Thursday, July 28, 2016

Our French Friends

Lately I have been consumed by thoughts of how our world is being dragged down by trends toward to godlessness and corruption.  Religious devotion and faith in God are being replaced by immorality, lawlessness, corruption and error.  The anxiety I feel is becoming unbearable.  How can we lift ourselves up and out of this awful maelstrom?

Sixteen years ago, my wife and I took a trip to Europe for our 25th wedding anniversary.  I was especially intrigued by the religious sites in France.  We stayed several nights in the town of Lisieux where a famous Catholic saint, St. Therese, lived her short life back in the late 1800’s.  There is an impressive basilica there built in her honor; and it dominates the hillside, to put it mildly.  We learned about her “little way” to heaven that she outlined in her autobiography, “The Story of a Soul,” and for which she is afforded the title “Doctor of the Church."  In Paris, we learned about St. Catherine Laboure, who also lived in the 1800’s and who had visions of the Blessed Mother.  At the Blessed Mother’s request, a medal was struck and it has come to be known as the Miraculous Medal.  I have worn this medal around my neck every day since my visit there.  On the front of the medal, we read the inscription requested by the Mother of God:  “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”  We viewed her body, which is incorrupt. 

And, of course, there is the story of St. Bernadette, whose body is also incorrupt, and who also had the well-known visions of the Blessed Mother near Lourdes, France, in 1858.  Who has not heard of the miraculous healing of many pilgrims to Lourdes who have bathed in the water from a spring that bubbled up out of the ground upon Bernadette’s answering Blessed Mother's request to dig and has since become a flowing river?  And we visited the site, in Rouen, of the martyrdom of St. Joan of Arc, who, at the direction of saints whose voices she heard, led an army that saved France from the British in the 1400’s.  And yet, with all of this rich Catholic history of heavenly miracles, France is in as much in decline in godliness as any country of the world.

My French friends are our allies in our struggle today.  We have the way of faith and grace in performing St. Therese’s little things as we live our lives.  We have the promise of “great graces” if we wear the St. Catherine’s miraculous medal around our necks.  We have the  promise of great miracles from the Blessed Mother’s intercession if we pray and have faith according to the Lourdes message.  And we have the evidence of heavenly intervention in political affairs from the life of St. Joan of Arc. 

Our Blessed Mother has said that the answer is prayer.  I am praying hard for the grace of God in these troubled times.  I am praying for the intercession of our special French saints.  I invite you to join me.  Amen.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Combating the Secularization of our Society

It can be said that the mission of the Catholic Church is the eternal salvation of all mankind.  Believing that Jesus Christ is the son of God and that he, Jesus, founded the Catholic Church means that the best chance for anyone to achieve this eternal salvation is to be baptized into the Catholic Church and be subject to its teachings.  There is much we could add to this basic truth, such as the fact that sin is present all around us, that divine grace is the only remedy for sin, and that the best source of divine grace is from the sacraments that have been instituted by Jesus and entrusted by Jesus to his Church, the Catholic Church. 

But today, I’m thinking about how our culture, and, sadly, our government, seem to be in the business of secularizing our society and making this mission of our beloved Church more difficult, if not impossible.  Abortion, which the Church considers is the taking of a human life, a mortal sin, is now a legally protected right.  Prayer, whether taught to us directly by Jesus (think – the Lord’s Prayer) or initiated by our own human creativity, is now banned in public schools, such as at graduation ceremonies.  Private enterprise is now being forced to make activity that the Church considers to gravely sinful to be important, and even required, in their company bylaws and benefits.  Marriage between a woman and another woman or between a man and another man, which the Church considers a license to commit sin, is being legally sanctioned by our country’s laws.  Women’s bathrooms can be used by a man who believes he is a woman and men’s bathrooms can be used by a woman who believes she is a man.

Okay, others have a belief system that differs from the Catholic system.  They believe that the culture and the government should support their belief system too, and give them rights exemplified by the above examples.  There is some measure of common sense here.  The two divergent systems traditionally have been free to protect their believers and allow them the freedom to exercise their respective beliefs as they see fit.  But wait … even that is being taken away!  Religious liberty is being taken away.  For example, a business operated by a devoted Catholic, or that is itself a Catholic enterprise, is being required by law to offer a health care plan that includes prescribing artificial birth control pills and allowing abortion options.  This makes operating the business or enterprise a sinful endeavor and if the owner wants to follow Church teaching and be free from sin, he/she must close up shop.

