Thursday, December 31, 2015

A Great, Great Saint

Today I’m thinking about St. John the Apostle/Evangelist, my personal patron saint.  December 27 is traditionally the feast of St. John in the Catholic Church.  This year this feast fell on a Sunday (the Sunday within the octave of Christmas) and it was overshadowed by the fact that it also was the Feast of the Holy Family. 

St. John was one of the twelve apostles but he was one of just three apostles that was apparently in Jesus’ “inner circle.”  He, along with St. Peter and St. James (St. John’s brother … sons of Zebedee), seemed to have special privileges from Jesus.  Jesus took Peter, James, and John up the high mountain when he “was transfigured before them.”  (Mat 17:1-8).  These same three apostles were selected to accompany Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane to witness the Agony in the Garden, though they fell asleep (because, though “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak”).  (Mat 26:1-46). 

Later, John became Mary’s caretaker at Jesus’ request (when while hanging on the cross, Jesus “said to the disciple, ‘behold your mother.’  And from that hour the disciple to her into his home.” (John 19: 26-27)).  In addition, John was the author of the fourth Gospel, three New Testament letters, and the Book of Revelation.  I am especially struck by three accounts in John’s Gospel that are unique to him and by the general theme of his first letter. 

These three accounts in his Gospel are 1) the Prologue (John 1: 1-18), 2) the Bread of Life Discourse (John 6: 22-71) , and 3) the Last Supper Discourses. (John, Chapters 14-17).  In the Prologue, Jesus refers to Himself as both the Word and the Light.  It is beautiful poetry that seems to refer back to the creation account in the Book of Genesis.  The reader is left to contemplate.  In the Bread of Life Discourse, the Holy Eucharist is prefigured and many, including myself, take the dialogue there as proof that the Eucharist really is the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus.  In the Last Supper Discourses, Jesus goes on and on teaching his truth about, among many other things, unity, love, and His relationship to the Father.

But as good as all of that is, the best may perhaps be found in his first letter, 1 John, where the emphasis is on love.   I especially would recommend 1 John 4: 7-21.  You know, there isn’t enough space here to write out all the verses referenced in this post, so please pick up your Bible (or go purchase a Bible) and take a look.  I think that you will agree that this St. John, my personal patron saint, was a great, great saint.  Amen.

Saint John was, of course, present at the Last Supper.  The photo here is of the last supper sculpture at the Trinity Heights Center in Sioux City, Iowa. 

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The First Christmas Eve

Those of you who read MTT regularly know that I often think about the gaps in the gospel stories and how I like to fill them in with made-up fictional tales.  So, today, Christmas Eve, I’m thinking about what might have happened the day before Jesus was born … the first Christmas Eve.

Joseph and Mary were nearing the end of their journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem.  They expected to make it to their destination at about nightfall.  So here they were, on the road with just a few miles to go, meeting up with other travelers, perhaps others from the family of David who were also rushing to Bethlehem for the census.  No doubt they were friends, at least acquaintances, of many these other people.  I can imagine that they marveled at the fact that Mary, nine months pregnant, had traveled for days on the back of the family donkey while being jostled and perhaps bruised with every donkey step. 

But, knowing Mary, they also knew her personality … humble, patient, kind (to Joseph), and eager, while at the same time being anxious, worried, frightened and … calm.  Calm?  Yes.  She knew that it would all work out.  She knew about the baby she was carrying.  She knew that He was the Savior of all mankind, the lamb of God and that the sinful course of all humanity was about to change because of Him.  Of course we know what happened upon their arrival … a frantic search for accommodations, no room in the inn, and having to settle for a stable with the warmth of livestock to provide a comfortable temperature.  

This scene has, of course, been fully captured by designers of cribs and manger scenes ever since that day.  This morning I awoke to one such sight in my front yard (minus the livestock) as the heavy snow was falling. I ran back into my house to grab my camera and, wouldn’t you know it, was late for the 7 AM Mass at the cloistered Sisters convent.  But at least I got a nice picture, complete with the reflections of my camera flash off the snowflakes between me and the holy family and a halo for the Christ Child.  Merry Christmas everyone and may the love of God touch your hearts in a special way today and always!  Amen.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Honoring Mary in December

In the Catholic Church, it is widely known that May is the month of Mary, the Blessed Mother.  All the flowers that April showers bring are picked and brought to statues and shrines of Mary.  Beautiful crowns are created by school children and May crownings are carried out worldwide.  That is all well and good, but I ask, “What about December?”  From the end of November to the first of January, there are five major feast days or holy days that either directly or indirectly honor the Blessed Mother.  Today, I am thinking about these amazing days.

The first comes on November 28, the feast day of St. Catherine Laboure.  St. Catherine was a young nun in France in 1830 when she received three apparitions of the Blessed Mother.  In these apparitions, Mary asked Catherine to make known her (Mary’s) wish that a medal be struck.  The medal was to be Mary’s design and have the following prayer inscribed on it:  “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”  People who would wear this medal (now called the Miraculous Medal) around their necks were promised to receive great graces.  I wear this medal around my neck every day and say the prayer every morning as I put it on.  Catherine’s body was exhumed fifty years later as was found to be incorrupt.  Note that the prayer includes the phrase “ … conceived without sin … .”

