The day to day life of a Christian disciple is a battle. Reality is a battle. St. Paul makes that very clear:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
I have been asked to speak on the “Battlefield of Our Hearts.” Specifically, I was asked to address the ways of thinking that we absorb from the culture around us that weaken us in living a life in Christ. No one is entirely unaffected by how the world thinks. Even if you lived in daily intimacy with the Lord Jesus, even if you saw His great miracles and listened to His wisdom, you might fall into a worldly way of thinking. Consider what Jesus says to St. Peter, soon after Peter’s marvelous confession of faith:
And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
On what is your mind set? On God’s way or on our ways? Do we try to think as God thinks, or do we think as the world thinks?
The answer is likely some of both. Our hearts find it difficult to be set on one thing; our hearts are so often divided. One of the great Christian prophets of our time explained that the battle is not something outside of us alone, but within our very hearts:
“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago
I hope to share with you some suggestions about which pieces of our heart that we should destroy, those pieces that have become corrupted by the world, those pieces which need the purifying fire of the Holy Spirit. You will forgive me if this talk is more of a challenge than a consolation. It is not easy to destroy those pieces of our hearts that do not belong to the Lord, those pieces where the Lord does not exercise the dominion that is His.
While the Christian life often means going out into battle, it always means fighting the battle within.
As our speaker Immaculée said yesterday – we sin from within.
The key in any battle is to know the circumstances in which the battle is being fought. Where are our weaknesses? Are we fighting on favourable ground? Are we walking into the traps of the enemy?
Just recently, our culture lost a great military leader who for more than 30 years was alert to the wiles of the enemy. I speak of course about the late, beloved Admiral Ackbar.
Admiral Ackbar is sadly no more. He didn’t see the enemy coming and now he is dead, his frozen corpse hurtling through deep space.
So without Admiral Ackbar to guide us, who will guide us? Who will warn us that wanting to think like all those around us is a trap?
I would normally suggest Master Jedi Yoda, though his most recent work is suspect. However, back in 1980, in Empire Strikes Back, he was in top form:
Yoda: You must unlearn what you have learned.
Luke: Alright, I’ll give it a try.
Yoda: No! Try not! Do or do not. There is no try.
We must unlearn what the culture around us teaches us. St. Paul did not live quite as along as Yoda, but he makes the same point:
Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles.
We have to “unconform” our minds that they may be renewed in Christ. We have to “unlearn” what we have learned from the culture around us.
This past year, we have marked a number of important anniversaries, which I used as a sort of scaffolding upon which to hang a lot of my writing.
I propose to do the same now, using the various anniversaries to identity ways of thinking that we need to be on guard against – a year of battlefield anniversaries.
So let’s begin.
Reformation and Relativism
500 Years – 1517 to 2017
The Reformation, which divided the Christian Church over fundamental doctrines, is one cause for the rise of relativism. If we are divided, but still want to live together in peace, one apparent solution is to downplay the importance of our disagreements, even to the point of arguing that the truth itself is relative.
We can think that religious disagreements make us disagreeable.
To be agreeable we should affirm that we really do agree after all.
But if I believe that Jesus and His Gospel are just good for me, and not also good for everyone in every time and place, then I don’t really believe that Jesus is Lord, nor can I be an authentic missionary. I become just a salesman or activist for my point of view.
Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium #266:
It is impossible to persevere in a fervent evangelization unless we are convinced from personal experience that it is not the same thing to have known Jesus as not to have known him, not the same thing to walk with him as to walk blindly, not the same thing to hear his word as not to know it, and not the same thing to contemplate him, to worship him, to find our peace in him, as not to. It is not the same thing to try to build the world with his Gospel as to try to do so by our own lights. … This is why we evangelize. … A person who is not convinced, enthusiastic, certain and in love, will convince nobody.
I once gave a talk in a synagogue that was well-received. Or so I thought. After the talk, one gentleman approached with excitement, very happy to have heard what I said. And he told me, “It’s so great to have a Catholic priest in our synagogue. You showed that it doesn’t matter what we believe!”
Of course I said no such thing, but that is what the world wants to hear. It’s very easy to agree, or pretend to agree, in order to be agreeable. We need to resist that.
