Lent with a Medieval Wheel

I sometimes have a habit of seeing a spiritual presentation or lecture and remembering a lot of detail, but forgetting some basic “logistics”. For example, I once shared all the particulars of a talk with a friend, but could not answer some simple questions he had, so he said, “You just gave me every detail of that talk, but you can’t tell me the name of the presenter or the name of the church where the event was held or even the name of the town? Is that right?” I sheepishly responded, “…Right.”

Such was the case back around 2011 or 2012 (can’t remember which) when I happened to catch Fr. Robert Barron (now Bishop Barron) on EWTN giving a lecture on something called The Medieval Wheel of Fortune. I believe this talk is now part of the “Untold Blessings” lecture series offered at Word on Fire.

This Medieval Wheel strongly relates to the idea of detachment and lent is an opportune time to practice detachment from selfishness, material things and habitual sin; it’s helped me a lot on my spiritual journey, so I like sharing it with others. Perhaps I was particularly intrigued because it comes out of the middle ages and yet seems so timeless.

It goes something like this; the Roman goddess Fortuna was the goddess of fortune and the personification of luck. Fortuna was said to govern the circle of life. Imagine we are firmly attached to the edge of a circle or wheel being helplessly spun around by Fortuna; a wheel containing 4 stages of life as depicted above.

  • Stage 1: I Reign – A zenith or climax. You are on top of the world.
  • Stage 2: I Have Reigned – Things begin to unravel or are in decline
  • Stage 3: I Have No Kingdom – All is lost. This is rock bottom.
  • Stage 4: I Shall Reign Again – Positive signs return. There is hope.


A modern day example I’ll use with my confirmation students:

  • Stage 1: I Reign – I just found new (and hot) girlfriend!
  • Stage 2: I Have Reigned – It’s been a few weeks, and she’s starting to get on my nerves.
  • Stage 3: I Have No Kingdom – We broke up. My life is over!
  • Stage 4: I Shall Reign Again – Who’s that other cute girl that keeps looking at me?


An example I use when I present to RCIA candidates:

  • Stage 1: I Reign – I just found a great new job!
  • Stage 2: I Have Reigned – I’m under more pressure and I hear the company is having financial problems.
  • Stage 3: I Have No Kingdom – I lost my job.
  • Stage 4: I Shall Reign Again – My new job search has many solid leads

After the fall of Rome, the medievals took this wheel of life and Christianized it. What happens as you move closer to the center of a spinning wheel? It spins slower. What happens at the absolute center? It does not move at all. What would happen if we put Christ in the absolute center of the wheel; at the absolute center of our life? We would experience peace, become centered and detached from the fast edge of the wheel; life’s ups and downs would no longer control us, no longer exhaust us. Stain glass rose windows seen in medieval cathedrals come from this concept.

Theologically, we can say that we are either moving our souls toward God or toward “self”. Moving toward God ultimately becomes Heaven. Moving toward “self” ultimately becomes Hell. In the context of the wheel, we could say that we are either moving our souls toward the center of all things with Christ or out to the edge in an ever-expanding circle of madness.

Fr. Barron brilliantly linked all this to an interpretation of the beatitudes that is all about detachment:

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit…Blessed are those detached from material things.
  • Blessed are they who mourn…Blessed are those not addicted to “feeling good”.
  • Blessed are the meek…Blessed are those not self-centered.
  • Blessed are those who thirst for righteousness…Blessed are those detached from sin.
  • Blessed are the merciful…Blessed are those who are detached from revenge.
  • Blessed are the clean of heart…Blessed are those detached from evil thoughts.
  • Blessed are the peacemakers…Blessed are those free from hatred.
  • Blessed are you when they insult & persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you because of me …Blessed are you if you don’t care what people think!

Since I like to make thinking “visible”, I created a visual of what I learned. Click HERE for a PDF version of The Medieval Wheel of Fortune from my old blog…and have a “detached” lent.


How To Know & Deal With Heresy Today – Part I

For Our Time, For This Time,

Sound familiar?

Commintory, St. Vincent of Lerins (early 5th Century Anno Domini)



“A General Rule for distinguishing the Truth of the Catholic Faith from the Falsehood of Heretical Pravity.

