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.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

A Mother's Faith and Love

There probably isn’t a mother alive who doesn’t want the best for her sons and daughters.  That is why the story from the Gospel passage read at Wednesday’s Holy Mass (Matt 20:17-28) isn’t so surprising.  The mother of the sons of Zebedee, whose name was Salome, wanted the best for her two sons, John and James.  John and James were two of Jesus’s apostles and so were in his inner circle, so to speak.  In fact, it seems that they were especially close to Jesus because they, along with Peter, seemed to closely share in special events while the other apostles were at a distance.  Examples include the Transfiguration story where James, John, and Peter were invited to be alone with Jesus on the mountain where he was transfigured (Matt 17:1-8 ).  These three were also invited by Jesus to share in the Agony in the Garden event in the garden of Gethsemane after the last supper, though he was “a stone’s throw” apart from them (Matt 26:36-46).  
Salome must have recognized this intimacy, since in Wednesday gospel reading she requests that Jesus allow it to continue.  She asks Jesus to “command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your kingdom.”  It would be as though Jesus would be the king and her two sons would be the king’s personal assistants.  What job title would be more special or carry more prestige?  Jesus’ response was that this role of special assistant would be given to whomever God the Father chooses, saying that it “is not mine to give.”  Salome must have been disappointed, but what mother would not be disappointed to learn that her wishes for her sons or daughters would not be followed. 
I remember my mother wanted me to attend a Catholic college or university.  She wanted nothing more than to have the Catholic faith she so ardently treasured passed on to her son and it would not be threatened for him by his being exposed to secular ideas that would be encountered at a public institution.  And she was, I’m sure, disappointed when I declared that I would attend a public state institution after all.  And she was right.  Though this public institution did have an active Catholic Newman Center, I chose not to participate in their activities.  But, in the end, I adhered to my Catholic faith through all the trials that would come my way and I knew, for example, in the back of my mind, that I would not allow myself to stray in any way from this faith that I valued above everything else in my life.  My faith was strong, and my mother was very proud that her prayers on my behalf in this regard were answered. 
Yes, both Salome and my mother were proud of their sons.  John and James are great, great saints.  I am not at that point yet, of course, but I am striving to also be a saint.  I don’t have to be a saint declared as such by the Church … just a man known for his adherence to his faith and for this continuous and personal striving to be free from sin at death.  I want to gaze on the face of God for all eternity.  How unspeakably wonderful that would be.  Thanks to my Mom for passing on her precious faith to me, and thanks to God for this amazing gift.  I am forever grateful.  Amen.
The photo accompanying this post shows a painting of St.John and the Blessed Mother at the foot of the cross at Calvary.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Billy Graham

The death of Billy Graham yesterday makes me sad.  He was a charismatic, Christian leader, apparently of great faith in Jesus Christ and deserving of much respect.  I wish I would have had a chance to sit down with him over coffee and talk about the continuing split between Catholicism and Protestantism and exactly what his thoughts are in this matter.  The major topic of discussion would be our eternal salvation.

Both groups would agree that faith in Jesus Christ is necessary for salvation.  Jesus Himself said as much:  “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  (John 14:6).  The question then becomes this:  Since both Catholics and Protestants are Christian, i.e. believers in Jesus Christ, can members of both groups be saved? 

My personal understanding of the Protestant faith is that if we simply accept and profess Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior, we are saved … the concept of “Faith Alone.”  There is no other requirement.  They say that Jesus’ death took away all our past, present, and future sins.  The Catholic belief is that we are saved by faith in Jesus, yes, but in addition, we must be in the state of grace at our death, i.e., no mortal sin on our soul.  What Jesus’ death did was to open the pearly gates of heaven for us.  Mortal sins must be forgiven through the sacrament of Confession.  We must still seek repentance and obtain forgiveness in this way before our death.  It is on Judgement Day that Jesus will then separate the sheep from the goats, the righteous from the accursed.  (Matt 25:31-46).

There is no doubt on either side that faith is necessary for salvation and that Jesus’ death by crucifixion was key.  It seems that the dispute comes down to interpretation of Scripture.  Both groups cite Scripture passages that they say support their points of view.   Protestants claim that anyone can interpret Scripture in whatever way they want, which explains why there are so many Protestant denominations.  Catholics claim that proper interpretation of Scripture is a task of the Catholic Church, which they claim is the true Church founded by Jesus and is guided by the Holy Spirit in these matters. 

