FAITH, HOPE, LOVE, a Tangled Thread (Recently Updated)

St. Paul famously articulated the theological virtues: “Now abideth these three; Faith, Hope and Love.”

While he went on to crown one of them above the others (1 Corinthians 13:13, “the greatest of these is love”), he otherwise left this trinity of virtues unclarified. How are they related? Is there a connection between them?  Aren’t faith and hope the same thing, kind of? Did he separate them just to have three things in the list?

Elsewhere we read that “faith is the substance of things hoped for”, which certainly suggests a strong linkage between those two. The continuation of that passage (in Hebrews 11:1), “and the proof of things unseen”, fits our modern definition of faith more closely. But the link between faith and hope seems to want further consideration.

More modern translations suggest somewhat different meanings. The NAB calls faith “the realization of what is hoped for”. The NIV has “faith is being sure of what we hope for”.  The Jerusalem Bible reaches further, with “only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for”.  The Greek text uses the word “hypostasis” which elsewhere is usually translated as “substance,” so I stick with the RSV or KJV.

Faith, then, is the underlying reality of our hopes. But I am still confused about this “F-H-L” trinity.

Continue reading

BEAUTY and DIGNITY of Flowers

The above photos show two flowers I found recently in our garden.  They are both white hibiscus flowers, which blossom pretty much year-round in Florida.

The first one is in full bloom.  The second is a post-bloom that I found on the ground under the bush.  I picked it up because I thought it was a piece of wadded-up waste paper. 

When I looked closer, I saw that it had curled up on itself before falling from the bush. It looked like it was in a shroud of its own petals, with only the top (the stigma?) and a little of its golden pollen visible, but mostly bald.

The flower is of course indescribably beautiful. But I was surprised to see the beauty that it evolved into in its death.

What makes something beautiful?  Why is something, anything, beautiful?  Conventional wisdom has it that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, hinting that different people can see different things as beautiful (or ugly).  No doubt true to some extent, though I have trouble believing that anyone can find a hibiscus flower ugly. 

The Christian view is that beauty is a creation of God, one of the three things that show God to us (Truth, Beauty, and Love).  That leads to the question of whether God makes his creation intrinsically beautiful, or God instead gives us the capacity to see and appreciate beauty around us. Or both.

When I look at the hibiscus blossom, I see beauty.  And when I see the wilted flower in its petal-shroud, I see a dignity of faded beauty lost. And either way, I thank God for letting me see them.

“It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, O Lord.”

Always and everywhere.


Letter to My Listening Bishop

[As you probably know, the Catholic Church has directed all bishops to hold “listening sessions” with parishioners, to inquire how well the Church is “accompanying” Catholics through their faith journeys. I sent the following letter to my bishop since I could not attend the session near me. Whether you attend or not, please consider sending a similar letter.]

Dear Bishop Dewane,

The Listening Sessions present a great opportunity for laity to express our thoughts and concerns, for which I am grateful.  I may have difficulty getting to any of the sessions, so I want to express in written form what I would say to you if I were present in person.  (I also look forward to a possible Virtual Session, if it occurs.)

I am an adult convert and a parishioner of St. Raphael’s in Englewood, attending mass weekly. I also serve as an Extraordinary Lay Minister of the Eucharist, bringing communion to shut-ins. I participate in the Cornerstone Catholic Bible Study group.

The Church has accompanied me well in the brief years since my conversion, through good priests, good churches, and good friends.

But many things that I see in the wider Church are deeply disturbing to me. 

I see “Gay Pride” rainbow flags adorning churches, where humility should be preached and homosexual acts identified as sins.

I see the Holy Father cause pain to many faithful Catholic hearts by papal remarks mocking fruitful Catholic families “breeding like rabbits”.  My closest Catholic friends have four beautiful children, and I saw the hurt in their eyes when they heard this.

I see confusion sweeping the Church over issues like divorce and re-marriage.

I see blessings of same-sex “marriages”.

