Archive for the ‘Chrisitian Virtues’ Category

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

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Jesus is Asking you for a Date

February 1, 2018

Jesus is asking you for a date: it’s February 14th. This year, Ash Wednesday lands on St. Valentine’s Day. These two observances, seemingly opposite, are both in fact dedicated to love. Little is known with certainty about St. Valentine, the 3rd century martyr buried near Rome. According to The Catholic Encyclopedia, ‘the popular customs associated with Saint Valentine’s Day undoubtedly had their origin in a conventional belief generally received in England and France during the Middle Ages, that on February 14th (i.e., half way through the 2nd month of the year) the birds began to pair.’ Valentine’s Day is a celebration of eros, the romantic form of love that delights in loving the beloved. Ash Wednesday calls us to agape, the form of love that is willing to undergo sufferings for another’s good.

Jesus commands us to love: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. … You shall love your neighbor as yourself. … As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” We must give of ourselves to God and neighbor yet we can only give of what we possess; this means we must be able to say “no” to ourselves in order to give a fuller “yes” to others. Such self-mastery comes through asceticism. By disciplining our desires through mortification and penance we grow in our conversion and virtue. Internal and external acts of Christian self-denial are typically done privately, but Jesus Christ’s Church prescribes communal penances for the season of Lent.

All Catholics who are at least fourteen years old are to abstain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday, on Lent’s Fridays, and on Good Friday. Catholics at least eighteen years of age must also fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday until reaching their fifty-ninth birthday. What is “fasting?” Lenten fasting means eating just one full meal that day. Two additional smaller meals (less than one full meal when put together) are allowed if necessary, but snacking on solid foods between meals is not. Physically, mentally, or chronically ill persons, as well as pregnant or nursing mothers, are exempt from Lent’s fasting and meat abstinence rules. However, merely being in a dating relationship, engaged to someone, or married, does not.

There will be no fancy steak dinners for Catholics this Valentine’s Day. (Perhaps make romantic dinner reservations for February 13th or 15th instead – you’ll end up with an even better table.) Eros love and agape love can certainly complement each other. Jesus Christ delights in his Church as his beloved bride while also being prepared to greatly suffer and lay down his life for us. This Ash Wednesday, Valentine’s Day, let us perfect our love for our beloveds through ascetic self-denial and elated gifts of self.

A Parable on Pushing Boulders

January 24, 2018

Once upon a time, a Christian hermit lived in a cabin on a wooded mountainside, devoting himself to prayer. One morning, as he quieted himself and opened himself receptively to God, he sensed Jesus speaking to him – hearing him not with his ears but in his mind. The Lord said, “Go to that large boulder outside your house.” The man got up and went. Then the Lord said, “I want you to push this boulder for a half-hour every day.” The man obeyed, daily exerting his body in every manner against the smooth, massive stone, yet even after months of pushing the boulder remained completely unmoved.

The man asked himself, “Why am I failing? What am I doing wrong? The Gospels say that faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains, but I can’t even budge this boulder an inch. Why does God demand this of me when he knows I can’t do it?” At this, the man became quite angry and (wisely) voiced his frustration, confusion, and hurt to the Lord.

The man heard Jesus reply, “Do you have reason to be angry? I told you to push the boulder, but I never asked you to move it. Look at your arms, look at your legs – by your faithfulness to me you have become strong. Now you are prepared for my next task for you. Though you thought you were failing, you were succeeding in fulfilling my will.”

The Holy Family and Yours

January 1, 2018

Every year, Holy Mother Church presents the Holy Family for our contemplation and imitation. Some imagine life in the home of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in the soft, pastel colors of a Christmas card; so holy, so flawless, so unobtainable. We wonder, “Can the Holy Family and my family really relate to one another?” At least two out of the three members of the Holy Family never sinned in their entire lives together. We, meanwhile, could jokingly refer to the Feast of the Holy Family as “Elbow-Nudge Sunday.” Throughout the world this day, wives and husbands, parents and children, take turns gently nudging one another as they listen to God’s words about marriage and family life. The Holy Family was holy, but that doesn’t mean their lives were easy or smooth.

I’ve previously written about the stresses and difficulties of the holy couple leading up to the first Christmas: about Mary’s crisis pregnancy, about Joseph grappling with his wife telling him the child within her is the Son of God and Joseph contemplating a divorce, about their giving birth to that holy child in an animal stable. And their trials together continued after Jesus’ birth.

