Thursday, October 19, 2017

Lambs Among Wolves

Today, I’m thinking about the Scripture passages that discuss the commissioning of Jesus’ disciples to evangelize and the reference to them as “lambs among wolves” in this process.  (Luke 10:1-20 and Matt 10:5-33).  In Jesus’ time, it appears that the idea was to spread the faith far and wide by moving from house to house talking about the Good News of salvation, saying “the kingdom of God is at hand for you.”  (Luke 10:9).  Some would receive them in peace and some would not.  Jesus warned that those that would not receive them in peace (the “wolves”) may hand them over to the courts and scourge them (Matt 10:17-18) or turn them in to “governors and kings” for judgement (Matt 10:18).  Jesus also said this:  “Whoever listens to you, listens to me.  Whoever rejects you rejects me.  And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”  (Luke 10:16).  Through all of this, Jesus tells them repeatedly to not be afraid.  (Matt 10:26, 10:28, 10:31).

Today’s secular world is the same in many ways, but also different in many ways.  There are those who evangelize as the disciples were requested to do, but there are also those who are just trying to practice their faith as authentically and devotedly as they can.  Through all of this, we are lambs among wolves.  Who are the wolves in the modern world?  Just as in Jesus’ day, they are those who oppose Christ’s Church and her teachings.  But, they are also those who would kill.  They are those who would rape.  They are those who would physically abuse innocent people.  They are those who would sexually harass people.  They are those who would pass laws that go against what we believe.  They are those who reduce human dignity to nothingness.  They are those who support killing the unborn.  They are those who bully people.  On and on.

What should our response be?  We must know our faith.  We must remain true to the practice our faith against all odds.  We must not be afraid.  We must evangelize when given the opportunity.  We must lead by our example.  We must support our faithful Church leaders.  We must love our fellow man.  On and on!  Above all, we must pray. 

Here is my prayer.  Lord, help me to not be afraid.  Help me to remain true to you.  Help me to give good example to my friends and relatives.  Help me in my opposition to modern-day wolves.  Help me to love you above all things and my neighbor as myself.  Amen.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

This Welcoming Church

I’ve heard it said that the reason some people no longer attend Holy Mass on Sunday is that they don’t feel welcome in the Catholic Church and that a Catholic church is a cold, uncomfortable place.   Some parishes have tried to solve this “problem” by having faithful parishioners stand in the vestibule of the church on Sunday mornings and personally welcome the people to the church by opening the door of the church for them and by providing a warm, friendly greeting, such as “Good morning!”  I have no problem with that. 

However, some parishes have taken this one step further and made a very public statement, saying that they are “a welcoming Catholic community,” even apparently using this as a sort of “motto” for their parish.  This bothers me.  It implies that other Catholic parishes in general are somehow not welcoming.  Of course, that is not true.  The focus of any Catholic Church should be on the Eucharist … the Real Presence of the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ in the tabernacle.  Hence the atmosphere should be one of quiet reverence, love for God, and prayer.  People should always feel welcome in any Catholic church at any time because of this Real Presence.  I fear that it is more a faith issue than a “welcome” issue, and a sign of the secular times we live in.  It seems that some people think a Catholic church should be a place of social gathering rather than worship.

Perhaps in some people’s minds this perception (that of a Catholic church being unwelcoming) stems from the Catholic stance against divorced and re-married Catholics receiving Holy Communion.  Perhaps it stems from the Catholic stance against gay marriage, cohabitation before marriage, premarital sex, artificial means of birth control, etc., etc.  Of course, this bothers me too!  I believe that Christ instituted our beloved Catholic Church to assist us on our journey toward our eternal salvation.  This means that it must take a public stance against serious sin and provide the means of repentance instituted by Christ.  We must not think of the Church’s stance in these matters as a sign that we are somehow unwelcome or unwanted.  Quite the opposite!  We rather must think long and hard about how the Church’s stance protects us against sin and then take advantage of God’s mercy and love through his Church.  Our eternal salvation depends on this. The Church has your eternal welfare in mind!

