Wednesday, 17 October 2012

"Fiat Familia"

By way of a brief introduction, this was a paper I had to write for the hermeneutics course I'm taking right now. The assignment was to sum up the story of the Bible, in narrative form, in just four pages (max), with a font size of 12, double-spaced. I am indebted to St. Augustine's presentation of the faith in his work, "De Catechizandus Rudibus", and to Dr. Scott Hahn's book, "A Father Who Keeps His Promises" for the idea of seven ages and covenants of God's revelation as the theme of Scripture.
Out of an overflow of perfect, infinite love, the Almighty God created the world and everyone in it. While perfectly happy and without need, subsisting eternally as a family—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—God nevertheless desired to create others whom He could love, and who, in turn, could love Him and participate in that divine family. And so, with all the infinite wisdom at His disposal, He fashioned the earth, the sun, the moon, the stars, and all that is. He made all creatures according to their kinds, in an intricate web of interdependent connections. The world itself was like a family, each part dependent on each other, to support life. And over it all, God made Man, in His own image. God gave him special gifts of grace to enable man to live perfectly, and He appointed man to oversee, to protect, and to care for the world and its intricate order. And, having done so, God rested—not because He had grown weary, but so as to make a covenant, the first covenant, with man.

But the man that God had created was himself alone in the world. Alone, the man was unlike God precisely in his solitude. God saw that it was not good for man to be alone, and so He made from his own self a mate, suitable to him, whom the man named Woman. Thus through love, they together imaged God more completely. Marriage in love, fidelity, and unity became a new, second covenant with God and man, and man and woman together.

Man and woman were instructed by God to live the covenant of love and family, with each other, with the world, and with God. He gave them their freedom, so that their love could be genuine, but in their freedom, they failed to love. The enemy of God, Satan, one of God’s own creatures, tempted the woman to love herself more than anyone else, and she in turn tempted the man to do likewise. They failed to love God above all, and to love each other. And so, as a result, the man and the woman lost that original gift of grace. But God promised to one day restore all men and women to covenant with Him.

Yet the original sin of the man and the woman affected their children, whose desires warred in them against the truth and against the good that is to be found in God alone. They were given to pride, envy, greed, wrath, sloth, gluttony, and lust. They lived sinful lives of grave injustice. After many generations of this evil behaviour, God responded in His justice, by destroying His world with a flood. And yet, God’s loving mercy nevertheless spared one man, and his family, because they strove to love Him in return. And thus that family was instructed to build an ark that they would be saved from the flood, as well as a pair of each animal on earth. Saving this family and covenanting with them was the third covenant that God made with Man.

But as that family grew and multiplied, the concupiscence resulting from the loss of that original gift of God continued to draw people away from Him and from His covenant. After several generations, God reached out again to a man, instructing him and his wife to follow Him. Leaving everything, they obeyed God, and, despite their barrenness, God blessed them with a family, and that family grew into a mighty tribe. Through circumcision, they set themselves apart from all the other tribes of the world, as devoted to God alone. And God blessed the tribe, by making the fourth covenant with man.

The tribe grew and prospered, but during the course of time, they fell under hard times, and were forced to leave their land during a famine. Dwelling securely in a foreign land of plenty, they forgot God, until one day they found themselves enslaved by their foreign ruler. Remembering their covenant with God, they cried out to Him, and God heard their cry. He raised up another man to lead them out of slavery, into a land of promise. He gave this man a Law so that this people would be always able to remember their covenant with God and obey Him. And He established this people in a new land, with a new law, as a new nation, and He once more covenanted with them. This is the fifth covenant that God made with man.

The nation continued to grow and prosper when it remained obedient to the Law, but many times the people neglected or ignored the Law of God, and so were chastised by Him. As they dwelled in the land that He had given to them, they saw other nations around them, nations with no knowledge of God or covenant with Him, and they saw how kings ruled these nations. And the covenant nation desired to have a king like the other nations. God warned the people that a king would only cause them grief, but they insisted. So God gave them a king to rule them. The first king ruled poorly and was disobedient to God’s covenant, and so He raised up a new king, who was faithful to God. And God rewarded this king’s faithfulness by making a new covenant with him, that the nation would be a kingdom, and that one of his descendants would always be king, provided that the kings and the kingdom remained faithful to God‘s Law. This was the sixth covenant that God made with man.

As the kings and the kingdom prospered, however, they again abandoned the covenant with God, and God raised up prophets to warn them. But the kings refused to listen, and so God raised up armies against them to drag the kingdom away into exile. But His prophets foretold that if the kingdom repented, God would heal them, and make a new covenant—a perfect covenant.

And after ages passed, and the people returned from exile, they returned to the Law of God and to their covenant with Him. And in the fullness of time, God acted in a new way. He did not simply call a man to lead His people. God Himself became a Man! Out of His infinite love for the world that He had made, God the Son came to show the world how to truly honour the Father, how to live the Law and the covenant that He had made with them. The Son’s name was Jesus, because He had come to save the people from their sins. But the people rejected Him, despite the miracles and the good things He did and taught. And they crucified Him. But before they did, He said to His followers that this was always the plan: to show them God’s love, God Himself would die as a sacrifice for them, so that through His death, and through the resurrection that would come, they might have grace once more to truly live the Covenant. For the covenants that had come before served to show the people that they needed God’s own strength to fully live as family with Him and with each other. And He took bread and wine, and transformed it into His body and blood to be spiritual food for His followers, so that they would receive that divine grace from Him. And Jesus was taken, and beaten, and hung on a cross. And He died, for all of us, that we could be brought back into the family of God.

On the third day, Jesus rose again from the dead, and appeared to His followers. He promised them His Spirit to strengthen them, and His real Presence with them in that spiritual food, the Eucharist. He founded a Church, to go out into the entire world, that all people would know His love and be part of His Covenant, the seventh and perfect Covenant.

The Church He founded isn’t perfect, and those who follow Him often fail. That ancient enemy, Satan, is always seeking to lead us away from Christ, to disobey His Covenant. But through His sacrifice, He has given us seven oaths, or sacraments, by which we can obtain grace from Him to renew and strengthen our family relationship with Him, and live according to His Law, beginning with Baptism, by which anyone can enter into the Family of God through a new, spiritual birth.

And what is more, Jesus has promised that He will return in glory someday. He will judge those who refused to enter into His family, and on the other hand, warmly welcome and embrace all those who are His family! The seventh Covenant will last forever, in a new heaven and earth that will be free from all sin, where we will enjoy eternal Rest with God!

Monday, 15 October 2012

What I Saw in Haiti: Chapter 9

Breaking Down Walls
So it has, again, been ages since I've updated my Haiti story. I apologise. Hopefully I'll be able to finish up the saga in another couple of chapters. So, without further ado:
After returning from Père Dodou's home, the team got down to work. Nassrin resumed teaching First Aid to an ever-growing group of villagers. This endeavour was continually frustrating for Nassrin, as she attempted to adjust to "Island time". She wanted to start promptly at 9:00 am, and kept having students showing up at about five minutes to ten! And I don't mean a few stragglers. I mean, those were the ones who got there early! As it turns out, Haitian's reckon time rather differently than we do in Canada. As long as they were there within the hour of Nine, they were "on time"!

Meanwhile, Father Bill, Dan, Mark, and I went up to the old medical clinic, which was still partially standing, but was so structurally unsound, that we essentially had to knock it down. To undertake this task, we had one small sledgehammer and a crowbar, as well as a couple tarps, between the four of us. Fr. Bill and I tried manually loading up debris onto the tarps, to carry or drag them away and throw the concrete chunks down the side of the mountain, while Mark and Dan attempted to knock more portions of the wall down with the hammer and crowbar. After a very short time, I realised that we were going to need more tools than our bare hands, and so I ran down the path to Père Ronal's rectory and the boutique. When I arrived at the boutique, some of the friends I had made the previous Saturday were lounging outside. Saying my customary "Bonjou", I then though they might be able to tell me where I could get shovels and other tools. So I began to communicate to them in my rusty French, to ask about shovels. Very soon, I realised that I had absolutely no idea what the word for "shovel" was in Creole, French, or apparently, in pantomime! Though I imagine I gave them quite an entertaining spectacle as I repeated, "Je dois un...." and then acted out what I imagined looked like I was shovelling. After a few unsuccessful minutes of this, I realised I was getting nothing but silly grins and giggles, so I left them to find Père Ronal, and see if he could get me a shovel.

Entering the rectory, I found Père Ronal, and told him of my need for tools. When he gave me two shovels and a hoe, I related my experience with Willie, Pierre-Renaud, and their friends outside the boutique, and seeking to show them that I wasn't just a crazy white kid, I asked Père Ronal what the word was for shovel. He told me, and I repeated to myself "pelle, pelle, pelle..." as I returned outside to the boutique, really to brandish my shovels and say, "Les pelles! Regardez! Les Pelles!" Of course, my moment of triumph was cut abruptly short by the utter absence of Willie and his friends!

