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.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

A Holy and Sacred Institution

The Catholic Church teaches that she is the Church that Jesus was talking about when he said, in Matt. 16:18-19:  “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.  Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose earth shall be loosed in heaven.” If this is so, then the Catholic Church is an exceedingly holy and sacred institution.  It is a holy and sacred institution that began with Jesus himself, one that is guided by the Holy Spirit, and one that will last until the end of time.  Holy and sacred indeed.

Some people argue against this.  Rather than calling the original group of Christians the Catholic Church, they call it a “body of believers.”  Rather than this group having the protection against the netherworld as stated by Jesus, they believe that this body of believers sunk into the netherworld and got off track sometime after the death of the last apostle.  Rather than having the Holy Spirit to help us institute the apostolic succession and the authority to bind and loose that is evident throughout the history of the Catholic Church, they say that the faith world was totally without true direction until it recovered at the time of the Protestant Reformation.  So now we have tens of thousands of other Christian churches that declare what they want to declare about what is true. 

No, what makes sense to me is a holy and sacred Catholic Church, founded by Jesus Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit throughout the past, present and future of our earthly life.  Patrick Madrid, in his book “Why be Catholic:  Ten Answers to a Very Important Question” says that the Catholic Church is the ark of salvation because the head of this Church is Christ.  While there are sinful people who are and have been members of this Church, such as abusive priests and corrupt bishops, Christ is there to calm the wind and the waves, as he was in the boat on the Sea of Galilee.  I can hear Him say today:  “Why are you so afraid?  Have you no faith?” 

A Protestant friend of mine claims that Madrid’s comment about the Catholic Church being the ark of salvation is blasphemous.  He says the Christ is the ark of salvation, not the Church.  I prefer to think that Christ founded the Catholic Church as his personal instrument to bring people to salvation, and so calling the Catholic Church the ark of salvation is entirely appropriate.  Yes, Christ founded the Catholic Church and is the head of the Church.  He will never allow his Church to sink into the netherworld or to cease being guided by the Holy Spirit.

Th photo below is of the interior of the Basilica of the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

My prayer for today:  Lord, if it is your will, please convince all your people on earth to come to know and embrace your holy and sacred Catholic Church.  Amen.  

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Rosary: A Meditation Prayer

When we pray the rosary, we meditate on the “mysteries of the rosary.”  There are four sets of these mysteries:  the joyful mysteries, the sorrowful mysteries, the glorious mysteries, and the mysteries of light.  Protestants often criticize Catholics who pray the rosary because they say it is an example of “repetition” prayer.   They point to the fact that we repeat the Hail Mary prayer fifty times in just one rosary.   Even some Catholics will say that they don’t like the rosary because they get bored with the repetition and cannot keep their mind on the prayer, since we just say the same thing over and over.

I really like the rosary.  I like it because I think of it as a meditation prayer and not a repetition prayer.  And this is where the mysteries come in.  During the recitation of each decade (ten) of Hail Mary’s, we meditate on a particular mystery.  For example, for the glorious mysteries, we meditate on the Resurrection of Our Lord for the first ten, the Ascension Our Lord for the second ten, the Coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost for the next ten, the Assumption of the Blessed Mother into Heaven on the next ten, and finally, for the final ten, the Crowning of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth.

The vast majority of the twenty mysteries are Bible stories.  One exception is the Assumption of the Blessed Mother into Heaven.   It is easy to meditate on bible stories, but what about the Assumption?  The doctrine of the Assumption has been handed on to us via Sacred Tradition,  and not Sacred Scripture, i.e., the Bible.  I would love to debate the validity of Sacred Tradition, but that is not my purpose today.  What I would like to do is relate to you what it is that I meditate on when I am praying this mystery of fourth decade of the glorious mysteries.  I love to “imagine” what exactly happened when this non-biblical story occurred. 

I imagine Mary, being very ill and near death, lying on her death bed, surrounded by some of the apostles, like St. John (who was caring for her), St. Peter and Saint Paul (who arrived on the scene at some point), and possibly others as well.  I imagine Mary breathing her last and then suddenly her body being taken up through the roof of her home and disappearing from sight in the same way Our Lord disappeared from sight when He ascended in heaven (Acts 1:9).  By the time I complete this train of thought, I have prayed ten Hail Mary’s.   By the way, we celebrate the feast of the Assumption on Saturday, August 15.  I will be having these same thoughts when I attend Mass that day.  The picture below is of the Assumption window in St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Lincoln.

My prayer for today:  Blessed Mother, intercede for me today as I meditate on the mystery of your Assumption into heaven.  Please ask God the Father, in Jesus’ name, to bless my family.  Ask Him to please keep all family members on the straight and narrow so that we may all one day celebrate His glorious name in heaven.  Amen.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Think as God Does and Not as Human Beings Do.

Today, August 6, is the feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord.  The Transfiguration is the Gospel story in which Jesus takes three of his apostles, Peter, James, and John, up a mountain where he is “transfigured” before their eyes.  The story appears in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke and is one of my long-time favorite gospel stories.

In all three of these gospels, this event occurs shortly after Jesus tells them for the first time that he must suffer greatly at the hands of the elders, the priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.  In the Gospel of Matthew, Peter responds saying “no such thing will ever happen to you.”  And Jesus appears to be angry at this, calling Peter “Satan.”  Jesus then says “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Then, some days later, up the mountain they go and Christ is transfigured.  It seems to me that the apostles were getting off-track a little, and Jesus needed to display his divinity so as to solidify their faith.  Christ’s clothes become “dazzling white” and his face “shone like the sun.”  And God the Father appeared on the scene again (as he did when Jesus was baptized), saying from a cloud “This is my beloved son with whom I am well-pleased; listen to him.”  They saw a vision of Moses and Elijah with Jesus, conversing with him in an apparent scene of glorified living bodies straight from heaven. 

Can you imagine the feelings that these three apostles had as they came down the mountain with Jesus, perhaps wanting to tell the world what they had just witnessed?  They were probably thinking that the whole world would now believe in Jesus, just as they do.  But then, Jesus tells them not to tell anyone until after the resurrection.  So, in spite of their joy and excitement, they would have to wait to tell anyone.  Eventually, of course, they did tell Matthew, Mark and Luke, at least, and the event did make it into the three synoptic gospels.  Curiously, John chose not to record it in his Gospel, despite the fact that he was one of the three direct witnesses. 

Let’s apply the Transfiguration event to modern times.  It appears to me that so many people today are off-track.  It would seem that we need a transfiguration event to bring them back.  But Jesus appears to be silent.  Notice that he allowed only Peter, James and John to see him in his glorified state and asked them to be silent as well.  We are now living in a time “after the Resurrection” and the event has been recorded in the gospels for all to see.  So we only have the Church and her faithful people to spread the word of this miracle, just like all the other miracles that Jesus performed, knowing that they have been recorded in Scripture. 

Remember the parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16: 19-31)?  The rich man wanted Abraham to warn his five brothers “lest they too come to this place of torment.”  Abraham’s response:  “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.”  I think the modern day response might be something like this:  “If they will not listen to the Church and Sacred Scripture, neither will they be persuaded if the headline news told of a new transfiguration event.” 

My prayer for today:  Lord, please have pity on your people on earth and give them the grace to think as God does and not as human beings do so that they may come to know you and to love you during their earthly lives and have no regrets in the afterlife.  Amen