So, if you feel you are at odds with the Catholic Church for whatever reason, please please, please … come into any Catholic Church near you and kneel and pray before the Real Presence.  The Church, this welcoming Church, and Christ himself, in his divine mercy, are there for you.  Amen.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

St. Francis of Assisi

Every October 4, the Catholic Church celebrates the life and holiness of St. Francis of Assisi.  I had the privilege of spending some time in Assisi last fall during a wonderful pilgrimage to Italy.  Except for modern day automobiles that line some of the streets during the day (see photograph), the city in general appears ancient, perhaps just as it was in the time of St. Francis.  Francis was born in 1182 and died in 1226, living a life of only 44 years.  The city sits on a hill.  On one end sits the huge basilica, the Basilica of St. Francis.  At night this basilica is lit up from one end to the other (see photograph), making it quite a sight to behold.  On the other end is the Basilica of St. Clare, who was one of Francis’ contemporaries and early followers.  In between are the ancient buildings and narrow streets (see photograph).

Most people are familiar with St. Francis because he was the founder of a religious order known as the Franciscans.  But there is so much more.  He was the son of a wealthy cloth merchant and, early in his life, was known for his love of parties and good times.  He was enamored by the glory of knighthood, but in his pursuit of such fame, was taken prisoner of war.  After his return from war and while praying in the small chapel of San Damiano (see lower right in photograph), he is said to have heard the voice of Christ asking him to rebuild his Church, which eventually Francis interpreted to mean living the simple gospel life of extreme poverty, in imitation of Christ himself.  In 1209, Francis sought and obtained the Pope’s approval of the “Rule of St. Francis” and thus began the early days of the Franciscan order.

Francis is known for his love for God’s creation, especially animals.  One could consider him the first environmentalist.  He invented the Christmas “crèche,” the modern day manger scene depicting the birth of Christ in the stable.  He is known to have had a special love of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, unlike many of the heretical groups of his day.  Two years before he died, God blessed him with the five crucifixion wounds of Jesus on his body, the “stigmata.”  He especially loved one particular depiction of the crucified Christ (see photograph).  He was canonized in 1228, only two years after his death.  Pope Francis honored him by taking his name at his papal installation.  Remarkably, he is memorialized by several Protestant denominations, also on October 4. 

I tried to take more photographs inside the basilica, but was rebuffed by a security guard, who didn’t believe me when I told him I did not see the signs stating that photographs were not allowed in the building.  I thought he was going to confiscate my camera!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

What is the "Communion of Saints?"

What exactly does a Catholic mean when he/she recites the Apostles Creed and says “I believe … in the Communion of Saints?”  What is this “Communion of Saints?”  Or, more simply, one might ask “What is a saint?”  Here are my (Thursday) thoughts on the subject.  Friends, please correct me if I say something wrong here.

Many people, I think, would respond by saying that a saint is someone who has been recognized by the Church as having attained eternal salvation and so has been given that title.  We can think of people who lived in the first century and demonstrated a special kind of holiness.  Examples are St. Paul, St. Peter, St. John, St. Thomas, etc.  We can also think of people who lived during the first and second millennia and founded religious orders and monasteries.  Examples include St. Francis, St. Benedict, St. Dominic, St. Ignatius, etc.  In addition, we have people famous for their special leadership and development in Church and religious affairs.  Examples here include St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Gregory, St. Catherine of Siena, and St. Theresa of Avila, among many others.  And there are many “modern” saints known for a special brand of holiness, including St. Teresa of Calcutta, St. Pope John Paul II, and St. Therese of Lisieux.  I could list literally hundreds and, with a little bit of study, thousands.

But is that all there is?  No.  I could repeat my definition of the word “saint” by repeating the first sentence of the last paragraph and leaving out most of it.  They don’t have to have been recognized by the Church nor given the title.  A saint is anyone who has attained eternal salvation.  Period.  Now, eternal salvation, Catholics believe, is something a person will not be known to have attained until death, at the moment of judgement by God.  As such, we cannot know with certainty whether a deceased person is in heaven.  However, if this person’s life and writings are especially relevant, and, if he/she has been linked to miracles after their death, then the Church may declare them saints through a process known as “canonization.”  The idea is that if miracles can, without doubt, be attributed to their intercession, then we can be sure of their attainment of salvation and they can be canonized.

