My hometown friend, pro-life speaker Katie Stelter, spoke at our parish’s youth group this evening. Her story was made into this powerful docudrama, Metamorphosis:
- Name the Apostle that the Catholic Church has not declared a saint.
- The Blessed Virgin Mary lived with at least eight other people at various times on earth. How many of them can you name?
- St. Joseph was physically present at which mysteries of the Rosary?
- Name a non-mythical animal that was not on Noah’s ark.
- How many times did Moses lead God’s people around the walls of Jericho?
Answers: [highlight to reveal]
- Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve.
- Mary’s housemates included her parents (traditionally, Joachim & Anne), Zachariah, Elizabeth, & John the Baptist, Joseph & Jesus, & the Beloved Disciple (traditionally, John the Apostle. See John 19:27.)
- Joseph was present for the Nativity, the Presentation, & the Finding of Jesus in the Temple. (See Luke 2)
- Fish, dolphins, whales, etc.
- None. Moses died outside the Promised Land, but Joshua took them for 13 laps around the city in one week. (See Joshua 6)
A Family Feast, a Blackout Night, a Generosity Party, and a Big Bed Lifeboat. Enjoyable and memorable family activities for growing together in faith, virtue, and love.
A Family Feast
For a Family Feast, each member of the household prepares a dish for the meal. Whether it is making finger sandwiches, or opening and warming a can of veggies, or melting cheese over nachos, everyone can bring something to the table. Mom and Dad should provide the kids with many pre-approved courses to choose from to prepare. With coaching, even the little ones can play a part. Lead the dinner prayer thanking God for each person and their gift. All will feel a sense of accomplishment and a closer connection through helping to serve and feed one another.
For one evening, collect and hide all of the cell phones, turn off all the lights, flip the circuit breaker, and bring out the flashlights, candles, or lanterns for a Blackout Night together. Let everyone know well in advance what is coming. Set out glasses of water for use in washing hands and brushing teeth later. Then, once darkness falls, turn off all the lights, cut the power, and gather the family in the living room. Play a card games together on the floor, read a Bible story (like the calling of young Gideon and his nighttime raid in Judges 6 & 7), or share familiar tales of your own. After bed time prayers and tucking-in the kids, turn the power back on for use in the morning. The experience will help your kids to appreciate the blessings we take for granted and it will be a night together that they will always remember.
A Generosity Party
Choose a charity, such as St. Vincent de Paul or Goodwill, lay out a blanket, and throw a Generosity Party. The clothes you did not wear last year probably won’t be worn this year. The toys we never play with are no longer any fun. But these clothes and toys and other things can still be a blessing to others. Explain how and why you are helping those in need, and encourage everyone in the house to bring the possessions they no longer want or need to the blanket “without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2nd Corinthians 9:6-7) The poor will benefit from your charitable giving, and you will all grow together in compassion, detachment, and generosity.
Get everyone aboard your bedroom’s Big Bed Lifeboat and set the scene: “After a violent storm, our ship sank and now we’re in this lifeboat. There is nothing but sea and sky as far as the eye can see.” (Make sure everyone goes potty before you embark.) While you sit adrift, you can sing songs together (like “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” “Gilligan’s Island,” or “We’re the Pirates That Don’t do Anything.”) You can bounce together when a group of big waves come by. And you can hope and dream about being rescued. Ask them, “What is the biggest reason you want to get back to shore? What do you miss the most?” Listen to their answers, and then confide that your greatest treasures are with you in this boat. Once you flag down the rescue ship that suddenly appears on the horizon, lead a prayer of thanks to God for the gift of your lives and for the countless good things in them.
Give one of these unique family festivities a try and let us know how it goes in the comments.
So the FOX network plans to launch this new show in 2016:
They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but previews for movies and TV shows these days tell us plenty about what to expect. Based on this trailer and its synopsis, I’d like to share my first thoughts about FOX’s Lucifer.
