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!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Lambs Among Wolves

Today, I’m thinking about the Scripture passages that discuss the commissioning of Jesus’ disciples to evangelize and the reference to them as “lambs among wolves” in this process.  (Luke 10:1-20 and Matt 10:5-33).  In Jesus’ time, it appears that the idea was to spread the faith far and wide by moving from house to house talking about the Good News of salvation, saying “the kingdom of God is at hand for you.”  (Luke 10:9).  Some would receive them in peace and some would not.  Jesus warned that those that would not receive them in peace (the “wolves”) may hand them over to the courts and scourge them (Matt 10:17-18) or turn them in to “governors and kings” for judgement (Matt 10:18).  Jesus also said this:  “Whoever listens to you, listens to me.  Whoever rejects you rejects me.  And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”  (Luke 10:16).  Through all of this, Jesus tells them repeatedly to not be afraid.  (Matt 10:26, 10:28, 10:31).

Today’s secular world is the same in many ways, but also different in many ways.  There are those who evangelize as the disciples were requested to do, but there are also those who are just trying to practice their faith as authentically and devotedly as they can.  Through all of this, we are lambs among wolves.  Who are the wolves in the modern world?  Just as in Jesus’ day, they are those who oppose Christ’s Church and her teachings.  But, they are also those who would kill.  They are those who would rape.  They are those who would physically abuse innocent people.  They are those who would sexually harass people.  They are those who would pass laws that go against what we believe.  They are those who reduce human dignity to nothingness.  They are those who support killing the unborn.  They are those who bully people.  On and on.

What should our response be?  We must know our faith.  We must remain true to the practice our faith against all odds.  We must not be afraid.  We must evangelize when given the opportunity.  We must lead by our example.  We must support our faithful Church leaders.  We must love our fellow man.  On and on!  Above all, we must pray. 

Here is my prayer.  Lord, help me to not be afraid.  Help me to remain true to you.  Help me to give good example to my friends and relatives.  Help me in my opposition to modern-day wolves.  Help me to love you above all things and my neighbor as myself.  Amen.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

This Welcoming Church

I’ve heard it said that the reason some people no longer attend Holy Mass on Sunday is that they don’t feel welcome in the Catholic Church and that a Catholic church is a cold, uncomfortable place.   Some parishes have tried to solve this “problem” by having faithful parishioners stand in the vestibule of the church on Sunday mornings and personally welcome the people to the church by opening the door of the church for them and by providing a warm, friendly greeting, such as “Good morning!”  I have no problem with that. 

However, some parishes have taken this one step further and made a very public statement, saying that they are “a welcoming Catholic community,” even apparently using this as a sort of “motto” for their parish.  This bothers me.  It implies that other Catholic parishes in general are somehow not welcoming.  Of course, that is not true.  The focus of any Catholic Church should be on the Eucharist … the Real Presence of the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ in the tabernacle.  Hence the atmosphere should be one of quiet reverence, love for God, and prayer.  People should always feel welcome in any Catholic church at any time because of this Real Presence.  I fear that it is more a faith issue than a “welcome” issue, and a sign of the secular times we live in.  It seems that some people think a Catholic church should be a place of social gathering rather than worship.

Perhaps in some people’s minds this perception (that of a Catholic church being unwelcoming) stems from the Catholic stance against divorced and re-married Catholics receiving Holy Communion.  Perhaps it stems from the Catholic stance against gay marriage, cohabitation before marriage, premarital sex, artificial means of birth control, etc., etc.  Of course, this bothers me too!  I believe that Christ instituted our beloved Catholic Church to assist us on our journey toward our eternal salvation.  This means that it must take a public stance against serious sin and provide the means of repentance instituted by Christ.  We must not think of the Church’s stance in these matters as a sign that we are somehow unwelcome or unwanted.  Quite the opposite!  We rather must think long and hard about how the Church’s stance protects us against sin and then take advantage of God’s mercy and love through his Church.  Our eternal salvation depends on this. The Church has your eternal welfare in mind!

So, if you feel you are at odds with the Catholic Church for whatever reason, please please, please … come into any Catholic Church near you and kneel and pray before the Real Presence.  The Church, this welcoming Church, and Christ himself, in his divine mercy, are there for you.  Amen.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

St. Francis of Assisi

Every October 4, the Catholic Church celebrates the life and holiness of St. Francis of Assisi.  I had the privilege of spending some time in Assisi last fall during a wonderful pilgrimage to Italy.  Except for modern day automobiles that line some of the streets during the day (see photograph), the city in general appears ancient, perhaps just as it was in the time of St. Francis.  Francis was born in 1182 and died in 1226, living a life of only 44 years.  The city sits on a hill.  On one end sits the huge basilica, the Basilica of St. Francis.  At night this basilica is lit up from one end to the other (see photograph), making it quite a sight to behold.  On the other end is the Basilica of St. Clare, who was one of Francis’ contemporaries and early followers.  In between are the ancient buildings and narrow streets (see photograph).

Most people are familiar with St. Francis because he was the founder of a religious order known as the Franciscans.  But there is so much more.  He was the son of a wealthy cloth merchant and, early in his life, was known for his love of parties and good times.  He was enamored by the glory of knighthood, but in his pursuit of such fame, was taken prisoner of war.  After his return from war and while praying in the small chapel of San Damiano (see lower right in photograph), he is said to have heard the voice of Christ asking him to rebuild his Church, which eventually Francis interpreted to mean living the simple gospel life of extreme poverty, in imitation of Christ himself.  In 1209, Francis sought and obtained the Pope’s approval of the “Rule of St. Francis” and thus began the early days of the Franciscan order.

Francis is known for his love for God’s creation, especially animals.  One could consider him the first environmentalist.  He invented the Christmas “crèche,” the modern day manger scene depicting the birth of Christ in the stable.  He is known to have had a special love of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, unlike many of the heretical groups of his day.  Two years before he died, God blessed him with the five crucifixion wounds of Jesus on his body, the “stigmata.”  He especially loved one particular depiction of the crucified Christ (see photograph).  He was canonized in 1228, only two years after his death.  Pope Francis honored him by taking his name at his papal installation.  Remarkably, he is memorialized by several Protestant denominations, also on October 4. 

I tried to take more photographs inside the basilica, but was rebuffed by a security guard, who didn’t believe me when I told him I did not see the signs stating that photographs were not allowed in the building.  I thought he was going to confiscate my camera!