The Tragic Folly of Avoidance by Paul Gondreau

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

In an interview with The Pillar last week [1], Archbishop Timothy Broglio, the current president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), was asked to comment on whether a planned demonstration was an appropriate public response to the decision by the Los Angeles Dodgers to honor the anti-Catholic drag group Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. His response, I think, was very unfortunate: “What is more effective? Do you give more attention to the event by protesting it, or do you do better by ignoring it? I would land more towards ignoring it.” He cited “the danger of violence,” for which, he thought, there was “a lot of risk.”

To be fair, the archbishop’s remarks were given in what the article describes as a “brief hallway conversation,” and so they are perhaps nothing more than off the cuff. All the same, he did say this to an important Catholic media outlet, and his remarks are perhaps more revealing than if they had been scripted. Though what he recommends may mark the prudential course on many issues, we can rightly ask: but on this issue?

So, beyond prayer and verbal condemnation, which the archbishop in his role as president of the USCCB did offer, do we sit back and ignore, at least in terms of public protest, the effort to use anti-Catholic mockery to turn Dodger Stadium into Sodom and Gomorrah? And what possible evidence was there that the protest would be anything other than peaceful? It turned out to consist mostly of a very large crowd praying the Litany of the Sacred Heart and the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Revolutionary stuff, that, in its way, but non-violent.

Indeed, what especially strikes me about the archbishop’s remark is how it echoes a larger mindset that has plagued the American episcopacy – individual exceptions notwithstanding – during the entire Humanae Vitae fallout of the past fifty-five years. It’s the reluctance to confront head-on the culture’s descent into moral degeneracy by defending and boldly professing the virtues of the sixth commandment. This reluctance has hardly proved “effective.” Rather, it’s spelled utter disaster, both for the Church and for the culture.

And just so we’re clear, in “ignoring it,” the “it” signifies the LGBTQ+ Pride being shoved down the throats of every self-respecting man, woman, and child, especially Catholics, in the most egregious and blasphemous manner possible. Honoring drag queens who engage in exhibitionist, homoerotic pole dancing on crosses, for goodness sake!  

More generally, though, the “it” signifies the determination of the gender ideologues and sexual revolutionaries – and they are legion – to stop at nothing less than the complete repudiation of traditional morality, a morality grounded in the biblical witness and the natural law. This demands no soft-pedaled, muffled response – something along the lines of “ignoring it,” so as to be “more effective.” Rather, it calls for the resolute, unambiguous, full-throttled articulation of the truth and meaning of human sexuality, with our shepherds playing the leading role.

Further, need we point out that the soft-pedaled response to the sexual perversion of America’s pastime comes at the very moment when evidence abounds that all-out resistance to the Pride onslaught can yield real dividends?*

Conscientious and civil-minded Americans of all stripes have decided – finally – that they’ve had enough, and the massive financial losses that, say, Bud Light and Target have incurred as a result have corporate America seriously reevaluating the wisdom of promoting Pride.

Before this season even started, Major League Baseball, for instance, quietly asked its teams (pace the Dodgers’ decision) to forgo Pride jerseys. And Starbucks managers in multiple stores told their workers not to decorate for Pride month. Starbucks, mind you.

Would this have happened if Americans had simply ignored Bud Light’s decision to use transgender poster boy Dylan Mulvaney as a front-man, or Target’s decision to offer “tuck-friendly” female swimwear for men who identify as women? Will drag queen story hours in grade schools just go away if we continue to soft-pedal our opposition to ever more aggressive Pride assaults?

More importantly, though, the main issue in the reluctance to address head-on what Pope Benedict XVI once termed today’s “new philosophy of sexuality” is that it fails to lay hold of a teaching moment, nay, of an evangelizing moment.

What I mean is the Church acting not merely on the defensive, but turning the tables and acting on the offensive. Make no mistake: the Church’s vision of human sexuality presents a golden opportunity to advance the truth and meaning of human happiness in that area of human life that undeniably displays the wreckage of sin.

After all, it’s not as if it takes much effort to point out how the sexual revolution is an utterly failed project, what with unprecedented numbers of broken marriages, broken families, broken relationships, broken lives, and the accompanying human misery.

For many years now, I’ve been teaching a course at my undergraduate institution on marriage – really, on the meaning and purpose of human sexuality. Most of my students arrive totally on board with the culture on sex and marriage. Yet, by semester’s end, they’re struck by the intellectual coherence, the moral clarity, and the beauty – yes, beauty – of the Church’s vision of human sexuality (even if they hesitate to commit to it).

And how often I’ve had a student, a Catholic student, ask me, “Why haven’t I ever heard this before?” I shake my head internally, repeating the question. By avoiding “the sixth commandment,” sometimes like the plague, priests and bishops only succeed in telegraphing the message that the Church, lacking a viable response, has surrendered this aspect of human life to the culture.

What a tragedy. The Church possesses the truth, and the truth shall set them free.


Paul Gondreau is Professor of Theology at Providence College in Providence, RI. He has published widely in the areas of Christology, human sexuality, and disability.

Article printed from The Catholic Thing:

Our Addiction to Agitation by Casey Chalk

“I have often said that all human unhappiness comes from one thing alone, the inability to remain quietly in a room.” That quotation, or some form of it, is among the most quoted by seventeenth-century French polymath Blaise Pascal from his Pensées, or “Thoughts,” a collection of fragmentary writings now in a new, impressive translation edited by Pierre Zoberman. It’s also quite germane to the quality of our Lenten and Christmas experiences.