What “Lucifer” Gets Right
Giving Their Devil His Due
Our first encounter with FOX’s Lucifer is in a form such as we should expect him to appear. No horns, tail, or pitchfork. Nothing in his appearance to make us flee from him in horror. He’s attractive, wealthy, well dressed, and speaks with sophistication. He drives through the night self-satisfied, solitary, and yet pleased to have others serve him and line up eagerly at his door. His popular club is named “Lux” (Latin for “Light.”) “And no wonder, for even Satan masquerades as an angel of light.” (2 Corinthians 11:14) He draws many to himself by means of human sensuality.
His name, “Lucifer Morningstar,” is drawn from Isaiah 14:12.
Church Fathers wrote that “Lucifer” was never the devil’s proper (or “God-given”) name but that it signifies the glorious state from which he fell. However, I give the show creators credit for a pretty good name choice.
FOX’s Lucifer is a denouncer, reviling “this human stain” and “your corrupt little organization.” This is in keeping with him being ‘the accuser of the brethren, who night and day accuses them before God’ (Revelation 12:10) as he did with righteous Job. (Job 1:9-11, 2:4-5) In fact, his most well-known titles highlight this trait: “Devil” comes from the Greek word for “Slanderer,” while “Satan” is Hebrew for “Adversary” or “Accuser.”
Lucifer is willing to transgress laws whenever it benefits him. Perhaps this is why FOX’s Lucifer will premiere in 2016 driving with expired tags on his license plate (but it’s more likely just a production mistake.)
What “Lucifer” Gets Wrong
The Devil They Know is Better
Than the Devil They Don’t
If there were people in the entertainment world who didn’t believe that Adolf Hitler really existed, I could imagine someone reenvisioning him to be some TV drama’s charismatic hero. Many people would be understandably offended and concerned about what evils could flow from presenting the leader of the Third Reich — a spreader of hate and murderer of millions — as primetime television’s next charming protagonist. Ordinarily, aware of Godwin’s Law, I would avoid drawing comparisons to Hitler. Yet as bad as Hitler was, the devil is much worse. The worst thing the show’s creators will get wrong about the devil is that he is certainly not, and will never be, ‘a demon with a heart of gold.’
When a young, dispirited pop star returns to Lucifer he counsels her, “Pull yourself together,” and comforts her. Following her sudden death, he looks on her lifeless body with shock and concern. He asks of the LAPD homicide detective, “What is your corrupt little organization going to do about this?” Later, he tells a female confidante, “Someone out there needs to be punished!” She replies, “Stop caring, you’re the devil.” Indeed, this does not fit with his true character. Unable to strike out at the Almighty, the devil attacks the human race God loves. The devil would not mourn the death of a young woman lost in her sins, he would desire her unhappy end and encourage it, as he did the suicide of Judas Iscariot. The devil hates us all.
Lucifer meets the police detective again and offers his assistance: “We should be out there punishing those responsible. Come on, I’ll help you.” However, the real devil does not accuse sinners and will their damnation out of a devotion to truth or justice. He tempts and condemns out of envy, to prove that others are no better than himself. “[B]y the envy of the devil, death entered the world…” (Wisdom 2:24) Jesus said of him, “He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks in character, because he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44)
If you want to see something of what the devil is like, I suggest Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight. (*) Heath Ledger described the Joker as “an absolute sociopath, a cold-blooded, mass-murdering clown,” and his portrayal of evil will be long remembered. However, I doubt the same will be true for FOX’s Lucifer.
Why I Doubt “Lucifer” Will Last
The Devil Has No New Tricks
What type of show is Lucifer? It’s a sometimes light-hearted police procedural with supernatural themes and a “will-they-or-won’t-they” romantic subplot. FOX’s Lucifer is basically like The X-Files with angels instead of aliens. However, I’ll be surprised if it survives beyond its first season. I am dubious about how original and well-written the show will be since it borrows so much from previous works:
— We saw a fallen angel embracing human life and love in Los Angeles in Nicholas Cage’s City of Angels.
— We saw a brazen angel in human form magically attracting women in John Travolta’s Michael.
— We saw a female love interest be uniquely impervious to a dangerous hunk’s powers with Bella and Edward in Twilight.
— We even saw a demonic vanity license plate (“BAD 1″) in Brendan Fraser and Elizabeth Hurley’s Bedazzled.
— At least FOX’s Lucifer plays piano instead of a mean fiddle.
