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Sunday, March 27, 2016

Fulton Sheen on the Cross and the Resurrection...

"The Cross had asked the questions; the Resurrection had answered them... The Cross had asked: 'Why does God permit evil and sin to nail Justice to a tree?'  The Resurrection answered: 'That sin, having done its worst, might exhaust itself and this be overcome by Love that is stronger than either sin or death."

-- Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen, in Lent and Easter Wisdom.  Sheen was a priest, author and one of the first televangelists in U.S. history.  He hosted a prime time television show in the 50's and 60's.  His cause of canonization to be declared a saint of the Church was officially opened in 2001, and, in 2014, Pope Benedict XVI recognized him as "Venerable Servant to God," for a life of heroic virtue.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Ignatius of Antioch and the Way of the Cross...

St. Ignatius of Antioch...
It is one thing to say you are willing to die for your beliefs but it's another to actually do it.

As far as I'm concerned, that's the true measure of a man; having the faith and fortitude to stand up for one's beliefs, even at the risk of certain peril.

Knowing, as William Wallace put it in Braveheart, "Fight and you may die.  Run and you will live; at least awhile."

It is a quandary Christians have faced since St. Stephen was stoned to death in the Acts of the Apostles and one many are still facing today in different parts of the world.

Yet of the possibly millions of Christian martyrs around the globe during the past two thousand years, including St. Maximilian Kolbe, who volunteered to die in place of a stranger in Auschwitz, when he heard the man beg for his life because of his family, and the priests and faithful buried alive in Communist China, who went to their deaths singing and praising the Lord, as the dirt was thrown into their graves, there may not be a more legendary symbol of faith and courage than St. Ignatius of Antioch, the first century bishop, who was instructed in the faith by the Apostle John and was ordained a priest by the Apostles Peter and Paul.

St. Ignatius was bishop of Antioch, one of the most important cities in early Christianity, for almost 40 years.

During the Christian persecution of the Emperor Trajan, St. Ignatius, being the leader of the Christians in Syria's capital city, was arrested and condemned to die in the Roman amphitheater.  He was chained and marched overland through Asia Minor, then put on a ship and, after various stops, finally brought to Rome to be fed to lions.

What made St. Ignatius forever woven into the fabric of Christian history is the seven letters, or epistles, he wrote to the different communities of faithful and to his loyal friend St. Polycarp (who was also later martyred), as he was being taken to his certain demise in Rome.  The letters were preserved (and still available today) and considered by some as inspired writings before the canon of the Bible was assembled.

In the letters, he dissuaded Christians to try to stop his martyrdom because he was willing to die for Christ.  In fact, he encouraged them to pray for it, "Pray to Christ for me that the animals will be the means of making me a sacrificial victim for God."

The great Anglican convert John Henry Cardinal Newman, who led about 100 Anglican clergy into the Catholic Church, once wrote, "the whole system of Catholic doctrine may be discovered, at least in outline, not to say in parts filled up, in the course of his seven epistles."

St. Ignatius, who was the first to record the term, "Catholic Church," which means universal, when referring to the Christian Church of the First Century, in his writings, wrote, among other things, about Church hierarchy, the importance of the bishop in the lives of the faithful, the sacraments, and most especially, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

At this time of year, as we commemorate Good Friday and venerate the Cross and Jesus' ultimate sacrifice for the redemption of the world, may we consider St. Ignatius of Antioch, most of the Apostles, St. Stephen, St. Maximilian and all the Christian martyrs through the annals of history, who have imitated Christ to the fullest by way of the Cross, in giving up their life for their faith.

As St. Paul wrote in the Letter to the Philippians, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain."...

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

A Champion Fighter, the Loss and Life Worth Living...

Down and out...
In many ways, Ronda Rousey was to Women's Mixed Martial Arts Fighting what Clubber Lang was to movie boxing in Rocky III ; a ferocious competitor, who beat most of her opponents in the first round and was so dominant that ESPN once called her the "Best Female Athlete EVER."

At the ripe old age of 29, she was on top of her sport, having been crowned the Ultimate Fighting Championship's Bantamweight Champion in 2012, appearing on magazine covers, starring in Hollywood movies and TV shows, and becoming UFC's highest paid fighter (and that includes men!).

