Mary in History: The Immaculate Conception

December 8, 2018

December 8, 1854

On this date, to the delight of the Church in Heaven and earth, Pope Pius IX employed the gift of papal infallibility to dogmatically affirm our ancient belief in the sinlessness of the Mother of God: “We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.

In her apparitions at Lourdes, France three years after, Mary affirmed, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” The Church celebrates Mary’s Immaculate Conception on December 8th and her birthday nine months later, on September 8th. Every one of us, from the greatest to the least, begins very, very small. But God loves to make great things of the small.

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Mary in History: The Miraculous Medal

November 29, 2018

November 27, 1830 – France

Our Lady appeared to St. Catherine Labouré, a 24-year-old novice (training to become a vowed religious sister,) in the Daughters of Charity’s convent chapel in Paris, France. In this, Mary’s second of three appearances to her, Catherine saw something like two living paintings, one fading into the other, in which the Blessed Virgin stood in a white silk dress upon a half-globe, her feet crushing a serpent. Mary held a small golden globe topped with a cross which she lifted up towards Heaven. Catherine heard a voice say, “This globe represents the entire world, including France, and every person.”

In the second image, beautiful rays of light streamed from Mary’s open hands, her fingers covered with jeweled rings. Catherine heard, “These rays are a symbol of the graces that I pour out on those who ask them of me. The gems from which rays do not fall are the graces for which souls forget to ask.” Then an oval formed around the apparition and Catherine saw in a semi-circle these words in gold letters: “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you.”

Then a voice commanded Catherine, “Have a medal made according to this model. For those who wear it with confidence, there will be abundant graces.” The image turned and Catherine saw the reverse side of the medal: an “M” topped with a little cross and two hearts, one crowned with thorns and the other pierced by a sword. With approval by the Archbishop of Paris, the medal was minted and shared, leading to such gifts of grace that it came to be called “The Miraculous Medal.”

Christ the King & His Kingdom Among Us

November 27, 2018

We tend to think of Mexico as one of the most Catholic countries on earth, but for a time in 1920’s it was illegal to publicly celebrate Mass there. Following a revolution, the new, socialist, Mexican government effectively sought to outlaw the Catholic Church. They seized church property, expelled all foreign priests, and closed the monasteries, convents and religious schools.

But this did not stop priests like Blessed Miguel Pro from secretly ministering to the faithful; celebrating the Eucharist, distributing Holy Communion, hearing confessions, and anointing the sick clandestinely. He would often sneak from place to place in disguise, sometimes as a mechanic, or an office worker, or as a beggar. After many close calls, Fr. Pro was arrested by the government and, without trial, condemned to death on false charges that he was connected to a bombing assassination plot.

On November 23, 1927, Fr. Pro was led out for his execution by firing squad. He blessed the soldiers, knelt and quietly prayed for a time. He declined the blindfold and faced his executioners with a crucifix in one hand and a rosary in the other. He held out his arms like the crucified Christ and shouted, “May God have mercy on you! May God bless you! Lord, you know that I am innocent! With all my heart I forgive my enemies!”

Just before the order was given to fire, he proclaimed, “Viva Cristo Rey!” (which means “Long live Christ the King!”) When the initial bullets failed to kill him, a soldier shot him point-blank. The anti-Catholic government had a photographer on hand to capture these moments for propaganda purposes, but soon after these images were published in all the newspapers the possession of these pictures was outlawed. Seeing this Catholic priest dying innocently, bravely, and faithfully was an inspiration to the oppressed people of Mexico, who eventually won back their freedom of religion and freedom for Christ’s Catholic Church.

Today we celebrate “Christ the King,” but where is his Kingdom? During his ministry, Jesus said, “If I cast out devils by the finger of God, [and he did] then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” On another occasion he said, “Behold, the Kingdom of God is among you.” And at the Last Supper he declared, “Amen, I say to you, I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” The next time he drank the fruit of the vine (that is to say, wine) was the next day, Good Friday, when he drank it from a sponge held to his lips as he hung upon the Cross. So when Jesus tells Pilate, “My kingdom does not belong to this world,” and, “My kingdom is not here,” he is not saying it is entirely absent from this world, that we will only begin to see it in Heaven or at his Second Coming when his Kingdom will come in its fullness. His Kingdom is not here because it is not yet here fully, and his Kingdom does not belong to this world because it is not from this world but from Heaven.

So where is Jesus’ Kingdom on earth? Jesus was called the “Son of David,” that is, the descendant of King David and heir to his throne. It was believed that the Christ would become the new King of Israel. And in fact, when Jesus was put to death on the Cross, the written charge declared above his head was: “This is Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews.” The Kingdom of David and his successors (the old, Davidic dynasty) was imperfect but it prefigured Jesus’ Kingdom. As St. Augustine taught, the Old Testament is the New Testament concealed, and the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed. The old foreshadows and points to the new. So, we can draw clues from the old Davidic Kingdom to identify Jesus’ new Kingdom in our midst.

