“I shall be called John Paul”

On this day in 1978, the newly elected John Paul I explained his choice of name:

Yesterday morning I went to the Sistine Chapel to vote tranquilly. Never could I have imagined what was about to happen. As soon as the danger for me had begun, the two colleagues who were beside me whispered words of encouragement. One said: “Courage! If the Lord gives a burden, he also gives the strength to carry it.” The other colleague said: “Don’t be afraid; there are so many people in the whole world who are praying for the new Pope.” When the moment of decision came, I accepted.John Paul I

Then there was the question of the name, for they also ask what name you wish to take, and I had thought little about it. My thoughts ran along these lines: Pope John had decided to consecrate me himself in St Peter’s Basilica, then, however unworthy, I succeeded him in Venice on the Chair of St Mark, in that Venice which is still full of Pope John. He is remembered by the gondoliers, the Sisters, everyone.

Then Pope Paul not only made me a Cardinal, but some months earlier, on the wide footbridge in St Mark’s Square, he made me blush to the roots of my hair in the presence of 20,000 people, because he removed his stole and placed it on my shoulders. Never have I blushed so much!

Furthermore, during his fifteen years of pontificate this Pope has shown, not only to me but to the whole world, how to love, how to serve, how to labour and to suffer for the Church of Christ.

For that reason I said: “I shall be called John Paul.” I have neither the “wisdom of the heart” of Pope John, nor the preparation and culture of Pope Paul, but I am in their place. I must seek to serve the Church. I hope that you will help me with your prayers.

All of John Paul I’s papal messages, radio talks, and more are available in The Homilies, Audiences, and Other Writings of Pope John Paul I (6 volumes, Latin and English) from Verbum for $25. 

Ophelia’s Funeral: Suicide and The Church

Editors’ Note: This article is part of the Public Square 2014 Summer Series: Conversations on Religious Trends. Read other perspectives from the Patheos community here.

In 1915, my great grand-aunt Emma Annie Rabig died at the age of 24. I have a copy of her death certificate. Next to “Cause of death” is written “Body viewed.” Nothing more.

There’s a lot of story, much history, and a great deal of pain packed into those two words.ophelia

Annie killed herself by hanging at her parents’ home in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Her brother, my great grandfather, was a cop in Elizabeth, and my mother sees his hand in the cryptic note.

Had the coroner written “suicide,” she could not have had a church funeral and burial. Her damnation would have been assumed. Her brother would have asked for that detail to be left off the official paperwork, and it was rarely spoken of again.

“We were just mean,” my mother noted sadly when we found the certificate. She meant the Church.

Ropes dangle from too many branches of my family tree. That’s just the way it is for some families. Suicide, depression, alcoholism, mental illness: sometimes they’re just in the blood.

Annie may have been pregnant and unmarried at the time of her suicide. At least that’s how family lore tells it. It’s said by way of explanation, as so many suicides and breakdowns are explained away: his son died, his wife left him, he was a drunk, she was pregnant and unmarried.

The reasons are notable because, shameful as some of them are, they were still considered better than mental illness.

In the wake of Robin Williams’ death, much ink, literal and virtual, has been spilled on the root, causes, and theological meaning of suicide. If suicide was a disease it would be an epidemic. One person commits suicide every 40 seconds. Of the 1.5 million violent deaths every year, 800,000 are suicide, more than from war and natural disaster combined. It is not something we can ignore as Christians.

Robin Williams was an Episcopalian and thus at least a nominal, if not practicing, Christian. Christian theology is very clear: suicide is self-murder, and thus it is always a grave and mortal sin.

However, as we have come to have a more refined understanding of mental illness, our theology has adopted a more nuanced approach. The culpability of the sinner may be minimized by other factors. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that

Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide. We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.

