Important qualities to look for in a spiritual director

October 6, 2015 by  
Filed under Patrick's Blog

Over the last 25 years or so, I’ve noticed with bemusement an unfortunate trend in the United States in which an increasing number of lay people arrogate to themselves the title of “spiritual director.” I regard this as unfortunate because, except in certain rare exceptions, lay people are simply not qualified or competent to serve as spiritual directors.

Even lay people who have some formal training in theology do not, by virtue of that fact, have the requisite qualities necessary to be spiritual directors.

I’ve seen some real messes result from lay people attempting to give spiritual direction to others. For example, Regnum Christi (RC), the lay movement associated with the embattled Legionaries of Christ religious order of men, had for years appointed numerous goodhearted, sincere, and wholly unqualified RC lay women to be “spiritual directors” for other RC lay women in the absence of a priest. As you might imagine, problems and misunderstandings ensued. Eventually, at least here in the U.S., the Legionaries and RC leaders abandoned the moniker “spiritual director” in favor of the less dubious “spiritual guide.”

My guess is that virtually all lay people who style themselves as spiritual directors (including those who are regarded as such by others, even by some deacons and priests), are really just confusing spiritual direction with counseling. That such a benign confusion is prevalent these days shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, upwards of three generations of Catholics nowadays are, by and large, woefully under-catechized in the doctrinal and spiritual teachings of the Catholic Faith.

This is not to say that those goodhearted  and sincere lay men and lay women who present themselves as spiritual directors are necessarily themselves woefully under-catechized (although some may very well be), but their laudable service to others, insofar as they seek to offer helpful advice of a spiritual nature, does not make them spiritual directors in the classical Catholic sense of the term.

Don’t get me wrong. By all means, Catholic lay people should strive to offer good counsel and spiritual advice when the need and opportunity arises. Counseling can be done informally or formally, such as in the case of a man or woman who is properly trained in the art of counseling (for example, having earned a master’s degree in that field). But counselling and spiritual direction are not the same thing. It’s proper and good for lay people to engage in the former though, in my view, not the in latter.

Now, since I am confident that my remarks here will elicit some push back from those who are convinced spiritual direction is indeed suitable for lay people, I’d like to advert to the wise and erudite advice on this question from the late Father Jordan Aumann, O.P. (1916-2007), who wrote Spiritual Theology, a masterful explanation of the ways and means of the spiritual life, including what to look for in a spiritual director. While he doesn’t come right out and declare that spiritual direction is not a suitable domain for lay people (except, as I’ve said, under certain, rare circumstances), I think you’ll see that the cumulative force of his explanation militates inexorably toward that conclusion.

PERHAPS NO WRITER HAS OUTLINED with such clarity and precision the technical qualities of a good spiritual director as have St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. She states that a good spiritual director should be learned, prudent, and experienced. St. John of the Cross also maintains that a director should be learned, prudent, and experienced, and he places great emphasis on experience.

Learning. The learning of a spiritual director should be extensive. In addition to having a profound knowledge of dogmatic theology, without which he would be exposed to error in regard to matters of faith, and of moral theology, without which he could not even fulfill the office of confessor, the spiritual director should have a thorough knowledge of ascetical and mystical theology. He should know, for example, the theological doctrine concerning Christian perfection, especially regarding such questions as the essence of perfection, the obligation to strive for perfection, the obstacles to perfection, the types of purgation, and the means of positive growth in virtue. He should have a detailed knowledge of the grades of prayer, the trials God usually sends to souls as they advance from the lower to the higher degrees of prayer, and the illusions and assaults of the devil that souls may encounter.

He also needs to be well versed in psychology so that he will have an understanding of various temperaments and characters, the influences to which the human personality is subjected, and the function of the emotions in the life of the individual. He should also know at least the basic principles of abnormal psychology and psychiatry so that he will be able to recognize mental unbalance and nervous or emotional disorders.

A priest should realize that, if he is not competent to direct a particular soul, he should advise the individual to go to someone who possesses the necessary knowledge. A priest incurs a grave responsibility before God if he attempts to direct a soul when he lacks sufficient knowledge. In recent times, with the wider dissemination of knowledge of mental illness, the priest must especially be warned that, as regards the field of psychiatry and the therapeutic methods proper to that branch of medicine, he is a mere “layman” and is incompetent to treat mental sickness. If he suspects that a penitent is suffering from a mental illness, he should direct that individual to a professional psychiatrist, just as readily as he would expect a psychiatrist to refer spiritual problems to a clergyman.

Prudence. This is one of the most important qualities for a spiritual director. It comprises three basic factors: prudence in judgment, clarity in counseling, and firmness in exacting obedience.

If a spiritual director lacks prudence, he is usually lacking several other virtues as well. Prudence enables an individual to do the right thing under given circumstances. Spiritual direction is not concerned with the general doctrine of spiritual theology, nor with theoretical situations that one may imagine, but with the individual soul placed in concrete circumstances at a given moment or in a given phase of spiritual growth.

The director is not called upon to make decisions regarding general doctrine; most people could find such answers in any standard manual of spiritual theology. The director’s role is precisely to recognize the particular circumstances of a given situation and to give the advice needed at that moment. In order that the advice be prudent, a spiritual director must have the empathy by which he is able to place himself in the given circumstances and must have the patience to listen attentively. Of the various factors that militate against prudence, the following are especially common: lack of knowledge of the various states of the ascetical and mystical life, lack of understanding of human psychology, prejudice in regard to particular states of life or particular exercises of piety, lack of humility, excessive eagerness to make a judgment.

The second characteristic of prudence in the spiritual director is clarity in the advice given to the one directed and in the norms of conduct prescribed. In order that he may be clear in his direction, he must. possess clarity in his own mind. In speaking to the soul he is directing, he should avoid any vague or indecisive language, but should always express himself in concrete and definite terms. He should resolve problems with a yes or a no and, if necessary, he should take the time for further deliberation before making his decision. If a soul perceives that the director is not sure of himself, it will lose confidence in him, and his direction will lose all its efficacy.