Puzzled, and just a little discouraged, I returned to the site of the condemned clinic in order to resume work digging up and carrying away the debris, when to my utter surprise, Willie, Pierre-Renaud, and their two friends had hurried up the hill when I went to find Père Ronal, and had begun busily to work at getting rid of the rubble with Father Bill! I showed them the shovels, and repeated my newly learned word, at which point they took the shovels and the hoe from me, and began working all the harder! This, of course, left me right back where I started--empty-handed as I began scooping up rubble and dragging away tarpfuls of concrete! But suddenly that didn't matter anymore, with many hands and many friends making work light indeed! Turns out, language barriers are readily overcome by goodwill, humour, and some artistic fun!

As we continued our work throughout the week, however, Dan, Mark, and I discovered we were even less alone than we'd first realised. On the one hand, the village's children came to watch us work (and to play soccer on the levelled out field in front of the church). Occasionally, they'd "help" by stealing the hammer or crowbar when we stopped to rest, and hit parts of the wall themselves. We of course made sure very quickly to tell them which parts of the concrete walls they could be around and what they could safely hit--such as the low, foot-high barrier at the edge of the lot, formerly protecting the children from the edge of the mountain.

But children weren't the only small critters underfoot--or overhead! Lizards were crawling everywhere, and, lurking unsuspected under the debris were none other than frightfully large tarantulas! Mark and Dan discovered the large, hairy arachnids first, abruptly dropping everything and leaving the worksite. It wasn't until a day or so later that I made a similar discovery, lifting up a chunk of concrete and finding right underneath a very live and very large tarantula! I yelled and jumped a few feet back, but luckily had six or seven children there to protect me! After laughing at my reaction, they grabbed rocks and the crowbar and began playing with the spider. Recovering myself, I managed to get a picture of the spider on the short wall, with the crowbar above it, to gauge its size, before one kid grabbed the crowbar, and with it, flipped the spider down the mountainside! It stopped its fall by grabbing the branches of a bush and hanging from it. At this, the children grabbed chunks of concrete and threw them at the tarantula in order to finish its descent down the mountain. Those kids were fearless!

At night in our tent, we decided to ask Michael, our translator, about the local wildlife. Hearing constant and ubiquitous chirping all about us, we asked what bird made that sound at all hours of the night? He replied that it wasn't the birds, but the lizards that made that noise! We were dumbstruck! We had no idea lizards made any sound, let alone that beautiful, birdlike chirp! We then inquired as to what was making this strange, rumbly, raspy noise. I can't even attempt to make an onomatopoeia of it! To me, it sounded vaguely like a dog barking far away, through an echoing hallway. Since, of course, there were no hallways to echo in, that clearly wasn't the answer. Dan thought it sounded more like heavy breathing right outside the tent, but I didn't think it sounded close at all. Michael again had the answer--though he didn't know the English word. "They are 'mille-pieds'," he told us. I knew what that word meant! "You're telling me those are millipedes?!" "Yes," he replied. "But don't worry, they are many miles away!" That was not reassuring at all! "You're telling me that a bug is making that much noise, several miles away? How big are they?" "Oh, maybe two or three feet long, and about an inch or two thick!" Dan, Mark, and I were losing it at this point. Freaking out about the large and freakish wildlife around us, suddenly we heard snuffling at the back part of the tent, behind me. Suddenly Dan screamed like a girl (sorry Dan, but it's true!) and fell over backwards. The rest of us turned around to see what hideous creature was attacking our tent in the middle of the night!

It was...

Boogie! Père Ronal's dog had decided to come pay us a visit at the most inopportune time! Needless to say, we did not sleep well that night!
We're coming down to the end of my story. Coming up, seeing the sights--both around the mountainside, and down in Port-au-Prince. After that, our return home. I'm thinking there'll be a total of 12 chapters.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Glorious Intentions

The Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary bring our prayer and our Christian life full-circle. In our lives, the various trials, tribulations, and sufferings test our practice of the virtues, especially our faith, hope, and love. Every Rosary begins with three Hail Marys for the intention of growing in these three virtues, but the wisdom of the Rosary is shown that here, at the end of the chain, our very meditations are offered for the increase in these virtues, as we focus on and prepare for the end of our lives when we will obtain the promises of eternal life that the Rosary itself reminds us that Jesus offers to His servants and friends.

The First Glorious Mystery: The Resurrection of Jesus
For the Virtue of Faith

It almost seems counter-intuitive to start praying for the virtue of Faith here at the end of the Rosary's mysteries. Does not our spiritual life, our justification, our relationship with Jesus begin with faith? Absolutely! But Scripture teaches us that the just shall live by faith, not simply express their faith at some point in the past and have that settle the issue. Our Christian life begins with faith, but that faith must continue, grow, and develop throughout our lives. And when our world is shaken and our faith is tested, as through the sufferings that were the focus of the Sorrowful Mysteries, our faith must be revived and reinvigorated.

The Disciples themselves, having lived with Jesus for years, were still devastated at His death. The faith that they had built and nurtured barely survived the Crucifixion. It was in His Resurrection that their faith was restored and energised. They had faith when they first began walking with Him, but now their faith was solid and unshakable. So too our own faith must be strengthened as we meditate on Jesus' resurrection, and His very present reality in our own lives.

The Second Glorious Mystery: The Ascension of Jesus
For the Virtue of Hope

Where faith is about knowing Jesus, and focussing on His presence, here and now in our lives, the virtue of hope is future-focussed. Through the hard times, the suffering, the futile efforts to meet our daily needs and struggle through those moments when God seems to have abandoned us, hope keeps us looking forward, knowing that these hard times will not last. It keeps our eyes fixed on that often-dim speck of light in the distance. Without hope, we cannot move forward, for we stop believing that there is a forward toward which to move.

But hope, of course, depends on faith. For we must know and trust Jesus in order to hope in His promises. And so after meditating on His Resurrection in order to grow in faith, we ponder His ascension and increase our hope. We are able to cling tightly to the promise that Jesus knows us and has a plan for our good, so that we can endure the hardships of life without becoming beaten down. Like the sailor who navigates by the light of the North Star, we can maintain a steady course through the darkness.

The Third Glorious Mystery: The Descent of the Holy Spirit
For Deeper Love of God

Knowing Jesus and trusting His desire for our good, we can grow deeper in love with and for Him. Moreover, aided by that great Gift which He gave to us, in His Holy Spirit, who is the personified Love of God, filling us and strengthening us to live, serve, and love God, we grow into a deeper and more intimate union with Him. And that union with God overflows into deeper love and action on behalf of those whom He loves. As we come closer to God, we must of necessity become more loving of and concerned for our neighbour, the poor and needy among us. St. John tells us plainly, "If any man say, I love God, and hateth his brother; he is a liar. For he that loveth not his brother, whom he seeth, how can he love God, whom he seeth not? And this commandment we have from God, that he, who loveth God, love also his brother" (1 John 4:20-21). And so our deepening love for God compels us to action. If our love for God does not manifest itself in care for the needs of people around us, then we really do not love God. And so we come full-circle, and see why the Rosary is itself a loop. We never finish growing in love for God, and so we come right back to the beginning, seeking to become more humble and more loving of our neighbour. The process never ends until the end of our earthly lives.

The Fourth Glorious Mystery: The Assumption of Mary
For a Happy Death

And so we turn, in meditating on the end of the life of our dear Mother, and her glorious assumption into heaven, to considering our own manner of life and pray for a happy death. What does it mean to have a happy death? Is it merely one in which we die peacefully in our sleep surrounded by family and friends? I do not think that is the whole of it. As we learn from martyrs like St. Lawrence, the saint is perfectly happy to die even under horrendous circumstances, from an earthly point of view. But the Saint sees with the eyes of eternity, knowing that the glory to come surpasses the momentary suffering of life.

So, a happy death, it seems, is one that comes after a life of faithful service to God, having lived a life of virtue. It's one that is full of desire to be with Jesus and Mary in heaven above and beyond all the temptations and distractions of this world. When we seek a happy death, we are really praying for the grace to lead a life well lived, and to die in God's grace--whatever the physical circumstances of our deaths entail.

The Fifth Glorious Mystery: The Coronation of Mary
For Eternal Salvation

The final mystery of the Rosary leads us to focus on that final mystery of our life--the question of what lies beyond. Having faith and hope in Jesus, we believe His promise that He has prepared a place for us with Him, and our love for Him makes us desire to live worthy of being in His presence always. and so we pray for the grace of eternal salvation. Even as we strive to live a life of virtue, we remain conscious that we cannot presume to have been saved, but constantly acknowledge that our salvation is a gift from Jesus. At the same time, we hold in tension the great hope and confidence in His love for us and His desire to save us. We pray, then, with confidence, for that great, final gift.

And when we ponder the end of our lives and the great hope that we have in Christ, we take stock of our own lives. We see the faults and failings, the imperfection of our love, and desire to be even more faithful to Him. The last mystery of the Rosary thus leads us back to the first, as we continue to meditate on the lives of Jesus and Mary. The closer we grow to them, the more we desire to be like them. And the more we are like them, the more we recognise how much farther we have to go. And so we continue to pray, to meditate, and to strive to live lives worthy of the calling that He has given to us.

The chain of the Rosary stretches through the entirety of our lives, and the beads become footholds on our climb to Heaven. Held tightly in Our Lady's hand, we climb securely up the chain to her Son. So let us take up the Rosary daily as we progress onward in our faith. Let us, in the words of that famous closing prayer of the Rosary, meditate on its mysteries and imitate what they contain so that we may obtain what they promise.

