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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Preparing for Lent 

“My God, My God why have you abandoned me?” Matthew 27:46

Lent is a solemn Liturgical Season designed by the Church to draw us closer to the Lord. As we enter Lent, let’s reflect on Matthew 27:46: “My God, My God why have you abandoned me?” [Matthew 27:46] A few verses later, Matthew writes that Jesus “cries out again with a loud voice and then yielded up His Spirit.” [Matthew [27:60] St. Matthew does not tell us what these last words of Jesus were. By way of contrast, St. Luke records Jesus’ last words in the following way: “”And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice said, Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.” And having said this he breathed his last.””[Luke 23:46]

Both Gospels point to Jesus’ willingness to hand over His Spirit to the Father; however, the first does so after attributing that willingness to both Jesus’ humanity and divinity. His cries evidenced his humanity; his initial assenting to the plan provides clear evidence of his divinity. And because he was full of grace — humanly speaking — his humanity never rubbed or competed with his divine self. Yet, these passages describe the pain Jesus felt in part because of the silence of His Father during the passion and suffering on the cross. 

We too will also experience silence — or feelings of being abandoned by God -  at certain times of our life. It is then that the essence of our faith will undergo personal scrutiny. What do we do about these periods of silence which challenge our faith? It depends on how well we prepare for them. Jesus is the model to imitate and he showed the way by entering into Forty Days of Intense Preparation. Unlike Jesus’ preparation, we will need to eat, It is also unlikely that we will have to endure  the frontal assault by Satan. The Church advises the following: prayer, reflection, almsgiving, self denial, fasting, penance, and performing charitable works of mercy [CCC 1438]. If we merely flirt with our spiritual preparation, we will be less prepared for whatever lies ahead. And at least yearly, we have at least one chance to really grow in our faith and accept the Holy Spirit’s active participation in granting us Divine Grace - as He infused in Jesus before the Final Trial. Like Jesus, we will need to have storehouse full of grace in order to endure the trials and suffering that is sure to come our way in this lifetime. And that suffering will include periods of silence during which time it will feel as if the Father does not exist or is not interested in us. These trials will surely test our faith. Allow this Lent to help you get prepared —  spiritually and mentally.

Lacking a full storehouse of grace, we will react to trials much like any other human being who is weakened by original and personal sin. We will draw inward and further distance ourselves from those we love; our neighbors and God.

All of us know what abandonment [of any type] feels like — at least partially — because we have experienced it in one form or another. While God will never leave us or abandon us, He may allow us to experience His Silence - which in effect will feel like abandonment. How do we know this? Because it happened even to Jesus - and while he was sorely wounded physically and mentally. Yet, Jesus did not give into temptation principally because He was fully prepared and bolstered by the  storehouse of graces infused by the Holy Spirit. 

Each of us will also experience God’s silence as He tests our faith and love. While few of us will have to endure the physical torture that Jesus experienced, we will feel the sting of being dismissed by someone at some time in the past, present or future. We will react in one of two ways. Either we will commend our lives into our Lord’s hands — no matter what — or we will commend our lives to ourselves or the situation at hand and fail to turn to God. The first reaction allows us to draw closer to God and cash in the grace chips awarded during our times of preparation. The latter will only allow us to withdraw from God as we pump our fists; grow angrier and angrier; yell or scream demeaning words to hurt someone [even God]; develop a grudge or two; refuse to forgive; lash out uncontrollably; cry and maybe even try to get even.

This Lent, let’s prepare like there will be no other time of preparation. Let’s commit to experiencing the Forty Days of Preparation [Lent] as Jesus did — by denying self pleasure in dramatic ways. This will allow the Holy Spirit to fill up our spiritual storehouses with divine grace which in turn we can cash in on as needed trials come our way. 

What do we have to do? Stop, Look, Think and then decide how to prepare yourselves this Lent. Then write down your plans. Don’t leave it to memory because that will fail in moments of weakness. Then stick to the plan. What’s the plan? Each of ours will be and should be different from everyone else’s. God desires our personal response — not a canned, group think, plan. 

Let’s be proactive in ways none of us have never been before. Let’s pray intentionally. Let’s receive the Sacraments often. Let’s give alms to the poor more purposefully. Let’s fast meaningfully. Maybe all of us should avoid those fish fries that make life easier — or anything that makes our life easier this Lent. Let’s deny ourselves those things we would not ordinarily give up. Let’s think about new things to give up. Let’s stop giving up the same old same old things that end up being pretty meaningless. Let’s get involved in others’ lives unlike our usual ways. Let’s attend to the charitable and spiritual works of mercy by asking ourselves the following questions: When was the last time I visited the imprisoned; fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, admonished the sinner; sheltered the homeless; visited the sick; buried the dead; counseled the doubting; consoled the afflicted; forgave offenses willingly and easily; bore wrongs patiently; prayed for the living and the dead; instructed the ignorant about faith; practiced mercy willingly; pledged to step out in faith without fear? After answering these questions; let’s prepare our battle plan for Lent! 

God’s blessings on you! 



Monday, November 23, 2015

May the Universe Be With You

 by Linda Kracht 

Star Wars fever is heating up as fans await the release of the much anticipated (promoted) Star Wars; The Force Awakens this December. Every Star Wars fan expects this movie to deliver on the promise to shock and awe even more than its predecessor films. A man dying of a rare form of cancer hoped to live long enough to see the film — and he did. Ethan Sacks writing for the NYDaily News [11-15-2015]  stated “Now that’s what you call a Hollywood ending. A terminally ill Texas man (Daniel Fleetwood) was granted his dying wish to see Star Wars: the Force Awakens before “succumbing to cancer after LucasFilm employees brought a copy of the most highly anticipated movie in the galaxy to Fleetwood’s home.” He died several days later. Many fans would bid him farewell with the famous Star Wars line: may the force be with you

Just a week ago, the city of Paris felt a force that nobody would wish on any peoples except for the jihadists carrying it out. Amidst its rubble and hurt, one news agency interviewed a survivor of the Bataclan shooting rampage. The investigative reporter asked the survivor how she managed to escape death. Her response stunned me because of its immediacy, its simplicity and its oddity. She responded: “the Universe was with me.” Thinking I was hearing things, I asked others to confirm what she had said and they did. She had just given credit to the belief that the Universe was with her. She didn’t give credit to God Himself but to his creation. She didn’t even give credit to friends, or family.  She gave credit to the force [of the Universe]!  