The second is the holy day, the Immaculate Conception, on December 8.  Catholics are obliged, under pain of serious sin, to attend Mass on this day.  It celebrates the fact that Mary was conceived in the womb of her mother, St. Anne, without original sin, hence the reference “Immaculate Conception.”  Protestants oppose honoring Mary in this way, saying that the idea of Mary conceived immaculately is unbiblical.  Catholics agree that it is not in the Bible, but honor her for this nonetheless because it is found in Sacred Tradition.  Besides this, Mary herself made reference to her Immaculate Conception in two of her apparitions.  One was to St. Catherine Laboure (see above) and the other was to St. Bernadette at Lourdes when she said “I am the Immaculate Conception.”

The third is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12.  This feast celebrates the apparition of Mary to St. Juan Diego near Mexico City in 1531.  During this apparition, Mary left us an image of herself on St. Juan Diego’s tilma.  His tilma is still on display near Mexico City in the chapel that Mary asked to be built and has shown no sign of deterioration after nearly five centuries.

The fourth is Christmas Day, December 25.  This, of course, is the day we celebrate Mary giving birth to the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ, as told in the Gospel of St. Luke.  To give birth to the Savior of mankind is the highest honor that has ever been given to a human being.  It doesn’t get any better than that.

Finally, on January 1, we honor Mary for all that she is and all she represents.  It is the day we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God.  Protestants do not like to call her the Mother of God, but that is a beautiful title given her by the Catholic Church.  For all that we know about the Blessed Mother, even if you want to limit her to just the biblical accounts, it is mystifying to me that some people do not want to honor her.  These people say that they have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  I say I have a personal relationship with both Jesus and his mother and I’m lovin’ it.

In the Photograph, a man and his daughter sit in front of the giant statue of the Blessed Mother on the grounds of the Trinity Heights Center in Sioux City, Iowa.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Filled With Expectation

Today, I’m thinking about the following passage in Scripture:  “Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John (the Baptist) might be the Messiah.”  (Luke 3:15).  My question is, after all these centuries of waiting for the Messiah, why were the people now suddenly filled with such expectation?  It seems to me that they would be going about their business as usual, yes, but with the same expectation as their ancestors, until now when they heard the preaching of this stranger.  The stranger was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist while feeding on locusts and wild honey (Mark 1:6).  Who would listen to such a man preaching repentance at this time, unless there was more to the story?  Well, there may just have been more to the story.

Flash back for a moment to the night Jesus was born (just thirty years earlier).  A group of Jewish shepherds experience a vision of an angel who give them a message saying that the Messiah had been born that night in Bethlehem.  The vision includes a multitude of heavenly host praising God (Luke 1:8-13).  Like anyone who might experience such a vision, they were afraid, but then curious.  They went to see if they could find this newborn.  They found Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in the cave, Jesus lying in the manger.  Luke then says, “When they saw this they made known the message that had been told them about this child (by the angel).  All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds.”  (Luke 2:17-18).  It would seem that yes, thirty years later, “all who heard it,” quite possibly the entire Jewish population, would have had high expectations.

Along the way, their expectations may have blossomed further what with Herod’s massacre of the Holy Innocents.  (Matt 2:16).  Certainly, it would seem that their expectation would have blossomed even further with the story of Simeon and Anna at the presentation in the temple.  We are told that Anna “… gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem,” which quite possibly again was the entire Jewish population of Israel.  (Luke 2:38).  And then there was the story of the finding of twelve-year-old Jesus in the temple after He missed the departure time of Joseph, Mary, and the others, for their journey back to Nazareth from Jerusalem after the feast of the Passover.  (Luke 2:41-52).  Luke says that “they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers” and that “all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers.”  At least these teachers would have experienced some sense of expectation.

Now consider again the attention John the Baptist was getting, despite being dressed camel’s hair and feeding on locusts and wild honey.  With expectations running rampant by this time, it seems to me that this was not really an odd phenomenon.  John said the right things and, for a time, they thought John was the Messiah, until the moment when he baptized Jesus.  Luke says, “After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’”  (Luke 3:21-22).  Wow!  It would be an understatement to say that the expectations were satisfied!

Lord, be at our side this Advent season so that our hearts may be filled with expectation for what is to come.  Amen.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Building on Solid Rock

The Gospel from today’s Mass (Matthew 7, 21-27) got me thinking again about the false teaching that says that we are justified by faith alone.  Specifically, I’m thinking of the passage “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”  Those that call upon the Lord obviously have faith and, by the “faith alone” doctrine, should be saved.  But Jesus says that this is not enough, saying that such believers must also do the will of the Father.  To me, this implies faith and action, not just faith alone.  The same message also come through loud and clear later in this same Gospel, when Jesus says “And everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like the wise man who built his house on solid rock. ...  And everyone who listens to these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a fool who builds his house on sand.”  Apparently it is foolish to simply believe and not to also act.  This idea if further supported by quotes from Jesus in Luke, Chapter 6, verses 46-49.

I’ve read that the faith alone doctrine originated with Martin Luther.  I’ve read that Luther actually added his own idea (on justification) to Scripture by adding the word “alone” after the word “faith” in various Scripture passages.  So the inspired word of God was changed in this way.  He apparently thought that the Catholic Church made salvation too difficult for people and thought that justification should just be accomplished by simply believing and not by acting on this belief.  Many people then followed Luther right out of the Catholic Church because it made things easier for them.  How sad!  My thought is this:  Should not something as important as salvation require more than just believing?  Should we not prove our faith by proper behavior?  Should we not be free from sin to achieve salvation?  Should we not also be purged of our offenses against God before we can enter paradise where we see God face-to-face?  Makes perfect sense to me.