The kings in the Davidic dynasty had many, many wives. From the beginning, God intended marriage to be between one man and one woman, but the kings of Israel – thinking blood is thicker than water – used marriages to seal their peace treaties and alliances with other nations. But this presented a problem: when the king has many wives, who is the queen? You can imagine the rivalry and discord this question could generate. The solution in the Davidic dynasty was to have the mother of the king fulfill that role, as Queen Mother. She had a throne of honor at the king’s right hand and served as an intercessor for the people of the kingdom. If someone had a request, one might bring it to her to present to the king. If the request were pleasing to the king and good for the kingdom he would happily grant it to please his well-loved mother.

The king of Israel had many ministers, but there was one prime minister among them: the king’s chief steward, the master of the royal household. As a sign of that man’s office and authority, the chief steward carried a large wooden key on his shoulders. When he would retire, or die, or be removed from office, another would take his place. His power was that of the king, on whose and with whose authority he acted. But a chief steward acting contrary to the king’s will would soon find himself replaced.

In the courts of ancient kingdoms, including Israel’s, you would find eunuchs. A eunuch is a man born or rendered physically incapable of marrying or having children. Eunuchs were preferred for practical reasons. First, they were safe to be around the king’s wives and harem. Secondly, since they had no wife or children of their own, eunuchs were entirely focused on the king and the kingdom. Their mission, personal success, and legacy were entirely wedded to that of the king’s.

Now we can see how the old conceals the new, and how the new reveals what the old prefigured. Jesus called all those willing and able to be “eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.” Today, many ministers serve him devotedly in his celibate Priesthood. Jesus told Peter, “I give you the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven.” Jesus made Peter the first Pope, the first prime minister, chief steward, and master of his royal household on earth. Jesus has sealed his peace treaty and alliance with peoples of all nations through a single marriage: his marriage to his bride, the Church. But among the Church’s many members, is anyone the queen? As before, she is the mother of the King. The Lord has called Mary to a throne at his right hand where she intercedes for his people. If we have a request, we can ask her to present it to her Son, and if the request is pleasing to the King and good for his Kingdom he will happily grant it because he loves his mother so.

We are called to be good citizens of this country, but we are first and foremost citizens of Christ’s Kingdom. We are to vote and participate in the political process (for good polices and laws do good, while bad laws and policies do great harm) but we are not to put our trust in princes or politicians. We are to obey the law, but we know there is a higher law that supersedes unjust laws, and we know that above every earthly leader there is a higher King. That is why Blessed Miguel Pro was willing to defy the laws and president of Mexico to celebrate the Church’s sacraments and was not too terrified to face death before a firing squad. Let us remain loyal to Christ our King, and remain loyal to his Kingdom, a Kingdom which is among you, in His Holy Catholic Church.

A Prayer Litany for the Souls in Purgatory

November 2, 2018

O Jesus, Thou suffered and died that all mankind might be saved and brought to eternal happiness. Hear our pleas for further mercy on the souls of:

My dear parents & grandparents,

     [Response: “My Jesus, Have Mercy”]

My brothers & sisters & other near relatives,

My godparents & sponsors of Confirmation,

My spiritual & temporal benefactors,

My friends & neighbors,

All for whom love or duty bids me pray,

Those who have suffered disadvantage or harm through me,

Those who have offended me,

Those whose release is near at hand,

Those who desire most to be united to Thee,

Those who endure the greatest sufferings,

Those whose release is most remote,

Those who are least remembered.

Those who are most deserving on account of their services to the Church,

The rich, who are now the most destitute,

The mighty, who are now powerless,

The once spiritually blind, who now see their folly,

The frivolous, who spent their time in idleness,

The poor who did not seek the treasures of heaven, The tepid who devoted little time to prayer,

The indolent who neglected to perform good works, Those of little faith, who neglected the frequent reception of the Sacraments,

The habitual sinners, who owe their salvation to a miracle of grace,

Parents who failed to watch over their children, Superiors who were not solicitous for the salvation of those entrusted to them,

Those who strove for worldly riches & pleasures, The worldly minded, who failed to use their wealth & talent for the service of God,

Those who witnessed the death of others, but would not think of their own,

Those who did not provide for the life hereafter,

Those whose sentence is severe because of the great things entrusted to them,

The popes, kings, & rulers,

The bishops & their counselors,

My teachers & spiritual advisors,

The priests & religious of the Catholic Church,

The defenders of the Holy Faith,

Those who died on the battlefield,

Those who fought for their country,

Those who were buried in the sea,

Those who died of strokes,

Those who died of heart attacks,

Those who suffered & died of cancer,

Those who died suddenly in accidents,

Those who died without the last rites of the Church,

Those who shall die within the next 24 hours,

My own poor soul when I shall have to appear before Thy judgment seat,

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them: For evermore with Thy Saints, because Thou art gracious. May the prayer of Thy suppliant people, we beseech Thee, O Lord, benefit the souls of Thy departed servants and handmaids: that Thou mayest both deliver them from all their sins, and make them to be partakers of Thy redemption. Amen. Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord. And let perpetual light shine on them. Amen. May their souls & the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Faithful Citizenship

October 31, 2018

This Tuesday, November 6th, we can promote the good for our society by voting in the midterm elections. Not only is voting our great right as Americans, it is also our duty as Catholics. As the Catechism teaches, “co-responsibility for the common good make[s] it morally obligatory… to exercise the right to vote…” (CCC #2240)

Though the Catholic Church participates in the political process as a moral voice in the public square, she does not institutionally endorse candidates or political parties. Within the Church, clergy and laity have different but complementary roles. The calling of the clergy is to preach the Gospel message so that all may properly form their consciences. The mission of lay people is to transform politics and culture.