Her credit seems to be a blend of spiritual and philosophical nonsense. Maybe we should give her a break and overlook the statement considering her circumstances. However, precisely because of the special circumstances, I expected to hear what she really thinks. Moments of crisis readily reveal our inner beliefs ; these are very personal, very deep-seated and come forth naturally and without much effort. So, imagine the surprise of hearing her expound naturally and without effort about the force of the universe. As a believer, I hoped to hear her give credit to God even though that might suggest to others that God failed to protect the ones who died that day. Instead, she gave thanks to the Universe. Very Star Wars like words that evidenced false beliefs and worship. Romans 8:31 teaches us: “if God is for us, who can be against us?” The Bataclan victim  seems to hint that if the Universe is for her, what/who can be against her? 

The statement struck me in part because of the warnings issued by the prophet Isaiah to Israel (and to us because God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow; His Word matters even today). Isaiah warned Israel of the woe that would come their way principally because of their false worship, iniquity, arrogance and haughtiness. False worship was the reason that led to their other errors including iniquity, arrogance and haughtiness. They had arrived at the time in which they thought they could live well enough on their own. They did not believe that they needed God even though they pretended to. Why was false worship such a temptation for the Israelites? Because of their assimilation in and with neighboring states and kingdoms that did not believe in God. That helps to explain our false worship as well. Perhaps the modern world doesn’t worship false gods such as golden calves or other statues but it appears the case that some people worship things God made (His Universe) rather than God Himself. Consequently, like Israel, we also have problems with iniquity, arrogance, and haughtiness.  

What do the latter terms imply? Iniquity refers to the failure to live/lead moral lives. In turn this causes us to forget about the needs of others especially the sick, the weak, the poor, and the widows. Haughtiness is giving the appearance of being morally upright and superior while one’s personal and interior disposition is the opposite. Arrogance is having or revealing an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities. 


False worship will always take us further away from doing as God instructs us and that includes the taking care of the poor, reliance on God, avoiding false worship and avoiding divination (crediting starts or the universe with our own good luck). This explains why the victim’s statement struck me so profoundly. Her credit was to things made by God and not God Himself. Did you know that orthodox means to give right praise to God alone? So, like this young woman, we often fail to give right praise to God alone which in turn leads us to the pathways of haughtiness, arrogance, and immoral behavior.

Wisdom 

by Linda Kracht 

God is the Blessed Trinity made up of three Divine Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The first person of the Blessed Trinity is Our Father the Creator. He is not the Son or the Spirit. We pray to Him when we say the Our Father. He is humanized by artists who paint an old man with a long, white, flowing beard and hair and surrounded by saints and angels. This humanization of the Creator was encouraged by His Son, Jesus, who wants us to see the First Person as our Father and so taught us to call him Father. And so we pray to Him using the very words of Jesus  - Our Father who art in Heaven… This prayer helps us to see and feel the Creator in very endearing terms - caring, extraordinary yet touchable, and His beloved. 

The second person of the Trinity is the Son. He is our Savior. He is not the Father or the Holy Spirit. We call him Jesus. He is the one we can most easily identify with because He became human for our sakes while not abandoning His Divine privilege. And He did that for our sakes. It is hard to imagine - yet easily imagined if we dwell on it - how much humility and love would be required to take on the lowest form of a person. To some of us that could mean being willing to become a street beggar or the person of the lowest rung of any caste system found in our world. The suffering would be intense as would be the humiliation. Yet, Jesus did it willingly for our sakes. What LOVE! 

The third person of the Blessed Trinity is the Infuser of Seven Gifts: wisdom, understanding, 
counsel, knowledge, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord. He teaches us how to pray. He is also not the Father or the Son. Clearly, the Holy Spirit is the most mysterious of the Blessed Mystery. 

The above foundational beliefs are gleaned from the Catechism; they become very significant and important as we describe God but words still fail to capture the essence of the mystery of the Blessed Trinity. That essence lies far beyond our intelligent understandings and human perspectives. Yet, when we meditate on the Mystery itself, we give praise to the Almighty Mystery. It becomes our open admission to being a beloved creature of the Creator. In light of that statement, let’s mediate  about the Holy Spirit (recommended by today’s Mass homilist) using today’s reading from The Book of Wisdom 7:22b-8:1. 

It describes Wisdom as  “A spirit, intelligent, holy, unique, Manifold, subtle, agile, clear, unstained, certain. Not baneful, loving the good, keen, unhampered, beneficent, kindly, firm, secure, tranquil, all-powerful, all-seeing. Pervading all spirits, though they be intelligent, pure and very subtle. Wisdom is mobile beyond all motion; she penetrates and pervades all things by reason of her purity. For she is an aura of the might of God and a pure effusion of the glory of the Almighty; therefore nought that is sullied enters into her. She is the refulgence of the eternal light; the spotless mirror of the power of God, the image of his Goodness. And she who is one, can do all things, and renews everything while herself perduring. She produces friends of God and prophets. For she is fairer than the sun and surpasses every constellation of the stars. Compared to light, she takes precedence for that indeed, night supplants but wickedness prevails not over Wisdom. She reaches from end to end mightily and governs all things well.”

Whether the reading is describing the Spirit or the spirit (grace) of God matters not simply because Wisdom comes from God, it describes God and therefore can it can be said that it is the Spirit of God.

What do the various words mean in this reading? Spirit can mean one’s soul or the qualities that form one’s character or essence (our ethos). The latter seems the most fitting definition to apply to the first verse. Therefore, the opening verses seem to suggest that when combined with intelligence and holiness Wisdom is unique and capable of manifesting itself in many different ways and forms  (manifold). Wisdom is subtle, agile, clear and sure. Wisdom does not seek evil but loves the good. It penetrates to the core; it is kind, secure, peaceful. 