I see the false ecumenical pandering that calls the existence of false religions “God’s will” and reveres pagan idols like “Pachamama”

And while I personally prefer the New Mass, I have friends who love the TLM.  Neither they nor I understand the insulting and needless ghettoization of these deeply reverent individuals.

Overall, I see what looks like a near-total embrace of modernism and a rejection of all the warnings past popes have issued over this tendency.

As I rejoice at the grace that has brought me to this moment in my life, I hope and pray that the Holy Spirit will purge His Church of the error and confusion that are tearing it apart. 

And I thank you for asking.

Yours in Christ,

David Smith

My Brother – an Update

My brother Dick died recently. He had suffered through many years and several incurable diseases. And in his last months he was often hospitalized to stabilize his various conditions and medications. The last month was spent in an ICU bed, every day filled with hoping and praying to get him released to rehab and home. Much of that time he was delirious, and violently so. When he was responsive, he was overwhelmed by both exhaustion and impatience to be released. His ever-loving wife Lynda suffered by his side throughout, scarcely sleeping for over a month. (I don’t know how she did it! She is a strong and wonderful woman, and a blessing to my family.)

A grim story. Prayers seemed to go unanswered. But then one day, he snapped out of it! Still exhausted (and impatient), he had little memory of his delirium and suffering. We had great visits, and high hopes that he might be released soon. His friends stopped by for visits.

And then he died. Suddenly, without any warning, his heart gave out. He was mourned by a large group of men he had helped for years through Alcoholics Anonymous.

Were my prayers answered? Only when I stopped praying for specific medical miracles, and simply prayed “Lord, help my brother.” And finally, “Lord, bring him back to us.” And that He did.

Now my prayer is one of thanksgiving, and for the soul of my departed brother.

UPDATE: “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4.

Meet the Great Anthony Esolen

I’m back from a long posting delay. I apologize, but I have excuses (who doesn’t). I have been busy with the Cornerstone Catholic Scripture Study program, among other things. (If your church does not have it or another Bible study group for adults, it should. Cornerstone is one of many.)

And it’s the holiday season, and what not. End of excuses.

But I have been reading some other excellent online magazine essays by great writers, which I strongly recommend to you, dear reader.

Anthony Esolen may be the greatest writer in Christendom today. He publishes in many places, including the monthly Magnificat daily missal, as well as Crisis online and monthly on The Catholic Thing. Also from time to time on The Imaginative Conservative and First Things and who knows where else. OK, here’s who knows: while writing this I just discovered a website called Muck Rack (?), which has a profile and list of his published articles here. Some are unavailable without a subscription, but many or most are not. (The ones I have linked above are all free.)

His latest Crisis piece is entitled “Answering Anti-Christians”, and we should each memorize it (or carry a copy around in our wallets).

If you already read Esolen and any or all of these magazines and are reading my poor blog, I am overwhelmed with humility for even mentioning this. But if Esolen and any of these free sites are new to you, fix some coffee and start reading. Then let me know what you think, at “post a comment” below.

Check Out “Squirrely”

I see my good friend Mr. Moleman has posted a link to my Reminiscence about Mr. B (see below).

In appreciation of his kind gesture, I would suggest you take a look at his post “Squirrely”, a short story about the radical politics of the squirrels around us. You will enjoy it.

WILLIS A. BOUGHTON – A Reminiscence

In my misspent youth I was helped along by a remarkable man.  In the 1960’s, he was a youth group counselor for the MYF (Methodist Youth Group) at St. Andrews, a neighborhood church in a working class area of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

Willis A. Boughton was born in 1885, so when I met him he was already in his 70’s; quite a contrast from the millennial hipsters so common in today’s church youth ministries (see for more info on the type.)



In church today for the Easter service, I found myself swept up in the joyous spirit.  The music, the liturgy, the homily, al so spirit-lifting! But I had one disturbing thought as I looked at the crucifix: it seemed out of place, jarring and untimely.  We were celebrating the risen Lord, but the unavoidable centerpiece of the church was the crucifix, graphically displaying the dying Lord.  Didn’t the crucifixion end? Hasn’t Christ risen?  Then why, on this most joyous day, are we faced with death – His death? His gruesome, ugly, pathetic, painful death?

