Thursday, August 17, 2017

Where We Got the Bible

I’m currently reading the book Where We Got the Bible by Bishop Henry G. Graham.  Graham is a convert to Catholicism from Anglicanism.  The book was first published in 1911 and reprinted many times since then.  The point of the book is that the Bible is a product of the Catholic Church.  So here is a summary of the what and when of the Bible as we currently have it through the eyes of someone who is eminently unqualified … me … but derived from someone who is eminently qualified … Bishop Graham. 

Of course, the books of the Bible were written long before the printing press was invented by Johann Gutenberg in about 1450 AD.  The original texts were hand-written on papyrus parchment in Greek and Hebrew languages.  This is true of the New Testament documents written by the sacred authors, St. Paul, St. John, and the others.  I understand that papyrus parchment is extremely perishable, brittle, and delicate and does not last long.  The original documents were also plundered and destroyed by persecutors of the Church in those early years.  No documents written in the original authors’ handwriting survive.  However, thousands of copies were made.  For Catholics, the fact that we don’t have the original documents to fall back on is not an issue, because our authority is not the “Scripture alone,” but the Church founded by Jesus Christ himself.  Church officials made copies of the originals down through the centuries and the originals were allowed to perish.

Catholic monks living in monasteries were subsequently charged with making the copies in their own handwriting and translating them into Latin.  This was a painstaking task and, it is thought, not without the possibility of error or the introduction of heretical words.  However, as time passes, we are assured that the Catholic Church, which was promised to be guided by the Holy Spirit, got it right.  Of course, all Bibles in existence today, both Catholic and Protestant, came through this period in history, the so-called “dark ages.”  Any changes that were made during the Reformation and later by non-Catholic individuals and groups, cannot have the assurance of accuracy since they are not from the Church that is guided by the Holy Spirit.  Examples of errors are the addition of the words “alone” or “only” that were added to the word “faith” and the removal of six books of the Bible by Protestant leaders – books that had been approved to be the inspired word of God by the Catholic leaders centuries earlier.

Today we have many different translations and versions.  The Catholic Church has its approved versions and, of course, uses these approved versions, especially the New American Bible as it is called, in the Bible readings used at Holy Mass. 

I am so happy to be Catholic and to be able to confidently read the version of Sacred Scripture that is the product of the Church that preserved the meaning and intent of the words of Jesus Christ, St. Paul, and others through history.  Thanks be to God!  Amen.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Our Unworthiness Before God

Today I’m thinking about this passage from Isaiah:  “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.  As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.”  (Isah 55:8-9).  The ways of God … the thoughts of God ... How high the heavens are above the earth … this is all very difficult to fathom.  It certainly brings to mind our unworthiness before God.  He is our Creator.  He is the Supreme Being who made all things.  He is in his heavenly home.  We are here on the earth where sin is rampant.  Yes, we are not worthy of him. 

St. John the Baptist said it this way about Jesus, who is God:  “I am not worthy to unloosen the thongs of his sandals.”  (Luke 3: 16).  The Blessed Mother even got into the act:  “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.  For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness.”  (Luke 1:46-48).  All of this makes me wonder how it is that we can even approach God, or how we can even dare to ask him for things, or how we can possibly dare to approach his altar to receive his body and blood.  He has the supreme power to reduce us to nothingness.  But he doesn’t.  In fact, out of love he has saved us from our sins if we only have true faith in him.

It brings to mind the story of the healing of the centurion’s servant in Matthew, Chapter 8:  “When he entered Capernaum, a centurion approached him and appealed to him, saying, ‘Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, suffering dreadfully.’  He said to him, ‘I will come and cure him.’  The centurion said in reply, ‘Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.’”  (Matt 8: 5-8).  Jesus then said to him:  “Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.”  (Matt 8:10).  And at that very hour, his servant was healed without Jesus even being present in the centurion’s home.

Catholics recognize the passage from Matthew 8:5-8 above because a version of it is used at Mass just prior to our coming forward to receiving the body and blood of Christ.  Talk about our unworthiness!  Consuming the body and blood of Christ at Mass is the ultimate in our unworthiness!  Here is the exact wording:  “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”  Even though we are so unworthy of this great sacrament, the Lord expects us to come forward, because it is an act of our faith and Christ rewards us for our faith just as he did the centurion.

I’ve heard it said that the Church uses this expression of our unworthiness at Mass so that in case we have any venial sins on our soul, we can get them temporarily forgiven prior to receiving the sacrament.  What great gifts we have in our faith and in our Church!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Basilica of St. Mary Major

This Saturday, August 5, the Catholic Church celebrates the Memorial of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome.  I was privileged to see this basilica with my own eyes last fall during my pilgrimage to Italy.  It is the largest church in Rome and the only “papal” basilica dedicated to the Blessed Mother.  It is one of seven papal basilicas and one of the four “major papal” basilicas located in Rome.  Hence the name St. Mary Major.

Like all the famous papal basilicas, it is an absolutely beautiful church.  I’m not a connoisseur of art, but one can’t help but be overwhelmed by the art in this church (see photos).  The thing that I found most amazing is that this church claims to have pieces of the wooden manger in which Jesus was laid after being born in Bethlehem.  These are located in a reliquary beneath the high altar (see photo), a site that is called the Crypt of the Nativity.  This high altar has a canopy over it (see photo) that makes the whole scene simply breathtaking.  There is also a sculpture of Pope Sixtus III.  He is seen seated in a chair and facing the manger reliquary.  Sixtus was pope back in the fifth century when the original structure was built.