Canada 150, the Gospel and Culture
150 Years of Confederation – 1867 to 2017
The 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation gave much attention place of aboriginal Canadians in our history and our current circumstance. It is a complex tale, and in recent years a great deal of effort has been expended by our Catholic bishops to heal the memories of conflict and sin that mark that history.
Yet it was also implied from time to time – and sometimes said explicitly – that encountering the Gospel of Jesus Christ itself was not good for aboriginal Canadians. Every culture is deeply marked by original sin, and that applies obviously the Europeans who came to North America, and also obviously to the aboriginal peoples who were already here.
All peoples need the Gospel, every person needs a Redeemer. We need not hide from our eyes the sins of previous generations of Catholics in Canada, but it is not a sin to preach the Gospel.
We can make that mistake with individuals too, as if there are some people who would be better off with the Gospel. It is often said, in the world and even in the Church, that for some people the Gospel, whole and entire, is not good news; that it is better to adapt the truth of Christ to their circumstances rather than help them adapt their circumstances to the truth of Christ.
The Gospel is always good news, for each person and for every culture.
It is false to think that certain cultures do not need the Gospel, or would be better off without it.
We need not hide from our eyes the sins of previous generations of Catholics in Canada, but it is not a sin to preach the Gospel.
We can make that mistake with cultures, and with individuals, as if there are some people who would be better off with the Gospel, that for some people, it is better to adapt the truth of Christ to their circumstances rather than help them adapt their circumstances to the truth of Christ.
St. John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, #39.
The Church is thus obliged to do everything possible to carry out her mission in the world and to reach all peoples. And she has the right to do this, a right given her by God for the accomplishment of his plan. … But it is not a question of the religion of the majority or the minority, but of an inalienable right of each and every human person.
On her part the Church addresses people with full respect for their freedom. Her mission does not restrict freedom but rather promotes it. The Church proposes; she imposes nothing. She respects individuals and cultures, and she honors the sanctuary of conscience. To those who for various reasons oppose missionary activity, the Church repeats: Open the doors to Christ!
Fatima Centennial: Sin, Judgment and Damnation
100 Years since the Apparitions – 1917 to 2017
Our Lady’s appearances at Fatima were not for the faint of heart. At Fatima, the Blessed Mother gave the children a frightening vision of Hell and the vast number of the damned. She came not to scare the hell out of us, but to scare us out of Hell. Fatima is about death, the reality of the judgment, the possibility of damnation, and the urgency of salvation.
For the culture around us, the most popular thing any pope has ever said is when Pope Francis said: “Who am I to judge?”
They stopped listening after that, and pay no attention to the Holy Father when he speaks of the devil, the urgency for repentance, and the supreme importance of divine mercy, which can only be important if the consequences of sin are so grave. If we were not to be judged by God, we would have no need for mercy.
As Immaculée reminded us yesterday about the Lord’s Prayer, there is forgiveness because there are trespasses; there is mercy because we judged worthy of condemnation because of sin. The world has forgotten that. Fatima reminds us.
“Thou shalt not judge” is the supreme commandment of our culture. We have absorbed this too. We fear the judgment of others. But we ought to fear the judgment of God. And remind others that while we may not have the authority to judge, God has it, and He will judge.
Sacred Heart of Mary, Wolfe Island and a Public Faith
Newman Chaplaincy at Queen’s – 1917 to 2017
The “Newman Club” at Queen’s was started on 26th October 1917. It began after Catholic students protested in the spring of 1917 the remarks of a convocation speaker who accused Pope Benedict XV of serving the interests of the German Kaiser, against whom Canada was at war. The Catholics demanded an apology for the remarks, which the principal of the university gave.
The occasion, though, galvanized the Catholic students and a few months later they formed a club to foster Catholic life and build up the bonds of solidarity. One hundred years later, Newman House is a vibrant centre of Catholic life.
In 1917 it was Protestants who questioned whether Catholics should be full participants in our common life; today is the secular fundamentalists.
The campus culture around us tells us that it is forbidden to speak negatively, let alone exclude, minorities of any kind; we hear about welcoming environments and safe spaces. Except if you are Catholic or an evangelical Christian, or pro-life, or if your ideas about sexuality, marriage and family are informed by biblical faith.