Reading Pensées afresh in this latest edition, I was amazed how truly insightful Pascal can be regarding the human condition, and prescient regarding the problems we moderns face centuries removed from his comparatively more pastoral, and less frantic French life. What Pascal realized was that as much as we humans talk a good game about yearning for rest, imagining that distant retirement as the object of our deepest desires – we are addicted to agitation. Why is that?

Pascal believes we are afraid of what we might find if we actually had to quietly contemplate ourselves, the world, and reality in all its complexity and mystery:

We seek neither that easy, peaceful existence that might make us think of our unhappy condition nor the dangers of war nor the toil of office, but rather the agitation that stops us from thinking about it and divert us. – That is why we prefer the hunt to the catch. That is why men so love hustle and bustle. . . .That is why finding pleasure in solitude is so incomprehensible.

In quiet solitude, we might be forced to come to terms with who we truly are: not what we try to persuade others to think of us, nor what we tell ourselves through our work or busy leisure. Alone, we might realize how shallow are our desires, how multitudinous are our sins, and how vain our attempts at crafting a legacy that outlives us. We are but a breath, our lives a flash in the pan.

Most of us don’t even really want rest, at least not the kind of rest Pascal has in mind. We want to be entertained, excited – to possess that feeling that something important is about to happen.

Even when people talk about needing rest, they don’t typically mean a retreat of prayer and meditation. They mean leisure activities, often involving new thrills. Instead of reading emails, skiing. Instead of paying the bills, scuba diving. Instead of yard work, a cruise on the Danube.

Pascal observes that this is true even of those in the highest positions of power and wealth, who have the most freedom to actually engage in rest because they are not as beholden to the demands and responsibilities of daily life. Pascal, a bit cynically, writes even of royalty: “The king is surrounded by people whose only thought is to divert him and prevent him from thinking about himself; for, king though he be, he is unhappy if ever he thinks about himself.”

It’s not hard to imagine royalty acting thus – we need only look at our own American “royalty,” the celebrities. Though the rich and famous possess every comfort imaginable and millions of adoring fans, we know most evince a deep dissatisfaction. Tom Brady’s refusal to retire, Kim Kardashian’s revolving door of exes, Demi Lovato’s pronoun games – all in various ways serve as a valuable catechesis of the fact that money and notoriety do not secure human happiness.

“Let us leave a king completely alone, without anything to satisfy his senses, without any care to occupy his mind, and without company, to think about himself totally at leisure,” says Pascal, “and we shall see that a king without diversion is a man full of miseries.”

And, of course, if those with the most material prosperity suffer such problems, surely, we know it can be true of us. Pascal avers: “Our whole life flows by like this: we seek rest by fighting against a few obstacles, and yet if they are overcome, rest becomes intolerable through the ennui that it generates. We have to go out in urgent search of agitation.” I’ve known people who spent thirty years in a fast-paced, lucrative career, yearning for that beach house with all its creature comforts, only to find it lonely, boring, even soulless in predictable repetitiveness.

The holidays often serve as a microcosm of that discomforting reality. We labor all year and look forward to a week or two off at the end of the year, filled with leisure and amusements. Yet often it disappoints: the extended family frustrates; we overindulge in food and drink; we become listless watching yet another college football game.

What are we to do? “If man, however filled with sadness he may be, can be prevailed upon to indulge in some diversion, he will be happy for the time that the diversion lasts,” warns Pascal. Is that the best we can hope for? Stay on the treadmill, ever on the prowl for new entertainment? Constrain our desires a bit so we evade boredom? Surely there must be something better for man. “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity,” writes Qoheleth (Ecclesiastes 1:2).

After Pascal died, a note was found sewn on the inside of his coat, a record of an experience he had one evening. It read, in part:

God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and savants.
Certitude, certitude; feeling, joy, peace.
God of Jesus Christ. Deum meum et Deum vestrum.
“Thy God shall be my God.”
Forgetting the world and everything, except God.

We do need to be diverted, but not to the ephemeral pleasures of this world: food, drink, sex, applause. We require a diversion that is transcendent, eternal, that can satisfy our souls’ seemingly unquenchable yearnings. Because our soul is immaterial, it requires an immaterial object to fulfill us. We need, in a word, Immanuel, God with us. We need Pascal’s version of diversion.

*Image: Blaise Pascal by Augustin Pajou, 1785 [Musée du Louvre, Paris]

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Advice On Keeping the Faith in Dark Times

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Advice On Keeping the Faith in Dark Times

From the 1950s until now, readers of countless backgrounds and beliefs have been mesmerized by The Lord of the RingsThe Hobbit, and The Silmarillion. The name of J.R.R. Tolkien is known even to those who have no taste for fantasy literature.

Despite his fame, many fans of this literary genius are unaware that he was a devout Roman Catholic whose faith profoundly influenced his work. It was, in fact, Tolkien’s faith and frequent reception of the Sacraments that sustained him through the trials of personal life, the darkness of two world wars, the disappointment and suffering inflicted by members and leaders of the Church, and the scandal caused by destruction of the sacred liturgy.

I recently discovered a letter he wrote on November 1st, 1963 to his son Michael to provide encouragement in a time of upheaval. It is an astonishing letter, most especially because it feels as though it had been written today in the wake of egregious sins committed by some of our Catholic clergy.

We can benefit from the wisdom of this humble professor, who was a devout son of the Church. The advice Tolkien shared with his son is applicable to any century. It will always be relevant.

So, using this letter, I’d like to “interview” Tolkien. I’m going to write questions and, using Tolkien’s letter to his son, allow him to “answer” in his own words. 

