We also have to remember Christ's words in Luke 21, 8-19, "Take care not to be led astray. For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am he,' and, 'The time is at hand.' Do not, therefore, go after them. But when you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; these things must first come to pass, but the end will not be at once...Nations will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there will be great earthquakes in various places, and pestilences and famines, and there will be terrors and great signs from Heaven...Resolve therefore in your hearts not to meditate beforehand how you are to make your defense. For I Myself will give you utterance and wisdom, which all your adversaries will not be able to resist or gainsay. But you will be delivered up by your parents and brothers and relatives and friends; and some of you they will put to death. And you will be hated by all for My name's sake; yet not a hair of your head shall perish. By your patience you will win your souls."
Though that last scriptural quote is long, it says volumes. Most important are Jesus' final words there - "by your patience." Therein is the grace of Holy Mother Church and something we all need to practice. It reminds us of the line, "God, grant me patience and I want it right now!" God doesn't work that way and neither does His Vicar on earth. We can remember nearly ten years ago so many were wondering aloud why the Holy Father was allowing these dissident theologians to spew all the heresies being bandied about, why he was permitting all these abuses in the liturgies, why he was not speaking out vociferously against the growing power and abuse of the national bishops' conferences. The answer, as we can see today, was very simple - he was giving them enough rope to either pull themselves up from the depths of disobedience into the safety of total loyalty and unity with Rome or enough rope to hang themselves! As we mentioned in our last editorial about the harvest and weeding out the bad seeds, the Pope has been quite patient, but purposeful in separating the wheat from the chaff. Jesus Himself has said it will not all happen at once and it will happen when we least expect it.
And that is one of the keys to all this talk about cataclysmic events to come and our preparation. First of all, we've been looking in the wrong direction. We've been looking into the future expecting to see signs that will warn us in time. It's not going to be that way. We need to look to the past and to the present to know the Will of God. By the past, study Sacred Scripture and the messages of Our Lady from Rue de Bac, LaSalette, Lourdes, Garabandal and Medjugorje. The answers are all there. We just haven't been able to see the common sense forest through the trees of sensationalism. Too many are looking for the explosion of mankind and have missed the implosion of mankind. What do we mean by that? Look at what has happened over the last thirty to forty years. The implosion of moral decay and spiritual values crept up on us when we least expected it both in society and in our Church. As we have referred to so often in this column, think back to 1960 or earlier - the age of innocence it was called. The Catholic Church was undeniably identifiable as were the tenets of the Church, her liturgy and her officers in the persons of bishops, priests, nuns and lay leaders who taught what the Church intended instead of their own agenda. Compare the liturgy and Catholic education today with the curriculum and quality of the late fifties and one can see how the implosion has truly taken full effect. Look at the fruits of vocations today and we can see that they have been strangled by the choking vines of complaceny, modernism and/or material goals. But the Church is only a microcosm of the culture of the entire globe over these past several decades. Education standards have been lowered so much that we wonder if there are that many who would truly know how to survive if all technology were taken away and they had to work by the sweat of their brow. Work is a key ingredient that back in Genesis God designated as an integral part of our salvation for all generations. But we so often are willing to throw it all away for the easy way out, the quick buck. Growing up, our parents struggled to keep a roof over our heads, but their first priority was giving us a good Catholic education for as important as our physical well-being was, our spiritual well-being was more important. Sadly, too often, that's not the case today. While the economy skyrockets, souls plummet. People are no longer shocked by nudity on the beach, on the movie screen, on television. Where once the television industry respected the sanctity of marriage and the sacredness of sex, today anything goes - no limits. Where once we looked upon the homosexual lifestyle as just what it is - an aversion to everything God intended, today we are accused of something the spinmeisters call homophobia if we speak out for God's Laws. Didn't Jesus say we would be persecuted? Where once we looked up to the President of the United States as embodying all that is right and true in the leader of our land, today we have a man who is admittedly immoral and feels no compunction to lie, steal, cheat. In other words, the Seven Deadly Sins have no meaning to this man. Where once we had generations who grew up respecting their elders and all lawful authority, today it is the "in" thing as promoted by the media and Hollywood to show disrespect and disdain for anything that is good and wholesome. Do you see now how the implosion has rendered us so vulnerable to the wiles of satan? Jesus says as much in Matthew 16: 26, "For what does it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, but suffer the loss of his own soul?" Do you see now how it has happened when we least expected it? Do you see now how storing up water and food won't do a bit of good in God's eyes? For by doing so we are showing we do not trust Him. Remember what Christ says in Matthew 10: 26-31 about His concern for us in his analogy to the sparrow, "But as for you, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Therefore do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows."