The original structure is said to have been inspired by an appearance of the Blessed Mother to a Roman patriarch and his wife in which she asked that the structure be built.  The exact site of the building was inspired by a mysterious snowfall in the middle of summer (August 5 in the year 352 AD).  The snow only fell on the exact area where the church was to be built.  The church was later named Our Lady of the Snows at its dedication.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Atheist's View

The atheist’s view is that we don’t need to believe in God in order to explain how we got here.  The atheist apparently believes that the universe has existed all along and that life simply evolved, that organic and biological substances evolved from inorganic substances … that something like lightning struck a pool of primordial soup and the first organism came to be.  From that moment, chemical reactions occurred over a period of millions of years and two- and four-legged creatures eventually came to be over that span of time, including the intelligent two-legged creature, i.e., man. 

As a chemist, I can understand how one can put forth a theory like that.  I have observed many types of chemical reactions that result in many surprising things.  I have put on many a chemical demonstration in front of fifth grade audiences over the years, and I can attest to the many “ooooohhhs” and “aaaawwwwws” that arose.  And who knows what might be possible when the timing for some selected reactions are such that millions of years are required to produce whatever?  We’ve all heard how, on the surface of the earth, conditions are just right to produce life, include the aforementioned creatures – how the Earth is just the right distance from the sun, or how the atmosphere of the Earth is just perfect, and how if there is any small variation in these conditions, life could never have developed – all things that they say are what they are in order for us to be here.

Even highly complex organisms and parts of organisms are often explained this way.  For example, the human eye evolved because there is such a thing as light, and conditions on the earth over millions of years were just right for chemical reactions to take place that resulted in the formation of an organ that is sensitive to this light and, combined with the brain, allows us to “see” and even discern colors.  Or, for example, the ear evolved because there is such a thing as sound, and conditions on the earth over millions of years were just right for chemical reactions to take place that resulted in the formation of an organ that is sensitive to this sound and, combined with the brain, allows us to “hear” and discern different types of sound.  And, the eye, the ear, and the brain are all contained in one “box,” the head, so that hearing and seeing are each processed through the same brain.  But, hold on, we also have food digestion, waste production, sexual reproduction, and all other bodily functions located within this same organism.  Okay, I get it … chemical reactions over millions of years and the adaptation to the earthly environment.

But what about other things – things that have nothing to do with the human body and its evolution – things that have helped us along and help sustain this life?  For example, crude oil and the extraction of fossil fuels and plastics, or cement and concrete and their use in building roads, buildings, and bridges, or electricity, electrical energy and its useful properties, such that we are able to have modern appliances that work for us by simply “plugging them in.”  Yes, we needed to develop our economies so that we can have a life that sustains millions of people.  Where do all these materials come from?  Even the food we eat.  It seems to me that we are surviving every day on a modern-day multiplication of the loaves.  This is where we don’t have a thing like surprising chemical reactions to explain it away.  These things are simply here for us to use.

Oh, God, help us all, in our modern world, to come to the most logical conclusion.  Help us to know that you do indeed must exist.  Amen.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

"Whoever Has Ears Ought To Hear."

The picture for this week's My Thursday Thoughts is of "The Sower," the sculpture on the top of the state capitol building in Lincoln, Nebraska, on the night of a full moon.

There is one well-known parable that Jesus taught that I especially like.  It is the parable of the sower that was read at Holy Mass this past Sunday.  Why do I like it?  Because the message is so crystal clear!  I also like it because after he articulates it to his disciples, he says the following: “Whoever has ears ought to hear.”  This simple remark tells us, I think, that the message of this parable is extremely important.  Let us briefly study it and see if we can see why. 

The parable reads as follows (Matt 13:3-8):  “A sower went out to sow.  And as he sowed, some of the seed fell on the path, and birds and ate it up.  Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil.  It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots.  Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it.  But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”

Without reading Christ’s explanation that comes next (Matt 13:18-23), I surmise that the seed is the Word of God which he is “sowing” in our hearts.  Initially, we may be open to hearing it, but almost as soon as we leave the church after Mass, or other religious activity, it takes flight; we forget all about it.  It is gone from our consciousness.  The birds are the devil and his cohorts on our life's path.  (“The birds came and ate it up.”)  Or ... we don’t believe it and the little faith we experienced as it was spoken to us is not enough to sustain it.  A little faith on top of hard-core doubt (rocky ground) is not enough.  Our secular world scorches it and causes it to wither.  Or ... perhaps we were open to it, but as soon as we hear the atheist’s argument against it (remember, we are talking about the Word of God here), we choke.  Ah, the seed that is planted among thorns!  But finally ... we have the seed that is planted in rich soil.  This is when we take this “Word of God” seriously - we take it to heart because it finds itself in an open mind - open to the Word of God!  And it flourishes!  It “produces fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”  We go through life constantly wanting to please God because his Word is in us and we are producing the fruit that God expects. 

“Whoever has ears ought to hear.”  Check to see if you have ears.  Then go back and read this parable again.  If you have faith that is sufficiently deep, you should see that it is extremely important.  Take it to heart.  Let if flourish!  Let it produce fruit!  You will feel better about yourself because you will be on a path to heaven.  Amen.  Alleluia!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Who Can You Trust?

Who can you trust these days to be completely truthful, to be completely free of bias, and to be completely “right-on?”  You think maybe your clergyman?  You think maybe your congressman?  Maybe your mother/father?  You think maybe your husband/wife?  You think maybe your best friend?  Or maybe someone who always seems to strike a chord with you in every way?  To me, there is only one such source of truth, and that is God.  Okay, you say, but God never speaks to me.  But God HAS spoken to you and to me.  The inspired word of God is Sacred Scripture.  When Jesus speaks, we should listen!  When St. Paul speaks, we should listen!

Today, I’m thinking about this trust, this … faith, and how we should listen!  I’m reminded of the gospel story of the woman who “suffered hemorrhages for twelve years.”  (See Matt 9:20-22, Luke 8:43-48 and Mark 5:25-34).  She came up behind Jesus and touched the tassel of his cloak, thinking that she would be cured.  And she was!  Immediately!  Following this incident, the words of Jesus tell it all:  “Daughter, your faith has saved you.  Go in Peace.”  (Luke 8:48).  The woman had great faith.  She placed her trust in Jesus. 

