Thursday, June 22, 2017

Intense and Passionate Love

Today, I’m thinking about Jesus’ answer to the question “Which is the first of all the commandments?” (See Matt 22:36 and Mark 12:28).  Remembering Moses’ statement to the Jews after returning from the mountain where he received the Ten Commandments (see Deut 6:5-6), Jesus responded (Mark 12:29-30):  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.  The second is this:  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  My question is:  How does one know if the love one currently has for God is sufficient?  It sounds to me like this love must be quite intense and passionate.

Have you ever experienced love for another human being?  Say, your spouse?  Your girlfriend?  Your boyfriend?  Your mother?  Your father?  Son or daughter?  Did you love him/her with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength?  If so, how did this affect your behavior toward this person?  What does it really mean to you?  My answer would be that I would want to spend time with this person; that I would want to please this person; that I would want to tell him/her that I love them (and really mean it); and that I would want to fulfill every want and need that this person has;  and so on and so forth.

Now, imagine having this same love for God.  What would it mean?  Spending time with Him?  Yes!  Making every effort to please Him?  Yes!  Telling Him often that you love him?  Yes!  Doing things (good works) that would fulfill your neighbor's every want and need?  Yes!  And so on and so forth?  Yes, yes, and yes!

Perhaps you feel that showing your love by attending church services once a week would accomplish all of the above.  Someone in my parish recently wrote a piece in the parish bulletin in which she essentially said that very thing … she loves God so much that she attends Mass every Sunday.  It made me chuckle a little.  The Church says that this is the absolute minimum that is required for adoring and loving God and it is a mortal sin if you don't!  My interpretation of “all your heart, soul, mind, and strength” and being intense and passionate about your love means it has to be much, much more.  Attending weekday Masses would be a great start.  Start with one extra day each week, say, on Wednesdays, and see what happens.  Praying a daily rosary would be a great start.  Again, start with one day a week.  Reading and studying Sacred Scripture daily would be a great start.  Making regular holy hours in church in front of the Blessed Sacrament would be a great start.  And on and on!

I have tried all of the above and I feel my love for God has grown immeasurably.  Try one or more of these.  I think you will feel much better about yourself because you are demonstrating your passion and intensity about your love for your Creator.  And your love will grow!  Trust me.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Overcoming Distractions During Mass

Today, I’m thinking about how a faithful Catholic often finds himself or herself being distracted during Holy Mass.  I feel I am eminently qualified to write on this topic because happens to me and nothing makes one better qualified to write about something than personal experience.  Lately, I have met this seemingly disgraceful pattern of behavior with some original prayers.  I would like to share them with you.

The first one occurs during the penitential rite, the prayer the congregation prays as a group at the beginning of the Mass.  Its purpose is to “call to mind our sins” in preparation for this most solemn celebration so that we can tell the Lord “I’m sorry” and beg forgiveness before proceeding.  Here is the prayer:  “I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts and in my words, in what if have done and what I have failed to do, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault; therefore I ask the blessed Mary ever-Virgin, all the angels and saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.”  Notice the appeal “to pray to you, my brothers and sisters.”  In other words, everyone present is appealing to everyone else present to pray for them.  In this case, I combat distractions by silently uttering a prayer for all present and ask the Lord to forgive their sins, which is, after all, what they are asking me to do.

The second one occurs during the consecration – the point at Mass at which the celebrant (the priest) speaks the words of Jesus at the Last Supper which transubstantiates the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.  This is the most solemn moment at Mass and deserves my undivided attention, i.e., no distractions!  And so, after the celebrant consecrates the bread with those sacred words and during the brief moment of silence that follows, I silently articulate this prayer:  “The body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ are present on this altar right here, right now.”  And then, after the consecration of the wine, I say this:  “The blood of Christ, shed at Calvary, is present in this chalice on this altar right here, right now.  These prayers help immensely to focus on the most sacred mysteries that just occurred.

The third that I would like to share occurs when I receive the Lord in Holy Communion.  In order to concentrate fully on what is happening, I repeat, over and over, my favorite Scripture passage, John 6:54:  “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”  I do that over and over again until I am confident that have paid close attention to each and every thought and word expressed in this passage. 

So if you find your mind wondering during Mass, try my prayers, or make up your own.  I can attest that it draws you closer to the Lord during this most holy and awesome occasion, the Holy Mass.  

