This sermon is about Catholic entitlement versus Catholic reverence. The photo on the blog is the 1956 wedding of Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly, showing reverence for God and spouse.
The Little Way as Spiritual Warfare: Lining up the Liturgy of several seemingly-unconnected saints this past week: St. Michael the Archangel, St. Therese, St. Francis, Mother Mary and the Gospel of the 18th Sunday After Pentecost.
Although the pro-life movement’s arguments can be proved from science as much as religion, one of the reasons that I am so involved in the pro-life movement is based on this piece of theology: God imagined every person as an unrepeatable blueprint long before their conception. Since God is the exclusive Creator of the Universe, and since God is in eternity (two philosophical necessities to a world with only One God) this means that God imagined the blueprint to each person’s genome long before an individual zygote was ever conceived. Of course, “imagined” and “before” are words that fail us, especially since we are speaking of a God who exists outside of time with a “mind” that is obviously not a physical cerebrum.
It is good that we say in the pro-life movement: “From the moment of conception you were a genetically unrepeatable human being.” But once we add the eternity of God into the mix, it goes even deeper: God had you perfectly planned before He created the Universe. See, if God is eternal, this is not pious or sentimental devotion. God actually loved you into existence during the specific time of history where you are placed (now, if you’re reading this now) but God also had you in mind as the unshakeable version of you. Yes, you are an unrepeatable reality of His own image and likeness which was blueprinted before the galaxy. You were originally the perfect idea of yourself as a “thought” of God before you were ever conceived in your mother’s uterus. In fact, God had you in mind trillions of years before that physical union. “Trillions” is a also weak word to imagine the one and only God who planned you outside of time. So, really God wanted you from forever as an unrepeatable receptacle of His creative Love and as an intimate reflection of His eternal Love.
Imagine a carpenter who is making a door. Philosophers call the wood the “material cause” where the word cause actually means “end” or “goal.” It’s the same as telos in Greek, that towards which a being is aiming its own reality as the goal of its existence (more being than doing.) So the “cause” is needed at the beginning as the intention, just as a door must actually have a form, not just random wood, but actually a cut and sanded door. (See St. Joseph working in the above image.) This “formal cause” is the telos or end toward which a being has its entire thrust of existence. Even more intimate to its existence is the “final cause,” which is in some sense the carpenter’s blueprint of his work. It exists in his mind before he actually takes the wood to task. This is why Aristotle wrote that “First in intention is last in execution.” The mental blueprint of the door is the final cause, end, goal, telos of the carpenter’s work, even though the idea and intention existed before the finished product. So also, each individual human soul had to be blueprinted in God’s mind just before conception. God Himself is the true meaning of Planned Parenthood. Everything else is a diabolical mockery.
October is the month of the Holy Rosary. Both the Roman Breviary and the Lesson from the Tradition Latin Mass for the Mass of the Holy Rosary today include some lines from Sacred Scripture that were ascribed to Mary by the Church for a very long time:
The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His ways, before He made any thing from the beginning. I was set up from eternity, and of old before the earth was made. The depths were not as yet, and I was already conceived.—Pv 8:22-24b
The old Roman Breviary also seems to ascribe pre-existence to Mary between the Psalms of Matins today: From the beginning, and before the world, was I created, and unto the world to come I shall not cease to be, and in the holy dwelling place I have ministered before Him.—Sir 24:14
I think many Protestants would be shocked to read that the Liturgy would ascribe to Mary the notion of pre-existence before time. They should be assured that we Catholics believe that Mary was not pre-existent. We do not believe that Mary existed before the galaxy like Her Son did. Jesus is the Divine Word and the Second Person of the Trinity, so He obviously existed before earth. But not Mary. So why then does it ascribe to Mary in both Proverbs 8 above and Sirach 24 that she was before He made anything and even before the world?
The answer is found in the first two paragraphs of this blog post: Mary was an idea of God long before she was conceived. Yes, she was conceived as the Immaculate Conception during the holy but normal intercourse of her parents, St. Joachim and St. Anne. But her soul had to have been planned before that actual act, just as a formal cause or blueprint in the mind of the Creator of all things must exist. Your soul and my soul was planned on being infused into our bodies as God pre-destined and foreknew us.