My prayer for today:  Lord, please strengthen our faith so that we live our lives not just by simple belief but also by acting on this belief, by avoiding sin, by asking your forgiveness from the sins that, in our weakness, we do commit and thus by building our faith lives on solid rock rather than shifting sands.  Amen.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thank you, Lord, for the Mass

The Catholic Church requires all its members to attend Mass every Sunday.  She also requires attendance at Mass on those weekdays that have been designated as “Holy Days of Obligation” by the Church.  Catholics who do not conform to this “precept of the Church” commit a mortal sin.  Okay, today I’m thinking about why this precept … this directive … was created and why missing a Mass so designated is such a serious wrong. 

I’m thinking primarily how and why the Church can make any such a pronouncement.  I’m thinking that the “how” falls under the domain of the Scripture passage in which Jesus says to Peter:  “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.  Whatever you bind on Earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on Earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  (Mat 16,19).  In other words, Jesus gave to his Church, in the person of St. Peter, the privilege to bind and loose “whatever” she deems appropriate.  Based on this Scripture passage, I believe that Jesus gave the Catholic Church the authority for this. 

The question of “why” is another matter.  Why does the Church choose to require her members to attend Mass every Sunday and every Holy Day of Obligation and then make it a serious sin if they do not do this?  The answer, of course lies in the importance the Church places on frequent Mass attendance.  The obvious questions then are:  1) What is the Mass and 2) Why is the Mass such a big deal?  Entire books have been written in which authors lay out bit by bit what Mass is and what is happening at Mass.

The Mass is the modern day Catholic version of the “breaking of the bread” referred to in Scripture.  The climax is the celebration of the Eucharist, including the transubstantiation, the changing of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ at the part of the Mass called the “Consecration.”  It is when the priest repeats those familiar words of Jesus at the last supper.  The Mass is the re-presentation of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus.  We consume his body, blood, soul, and divinity as directed via the words of Jesus “Do this in memory of me” and “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day.”  As such, it is a VERY big deal.  To require all Church members to participate in the Mass roughly every seven days throughout their lives on Earth seems to me a very modest request and certainly something to which mortal sin could be attached if members don’t comply.  It is in response to the third commandment:  “Thou shalt keep holy the Sabbath.”

Some members complain that the Mass is “boring” and that they get nothing out of the homily preached at Mass.  In my mind, these people have the wrong focus.  Mass is not about the homily.  Mass is about worship.  It is about the promise of eternal life.  It is about an intimate contact with the Savior of mankind.  Today, Thanksgiving Day, I am thankful for the Mass. 

My prayer for today:  Lord, thank you so much for creating this perfect union with you, the Mass, the Eucharist.  Help us to more fully understand this gift so that we may respond with fullest degree of worship and devotion.  Amen.  

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Be Watchful! Be Alert!

Recently I was accessing the attic in my house using a step ladder when the ladder suddenly collapsed and all 220 pounds of me went crashing to the concrete floor below.  In a fraction of a second, I went from poking my head into the attic to a heap on the floor with serious scrapes on my leg and back.  I thanked my lucky stars, because it could have been a lot worse. 

It called to mind the fate of others who experience sudden shocking surprises in their lives who are not quite so fortunate.  It could be something really horrible, such as a terrorist strike or an automobile accident.  The recent terrorist strike in France is an example.  Can you imagine sitting in a soccer stadium or in your favorite restaurant and being shaken up or possibly killed by a bomb blast?  Another example is the recent automobile accident on an Interstate highway that killed the wife of a friend of mine.  The couple, in their early twenties, had been married only two weeks. 

The point is that we need to be vigilant and know that the possibility of death is always present.  The Catholic Church teaches that this vigilance means that we must be in the state of grace at all times.  If we are aware that we have committed a serious sin, then we must confess this sin and return to the state of grace as soon as possible.  One Scripture verse that can apply here is Mark 13:32-34:  “But of the day or the hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  Be watchful!  Be alert!  You do not know when the time will come.” 

The story of the young man and his wife of two weeks is an inspiration.  The young man, his name is Tony, was (and is) a member, with me, of the Serra Club of Lincoln.  He is now a seminarian in the Diocese of Lincoln, receiving his priestly calling following the death of his wife.  Can you imagine experiencing the bliss of married life for only two short weeks and then having it all suddenly collapse (like my ladder)?  What tremendous gift Tony then experienced to receive the calling from God to the priesthood!  Only God knows the fate of his wife, but if her faith is anything like Tony’s, her bliss is now the experience of seeing God face-to-face in heaven.    

My prayer for today:  Lord, please help me to always be vigilant and prepared here on this earth so that I may ultimately one day experience what you have prepared for those who love you.  Amen.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Keeping an Open Mind Regarding Scientific Theories

Last Sunday, a Facebook friend of mine posted a video of an interview with Carl Sagan shortly before his death seventeen years ago.  Carl Sagan was a world-renowned astronomer (think the “Cosmos” series, and “billions and billions and billions of galaxies”).  He is also famous for his agnosticism.  The gist of the interview is that seventeen years ago, Sagan believed that humankind was in big trouble because no one in authority understands science and technology.  My Facebook friend especially drew my attention to the Sagan quote:  “This combustible mix of ignorance and power will soon blow up in our faces.”  He (my Facebook friend) then wrote:  “Seventeen years ago, Carl Sagan looked into the future and saw Ben Carson.” 