Imagine being Mary and hearing Simeon prophesy, “Behold, this child is destined … to be a sign that will be contradicted — and you yourself a sword will pierce…” How would that make you feel about the future for you and your child? Picture being Mary as her husband awakes and says “our boy is being hunted, we need to leave tonight.” Consider Joseph, the servant-leader of his family, having to pack-up quickly and leave so much behind to take his family into hiding in Egypt. Later, an angel tells Joseph to bring his family back into Israel. So Joseph returns with Jesus and Mary, but he’s afraid to resettle in the south because the son of Herod the Great now rules Judea. With the help of another dream, Joseph decides to resettle in the north, in Nazareth of Galilee.

I mention all this because St. Joseph, the just and holy man, feared an earthly king even as he trusted God. St. Mary at the Annunciation did not know all the details of her future, but she trusted in God by saying, “Let it be done to me according to your word.” Our Lord Jesus, sweating blood from stress the night before he died, trusted God to say, “Not my will but yours be done.” Their holy lives were often difficult, but God always rewarded their trust, bringing about good for them in the end.

In Genesis, Abram (whose name later got changed to Abraham) was promised a son by the Lord. But the childless Abraham looks at the old age of his wife and himself and asks, ‘Will my steward, Eliezer, be my heir?‘ God answers, ‘No, not him; your own flesh and blood son shall be your heir.’ Then the Lord took Abraham outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so,” he added, “shall your descendants be.” And Abraham put his faith in the Lord.

When I first heard this story (and maybe when you heard it too) I assumed this event happened at night. But the message is even more powerful if God told him to “look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can,” during the daytime. Where do the stars go during the day? We know they’re still there, even though the Sun’s brightness the sky’s blueness prevent us from seeing them. Abraham trusted in the Lord’s unwavering goodwill towards him and beheld God’s word fulfilled in the birth of Isaac. Through that son, Abraham received glory and the whole world was blessed.

One of the things Jesus says in the Gospels more than anything else is, “Be not afraid.” Sacrifice your fears. Imagine taking those obsessive worrying thoughts from your mind, placing them upon the altar, and lighting them afire like a sacrifice of old to God. “Let the peace of Christ control your heart…” Trust that “God works all things for the good of those who love him” and then “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

God not only wants peace within us, but peace among us as well. In our homes there is always room for improvement. The household of the Holy Family may have been a sinless one, but mistakes and miscommunications surely happened. Joseph probably broke or misplaced tools. Mary probably burnt an occasional loaf of bread. From the Gospels we know they both thought they knew where their 12-year-old boy was as they left Jerusalem for home; several hours passed before they realized he was missing. Even when we deeply love one another, we must learn and practice how to love and serve each other better.

We love each other in many ways, and the best modes by which we experience love can vary from person to person. The book “The Five Love Languages” lays out five major ways that we give and receive love, namely:

Gift Giving
Acts of Service
Affectionate Touch
Words of Affirmation
Quality Time

What are your top-two love languages? Can you guess the preferred languages of your spouse and children? Sometimes we try to love others as ourselves by loving them exactly as ourselves and we unfortunately miss our mark. For example, imagine a spouse complaining, “Why don’t you let me know that you love me,” when they really mean “why don’t you get me surprises anymore” (gift giving) or “why don’t you tell me that I delight you and you’re pleased with me” (words of affirmation.) At this, their spouse might reply, “What do you mean? I’m loving you all the time,” when they’re really saying “I take care of the kids and do housework” (acts of service) and “We eat and sit in the living room together every evening” (quality time.) These two loving spouses are loving past each other.

Learn the preferred love languages of your family members, and don’t expect others read your mind, sabotaging our own happiness. Tell them how to delight you. They love you and they want to make you happy. Don’t attack and criticize (“You always this” or “You never that”) but invite them to bless you. And pray together, as a couple and a family. The Holy Family surely did and its one of the most valuable things I can recommend. Some married couples, who have shared a bed for years, have never revealed their personal prayer requests to each other. Pray together, and then even whenever frictions arise, you will remember that you are on the same team, together on the same side with God.

