Catholic Prayers for the New Evangelization

"Catholic Prayers for the New Evangelization"

Check out the revised edition of this exciting and unique prayer book, filled with prayers that are sure to nourish the soul as we undertake the New Evangelization.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Christ ascends into Heaven and sends the promised gift of the Spirit

On May 5th, the universal Church celebrated the Solemnity of the Ascension.  Out of obedience, many of us celebrated the Mass of the Ascension on the nearest Sunday. 


I have become convinced, after much reflection, that the Holy Days of Obligation are an indispensable opportunity for the faithful to learn about and celebrate the faith beyond the Sunday obligation.  The Holy Days in the universal Church calendar honor our Lord (Christmas, Ascension and Corpus Christi), the Blessed Mother (Mother of God, Assumption and Immaculate Conception) and the Saints (Saint Joseph, Husband of Mary and Patron of the Universal Church, and All Saints).  It is reasonable that Corpus Christi be transferred to a Sunday since it is not tied to a specific day and a Solemnity of the Lord can pre-empt a Sunday celebration in the table of feasts.  However, because of the scriptural basis of the Ascension taking place 40 days after the Resurrection, transferring “Ascension Thursday” to the following Sunday makes no sense.  The uniqueness of the Ascension demands a unique celebration.  Accommodating convenience is a poor reason for making decisions about Church practice.  A better reason is facilitating a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.  Taking time out of our routine to honor significant events and persons in the story of salvation is absolutely worth our time.  People today need more time with Jesus, not less; a more radical living out of their faith instead of minimalism.  Furthermore, in a world where healthy masculinity and virtuous fatherhood are lacking, we need to “Go to Joseph” for inspiration and intercession.  Therefore, I am convinced that the salvation of souls would be further enabled by a commitment on the part of our Church hierarchy to celebrating more Holy Days of Obligation and doing so with greater zeal.  Asking the baptized to commit to Mass on seven Holy Days throughout the year is not too much to ask, considering all the activities for which families today manage to find time.  These seven holy days should thus be celebrated as obligatory without exception: Immaculate Conception, Christmas, Mother of God, Saint Joseph, Ascension, Assumption, All Saints.  The circumstances under which one incurs the penalty of mortal sin for missing Mass on these days could be modified.  For example, work that is necessary to support the family could be a legitimate excuse to miss Mass.  The bottom line is to undertake a campaign of encouraging people to see the eternal spiritual benefit of celebrating these feasts with the Church community.


We recall this moment in which Jesus returned to the Father’s right hand because it signifies the end of His earthly ministry and opens the way for the spark of the Spirit of the Lord to ignite the kindling which was the early Church into flame – the fire prophesied by Joel, the fire Jesus came to cast on the earth and longed to see burning, the fire which spreads its light and warmth throughout the world as the Gospel is proclaimed.  Jesus told the Apostles that He had to leave them in order for the Spirit to come.  The Church could not hope to flourish without the Spirit.  In the meantime, Jesus tells the Apostles to stay put in Jerusalem, waiting and praying for the promise of the Father to come upon them.  With the power of the Spirit to encourage them, the Apostles would have the wisdom and courage, in fact all the gifts of the Spirit, they need in order to be Jesus’ witnesses to the ends of the earth.


Having ascended through the clouds, Jesus enters into the heavenly sanctuary accompanied by the blare of trumpets.  Each time we enter into the celebration of the Holy Mass, we are drawn up into the heavenly liturgy.  We sing with the angels and join in their unceasing worship of God.  On Calvary, Jesus offered the one perfect sacrifice for the salvation of the world.  Rising from the empty grave, He trampled the power of sin and death.  The veil of the sanctuary was torn in two when Jesus breathed His last, so there is no more daily sacrifices in the temple at Jerusalem.  The Lamb is the light of the heavenly Temple, the New Jerusalem.  The Spirit is the light of the earthly Jerusalem, where the Apostles suddenly discover they are given the power to speak the one faith in the language of all peoples.  The Church, she who was born from the saving tide of blood and water flowing from the side of Christ as He surrendered to death on the Cross, is christened at Pentecost with the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.  In the epicenter of the Upper Room an explosion of grace occurs whose shockwaves have been felt across the continents and down through the centuries. 