Note: Tolkien’s italics are his—I have bolded some of his words to highlight their importance. I have also used two paragraphs from other letters to his sons.

Today’s Interview with Professor J.R.R. Tolkien

Young Tolkien
Young Tolkien

Professor Tolkien, these are grave times for the Church. When the atrocities committed by certain clergy members were made known in the summer of 2018, it scandalized many and caused some to abandon the Church. Even the faith of well-catechized Catholics is sagging. What would you say to those who are struggling to overcome despair?

Professor J.R.R. Tolkien: You speak of ‘sagging faith’…In the last resort faith is an act of the will, inspired by love. Our love may be chilled and our will eroded by the spectacle of the shortcomings, folly, and even sins of the Church and its ministers, but I do not think that one who has once had faith goes back over the line for these reasons (least of all anyone with any historical knowledge). ‘Scandal’ at most is an occasion of temptation—as indecency is to lust, which it does not make but arouses. It is convenient because it turns our eyes away from ourselves and our own faults to find a scapegoat…

I suppose the devil takes advantage of such scandal to keep us distracted by the sins of others, and to disturb our faith in Christ. What about our personal faults? Should we examine our own hearts, to see if we are striving to uphold the teachings of Jesus in our daily lives?

JRRT: The temptation to ‘unbelief’ (which really means rejection of Our Lord and His claims) is always there within us. Part of us longs to find an excuse for it outside of us. The stronger the inner temptation the more readily shall we be ‘scandalized’ by others. I think I am as sensitive as you (or any other Christian) to the ‘scandals’, both of clergy and laity. I have suffered grievously in my life from stupid, tired, dimmed, and even bad priests; but I now know enough about myself to be aware that I [would] not leave the Church (which for me would mean leaving the allegiance of Our Lord) for any such reasons: I [would] leave because I did not believe…I [would] deny the Blessed Sacrament, that is; call Our Lord a fraud to His face.

So what you’re saying is, each and every one of us has the capacity to turn against Our Lord if we don’t humbly accept His grace. What would you say to someone outside the Catholic Church, who accuses Christ and His Church of fraudulence? 

JRRT: If He is a fraud and the Gospels fraudulent—that is: garbled accounts of a demented megalomaniac (which is the only alternative [to not believing Christ is truly God]), then of course the spectacle exhibited by the Church…in history and today is simply evidence of a gigantic fraud. If not, however, then this spectacle is alas! only what was to be expected: it began before Easter…

Meaning, it began when Judas Iscariot, one of the Apostles and someone who was called by Christ to follow Him, betrayed the Son of God to His enemies…even though he knew Christ was innocent. And yet we are supposed to have faith and hope even when confronted with such scandal?

JRRT: [I]t does not affect faith at all—except that we may and should be deeply grievedBut we should grieve on Our Lord’s behalf and for Him, associating ourselves with the scandalizers not the saints, not crying out that we cannot ‘take’ Judas Iscariot, or even the absurd and cowardly Simon Peter, or the silly women like James’ mother, trying to push her sons.

Tolkien lighting his pipe

There are still scholars who insist that Christ never existed—that He is a fictitious character invented by religious fanatics. I think they will find this the easiest time to say to Catholics, “See! I told you so! The Church is a corrupt human institution, and Jesus was not a real person!”

JRRT: It takes a fantastic will to unbelief to suppose that Jesus never really ‘happened’, and more to suppose that he did not say the things recorded of him—so incapable of being ‘invented’ by anyone in the world at that time: such as ‘before Abraham came to be I am‘ (John viii). ‘He that hath seen me hath seen the Father’ (John ix); or the promulgation of the Blessed Sacrament… : ‘He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life’. We must therefore either believe in Him and in what he said and take the consequences; or reject him and take the consequences. I find it for myself difficult to believe that anyone who has ever been to Communion, even once, with at least right intention, can ever again reject Him without grave blame. (However, He alone knows each unique soul and its circumstances.)

These certainly aren’t days that permit lukewarm Catholicism. It now requires an extraordinary amount of courage and zeal to witness to our faith, as I’m sure you know personally.

JRRT: I know quite well that, to you as to me, the Church which once felt like a refuge, now often feels like a trap. There is nowhere else to go! (I wonder if this desperate feeling, the last state of loyalty hanging on, was not, even more often than is actually recorded in the Gospels, felt by Our Lord’s followers in His earthly life-time?) I think there is nothing to do but to pray, for the Church, the Vicar of Christ, and for ourselves; and meanwhile to exercise the virtue of loyalty, which indeed only becomes a virtue when one is under pressure to desert it.

What would you say to those who are leaving the Catholic Church and joining other churches?

JRRT: I myself am convinced by the Petrine claims, nor looking around the world does there seem much doubt which (if Christianity is true) is the True Church, the temple of the Spirit dying by living, corrupt but holy, self-reforming and rearising. But for me that Church of which the Pope is the acknowledged head on earth has as chief claim that it is the one that has (and still does) ever defended the Blessed Sacrament, and given it most honour, and put it (as Christ plainly intended) in the prime place. ‘Feed my sheep’ was His last charge to St. Peter; and since His words are always first to be understood literally, I suppose them to refer primarily to the Bread of Life.

J.R.R. Tolkien

And what advice do you have for Catholics who are sad, weary, discouraged, and struggling to keep faith?