There are some wonderful words of encouragement in St. Paul’s three letters to Timothy and one to Titus.  Allow me to give you a couple of excerpts.  To us (through Timothy), he says:  “Be eager to present yourself as acceptable to God, a workman who causes no disgrace, imparting the word of truth without deviation.  Avoid profane and idle talk, for such people will become more and more godless and their teaching will spread like gangrene.”  (2 Tim 3:15-17).  To us (through Titus), he says:  “For the grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age, as we await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of the great God and of our savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself to us to deliver us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people as his own, eager to do what is good.”  (Titus 2:11-14).  Meditate on these beautiful words!

When the woman with the hemorrhages was cured, Jesus said “Go in peace.”  Wouldn’t we love to hear those three little words of Jesus directed at US?  But how can we hear them?  Pursue Jesus.  Touch his tassel through prayer.  Go to your private place and pray.  And then listen.  He will turn to you and say “who touched me?”  Then, hear him whisper to you:  “Go in peace.”  Amen.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Fake News

Let me say right off that I am not a Trump supporter … never have been and never will be.  However, I did vote for him in the last election.  So it is more correct to say that I am a Republican ideology supporter, though not totally.  The main reason I voted for Trump is that I felt it imperative that we needed to retain a reasonable liberal/conservative balance on the Supreme Court.  Of course, there are other issues too, such as religious freedom and pro-life causes, but I am also okay with some liberal causes, such as levying taxes on the wealthy to pay for important things, like infrastructure.

But the issue that is on my mind today is the so-called “fake news” issue and all that goes with it.  Before CNN was created, my only exposure to news (besides newspapers and new magazines) was the evening news on television.  We had Walter Cronkite reporting the news in a late afternoon 30-minute program.  Seldom did he have any guests to be interviewed during the program.  It was a simple reporting of the day’s news.  No bias.  No partisanship.  There was maybe a 2-3 minute commentary by Eric Severeid, but that was it as far as opinion was concerned.  Today’s evening news is similar, thank God.

But on came the concept of a 24-hour news service.  The idea seemed fine at the time, but it has morphed out of control.  To report news on a 24-hour basis, today’s reporters need to either create news or keep harping on the same issues over and over, with members of panels often all talking at once.  Back in the day, we had CBS, NBC, ABC, AP, and UPI.  Today, there are seemingly dozens and dozens of news organizations with names I’ve never heard of reporting news on the Internet and on social media, each trying to outdo the other with sensationalism and, yes, fake news.  Yes, it isn’t just the National Enquirer anymore.  I pass on all news reported by any organization I’ve never heard of.  And it doesn’t matter if they are known for their conservatism or liberalism. 

Now CNN is one that I’ve heard of, of course.  But the bias toward liberalism is present no matter what they do.  There is no simple reporting of news.  The questions they ask their invited guests or their panels are fraught with liberal and Democrat bias.  I’m sorry, but that is not my idea of how news should be reported.  The general public has a tendency to accept such biased talk as truth and it is hurting our country.  I’m all for freedom of the press, but that freedom is being abused today, big time.

This is generally a religious blog, so let me end by referring to an article written by the well-known Catholic apologist Jimmy Aikin in the most recent issue of Catholic Answers Magazine.  The article is about fake news in regard to comments attributed to Pope Francis (and other popes).  Akin says that we should ask ourselves several key questions about the source of the comments before believing what is reported.  Is there a source?  What kind of source?  Is it authentic?  Is it reliable?  What is the level of authority?   These kinds of questions will often have to go unanswered by most of us due to the time required to research it.  In this day and age of sensationalism, however, these are important questions, not just for comments attributed to Pope Francis, but for any news that you may be hearing where you might be asking yourself “is this really true?”  The best policy, I think, is that if it sounds too sensational to be true, it probably is. 

Lord, please come to our assistance.  Amen.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Re-unification of Christianity

Over the past several years, I’ve been reading a lot about Protestantism and Catholicism, what separates us, and what we have in common.  Most recently, I read the new book by Peter Kreeft, titled Catholics and Protestants:  What Can We Learn from Each Other.  And so, today I’m thinking about what it might take to re-unify so that we may fully become what Christ intended …. one fold and one shepherd.  Though there are many more, I’ve come up with what I consider the five most troublesome doctrines, what Catholics believe and what mainline Protestants believe.  To my Protestant readers – if you find anything to be in error, please leave a comment.  To my Catholic readers, especially priests – please do the same!  I realize that there are many more sticking points, but I believe the following may be the most serious.

1)  The doctrine of Faith Alone, or Sola Fide.  Protestants believe that, to be saved, all it takes is for us to declare our faith in God and our faith in Jesus Christ.  As soon as we do so, we are saved and this cannot be reversed.  Catholics believe that salvation depends on what truly in one’s heart.  As such, much more is needed, such as good works and the sacraments, and we won’t know whether we are saved until Judgement Day.

2)  The doctrine of Scripture Alone, Sola Scriptura.  Protestants believe that Sacred Scripture is the sole authority as far as what the revealed truths are and what is to be believed.  Catholics believe that Sacred Tradition, whether recorded (Sacred Scripture) or not, contains the full truth.  There is also the issue of correct interpretation of Sacred Scripture.  Protestants believe that interpretation is up to the individual, whereas Catholics caution that accurate interpretation is important and therefore the individual should read a Catholic version of the Bible alongside a Catholic commentary, perhaps in consultation with a Catholic priest.

3)  The question of apostolic succession.  Protestants believe that the Church that Jesus founded became corrupt sometime after the death of the last apostle and did not get back on track until the sixteenth century.  Catholics believe that the Church that Jesus founded is the Catholic Church and that Pope and the bishops constitute an unbroken line of succession from the earliest days.  Catholics believe that these successors have met every heresy and obstacle that has arisen via various church councils, such as the Council of Nicaea and the second Vatican Council among many others, with the same authority as the apostles before them.