Moreover, the director should always be sincere and frank, without any partiality or selfish motives. It would be a serious fault if a director were to avoid offending the person directed lest that person should go to some other priest for direction. Those priests who place great importance in attracting and retaining a large number of followers are, by that very fact, disposing themselves to failure as spiritual directors. The director should never forget that he acts in the name of the Holy Spirit in directing souls, and that he must endeavor to treat those souls with kindness and- understanding, but with firmness and utter frankness.

The director must also take care that he does not become the one who is directed. Some persons are extremely competent in’ getting their own way in everything, and even the director is in danger of falling under their power. For that reason, once the director is certain of his decision and the course that should be followed; he should state his mind with unyielding firmness. The individual must be convinced that there are only two alternatives: to obey or to find another director.

But the director should not forget that he should never demand of a soul anything that is incompatible with its state of life or vocation, its strength, or present condition. He should realize that there are some things that can be demanded of advanced souls but could never be required of beginners; that some things would be perfectly fitting in dealing with a priest or religious but not with a lay person. Excessive rigor does nothing but frighten souls and may cause them to abandon the road to perfection. There is, therefore, a world of difference between firmness in demanding obedience and an excessive rigidity that discourages the soul of the penitent.

Experience. This is one of the most precious qualities of a good spiritual director. Even if he is less perfect in knowledge and somewhat deficient in prudence, experience can make up for these deficiencies. This does not mean that the experience of the director must necessarily flow from his own spiritual life, for he may obtain the benefits of experience from his observation and direction of others.

As regards the personal experience of the director, if it is a question of the guidance of the average Christian, he needs little more than the experience any priest can obtain from the faithful fulfillment of his duties in the sacred ministry. If it is a question of advanced souls who have already entered the mystical stages of the spiritual life, it is desirable that the priest himself have some experience of those higher stages. If he lacks this, a delicate sense of prudence, coupled with competent knowledge of the mystical states, will suffice in the majority of cases.

But personal experience alone is not sufficient to make a spiritual director as competent as he ought to be. There are many different paths by which the Holy Spirit can lead souls to the summit of sanctity. It would be a serious mistake for a director to attempt to lead all souls along the same path and to impose on them his own personal experiences, however beneficial they may have been for himself. The spiritual director should never forget that he is merely an instrument in the hands of the Holy Spirit and that his work must be entirely subjected to the Holy Spirit. If, through a lack of understanding of the variety of divine gifts and the multiplicity of roads to perfection, he were to force all souls to travel by the same road, he would become a veritable obstacle to the workings of grace in the soul.

Moral Qualities of a Spiritual Director . . . (continue reading)

My Radio Interview with Charlie Johnston

September 23, 2015 by  
Filed under Patrick's Blog


Over the last couple of months, more or less out of the blue, many people began contacting me to ask what I think of a gentleman named Charlie Johnston, a Catholic who’s made some startling predictions about dire events in the near future. Is he authentic? they asked. What do you think of his predictions? etc. Some express skepticism, some seem gripped by fear and anxiety, and still others seem calm and convinced.

A few days ago, I was able to spend about half an hour on my radio show chatting with Charlie. He strikes me as very down to earth, low-key, amiable, credible, and a completely sincere Catholic. As you’ll hear in our on-air discussion (see link below), he says he has received countless instructions and warnings about the future from a holy angel of the Lord.

I’ve only recently become aware of Charlie and his message, and though I’ve read several of his blog posts and watched a video of an informal presentation he gave recently to a small group of Catholics in which he elaborates on his predictions, but I haven’t met him in person and, therefore,  can only draw conclusions from what I’ve read and heard thus far. This is why I asked him to discuss things further on my radio show. I wanted to know more and, to the extent possible, see more clearly into his message of a coming global “storm” of strife and upheaval with which God will chastise and purify mankind.

I’ll be candid. Whenever someone pops up claiming to be a “seer” or to have “visions” or receive “locutions,” my default reaction has always been (and remains) one of firm skepticism. Self-proclaimed seers and loctutionists abound, and my practice has been simply to pay them no attention. There have been countless false prophets (see Matthew 24:24), but there are also authentic prophets, which is why I also believe that careful, prayerful discernment is always required whenever the possibility arises that a given message may be authentic.

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1)

My thinking is that if someone indeed is blessed by God with supernatural interventions, that fact will become evident in due time in his/her life and in the messages themselves, just as a false prophet will be found out in due time for the same reasons (see Deuteronomy 18:20-22). More importantly, the truth will eventually become evident through the Spirit-guided discernment of Holy Mother Church.

As the Rabbi Gamaliel declared of the nascent Catholic Church in the book of Acts 5:38-39:

[K]eep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this undertaking is of men, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!

In Charlie Johnston’s case, however, I’m not skeptical but remain open and willing to hear more and ponder further, as God permits. What I have seen and heard thus far seems reasonable, balanced, and congruent with Catholic teaching. Only God knows, and I do not trust in my own meager powers of discernment. But I am open.

So, anyway, here’s my interview with Charlie. What do you think?

My Son Theodore Needs Some Help

May 1, 2015 by  
Filed under Patrick's Blog


Hi,  this is my son, Theodore Madrid!

He’s a college-level seminarian studying for the Catholic priesthood, and he’s really in need of an inexpensive, reliable car.

We’re Patrick & Nancy Madrid, Theo’s parents, and we’ve been helping him as much as we can financially (we’ve raised 11 children, so we know what that’s all about!), including letting him borrow one of our family cars for the past year. But Theo’s been running that car ragged and it’s nearly worn out.

And because he’s studying full time, he’s not able to keep working a job to earn money to pay for a vehicle. TheodreMadrid_hiking

We are trying to help Theo get a modestly priced, no-frills used car that will keep him safe on the road as he travels from his seminary to serve at different area parishes (i.e., for youth events, religious education, retreats, helping at parish events, etc.) and occasionally travelling home to visit family.

If we can purchase Theo a reliable used car for less than his goal,  the remainder of the funds raised here will be dedicated toward insurance, gas, and repairs, as well as books and supplies. Here’s the link:

We are very grateful to everyone who can help Theo with this need and he assures you of his prayers and promises to remember you and your families every day in his holy hour and Mass intentions.