Thursday, June 8, 2017

"Progressive" Tendencies

One thing that is possible with Facebook is that you can view a friend’s personal page and see what his or her particular belief system is about.  After viewing a few posts of one of my friends recently, I visited his personal page and noticed he described his religious beliefs as “progressive Christianity bordering on agnosticism.”  My reaction was that if anything can be described as oxymoronic, this was it.  It got me thinking about a whole range of things, way more than I would allow myself to write about in this short space.

I’ve been noticing that “progressive” is a word that liberal-minded people seem to have adopted to describe their beliefs, as if to say that their beliefs are characterized as “progress” or “improvement.”  And I think I understand the concept of “progressive Christianity.”  There are plenty of folks who decide to no longer adhere to traditional and conventional Christian attitudes and sort of branch out on their own in the name of progress and improvement.  This is true in Catholicism as well as, I assume, in other Christian religions.  I am mostly at odds with the direction they take, but I know that such “progressive” tendencies are out there.  Such people are “left-leaning” and “liberal” in their politics as well.  We tend to get along, though I find myself cringing when something comes up with which I disagree.

To link this progressive Christianity to agnosticism, however, makes no sense at all.  Agnosticism is the belief that the human mind cannot know whether there is a God, or anything, beyond material phenomena.  To be Christian, I would assume, accepts the fact that God exists and that God has manifested himself in the person of Jesus Christ.  You see the dilemma that presents itself here.  Christianity cannot "border on" agnosticism

I have great concern over this “progressive” culture that we have around us.  God certainly exists.  I just cannot buy into the idea that material phenomena just came into existence on its own.  The beauty and complexity is far too great.  One could cite the beauty and complexity of the cosmos; one could cite the beauty and complexity of the human body, or the human mind; one could cite the beauty and complexity of nature; one could cite the beauty and complexity of certain gifts that we have in order for us to have made such marvelous material progress over the centuries.  I’m thinking here of electricity as a perfect example.  On and on.

As a Catholic, I believe that God has revealed himself to us through the Judeo-Christian history book we call Sacred Scripture.  It just makes so much sense.  It is because of that I have these concerns that I have.  We must live our lives based on God’s personally delivered messages, or we are doomed.  That is what it is all about.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Until the End of the Age

The celebrations occurring within the Catholic Church this time of year are those commemorating the Ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven and Pentecost, the Descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles in the upper room in Jerusalem.  Accounts of the Ascension (see the photograph accompanying this post) are presented in Chapter 24 of the Gospel of Luke (Luke 24:50-51) and in Chapter 1 of the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1:6-10).  Before this, as recorded at the very end of the Gospel of Matthew, he told them “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”  (Mat 28:20).  The account of Pentecost is presented in Chapter 2 of the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:1-4).  This coming of the Holy Spirit had been prophesied in the Old Testament and also promised by Jesus himself, when he said this:  “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name – he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.”  (John 14:26).  It seems pretty clear that the Church Jesus founded is promised to have the full support and guidance of the Holy Spirit in all things until the end of time.

We all know that the Church has faced many challenges in its history.  One that comes to mind is the Arian heresy.  In the fourth century, a priest in Alexandria, Egypt, by the name of Arius began to teach that Jesus was not God, that he did not have a divine nature but only a human nature.  This, of course, went against the teaching of the Church that says that Jesus had both natures.  It was a serious challenge to the Church because Arianism began to have many followers, including bishops, and threatened to divide the Church.  In the year 325, the Council of Nicaea was convened to solve the controversy.  This council was the first of many “ecumenical” councils called to address controversies and/or clarify Church teachings.  The Arian issue was not fully settled until the Council of Constantinople met in the year 381.  But it WAS settled and traditional Church teaching was upheld.  Was this not the work of the Holy Spirit?

Another challenge that comes to mind is the Protestant Reformation.  The Protestant Reformation began early in the sixteenth century when a German priest, Martin Luther, posted his “95 Theses” on the door of a Catholic Church in 1517 and a real and serious splintering of the Church occurred.  The reformers claimed that the Church Jesus founded fell into corruption and began teaching many errors and falsehoods soon after the last apostle died back in the second century!  So for about 1300 years, in the view of the reformers, the Church was apparently no longer guided by the Holy Spirit and Jesus had reneged on his promise that he would be with us “to the end of the age.”  While Christianity was most certainly fragmented as a result, one Church, one religion, the Catholic Church, did not buy into this new teaching and today still claims to be continuing as the Church founded by Jesus, complete with apostolic succession, true guidance of the Holy Spirit, and true adherence to the teachings of Jesus Christ.  There has been no Church council that has been able to solve this controversy and so today, in the twenty-first century, Christianity remains fragmented – a very sad state of affairs.

