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. 

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The "Scratch" on Christ's Chest

Today, I’m thinking about the wound Christ’s body received when the soldier at the foot of the cross thrust his lance into His side.  I’m always mystified when I look at a painting or a crucifix statuary in which the crucified Christ is shown with only a superficial wound, almost like a scratch, at the puncture point.  And … the puncture point always seems to be in the wrong spot … at a point between two ribs.  The photograph accompanying this post shows what I am talking about.

St. John, who was present at the foot of the cross, tells the story of this piercing (Jn 19: 34).   John says that Jesus is already dead, but, for some unknown reason, one of the soldiers who came to check on Christ and the two criminals delivered this dramatic end to the crucifixion event.   John records that when Christ’s body was pierced, “at once there came out blood and water.”  This implies that the lance punctured the heart.

Why do I think that the puncture point is shown in the wrong place?  Well, Christ’s body was on the cross, and it seems to me that His body would have been elevated – maybe as much as six feet above the ground.  The soldier, who was likely standing on the ground, would have had to thrust the lance upward at quite a steep angle, making it impossible to cause the wound to be between two ribs, and into the heart of the upright, though possibly sagging, body.  To me, it is more likely that the lance was pushed upward under the lowest rib making it more like a wound on the right side of the abdomen rather than between two ribs.  And blood and water gushed out?  There would have been evidence of this on the body, i.e., a flow of blood and water below the wound.  It would not have looked like a superficial scratch.

Further evidence of the gruesome nature of the wound is given later by St. John, in which the resurrected Jesus and the doubting St. Thomas come together.  Jesus says to St. Thomas “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.”  (Jn 20:27).  Place your hand in my side?  It must have been a massive scar, to be able to put one’s hand in it.

But let us not forget the significance of the piercing and the blood/water flow in all of this.  It was actually surprising that a flow of blood and water would flow from a dead body.  I think, by recounting this story, St. John may be saying that the crucifixion was not an end, but a beginning.  The beginning of the flow of Christ’s saving grace into our hearts, yours and mine. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Face-to-Face With Satan?

Today I’m thinking of the story of Jesus experiencing temptation in the desert (or “wilderness”), following his baptism by John.  The story is told in quite some detail in the Gospels of Matthew (Mt 4:1-11) and Luke (Lk 4:1-13) and is mentioned in passing in the Gospel of Mark (Mk 1:12-3).  Both Matthew and Luke indicate that Jesus came face-to-face with the devil and had a conversation with him.  There were three temptations.  Jesus had been fasting, so, first, in both accounts, the devil was quoted as saying that he wanted Him to turn stones into bread so that He would have something to eat.  Jesus refused.  For the second temptation according to Matthew (but the third according to Luke), the devil took Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple and told Him to jump off, that God’s angels would protect Him so that He would not injure himself.  Jesus again refused, saying that it is wrong to tempt “the Lord, your God.”  The third according to Matthew (second according to Luke) the devil took Jesus to a very high mountain where the view was magnificent.  The devil said that all the land that He sees can be His if He would worship him.  At that, according to Matthew, Jesus seemed angered.  He said “Get away, Satan!  It is written:  ‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and Him alone shall you serve.’”

My first thought here is this:  Did Satan really take human form and really speak with Jesus face-to-face?  I would say “maybe, but maybe not” because that is not what Satan does when WE are tempted.  When you and I are tempted to commit sin, we don’t see Satan as a human being staring at us.  In our case, His temptation is a thought that causes us to have a conversation with ourselves.   We might say to ourselves, “I think I am going to commit adultery now.  I know it is seriously wrong, but I’m going to go ahead and do it anyway.”  We don’t have the devil in front of us in the form of a human being, so we can’t say to him that it is wrong to tempt us like that.  We don’t have him staring at us so that we can say “I love the Lord, my God, and it is Him that I serve.”  We can’t tell him to “get away” because he is not there in human form.