As Pope Benedict XVI once said, “The Church is not a political power, it’s not a party, but it’s a moral power. Since politics fundamentally should be a moral enterprise, the Church in this sense has something to say about politics.” In their recent document on “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” the U.S. bishops highlight these nine fundamental moral issues particularly pressing at this time:

■ The ongoing destruction of over one million innocent human lives each year by abortion.

■ Physician-assisted suicide.

■ The redefinition of marriage – the vital cell of society – by the courts, political bodies, and increasingly by American culture itself.

■ The excessive consumption of material goods and the destruction of natural resources, which harm both the environment and the poor.

■ The deadly attacks on fellow Christians and religious minorities throughout the world.

■ The narrowing redefinition of religious freedom, which threatens both individual conscience and the freedom of the Church to serve.

■ Economic policies that fail to prioritize the poor, at home and abroad.

■ A broken immigration system and a worldwide refugee crisis.

■ Wars, terror, and violence that threaten every aspect of human life and dignity.

As a mighty wave is made of many single drops, please cast a vote this week for the common good.

Reintroducing the St. Michael Prayer

October 22, 2018

Our Bishop William Callahan has asked that we begin regularly reciting the St. Michael Prayer at the end of our parish Masses. In last week’s pastoral letter he wrote that “this prayer, given to us by Pope Leo XIII, is a sure defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil. Now as much as ever we need the assistance of St. Michael to help rid us, the Church, of its current evils.” So, we will be praying this prayer together at each Sunday and weekday Mass following the final blessing (and preceding the closing hymn.)

Who is St. Michael? He is a mighty archangel, a leader among God’s angels. He has several appearances in the Bible, but most famously in the Book of Revelation. There he is beheld leading good angels in battle against the Devil (referred to here as the dragon): “Then war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. The dragon and its angels fought back, but they did not prevail and there was no longer any place for them in Heaven.” (Revelation 12:7-8) St. Michael’s name is Hebrew for the phrase “Who is like God?” Tradition says that this was Michael’s challenging battle cry against the proud, rebellious demons – for no creature is equal our all-glorious God.

The St. Michael Prayer was written by the long-reigning Pope Leo XIII. In 1886, he instituted that it be recited after the celebration of Masses. Though the inspiration for this prayer is uncertain, many historians accept accounts that it followed from Pope Leo experiencing a profound vision. A cardinal from that time explained, “Pope Leo XIII truly had a vision of demonic spirits, who were gathering on the Eternal City (i.e., Rome.) From that experience… comes the prayer which he wanted the whole Church to recite.

Since the St. Michael Prayer in English is a translation from the original Latin text, some versions of the prayer slightly differ from one another. (For instance, some translations ask St. Michael to “cast” Satan and all the evil spirits into Hell, while others use the word “thrust.”) To keep everyone on the same page, please refer to the prayer cards at the end of the pews or the version below. Together, let us pray for aid in our battle against the iniquitous spirits active within God’s Church and our world.

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.
Be our defense against
the wickedness and snares of the devil.

May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.
Amen.

Lessons from Disaster

September 7, 2018

On a Tuesday morning seventeen years ago I was sleeping-in at college. I had no classes that morning so I stayed in my dorm room bed as late as possible, peacefully unaware. I eventually descended from my loft and turned on the TV. The Catholic channel (EWTN) showed people praying in the chapel “for the bombing victims.” Then my roommate walked in and asked me if I’d heard. “Airplanes crashed into the World Trade Towers and the Sears Tower in Chicago. Another plane crashed into the Pentagon, a car bomb blew up at the State Department, and there’s a fire on the National Mall.” Standing there, I realized I would remember that moment for the rest of my life, just as others vividly remembered the attack on Pearl Harbor or the assassination of President Kennedy before me.

It’s striking how much confusion there was on September 11, 2001. Most of what my roommate had told me proved inaccurate. Terrible things had certainly occurred – the murder of thousands and the distressing of millions more – yet the news of that day was clouded with false rumors and inaccurate reports. Time would clarify the truth of what had actually happened.

Eager to help in the days after the towers fell, I went to give blood at a Red Cross drive. I waited perhaps an hour until my turn came to have my finger pricked for the pre-donation iron test. Being uncomfortable around blood, I became woozy, had to lay down, and left without contributing anything. Despite my failed effort, others across the country donated more than enough to meet blood supply needs for months.