JRRT: The only cure for sagging or fainting faith is Communion. Though always Itself, perfect and complete and inviolate, the Blessed Sacrament does not operate completely and once for all in any of us. Like the act of Faith it must be continuous and grow by exercise. Frequency is of the highest effect. Seven times a week is more nourishing than seven times at intervals…

It has been an honor to speak with you, Professor Tolkien. Thank you for your time. Do you have any parting words for our readers?

JRRT: Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament…There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all our loves on earth…eternal abundance, which every man’s heart desires.

The Blessed Sacrament and Tolkien

J.R.R. Tolkien’s cause for canonization, though not officially underway, has been initiated. A Mass was celebrated in the Oxford Oratory in 2017 for the intention that his cause for beatification be opened.

This article was originally published by Catholic Company Magazine in 2019. © All rights reserved.

Good pain widens possibilities. Bad pain just hurts.

Suffering is unavoidable. But sometimes it can lead to healing.

US Catholic /Alice Camille/ Published September 7, 2021

Eighty years ago C. S. Lewis wrote The Problem of Pain. The title makes me laugh. Does anyone need to be convinced that pain is a problem? What Lewis was after, of course, is the solution to pain. A dedicated Christian apologist, he sought an explanation for suffering that respects both God’s reputation for goodness and the searing reality of our pain. If God is good, why is there so much suffering? If God can make a world free from suffering by willing it, why the cross?

Some theological conundrums are theoretical. How many angels dance on a pinhead? Whatever answer you posit to such a question, it doesn’t change what you decide to eat for lunch. But when it comes to suffering, we all have skin in the game. It matters what we say about a God who can do anything and still chooses to hang on a cross.

The church maintains that suffering can be salvific. Suffering acts like a spiritual salve on the world’s wounds. Suffering, patiently embraced on Earth, can even rescue souls from anguish on the other side, as spiritual masters have taught. As St. Paul frames it, we can unite our pain to that of Christ on the cross, and the two become one in the great work of divine rescue. This is not to say the crucifixion isn’t sufficient to cover the sin of the world. Your friend’s chemotherapy and my sister’s depression aren’t events that humanity has been in aching need of. Yet when we unite our pain mystically with the pain of Jesus, our tears are given an exalted meaning and purpose.

Because truly: What else are we going to do with all this agony? Still, in seeking a theological compartment that dignifies the legacy of pain, we unwittingly open a door to eccentric practices that seem to glorify pain itself. Saints for centuries donned hair shirts, slept in stress positions, whipped themselves, or stayed in abusive marriages hoping to save their errant spouses from condemnation. Most of us today are convinced this sort of elective suffering isn’t at all equivalent to Jesus submitting to the cross. Is there a line we can draw between suffering that saves and pain that’s just plain unnecessary?

A year ago I broke my shoulder. It was a funny break—not funny ha ha but funny strange. During an unspectacular stumble on a footpath, I put out my right arm to break the fall, the shoulder taking the impact. Pain radiated through to my fingers and down my side. In struggling to my feet, the arm was unresponsive. A passerby tied my scarf into a sling for me. The useless arm didn’t hurt, but the pain in my back was like a madman with a knife riding an elevator up and down my spine, stabbing randomly and gleefully without pity. It wasn’t good.ADVERTISEMENT

At urgent care the doctor reviewed the X-ray and offered the grateful opinion that the arm wasn’t broken. “Sometimes these things just resolve themselves,” he said encouragingly. “You should probably see a specialist to be sure.” This was unfortunately hard to do during a spiking pandemic, with hospitals overflowing into tents and medical personnel at a premium. Also, I was losing my insurance in two weeks, relocating to another state. If the arm wasn’t broken, it would have to wait.

It took 10 weeks to arrive at the new address, find a doctor taking new patients, and snare an appointment. And then it took another month to be referred to a specialist, who took a second X-ray and again pronounced the arm unbroken. Four months past the fall, I could raise the arm through most of its range, and it didn’t really hurt. But I hurt—constantly. I moved through waves of pain by day and was drilled with pain all night. The specialist ordered an MRI “to see what may be going on.” Acquiring that appointment took another month.

It matters what we say about a God who can do anything and still chooses to hang on a cross.

So it was five months into a season of anguish when the doctor’s assistant phoned. “Don’t move your arm, and don’t lift anything,” she advised. “Your shoulder’s broken.” The MRI revealed a most clever fracture, so perfectly aligned an X-ray couldn’t detect it: a break of the humerus bone which, as I said, isn’t as funny as it sounds. Part of the bone was still attached to the tendon so that, with each movement, the fragments pulled apart like accordion bellows. This created the silent music of my suffering.

Secured by a body harness, I now endured right-sided immobility to allow the bone time to mend. When released from captivity, the arm hung from the shoulder like an oddly curved fish. Then came physical therapy to restore function. With it I learned the vital distinctions between good pain and bad pain. The five months spent dragging around a broken shoulder had been good for nothing. The bone hadn’t knit together, and the suffering had been wasted. With the proper exercises I felt muscle burn, which was good pain. Stabbing twinges were not. Soreness and aches meant progress; sparkling or drilling pain, not so much. The anguish before physical therapy hadn’t been purposeful. The pain of therapy was salvific. It was giving my arm back to me. Good pain, I came to understand, tends toward strength, healing, and restoration. It widens possibilities. Bad pain signals increased injury and harm. It narrows our focus and darkens hope.

Here’s a cold fact: None of us escapes suffering. When it comes to our woundedness, movement will hurt whether we’re rehabbing the injury or not. So why not invest our pain in the direction of hope? This is what makes Good Friday so good: The sacrifice of Jesus doesn’t pour into a grave but rather opens the door of the tomb. In the same way, no one undergoes surgery or difficult medical treatments for the sake of suffering but in hope of restoring health or extending life.