The moment of Pentecost – the driving wind and the tongues of fire – is often conceptualized in a pious manner, especially in sacred art.  The fact is that the Apostles were ordinary blue-collar men, who never expected to venture outside Galilee and Judea before they met Jesus.  All of a sudden their best friend rises from the dead, they are compelled by their love for Him to travel to the ends of the earth preaching the Gospel and they discover they can speak languages they have never even heard before.  So, the wind and fire of the Spirit shook them to the core.  The Apostles’ Baptism in the Spirit was as knock-your-socks-off powerful an experience then as it is for those who are prayed over in a charismatic retreat today.  Rather than little flames on the heads of iconic figures frozen in prayer, the Apostles were blown over by what they felt.  The story of Pentecost took place because the Mary and the Eleven were obedient to Jesus and gathered for nine days of intense prayer.  Jesus asks the same of us: enter into frequent and sincere contemplative prayer, seeking to experience a deeper indwelling of the Spirit.  Jesus desires to share an outpouring of the Spirit with every human person, in order that we all can become His witnesses. 


Saint Paul exhorts us in Romans and Galatians to live by the Spirit and not by the flesh, to exemplify the virtues of the Spirit rather than be held prisoner by the vices of the flesh.  Often these war within us in spiritual battle.  I am fond of this old Native American legend:


An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”


The world tells us to feed the flesh: to eat, drink, use, abuse and indulge as much as we want.  God tells us to nourish our spiritual life, through prayer, celebrating the sacraments, practicing the virtues and studying the teachings of the faith.  We need to choose every day, sometimes hour by hour, to starve the flesh and feed the soul. 


The Spirit offers us His gifts: the knowledge of the things of God, a deeper understanding that surpasses the world’s false values, wisdom to perceive life through the mind of Christ, counsel to make healthy choices and virtuous decisions, fortitude in the face of opposition to our faith, reverence for all that is sacred and a healthy fear of the Lord that compels us to be totally devoted to God.  These gifts form us into disciples, even saints – but only if we accept them and put them into action in our lives.  For this Jesus ascended into Heaven and sent the promised gift of the Father.  The same precious gift awaits us, too, whenever we sincerely knock at the treasury of grace. 


Come, Holy Spirit!  Fill us with all the gifts of your love that we need to nourish our spiritual life and be witnesses to Jesus in the world. 

Saturday, May 07, 2016

In Christ we are free: the Apostle and a famous convert

Saint Paul on Freedom
Galatians 4
God’s Free Children in Christ.
Do Not Throw This Freedom Away 
An Allegory on Christian Freedom
21 Tell me, you who want to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the freeborn woman.  23 The son of the slave woman was born naturally, the son of the freeborn through a promise. 24 Now this is an allegory. These women represent two covenants. One was from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; this is Hagar. 25 Hagar represents Sinai, a mountain in Arabia; it corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery along with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is freeborn, and she is our mother. 27 For it is written:
break forth and shout, you who were not in labor;
for more numerous are the children of the deserted one
than of her who has a husband.”
“Drive out the slave woman and her son!
Galatians 5
The Importance of Faith.
1 For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.
2 It is I, Paul, who am telling you that if you have yourselves circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. 3 Once again I declare to every man who has himself circumcised that he is bound to observe the entire law. 4 You are separated from Christ, you who are trying to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we await the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
Freedom for Service.
13 For you were called for freedom, brothers. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you go on biting and devouring one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another. 16 I say, then: live by the Spirit and you will certainly not gratify the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you may not do what you want. 18 But if you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, 20idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, 21 occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ [Jesus] have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit. 26 Let us not be conceited, provoking one another, envious of one another.
In these splendid words, Saint Paul teaches us that God the Father ransomed us from slavery to sin by offering up His Son, who freely sacrificed His life in our place on the Cross.  Therefore, we possess the freedom of God’s children.  Christian freedom is not license to do whatever pleases our whims but liberty from sin to pursue excellence and place ourselves at the service of others.  We are free because of Jesus and our lives are meant to be a freely offered sacrifice to Him and to others in His name. 