Will these recycled elements gel into a successful hit? Will solving crimes, landing insults, exposing hypocrites, titillating women, and facing-down CGI angels and demons be a long-winning formula? I’m skeptical, but either way, I don’t plan to be watching.
How We Should Respond
Resist the Devil and He Will Flee
In the preface to his spiritually insightful and quite funny book about demonic temptation, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis wrote:
“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”
As it is with devils, so I think for this show. In the coming year, I expect it to attract more heat and noise of controversy, and I suspect the show’s creators will welcome the free publicity. We may be told that everyone must watch the series in order to form an opinion — as if forms of entertainment were somehow entitled to our time and focus. On one hand, we do not want to lend this show inordinate attention. On the other hand, ignoring its existence would be a mistake. We should respond to FOX’s Lucifer with both true teaching and prayer.
Just like with the inaccurate history of Dan Brown’s
The Da Vinci Code, this regrettable new TV show will bring with it
opportunities for catechesis; to teach about angels and demons, temptation and discernment, and the war that is fought for every human soul. (Teaching can be as easy as sharing an article like this one.) We can discourage others from tuning-in but, whether we like it or not, questions will come our way and we should be well-prepared to answer with the truth.
We must also pray. In 2012, an 24-year-old gunman with red-dyed hair, reportedly self-identifying as “the Joker,” killed 12 people and injured 70 in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater showing the third film of the Batman trilogy. On the human level, the responsibility for this crime lies with its perpetrator, but just as a movie can inspire an unstable person to imitate a villain, so a show about the devil can both lead the unwary into exploring the occult or subtly persuade others that the devil’s just a myth. Against such evils we should pray; not only for the impressionable viewers among the audience of millions, but for the creators of such art itself.
Spiritual connections are mysterious and rarely certain, but dabbling with satanic things can open doors to evil and burn us. Six months after the release of The Dark Knight, Heath Ledger, the actor who had immersed himself into the persona of the demonic Joker, was dead from a drug overdose. At one infamous concert in 1969, during which an audience member was later killed by “Hell’s Angels” working security, The Rolling Stones’ performance of “Sympathy for the Devil” was interrupted by a fight and the song had to be restarted. At the time, Mick Jagger remarked onstage, “We’re always having—something very funny happens when we start that number.”
For the good of everyone involved, I will be praying that the cast and crew of FOX’s Lucifer may soon find themselves safely employed in other work and, if Lucifer ever comes to air, that its harm may be minimal and a better show may quickly take its place. I invite you to join me in praying for the same by invoking the help of St. Michael, who fought the devil and the demons out of Heaven. (Revelation 12:7-9)
Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us
in battle, be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him we humbly pray;
and may you, O Prince of the Heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all evil spirits who wander through the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
(*) — Like the devil, the Joker in The Dark Knight is a liar, telling incompatible tales about his scars. He loves fire, chaos, violence, and death. Alfred the butler says of him, “Some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.” The Joker is an accuser of all: “See, their morals, their ‘code’…it’s a bad joke, dropped at the first sign of trouble. They’re only as good as the world allows them to be. I’ll show you, when the chips are down, these — ah — ‘civilized people?’ They’ll eat each other. See, I’m not a monster. I’m just ahead of the curve.” In the Joker’s climactic final scene, he is angered that those on neither ferry have blown the other up. Batman asks him, “What were you trying to prove? That deep down, everyone’s as ugly as you?!” The Joker tells Batman that they have been locked in “a battle for Gotham’s soul” while the camera films him, from an inverted perspective, having the likeness of one in an everlasting fall.
St. John Vianney, the Curé of Ars and patron saint of priests, is well known as a confessor who could see into peoples’ souls and who took great penances upon himself for the conversion of sinners. Less known, though, is his wisdom. St. John Vianney may have had difficulties learning Latin and passing his seminary exams, but he preached beautiful spiritual insights such as these:
“To approach God you should go straight to Him, like a bullet from a gun.”
“Prayer is the conversation of a child with his Father. Of a subject with his King. Of a servant with his Lord. Of a friend with the Friend to whom he confides all his troubles and difficulties.”