And above all, let us ask Our Lady's intercession for us, now, and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Sorrowful Intentions

One of the great paradoxes of Christianity is found in the fact that the closer we get to holiness and the more Christ-like we become, the more keenly aware we are of just how far short we fall of His glory. When we grow in piety and fear of the Lord, coming to receive His Real Presence in the Eucharist with due reverence, our own unworthiness comes into clear focus. This is accentuated just before Communion when we pray the words of the Roman Centurion in the Gospel: "Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof; but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed."

The First Sorrowful Mystery: Jesus' Agony in the Garden
For True Contrition for Sin

When we meditate upon Jesus praying in Gethsemani, taking upon Himself the burden of the sins of mankind, we are filled with compunction for our own sins, for our own part in His Crucifixion. If we are guilty of having committed any sins for which we have not received absolution, such compunction leads us to the Sacrament of Confession, where we once more are made new in His grace, as St. Paul writes, "For the sorrow that is according to God worketh penance, steadfast unto salvation" (2 Corinthians 7:10). But even when we are not currently in a state of sin, such compunction is nevertheless helpful in keeping us from sin, and leads us to a life of penance for our past sinfulness, and on behalf of the sins of others. For the deeper we enter into this mystery, and the more united with Christ we become, the more sorrowful for the sins of others we become. We are not satisfied with penance for our own sins, but for those of others, in order to make reparation for them and hopefully bring them to conversion, themselves.

Our deep sorrow, or contrition, for sin leads us to say with St. Paul, "[I] now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for his body, which is the church" (Colossians 1:24). So through our penances, we are able to make satisfaction for our own sins, and reparation for those of others, and through so doing, become even more united to Christ our saviour.

The Second Sorrowful Mystery: The Scourging at the Pillar
For the Virtue of Purity

St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that of the Seven Deadly Sins, the sins of the flesh, gluttony and lust, are the "least" deadly, as they are sins primarily affecting the body, as opposed to pride, envy, and the like, which pertain specifically to the soul. And yet, Our Lady, in her apparitions at Fatima, told the three shepherd children that more souls are lost through sins of the flesh, than through any other sins. They might not be inherently as damaging, but because they're so available and instantly gratifying, our physical senses and passions are much more easily drawn to them. Penance, the depriving ourselves of something good (such as in fasting), or the infliction of some small suffering (such as kneeling without the kneeler or putting a small stone in your shoe, on purpose), help us to discipline our passions, just as an athlete disciplines his body through regular exercise.

And so as we meditate on Jesus' scourging (that quintessential symbol of penance), we ask for the grace to remain pure in body and in mind, uniting our own small penances with His, so that His grace may further equip our souls for growth in holiness.

The Third Sorrowful Mystery: The Crowning with Thorns
For Moral Courage

When we live a life of moral purity, living the Gospel and showing our faith in word and in deed, we will face hostility from the world around us. Our lives of love and charity, grounded in the Truth, will be called hatred and fear, grounded in backward thinking and superstition. Jesus warned us that if the world persecuted Him, that we should expect no less for ourselves. Our life of penance will have the benefit of preparing us to suffer at the hands of others, but in the third sorrowful mystery, we also pray for courage and fortitude. These two terms are synonymous, but I personally make a distinction--courage is that inner strength to overcome fear and begin to do the right thing in the face of opposition or danger. Fortitude is applying that same strength to persevering in the right thing which we have undertaken.

Many times, we know what is right, but the world around us tries to make the situation to seem grey and muddy. Through their language and sophistries, and downright peer pressure and bullying, our culture tries to make what's right seem wrong, and what's wrong seem right. We are often intimidated into not doing good, or speaking out against evil. We need the gift of Courage to be able to stand up and prophetically proclaim the truth to our culture. And having done so, we need the Fortitude to maintain that position in the face of adversity.

Against what Pope Benedict XVI refers to as a "Dictatorship of Relativism", we need the conviction to stand up for the Truth, proclaiming it lovingly, but firmly.

The Fourth Sorrowful Mystery: Jesus Carrying His Cross
For the Virtue of Patience

On our journey through life, we will meet with much suffering. It seems that this is more true for those who strive to follow Christ in everything--which, I suppose, is to be expected, for as our first pope told us, "For unto this are you called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving you an example that you should follow his steps" (1 Peter 2:21). This flies in the face, of course, of those who say either that serving Jesus will make us healthy and prosperous, or those who say that people only become religious because it makes them happy. Whether it be a result of standing up for the truth, or the natural course of life--sickness, job loss, betrayal, the death of loved ones, poverty, or a host of other problems--being a Christian not only doesn't safeguard against these things. Instead, it almost guarantees them!

Why is this? It goes back to the discussion of penance. St. Peter goes on to say, "Christ therefore having suffered in the flesh, be you also armed with the same thought: for he that hath suffered in the flesh, hath ceased from sins: That now he may live the rest of his time in the flesh , not after the desires of men, but according to the will of God" (1 Peter 4:1-2). Our suffering, if we let it, helps us to see what is really important--and it's not the passing pleasures of this world. When we are deprived of them, we more easily acknowledge our dependence upon God, and know that our true happiness lies in Him alone. When we've learned what we can do without, and what it's like to be without, we can more readily go without in order to serve God more completely.

And just like we can unite our penances to Christ's suffering for others, even those sufferings that come to us as a surprise, or as unwanted "blessings", can also be united to Christ's Passion. Remember that word, "Passion". It's related to "passive". Christ didn't save us so much by what He did, but by what He allowed others to do to Him. So also we can either become angry and embittered by the hardships of life, or we can allow them to purify us, and make us more holy. And that same purifying, penitential power behind our offered-up suffering can be of great spiritual benefit to others, as well.

The Fifth Sorrowful Mystery: Jesus' Crucifixion and Death
For Final Perseverance

In the sufferings and the trials of life, we can often be tempted to despair, to believe that there is no God, or that, if there is, He hates us or is punishing us for some reason. These thoughts are faith-destroying, as I have seen first-hand. Through the gift of fortitude we press on through the suffering. At other times, however, the goodness of life and the pleasures of this world can lead us away from God. We grow complacent and think we don't need Him. In all our trials and temptations, we must persevere. If we give up along the way, and abandon our faith for some reason, then we will not be saved. The heretical notion espoused by some Christians that once we are saved, we will always be saved no matter what we do, is ludicrous on the face of it. Time and again, Jesus warns us to keep faith until the end. As He says, "he that shall persevere to the end, he shall be saved" (Matthew 24:13 and elsewhere).

And so, as we meditate on Jesus' Crucifixion, in which He endured such enormous suffering for love of us, we ask for the grace of final perseverance in order to keep us from the presumption that we have already "made it", or that we can make it, on our own strength. We need to remember that our perseverance in faith is only ever the gift of God, and so in all humility and poverty of spirit, we beg Him to pour that grace out upon us.

The sorrowful mysteries remind us that life is not always easy. And as Christians we need to remember that God does not just take all our pain away. Rather, He uses it to make us strong in virtue and holiness, so that we have the fortitude to persevere. And as we press on to take hold of that for which Christ has taken hold of us, we continue to grow deeper in faith, hope, and love for Him, preparing us to finally enter into that Eternal Life with Him. And that is the focus of the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Luminous Intentions

The Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary, discussed in the previous post, correspond with the birth of faith in us, to the gentle call of God leading us into relationship, and with our first steps responding to that call. We respond first with humility, recognising our own frailty and littleness, and in so doing, truly begin to value and love others. In our humility we foster our poverty of spirit and our need for God, and begin to strive to obey His Laws. And yet, without the fullness of His grace in us, we recognise that we are incapable of living our lives in obedience to Him. We need God's help to really change and become the person He wants us to be. Through this process, we come humbly to the waters of baptism, where the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary begin. These mysteries, recently added by Bl. Pope John Paul II, correspond in their turn to growth in the life of Grace through entrance into the Covenant Family of God.

The First Luminous Mystery: The Baptism of Jesus
For Faithfulness and Submission to God's Will

When we meditate upon the Baptism of Jesus, we ask His Mother to help us to remain more faithful to those promises that we made (or that were made for us) at our own baptism. When we come to the waters of new life, the priest asks us (or, in the more common cases of infant baptism, he asks our parents on our behalf),
Do you renounce Satan and all his works and all his empty show?
Do you believe in God,
the Father almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth?
Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered death and was buried,
rose again from the dead
and is seated at the right hand of the Father?
Do you believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life,
who came upon the apostles at Pentecost
and today is given to you sacramentally in Confirmation?
Do you believe in the holy Catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting?
After which question, we (or our parents) answer, "I do." We are then baptised, and the waters of baptism sacramentally give new life to our souls, we are born again, and the Holy Spirit enables us to truly and freely cooperate with the grace that God had given us previously, which called us to this point. Now, He gives us "sanctifying grace" which further enables us to actually be obedient to His Law. However, since our passions still wrestle within us against our intellect and our will, in our freedom we often stumble and fall, seduced by those very works and that empty show of Satan, tempting us away from God and back into sin.

And so, having returned to God once more through Confession (as discussed in the Fifth Joyful Mystery), through the Rosary and with Mary's help, holding us up as our parents did at our first baptism, we renew our baptismal promises once more, and submit ourselves again to God's will for our lives.