Yes, it all comes down to a matter of trust. When we strive to go out on our own without the guidance of the Word of God, when we worry about our physical welfare at the expense of our spiritual welfare, then we are only adding to the on-going implosion by playing right into satan's hands. If we continue in hell's direction it will surely happen when we least expect it. So don't look for the explosion any time soon. Rather, buckle up for the implosion. Over these past forty years it's been a rocky ride but it promises to get rougher both physically and spiritually. So, if you're going to store up on water, make it Holy Water!
I remember clearly leaving the church after Mass, walking to the car, unlocking it, getting in, starting it, driving out of the parking lot and going east on Grover Street. I remember the road, the street lights, the stop signs. I remember clearly coming to what I think are the roughest railroad tracks in Omaha. I always go over them very slowly to save on the shocks. I clearly remember going over half of them and then I remember absolutely nothing until 2 miles later I felt a nudge on my left arm...the kind of nudge one gets when someone is trying to wake you. I immediately realized I was in front of my mother's house and I awoke in the exact instant necessary to park the car at the curb. I had a very strong sense of the presence of my guardian angel unlike anything I had ever experienced. At the same time I was in a state of intense wonderment: "How had I arrived safely? How did I get here?" I didn't remember anything the last two miles! I didn't see the road, the curves, the stop signs, the street lights! I had to cross 24th and Vinton...a very busy street at 7:45 am. I shuddered and gave thanks at the same time that I hadn't run into anything or hit anybody. The thought of my guardian angel came to my mind and I noted a strong sense of his presence. ("Pacis," I've named him...a Latin word that means "of Peace." Hence, my "Angel of Peace." "Pacis," I prayed, "You drove me home!" I went into the house and exclaimed to my mother, "Ma, I think my angel drove me home!" "He probably did," she responded with great faith as though it was nothing about which I should be surprised. (My mother loves angels. As a matter of fact, it is because of her that I wrote music to Pope Leo XIII's Prayer to St. Michael.) You would think I would have just fallen into bed dead tired, but instead I paced the house for the next hour in wonderment.
The clincher came about a month later. Had I had the slightest doubt about my angel driving me home, it was eradicated when I was reading a book about Padre Pio by Father Alessio Parente, OFM CAP, entitled "Send Me Your Guardian Angel". Fr. Alessio was a constant companion to Padre Pio and privy to much first-hand information about him. In a short chapter entitled, "Angel at the Wheel" I read the following account on pages 105-108: "A friend of mine, Mr. Piergiorgio Biavati, since gone to his Heavenly reward, told me the following story: He was traveling from Florence to San Giovanni Rotondo in order to attend Padre Pio's Mass and go to confession to him. Due to heavy traffic on the 'Autostrada del sol" (Motorway), he lost a good deal of time. He had calculated being in San Giovanni Rotondo at sunset, instead, at that time, he had only succeeded in reaching Naples. With his nerves in pieces and feeling very tired, he decided to make an overnight stop there and travel to San Giovanni the following morning. He stopped at a snack-bar on the autostrada and went in for a cup of coffee. Afterwards, he hung around for another few minutes and felt the urge to have another. Some time passed and he went to have a third cup! (Dear reader, if you would drink even one cup of our strong Italian coffee, you would be awake for three days and three nights...maybe that's what I needed that night in Omaha!) Having finished the third cup, he felt so relaxed and wide awake that he decided to continue his journey and thus avoid an overnight stop, even though by then it was getting very dark. Here I quote Mr. Biavati's own words: "I remember only one thing; I started the engine, put my hands on the wheel and after that, I have no recollection whatsoever! I don't remember any second of the three hour drive. Not only that, but when I reached the square in front of the Friary, someone shook me by the shoulder and said: 'Come on, now, take over!' " You can imagine his astonishment; he must have driven for about three hours, yet he could not remember so much as one single second of the whole journey. Gripped by fear, he went to park the car and have a rest before going up to the Friary to attend Padre Pio's Mass. After Mass he approached Padre Pio and said: "Father, I drove here from Naples but I don't remember driving my car at all." And Padre Pio smilingly replied: "Yes, you are right. You were sleeping all the way and my Guardian Angel was driving for you!"
The 'little man' (as Padre Pio often referred to his angel) was lucky that he wasn't stopped by the police as I'm sure he didn't have a license!!! But if he protected one person so well on a long journey, I think we should all remember to say that well known prayer as we set out, and perhaps the time is ripe having just celebrated the feast of the Guardian Angels last week, to print that little prayer and to suggest to all that they utter its beautiful words as often as they can:
Padre Pio knew what he was talking about. That I can assure you. Thank you, God, for Your angels. If you think the angels are in cahoots, you're right! And thank God they are or I wouldn't be here today! Praise Him for steering us all in the right direction and may God bless you!