Thank you and God bless you!

Patrick & Nancy Madrid, parents of Theodore Madrid (seminarian)

P.S. Here’s the link to help:

Theodore pope


The Rosary and the Devil’s Defeat

By Br. Ezra Sullivan, OP
On the day of Bartolo Longo’s beatification, October 26, 1980, Pope John Paul II called him a “man of the Madonna”; he later called him “a true apostle of the rosary” and “a layman who lived his ecclesial pledge to the full”. And John Paul II knew what he was saying — his own Marian spirituality was influenced deeply by what, as a young man, he had gleaned from Bartolo’s life and works.
So who was this a man who so profoundly affected the greatest pope of the 20th century and who has had a permanent effect on the way we Catholics venerate Mary? Unfortunately, he is unknown to many of those in the English-speaking world. His name is Blessed Bartolo Longo. Most people who know of Bartolo have heard of him from asides made by John Paul II in his apostolic letter on the rosary — but there is much more to this remarkable man than a few pithy quotes. His feast day is October 6th, and this is his story.
In Bartolo’s time, from the 1860s onwards, the Church in Naples was experiencing a spiritual crisis. Unbelief, rebellion, and the occult were widespread and affecting the souls of the faithful, especially college students. Many of them traded the theology of the saints for the philosophy of atheists, made street demonstrations against the pope, and — perhaps most dangerous of all — dabbled in witchcraft and consulted the famous Neapolitan mediums.
Among the wayward students in Naples, one stood above the rest in the depths of his depravity. As a young man, Bartolo not only participated in the anti-Catholic demonstrations, he not only preached publically and vehemently against the faith, he not only sought psychic mediums with his friends — he went even further and became a Satanic priest. Later on, Bartolo would describe how, in the rites of his blasphemous “ordination”, he promised his soul to a spirit-guide, a demon, which shook the walls and manifested itself with blasphemous shrieks.
For over a year, Bartolo lived under the spell of the demon, practicing the rites that were a mockery of the Church’s holy sacraments. Eventually, Bartolo’s experiences as a priest of Satan became unbearable, for the torments of a demon made him go nearly insane. But his family had not given up on him; through their help, he sought refuge in the sacrament of confession. . . .
Continue reading –> 

Powerful and Majestic Easter Music

Here are the musical pieces by Karl Jenkins that I’ve been playing on my Morning Show today. Something truly great to enjoy as you proceed through the sacred Triduum on the way to Resurrection Sunday.

Agnus Dei 
Requiem Introit
Pie Jesu

There’s ZERO moral equivalence between the Crusades and Muslim jihad

The Crusades = Jihad? Nice try, but no dice.

Maybe you saw or heard about that notorious National Prayer Breakfast speech in which Mr. Obama attempted to equate the Catholic Crusades with violent, murderous Muslim jihad (watch video specifically at 2:00 mark). Well, nothing could be further from the truth. He said,

“And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”

Maybe you aren’t sure how to explain why there really is no moral equivalence — ZERO — between the Crusades and violent jihad. #fact

Well, this powerful 5-minute info-graphic video does it better than anything I’ve seen yet.

Please watch this video, have your children watch it, and share it far and wide on your social media sites. It’s that important. We need to set the record straight for the sake of truth.

Also, I explained in greater detail what the Crusades actually were (and what they weren’t) on my radio show this morning (February 6, 2015).


Wise Advice from St. Francis de Sales for When People Question Your Motives

January 27, 2015 by  
Filed under Patrick's Blog

“As soon as worldly people see that you wish to follow a devout life they aim a thousand darts of mockery and even detraction at you. The most malicious of them will slander your conversion as hypocrisy, bigotry, and trickery. . . .

“Philothea, all this is mere foolish, empty babbling. These people aren’t interested in your health or welfare. ‘If you were of the world, the world would love what is its own but because you are not of the world, therefore the world hates you,; says the Savior. We have seen gentlemen and ladies spend the whole night, even many nights one after another, playing chess or cards. Is there any concentration more absurd, gloomy, or depressing than this last? Yet worldly people don’t say a word and the players’ friends don’t bother their heads about it.

“If we spend an hour in meditation or get up a little earlier than usual in the morning to prepare for Holy Communion, everyone runs for a doctor to cure us of hypochondria and jaundice. People can pass thirty nights in dancing and no one complains about it, but if they watch through a single Christmas night they cough and claim their stomach is upset the next morning. Does anyone fail to see that the world is an unjust judge, gracious and well disposed to its own children but harsh and rigorous towards the children of God?

“We can never please the world unless we lose ourselves together with it. It is so demanding that it can’t be satisfied. “John came neither eating nor drinking,” says the Savior, and you say, “He has a devil.” “The Son of man came eating and drinking” and you say that he is “a Samaritan.”

“It is true, Philothea, that if we are ready to laugh, play cards, or dance with the world in order to please it, it will be scandalized at us, and if we don’t, it will accuse us of hypocrisy or melancholy. If we dress well, it will attribute it to some plan we have, and if we neglect our dress, it will accuse of us of being cheap and stingy. Good humor will be called frivolity and mortification sullenness. Thus the world looks at us with an evil eye and we can never please it. It exaggerates our imperfections and claims they are sins, turns our venial sins into mortal sins and changes our sins of weakness into sins of malice.

“‘Charity is kind,’ says Saint Paul, but the world on the contrary is evil. “Charity thinks no evil,” but the world always thinks evil and when it can’t condemn our acts it will condemn our intentions. Whether the sheep have horns or not and whether they are white or black, the wolf doesn’t hesitate to eat them if he can.

“Whatever we do, the world will wage war on us. If we stay a long time in the confessional, it will wonder how we can have so much to say; if we stay only a short time, it will say we haven’t told everything. It will watch all our actions and at a single little angry word it will protest that we can’t get along with anyone. To take care of our own interests will look like avarice, while meekness will look like folly. As for the children of the world, their anger is called being blunt, their avarice economy, their intimate conversations lawful discussions. Spiders always spoil the good work of the bees.