The Second Luminous Mystery: The Wedding at Cana
For Greater Devotion to Mary

When we first come to faith, we don't always know how to pray as we ought, or how best to go about living for Jesus. This is why the Rosary itself is so important! Through it, Mary teaches us more and more about her Son, and through it, we ask her to pray to Him for our needs, expressing trust that she knows them better than we do, and that her motherly care for us knows how best to present them to her Eldest Son. And we know that Jesus Himself honours His Mother, and will readily receive our requests from her. When we ask Mary to pray for us, we further exercise that humility that we learned from her in the First Joyful Mystery. We continue to live and to grow in that foundational virtue, adding to it that virtue of trust. Even when we've grown in our faith and understanding, this growth manifests not as a greater self-sufficiency in our prayers, but greater trust in and honour of Mary, as even Jesus Himself as an adult honoured her so completely.

When we meditate on the Wedding at Cana, our trust in Mary's maternal intercession grows as we recall the fact that Jesus worked His first miracle at her behest, and Mary herself asked this of Him, not for herself, but for the happy newlyweds and their guests. And we recall as well, that the answer to the prayers of the servants came only when they obeyed her injunction to "Do whatever He tells you" (John 2:5).

The Third Luminous Mystery: Jesus' Proclamation of the Kingdom
For the Grace of Conversion

Of course, to do what Jesus tells us necessitates hearing His Words, so that we can then do them. And so we meditate on Jesus' preaching of the Gospel so as to internalise His words in the Sermon on the Mount, or in His parables, or in the many other passages in the Gospel where He proclaims the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven! I have personally found it quite helpful to meditate throughout the week on the Gospel from the previous Sunday when I come to this mystery. We pray that we might truly understand what Jesus is teaching us, that we might become more fully conformed to Him and know Him more intimately, and through our lives, become the vehicle for God to begin drawing others to Him, as well.

The Fourth Luminous Mystery: The Transfiguration
For Holy Fear of the Lord

The closer we come to knowing Jesus, the more we see of His absolute glory. Truly knowing Him inspires a reverence and awe at His power and majesty. This reverence and awe is what's commonly referred to as "the fear of the Lord" in Scripture. When Peter, James, and John saw Jesus transfigured before them, they were quite rightly terrified. They had come to Jesus because they recognised wisdom and authority in His teaching. As they journeyed with Him, they saw the miracles knew God was at work through Him. But with the Transfiguration, they came face to face with the majesty of God in Jesus. So too should our reverence for Jesus continue to grow as we ourselves grow in the spiritual life. For it is with reverence that we approach and receive the most precious gift that Jesus has to give us.

The Fifth Luminous Mystery: The Institution of the Eucharist
For Thanksgiving to God

The Eucharist, the Church tells us, is the source and the summit of our faith. This is because in the Eucharist, Jesus Himself is truly present, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. He makes His sacrificial death on Calvary present to us once more, and in receiving Him, we unite ourselves more fully and completely to Him. The word "Eucharist" comes from the Greek and means "Thanksgiving", and so when we meditate on the mystery of Jesus' institution of the Eucharist, we seek to be even more thankful to God for our salvation through Jesus' Crucifixion and Resurrection, but more so, to be thankful for every aspect of the life that God has given to us. When we have grown in humility, poverty of spirit, and the fear of the Lord, we are able to recognise that all that we are and all that we have are gifts from God. When we consider that above and beyond everything else, Jesus Himself would come to us in the form of Bread and Wine, that we might, through consuming Him, become so intimately united with Him that His very life of grace grows in us and nourishes our souls, how could there be any other response than sheer gratitude? It is this grateful love for Jesus that allows us to fully receive the graces that He has for us, so that we may grow into the Saints He wants us to become.

The graces we receive in the Eucharist help us to conform even more fully to the Gospel, and strengthen us to face the inevitable hardships in life. Through thanksgiving to God, and trust in His goodness, we can cling tightly to Mother Mary's hand, and with joy even in the pain, daily take up our crosses. This is the theme of the Sorrowful Mysteries...

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Joyful Intentions

We begin our reflections on the suggested intentions for the Mysteries of the Rosary with the Joyful Mysteries. They show us how we have to begin our spiritual lives, with humility, charity, poverty of spirit, obedience, and piety. This is true whether we are baptised into the faith as infants, or come to Christ later on. Yet even while we must begin here in our conversion to Christlikeness, we can never become complacent in our level of attainment of these particular virtues (or, for that matter, of any virtue). Even though we can never come to God without humility, we must always strive to grow in humility.

The life of faith always begins with God's prevenient grace. In the Rosary, this is exemplified by the introductory prayers--especially the three Hail Marys, which are offered for an increase of Faith, Hope, and Love, the "theological virtues", so called because they are given to us directly by God. They then symbolise God's initial work in our lives, and the mysteries and the intentions associated with them model our response as we strive to patter ourselves on the example of Jesus and His blessed Mother.

Our response begins with humility just as the Gospel begins with the Annunciation, but we must continually strive for humility just as we continually return to the recitation of the Rosary. Growth in the spiritual life is as repetitive and cyclical as the chain of beads on which we pray the Rosary.

The First Joyful Mystery: The Annunciation
For Humility

What is the foundational virtue? Faith? Love? I don't think so. While these virtues, and all the others, are necessary to cultivate, I believe humility must be and become the basis of all growth in the spiritual life. It precedes faith and love because unless you are humble, you will never allow yourself to believe in something you cannot know for certain, or rely on someone other than yourself. Without humility, you can never see another person as having equal or greater importance than yourself. You will never be willing to give of yourself for the good of another. In the Garden of Eden, the serpent tempted Adam and Eve away from God by appealing to their pride. If we are to undo the effects of their fall in our own lives, we must begin by overturning that vice into which Adam and Eve first fell. We must strive for its antidote: humility.

In the Angel's annunciation that Mary would bear the Christ into the world, we see humility modelled in both characters: in Gabriel, the angel who addresses a lowly human girl with a royal greeting; and in the Blessed Virgin Mary's trusting acceptance of God's will for her. Let us allow Mary to teach us through this Rosary to have her same humble submission to God's will: "Let it be..."

The Second Joyful Mystery: The Visitation
For Love of Neighbour

When we begin to learn humility, we are able to recognise other people as people, as others deserving of love, respect, and dignity. We begin to be able to live lives of charity--of a self-giving love for our neighbours. Without charity, all our acts on another's behalf are motivated by ulterior motives--how we'll seem to others, what we can get out of our acts of kindness. Meeting another's need is always accompanied by the ideal, whether thought or voiced, of "What's in it for me?" Charity, on the other hand, is humility in action. It seeks simply to work for the good of the other, because that other is a person who deserves our love and help--simply because they are a person. Clearly, like humility, charity is a virtue very difficult to attain, and so we need to return to the Rosary often, asking for the grace to grow in virtue!

In Mary's visitation to her elderly cousin Elizabeth (herself pregnant with John the Baptist), we see the charity of a young girl thinking less of herself, and more of the needs of her cousin, so much so that she would leave on a long journey and remain with Elizabeth during her likely difficult third trimester, and in so doing, she brings that first light of Christ to Elizabeth.

The Third Joyful Mystery: The Nativity
For Poverty of Spirit

Once we begin to live in humble charity, we begin to see our own imperfections and limitations. Se grow in greater awareness of the spiritual life, and recognise our own weakness and need. This is the spiritual poverty that Jesus refers to in the Beatitudes. We begin to recognise our soul's need for redemption, for love, for God. Through this awareness, we can really begin to let Him in to the poor and unworthy abode of our hearts.

The Mystery of Jesus' nativity reveals how God Himself, out of His great love for us, deigned to come to us as a man. And like every other man, He began His life among us as a baby. But as if that were too small a thing, He chose to be born in a stable and laid in a manger, because the family He chose as His own was too poor and unimportant to be able to afford proper lodging. Jesus chose to be poor, small, and helpless to show the depth of His love for us, and to make us realise that the poverty of our own spirits is not enough to keep Him away. Christmas invites us to remember tha God wants us to draw near to Him, to welcome Him, even into the poor stables of our own hearts, so that He can begin to transform them into temples for His Holy Spirit.

The Fourth Joyful Mystery: The Presentation
For Obedience

As God begins to move in our hearts, the desire to love and to know Him increases. We grow in the desire to know and to do His will. As we grow to love Him in return, that love works itself out in obedience to His will and to His laws. Recognising our need in our spiritual poverty, we recognise as well the answer to that need in living the way God designed and intended us to live. That is why He has given us His Law, to help us realise the beautiful and abundant life for which He has created us! The Laws of God become not burdensome, but delightful, not enslaving, but liberating!

Our Lady herself exemplifies this fact in her own obedience to the Law of Moses, when she presents her infant Son in the Temple. If anyone could claim to be above the Law, it would be Jesus, who is God Himself, and His Mother, whom He created free from all sin. And yet she brings Him to the Temple in perfect obedience to the Law He Himself prescribed. Her example is a sign to all of us of the paradox that freedom to be found in obedience.