“A pure soul is with God, as a child with its mother. The child caresses and embraces her, and its mother returns all its endearments.”
“God commands you to pray, but He forbids you to worry.”
“You must accept your cross. If you bear it courageously it will carry you to heaven.”
However, “Our Lord takes pleasure in doing the will of those who love him.”
“Just as a mother holds her child in her hands to cover it with kisses, so does God hold the devout person.”
“Here is a rule for everyday life: Do not do anything which you cannot offer to God.”
And as we approach the Eucharist, let us recall this final thought: “To content his love, God must give Himself to us separately, one by one.”
(Originally published August 4, 2010;
edited & republished August 4, 2015)
St. Paul providentially wrote,
“[W]hy not say — as we are accused and as some claim we say — that we should do evil that good may come of it? Their penalty is what they deserve.” (Romans 3:8)
In this passage, the Holy Spirit led St. Paul to denounce the idea that having a good goal in mind can ever justify using immoral means to achieve it. God’s most basic commandment is heard in every human conscience: “Do good, avoid evil.” We must never do evil in hopes that good may result. If we do, there is no guarantee that our hoped for goal will come to pass, but we will have surely allied ourselves (in some measure) with evil by opposing God’s will.
A second moral principle (which frees us as it binds) is this: we must never intentionally kill the innocent, for this is murder. All human life is sacred and precious, which makes any decision to wage war a most serious one. Catholic Just War doctrine teaches that all of the following conditions must hold for a war to be morally just:
- The damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain.
- All other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective.
- There must be serious prospects of success.
- The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.
(See The Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2309)
Even if all of these conditions are met and a country goes justly off to battle, enemy civilians must not be targeted. It is inevitable that some innocents will die in the chaos of war; sometimes bombs dropped over a military target will accidentally hit homes nearby. But it is something very different to intentionally aim for the civilians in hopes of killing as many as possible. This is a war crime. It is murder. “But what if murdering civilians will end the war faster and save more lives in the end?” (*) This is the tempter’s promise, but God’s commandment remains without exception: ‘You shall not become a murderer.’
I do not share these moral principles to condemn any previous wartime generation. God knows it is hard do what is right in times of stress and fear; and only He can judge hearts. I share these teachings because history shows that even in peacetime we stand between wars. When the next conflict threatens we must judge aright whether it must be fought, and if so, guard that the war does not make casualties our souls.
( * – Some may claim that if enemy civilians are working, paying taxes, and not in rebellion against their government, then they are legitimate military targets, since they are aiding the enemy. Such thinking abandons the distinctions between combatants and non-combatants, condoning all sorts of evils. A similar case could be made for summarily-executing enemy prisoners of war, since their captivity aids the enemy by diverting our wartime resources. )
From the Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2184-2187
Just as God “rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done,” (Genesis 2:2) human life has a rhythm of work and rest. The institution of the Lord’s Day helps everyone enjoy adequate rest and leisure to cultivate their familial, cultural, social, and religious lives.
On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are to refrain from engaging in work or activities that hinder the worship owed to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s Day, the performance of the works of mercy, and the appropriate relaxation of mind and body. Family needs or important social service can legitimately excuse from the obligation of Sunday rest. The faithful should see to it that legitimate excuses do not lead to habits prejudicial to religion, family life, and health.
Those Christians who have leisure should be mindful of their brethren who have the same needs and the same rights, yet cannot rest from work because of poverty and misery. Sunday is traditionally consecrated by Christian piety to good works and humble service of the sick, the infirm, and the elderly. Christians will also sanctify Sunday by devoting time and care to their families and relatives, often difficult to do on other days of the week. Sunday is a time for reflection, silence, cultivation of the mind, and meditation which furthers the growth of the Christian interior life.
Sanctifying Sundays and holy days requires a common effort. Every Christian should avoid making unnecessary demands on others that would hinder them from observing the Lord’s Day. Traditional activities (sports, restaurants, etc.), and social necessities (public services, etc.), require some people to work on Sundays, but everyone should still take care to set aside sufficient time for leisure. With temperance and charity the faithful will see to it that they avoid the excesses and violence sometimes associated with popular leisure activities. In spite of economic constraints, public authorities should ensure citizens a time intended for rest and divine worship. Employers have a similar obligation toward their employees.