What we can say, though, is that Satan is putting the thought into our head.  He has that power.  He “prowls about the world seeking the ruin of souls” as the prayer to St. Michael states.  He seeks the ruin of souls by putting temptations into our heads in the form of thoughts.  Too often we respond with another thought: “Yes, Satan, this will give me pleasure, so I will go ahead and do it.  I knows it is seriously wrong, but I don’t care.”  That is when we get into serious trouble.  What we need to do is combat the thought with this thought:  “No, I will not do this.  It is a serious wrong.  It offends the Lord, my God.”  Go ahead and say it out loud if it helps:  “The Lord, my God, shall I worship and Him alone will I serve.”

I think that Jesus’ temptations may also have been thoughts put into his head by Satan.  Jesus was God incarnated.  He was a man with a human nature.  He was God come to earth experiencing the human condition, to suffer and die, for our sins.  His prayer in the Garden of Olives demonstrated his humanity:  “Let this cup pass from me, yet not as I will but yours be done.”  In the garden, He was shown to indeed a man like us and He seemed stressed beyond belief with what was about to happen to Him.  So stressed that His sweat became like drops of blood.  He experienced temptations to sin like we do.  He experienced suffering and death, just like we do.  The good news is that he also had a divine nature along with his human nature and, as the Son of God, He saved us from our sins through this horrible suffering and death.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Whatever You Shall Bind on Earth ...

The accompanying photo shows Jesus proclaiming his message of salvation to His disciples.  What is it that he might be saying?  Of course, there are literally hundreds of possibilities.  Today, I’m thinking of this:  “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.  I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.  Whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  (Mat 16:18-19).  This statement is the basis of what Catholics believe about papal authority.  The “church” is the Catholic Church and Peter was given the keys to the kingdom of heaven and thereby became the first pope.  Jesus proclaimed the “bind and loose” statement a second time (Mat 18:18), this time to His other apostles as well as to Peter, thus giving authority to the apostles and their successors, the bishops, as well as the pope.  Today we have the Church’s Magisterium, which includes all bishops in union with the pope.

What sort of things has the church subsequently proclaimed that, by this authority, binds the people on earth?  Though there are many things that the Church has proclaimed as seriously sinful, such as premarital or extra-marital sex, abortion, artificial contraception, euthanasia, etc., I’m thinking specifically of what has come to be known as the six “Precepts of the Church” by which the Church binds Catholics under pain of mortal sin just as the Ten Commandments binds them.  By way of these six precepts, all Catholics are bound to (1) attend Holy Mass on all Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation; (2) receive the Holy Eucharist during the Easter season, (3) if guilty of mortal sin, confess sins to a priest once a year, (4) fast and abstain on appointed days, (5) observe the marriage laws of the Church, and (6) contribute to the support of the Church.

Let’s take the first one as an example.  Why would the Church require such weekly Mass attendance and make it seriously sinful if ignored?  I’m sure it has as its basis, the third of the Ten Commandments:  “Thou shalt keep holy the Sabbath.” What more fitting way is there for keeping the Sabbath (Sunday) holy than to “break bread” by attending Holy Mass and receiving the Eucharist?  The Eucharist consists of the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus under the appearance of bread and wine.  Jesus Himself said this:  “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:54).  Attending Holy Mass and receiving the Eucharist is thus the ultimate in holy acts.  The Church only requires it once a week!  How can any Catholic not want to adhere to this simple requirement?  On a personal note, in my retirement, I attend Holy Mass and receive the Eucharist daily.  It is the highlight of my day and I can’t imagine life without it.

Similar statements could be made about all six of the precepts.  The Church has our spiritual well-being in mind always and, despite what you might think or have heard, it is easy.  My prayer today, and every day, is for all baptized but lapsed Catholics to choose the narrow gate (Mat 7:13-14), the gate of salvation, and come back to the Church that Jesus founded.  On Judgement Day, I have to believe that you will be very glad you did.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

International Women's Day 2017

Yesterday, March 8, was International Women’s Day 2017.  Given the current political climate on women’s issues, it may be too hot a topic for me to reveal my thoughts on this today.  But, My Thursday Thoughts are just that, and that is what I am thinking about today.  So here we go.