4)  Papal authority.  Protestants dispute the Catholic claim that the Pope, as the successor of St. Peter, has ultimate authority in matters of faith and morals.  They say that he (the pope) is just a man subject to human error and weakness and that the real authority is Sacred Scripture (see #2 above).  Catholics believe that one of the promises that Christ made to his Church is that he (Christ) will be with us “until the end of the age.”  Because of this, they believe that when the pope issues a statement in regard to faith and morals that he does indeed have the authority in these matters.

5)  The Real Presence in the Eucharist.  Protestants believe that Jesus was only speaking metaphorically at the Last Supper when he said “This is my body … this is my blood … do this in memory of me,” and in John, Chapter 6, when he first spoke of this.  Catholics believe that he instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist when he said these words and that his body and his blood are truly present in these consecrated elements under the appearance of bread and wine. 

The disagreements on these points appear to be insurmountable, almost like the points debated by the Republicans and Democrats in the U.S Congress!  In fact, some Protestant leaders have said that Catholics are not Christian.  And Catholics say that they have the fullness of the truth.  Well, I would like to propose a compromise.  Imagine this for a moment if you can.  The two factions come together and form a new religion, if you will, the Re-Unified Church of Jesus Christ, or, simply, Christianity.  Leaders of both factions hold a “council” and debate what can be agreed to 100% and what can never be agreed to.  Perhaps such a council can be held annually.  Then, allow the factions to go their way in these matters but promising mutual respect at the same time, while each being a part of this new re-unified church.  It would be a miracle, I know, if they were ever to agree on all the issues.  But let’s give ourselves time.  It’s been exactly 500 years since Martin Luther’s theses.  Maybe slowly, over the centuries, we will draw closer together and in the year 2517, we will jump the final hurdle and be fully unified.  I believe that with prayer and confidence in the will of God, this indeed is possible.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Intense and Passionate Love

Today, I’m thinking about Jesus’ answer to the question “Which is the first of all the commandments?” (See Matt 22:36 and Mark 12:28).  Remembering Moses’ statement to the Jews after returning from the mountain where he received the Ten Commandments (see Deut 6:5-6), Jesus responded (Mark 12:29-30):  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.  The second is this:  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  My question is:  How does one know if the love one currently has for God is sufficient?  It sounds to me like this love must be quite intense and passionate.

Have you ever experienced love for another human being?  Say, your spouse?  Your girlfriend?  Your boyfriend?  Your mother?  Your father?  Son or daughter?  Did you love him/her with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength?  If so, how did this affect your behavior toward this person?  What does it really mean to you?  My answer would be that I would want to spend time with this person; that I would want to please this person; that I would want to tell him/her that I love them (and really mean it); and that I would want to fulfill every want and need that this person has;  and so on and so forth.

Now, imagine having this same love for God.  What would it mean?  Spending time with Him?  Yes!  Making every effort to please Him?  Yes!  Telling Him often that you love him?  Yes!  Doing things (good works) that would fulfill your neighbor's every want and need?  Yes!  And so on and so forth?  Yes, yes, and yes!

Perhaps you feel that showing your love by attending church services once a week would accomplish all of the above.  Someone in my parish recently wrote a piece in the parish bulletin in which she essentially said that very thing … she loves God so much that she attends Mass every Sunday.  It made me chuckle a little.  The Church says that this is the absolute minimum that is required for adoring and loving God and it is a mortal sin if you don't!  My interpretation of “all your heart, soul, mind, and strength” and being intense and passionate about your love means it has to be much, much more.  Attending weekday Masses would be a great start.  Start with one extra day each week, say, on Wednesdays, and see what happens.  Praying a daily rosary would be a great start.  Again, start with one day a week.  Reading and studying Sacred Scripture daily would be a great start.  Making regular holy hours in church in front of the Blessed Sacrament would be a great start.  And on and on!

I have tried all of the above and I feel my love for God has grown immeasurably.  Try one or more of these.  I think you will feel much better about yourself because you are demonstrating your passion and intensity about your love for your Creator.  And your love will grow!  Trust me.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Overcoming Distractions During Mass

Today, I’m thinking about how a faithful Catholic often finds himself or herself being distracted during Holy Mass.  I feel I am eminently qualified to write on this topic because happens to me and nothing makes one better qualified to write about something than personal experience.  Lately, I have met this seemingly disgraceful pattern of behavior with some original prayers.  I would like to share them with you.

The first one occurs during the penitential rite, the prayer the congregation prays as a group at the beginning of the Mass.  Its purpose is to “call to mind our sins” in preparation for this most solemn celebration so that we can tell the Lord “I’m sorry” and beg forgiveness before proceeding.  Here is the prayer:  “I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts and in my words, in what if have done and what I have failed to do, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault; therefore I ask the blessed Mary ever-Virgin, all the angels and saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.”  Notice the appeal “to pray to you, my brothers and sisters.”  In other words, everyone present is appealing to everyone else present to pray for them.  In this case, I combat distractions by silently uttering a prayer for all present and ask the Lord to forgive their sins, which is, after all, what they are asking me to do.

The second one occurs during the consecration – the point at Mass at which the celebrant (the priest) speaks the words of Jesus at the Last Supper which transubstantiates the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.  This is the most solemn moment at Mass and deserves my undivided attention, i.e., no distractions!  And so, after the celebrant consecrates the bread with those sacred words and during the brief moment of silence that follows, I silently articulate this prayer:  “The body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ are present on this altar right here, right now.”  And then, after the consecration of the wine, I say this:  “The blood of Christ, shed at Calvary, is present in this chalice on this altar right here, right now.  These prayers help immensely to focus on the most sacred mysteries that just occurred.

The third that I would like to share occurs when I receive the Lord in Holy Communion.  In order to concentrate fully on what is happening, I repeat, over and over, my favorite Scripture passage, John 6:54:  “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”  I do that over and over again until I am confident that have paid close attention to each and every thought and word expressed in this passage. 