The tone of the words used seem to begin describing Wisdom - the Holy Spirit- rather than just wisdom - the virtue and the grace imparted to all holy souls. When we repeat the words, it feels as if we are giving praise to the Holy Spirit. We are acknowledging that He is all powerful and all seeing, all penetrating, a pure light; the aura of the might of God, the refulgence (shining brightly) of eternal light; able to do all things. Wisdom renews everything (a petition few actually ask for in the Come Holy Spirit prayer) while herself perduring (remaining in existence). She is fairer than anything created - fairer than Sun and the stars and the arrangement of the heavens. She is more than light which gives way to night and darkness (here darkness infers evil). The passage declares that Wisdom always prevails over evil and darkness (wickedness); she governs all things well and mightily. 


How great is Wisdom and wisdom! Yes, you readers have just given thanks for the gift and the Gift (the Holy Spirit). Amen! Amen!

What about Horoscopes?  by Linda Kracht 


After every meal at a Chinese Restaurant, patrons are handed the bill for the meal and a few fortune cookies. The restaurant’s place mats nearly always feature the 12 signs listed in a horoscope (aka the Zodiac) which attribute personal characteristics born under the various signs of the Zodiac. The Zodiac is “closely tied to how the Earth moves through the heavens. The signs are derived from the constellations that mark out the path on which the sun appears to travel over the course of a year. In principle, dates in a horoscope should correspond to when the sun passes through each constellation. But they don’t, much of the time. And a closer examination of the motion of the Earth, the sun, and the stars shows the Zodiac to be more complex than you might imagine!” [What is the Zodiac by Christopher Crocket in FAQs|SPACE on Nov, 14, 2014} 

It takes Faith to realize why the Zodiac is much more complex than we can imagine! When we believe that the movement of the cosmos is orchestrated by the one and only God and Creator of the Universe we will realize that the Zodiac and other means cannot tell us our personal fortunes or losses. 

So, what about the cookies? Should we eat them? Should we read their fortunes or their aphorisms [a pithy phrase expressing a partial truism] that are written on the little piece of rolled up paper inside the cookies? Yes, eat them if you think they taste good. What about reading the fortune? While that may seem harmless, the reading of them is a form of divination on a diet. To ensure that they do not catch our attention or interest, it is safer and wiser to crumble them up without reading them. 

Unfortunately, I had not given this enough thought even while firmly believing that divination was wrong. Even baby steps can move us away from God! So, I am grateful for participating this fall in a Bible Study of The Book of Isaiah [by Fr. Mitch Pacqua, Catholic Scripture Study]. This study among other things, brought to light the full impact of the evil of all forms of divination. The punishment that befell the Israelites, their enemies, and us for participating in divination is/was very real.  The Catechism [2115-2117] helps to explain why. 

And so, even when it seems as if divining the future is just a cheap fortune cookie, is a convenient past time (reading of one’s horoscope) or seemingly just a game, consider this warning.  “Ouija boards and tarot cards and crystals and how-to-palm read booklets might not seem to cost very much, but the spiritual price we pay for using them is often much steeper than we realize.” [Ouija Boards and Tarot Cards by Susan Brinkmann in Catholic culture.org. See more at: http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=8760#sthash.Vh7nyxSm.dpuf]

And yet, many Catholics participate in practices that try to foresee or gain insight into their future even as they admit that it’s not just a game. This is more obvious when  people pay for the telling of their fortune (or misfortune), send spells on their enemies (voodoo); try to communicate with deceased loved ones; hire sorcerers, charmers, mediums, wizards, or soothsayers to tell them things they do not need to know — at least not in this here and now. But divination is also sold as just a game using a board or a deck of cards. It is also the simple reading of a daily horoscope. 

Imagine my extreme disappointment upon hearing my older sister describe a recent visit with a diviner for the sole purpose of contacting our deceased mother. My sister wanted reassurances that Mom was in ‘an ok place’. Ironically, her visit would have been expressly forbidden by our mother while she was alive! My sister attended this out-of-state session with her adult daughter, and several other friends. When asked why she went, she blamed it on her daughter. Whatever reason, she at least admitted that while she appreciated the evening, she would not ever do it again because it was ‘creepy’. Unfortunately, she isn’t the only one.

Recently, a diviner appeared at the Excel energy Center in St. Paul, MN. The seats were filled despite the fact that the civic center charged a fortune (no pun intended) for the event. The local paper described her meteoric rise to fame and riches in and through her telling of fortunes and misfortunes. The reason for starting a divination business is easily explained (money); but the reasons for giving financial support to this business is problematic at best. 

Another friend (retired pastor of a Luther congregation) recently complained of the new job his granddaughter took. She was hired to run the business side of a local fortune teller. The grandfather had written his granddaughter a lengthy letter explaining why he was opposed to her working in the divination business even if it only involved activities such as balancing the books, re-creating the website; managing the social media and all other types of advertising, etc.  She wonders why he is so concerned. Why should he be concerned? 

Why is any form of divination harmful even if it seems so harmless? Because “they contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.” The First Commandment of God: “thou shalt have no other gods before Me” is still in effect and for good reason. He alone LOVES freely, fully, faithfully, forever and fruitfully and has invited us to participate in His Divine Life - if we want to.  In addition the first commandment “proscribes superstition and irreligion; idolatry; and divination and magic; atheism, and agnosticism.” [CCC 2110]

Divination reveals our hidden desire (to be like God); it causes us to try and grasp for power — that isn’t ours — over time and history. Does this characteristic remind you of anyone in particular? Adam or Eve would be a good guess. Divination exposes the hidden desire to gain supernatural power that is not ours for the taking. Divination opposes the virtue of religion. The practices of divination are not to be used even when there is an intention that appears good — for example the restoration of someone’s health. They are not to be used when the intention is to harm someone. They are not to be used for exploitations of any kind. [CCC 2117]

So, the next time you go to a Chinese restaurant, think about how that little fortune cookie represents the baby steps that we take away from the God who loves us without condition. Let’s love Him back by taking our next baby step toward — not away from — God. Let’s show it by refusing to read every little fortune cookie on our plate — even if we paid for it! 


