We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience.  We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it … Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past.  But … (i)f Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering.  The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing.


-C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory


Image from Wikipedia


Assumption of MaryToday, those of us who are Catholics celebrated the Feast of the Assumption, honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary being taken up body and soul into heaven when her life on earth was done.

I won’t lie to my readers — this is a hard post to write.  In order to do justice to this wonderful, life-giving doctrine, I really should lay a foundation by covering other related issues (such as the authority of Sacred Tradition as well as Sacred Scripture, the doctrine of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, etc).  Sadly, time does not permit.  Perhaps I will write subsequent posts covering these issues in the future.  But for now, please bear with me.

First, a humble admission: The Assumption of Mary is not found explicitly in Scripture; but then, neither are a number of things that most Christians will take for granted as being true.

Pius_XII.,_Krönung_1939JSWhen Pope Pius XII officially declared the Assumption a dogma of the Church in 1950, he drew support from various passages of Scripture as well as millennia of theological reflection and of devotion on the part of both clergy and laity.

For my part, I will limit my reflections to the dogma of Mary to which the Assumption is a necessary corollary: The Immaculate Conception.

When we use the term “Immaculate Conception,” we mean that Mary was entirely preserved from original sin…as was fitting for the Mother of God and the Living Ark of the Covenant.  By a singular grace, God preserved her from all sin throughout her life.

Anyone who is familiar with the third chapter of Genesis should begin to see where I’m going with this.  Death, which consists in the separation of the soul from the body, and postmortem bodily corruption occur in consequence of sin.  Mary was without sin.  Therefore, it was fitting that she should share in her Divine Son’s Resurrection in a unique and privileged way.

Think about this for a second: Mary is now in heaven, dwelling in the Presence of God with the choirs of angels and the departed saints awaiting reunion with their bodies at the end of time; and yet she lives in this reality in her bodily being.  If this doesn’t fly in the face of any Gnostic, dualistic, negative conception of the body and of physicality, I don’t know what does.

Our Lady of LourdesHere we can see the Assumption reflecting something else about Mary.  With her “yes” to God, she has actually changed the material world.  In her holy womb, God and man have been reunited in the incarnate person of Jesus Christ.  Mary has thus become the Mother of a new humanity and a new creation…in other words, she is the New Eve. (NOTE: Although Marian apparitions are not dogmatic, they can be instructive; many have seen promises of the re-sanctification of creation in such things as the miracles at Lourdes).

I hope this has been interesting and informative; and for my Catholic readers, I hope it has helped to inspire greater love for our awesome Mother in heaven.

Images from Wikipedia

 Robin_WilliamsTogether with millions of others, I am deeply saddened by the death of comedian and actor Robin Williams. To say that I was shocked when I heard about his apparent suicide on Monday would be an understatement; if I hadn’t put my hands on my head, I might have fallen over.

I’ve been a big fan of Williams since I was about eight years old, having been introduced to his work through such family favorites as “Hook,” Aladdin,” and “Mrs. Doubtfire.” Since then, I have come to admire his incredible range as demonstrated in such films as “The World According to Garp,” Dead Poets Society,” “Good Morning Vietnam,” “Awakenings,” and “Good Will Hunting.” He was an enormously talented man, and surely his complexity as a person was mirrored in the depth and breadth of his work.

And that is what makes this situation especially tragic. Suicide, the ultimate act of despair, is always a tragedy – but its sting is uniquely potent when it occurs in someone who, in life, seemed so positive, so life-affirming, so happy…someone who brought cheer and hope to many through laughter.

Before I start rambling (if I haven’t already), I want to cut right to a question on the minds of many religious people: Is Robin Williams now in hell?

Here is my definitive answer: I don’t know. And if you were to talk to the pope or any conference of bishops, they would have to say the same.

SuicideLet me try to sum up the Catholic position on this issue as best I can. Suicide, objectively speaking, is a mortal sin – that is, a sin of the type that results in the loss of divine grace in the soul (for more on mortal sin as distinct from venial sin, click here). Why is this? In short, it is a selling-out. It is one thing to accept the fact of death, and even to surrender to it when our time comes; but to kill oneself is to choose death over life. And if we believe in existence beyond death, then we must affirm that our choice in favor of life or death carries into eternity.