The worst part is that there are Catholics in government positions (legislators, jurists, cabinet members) who support these dreadful actions.  Devoted Catholics, such as myself, are horrified.  How do we handle it?  Prayer is quickly becoming our only option.  I have begun a personal prayer regimen.  I have been attending Mass daily to offer the greatest prayer I know, the Mass, for the good of our beloved country.  I’m considering also offering a daily rosary for the same intention.  Our country is off-track and we need the help of powerful allies such as the Blessed Mother to keep us from destroying ourselves.  This was, after all, her message during her apparition at Fatima, Portugal, in 1917.  The eternal salvation of all mankind is the mission of our beloved Catholic Church.  Let us make use of our weapons.  Amen.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

On Earning, Deserving, and Inheriting Eternal Life

I’m not an expert on anything I post in this blog.  I’m not a theologian.  I’m not a Scripture scholar.  I have no formal training in Catholic apologetics.  I’ve never taken a philosophy course.  I’ve never taken an astronomy course.  Yet, the things that enter my mind when composing My Thursday Thoughts are things that probably fit into these categories.  I did participate a Bible study at my home parish in Nebraska once some years ago, and I sometimes feel that in writing this blog, I am undertaking my own private Bible study that has no guidance from a priest or anyone else.  So you may find my thoughts interesting, but you may, at times, also find them lacking in facts or in opposition to what you consider to be the facts.  That is okay … maybe it can be a learning experience for both of us as good Bible studies should be.

A case in point are the thoughts I’ve had regarding salvation.  I have said things like “We must earn our way to heaven” or “if we live our lives according to the teachings of the Church, then we deserve heaven.”  I’ve had opposing responses like “salvation is a free gift to believers resulting from the death of Jesus on the cross and cannot be earned” and “no matter how we live our lives, we will never deserve heaven.”  These friends back up their statements with Scripture passages.  I’ve thought about these responses a lot and can never quite seem to wrap my head around it. 

Recently I connected a Scripture passage to this perplexity and settled on a “new” word.  The word is “inherit.”  The Scripture passage is Luke 10:25-37.  A man (scholar of the law) asked Jesus “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law?  How do you read it?”  The man said in reply, “You shall love the Lord, your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  Jesus replied to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you shall live.”

But the man continued, “And who is my neighbor?”  Jesus responded with the story of the Good Samaritan, the point being that if we have love and compassion for a fellow man who is suffering, and treat him with mercy, then we fulfill the “neighbor” part of this law.  Remember that the original question was about inheriting eternal life, about heaven, about salvation.  Clearly, Christ’s response involves action on our part.  It involves serious love of God and serious love of neighbor. 

So, can we “earn” salvation or “deserve” heaven?  My definitions of these words tell me that the answers are “yes” if we demonstrate our love for God and neighbor with the lives we lead.  Others may define these words differently, and I respect that.  That is why I will try to substitute the word “inherit” in future posts on this subject.  We are God’s adopted sons and daughters, after all, and that makes us his heirs.  Amen.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Who Deserves Eternal Life in Heaven?

Today I’m thinking about the passage from Scripture where Jesus told his disciples the following:  “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.”  (Mat 7:21)  This seems to imply that just because one believes in him (by calling out to him “Lord, Lord”) does not necessarily mean he will be saved.  However, the one who believes in him and does the will of the Father will be saved.  Okay, it seems clear that those who have faith and do the will of God will enter heaven. 

But wait!  The question is, what is God's will.  The next verse from Matthew’s gospel are helpful:  “Many will say to me on that day ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name?  Did we not drive out demons in your name?  Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?”  “Then I will declare to them solemnly: ‘I never knew you.  Depart from me you evildoers.’”  (Mat 7:22-23)  Okay, prophesying in his name, driving out demons in his name, and doing mighty deeds in his name are evil deeds worthy of eternal damnation.  I get that.  But what then are the things that are the will of God?

I have to say that Jesus did not appear to answer this directly in this passage.  He did say that we must build our house on rock so that it will not collapse when rain falls, floods come and winds blow and buffet the house.  I take this to mean that our faith must be so strong that no matter what challenges we face, it will stand.  That is what is required as far as faith.  And the will of God?  Perhaps these are those actions that result from and are part of this strong faith.  Prophesying, driving out demons, doing mighty deeds in his name?  No.  That’s like the Pharisees and their boastful and hypocritical ways.  One place to look for answers is the Sermon on the Mount - the Beatitudes.  (Mat 5:3-11)  Who are the "blessed ones?"  They are those who are pure in spirit ... those who are meek ... those who mourn ... those who hunger and thirst for justice ... those who are merciful ... those who are clean of heart ... those who are peacemakers ... those who suffer persecution for justice’ sake ... and those who are insulted, persecuted, and falsely demonized because of their faith.

Those are the ones who will deserve eternal life in heaven.  Jesus even says that our reward will be great in heaven if we are so blessed, and we should rejoice and be glad because of this.  (Mat 5:12)  Again, words of advice and consolation directly from the mouth of the Lord.  Lord help us.  Amen.

The photo is of the Basilica of St. Stanislaus in Winona, Minnesota.