The Catholic Church is open to the thought that people who profess their faith in the Protestant tradition may not necessarily be excluded from salvation.  It depends on what they know about Catholicism and what they truly believe.  Here is a statement from the Second Vatican Council:  “Hence, they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter or to remain in it.”  (Lumen Gentium 14).

So, Billy Graham, what do you think?  Unfortunately, his voice is now silent.  My prayer for today:  Lord, if it is your will, please bring our brother Billy through the pearly gates and into life with you.  Amen.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Fasting, Abstinence, Almsgiving and Valentines

Our pastor said yesterday in his homily at Mass that this is the first time Valentine’s Day has fallen on Ash Wednesday since 1945!  That’s the first time in 73 years!  No wonder I didn’t remember it ever happening before.  I am not yet 70 years old!

In the Catholic Church, Ash Wednesday is a day of fast and abstinence.  This means that, in order to help us on our path to our heavenly home, our beloved Church has declared that we must fast and refrain from eating meat on that day, the first day of Lent.  The fasting requirement means no snacks between meals and only one full meal.  The abstinence requirement means that the meals must not include any meat, such as beef, pork, chicken, turkey, etc.  Catholics must settle for cheese products, eggs, or fish, etc., for the main course in any meal. 

But what about the fact that it was Valentine’s Day this year?  It is a day when we especially enjoy a celebratory breakfast, lunch and/or dinner with our spouse or girlfriend/boyfriend.  How should that play out?  First, I understand that the Bishops decided not to grant a dispensation from the requirement.  Okay, so we must fast and abstain.  My wife fixed a nice breakfast of hot cereal and fruit.  It was good, but, other than lit candles, nicer placemats, and greeting cards on the table, it was nothing out of the ordinary.  Then, for lunch, we enjoyed a filet-o-fish sandwich and a local McDonalds.  I hadn’t had their fish sandwich in quite some time and forgot how good they are!  Okay, then dinner was to be our one full meal.  My wife again came to the rescue … she prepared salmon filets with a vegetable and fruit.  No dessert.  How good it was!

One of my Facebook friends lamented in a post yesterday the fact that one of her friends saw the situation as an opportunity to go out and enjoy a nice lobster dinner at a fancy seafood restaurant.  It was one of those “What’s wrong with this picture?” moments.  An expensive dinner that is more exciting that any steak, pork chop or fried chicken is not my idea, nor hers, of an observance of Ash Wednesday!

But, aside from all of this, I think it is important to stop and consider what all of Lent is about for us devoted Catholics.  It is not just a time to punish our bodies by eating less or by avoiding eating certain foods.  It is about preparation … mental preparation for what is going to happen at the end of the self-sacrificing agony … Holy Week and Easter.  The self-denial , and almsgiving too, makes us aware of the world around us.  It is about becoming aware of people in need and how it feels to live day-to-day not knowing where our next meal is coming from.  And then it makes us more aware of the great sacrifice that Jesus Christ accomplished for us through his horrific crucifixion and how our faith is affirmed through his glorious Resurrection. 

So this year, let us fast, abstain, make personal sacrifices, and give alms to prepare our minds and hearts for the celebration to follow.  Easter will then be a glorious day indeed!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Faith vs Government

I’ve sometimes wondered what life would be like if everyone in the world were Catholic.  That’s right.  No Protestantism.  No Judaism.  No Islam.  No paganism.  No atheism.  No Buddhism.  No Hinduism, no whateverism.  Everybody is Catholic.  Do you think this is what Jesus had in mind when he founded the Catholic Church that everyone be Catholic?  No, I don’t think so. 

For one thing, he was an advocate of the separation of church and state.  When asked about it, he said this:  “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”  (Matt 22:21).  So he envisioned our being governed in matters of state separate from matters of faith.  For another, he was fully aware of the presence of evil in the world, with references to the “Evil One” and “Satan” and “Beelzebub” in his preaching.  I believe he also knew we would be tested by non-believers, as he himself witnessed in John, Chapter 6, when many of his disciples “walked away and went back to their former way of life” when he began saying that to be his followers, we must eat is body and drink his blood (John 6:66).  So while he challenged us with an order like this:  “Go and make disciples of all nations, in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt 28:19-20), he knew we would not be 100% successful.  And, of course, we have not been.  And we never will be.  There will always be these “isms” that will forever challenge us when we try to make disciples of all nations.  We will always co-exist with non-believers.  But that does not mean that we should not take the mandate seriously, that we should not try.