Many women have touched my life, as they have yours, I imagine.  I can name my mother.  I can name my wife.  I can name my daughters.  I can name the Blessed Mother Mary.  I can name my sisters.  I can name my teachers.  I can name many professional women.  I can name women who have been canonized saints in the Catholic Church.  I can name my aunts and nieces.  I can name wives and daughters of friends.  And I can name women in various lots in life with whom I have come into contact.  There are women who have the same or similar worldview as me.  And there are women that have a different worldview compared to me. 

Most everyone would probably heap high praise on their mother and I am no exception.  My father died in a farming accident when I was ten years old.  I was the youngest of five children, four of whom were still living at home, two in their teenage years, when the accident happened.  One brother living at home was a 21-year-old man who was mentally retarded.  Given these circumstances, my mother faced many great challenges during those eight years between the sudden death of her husband and father of her children until I left the farm to go to college.  But, I think I turned out pretty well as did my brothers and sisters.  So, please understand me if I say that she was someone very special.

Respecting their privacy, I will not say too much about my wife and daughters.  What I will say is that I love them dearly and admire them greatly for who they are, especially with regard to their professional careers and their strong and deep affection for the Catholic faith.   God has indeed blessed me in this regard.

Speaking of the Catholic faith, there are those who seem to despise Christ’s Church due to what they perceive as an antiquated stance on women as priests and women at other levels of Church governance.  And this is one point where my worldview is different.  There is no other religion of which I am aware that has elevated women to the level that the Catholic Church has.  I’m speaking of the Blessed Mother Mary.  Next to Jesus Himself, there is no man who has reached the level of honor and praise that she has, either inside or outside  the Catholic faith.  Some would even say that Catholics worship Mary, which, of course, is false.  But that opinion does reveal the position which she holds in the minds of many people.  The problem may be that she is the symbol of motherhood, which today is a symbol that some women do not want to be.  These are women who tend to support the killing of unwanted pre-born children (half of whom are the women of the future) and not the high calling that is humbly referred to as “mom.”

The “Hail Mary” prayer says it all.  In this prayer, we Catholics say what we believe regarding her.  She is “full of grace.”  The Lord is with her.  She and the fruit of her womb are blessed.  She is holy.  She is the Mother of God.  We ask her to pray for us sinners now and also when we die.  Indeed … no other woman (or man, besides Jesus, for that matter) has reached this level of honor, praise, and respect.  International Women’s Day should be her birthday!

Space does not permit me to express my opinions on such issues as equal pay for equal work or sexual harassment in the workplace, and others that deeply hurt women.  Suffice it to say that I agree with those women on the liberal side of politics on these issues, of course.  I only wish we could agree on more than we do.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Some Rich Gospel Messages

I am so excited that we once again are in the season of Lent.  One might ask why so excited, since Lent is a time of penance, sacrifice, and repentance – all things that one would not necessarily enjoy.  I’m excited because of the rich Gospel messages that we encounter once again at Mass this time of year.  The last sentence of today’s Gospel, from the Gospel of Luke (Luke 9: 25), is a prime example:  “What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?” Many folks, it seems, are intent on making money as the primary objective of their lives.  Young men and women often ask themselves the question:  “What career path would provide me the most money or the most lavish lifestyle?”  According to Jesus, this is the wrong question!  We should rather concentrate on our eternal salvation so that we don’t lose or forfeit ourselves on judgement day.

The message in the gospel at Monday’s Mass is similar.  It is the story of the man who “had many possessions.” Jesus says that, in addition to keeping the commandments, the man should “sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”  (Mark 10:17-22).  Jesus followed this up with this:  “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”  (Mark 10:25).  Nonetheless, Jesus then says, despite the impossibility for many to then be saved, “All things are possible for God.”  (Mark 10:27).  For me, the message is that it is okay to seek wealth, but don’t forget the less fortunate in the process and keep your mind focused on God.