Malcolm Muggeridge
In the conversion story of the British journalist Malcom Muggeridge, recorded for history by the man himself in the book titled Conversion: The Spiritual Journey of a Twentieth-Century Pilgrim, there are several instances of the theme of freedom and its implications for Christian discipleship.  Let us explore five.
  1. Through the story of an encounter with a French woman whose German lover is captured and executed, leaving her a widow before she could be a wife or mother, Malcolm teaches the lesson that liberation comes through suffering and self-giving love.  She is shaved and marched through the streets as a traitor in humiliating fashion.  She even suspects her brother to be among the executioners.  Malcom concludes from his meeting with her that “What is remarkable is that her love for her lost lover, and joy in the child she will bear him, swallows up her suffering and grief.  That is to say, she is Liberated….”  (p. 115)  For Jesus Christ, sin and death were swallowed up in love through the suffering He embraced.  This story portrays vividly for Malcolm what the Passion of Christ demonstrated, that “the only way to be truly liberated is through suffering and the dynamic of love rather than through exaltation and the dynamic of power.”  Just think how liberating and fulfilling it feels when we have reached outside of ourselves and done something good for another instead of wallowing in the complaints we might have about our own life.  For us, accepting suffering as the royal road of the Cross in our own lives and diving deeply into every opportunity to love no matter the cost to ourselves means being truly free.
  2. The words of Saint Augustine’s Confessions – the Doctor’s own conversion account – describe with “clarity and force” the battle with sinful impulses and the struggle to seek fulfillment in God and not in self-pleasure.  “Self surmounting self” is the phrase Augustine uses.  By not thinking of our own Pelagian efforts to master our vices and attain perfection – to surmount ourselves – Augustine says that the tumults of the flesh are hushed and we can hear the Very Voice of God.  Freedom from sin requires admitting that sin exists in us and surrendering ourselves and our sinfulness to the Lord.  We cannot do it alone.  We need Him.  When we fill our time, our thoughts, our whole day with the good things of God, then His Very Voice crowds out the sirens which call us to false promises of happiness.  Humility and surrender to God allow us to experience freedom from sin and authentic blessedness.  When we are bound to God we are truly free.  Self-control and kenosis exemplify true freedom not self-indulgence. 
  3. Of all the places where Malcom has seen the face of Jesus – from country churches to city streets – the place where he found himself “nearest to You, Jesus” was “in the land where for half a century past the practice of the Christian religion has been ruthlessly suppressed…  How infinitely preferable it is to be abhorred, rather than embraced, by those in authority.”  In every age and on every inhabitable continent, Christians have suffered for their faith.  Today, they are murdered in droves by Muslim terrorists in the Middle East.  Yet, as often as there is persecution, there are signs of joyful confidence – hymns of praise erupting where one would expect shrill cries of agony.  The youths in scripture endured the fiery furnace for the sake of their faith and were met in their suffering by the Son of Man.  When a disciple has rejected the need to please others or to be popular for the sake of remaining true to Christ at all cost, then he is truly free.  The oppression of unjust authority will have no power over him.  His soul is in the hand of God. 
  4. In his encounter with Mother Theresa, Malcolm discovers a remarkable woman of faith, who divests herself of all earthly comforts – television, radio, newspapers, fancy clothes, money and the conveniences of modern technology.  She writes her letters in her own hand personally, refuses to hold fundraisers for the order and travels in the most economical way.  This radical version of living out the Gospel – her simplicity, humility and austerity – leaves her totally free of all earthly cares to spend her time worshipping God and serving the lowliest of His people.  It is a contagious spirit as well – the wealthy ladies of India join her in serving the poor, the convent is overwhelmed by girls wanting to enter and Mother’s legacy has made hers a household name.  “Mother Theresa” is the trademark for Christian discipleship.  She made herself free of all burdens in order to be the slave of the Body of Christ.
  5. In reflecting on the concept of death and his own impending passing from this world, Malcolm finds inspiration in the example of the Lutheran theologian-pastor and courageous member of the opposition to the Third Reich Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  When two Nazi guards approached to take Bonhoeffer to his execution, “with his face shining in joyful expectation,” “For you it is an end, for me a beginning.”  Indeed, for the one who has embraced costly discipleship in life and dies a disciple, “life is changed, not ended” (Preface I of the Mass for the Dead, Roman Missal) and death has no power, no sting, no victory.  We are free to live life to its fullest, using the good things God has made for us on earth for his glory and our human flourishing.  Malcolm concludes his chapter in death, the final one of the book, by committing to live just for each day.  Indeed, having experienced the merciful love of God, we are free to live and free from fear of death.  Christ is alive and He is among us always!
    With Malcom and the Apostle to guide us, may we always seek to honor God in our lives and so be free from selfishness, fear and sin.  For this purpose God has created and redeemed us.  Whenever and wherever God is the first priority, then the Spirit is alive and freedom reigns. 

