Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Good Occupation

Ever wonder what people in the time of Christ did for a living?  There are some clues in Scripture.  Let’s try to name a few.  There were fishermen; there were shepherds; there were tax collectors; there were soldiers; there were religious leaders; there were wheat farmers; there were grape farmers; there were wine makers; there were bread bakers; there were carpenters; there were builders.  There were many others, I’m sure.

The occupation that I am thinking about today is shepherd.  Shepherds seem to be central to the story of salvation history.  Shepherds raised and tended sheep.  We hear about them early on in the gospels.  On that first Christmas morning, there were shepherds “tending their flocks by night.”  Angels appeared to them to announce the birth of the Savior.  They were guided to the “city of David” where they found this Savior “wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”  They subsequently “made known the message” of the angels and many people came to know that the Savior had, at long last, been born.  See Luke, Chapter 2.

In his public life, Jesus often made references to sheep and to shepherds.  One famous parable is that of the Good Shepherd.  Jesus refers to himself as a shepherd and as a gate for the sheep.  In this metaphor, we, the people, are the sheep.  Sheep are notorious followers.  They follow the shepherd because they recognize his voice.  If the shepherd guides one through a gate, the others follow.  The Good Shepherd is then a leader who guides his flock.  Christ is the Good Shepherd because he guides his flock of believers.  They follow him because they have come to know and to believe that he is the Savior of all mankind.  They know him and know his voice and they know he leads them on the path to righteousness and peace.   

Christ makes the claim that he is the Good Shepherd and will lay down his life for his sheep.  He knows his sheep and his sheep know him.  He then makes the claim that there shall be one fold and one shepherd.  He said:  “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never parish.  No one can take them out of my hand.”  See John 11:27-28.  One fold and one shepherd in the life to come.

This Sunday is Good Shepherd Sunday.  How wonderful it is to know that, as a Christian, I am being led through the sheep gate to the Promised Land.  How wonderful it is to know that I am being led by this “Good Shepherd” and that no one can take me out of his hand.  I am so thankful for the Divine Providence that nurtures me, guides me, holds me in his hand, and has done so throughout my life.  I am convinced that if you give him the chance, he will do the same for you.  Jesus repeats the words of the Old Testament (See Mark 12:10-11):  “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes.”  Thank you, Lord.  I am grateful that the builders rejected you and that you have become our cornerstone.  Indeed, it is truly wonderful in our eyes.  Amen.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

"Ordinary" Language

I have sometimes been confused about the use of the word “ordinary” in Catholic Church language, so I thought I would undertake a study of it for today’s MTT. 

I went to the Webster’s dictionary first.  I was fully expecting to find adjective-type synonyms, such as “customary” or “normal” or “commonplace.”  To my surprise, I found a full set of definitions that were nouns as well as a full set of definitions that were adjectives.  The nouns were given first, and, the #1 noun definition, again, to my surprise, is:  “An official having jurisdiction within a specified area by right of the office he or she holds, especially a bishop having such jurisdiction within his own diocese.”  Okay, so a Catholic bishop is called an “ordinary,” even in the secular world!  Then, the #4 noun definition is:  “(a) the form to be followed in a service; (b) the parts of the Mass that are fixed or relatively unvarying.”  Okay, so the unchanging prayers in the Mass, such as unchanging from day to day, week to week, etc., are called the “ordinary” of the Mass, even in the secular world!  For some reason, I thought that these were definitions used within the Catholic Church and not to be found in a secular dictionary!  Silly me!

Next, I went to my “Pocket Catholic Dictionary” and found that not only the bishops, but also the Pope (though I knew one of his titles is the “Bishop of Rome”), the vicars (substitutes, or deputies) of the Pope or bishops, administrators filling a vacancy in a diocese, as well as superiors and abbots in monasteries, or their representatives, are also called ordinaries.  This also fits the Webster’s definition.