Mary was not God. Mary is not God. She is not pre-existent. But the plan predestined for her is the supreme pre-existing blueprint of God’s best plan for not only humanity but all of creation:
“God could make a bigger world or a wider sky, but He could not raise a pure creature higher than Mary.”—St. Bonaventure
This means that besides the sacred humanity of Jesus (yes, Jesus had a created soul and body even though the center of His personhood is purely Divine as God the Son) Mary was the greatest thing God could think of. Besides the created human soul and body of Jesus (that Christ actually created as God!) we can put all of the above paragraphs together to say that the blueprint of Mary’s soul was the greatest thought that God ever had for creation. God outdid Himself in creating Mary. From St. Bonaventure, we might be able to go so far as to say that God Himself could not have had a greater thought than that of planning Mary’s soul. Even if this is going too far, remember that St. Thomas Aquinas (always quite sober on his Marian theology) admits that although only the soul of Jesus had the Holy Spirit to an infinite degree, the perfection and grace of holiness infused into the soul of Mary “bordered on the infinite.” So, if God Himself could not raise a pure creature to a higher degree than Mary, we can easily say without saccharine sentimentality that Mary was the woman that God dreamed of before all time.
And so, somewhere within the “eons” (so to speak) of this eternal plan of redemption, Christ made her perfect soul and Immaculate body…about 14 years before He made His own human soul and body.
This is why Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen wrote my favorite book on Mary, The World’s First Love. He shows that Mary was God’s First Love. I am convinced Archbishop Sheen must have titled his book The World’s First Love after meditating on those Old Testament readings applied to Mary in the Traditional Latin Mass (Proverbs 8 and Sir 24, as seen above.) In order to contemplate what it means for a planned-but-not-pre-existent creature to hold the Creator for nine months inside her, the old Roman Breviary even ascribes this astonishing line on the Feast of the Rosary to the Blessed Virgin Mary: From the beginning, and before the world, was I created, and unto the world to come I shall not cease to be, and in the holy dwelling place I have ministered before him.—Sir 24:14. That is, Mary was planned to be Christ’s holy dwelling before her creation.
One last time, St. Bonaventure’s quote: “God could make a bigger world or a wider sky, but He could not raise a pure creature higher than Mary.” This means that Mary’s soul was planned before the creation of earth to be so beautiful that it would outdo the combined beauty of the souls of all the saints, all the heroic acts of the martyrs, all the beauty of a newly born baby, all the beauty of uncharted planets with their own unknown Grand Canyons and even more glorious than the invisible world of angels. Such is the soul of Mary.
When you say one “Hail Mary,” you approach this Immaculate soul to intercede for you. Whether you go to the old Mass or new Mass or you’re not even Catholic, you can still fulfill the prophesy that all generations would call Mary blessed (Luke 1:48.) With the Rose garden of the Rosary this month of October, you will see (even if you are not a Catholic) that it is no wonder that Mary’s intercession prompted the very first miracle at the wedding feast at Cana (John 2.) Just try to ask her intercession and you will see: Mary is the mother of Catholics, the mother of Protestants, the mother of Muslims and the mother of Jews. Mary is the loving Mother of both transvestites and saints. Mary is the Mother of atheists and Mary is the mother of Jesus. Try the Rosary and you too will see: How could God refuse the request of the most perfect and powerful soul that He Himself has ever created? 1
St. Junipero Serra wrote this beautiful prayer: “O Purest Queen of heaven and earth, most perfect work of the Holy Trinity, since from all eternity the Father chose you for His daughter, the Son selected you to be His Mother and the Holy Spirit selected you as His spouse, there could not be the slightest imperfection, not even the smallest shadow of original sin on your soul. As the first fruit of the redemption, your soul was free, beautiful and free from the initial moment of your conception. Receive, O Mother, in virtue of this singular mystery, my short but prayerful offering, or, to put it another way, the humble utterance of your lowly servant. I would like to offer you all the gold of the Indies and all the riches of the entire world. But what greater treasure could there be than a soul redeemed by the Precious Blood of your most Holy Son? Listen to this prayer, uttered by one of little virtue, for together with it I append the most fervent affections which the most gifted among your servants have offered you. In return, all I want is that for today, all the days of my life and at the moment of my death, I might have the grace of choosing you as mother, advocate and patroness. I ask that you take me under the mantle of your protection and, after gazing at me with your merciful eyes, you free me from human miseries, so that my soul may be happy with you in heaven. Amen. [3 Hail Mary’s in honor of the Trinity for the privileges accorded by the Father to His Daughter, the Son to His Mother and the Holy Spirit to His spouse.] God hails you, Mary, Mother of God and Spouse of the Holy Spirit, temple and chalice of the Holy Trinity, Mary conceived without original sin.” ↩
My last blog post called How Many Will Be Saved? had a lot of shares but also a lot of critique. This makes for good Catholic dialogue. I want to respond in a short blog post to a few objections.