In Evangelium Vitae, St. John Paul II writes:

Even though a certain psychological, cultural and social conditioning may induce a person to carry out an action which so radically contradicts the innate inclination to life, thus lessening or removing subjective responsibility, suicide, when viewed objectively, is a gravely immoral act. In fact, it involves the rejection of love of self and the renunciation of the obligation of justice and charity towards one’s neighbour, towards the communities to which one belongs, and towards society as a whole.

We do not own our lives, which are given to us by God. It is not a gift we simply accept and use as we choose. We are, as the Catechism observes, merely “stewards” of this life entrusted to us. Our purpose  is to return that life to God at a time and in a manner of His choosing, unmarked by sin. Thus, suicide and euthanasia can never be permitted.

Act 5 of Hamlet offers an example of how the Church viewed suicide for centuries. It is the funeral of Ophelia, who in her madness has drowned herself.  Laertes demands the full rites be said, but the priest has already given as much as he is willing to give:

We should profane the service of the dead
To sing a requiem and such rest to her
As to peace-parted souls.

There’s no denying the force of the priest’s arguments. If the final action of someone’s life is a mortal sin, how can that person achieve salvation? The chance for repentance would seem to be gone.

For an act to be a mortal sin, it needs to be gravely immoral (such as murder), it must be committed with a fully informed intellect that understands the sinful nature of the act, and it must be an action of the individual’s free will. Illness and circumstance can compromise those second two elements. In such a compromised state, the functioning of the will and intellect may be so damaged that the individual is no longer fully responsible.  This is what the Church means by factors that lesson or remove “subjective responsibility.”

It is in this light that the Church now views suicide, and allows funeral masses and burial. It’s a subtle shift in focus from justice to mercy, and thus allows the possibility of hope for the families of suicides. Perhaps purgatory provides an opportunity for those who, compromised by circumstance or illness, commit a mortal sin as a final act. All things are possible with God.

As the trend towards devaluing human life and the human person increases, suicide and euthanasia risk being treated as just another life choice. When consent is the sole criterion for judging the goodness of an act, objective morality becomes impossible. The Dutch are already experimenting with physician-assisted suicide for the mentally ill: yet another milestone in conditioning us to view see suicide as a viable personal decision.

This how the culture of death grows, and the Church stands firmly against it.

The Church can never “evolve” from understanding suicide as a sin, nor should it. Modern society views guilt, social stigma, and fear of damnation as primitive and destructive forces. In fact, they exert a powerful counter-pressure that pushes back against the individual’s natural inclination to sin, and thus provide a social and religious support for those tending towards an objectively evil act such as self-murder.

This is the fine line the Church must walk between affirming the wrongness of an act and leaving open the possibility of salvation. Here at the close of a summer in which suicide entered the public dialog in a forceful and unprecedented way, our ability to balance the evil of suicide against the hope in God’s mercy contributes to that dialog.

Like Ophelia, Robin Williams’ final act was wrong, but God’s mercy is boundless, and ours should be as well. Let us continue to pray for all those trapped in darkness and despair, that they may find their way to the Light.


Mental Illness and the Notion of Choice

Sadness Is Not Depression

Real Catholic Men Can Play Games

The 40 Year Old Virgin

“You know how I know you’re Catholic?”

A couple weeks back I read something by a priest arguing that Real Catholic Men should not play videogames. The article was pointless and ill-informed, and proved mostly that the author had not one single solitary clue about his subject matter and only the vaguest notion about “videogames” and the people who play them.

We were treated to the standard hand-wringing about man-children, wasting time, how people could be improving themselves rather than engaging in “pointless” activity, and so on. Honestly, the piece could have written itself by dropping almost any cultural artifact–rock music, comic books, TV–into a Disapproval-o-Matic and churning out the same hollow junk.

I want to just point out two of the main problems with these useless critiques: the assumption that playing a computer, mobile, or video game interferes with life, and the idea that it’s somehow unmanly and time-wasting.

Let’s look at the time factor first, and imagine two dialogs with the author, who we’ll call Fr.  Beaman.

