Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Fear of Death

Someone I know recently said to me:  “I don’t want to die.”  This person fears death apparently because it is the end of his earthly life.  Our earthly life is all we know firsthand.  We’ve all experienced the death of friends and family members.  In the last five years, I have been at the bedside of three family members, my brother, my father-in-law, and my sister-in-law, as their earthly lives came to an end.  I will no longer experience the living presence of these people in my home or in theirs.  Based on what we can directly observe, it would appear that it is the absolute end for them.  It makes us very sad and it makes us fear our own death.

If our focus is on Jesus, however, we have great hope.  There is much in the teachings of Jesus that point to life after death.  In fact, it is eternal life … life everlasting.  It is the reason God became man and the reason Christ died, so that despite our struggles in this life, despite our pain at being in this “valley of tears,” despite our failures in this “great period of distress,” we can and will be saved and enter into heavenly glory when our earthly life ends.  It is the very reason of our existence, that we be forever happy with God in heaven.  All we have to do is recognize Jesus as “the way, the truth, and the life” and follow him.

As I myself get more advanced in years on this earth, I think more and more about my own mortality, my own eventual death.  I find that I fear the end, but only because of the pain and suffering that I may have to endure.  I know that, in the end, it will be a matter of moving from one side of the curtain to the other.  I know what is on this side of the curtain.  I’ve fully experienced it.  But I also feel that I know what is on the other side, despite the fact that I haven’t seen what is there.  I will have a glorified body, like Jesus had after the resurrection.  People will not recognize me.  I will be able to be present in a room despite the locked doors.  I believe that I will be in God’s kingdom, where I will occupy a room in a large mansion.  I don’t look forward to leaving loved ones behind, but, at the same time, I look forward with great anticipation and excitement, for what this new world will hold for me starting with the day of judgement when I will be raised from my grave and experience this new life.   

My prayer for today:  Lord, please guide me through this life in your great love so that I can experience the splendor of the eternal life you have promised.  Amen.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Who Are The Sheep of Christ's Flock?

This coming Sunday, April 26, the Gospel reading at Mass is the story of the Good Shepherd.  “Jesus said: “I am the Good Shepherd.  A good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep” (John 10:11).  This, to me, says that Jesus died for us, his sheep.  There should be no argument there.  Then, a few verses further on, we read this:  “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.  These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock and one shepherd.”  Here there is a little more mystery.  What is the “one flock” he mentions.  At this moment in history, his Church seems to have splintered into many flocks.  Plus, there are many non-Christian churches.  Is the “one flock” the Catholic Church?  Is it the evangelical Protestants?  Is it all those who say they believe in Jesus and prove their faith by good works, Catholics and Protestants alike?  Or does it include Muslims, Hindus and others, as well as Christians?  Or does it mean simply those who lead a virtuous life and that a particular creed is unimportant?  Or is it everyone, regardless of creed or virtue? 

There are other comments made by Jesus that enter into the discussion.  For example, there is the phrase “Judge not lest ye be judged.” (Matthew 7:1).  I take this to mean that we must not speculate on who will be saved and who will not.  In other words, it is up to God.  Jesus also said that “No one comes to the Father except through me.”  (John 14:6).  In  Acts 4:12, Peter says:  “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.”  Does this exclude Muslims, Hindus, and atheists regardless of whether they have even heard of Christ or have a clear conscience despite learning of Christ and his teachings?  Catholics (like me) claim that we are members of the Church Jesus founded, and so have validly instituted sacraments that assist us in our path to salvation.  For example, Jesus said “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:54).  Catholics believe that this is a reference to the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist and this is only valid in the Catholic Church which has validly ordained ministers of the Eucharist.  Evangelical Protestants claim that the Catholic Church got off track in the second and third centuries and that the Protestant Reformation put us back on the correct path.  In addition, did Mohammed (Islam) or perhaps Joseph Smith (Mormonism) really get messages from God that put them on the true path to salvation? 