And so back to my original question:  What is the “Communion of Saints?”  The Church believes that many people currently living on earth will one day attain salvation.  The Church also believes that many people who have died and not attained salvation are in a state where one day they will be given their heavenly reward.  These are those who are in a state we call Purgatory, where they are being purged of their venial sins and/or the lingering effects of their forgiven mortal sins.  So the fellowship that all of these people enjoy together, we on earth, those in Purgatory, and those in heaven, is known as the Communion of Saints.  And as part of this fellowship, we can call upon those who are already in the heavenly state to help us on our own journey.  They can intercede for us via their prayers.  That is why we ask them to pray for us.  That is also why we ourselves can pray for the souls in Purgatory.  Most people, I think, believe in prayer.  And what better use of prayer is there than prayer for someone’s eternal salvation. 

So, as we state in the Apostles’ Creed, we do indeed believe in this fellowship, this Communion of Saints.  Amen.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Faith, Works, and Repentance

Today, I’m thinking about three passages from Scripture that appear to describe how a person’s behavior will affect how he/she will be judged on Judgement Day.  The first is a line from Matthew’s gospel, Chapter 16, which reads as follows:  “For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay everyone according to his conduct.”  (Matt 16:27).    This appears to oppose the idea that all that is needed for salvation is faith.  It seems that how a person conducts himself in this life is also important. 

The second is the Parable of the Talents found in the gospel of Matthew, Chapter 25.  (Matt 25:14-30).  Here, Jesus tells about a man and his three servants, interpreted to mean God and three of his created human beings, each of whom was given gifts.  It is what these servants did with the gifts that is at issue.  Two of them used the gifts to produce more.  But the third, out of fear, did nothing except protect what he was given.  This third servant did not act according to God’s will.  While calling the first two servants “good and faithful,” the third he called a “wicked, lazy servant.”  This third servant was assigned to “the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and the grinding of teeth.”  It would seem from this that having faith but doing nothing with it is not what God has in mind for us and puts us in danger as far as salvation is concerned.

The third is from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, where Paul says that God’s judgement will be revealed based on our repentance, or the lack of it.  He says this “By your stubbornness and impenitent heart, you are storing up wrath for yourself for the day of wrath and revelation of the just judgement of God, who will repay everyone according of his works:  eternal life to those who seek glory, honor, and immortality through perseverance in good works, but wrath and fury to those selfishly disobey the truth and obey wickedness."  (Roma 2:5-8).  The point here seems to be that repentance, or sorrow and atonement of our sins, is very important for the attainment of eternal life.

So I would conclude that true faith, i.e. faith that leads to good works, and repentance are key to our salvation.  My prayer for today:  “Lord, please strengthen my faith.  Help me to act on my faith in ways pleasing to you and help me to always seek forgiveness of my sins.  Amen.”

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Centerpiece of the Catholic Church

Catholics believe that the bread and wine consecrated at Holy Mass are the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ.  That belief is based on the words of Jesus during the so-called Bread of Life discourse found in the Gospel of St. John, Chapter 6 (John 6:34-66), and also on the words of Jesus at the Last Supper found in all four gospels.  In addition, this belief is reinforced by St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians 1 Cor 11:23-29).  Today, I‘m thinking about what non-Catholics seem to think about this belief and what might be the Catholic response.

Protestant Christians believe that Jesus was speaking metaphorically in John 6 and in the gospel accounts of the Last Supper in the same way that he speaks metaphorically when he calls himself the light of the world (John 8:12), or the sheep gate (John 10:7-9), or the good shepherd (John 10:14).  Did he speak literally?  No, it is clear that he is not a light, or a gate, or a shepherd in the literal sense … he is only speaking metaphorically.  They believe that he is referring to the bread and wine in that same metaphorical sense.