Monday, May 02, 2016

Pope Saint Pius V

This past Saturday was the feast of Pope Saint Pius V.  As a member of the Order of Preachers, he exemplified Dominican life.  He knew the power of prayer and experienced victory through the Rosary and Mary's intercession at the Battle of Lepanto.  He shared the fruits of his contemplation in the administration of the Church and in his role as teacher of the faith. 


Following the Council of Trent, Pius V undertook the publication of the Roman Catechism, Missal and Brievary, and codified the practices of the universal Church.  This meant that various liturgical rites celebrated in different countries and in religious orders (e.g. Sarum Rite, Mozarabic Rite, Gallican Rite, Dominican Rite) were suppressed and the Roman Liturgy was mandated universally.  This change had the benefit of preserving continuity in the Church but also eliminated much beauty and variety in liturgical expression.  The Mass established by Pius V remained essentially unchanged until 1970 - 400 years. 


Interestingly enough, this past week we heard that Pope Francis has extended an olive branch to the Society of Pius X and that reconciliation is more possible than ever before.  The Society remains convinced of the authenticity of the Tridentine Mass - the Mass of Trent and of Pius V - and believes strongly in preserving the true faith against perceived innovations by the Second Vatican Council.  The conflict and division stem from the actions of Archbishop Lefebvre, who ordained priests and bishops without permission a number of years ago.  There is another group, even more radically traditional, called the Society of Saint Pius V.  They have also performed their own ordinations without permission and remain in schism. 


Regarding the Society of Saint Pius X, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI lifted the excommunication against their members and, in the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, opened the way for universal celebration of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.  However, beyond liturgical spirituality, theological questions remain, which need to be ironed out before authentic reconciliation can take place.  SSPX members are hesitant to assent to all the teachings in the documents of Vatican II.  In the commentaries on the ongoing discussions, I have not so far seen mentioned the importance of distinguishing between the teaching of the council and its inconsistent and inauthentic implementation.  To this day, fifty years later, I hear people say that Vatican II eliminated or mandated things when these claims find no basis in the 16 documents.  If the council is understood in the context of a "hermeneutic of continuity," as Benedict XVI so remarkable taught us, there is necessarily less about which anyone needs to be concerned.  It appears, however, that there is an openness in the Vatican to "lowering the bar" concerning that which needs to be assented to in order to be reconciled to Christ and the Church.  That would be a mistake.  "Getting along" at the expense of vigorous orthodoxy is not authentic unity. 