The shocking evil of September 11th impressed upon me humanity’s brokenness. Even if these terror groups abroad were answered with overwhelming military force, I grasped that what was wrong with the world would remain unrepaired. When I considered what would be the greatest thing I could do to help change the world and myself for the better, I concluded it was to begin attending weekday Mass. My class schedule did not permit me to go every day, but daily Mass grew me and my love for Jesus in the Eucharist. It helped me to embrace my priestly vocation and did good beyond myself that I believe God will reveal to me someday.

These lessons from 9-11 are applicable today. It is heart-breaking to be confronted by these recent scandals in the Church, but remaining unaware of them (asleep to them with eyes closed) would not have made them any less real. It is better that things be clearly understood in purifying daylight. Great evils and crimes have obviously been perpetrated. Thousands have been hurt and millions have been distressed. Yet we must be cautious to weigh all early reports carefully, for their truth will only be fully known with time. We want to improve the situation in the Church but there may be little you and I can do within our immediate influence. We are not popes or bishops or journalists, but we have access to a power beyond our natural reach. I urge you, in this troubled time, to draw closer to Jesus in his sacraments and our daily prayer. This is the greatest thing we can do to help change the Church, the world, and ourselves for the better.

The Time St. Paul Corrected St. Peter

August 31, 2018

Jesus gave Simon the fisherman the keys to his kingdom and changed his name to “Rock” (that is, “Petros” in Greek, or Peter):

I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 16:18-19a)

The significance of these things is found in the Old Testament. God changed the names of Abram, Sarai, and Jacob to Abraham, Sarah, and Israel to declare what he would achieve through their lives. (Abraham, for example, means “father of a multitude.”) In the old Davidic dynasty, the king’s chief steward and master of the royal household would carry a key symbolizing his authority. Thus, for Jesus’ kingdom (the Church), Peter is given the great power and office of prime minister:

Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:19b)

Yet, despite his divine calling, St. Peter was not always perfect in his personal example. The New Testament records that on one occasion he had to be fraternally corrected by St. Paul.

In the early years of the Church, as belief in the Gospel began to spread from Jerusalem into pagan lands, the question arose of how much of what God commanded through Moses needed to be observed by the Gentile (that is, non-Jewish) converts. God gave not only the Ten Commandments in the Old Covenant but some 613 religious rules, touching on many areas of daily life, including food and clothing. These precepts were called the Mosaic law.

St. Peter’s vision at Joppa and his subsequent visit to Cornelius the centurion’s house in Caesarea (recounted in Acts 10) revealed to him God’s will that Gentile converts to Christianity need not be obliged to observe the full Mosaic law. But others were teaching, “Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved.” Around the year 50 A.D., the Apostles and other Church leaders gathered for the Council of Jerusalem to settle this question.

There, some from the party of the Pharisees who had become believers in Christ stood up and said to the assembly, “It is necessary to circumcise them and direct them to observe the Mosaic law.” But St. Peter replied, “[Why] are you now putting God to the test by placing on the shoulders of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they.” (Acts 15:10-11) And the Council decreed that Gentile Christians were free from observing the bulk of Jewish religious rules and customs.

The Dispute at Antioch: Saints Peter & Paul by Jusepe de Ribera

But there was a later episode at Antioch where Peter’s personal example did not match his professed beliefs, and St. Paul was moved to correct him:

[W]hen Cephas (the Aramaic word for “Rock” or “Peter”) came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he clearly was wrong. For, until some people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to draw back and separated himself, because he was afraid of the circumcised. And the rest of the Jews also acted hypocritically along with him, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not on the right road in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of all, “If you, though a Jew, are living like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Galatians 2:11-14)

Apparently, the “people from James” were Jewish Christians who were disapproving of Peter eating non-kosher meals with the Gentile Christians, leading Peter to withdraw from table fellowship with those non-Jewish converts. St. Peter, the first Pope, was preserved by God from teaching error, but he was not immune to personal faults. Paul publicly corrected Peter because his failure in leadership was leading to scandal within the Church. Spirit-led fraternal correction is a spiritual work of mercy and a duty of Christian love.

The Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law says:

[The Christian faithful] have the right, indeed at times the duty, in keeping with their knowledge, competence and position, to manifest to the sacred Pastors their views on matters which concern the good of the Church. They have the right also to make their views known to others of Christ’s faithful, but in doing so they must always respect the integrity of faith and morals, show due reverence to the Pastors and take into account both the common good and the dignity of individuals.” (Canon 212, Section 3)

In this present, painful season in the Church, let us remain faithful but not silent. Let us insist of our shepherds that these scandals may lead to cleansing through true leadership and effective reform.

Things You Probably Don’t Know About Contraception & Natural Family Planning

August 31, 2018

We Just Passed a Historic Milestone
July 25, 2018 marked the 50th anniversary of Blessed Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae (“Of Human Life”) on the moral and immoral regulation of human births. In that document, Pope Paul reaffirmed the Church’s teachings on marriage, the marital embrace, and the prohibition of artificial birth control.

