Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Challenge to Become a Saint

In the Catholic Church there are literally thousands of declared saints.  Declared saints are those men and women in history who have passed the Church’s arduous process whereby their lives, their writings, and the miracles known to occur due to their intercession have been examined in detail such that the Church can declare with certainty that they have arrived at their heavenly reward.  Of course it is presumed that there are millions more throughout history that have been judged by God to also be worthy.  You and I are hopeful of being counted among their number someday.  Some people believe that it is certain that all believers will be saints someday, but the Catholic Church’s take on that is different.  And that is a subject for another MTT on another day.   

Today, I’m thinking of two Englishmen who were declared saints years ago, St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher.  I’m thinking about them because their relics are currently being made available for veneration at various sites around the United States, including Rochester, MN.  In fact, my current parish, The Church of St. John the Evangelist here in Rochester was one such site earlier this week.  These relics include a ring worn by St. John Fisher and parts of a bone and a tooth of St. Thomas More.  These are kept in separate reliquaries, which are being moved from site to site this week and next.  The photo accompanying this post is of me touching one of the reliquaries.

St. Thomas More was King Henry VIII’s Chancellor and St. John Fisher was the Catholic bishop of Rochester, England, when, in 1534, Henry expressed his desire to divorce his wife, Catherine, so that he could marry one Anne Boleyn.  Of course, this meant that he was rejecting the Church’s law concerning divorce.  The two were imprisoned in the Tower of London when they refused to allow this.  Henry sentenced the two to death and went on to carry out his own version of the Reformation so that he could have his wish, and the Church of England was born.  So Thomas and John were martyred for the Faith – they were each beheaded in 1535.

I can’t help but think that Catholics in the United States today, in 2016, face a challenge similar to what Thomas and John faced all those years ago.  We have a political situation which is incompatible with Catholic doctrine.  The freedom to authentically practice our Faith is being taken away on a number of fronts.  It is very important today to stay devoted to our precious Faith.  We will win the challenge, and become saints, if we remain faithful and loyal to the Church founded by Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Wooden Beam in My Eye

I hate to think how many times I have caught myself judging others.  I usually do this when someone does something I don’t like or says something with which I disagree.  I suppose it is human nature, but that can’t be my excuse.  Human beings are supposed to have intelligence too.  It is very clear, from the mouth of Our Lord, that I should not judge the words and actions of others.

The usual Scripture passage that comes to mind when I catch myself in the act consists of the words of Jesus in Mat 7:1, which reads “Judge not lest ye be judged.”  This thought was once again conveyed at Mass this past Monday, in the opening line of the Gospel that was read.  But then, I was reminded that this wasn’t all that Jesus had to say on the subject.  The full Gospel passage read at this Mass was Mat 7:1-5 and includes these words of Jesus:  “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘let me remove that splinter from your own eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your own eye.  You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your own eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.”

What I am noticing about my brother is a mere splinter compared to that wooden beam that is in my own eye!  It sounds like it is time for an examination of conscience, a confession of my sins, and that firm purpose of amendment that must follow.  It is the famous error of a hypocrite.  How can I judge others when what I am feeling and doing is much worse.  Sounds like another lesson in humility.  The Scriptures seems to be full of these lessons.

This reminds me, too, of the words of Jesus in John 8: 7, when the scribes and Pharisees caught a woman in the act of committing adultery.  They brought the woman to Jesus to test him, reminding him that the law says that this woman must be stoned.  Jesus responded by saying “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  Ah, yes … that wooden beam in my own eye.  I must get rid of that first before throwing a stone.

Lord, please help me to not judge others.  Help me to get rid of the wooden beam so that I can see clearly.  Amen.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Sacred Scripture and the Catholic Mass

I’ve heard it said that the Catholic Mass is flawed because it ignores Scripture.  Today, I’m thinking that people who subscribe to this notion (let’s call them “skeptics”) have an incomplete perception of this most holy ritual.  Let me explain.

First, in the first half of the Mass, the so-called “Liturgy of the Word,” we find Scripture passages read that relate to the particular feast or memorial that is being celebrated that day.  These consist of one or two readings from the Old and/or New Testaments, a passage from the Book of Psalms, and a Gospel reading.  These are referenced by mentioning the particular book of the Bible where they are found, such as, for example, the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans, or the Gospel of St. John.   So, no problem there.  In fact, the entire Bible is covered in these readings over a three-year cycle.

It is likely that other Scripture passages included in the Mass are missed by the skeptic because no mention is made of their source.  For example, in the second half of the Mass, the so-called “Liturgy of the Eucharist,” the Lord’s Prayer is recited.  The Lord’s Prayer is found both in Matthew’s Gospel (Mat 6:9-13) and in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 11:2-4).  Also, in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the “Holy, Holy, Holy” prayer is recited.  Part of this is found in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah (Isah 6:3) and another part in Matthew’s Gospel (Mat 21:9).  A third example is the “Lord I Am Not Worthy” prayer, also recited in the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  This prayer is adapted from the passage in Matthew’s Gospel (Mat 8:8) in which a centurion told Jesus of his suffering servant, but told him it was not necessary for him to “enter under my roof” in order to cure him, but to “only say the word.”   In the Mass, we say that we are not worthy for Jesus to “enter under my roof” in order to cure our soul of sin in preparation for receiving the Eucharist, but to only “say the word.”

