Thursday, December 7, 2017

What Advent is All About

In today’s secularized society, I wonder how many Christians are fully aware of the significance of Sunday, December 3, and of this month of December up to Christmas Day, December 25.  I’m thinking of the Season of Advent and what it is all about.  Last Sunday, December 3, was the First Sunday of Advent.  It was the first day of the Church’s liturgical year … the Church’s New Year’s Day, if you will.  It began a four-week period of preparation for the celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Perhaps you are thinking about the secular world and what preparations are taking place there right now.  Yes, we are preparing for “the holidays,” buying gifts, setting up a Christmas tree, decorating inside and out, thinking about the menu for the Christmas meal, sending out Christmas cards, thinking about what relatives are coming to our house and when or about what relatives’ houses we will visit and when.  What else is there?  I think you probably see what I am getting at … the real meaning of Christmas and the preparations for that.

So, back to Advent.  I’m sure you understand this “real meaning.”  We celebrate birthdays nonstop throughout the year.  Facebook reminds us daily what friends have birthdays that day and gives us a convenient way to wish them a happy birthday.  But in this living, breathing, holy season in the Church, the birthday of the God-man takes center stage, so much so that we have a four-week period of preparation.  So what does the Catholic Church say that we should be doing during these four weeks?  We should be ramp up our psyche, our spiritual lives, our religious devotions, so that we see clearly what is really occurring on December 25.  We will celebrate the birth of this divine person that has saved mankind for all eternity from all the sinfulness since the beginning of the human race … a most momentous, major event in human history.

Some suggestions:  1) the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  As a Catholic, when was the last time you went to Confession?  If it has been years, or even just months, now would be an excellent time.  2) Attend Holy Mass.  If you’ve been missing Sunday Mass, please renew your faith and come to Mass.  If you’ve been attending Sunday Mass, you can ramp up your spiritual life by attending weekday Masses.  Attend Mass tomorrow, December 8.  It is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a Holyday.  The Church says you commit a mortal sin if you don’t attend Mass on this day.  Besides, the Eucharist awaits.  3) Increase your prayer life.  Pray the rosary a few times, daily would be good.  4) Pay attention to the poor in your community.  Increase your contributions to charitable causes.  Better yet, help them by physically going to the local food bank or to your local church to help with what is going on there in terms of the poor.  5) Place a nativity scene in your yard, or, at the very least, in your home, as a constant reminder of what is coming.  6) Read and meditate on Scripture passages relating to the holy birth.  I’m sure you can think of many other things.  You will feel much better about yourself on Christmas morning!

The best of luck with your preparations and have a blessed Advent Season!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Eucharistic Ministry at the Mayo Clinic

My home in Rochester, MN, is, of course, near the world-renowned Mayo Clinic.  The clinic was started by a pair of physicians, the Mayo brothers, Charlie and Will, and others in 1889, but the history goes all the way back to Civil War times.  The history also includes the Sisters of St. Francis, a teaching order centered in Rochester.  The superior in 1889, Sister Alfred, actually asked the Mayo family to build the first hospital.  St. Mary’s Hospital was subsequently built.  Today, this hospital is one of two major Mayo Clinic hospitals in the city, the other being the Methodist Hospital.

The Mayo Clinic is on my mind today because my wife and I have become Eucharistic minister volunteers at Methodist Hospital, which is the one closest to our house.  One day each month, Lois and I, working as a team, bring the Bread of Life to approximately half of the Catholic patients in this hospital.  The entire operation actually involves quite a number of volunteers, since it is done every day at both hospitals, and is overseen by two Catholic chaplains (priests).  It gives us much satisfaction to be involved in this way because the people we serve are so happy to be receiving Our Lord that they are sometimes on the verge of tears.

Yesterday, for example, when we arrived at a patient’s room, he was in the bathroom and said could we please wait or come back later.  Talking to him through the closed door, I told him that there would be another volunteer that would come by the next day.  This is what we had been trained to say in a situation like this because there are so many patients to see and it is easy to lose track of which patient in which room made this request to “come back.”  But he was so persistent that we decided to wait for him.  I’m glad we did, because he seemed to be so “on fire” for the Eucharist.  After we completed our prayers and after giving him the host, he was tearful in thanking us.  Many of the patients we see seem to have this kind of faith.  They are so grateful for the opportunity to be fed by Christ’s body while in the hospital.