Artificial Contraception Existed in Ancient Times
Egyptian scrolls dating to 1850 B.C. describe various barrier and sperm-killing methods. Pagans practiced contraception techniques in the Roman Empire at the time of Jesus Christ and the Early Church.

God Smote a Man in the Bible for Contracepting
Genesis 38 relates how a man named Onan repeatedly “wasted his seed on the ground” during intercourse to avoid conceiving children. “What he did greatly offended the Lord, and the Lord took his life…”

The Church Fathers Condemned Artificial Birth Control
For example, St. Clement of Alexandria, St. Augustine, St. John Chrysostom all condemned acts of contraception and/or sterilization.

Famous Protestants Also Denounced Contraception
Martin Luther the founder of Lutheranism, John Calvin the founder of Calvinism, and John Wesley the co-founder of Methodism all wrote against it.

All Christian Groups Agreed About This a Century Ago
In 1930, the Anglicans were the very first Protestant denomination to officially approve the use of artificial contraception methods for hard cases. (As recently as 1917, that the same group had declared contraception “demoralizing to character and hostile to national welfare.”)

Protestant Denominations Changed Their Teachings
By 1961, the National Council of Churches could pronounce that “Most of the Protestant churches hold contraception… to be morally right when the motives are right,” adding, “Protestant Christians are agreed in condemning abortion or any method which destroys human life, except when the health or life of the mother is at stake.”

The Catholic Church has Stood Firm
At the end of 1930 and again in 1968, popes issued encyclical letters reaffirming the constant teaching of Christ’s Church. Pope Pius XI’s Casti Connubii and Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae taught truths about the nature, purpose, and goodness of marriage and the marital act. Both repeated our consistent and ancient rejection of all directly-willed acts of contraception, sterilization, and abortion.

Good Intentions are not Enough
As The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means… for example, direct sterilization or contraception.” (#2399)

Humanae Vitae Foretold Great Harms
Paul VI predicted that the widespread use of contraception would broadly lower morality, increase marital infidelity, lessen respect towards women, be coercively imposed by governments, and promote the self-harming belief that we have unlimited dominion over our bodies and human life in general.

Contraception has Broken its Promises
According to its advocates, contraception was supposed to strengthen marriages, prevent unplanned pregnancies, reduce abortions, and increase women’s happiness. Today, even after decades of cheap and common contraceptive use, half of all pregnancies are unplanned and half of all marriages end in divorce, about one-in-five U.S. pregnancies are aborted (with more than 60 million killed since Roe vs. Wade in 1973), and women have reported lower and lower levels of happiness throughout the decades since the 1970’s.

The Lord is Pro-Family and Pro-Children
The first commandment in the Garden of Eden was “be fruitful and multiply,” and the the Bible always speaks of having many children and descendants as a bless rather than a curse. Jesus presents marriage as a holy union of life and love saying “what God has joined together, no human being must separate” and adds “whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.”

NFP Regulates Births Both Virtuously and Effectively
Natural Family Planning (also known as NFP) uses signs from a woman’s body to identify the days in her cycle when she can conceive. Equipped with this knowledge, a couple may abstain from marital embrace to avoid a pregnancy or engage in order to achieve one.

There can be Holy Reasons not to Have More Babies
As Pope Paul VI wrote in his famous 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, “With regard to physical, economic, psychological, and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time.”

NFP is not the Rhythm Method
The old Rhythm Method simply counted how many days had passed since the woman’s last cycle and was a moral but ineffective approach to avoiding conception. For comparison, faithfully-followed NFP techniques have a 99% effectiveness rate (meaning that up to one in one hundred woman will become pregnant in a year, a rate comparable to widespread methods of artificial contraception.)

NFP Causes None of Contraception’s Harms
Unlike chemical contraceptives, NFP never causes:
– Spontaneous abortions (by preventing implantation
of newly conceived embryos into the uterine wall)
– Increased risks of breast, liver, and cervical cancer
– Nausea, vomiting, stomach problems, or diarrhea
– Depression or mood swings
– Decreased libido
– Or other published side-effects

NFP Strengthens Married Life
Couples who practice Natural Family Planning grow in communication, self-control, and intimacy. They are more open to discerning and embracing God’s plan for their families and are statistically less likely to divorce. Not only is NFP completely natural, the information it tracks about a woman’s body commonly leads to the diagnosis, treatment, and cure of health disorders, from infertility to life-threatening illnesses.

