Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Slippery Slopes of Life

This past weekend, myself, my wife, and my daughter went hiking through a canyon in Starved Rock State Park in Illinois shortly after a rainstorm.  Parts of the hike were muddy because of the rain.  At one point, to avoid the mud, we veered off the beaten path to higher ground where it was slightly dryer.  Several minutes later, I was trapped on the high ground and the only way back to the trail was down a sharp incline that was obviously very wet and muddy – a slippery slope!  With some help of several younger hikers, I began my descent.  Of course, my feet slipped out from under me and a few seconds later, I found myself back on the trail but in a seated position.  Needless to say, my back side was caked in mud from waste to shoe, as you can see from the accompanying photo.  No worries … my wallet was secure.  As we continued our hike, we couldn’t have cared less about whether we stepped in mud or not.

Today, I’m thinking about how life today is sometimes a slippery slope.  There often is a lot of mud and muck to navigate through.  We try to avoid it, and some of the time we may even be successful.  However, there often comes a time when we make so many mistakes that we find ourselves on a precipice surrounded by sinful pleasures and no choice but to succumb to the slippery slope at our feet.  It is then that we become caked with mud and feel utterly hopeless.  But there is good news!  You can find your way back home where a bathtub awaits and all the muck and mud can be washed away.  It is then that we feel refreshed and once again ready to fight the evil world.

I hope you see the metaphors in the above paragraph.  The muck and mud are the occasions of sin.  We start thinking we can avoid them, and sometimes maybe we even do.  However, there comes a time when an occasion of sin becomes so tempting and our willingness to avoid it is gone.  That is when we sit down and slide down the slippery slope.  It is then that we feel so guilty and so despaired that we feel nothing can save us.  But, of course, this is not true.  The bathtub awaits.  Jesus, in the person of the priest, is sitting in the confessional waiting for you with his special soap and water.  And when you confess your sins, your are refreshed beyond belief.  "Go and sin no more" is Jesus' advice to us.  That means we must promise to avoid the occasions of sin.  It is not easy.  But when the rainy day comes, and you know there most certainly is mud and muck in the canyon, don't go there!  Avoid it!  You will feel much better about yourself and won't have an immediate need for the bathtub ... at least until the next slippery slope shows itself at your feet and you have no choice but to slide down!  It is then that you must learn the lesson all over again.  

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Assumption Dispute

This past Monday, August 15, Catholics celebrated the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into  heaven as we do each year on August 15.  This celebration recalls the Catholic belief that Mary, the Mother of Jesus, was assumed into heaven, body and soul, following her death back in the first century.  Non-Catholics, who rely solely on Sacred Scripture as their authority in such matters, dispute this.  They say that since the Assumption is not recorded anywhere in Scripture, it did not happen.  We Catholics, who derive our beliefs from both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, say that our belief was handed down through Sacred Tradition.  Some non-Catholics also say that the Catholic belief in the Assumption was dreamed up in 1950 and was not handed down through the ages as claimed. 

What happened in 1950 was that the Assumption was declared a dogma to be believed by all Catholics.  The actual celebration of the event as a feast dates back to the fourth century.  But even prior to that, it is evident from early Church historians that the young Church community believed in it.  The early Church had a robust tradition of revering relics from the saints that lived at that time.  The complete lack of relics from the Mother of Jesus was seen as evidence of her body being assumed into heaven after her death.    

For me, personally, this lack of belief on the part of non-Catholics is a sad thing.  I have made a formal covenant of love with the Blessed Mother through my involvement in the Schoenstatt Movement and I feel a special bond with her through my prayer regimen.  It lifts my spirits to see, in almost every room of my home, a picture of her holding the baby Jesus in her arms.  It baffles me that non-Catholics can ignore the beautiful recordings that do appear in Scripture and not have any declaration of any sort of her involvement in salvation history.  She is the Immaculate Conception.  She is the Mother of God.  She is the Queen of Heaven and Earth.  And by the way, if you see or hear of someone "worshiping" Mary, that is a mistake.  Worship is reserved for God alone.  We honor Mary.  We do not worship her.

I invite my readers to go to your Bible and read Luke 1:46-55 and then tell me that you are not moved in some way by the delightful words of our Blessed Mother found there.  She prophesied that all generation will call her blessed.  This prophecy has been fulfilled in the Catholic Church and I am proud of our Church for the honor shown to her, especially through the dogma of the Assumption.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Grain of Wheat

Today, I’m thinking about the following passage from the Gospel of John (John 12:23-24):  “The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.”  In the chronology of John’s Gospel, Jesus said this following his entry into Jerusalem just prior to his crucifixion.  It seems to me that he was using a metaphor to refer to his own death and then glorification through the Resurrection and how it will produce much fruit as time passes.  Jesus had to die and rise, otherwise his life and all he had accomplished would remain a life to be forgotten, just a grain of wheat.

