Daring Not Staring: Our Charge to Live Boldly

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Nelson Mandela declared, “Sometimes, I feel like one who is on the sidelines, who has missed life itself.” Do you ever feel like life is go going by without your being engaged with reality? Are you in a stupor or continual state of lethargy? Is it easier to sit on the sidelines and stare in judgment at the characters in your life that wronged you than it is to actively seek opportunities to change your life?

Do you worry if you answered yes to any of these questions—I myself often reflect on these issues and frequently I feel like a static character in the story of my life! Humans desire fulfillment in life. Yet, there is a tension between the ideal we strive for—embracing challenges with resolve— and the reality that life sometimes bogs us down and weariness set in.

C.S. Lewis purported, “Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success.” As a perfectionist, an internal struggle exists within my heart and mind over action versus inaction in daily situations. Oftentimes, when I make a great mistake, whether it be at work or home, I freeze—I regulate myself to the sidelines of life. Failure can either sow fruit or decay. Your attitude toward adversity is key as to whether disappointments lead to opportunity to a continued cycle of idleness on the sideline.

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My Catholic faith strongly colors how I approach strife and difficulty in life. However, I continually need to be reminded that transformation occurs through daring to live authentically instead of simply staring, remaining still and being pessimistic when sins of others affect my life. In his general audience on Holy Wednesday, April 16, 2014 Pope Francis urged Catholics [and the entire world],

We expect that God, in his omnipotence, will defeat injustice, evil, sin and suffering with a triumphant divine victory. Instead, God shows us a humble victory that in human terms seems to be a failure. And we can say this: God wins in failure. Indeed, the Son of God on the Cross appears to be a defeated man. He suffers, He is betrayed, He is vilified, and finally dies. But Jesus allows evil to set upon Him, He takes it all upon Him in order to vanquish it. His Passion is not incidental; his death — that death — was ‘foretold.’ It is an unsettling mystery, but we know the secret of this mystery, of this extraordinary humility: ‘God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.’ [Emphasis mine]

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I came across a person who questioned the goodness of this life. Rejecting the notion that our earthly existence is a gift, she emphatically declared, “Eternal life is the gift, Earthly life is an insane asylum, and all the patients run free!” A bold claim—this lady was half-right. While the fullness of truth, joy, and beauty is founded in complete relationship with God in Heaven, goodness can still be discovered in the created order. The Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 34 contains this truth,

The world, and man, attest that they contain within themselves neither their first principle nor their final end, but rather that they participate in Being itself, which alone is without origin or end. Thus, in different ways, man can come to know that there exists a reality which is the first cause and final end of all things, a reality ‘that everyone calls God’.

Along with the inherent goodness of creation, the Catholic Church clearly teaches the dignity of all life, “Every human life, from the moment of conception until death, is sacred because the human person has been willed for its own sake in the image and likeness of the living and holy God” (CCC 2319). I challenged that individual I encountered to seek the joy within this reality—even in the midst of apparent [and oftentimes real] suffering! Some people may desire to flee from suffering or difficulty.

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Rushing to the sidelines in the middle of the game-of-life is the easy option. Is it truly the best strategy in life? Maybe in the short-term. In the long-run, in the end-game, daring to engage in life—both the high and lows—as opposed to staring from the sidelines is the preferred method.

St. Cyprian of Carthage boldly proclaimed the value of mettle in face of trials, “This, in short, is the difference between us and others who know not God, that in misfortune they complain and murmur, while the adversity does not call us away from the truth of virtue and faith, but strengthens us by its suffering.” Put another way, the hockey legend Wayne Gretzsky succinctly said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

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Do not miss an opportunity to live life to the fullest. Seize the chance to put others before yourself. Be bold in picking up your cross and follow Christ’s command in Mark 12:31, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The joy found in selfless and bold living will be immeasurable. Follow the prompting of the Holy Spirit to better your life. I dare you!

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3 Ways Mary Undoes the Knots of Desolation in my Life

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Does your life seem confusing? Are you currently in a situation where there is no apparent solution? Sir Isaac Newton once said, “Truth is ever to be found in simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.” If that is the case it seems that life is lacking truth lately. Confusion, frustration, anxiety, and anger engulfed me over the course of the past couple weeks. Anyone who has experienced that over a period of time will start to feel like you may be trapped in an endless loop of the daily grind. The image that immediately comes to mind during confusing times is the lithograph print Relativity [see above] by Dutch artist M.C. Escher.