“[4.] I have often then inquired earnestly and attentively of very many men eminent for sanctity and learning, how and by what sure and so to speak universal rule I may be able to distinguish the truth of Catholic faith from the falsehood of heretical pravity; and I have always, and in almost every instance, received an answer to this effect: That whether I or any one else should wish to detect the frauds and avoid the snares of heretics as they rise, and to continue sound and complete in the Catholic faith, we must, the Lord helping, fortify our own belief in two ways; first, by the authority of the Divine Law, and then, by the Tradition of the Catholic Church.

“[6.] Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense Catholics, which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally. This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent. We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors.

“What is to be done if one or more dissent from the rest.

“[7.] What then will a Catholic Christian do, if a small portion of the Church have cut itself off from the communion of the universal faith? What, surely, but prefer the soundness of the whole body to the unsoundness of a pestilent and corrupt member? What, if some novel contagion seek to infect not merely an insignificant portion of the Church, but the whole? Then it will be his care to cleave to antiquity, which at this day cannot possibly be seduced by any fraud of novelty.

“The evil resulting from the bringing in of Novel Doctrine shown in the instances of the Donatists and Arians.

“[9.] But that we may make what we say more intelligible, we must illustrate it by individual examples, and enlarge upon it somewhat more fully, lest by aiming at too great brevity important matters be hurried over and lost sight of.

“In the time of Donatus, from whom his followers were called Donatists, when great numbers in Africa were rushing headlong into their own mad error, and unmindful of their name, their religion, their profession, were preferring the sacriligeous temerity of one man before the Church of Christ, then they alone throughout Africa were safe within the sacred precincts of the Catholic faith, who, detesting the profane schism, continued in communion with the universal Church, leaving to posterity an illustrious example, how, and how well in future the soundness of the whole body should be preferred before the madness of one, or at most of a few.

“[10.] So also when the Arian poison had infected not an insignificant portion of the Church but almost the whole world, so that a sort of blindness had fallen upon almost all the bishops of the Latin tongue, circumvented partly by force partly by fraud, and was preventing them from seeing what was most expedient to be done in the midst of so much confusion, then whoever was a true lover and worshipper of Christ, preferring the ancient belief to the novel misbelief, escaped the pestilent infection.

“[11.] By the peril of which time was abundantly shown how great a calamity the introduction of a novel doctrine causes. For then truly not only interests of small account, but others of the very gravest importance, were subverted. For not only affinities, relationships, friendships, families, but moreover, cities, peoples, provinces, nations, at last the whole Roman Empire, were shaken to their foundation and ruined. For when this same profane Arian novelty, like a Bellona or a Fury, had first taken captive the Emperor,and had then subjected all the principal persons of the palace to new laws, from that time it never ceased to involve everything in confusion, disturbing all things, public and private, sacred and profane, paying no regard to what was good and true, but, as though holding a position of authority, smiting whomsoever it pleased. Then wives were Then wives were violated, widows ravished, virgins profaned, monasteries demolished, clergymen ejected, the inferior clergy scourged, priests driven into exile, jails, prisons, mines, filled with saints, of whom the greater part, forbidden to enter into cities, thrust forth from their homes to wander in deserts and caves, among rocks and the haunts of wild beasts, exposed to nakedness, hunger, thirst, were worn out and consumed. Of all of which was there any other cause than that, while human superstitions are being brought in to supplant heavenly doctrine, while well established antiquity is being subverted by wicked novelty, while the institutions of former ages are being set at naught, while the decrees of our fathers are being rescinded, while the determinations of our ancestors are being torn in pieces, the lust of profane and novel curiosity refuses to restrict itself within the most chaste limits of hallowed and uncorrupt antiquity?