The Sunday Eucharist, therefore, not only does not absolve the faithful from the duties of charity, but on the contrary commits them even more "to all the works of charity, of mercy, of apostolic outreach, by means of which it is seen that the faithful of Christ are not of this world and yet are the light of the world, giving glory to the Father in the presence of men". (113)
70. Ever since Apostolic times, the Sunday gathering has in fact been for Christians a moment of fraternal sharing with the very poor. "On the first day of the week, each of you is to put aside and save whatever extra you earn" (1 Cor 16:2), says Saint Paul referring to the collection organized for the poor Churches of Judaea. In the Sunday Eucharist, the believing heart opens wide to embrace all aspects of the Church. But the full range of the apostolic summons needs to be accepted: far from trying to create a narrow "gift" mentality, Paul calls rather for a demanding culture of sharing, to be lived not only among the members of the community itself but also in society as a whole. (114) More than ever, we need to listen once again to the stern warning which Paul addresses to the community at Corinth, guilty of having humiliated the poor in the fraternal agape which accompanied "the Lord's Supper": "When you meet together, it is not the Lord's Supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal, and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the Church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?" (1 Cor 11:20-22). James is equally forceful in what he writes: "If a man with gold rings and in fine clothing comes into your assembly and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, 'Take a seat here, please', while you say to the poor man, 'Stand there', or, 'Sit at my feet', have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?" (2:2-4).
71. The teachings of the Apostles struck a sympathetic chord from the earliest centuries, and evoked strong echoes in the preaching of the Fathers of the Church. Saint Ambrose addressed words of fire to the rich who presumed to fulfil their religious obligations by attending church without sharing their goods with the poor, and who perhaps even exploited them: "You who are rich, do you hear what the Lord God says? Yet you come into church not to give to the poor but to take instead". (115) Saint John Chrysostom is no less demanding: "Do you wish to honour the body of Christ? Do not ignore him when he is naked. Do not pay him homage in the temple clad in silk only then to neglect him outside where he suffers cold and nakedness. He who said: 'This is my body' is the same One who said: 'You saw me hungry and you gave me no food', and 'Whatever you did to the least of my brothers you did also to me' ... What good is it if the Eucharistic table is overloaded with golden chalices, when he is dying of hunger? Start by satisfying his hunger, and then with what is left you may adorn the altar as well". (116)
These words effectively remind the Christian community of the duty to make the Eucharist the place where fraternity becomes practical solidarity, where the last are the first in the minds and attentions of the brethren, where Christ Himself through the generous gifts from the rich to the very poor - may somehow prolong in time the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves. (117)
72. The Eucharist is an event and programme of true brotherhood. From the Sunday Mass there flows a tide of charity destined to spread into the whole life of the faithful, beginning by inspiring the very way in which they live the rest of Sunday. If Sunday is a day of joy, Christians should declare by their actual behaviour that we cannot be happy "on our own". They look around to find people who may need their help. It may be that in their neighbourhood or among those they know there are sick people, elderly people, children or immigrants who precisely on Sundays feel more keenly their isolation, needs and suffering. It is true that commitment to these people cannot be restricted to occasional Sunday gestures. But presuming a wider sense of commitment, why not make the Lord's Day a more intense time of sharing, encouraging all the inventiveness of which Christian charity is capable? Inviting to a meal people who are alone, visiting the sick, providing food for needy families, spending a few hours in voluntary work and acts of solidarity: these would certainly be ways of bringing into people's lives the love of Christ received at the Eucharistic table.
73. Lived in this way, not only the Sunday Eucharist but the whole of Sunday becomes a great school of charity, justice and peace. The presence of the Risen Lord in the midst of his people becomes an undertaking of solidarity, a compelling force for inner renewal, an inspiration to change the structures of sin in which individuals, communities and at times entire peoples are entangled. Far from being an escape, the Christian Sunday is a "prophecy" inscribed on time itself, a prophecy obliging the faithful to follow in the footsteps of the One who came "to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to captives and new sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord" (Lk 4:18-19). In the Sunday commemoration of Easter, believers learn from Christ, and remembering His promise: "I leave you peace, my peace I give you" (Jn 14:27), they become in their turn builders of peace.
MONDAY: Part Fifteen of Dies Domini: Chapter Five, DIES DIERUM Sunday: the Primordial Feast, Revealing the Meaning of Time part one.