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When life starts to cycle into a twisted journey of never-ending [and never beginning] staircases, the seeds of desolation become sown. Every time doubt and despair grow in my heart I turn to the Blessed Virgin Mary for assistance. According to the Second Vatican Council’s document Lumen Gentium 56 stated, “”The knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by Mary’s obedience; what the virgin Eve bound through her unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosened by her faith.”  While the devotion to Mary Undoer of Knots is founded in the ancient Church, I recently discovered this special appellation for Mary from Pope Francis. I learned that the pope’s favorite devotion to Mary is to view her as our mother who unties the knots in our spiritual life. I came up with three reasons why I believe this to be true as well.

  1. True model of Obedience to God:As an adopted child of God I often struggle with being obedient to the will of my Heavenly Father. It is easy to embrace a “my way of the highway!” type of mentality. Due to original sin humanity suffers from a detachment from God. Mary is a bridge to Jesus—who is the ultimate bridge to God the Father! The Blessed Virgin’s intrepid, but faithful statement of obedience in Luke 1:38, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” always give me pause. Her statement she compel you to stop and ponder as well. How often do you attempt to push for your will to be done? Do you notice subtle, or maybe overt, signs pointing to God’s will, yet still ignore them? What things could you do differently to unite your will to the Father’s will?

Mary, Mother of God is the true and perfect standard-bearer for what obedience to God’s will looks like.

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  1. Silent Suffering: As a parent, the worst possibly suffering I could ever imagine would involve something happening to my children that was outside of my control and ability to comfort/aid them. Venerable Fulton Sheen always talks of Mary with both charity and clarity. In Mary and the Sword he speaks of the importance for Mary’s suffering before Calvary, “An unsuffering Madonna to the suffering Christ would be a loveless Madonna. Who is there who loves, who does not want to share the sorrows of the beloved? Since Christ loved mankind so much as to want to die to expiate their guilt, then He should also will that His Mother, who lived only to do His will, should also be wrapped in the swaddling bands of His griefs.”

Having experienced an unimaginable suffering of seeing her only son agonize on the Cross, Mary is the perfect mother for me to seek her aid as another son suffering from desolation and doubts at times.

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  1.  Mother to all God’s Children: Jesus in John 19 entrusted Mary to be the spiritual mother for John — and not only for John but for all of God’s children. According to the catechism paragraph 963,

Since the Virgin Mary’s role in the mystery of Christ and the Spirit has been treated, it is fitting now to consider her place in the mystery of the Church. “The Virgin Mary . . . is acknowledged and honored as being truly the Mother of God and of the redeemer. . . . She is ‘clearly the mother of the members of Christ’ . . . since she has by her charity joined in bringing about the birth of believers in the Church, who are members of its head.”502 “Mary, Mother of Christ, Mother of the Church.”503

Oftentimes when I experienced confusion, sadness, anger, and doubt growing up [and even today] I usually reach out first to my mom in seeking consolation and clarity. The same is true for my spiritual mother—Mary. Her close unity with Jesus Christ combined with her full humanity allows her to be both a trusted and approachable figure to find refuge in.

St. Thomas Aquinas declared, “As mariners are guided into port by the shining of a star, so Christians are guided to heaven by Mary.” Catholics honor Mary, not because she is divine, but because she points us to her Divine Son Jesus! We may relate directly to Mary due to her full humanity. During the stresses of life, reciting of a Hail Mary calms my angst and orients the storm in my soul toward God’s will. Let us close with the prayer to Mary Undoer of Knots in hopes that she guides us away from the knotty snares of the Devil:

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Virgin Mary, Mother of fair love, Mother who never refuses to come to the aid of a child in need, Mother whose hands never cease to serve your beloved children because they are moved by the divine love and immense mercy that exists in your heart, cast your compassionate eyes upon me and see the snarl of knots that exist in my life.
You know very well how desperate I am, my pain and how I am bound by these knots.
Mary, Mother to whom God entrusted the undoing of the knots in the lives of His children, I entrust into your hands the ribbon of my life.
No one, not even the evil one himself, can take it away from your precious care. In your hands there is no knot that cannot be undone.
Powerful Mother, by your grace and intercessory power with Your Son and My Liberator, Jesus, take into your hands today this knot…I beg you to undo it for the glory of God, once for all, You are my hope.
O my Lady, you are the only consolation God gives me, the fortification of my feeble strength, the enrichment of my destitution and with Christ the freedom from my chains.
Hear my plea.
Keep me, guide me, protect me, o safe refuge!