So today I pray that this fragmentation will soon come to an end.  We must believe that, with God’s help, anything is possible.  On Judgement Day, all will come to know the truth.  I pray that the narrow gate that Jesus refers to in Mat 7:13 will become wider and soon.  Amen. 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

A Day for Remembering

Today, as Memorial Day approaches, I am thinking of all those memories that I have of Memorial Days past.  I have memories of my life on that small farm just outside of Defiance, Iowa, in the 50’s and 60’s, of how my mother was so dedicated in remembering loved ones who had gone before and were buried in the local Catholic church cemetery.  My mother grew and loved flowers.  Every Memorial Day, she would go out to her flower garden and pick roses, lilacs, peonies, irises, bridal wreath, plum blossoms and anything else she could find on our property, bring them into the house, and begin arranging them in vases in preparation for taking them to the cemetery to decorate the graves of my father, my sister, my grandparents, etc.  The combination of the scents of all these flowers in the house made my head spin, and today, every time I catch the scent of one of these flowers, my head spins all over again.  Then, when the actual day arrived, we would attend Mass at St. Peter’s Catholic Church after which we would walk to the cemetery behind the church where taps were played and all those local men and women who served and died were remembered with our version of the 21-gun salute.

Ah, the men and women who served and died.  Soon after that experience of my youth, my brother, Rus, was drafted into the army (1967) and was sent to Viet Nam.  My mother was stressed beyond belief.  She sent many prayers heavenward for his safety.  Like a miracle, her prayers were answered.  Rus’s hand was instinctively raised when a commanding officer asked if anyone in the crowd could type.  He spent his year in Viet Nam as a clerk typist, which was probably the safest job any soldier could have.  As for my own story, I had the student deferment, as did Rus, until I graduated from college three years later, 1970, the first year that they randomly drew birthdates to see who would be the first to be drafted.  My birthdate, April 20, was drawn #345 out of 365.  My mother’s prayers were answered once again.  I would not have to serve if I didn’t want to 

Of course, the real story is that of those who were sent into the battlefield in past wars and gave the ultimate sacrifice, which is the reason Memorial Day was instituted.  I knew of one such young man, one I met during my years in 4-H work in my high school days.  His name was Roger Carroll.  I even stayed overnight at his parent’s house once, and ran into him on the campus of Iowa State once or twice.  I later found his name imprinted on the Viet Nam memorial in Washington, D.C.  Of course, there have been hundreds of thousands of others.  I salute them all today for their courage.  The ultimate sacrifice … I can barely fathom it.  I read the autobiography of a fraternity brother who also served, but returned in one piece.  His stories of the battlefields of Viet Nam sent chills down my spine.

The photograph accompanying this post shows a touching memorial.  I discovered it while strolling around the cemetery of the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary, my daughter’s community in Waukesha, Wisconsin, this past weekend.  I found it on the grave of Sister Mary Angela, someone I met some years ago and taught me some of the faith principles of the community.  I don’t know if she had a family member who served, but regardless, we should all have such a prayer on our lips on this Monday upcoming.  God bless all the men and women currently serving in the military.  Amen!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Miracle of Incorruptibility

Do you know what the “Imprimatur” and “Nihil Obstat” in books written by Catholic authors is all about?  “Imprimatur” is Latin for “Let it be printed” and is found in the front matter of the book typically on the same page as the copyright statement.  It tells us that the content has been examined by a Catholic bishop and, as a result of this examination, has been approved for publication.  The name of the bishop and the date of his approval are given.  The purpose of the approval is to let the reader know that the work has been thus examined and is found to be free of any threat to the faith and morals of Catholics.  “Nihil Obstat” is Latin for “Nothing hinders” and is also found on this page in the front matter of a book.  It tells the reader that the content has been examined by a Catholic diocesan censor for reasons similar to the Imprimatur and has been approved for publication.  Again, the date of the approval and the delegated censor’s name are given.  Both are declarations that the content is free of doctrinal of moral error.