War On Women?
By Linda Kracht  


We are all familiar enough with real war — take the Gulf War for instance. We know that war is hell for those fighting in it and for the people who witness the fighting in their own regions. We also realize that there are two sides to war. Wars start when one side provokes the other to take up arms in an attempt to defend, protect, or resist further provocations. Wars have a start and end date which are recorded along with the outcomes, number of casualties, territories gained or lost; naming of the aggressors, and other consequences.  

We hear often enough that a war is being waged against women in the United States. Yet, war (the noun) is defined as the state of armed conflict between different nations or states or different groups within a nation or state. That definition makes it hard to continue arguing that a war is being waged against US women. For who is the provocateur; when did it start and why; and who have been the casualties? 

Words matter. In this instance, the charges of wars being waged against women appear to be flagrantly false and misleading and largely exaggerated. But, is it?

I have been leading a discussion group using my latest book, Mothers Forever, Fathers Forever, for the Nativity of Our Lord Mom’s Club.[St. Paul, MN].Recently we discussed whether or not there is a war on women. Before opening up the discussion, I defined the war using Wikipedia’s definition:
The War on women is an expression in the US politics used to describe certain Republican Party policies and legislation as a wide scale effort to restrict women’s rights, especially reproductive rights. It is the forcing of Republican social views on women thought legislation. It is often used to describe opposition to the contraceptive mandate in Obama Care and policies to defund women’s health organizations that perform abortions. It has also been used to describe Republican policies in areas such as the prosecution of criminal violence against  women, the definition of rape for the purpose of public funding of abortion and workplace discrimination against women.
As  the definition was read, I heard occasional snorts of disdain especially when the blame was assigned to the Republican Party. Immediately, an attendee immediately asked for the source and then the real discussion started.
The women in the discussion group were very aware of a theoretical war on women but mostly disagreed with the premise that they were personally under attack. They agreed that all women deserve equal pay for equal work and should have equal access to higher education and employment opportunities. They felt equal to [yet different from] men in their lives. Not one felt oppressed by men with regard to sexuality and sexual reproduction. However, the most consensus came from the statement that the war is a war of words  and politics and is primarily concocted by ‘liberal’ women against conservative leaning women — regardless of age.

Interestingly, these young, well-educated women (a mix of stay at home moms & part time employees and former full time moms) have been stung by judgmental words from women making different choices than themselves. For instance, while weighing employment vs. staying home after pregnancy, one woman was told by a female co-worker this: You can’t quit after your baby is born because I [the older co-worker] have worked too long and too hard for your right to work! Other negative experiences were also shared. So, while male domination continues to be the complaint of  feminists, these women do not have this same concern. They agreed that all too often, others link personal worth to one’s position in a company and paid employment. Americans tend to believe that doing is superior to being [a mother who stays home, for example]. They noted that feminists definitely try to drive home the adage that women can do it all and can have it all because of that work ethic. The women didn’t seem to believe that this adage is realistic or possible given their own personal situations and experiences. They believe that Motherhood is too demanding to have enough left over after giving it all to one’s employer; it is also too rewarding to want to give it all to an employer regardless of financial rewards. These young mothers know that they just couldn’t have it both ways — satisfying both family and employer equally. The mothers mostly thought that their children understand the difference between having to work and wanting to work with the last being the least altruistic. [That is the subject of another discussion.] They also agreed with [Sue Ellen Browder, award-winning journalist and author and former writer for Cosmopolitan magazine] statement that the “women’s movement and the sexual revolution were falsely joined together even though they were radically different movements.”

So who are winners and losers of these false narratives? My group unanimously stated: Men! They say this because they see widespread, tacit approval given to men to have/desire unrestricted sexual lifestyles while also encouraging women to behave like men. Yet, they agree, most women do not want things to be like this. Even Michael Kimmel, author of the Gender of Desire seems to agree with my group of mothers as he writes:“Women’s increase in sexual agency, revolutionary as it has been, has not been accompanied by a decrease in male sexual entitlement nor by a sharp increase in men’s capacity for intimacy and emotional connectedness.” 

What do women really want? If you listen to the feminists it’s access to abortion and contraception and sexual agency. Yet, in reality what women yearn for is old-fashioned intimacy and emotional connectedness with their sexual lovers, permanently. Young women may be going along to get along but not getting what they want in the long run. They want love, they want marriage, they want babies. The go along to get along approach isn’t working out very well for women who are wounded by the rapid advancement of male entitlement to sex. Unfortunately, too many women realize  the problem far too late in the game.

What are the consequences of flirting with falsehoods? Consider the explosive growth of the pornography, birth control, sex trafficking and abortion industries. It’s true, men are the most advantaged by the arguments that women need to behave like men in areas of sexuality. Consider how men [and woman] are able to troll for sexual partners without limit or responsibility. Charlie Sheen is their poster boy. Yet, who stands to lose the most from this trolling? Certainly not men! Consider how Sheen could have been spared the HIV disease had his ‘reputation’ preceded him with women who knew what they really wanted and needed.

Consider the problem of sex trafficking and sexual enslavement. Why isn’t this problem front and center of  every feminists’ radar? Why are they not speaking out with one voice against any and all forms of sexual enslavement? Why are they not demanding  good legislation and policy making? Why are women not solidly speaking out against pornography when we know that the majority of all of today’s divorces (56%) today involves at least one of the parties having an obsessive interest in pornographic websites? [American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers] Saint  Pope John Paul ll said it best: “The problem with pornography is that it fails to reveal enough of the whole person” And yet, feminists don’t seem to care. Mark Kastelmann, author of The Drug of the New Millennium, raises some red flags appropriately. He states: “internet pornography is at a level none of us have ever encountered or even imagined. It will create an epidemic of obsession, compulsion and addiction that will sweep across America like a tidal wave, destroying marriages, families and individual lives with a devastation never before witnessed…”


This group of young mothers seem to recognize the core issues; that’s what really at stake for all of us but especially them as they look to the future for the sake of their young sons and daughters. they seem to get it that the real war is one that is being waged between two principalities: good vs. evil. The bad side is fighting both men and women while pretending to fight only one: Women. It divides and separates love from life. It disaffects the spiritual, psychological, social and physical wellness of men and women. It is a war that is worth waging against — justly and righteously.
The Great Masquerade 
by Linda Kracht 


What comes to mind when you think of masquerades? Balls? Phantom of the Opera? Costumes? Beautiful dresses? Charades? Harmless fun or deceit and treachery? 
Today or a by-gone era?

