October 10, 2023

Papal Power and the Obedience of the Faithful

Follow the link to a very important article by Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM Cap.  


I agree with Archbishop about all the wonderful gifts Pope Francis has given the Church.  In particular, I appreciate his love for the poor, his defense of life, and his admonitions against wasteful materialism. I also agree with the Archbishop that the Holy Father is heavy handed and relies too much on Jesuit authorities in his own pastoral discernment.  He has been harsh in his judgments toward Americans and Traditional Mass Catholics. He has also been derogatory toward those who disagree with him.  While he has not behaved as poorly as did the Renaissance Popes, his papacy is a departure from the professionalism and competency of recent pontificates. Sadly, this has undermined his leadership of the Church at a time where we need a true spiritual father who cares for all his spiritual children. 

Obedience is never supposed to be blind. Fideism is a grave sin against the faith. Christ demands that we open the eyes of our hearts and discern how the Holy Spirit is working and respond with the fullness of mature freedom in love. This means the faithful are to exercise a pious thoughtfulness guided by an interior sense of the faith. This means time spent in prayer, in deep silence, baptizing the intellect and imagination in the Word as we discern difficult to receive teachings and even pastoral directions in the Church. Such prayer is necessary to render right obedience to Christ in responding to the contemporary efforts of synodality no less than it has to all the other efforts of the magisterium through history.  If, after careful study, prayer and discernment, a teaching seems wrong, it probably is, and one should not feel bound to it -- if the teaching is gravely wrong and a source of scandal (as was Arianism), the faithful should even feel bound to repudiate it.

The Holy Father needs our prayers and gratitude for the many good things God has accomplished through his courage and diligence.  He also needs us to take responsibility for our faith. The magisterium has the responsibility to persuade us in truth and charity if our judgment is wrong. Belittling or attempting to manipulate thoughtful people is not very persuasive - and the effort is gravely misplaced during a time of severe crisis in the world. So when these tactics are employed, we must not allow the Evil One to stir up contention in our hearts. Instead, we must pray for our persecutors, do good to those who despise us, and hold fast to our faith.

Additional Reflection in Response to a Comment: One comment asks what happens when two people pray over something and come up with two different (even opposing) conclusions.  Sometimes, there are simply legitimate disagreements and so we respect each other's positions even if the disagreement is fierce. Yet, we should strive to be of one heart and one mind to each other.  We should not write each other off but we should reach out and explore if some shared understanding can be arrived at.  This does not always happen even on important matters, but it pleases the Lord when we strive for it.  

Even more, when the matter is serious, meaning a mistake puts another's salvation on the line, we must fast and pray for each other.  Only as we are converted can we correct, admonish, and rebuke in a way that gives glory to God -- and sometimes all these actions are necessary too. If we feel we must correct another, ask in your heart what in your own life must be converted to the truth if you are to help your friend see the truth. 

We must continually fast and pray also for our own understanding that it might deepen and the judgments we have reached might be further purified. The Holy Spirit will guide us to all truth and He can overcome even a hardened heart - so we trust in the Spirit of Truth. He will provide what is necessary for salvation with we persevere in seeking him in sincerity and truth.  Because of pride is such a widespread problem, we must all humbly admit that we too can be privy to obstinacy when it comes to erroneously held judgments, and so we fast and pray that the Lord protect us and deliver us from an obstinate heart.  Prayer, fasting and almsgiving dispose us to humility and truth.  

October 8, 2023

Our Lady and the Battle for Blessings

A battle is being fought for blessings. Instead of the blessing that the world actually needs when war and atrocities abound, some ponder how to condone sin by cheapening sacred formulas into the jargon of a comfortable religious industry.While some want to abuse sacred power in an effort to bless what cannot be blessed, others fight for blessings of peace with their own blood. While some promote unchaste and, therefore, unholy alliances, others hold fast to all that is noble and sacred about humanity even at terrible price. 

Our Lady is not indifferent. She has taken the side of her Son. As she aided Christendom when all seemed lost, she is at work today. In secret, she has formed armies of prayer warriors. Apostles of her love, their countless sacrifices have made space in the world for the glory of God to shine again. And they are not going to stop no matter the cacophony and confusion of those who have betrayed their offices as teachers. If only a single flash of this glory can end wars, what will happen when its splendor completely envelops all human affairs? The Immaculate Heart of Mary will triumph because the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot grasp it. 

We need her prayers, and we need to join our prayers to hers for peace and truth. War grips the world even as many Church leaders lose hold of solid teaching. The elite grasp for power, pleasure and prestige, while the least of our neighbors are in the grip of thugs.  These are dark shadows but if we allow the light of truth to shine, our biting consciences will help us come to our senses.  Such is the victory of the Mother of God.

More than once visionaries reminded us that peace is a gift from heaven and but for prayer, it is easily lost. Provocations, invasions, treacheries, bloodlust, cowardice, greed, and vengeance; today all of this has overshadowed the noble self-restraint and prayerful reverence of God by which alone the blessing of peace is protected.  Yet, oversexed talking heads dare to point baby-blood stained fingers at precisely the moment hands need to be folded in prayer.  So, the Handmaid of Nazareth teaches the humble and the poor to fold their hands. And with her, they will triumph.