As you might expect, the Mayo Clinic has strict hygiene rules.  At the very least, the volunteers must use hand sanitizer both before entering and after leaving a patient’s room.  In some cases, we must wear gloves.  In still other cases, we must don a hospital gown and this gown must be put on correctly with the gloves so that no skin is exposed.  Sometimes, we must wear a face mask.  When finished, we must clean the pyx (the small hinged metal case by which we transport the hosts) as well as the folder containing the list of the floors and sections to be visited, using the hand sanitizer gel.  It is easy to see why the Mayo Clinic has the reputation that it has.

There are other details that I could describe, but I think you get the picture.  The Catholic Faith is alive and well in this city, and our experience as Eucharistic Ministers attests to the fact.  It is a wonderful thing to be part of the whole operation.  My prayer for today:  Lord, your people are so aware of your love for them.  Please, in your holy name and in your great compassion, grant your grateful people many blessings during their time in the hospital so that they and their families may continue to be “on fire” with love for you after they are discharged.  Amen.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Should He Be Thanked?

Today, on Thanksgiving Day, I’m thinking about the circumstances for which a person giving a gift or performing a charitable work should be thanked, or whether they should expect to be thanked.  President Trump expected to be thanked after the UCLA basketball players were released from prison in China and allowed to fly back to this country following a shoplifting incident and the President’s apparent intervention.  A grandmother writes in to a newspaper columnist to ask whether she should expect a thank-you note from a grandchild after sending him/her a birthday gift. 

In the case of President Trump, politics and arrogance are part of the equation.  Mr. Trump is known for self-promotion and arrogance.  It would have been an act of humility for him to say nothing and then let journalists discover his act of kindness apart from any personal statement he might have made.  But, no.  He wanted to be sure that everyone knew about the gesture and that he wasn’t thanked.  And the grandmother?  Though she might be a humble person, it is reasonable for her to want to know that the gift had been received and “not lost in the mail.”  Aside from that, it is a matter of common etiquette to thank anyone who gives you a gift or performs an act of kindness for you.  I believe most people understand that.  And it is not like a journalist is going to discover her kindness and report it in the newspaper as might have been the case with the President!

What would Jesus do or say?  There is a perfect example in Sacred Scripture (Luke 17:11-19).  Jesus met up with ten lepers who asked Him to “have pity on us.”  He told them to go and show themselves to the priests.  On the way, they noticed that they had been cured.  One of them returned to Jesus and glorified God in a loud voice and thanked Him while falling at His feet.  But then Jesus said in reply “Ten were cleansed, were they not?  Where are the other nine?  Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”  He clearly expected to be thanked.  Was this a case of self-promotion, or arrogance, or an expectation of common etiquette?  One could argue that He expected common etiquette … an expression of thanks.  But I think there was a larger message.  It was an act of God that cured the lepers.  The proper response to almighty God?  The one grateful leper “returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked Him.”  This profound gratitude and act of sincere worship are the proper responses.    

So where God is concerned, it is important to express our thanks for his many wonderful gifts.  And, indeed, there are many.  I think it would be good to sit and ponder that for a few minutes today … God’s many gifts.  And then, return to Him to show our profound gratitude and with sincere worship.  For He indeed has done many, many wondrous things for us.  Amen.  Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Repulsiveness of Current Events vs. Perfume of Nature

Every day I try to think of holy and wholesome things.  But I also like to listen to and read about current events.  So, I turn on the television every morning and watch CNN.  I don’t know why I do that exactly.  Maybe I’m just a glutton for repulsive punishment.  I could turn off the TV and, instead, read the paper or go online to satisfy my passion for current events.  But I see the same things there.

A man is running for the U.S. Senate to fill a seat left vacant when the former senator moved into the President’s cabinet.  Suddenly, I see and hear about all this dirt and trash that is being dug up about this man’s distant past.  I don’t know if any of it is true.  If it is, shame on him.  If it isn’t, shame on the people who make the claims.  Shame on the media for their biases.  But, shame on all sides for doing and saying and for wanting to perform these perverted acts, or for even having these things in their heads!

Then, to make matters worse, those who support this man remind us of the repulsive acts of people on the other side … things that happened also in the distant past.  It never ends.  It’s one man’s repulsive act after repulsive act in graphic detail being brought up followed by repulsive act after repulsive act on the other side.  And then more similar accusations repeated for others on both sides.  It’s getting to be so gross.  And just when I thought it couldn’t be any worse, I read about two more Catholic priests from a monastery in Minnesota who it is now believed abused young boys long ago.  For someone like me, who would prefer the wholesomeness of Little House on the Prairie or The Waltons, or who would prefer to read about saints and their virtues, it is painful to watch and read about.  But it is there before us.  What is a person like me to do?