St. Augustine wrote: “There are two things that kill the soul: Despair and false hope.”—St. Augustine, Sermo 87.8. Another word for “false hope” is presumption. The reason I included in my blog post all the saints’ quotes on hell was not to judge Hugh Hefner but to show how many American Catholics live in presumption of last-minute imperfect contrition. So, if someone were to read those saints’ quotes about hell and subsequently scamper from false hope to despair, it’s is proof that the third way has not been tried, namely, a realistic but supernatural hope in salvation. Roughly summarized from St. Thomas Aquinas, supernatural hope is the reliance on God to attain the rigorous good of heaven. Rigorous does not mean heaven is painful, but that it is a big deal for a human to be plugged into an infinite power pack of love forever, that is, the Blessed Trinity. Such is heaven, a supernatural good beyond even the best human abilities.
Comments about my article that spanned much farther on the internet than just my Facebook page have tried to make me feel guilty or judgmental for my blog post. I’m not going to feel guilty, for their response actually reveals to me how many American Catholics have put a false-hope in family members dying in imperfect contrition without the sacraments. It’s important to teach your children that the Council of Trent teaches that death-bed imperfect contrition (accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior with sorrow for sins but without perfect love of God or sacramental confession) is actually not enough for salvation. It is the teaching of the Church we need the sacraments, so don’t kill the messenger who loves you enough to tell you.
But now I will say a word about my thoughts on Hugh Hefner. First, I can’t judge him and I don’t know where he is now, but please realize that I am a priest, and I go to many death beds of Catholics who are dying without any contrition, perfect or otherwise. How do I know this? Because most death-bed events I have gone to has a patient who has not been to confession for 20 years…and they refuse it with me too. (Not to toot the horn of Latin Mass Catholics, because they know I can be a harsh preacher against the sins of traditionalists, but almost all traditional Latin Mass Catholics go to confession on their death beds. This says something about the lost catechesis of the past 50 years.)
So, why do most normal baby-booming Catholics refuse confession? Is it because they don’t actually believe in sin. Let that sink in: Most dying baby boomers I have been to as a priest really believe they are dying without any sin on their soul, for they don’t believe that sin is an actual reality. 1
To be saved from mortal sin on your death bed, you would need to believe that sin actually exists in order to accept either the gift of imperfect contrition with the sacraments or perfect contrition without the sacraments (the latter being much more rigorous to attain, not easier.) To attain heaven, we should be using the means of the Catholic Church, not Protestantism that believes that a single mental act at the end of life is enough for salvation. No, I don’t know for sure that Hugh Hefner was not the recipient of perfect contrition, but if I see people his age constantly refuse the simple gift of imperfection contrition, this is proof to me how few of my critics really have any wisdom about how rare and astronomically soul-changing the gift of perfect contrition is upon the soul. Christ coming to Hugh Hefner by means of perfect contrition is the only thing that could have saved him, and there is no evidence of it. 2
So, the reason so many people got up in arms against me reveals to me how many people needed to hear this truth about what to do before your deathbed begins: Go to baptism or confession. That way, Jesus can forgive you ten times the life of sin of the orgy-throwing, abortion-promoting pornographer Hugh Hefner. If you think I’m going to feel guilty about warning Catholic Americans against presumption for helping people to interpret sacramental imperfect contrition (not to mention perfect contrition!) you are wrong. I would be the first priest in the world to go to the bedside of a Hugh Heffner and hear his confession.
And I would even hope in his salvation.
So, if you have a relationship with Christ and you are going to the sacraments, please stop whining about my saints’ quotes.
