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!