So if you find your mind wondering during Mass, try my prayers, or make up your own.  I can attest that it draws you closer to the Lord during this most holy and awesome occasion, the Holy Mass.  

Thursday, June 8, 2017

"Progressive" Tendencies

One thing that is possible with Facebook is that you can view a friend’s personal page and see what his or her particular belief system is about.  After viewing a few posts of one of my friends recently, I visited his personal page and noticed he described his religious beliefs as “progressive Christianity bordering on agnosticism.”  My reaction was that if anything can be described as oxymoronic, this was it.  It got me thinking about a whole range of things, way more than I would allow myself to write about in this short space.

I’ve been noticing that “progressive” is a word that liberal-minded people seem to have adopted to describe their beliefs, as if to say that their beliefs are characterized as “progress” or “improvement.”  And I think I understand the concept of “progressive Christianity.”  There are plenty of folks who decide to no longer adhere to traditional and conventional Christian attitudes and sort of branch out on their own in the name of progress and improvement.  This is true in Catholicism as well as, I assume, in other Christian religions.  I am mostly at odds with the direction they take, but I know that such “progressive” tendencies are out there.  Such people are “left-leaning” and “liberal” in their politics as well.  We tend to get along, though I find myself cringing when something comes up with which I disagree.

To link this progressive Christianity to agnosticism, however, makes no sense at all.  Agnosticism is the belief that the human mind cannot know whether there is a God, or anything, beyond material phenomena.  To be Christian, I would assume, accepts the fact that God exists and that God has manifested himself in the person of Jesus Christ.  You see the dilemma that presents itself here.  Christianity cannot "border on" agnosticism

I have great concern over this “progressive” culture that we have around us.  God certainly exists.  I just cannot buy into the idea that material phenomena just came into existence on its own.  The beauty and complexity is far too great.  One could cite the beauty and complexity of the cosmos; one could cite the beauty and complexity of the human body, or the human mind; one could cite the beauty and complexity of nature; one could cite the beauty and complexity of certain gifts that we have in order for us to have made such marvelous material progress over the centuries.  I’m thinking here of electricity as a perfect example.  On and on.

As a Catholic, I believe that God has revealed himself to us through the Judeo-Christian history book we call Sacred Scripture.  It just makes so much sense.  It is because of that I have these concerns that I have.  We must live our lives based on God’s personally delivered messages, or we are doomed.  That is what it is all about.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Until the End of the Age

The celebrations occurring within the Catholic Church this time of year are those commemorating the Ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven and Pentecost, the Descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles in the upper room in Jerusalem.  Accounts of the Ascension (see the photograph accompanying this post) are presented in Chapter 24 of the Gospel of Luke (Luke 24:50-51) and in Chapter 1 of the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1:6-10).  Before this, as recorded at the very end of the Gospel of Matthew, he told them “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”  (Mat 28:20).  The account of Pentecost is presented in Chapter 2 of the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:1-4).  This coming of the Holy Spirit had been prophesied in the Old Testament and also promised by Jesus himself, when he said this:  “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name – he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.”  (John 14:26).  It seems pretty clear that the Church Jesus founded is promised to have the full support and guidance of the Holy Spirit in all things until the end of time.

We all know that the Church has faced many challenges in its history.  One that comes to mind is the Arian heresy.  In the fourth century, a priest in Alexandria, Egypt, by the name of Arius began to teach that Jesus was not God, that he did not have a divine nature but only a human nature.  This, of course, went against the teaching of the Church that says that Jesus had both natures.  It was a serious challenge to the Church because Arianism began to have many followers, including bishops, and threatened to divide the Church.  In the year 325, the Council of Nicaea was convened to solve the controversy.  This council was the first of many “ecumenical” councils called to address controversies and/or clarify Church teachings.  The Arian issue was not fully settled until the Council of Constantinople met in the year 381.  But it WAS settled and traditional Church teaching was upheld.  Was this not the work of the Holy Spirit?

Another challenge that comes to mind is the Protestant Reformation.  The Protestant Reformation began early in the sixteenth century when a German priest, Martin Luther, posted his “95 Theses” on the door of a Catholic Church in 1517 and a real and serious splintering of the Church occurred.  The reformers claimed that the Church Jesus founded fell into corruption and began teaching many errors and falsehoods soon after the last apostle died back in the second century!  So for about 1300 years, in the view of the reformers, the Church was apparently no longer guided by the Holy Spirit and Jesus had reneged on his promise that he would be with us “to the end of the age.”  While Christianity was most certainly fragmented as a result, one Church, one religion, the Catholic Church, did not buy into this new teaching and today still claims to be continuing as the Church founded by Jesus, complete with apostolic succession, true guidance of the Holy Spirit, and true adherence to the teachings of Jesus Christ.  There has been no Church council that has been able to solve this controversy and so today, in the twenty-first century, Christianity remains fragmented – a very sad state of affairs.

So today I pray that this fragmentation will soon come to an end.  We must believe that, with God’s help, anything is possible.  On Judgement Day, all will come to know the truth.  I pray that the narrow gate that Jesus refers to in Mat 7:13 will become wider and soon.  Amen. 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

A Day for Remembering

Today, as Memorial Day approaches, I am thinking of all those memories that I have of Memorial Days past.  I have memories of my life on that small farm just outside of Defiance, Iowa, in the 50’s and 60’s, of how my mother was so dedicated in remembering loved ones who had gone before and were buried in the local Catholic church cemetery.  My mother grew and loved flowers.  Every Memorial Day, she would go out to her flower garden and pick roses, lilacs, peonies, irises, bridal wreath, plum blossoms and anything else she could find on our property, bring them into the house, and begin arranging them in vases in preparation for taking them to the cemetery to decorate the graves of my father, my sister, my grandparents, etc.  The combination of the scents of all these flowers in the house made my head spin, and today, every time I catch the scent of one of these flowers, my head spins all over again.  Then, when the actual day arrived, we would attend Mass at St. Peter’s Catholic Church after which we would walk to the cemetery behind the church where taps were played and all those local men and women who served and died were remembered with our version of the 21-gun salute.