“[20.] But to return to the matter in hand: It behooves us then to have a great dread of the crime of perverting the faith and adulterating religion, a crime from which we are deterred not only by the Church’s discipline, but also by the censure of authority. Fore very one knows how gravely, how severely, how vehemently, the blessed apostle Paul inveighs against certain, who, with marvellous levity, had been so soon removed from him who had called them to the grace of Christ to another Gospel, which was not another;  Galatians 1:6 who had heaped to themselves teachers after their own lusts, turning away their ears from the truth, and being turned aside unto fables; 2 Timothy 4:3-4 having damnation because they had cast off their first  faith;  1 Timothy 5:12 who had been deceived by those of whom the same apostle writes to the Roman  Christians, Now, I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause  divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you have learned, and avoid them. For they that are such serve not the Lord Christ, but their own belly, and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple, Romans 16:17-18 who enter into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with diverse lusts, ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth; 2 Timothy 3:6 vain talkers and deceivers, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake; Titus 1:10 men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith; 2 Timothy 3:8 proud knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, destitute of the truth, supposing that godliness is gain, 1 Timothy 6:4 withal learning to be idle, wandering about from house to house, and not only idle, but tattlers also and busy-bodies, speaking things which they ought not, 1 Timothy 5:13 who having put away a good conscience have made shipwreck concerning the faith; 1 Timothy 1:19 whose profane and vain babblings increase unto more ungodliness, and their word does eat as does a cancer. 2 Timothy 2:16-17 Well, also, is it written of them: But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto all men, as theirs also was. 2 Timothy 3:9

Part II to follow.




Salvation Is Not a Right

My last post spurred some interesting comments about human rights. One commenter in particular made an astute observation about three inalienable rights in terms of our temporal life.

  • The Right to Life: Relates to your future; lose your life and you lose your future.
  • The Right to Liberty: Relates to your present; lose your liberty and you lose your present.
  • The Right to Property: Relates to your past; lose your property (the fruit of your life and liberty) and you lose your past.

And in the end no one, other than God, can justly infringe upon these rights assuming there is no need to take your life or liberty in self-defense or as punishment, and that your property was justly acquired.

But aren’t terms like “life”, “liberty” and even “property” subject to interpretation and understanding? You’d think the right to life would be fairly straightforward, but for some, animals and trees have more right to be alive than humans who happen to be physically located in their mother’s womb. Along these same lines, a sense of entitlement can lead one to conclude that the right to an abortion is part of a woman’s “liberty” and that your property is not really yours, but actually communal property that can and should be distributed equally.

Kids and young adults might express this sense of entitlement more freely than older adults and this can all relate to how we view salvation. My confirmation students will sometimes say what many adults might often think. An example is when we discuss Original Sin in class. Objections to the dogma may go something like this…What’s the deal with Original Sin? Adam and Eve disobeyed, not me. I didn’t do anything, especially when I was a newborn baby, so why should I have to deal with all the ramifications of Original Sin? It’s not fair!!

The attitude above seems to imply that we are entitled to salvation; we have a right to the free gift of grace and eternal life with God. In contrast, St Paul spoke of salvation as more of a process “So then, my beloved…work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12) “Work out” implies a process, and “fear and trembling” implies that it can be lost or never realized.

The following analogy seems to help clear things up in terms of Original Sin and not taking salvation for granted: Imagine your father was an impoverished man who befriended a billionaire long before you were born. They were such good friends that the billionaire made your dad heir to his fortune. One day your father betrayed the billionaire, so he removed him from his will, leaving him in his poverty. Years later your father met your mother and you were born. Eventually, you learned the story of friendship and betrayal between the billionaire and your father. You realize that you would have been next in line for the fortune if your father would have remained a faithful friend, so you say, “My father betrayed him, not me. I didn’t do anything, so why should I have to deal with this poverty. It’s not fair!! The fortune should still go to me.”

The reality is that you never had a claim to the fortune in the first place.


The Occult, R.E. and Me

A commenter on this blog linked an article in MarketWatch entitled Why millennials are ditching religion for witchcraft and astrology. The article was in a business website because of spiking sales among products claiming metaphysical benefits, but it still made some reasonable points about why the ditching is being done.

Summarizing briefly…

  • Young people are looking for a “reference point” to identify with and to place people and events into context.
  • They see the occult as a tangible way for them to take control of their lives when things like politics, economics and the environment seem too big to change
  • There is a “meaning gap”. They might go from work to a bar to dinner and a date with no semblance of meaning. The occult gives the illusion of a way out and a way of putting yourself within the framework of history and the universe.