You can Learn NFP From Home
Visit the Diocese of La Crosse’s website (at diolc.org) and search for “NFP”. There you can investigate more about various NFP techniques, its science and benefits, and register for on-line courses.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

“In destroying the power of giving life through contraception a husband or wife is doing something to self. This turns the attention to self and so it destroys the gift of love in him or her. In loving, the husband and wife must turn the attention to each other as happens in natural family planning, and not to self, as happens in contraception. Once that living love is destroyed by contraception, abortion follows very easily.”  – St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta

“In the conjugal act, husband and wife are called to confirm in a responsible way the mutual gift of self which they have made to each other in the marriage covenant. The logic of the total gift of self to the other involves a potential openness to procreation: in this way the marriage is called to even greater fulfillment as a family. Certainly the mutual gift of husband and wife does not have the begetting of children as its only end, but is in itself a mutual communion of love and of life. The intimate truth of this gift must always be safeguarded. … The two dimensions of conjugal union, the unitive and the procreative, cannot be artificially separated without damaging the deepest truth of the conjugal act itself.”  —Pope St. John Paul II, Letter to Families, 1994

“Marriage must include openness to the gift of children. Generous openness to accept children from God as the gift to their love is the mark of the Christian couple. Respect the God-given cycle of life, for this respect is part of our respect for God himself, who created male and female, who created them in his own image, reflecting his own life-giving love in the patterns of their sexual being.”  —Pope St. John Paul II, 1979

Foreign Words of our Faith

July 12, 2018

Hebrew Words
Alleluia – “Praise the Lord” (literally, “Praise Yah[weh]”)
Amen – “Verily” / “Truly” / “So be it”

Greek Words
Kyrie eleison – “Lord have mercy”
Christe eleison – “Christ have mercy”

Latin Words
Agnus Dei – “Lamb of God”
Ave Maria – “Hail Mary”
Fiat – “Let it be done”
Gloria in excelsis Deo – “Glory to God in the highest”
INRI (Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum) – “Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews”

French Words
La Croix – “The Cross”
La Crosse – “The Crosier” (a bishop’s shepherd’s crook/staff)
Noel – “Christmas”
Notre Dame – “Our Lady”

Spanish Words
Los Angeles – “The Angels”
San Antonio – “St. Anthony (of Padua)”
San Francisco – “St. Francis (of Assisi)”
Santa Cruz – “Holy Cross”
Santa Fe – “Holy Faith”

St. Paul’s Vision Problems

July 11, 2018

 The oldest known depiction of St. Paul the Apostle, a fresco from the Catacomb of Saint Thekla in Rome dated to the 300’s A.D.

Paul’s encounter with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, accompanied by a great light from the sky which suddenly shone around him, left the great persecutor of the early Church blind. “Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing…” After three days, the Lord sent a Christian named Ananias to prayerfully lay hands upon Saul/Paul. “Immediately things like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight.” Yet problems with Paul’s vision seem to have lingered or later returned.

Writing to Christians in Galatia (central Turkey) more than a decade after his conversion, Paul recalls, “[Y]ou know that it was because of a physical illness that I originally preached the gospel to you…” While he does not directly identify the malady, he then observes, “Indeed, I can testify to you that, if it had been possible, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me.” And in his personal closing to the letter he adds, “See with what large letters I am writing to you in my own hand!” These clues suggest that swapping-out Paul’s eyeballs for another pair would have improved his poor and ailing sight.

Paul, previously blinded by hatred of Christians, saw the light and was converted. The Lord forgave all of his sins through baptism but forgiveness does not always remove all of our sins’ consequences. In restoring Paul’s sight the Lord may have permitted some physical encumbrance to remain. For what purpose? For Paul’s greater good: to serve as an enduring sign to him that what he experienced on the way to Damascus had been real and to remind him of how far he had come; to keep him humble amid the incredible graces, revelations, and miracles of his epic ministry; and to help him remain faithfully dependent upon our Lord Jesus, who once told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” May God grant that we would spiritually profit as much from our own divinely-permitted trials as St. Paul did through his.

Call No Man Father?

June 19, 2018

Was it unchristian for our country to celebrate Father’s Day last Sunday? That’s one implication of a common criticism raised against the Catholic Church. Sometimes Protestants chide us, “Jesus said, ‘Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in Heaven,’ so why do you Catholics call priests and popes ‘Father?’” Yet this charge could also be raised against St. Paul who writes in his Letter to the Romans of “our father Abraham” and “our father Issac.” What’s more, St. Paul is moved by the Holy Spirit in his First Letter to the Corinthians to assert himself as their spiritual father: “Even if you should have countless guides to Christ, yet you do not have many fathers, for I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”

So what is Jesus saying in his teaching on titles (father, master, rabbi/teacher) in Matthew 23? Judging from the whole of the New Testament, our Lord’s concern is not with labels or hierarchy in themselves (for “he called his disciples to himself, and from them he chose Twelve, whom he also named Apostles.”) Jesus is warning us against the fallen, human attitudes that we can attach to positions and titles of authority and honor. Jesus says, “You have one teacher… you have but one Father in Heaven… you have but one master, the Messiah.” We must not allow anyone (be they a noted thinker, politician, celebrity, employer, or parent) to displace or compromise God’s primacy in our lives. Embracing a teaching or custom against our Faith is to worship an idol instead of God. And Jesus says “you are all brothers…. The greatest among you must be your servant.” So whenever we are called into a position of influence (be it as a parent, pastor, politician, or what have you) we must remain humble and glorify God while serving him and our neighbors.

The Venerable Servant of God Bishop Fulton Sheen once observed, “There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church — which is, of course, quite a different thing.” Our Faith has good answers to offer anyone who cares enough about the truth to simply look or listen. So do not fear religious conversations with your family, friends, or peers. You’ll both learn more along the way and you could very well help them into the fullness of Jesus’ Catholic Church.