“Let us give up this blind world, Philothea. Let it cry out at us as long as it pleases, like a cat that cries out to frighten birds in the daytime. Let us be firm in our purposes and unswerving in our resolutions. Perseverance will prove whether we have sincerely sacrificed ourselves to God and dedicated ourselves to a devout life. Comets and planets seem to have just about the same light, but comets are merely fiery masses that pass by and after a while disappear, while planets remain perpetually bright. So also hypocrisy and true virtue have a close resemblance in outward appearance but they can be easily distinguished from one another.

“Hypocrisy cannot last long but is quickly dissipated like rising smoke, whereas true virtue is always firm and constant. It is no little assistance for a sure start in devotion if we first suffer criticism and calumny because of it. In this way we escape the danger of pride and vanity, which are comparable to the Egyptian midwives whom a cruel Pharaoh had ordered to kill the Israelites’ male children on the very day of their birth. We are crucified to the world and the world must be crucified to us. The world holds us to be fools; let us hold it to be mad.”


Saint Frances de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life

Smashing Pumpkins

October 31, 2014 by  
Filed under Envoy Magazine, Patrick's Blog

The Real (and Imaginary) Pagan Roots of Halloween

By Brian Saint-Paul


THE FIRST THING I NOTICED ABOUT JAY was that he was dressed like a woman. I also saw he was wearing combat boots and carrying a bag full of candy. But then I went back to that part about him being dressed like a woman.

Jay had always been a curious fellow. Like the time he lost his pet tarantula, sending the neighborhood kids into an arachnophobia that would last for generations. But Jay had outdone himself this time, standing at our door, dressed in what appeared to be an army nurse’s uniform, and slathered in enough makeup to make Tammy Faye Bakker wince.

Being a sensitive 9-year-old, I tried mightily to stifle my laughter (key word: tried), as I handed him a Snickers bar. Nevertheless, Jay was unfazed, marching off satisfied into the night, his candy bag a little bit fuller.

For many of us, Halloween is an anomaly: a celebration without a discernible purpose. Other holidays make sense. Labor Day offers some respite for workers, Veterans’ Day honors those who fought for their land, Presidents’ Day recalls those who have led our nation. Yet Halloween seems to do nothing more than guarantee a steady clientele for children’s dentists and give folks like Jay an outlet for exotic behavior.

A brief glance into the history of the celebration, however, raises a troubling question. Many Christians, when confronted with the pagan background of Halloween, wonder if it’s the kind of thing in which they should be getting involved. Unfortunately, it doesn’t help that Christian bookstores (usually Fundamentalist) are full of inaccurate, sensationalistic accounts of the origins of the celebration.

Jack Chick, author of numerous anti-Catholic tracts, and hysterical Fundamentalist par excellence, gives his version of Halloween’s history in his tract, The Trick:

“[Halloween] came from an ancient Druid custom set up for human sacrifices on Halloween night. Druids offered children in sacrifices. They believed that only ‘the fruit of the body’ offered to Satan was for the ‘sin of the soul.’ The trick or treat custom was created by the Druids. “When they went to a home and demanded a child or virgin for sacrifice, the victim was the Druids’ treat. In exchange, they would leave a jack-o’-lantern with a lighted candle made of human fat to prevent those inside from being killed by demons in the night. When some unfortunate couldn’t meet the demands of the Druids, then it was time for the trick. A symbolic hex was drawn on the front door. That night Satan or his demons would kill someone in that house.”

There are about as many errors here as there are vowels. First, human sacrifice, despite the shrill claims of some, was rare if not nonexistent in Druid practice, and played no part in the Halloween tradition (Encyclopedia of Religion, ed. Mircea Eliade, “Druids”). This goes for the candles “made of human fat,” as well.

Second, the Druids didn’t worship Satan. Theirs was a nature religion centered around the seasons, similar to modern day Wicca. Satan is a figure in Christianity, not paganism.

Third, the popular use of jack-o’-lanterns had absolutely nothing to do with the human sacrifice exchange program that Chick describes here.

So, with the fantasy aside, what’s the real history of the celebration? Halloween comes from the pagan feast of Samhain. From the evening of October 31 to the end of November 1, the ancient Celts would celebrate the beginning of winter and the conclusion of the harvest. During this time, it was believed, the curtain between the living and the dead was temporarily lifted, and the spirits of the past would roam the countryside, getting into mischief (Halloween and Other Festivals of Death and Life, Jack Santino, University of Tennessee, 1994, XV). These supernatural creatures could be placated with edible treats or frightened off with bonfires and carved turnips. All the while, the people paid homage to Samhain, the god of the dead.

As time passed, the feast lost its religious significance and became the secular holiday we have today. It’s true, some of the old vestiges remain. Kids dress up like ghosts, goblins and Power Rangers, and go out looking for candy. The carved turnips have become pumpkins, and the bobbing for apples, an ancient method of divination, has become a popular party game. Nevertheless, October 31 is no longer widely held to be a day of religious observance.

So, how did the feast of Samhain become Halloween?

For hundreds of years, Christianity was persecuted by the pagan officials of the Roman Empire. Catholics were routinely rounded up and killed or tortured for the Faith. Over time, the persecutions ended and Christianity was recognized as a legal religion with the Edict of Milan in 313. A few years later, Catholics actually gained the upper hand, becoming the official state religion near the end of the fourth century.

With this new situation, the Catholic Church sought to demonstrate in a dramatic way the victory of Christ over the false gods of paganism. The old shrines were emptied of their statues of pagan deities, replaced with symbols of Christian worship. The temples became churches and the practices of the former religion either discontinued or Christianized. Finally, the holidays and feasts celebrating pagan gods were replaced with days recognizing the victory of the True God. One well-known example of this is Christmas, where the feast of the sun god on December 25 was replaced with a celebration of God the Son.

It’s difficult for us nowadays to appreciate the powerful statement this Christian-ization process communicated. Imagine if, in the most frigid days of the Cold War, the United States had been invaded and defeated by the Soviet Union. Destroying the Statue of Liberty certainly would’ve been a blow to the American people, but the Soviets had a still more dramatic action available: they could bedeck the statue in the red and yellow of the Soviet flag, replacing American symbolism with that of the USSR. What stronger way to demonstrate the victory of one system over the other? Such was the case with the Church’s conversion of pagan shrines, temples and holidays.