I had a knee-jerk reaction and commented with my immediate thought about this:  “Ben Carson??? It's strange that you would pick him out of this pot that is currently being stirred! And Carl Sagan??? He hardly embodies the all-knowing and all-perfect expert that I would trust judging the destiny of humankind.”  My friend, himself a PhD scientist, almost placed my tail uncomfortably between my legs with his next comment:  “John we clearly have a different view of science. But you are right in one respect: a medical doctor whose profession is based on biology & who denies evolution should not be mentioned in a same post with the great Sagan.”  I googled Ben Carson on evolution.  It turns out that Carson does indeed deny evolution.  I did not know this about him before.

Now I don’t know yet for whom I will vote in the Republican Primary.  But this “new” knowledge about Ben Carson does not cause me to disqualify him.  Not that I deny evolution.  Rather, I believe, as I do with many other scientific theories, that our thinking may change as our research continues.  How many times has our view of some scientific “fact” taken a 180 degree turn due to a new discovery?  Global warming is one recent example.  NASA has published findings that the Antarctica ice shelf is actually growing!  Another example is the use of gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GCMS) for identifying complex organic compounds.  New research shows that it may not be as reliable as once thought due to the newly-discovered decomposition of compounds taking place in the thermal ion source.  (Sorry for the technical language.)

As far as evolution is concerned, once missing links are found, or not found, an alternate theory may need to be examined.  So, yes, my Facebook friend and I may indeed have a different view of science, but I will not put my tail between my legs and run away.  I prefer to keep an open mind about most “facts” of science. Perhaps this is the “view of science” that sets me apart from that of my Facebook friend.

But let’s get back to Carl Sagan, specifically his agnosticism.  In my mind, Carl Sagan is not a reliable authority on the destiny of humankind.  A scientist denying evolution is one thing.  But a scientist doubting the existence of God is quite another.  God, the Creator of this incredible universe from its billions and billions of galaxies to the complexity of the human brain … He alone decides when the mix of ignorance and power will reach the flash point.  Now it is important for scientists to keep battling to discover when action on our part is required.   It is the will of God for man to do what he must to protect his earthly home, but please don’t leave God out of the equation.  Whom we elect is also important, yes.  But we need to also keep in mind that our heavenly home is in our future.  So pray!  And, we can put the word “great” in front of Sagan’s name.  I have no problem with that when discussing his knowledge and accomplishments where the cosmos is concerned.  But such dire predictions about our future?  I prefer the predictions of someone who has a sound grasp of science but also believes firmly in God.

My prayer for today:  Lord, please help us to face our future together, You with your divine power and us as we grope our way out of our ignorance.  

The picture is one I took on my recent trip to the moon.  LOL!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

What It Means to Be Holy

Holy Spirit, Holy Bible, Holy Communion, Holy Thursday, Holy Orders, holy ground, Holy Catholic Church.  Today, I’m thinking of what the word “Holy” means.  Webster’s Dictionary says this as its number one definition:  “belonging to or coming from God.”  Each of the examples listed above are things that belong to, or come from, God Almighty.  Since God is the Supreme Being, the Creator, the Sacred One of heaven, it follows that anything touched by, belonging to, or coming from Him is described by this word, “Holy.” 

The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity.  The Holy Spirit IS God.  No problem there.  The Holy Bible, or Holy Scripture, is the word of God, i.e., books written by human beings who were inspired by God to write what they wrote.  Yes, “coming from God.”   Holy Communion is the reception of the consecrated Body and Blood of Christ, the Son of God.  The Son of God is God Himself, so again, no problem.  Holy Thursday, and Holy Saturday and Holy Week, are days during which the passion, death and burial of Jesus, the Son of God, is celebrated.  Obviously here we celebrate the special days that were touched by God 2000 years ago.

Holy Orders refers to the rite or sacrament of Christian ordination to become a priest, a bishop, or a deacon.  These individuals are dedicating their lives to God and to the sacred mission to minister to the people of God.  Yes, indeed, a commitment of “belonging to God,” a commitment to His greater honor and glory.  “Holy ground” is what God Himself called the ground where Moses stood on Mount Sinai when he saw the burning bush.  Yes, “touched by God.”

Now we come to “Holy Catholic Church” in our list.  Why is the Catholic Church referred to as “holy?”  Some may argue that it is just one of tens of thousands of Christian denominations around the world and, as such, cannot have such a word associated with it while the others do not.  Ah, but it is not just another denomination.  It is THE Church founded by Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  It is the Church that was built and continues to be guided by the Holy Spirit and the fullness of Christian truth.  It is the Church whose church buildings are blessed by God’s continuing physical presence.  It is a Church that has been touched by God, comes from God, and belongs to God.  It is holy indeed!  Amen!  Alleluia!  

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Great Period of Trial

In the Catholic Church, this Sunday, November 1, is All Saints Day.  The first reading at the Mass for All Saints Day is taken from the Book of Revelation.  Today, the following verse from this reading is on my mind:  “Then one of the elders spoke up and said to me, ‘Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?’  I said to him, ‘My lord, you are the one who knows.’  He said to me, “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.’” (Rev 7:13-14). 