Your home will never be perfect – not even the Holy Family’s was perfect. Life’s circumstances will go awry, and there will be sins we have to apologize for and forgive one another. But with trust in God and a daily commitment to loving and serving each other better, you too can live in the peace and joy of the Holy Family.

Defending our Vineyard from our Enemy’s Servants

October 12, 2017

Today’s parable has a straight-forward interpretation: God is the landowner. He establishes his people Israel like a man who sets up a vineyard. God entrusted the care of his vineyard to the chief priests and elders of the people. They are the tenants. Then God sent his servants – the prophets – to obtain the good harvest. But the Jewish leaders resisted and persecuted the prophets; sometimes beating them, sometimes killing them, sometimes stoning them. Finally, God, in the crazy twist to our story, sends his own Son to them. The chief priests and the elders will go on to seize Jesus, condemn him, and see to it that he is taken outside the walls of Jerusalem and killed on a cross. “Therefore,” Jesus says to them, “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.” The authority of the Jewish leaders will be handed over to the Apostles and priests of Jesus’ New Covenant Church; a Church that will baptize and embrace Jews and Gentiles alike, forming a new people in Christ who will produce much fruit.

That is the straight-forward meaning of Jesus’ tale, but I would like to turn your attention back to those wicked tenants in the parable, because they, in a certain way, can serve as an example for us. Now I would not dare to suggest such a thing – I would fear it being scandalous to use the wicked as a Christian example – if Jesus himself had not once used a dishonest steward as someone we could learn from.

As you may recall, the dishonest steward, knowing that he would soon be losing his job, wrote off the debts of his boss’ debtors so that, once he got fired, these new friends of his would welcome him into their homes. Jesus used the shrewdness of this bad man as an example to teach his disciples to ‘make friends for yourselves with the wealth of this world, so that, when these passing things fail one day, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.’ Likewise, I believe we have something valuable to learn from the shrewdness of the vineyard’s wicked tenants in today’s parable.

What if, when the servants of the landowner had arrived at the vineyard, the tenants did not promptly beat them, kill them, or stone them? Imagine if the tenants, instead of turning them out, welcomed the servants’ arrival; giving them food to eat and somewhere to stay on the grounds. Now the wicked tenants’ prior plans to never deliver any of the harvest to the landowner would still be in place, but can you imagine what might happen to their resolve over time?

The good servants staying with the tenants would keep speaking with them so kindly and pleasantly and persuasively, encouraging them to do the right thing. The good servants would encourage the tenants to imagine their possible reward: “If you do what is just, our good master will be even more generous with you! If you will not give him the total amount, could you perhaps give him the least little bit? Surely that wouldn’t hurt and it wouldn’t cost you very much.” If allowed to stay, the servants may well convince the tenants to give up some or all of what they have. However, if the tenants wish to remain faithful to their original intentions, then when their enemy’s servants arrive they should be neither fed nor lodged, conversed with nor welcomed in any friendly manner, lest their persuasion change minds and hearts and plans.

There is a spiritual battle in our midst. You can hear about it on the news and see it in the headlines, hidden behind every divisive controversy and murderous atrocity. (For instance, if no demons played a role in the rise of ISIS, then the demons are not doing anything in our world these days.) But the spiritual battle in our midst is not only fought out there; it is fought within us.

How do temptations come into our minds? From our senses, what we see and hear; from our invisible spiritual enemies, the demons; from our own human brokenness; or any combination of these. However our temptations come, in whatever form they take, our response to them should be as unfriendly at their arrival as those wicked tenants were at the arrival of the landlord’s servants.

Do not welcome temptation when it arrives. Do not feed it. Do not give it a place to dwell and lodge within you. Do not converse with it. Do not fantasize at its suggestions. Do not compromise with it, not even a little. Do not allow it to change your mind, your heart, your plans. Do not befriend temptation, but violently turn it out as a servant of your enemy.

Now temptations may come in our direction even against will – sensations, sights, sounds, thoughts, feelings, memories – these can seem to pop up out of nowhere. Remember that an unwilled temptation, in and of itself, is not a sin. A saint is not someone who never experiences temptation. A saint is someone who chooses what is right and good and loving even amid temptation.

What should you do when temptation comes? First, pray. Pray now, and then again when temptation arrives. Prayer opens the door to Christ and lets him take the lead in our daily lives because he respects our freewill. Pray every day and call on the Lord in times of temptation. He is stronger than all the demons put together and mightier than your weaknesses.