I love the imagery here, and I think it can apply to our lives as well.  A grain of wheat is a seed.  When a see falls to the ground, gets covered with dirt, it germinates.  And when a seed germinates, it “dies,” but produces a plant that grows into maturity and produces blossoms and more grain – a miracle, really.  Unless we die to sin and rise through faith and grace, we will remain just this un-germinated grain of wheat and the miracle of our salvation cannot happen.

Recently, an atheist Facebook friend of mine, a scientist educated at the PhD level, shared an article about Sam Brownback, the governor of Kansas who is a former evangelical and now a devout Catholic.  His purpose was to poke fun at Brownback for his statements calling for prayer and fasting to help get the state of Kansas out of its financial difficulties.  Brownback claimed that God came to him in a dream and made this request.  My friend’s one-word statement accompanying the post was simply “Nuts!!”  Facebook responders readily agreed, most using rather degrading comments.

But how “nuts” is it, really?  Prayer and fasting.  We are taught that these are powerful tools in our Devil-fighting arsenal.  And why not?  Prayer and fasting were practiced by Jesus himself.  Prayer and fasting were practiced by some pretty notable saints:  Francis, Clare, Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, etc., etc.  The “nuts” adjective may arise from the fact that Brownback claimed that this came to him in a dream.   But why not?  God puts thoughts in our heads all the time.  Why not while we sleep?  It often happened this way in Scripture!

You know, I’m thinking that heaven is probably full of people who have prayed and fasted.  I think, unless we pray and fast, we remain just a grain of wheat.  But if we do these things, we germinate, blossom, and produce much fruit.  We may not want to go down that path initially, especially with all the atheists watching and ready to joke and criticize, but imagine the results!  Jesus promises much fruit ... even the kingdom of heaven!  After all, he, himself, was raised from the dead and glorified, producing much fruit on this earth.  Indeed!  Amen!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Second Coming of Jesus Christ

As I drove down Interstate 80 in Nebraska early one morning in 2015, I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw a beautiful sunrise.  I breathlessly exited at the first opportunity and captured the moment with my camera while parked on an overpass.  The result is the image accompanying this post.  I printed, framed, and hung it on the wall in my house.  Every time I look at it, I think of how this might be what the second coming of Christ will look like.

This leads to the question of how we know that Christ will come again and what it will look like.  We regularly recite the following during Mass:  “We proclaim your Death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection until you come again.”  Christ, the prophesied Messiah of the Old Testament, came to earth the first time two-thousand years ago, redeemed us by dying on the cross, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven.  And, despite already accomplishing the important objective of redeeming the human race, we say that He will come again.  Why will He come again, and what will be His purpose this second time around?

In contemplating the answers, I reminded myself of God’s purpose of creating us in the first place, which is to love Him as He loves us and to be happy with Him for all eternity in heaven.  But we have our life on earth to contend with first.  We must have faith, we must repent and be free from sin.  Then, as stated in Matthew’s Gospel, to use Christ’s own words (Matt 24:27):  “For just as lightning comes from the east and is seen as far as the west, so will the coming of the son of Man be.”  Then Matthew continues (Matt 24:30-31): ”…and they will see the Son of Man coming upon the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.  And He will send out his angels with a trumpet blast, and they will gather His elect from the four winds and from one end of the heavens to the other.”

Then later in Matthew, Chapter 25, we have Christ saying, that while sitting on his glorious throne, “He will separate them, one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will place the sheep on His right and the goats on His left.”  Then He “will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father.  Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’”  He is referring to what has come to be known as “Judgment Day.”  This begs one final question:  How will His elect be recognized? 

The answer is clear from the closing passages from Chapter 25.  They will be those who performed what the Church calls the “works of mercy.”  They will be those who gave food to the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed strangers, clothed the naked, cared for those who are ill, and visited the imprisoned.  For those who subscribe to the “Faith Alone” concept of salvation, I invite you to read the words of Jesus Christ in Matthew 25:31-46.  Those who do not perform these works of mercy “will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

So, what will judgment Day look like?  My thoughts today envision it being like in the photograph … an explosion in the sky as we drive down the interstate.  We will see the glory of God coming down from heaven, the angels will be dispatched, the sheep will be separated from the goats, and the sheep will be invited into the glory of heaven.  How I long to be in that number.  Amen.