Useful pain and sacrifice tend toward discernible good. People aren’t named martyrs for throwing themselves in harm’s way. A martyr’s passion promotes some higher purpose. We become living martyrs of charity if we downsize our lifestyles to tithe a portion of our earnings to the cause of justice. Such a sacrifice gives life. By contrast, remaining in a toxic situation, even out of love or loyalty, is an unhealthy and destructive sacrifice.

Why not invest our pain in the direction of hope?

When we lose someone to death, we suffer tremendously. We can use that sadness, perhaps by reaching out to others in a grief support group. Isolating and focusing on the crater left by a loved one’s absence, meanwhile, is an unsalvific use of our pain. Hurting is inevitable either way. Isn’t it better to redeem this inescapable investment in grief?

Sickness and death are unavoidable. We’ll all walk through this bitter valley of shadows with people we love. The reason the church identifies a sacrament to anoint the sick is because sickness has something to reveal to us. Some will turn illness into a testimony of what they believe life is about. They’ll spend their most mortal hours forgiving and seeking forgiveness, demonstrating compassion and caring, witnessing to their confidence in God. This kind of suffering rescues not only those who are sick but potentially everyone around them.

If there is glory in suffering, if we can speak of such things as glorified wounds, they’re the kind that testify to something beyond the pain endured. Since no one has a choice about whether to suffer, isn’t it a good idea to learn how to carry our pain well? 

This article also appears in the September 2021 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 86, No. 9, pages 47-49). Click here to subscribe to the magazine.

Image: Guillem

25 Fascinating Facts About Angels

Our final destiny as sons and daughters of God is bound up with that of the angels. Our world is full of their presence and activity. That is why we ought to know foundational truths about them.

Anything that we know about angels outside of Sacred Scripture is taken from the Church Fathers and Doctors (some of whom were privileged to interact with angels) as well as from the lives of the saints. 

Here are twenty-five facts you may not know about God’s holy angels.

1. Angels aren’t male or female.

They are purely spiritual beings. Since they do not have material bodies, they are neither male nor female. However: since the dawn of time, angels have chosen to present themselves in masculine form, likely in honor of God, who has revealed Himself as Father, and God the Son, who became man for our sake. Opus Sanctorum Angelorum reminds us that “Even when they are not explicitly called men, [angels] appear as magnificent, intimidating, and powerful persons—qualities that we associate normally with masculinity.”

Therefore, out of respect, we refer to all angels as “he.”

2. Angels have an intellect and a will, just like us.

Unlike us, angels have made their permanent choice to serve God and—now that they see God face to face—can never sin.

3. God created the vast number and hierarchy of angels in a single instant.

Angels weren’t born. They were made.

4. The angels are ordered into nine “choirs” and are ranked according to their natural intelligence, which vastly exceeds human intelligence.

There is a real angelic hierarchy. Some angels have greater knowledge than others; each choir of angels has unique roles.

Angel depicted in flight

5. The angel who was originally created with the highest natural intelligence is Lucifer (Satan).

Lucifer was created good and is believed to have been in the first set of angelic choirs—the choir of Cherubim. He then chose to reject God. “Non serviam!” (“I will not serve!”) is his cry of rebellion.

6. Each individual angel has its own unique essence and is therefore a distinct species, as different from one another as trees, cows, and bees.

No two angels are the same. Their uniqueness is another reflection of the creativity and glory of God.

7. Angels have personalities that differ from one another, just as humans do.

Angels are persons. Each has a unique personality.

8. Angels are infused with a perfect knowledge of all created things, including human nature.

We are not mysteries to the angels. They know far more about us than we do ourselves!

St. Michael statue

9. Angels cannot predict the future.

Angels do not know particular events that will occur in history, unless God wills that knowledge for a particular angel.

10. Angels do not know what graces God will give to certain humans; they can only infer it by observing the effects.

They are excellent observers, by the way.

11. Each angel was created for a specific task or mission.

They received instantaneous knowledge of this mission at the moment of their creation.

12. At the moment of their creation angels freely chose whether to accept or reject their mission, a choice forever locked into their will without remorse.

The fact that the angels were given one opportunity to make a choice with everlasting consequences may seem strangely unjust to us. But this is a misplaced compassion, arising from misunderstanding.

Our own human experience of thinking—with our mental processing, struggle to collect necessary information, uncertainty of consequence, and regret for negative results—is a foreign experience to the angels. Angels do not struggle to reason through a situation. “The human intellectual process is one of trial and error,” writes Fr. Horgan in his book His Angels at Our Side. “The angels don’t have to go through this process. With them, there are no trials because there are no errors…”

When Satan and his companions made their choice, for example, they were not suffering from lack of understanding, bad education, interior wounds inflicted by others, or an intellect darkened by human sin. They were created in perfection, lacking nothing. They were gifted with perfect knowledge and understanding and “knew better”—and made an evil decision anyway. Fallen angels have no desire to repent of what they have done.

Angel pillar

13. Each human being from the moment of their conception has a Guardian Angel assigned to them by God to lead them to salvation.

Furthermore, your guardian angel freely chose to accept you into their charge.

14. Human beings do not become angels when they die.

Instead, the saints in heaven will take the positions of the fallen angels who forfeited their place in heaven.

15. Angels communicate with one another by passing concepts from mind to mind.

The higher-intelligenced angels can share their knowledge with angels from the lower choirs.