The Fifth Joyful Mystery: Finding Jesus in the Temple
For Piety

In Romans 2:6-8, St. Paul tells us that God "will render to every man according to his works. To them indeed, who according to patience in good work, seek glory and honour and incorruption, eternal life: But to them that are contentious, and who obey not the truth, but give credit to iniquity, wrath and indignation." In our striving to be obedient to God's Law, we work for glory, honour, and incorruption. We seek after that goodness, truth, beauty, and freedom that is God, and the abundant life that He offers us. This striving for holiness is called "piety". But so very often, the distractions of the world tempt us away from the pure goodness, truth, beauty, and freedom, to pursue lesser goods, half-truths, imperfect beauty, and false freedom. When the things of this world tempt us away from the pursuit of God, we fall into error and sin, and need to turn once more to Him.

When Mary and Joseph took Jesus to Jerusalem for His first Passover, they left the city without Him, mistakenly thinking He was travelling among others in their caravan. After three days, they realise with horror their mistake, and return with haste to Jerusalem, frantically searching for Him. When they find Him, He is teaching the scribes and elders in the Temple! When His earthly parents question Him about this, He asks with the innocence of a child, "Why were you looking for Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father's business?"

In this fifth Joyful Mystery, we seek to continue to be about our Father's business--pursuing holiness of life. So we turn to His Mother, who found Him about His Father's business so long ago, to lead us to Him in our journey to redemption. Until we have been baptised, and entered fully into the Covenant Family of God, all our own efforts have only served to show us our own poverty of spirit and our need for greater humility. While we have cooperated with God's prevenient grace until this point, He is waiting to lavish upon us the fullness of grace, giving us His Spirit and adopting us as His children!

And after we have been baptised, we still get distracted and wander away. So we ask our Blessed Mother to lead us back to her Son, especially in the Sacrament of Confession. Through this opportunity of Grace, we again can resolve to piously be about Our Father's business.

As we continue our spiritual journey, we make our way toward baptism and entrance into the Covenant, or, for the baptised, we redouble our efforts to live our baptismal promises, and continue to grow in our faith. This is the theme of the Luminous Mysteries...

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Holding Our Mother's Hand

A few years back, I wrote a series of posts on the Rosary at my other blog, Barque of Peter (scroll down the page of the first link until after the list of Common Catholic Prayers). In keeping with the more apologetic purpose of my other blog, they are written to highlight the historical and theological meaning of the Rosary, as well as detailing how to pray it. Here, though, I wanted to reflect on the more personal and spiritual elements.

When Blessed Pope John Paul II wrote his Apostolic Letter, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, in which he introduced the Luminous Mysteries to the meditations on the life of Christ that form the soul of the Rosary, he recommended introducing each mystery with a personal prayer offering each decade for a particular intention. Many materials explaining the Rosary offer suggested intentions for each mystery. In my own practice of this devotion, I have incorporated (and occasionally adapt) these suggestions. Recently in my prayer, I noticed how these intentions, beginning with the First Joyful Mystery, and ending with the Fifth Glorious Mystery, follow the pattern of the life of faith, just as the mysteries themselves follow the events of the lives of Jesus and Mary. It is this pattern, I think, that is what makes the Rosary such an effective devotion for growth in holiness--and this only makes sense, since holiness is nothing more than conformity to the life of Christ within us--a conformity that paradoxically brings out the best of our own uniqueness. The more the Saints were conformed to Jesus, the more boldly original and exciting each individual Saint became!

And we are led on this journey toward holiness by none other than the holiest of all God's creatures, Jesus' own Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. Holding the beads in our hand becomes an action very like taking our Mother's hand in ours as she leads us down the Way--drawing us gently to Her Son, who Himself is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (cf. John 14:6). This thought alone brings great comfort, for so many times we can ourselves do little more than cling tightly to those beads for dear life, trusting in Mary's loving care to guide us along the Way of Her Son.

Over the next couple weeks, I'll be writing a series of articles meditating on and examining the suggested intentions for each mystery of the Rosary, so that we might become better acquainted with Jesus, the Way. (Note: The suggested intentions on which this post is based come from the pamphlet, "Pray the Rosary Daily" published by the Ave Maria Centre of Peace, P.O. Box 489, Station U, Toronto, ON, M8Z 5Y8.)

God bless

Saturday, 12 May 2012

A Reader Asks... "O Happy Fault"?

At Easter, I had the honour of sponsoring a dear friend, Eric, into the Catholic Church. A few of the guests he invited were Protestants from our former Pentecostal church. Since the Vigil, several of them have expressed their various issues with the Mass, which was honestly to be expected. However, Eric had a conversation with one particular friend regarding the Easter Proclamation (the Exsultet)--the lengthy hymn of exultation about the Redemption of the world through Christ at the beginning of the Vigil liturgy. In particular, he was troubled by the very part of the exsultet that I've long considered to be my favourite part--the delightfully paradoxical portion that goes,
O truly necessary sin of Adam,
destroyed completely by the Death of Christ!
O happy fault
that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!
Eric asked whether I would take up the subject with our friend, and I said I'd write up this blog in order to try to dissect this wonderfully troubling portion of the greatest of all Nights.

Our friend's problem stemmed primarily from the phrase "O happy fault", saying that this could be taken out of context in order to justify sinning, or in some way saying that sinning was itself "happy". His argument is very much in keeping with St. Paul's words in Romans. In chapter 5, St. Paul makes an argument for the super-abundant greatness of God's mercy for us in Jesus Christ--contrasting Adam's sin with Christ's free gift of salvation. He concludes with these words:
Therefore, as by the offence of one, unto all men to condemnation; so also by the justice of one, unto all men to justification of life. For as by the disobedience of one man, many were made sinners; so also by the obedience of one, many shall be made just. Now the law entered in, that sin might abound. And where sin abounded, grace did more abound (Romans 5:18-20).
It is, in fact, this reasoning, and this passage of Scripture, that is distilled by the exsultet into the paradox above quoted.

However, our friend's argument echoed St. Paul's next words in Romans chapter 6:1-2, "What shall we say, then? shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. For we that are dead to sin, how shall we live any longer therein?" In other words, our friend worried that the exsultet could be taken as celebrating Adam's sin and calling it good in such a way that it sets an example for us--the very argument that St. Paul decries in Romans 6.

Is this conclusion regarding the exsultet warranted? I would say absolutely not! When we examine the entirety of this great hymn, we recognise that the overall theme is the abolition of sin and slavery to it by the Death and Resurrection of Christ. Consider these lines, which appear just a few strophes before the part in question:
This is the night
that even now, throughout the world,
sets Christian believers apart from worldly vices
and from the gloom of sin,
leading them to grace
and joining them to his holy ones.
So, far from allowing or even encouraging a libertine attitude toward sin, the message of the exsultet is that the grace of God available to us through the Death and Resurrection of Jesus actually removes us from sin and vice and makes us holy!

On the other side of the "O happy fault", a few strophes afterward, is stated,
The sanctifying power of this night
dispels wickedness, washes faults away,
restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners,
drives out hatred, fosters concord, and brings down the mighty.
Again, the exsultet, indeed, all of Easter and the totality of the Catholic faith is about the forgiveness of sins, the restoration to innocence, and the complete sanctification that comes when we cooperate with the tremendous Graces that Christ merited for us through the Cross and Resurrection!

But of course, my friend makes the claim that the "happy fault" portion could be understood without regard to the context we've just established, so none of the arguments above actually touch on his concern. So what does this portion mean in and of itself? Let's examine it again:
O truly necessary sin of Adam,
destroyed completely by the Death of Christ!
O happy fault
that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!
A few things must be considered here, of a poetical and philosophical nature. For starters, the exsultet is a hymn, that is, it's a poem. It's not intended to be understood precisely in terms of a laboriously spelled-out theological treatise (as, for example, this blog might be!), but as an imaginative expression of a Mystery that ultimately lies beyond our comprehension. More simply put, reading poetry requires a very different mindset than reading prose. Poetry relies on symbolic shorthand, allusions, and creative wording (such as the very paradox we are considering) to shock our imaginations into considering Truth from a wholly new perspective. G.K. Chesterton sums up the contrast by saying that the poet tries to get his head into the heavens, whereas the rationalist tries to get the heavens into his head--and it is his head that splits! This attitude is echoed at the beginning of the exsultet, when the deacon or priest intones, "Lift up your hearts," and the congregation responds, "We lift them up to the Lord."

The second aspect to keep in mind is the philosophical language employed, particularly here, in the exsultet. That is, certain terms need to be understood in the very specific way they are meant, rather than in the general way we might use them in ordinary conversation--particularly the terms "necessary" and "happy".

O truly necessary sin of Adam,
destroyed completely by the Death of Christ!

Many people have a misunderstanding of Christ's redemption of our sins. That misunderstanding lies in the fact that they think that the incarnation, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus constituted God's "Plan B" for creation. In other words, people often assume that the original, perfect state of Adam and Eve before the Fall was "Plan A" and then when Adam and Eve sinned and were booted from Eden, God had to come up with a "Plan B" to undo the damage. When the exsultet calls Adam's sin "necessary", it intends to completely undercut this mistaken notion.