On Holy Saturday, commemorating the day when Jesus was in the tomb, the crucifix was covered, removed from sight, signifying His terrible absence from us.  But on Easter Sunday morning, He is back. We welcome Him home…but He is still dying!

As a recent convert (and long-lapsed Protestant), I have thought much about crucifixes. These depictions of our Savior dying on the cross adorn most (sadly not all) Catholic churches.  In this, we are (as far as I know) unique. Protestant churches usually have crosses behind the altar, but rarely are the crosses occupied.  Protestants tend to see the crucifix as needlessly maudlin. (Perhaps an appropriate word, if we remember its origin in the person of Mary Magdalene.)

The empty Protestant crosses are analogous to the empty tomb. The crucifixion, the death, the burial, all are in the past.  We move on.

But Catholics present the cross complete with the body of Jesus. The “corpus” may be symbolical or impressionistic, often bloodless, all in consideration of modern sensibilities about bloody, tortured bodies. But they are still painful to see.

Theologically, I don’t know why Catholics embrace the crucifix rather than the cross. But I have always found the crucifix a useful reminder that now, as in the past, every sin hurts God. Every sin requires an atonement.  Sin is not just an internal, private or inter-personal matter between me and anyone I injured with my sin. Every sin hurts God.

And so, the crucifixion never ends. It continues as long as sin does – that is, as long as I sin. And it is a great blessing to be reminded of that fact every time I step into a church.  Even on Easter.

Shape-Notes and Psalms

Have you heard of Shape Note Hymn Singing? I hadn’t until recently.

It is a traditional form of protestant hymn-singing, experiencing a small resurgence in parts of the country. Variously called “Fasola”, or “Sacred Harp”, it is beautiful, striking, sometimes boisterous and even raucous, and weirdly haunting. If you are not familiar with it, check out this clip. Going Home Mountain Shape Note singing – YouTube

The style (and many of the hymns) arose out of poor, rural, musically illiterate Appalachian communities, and are joyous celebrations of release from hard lives. They often follow the line of what were once called Negro spirituals (and are now properly African-American spirituals). Compare “Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home” or “Deep river, my home is over Jordan”, with “I’m glad that I am born to die, from grief and woe my soul shall fly, and I don’t care to stay here long!”  They all speak from hard lives of misery, poverty and oppression, and they look forward to rest and relief in heaven.  Even putting aside the extremity of suffering that slavery added to poverty, the common themes are striking.  Life is hard but heaven is near; and so we turn to God.

Suffer the Little Children

Church and State on Divorce

[I posted an earlier version of this essay, which I have now removed. I had erroneously criticized the Catechism for ignoring the suffering of children of divorce. A wiser voice corrected me. My only excuse is that I find the Catechism much harder to study than St. Thomas Aquinas.]

[This essay, as updated, has been published on Catholic Insight (, an excellent website in Canada. Its editor, John Paul Meenan, is the “wiser voice” that corrected me. I encourage you to take a look.]

            In Mark 10, Jesus is asked by the Pharisees (“to test Him”) whether divorce is lawful. As He admits, the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 24 and elsewhere) permitted divorce under some conditions. But Jesus argued more broadly, basing His words on the second chapter of Genesis, “the two will become one flesh.” Therefore, Jesus says, “what God has joined together, let not man put asunder.”

            The Mosaic Law on divorce is complex, but the overriding sense is that it is at best a necessary evil caused by unnecessary (and worse) evils. (As Jesus explained, “For your hardness of heart Moses wrote you this commandment.”) Adultery and abuse were the commonly accepted justifications. Remarriage of divorced persons was permitted in some cases and prohibited in others.