16. Angels don’t have emotions in the same way that we do.

However, they do experience intense movements in their will that are similar to human emotions.

Warrior Angels

17. Angels are far more active in the life of humans than we realize.

So are demons—which is why we need to stay close to the Sacraments, maintain a consistent prayer life, and foster devotion to our guardian angels.

18. God determines when and how angels can communicate with humans.

The angels rejoice to obey Him.

19. Good angels help us to act in accord with our created nature as rational human beings.

Fallen angels do the opposite. They want us to act against our nature as rational human beings. They love irrationality.

20. Angels don’t move from location to location.

Angels do not move as we “move” as we do, since they are not material beings with material boundaries and limitations. Rather than physically running from place to place, as we must, they are present wherever their will is acting. Their presence, then, can be instantaneous.

21. Angels can prompt and guide the thoughts of humans.

However, they cannot violate our free will.

The Archangel Michael reaching to free souls from Purgatory, by Jacopo Vignali, 17th century
The Archangel Michael reaching to free souls from Purgatory, by Jacopo Vignali, 17th century

22. Angels can take information from your memory and bring an image into your mind in order to influence you.

Remember that they would only do this in accordance with God’s will. He would have a particular reason for allowing this—and it’s not going to happen every day.

23. Good angels bring to mind imagery that helps us do the right thing according to God’s will.

Fallen angels do the opposite. They try to bring images to our minds that dissuade us from God’s will.

24. The degree and kind of temptation from fallen angels is determined by God according to what is necessary for our salvation.

And as the Bible tells us, “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

25. Angels don’t know what is happening in your intellect and will, but they can surmise it by watching our reactions, behavior, etc.

St. Thomas and St. Augustine tell us that angels can “sometimes with the greatest faculty learn man’s dispositions, not only when expressed by speech, but even when conceived in thought, when the soul expresses them by certain signs in the body.”

Angel art


Scripture tells us that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses (Heb. 12:1) and suggests that we may be unaware of how angels are interacting with us at times (Heb. 13:2). Knowing these few facts about the angels and how they work can help us be more aware of their influence over our lives.

Although we will never fully comprehend angels in this life, the teaching provided by the Church, Sacred Scripture, and the encounters of the saints has given us much to contemplate.

//The Catholic Company//

Could You Be Blocking Yourself From Love?

“The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8)

I’ve often viewed love as a two-way street. We share love through words of affirmation, supportive actions, and simply being present. And we can receive love in the same ways.

What I also realize is that love does not have to be a two-way street. Sometimes love flows one way with the sender giving love and the recipient receiving. In these instances there is no reciprocity.

While most of us would likely prefer, and even say we abide by the two-way street kind of love, what is more likely is that we alternate between the two. There are moments in life when we find ease in giving love to others, and even receiving. We accept God’s love, and reciprocate by giving thanks, giving praise, maybe finding ways to serve Him. And we do the same with our loved ones. They find ways to show love to us and we can’t help but want to give some in return.

But then there are those moments when we find ourselves on the one-way street, and not as the sender of love, but as the recipient. God, or someone else shows love and we don’t want to give any back. Sometimes we don’t even express gratitude. Maybe we don’t recognize we are being loved, or maybe we don’t care.

What makes these one-way streets even worse is when we decide to put up some sort of blockade. We separate ourselves from those trying to love us saying in effect, I don’t want any. How many times have we done this after a verbal spat with a loved one? How many times have we done this with God, choosing sin over His commandments?

Why We Sometimes Avoid What Matters Most

From time to time we need to be able to ask the question — am I blocking myself from love?

Love from God, love from others. If so, what can we do to change that?

During a time in America where people seek division before they seek connection, this is a good question to ask yourself. God did not intend for all of humanity to dislike one another. He did not request that we divide ourselves based on skin color, religion, or political parties. In fact, Jesus laid down two important truths for us. He identified the two greatest commandments and they both deal with love.

“He said to him, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39)

If we know then that love matters most, why do we at times find ourselves blocking love from entering our lives?

There are a number of different reasons why from time to time we find ourselves blocking the love of God and other people. There may be one reason or multiple. Surely the more aware of these issues we can be as Christians, the stronger our faith will become. Not only will we then strengthen our connection to God, but also others. With spiritual growth we will serve as stronger role-models for our fellow Christians and show unbelievers what our faith is all about.

Finding the root to our block can be difficult though. Here are a few ideas to consider.

heart cloud in blue sky, goodness of God
Photo Credit: © SWN

1. Pride

“Pride comes before destruction, and an arrogant spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18)

When we choose pride over humility, we take a stance of pretending to be more self-sufficient than we are capable of as humans. Instead of recognizing good moments in life as God’s blessings, we treat them as our own individual triumphs. Yet, who are we without the loving, forgiving, and all-knowing Father?

Pride blocks us from love by making us think we can go through life on our own, but that is far from the truth. We need each other, and we need God.

2. Greed

“A greedy person stirs up conflict, but whoever trusts in the Lord will prosper.” (Proverbs 28:25)

Similar to pride, when we find ourselves giving in to greed, we take instead of give. In fact, all we want to do is take, take from God, take from others. We maintain clenched fists instead of open palms. Taking this approach in life prevents God from using us to spread His love.

If love is to be a two-way street, we can’t just take. We should also strive to give.

3. Isolation

“One who isolates himself pursues selfish desires; he rebels against all sound wisdom.” (Proverbs 18:1)

Just as Adam was made from the earth in Genesis, God also brought him a companion. We need companions in our lives too, whether in the form of family, friends, a partner. When we live isolated lives, keeping to our islands, we stop others from loving us. We shield ourselves from any vulnerability and therefore any potential relationship.