I’ve asked myself, “What is this ‘time of great distress’, or this ‘great period of trial’ as it was translated in earlier versions of my New American Bible?”  Commentaries I have read say that the author of Revelation (St. John) meant this ‘great period of trial’ to refer to a period of fierce persecution of the early Christians at the hands of the Roman authorities.  This commentary also states that the Book of Revelation remains valid and meaningful for Christians of all time.  So how is it “valid and meaningful” for us today?

Well, first, I understand that, in Revelation, St. John is giving his account of a vision of heaven in the highly symbolic and allegorical language popular in the literature of his day.  I picture him, in this vision, speaking with the elder while viewing the spectacle of the “multitude” standing “before the throne and before the Lamb…” as stated earlier in the account.  It is easy to understand that the throne is the throne of God, that the Lamb is Jesus, and that the multitude consists of the saints of heaven.  But, what of the great period of trial, or the time of great distress, which they have survived?  It seems clear that these terms refer to their time on Earth.

If that is true, then the story is valid and meaningful for us today in that we must survive OUR great period of trial so that we can stand before God upon our death having been made clean by washing our robes and making them white in the Blood of the Lamb.  What must we do specifically to survive it in this way?  That is the question that must be answered.  The interpretation of the Catholic Church is that we must die in the state of grace, free from sin.  It goes back to other Thursday Thoughts that I’ve had.  We must use the Holy Catholic Church as our guide, make use of the Sacraments, be aware of the mercy of God, confess our sins and be ready.  Remember, the end will come “like a thief in the night.”

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Were Adam and Eve Real People?

I’ve often heard the question “Do you believe that Adam and Eve were real people?”  Well, everyone believed that until the Theory of Evolution changed things.  If the Theory of Evolution is true (and by all accounts, it is), then the thought that in a single event, God created a single man and a single woman from whom we all descended can’t be true.  Well, today I have some thoughts about what just might have happened that is consistent with both, the Book of Genesis and the Theory of Evolution.  It involves the following two verses from Genesis, Chapter 1.  First, “Then God said:  'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.'” (Genesis 1:26).  Second, “… the Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7).  

Man apparently was created first and then the breath of life came along.  Do you think man was totally lifeless until God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life?  Well, maybe he was just an ordinary animal until that happened.  In other words, maybe the “breath of life” is the soul of man, meaning his intelligence and free will.  That would be consistent with the above verse from Chapter 1 of Genesis, i.e. God made man in his own image and likeness.  After all, how else could the image and likeness of God, who is pure spirit, be a pattern for man, a being with a physical body?  No, perhaps the image and likeness of God is man’s soul.  So to re-cap this new thought:  The breath of life that God breathed into the nostrils of man and the image and likeness of God are both the same thing … man’s soul.   

Now, then, who were Adam and Eve and how does this new thought fit with the Theory of Evolution?  Well, imagine man evolving over many millions of years, just as the Theory of Evolution speculates, and imagine that this evolution was taking place all over the world such that there was, in reality, a whole mass of man creatures just waiting for the breath of life.  Now imagine God choosing one of them, Adam, for this gift of his image and likeness, thus creating a “real” man.  Maybe God saw that it was good and then breathed the breath of life into others of his choosing such that the creation of man was off and running.  It could be that the biblical account was only about one of them, Adam, and later, his descendants.

Of course, the obvious question is “Where was Eve and all the other women creatures when all of these man creatures were getting the breath of life?”  Well, the account of the creation of woman is also in Genesis, Chapter 2.  “So the Lord God cast a deep sleep on the man, and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh.  The Lord God then built up into a woman the rib that he had taken from the man.” (Genesis 2:21-22)

Is it possible that men got the breath of life before women did?  Is it possible that man creatures evolved a little faster than woman creatures such that God had to do something special to speed things along so that the man creatures, now with souls, would have a suitable partner?  But to take a man’s rib and form it into a woman?  The answer to that question is going to have to come from future even more innovative Thursday Thoughts.

The photo shows thousands of man and woman creatures gathered to see Pope Benedict during his return trip to Germany in 2011.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Oh, The Mind of God!

Christ died for our sins.  The action of his death on the cross opened the gates of heaven for us.  He saved us from our sins by his death on the cross.  That is why he is called our Savior.  Some would say our “personal Savior.”  Heaven is now open for us as a result of his death on the cross.

Over the years, I’ve had some difficulty fully grasping the meaning of these statements.  How is it that so much has been made of Christ’s crucifixion.  How is it that his death on the cross was such a saving action.  Why did God choose this particular act to save mankind from his sins.  How and why?  How and why?  Today, I’m thinking of some possible answers.

God created us out of love.  The old Baltimore Catechism answered the question “Why did God make us?” by saying “God made us to know Him, to love Him, to serve Him, and to be happy with Him in heaven.”  Oh, the mind of God!  He wanted us to know Him, to love Him, to serve Him, and be happy with Him in heaven.  But at the same time, He gave us free will.  Can you imagine God talking to Himself, saying “If I make this creature man and make Myself known to him, and he freely chooses to love and serve Me, then I would have made a creature that would be eternally happy with Me in heaven, and what love there would be between us.”  So what went wrong?

Man freely chose to sin instead.  He chose to listen to the Evil One and, even though he knew God, He did not choose to love Him or serve Him.  He chose to sin.  So then it was not possible for man to be happy with God in heaven unless he was somehow redeemed, somehow given a second chance.  Centuries of time passed.  God knew what He would do.  He sent many prophets to let man know what He would do.  And as a result, mankind waited for their savior, the Son of God, to appear.  God even told them that His Son, this Savior, would suffer and die.  This would be the saving action. But how and why?