And so it was with Samhain. As Christianity spread throughout the British Isles, it encountered this strange celebration of the dead. Following in the tradition up to that point, the Church chose to replace it with a Catholic holiday.

So, by the ninth century, All Saints Day had become a feast-day to be celebrated by the entire Church. Instead of honoring the dead spirits of pagandom, All Saints Day was a time to remember the faithful Christian departed of past ages. In fact, according to Pope Urban VI, the day was intended to make up for any deficiencies in the celebrations of the various saints’ feast days throughout the year (Catholic Encyclopedia, “All Saints Day”).

The night before All Saints was known as All Hallows Evening, which became shortened to Hallowe’en. While Christians took part in the festivities of the evening before, the primary focus of the celebration was November 1, the feast of the saints. In this way, the pagan core of Samhain was stripped from the event, and replaced with solid Christian practice.

The conversion of pagan holidays is actually quite biblical. The Jews, under the direction of God, appropriated numerous pagan feasts: feasts of the New Year, combined with the harvest (Numbers 29:1-6; Leviticus 23:23-25), the feasts of the New Moon (1 Kings 20:4-29; Numbers 28:11-15; Nehemiah 10:33-34), grain and fruit harvest feasts (Deuteronomy 16:9-12; Exodus 23:14-16, 34:22) and the rite of new branches (Nehemiah 8:14-15). The people of God have often planned their Jewish and Christian celebrations to coincide with pagan feast days. Obviously, as the verses mentioned above indicate, God didn’t think this was corrupting true worship, or giving into paganism. So the Christian who takes part in Halloween and All Saints Day is just following in the footsteps of God-approved practice. No problem there.

A few objections are often raised at this point. A claim is sometimes made that Halloween is the most important day of the “Satanic calendar,” and that Christian participation is tantamount to taking part in the Devil’s high holy day. In fact, Jack Chick, in another one of his tract masterpieces, Boo!, says, “to Satanists and witches, Halloween is no joke. It’s their most solemn ceremony of the year.”

Bob (1951-2003) and Gretchen (1953-2014)  Passantino, Evangelical Christians and experts on Satanism, reject this argument, pointing out that the Satanist’s own birthday is, to him, the most un/holy day of the year (“What About Halloween?” a paper produced by their ministry, Answers in Action).

Next, we’ll hear that Halloween so trivializes evil, demons and the devil, that they are reduced to mere fairy tales — imaginary beings used to frighten and titillate children. While the danger of this is certainly present, it nevertheless can be remedied by a good Catholic upbringing. We ignore the real existence of Satan at our own peril, for he “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). The reality of evil forces should be foundational in the catechesis of every Christian. We can hardly blame Halloween if it isn’t.

Far from being a threat to the Christian faith, Halloween actually provides an excellent opportunity for witnessing to it. On what other day is one’s attire the subject of so much attention? Imagine a group of kids going out not as Barney or some sports hero, but as their favorite characters from the Bible or Church history. An army of Davids, St. Marys and St. Josephs can make an awfully big impression at a costume party. Another possible avenue for evangelization is at the doorstep itself. Try handing out a good Catholic tract along with the candy (just don’t forget the candy part, or there might be rioting). As Catholics, we are called to use every opportunity to share the Gospel, “in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2).

In the end, the issue of whether or not to let one’s kids participate in Halloween comes down to personal discretion. The celebration in itself is fairly harmless: kids go out (under supervision, hopefully) dressed up as their favorite superhero/monster/politician and gather candy. Obviously, things can get out of hand. If a child wants to go trick-or-treating dressed as the Antichrist, it’s probably time to draw the line. This is where the parents’ guidance is essential. Nevertheless, whatever meaning Samhain used to hold as a pagan observance, it has no longer. Time has turned October 31 into a secular event, and Christians can take part with a clear conscience.

But we’re not done yet. Our brief look into the history of Halloween has uncovered some interesting dirt on the methods of some anti-Catholics. Numerous enemies of the Church charge that the Catholic Faith as a whole has been corrupted by paganism. Loraine Boettner, author of the odiously inaccurate Roman Catholicism, writes:

“After Constantine’s decree making Christianity the preferred religion, the Greek-Roman pagan religions with their male gods and female goddesses exerted an increasingly stronger influence upon the church . . . Many of the people who came into the church had no clear distinction in their minds between the Christian practices and those that had been practiced in their heathen religions. Statues of pagan gods and heroes found a place in the church, and were gradually replaced by statues of saints. The people were allowed to bring into the church those things from their old religions that could be reconciled with the type of Christianity then developing” (Roman Catholicism, Grand Rapids: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1964, p. 136).

Fundamentalists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and others argue similarly today in trying to demonstrate the alleged pagan corruption of Catholicism. In looking at the methods by which they reach their conclusions, three prominent errors are found again and again:

1. Their scholarship is often poor, making their conclusions largely or even completely inaccurate.

2. They assume that if a Catholic doctrine or practice is similar to a pagan one, the Catholic Church must have taken it from paganism.

3. They neglect the fact that some pagan practices (like Halloween) can be Christianized and used in the service of the Cross.

Let’s look at examples of each error.

Fundamentalists like Jack Chick aren’t exactly known for their academic excellence. Too often, they begin with a conclusion and then go looking for historical or Biblical confirmation. We saw an excellent example of this earlier with Chick’s history of Halloween. Critics of the Church will often misrepresent Her beliefs in order to show a connection between Catholicism and paganism.

Alexander Hislop, author of The Two Babylons: The Papal Worship Proved to be the Worship of Nimrod and His Wife (Loizeaux Brothers, 1959), does this very thing with the Catholic understanding of justification. In order to link the Catholic Gospel with that of paganism, he wrongly claims Catholicism teaches one is justified by works in the chapter entitled, “Justification by Works”). Not content to merely misrepresent Catholic belief, he also lapses into some rather amusing blunders:

“Will any one after this say that the Roman Catholic Church must still be called Christian, because it holds the doctrine of the Trinity? So did the Pagan Babylonians, so did the Egyptians, so do the Hindoos [sic] at this hour, in the very same sense in which Rome does” (Ibid, 90).