A second helpful thing to do regarding temptation is to change your environment. Sometimes people in confession lament to me about always confessing the same sins. I try to encourage them by pointing out, “Well, thank goodness it’s not something totally different every time: ‘Father, last month I committed arson and this week I robbed a bank! I have no clue what I might do next!‘” Human beings, for better or worse, are creatures of habit, so we can learn a lot from our repeated failures. By changing your environment can do much to avoid temptation. For example, if you’re always gossiping with the same gathering of people, then perhaps avoid that group. If you are always unchaste using the same media, then block, limit, or cut out that technology. If you always get drunk at the same establishment, then stop going there. When you have traveled the same road many times you know well where that road leads. When you find yourself walking on that road, then stop and turn around or take another path. Changing your environment can lead you away from near occasions of sin.

A third and final thing to do amid temptation is to change your focus. The human mind is made to process ideas, to chew on thoughts; we cannot think about nothing. (If I were to tell you not to think about flying alligators, I bet you couldn’t do it for sixty seconds—you’d either be thinking about flying alligators or checking to see whether you’re thinking about them.) What should you think about instead when tempted? Whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, excellent, praiseworthy, think about those things, and you will persevere in doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in Jesus Christ.

Some people only think of temptation as enticements to pleasurable things. But temptation can also be towards unpleasant things, like shame, despair, fear, and anxiety. The devil not only wants you to fall, but to stay down and not get back up. And if he cannot make you fall into sin, he wants you to be neutralized and paralyzed by fear and confusion. What is the antidote for such negative temptations? St. Paul offers this prescription for anxiety: “Brothers and sisters: Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Let’s break that down.

Have no anxiety at all.” Concern is of good use. If you were not concerned about going to church you wouldn’t come. I were not concerned about my homily then I would have nothing to say. Concern is useful, but worry is worthless. Have no anxiety at all, “but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” In everything, whether you are anxious or not, make your requests known to God; not because he doesn’t know, but because it opens you up to him and invites him to work. Pray prayers of praise for who he is, voice your petitions for what you need or want, and do so with thanksgiving – without which you feel impoverished and embittered despite your innumerable blessings. ‘Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding

will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.’ We do not have the big picture, long-term perspective of God to see how God will work all things for the good of those who love him, but by prayer comes a peace that surpasses our limited understanding. This peace will guard your mind and heart in Jesus Christ amid temptation.

God entrusted the Garden of Eden to Adam and Eve to tend and to protect. By the devil’s temptation, they lost their great treasure. Among the many treasures Jesus has given, he has entrusted to you the vineyard of your mind. Tend it and protect it. Do not fall to temptations but drive them out as your enemy’s servants. May your vineyard remain at peace and bear much fruit in Jesus Christ.

A Wonderful Vacation

September 7, 2017

How was my vacation? It was a wonderful adventure! Missouri’s solar eclipse was beautiful; a black circle with white wisps extending over a surprisingly blue background. In the first seconds when the Sun began reemerging from the Moon there was a bright speck and then an expanding light so intense that it could not be looked at. It was like seeing the large stone rolled away from the mouth of the tomb on Easter morning at the moment of the Resurrection.

We touched the St. Louis Arch, a structure whose geometric simplicity belies the amazing landmark that it is. Ask yourself, how would you build such a thing sixty-three stories in the air?

In Arizona, I was pleased to providentially cross paths with Clare Shakal from Cooks Valley. I was surprised to learn she happens to work at the parish where a friend from seminary I was visiting is now pastor.

In  Southern California I saw the last line of light from a red Sun be swallowed by the ocean. Pedestrians paused on the pier to watch the Earth eclipse of the Sun (what we call a sunset) but there was nothing like the numbers who gathered for the much rarer eclipse the week before.

One morning, I body-surfed in the Pacific Ocean, and went to bed in Wisconsin that night. While flying home (over a distance it would have taken me months to travel on foot) I gazed down upon the Grand Canyon for the first time. Our pilot never mentioned it.

My trip had many highlights but the part I enjoyed the most and what seasoned all the rest was the good friends I was blessed to share my adventure with.

What makes something wondrous? Things we encounter often feel less precious and usually go unnoticed. If solar eclipses happened daily at noon they would be no less beautiful but they never make the news. Our world is filled with wonders but even when we live in appreciative gratitude we still long for more. This is a sign to us that we were made to live forever; in a loving communion of persons with an infinitely interesting and beautiful God.