There's a huge mystery here: that ponderous mystery of God's predestination and how it ties in to our free will. While God never actively wills sin and disobedience, He made the option possible in order that we could freely choose to love Him instead. Yet Adam and Eve's decision was never unknown to God, nor was the outcome. From all eternity God knew that His rational creatures would choose to rebel against Him, and His divine plan incorporated Adam's sin from the very foundations of the world, as we see in Revelation 13:8, where we are told that Christ, the Lamb, was slain "from before the foundation of the world." The Incarnation was not Plan B. God becoming Man so that we could participate in the divine life of God through His superabundant Grace was the idea all along! In this way, Adam's sin is understood as "necessary". If Adam and Eve never fell, Christ would never have needed to come. And so God allowed the loss of perfect human bliss through the original sin of Adam and Eve in order to bring about a greater, divine bliss for humanity (cf. 2 Peter 1:4)! Because there was a Fall, all of us recognise a lack in our lives. Because God only allows evil to occur in order to bring about a greater good (as St. Augustine reminds us), the fulfilment of the lack we feel because of the Fall goes far beyond even restoring us to that Edenic state! God never goes backwards. He's not taking us back to Eden. He is doing a new thing; the same New Thing He has been unfolding from all eternity; the same New Thing that unfolded at the Cross and was confirmed in the Resurrection, and which is consummated in us through His Graces to us, especially our rebirth in Baptism and our sustaining in holiness through the gift of Himself in the Eucharist!

O happy fault
that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!

Because, in this light, we see that Adam's sin was in some mysterious way "necessary", we can understand how his fault was a "happy" one. Philosophically speaking, "Happiness" is not simply some emotional state of contentment with life. Rather, it is the result of something or someone being rightly ordered to its true purpose. As St. Augustine writes in his Confessions, "Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee." It is that rest that constitutes "happiness", in the sense in which Adam's fault is here called "happy". And, of course, the reason for that happiness is expressed in the next line, because it "earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!" In and of itself, sin, even Adam's sin, is not happy, nor does sin lead to happiness. In fact, sin is the cause of the restlessness that St. Augustine describes. Yet Adam's sin is "happy" in one and only one regard--because it was necessary to bring about the Incarnation of Jesus, and His glorious gift of Salvation through it--a Salvation that will ultimately take us far beyond what Adam and Eve lost for us in the Fall!

So, what can we conclude? Does the exsultet somehow promote sinfulness "so that grace may abound"? Absolutely not! The theme is the redemption men and the destruction of sin and its power. If we take the "Oh happy fault" out of context, can we arrive at a different conclusion? I suppose we could. If someone can take the very words of Christ in order to twist them to say precisely the opposite, they can take and twist anything. St. Peter warns us that there are those who twist even the words of Scripture to their own destruction! For the person who does not want to listen to the Truth, who refuses to "think with the mind of the Church" (sentire cum ecclesia, as St. Ignatius of Loyola put it), then they could take anything to justify their sinful lifestyle. They have not "lift[ed] up [their] hearts" to the Lord after all.

Is it then the Church's fault? Has She used "irresponsible language" in the exsultet? I suppose that depends on whether Jesus Himself used irresponsible language when He said many of the things He said that were misunderstood, and which have been taken out of context by our modern culture to justify their sins ("Judge not, lest ye be judged" anyone?).

Knowing the Truth, thinking with the mind of the Church, and lifting our hearts to the Lord are the keys to understanding the exsultet, and, indeed, all of the Christian faith, correctly.

God bless

Monday, 7 May 2012

Luminous Sketch

Image © 2012 Gregory Watson

Pencil Sketch, 5" x 8 1/2".
Melissa suggested I draw a picture of two hands holding a Rosary. Always happy to oblige my wonderful wife, and to express my devotion to the Rosary, this was the result. I thought it would be an interesting effect to subtly make the Crucifix of the rosary the light-source of the image, representing that Christ is our Light, the source of all grace and the focus of this beautiful form of prayer.

The title, Luminous, reflects this trick of the lighting, as well as alluding to the Luminous Mysteries which Blessed Pope John Paul II added to the Rosary in 2002. As we contemplate the Mysteries of Christ's life with Mary, His Mother, we will be drawn closer to His marvellous Light and be enabled to share that Light with the world around us.
The original sketch is still available, and prints of the image are for sale. Please email to order Prints.

  • Original framed Sketch (5" x 8.5"): $15.00 (CAD)
  • Full size (5" x 8.5") limited edition high quality giclée print (unframed): $7.00 (CAD)
  • Full size (5" x 8.5") limited edition high quality giclée print (framed): $10.00 (CAD)
  • Image on 4¼" x 5½" Greeting Card (blank): $1.50 (CAD)

God bless

Lamppost Sketch

Image © 2012 Gregory Watson

Pencil Sketch, 5" x 8 1/2".
On Saturday, May 5th, I participated in the second Artisan and Craft Sale at the Waterdown Legion, hosted by my good friends Nick and Jen Prouse. This particular piece was done to have some new and smaller works available that would hopefully sell better than my larger paintings.

I spent the last Saturday of April wandering the grounds of the Cathedral of Christ the King here in Hamilton. There are a number of old-fashioned lampposts on the grounds. The two in front of the Chancery office had many white tulips growing around the base. The image captured my imagination, and I sat down on the lawn and drew one. There are only three tulips, though, because I simply got tired of drawing them!

I've always been a big fan of C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, and was very tempted to call the picture "Waiting for Tumnus", but the purist in me rejected that, since the Narnian lamppost had one cross-arm below the lantern, and this one has none. Yeah, I'm weird. What can I say?

Lampposts tend to symbolise guidance and hope, lighting our path in the night. The tulips continue that hopeful symbolism, as they blossom in the Spring after the cold death of winter. I hope the image of the lamppost evokes similar feelings of hope, peace and rest as those which I experienced wandering the quiet grounds of the Cathedral.
The original sketch was sold at the aforementioned art show I was part of on May 5th, but prints of the image are now for sale. Please email to order Prints.

  • Full size (5" x 8.5") limited edition high quality giclée print (unframed): $7.00 (CAD)
  • Full size (5" x 8.5") limited edition high quality giclée print (framed): $10.00 (CAD)
  • Image on 4¼" x 5½" Greeting Card (blank): $1.50 (CAD)

God bless

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Sign of the Cross (Commissioned)

Image © 2012 Gregory Watson

Scratchboard, 8" x 10"
After last October's art show, a lady from my church, who had seen Scratchboard (essentially a white bristol board with a black coating, which is scratched off to reveal the underlying white) piece that I had done of a Celtic Cross which incorporated elements of the Watson family crest, requested that I do a Celtic Cross for her, but one that was simply a knotwork cross. This is the result.

I was trying to figure out what to do with all the negative space in the four corners of the image, and decided to fill them up with the "Sign of the Cross" prayer of Catholic spirituality, i.e., "In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen." My second thought was, should I make it really cool and do it in Latin (because I think Latin and Cool belong in the same sentence). I considered for whom this work was intended, and decided against it. Then I thought, I bet she'd love it in Gaelic! So I looked it up, and was very close to putting "In aimn an Athar agus an Mhic agus an Spioraid Naomh. Áiméan" instead, but those fun extra vowels that are particular to the Irish tongue made the spacing of the words very unbalanced. So English it is.

This image of the Celtic Cross contains many spiritual symbols--from the Cross itself, the means of our Redemption, to the "triquetra" in the centre, symbolic of the Trinitarian nature of God. The circle surrounding most Celtic Crosses represents eternity, and I made the knotwork in the arms of the Cross reminiscent of the Ichthus design, the "Christian Fish" image, which itself is an acronym of the Greek word for fish, which, translated, comes out as "Jesus Christ, God's Son, Saviour."

Beyond being simply an aesthetic design (I hope you agree!), it also becomes a meditation on the Mysteries of our God as eternal Trinity, of the Incarnation of the Son in Jesus, and of His redemptive Death and Resurrection for our sins.
Please email me at or leave a comment here if you'd like to order any of the following:
  • Full size (8" x 10") limited edition high quality giclée print (unframed): $12.00 (CAD)
  • Full size (9" x 12") limited edition high quality giclée print (framed): $30.00 (CAD)
  • Image on 4¼" x 5½" Greeting Card (blank): $1.50 (CAD)

Thursday, 19 April 2012


Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It's been over two months since my last blog post, and significantly more than that since my last post about my trip to Haiti.

For these sins I am heartily sorry!

Kidding aside, Lent is over (I gave up the internet for Lent--sorry I didn't mention that earlier!), so I'm going to be getting back in gear blogging soon. I've got a new piece of art to put up, and I hope to finally finish up my Haiti narrative. As well, I have a couple other reflections I've been saving. So the updates will be coming, hopefully, fairly regularly--starting tomorrow night.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

The Pursuit of Happiness: Aquinas-Style

On the 28th of January, the Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, I had the wonderful opportunity to preach to a youth group led by a friend of
mine, David Patterson, at St. Joseph's parish, Bowmanville, ON. As it was the feast of St. Thomas, I preached on the fundamental notion of his theology, that God created us to be happy, but that we are only truly happy when we seek Him in faith and the living out of the virtues. This past Tuesday, I received from David a CD recording of my talk, and thought I'd share it with you!

God bless!

The Pursuit of Happiness: Aquinas-Style

(Sorry, I don't know how to make it embedded. Click the link, and you can download the audio file as an .mp3!)