I get some sense of this fascination with the occult as a Confirmation Catechist. This is my seventh year in Religious Education (RE) and I can tell you it’s sometimes hard to get the attention of a bunch of thirteen-year-olds on a Saturday morning, but when relating the day’s lesson to anything involving the occult, I suddenly have their full attention. This works especially well around Halloween.

We might have some discussion about the origins of Halloween and then talk about All Saints Day and the Holy Day of Obligation, but I’ll also ask the kids what they think about trying to contact any random spirit that might be listening via a Ouija Board or Magic 8 Ball or other means…even if it’s just for fun. Some say nothing; some share an eerie experience they’ve had; some say it’s not such a good idea, but maybe that is said because that is what a catechist would want to hear.

Regardless of the answer we begin with a discussion about angels that goes something like this…The Church teaches that angels are real. They don’t have a body, but are like us in terms of having an intellect and a will, meaning they can think for themselves and then choose what they want to do. Some angels choose not to love and serve God; they are fallen angels, sometimes called “demons” or “evil spirits”.

Now suppose you are calling upon random spirits and one of these demons happens to be in the neighborhood. God or your guardian angel might normally protect you from such a thing, but you have chosen to open a portal via a personal invitation and the demon just might choose to accept the invite. Keep in mind that if an evil spirit hates God, and you are made in the image and likeness of God, then the demon naturally hates you, so you’d be in for rough time. The Church teaches that these things are real, so don’t mess with them! It’s also sinful because you are calling upon spirits instead of calling upon The Lord (see commandment #1).

Mentioning the Catholic Rite of Exorcism and reading to the kids from the Catechism can make it more official. “When the Church asks publicly and authoritatively in the name of Jesus Christ that a person or object be protected against the power of the Evil One and withdrawn from his dominion, it is called exorcism… The solemn exorcism, called “a major exorcism,” can be performed only by a priest and with the permission of the bishop… Exorcism is directed at the expulsion of demons or to the liberation from demonic possession through the spiritual authority which Jesus entrusted to his Church….” (CCC 1673)

I’ll also throw in a story or two written by Exorcist Fr. Gabriele Amorth for good measure:

“One day Father Candidio was expelling a demon. Toward the end of the exorcism, he turned to the evil spirit and sarcastically told him, ‘Get out of here. The Lord has already prepared a nice, well-heated house for you!’ At this, the demon answered, ‘You do not know anything! It wasn’t he [God] who made hell. It was us. He had not even thought about it.’”1

Funny how people poke fun at Catholics until they need an exorcist!

The book of Genesis can provide another teaching opportunity. The seven-day creation story is explained very well in the Great Adventure Bible Timeline during the early world sessions. Day six and day seven can be used to help explain the relationship between God and man and also what certain numbers might mean in an occult-ish sense.

The creation of both man and beast is on the same day; day six (see Genesis 1:24-31). Why is that? Isn’t man set apart from animals with a soul; made in the image & likeness of God? Why don’t we get our own special day?!? Consider this question in light of the 7th day. God blessed the 7th day and made it holy because he rested on that day (see Genesis 2:2-3). God does not need physical rest. The Sabbath day is for us. “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27).

The beasts made with man on day six do not know or love God. How many people do we know who relate to God the same way an animal does? They do not know or love God, even though they were given the capacity. Although made on the same “day”, man is called to leave the beasts behind in day six and find “rest” with God in day seven. A relationship in which two parties can “rest” in one another can conjure up images of a comfortable, self-giving union. This may remind us of the Catholic ideal of marriage or the idea of “covenant”, as it should. This also relates to heaven, which is an eternal rest with God.

Finally, I remind my students that “thinking means connecting things”2:

    • The number 7 in scripture can represent fullness or completion.
    • The number 6 (1 less than 7) corresponds to evil or imperfection
    • The number 3 is also for completeness and perfection
    • So the number six three times (666) would represent something perfectly evil or …
    • The Number of the Beast!!! (see Rev 13:18)

So, will you choose to “rest” with God in day seven or remain with the beasts in day six? It’s up you. Just remember…these things are real!


  1. Fr. Gabriele Amorth, An Exorcist Tells His Story (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999), p.22
  2. G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (New York: Doubleday, 2001), p. 31.