Mary, Undoer of Knots, pray for me

Finding Joy–My Accidental Discovery of St. Philip Neri

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The great Italian saint Philip Neri once declared, “We are not saints yet, but we, too, should beware. Uprightness and virtue do have their rewards, in self-respect and in respect from others, and it is easy to find ourselves aiming for the result rather than the cause. Let us aim for joy, rather than respectability. Let us make fools of ourselves from time to time, and thus see ourselves, for a moment, as the all-wise God sees us.” How easy it is for us to perform acts of charity in hopes of the reward? I struggled with this temptation recently– instead of serving others out of love of God and neighbor, I oftentimes think of the long-term benefits I may receive– the favor may be returned, customers act nicer towards me, work is lessened in the time-run, etc. Seeking the results the cause [as Philip Neri put it] leads to joylessness.

I started this blog bring joy into my life and into my readers lives as well. Pursuing my daily feed, I came across a post about the patron saint of joy–Philip Neri. His name and patronage stuck with me throughout the workday. “I need to learn more about this saint of joy!” I thought to myself driving back home from work. As soon as my wife went to bed, I google searched Philip Neri and discovered the along with being the patron saint of joy he is an advocate for humor and, interestingly enough, U.S. Special Forces! Please know that I will be incorporating more quotes, writings, and wisdom from St. Philip Neri over the rest of 2018. I am excited for this journey to deepen my relationship with God through the witness of Philip Neri this year. Below is the link to the article that I was referencing above:  https://aleteia.org/2018/04/03/want-to-be-more-joyful-pray-this-prayer-to-st-philip-neri/

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I will close with a prayer that incorporate into my spiritual arsenal [and I hope you do too!]:

Prayer to Saint Philip Neri  

Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice! (Phil. 4:4)

O holy St. Philip Neri, patron saint of joy, you who trusted Scripture’s promise that the Lord is always at hand and that we need not have anxiety about anything, in your compassion heal our worries and sorrows and lift the burdens from our hearts. We come to you as one whose heart swells with abundant love for God and all creation. Hear us, we pray, especially in this need (make your request here). Keep us safe through your loving intercession, and may the joy of the Holy Spirit which filled your heart, St. Philip, transform our lives and bring us peace. Amen.

5 Reasons Why Your Statistics on WordPress do not Define You as a Blogger 

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Mark Twain once wrote, “Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable.” We seem to within the age of advanced metrics, statistics, and quantification of nearly all aspects of life. Within the workplace it is likely that you may be evaluated based off an array of statistical categories and metrics. As an avid football fan, I noticed a great increase in the amount of time and column space that sports agencies such as ESPN and network sportscasters spend on discussing [mostly debating] who belongs in the “elite” quarterback conversation in the NFL. Needless to say, statistics have become part and parcel of our daily life over recent history—the same is true for blogging.

Dating back to my high school years I developed a strong interest in gathering various information and analyzing it. For a time, I seriously contemplated going to college to become a professional statistician. The analytical side of me naturally ogles and takes glee in the statistics that I have available through WordPress. Are we to be measured by our accomplishments or by the attitude that we put into our work? The world makes external successful paramount in determining our self-worth, however, is this a healthy way to live? More importantly is this approach to determining dignity of a person actually true? I hope to address these concerns in today’s post.

Depending on your worldview and upbringing it may be debatable as to whether the achievements that we accomplish through our career and hobbies act as the defining feature for a person’s self-worth. What I want to discuss today is that measuring your success as a blogger solely on statistics and viewership is not the entire picture. Below are five reasons to support this claim.