The Catholic response?  Jesus says this in John 6:  “… the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”  (John 6: 51).  Jesus also says this in John 6:  “… unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.”  (John 6:53).  And he says this:  “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”  And this:  “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in my and I in him.”  (John 6:56).  After all this teaching, “many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.”  (John 6:66).  But did he stop them?  Did he explain that he was only speaking metaphorically?  No, they walked away and returned to their former way of life.

And St. Paul’s reinforcement?  St. Paul repeats the words of the last supper (without having had the benefit of reading those words in Scripture, since they had not yet been written down).  (1 Cor 11:24-25).  And then he says this:  “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgement on himself.”  (1 Cor 11:29).  St. Paul thus says that he believes that the bread and wine are the literal body and blood of Christ.  And this is how it was for 1500 years until the Protestant reformers came along and made a new interpretation, telling people that it was only a metaphor … something neither Christ nor St. Paul did.

So in the Catholic Church, the Eucharist is the centerpiece.  Not the sermon.  Not the singing.  Not the personality of the preacher.  The Eucharist.  In the words of Allen Hunt, a former Protestant mega-church minister who converted to Catholicism:  “The Eucharist binds us together.  Without the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, we merely have our own ideas rather than true unity.  In the Eucharist, Jesus fuels and empowers his church.  Everything rides on the Eucharist.”  Amen, Mr. Hunt!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

What Heaven is Like

People are known to wonder what it will be like in heaven.  "Will my dog be there?  Will I still be happy when I find out that my spouse didn’t make it?  What if my worst enemy is there?  Will there be pain and suffering in heaven?"  On and on.  I have some thoughts this morning about what the Scriptures say.  So let’s take a look at a few examples.

In his first letter, St. John says:  “Behold, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed.  What we do know is that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”  (1 John 3:2).  This implies to me that we will have glorified bodies and will behold the Beatific Vision, meaning the face of God.  This is heaven.

St. John writes this in his Gospel:  “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.  If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.”  (John 14:2).  In other words, we will be where Jesus himself is.  There will be lots of space there; space prepared by Jesus himself for our personal fulfillment and gratification.

My favorite Scripture passages about heaven, however, are those that present the parables, especially those parables that begin with the phrase “The kingdom of heaven is like …”.  What could be more descriptive of heaven than those illustrations that Christ himself gives us with that leading phrase?  See especially Matt 13:24-50.

Here is a grand example:  The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field (Matt 13: 24-30) and an enemy comes at night and sows weeds.  So we have good seed and weed seed growing together, righteous and sinful men together.  In the end, harvesters (angels) separate the righteous from the sinful, and the righteous will “shine like the sun in the kingdom of their father.”  (Matt 13:43).

Will your dog be there?  Jesus doesn’t mention dogs or a pet of any kind.  I believe we won’t have any desire to have a pet when we are in the presence of God.  Will you care if your spouse is not there?   I believe we will have no thought about him or her because we will be staring at the face of God.  Will you care that your worst enemy is there.  If this person is there, he/she is on equal footing with you in terms of glory and righteousness and you will have no thought of your enmity back on earth.  Will there be pain and suffering in heaven?  No.  It is impossible to have pain and suffering when living in a place prepared especially for you by God.  Rather, we will be in a place where we "shine like the sun!"

So where are the people who the angels separate out due to their wickedness?  They are in “the fiery furnace where there is wailing and grinding of teeth.”  (Matt 13:50).  A place of torment.  Where would you rather be for all eternity?  Lord, thank you so much for these parables.  Amen!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Before Time Began

Most of us who believe in God believe that He is the Creator of all things and that he is the one thing that has existed forever, that there is no “Day 1” for God, that no one created God.  This begs the question “What was it like before He created all things?”  Was it just God and nothing else? 

One answer to this question is to say that time was created right along with the heavens and the earth.  If that is true, then words like “forever” and “before” are nonsensical words when trying to contemplate what was here before the beginning.  There is no answer in Scripture, as far as I know.  Chapter 1 of Genesis only says “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland and darkness covered the abyss, while wind swept over the waters.”  And it goes on from there, with God creating light on the first “day,” the sky on the second day, vegetation on the third day, the sun, moon, and stars on the fourth day, etc., etc.  Obviously God existed before the beginning, but otherwise, no word about what it was like “before the beginning.”  No word about the creation of time.  It seems to me that it is one of those inexplicable mysteries that only God can answer, like the Blessed Trinity or Transubstantiation (the changing of bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood while retaining the appearances of bread and wine). 