Ah, the men and women who served and died.  Soon after that experience of my youth, my brother, Rus, was drafted into the army (1967) and was sent to Viet Nam.  My mother was stressed beyond belief.  She sent many prayers heavenward for his safety.  Like a miracle, her prayers were answered.  Rus’s hand was instinctively raised when a commanding officer asked if anyone in the crowd could type.  He spent his year in Viet Nam as a clerk typist, which was probably the safest job any soldier could have.  As for my own story, I had the student deferment, as did Rus, until I graduated from college three years later, 1970, the first year that they randomly drew birthdates to see who would be the first to be drafted.  My birthdate, April 20, was drawn #345 out of 365.  My mother’s prayers were answered once again.  I would not have to serve if I didn’t want to 

Of course, the real story is that of those who were sent into the battlefield in past wars and gave the ultimate sacrifice, which is the reason Memorial Day was instituted.  I knew of one such young man, one I met during my years in 4-H work in my high school days.  His name was Roger Carroll.  I even stayed overnight at his parent’s house once, and ran into him on the campus of Iowa State once or twice.  I later found his name imprinted on the Viet Nam memorial in Washington, D.C.  Of course, there have been hundreds of thousands of others.  I salute them all today for their courage.  The ultimate sacrifice … I can barely fathom it.  I read the autobiography of a fraternity brother who also served, but returned in one piece.  His stories of the battlefields of Viet Nam sent chills down my spine.

The photograph accompanying this post shows a touching memorial.  I discovered it while strolling around the cemetery of the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary, my daughter’s community in Waukesha, Wisconsin, this past weekend.  I found it on the grave of Sister Mary Angela, someone I met some years ago and taught me some of the faith principles of the community.  I don’t know if she had a family member who served, but regardless, we should all have such a prayer on our lips on this Monday upcoming.  God bless all the men and women currently serving in the military.  Amen!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Miracle of Incorruptibility

Do you know what the “Imprimatur” and “Nihil Obstat” in books written by Catholic authors is all about?  “Imprimatur” is Latin for “Let it be printed” and is found in the front matter of the book typically on the same page as the copyright statement.  It tells us that the content has been examined by a Catholic bishop and, as a result of this examination, has been approved for publication.  The name of the bishop and the date of his approval are given.  The purpose of the approval is to let the reader know that the work has been thus examined and is found to be free of any threat to the faith and morals of Catholics.  “Nihil Obstat” is Latin for “Nothing hinders” and is also found on this page in the front matter of a book.  It tells the reader that the content has been examined by a Catholic diocesan censor for reasons similar to the Imprimatur and has been approved for publication.  Again, the date of the approval and the delegated censor’s name are given.  Both are declarations that the content is free of doctrinal of moral error.

The reason these terms are on my mind today is that I’ve been reading a book titled Exploring the Miraculous by “miracle hunter” Michael O’Neill and, for obvious reasons, I checked the front matter to see if the approvals were given.  They were.  One item addressed in the book is the incorruptibility of the bodies of some saints.  The bodies of these saints, for various reasons, have been exhumed and found to be incorrupt after a period of decades, or centuries in some cases.  For some of his statements, he references another book written by Joan Carroll Cruz titled The Incorruptibles, which I have in my personal library and also has the Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat approvals.  I conclude that the stories of such saints found in these books are believable.  The stories include some familiar saints, such as St. Bernadette Soubirous, the young French girl who had the visions of Our Lady of Lourdes, and St. Catherine Laboure, who had the visions of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal.  When I visited France back in the year 2000, I was fortunate to have personally viewed the incorrupt body of St. Catherine in her glass reliquary. 

Skeptics question the validity of claims of incorruptibility, as you might expect, often calling incorrupt bodies "mummified."  In the introduction to Cruz’s book, she addresses these questions and discounts any claim of artificial means of keeping the bodies from decay.  Indeed, in some cases, there was absolutely no attempt at such artificial means, as temperature control, embalmment, or environmental control.  These were simply human beings who lived such virtuous lives, who interceded with Christ to cause miraculous phenomena (or they would not have been declared saints), and who found such favor with God that He demonstrates to us his almighty power though their incorruptibility.

These occurrences of incorruptibility should be enough to fully convince anyone of the existence and power of God.  How else could the phenomena be explained?  Yet, people go about their daily lives as if there is no God.  People give no thought of the existence of a higher power and potential disaster of disbelief.  It reminds me of the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31.  The rich man wanted Abraham to ask God to have someone rise from the dead and warn his five brothers of the consequences of their actions.  Abraham’s response is classic:  “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.”  (Luke 16:31).  The modern response might be this:  “If they will not listen to Jesus Christ and his Church, neither will they be persuaded if a deceased saint’s body remains incorrupt after death.”  My prayer for today:  Please, Lord, grant the gift of faith to those who ignore you so that they may be given their heavenly inheritance on Judgement Day.  Amen.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Is Christ the One Mediator Between God and Man?

Today I’m thinking about the disagreement between the Catholic faith and some other Christian faiths regarding whether Jesus is the sole mediator between God and man or whether we can ask each other and/or the saints in heaven for intercession.  The non-Catholic position on this is derived solely from the following passage from Scripture:  “For there is one God.  There is also one mediator between God and the human race, the man Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as ransom for all.”  (1 Tim 2:5-6).  On the surface, it would seem that St. Paul is telling us that if we want help in praying to God, we only have one option and that is to use Jesus Christ as a mediator, an intercessor. 