A man in his 20s comes to visit Father for counseling. Part of their conversation goes something like this:

MAN: I spend about 12-15 hours a week following professional sports, and another 3-5 on my fantasy sports league and brackets. I also watch about 2 hours of TV a night.

FR. BEAMAN: Ho, ho! How about those (insert local sports team)!

Now let’s imagine a different exchange:

MAN: I spend about 12-15 hours a week playing Civilization V or Titanfall. I don’t really watch TV. I don’t like sports.

FR. BEAMAN: [curls his lip in disgust] And you call yourself a man?

Here’s the thing: I don’t follow sports, at all. Ever. I don’t judge people who do, but I think it is one of the most mind-numbing, pointless activities I can imagine.

If a man spends his leisure time in a complex and deep game world in which he takes an active part, while another man spends the same amount of time watching TV or following football (a fundamentally passive act), the second man is somehow judged to be more “manly” and not “wasting his time.”

This doesn’t follow. There’s nothing less “masculine” about playing World of Warcraft than there is in watching American Idol or Monday Night Football, or even going fishing. It runs afoul of none of the three moral determinants (object, end, and circumstance), and given the complexity of modern electronic gaming, it is not an empty or mindless activity.

Gamers watch far less television than non-gamers. One could even argue that gaming is morally superior to television because it can engage the intellect, stimulate the imagination, and require an element of physical interaction, whereas television renders the individual into a passive receiver.

If you’re a member of the Philadelphia Eagles, sure, I’ll give you extra “Man Points” if that’s important to you, just like I would if you were a soldier, fireman, ironworker, commercial fisherman, or longshoreman.

But if you just follow the Philadelphia Eagles? No. You’re just a guy sitting on a couch watching other men exert themselves for your amusement.

Beyond this, parsing who is a “real man” and who isn’t is a fool’s errand. Masculinity is not a set of things to be checked off a list.

The second criticism is the “you’re wasting your life” bit. We get the usual examples: you could be hiking! Learning a language! Deepening your faith! Helping the needy!

So one precludes the other? Why?

Here’s a partial list of things I have done in my life: camped, fished, sailed, fired a variety of weapons, built things out of wood and metal, painted and sketched, written and published books, learned to play several instruments, traveled to foreign countries, been in a fight, worked on a television series, earned the love of a good woman, made love to said woman, sired children, studied and taught the faith, volunteered thousands of hours, worked with the poor and sick, raised money for a charity, prayed daily, earned two advanced degrees (one of them in Theology), learned a language, raised and cared for a variety of animals, played a team sport, took care of my dying father, run a 6-minute mile, chopped a tree and made a fire, earned an income and supported a family, paid a mortgage, conducted pilgrimages, and earned a reputation in my profession.

Some of these I still do. Some of them I tried and do not enjoy, and thus will not likely do them again. I do not like camping, for example. My wife loves it. We’ve tried to compromise. I can take or leave fishing. I don’t oppose hunting but neither do I enjoy it. I’m not handy. And although my physical problems sometimes limit my ability to get around in the world, I don’t feel this makes me less of a man or my life less full.

Thus, this idea that all men who play games are living withered and incomplete lives is a fantasy. Some men indeed may be letting games interfere with a full life, and that is a problem just like any other disordered attachment. If Father had merely said “Men who overdo the gaming thing need to get out now and then and see the world,” he would have had no complaint from me. An obsession is bad regardless of the object.

But that wasn’t the point being made. Gaming was singled out as something no Catholic man worth his manhood should be doing.

Well, I’m a man, and like many other men my age (46), as well as men both older and younger, I enjoy computer and videogames now and then.

And that’s just fine.