And speaking of the Eucharist, it is not a stretch to say that the entire Mass is based on Scripture and is summed up by Christ’s words at the Last Supper:  “Do this in memory of me.”  In other words, we were directed to transubstantiate the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ at the Last Supper, and this is the core idea of the Mass and has been from the time of the early Church.

For more information, may I suggest Chapter 7 of Kevin Johnson’s book “Why Do Catholics Do That?”  The chapter is titled “In Memory of Me.”

Thursday, June 9, 2016

"I set my bow in the clouds ..."

I am not, by any means, an Old Testament scholar.  However, there are some stories in the Old Testament that I love to think about.  A few days ago, a beautiful rainbow graced the sky over Rochester, Minnesota, where I live.  As any rainbow always does, it got me thinking about the Old Testament account of the great flood and its aftermath.  Specifically, I’m thinking about what God told Noah afterward:  “I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.  When I bring clouds over the earth, and the bow appears in the clouds, I will recall the covenant I have made between me and you and all living beings, so that the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all mortal beings.” (Gen 9:13-1)

What is a rainbow anyway?  Now this question I believe I can answer with some authority, because I have, in my life, been a scholar of science, specifically chemistry, and this question has come up in classes that I have taught and in the textbooks I have authored.  It is difficult to do in this short space, but let me try without going into full detail.  Light coming to us from the sun consists of a broad array of wavelengths, which include the wavelengths of visible light.  Different wavelengths of light travel through various media (vacuum, air, water, glass, etc.) at slightly different speeds.  Because of this, they can separate, or disperse.  When the earth’s atmosphere is saturated with water vapor, this dispersion becomes visible as a rainbow.  Violet light, indigo light, blue light, green light, yellow light, orange light, and red light all travel at different speeds through the atmosphere under these conditions, and so a rainbow appears.  It is one of those natural phenomena that is part of God’s beautiful creation.

I could not mention God’s role in my courses and textbooks, though I often wanted to.  In this case, a discussion might have included how the human eye functions and how the eye and the brain work together and what marvelous things God has done for us.  In my opinion, to combine the laws of science with the human body so that we can see God’s creation in its magnificent colorful splendor is, to me, clear evidence that God exists and that He has made all of this possible.  It is but one phenomenon among a whole slew of phenomena that are just mind-blowing.

But back to Noah, the flood, and the covenant between God and man.  According to the Genesis account, God said:  “I will establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all bodily creatures be destroyed by the waters of a flood; there shall not be another flood to devastate the earth.”  (Gen 9:11).  Rainbows are the sign that this covenant has been established.  So whenever I see a rainbow, I think of God … in more ways than one.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Overcoming Anxiety

As members of the human race, we often experience anxiety in our lives.  This is true in our relationships, be it a worker/co-worker relationship, or a father/child relationship, among many others.  This is also true if you are among the poor of the world and you do not know how you are ever going to properly care for yourself and your family.  One example in my own life is a worker/co-worker incident that occurred several years ago.  I was being upfront concerning my feelings about a particular aspect of my job when a co-worker challenged me on my forthrightness, implying that I was boasting and that it made him look inferior.  It stung me deeply and I still feel the pain some three years later.

What did Jesus say about anxiety?  I think two good places to look in Scripture are Mat 6: 25-34 and Luke 10: 38-42.  In the story from Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says “… do not worry about your life, what you will eat (or drink), or about your body, what you will wear.”  He goes on to say that life is more than food and the body more that clothing.  He says “Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be given you besides.”  In the story from Luke’s Gospel, Jesus and his followers are guests in the house of Martha and Mary, who were sisters.  Mary sits at the feet of Jesus listening attentively to what Jesus had to say, while Martha was “burdened with much serving.”  Martha was experiencing extreme anxiety about the situation and asked Jesus to tell Mary to help her with the serving.  Jesus told her “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.  There is need of only one thing.  Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

Attentiveness to the teachings of Jesus (the kingdom of God, righteousness and prayer) should apparently be the most important factor when dealing with stress.  It reminds me of the legend of Saint Francis of Assisi and the wolf of Gubbio.  As the story goes, an enormous wolf was terrorizing the region around Gubbio and Saint Francis decided to meet up with the wolf face to face.  He did so, and despite the wolf being poised to attack, Saint Francis spoke to the animal saying “Come to me, brother wolf, and in Christ’s name I command you not to harm me or anybody.”  Immediately the wolf became like a lamb and laid himself at the feet of the saint. 

The wolf in the story is anything that makes us anxious.  The response of Saint Francis represents the teaching of Jesus Christ.  If we face our anxieties with trust in God, they will do us no harm.  Amen.