Opening Yourself Up to Love

The only way to overcome these problematic areas of our life is to increase self-awareness. We can achieve this through a number of different ways. Here are a few.

1. Prayer

“Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

The more we pray and talk to God, the greater we sustain a relationship with him. While He wants a relationship with us, how we respond to Him is our own choice. Choosing to pray to God constantly is like choosing to constantly communicate with a family member or a friend. You nurture any relationship by what you put into it.

When we nurture our relationship with God, we experience His love more, but also return some of that love.

2. Reading Scripture

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16)

Reading God’s Word steeps us in the wisdom that comes from the one who is love. We need his wisdom and insight to grow in what it means to truly be loved. We can’t fully love others if we don’t know what it means to be fully loved ourselves. And as God’s Word reveals, God sees something worth loving in us.

With greater wisdom, we will be more aware of the problem areas in our lives that draw us away from love. With greater self-awareness we can take appropriate steps to changing our behaviors, and start recognizing ways to let love in.

3. Community

“Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17)

Change is doable when we are by ourselves, but is so much more possible in a community of other believers. When we find others who can encourage us, we can also rely on them as resources of advice and accountability. Knowing we are not alone offers a reminder that love is not just something to receive, but something to give.

These are but a few ways to recognize how we block ourselves from love. The greater love we can both share and receive, the closer we will come to fulfilling the two greatest commandments.

Photo Credit: © Getty Images/aapsky

//God Tube//

Does Jesus Really Want Us to Sell All Our Possessions?

Does Jesus really want us to sell all of our possessions?

Jesus gives us a road map to heaven, not a to-do list.

RELIGIONJOHN T. GROSSO Published March 19, 2021

“Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven’ ” (Matt. 19:21).

This directive to a young man who asks Jesus what he must do to enter into eternal life raises legitimate questions for Catholics today. Do we really have to give away what we have to get into heaven? Then why are there faithful Catholics with houses, cars, sports memorabilia, and entertainment systems?

Jesus’ response to the young man is actually threefold: “keep the commandments . . . sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor . . . follow me” (19:17, 21). 

Rather than a specific task that guarantees salvation, Jesus gives us the road map to heaven.

The lesson Jesus is trying to teach his followers is deeper and more complex than “throw away everything you have!”

Jesus demonstrates how easily “stuff” can get between us and God. If we possess too much, we can become consumed by what we have and forget about God. Jesus warns us to not be possessed by our possessions. The more we have, the harder it becomes to resist the temptation to obsess over worldly things, rather than keep our attention where it belongs: fixed on God.

Jesus is not asking us simply to declutter our lives or live in a minimalistic way for its own sake.

If we look at this story through that context, we can see that Jesus is not necessarily just calling us to reject all of the physical possessions we hold dear. He also wants us to share the other parts of our lives we try to possess: our time and talents. 

It might not be necessary to give up all that we own to get into the kingdom of God, but it is absolutely necessary for every disciple to offer time, talent, and treasure for God’s glory here on earth. How do we do that? By using those possessions to serve the poor, the hungry, the immigrant, the “least of these” (25:35–36).

Jesus is not asking us simply to declutter our lives or live in a minimalistic way for its own sake. He does not want us to empty ourselves for some arbitrary reason. He tells us to empty ourselves out of love and a desire to enter into relationship with him. 

In sharing our posessions with those on the margins, we fulfill the commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” (19:19). In using our time, talent, and treasure to encounter the less fortunate, we encounter Jesus himself. 

So, while we don’t have to start packing away everything in our houses just yet, we’re not off the hook. Following Jesus isn’t easy, and true discipleship requires sacrifice. 

No matter who we are or what our socioeconomic status might be, we are called to offer what we have for God’s glory and to make sure our pursuit of possessions does not prevent us from receiving the one real treasure: the gift of heaven and eternal life. 

This article also appears in the March 2021 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 86, No. 3, page 49). Click here to subscribe to the magazine.

Image: Heinrich Hofmann, “Christ and the Rich Young Ruler”, 1889 via Wikimedia CommonsT

//U.S. Catholic – Faith in Action//

U.S. Catholic – Resist Today’s Throw-Away Culture

A modern-day gleaning network addresses issues of food waste and food insecurity.


On a crisp mid-September morning, the last high clouds are burning off to reveal clear blue sky above the dewy fields. The air smells of the wet earth underfoot that clings to the soles of my rubber boots. In my hands I hold an ovoid the size of a football and the color of a lemon—a spaghetti squash fresh from its vine. Its shell is marred by a few brownish gouges on one side—the work of crows—that make it unsaleable for the farmers who tend this plot of land. For this particular harvest, though, such cosmetic damage is welcomed with open arms.

I’m part of a group of gleaners that helps connect needy populations with free, albeit imperfect, local produce. It’s a mission common to a growing number of grassroots gleaning organizations cropping up all around the country—a modern spin on an ancient practice with biblical roots.

To glean is to gather what is left behind following the main harvest of a field. In times past, a gleaner was a person whose marginal place in society prevented them from raising their own crops or generating income. Ancient Israelite society unequivocally placed the onus on landowners to leave something behind for these vulnerable individuals.

In Leviticus we read, “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the alien” (Lev. 23:22). Deuteronomy contains a similar directive that prohibits landowners from stripping their own vineyards, olive groves, and grainfields. It instructs that the gleanings “shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow” (Deut. 24:19–21).