Did you know that the Church gives priests celebrating the Mass several prayers to say in a low voice, such that few (if any) in the church hear them? These are called the “secret” prayers (from the Latin word for “hidden.”) May the great beauty of these prayers inform and inspire your own devotion at Holy Mass.
The priest, before proclaiming the Gospel, pauses in front of the altar to bow and pray:
“Cleanse my heart and my lips, almighty God, that I may worthily proclaim your holy Gospel.”
At the end of the Gospel, the priest (or proclaiming deacon) kisses the book and prays:
“Through the words of the Gospel may our sins be wiped away.”
During the Offertory, the priest (or assisting deacon) pours a little water into the chalice of (unconsecrated) wine and prays:
“By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”
After thanking God for the gifts of bread and wine He has given us to offer (“Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation…”) the priest bows behind the altar and prays:
“With humble spirit and contrite heart may we be accepted by you, O Lord, and may our sacrifice in your sight this day be pleasing to you, Lord God.”
While the priest washes his hands, he prays:
“Wash me, O Lord, from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.”
During the “Lamb of God,” the priest places a small piece of the Host into the chalice, praying:
“May this mingling of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ bring eternal life to us who receive it.”
At the end of the “Lamb of God,” the priest joins his hands and prays one of these two prayers:
1. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, who, by the will of the Father and the work of the Holy Spirit, through your death gave life to the world, free me by this, your most holy Body and Blood from all my sins and from every evil; keep me always faithful to your commandments, and never let me be parted from you.”
2. “May the receiving of your Body and Blood, Lord Jesus Christ, not bring me to judgment and condemnation, but through your loving mercy be for me protection in mind and body and a healing remedy.”
Before consuming the Body of Christ, the priest prays:
May the Body of Christ keep me safe for eternal life.
Before consuming the Blood of Christ from the chalice, the priest prays:
May the Blood of Christ keep me safe for eternal life.
Finally, while purifying the sacred vessels following the distribution of Communion, the priest prays:
“What has passed our lips as food, O Lord, may we possess in purity of heart, that what has been given to us in time may be our healing for eternity.”
According to 2nd Vote, a consumer research app, the following corporations have all made direct contributions to Planned Parenthood—the group which sold and performed more than 327,000 abortions in our country last year:
It is not a sin for a person to use the products or services of these Planned Parenthood supporting companies (since the customer’s connection to abortions is so very indirect and remote.) However, it might do good for many of us to cease, wherever possible, giving these companies our business and to let them know our reason why. For example:
Dear Sir or Madam,
It has come to my attention that your company has given direct contributions to Planned Parenthood, a group that has killed millions of innocent human beings. Because of this, as far as possible, I will no longer be your customer and I will encourage others to do likewise. I urge your company to reconsider its support of Planned Parenthood.
[Links to each company’s feedback page are provided above.]
Finally, it should be noted that the largest single contributor to Planned Parenthood is not any of these companies, but our own government. In the 2013-2014 fiscal year, Planned Parenthood received $528.4 million in taxpayer-funded health service grants and reimbursements. Efforts to end this public funding of Planned Parenthood are also worthy of our support.
Source: The Daily Signal – “Meet the 38 Companies That Donate Directly to Planned Parenthood”
Of the seven sacraments, Confession is my second favorite (after the Holy Eucharist.) This holds whether I am the one absolving or the one being absolved. It feels good to have that joy of a fresh beginning, or to know that I have helped another come nearer to the Lord. Having our sins forgiven does us incredible good — exorcists say a good confession is more powerful than an exorcism — but the priest in the confessional usually also offers some advice to help us cooperate with God’s grace, sin no more, and live daily life with peace.
Priests tend to hear certain sins or fears more often than others in confession, and in response to these a priest will tend to give similar advice. At risk of making my priestly counsel stale, but in hopes of spreading these helpful lessons for the benefit of many, I have detailed below the five most frequent pieces of advice that I share in confession.