I am certainly not an expert with the current state of this mandate in other nations of the world.  However, as a voter in the United States of America, the present state of affairs with our government is my business and that is where the present-day argument lies for me.  There are many examples of how our church comes into conflict with our state.  For example, we had a Supreme Court in 1973 come down with a decision that a pre-born child is not a person as defined by the constitution and therefore has no firmly established right to live like all post-birth people have.  This decision opposes Catholic teaching and we believe offenders commit sin.  So we cannot, in good conscience, support this decision.  In addition, we have religious liberties, things that have been allowed for us believers through the years, to now be disputed.  The example here is our belief that the use of artificial birth control methods is seriously sinful and that Catholics who own businesses must not be forced to have their employees’ health insurance cover these methods.  I could go on.

So what is the solution?  Jesus said to make disciples of all nations.  We must endeavor to change the hearts and minds of our fellow citizens.  We must suggest to them that the Catholic position on these matters is important; that the elimination of sin in our world is our primary concern; that our heavenly reward should be everyone’s goal.  There are strong anti-Catholic biases out there.  There are even Catholics in our government who apparently oppose their Church’s teachings.  But we must not be deterred.  

My prayer for today:  Lord, please, in your compassion, help us with your challenge to make disciples of all nations.  Help us to come up with strategies to combat evil in our world.  Guide your people in methods to change hearts and minds.  We ask these things in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Come Home to the Catholic Church

Have you been baptized as a Catholic?  Have you, for whatever reason, abandoned the faith?  Do you believe there is an afterlife with a heaven and a hell?  If you have answered “yes” to these three questions, then my thoughts this Thursday are about you and traditional Catholic teachings that you may or may not have heard about.

Heaven is where God is and hell is where He is not.  Heaven is where you want to spend your eternity and hell is where you do not want to spend your eternity.  Heaven is where you go if you die in the state of grace (with no sin on your soul).  Hell is where you go if you are in the state of mortal sin. 

You may know that mortal sins are serious offenses that go against the ten commandments, such as killing someone (fifth commandment:  Thou shalt not kill.) or sex outside of marriage (sixth commandment:  Thou shalt not commit adultery.).  The ten commandments were given to Moses in ancient times, but they are still relevant today, as Jesus has told us (Matt 19:16-19).  Mortal sins are also serious offenses that go against the six precepts of the Catholic Church, the Church that Jesus founded.  Examples here include missing Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation without good reason and also receiving the Eucharist while in the state of mortal sin (this sin is called sacrilege).  Remember that Christ’s Church, the Catholic Church, was given the authority to bind and loose in these matters of faith.

So what makes a sin mortal, and are there sins that are not mortal?  What if I don’t know that a mortal sin is mortal?  What if I commit a mortal sin, but do not fully consent to it?  The church teaches that for a sin to be so deadly as to send you to hell if it is on your conscience when you die, three things are required:  1) has to be mortal (as taught by the Church), 2) the sinner must know that it is mortal, and 3) the sinner must fully consent to it.

How does one get mortal sins off their soul before death?  Jesus taught that we must repent of our sins.  Jesus instituted the sacrament of Confession in his church for that purpose.  So if you answered “yes” to the very first question in this blog, you are eligible to have your sins forgiven through the sacrament of Confession.  Please see a priest as soon as possible.  You don’t know when death will come.

What about the scandals of which the Catholic Church is guilty?  Yes, there have been some very serious and mortal sins committed by those in which Catholics have placed their trust.  It proves that his Church is not immune to the temptations that are out there.  But abandoning Christ’s Church is not a good decision.  Praying for the Church is the right decision.

What if you have professed a different faith since your Catholic Baptism and have been following the teachings offered by this faith?  My experience is that these other faiths often interpret Scripture in a way different from the Catholic Church.  This is a serious problem, in my opinion.  Please come back to the Catholic Church and be reconciled.  There are many, many Catholic parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles out there who are very sad and upset about this state of affairs.  I am counted among them.  Please come back.  Please come home.  Where you go for all eternity depends on it. 

My prayer for today:  Lord, please, in your mercy, inspire your wayward children to come back to your church.  Shower them with the gifts of your compassion, your kindness, your grace, and your forgiveness.  Please place them once again on the right path to their heavenly home.  Amen.