She had looks.  She had success.  She had fame. She had fortune. She had respect.

Then came Holly Holm; a preacher's daughter, who was more experienced but much less touted, despite having been a boxing and kickboxing champion.  Holm was a consensus underdog in the bout and the only question was whether she would make it past the first round.

Clubber was one mean dude...
As it turns out, Holm did get past the first and, in the second round, she pulled a Clubber Lane versus Rocky (first movie fight) herself, knocking out the heavily favored Rousey.  It was like Buster Douglas (the man who first defeated Mike Tyson) all over again.

While doctors and trainers attended to the battered, bloodied, toothless (she lost a tooth!) and confused Rousey on the mat on that November night in Melbourne, Australia, Holm raised her arms in victory. She had stunned the MMA boxing world and become the unlikely UFC Bantamweight Champion. Who'd have thunk it?  (In fact, it was so improbable that Holm lost the title a few months later!)

Rousey, meanwhile, was left despondent and broken.  Her rising star coming to a crashing halt almost as fast as Rick Perry's 2016 presidential aspirations.  And, as she sat in the corner of the medical room she was taken, she admitted to talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, last month, that she considered ending her life.

"What am I any more if I’m not this?  And I was literally sitting there and thinking about killing myself and that exact second I’m like, ‘I’m nothing, what do I do any more and no one gives a [expletive] about me any more without this."

It was a somber and earnest admission that sadly, reflects the thinking of many people in our society; who define themselves by what they do.

Short lived  champ Holly Holm...
As I read about Rousey's comments several days later, I was dismayed.  How could someone so young, attractive and successful think about ending her life, because, she lost a fight?  Really?  Is that what her life was relegated to?  

The more I pondered the question, the more I thought that it all comes down to a lack of fulfillment, regardless of her many accomplishments.

It reminded me of St. Thomas Aquinas' four substitutes for God; money, power, pleasure and fame, all of which Rousey apparently had (at least from the outside looking in).  But, there had to be something missing.

I don't know about Rousey, but, as I reflected on my own life, what was missing for a good part of it, and no matter how much I tried, I could never fill it, was God.

Several weeks ago, our parish men's group held a discussion on the topic, "Who am I" and I couldn't help but think of Rousey.

We are not defined by what we do professionally, how many awards, titles or accolades we earn, or how much money we have in the bank.  We are not defined by our looks, our possessions, our sexual orientation, or how much power we wield.  We are defined by who we are; children of God, made in His image and likeness, and as such, endowed with a God-given dignity that can never be erased by any failure, no matter how great (even losing a Championship fight), or sin.  And, that, to me at least, is reassuring and gives my life meaning and purpose.

I may never achieve what Rousey has accomplished (although my wife and I are working hard on getting me to my ultimate fighting weight!), or having as much success or notoriety (Not that I would look good on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swim Suit issue but, you never know).  Nevertheless, I have something that maybe Rousey lacks, at least according to what she conveyed.  I have a sense of happiness and fulfillment that can only be filled by God.  I know that God loves me for who I am, no matter what I do or fail to do.  Hence, I have nothing to prove except to myself.

The eye of the tiger...
In the interview with Ellen, Rousey went on about that fateful loss, and the thought that made her come to her senses, "I looked up and I saw my man Travis [Browne] was standing up there and I looked up at him and I was like, ‘I need to have his babies. I need to stay alive.’ I was like — really, that was it."

She continued, "I did a lot of thinking and I was like, why did this happen?  Why did it have to happen like this?  I do believe all the best things happen from the worst things."

We only have to look at a Crucifix to see how insightful that last statement is.  To paraphrase Bishop Robert Barron, "From the most grotesque instrument of torture ever conceived by man comes greatest joy ever known to humanity."

Now, four months later, as she recovers and looks forward to her rematch with Holm (Or Miesha Tate, who defeated Holm), where she will surely try to channel the Clubber Lang from within, it is evident that, after all the anguish and pain, Rousey once again seeing that, as the old Fulton Sheen show was named, 'life is worth living.'...

Check out the interview with Ellen...