“Being Childlike Towards Jesus and Our Mother” — 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year A

July 9, 2017

In the 1944 Best Picture Winning film, “Going My Way,” Bing Crosby’s character, Fr. Chuck O’Malley, shares this quip: “You know, when I was 18, I thought my father was pretty dumb. After a while, when I got to be 21, I was amazed to find out how much he’d learned in three years.” Of course, the joke is that the dad didn’t get much wiser in three years. The son’s lived experience revealed to him, “You know, my dad actually does know what he’s talking about.” What if your mother were about thirty lifespans old, alive with the same beauty, liveliness, and fruitfulness that she possessed in her youth? Would you listen to her, learn from her, and heed your wise mother’s words? God our Father has given us such a mother in the Holy Catholic Church.

In our first reading from the Old Testament, the prophet Zechariah writes: “Shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem! See, your king shall come to you;a just savior is he, meek, and riding on an ass.” This is a prophesy about the coming of the Messiah, the Christ. It was fulfilled about five centuries later with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Jesus does not enter in as a conqueror, upon a warhorse with sword; but meekly, humbly, on a donkey. All the people are free to welcome him and follow him, and everyone is also free to ignore him and reject him. Jesus is not forcing them to do anything in response to him, much like his Church, which for a quite long time now hasn’t forced anyone anywhere to do anything. In this life, our personal response to Jesus Christ and his Church is completely voluntary, but that decision is not at all trivial.

In our second reading from the Letter to the Romans, St. Paul says: “Brothers and sisters, we are not debtors to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Now when St. Paul opposes “the Flesh” and “the Spirit” he is not saying that the material world and our bodies are evil or bad. At Creation, God saw that these were good, and as Christians we profess that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” St. Paul is using “the Flesh” as shorthand for those aspects of ourselves that are not properly ordered to “the Spirit” of God. Jesus has raised up a fallen world but aspects of our brokenness still remain. This brokenness is seen in both our bodies and minds: in our appetites desiring what is bad for us, and in our intellects rationalizing our wrong ideas. Imagine how much better this world would be if everyone knew and practiced what the Catholic Church teaches. To echo G.K. Chesterton: “The Catholic Faith has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found challenging and left untried.

Someone might raise the objection: “What about all the bad things Catholic clergy have done? How can sinners be guardians of God’s truth?” There have certainly been bad priests, bad bishops, and even bad popes whose personal sins have done great harm to many. They are a scandal and a sacrilege. But amazingly, even when the most unworthy men have been pope, none of them formally promulgated heresies over the Church. Jesus told his apostles: “Whoever hears you hears me,” knowing fully that Judas Iscariot, his betrayer, was among their number. None of the apostles were sinless men, but Jesus chose them and their successors to preach his message, cast out demons, cure the sick, and administer his sacraments. How tragic it would be if an innocent harmed or scandalized by Judas the Betrayer wanted nothing more to do with Jesus Christ’s Church. Jesus loves his little ones and does not want any to be hurt or estranged from his Church.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus praises his Father saying “you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned but revealed them to little ones,”  In saying this, Jesus is not rejecting higher education or those who possess it. However, even if you have some degrees on your wall and initials after your name, these are not enough in themselves to receive the teaching of Christ and his Church. We all must be childlike. Childlike, not childish. A childish person is selfish, immature, willful, rebellious, and you can’t teach them anything.  But a childlike person is open, humble, loyal, devoted, and teachable. As Jesus declares on another occasion: “Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.”

Pope Paul VI observed, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” With than in mind I’d like to witness to a time when, despite my initial hesitancy, responding to Jesus’ teaching blessed me in surprising ways.

When I was in college, my schoolwork was a grind. I always looked forward to our vacations, but they were always weeks or months away, on the other side of my papers’ due dates and final exams. At that time, I realized that although I had always gone to Mass I had never kept Sunday as a special day of rest. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “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, (that hinder) the joy proper to the Lord’s Day, (that hinder) the performance of the works of mercy, (or that hinder) the appropriate relaxation of mind and body.” It then adds, “Family needs or important social service can legitimately excuse from the obligation of Sunday rest. (However,) the faithful should see to it that legitimate excuses do not lead to habits prejudicial to religion, family life, and health.