But if you are an amateur theologian who thinks God in His love must surely grant perfect contrition to all public pornographers and abortion-promoters, see here:
Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.—Galatians 6:7
Having come from medicine, I believe the sacraments are like medicine, really necessary for our salvation to move us from a life of the flesh to the Spirit. This is real stuff in the soul and body. I don’t have much time for high-minded, Pharisaical loopholes about most of the world fitting into the extremely rare grace of perfect contrition at a legalistic level. For example, as an ex-paramedic, what do you think I would think of a trauma surgeon who would say “Yeah, room one is a gun shot wound to the chest, but there is a chance he will live…yeah, patient in Trauma 2 has a critical closed head injury from a high-speed motor cycle accident, but there is a chance he will live…yeah, patient in room 3 has a disecting aortic aneurysm but there is a chance she will live without surgery.”
You see, we are not Protestants who believe salvation is a chance mental act that happens without the surgery of the sacraments. We are Catholics who know that salvation requires baptism by water or baptism by blood (martyrdom before water baptism could be given) or baptism by desire, in this case, the extremely rare case of perfect contrition like the thief on the cross next to Christ. But because few of our souls have the capability for so much love to be poured into it as the thief on the cross did in perfect contrition, God has given us the means of salvation that I have seen so many people reject: The sacraments.
By baptism or confession, Jesus could have easily forgiven the sins of Hugh Hefner, even though Hefner corrupted literally the whole world with pornography, abortion and abuse of women. Yes, I believe one single confession to a priest would have still forgiven even Hugh Hefner: Such are the depths of God’s untrackable, unspeakable, unfathomable mercy upon even the worst of sinners (like me.) And so, let’s talk about hope not in last-minute, legalistic, Protestant mind games, but let’s be covered with the all powerful blood of Jesus in the sacraments, and get those sacraments to as many people as possible.
St. Alphonsus Liguori, a saint and doctor of the Church, teaches that there is no veniality to the sixth and ninth commandment. Since most Catholics live and die with a tremendous number of unconfessed sexual sins in their past, it is safe to say that most Catholics are dying in grave sin if not mortal sin. ↩
Even Pope John Paul II who apparently entertained (outside an encyclical) the possibility of all being saved, warned in an extremely important encyclical on the moral life (Veritatis Splendor) against the idea that a general choosing of goodness could trump the decisions we make in the body as vital to salvation. He called this error “fundamental option theology”: “Some authors, however, have proposed an even more radical revision of the relationship between person and acts. They speak of a “fundamental freedom”, deeper than and different from freedom of choice, which needs to be considered if human actions are to be correctly understood and evaluated. According to these authors, the key role in the moral life is to be attributed to a “fundamental option”, brought about by that fundamental freedom whereby the person makes an overall self-determination, not through a specific and conscious decision on the level of reflection, but in a “transcendental” and “athematic” way. Particular acts which flow from this option would constitute only partial and never definitive attempts to give it expression; they would only be its “signs” or symptoms. The immediate object of such acts would not be absolute Good (before which the freedom of the person would be expressed on a transcendental level), but particular (also termed “categorical” ) goods. In the opinion of some theologians, none of these goods, which by their nature are partial, could determine the freedom of man as a person in his totality, even though it is only by bringing them about or refusing to do so that man is able to express his own fundamental option. A distinction thus comes to be introduced between the fundamental option and deliberate choices of a concrete kind of behaviour. In some authors this division tends to become a separation, when they expressly limit moral “good” and “evil” to the transcendental dimension proper to the fundamental option, and describe as “right” or “wrong” the choices of particular “innerworldly” kinds of behaviour: those, in other words, concerning man’s relationship with himself, with others and with the material world. There thus appears to be established within human acting a clear disjunction between two levels of morality: on the one hand the order of good and evil, which is dependent on the will, and on the other hand specific kinds of behaviour, which are judged to be morally right or wrong only on the basis of a technical calculation of the proportion between the “premoral” or “physical” goods and evils which actually result from the action. This is pushed to the point where a concrete kind of behaviour, even one freely chosen, comes to be considered as a merely physical process, and not according to the criteria proper to a human act. The conclusion to which this eventually leads is that the properly moral assessment of the person is reserved to his fundamental option, prescinding in whole or in part from his choice of particular actions, of concrete kinds of behaviour.”—Pope John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor #65, 6 August 1993. ↩
In the TLM calendar, today is the external feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. Although this sermon deals with abortion, I tried to avoid extremely graphic descriptions of the violence. In fact, the families with whom I inquired after Mass had no problem with my vocabulary in preaching. Nevertheless, I would highly encourage parents to preview this sermon in order to first determine the level of age-appropriate listening in your family.
Nota Bene: Future sermons will probably be released on Mondays, blog posts on Thursdays.