            Throughout the Bible, many aspects of divorce are addressed: Matthew 19:12 echoes Mark. Malachi 2:16 is strong: “For I hate divorce, says the Lord.” Luke 16:18 condemns re-marriage. Deuteronomy 24:1-4 even addresses serial divorce-and-re-marriage! But one omission is glaring: there is not a word about child custody. The impact on the children receives no more consideration than it does in a modern American courtroom, where children are an afterthought at best.

            In biblical (especially New Testament) times, the concept of family meant a father, a mother, and their children (along with any dependent grandparents). The idea of an intentionally childless married couple did not exist (perhaps because effective contraception did not exist). Children were valued as workers in support of the family, as caretakers in parental old age, and as inheritors. Many other reasons probably factored into what was in all likelihood not a conscious decision (to procreate) at all.

            St. Thomas Aquinas comes at the divorce issue from an interesting tack: the natural law. This “intention of nature” holds our fundamental understanding of right and wrong (sometimes called the First Grace, followed by the Mosaic Law and finally Jesus’ Law of Love.) It is the law that St. Paul ascribes to all, even the gentiles, as innate in our humanity (in Romans and elsewhere). Here is St. Thomas:

“By the intention of nature, marriage is directed to the rearing of offspring, not merely for a time, but throughout its whole life…  Therefore since the offspring is the common good of husband and wife, the dictate of the natural law requires the latter [husband and wife] to live together forever inseparably; and so the indissolubility of marriage is of natural law.” (“I answer that…”,Supplement Q67. A1: my emphasis added)

            In response to the (very modern-sounding) objection that some couples are infertile, and therefore marriage cannot be directed primarily to offspring, Thomas patiently explains:

“Marriage is chiefly directed to the common good in respect of its principal end, which is the good of the offspring; although in respect of its secondary end it is directed to the good of the parties…Hence marriage laws consider what is expedient for all rather than what may be suitable for one.” (Reply to Obj. 4)

            Note that St. Thomas does refer to “the good of the parties”, sometimes described as the unitive principle; but he calls it secondary to the good of the children.

            It is also worth noting that this is from his Summa Theologiae, which is based on both revelation and reason. He could have based the indissolubility of marriage first and foremost on biblical grounds: Genesis and Matthew/Mark. But instead, he bases his answer on natural law. One would expect this non-theological approach in his Summa Contra Gentiles, in which he argues from reason and nature, without divine revelation, to attain truth; and one is not disappointed:

“Hence, as law is instituted for the common good, the function of procreation ought to be regulated by laws divine and human. Now the laws laid down ought to proceed on the basis of the dictate of nature…Since then there is in the human species a natural exigency for the union of male and female to be one and indivisible, such unity and indissolubility must needs be ordained by human law. To that ordinance the divine law adds a supernatural reason, derived from the significancy of marriage as a type of the inseparable union of Christ with His Church…” (Chapter CXXIII)

            His reasoning is consistent: marriage is a matter of natural law directed at the welfare of children, creating the future and thereby benefiting society. Revelation adds a secondary, supernatural reason, related to the unitive principle, based on scripture (Genesis).

            St. Thomas, were he writing today, might find that contraception (and abortion) has divided marriages into two kinds (or “species”, to use one of his favorite words): families with children and those (contentedly or intentionally) without: procreative families and non-procreative ones. His reasoning cited above about infertile couples would have to take into account the very large number of intentionally childless marriages.

            The problem is reflected in our terminology.  “Divorce” (from the Latin divorto, “to turn different ways”) is usually defined as a legal dissolution (or dissolving) of a marriage contract or covenant.  “Marriage” is defined as the legally or formally recognized union of two people. Two people: two adults. And the children? Collateral damage. Property to be divided.

            We don’t even have a word for a divorce where children are involved. Whenever we use one word to describe two very different events, things can get confused. Divorce of two childless adults can be many things, from tragic to trivial. But divorce involving children is another thing: innocent children are victims, always hurt, traumatized, brutalized. What they experience is the destruction of their family and their world; a destruction inflicted upon them by those same adults who brought them into existence and have the duty to protect them. For a child, divorce dissolves not a contractual relationship, but a world.