His son would become one of us … a man.  He would be a man with all human frailties.  He would laugh.  He would cry.  He would experience joy.  He would experience heartache.  He would know pain.  He would know fear.  He would bleed.  He would die.  And all of this was seen starting in the Garden of Gethsemane.  I can imagine Him kneeling there by the rock shaking from head to toe, fearing what was to follow over the next day or two.  He prayed that His Father would take away this challenge so that he wouldn’t have to suffer and die.  But He also prayed that his Father’s will would be done.  And so it happened … a horrible, mind-boggling death.  The saving action.

Before it happened, though, Christ founded His Church as the vehicle by which his saving power would be realized.  Then He rose from the dead and proved that He was God.  And now, His creature man has come to know Him again.  And His creature man can now choose all over again to love Him, to serve Him, and to be happy with Him in heaven.  Oh, yes, the mind of God!  Oh, yes, the genius of God.  Not all of us will make it.  We still must choose that narrow gate, for the Evil One is still with us.  But, oh, what happiness awaits those who do make this choice! 

My prayer for today:  Lord, be at my side as I trudge through the mud of this life.  Whisper in my ear to keep me on the straight and narrow.  Pick me up when I fall, and guide me to the eternal home you have prepared for me from the beginning of time.  Amen.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Sign of the Cross

Today, I’m thinking about the “sign of the cross.”  This is the very public hand motion and prayer that Christians make when beginning or ending another prayer or when otherwise wanting to show their special faith or devotion in regard to some action.  The motion traces a cross on one’s body using the fingertips of the right hand, first to the forehead, then to the breastbone, then to the left shoulder, and finally to the right shoulder.   It is most often accompanied by the words “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.” 

A former pastor at my parish used to say that the sign of the cross is a kind of blessing.  It is like blessing ourselves, or asking God to bless us.  Other blessings that I’ve experienced, such at the end of Mass or when a priest blesses a sacramental, also involve a hand motion in the form of a cross, but just in the air.  I’ve always considered it as telling the Lord that we are about to do something (like say a prayer) in his name, or in the name of the Blessed Trinity.  Some athletes make the sign of the cross, apparently asking God to bless them prior to attempting some sports action, such as a baseball player stepping into the batter’s box.

When we enter a Catholic Church, we dip our fingertips in holy water prior to making the sign of the cross.  This action with holy water is intended to remind us of our baptism while calling down God’s blessing on us.  For many of us, myself included, this action has been so routine that our baptism doesn’t enter our minds.  Lately, because it’s been on my mind, I do recall my baptism and what it means.  Some of us don’t dip our fingerprints in the holy water, nor make the sign of the cross on this occasion, perhaps because they believe the Protestant complaint that it is superstition; that the water is just water and nothing special. 

I remember, growing up, our family always made the sign of the cross before the prayer before meals (in the privacy of our home) or the rosary.  And when we went to a restaurant, we did not pray before the meal, so no sign of the cross.  However, I’ve become more faith-filled since then, and now I do make the sign of the cross and pray the prayer before a meal at a restaurant and I’m very proud to do so.  It’s a very public expression of my faith.

My final thought for today is about the holy water.  Holy water is ordinary water that is specially blessed by a priest, bishop, or deacon.  It is a sacramental – a religious “object” or action created by the Catholic Church as opposed to by Jesus Himself.  One of these days I’ll do a blog post on sacramentals.  In the photograph, Father Maurice Currant is blessing a picture of the Blessed Mother as he makes the sign of the cross in the air above it.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Faith, Works, and Boasting

Previously in this space, I have mentioned that there is a particular verse in Scripture that Protestants most often use to argue in favor of “sola fide,” the idea that in order to obtain eternal salvation, all one needs to do is believe.  The verse is Ephesians 2: 8-9, which reads “For by grace, you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God – not because of works, lest any man should boast.”  I am currently reading a new book by former Protestant and Catholic Answers apologist Jimmy Akin titled The Drama of Salvation and he has a chapter titled “Faith, Works, and Boasting,” a direct reference to this Scripture verse.  Naturally, my interest was piqued.

Now, of course, we Catholics believe that there is more to the gift of faith than to simply say we believe.  This gift also includes the ability to repent and be forgiven.  One can declare faith in Christ, and be quite sincere about it, but then, because of human weakness, concupiscence, etc., go on and commit deadly sins.  Such a person, by Catholic standards, cannot be saved without repentance and forgiveness before death.  

What is meant by “works” and “boast?”  What are the “works” that Saint Paul refers to in this Scripture passage?  Akin claims that there are two kinds of “works” evident in Saint Paul’s writings.  One is works of the law and the other is works of mercy toward our fellow man.  “Works of the law” refers to acts performed by Jews of the day that kept them in compliance with Jewish law and traditions, such as circumcision, eating kosher foods, etc.  Jews that were in compliance with these laws claimed that their salvation was assured because of this compliance, boasting that they were saved by these works.  In this Scripture passage, Saint Paul was warning them that, in the new covenant, salvation is by the gift of faith and not by their own doing … not by these works.

Christ gave us a defined path for the repentance and forgiveness that is required in the new covenant.  He gave us the sacraments, especially the sacrament of Confession.  After rising from the dead and before ascending into heaven, He said “Receive the Holy Spirit; whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.”  He gave the apostles and their successors the power to forgive sins when the sinner repents.  So, yes, we are saved by the gift of faith, but this gift of faith includes the gift of the sacraments when we need to have our sins forgiven.  