I didn’t want to reach the end of my days wondering what would have happened if I had been faithful to Christ in this area, so decided to stop doing my homework or studies on Sundays. There were some very late Saturday nights, but I kept faithfully to this rule. And, after a while, I noticed two surprising things. First, my Sunday rest never burned me. I don’t recall ever bombing a test, failing to meet a deadline, or doing worse on any of my assignments because of not having worked on Sunday. The second surprise was that I began to look forward to every Sunday as a one-day vacation. In addition to going to church, it was a day for taking a map, going out to eat, watching a movie, or just hanging out with my friends. I gave a gift of myself to the Lord and he gave me an even greater gift in return.

Perhaps you are afraid to let the teachings of Jesus Christ in his Church to impact your time or your money, your sexuality or your marriage, your politics or your addictions, but I urge you to be brave and wise. Just last week, we heard Jesus tell his apostles: “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” Jesus was not merely referring to receiving the apostles in their persons but the message that they preached.

We resist change because we fear the limitation of our freedom. We fear what the change might cost us. We fear a heavy yoke being locked around our neck and weighing upon our shoulders. But do not be afraid. Jesus offers you a better way. He says: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” Please trust in Jesus, learn from him, and sacrifice your will to his. And do not be afraid, for God will not be outdone in generosity.

“Egyptian Christians are made of Steel!”

April 23, 2017

Last Palm Sunday, in Egypt’s Nile Delta, a terrorist detonated a suicide bomb in a Coptic Christian church. 27 were killed and 78 wounded. Then, just hours later, there was another bombing at Saint Mark’s Cathedral in the coastal city of Alexandria. The Coptic patriarch had just finished celebrating Palm Sunday Mass when another terrorist attempted to get inside that church. At least 17 were killed and 48 wounding, but many more may have been murdered if the killer had not been prevented from entering by security guards at the gate.

These attacks are a reminder that Christian persecution and martyrdoms are very much alive today. An Egyptian TV news show interviewed a Christian woman whose husband, AmNeseem, was one of those gatekeepers who restrained the second terrorist and died in the blast. The mourning widow’s words and the reaction of the Muslim news anchor in the studio are remarkable:

Stories from a Saint’s Diary

April 19, 2017

St. Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938) was a nun in Poland who experienced visions of Jesus Christ later deemed by the Church as worthy of belief—though (as like all private revelations) not required to be believed by the faithful. The Divine Mercy Image, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, and Divine Mercy Sunday all stem from of her apparitions. St. Faustina detailed her experiences in a diary she kept from 1934 until her death. It is an episodic but fascinating read. These are just some of her stories:

●  Once [at age 19] I was at a dance with one of my [biological] sisters. While everybody was having a good time, my soul was experiencing deep torments. As I began to dance, I suddenly saw Jesus at my side, Jesus racked with pain, stripped of His clothing, all covered with wounds, who spoke these words to me: How long shall I put up with you and how long will you keep putting Me off? At that moment the charming music stopped, [and] the company I was with vanished from my sight; there remained Jesus and I. I took a seat by my dear sister pretending to have a headache in order to cover up what took place in my soul. After a while I slipped out unnoticed, leaving my sister and all my companions behind and made my way to the Cathedral of Saint Stanislaus Kostka. It was almost twilight; there were only a few people in the cathedral. Paying no attention to what was happening around me, I fell prostrate before the Blessed Sacrament and begged the Lord to be good enough to give me to understand what I should do next. Then I heard these words: Go at once to Warsaw; you will enter a convent there. I rose from prayer, came home, and took care of things that needed to be settled. As best I could, I confided to my sister what took place within my soul. I told her to say goodbye to our parents, and thus, in my one dress, with no other belonging, I arrived in Warsaw. (Diary paragraphs #9-10)

●  Once, I desired very much to receive Holy Communion, but I had a certain doubt, and I did not go. I suffered greatly because of this. It seemed to me that my heart would burst from the pain. When I set about my work, my heart full of bitterness, Jesus suddenly stood by me and said, My daughter, do not omit Holy Communion unless you know well that your fall was serious; apart from this, no doubt must stop you from uniting yourself with Me in the mystery of My love. Your minor faults will disappear in My love like a piece of straw thrown into a great furnace. Know that you grieve Me much when you fail to receive Me in Holy Communion. (#156)