OK, here we go.  1)  Go to daily Mass and pray earnestly for our culture and what it has become.  2)  Spend time before the Blessed Sacrament in a Catholic Church and pray for the conversion of sinners.  3) Pray the rosary daily for the Blessed Mother’s intercession for our country and our world.  4) Do not play the same games yourselves, but rather take the high road whenever possible.  5)  Pray, pray, pray!  St. Paul said it well:  “See that no one returns evil for evil; rather, always seek what is good both for each other and for all.  Rejoice always.  Pray without ceasing.  In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.  Do not quench the Spirit.  Do not despise prophetic utterances.  Test everything; retain what is good.  Refrain from every kind of evil.”  (2 Thess 5:15-22).

I have an idea.  Spend some time in the natural world admiring God’s handiwork and pondering his goodness.  Better to fill your head with the perfume of nature than with these evil and revolting stories.  God bless you.  Amen.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

They Lowered Him Through a Hole in the Roof

Did Jesus have a sense of humor?  While other human traits and emotions were on display at various times in his life, I can’t come up with any story in which the evangelists said that he laughed, or that he even smiled.  I guess you have to read between the lines, which is something I like to do, as you probably know.  I don’t mean to suggest that he didn’t have a serious mission to accomplish, i.e., that of the eternal salvation of the likes of you and me, but it is difficult to imagine his messages being conveyed without some humor at times.

One example in which he must have smiled and laughed is when he asked his disciples to “let the little children come to me and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”  (Luke 18:16).  I can imagine that he said this with a huge smile on his face and that he played and laughed with the children. 

Another example is the story of Zacchaeus, the tax collector (Luke 19:1-10).  Zacchaeus was a short man (imagine being maybe only five feet tall).  Jesus was passing through the town of Jericho and Zacchaeus wanted to see him but Jesus was in the middle of a crowd of people and Zacchaeus could not see over them.  So he climbed a sycamore tree that was in the street ahead so that he could see clearly.  This got Jesus’ attention and maybe even made him laugh.  Jesus said “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house!”  Luke then writes “And he came down quickly and received him with joy.”  “Came down quickly” may mean that he nearly fell out of the tree and “with joy” may mean that the entire crowd, including Jesus laughed heartily.  It must have been funny to see him in the tree and then to "come down quickly!"

Then there is the story of the paralytic who was lowered on a stretcher through the roof of the building in which Jesus was preaching so that he landed directly in front of Jesus (Luke 5:17-26).  Imagine the crowd, and Jesus too, smiling and laughing at this spectacle.  Jesus said, perhaps while still chuckling, “As for you, your sins are forgiven.”  The laughter probably didn’t last long, because the Pharisees that were present thought that it was blasphemous for him to forgive his sins.  Luke says that Jesus added fuel to the fire by telling them that “the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.”  He then healed the man and told him to get up, pick up his stretcher, and go home.  So the mood went from laughter, to accusation, to a solemn rebuke, to astonishment.

And how about the wedding feast at Cana.  Jesus was having a good time celebrating with his friends (which alone must have included smiles and laughter) when Mary told Jesus that they had run out of wine (John 2:1-12).  Jesus answered “Woman, how does your concern affect me?  My hour has not yet come.”  I can imagine Jesus wanting to work miracles often while growing up in Nazareth, but Mary always telling him “Your hour has not yet come.”  Now the tables were turned.  Here was Mary asking to effectively work a miracle by turning water into wine.  And now here is Jesus, seeing the irony, flashing a big smile and telling her now that his hour has not yet come.

Part of the attraction to Jesus, aside from his solemn messages of repentance, forgiveness, beatitudes, crucifixion, resurrection, etc., was his humanity.  His sense of humor must have been on display at times.  His disciples were his friends (John 15:11-17) and friends have good times when they are together.

The photo is of the hole in the roof of the Pantheon in Rome.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Protestantism vs Catholicism: 500 Years Later

What do you remember about events that occurred 500 years ago?  Of course, everyone would have to respond “nothing.”  That is because no one alive today was here then.  To know anything about that era, or any other past era, we must rely on historians.  The one exception is the Bible.  All Christians believe that the text of the Bible was divinely inspired and therefore can be believed 100%.  But how is it that we know so much about what occurred 500 years ago at the time of the Protestant Reformation?  One would have to answer that we know what we know because historical documents uncovered and books written about that period.  But, how reliable are these things?

Some people say that Martin Luther was deranged; that he was confused; that he translated the Bible from Latin into German adding to and subtracting from the text so as to better serve his own personal beliefs and interests.  Others say that he a very intelligent man; that he was ahead of his time; that he saw the errors of the Catholic Church and sought to make reforms to more accurately follow the teachings of Christ.  How many of these are true?  I don’t know.  What we do know is how his teachings differ from Catholic teachings today.  And then, if we are concerned about our eternal salvation, we need to make a definitive study of both, pray about it, and then judge of ourselves.