Tech Addiction:Technology & The Synod on the Family

Alienation: Technology & The Synod on the Family

Ralph Nader Understands Conservatism Better Than Most “Conservatives”

It’s come to this. A rich strain of conservative thought, and the powerful currents of Distributism coursing through it, is explored intelligently by a man most so-called conservatives (aka, Republicans) would dismiss as a commie wignut. Ralph Nader talks about the middle way between big government and big business, using one of the more important texts to emerge from the Southern agrarian movement. Who Owns America? A New Declaration of Independence is a collection of essays edited by Allen Tate and Herbert Agar that was a follow-up to the Southern agrarian manifesto I’ll Take My Stand.

Take it away, Ralph Nader:

In this mix, there was espoused a political economy for grassroots America that neither Wall Street nor the socialists nor the New Dealers would find acceptable. It came largely out of the agrarian South, casting a baleful eye on both Wall Street and Washington, D.C. To these decentralists, the concentrated power of bigness would produce its plutocratic injustices whether regulated through the centralization of political authority in Washington or left to its own cyclical failures. They were quite aware of both the corporate state fast maturing in Italy and Nazi Germany and the Marxists in the Soviet Union constructing another form of concentrated power with an ideology favoring centralized bigness in the state economy. They warned that either approach would produce unrestrained plutocracy and oligarchy.

Nor did they believe that a federal government with sufficient political authority to modestly tame the plutocracy and what they called “monopoly capitalism” could work because its struggle would end either in surrender or with the replacing of one set of autocrats with another. As Shapiro wrote in the foreword, “while the plutocrats wanted to shift control over property to themselves, the Marxists wanted to shift this control to government bureaucrats. Liberty would be sacrificed in either case. Only the restoration of the widespread ownership of property, Tate said, could ‘create a decent society in terms of American history.’”

And this:

What the decentralists were pushing for was the supremacy of individual property rights that “secure life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” over the property rights of incorporated entities possessing a “legal-social structure of privilege and concentration completely alien” to the agrarians’ notions of a democratic society.

In this regard, they drew their public’s attention to the early corporate chartering laws, administered by state legislatures in the early 1800s with “the greatest caution and limitation,” reflecting the charterers’ view of the supremacy of property “in the hands of private individuals.”

Rapid industrialism and the increase in the power of financial institutions led to the changing of these laws and the revising of some state constitutions to authorize more automatic chartering by state agencies, leading the agrarians to lament the lost opportunity, for they had been pressing for the creation of chartered cooperatives that would do the same work of amassing capital and other services without the distorting greed and concentrated power of corporations.

I have no illusions that any kind of Distributism will ever find a place in American polity unless the Republic collapses. Since that appears to be happening in slow-motion right now, there may a future in which the citizens of this country need too look to new models of social, political, and economic organization. Those of us who call ourselves Distributists need to keep that flame lit not because we have any illusions about its widespread practicality under the current Demopublican Ruling Class, but to explore it, expand it, and keep it alive in the cultural memory for a time when it may be needed.

On the other hand, Herbert Agar, was more hopeful of a radical return to roots:

If the American people, Agar believed, “ever decide they want something, they will not be headed off by anyone so readily frightened as our robber rabbits…. The important question from our point of view is not whether we can overcome the opposition of Big Business, but whether we can convince the plain man in America that our program is what he wants.”

Exit quote, from Agar:

“No country can be reformed by the people who hate it. The haters can supply useful criticism. But only those who have affection for the national ideal can persuade a people to reform.”


Richard III Was A Heavy Drinker

Not only do we now know that Richard III did, indeed, have a twisted spine, but a study of his remains indicates that the last years of his life showed a marked increase in consumption of wine and exotics foods such as “swan, crane, heron and egret.”

The study appears in The Journal of Archaeological Science, and concludes:

The recent discovery of the remains of King Richard III, one of the most controversial characters in British history, provides an opportunity to use scientific methods to assess conflicting historical and literary descriptions of his life. Our data comprise isotope results from different parts of the skeleton in order to reconstruct a life history of his diet, exposure to pollution and geographical movements. Most significantly, we demonstrate a substantial shift in his bone isotope values towards the end of his life. As we are dealing with an individual with known provenance and with, in parts, a detailed documentation of his diet and location we can test and extend our interpretations of skeletal isotope analysis. The isotope changes evident between Richard’s femur and rib bones, when assessed against historical documentations, suggest a significant increase in feasting and wine consumption in his later years. This is the first example where the intake of wine has been suggested as having an impact on the oxygen isotope composition of an individual and thus has wider implications for isotope-based archaeology.