Being Tempted Is Not The Same As Sinning
No priest should say that a sin is not a sin, but priests do right to free troubled consciences from guilt about things which are not sinful. Guilt from experiencing temptation is one example. Temptation, in and of itself, is not a sin. A temptation becomes a sin when we welcome its presence and give it our “yes.”
Sometimes people confess having bad thoughts or desires. I ask them whether they welcomed or entertained these temptations or if they resisted them. This matters because thoughts, feelings, and desires will often come our way without our willing them, but it is what we choose that is important. Only when our will chooses do we act in a saintly or sinful way. For instance, choosing to resist a temptation by praying or distracting ourselves is a holy deed. A saint is not someone who never knows temptation—he or she will likely understand temptation better than most—a saint is someone who consistently chooses love and the Lord even amidst temptation.
Good & Bad Reasons For Missing Mass
Our Sunday obligation flows from the commandment to keep the Lord’s Day holy. Whenever someone confesses missing Holy Mass I ask whether it was by their own choice. (Again, what we do not choose is not our sin.) Sickness, hazardous travel conditions, or the need to care for others are all serious reasons that justly excuse us from attending Mass. However, deliberate, willful absence (such as on a family vacation) is a sin to be avoided. Using the internet and a telephone we can plan ahead to find and celebrate the Lord’s Sacrifice wherever our travels take us.
Forgiving May Not Be What You Think
Sometimes anguished persons confess that they just cannot forgive someone, even though they want to. Usually, this turmoil is due to thinking that forgiveness means something it does not. For example, without a bout of amnesia, we cannot literally “forgive and forget.” And trying to agree that past sins done to us were not actually wrong is a lie against the truth. Sometimes sins break relationships and circumstances such that things cannot go back to same way they were before. Or, perhaps we may still feel the pain inflicted—for some wounds cannot be healed merely by our willing it but only with grace and time. However, none of these realities prevent us from forgiving. In fact, the person who desires to forgive already has everything they need to begin.
Forgiveness means loving someone despite past wrongs. Jesus calls us to love everyone, which means that we must forgive everyone. If you fear that there is someone whom you hate or whom you have not forgiven, simply pray for them. It is impossible to both will the eternal good of another (as we do in prayer) and to hate them at the same time. If you are praying for them, you are loving and forgiving them. The Holy Spirit may prompt you to take further steps in forgiveness down the road, but your prayer begins to open you both to the transforming power of God.
Training Yourself Not To Misuse Holy Names
Crude language is bad, but swearing by misusing the holy name of God or his saints is worse. Our love and respect for someone should be reflected, not negated, by our words. Whenever someone confesses the habitual sin of taking the Lord’s name in vain, I suggest a new habit: The next time you misuse a holy name, as soon as you realize it, follow it with a praise (such as “I love you, Lord,” or a “Glory Be…’) This will do three things: it will help undo the wrong with a good (getting you back on the horse,) it will help drive out the bad habit with a good one, and it will present a Christian witness to anyone who may have overheard your profanity.
Apologizing To Your Children
When parents confess to yelling in (uncontrolled) anger at their kids, I ask them whether they apologized to their children. This is a good and beautiful thing for a parent to do because it models true Christian behavior for the children: “I needed to discipline you because you were doing something wrong, but I shouldn’t have yelled at you. I’m sorry.” If we want our children to repent of wrongdoings and seek forgiveness, we must walk the talk and show them how it looks. Authority is most respected when it manifests integrity.
Abe Lincoln reportedly said, “How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.”
Someone today might ask, “Why do you hate dogs, Mr. President? Don’t you want them to be happy?”
I can imagine Abe honestly replying, “I do not hate them (while I personally prefer felines*, I also like canines) but declaring their tails a leg won’t help them run any faster. And if some poor creature attempts to run on it, it just won’t work. He’ll hurt himself and he won’t be happier. God’s creatures, in order to be happy, must walk in proper ways.”
(*– When asked if her husband had a hobby, Mary Todd Lincoln replied, “Cats.” )
Homer Simpson once had this exchange with “God”:
Homer: God, I’ve gotta ask you something.
What’s the meaning of life?
God: Homer, I can’t tell you that.
God: You’ll find out when you die.
Homer: I can’t wait that long!
God: You can’t wait six months?