So what are the facts?  Christ said that he will build his church “and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.”  (Matt 16:18).  Catholics believe that yes, Christ did indeed build his church and it survived the Reformation and all other heretical movements to this day.  Protestants believe that the Catholic Church needed to be “reformed” and that the Protestant view is the correct one.  Does this mean that the netherworld prevailed?  Catholics believe that the gates of the netherworld never have prevailed, as Jesus promised, and the Catholic Church continues on as the true church founded by Christ.  Christ also said that the Father will send the Holy Spirit who “will teach you everything and remind you of all I told you.”  (John 14:26).  Catholics believe that this was Christ’s promise to us and that the Holy Spirit keeps us on the straight and narrow, especially through the challenge of the Reformation.  Protestants believe that Luther and the other reformers were guided by the Holy Spirit and that, again, the Protestant view is the correct one.

What are some of the disputed teachings?  The list is rather long and there is not sufficient space in this short essay to go into much detail.  Some of the major ones are the following.  1) the authority in matters of Scripture interpretation.  Protestants believe that each individual is free to interpret Scripture to his/her own personal satisfaction.  Catholics believe that the Church is the authority.  2) what is required for eternal salvation.  Protestants say faith alone.  Catholic believe that true faith, faith that results in love of God and neighbor, and the sacraments are all important.  3) Papal authority.  Protestant believe that a pope is not needed and that papal authority and apostolic succession is not scriptural.  Catholics believe that Christ authorized apostolic succession, meaning that the Pope is St. Peter’s successor and the Catholic bishops are the apostles’ successors.  4) The Eucharist.  Protestants believe that the eucharist is merely symbolic and that Christ’s teachings were metaphorical.  Catholics believe that the Holy Eucharist, consecrated at the Holy Mass, is truly the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ and that we eat and drink according to his commands.

Sometimes I wish that Luther were here today so that we could have some town hall meetings!  My prayer:  Lord, you begged for the unity of all your followers.  Please give all of us your grace to see the full truth of your teachings and become one even as you and the Father are one.   Amen. 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Baseball and Religious Faith

Like a lot of other people, I am glued to the television watching the World Series this time of year.  Baseball is something I grew up with.  It has been my favorite sport ever since my brother and I bought, sold and collected baseball cards back in the 1950s when I was barely out of the “toddler” stages of life.  For example, I remember vividly when Don Larson pitched his perfect game in the 1956 World Series (when I was 8 years old).  The scene where Larson struck out Dale Mitchell to end the game and Yogi Berra stood up from his position behind home plate and ran out toward the mound to meet him and jump all over him lives on in my mind.  I’ve been addicted ever since.

Today, I’m thinking of the two books I possess that make a connection between baseball and faith.  One is Baseball as a Road to God:  Seeing Beyond the Game by John Sexton and the other is And God Said, Play Ball:  Amusing and Thought-Provoking Parallels Between the Bible and Baseball by Gary Graff.  Knowing me, as you do, having the modern-day compulsion that I have toward religious faith, now also knowing that I have a modern-day compulsion toward baseball, you can understand why I am interested in books with such titles. 

Here is an example from Graff’s book that makes me proud to have these compulsions.  Graff mentions the last words of Jesus from the cross as a reason for hope in our lives, saying “By listening to Christ’s words from the cross we learn everything we need to know to be saved:  forgive others, take care of one another, thirst for spiritual union, trust in God.  By being blessed by the Lord’s resurrection we are given the one thing we need to see us through our darkest days.”  And the parallel with baseball?  He says this:  “Hope abounds every spring with players, coaches, and fans alike look forward to a new season, with all errors and failed opportunities of the past erased with renewed opportunity to reach the Promised Land.” 

And Sexton, who served as president of New York University from 2002 to 2015, teaches a course on the connection between baseball and religion.  One quote from near the end of the book especially caught my eye.  “In our times, it is fashionable to force a choice between science and religion, of the mind and the soul.  Either/or.  This, in my view, is a false dichotomy – and perhaps this collection of baseball stories analyzed through a lens (and intellectual tradition) usually reserved for a study of what are obviously religious experiences can cause some to see why.  I embrace enthusiastically the joys of intellectual life, but I reject the notion that, as a consequence, I must forfeit the wonders of a deeply transformative religious life.”  In other words, one should never reject religion just because of advances in scientific knowledge. 

Good stuff!  I am so happy I discovered baseball early on in my life, but even happier that as I grew from that day in 1956 to the present day, I have simultaneously discovered my transformative faith.  God is so good!