Anyone with even a light familiarity with the pagan triads Hislop alludes to knows that they consisted of three different gods, not one God in three persons. The various pagan religions held a position very similar to modern day Mormonism, that there are three primary gods, distinct from one another in being, but joined in purpose. This is a form of polytheism, a view the Catholic Church has always condemned. Hislop’s statement that pagans held to the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity is laughable. This claim would, incidentally, also condemn as pagan the Trinitarian doctrine of Evangelical Christians and the mainline Protestant churches. Oops.

One error that occurs over and over again is the faulty assumption that a similarity between Catholic and pagan practices implies a connection between the two. Ralph Woodrow’s book, Babylon Mystery Religion, is full of such “parallels,” one of which links the roundness of the Eucharistic host to the roundness of the sun, which pagan Mithraists worshipped. Add to this the apparent sun beams shooting out of some monstrances and you have a fine example of Catholics inadvertently worshipping the sun god. (Babylon Mystery Religion: Ancient and Modern, Ralph Woodrow Evangelistic Association, Inc., 1966, p. 121).

(Note: Interestingly enough, Woodrow has recently come out with a new book, The Babylon Connection, wherein he recants much of his former material, showing the inaccuracies in the first book. For this, he should be given much credit.)

This method of finding parallels, if followed consistently, ends up coming back to haunt those who use it.

For example, among some of the ancient pagan tribes of the middle east, there was a fascinating ceremony performed by the nomads. They would slaughter a lamb and smear its blood on their tent posts, so that those who slept inside would be protected from the destroying angel who came in the night (A Feast in Honor of Yahweh, Fides Publishers, Inc., 1965, p. 37).

Sound familiar? Of course, this ceremony bears a remarkable resemblance to that of Passover, where the blood of the pure lamb would be poured onto the door posts of the Jewish homes, so the angel of death would pass over onto the homes of the Egyptians (Exodus 12:1-13). According to the methodology of our Fundamentalist friends, this must mean the ancient Jews stole their Passover ceremony from the pagans. If Passover is corrupted by its apparent pagan origins, then down comes the whole notion of Jesus as the perfect Passover sacrifice. You see where faulty methodology takes us?

But there’s more. The famous comparative religionist, Sir James George Frazer, in his classic work, The Golden Bough, found some interesting similarities between Christianity and paganism. Apparently, numerous pagan religions have a god who dies and is resurrected. One notable example is the Egyptian god, Osiris, who is murdered, buried and resurrected from the dead (The New Golden Bough: A New Abridgment of the Classic Work, Sir James George Frazer, Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1961, pp. 183-185). Does this mean the Christian Faith derived its belief in the death and resurrection of its God from the pagan religions of Egypt? Of course not. Despite what some anti-Catholics would tell us, just because two beliefs are similar doesn’t mean there is any relationship between the two.

Another excellent example of this is the symbol of the swastika (also known as the gammadion). This symbol has been found to exist in the ancient cultures of India, Denmark, Greece, Belgium, Tibet, Gaul, Macedonia and just about anywhere else where people had hands with which to write. However, in each place, the symbol was understood differently. The meaning behind the swastika of the Third Reich is vastly different than that understood in ancient Tibet. Just because these cultures share the same symbol doesn’t mean they’re interrelated. Nazi Germany had very little to do with ancient India. We cannot, then, assume that just because Catholicism shares some symbol or practice with paganism, that the thing necessarily has a pagan beginning.

Still, while it’s true that some Catholic practices do have pagan precursors (we’ve already seen how the early believers Christianized the pagan holidays and temples, just as the Jews did in the Old Testament), this was born out of Christian victory over paganism, not compromise with it.

Additionally, there are other Biblical precedents for God endorsing the use of some pagan practices. Among the Jewish people, we see the casting of lots (1 Chronicles 25:8; 1 Samuel 14:40-45; Nehemiah 10:34) and the offering of water libations (1 Kings 18:33-36), both prominent in the paganism of the time (Maertens, 28, 72-74). If indeed God frowned upon any practice that was pagan in origin, He wouldn’t have prescribed them for His people. But, as the Bible proves, He did prescribe them.

For Christians, paganism is a dirty word, and it should be. Any religion that denies the One True God in favor of idols, nature-worship, or self-worship is a religion to be avoided. But this is all the more reason to bring paganism to the foot of the Cross. Jesus has won the victory over the false gods of this world, and so their practices and traditions should be brought into service for Him. Those who disagree do so in the face of the Scriptural and historical evidence. It’s time to let God use whatever means He wishes to further His own glory. Our God is sovereign, and He can do whatever He wants.

[N.B.: This article originally appeared in the Sept./Oct. 1998 edition of Envoy Magazine and is reposted here with permission of the editor of Envoy, who happens to be me.]