Masquerading about is certainly not something relegated only to previous centuries. Neither was (is) it without controversy then or now. Let’s see how the masquerade applies today after first taking a peak at the past for a bigger perspective.

The Masquerade Balls date back to the 14th and 15th centuries; they began as part of Europe’s carnival season according to Savannah Cox [All That Is Interesting author ]. She states that “when tied with the Venetian Carnival celebrations, masquerade balls (of the past centuries) were rife with decadence, gluttony and a large amount of lust.” Gradually, the balls retreated from popularity until Count John James Heidegger of England revitalized them during the 18th century by “bringing costumes from Venetian balls to public dances in gardens across London. This helped transform the night of sin synonymous with unescorted ladies and drunkards into an occasion for The Man of Taste. And while some disputed the immorality and influence of the masquerade ball, particularly in colonial America, the pomp of the glamorous dances once again saw the masquerade ball grace some of the finest halls in the world.” 

This in part explains how and why masquerades can be bewitching. The false show or pretense pulls many of us into the make-believe and some of us get stuck there or do things based of falsehoods rather than reality. Some simply can’t see beyond the various masques (masks) used to deceive or pull off the bluff. From 1957 - 1968, a ‘reality show’ entitled To Tell theTruth was quite popular and was a modern day masquerade filled with intrigue and entertainment. According to Brian Washington [ ] To Tell the Truth featured a person of some notoriety and two impostors who tried to trick a panel of celebrities into thinking that he/she was the real Mr. or Ms. So and So. The object of the game was to bluff well enough so that the celebrities would vote for the imposter. Each vote earned the person up to $250.

Similarly, twenty - first century online role playing is another modern era form of the masquerade. Assuming an avatar or an alter-ego is entertaining to many people. Like the great balls of the past, this type of masquerading seems harmless enough to those seeking a temporary escape from reality. Yet for some, it becomes addictive and thus problematic. 

But there are more serious masquerades that are occurring today that we need to think about. These re-make reality into make-believe and visa versa. For example, let’s begin with a forewarning against making theological appropriations that are too limiting with regard to the Creator and then apply it to everyday life. 

Father Maurice Zundel warned that we have to be on guard against making “theological appropriations which have amounted to a true catastrophe in the sense that we too often limit Father to Creator, Son to Redeemer and Holy Spirit to Sanctifier. This produces a false sense of divinity.” In a nutshell it reduces God to something He is supernaturally superior to! It helps to invert the truth about God! Father Zundel warns us that we also have to be on guard against making false human appropriations. For example, Father Zundel explains that just as there can be no marriage unless there is nuptial reciprocity, there is no bride without a bridegroom and no parent without having a child and no child without having a parent.” [Magnificat, April 30, 2015. 372} And that is where the Great Masquerade of the 21st Century obfuscates and confuses many. 

The great masquerade began when it was argued that divorce does not harm women and children - that it can be settled by not attributing fault to anyone. In fact some argued that divorce helps to lift up children and women. It was even argued that divorce helps children by creating circumstances whereby they now have 2 mothers, 2 fathers, 4 grandmothers instead of the usual numbers. Few argued that family pyramids that get too top-heavy tumble far too easily. Did anyone ask the children their preferences? Most assuredly, the adults convinced the children rather than the other way around. How many grandparents stay involved when they have been deposed by another set?

The Grand Masquerade confuses couples into thinking that children are the problem whereas dogs and cats are not. It tricks people into white-washing the existing social problems out of fear of being called judgmental. It creates so many illusions, we don’t know which problem to attack or with any vigor. It treats the family as being a myriad of relationships and configurations whereas we know that it still takes one father and one mother to create the child even when the child may not know either parent due to technological intrusions made into human reproduction. The masquerade also tends to position parents as morons who can’t do the right thing for their offspring and so it takes a village to raise a child. It arms teenagers with enough arrogance and independence to do what they want while still on their parents’ dole. 

Previously, society was concerned about the effect of divorce, remarriage and out of wedlock births on the larger society. Today, those worries are looked at as background noise because of more pressing arguments such as women’s rights (but only as far as sexual freedom concerns), income re-distribution, climate change, religious freedoms, hate speech, same sex marriage, gender transformation,, cloning and surrogacy and other assisted reproduction techniques. etc. 

We have spent too many years and decades making theological misappropriations with regard to God and his Creation and our creature status and getting confused during these masquerades. Wrong headed philosophies have inserted themselves into our everyday thinking making it seem as if we have it all right only to see that we are headed in the wrong direction. 

Just yesterday, I heard a political commentator ask a presidential candidate this question: “As you know there is not one type of family anymore, what are you going to do about the various problems in the various families?” That is a zero-win scenario for any politician. Those that pretend they can easily address this are simply creating another masquerade. Those that try and answer the question reasonably will come across as the thoughtless, the bigot, the loser. We have let the masquerades go on so long that it will be difficult to reveal the right direction from the wrong one.

But it’s never too late to unveil the masques. Begin by asking tough questions of friends, family and even persons of influence in all the right ways when they seem to be dancing around the issues. We have to begin sorting out mis-appropriations and false assumptions from true ones. For example, when told that two fathers are better than one; ask how and why. Ask for their hard evidence not opinion. Ask the children what they really think about having two mothers without any father. Ask, children what they really think of their parent’s divorce. Ask about the yearnings of all of us to know both of our parents - and God. Ask how and why same sex marriage differs from traditional marriage, Ask about the real psychological, social, spiritual, emotional and economic consequences of every social issue in question. And let’s keep asking until the masquerading is exposed.