It may be that we will be excluded or silenced, but God forbid that we pre-emptively exclude or silence ourselves. We have as much right as anyone else to be in the public square. Our hearts need to be sufficiently confident and courageous to defend that right.
Sacred Heart of Mary Church – 1917 to 2017
Our faith has a place in our common life together, because our faith is always to be lived in common, or better to say, in communion.
We celebrated this Christmas exactly 100 years since the first Holy Mass was offered in our current church in my parish. For one hundred years it has stood tall on Wolfe Island as a reminder that God is to be worshipped, and His Blessed Mother honoured. We had a fire last year, and now the church is more beautiful than it was before. On Wolfe Island, it is the building of greatest architectural splendour and artistic beauty. A private faith, kept to oneself, cannot make such a contribution. Our Island community is better because of our church building; likewise our common life is enriched by the Church.
Especially on campus, we often hear that faith is okay if is a private matter, like a hobby or academic interest. But if we bring it into public, into our common life – like a grand church – then it is considered something controversial.
To build a great church, or to restore it, takes a lot of effort, sacrifice, perseverance and courage in the face of setbacks. Our task is not so much to build great buildings for the faith, but to build places in our common life, places that point to God’s place in common life.
100 Year after the Battle of Vimy Ridge
On the main route travelled by the Prince of Wales from Rideau Hall toward Parliament Hill for Canada’s sesquicentennial celebrations on Dominion Day, it was notable that the banners flying from the light standards were not for Canada 150, but for the centennial of Vimy Ridge. Looked upon with biblical eyes, it was a reminder that covenants have to be ratified, to be paid for as it were, and the payment is in blood.
The Dominion of Canada came into existence as a legal reality on 1st July 1867. A new country had been established. But the passage of a law does not an identity create, or a nation fashion. Canada existed by decree of the imperial parliament in London, but did Canadians exist too?
It is generally agreed that Canada “came of age” – became a real country one might say – in the Great War. During the course of the war, Canadians demonstrated by their bravery in battle and their spirit of sacrifice that they were willing to fight and die not only as members of the British empire, but as loyal sons of Canada. The symbolic figures of the Great War – think of Georges Vanier and Billy Bishop – would become authentic Canadian heroes.
The battles consecrated the new country, those gruesome battles which claimed casualties so vast that even today it is hard to comprehend. Vimy Ridge is the most symbolic of those battles; hence the commemoration of its centenary last April in France, and the banners that flutter along Sussex Drive.
It was at Vimy Ridge that the blood was shed to ratify the compacts of 1867. The blood of the fallen consecrated the legal work of fifty years earlier. Canada became Canada, not by a bill of parliament alone, but by blood poured out. A price has to be paid, and the price for the most valuable things is high.
We know that covenants are always ratified in the Bible by blood, life consecrates life. This was true of the covenants with the Chosen People, the Jews, and the new covenant in Jesus Christ, ratified on the Cross.
Everything valuable has a price, a price to paid in sacrifice. A religion or philosophy that asks nothing demanding of us, is worth exactly that – nothing.
My Father’s 75th Birthday and Manliness
Cedric de Souza – 1942 – December 30th – 2017
Today is my father’s 75th birthday.
Regarding my parents, I would quote here something that Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, one of my spiritual fathers, has said very often:
The greatest supernatural gift God gave me was the Catholic faith.
The greatest natural gift God gave me was to be the son of Bob and Shirley Dolan.
I feel the same way about my parents.
This past year we have been faced with many stories about men, powerful and wealthy men, who have used their power to indulge their lower appetites and to exploit and degrade women. We all know that what has dominated the news is just one manifestation of a much larger crisis in manliness – men who abandon their children, men who refuse to commit themselves to a lifelong mission, men who are drowning in pornography. We all see the damage that bad men do, with women and children suffering the consequences.
We also know this: The number one factor in adult children practising the faith is the religious practise of the father when they were young. Father Ted Hesburgh, the long time president of the University of Notre Dame, used to say often at weddings: The best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.
A good Catholic man can change more than we can imagine. My father is such a man.
The answer to men behaving badly is men behaving well, the answer to wicked men is holy men.