My prayer for today:  Lord, thank you for your precious gifts of our faith and the sacraments.  Please help us to nourish our faith so that we can avoid serious sin and seek your forgiveness when we fail.  Amen.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Saint Junipero Serra

Pope Francis is in the USA today.  This morning he spoke to a joint session of the United States Congress.  Yesterday, he canonized Bl. Junipero Serra, whom we now refer to as St Junipero Serra.  It was the first canonization ever to take place in the United States.  This year, I am the president of the Serra Club of Lincoln, Nebraska, and so this canonization is very special to me and to all “Serrans” worldwide. 

Father Serra was a Franciscan friar who journeyed from his native Spain in 1759 to be a missionary on the west coast of Mexico and the United States.  His task was to bring the salvation of Jesus Christ and the Catholic faith to Native Americans in this region.  His purpose included claiming the land for Spain and also to assist with commerce.  Note that this move occurred in 1759, which was seventeen years before our nation was born on July 4, 1776. 

I’m sure I was introduced to Fr. Serra in elementary school in Iowa back in the 1950’s.  It wasn’t until I moved to California in 1973, however, that I saw, first-hand, the evidence of his work.  Up and down the entire coast of California, from San Diego in the south to San Francisco in the north, this evidence is still visible today in the form of the ruins of the mission churches that he and the natives built.  Many have been well-maintained and are open to tourists today.  Two that I remember visiting during my time in California are the San Juan Capistrano mission and the Santa Barbara mission, both in southern California.  The photo accompanying this post is one that I took while visiting the San Juan Capistrano mission (when my photography hobby was in its infancy back in 1976).

I was startled to learn some additional facts about him and his work as the canonization approached.  First, since the work took place prior to the birth of our country, he is recognized as a founding father of the United States.  Second, a statue of Fr. Serra is one of the two statues representing California in Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol.  (Pope Francis stopped and prayed before this statue after his speech this morning.)   Third, the names of twenty-one California cities are also the names of the original missions.  In some cases, the city was named after the mission, while in other cases, the mission was named after the city.  Well-known examples include San Diego, San Juan Capistrano, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Santa Cruz, and San Francisco.  

Today, in the ever-increasing secularization of our society, there are those who say that they have found fault with Fr. Serra and his work, saying that he mistreated the Native Americans and destroyed their culture.  These folks even want to remove the statue of Fr. Serra from our nation’s Capitol (and from the California state Capitol) for this reason.  Shame on them!

My prayer for today:  Lord, thank you for the gift of St. Juniper Serra.  Please help the Serra clubs worldwide as we strive to increase vocations to the priesthood and religious life and please help us to eliminate the secularization of our society so that greater praise and glory may be yours.  Amen. 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

St. Robert Bellarmine, Galileo, and Speculation

Today is the feast of St. Robert Bellarmine in the Catholic Church.  St Robert was born in 1542 in Tuscany and died in 1621.  He was a Jesuit priest and a theologian.  Pope Clement VIII elevated him to the office of cardinal in 1599.  He is most famous for his book volumes titled “Disputations about the Controversies of the Christian Faith against the Heretics of the Age,” which was a theological response to Protestantism.   Protestantism had taken shape earlier in the same century.  These volumes initiated thousands of pages of response and counterarguments from Protestants.  So his work was obviously not without controversy.

His life coincided with the life of Galileo (1564-1642), the famous Italian (and Catholic) astronomer who proved the theory of Copernicus that the earth revolved around the sun instead of the reverse.  Of course, there was a great deal of controversy over Galileo’s work, since it conflicted with the accepted theory of the time that the earth was the center of the universe.  Galileo’s ideas were seen as in conflict with especially with the Book of Genesis in the Bible and so he was thought of as a problem scientist who was not to be believed.  In fact, St. Robert, who was a friend of Galileo, played a role in the case against Galileo, saying that his ideas were only a theory not to be believed until proven beyond doubt.  He went on to say that when and if this theory is shown to be absolutely true, then the Church would have to come up with an alternate explanation of Scripture.

There are all sorts of stories about how Galileo was treated badly by the Church.  In my mind, these are mostly speculation.  Some take the stories a bit too far, as if we know all there is to know about the conflict and the personalities involved.  These people seem to enjoy criticizing the Church for the way Galileo was treated.  How can we really know how the story came down without actually being there and making our own personal observations.  I prefer to hold both Galileo and St. Robert in high regard in the matter.  One wanted to uphold the dignity of science and the other wanted to uphold the dignity of the Church.  Of course, I am both a scientist and a devoted Catholic.  What else would you expect from me?

Here in 2015, of course, we know that Galileo was right – the earth does indeed revolve around the sun and today, there are indeed alternate explanations of the Scriptures.  Today, both men are held in high esteem, Robert being named a saint and a Doctor of the Church and Galileo a famous scientist having proven beyond doubt that the earth does indeed revolve around the sun.  

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Too Many Rules.

I’ve heard it said that many non-Catholics, when asked why they don’t join the Catholic Church (when surrounded by friends and relatives who are Catholic) respond by saying “There are too many rules.”  It’s not that Protestantism has the true message of salvation and Catholicism does not, or anything of that nature.  It’s that in the Catholic Church, there are too many rules. 

