that that this too is the strength of moral law as handed to us by the “pillar and foundation of Truth” (1 Tim 3:15), the holy Catholic Church.
We ask that the Heavenly Father look favorably upon Antonin Scalia that he might enter Heaven as he so looked forward to while here on earth. We ask for the prayers of Thomas More, his patron saint, that he be made worthy of eternal life beside Jesus.
May he rest in peace.
V. Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine. R. Et lux perpetua luceat eis. Fidelium animae, per misericordiam Dei, requiescant in pace. Amen.
According to those who were there, Brian used his last breaths to say “forgive the shooter”. As reported in the Milwaukee paper:
“The family would like to make it known that Erin said Jon’s last words to her after he was shot were, ‘Forgive the shooter.’ We truly love because Christ first loved us. This was the heart of a man who walked the talk — his dying breath and last wish was only that his wife forgive the gunman.”
Would we be able to forgive like Brian did? Could we lie dying next to our wounded family and so quickly forgive the killer? How many of us could truly live out the virtue of forgiveness which, as I often quote from GK Chesterton, is only a virtue if we are able to “pardon the unpardonable“. These are the powerful questions Brian Stoffel forces us to ask ourselves, especially as Christians.
And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
We hope that the suffering from this tragedy has a meaning we can’t comprehend. We pray for the souls of Brian and Olivia Stoffel. We pray for Erin, that her mind, body, spirit, and living children are able to recover. We pray for the soul of Adam Bentdahl, the third person killed who was also trying to enjoy the nice weather. And, just as Brian asked us to forgive the shooter, we pray for his soul, that he, too, is able to be judged fairly by our Lord and viewed favorably despite this horrendous sin.
Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope! To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears! Turn, then, O most gracious Advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this, our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary. Amen