The Ten Great Paradoxes of Christianity - part 1
by Linda Kracht 

What is a paradox? For purposes of discussion, let’s use its common definition. A paradox is a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained proves to be well founded or true. The problem with trying to discuss the ten greatest Paradoxes of Christianity is that the author cannot provide irrefutable proof for them; therefore some may argue that they are not a paradox at all. However, people of faith would disagree with that conclusion because they do not need the kind of proof positive that non-believers would require. Believers have been bestowed with the greatest [Theological] Virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity. And so, while lack of proof causes unbelievers to dismiss Christianity; it doesn’t do that for believers. Lukewarm Christians may grow weary about defending what seems to be the impossible but that is another article. 
Eventually, believers and non-believers alike will discover the necessary evidence required to prove that the paradoxes are indeed well founded and true and anything but contradictory or absurd - that will come at the end of their lives. 
So, what is the point of this article if Great Christian paradoxes cannot be proven at least not for the non believers? It is to support the faithful who will also have questions about some of the same points as our unbelieving friends, neighbors or family members. Wondering, pondering or asking questions isn’t the problem. The problem is the wholesale refusal to think about God or the tendency to dismiss God because we can’t figure Him out. In light of that, what are the ten greatest Paradoxes of Christianity?

Paradox 1: God is Trinitarian in nature. This means that when we talk about God we may be asked to distinguish which person we are referring to. It could be any one of the three Divine Persons:  God the Father, God the Son or God the Holy Spirit. Or we may be thinking more generally of all three at one time even though each divine person is uniquely distinct from one another. It is at that point that some accuse us of veering away from the worship of one omnipotent God. But our faith teaches us that “God is one but not solitary. The names - Father,  Son and Holy Spirit - do not designate various modalities of the divine being for they are distinct from one another. He is not the Father who is the Son; nor is the Son he who is the Father; nor is the Holy Spirit he who is the Father of the Son. They are distinct from one another in their relations of origin. The Father generates the Son who is begotten; and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. The divine unity is Triune.” [CCC 254] This great paradox will remain a mystery because few of us can really understand what that means. 
Basically, a full understanding of the nature, substance and relationship of the Trinity is lost on us [creatures] because only God can know and understand Himself. He is Creator and we are His creatures. Therefore, the three Divine Persons are the only ones capable of fully knowing their Divine substance and their distinct relationship with the other Persons of the Trinity. We creatures will also never fully understandor comprehend God’s Creation. Since we can’t understand/know God, we obviously will always have difficulty explaining the Trinity using human terms, understandings and reasonings to ourselves, our children and others. However, that should not dissuade us from dismissing the mysterious nature of  God. If it was possible to come to understand the nature, relationship and substance of the Trinity through mere reasoning, it seems logical to conclude that Jesus would not have had to submit to the Incarnation or His passion and death for our sakes. Neither would we need God for we would be demi-gods.
Even the Church has struggled to explain the Trinity using acceptable terminology and dogma throughout the course of the centuries since Jesus’ Resurrection while striving to avoid the introduction of heresy. Basically, a slip of a word here or there changes everything with regard to our understanding about the Trinity and God. The Church is the first to admit that the  Mystery will remain a mystery. “But his inmost Being as Holy Trinity is a mystery that is inaccessible to reason alone or even to Israel’s faith before the Incarnation of God’s Son and the sending of the Holy Spirit.” [CCC 500].
When left to human imaginations and reasonings, the very nature and even expectation of the Divine God changes with time and cultures. Most cultures eventually reason that for God to be god, He must be an omnipotent deity. If he does not possess omnipotence (all powerful), it is logical to assume he could not have been the Creator and isn't the one true God. Man’s struggle to define God helps prove that this is one paradox that will never be fully understood or proven even when fully accepted by Faith. And that will be the topic of the next article: Faith. Yet we know God to be Triune in part because God has revealed Himself to mankind throughout history; the Father spoke three times in the New Testament. He spoke in the Old Testament as well. The Holy Spirit was also present at several main events recorded in the New and OldTestaments. And of course we have the incarnated Christ revealing to us who he was and who the Trinity was.  So even when/if observers could not understand the Divine Trinitarian revelations found in “both the Old and New Testaments and in traces within His creation” [CCC 50] I Am Who Am is still God. But it does help to see and accept with eyes of faith. And it is also true that all of us are disaffected by pervasive polytheistic or atheistic traditions that swirl around us. Consequently our personal and institutional beliefs can erode faith and Truth due to misunderstandings and misperceptions about God unless we are careful to protect ourselves from these influences. 

When praying to God or talking about Him, which person are you thinking about? Pondering? Why? Have you ever tried explaining the Trinity to a child or even other adults and found yourself searching for the right words? It will be helpful to pull out the Catholic Catechism as you begin such conversation. Read the paragraphs that expalin the Trinity. Also ask God to help you explain His truths in words that make sense before embarking on such a discussion. Great minds that have come before us have helped to formulate the dogma [light] of the Church that is explained in the Catechism. It is one great resource that you should all have in your home and refer to often. Yes, it uses great big words to explain and describe the relationship and substance of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and other conepts, precepts and principles. But it helps to remind ourselves that matters pertaining to God are by their very nature so much bigger than matters pertaining to the human person (and sometimes science uses big words too). So, big words help to impart the reality - God is Great! He is Mystery. He is Creator of the universe! And any words used will always be too inferior and too human to define our omnipotent, Triune God. And that’s ok. After all, He is the Creator and we are merely His beloved creatures.
The Need for Hospitality -  According to Pope Francis 