            Thus, linguistically we trivialize the suffering of these children. Separation of childless adults is properly called divorce; but divorce with children should be described as it is: family destruction and child abandonment. It is today the one form of child abuse that is not only tolerable but even respectable. (Transgenderist chemical, psychological, and surgical mutilation of children is a new and growing area, but that is for another conversation.)

            Despite our popular myth of the “amicable divorce”, children know better. How often a child must listen to the comforting words of the customary speech. “It’s not your fault. Sometimes grownups just grow apart. It doesn’t mean we don’t love you. I’ll still be your Dad.”   

            The importance of this issue cannot be exaggerated. The social pathologies that plague western society today may be traced to many causes, but one of the most obvious is the weakening of families.  Poverty in America is largely traceable to single-parent households, as violent crime is largely traceable to boys raised in fatherless households.  35% of American children are in single-parent households, 25% specifically fatherless.  And that 25% accounts for 63% of youth suicides, 90% of homeless and runaway youths, 71% of high school dropouts, 70% of youths in state institutions, and 75% of youths in substance abuse treatment. [source: Annie E. Casey Foundation, Kids Count Data Center]

            The enactment of “No-Fault Divorce” laws has been one of the accelerants of societal breakdown.  It has given men (and increasingly women) a free pass to abandon those most dependent on them, without stigma or rebuke. The first such law was adopted by the Russian Bolshevik government in its first months in 1917 (though it only applied to childless couples). In the U.S., California led the way in 1969. These laws, which some men whimsically describe as “get-out-of-jail-free cards”, totally reversed the nature of divorce proceedings. Previous law operated like employment contracts or laws permitting “termination for cause” or “for just cause.” “No-fault” divorce amounted to the analogue of “at-will employment”; the employer could fire an employee for no more reason than that she had become tiresome, or that he had found a replacement he found more appealing.

            The cascade of broken families resulting from enactment of “No-Fault Divorce” laws has been one of the principal accelerants of societal breakdown. It has given men (and, to a lesser extent, women) a free pass to abandon those most dependent on them, without stigma or rebuke.

            It goes without saying that there are legitimate reasons for divorce, abuse being the most obvious. The Church to its credit has used the annulment process to deal with marriages so fatally flawed. The Gospel of Matthew also defends divorce for adultery.

            Some argue that the institution of marriage is itself in the process of dissolution, so it’s no big deal. Cohabitation, “proud” single parenting, and unashamed male abandonment are making divorce irrelevant. One may ponder which came first, cheap divorce or cheapened marriage.  Like most such “chicken-or-egg?” arguments, it is pointless; both need serious attention. But easy, non-judgmental “no-fault” divorce has left marriage in a desperately weakened condition, and mainstreamed the society-wide tragedy of children psychologically crippled by parental abandonment.

            We come now to the current turmoil involving divorced/remarried Catholics. With the present papal incumbent moving to downgrade the seriousness, even the sinfulness, of divorce/remarriage, divorce appears to be viewed everywhere as less of a problem, even in the Church founded by Jesus. If the Church moves forward with “normalization” of divorce, it will only be making matters worse.

            What seems to be lacking is the natural law, which a return to St. Thomas Aquinas could correct. The Church should consider, in light of natural law, the difference between simple divorces and divorces with children. The Church must lead the way in this, given the extent to which our secular society has decided to act as if the children of divorce are invisible (along with society’s rejection of both natural law and Judeo-Christian morality).  The state could, of course, make a start by limiting no-fault divorce to childless couples. But that would require a state willing to confront what Christopher Lasch called “our ‘child-centered’ society’s icy indifference to everything that makes it possible for children to flourish and to grow up to be responsible adults.” [“The True and Only Heaven”]. But that will not happen.

            The Church can and should address the problem with St. Thomas Aquinas and the natural law, rather than normalize it with the confusions of Amoris Laetitia