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  1. Why are you writing?: This is the first question that you should constantly keep on the forefront of your mind when blogging. Are you writing to gain notoriety or as a means to improve yourself and others? Put another way is the purpose for blogging ultimately self-serving or for serving others? St. Thomas Aquinas once stated, “The things that we love tell us what we are.” I continually need to remind myself that I write to better myself and to help others find joy in this life—not to amass high stats!

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2. Consistency is King: Although the world is a constantly changing reality, humans still hold a strong desire for stability. Possessing a consistency of character, will, and an even-keel of our emotions is a strong indicator for success. I struggle with keeping my emotions in check at times. What helps me during low points in my writing journey is to continue to focus the reason that I write–to help others find joy! I found this superb yet simple quote from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson helpful. He said, “Success isn’t always about greatness. It’s about consistency. Consistent hard work leads to success. Greatness will come.”

What has continued to provide me assurance and sustained me through periods of writer’s block is to always remember to focus on consistently writing and not worry about the popularity of my articles. Consistency is preferred over flashy statistics or outlandish blog topics.

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3. Quality over quantity: Following closely with the previous point, it is good to remind yourself that while it is important to write on a consistent basis focus on the caliber of your post instead of the number. When I stray away from this principal I generate haphazard articles that are sloppily put together. Although I am able to get an immediate satisfaction from publishing that day, when I reflect on previous blog posts I tend to have a regret about hitting the Publish button.

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4. Self-worth not determined by external measurements:  According to the Catholic Church, the dignity of all human persons is not measured through our social, political, and monetary accomplishments. We are born with an innate dignity. The Second Vatican II document Gadium Et Spes [Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World] declared,

According to the almost unanimous opinion of believers and unbelievers alike, all things on earth should be related to man as their center and crown.
But what is man? About himself he has expressed, and continues to express, many divergent and even contradictory opinions. In these he often exalts himself as the absolute measure of all things or debases himself to the point of despair. The result is doubt and anxiety. The Church certainly understands these problems. Endowed with light from God, she can offer solutions to them, so that man’s true situation can be portrayed and his defects explained, while at the same time his dignity and destiny are justly acknowledged (#12).

 The key phrase that jumped out to me is that when we place ourselves at the center of attention–the result is doubt and anxiety!  Focusing on how popular you become as a blogger will have an initial rush of confidence and feelings of happiness, but these sensations will pass. Believe me, each time I hit a benchmark goal that I set for my writing career [i.e. landing a columnist opportunity, becoming a managing editor at an online magazine, and even an article published in a print magazine] I experience short term pleasure, but if I continue to judge my worth as a writer on these external accomplishments I soon fall into despair.

Pridefully, I fell into the trap believing that it is possible to achieve success all the time and when I hit periods of drought anxiety soon follows. Please do not falter in the same with that I struggle with frequently. Your self-worth as a writer is not to be determined by the amount of followers you have.

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5. Writing as a Tool to Help Others not for Self-glory: Dovetailing from the last point and also circling around to reiterate the first reason, it is important to remind yourself that writing is supposed to be a tool to help others, not an avenue for self-glory. The Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho appropriately stated, “Writing means sharing. It’s part of the human condition to want to share things – thoughts, ideas, opinions.” Use your platform on WordPress [or other sites if you reading this elsewhere] to promote your writing as a way to bridge the differences in the world and be an advocate for truth!

I initially wrote this article as a means to help temper my addiction to checking my WordPress app over twenty times a day—I thank my wife for confronting me about this issue. Over the course of writing this article, I realized that others may struggle with this similar obsession. I focused my efforts in trying to be as articulate as possible in assuring any of my readers that are also writers. Please do not despair if you experience a lull in your blogging hobby/career. Please feel free to share this article to any of your friends that may struggle with similar issues of self-doubt or those who have hit a thick wall of writer’s block! Thank you again for all of my followers, readers, and advocates that have supported me throughout my journey.

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Reality is Undefeated!

Perfection is rare especially in professional football. Throughout the history of the National Football League only 4 teams [the 1934 Chicago Bears, the 1942 Chicago Bears, the 1972 Miami Dolphins, and the 2007 New England Patriots] lasted an entire single regular season with an unblemished mark. Competition is tough. Teams and companies rarely leave unscathed over the course of time. The same is true for individuals. Life will definitely throw you curve balls—many of which hit us!