Do not think that the Mother of the Church stands by passively while evil deeds threaten the most vulnerable believers. She sees those false shepherds who, instead of crying out in prayer and fasting, concoct all kinds of manipulative confusion. Her maternal concern works fiercely even as the sacred institution of marriage is chipped away at. Her heart is pierced again not merely because this attack is waged by fierce forces intoxicated with progressive idealism (such forces will end by spending themselves on their own impotence) but above all because unchaste and troubled ecclesial leaders are given to wicked principalities and powers. When they slyly propose moral equivalencies between what God has instituted and man perverted, she boldly intercedes for those who dare to stand firm with the truth. And this woman who stood under the Cross will triumph.

She who magnifies the Lord remembers how, in Ancient Israel, false prophets and wicked priests attempted to bless what was evil. She is not ignorant of the fact that those who did not repent brought destruction on themselves and Israel. Icon of the Church, her very presence reveals that every effort to bless sin is no more than scandalous sacrilege before the One whose Name is holy. So she blesses what is good and declares the proud, mighty and self-satisfied cast down. And in the end, Her Son will not deny his Mother's prayers.

The whole Church is under the mantle of the Virgin who declared, "Let it be done to me."  Every minister of the Gospel, of whatever rank, must bear this in mind when discerning whether to give a blessing. When they step away from reverence, awe and fear of the Lord , they step out of her maternal protection. In her shadow, neither violence nor perversion can be blessed for God's will is for peace and purity. But under this mantle, how blessed are those who suffer for justice and defend innocence!  What beatitude awaits the pure of heart! And in the end, this ever-virgin Heart will triumph.

The One who is blessed among women knows that a blessing does more than stir up a sense of belonging and security.  If done well, a blessing unleashes the glory of God on humanity and brings the structure of being into new harmony: time is touched with eternity, earth with heaven, the human heart with the Heart of God. If done poorly, the proclamation obscures the vision of God and robs even the most valiant of the strength needed in the face of death. So against every false blessing, the Virgin Mary is the maternal defender of the Church, the terror of demons, the tower of truth. And, over every evil, this Lady of Perpetual Help will triumph. 

As she gratefully receives each "Hail Mary" of every rosary from prayerful lips, she remembers how a blessing is a kind of sacred speech - and all speech must be true or it is meaningless. Oh, how dangerous is meaningless words and how powerful meaningful speech! To approve perversion leads to heartless resentment and anxiety because the heart can only rest in truth. But for those who defend chastity, true love quells aggression, even if it is at the price of blood. To this end, the rosary is a weapon of love and truth, a ladder to mystical wisdom, a conduit for the mercy the world most needs. And in the end, those who declare her blessed will, with her Immaculate Heart, triumph. 

So the Queen of Martyrs, Virgins, Saints and Angels gathers the heavenly hosts to follow the Lamb that was slain into battle. Let every minister today heed this Queen of the Rosary! Her virginity warns ministers that the blessing of sinful liaisons is a sacrilege that brings only woe, millstone and fire. Her obedience to God warns ecclesial leaders to humbly serve the truth. Her faithfulness unto the Cross warns them against wasting time on elaborate plots when war looms over the earth. 

Christ gains nothing when souls are lost and so His Mother calls them to repentance. It is long past time to help her with prayer and sacrifice, vigil and fast. This loving Mother of the Redeemer blesses families who dare to enthrone her Son's Sacred Heart in their households, together with her own, for keeping marriage holy for man and woman, keeping the home sacred for life and innocence, such acts of courage open up, in the end, to whole new horizons of peace, blessings, triumph for all.

September 24, 2023

Changes Coming Soon

 Dear Readers,

Thank you for reading this blog and for the encouragement through the years. It has been nearly twenty years since the blog Beginning to Pray began -- and you have been a blessing for my life.  This is to let you know that I will continue this blog for many more years, God willing, but in a different format.  In the coming weeks, as details are confirmed, I will pass them on to you.  

Anthony Lilles 

September 17, 2023

Truth, the Heart and the Sacred

"Lord, you love truth in the heart. In the secret of my heart, teach me wisdom."  David prayed these words after he repented of committing adultery with Uriah's wife and then killing him.  Through his sin, he discovered that his heart lacked wisdom and without the truth, he was given over to grave evil. He knew that he was worthy of punishment.  He knew he had caused such damage that he could never undo or heal what he had caused.  Yet what shattered him was that he was cut off from the sacred, unable to offer acceptable worship to God, without standing before the Lord - whose love was more precious to him than life. Yet God takes no delight in the misery of a sinner and yearned for his son to come to his senses. That beautiful prayer "teach me wisdom" reveals a man who has chosen to rise up from the pigpen and to set his chin for the Father's house.   