What about such terms as “Ordinary Time” and “Extraordinary Minister,” both common terms in the Catholic Church.  I’ve always known that there was a season, or seasons, in the Church calendar that was (were) called Ordinary Time, but why?  Did the Webster’s adjective synonyms of “customary” or “normal” or “commonplace” apply here?  I found the answer in the book The Everything Guide to Catholiism by Fr. Richard Gribble.  It is the longest “season” of the liturgical year, which extends for a few weeks between the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of Lent, and for a much longer period from Pentecost to Advent.  Since this period of the Church year is not one of any special preparation, the name “Ordinary” applies. 

And Extraordinary Minister?  I found this definition in the Catholic Dictionary:  A person who, in case of necessity, is permitted or specially delegated to administer one of the sacraments (Baptism, Confirmation, or the Eucharist).  The one most familiar to Catholics is the Eucharistic minister, a layperson who has been specially delegated to, out of necessity, help distribute Holy Communion at Mass or to the sick in a hospital or place of residence.  The word “extraordinary” is used in the title of such a person.  I note that “Eucharistic minister,” while descriptive, is not this person’s actual title.

So there you have it!  A surprise or two here for me, but perhaps not for you. 

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Welcome to All Newly-Baptized Catholics

At the Easter Vigil service, the service that takes place on the Saturday night before Easter Sunday, a special event occurs in all Catholic parishes throughout the world.  Adults in each parish who wish to become Catholic are baptized as Catholics.  This occurs following an often year-long period of education called the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, abbreviated RCIA.  The baptism occurs following the homily during this first Easter Mass of the weekend, the first Mass that celebrates the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus following the observance of his death and entombment on Good Friday.  Baptism is one of the seven sacraments in the Catholic Church.

The service also includes the sacraments of Confirmation and Holy Eucharist (for the first time) for these new Catholics.  There are two fundamental requirements for a baptism to be valid:  1) water must be used, and 2) the approved words must be uttered by the one doing the baptizing.  The approved words invoke the Holy Trinity:  “I baptism you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  If these two requirements were met previously in a non-Catholic church for the new Catholic, the Catholic Church considers the person to have already been validly baptized and, for them, the ritual begins with the Confirmation rite (which follows immediately). 

This year, I attended the Easter Vigil service at Assumption Church in downtown Chicago.  There were four adults baptized and five more receiving the other two sacraments (see the photograph accompanying this post).  The joy of the experience was very evident on the faces of these new Catholics, as you can see.  It gives a devoted Catholic such as myself great satisfaction to witness this joy, especially when they answer “I do” to questions like “Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty creator of heaven and earth?” and “Do you reject Satan, all his works, and all his empty promises?”

I believe that some of my readers were baptized into the Catholic Church as infants and even later attended Catholic schools, but at some point "left" the Church for another faith tradition.  Something that you may not know is that once you are baptized you do not need to be re-baptized to come back to the Catholic Church.  All it takes is for you to make a good Confession and you are good to go!  What constitutes a "good" confession may be the subject of a future blog post, but I invite you to do that!  I think you will be glad you did!

My personal joy was raised to an even higher level this year because my grandniece became a Catholic at this service in her parish in Iowa.  As I sat in the pew in the Assumption Church, I was filled with excitement knowing that she was becoming Catholic at the same time in this other Catholic church.  A hearty welcome to her and all who began their journey to heaven now as members of the Church that Jesus founded, the Catholic Church!  Amen!

Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Last Supper

So much happened on the first Holy Thursday, at the Last Supper, that it boggles the mind.  Most people think of it as is the occasion when first transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ took place.  That is indeed the case, but so much more happened. 

What else?  The priesthood was established.  When Christ asked his apostles to perform the act of transubstantiation in his memory, he, Catholics believe, ordained them as his first priests.  From that point on, the immediate successors of the apostles also became priests, and so on down to the present day, such that today we have priests ordained by bishops and the sacrament of the Eucharist offered through these priests at Mass.