Edit: I forgot to mention a couple things. First of all, in my talk, I'd mentioned that I was going to recommend a good book about St. Thomas Aquinas, and then forgot all about it! So here it is:

St. Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox by G.K. Chesterton

Second, I managed to get myself quite tongue-tied when talking about my wife, Melissa, and inadvertently said that she's not "profound". This is most certainly not the case. What I was vainly trying to express is that she approaches the Truth of the faith from a very different perspective from me, and because of that, I sometimes assume that she won't be as aware of some deep theological truth or of the important ramifications of some situation or another. This is, of course, a defect on my part, and not hers--and her frequent surprising statements of deep profundity are not surprising to me because she doesn't usually think so deeply. Rather the opposite--they take me off guard and surprise me because I too often tend to underestimate her. My point in that little ill-worded anecdote is that we too often can treat our faith in God in a similar manner. We make God something comfortable, routine, and unsurprising, and then become uncomfortable when He in fact does something incredibly surprising. Just as I shouldn't underestimate my wife, we should attempt to preserve our sense of Wonder at God.

Friday, 27 January 2012

The Pulpit of the Pub

"The slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts." --George Orwell
Further to the infamous video, I wanted to offer a couple more thoughts--not to Bethke himself, per se, but in regard to a couple of conversations that I've had about it with a few friends.

One conversation in particular revolved around the simplicity of the message. When I made the point about Bethke's misuse of the term "religion" to mean hypocrisy, and therefore leading him to get down on religion in general rather than those who practise their religion poorly, a friend responded by saying Bethke was preaching a "simple" message geared toward people who weren't familiar with Christianity. He made the point that we have to start somewhere when presenting the faith--that we have to tell them in what, exactly, we're trying to convince them to put their faith in the first place. As such, with that goal in mind, Bethke could hardly be faulted for emphasising Jesus over and above "religion". He went on to say that in the popular culture, "religion" is often automatically associated with all the negative connotations that Bethke rebukes in his video, and therefore when we present the message of the Gospel, we should try to shy away from the "religious" association in order to make the message more palatable.

He wrote,
"Religion" is a heavy word. Those of us who believe will ultimately all admit that the word "religion" carries with it a lot of baggage. When I am doing bar ministry and someone says "You sing about Jesus, you must be religious then" I shudder and typically outline the differences between hollow "religion" and real relationship with Christ.
My friend's reference to "Bar Ministry" reminded me of another scene of ministry taking place in a bar (or tavern, at any rate). This one occurred roughly 700 years ago, and yet the situation is startlingly relevant, I think.

In the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church had risen to a status of temporal power that it had never before seen, and, hopefully, never will again. I say hopefully never again, because the worldly ties possessed by the Church tended to make her leadership become all too worldly. Bishops, priests, even popes, were living lives of sinful avarice and lust. While the Holy Spirit, as He does in every age, preserved the Church from abandoning the Faith, nevertheless, the so-called "religious" of the day were living lives that were anything but! Even the monastic orders had traded in their vows of poverty for opulence.

In this milieu of decadence arose a heresy, known as "Catharism" or "Albigensianism". The Cathari (i.e. "Pure Ones") stressed a spiritual relationship with Jesus over and above the trappings of the world and of the religious institution of the Church. In fact, they went so far as to deny the goodness of the world, living incredibly austere and ascetic lives of fasting and penance, in order to demonstrate their revulsion for their flesh, and their desire to die so their spirit could be with God. The Catholics, especially the clergy, in their hypocritical decadence, were hard pressed to offer any compelling rebuttal against the Albigensian rigourism. And many Catholic laypeople, seeing the hypocrisy of their leaders, and the apparent holiness of the heretics, were scandalised by the Church and led to embrace this heresy.

But in every age, when the priest has abandoned the truth, God raises up prophets to call him, and the people, back to the true life of the Gospel. To rebuke the Church, and to resist the Cathari, Our Lord raised up just such a prophetic voice in the person of St. Dominic de Guzman. Travelling through France (the center of the Albigensian heresy) on an ecclesiastical mission from Spain to Scandinavia, St. Dominic encountered the devastating effects of Albigensianism. Dominic very clearly felt the call of God to stay in France and help preach the Truth. In order to be more compelling to the heretics and to the people of the day, Dominic adopted a severely ascetic lifestyle, taking strict vows of poverty. He started the religious community that bears his name, the Dominicans, or the Order of Preachers, and sent them out to preach to all people. He preached a simple Gospel as contained in and exemplified by the Rosary and its mysteries of the Life of Christ. His zeal, his holiness, and his preaching won back many heretics to the truth of the Catholic faith--but the most effective witness was his life of lived charity and sincerity.

While St. Dominic's preaching was simple enough so that the masses could understand and be converted, unlike Jeff Bethke, he never compromised the Message to suit the prevailing attitudes of the day. When the people of the day saw the hypocritical way that the clergy were living, and rejected the Church because of the scandal, St. Dominic didn't respond by saying, "Jesus came to abolish religion. It's not about religion but about a relationship with Jesus!" Instead, St. Dominic became more religious! He combatted hypocrisy by living Religion faithfully, sincerely, and cheerfully!

One such instance of St. Dominic's cheerful ministry brings us right back to my friend's comments about the person in the bar who automatically associates "religion" with "hypocritical legalism" or some such thing. During his missionary travels through the south of France, St. Dominic and a companion lodged in an inn owned and run by an Albigensian. St. Dominic engaged the owner in conversation about their respective beliefs. The whole night long, Dominic patiently proclaimed the love, truth, beauty, and freedom of the Catholic religion. Neither excusing the laxity and hypocrisy of the clergy of his day, nor denigrating the Catholic religion as a whole based on that scandalous hypocrisy, Dominic carefully and lovingly explained the Truth. And when morning came, the tavern in which he was preaching was owned and run by a Catholic!

My friend is right--people do have a dismal perspective on religion--especially the Catholic religion these days. Ironically, there's significantly less reason to have such an opinion today than there was in the 1200s! Nevertheless, these negative associations persist. Is the cure for the problem my friend's, and Bethke's, solution, to create a false dichotomy between the Religion that Jesus founded, and Jesus Himself? Is it to play word games with "Religion", to make it mean something that it doesn't, simply in order to tickle the ears of our audience? Or is the real solution, St. Dominic's solution? To preach the Truth with love, patiently, sincerely, and joyfully? To fearlessly and tirelessly preach the Simple Gospel, but accurately and clearly, and not oversimplifying it?

If lazy language does indeed cause foolish thinking, as George Orwell prophetically warned, then the real witness to the Gospel must present that Gospel faithfully, articulately, and sincerely. With reverence for our hearers, let us clearly elucidate the Truth, in a way that they will understand, but without compromising. And above all, let us follow the example of St. Dominic. Let us live the Truth.

Truth: Study it. Live it. Preach it.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

What If I Told You That Jesus Came to Emancipate Religion?

"Nobody who fails to keep a tight rein on the tongue can claim to be religious; this is a mere self-deception; that person's religion is worthless. Pure, unspoilt religion, in the eyes of God our Father, is this: coming to the help of orphans and widows in their hardships, and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world" James 1:26-27
I was going to just type out verse 27 above, but considering the source for this reflection, I thought the bit about reining in the tongue would be appropriate, too. There's this video going around right now. I'm sure you've heard of it. A guy wrote a poem about Jesus abolishing "religion" that's soared in popularity. Many people have really resonated with his message. Others have reacted pretty strongly against it. I fall pretty much in the second camp--hence the reflection.

Now, there are a lot of brilliant responses to Jefferson Bethke's video, and I'll include a couple of them at the end of this post. But their very existence certainly begs the question--why am I writing this blog? Many more talented and intelligent people have already done the work for me, after all. And I'm pretty sure this blogpost won't get 16 million viewers in a week's time! So why? I hope it's not for vainglory or a need to pick a fight. I just know that over that same week of 16 million views, I've had many conversations with people who haven't seen the responses that are out there, and who have been caused to question their religious beliefs based on Bethke's comments. So maybe my blog won't contribute much to the grand scheme of the "religion vs. Jesus" debate--but maybe it'll say something or reach somebody that might have gone unsaid or unreached otherwise. Oh--I was going to try to make it rhyme, but, well, I know where my strengths don't lie!

Now, my point with citing St. James' comments on bridling the tongue apply, to my mind, to Bethke's video in this regard: The words we speak can have damaging effects in ways that go beyond simply lying or insulting speech. In the case of this video, the damage occurs mainly through imprecise speech. The wrong or careless use of words leads to many harmful misunderstandings. If we give Jefferson Bethke the benefit of the doubt, we can appreciate that he was ranting against hypocritical self-righteous legalism, and not against "Religion" as such. But instead of actually ranting against "hypocritical self-righteous legalism", he simply calls it "religion." Instead of telling hypocrites, "Hey, you should be more religious!" he instead tells everyone else that they shouldn't be religious at all!

In Bethke's defence, he has specifically clarified that he wasn't intending to attack the Church, but only to attack those who don't practise what they preach:
If you are using my video to bash "the church" be careful. I was in no way intending to do that. My heart came from trying to highlight and expose legalism and hypocrisy. The Church is Jesus' bride so be careful how you speak of His wife. If a normal dude has right to get pissed when you bash His wife, it makes me tremble to think how great the weight is when we do it to Jesus' wife. The church is His vehicle to reach a lost word. A hospital for sinners. Saying you love Jesus but hate the Church, is like a fiancé saying he loves his future bride, but hates her kids. We are all under grace. Look to Him.
Unfortunately, though, the 16 million people who've watched his video aren't necessarily going to read his clarifications. He hasn't removed the video, or edited it to elaborate on and explain his clarifications. And so the message that "religion is bad" is still getting touted, and people are still left wondering whether they should leave the very Religion that Jesus Himself founded in order to seek Him better!