The Saints Speak of the Holy Eucharist

May 30, 2018

“If the Angels could envy, they would envy us for Holy Communion.”  —St. Pope Pius X

“Man should tremble, the world should vibrate, all Heaven should be deeply moved when the Son of God appears on the altar in the hands of the priest.”  —St. Francis of Assisi

“One single Mass gives more honor to God than all the penances of the Saints, the labors of the Apostles, the sufferings of the martyrs, and even the burning love of the Blessed Mother of God.”  —St. Alphonsus Liguori

“All the good works in the world are not equal to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass because they are the works of men; but the Mass is the work of God. Martyrdom is nothing in comparison for it is but the sacrifice of man to God; but the Mass is the sacrifice of God for man.”  —St. John Vianney

“The Eucharist is the Sacrament of love; it signifies love, it produces love.”  —St. Thomas Aquinas

“The Eucharist is a never-ending sacrifice. It is the Sacrament of love, the supreme love, the act of love.”  —St. Katherine Drexel

“The Eucharist is that love which surpasses all loves in Heaven and on earth.”  —St. Bernard of Clairvaux

“The Eucharist is Divine Love made visible in the Sacred Host!”   —St. Teresa of Calcutta

“Do you realize that Jesus is there in the tabernacle expressly for you – for you alone? He burns with the desire to come into your heart.”   —St. Thérèse of Lisieux

“The Eucharist is a fire which inflames us.”  —St. John Damascene

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life.”   —St. Pope John Paul II, quoting Vatican II

“The Eucharist is the supreme proof of the love of Jesus. After this, there is nothing more but Heaven itself.”  —St. Peter Julian Eymard

Mary, the Mother of All Christians

April 26, 2018

Earlier this year, the Vatican announced that the Monday after Pentecost Sunday shall henceforth be celebrated as a new feast day: the Memorial of the “Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church.” Its worldwide inaugural celebration will be on May 21st this year. The Holy Catholic Church has defined four dogmas about Mary: that she is ever-virginal and the Mother of God, that she was immaculately conceived and assumed body and soul into Heaven. What Pope Francis has decreed is not on the level of defining a fifth Marian dogma, but he is highlighting a precious truth about Our Lady for us to treasure and valuable for us to share with our Protestant brothers and sisters.

Mary is both poetically and actively the Mother of the Church. St. Augustine says of her, “She is clearly the Mother of His members; that is, of ourselves, because she cooperated by her charity, so that faithful Christians, members of the Head, might be born in the Church.” And as Blessed Pope Paul VI professes in his Credo of the People of God: “we believe that the Blessed Mother of God, the New Eve, Mother of the Church, continues in Heaven her maternal role with regard to Christ’s members, cooperating with the birth and growth of divine life in the souls of the redeemed.” How many Christians are unaware that they have a spiritual Mother who loves them?

That Mary is the Mother of all Christians is evident from Scripture. At the Cross, “when Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.” This scene was not included in John’s Gospel to satisfy some idle curiosity about Mary’s living arrangements in her later years. Understanding this scene according to its spiritual significance, every Christian is ‘the disciple who Jesus loved.’ Every Christian is entrusted to Mary as her child and she is given to each one of them as their mother.

Further proof of this is found in the Book of Revelation. There we see a huge dragon (explicitly called “the Devil and Satan”) attempt to destroy “a male child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod,” along with his mother who wears “a crown of twelve stars.” This is Jesus the Messianic King and his Queen Mother, Mary. Note what happens after the “ancient serpent” fails to conquer this man and woman: “Then the dragon became angry with the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring, those who keep God’s commandments and bear witness to Jesus.” Who are Mary’s children? They are Christians — “those who keep God’s commandments and bear witness to Jesus.”

Christ’s Church is meant to be gathered around Mother Mary. Before his Ascension, Jesus told the first Christians to “stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” And so, “when the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together” beside Mary his Mother and the reconstituted Twelve Apostles in the room where the First Eucharist was celebrated. It was through Mary that the Holy Spirit had first begun to bring mankind into communion with Jesus Christ. So likewise (the Catechism of the Catholic Church observes) “she was present with the Twelve, who with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, at the dawn of the end time which the Spirit was to inaugurate on the morning of Pentecost with the manifestation of the Church.”

This is why the Monday after Pentecost is a very fitting day for us to celebrate Mary as Mother of the Church and why all Christians should come together as her spiritual children. Let Catholics be rejoice and Christians be reunited as one!

Mary, Mother of all Christians, pray for us!