What else?  St. John’s gospel, Chapters 13-17, provide full details.  Following are some examples.  1) He washed the apostles’ feet.  When Peter objected, Jesus told him that unless he washes him, “you will have no inheritance with me.”  The message for us seems to be:  Repent of your sins and let Jesus wash you clean.  2) He gave his apostles a new commandment:  to love one another.  He said “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  Hate is not an option if you are a follower of Jesus!  3) He told them that in his father’s house, there are many dwelling places, and that he would prepare a place for us.  I’m striving to be holy so that I can have one of those places.  Wow!  4) He told them that no one can come to the Father except through him.  Apparently we need to have true faith in Jesus in order to be saved.  5) He made a statement about the Trinity for us, saying “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” and “…  I am in the Father and the Father is in me.”  This, even though he had always spoken of the Father as a separate person. 6) He told them that if we ask anything of the Father in his name, that he would do it.  Anything?  I’m thinking there may be other requirements …. like maybe nothing that we ask can be opposed to the Father’s will for us?

7) He promised to send us an “Advocate,” the Spirit of truth.  A few paragraphs later, he says that this Advocate is the Holy Spirit.  Jesus said “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.”  I take this to mean that we have been kept on the straight and narrow ever since by the Holy Spirit, and that the Protestant claim that his church was off-track for 1500 years just does not make sense.  8)  He said:  “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.”  Speaking of off-track, the world is off-track as evidenced by the current wave of secularism.  No reason to fear, however.  Jesus has already conquered secularism!  9) Chapter 17 ends with what seems like a long diatribe with the Father.  Here are two example sentences:  “I do not pray for the world but for the ones you [the Father] have given me, because they are yours and everything of yours is mine, and I have been glorified in them.”  And after asking the Father to consecrate these “ones you have given me” [us], he says this:  “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they all may be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world my believe that you sent me.”  Those who will be believe in Jesus through their word?  Our word!  Jesus is apparently saying that we need to evangelize, to spread the word!  He prays that all may be one with the Father and the Son.  We can be, through his Church.

After that he went out to the Garden of Gethsemane where he was arrested and later tortured and crucified.

Good stuff!  All of this at the Last Supper!  Lord, help me to understand your word and to always give glory to you with my life.  Amen.  Happy Easter, everyone! 

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Stephen Hawking

Last week, we learned of the death of the famous physicist, Stephen Hawking.  Almost immediately, Facebook and Twitter came alive with posts and comments about this man and people’s perceptions of him.  Unfortunately, it became a classic back-and-forth debate between those who believe in God and those who do not.  Many comments were crude and cruel.  Some people were praising him for his pioneering work in the fields of astronomy and astrophysics.  Others were denigrating him for his atheism and belittling to people of faith.  It was, quite clearly, a debate between those with liberal politics and the so-called “Religious Right.”  I don’t know why such a debate must always result in insult and crudity.  When I understand that, I will also understand partisan politics.

Now, I am a scientist.  I have a Master’s Degree in Chemistry.  But I am also a devoted Catholic, as most of you know.  No one who knows me or who reads “My Thursday Thoughts” each week, would call me an atheist.  Besides being a scientist, most people would place me squarely within the bounds of the Religious Right and a Republican.  And I, myself, would also do that.  However, I am not the crude and cruel type.  So I am not going to write hurtful or insulting things here today.

Hawking seems to have spent most of his life wanting to conclude that there is a God and that God created this marvelous universe.  In his book A Brief History of Time, he mentions God often and indeed seems to be a believer.  In the preface, Carl Sagan, another famous astronomer and atheist, had this to say:  “This is also a book about God … or perhaps about the absence of God.  The word God fills these pages.”  Hawking concludes the book by writing this:  “However, if we do discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientists.  Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists, and ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist.  If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we would know the mind of God.”  The book was published in 1988.  Hawking live another thirty years.  I understand that he did indeed come to believe that there is no God.