The reason these terms are on my mind today is that I’ve been reading a book titled Exploring the Miraculous by “miracle hunter” Michael O’Neill and, for obvious reasons, I checked the front matter to see if the approvals were given.  They were.  One item addressed in the book is the incorruptibility of the bodies of some saints.  The bodies of these saints, for various reasons, have been exhumed and found to be incorrupt after a period of decades, or centuries in some cases.  For some of his statements, he references another book written by Joan Carroll Cruz titled The Incorruptibles, which I have in my personal library and also has the Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat approvals.  I conclude that the stories of such saints found in these books are believable.  The stories include some familiar saints, such as St. Bernadette Soubirous, the young French girl who had the visions of Our Lady of Lourdes, and St. Catherine Laboure, who had the visions of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal.  When I visited France back in the year 2000, I was fortunate to have personally viewed the incorrupt body of St. Catherine in her glass reliquary. 

Skeptics question the validity of claims of incorruptibility, as you might expect, often calling incorrupt bodies "mummified."  In the introduction to Cruz’s book, she addresses these questions and discounts any claim of artificial means of keeping the bodies from decay.  Indeed, in some cases, there was absolutely no attempt at such artificial means, as temperature control, embalmment, or environmental control.  These were simply human beings who lived such virtuous lives, who interceded with Christ to cause miraculous phenomena (or they would not have been declared saints), and who found such favor with God that He demonstrates to us his almighty power though their incorruptibility.

These occurrences of incorruptibility should be enough to fully convince anyone of the existence and power of God.  How else could the phenomena be explained?  Yet, people go about their daily lives as if there is no God.  People give no thought of the existence of a higher power and potential disaster of disbelief.  It reminds me of the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31.  The rich man wanted Abraham to ask God to have someone rise from the dead and warn his five brothers of the consequences of their actions.  Abraham’s response is classic:  “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.”  (Luke 16:31).  The modern response might be this:  “If they will not listen to Jesus Christ and his Church, neither will they be persuaded if a deceased saint’s body remains incorrupt after death.”  My prayer for today:  Please, Lord, grant the gift of faith to those who ignore you so that they may be given their heavenly inheritance on Judgement Day.  Amen.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Is Christ the One Mediator Between God and Man?

Today I’m thinking about the disagreement between the Catholic faith and some other Christian faiths regarding whether Jesus is the sole mediator between God and man or whether we can ask each other and/or the saints in heaven for intercession.  The non-Catholic position on this is derived solely from the following passage from Scripture:  “For there is one God.  There is also one mediator between God and the human race, the man Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as ransom for all.”  (1 Tim 2:5-6).  On the surface, it would seem that St. Paul is telling us that if we want help in praying to God, we only have one option and that is to use Jesus Christ as a mediator, an intercessor. 

The problem is that immediately prior to writing that statement in the letter to Timothy, St. Paul writes this:  “First of all, then, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone … .”  (1 Tim 2,1).  In other words, he is asking us to pray for others, thus using us as a mediator.  One might think that the two passages are in conflict.  Thinking of the two passages together, I think we can all agree that he is asking us to pray while not thinking of us as a mediator, i.e., still using Jesus as the sole mediator in the process.  Yes!  The Catholic position, then, is that it is okay, and even encouraged, to ask others to offer prayers of petition and thanksgiving for us.  And, of course, Catholics take this to also mean that we can ask the saints in heaven to pray for us as well, with the understanding that they also use Jesus as the sole mediator.  This opens it up for us to be able to ask, for example, the Blessed Mother, St. Peter, St. John, and all the saints (even St. Paul), besides our friends and relatives, to pray for us.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states it as follows (excerpt taken from CCC paragraph 2635):  "Since Abraham, intercession – asking on behalf of another – has been characteristic of a heart attuned to God’s mercy.  In the age of the Church, Christian intercession participates in Christ’s, as an expression of the communion of saints."  Christian intercession participates in Christ’s!  That's it!  That's the answer!

Recently, a friend of mine stated that he does not pray at all, for anything, not even if others, such as a grieving widow, were to ask for his prayers.  He gave no apology or any reason for this.  I was left to believe that he has no thought of a higher power that may help him and others through the earthly journey.  And, yes, I pray for him that one day he will come to know Christ, God, and discover the power and the value of faith and prayer.  Amen.

The photograph shows Catholics praying before the tomb of St. Pope John Paul II in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, asking for his intercession in union with Christ's.