This feast day of a great pope gives us an opportunity to reflect on the significance of consistency and continuity in the life of the Church.  May we always listen to the voice of Christ in prayer and defend what He has revealed to us. 


For Pius V, the Holy Rosary was a powerful weapon against evil.  Along with his living example of praying the Rosary as the Christian army battled the Turks at Lepanto, he codified the original 15 mysteries we know today.  Before he was able to do so, a rich tradition of prayer had developed. 


There are three stages of development to the history of the Rosary.  The first consists of two separate tracks, developing simultaneously.  On the one hand, the prayers of the Rosary are compiled and, on the other hand, the use of beads to count prayers is invented. 


1. The Hail Mary

By the 7th Century, prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary is common practice all over the world. 

By 1050, the "Hail Mary" has been compiled from the words of Mary and Elizabeth in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 1, with the addition of the petition "Holy Mary, pray for us..."

In the 1100s, there is evidence of people praying the Hail Mary 50x per day in 5 sets of 10 or 150x per day, as a means for the illiterate to pray alongside the monks, who chanted the 150 psalms from the Bible. 

Saint Louis (1214-1270) prayed the Hail Mary 50x per day with a genuflection at each one.

Others prayed it 150x per day, 100 with a genuflection and 50 with a full prostration. 


2. Beads

The use of beads to count prayers transcends the Rosary. 

A regular discipline of prayer throughout the day existed in the Christian life from the time of the Apostles and people used beads to help the count their prayers in order to maintain a consistent rule of prayer. 

In the East, the Jesus Prayer (Jesus, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner.) was prayed using the 33 or 100 "chotky beads" as early as the late 3rd Century. 

In 1075 there is a record of Lady Godiva threading stones on a cord to count her prayers. 

These two tracks, the writing of prayers and the use of beads, which spring organically from the human desire to praise God and seek His help, blend together as the Rosary becomes a regular part of the Church's prayer. 


The second stage of development is initiated by Heaven.  In 1208, Saint Dominic receives a vision of Mary, who presents to Dominic the Rosary and promises him it will be a powerful weapon of prayer. 

Heaven itself confirms the Church's writing of the Hail Mary and the use of beads to count prayers in a numbered pattern.  From then on, devotion to the rosary flourishes. 

In 1514, Gaspar Loarte wrote the first instruction for Catholics on how to pray the Rosary. 


The third stage brings us back to Pius V, who established the mysteries and made the Rosary as we know it today popular throughout the whole Church.  The mysteries make the Rosary a "Compendium of the Gospel," in the words of Pope Saint John Paul II, because they focus our attention on the principal events in the lives of Jesus and Mary.  The word "Rosary" itself is coined by 1597.  The essence of the devotion is established. 


As time has passed, additions are made which expand the richness of this great prayer.

The Fatima Prayer is added in 1917 at the request of Mary herself.

Pope Saint John Paul II adds the Luminous Mysteries in order to include the stories between Jesus' adolescence and Passion.

All of this came to pass because Pius V saw the importance of promoting the growth of the Rosary, which itself began in the hearts of the faithful and was confirmed by Heaven in the vision of Mary to Saint Dominic. 


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Do not attempt to adjust your computer screen.

In the past couple years, there have been some papal utterances that have made me cock my head and crinkle my face, wondering what they mean and from where they come. 

1. I was in Pittsburgh for a talk by Fr. Robert Sirico shortly after the publication of Pope Francis' encyclical Evangelii Gaudium.  In response to the Holy Father's criticism of "unbridled capitalist markets," I remember Sirico saying "Where are these markets?"  What the pope describes is not the free market system which best promotes authentic human flourishing. 