Lingering Wounds — Divine Mercy Sunday—2nd Sunday of Easter

April 15, 2018

Of all the apostles, it could be said that St. Thomas’ faith took him the farthest. Likely tradition says Thomas traveled more than 2,000 miles from Israel to evangelize India. From the seeds of his ministry and martyrdom there, tens of millions of Indians are Christians today. Yet, he’s not known as “Traveling Thomas” or “Faithful, Fruitful Thomas,” but famously as “Doubting Thomas” because of these passages:

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

So why was Thomas so slow to believe? I would suggest three theories:

The first explanation would be that Thomas didn’t want it to be true. Many peoples’ lack of belief is due to an unwilling heart. They see no evidence for God because they have closed their eyes. If they were honest they would say, “I don’t want it to be true, because if it is then I’d have to change how I live my life.” Jesus says if we ask, we’ll receive; if we seek, we’ll find; and if we knock, the door will be opened to us. But this sort of person doesn’t ask because they don’t want good answers, they don’t seek because they’re afraid of what they’ll find, and they don’t knock because they don’t want to go in.

In the Book of Revelation, Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” He knocks on the door of every human soul. But we can lock and block our door; with a big-screen TV of entertainment, or a bookshelf of learning, a trophy case of accomplishments, a heavy safe of accumulated wealth, or with several large-leafy plants so that a person may enjoy the beauty of creation while ignoring the Creator. If we insist upon self-centered ingratitude, the Lord will respect our freedom but we’ll be woefully unsatisfied forever.

But this is was not St. Thomas. He had sacrificed a lot to be Jesus’ apostle and had aspired to give him his all. On one occasion Jesus said, “Let us go back to Judea,” but the disciples replied, “Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you, and you want to go back there?” When Jesus insisted on going, “Thomas, called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, ‘Let us also go to die with him.’” At the Last Supper, when Jesus said, “Where I am going you know the way,” Thomas replied, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” He was distressed because he loved Jesus and wanted to follow him anywhere. Thomas wanted the Resurrection to be true, but there was some other reason he wouldn’t or couldn’t believe.

A second theory for why Thomas was so slow to believe is that he was skeptically-minded. St. Thomas’ nickname, as you’ve heard it now a couple of times, was “Didymus.” In Greek, Didymus means “twin.” How was Thomas a twin? Scripture doesn’t say. Perhaps Thomas had a twin brother he had been mistaken for many times. In some icons of Jesus with his apostles, one of the apostles looks just like Jesus. Such art imagines that Thomas shared a twin likeness to the Lord. In either case, one could understand his initial skepticism about people seeing Jesus resurrected. “Nah. You guys saw somebody else.”

But Thomas has sufficient evidence to believe his friends. They are not claiming to have seen Jesus across the marketplace or walking through a field at dusk. (Neither Thomas nor we are expected to have blind faith, but to trust in trustworthy persons and things.) The other apostles are saying, “It’s true Thomas! He knew us, we saw his wounds!” Yet Thomas replies, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Why is Thomas so being obstinate?

The third (and I think most likely) explanation for why Thomas was so slow to believe in the Resurrection was that he hurt too much trust again. Who was Jesus to Thomas? He was Thomas’ hero, his admired teacher, his dearly beloved friend. Thomas thought Jesus would be the savior and messianic king of Israel, but Thomas’ great hope was murdered on Good Friday. Imagine Thomas’ prayer after experiencing that. “My God, how could you let this happen? He was innocent, he was so good! He was the best man I’ve ever known, and you let Him die! Why? How could do that to him? How could you do this to me?”

Jesus’ unexpected death broke Thomas’ heart, and perhaps having been so wounded once, he was resolved not to let his heart be taken-in again: ‘Unless I see the mark… put my finger in the nailmarks… put my hand in his side, I will not believe.’ Yet, though he doubts, notice where Thomas is one week after Easter. He’s with the other apostles in the upper room in Jerusalem, gathered behind locked doors for fear of those who killed Jesus. Now there are lots of other, safer places Thomas could have chosen to be. He could have returned to his hometown, back to the family and friends he left behind to follow Jesus a few years before. Though Thomas doubts, he does not leave this house of faith. He struggles with his questions, but he does not fully abandon Jesus. He seeks him here and because of it Thomas finds truth for his mind, healing for his heart, and peace for his soul.

The risen Lord appears in the upper room and how does Jesus respond to Thomas’ resistant unbelief? Not with anger. Not with condemnation. But with the same Divine Mercy we celebrate today. Jesus appears in their midst and says, “Peace be with you.” Then he says to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”

Curiously, Jesus still bears some of the wounds from his Passion: in his hands, feet and side. The cuts and swollen bruises are gone from his face, for the disciples respond to him with rejoicing rather than pity or horror, but he retains some marks from the evils that afflicted him. Jesus could heal or cover them—he’s God—but he choose not to. They are his trophies, the means of his glory, how he saved the world.

Our wounds, our losses, the sins and evils we suffer, they can scandalize us like Thomas was after the Passion. But through these things Jesus would glorify us, help to save others, and transform us into his more perfect twin. Jesus, having experienced wounds of his own, can relate and heal you.

Like St. Thomas, this Divine Mercy Sunday, you are gathered in this upper room with Jesus’ disciples. If there is any great wound or uncertainly in you, I invite you to be open to encounter Jesus anew like St. Thomas. Dare to ask, dare to seek, dare to knock. Jesus is not only your Lord and your God, he’s good and his love is everlasting.