We also have the message of humility in the Gospel for the Mass for yesterday, Ash Wednesday.  In this Gospel (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18)), Jesus talks about righteous deeds, almsgiving, prayer, and fasting.  “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them …”  “When you give alms, don’t blow a trumpet before you … to win the praise of others.”  “When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.”  “But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your heavenly Father who is hidden.”

Lent is the time for repentance.  In the Gospel for the Mass for this Saturday, Jesus said:  “I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.”  (Luke 5:32).  My take is that Jesus is calling all sinners to repentance.  Lent is the season for us to come to realize that we are all sinners and that Jesus is calling us.  Form a picture in your mind of Jesus being nailed to the cross (see accompanying photograph).  It is our sins that caused his agony.  Let us be reconciled to God.  Let us perform righteous deeds.  Let us give alms.  Let us pray.  Let us fast.  And let us be humble when we do these things.  Others don’t have to know.  Only God, who is hidden. Ah, yes, it is an exciting time of year.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Lust ... A Mortal Sin or Not?

Several years ago, an Evangelical Protestant friend of mind, who was baptized a Catholic and who had twelve years of Catholic education, posed the following question to me: 

“So in the Catholic world, if a priest, or even the Pope, had a lustful thought towards a woman, which Jesus himself calls adultery (Mt 5:28), and then immediately after that thought, the priest or the Pope has a heart attack and dies, is the priest or Pope going to hell because they didn’t get a chance to repent of that one sin?”

I responded to him at that time, but today I am thinking once again of this question.  First of all, the Catholic teaching is that if person (anyone) dies in the state of mortal sin, that person would be condemned to hell for all eternity.  This includes priests and popes.  It must be no secret to anyone these days that priests, bishops, cardinals, and popes are not perfect and are subject to just as much temptation and sin as any other human being.  There are priests and popes that have been declared saints by the Church, but there are also plenty of priests and popes that have not been declared saints by the Church and may, in fact, be in that place of torment.

Secondly, however, my Protestant friend specifically mentioned the sin of Lust – “a lustful thought.” The question now is:  Is a lustful thought a mortal sin?  In general, a sin is defined as an offense against God.  Some such offenses are serious, while others are not so serious.  For example, murder is serious, but steeling a friend’s pencil is not so serious.  Serious sins are called mortal sins.  Not-so-serious sins are called venial sins.  To answer the question, we must make the determination if “a lustful thought” is venial or mortal.

The Church teaches that Lust, which is one of the seven so-called “deadly” sins as defined by the Church, may or may not be mortal depending on whether the thought is voluntary or involuntary (I refer you to the book Catholicism for Dummies by Fr. John Trigilio and Fr. Kenneth Brighenti, pages 211-212).  If one engages in the conscious and deliberate act of having a lustful thought, meaning that if the sin occurs when you initiate, consent to, and/or continue fantasizing about sexual activity with another person, then that thought is a mortal sin and, if it is not forgiven in the sacrament of Confession, would condemn you to hell.  If it is a spontaneous, involuntary thought, then it would not.

That brings up other Catholic teachings concerning mortal sins.  There are three conditions that must be met in order for a sin to be mortal.  (1)It must be a truly serious offense against God; (2) the sinner must be aware that it is a serious offense; and, (3) knowing that it is a serious offense, the sinner must fully consent to committing the sin.  So, seriousness, awareness, and consent are the three conditions.

I have one final thought on this topic.  We on earth cannot judge others.  We can know seriousness, but we cannot know another’s state of mind as to awareness or consent.  Whether one merits heaven or is condemned to hell is up to our omniscient God on Judgement Day.    