But that doesn’t stop philosophers and scientists, both atheists and believers, from speculating.   And we also have the so-called “Big Bang” theory, in which everything we see, everything that exists, began with the massive explosion.   But what was here before the explosion?  Much of modern speculation seems to be about that, as well as about parallel universes and other seemingly nonsensical things.

Well, allow me to add my two-cents worth of speculation.  The Big Bang was not the beginning of everything, but only the beginning of the observable universe.  With this comes the idea that there is much more out there.  Perhaps the cosmos is infinite.  But I’m not the first to propose that.  Perhaps the cosmos has been here all along, right along with God.  But that contradicts Genesis, does it not?  Light and “the heavens” were created on the first day and the sun, moon, and stars on the fourth day.  Okay, back the drawing board.  But Genesis does say that the earth was “a formless wasteland and darkness covered the abyss …").  What exactly is/was the “abyss” anyway?

I love to contemplate these things.  I’m not smart enough to be a philosopher in this modern day and age, but I do have an imagination, just like you, and I love to read about all the speculation.  And it is great fun, this imagining and speculating.  You know what?  We’ll all have the answers when time ends.  All we can do between now and then is believe in God and live our lives accordingly.  Amen

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Fire and Brimstone vs Kindness and Mercy

A “fire and brimstone” sermon used to be deemed necessary to get a person out of a sinful funk.  In other words, in order to convince a person to stop his/her sinful behavior, a clergyman would confront the person with the reality of Judgement Day and the likelihood that they would have to spend their eternity in that god-awful place we call “hell,” where the fire never extinguishes and the falling brimstone is like hot coals perpetually raining down.  And such a sermon can be effective, certainly, considering that particularly cruel condition that is eternal damnation on the horizon for this person’s soul.  As Jesus said:  “It is would be better for that man if he had never been born” or “It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea ...”  (Matt 26:24 and Luke 17:2).

But you never hear of “fire and brimstone” being used today.  Today, it is “kindness and mercy.”  Most clergymen today seem to want to be more “pastoral,” meaning that they act and speak out of kindness, with smiles and welcoming committees and the promise of mercy on Judgement Day.  Or, perhaps the concept of final judgement isn’t even mentioned.  They think that the sinful person is more likely to react negatively to fire and brimstone and eternal damnation and would then never be seen in church again.  And this would be a correct in many cases.  Sinful people don’t want to think about their eternal destiny.  And those persons would instead react positively to thoughts of mercy, kindness and eternal happiness.  But to me, it is still important to mention forgiveness in the same breath.  People must be made conscious of their mortal sins, of the Catholic track to forgiveness, and of the consequences of rejecting God’s mercy.  It is very important.  Eternal damnation and its opposite, eternal happiness, are not figments of someone’s imagination.  Jesus talked about them all the time.

What got me thinking about this is last Sunday’s gospel at Mass – the story of a Canaanite woman whose daughter was tormented by a demon.  Jesus seemed to respond cruelly to her, using the metaphor of food given to dogs to mean his assistance given to a Canaanite woman and her daughter.  The implication was that it would be of no use.  But she did not give up.  She said she picks us scraps of food from the table of her masters, which I took to mean bits and pieces of faith that are Jesus’ words.  Jesus was thereby convinced that she had “great faith” and he then cured her daughter (Matt 15:21-28).

I believe, then, that what it takes is “great faith” in order for us to avoid the fire and brimstone of damnation and to be kindly and mercifully welcomed into heaven.  I don’t care what your lot in life is, that is, what your sin is.  You can fill in the blank.  Everyone, please, take Jesus’ advice and go and sin no more (John 8:11).  A place of such happiness that we cannot even imagine awaits us.  Amen.

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.