Homer: No, tell me now!
God: Well, OK. The meaning of life is…
[The theme song and ending credits interrupt before we hear the answer.]
So what is the meaning of life? Why are we here, for what purpose do we exist?
Philosophers and TV writers may balk at the answer, but for Christians this is not an unanswerable riddle. Jesus Christ tells us what we are meant to do on earth (and likewise, in Heaven): first, to “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,” and second, to “love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-40, Mark 12:30-31, & Luke 10:27-28)
Nothing is more important than this. This is what the Law, the Gospels, the prophets, and the saints are all about. Loving relationship with God and each other is the meaning of our lives. Of what enduring value is anything else if separated from this?
Blessed with knowing this precious knowledge, how are you going to live?
Reading: 2nd Corinthians 1:1-7
St. Paul writes to the Christians at Corinth:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all encouragement, who encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God.
When I was in college, there was a span of a couple of weeks when I stopped receiving the Holy Eucharist. I kept going to Mass, but I hesitated to approach for Communion. I refrained because I feared that I did not have enough faith in the Lord to receive Him worthily.
I shared my concerns with our Newman Center parish priest. Father Mark did not provide me with any specific answers, but I remember him saying, “Perhaps God is allowing you to experience this so that someday you can help other people who are going through the same thing.” Inside, I felt like saying, “Thanks for nothing, Father.”
I kept praying and pondering for several days until this realization finally came to me: “People who don’t believe in God don’t spend time worrying about whether or not they believe in God—that’s something only a believer would do.” If I was worried about whether I had faith, then there was no reason to worry. Freed from my fear and greatly relieved, I returned to Holy Communion.
If you know someone trapped in the same spot I was, please feel free to pass this helpful insight along. Father Mark and St. Paul were right. God encourages us in our every affliction so that we may encourage others with the same encouragement we receive from Him.
June 1 Exodus 24:3-8
June 2 Psalm 116:1-9
June 3 Psalm 116:10-18
June 4 Hebrews 9:11-15
June 5 Mark 14:12-16
June 6 Mark 14:22-26
June 7 (Corpus Christi Sunday)
June 8 Ezekiel 17:22-24
June 9 Psalm 92:2-10
June 10 Psalm 92:11-16
June 11 2nd Corinthians 5:6-10
June 12 Mark 4:26-29
June 13 Mark 4:30-34
June 14 (11th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
June 15 Job 38:1, 8-11
June 16 Psalm 107:1-22
June 17 Psalm 107:23-43
June 18 2nd Corinthians 5:11-15
June 19 2nd Corinthians 5:16-21
June 20 Mark 4:35-41
June 21 (12th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
June 22 Wisdom 1:13-2:11
June 23 Wisdom 2:12-24
June 24 Psalm 30
June 25 2nd Corinthians 8:7-15
June 26 Mark 5:21-34
June 27 Mark 5:35-43
June 28 (13th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
June 29 Ezekiel 2:1-10
June 30 Ezekiel 3:1-15
July 1 Psalm 123
July 2 2nd Corinthians 12:1-6
July 3 2nd Corinthians 12:7-10
July 4 Mark 6:1-6
July 5 (14th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
May my words approach what Jesus Christ and Bridget would like me to speak. May my words give you consolation and timely help.
Last year, Bridget left home to become a freshman at UW-La Crosse. I’ve heard it said that when a young person goes off to college the experience is very different for the child and for the family. It’s much easier for the child leaving home than for the family left behind. For a young person like Bridget, this transition begins an adventure. She’s learning fascinating, new, amazing things. She’s meeting great people, making new friends. Of course, she still loves and cares about her family at home. Yet she is so happy and excited to be beginning her new life.
For her parents and siblings at home, it understandably much harder. While her life is full, they can feel an emptiness. At home, she’s not in her room. She’s not in her seat at the kitchen table. Her voice and laughter are not heard in the house. Of course, her family can still speak to her long-distance. And she is still well-aware of everything that’s going on at home. But her departure creates some degree of separation, and that’s hard, and that’s sad.