However – and this is very important to understand – mortal sin requires three things: 1) Serious matter (which suicide is); 2) full knowledge; and 3) full consent of the will. In other words, we have to both know what we are doing and consent to the action with full freedom. So it is not only fully possible, but probably very common for people to commit objectively serious acts, but without culpability in terms of a mortal sin…and, in some cases, perhaps even without any responsibility for their actions.

As experts will affirm, spontaneous suicides are very, very rare. In the vast majority of cases, those who commit suicide suffer from any one of a number of debilitating mental illnesses that not only impact their lives, but also severely inhibit their ability to make the right decisions.

As has been widely publicized, Robin Williams suffered from clinical depression, which is a very serious condition. I think we can pretty safely assume that his freedom in decision-making was compromised.

It may be that there are people reading this who, like Williams, suffer from depression or a related illness. After Williams’ suicide, you may be tempted to lose hope. “Gosh,” you might say, “if a celebrity with billions of dollars couldn’t get sufficient help to battle his depression, what’s in store for me?”

Here’s what you have to understand: Robin Williams’ situation was very unusual. From what I understand, his depression was part of a longer history of bi-polar disorder. And this was in addition to a history of addiction to cocaine, heroine, and alcohol. Pile onto that the immense pressure of stardom, and you have a dangerous situation that, thankfully, most people with a mental illness don’t have to face.

Let us pray for the soul of Robin Williams, and for all of our dearly beloved brothers and sisters who struggle with these very cruel conditions. Remember, all times and places are present to God at once, since He is outside of time and space; therefore, we must never despair of our prayers being able to help even those who have left us.

Images from Wikipedia

It has saddened me in recent years that Catholics — members of a tradition that has over the centuries created such beautiful art, architecture, music, poetry, literature, and other forms of artistic expression — have had difficulty achieving quality in the art of film (with a few notable exceptions, such as “The Passion of the Christ”).

But I think a new “wind” is blowing, and that this an example.  If you have about 10 minutes, give it a watch.  You won’t regret it.

Letters of TolkienA Jesuit priest with whom “Lord of the Rings” author J.R.R. Tolkien had been friends noted, in a letter to the latter, a certain resemblance between the Lady Galadriel and the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Tolkien responded by calling the Virgin Mary — “Our Lady,” as he put it — the standard or source (I forget which) of all of his conceptions of beauty, “great and small.”

Our Lady of LoretoThis was in my mind during my recent discovery (mea culpa, mea maxima culpa) one of the Church’s most time-honored Marian litanies: The Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a.k.a. the Litany of Loreto, of which Tolkien was quite fond.  Here’s a snippet:

Virgin most prudent, (pray for us)
Virgin most venerable, (pray for us)
Virgin most renowned, (pray for us)
Virgin most powerful, (pray for us)
Virgin most merciful, (pray for us)
Virgin most faithful, (pray for us)
Mirror of justice, (pray for us)
Seat of wisdom, (pray for us)
Cause of our joy, (pray for us)
Spiritual vessel, (pray for us)
Vessel of honor, (pray for us)
Singular vessel of devotion, (pray for us)
Mystical rose,
pray for us (…)

- From “Our Catholic Prayers” (see link below)

Anyone interested in praying — or at least reading — the entire litany can find it here.

Book image from http://www.amazon.com; depiction of the Virgin Mary from Wikipedia

“We are conscious today that many, many centuries of blindness have cloaked our eyes so that we can no longer see the beauty of Thy chosen people nor recogni(z)e in their faces the features of our privileged brethren. We realize that the mark of Cain stands upon our foreheads. Across the centuries our brother Abel has lain in blood which we drew, or shed tears we caused by forgetting Thy love. Forgive us for the curse we falsely attached to their name as Jews. Forgive us for crucifying Thee a second time in their flesh. For we know not what we did.”

Cardinal Roncale- Cardinal Angelo Giuseppe Roncale (future Pope John XXIII), from a 1965 “Catholic Herald” issue (quoted by Wikipedia)

Image and text from Wikipedia

The following is a roughly four-minute segment of a recent episode of NBC’s “TODAY Show.”  It offers us an amazing glimpse into the great miracle of human life…


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