Heavy consumption of wine and beer was more common in urban environments where clean water might not always be available. The daily allotment for someone of the upper class might be about a liter a day. Much of the alcohol in the middle ages had lower alcohol content and came from second and maybe even third pressings. However, the first pressing, with the highest alcohol content, was reserved for the tables of the elite, such as Richard.


Vox: Pope Francis Calls For New Crusade

Max Fisher wrote the dumbest thing I’ve read in ages. Even for something appearing on Vox, it’s Epic Stupid Level 5000 Plus Bonus Troll Points. Here it is:


So, Max is going with the whole “Pope Calls For New Crusade” angle. (My response to that is “If only…”)

Sure, the writing is laughably bad, the history is junk, the spin is pure hit-trolling, the hatred of Catholicism is palpable, and the tone is standard-issue juvenile sneering, but it’s the pure unvarnished ignorance that really shines through it all.

Here’s what Francis actually said:

“In these cases, where there is an unjust aggression, I can only say that it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor. I underscore the verb ‘stop.’ I’m not saying ‘bomb’ or ‘make war,’ just ‘stop.’ And the means that can be used to stop them must be evaluated.”

As an exhortation to a Crusade this lacks a certain panache. I checked with Pope Urban II to see what he thought:


Here’s the funny part about this: like all the kiddies at Vox, Max thinks he’s clever (that’s why they gots to ‘splain the news to us yokels), yet in attempting to appear clever, he only exposes a profound and provincial obtuseness.

Related: What Is Your Middle Schooler Being Taught About the Crusades

Mental Illness and the Notion of “Choice”

In the wake of the shocking death of Robin Williams, there’s been a lot about depression and suicide in the news and social media, some of it very good, much of it sheer nonsense.

I don’t think we’ve ever had a national moment quite like this, in which a beloved entertainer, known for making people laugh, takes his own life. It seems incongruous to many, and the reactions emphasize how little most people understand about mental illness, particularly depression. There’s been a lot of idiotic armchair psychoanalysis and tone-deaf commentary from people who clearly have not a clue.

And, you know, people who don’t have a clue should probably shut up about it. It is not anything that can ever, even by the most empathetic people, be understood from the outside. Any attempt by an outsider to quantify and explain it will be spotted for the hollow nonsense it is by those suffer, and just create further layers of misunderstanding for those who don’t.

Yes, in a general sense, Robin Williams had a “choice” to kill himself or not. His act was an act of the will. No one has to kill himself. It’s always–always–the wrong thing to do. Of course it is a “bad choice,” but that doesn’t really get to the heart of the matter.

Mental illness compromises the functioning of both the will and the intellect. It can warp the intellect until right judgment is no longer possible, and damages the will so that choosing the proper action is no longer a simple matter.

Thus, the language of “choice” is the wrong way to explain it. Since most people understand a choice as a largely binary decision making process between clear alternatives (and nothing can be as clear and stark as the choice between life and death), it conveys the wrong notions about an act of self-harm. It makes it sound like choosing a pair of pants or something to eat for lunch.

Quite obviously, if the will and intellect are properly ordered, a human being will not choose gratuitous self-destruction, which should give pundits a clue that it’s not really about a rational “choice,” but about a disease which can compromise the very ability to make rational choices.

The goal of the mental health professional is to help someone with mental illness repair that damaged thought process, so that a proper choice becomes obvious to the intellect and possible for the will. That’s why intervention can be so successful for those with suicidal thoughts. It enables the person who’s suffering to get assistance for their compromised thoughts and emotions.