Deeply loving parents could wish that their child would never leave home. “Why couldn’t she just live here?” When their child has gone away from home they worry if she’s OK, if she’s safe, if she’s happy, if she’s staying close to the Lord. Some, despite their Christian upbringing, when faced with the free choice, choose to leave the Lord and go their own way. When Bridget went to college last year, she was not like one of those. She went from good to better. She drew even nearer to Jesus, and grew with Him.
During her Freshman year, through the UW-L Catholic Newman Center, she was involved in Bible studies, attended a five-day Catholic youth conference in Tennessee, and pilgrimaged to the March for Life. On the bus trip of that last trip she shared with friends about how Jesus was transforming her life. She said she felt closer to Him than ever before.
Last year, Bridget began going to weekday Mass, receiving our Eucharistic Lord on more than just Sundays. Why would a young person like Bridget go to daily Mass? It’s not as though popular culture promotes that kind of devotion. It’s not because anyone is required to attend Mass on a weekday. A person who goes to daily Mass resonates with the psalmist’s words:
“O God, you are my God, for you I long;
for you my soul is thirsting.
My body pines for you like a dry,
weary land without water.
So I gaze on you in the sanctuary
to see your strength and your glory.”
A person desires to go Mass and receive Jesus in the Eucharist frequently because one has the desire to be closer to God. And this desire is not of ourselves, but from Jesus’ desire to draw us closer to Him.
As you know, Bridget Achenbach is a remarkable woman. People who meet Bridget found her joyful and intelligent; faithful, yet approachable; pious, and yet relatable. One of Bridget’s mission trip leaders once said to himself, “I wish I had whatever she’s got.” Bridget’s past goodness and our present loss raises this troubling question: “How could Jesus allow his beloved one to be taken from us?” We echo the questioning plea of Martha and Mary to Jesus at the death of Lazarus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!” What are we to make of this?
We know that Jesus never, ever commits evil. He is goodness and love incarnated. “In Him there is no darkness at all.” But we also know that Jesus refrained from intervening with some (even subtle) miracle to prevent this from happening. Why would God permit such charismatic young lady, apparently richly endowed with the Holy Spirit’s gifts, to die on Pentecost Sunday? Wouldn’t she do more good if she were left alive on earth? Wouldn’t her life be fuller if she lived on earth a full number of years?
Today we are like the disciples on the first Holy Saturday, the day after Good Friday’s shock and horror yet before Easter Sunday’s glory. On Good Friday, the disciples beheld the most distressing death of their Messiah. On Holy Saturday, His followers were grieving and questioning. But on Easter Sunday, they saw the resurrection Jesus had promised. Today is like Holy Saturday because we see our loss but not God’s purposes.
Perhaps, as the Book of Wisdom says, God saw Bridget reach that perfection of soul He treasures and delivered her from this world’s wickedness to be safe with Him. Perhaps we don’t see reality with the clear vision of St. Paul, who assures us “we would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord.” We think of this place as home, but Scripture tells us our true home is in Heaven. Perhaps Bridget has been called to continue the Lord’s work on earth from Heaven. The Blessed Virgin Mary, the spiritual mother of all Christians, was an invaluable presence among the first Christians in early Church. But after she completed the course of her earthly life and was taken up into Heaven, Mary was able to assist more powerfully than before. In her glorified state, Mary our mother can hear and intercede on behalf of millions while loving each of us uniquely. Perhaps God has such a mission for Bridget as well. We don’t yet know the answers now—“we walk by faith, not by sight”—but we do know the Lord Jesus in whom we trust.
We are not without hope, but it’s still hard. Today is sad, but you are not alone. This place literally overflows with love for you and Bridget. In times to come, give us the gift of allowing us to give gifts of our love to you. Talk to Jesus every day. As he told us, “I am with you always.” Share with Him your true feelings and your honest thoughts. Whether it’s anger or gratitude, He wants you to tell Him. He who suffered and died among us wants to walk with you through this and through all of life. And talk to Bridget. Whether through the power of God, the mediation of angels, or a soul to soul communication that is clearer than our words on earth, she will hear you. Like going off to college, Bridget is beginning a new life. But she still loves you and will enjoy hearing from you.
Our God is good. Jesus Christ is here. Bridget is loved, and she is at peace.