Gleaning lies at the heart of the story of Ruth, a Moabite widow. Newly arrived in Bethlehem, she is reduced to providing for herself and her mother-in-law by following behind the reapers of the barley harvest. When Boaz—the landowner—notices her tireless dedication to her task, he gives his workmen special instructions: “Let her glean even among the standing sheaves, and do not reproach her. You must also pull out some handfuls for her from the bundles, and leave them for her to glean” (Ruth 2:15–16). In an ending befitting a fairy tale, Ruth and Boaz marry, and she gives birth to the grand­father of King David.

Gleaners remained a fixture of agricultural life in Europe throughout the Middle Ages and beyond, precariously perched on the very bottom rung of peasant society. Jean-François Millet’s famous 1857 painting The Gleaners depicts three peasant women stooped low and bathed in the golden light of evening as they claw bits of grain from the dark soil. Behind them, we see the generous bounty of the harvest heaped high upon the wagons and piled in mounds as big as houses around the male laborers. The dignity of the gleaners—those poorest of the poor—is the main message here, but we cannot fail to notice the gross inequality of their economic situation.

To glean is to gather what is left behind following the main harvest of a field.

By the time Millet was painting his agrarian masterpieces, gleaning as a way of life was already becoming a thing of the past. A complex array of social forces, including increased privatization of land and mechanization, was coalescing to effectively cast gleaners from the fields.

Over the last century, as our food system has become ever more industrialized, the problem of food waste has ballooned. Researchers estimate that up to 40 percent of food in America goes uneaten, including billions of pounds of produce left to rot in fields each year. Meanwhile, we are far from solving the problem of food insecurity among vulnerable populations.

Pope Francis has made the injustices inherent in our “throwaway culture” a major theme of his pontificate. He writes, “Consumerism has induced us to be accustomed to excess and to the daily waste of food. . . . Let us remember well, however, that whenever food is thrown out it is as if it were stolen from the table of the poor, from the hungry!” He exhorts us to find solutions to the problem of waste that also increase our solidarity with the underprivileged.

Enter the modern-day gleaning network, which addresses issues of food waste and food insecurity simultaneously.

A pioneer among the new wave of gleaners, the Society of St. Andrew (SoSA) has been organizing gleans since the 1980s. Born of a spiritual partnership between two Methodist ministers living in Virginia, the society takes its name from the disciple who—in John’s telling of the feeding of the multitude—brings the boy with his few fish and barley loaves to the attention of Jesus. Their mission statement reads in part, “We are people who find abundance where others see scarcity, and we use that abundance to feed all who are hungry.” A YouTube clip from a 2010 SoSA event shows a busload of gangly teens standing shoulder to shoulder, muscling along a seeming infinitude of hefty sacks of gleaned potatoes bucket-brigade style. At the end of the day they’ll have heaved 40,000 pounds of the tubers into trucks bound for regional food pantries.

Researchers estimate that up to 40 percent of food in America goes uneaten, including billions of pounds of produce left to rot in fields each year.

While gleaning for charity is certainly a noble pursuit, critics note that it does little to address the systemic roots of food injustice. Salvation Farms—a Vermont nonprofit that provides backbone support for the state’s gleaning network—focuses on increasing overall food system resilience. Executive director and founder Theresa Snow recently described how her organization grew out of an experience of crisis: Working in an American Red Cross Family Assistance Center in Manhattan following the attacks on September 11, 2001, she was struck by the way countless affected families had been stripped of their ability to meet their most basic needs, one of which, of course, is food.

Another recent crisis, the novel coronavirus pandemic, has laid bare just how poorly our food system handles unexpected stressors. An April 2020 article in the New York Times describes breakdowns in food supply chains caused by the shuttering of restaurants and institutions. Unable to redirect their goods into grocery markets, farmers ended up plowing millions of tons of perfectly ripe vegetables back into the soil. This tremendous waste of food resources was particularly galling coming at a time when many were financially struggling and food banks were picked clean.

Snow says that the larger goal of Salvation Farms is to “make long-term systemic change to reduce the overall vulnerability that our communities have as a whole but don’t realize.” The 2015 launch of its Vermont Commodities Program—which explores ways to aggregate and store large volumes of gleaned food while offering vocational training to members of vulnerable social groups—represents one approach the organization has taken toward this end.

For all her visionary innovation, Snow remains committed to gleaning as a social good. She recently joined the board of the Association of Gleaning Organizations, which supports gleaners around the country. The group is currently working on a first-ever snapshot of gleaning networks in the United States to assess their impacts on communities nationwide.

Whenever food is thrown out it is as if it were stolen from the table of the poor, from the hungry!
—Pope Francis

Snow has found herself in the pulpits of many churches spreading her message. “This is inspiring work for people who join together in worship because they come together to celebrate community. And this is just another form of being in service to each other,” she says.

She recounts a story of a young man who had gotten into legal trouble and was paired with Salvation Farms for his restorative justice work. He worked on Sundays at a farm where members of a local church come to glean before their morning service. One particular woman came often, and Snow has a vivid memory of watching the odd couple made by the youth and the elderly woman “kneeling on the ground together in the lifting fog, having a conversation they never thought they’d be having.” Snow pauses, then goes on in a voice tinged with wonderment, “It keeps coming to my mind that people say this is God’s work. I think being together in community this way is something really sacred.”

This article also appears in the March 2021 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 86, No. 3, pages 17-18). Click here to subscribe to the magazine.

Image: Wikimedia Commons/ The Gleaners, Jean-François Millet, Musée d’Orsay, 1857.