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I struggle with constantly striving for perfection. Largely, this is due to my obsessive compulsion towards having order. However, the more I strive for control and order the less I possess it! My idea of perfection is imperfect. True perfection, perfect humanity involves seeking out love, truth, and beauty with sincerity of heart.

When I seek a perspective beyond myself , I have learned that authentic personal growth occurs. Over time I have realized that only the truth, taught by Jesus Christ and safeguarded by the Catholic Church has stood the eroding power of time. In other words, truth—that which is real and reality itself will always find a way to win, a way to persevere. Reality is undefeated.

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Venerable Fulton Sheen sums it up best, “Truth does not change; it is only forgotten from one generation to the next. The truth is the truth even if no one believes it, and a lie is a lie even if everyone believes it.” Truthfully, I was going to end this post with the words of the American bishop. I have been struggling with the sin of sloth lately and I am trying to stave off despair due my wife and I’s recent miscarriage of our unborn child. The Holy Spirit inspires in mysterious ways. Tonight, I sensed the movement of God in perhaps the most surreal way–connecting the dots to my family’s story.

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I received a text message at 11:40 a.m. from the funeral home director that he wanted me to call him back about setting up a team for the funeral service. Being in training for my new job, I did not read this message in full until later in the evening. Upon arriving home, I cooked supper for my kids, gave them baths, and my wife and I put them to bed. It was not until almost 9 p.m. that my wife and I were able to eat dinner ourselves. We lounged on the couch watching sitcoms on Hulu. As I said before, I struggled with laziness and tonight was no different. I did not really feel like, nor even wanted to, finishing this post.

Suddenly, my wife told me something that connected the dots. “You know honey, St. Lucia’s feast day is today! I do not think it is a coincidence.” It took me a couple seconds to figure out what she meant. I checked my text message sent earlier today from the funeral director. He stated, “We received word from the hospital, Lucia is no in our care. Please call me back about setting up a time for the service.” Me of little faith.  Reality is undefeated. Truth always triumphs. Circumstantial things only appear like coincidences. It is over the course of time that apparent serendipitous events are revealed as part of a larger Divine plan.

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We named our unborn child, we believed in our hearts to be a girl, Lucia Faustina. December 13th–the same day we got confirmation that the remains of our child is safe with the Catholic funeral home–is the feast day of St. Lucia. Reality is undefeated. I cannot explain this happenstance except through the eyes of faith. God provided some consolation to my disparaging soul today. Will I be healed by the end of the week? Certainly not. I am further convinced that God has a great plan for both my wife and I and that we should not despair– instead we need to cling to hope now more than ever! Reality is undefeated. Truth always triumphs–it is not always easy and suffering is guaranteed. I will conclude with the words of Jesus in Matthew 16:24-25: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,* take up his cross, and follow me.25r For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Amen.

10 Reasons I am Thankful for my Catholic Faith

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G.K. Chesterton stated in Christmas and Salesmanship, “Gratitude, being nearly the greatest of human duties, is also nearly the most difficult.” As a father I know all too well how difficult it is sometimes for my children to express gratitude to me. On the other hand, as a husband I struggle to tell my wife how thankful for all that she does. Not only do I need to improve on my attitude of gratitude within my marriage,  I need to focus on having a thankful mindset in my spiritual life and relationship with God. In celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday, I came on my top ten reasons for why I am thankful for Catholicism!

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  1. Eucharist: The Bread of Life Discourse in John 6 has Jesus preaching the most profound truth in the history of the universe. Jesus said, I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (John 6:51). The Catechism of the Catechism Church calls the Eucharist the “source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC 1324). Every Sunday I experience the miracle of being able to receive the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ!

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  1. Holy Trinity: God is love. Love entails relationship. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is the Mystery that God is a Communion of Three Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I am grateful for the revelation of this truth. I am able to ponder the depth of its truth without it growing stale, it always remains fresh and profound!

 

  1. Incarnation: The most solemn moment of the Nicene Creed occurs when we profess: “For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven; by the power of the Holy Spirit, he became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.” At this point, we bow to recognize the amazing fact that God became a mere human. St. Athanasius had this to say about the Incarnation, “God became man that man might become God” (On the Incarnation). I am thankful that God sent his only Son-Jesus Christ—to become a bridge for humanity to access God.