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Serious Prayer is Needed Today

Back in the 80’s and 90’s, I had a pastor in my parish in Lincoln, Nebraska, that used to lament the fact that Catholics today don’t know their faith like they should.  To help with this problem, he created a Rite of Catholic Initiation for Adults (RCIA) class (a class non-Catholics take to prepare to join the Catholic Church) and invited both Catholics and non-Catholics alike to attend.  It was (is) a 3-4 month class that met once a week for about two hours.  The word spread far and wide throughout the Lincoln Diocese and beyond and created a bit of a stir.  Registrations for the class included, as requested, both Catholics and non-Catholics and the numbers soon mushroomed.  He decided to videotape the lectures, and even did so outside the classroom for people who could not attend.  I know because I actually did the taping for him with my personal home video camera.  It was good for me, because I exposed again to what I had supposedly learned during my twelve years of Catholic school back in 1954-66.

I am now re-reading a book titled Meat and Potatoes Catholicism by Father Joseph Classen.  Fr. Classen laments the same things, that Catholics today don’t know their faith like they should.  He places the blame on the “new” liberal culture that invaded us back in the 60’s and 70’s and the misguided reaction to the teachings of Vatican Council II.  The intent of Vatican II was to breathe new life into the Church.  It occurred during the pontificates of John XXIII and Paul VI in 1958-64.  I was in high school when the changes came down.  The changes could be seen during the daily Masses we students attended at the beginning of each school day and included Mass in English instead of Latin, the priest-celibrant facing the people (which meant that a new altar had to be installed in all the Catholic churches worldwide), and new hymns sung in English at the beginning, during the offertory, at Communion time, and at the end.  But there was so much more.

There was also a relaxation of some “rules.”  For example, before Vatican II, Catholics were required, under pain of serious sin, to abstain from eating meat on all Fridays of the year.  After Vatican II, this rule was modified.  This abstinence was now required only during Lent.  It was suggested that, on the other Fridays, a Catholic may choose to abstain, but in its place, perform some other act of penance (in remembrance of the day Christ died, which was a Friday).  All that got communicated at my parish was that we could now eat meat … not the rest.  I think it exemplified how Vatican II directives were often either misinterpreted or ignored.  Something else that stands out for me is the fact that orders of religious sisters took this “breath of fresh air” to mean that they should allow sisters to wear lay clothes instead of the traditional “habits.”  And this meant that the nuns now go to a beauty shop to have their hair styled (for example) like all lay women.  What is wrong with this picture?  Perhaps most serious of all is that many Catholic schools have closed, including the one I attended all those years ago.  That means that generations of our children will now not know their faith like they should.

This post could get very long.  Let me just say that I believe that this list of changes and misinterpretations are the cause of the myriad of problems we are seeing today.  This, along with the liberalization of our culture, both in society in general and in the lives of Catholics, means that there are fewer vocations to the priesthood and religious life; that there is a sex scandal among Catholic clergy; that young Catholics leave the Church, especially when exposed to misguided professors and others at our colleges and universities; and that attendance at Mass is down worldwide.  Catholic men and women don’t know their faith.  I lament that fact too, just like my former pastor and like Father Classen. Serious prayer is needed today.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Doctrine, or Dogma?

Over the past few months I’ve been encountering the terms “doctrine” and “dogma” in my reading, and, every time I do, I  wonder:  when is something a doctrine and when is something a dogma?  So I decided to, once and for all, go on a search for the definitions. 

I found that the definitions were expressed by Stacy Trasancos in her book Particles of Faith:  A Catholic Guide to Navigating Science.  Trasancos is a PhD chemist who converted to Catholicism.  If you are a scientist, her book is a very good read, by the way.  Anyway, the following is her statement on “doctrine” and “dogma.”  “The word ‘doctrine’ means teaching, or instruction.  Dogmas are doctrines, but they are more specific and directly connected to divine revelation whereas other teaching can derive from those truths but not be explicitly connected to them.”  This derivation would then be a doctrine, but not a dogma.  Her example of a dogma is the Holy Trinity, the teaching that says that there are three persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) in one God.  The Holy Trinity is a doctrine that is also a dogma because it is a teaching found directly from what God has revealed in Sacred Scripture or Sacred Tradition.  The Catholic teaching opposing contraception, however, is a doctrine that is not a dogma because it is derived from teachings that are dogmas, meaning it is not found explicitly in Sacred Scripture or Sacred Tradition.  Trasancos references the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 88-90.