The struggle is to get by each day–one day at a time–without self-destructing: to think clearly enough to know that there’s a day beyond this one. As those days line up and get harder and harder, this becomes more and more difficult, which is why it has to be a daily fight made with the assistance of God, friends, family, and professional help.

Suicide is a mirage: it appears to offer relief. It doesn’t. It merely snuffs out all hope as the individual surrenders to despair rather than trusting in God and praying for a better tomorrow.

Each tomorrow is a chance, and if a thousand tomorrows don’t bring relief, then you just have to hold on for 1001.

Faith also has a role to play in healing those who suffer various forms of mental illness, and we should place our burdens on the shoulders that carried the cross. I think the Catholic Guide to Depression does a decent job of explaining the subject. It’s also something I’ve written about here.


Michael Lichens on Depression

When I write about mental health issues and depression, I tend to do so obliquely, so I know how difficult it is for Michael Lichens, Editor of Catholic Exchange, to write about it as well as he does. An excerpt

I wanted to point out that depression touches many lives, whether we know it or not. Even my worst days I can fake being happy for a few hours before I collapse in exhaustion. If someone is depressed, you may never know it unless they feel comfortable enough to let their guard down. Then, it’s up to you to do what you can to be a friend, mother, spouse, or whatever part you play in their lives.

Unlike many illnesses, it does not always show outwardly. The person in your life suffering mental anguish is probably barely aware of it himself. Dig, though, and it’s there. Like all conditions of the Fall, we cannot let it fester in darkness but there needs to a light to shine the truth and to give hope to those who feel like all hope has abandoned them.

Depression doesn’t give a damn about your status, vocation, race, or financial situation. Yet, neither does Christ. If we want the mentally afflicted to find the peace that surpasses all understanding, we need first to open the doors and to let it in, and that is what Christian charity ought to do.

If someone in your life is suffering mental anguish, I can tell you from experience what works and doesn’t work. Don’t try to cure them unless you are a doctor or a real wonder-worker, and for heaven’s sake do not try to tell them, “But how can you be depressed!” Instead, let them know that they do have a friend, who is willing to carry a lot of their pains if necessary, and accept it if silence is their only response. Then, pray for help and that grace will be sufficient to get them through, but be aware that you probably are called to be an instrument of that grace. It means some work, but love demands it.

Read the rest. 

They Have Drunk of The Everflowing Life

 There’s a paradox in martyrdom that we must accept even if we can’t reconcile ourselves to it: those being killed because of their faith in Christ are simultaneously tragic victims of injustice and barbarism, and glorious witnesses entering into everlasting life because of their sacrifice. Christ promised little more than this in the world, which would hate us because it hated him first.

In his Exhortation to Martyrdom, St. Cyprian praises those who die for the faith:

And lest anyone become frightened and disturbed at the difficulties and persecutions which we suffer in this world, it must be proved that it was formerly predicted that the world would hold us in hatred and would stir up persecutions against us, so that from the very fact that these things happen the faith of the divine promise is manifest in the benefits and the rewards to follow afterwards, and that whatever happens to Christians is nothing new, since from the beginning of the world the good have labored and the just have been oppressed and slain by the unjust.

The thing is, I don’t want to die for my faith. I don’t even want to suffer for it. I doubt very much that the Christians of Iraq do either. They want to be left alone in their homes in peace to live and love and worship as they choose. These aren’t airy abstractions and pious plaster saints: these are real men, women, and children being brutally murdered.

Antonio Ciseri's Martyrdom of the Seven Maccabees

Antonio Ciseri’s Martyrdom of the Seven Maccabees

Few saints sought martyrdom, though many embraced it when the time came. That’s why they’re saints. It’s not that many people have wanted to die for Christ, but that, when pushed to the point of decision, grace gave them strength to hold firm in faith and say, This far and no farther. The promise of something greater awaits.