2. The Holy Father seems to have a bone to pick with priests.  He has used words like "careerists" and phrases like "little monsters" in speaking of priests and seminarians.  Are there some priests who abuse their authority or who seek their own interests?  Sure.  But when the Holy Father speaks this way, it leaves many priests feeling like he does not have our backs.  The priests I know are good men.  The seminaries I know are forming holy priests.

3. In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis speaks about situations in which the Church's teaching on Marriage is too strict or is presented in a way that is too demanding. 

"...we often present marriage in such a way that its unitive meaning, its call to grow in love and its ideal of mutual assistance are overshadowed by an almost exclusive insistence on the duty of procreation. Nor have we always provided solid guidance to young married couples, understanding their timetables, their way of thinking and their concrete concerns. At times we have also proposed a far too abstract and almost artificial theological ideal of marriage, far removed from the concrete situations and practical possibilities of real families. This excessive idealization, especially when we have failed to inspire trust in God’s grace, has not helped to make marriage more desirable and attractive, but quite the opposite."  (AL, paragraph 36)

"...a pastor cannot feel that it is enough simply to apply moral laws to those living in “irregular” situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives."  (AL, paragraph 305) 

Until I read this, I was unaware that there more than a handful of places in the entire world where the Church's authentic teaching on Marriage, along with substantial marriage preparation, was actually being spoken.  Why can we not expect the best from everyone? 

So, the reality in which Pope Francis operates is motivated (at least in part) by a fear of unbridled capitalists, monstrous priests and of people being driven away from the fold by idealized orthodoxy. 

I do not know Jorge Bergolio's life experience or what shaped him into the man he is today.  I do not fully understand what motivates his vision for the Church.  I do not know the reality of every culture.  But I can conclude that, for myself at least, I cannot relate to these claims.  While they may contain some fragment of truth, they are not the reality of the universal Church.  They do not express support for the free market, priests or the Gospel of the Family. 

When one speaks who has a responsibility for a vast and diverse population, he ought to do so very carefully. 

All this is say with due respect for the Holy Father and acknowledging that I do not always speak perfectly myself.  I am simply puzzled. 

Where has all the common sense gone?

One of the highlights of the recent synod on the family is the valuable lesson that both the doctrine and the human person before us deserve our reverence and respect. The synod fathers call for a balance to be struck between mercy and fidelity to the truth of the Gospel. Whenever mercy and truth are separated, one can be sure that Christianity has been abandoned. 

It is possible to maintain a balance between remaining in the truth of Christ and sharing that truth in a manner that is loving, understanding and welcoming. 

It is absolutely possible – and essential for the salvation of souls – that human persons in irregular situations be welcomed and respected, all the while being challenged to avoid sin and seek greater holiness.  Jesus did not condemn the woman at the well; neither did He approve of her attempted marriages.

It is possible to maintain a balance between integration and avoiding scandal.  We can, with the inspiration of the Spirit, welcome people in irregular situations into the parish community, all the while not being unfair to those families who are blessed to be able to maintain the Church’s discipline.  If we cross the Church’s boundaries in making provision for those in unusual life situations to feel included in parish life, we risk scandalizing the faithful.  If public scandal has occurred, the truth must be spoken in love.  As we include and integrate, we need to be careful not to push away faithful Catholics. Cardinal Dolan warns us this phenomenon is already happening: “Can I suggest as well that there is now a new minority in the world and even in the Church?” Cardinal Dolan asked. “I am thinking of those who, relying on God’s grace and mercy, strive for virtue and fidelity.”  (Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Faithful Catholics are ‘new minority’ who often feel ‘excluded,’ even in the Church. October 14, 2015,

Each person is unique and so is each family.  Therefore the pastoral challenge is ever-evolving.  What matters most is that priests and laity alike have a sincere desire to forge the proper balance between mercy and truth.  It does no good to teach with authority and not also with love, or to speak falsely out of fear of offending. 