I also found a statement of these definitions in the book The Everything Guide to Catholicism by Fr. Richard Gribble.  His definition of “dogma” is similar to Trasancos’, except that, besides a “dogma teaching” being found explicitly in Sacred Scripture or Sacred Tradition, he says it can be found in teachings “proposed by the Church, either by solemn judgment or by the ordinary and universal Magisterium, to be believed as having been divinely revealed.”  His examples are the many doctrines involving the Blessed Virgin Mary.  He says that four of these doctrines “have been raised to the level of dogma.”  These are Mary the Mother of God, the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, the Immaculate Conception, and the Assumption of Mary into Heaven.  Any other teachings or celebrations involving Mary are doctrines but not dogmas.

By the way, Protestantism has its doctrines too.  The Scripture Alone (Sola Scriptura) and Faith Alone (Sola Fide) teachings are protestant doctrines.  I don’t know if there is a distinction made between doctrine and dogma, however.  If you are a Protestant, perhaps you can answer that as a comment in this post.

So there you have it!  Doctrines and Dogmas are official teachings of a given faith.  In the Catholic Church, all dogmas are doctrines, but not all doctrines are dogmas.  And there I have it!

Thursday, February 2, 2017

John Wayne: A Prodigal Son

Most people are familiar with Jesus’ parable that has come to be known as “The Prodigal Son.”  (Luke 15:11-32).  It is the story that illustrates Jesus’ concern for the lost and God’s love for the repentant sinner.  It is not unlike the real life drama of many wayward souls.  I just finished reading the book Deathbed Conversions:  Finding Faith at the Finish Line by Karen Edmisten.  In this book, the lives of thirteen famous people are briefly recounted to try to sum up what can happen to the human heart when God’s love is allowed to enter in.  These are late-in-life conversions to the Catholic faith.

An example is megastar John Wayne.  Wayne, whom we also know as the Duke, married his first of three wives, Josephine (Josie) Saenz, while in college at the University of Southern California.  Josie was a devout Catholic who raised their four children in the Church.  The Duke refused to convert to Josie’s family faith, but they wed nonetheless.  And, as so often happens in Hollywood, the marriage ended in divorce after only twelve years following Wayne’s affair with his future second wife, Chata Bauer.  The four children were ages ten, eight, five, and four.  It was not unlike the prodigal son (in this case, he was a prodigal husband) in that the man totally rejected her way of life to live a life of dissipation and debauchery.  The Duke’s drinking and womanizing (he began an affair with his third wife while still married to Chata) brought an end to his second marriage.  The new woman, Pilar, soon became pregnant.  Edmisten writes, concerning Duke’s marriage to this third woman:  “But, it was a messy beginning – their secret affair, a pregnancy, and an abortion.” 

Edmisten then asks (and answers) the question “How did this thrice-married, hard-drinking, larger-than-life megastar make his leap to Catholicism?”  How was it that he, like the prodigal son in Jesus’ parable, came to his senses?  His first wife, who never re-married, prayed for him unceasingly.  All three of his wives and all seven of his children remained faithful Catholics.  His good friend, John Ford, died “with priests in his room and a rosary in his hand.”  He was always surrounded by faithful Catholics.  Dying of lung cancer and in consultation with a priest, he did convert on his deathbed. 

The story brings to mind another message from Scripture.  How is it that someone who lives an immoral life can be given his heavenly reward at the last possible minute alongside all those who have been faithful for their entire life?   It reminds me of the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Mat 20:1-16):  How can the workers who only worked for a short time be given the same wage as those who worked the entire day?  The prodigal son’s father expressed the answer this way:  “We must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.”   (Luke 15:32).  The heavenly reward is for all who die in the state of grace.  Amen.