The World Meeting of the Families (WMOF) renewed my energy, enthusiasm and love for the Church. But it also exposed a weakness that many Catholics share with the rest of humanity. This being the lack of hospitality toward those who remain disenfranchised, marginalized, or poor. Why do I say this? 
All week Pope Francis talked about the importance of loving others, being charitable toward people we work with or have disagreements with, etc. He talked a lot about religious freedom and the importance of opening doors for immigrants seeking a better place to live. And he even proved that he walks the talk as he served in the soup kitchen in DC. He proved it again as he caressed the disabled person in the wheel chair. He emulated it as he endured hour after hour of what seemed like gobbly-gook/political speak from those in power. He said it well as he thanked those people who remain out of sight of such a great event - from the janitors to the cooks and dishwashers. 
Even though we agree with the words, do we really listen? Do we really put his words into practice?
To many people, Pope Francis is a pope of the downtrodden, the hopeless, the helpless. Some presume his theology of love is much different from that expressed in the Catholic Catechism. But that presumption is off the mark. Pope Francis is opening up the Catechism for us; he is interpreting it for us as we fail to grasp its finer points. He is showing us how to put it to work in everyday lives. For example, did you know that even the Catholic Catechism mentions the importance of hospitality? It states:“To the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount it is fitting to add the moral catechesis of the apostolic teachings. This doctrine hands on the Lord’s teaching with the authority of the apostles particularly in the presentation of the virtues that flow from faith in Christ and are animated by charity, the principal gift of the Spirit. Let charity be genuine… Love one another with brotherly affection Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints, practice hospitality.” [CCC 1971] This Catechism passage references Romans 12:9-13 which teaches us to love, abhor evil, hold onto good, give honor, and show hospitality. 
What is hospitality? It must be pretty important as it is mentioned in both the Bible and the Catechism! Hospitality is traditionally defined as the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers. But it has to be more than that to be talked about in the Bible. Hospitality is measured by the degree of kindness we show others, including strangers. It is our treatment of them. It is the welcome we give to someone’s presence and/or approach - even if it makes us uncomfortable. It is our willingness to listen to others’ stories about their life, hardships and issues. It is our willingness to refrain from dismissing them for any reason even when their clothes or attitudes hint at addictions or problems. Hospitality was modeled for us by the Good Samaritan who went out of his way to help the wounded man even though it was socially inappropriate to do so. 
Let me conclude with a real story from the WMOF that drives home how Catholics lack hospitality - consciously and unconsciously.
My husband, Dave, walked into the men’s room at the WMOF conference which was in the usual state of mess and disarray. {Women’s bathrooms were equally messy. Why can’t Catholics pick up or clean up after themselves?] Dave encountered the janitor who was grumbling about the mess as he ‘cleaned’ it for probably the 10th time that day. As he grumbled, he murmured to those within hearing: ‘All these god-people and nobody looks me in the eye or talks to me.’ Obviously, he was unhappy with his state in life - but it is also obvious that few ’god-people’ tried to help him better appreciate his job or his state in life or be present to him as they dirtied up his domain without concern about him or the next person using the bathroom. Apparently, the janitor interpreted the general lack of hospitality as a sign that god-people put their faith in one bucket and their social behaviors and attitudes in another. It is the compartmentalization of faith and hospitality toward anyone rather than the integration of faith with hospitality towards all that is the problem. In my opinion, this is Pope Francis’ keynote message. 

It certainly is a tall order to be present to everyone around us! Yet, it remains God’s hearkening! We are each called to holiness as we strive to integrate our faith with hospitality toward all regardless of the fact that we are all BUSY! [Being Under Satan’s Yoke?] Or that we live in a fast paced, technologically driven, independent, and ‘indifferent towards strangers’ advanced society. 
Family Matters 
Dealing with Addictions 