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  1. Confession: I have experienced real, tangible, and concrete healing when I receive God’s healing grace’s in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Through frequent reception of Penance, I have been able to overcome sins that dominated me in my youth. I have also been able to recognize sins that hid in the background previously. As a result, Confession provides me with graces to root out sinful tendencies and to grow in holiness.

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  1. Divine Mercy: While I experience Divine Mercy in the Sacrament of Confession, I want to treat this topic as a separate point. I used to view God as a wrathful Judge. My scrupulosity leads to a judgmental mentality—that I struggle with still today. However, through the intercession of the Divine Mercy saints of the 20th century such as St. Maria Faustina, John Paul II, Maximilian Koble, and Mother Teresa my awareness that God is a Merciful and Just Judge has increased!

 

  1. Mary: My relationship with our Blessed Mother has improved over this past year. In celebration of the centenary anniversary of the Apparitions at Fatima, my wife and I consecrated ourselves to Jesus through St. Louis de Montfort stated, “[Mary] is the safest, easiest, shortest and most perfect way of approaching Jesus and will surrender themselves to her, body and soul, without reserve in order to belong entirely to Jesus” (True Devotion to Mary). I learned that Mary is the greatest witness and advocate for God. Her desire is to lead ll her children to Jesus Christ.

 

  1. Saints: Along with Mary, the saints in Heaven provide a model for me to follow to help me grow in holiness. Reading about the lives of my favorite saints [St. Athanasius, John Paul II, St. Amelia, St. Bernadette, St. Pius IX, St. Maria Faustina, and St. Maximilian Koble—to name a few] helps provide concrete examples of what holiness looks like and how I am able to emulate their trust in God in my own life.

 

  1. Hope: I am thankful for the hope that the Catholic Church teaches and provides me daily. Attending Sunday Mass, going to Eucharistic Adoration, meeting with my monthly Catholic men’s group, and teaching Religious Education at my parish are ways that I receive [and pass on] hope. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1843, “By hope we desire, and with steadfast trust await from God, eternal life and the graces to merit it.”

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  1. Sacred Tradition: I am a history buff. In fact, I earned my undergraduate degree in history. The Catholic Church is a storehouse and guardian of 2,000+ years of history and tradition. While lesser important traditions pass away and give way to more appropriate devotional practices that fits the needs of the faithful, Jesus Christ knew that stability and consistency of truth is essential in mankind’s relationship with God. The Catechism tells us in paragraph number 96-97, What Christ entrusted to the apostles, they in turn handed on by their preaching and writing, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to all generations, until Christ returns in glory. ‘Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God’ (DV 10) in which, as in a mirror, the pilgrim Church contemplates God, the source of all her riches.” I am thankful that Jesus instituted the priesthood and office of the papacy to have truth passed on through the ages.

  1. Beauty: The final fact about Catholicism in my top ten list that I am grateful for is the beauty I experience. Catholic cathedrals and basilicas are places where I have experienced beauty in an ineffable way. During the celebration of the Liturgy, I experience the beauty of God in both song and sight. The icons in my local church allow my prayers to be better united to God. I am pointed toward higher realities when I meditate with the aid of sacred song and holy images.

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  Lord, we thank you
for the goodness of our people
and for the spirit of justice
that fills this nation.
We thank you for the beauty and fullness of the
land and the challenge of the cities.

We thank you for our work and our rest,
for one another, and for our homes.
We thank you, Lord:
accept our thanksgiving on this day.
We pray and give thanks through Jesus Christ our Lord.

R: Amen.