And that's where I have a problem!

See, contrary to what our post-modern rebellious, individualistic culture likes to think, "Organised Religion" isn't a bad thing. It's not about starting wars or building expensive church buildings to the detriment of the poor. It's not about defining how good you have to be before Jesus will love you. And it's certainly not about pompous, self-righteous hypocrites showing how holy they are by judging everyone else.

Religion, specifically the Christian Religion, is about helping us get to know and grow closer to God. It's not about having a list of rules and beliefs in order to limit our freedom, but precisely so that we can truly be free! When we know the boundaries, we can be free to live safely within them. That's what the Church is about! That's what a home is about--parents who raise you, who tell you when to go to bed and that you have to eat your vegetable; who tell you not to play in the street and not to hit your brother. The Church lays out certain things that we must believe and things that we must not believe, that we must do and that we must not do, in order to free us from the harm that we will otherwise do to ourselves and to others. It's a loving Church; a loving Family. Recently, Heather King put it this way:
Catholicism is not counter-cultural in that the world is liberal and Catholicism is conservative. It’s counter-cultural in that it is explosively, wildly, anarchically radical. Catholicism is our hearts, our bowels, our erotic energy, our lives! Catholicism is not some timid, rigid, dead set of rules. The whole purpose of the rules is to allow us to explode within them. To follow Christ, to be Catholic (or catholic-in-spirit) is to hover on the edge of metaphorical orgasm and to consent to continue to hover, indefinitely, in almost unbearable tension…which paradoxically allows us to break out in all kinds of other sublimely interesting, glorious directions and ways.
Consider a romantic relationship. Many who want to denigrate "religion" will contrast it with a "relationship with Jesus". But what does it mean to have a relationship? When a couple first begins that journey of falling in love, their desire to be with each other and know each other is insatiable. Their gestures of love and romance come naturally and spontaneously. At the same time, their desire to pledge themselves to each other exclusively, formally, and publically is also a natural, spontaneous part of being in love. But those early passionate feelings eventually wane. The "I love yous" and the flowers, the setting aside of special times for dates, the taking the time to eat together, to talk together, even to make love to each other, can end up seeming more and more like work. What once seemed like freedom now seems oppressively restrictive. If our attitude toward marriage is the same as the common evangelical or atheistic attitudes toward religion, then we will see very little point in sticking to our relationship with our spouse. After all, if a relationship is supposed to be about passionate love for my spouse, and I'm not getting that in this marriage, then let's end the marriage, right?

Religion, on the other hand, comes from that same stock of common sense that says, when in the humdrum of married life, we will stick it out and say our "I love yous" and make even more effort to really be good to each other--not because I feel like it, but because I truly want the best for my spouse. Love isn't about feelings; it's about actions. And we prove our love most by doing the actions especially when we don't feel like it. If the goal is a relationship with Jesus, then Religion is how we maintain that relationship during those times when we'd really rather not.

And the amazing thing is, those "Our Fathers", those Rosaries, those beautiful church buildings, and especially those Sacraments, actually serve not only to keep us going when we just don't feel like it, but more, they can rekindle those feelings, too!

The word "Religion" comes from the Latin re- ("again") and ligare (compare "ligament"). In sum, it refers to binding or joining together again. It images a triage. Since the Fall, we've lost that vital connection with God. The various religions throughout history have been our ways of staunching that wound in our souls; of fixing our dislocated spiritual joints. In Christianity, God Himself made that healing possible. Jesus Christ established the true healing Religion. He is the one who "binds up" our wounds, and He gave that binding and loosing authority to Peter and the Apostles, not so that they could lord it over us, but so that, through the ordaining of successors, that life-giving religion could be preserved and passed on throughout all generations!

Jesus didn't come to abolish religion! He came to set us free to be truly religious! Through His Grace, that is, through His very life communicated to us through the Sacraments, He has made us able to live the kind of free, full life that is ultimately at the core of who He made us to be. The very irony of our modern society's desire to be free, to be out from under the oppression of the "establishment" of religion, is that they're striving for the very freedom that True Religion provides--that passionate, explosive, orgasmic freedom!
As promised, here are a few of the great responses inspired by Bethke's video

Monday, 16 January 2012

What I Saw In Haiti: Chapter 8

So, it's been ages since I've updated my Haiti story. It's been ages since I've done much blogging of any kind. Hopefully, I'll be able to rectify that in this new year, starting with this post! Things from this point will begin to be a bit less chronological, as much of what happened between Monday and Friday has become somewhat blurred in my memory. But Monday itself is pretty etched in my mind. It was an important day.
In his First Apology, St. Justin Martyr describes the celebration of the Christian Liturgy in great detail. Despite writing in c. AD 150, it describes what happens even today at every Catholic Mass. At the end of the 65th chapter, after describing the Liturgy, he mentions that Deacons would take the Eucharist to those who could not be at Mass for various reasons. While today, this ministry is performed by priests and deacons still, it has been opened up to certain commissioned laypeople as well, known as "Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion" (Priests and Deacons, of course, being "Ordinary" Ministers of Holy Communion).

In Beau-Sejour, there is a very elderly gentleman named Père Dodou, who was somewhere in his late 80s or early 90s. In a previous chapter, I mentioned the oldest man in the village, Tonton Jan, and how the respect he was afforded made him something akin to the mayor of Beau-Sejour. If Tonton Jan was the mayor, then Père Dodou was his deputy. Due to his advanced age, and the infirmity which accompanies it, Père Dodou could not make the trek to the church for Mass. One of his family members asked Père Ronal if he would bring the Eucharist to him. Père Ronal agreed, saying that he would bring it after the morning Mass on Monday. Father Bill was invited to come along, and he in turn invited any of the team who wanted to go--to which I enthusiastically agreed.

That Monday morning, I was roused by Fr. Bill outside the tent calling anyone in our tent who wanted to go to morning Mass to get up. I hastily got dressed, brushed my teeth, and hurried around to the front of the church (remember, our tent was directly behind the church--would that I lived so close to my parish now!) While Sunday Mass is in a more formal French, daily Mass was said in Créole--and so all the progress I thought I'd made in understanding Mass from Sunday was rendered rather useless. Nevertheless, the Mass is the Mass (and, by the end of the week, attending Daily Mass in Créole, I was managing to make some pretty good headway--even understanding large portions of the homilies!), and Jesus is truly present, whether I understand all the words.

After the event that was Sunday Mass, I was somewhat expecting the turnout at daily Mass to be larger. In this I was somewhat disappointed. It's rather comparable to the regular turnout in Canada. What did surprise and impress me, though, was how many men attended daily Mass! In Haiti, Catholicism isn't just a religion "for women and children". Not that it is here, either, despite the derisive epithets of the "enlightened".

After Mass, I joined Père Ronal and Fr. Bill as we prepared to visit Père Dodou. Accompanying two vested priests, as well as a few other Haitien men who were, if I recall correcctly, members of the Legion of Mary, seemed to me very like a scene out of the Ancient Church of St. Justin Martyr's day.

Père Dodou's home was something that we here would consider a hut. In fact, I'm pretty sure the Haitiens living in Port-au-Prince would consider it the same! It was a small, one story house of wood, with probably no more than three or four rooms. Beside it on his little property was a corn-mill, as well as a few chickens running about. Despite being a hut, though, Père Dodou's wife kept it immaculate. In the room we were in (I suppose one might call it the living room), the table was covered in white linen, and the floor newly swept. Père Dodou and his family were there, as were Père Ronal, Fr. Bill, the couple of gentlemen who came with us, and myself. I honestly didn't know what to expect. I suppose I thought that bringing the Eucharist to someone who couldn't make it to Mass simply involved showing up, giving them the Host, maybe praying a prayer, and then leaving. What actually happens is a whole mini-liturgy, where the Gospel is proclaimed, the Our Father is prayed together, and the Rite of Communion is carried out. I was struck by the beauty, the simplicity, and the reverence of it all. This was no mere external religious exercise. This really was bringing Jesus Himself to others!

When the Blessed Virgin Mary brought to Elizabeth our pre-natal Lord, John the Baptist leapt in Elizabeth's womb, and she blessed Our Lady and the Fruit of her womb. The experience of brining Jesus, similarly hidden in the Eucharist as He was then inside of His Mother, to Père Dodou, was an amazing blessing, not only for him, but also for me. It reaffirmed once again the truth that Jesus is truly Present in the Eucharist, and put a desire in my own heart to be able to bring Him to others who would otherwise miss out on Communion with Him due to their infirmity.

As a result of this visitation to Père Dodou, when I returned home, my wife and I took the training to become Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, and I have been blessed again and again to be able to bring Our Precious Lord, and His peace and companionship to sick and lonely people in our parish community. The effects of our journey to Haiti continue to ripple out, both for the people of Beau-Sejour, and for the members of my team. May we continue to bless each other through this Twinning Project!
In our next chapter, I'll narrate some surprising results of Saturday's afternoon spent sketching the people of Beau-Sejour, as the team gets down to work!