Recently, Johann Hari wrote a piece entitled The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think (posted at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/johann-hari/the-real-cause-of-addicti_b_6506936.html). J. Hari rightly states: “loving addicts is really hard and it was always tempting to follow the tough love advice that tells the addict to shape up” or else. Many families face this same dilemma - they are unsure about how to deal with children (teen and young adult), spouses, siblings, parents, or friends who are addicted to things, activities and substances including but not limited to drugs, alcohol, gambling, sexual behaviors, etc. 
Hari mistakenly believes that tough love necessitates a shunning of the addict and suggests that this will only deepen the person’s addiction and may cause someone to lose a loved one altogether. He concludes that it is necessary to “tie the addicts in my life closer to me than ever -- to let them know I love them unconditionally, whether they stop, or whether they can’t.” 
That is easier said than done, for sure. But is love enough for all addicts? What love are we talking about? 
Hari describes the Rat Park experiment by Professor Bruce Alexander in some detail and uses the results for his conclusion. Basically the professor argued (based on experiments with rats and heroin) that addictions are an adaptation rather than a chemical hook due to loneliness or disconnections in human relationships. Without close connections (emotional), the addiction becomes the cage from which the human addict cannot escape. Given a new set of social circumstances and human connections, the addict recovers. Hari uses the Vietnam soldier as another example; given a change of venue back to the US changed the drug habits of many soldiers. However, it is fair to point out that many addicts go cold turkey without changing relationships and venues. For example,  I remember my father as a chain smoker who tried to quit numerous times - especially when we nagged him about the dangers of smoking. He tried and tired to stop smoking but eventually would always give in to the siren call of the nicotine.  Until the day he was diagnosed with a serious medical problem; Dad went cold turkey realizing that he could possibly die thus losing all personal relationships. The decision to stop smoking worked; what was amazing to us was the peace he experienced while quitting for good. My mother kept smoking but that didn’t seem to phase him.  He also didn’t display the usual irritability or impatience that accompanied past attempts to stop smoking. Why the difference? Other addicts have similar stories. 
Back to the original hypothesis. The results of the animal studies cannot be directly correlated to human behavior due to the obvious differences between human and animal. Consider that the experiment results were very interesting but flawed from the start. Consider that the rats had no choice of being forced into the cage of isolation containing water with and without drugs. Whereas humans choose to use drugs and do so for various reasons - social, emotional, spiritual, physical and mental. Some choose the cage of isolation even if they have been well loved. The author also seems to think that if he just loves the addict more completely, he/she will rehabilitate easily. And even if he continues to abuse, the call to love is still the over-riding thing to do. While an honorable conclusion; it fails to take into account that perhaps the addict himself fails to love as he should. If a loving family can’t understand what makes Johnny want to get high in the first place, it is unlikely that they will be able to circumvent the problem by just loving him enough. I can say for certain, that we loved our father enough. But did he love enough? That may be the real question. 
Why do some people love well and others not well enough? The cultural experiences explains it that our woundedness comes from not being loved well enough. As Bill Cosby said years ago: hurt people hurt people. Seems like he knew well the hidden meaning behind that statement. But is there more to it than just being loved enough? Even well loved people make bad choices. Consider this. 
In the beginning, the first parents walked closely with God in a very special garden; He loved them completely and they knew it. Suddenly,  Satan came along with the resolve to disrupt that loving, personal relationship. Adam and Eve were blinded by the temptation to become like gods in control of their own destiny. If they had not been so blinded by their own concupiscence they would have realized that they were already like God’s image and likeness even though they would always be His creation and He the Creator. Yes, they were unique and well loved within that special garden - much to the angst of the evil one. 
The original design was perfectly simple and readily evident from the beginning. God loved them; after all He endowed the humans with minds to think and free wills to choose. He gave them the ability to choose between what they wanted and what God wanted for them. Theirs was a special relationship with God. All the other creatures were duty bound by instinct to love Him - unlike the human who was given the free choice. The humans were given the freedom to blame God when things didn’t go their way; or for not having enough; or for not being god. Yet, He knew all of this ahead of time. And yet He gave us imagination, creative powers, the ability to dream, plan and understand things intellectually. We are given the right to use these powers anyway we choose.  God’s love is readily evident everywhere; the real question became how much did we really love God over self? 
Sirach 15: 15- 17  captures the dilemma humans face: “If you choose, you can keep the commandments; loyalty is doing the will of God. Set before you are fire and water; to whatever you choose, stretch out your hand. Before everyone are life and death, whichever they choose will be given them.”
We know what Adam and Eve chose to do even though they were well loved enough! Like Adam and Eve, we too often swap our freedoms with addictions that  strip away our basic human dignity and freedoms even though we know that we are loved enough. Yes, it’s too easy to blame others, even God, for our addictions. In this age of loneliness, it is all too easy to blame others for our lack of authentic love for self, others and God. Pope Paul VI seems to have got it right: “The more we live for ourselves, the more our own choices will recoil on us and our decisions & desires, both individual & collective, & upon our manner of thinking and acting with respect to things & to people. It will have repercussions on our religious life as well.” And that is where we are at. 
All of us want to be happy in life -  few of us wake up in the morning wanting to be unhappy today or wanting to make someone else miserable too. On the other hand, too few of us  think deeply about what really makes me happy. Aristotle reasoned that there were four different levels of happiness; more recently, Fr. Robert Spitzer has written a lot about this. This ties in with the addictive behaviors. 
As we know., the human creature is a medley of body, mind and soul; in other words we are a composite of material and immaterial natures. What makes up our material nature? Our physical nature including our bodily cells, molecules, hormones, organs, and their functions. Physical feelings related to both pleasure & displeasure; for instance, hunger, feeling full; feeling tired or energetic are also part of our material nature. Our immaterial self is made up by our personality, beliefs, emotions, imaginations, psychologic makeup, abilities to estimate; common sense, memory, mind & soul.
All of us derive a certain sense of happiness from doing things that give us physical pleasure: eating, sleeping, expressing our love sexually, etc. God designed us to experience basic happiness when we have plenty to eat, get adequate rest, have leisure time in order that we take the time to eat, sleep and rest. Studies show time and again that all three of these contribute to our health and wellbeing. However, these positive feelings of happiness derived from physical pleasure last only for a very limited time. When any of us focus on physical pleasure at the expense of loving others, self and God we will experience negative consequences. And this is where the addiction begins - wanting to feel physical pleasure or stimulation - over and over again even while forsaking relationships and our other dimensions - spiritual, social, mental, emotional, cognitive, etc. After a time, the very thing that used to bring us pleasure, begins to cause pain and unhappiness. Pinocchio, while a fairy tale, explains the addictive process excellently. Again, Pinocchio was well loved but that didn’t stop him from exercising his free will when tempted by the bad boys to join their cause to seek physical pleasure every day, every minute of the day. The three other levels of happiness allow us to experience higher and longer lasting degrees of personal happiness. The second level of happiness is also mostly self centered like the first level. It results from accomplishing personal goals, receiving recognition for personal achievements, etc. This happiness is also fairly short-lived and so we keep accomplishing and setting higher and loftier personal goals. When we devote too much of our time to personal accomplishments, we can begin to feel over-worked, under paid and under-rewarded or regarded. When its all about doing to win, none of us can ever win often enough! I can relate to this as we turn our home inside out to improve it. Will it ever be good enough? Will it ever pay off in the long run to spend this much time on painting, cleaning, and renewing? Devoting ourselves to our own accomplishments tend to pit us against other people who may get in our way to the next promotion. 
We will achieve higher satisfaction/ happiness when we do things altruistically for other people.  We feel good as we help out someone, act with fairness and charitable justice in difficult situations, and when we strive to love others authentically. Once again, this can never make me sufficiently happy. Consider what happens when someone goes out of their way to help someone. With time, they may begin to feel un-appreciated, unloved, and used. Other persons can never fulfill all of my personal needs or wants - even in the best of marital/familial relationships. People will fail us in various ways. Some will die unexpectedly,  leaving us feeling empty or alone. But we can turn that unhappiness around by loving rightly. Recently a young husband/ father rote the following after losing his wife: “I can now offer up my suffering for my children and special intentions knowing there is apprise to suffering beings me consolation that good can come of it. I can now, in a minimal way, tie my suffering to the cross… “ Sometimes people leave us feeling  all alone even though they live in the same house as us. Others hurt their spouses and children if they choose to love someone else - more or better. At these times, humans are known to take it out on God. 
St Thomas wrote that our hearts will always be a bit restless until united to someone who will never die, will never leave us, will never change, will always love us, and will always be there for us. This person is God and the state where we will be completely happy is heaven.“In truth, if you find yourself trying to rely on anything else besides faith to maintain the practice of the presence of God, you will certainly fail, whether this is a dependency on your feelings, experiences, sincerely or good intentions or reasoning or plans .Faith depends on God, the other things depend on us and therefore they will fail.” This is the highest degree of happiness. 
Striving to order our lives around God’s Grand Plan will keep us happiest, least anxious, and more satisfied in this life. I daresay, it will also keep us free of addictions. It will bring us to a deeper appreciation and understanding of our human dignity. 

If we can bring everyone to know, love and serve God, then I think all of these arguments about legalizing drugs, the drug wars, and rehabilitating the recovering addicts will disappear. But if we continue to leave God out of the question and presume that answers all lie within social and psychological realms, the problems will remain. Yes, prudential human measures certainly help as well. But in the long run, we need to get back to loving God first and foremost, and then we will begin to love others as we should - even ourselves.