So back the original question:  What group constitutes the true flock of Jesus as referenced in John 10?  Putting it all together, I want to conclude simply that those who are saved are all those who enter heaven on Judgement Day.  It is up to God to say who will be in this group.  We know that he will separate the sheep from the goats on that day.  Will you be a sheep or a goat?  I would say make sure you repented of all sin and have a clear properly-formed conscience with regard to your beliefs, harboring no doubt that your creed and faith practices will make you a sheep in the eyes of God.  For me, it is being devoted to authentic Catholic teaching and to the validly instituted sacraments of the Catholic Church.

My prayer for today:  “Lord, help us to discern your will for how we should live our lives and then join our will to yours so that we may be the sheep of your flock on Judgement Day.  Amen.”

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Cambrian Explosion

There was the Big Bang, and then there was the Biological Big Bang, also known as the Cambrian Explosion.  People that want to discredit the Theory of Evolution often point this second Big Bang as the evidence.  The BBB refers to the sudden appearance of a new category (phylum) of life on earth approximately 540 million years ago.  This new phylum was the animal kingdom and includes all the animals alive today as well as some that are now extinct. 

The Big Bang Theory states that the universe (and time) began with a huge explosion approximately 13.7 billion years ago.  Multicellular life appeared on earth approximately 1 billion years ago.  The BBB fascinates people because the new phylum appeared on the scene in a very brief period of time, like in the blink of an eye, when considering how much time had passed previous to this.  One scientist has compared the timeline to a football field.  The appearance of a single-celled organism is one goal line and life as we know it today is the other goal line.  If you move down the field from the first goal line toward the other, you encounter life forms such as sponges, jellyfish and worms.  Passing the 50-yard line, that is all you see.  Then, at the 16-yard line, on the far end of the field, in the space of a single stride, all other forms of animals, including those alive today, suddenly appear.  That is the BBB, the Cambrian Explosion.  I read that Darwin himself found that the Cambrian Explosion cannot be explained by his theory.  His thought was that missing links would be found in the fossil record that would indicate a much slower evolutionary development.  To my knowledge, these missing links have never been found.

Okay, so could it be that there is a God and that he had a hand in this?  The first creation account in the Book of Genesis states that God made the animals, including man, on the sixth day of the seven-day story of creation.  It looks to me like we were down to the 16 yard line at that point.  Could it be that Genesis and the fossil record are in agreement?  Do science and faith agree?  This, of course, requires that a “day” could actually mean perhaps as much as 14 yards on the football field, or several billions years.

Now there is one more thing that intrigues me.  If God’s purpose in creating the universe was to bring about the existence of man, why did God create dinosaurs only to have them go extinct long before man appeared on earth (all of which occurred on the sixth day)?  I’ve read that the entire universe exists for man’s benefit.  God created man to have a curious nature.  Perhaps it is a matter of creating something for man to be curious about so that there would exist such fields as astronomy and archaeology for his benefit.  My prayer for today:  Lord, help us to recognize you in our observations of the universe and help all of us to come to know your divine truth so that we may always maintain the precious gift of faith.  Amen.    

Thursday, April 9, 2015

"Jesus, I trust in you." What is this all about, anyway?

Yard signs like the one pictured below have been popping up all over.  What is it all about?  These signs are related to the Catholic devotion known as Divine Mercy.  The signs have been appearing lately because Divine Mercy Sunday, the Sunday after Easter each year, is this coming Sunday, April 12.  The devotion has its origin in the life of a saint by the name of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, a 20th century saint of the Catholic Church.

Faustina was born in a small village in Poland in 1905 and lived her entire life in Poland.  She became a nun at the age of 20, entering the order known as the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy.  She reported having visions and conversations with Jesus throughout her life.  During one of her visions, Jesus asked her to keep a diary – a written record of the conversations.  Sister Faustina died in 1938 at the age of 33.  She was canonized a saint by Pope John Paul II in 2000.  The Sunday after Easter was designated Divine Mercy Sunday by Pope John Paul II at the canonization ceremony.