My dear sons – don’t be afraid to be a good man. I can’t promise you that you will have a life as blessed as my father has, for he had an exceptionally faithful and capable wife, and really outstanding children (!), but I can promise you that you will do more good than you will ever know.
My dear sons – do not be afraid to challenge the casual assumptions of what it means to be a man on campus, that hear from your friends, that to be a man is to indulge the appetites, drink too much, play video games and seduce girls.
The world needs better men, and it needs you to be those men.
My dear daughters: Men often live up or down to standards that are set for them by the women in their lives, beginning with their mothers and sisters, and later the girls who capture their hearts. Be demanding of them.
Star Wars and Good and Evil
40 Year of the Force – 1977 to 2017
I grew up with Star Wars providing the imaginative architecture of my childhood. The most popular invitation in my second grade class was to the home of the boy whose parents had got him a model of the Millennium Falcon.
Just breathe. Clear your mind. Search your feelings. This is the path to enlightenment and Jedi mastery. One reason Star Wars is so popular is because it does not pretend that evil does not exist, and proposes a remedy that appeals to a generic goodness – Just breathe. Clear you mind. Search your feelings. I was actually surprised to discover in the last movie that there were sacred texts; most Jedi wisdom can be fit on a postcard.
The idea that the path to goodness – goodness sufficient to overcome evil – lies in discovering the goodness within me is a lie, but a very popular one. Oprah Winfrey became the most successful spiritual guru of our time on that formula. It is a form of soft atheism that does not use that stark name.
The problem within looking within, of trusting one’s own heart, in following one’s own feelings, in being true to oneself, is that there are things lurking in the heart that need to be resisted. Pieces of the heart that need to be destroyed, not followed. Luke Skywalker discovered this with his nephew, as did King David with Bathsheba. If we turn inward we will discover some dark things – that is the consequence of sin – and if we make those things our guide, we will be, as they say, seduced by the power of the Dark Side, which is nothing different than being seduced by self-reliance and self-assertion.
Just breathe is bad advice if the air in my heart is toxic.
The Christian knows that his heart has to be converted. It is not a guide, but needs to be guided.
The culture loves Star Wars because just breathe is easy. Be converted is hard.
We don’t want to “just breathe”. We want to say, “I believe.”
Priestly Ordination and the Church
Father Raymond 15th Anniversary – 2002 – 20th July – 2017
I was very moved to hear from Immaculée yesterday about the Marian apparitions at Kibeho, and the special love the Blessed Mother has for us priests. Of course I know that God has a special love for us priests. Only love can explain the astonishing gift – comparable to no other earthly power, even the capacity for natural generation – that is given to priests, to do what only God can do.
We need the priest who can do what no one else can do, because it reminds us that we cannot save ourselves. When I was in the seminary we had a vice-rector who was then in the early stages of a degenerative disease that would leave him some years later unable to walk. One day he got up to preach and his legs buckled, so he steadied himself on the altar. Msgr. Yarrish said, by way of the explanation, “If I don’t hold on to the altar, I will fall.”
Our rector, Msgr. Dolan, told us it was the best homily we would ever hear: “If I don’t hold on to the altar, I will fall.”
You need the altar, the sacrifice that nourishes us, by which our sins are forgiven. The priest exists to make sure that the altar is never empty, that the flow of graces from it is never dried up.
There are a large number of people who profess to be spiritual but not religious, which is like saying that you like music but no individual song, or that you like sports but don’t play anyone in particular. Perhaps they mean that they want God but don’t want His Church, and certainly not His priests. But God doesn’t give Himself to us apart from the Church, and He doesn’t give us His sacraments without His priests.
At Rise Up we priests get a lot of love. It is good for us to be loved, but it might be more important for you to love us. And for those who are thinking about it, let me assure you that the best way to love the priesthood is to become one!
Netflix – Life on Livestream
Netflix and the On Demand Culture – 1997 – 2007 – 2017
Twenty years ago Netflix started a business of sending DVDs of movies through the mail. Ten years ago it started its streaming business.
I don’t want to say too much about our social media and communications technology culture, as I think we all know that we need less of it.