Because I recognize the value of balance in the life of the Church, I was disheartened by a homily given by a priest where I was attending Mass several weeks ago.  He began with a lengthy - a solid five minutes, which is long for a homily that should be no more than 15 minutes in order to be balanced with respect to time and integrated within the entire liturgy - description taken from a piece of 19th Century literature, the name of which eludes me and is not important for this exercise, of the agony of Hell.  I, a priest, was unsettled and squirmed in my seat as I imagined the rolling eyes of adults and blank stares of teenagers in the pews.  I wondered to myself: "Why would you lay on the faithful a frightening description of Hell as the introduction to an Easter Season homily?" 

Specifically, it was Divine Mercy Sunday, in the Jubilee Year of Mercy.  The next stage of the homily's descent was to assert, fairly explicitly that the purpose of the Year of Mercy was to set aside all talk of the pain of Hell in favor of a merciful description of God.  That's when it hit me: not only did the good Father bore us with a depiction of hell in language far more "antiquated" than one could claim the 2010 Roman Missal translation is, but he did so in order to set up a straw man which he later immolated on the altar of political correctness.  Classic silliness: mercy means there is no Hell! 

As if it could not get worse, he ended the homily with a Hopkins poem - one which, without the text before my eyes to read, even I could not comprehend. 

I had forgotten until that moment how much lack of balance and lack of sensitivity can really shake the soul.  The Catholic approach is "both...and" - both justice and mercy, love and truth, welcoming and defense of the faith, sacred beauty and active participation, eloquence and relevance.  So, pray and then be reasonable! 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

We are nourished by the Lamb who has become our Shepherd

In the past two weeks, at Sunday and weekday Mass, we have heard from the Gospel of John.  In particular, the Scriptures chosen by the Church have focused on the themes of the Eucharist (John 6) and the Good Shepherd (John 10).  Each of these chapters is a discourse on its respective theme, which is divisible into three parts. 

The Bread of Life discourse is John 6: 22-71.  In the first part, verses 22-40, the people ask Jesus for a sign: "What can you do?  Our ancestors ate manna in he desert..."  They are challenging Him to show them a miracle to prove He is the Messiah.  If He is the Messiah, they reason, He will be able to do remarkable things as Moses did for their ancestors in the past.  Jesus ups the ante and tells them that it was Himself, as God, who fed them then and who will feed them now with the Bread of Life.  They beg Him, "give us this bread always."  He clarifies that HE is the Bread of Life.  This brings about the first objection.  The crowd murmurs because they insist that they know Jesus as the kid from Nazareth.  They scoff at the notion that He is from Heaven. 

Next, in verses 43b-52, Jesus goes deeper into His teaching and reveals that the Bread of Life is not just "Him" in a generic sense but His flesh and blood.  In Greek, He is telling them they need to munch or gnaw on Him, to consume Him in order to have life.  This ignites the second objection.  The crowd is disgusted by the notion of eating the flesh and blood of Jesus and they question "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"  They still think Jesus is only a man. 

In the third part, verses 53-66, Jesus does not back down in the face of opposition but reiterates that the one who eats His flesh and drinks His blood has eternal life.  Notice the location of this discourse in verse 59: "These things He said while teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum."  Jesus is teaching in a place of honor in the synagogue - with the backdrop of the scroll of the Torah, in the role of authority of the Rabbis, on the foundation of the law and the prophets.  In this sacred place the Word of God is heard.  The Word Incarnate speaks the truth that comes from the Father.  To the Jews, His words were a line in the sand: believe or turn your back on eternal life!  This sparks the third objection.  The crowd has heard, they have listened, and they have determined that Jesus' saying is too hard for them.  They walk away and return to their former way of life.  Jesus' further clarifications fall on deaf ears.  They turn their backs on God's Word.  Finally, in conclusion, Jesus elicits a promise if fidelity from the remaining few disciples, the Twelve.  "Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life." 