I have to admit that, although the Divine Mercy devotion is now 15 years old, I never really took notice until this month when a friend at my church gave me a brochure with the Divine Mercy Novena prayers.  Another friend came by to ask me to post the sign in front of my house.  So then I began to research the history and the diary.  I have not yet read the diary (it is a daunting 700+ page account of the conversations) but it is on my to-do list.  My research did lead me to two shorter (much) booklets.  So what is it all about?  Let me hit the major points as I understand them. 

1)   God wishes to make known his love and to extend his great mercy to all persons living on the face of the earth.  All persons means just that … no matter a person’s creed, ethnicity, degree of sinfulness, or anything else.  This is nothing new.  It is the reason why Jesus became incarnate in the first place.
2)      Jesus gave Sister Faustina a special prayer to be used by all who wish to participate in this special extension of his mercy.  It is known as the Divine Mercy Chaplet.  Rosary beads are used to assist in the recitation of the prayer.
3)      Jesus gave to Sister Faustina a special image of himself that suggests how he is extending his mercy.  In the image, our Risen Savior has pale and red rays streaming from his heart.  These rays symbolize the blood and water that flowed from his side while he was on the cross.  Jesus said: “I want it (the image) to be venerated publicly so that every soul will know about it.”  This is a quote from the diary.  The image is accompanied by this statement:  "Jesus, I trust in you."

There is much more that I could say about this, but, in the interest of brevity in this blog, I’m going to leave it up to you to research it further.  I suggest googling “Divine Mercy Sunday” or “Sister Faustina” for more information.  I hope you will all want to do this.  The mercy of God in regard to one’s sinfulness is a wonderful, beautiful concept in today’s world, something that everyone needs and should seek.  And that is my prayer for today.  Amen. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Metaphor, or True Transubstantiation?

Ever notice how people often cite a verse from Scripture without considering the context in which it was written?  Sometimes the verse does indeed support the truth of the point that is being made, but often it is misinterpreted such that the point being made is NOT the truth.

Today, I am thinking about this verse from Scripture: “Do this in memory of me.”  This is a quote attributed to Jesus at the Last Supper (on the very first Holy Thursday) after he referred to the bread and wine that he was giving to his apostles as his very own body and blood.  Some Christians interpret this verse to mean that the bread and wine are mere symbols and his statements mere metaphors.  They say that the apostles were to perform this same ceremony only as a memorial and not to be construed as the real thing.  Of course, devoted Catholics, like me, believe that he did mean it to be construed as the real thing, as Jesus explained in the Gospel of John, Chapter 6.  Within this chapter we find what has been referred to as the Bread of Life discourse.  Catholics believe that this discourse proves that Jesus intended that “transubstantiation,” the changing of the bread and wine into his actual body and blood, would take place when we do this in his memory.  So this, Catholics believe, is what occurs at every Catholic Mass.

There is an entire series of statements given by our Lord in John 6 that leave no doubt in my mind that the bread and wine become Christ’s body and blood (See John 6:51-57).  Still, some Christians will say that these statements are also metaphors.  They say that his references to “my flesh,” or “the flesh of the Son of man” actually refer to his teachings, not his actual body and blood.  However, near the end of the Bread of Life discourse, when many of his disciples murmured among themselves, saying “who can accept this?” our Lord didn’t stop them to say “Wait, I’m only speaking metaphorically.”   No, he let them walk away.  As further contextual evidence, I would say that this “metaphor” idea was not the interpretation of the early church leaders, including St. Paul, who speaks of the bread and wine becoming the body and blood of Christ in his first letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 11, verses 23-32.  So indeed it seems that citing a single verse, or even a series of verses, of Scripture to support one’s position on a particular article of faith without considering the context can be dangerous.

My prayer today, on this Holy Thursday:  Lord, be at my side when I read Scripture and help me to always consider the context of what I am reading so as to be able to discern the true meaning.  Amen.

The photo is of the life-size sculpture of the Last Supper on the grounds of the Trinity Heights Center in Sioux City, Iowa.