Christians like to imagine what it would have been like to walk with Jesus in Jerusalem and sit at the Master’s feet. Given what we know of the times, the ministry of Jesus, and human nature, it’s more likely than not that most modern Christians would have been lining the via dolorosa and paying their “homage” not with bent knee and palm branches, but with jeers and spitting. His own friends and followers turned on and abandoned him. Do we think we’re any better?

If I am to be honest with myself, then I must assume that I would have been holding the scourge that drew flesh from His back or the hammer that drove in the nails. Anything more would be hubris. I know what it took for God to drag me back to the foot of the cross from the deeps where I was drowning. I have no illusions about what I would have done had the Master come along with his band of holy outcasts and said “Follow me.”

Likewise, Christians prefer to think we’d embrace that final cross if the time came. I certainly hope I would. I hope my faith would overcome my instinct for self-preservation. If  it did, it would only be by the grace of God, which is the most we can hope for when the time comes. We all die, and each only once. Only God can grant us the strength to die on our feet as Christians rather than on our knees as an apostates.

Far worse for the parent is the idea of watching your children not merely die for the faith, but be tortured for it. This is why the story of the mother and her seven sons in 2 Maccabees 7 was an important text for the Church fathers. St. Cyprian references it in his Exhortation, as do St Gregory Nazianzen, St Ambrose, St Augustine, and others in various texts.

The chapter depicts a mother and her seven sons who are tortured and executed by Antiochus for refusing to eat pork in violation of the Law. They are steadfast in their faith, and one after another the mother urges each to keep that faith even as her heart breaks to watch them die. One offers his hands and says

“I got these from Heaven, and because of his laws I disdain them, and from him I hope to get them back again.”

The mother, “her woman’s reasoning [fired] with a man’s courage,” says to them

“I do not know how you came into being in my womb. It was not I who gave you life and breath, nor I who set in order the elements within each of you. 23 Therefore the Creator of the world, who shaped the beginning of man and devised the origin of all things, will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again, since you now forget yourselves for the sake of his laws.”

She urges her last child to “accept death, so that in God’s mercy I may get you back again with your brothers.”

As a late text which assumes the resurrection of the body as the reward for faith, 2 Maccabees offers a striking prelude to the gospel, and this was not lost on the Church Fathers when they used it for preaching. The youngest son even suggests that their sacrifice will be an expiation not merely for their own sins, but for the sins of the nation:

“For our brothers after enduring a brief suffering have drunk of everflowing life under God’s covenant; but you, by the judgment of God, will receive just punishment for your arrogance. 37 I, like my brothers, give up body and life for the laws of our fathers, appealing to God to show mercy soon to our nation and by afflictions and plagues to make you confess that he alone is God, 38 and through me and my brothers to bring to an end the wrath of the Almighty which has justly fallen on our whole nation.”

We are told in the final line that “last of all, the mother died, after her sons.” A mother would choose to die rather than watching her children killed before her eyes, so we have to wonder at the faith and courage she showed until the end.

She knew what every parent should know in our hearts: our primary goal is not to make our children smart, successful, or accomplished (although these are all worthy goals), but to get them to heaven. Again and again, seven times in all, the mother of Maccabees dashed herself against the ragged stones that were the heart of the king. She did not want fear of a “brief suffering” to keep her children from drinking of the everflowing life offered by God.

As the world continues to mint new martyrs, may we do everything in our power to protect their lives, but may we also pray for them to be strong the last, that faith may sustain them in the darkest hours and that, having suffered, they will attain a reward no army could ever take away.

Statue of Jesus Has Human Teeth


The statue of Jesus as the “Lord of Patience,” kept at the church of San Bartolo in Cuautlalpan Mexico, was gruesome enough before an art restorer subjected it to x-rays. That’s when the blood-drenched figure of a suffering Jesus was discovered to have an unexpected feature: its teeth are human. See for yourself:


The teeth are unlikely to be relics, and were probably donated for use in the statue when it was made in the 18th century.