Perhaps they are thinking that Catholics are required to attend Mass on Sunday.  Perhaps they are thinking that a Catholic must confess their sins to a priest (receive the sacrament of Reconciliation) at least once a year.  Perhaps they are thinking that as a Catholic, one must believe that the Holy Eucharist is the actual body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ.  Or, perhaps they are thinking that Catholics must believe that the pope is infallible in the areas of faith and morals, or that the Bible is not the only source of religious doctrine.

While, as a Catholic, I feel I can make a convincing Scripture-based argument that each of the above is a legitimate “rule,” what concerns me the most is that a non-Catholic who makes this statement is focused on “rules” and not on their eternal destiny.  The truth and reality is that the Catholic Church is the Church founded by Jesus Christ, that the Catholic Church is where the fullness of the truth lies, and that the Catholic Church holds the keys as to where you will spend eternity.  St. Peter said it in John, Chapter 6:  “Lord, where else shall we go … you have the words of everlasting life.”

The founder of Protestantism, Martin Luther, relaxed the rules to the point of virtually having no rules except that one must believe.  It’s easy to accept this if one does not want to put forth any effort where salvation is concerned.  But with something as important as salvation, how can one ever think that no other effort is required.  It seems absurd to me.  I would urge anyone who thinks that this one rule is all there is to it to make a thorough study of the Catholic Church, to talk to a priest, to ask questions, to search for an understanding of the basis of the “rules” in the Church founded by Jesus Christ.  I predict that if you are open to it, you will come away with a whole new outlook … one that will change your life and your destiny.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Becoming Fishers of Men and Women

Yesterday I attended the funeral of my aunt at the parish of my youth, St. Peter’s in Defiance, Iowa.  As soon as I entered the church for the wake service on Tuesday evening, I came to the realization that the culture today in this parish is very different from what it was in the 50’s and 60’s.  Inside the church, it was like a social hall.  While the Blessed Sacrament was in the front of the church (but off to the side instead of front and center), the atmosphere was hardly the same as what I remembered.  There was no sign or reverence that the people were aware that this was the House of God and that His body, blood, soul and divinity were present.  I was drawn in and became part of this culture while at the same time being aware of the sanctuary lamp that was burning there next to the tabernacle.  It saddened me, but having experienced something similar much earlier in my life at a Catholic church in California, I submitted to the fact that this kind of thing is commonplace in Catholic churches throughout the country today and uttered a prayer of sorrow to my Lord.

The parish is named after St. Peter, who is a main character in today’s Gospel at Mass.  This Gospel story is the story of the miracle that was Simon Peter’s calling to be an apostle.  After having a very disappointing day as a fisherman, Simon had given up and was washing his fishing nets when Jesus and the crowds following Him appeared on the scene (Mat 5, 1-11).  Simon had apparently experienced Jesus’ charisma and power a few days earlier when He cured Simon’s mother-in-law of a “severe fever.”  (See Mat 4: 38-39).  Jesus told Simon to get back in the boat, go out into the deep water, and lower the nets again for a catch.  Despite laboring the entire day and catching nothing, Simon, perhaps remembering the miracle cure of his mother-in-law, did as Jesus asked and subsequently caught so many fish that his net was tearing.  Simon responded with the now-famous quote:  “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”  Jesus then said “Do not be afraid; from now on you will become fishers of men.”

For those of you who share my sadness at seeing our churches becoming social halls, I now pray that you ask the Lord not to depart from Him because of this sinfulness, but that you take the Lord’s words seriously and that you have no fear to become fishers of the men and women in your parish.  My suggestion is for you to kneel before the tabernacle in your church before or after Sunday Mass and pray, calling people’s attention to the Lord’s presence.  Your public display of your deep faith will be an inspiration and you will become a fisher of men (and women) right along with St. Peter.

The photo is of the statue of St. Peter in the Cor Mariae Schoenstatt shrine near Crete, Nebraska.  Notice the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven in his left hand.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

At An Hour You Do Not Expect, the Son of Man Will Come

The gospel for today’s Mass is taken from Matthew, Chapter 24.  It is a theme that you will recognize if you are a regular reader of this blog, and that is that one must always be prepared for Judgment Day.  I especially like verses 43-44:  “Be sure of this:  if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into.  So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”

It is an appropriate gospel for both today and tomorrow, today the being Memorial of Saint Monica and tomorrow, the Feast of Saint Augustine, two saints who lived back in the fourth and fifth centuries.  In my opinion, the story of this mother/son combination ranks second only to that of Mary and Jesus in terms of holiness.  Saint Augustine is one of thirty-three men and women declared as “Doctors of the Church,” but he didn’t come close to this honor during the first part of his life when he was anything but a saint.  It is said that he converted from Paganism to Catholicism through the fervent and persevering prayer of his mother.  Later, he became a prolific writer, teacher, priest, and bishop of the Catholic Church - an amazing turnabout.  Saint Monica took today’s gospel story to heart, apparently fearing that Judgment Day would be a disaster for her son.  It is a true testament to the power of prayer.

Augustine’s most famous literary work is his book “Confessions,” which is an autobiographical sketch of his conversion to Catholicism.  He is a great saint today because he turned his life around in such a dramatic way.  Neither Monica nor Augustine knew when the thief was coming, but, through prayer, he was prepared. 

My prayer for today:  Lord, at an hour that we do not expect, you are coming to judge us based on how we have lived our lives.  Please give is the grace to be free from sin and to always be prepared.  Amen.