The Church and the world need this wisdom today.   Wisdom is a vision of the whole and a taste for the sacred. Without wisdom, the heart only sees broken fragments of the truth that excite a storm of passion but never provide ground firm enough for a man's existence. Without wisdom, without truth the heart lacks an orientation point, a banner around which it might rally its forces.  So the heart drifts from the sacred to the profane into chaos.  Standing on the truth, there is stability. The specific gravity of such ground is holiness - the only ground on which God deals with man face to face. Without it, life goes into a free fall.  This is exactly what David experienced -- and this deadly confusion is what we are also experiencing in the world and in the Church today.

Conversations in the Church that call into question fidelity and chastity can only lead to murder and the suffering of the most vulnerable.  This was St. Paul VI's basic insight in Humanae Vitae, a document that might have protected human life if only the faithful were helped to receive it.  He said that the practice of contraception is opposed to the conjugal act and would contribute to a contraceptive mentality among the faithful.  He reasoned that contraception violated the chastity proper to matrimony and robbed of chastity, a dark mentality would open to greater evils among believers.  He prophesied an increase in divorce and abortion. 

This prophetic word is fulfilled in our hearing, and yet few leaders have the wisdom of heart to call us to conversion. The rejection of Saint Paul VI's teaching contributes even now to a culture of death and this culture robs us of the courage we need for life. It is a mistake to believe that this rejection is first and foremost the reality of married couples. Those of us who teach must look in the mirror. There has been an abuse of the authority we have from Christ to teach the truth.  Ecclesial leaders are entrusted with authority to teach and pass on the deposit of faith, and failure to do so is a grave abuse that causes scandal ... and these are indeed scandalous times, times in which the lives of the most vulnerable are at stake. Those whose duty it is to teach have squandered the riches of Christ and chosen a pigpen. 

Recognizing the pigpen that into which too many leaders have led us is not for the sake of wallowing in self-pity.  It is precisely in a time of terrible scandal that we must beg Christ to teach us wisdom.  It is precisely when his apostles betrayed, denied and abandoned Him that He revealed in the most poignant and powerful way the wisdom of God.  So, today, when ecclesial leaders have followed the ways of their fathers, we must draw close to the Cross with the Christ's Mother and Beloved disciple.  

To stand under the shadow of the Cross in this way means not being naive about wolves who prey on the faithful. We must draw close to the Good Shepherd so that He can deal with the wolves. We must decry those who rip at the womb of the Church because of their own heartless lack of wisdom and cry for help. To draw near to Christ crucified, we must reject every form of falsehood.  We must have the courage to constantly speak the truth with love until our grammar includes Spirit-filled embodied actions of tongues, lips and hands. 

No one can declare the truth of our faith with enough boldness, but boldness comes through a return to personal prayer, to fasting and to works of mercy. We must again take up the Bible and read. We must again grab hold of those Rosary beads with the determination of the saints.  We must again find the hardness of earth with our knees. We must again embrace the Cross, practice self-denial and die to ourselves. We must begin again to confess our sins, to do penance, to make restitution, to offer sacrifice and to adore the Lord for His Eucharistic presence is filled with power.

In these ways, Christ will open the eyes of my heart to the goodness of the Father until I see enough to help others open their eyes too.  If only by yanking out the plank that blinds me do I help my brother see, then it is well past time that I yank it out.  This means renunciation and self-denial: turning off the media, the entertainment, the gossip, the detraction. This means turning the heart to solitude, to silence, to the Lord who waits for us in the dessert.  If such radical conversion of life requires trodding the narrow path of determination, humility and patient endurance, it also opens passage out of the pigpen of anxiety and resentment, a road to hope, a future filled with blessing, a journey to the Father's house. When suffering comes, and it will, this faithfulness to the wisdom of the saints makes space for the Lord to do something beautiful, to renew His whole mystery, and in the secret of our hearts, He will teach us wisdom.   

July 2, 2023

Entering into Contemplative Prayer

Contemplative prayer is best begun under the Sign of the Cross. This physical action together with the words that recall our baptism opens access to the heart of God and protects from irrational powers that would otherwise oppose this holy effort.  The words of this simple prayer orient me to the Holy of Holies - Father, Son and Holy Spirit whose life bears me up and carries me into the Sanctuary not made by human hands.  The gesture puts me under the banner of Crucified love, and reveals the spiritual Seal of my heart.  As the Sign is traced on my body, my spirit bows before the Presence of the Lord.  My awareness is filled, and my heart stilled.  Now I am ready to wait upon the Word. 

As the Presence of God dawns in my heart, the light of truth shines on its labyrinthian ways.  The still small voice of conscience cries out and this prayer allows it to echo until compunction.  Finally, my feet find the firmness needed to bear the weight of my soul.

Contemplative prayer accessed by the Cross suffers the truth and discovers the humility of God.  His gentle kindness calms storms of wrath and self-pity.  The warmth of His love ignites the heart -- and the words of the Word resound in great canticles - for He calls me to stand before His Face.