Who am I to Judge?—the Death of Charles Manson

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I normally do not write on current events or celebrity/infamous figures, however, this week I will make an exception. The notorious serial killer Charles Manson died at the age of 83. I read a few threads on social media speculating the state of his soul. One conversation on Facebook had a poll question had the following choices for viewers to vote on the status of his soul:

a. who am I to judge?

b. yes, he is in hell, not sure, but there is a high probability he is in hell

c. he is in purgatory

d.  Miscellaneous options

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According to the official teaching of the Catholic Church, I opt for the first answer—who am I to judge? Honestly, I cannot definitively know the status of his soul in the afterlife.  Now, this stance is likely to be unpopular, especially from those impacted by his evil actions. I am not condoning Manson’s actions. Murder is against the 5th Commandment. All life has dignity.  To end it is grave and serious! However, at the end of the day, I am not the judge and jury of the eternal state of a human’s soul once they pass from this world. Anyone who dons the role of judge, jury, and executioner of another human being toes a dangerous and prideful line.

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  1. Hell– Population Unknown: A theological census on the residents in hell does not exist–at least for humans. According to Bishop Robert Barron, “Catholic doctrine is that Hell exists, but yet the Church has never claimed to know if any human being is actually in Hell. When the Church says that Hell exists, it means that the definitive rejection of God’s love is a real possibility” (Is Hell Crowded or Empty? A Catholic Perspective, 2011). However, hell is populated with spiritual beings like the fallen angels and Satan. The Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 391 and 393 tells us,

Scripture and the Church’s Tradition see in this being a fallen angel, called “Satan” or the “devil”.267 The Church teaches that Satan was at first a good angel, made by God: “The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing…It is the irrevocable character of their choice, and not a defect in the infinite divine mercy, that makes the angels’ sin unforgivable. There is no repentance for the angels after their fall, just as there is no repentance for men after death.

While Charles Manson’s horrific actions were severe and constituted justice to be served, we do not know whether or not he asked God for mercy during his four decades in prison. God is ultimately a merciful judge. He provides multiple opportunities for individuals to ask for forgiveness and to amend their sinful life. I will again look to the Catechism of the Catholic Church for guidance.  Paragraph 1037 states, “God predestines no one to go to hell; 620 for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end.”

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2. Death Penalty: Genesis 4 describes the first murder—Cain’s fratricide of Abel. As a cradle Catholic I heard stories from the bible so many times that sometimes I overlook the details of the account. The story of Cain and Abel is definitely a passage that I need to be reminded of, especially, when anger, jealousy, and pride creep up on me.

Cain and Abel present offerings to God. Genesis 4 tells us that God is pleased with Abel’s gift because he sacrifices the best of his flock, whereas Cain’s sacrifice is mediocre. Jealousy grows inside of Cain and instead of striving to be better with his offering next time he kills his brother in hopes to eliminate his perceived competition. God eventually interrogates Cain. Cain tries to make up an excuse, but he is found guilty. Here is where the story takes a turn, instead of killing Cain God spares him. In fact, he even pledges to protect Cain. Listen to Genesis 4:11-15,

Now you are banned from the ground* that opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.d12If you till the ground, it shall no longer give you its produce. You shall become a constant wanderer on the earth.13Cain said to the LORD: “My punishment is too great to bear.14Look; you have now banished me from the ground. I must avoid you and be a constant wanderer on the earth. Anyone may kill me at sight.”15Not so! the LORD said to him. If anyone kills Cain, Cain shall be avenged seven times. So the LORD put a mark* on Cain, so that no one would kill him at sight.

People can debate whether the Cain and Abel story is meant to be taken literally or figuratively. Nonetheless, the key message of the passage is the reality of God’s mercy. God does not seek vengeance as a first act, instead he allows for the consequences of sinful actions to occur and then he provides time for humans to seek forgiveness.

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In terms of the whether the capital punishment is morally permissible or not, Genesis 4 provides a precedent for the avoidance of using the death penalty. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church 2267,

Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.68

Through the increase in rehabilitation programs for criminals to participate in and improvement of prisons to section them off from the rest of the populace, the need for the death penalty in civilized nations is not as common as it was in the past. I want to make sure I am quite clear: Charles Manson’ heinous actions as a cult leader and murderer are deplorable. As a Catholic I am often challenged to demonstrate love individuals who committed such atrocities. If any of my loved ones ever suffered from the hands of someone similar in evil I would greatly struggle to forgive—but God calls us to a difficult task.

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The death of Charles Manson reminds me of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:43-44, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’c44 But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” I am not the judge, jury, and executioner of humanity. Thank goodness! If that would be the case we might all fall short of the glory of God.