The problem is that immediately prior to writing that statement in the letter to Timothy, St. Paul writes this:  “First of all, then, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone … .”  (1 Tim 2,1).  In other words, he is asking us to pray for others, thus using us as a mediator.  One might think that the two passages are in conflict.  Thinking of the two passages together, I think we can all agree that he is asking us to pray while not thinking of us as a mediator, i.e., still using Jesus as the sole mediator in the process.  Yes!  The Catholic position, then, is that it is okay, and even encouraged, to ask others to offer prayers of petition and thanksgiving for us.  And, of course, Catholics take this to also mean that we can ask the saints in heaven to pray for us as well, with the understanding that they also use Jesus as the sole mediator.  This opens it up for us to be able to ask, for example, the Blessed Mother, St. Peter, St. John, and all the saints (even St. Paul), besides our friends and relatives, to pray for us.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states it as follows (excerpt taken from CCC paragraph 2635):  "Since Abraham, intercession – asking on behalf of another – has been characteristic of a heart attuned to God’s mercy.  In the age of the Church, Christian intercession participates in Christ’s, as an expression of the communion of saints."  Christian intercession participates in Christ’s!  That's it!  That's the answer!

Recently, a friend of mine stated that he does not pray at all, for anything, not even if others, such as a grieving widow, were to ask for his prayers.  He gave no apology or any reason for this.  I was left to believe that he has no thought of a higher power that may help him and others through the earthly journey.  And, yes, I pray for him that one day he will come to know Christ, God, and discover the power and the value of faith and prayer.  Amen.

The photograph shows Catholics praying before the tomb of St. Pope John Paul II in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, asking for his intercession in union with Christ's.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The 100th Aniversary

The month of May has traditionally been a month dedicated to the Blessed Mother in the Catholic Church.  As April showers give way to May flowers, altars and grottoes come alive when the faithful decorate and pray with a zeal comparable to that of the original disciples of our Lord two thousand years ago.  Catholic school children everywhere process to said altars and grottoes carrying a crown woven with these flowers and place it on the head of a statue of the Blessed Mother while singing Marian hymns, such as On This Day Oh Beautiful Mother, Immaculate Mary, and Ave Maria.  The event is referred to as the “May Crowning.”

I have vivid memories of these days.  One especially comes to mind.  My father died suddenly in a farming accident on May 5, 1958 (tomorrow being the 59th anniversary).  I was ten years old.  As you might expect, I missed school for a few days, perhaps as much as a couple of weeks, to come to grips with what happened.  I returned on the very day of the May Crowning.  Though I had not completely healed (I felt that all the eyes of my classmates were upon me), I was comforted by this moving ceremony.  As the hymn says, “Oh beautiful mother, on this day we give thee our love.”

This year, the month of May is even more special.  May 13, 2017, a week from Saturday, is the 100th anniversary of the first appearance of the Blessed Mother to the children of Fatima in 1917.  The story of Our Lady of Fatima has been accepted by the Catholic Church as an authentic story of a miraculous appearance.  Though many so-called appearances of the Blessed Mother are deemed as fraudulent or mistaken (one has the image of the Blessed Mother “appearing” on a sandwich), only a very few that have successfully undergone the extreme scrutiny of the Church are deemed authentic.  Fatima is one of them.

So I wish the Catholic Church, all Catholics, and all human beings everywhere a rousing “Happy Anniversary” on this very special occasion.  Amen!  Alleluia!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Softly and Tenderly

Recently I re-discovered and old Gospel hymn called Softly and Tenderly by Will L. Thompson (1880).  It fits in well with the general theme of my blog and I’m thinking about it today because last week I came to possess an Alan Jackson cd in which it was included.  I am pleased to share the lyrics here today.  Here is a link to Alan Jackson's version:  Enjoy!!

Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling,
Calling for you and for me.
See, on the portals, He’s waiting and watching,
Watching for you and for me.

Come home, come home,
Ye who are weary come home;
Earnestly and tenderly Jesus is calling,
Calling, “O sinner, come home!”

O for the wonderful love he has promised,
Promised for you and for me.
Though we have sinned He has mercy and pardon;
Pardon for you and for me.

Come home, come home,
Ye who are weary come home;
Earnestly and tenderly, Jesus is calling;
Calling, “O sinner, come home!"

Why should we linger when Jesus is pleading,
Pleading for you and for me.
Why should we wait then and heed not his mercies,
Mercies for you and for me.

Come home, come home,
Ye who are weary come home;
Earnestly and tenderly, Jesus is calling; 
Calling, “O sinner, come home!”

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Resurrection and Glorification

I posted at the beginning of Lent how excited I was to be in the season of Lent to be reading and listening to all the rich Gospel messages of the season.  And now that Lent is over, I’m singing alleluia’s because of Resurrection stories! 

I’m sure you’ve noticed that Jesus’ disciples don’t recognize him when they look at him, or even when they hear him speak.  Outside the empty tomb, Mary Magdalene, for example, doesn’t recognize Jesus.  She thinks he is a gardener.  She is looking at him and he speaks to her.  It’s not until he says her name, “Mary,” that her eyes and ears are opened.  (Jn 20:11-18).  There is also the story of Jesus meeting up with two unnamed disciples on the road between Jerusalem and Emmaus on the day of the Resurrection.  They don’t recognize him as a walks and talks with them, even after he explains all that has happened based on Old Testament Scripture.  It is not until they break bread with him that evening that their eyes are opened.  (Lk 24:13-25).  Even the eleven apostles don’t recognize him until he shows them the scars on his hands and side.  (Jn 20:19-23).  And there is a fourth example.  The apostles were fishing in the lake one day (after the Resurrection) and caught no fish when Jesus stood on the beach and told them to simply cast the net off the right side of the boat.  They did not recognize him until they pulled in a net so full of fish that the net was tearing.  St. John’s eyes were then opened and he said to St. Peter “It is the Lord!”  (Jn 21:1-14).   Why did they not recognize him?  The teaching is that after the Resurrection, Jesus’ body was glorified and he was not recognizable.   