One Protestant Minister’s Unusual “Reformation Day” Sermon

October 28, 2014 by  
Filed under Apologetics, Patrick's Blog

One Sunday, some years ago, I slipped into the back of a large Methodist church in my area to hear a sermon delivered by the pastor. It had been advertised for several days on the marquee on the lawn in front of the handsome neo-Gothic stone edifice. I really wanted to hear what he had to say that particular Sunday.
Why that particular Sunday? Well, the occasion of his sermon was what Protestants celebrate as “Reformation Sunday,” in remembrance of the sad, tragic rebellion against the Catholic Church. Of course, that’s my take on what Reformation Sunday symbolizes.
The pastor, whose sermon I heard that day, had a view of what happened in 1517 much different from my own. For him, it was the celebration of a glorious “triumph” of “the gospel” over “Rome.”
As you might imagine, those 30 minutes I spent standing in the back of that church packed with sincere, devout Protestants, were not enjoyable, but they certainly were instructive. That sermon recalled to my mind so many things that so many Protestants badly misunderstand when assessing what really happened in the early 16th century as Martin Luther and crew launched their rebellion against the Ancient Catholic Faith, historic Christianity, the Catholic Church; the three being one and the same thing.
When the pastor’s fiery sermon (much of which dwelt on the “evils or Romanism”) concluded and the service continued, I slipped back outside, glum at the thought that so many sincere — though sincerely misguided — Protestants were celebrating such a catastrophic event in the history of the Church. I was, nonetheless, also grateful for that minister’s powerful reminder of why the problem of the Reformation is such a problem and why things should never have played out as they did.
The terrible truth about the Reformation is that it was (and remains) a profound tragedy that has inflicted a deep and gaping wound to the Body of Christ. “Reformation Day” should be mourned and lamented, not celebrated and is if it were some kind of “victory” to be jubilated.
All of that was brought to my mind recently when I read a much different sermon delivered years ago by another Protestant minister: Duke Divinity School professor, Stanley Hauerwas. He preached a startling message on the same subject — Reformation Sunday — but he came at it from a very different perspective:
I must begin by telling you that I do not like to preach on Reformation Sunday. Actually I have to put it more strongly than that. I do not like Reformation Sunday, period. I do not understand why it is part of the church year.
Reformation Sunday does not name a happy event for the Church Catholic; on the contrary, it names failure. Of course, the church rightly names failure, or at least horror, as part of our church year. We do, after all, go through crucifixion as part of Holy Week. Certainly if the Reformation is to be narrated rightly, it is to be narrated as part of those dark days.
Reformation names the disunity in which we currently stand. We who remain in the Protestant tradition want to say that Reformation was a success. But when we make Reformation a success, it only ends up killing us. After all, the very name ‘Protestantism’ is meant to denote a reform movement of protest within the Church Catholic.
When Protestantism becomes an end in itself, which it certainly has through the mainstream denominations in America, it becomes anathema.
If we no longer have broken hearts at the church’s division, then we cannot help but unfaithfully celebrate Reformation Sunday.
For example, note what the Reformation has done for our reading texts like that which we hear from Luke this morning. We Protestants automatically assume that the Pharisees are the Catholics. They are the self-righteous people who have made Christianity a form of legalistic religion, thereby destroying the free grace of the Gospel. We Protestants are the tax collectors, knowing that we are sinners and that our lives depend upon God’s free grace. And therefore we are better than the Catholics because we know they are sinners. What an odd irony that the Reformation made such
readings possible.
As Protestants we now take pride in the acknowledgment of our sinfulness in order to distinguish ourselves from Catholics who allegedly believe in works-righteousness.
Unfortunately, the Catholics are right. Christian salvation consists in works. To be saved is to be made holy. To be saved requires our being made part of a people separated from the world so that we can be united in spite of — or perhaps better, because of — the world’s fragmentation and divisions. Unity, after all, is what God has given us through Christ’s death and resurrection. For in that death and resurrection we have been made part of God’s salvation for the world so that the world may know it has been freed from the powers that would compel us to kill one another in the name of false loyalties. All that is about the works necessary to save us.
For example, I often point out that at least Catholics have the magisterial office of the Bishop of Rome to remind them that disunity is a sin. You should not overlook the significance that in several important documents of late, John Paul II has confessed the Catholic sin for the Reformation. Where are the Protestants capable of doing likewise? We Protestants feel no sin for the disunity of the Reformation. We would not know how to confess our sin for the continuing disunity of the Reformation. We would not know how to do that because we have no experience of unity.
The magisterial office — we Protestants often forget — is not a matter of constraining or limiting diversity in the name of unity. The office of the Bishop of Rome is to ensure that when Christians move . . . (continue reading)

Random Acts of Kindness in Russia

May 3, 2013 by  
Filed under Patrick's Blog

Today, a great silence reigns on earth because the King is asleep

March 30, 2013 by  
Filed under Patrick's Blog



An Ancient Homily for Holy Saturday . . .

The Lord’s descent into hell

“What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled.

Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam’s son.

The Lord goes in to them holding his victorious weapon, his cross. When Adam, the first created man, sees him, he strikes his breast in terror and calls out to all: ‘My Lord be with you all.’ And Christ in reply says to Adam: ‘And with your spirit.’ And grasping his hand he raises him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.

‘I am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light, and those who sleep: Rise.

‘I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise, let us go hence; for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person.

‘For you, I your God became your son; for you, I the Master took on your form; that of slave; for you, I who am above the heavens came on earth and under the earth; for you, man, I became as a man without help, free among the dead; for you, who left a garden, I was handed over to Jews from a garden and crucified in a garden.

‘Look at the spittle on my face, which I received because of you, in order to restore you to that first divine inbreathing at creation. See the blows on my cheeks, which I accepted in order to refashion your distorted form to my own image.

‘See the scourging of my back, which I accepted in order to disperse the load of your sins which was laid upon your back. See my hands nailed to the tree for a good purpose, for you, who stretched out your hand to the tree for an evil one.

`I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side, for you, who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side healed the pain of your side; my sleep will release you from your sleep in Hades; my sword has checked the sword which was turned against you.

‘But arise, let us go hence. The enemy brought you out of the land of paradise; I will reinstate you, no longer in paradise, but on the throne of heaven. I denied you the tree of life, which was a figure, but now I myself am united to you, I who am life. I posted the cherubim to guard you as they would slaves; now I make the cherubim worship you as they would God.

“The cherubim throne has been prepared, the bearers are ready and waiting, the bridal chamber is in order, the food is provided, the everlasting houses and rooms are in readiness; the treasures of good things have been opened; the kingdom of heaven has been prepared before the ages.”

A reading from an ancient homily for Holy Saturday


Almighty, ever-living God, whose Only-begotten Son descended to the realm of the dead, and rose from there to glory, grant that your faithful people, who were buried with him in baptism, may, by his resurrection, obtain eternal life.
(We make our prayer) through our Lord.
(Through Christ our Lord.)