But I just want to make one point: “On Demand” is not a Gospel category. Life “on demand” is convenient, and may even permit a modest measure of more efficient time management, though that would be very modest. “On Demand” – my choice, my time, my schedule – is not an evangelical counsel.
It doesn’t mean that can’t use “on demand” media, but we need to be aware that an “on demand” thinking undermines a culture of obedience, which is a Gospel category. If you cannot obey you will not get to heaven.
We should think about that when we think about life “on demand”. It is a spiritual danger.
The Venerable Fulton Sheen:
Our Lord spent three hours in redeeming, three years in teaching and thirty years in obeying, in order that a rebellious, proud and diabolically independent world might learn the value of obedience.
iPhone and the Exaltation of the Self
Ten Years of Revolving Around Myself – 2007 to 2017
I have an iPhone. I know it is very useful, though if I can manage my life on an iPhone 4 I do wonder what complicated lives you all must have that require the iPhone 6 or 7.
I don’t take selfies. I don’t permit other people to take selfies with me. I know that Pope Francis does it. I know that Prime Minister Trudeau does it. I know that many of you do it. It just strikes me that if we try to think in Gospel categories, the “selfie” is hard to square with the aspiration of John the Baptist, I must decrease, He must increase.
The first time I saw it, I couldn’t figure out what was happening. It was at the Trevi Fountain in Rome, opened after several years of restoration. It looked magnificent, but I was initially puzzled at why so many people were standing with their backs to the fountain. You know what they were doing – taking selfies. Is there anything that expresses better a flight from reality than refusing to look at something with my own eyes, but rather turning my back on it in order to gaze upon myself?
St. John Paul II often quoted this passage:
Man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself. (Gaudium et spes #24)
A gift of self begins with forgetting the self, not perpetually gazing upon it!
Invitation to Convivium
I realize that I have covered a lot of ground, and that you might feel bad about whipping out your phones just now to record some of this. So at my magazine, Convivium, which is Canada’s digital site for faith in our common life, we have set up a page where you can receive in the new year aspects of this talk, plus stories of young people admirably living our faith in common life.
I invite you to visit: www.convivium.ca/riseup
I know that this talk might have been a little challenging, may be even a little difficult to hear. So let me conclude with an all-purpose remedy for any moments when we need the light of faith to shine brighter – a quotation from Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI.
Of all the anniversaries I spoke about today, the most important for our time is that of Fatima. Cardinal Ratzinger wrote this about the importance of Fatima for our time. It is a good description of the powerful battle that takes place in our hearts:
I would like finally to mention another key expression of the “secret” which has become justly famous: “my Immaculate Heart will triumph.” What does this mean? The Heart open to God, purified by contemplation of God, is stronger than guns and weapons of every kind. The fiat of Mary, the word of her heart, has changed the history of the world, because it brought the Saviour into the world—because, thanks to her Yes, God could become man in our world and remains so for all time. The Evil One has power in this world, as we see and experience continually; he has power because our freedom continually lets itself be led away from God. But since God himself took a human heart and has thus steered human freedom towards what is good, the freedom to choose evil no longer has the last word. From that time forth, the word that prevails is this: “In the world you will have tribulation, but take heart; I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). The message of Fatima invites us to trust in this promise.
Benedict XVI and Freedom
Benedict XVI 90th Birthday – 1927 to 2017
The danger of quoting Pope Benedict is that you never know when to stop. But I simply want to remind you of CCO’s favourite quotation from Benedict, which is included in the Ultimate Relationship booklet. I was blessed to be at the homily at the beginning of his pontificate when Benedict amplified the “Be Not Afraid” of St. John Paul II, who began his own pontificate with those words.
The world tells us that we sacrifice our freedom, that if God grows larger in our lives, that means that I must be smaller. Benedict XVI explained it so well:
At this point, my mind goes back to 22 October 1978, when Pope John Paul II began his ministry here in Saint Peter’s Square. His words on that occasion constantly echo in my ears: “Do not be afraid! Open wide the doors for Christ!”
The Pope was also speaking to everyone, especially the young. Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? And once again the Pope said: No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life. Amen.
Convivium means living together. We welcome your voice to the conversation. Do you know someone who would enjoy this article? Send it to them now. Do you have a response to something we've published? Let us know!