When God's Word to us is challenging for us, it is easy to come up with objections: we know better, we are disgusted to be asked to do something beyond our comfort zones, we find Jesus' teachings too hard to accept.  Perhaps we even know well one aspect of Church teaching and are closed to learning more or to having a deeper relationship with Jesus.  May we have the courage to go deeper and overcome ourselves in order to follow Jesus. 

In John Chapter 10: 1-39, Jesus presents Himself as the Good Shepherd.  Again, there are three sections to His teaching.  The Church places these readings on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, years A, B, C.  They also appear on weekdays during the Fourth Week of Easter. 

Verses 1-10 speak of the gate of the sheepfold.  In the ancient world, shepherds would entrust their sheep to a common corral under the watch of a gatekeeper so they could sleep at night.  In the morning, each shepherd would call our his won sheep, who would hear his voice and follow him.  The people of Jesus' time would have had this scene clearly in their minds when He used this parable.  Yet, they are still slow to believe that Jesus is the gate through which His flock enter into eternal life and the shepherd who leads them there.  False prophets are robbers who steal the sheep away from the Lord.

Next, in verses 11-21, Jesus identifies Himself as the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep.  In contrast to the cowardly hired man, the Good Shepherd is responsible for the fold and sacrifices out of love for them.  This deeper teaching of Jesus again ignites division among the crowds.  some say He is possessed; other wonder how He could be because He has done great miracles. 

Thirdly, in verses 22-30, Jesus explains that the flock of which He is the shepherd belongs ultimately to the Father and has been given to Jesus by the Father.  In saying that He and the Father are one, Jesus identifies Himself as consubstantial with God.  This the Jews interpret as blasphemy and they try to stone Jesus, who escapes from their power.  Once again, we see Jesus going deeper and deeper in His teaching - not backing down in the face of opposition - and the crowds reacting ever more violently.  Jesus is rejected for doing good and speaking the truth. 

Notice that in all three Good Shepherd passages speak of the shepherd's VOICE.  There are many voices clamoring for out attention today - Trump, Cruz, Sanders, Clinton, CNN, FOX News, militant atheism, the gay "marriage" lobby, Planned Parenthood and more.  Some voices want us to reject Jesus and throw stones at the Church's Tradition.  In order to live a virtuous life, we must first quiet ourselves and shut out the noise, in order that we might hear the Shepherd's voice.  A faithful sheep ignores every voice but that of his own shepherd, Christ Jesus, who died for us lowly sheep.  We have a High Priest who was tempted in every way, yet without sin, and thus sympathizes with our weaknesses, as the Letter to the Hebrews tells us.  We have a Good Shepherd, who was first a Lamb, the sacrificial Lamb of God, who was immolated for our salvation.  In His voice we will hear only love, only mercy, only truth.  He will never lie to us.  He will never abandon us. 

May we remain always fiercely loyal to the voice of our Shepherd, who nourishes us with Himself. 

Friday, April 22, 2016

Dangerous collaboration

Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Services are teaming up with the federal government of the United States to assist in resettling refugees from various foreign countries, including Syria.  Ohio is one of the resettlement locations.  Ohio Catholic dioceses and Catholic Charities agencies have issued guidelines for preparing the "heart of it all" to welcome the refugees.  This is happening against the backdrop of terrorist attacks linked to members of the Islamic State in Europe and despite the warnings from the FBI that refugees cannot be adequately vetted.  The stream of refugees provides a cover for transient terrorists, as we have already seen in Paris and Texas.  Of course, not every refugee is a terrorist.  Yet, just one can kill thousands.  No American should be so quick to ignore the obvious threats to our national security and irresponsibly welcome refugees, anymore than we would welcome rank strangers into our home and among our children.  The reality of today's world demands a more careful response.  When (not if) a terrorist posing as an un-vettable refugee destroys life and property on American soil, the blood of the innocent will be on the hands of everyone remotely and materially cooperating in this harebrained scheme.