This, in fact, is also the teaching for our own bodies.  Once we rise from the dead on Judgement Day and enter into heavenly glory, our bodies will be transformed.   (See 1 Cor 15:36-58).  Gregory Koukl in his book The Story of Reality describes it quite eloquently:  “And one day we will lay hold of it in its fullness.  The war will be over.  The anguish will end – all brokenness mended, all evil vanquished, all beauty restored.  For those who receive mercy, the home we have been seeking all our lives will be ours.  It is the Father’s house, and there is a place for us in it.  And he will say, ‘Come, Enter.  Enjoy.  Be with Me.’  And when he does, we will realize that our hunger for home was always our hunger for him.  And we shall have him.”

Beautiful words.  I pray today that all my readers will recognize the need for full repentance and true faith if a glorified body and an eternity full of hosannas is your goal.  Amen!  Alleluia!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Institution of the Eucharist

Today is Holy Thursday, the day we celebrate the Last Supper.  The Last Supper was a Passover meal that took place in that upper room in Jerusalem near the Garden of Gethsemane and the Mount of Olives on the night Jesus Christ was arrested two thousand years ago.  More importantly, it was the night on which he instituted the Holy Eucharist, that sacrament that today is partaken by billions of people on a daily basis worldwide.

Jesus was in the room with his twelve apostles.  You can imagine what it might have been like.  Tension in the air due to the danger they were in, being in Jerusalem at a time when the Jewish elders were looking for a time and a way to kill him for his “crimes” of blasphemous preaching, provocations, and Sabbath violations, not to mention his claims of being the Messiah and the insults He hurled at the Pharisees.  But perhaps there was also tension in the air due to his statements, such as this:  “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you cannot have life in you.”  (John 6:53).  They continued to be his followers despite the gruesome thought of eating his flesh and drinking His blood.  They might have been asking themselves what was going to happen in this upper room. 

One of them, St. Peter, had replied to Him:  “Master, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”  (John 6:68).  That must have been the general feeling of all twelve, since they were not like the many other disciples who had “returned to their former way of life” upon hearing this.  But, in addition, St. Peter, St. James, and St. John had all witnessed the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor a few days earlier when Jesus had fully displayed His divinity to them.  To whom shall they go, Indeed! 

But then, it happened.  Jesus took bread, broke it, and giving it to them said “Take and eat; this is my body.”  And he took a cup of wine, gave it to them and said “Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood …”  (Mt 26:26-29).  And now they understood.  Jesus was giving them his flesh to eat and his blood to drink, but under the appearance (sight and taste) of bread and wine!  Wow!  He also said this:  “… do this in memory of me.”  And with that, the Eucharist was instituted for all people for all time!

In the early days, after Jesus’ Resurrection, doing this in his memory became known as the “breaking of the bread.”  St. Paul, who was Jesus’ mortal enemy, had this to say after his conversion:  “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgement upon himself.”  (1 Cor 11:29).  Today, this act is the focus of the Catholic Mass.  And each time I partake of this sacrament at Mass, I utter these words of Christ over and over to myself as I kneel in prayer:  “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has life everlasting, and I will raise him up on the last day.”  (Jn 6:54).  Thank you, Lord, for this marvelous gift, a gift that mere words can never even begin to adequately express.  Amen!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Veronica's Veil

You may know that I like to write short stories that expand on the Gospels in order to fill in the blanks surrounding the various events in the life of Christ.  For example, who was Simon of Cyrene, why was he in Jerusalem on the day of the crucifixion, and why did the soldiers choose him to help Jesus carry his cross?  My stories are completely fictional, but I try to make them interesting and credible.  A non-Catholic friend of mine suggested to me once that I shouldn’t do this because it may mislead people away from the truth.  My stories are not going to be best-sellers by any means, and if someone is familiar with Scripture, they will know that they are fictional.

Today, I’m thinking of the Stations of the Cross.  In my research, I found that five of the fourteen stations have no basis in Scripture.  Yet, the stations have become popular in both Catholic and non-Catholic churches.  The five stations are Jesus falling the first, second, and third times, Veronica wiping the face of Jesus, and Jesus meeting his mother. 

While there is no Scriptural mention of Jesus ever falling on the way to Golgotha, it is not hard to imagine that He did fall.  The beating that he took and the loss of blood during the scourging likely made him very weak.  Also, considering the probable fact that the cross was very heavy and that the soldiers’ constant pushing and shoving, trying to hurry Him along, would have made falling a distinct possibility.  As far as meeting his mother, it is very likely that Mary was alongside for every step of the way and, perhaps after a fall, would run to him to give him support and to show her love and encouragement. 

But the one that is the most difficult to believe is Veronica wiping His face with her veil or a towel.  Veronica in not mentioned by name anywhere in Scripture.  Was this show of love totally made up, or was it part of Sacred Tradition in the Catholic Church, meaning that it was something passed down orally through the centuries?  It is not a stretch to think that, in a burst of courage while surrounded by the Roman soldiers, a devoted fan of Jesus would have such compassion for Him that she would break ranks and run up to Him to help comfort Him in this way.  But the tradition says that an imprint of Christ’s face was left on the cloth!  So we are in the miraculous realm with this station. 

If the story is true, one might ask what happened to Veronica’s veil in the span of time beginning back in the time of Christ and continuing throughout the centuries.  It does not seem to get as much attention nowadays as the Shroud of Turin.  The reason, I think, is that the “facts” have been clouded throughout history because of copies that were made and various claims brought forward.  There are various interesting stories given in Wikipedia ( and relating to St. Veronica and the veil which include references to statements in the Catholic Encyclopedia.  See also

Some credence is given to St. Veronica’s existence by the Catholic Church despite references to her story as a “legend” or “tradition.”  She is a saint of the Catholic Church.  There is a shrine complete with a statue as well as a likeness of the veil dating to the middle ages in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  There is also a chapel constructed in her honor in Jerusalem.  St. Veronica, pray for us!  Amen.