Prepared by Pontifical University Saint Thomas Aquinas

St. Patrick’s Breast-Plate: the powerful prayer of a powerful man

March 17, 2013 by  
Filed under Patrick's Blog

Today, being the feast day of my beloved patron saint, Patrick, I post this for everyone’s edification and for the glory of the Triune God.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia: “The beautiful prayer of St. Patrick, popularly known as ‘St. Patrick’s Breast-Plate,’ is supposed to have been composed by him in preparation for this victory over paganism. The following is a literal translation from the old Irish text . . .”

I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of the Invocation of the Trinity:
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.

I bind to myself today
The virtue of the Incarnation of Christ with His Baptism,
The virtue of His crucifixion with His burial,
The virtue of His Resurrection with His Ascension,
The virtue of His coming on the Judgement Day.

I bind to myself today
The virtue of the love of seraphim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the hope of resurrection unto reward,
In prayers of Patriarchs,
In predictions of Prophets,
In preaching of Apostles,
In faith of Confessors,
In purity of holy Virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I bind to myself today
The power of Heaven,
The light of the sun,
The brightness of the moon,
The splendour of fire,
The flashing of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of sea,
The stability of earth,
The compactness of rocks.

I bind to myself today
God’s Power to guide me,
God’s Might to uphold me,
God’s Wisdom to teach me,
God’s Eye to watch over me,
God’s Ear to hear me,
God’s Word to give me speech,
God’s Hand to guide me,
God’s Way to lie before me,
God’s Shield to shelter me,
God’s Host to secure me,
Against the snares of demons,
Against the seductions of vices,
Against the lusts of nature,
Against everyone who meditates injury to me,
Whether far or near,
Whether few or with many.

I invoke today all these virtues
Against every hostile merciless power
Which may assail my body and my soul,
Against the incantations of false prophets,
Against the black laws of heathenism,
Against the false laws of heresy,
Against the deceits of idolatry,
Against the spells of women, and smiths, and druids,
Against every knowledge that binds the soul of man.
Christ, protect me today
Against every poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against death-wound,
That I may receive abundant reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left,
Christ in the fort,
Christ in the chariot seat,
Christ on the deck,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of an invocation of the Trinity,
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.

And now, here is the “back story” of this famous prayer, quoted from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

St. Patrick learned from Dichu that the chieftains of Erin had been summoned to celebrate a special feast at Tara by Leoghaire, who was the Ard-Righ, that is, the Supreme Monarch of Ireland. This was an opportunity which Patrick would not forego; he would present himself before the assembly, to strike a decisive blow against the Druidism that held the nation captive, and to secure freedom for the glad tidings of Redemption of which he was the herald.

As he journeyed on he rested for some days at the house of a chieftain named Secsnen, who with his household joyfully embraced the Faith. The youthful Benen, or Benignus, son of the chief, was in a special way captivated by the Gospel doctrines and the meekness of Patrick.

Whilst the saint slumbered he would gather sweet-scented flowers and scatter them over his bosom, and when Patrick was setting out, continuing his journey towards Tara, Benen clung to his feet declaring that nothing would sever him from him. “Allow him to have his way”, said St. Patrick to the chieftain, “he shall be heir to my sacred mission.” Thenceforth Benen was the inseparable companion of the saint, and the prophecy was fulfilled, for Benen is named among the “comhards” or successors of St. Patrick in Armagh.

It was on 26 March, Easter Sunday, in 433, that the eventful assembly was to meet at Tara, and the decree went forth that from the preceding day the fires throughout the kingdom should be extinguished until the signal blaze was kindled at the royal mansion. The chiefs and Brehons came in full numbers and the druids too would muster all their strength to bid defiance to the herald of good tidings and to secure the hold of their superstition on the Celtic race, for their demoniac oracles had announced that the messenger of Christ had come to Erin.

St. Patrick arrived at the hill of Slane, at the opposite extremity of the valley from Tara, on Easter Eve, in that year the feast of the Annunciation, and on the summit of the hill kindled the Paschal fire. The druids at once raised their voice. “O King”, (they said) “live for ever; this fire, which has been lighted in defiance of the royal edict, will blaze for ever in this land unless it be this very night extinguished.”

By order of the king and the agency of the druids, repeated attempts were made to extinguish the blessed fire and to punish with death the intruder who had disobeyed the royal command. But the fire was not extinguished and Patrick shielded by the Divine power came unscathed from their snares and assaults.

On Easter Day the missionary band having at their head the youth Benignus bearing aloft a copy of the Gospels, and followed by St. Patrick who with mitre and crozier was arrayed in full episcopal attire, proceeded in processional order to Tara.

The druids and magicians put forth all their strength and employed all their incantations to maintain their sway over the Irish race, but the prayer and faith of Patrick achieved a glorious triumph. The druids by their incantations overspread the hill and surrounding plain with a cloud of worse than Egyptian darkness.

Patrick defied them to remove that cloud, and when all their efforts were made in vain, at his prayer the sun sent forth its rays and the brightest sunshine lit up the scene. Again by demoniac power the Arch-Druid Lochru, like Simon Magus of old, was lifted up high in the air, but when Patrick knelt in prayer the druid from his flight was dashed to pieces upon a rock.

Thus was the final blow given to paganism in the presence of all the assembled chieftains. It was, indeed, a momentous day for the Irish race.

Twice Patrick pleaded for the Faith before Leoghaire. The king had given orders that no sign of respect was to be extended to the strangers, but at the first meeting the youthful Erc, a royal page, arose to show him reverence; and at the second, when all the chieftains were assembled, the chief-bard Dubhtach showed the same honor to the saint. Both these heroic men became fervent disciples of the Faith and bright ornaments of the Irish Church.

It was on this second solemn occasion that St. Patrick is said to have plucked a shamrock from the sward, to explain by its triple leaf and single stem, in some rough way, to the assembled chieftains, the great doctrine of the Blessed Trinity. On that bright Easter Day, the triumph of religion at Tara was complete.

The Ard-Righ granted permission to Patrick to preach the Faith throughout the length and breadth of Erin, and the druidical prophecy like the words of Balaam of old would be fulfilled: the sacred fire now kindled by the saint would never be extinguished.

(Catholic Encyclopedia)

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