Of course, I don’t understand much about his work - it is much too advanced and mathematical for me.  It seems, however, to be based mostly on speculation.  Ok, black holes, the Big Bang, supernovas, galaxies.  All of this does interest me, but only on a layman’s terms, like the writings of Isaac Asimov.  If Hawking did indeed die an atheist, it is a big disappointment.  My training as a scientist doesn’t sway me away from my faith.  Nor does my background as a devoted Catholic sway me away from science.  To me, the two are completely compatible.  And I’ve know many scientists through the years who have not been swayed.  And the Catholic Church is perfectly fine with what science is doing and has done.  In fact, the Church is supportive of science in many ways.  At least some of us in the Religious Right are interested in answers as much as anyone.  It is just that we are sure that God exists, and it would be a most exciting day indeed when science confirms that.  After all, the scientific evidence already seems to be pointing that way.  For example, the Big Bang Theory.  God’s creation came into being with a bang! 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

St. Joseph

Due to travels, I took last Thursday off.  I apologize, but I forgot to post this notice on Facebook and Twitter last Thursday.  I offer the following prayer to St. Joseph for your meditation.  The feast of St. Joseph, Spouse of Mary, is Monday, March 19.  Until Thursday, March 22 ....

Dear St. Joseph, You were the foster father of Jesus and the spouse of Mary.  You hold a special place in the hearts of all Christians.  Please intercede for us and ask the Lord for special blessings and graces this week especially, as we honor you with your own very special day.  Amen.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Mind-Blowing Passion of Christ

Today, I’m thinking of the Passion of Our Lord and how it all unfolded, beginning with his Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.  After instituting the Sacrament of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, Jesus and the apostles went out and entered the Garden.  But before they went very far, Jesus asked that he proceed alone with Peter, James, and John.  In St. Matthew’s account, he “began to feel sorrow and distress.”  He asked the three to stop while he proceeded forward “a little.”  He “fell prostrate in prayer, saying “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will but as you will.”  He knew what was about to happen to him, and the human nature side of him shone through.  It was to be unbearably painful for him and he knew it.

Before too long, Judas arrived with a large crowd armed with swords and clubs.  He was arrested and ultimately led to the court of Pontius Pilate where he was sentenced to death.  Then the painful suffering began in earnest.  We make a big deal out of his “scourging at the pillar,” identifying it as one of the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary.  I say this because it is barely mentioned in the Scriptures.  St. Matthew’s and St. Mark’s gospels calmly mentioned it in passing:  “… after he had him (Jesus) scourged ….”  St. Luke’s description is similar:  “Therefore, I shall have him flogged and then release him.”  It is the same in St. John’s gospel:  “Then Pilate took Jesus and had him scourged.”  No mention is made of a pillar.  When I meditate on mystery, I am mindful of the movie “The Passion of the Christ” in which the scourging or flogging was a very big deal.  Jesus was tied to a pillar to keep him standing upright and then thoroughly thrashed with whips with hooks on the tips so that it would open some serious wounds.  And, as I recall, there was considerable blood loss.  I’ve heard that the movie was based on the account of the Venerable Anne Catherine Emmerich (1714-1824), a German Augustinian nun, who claimed to have had visions of Our Lord’s passion and death.

We also make a big deal of “the Crowning with Thorns,” another sorrowful mystery of the rosary.  Once again, we have limited coverage of this in the Scriptures.  St John gives the most detail:  “And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and placed it on his head, and clothed him in a purple cloak, and they came to him and said, “Hail, King of the Jews!”  According to St. Matthew and St. Mark, this was followed by intense mockery.  I can imagine the soldiers sneering and laughing as they made a joke out of his claim of being a king.  And I think of the pain, with thorns digging into his head and his precious blood streaming down his face.  And all of this after the wounds from the scourging also caused him to bleed profusely. 

When the wine is transubstantiated into his blood at Mass, I always think of his passion and his blood being spilled all over the place.  He asked us to eat his flesh and drink his blood, and we do, in the form of bread and wine at Mass.  Many people think that we Catholics are nuts to believe that we actually eat his flesh and drink his blood in this way.  But, I think about what Christ’s passion and death did for us.  I am then completely at peace with it, and even awed!  What an incredibly intimate encounter we have in this Eucharist at Mass!  Not only did his horrible death on Calvary cleanse us from our sins, but his command to remember him in this way is nothing short of mind-blowing. 

My prayer for today has to be one of gratitude:  Lord, thank you so much for your holy church, for your passion and death, and for this extraordinary sacrament.  Amen.