●  Once the Lord said to me, Act like a beggar who does not back away when he gets more alms [than he asked for], but offers thanks the more fervently. You too, should not back away and say that you are not worthy of receiving greater graces when I give them to you. I know you are unworthy, but rejoice all the more and take as many treasures from My Heart as you can carry, for then you will please Me more. And I will tell you one more thing—take these graces not only for yourself, but also for others; that is, encourage the souls with whom you come in contact to trust in My infinite mercy… (#294)

●  Once, when I was visiting the artist who was painting the [Divine Mercy] image, and saw that it was not as beautiful as Jesus is, I felt very sad about it, but I hid this deep in my heart. When we had left the artist’s house, Mother Superior stayed in town to attend to some matters while I returned home alone. I went immediately to the chapel and wept a good deal. I said to the Lord, “Who will paint You as beautiful as You are?” Then I heard these words: Not in the beauty of the color, nor of the brush lies the greatness of this image, but in My grace. (#313)

●  On the evening of the last day before my departure from Vilnius, an elderly sister revealed the condition of her soul to me. She said that she had already been suffering interiorly for several years, that it seemed to her that all her confessions had been bad, and that she had doubts as to whether the Lord Jesus had forgiven her. I asked her if she had ever told her confessor about this. She answered that she had spoken many times about this to her confessors and… “the confessors are always telling me to be at peace, but still I suffer very much, and nothing brings me relief, and it constantly seems to me that God has not forgiven me.” In answered, “You should obey your confessor, Sister, and be fully at peace, because this is certainly a temptation.” But she entreated me with tears in her eyes to ask Jesus if He had forgiven her and whether her confessions had been good or not. I answered forcefully, “Ask Him yourself, Sister, if you don’t believe your confessors!” But she clutched my hand and did not want to let me go until I gave her an answer, and she kept asking me to pray for her and to let her know what Jesus would tell me about her. Crying bitterly, she would not let me go and said to me, “I know that the Lord Jesus speaks to you, Sister.” Since she was clutching my hand and I could not wrench myself away, I promised her I would pray for her. In the evening, during Benediction, I heard these words in my soul: Tell her that her disbelief wounds My heart more than the sins she committed. When I told her this, she began to cry like a child, and great joy entered her soul. I understood that God wanted to console this soul through me. Even though it cost me a good deal, I fulfilled God’s wish. (#628)

●  After Holy Communion today, I spoke at length to the Lord Jesus about people who are special to me. Then I heard these words: My daughter, dont be exerting yourself so much with words. Those whom you love in a special way, I too love in a special way, and for your sake, I shower My graces upon them. I am pleased when you tell Me about them, but don’t be doing so with such excessive effort. (#739)

●  February 6, [1937]. Today, the Lord said to me, My daughter, I am told that there is much simplicity in you, so why do you not tell Me about everything that concerns you, even the smallest details? Tell Me about everything, and know that this will give Me great joy. I answered, “But You know about everything, Lord.” And Jesus replied to me, Yes, I do know; but you should not excuse yourself with the fact that I know, but with childlike simplicity talk to Me about everything, for My ears and heart are inclined towards you, and your words are dear to Me. (#921)

Loving Mercy Overcomes Error

January 10, 2017

Reflections on John 1:43-51

philip-and-nathanael     In the early days of his public ministry, Jesus decided to go to Galilee. There he found his future apostle Philip and says to him, “Follow me.” Philip, from the same town along the northern coast of Galilee as Peter and Andrew, was so awed at encountering Jesus that he tracked down his friend Nathanael (also known as Bartholomew.) Philip told him, “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth!” (Philip is sharing happy news, “We’ve found the promised Messiah, the Christ, and he’s not too far from here!”) But Nathanael is unimpressed and unconvinced, saying, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip winsomely replies, “Come and see.

When Jesus sees Nathanael coming toward him he says of him, “Here is a true child of Israel. There is no duplicity in him.” Nathanael asks, “How do you know me?” Jesus answers, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.” Nathanael declares, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel!” Jesus replies to him, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.” Jesus tells him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

Why did Nathanael’s opinion about Jesus, that man from Nazareth, change so suddenly? Perhaps Nathanael was sitting under a particular fig tree when Philip found him and Nathanael, believing that there was no natural way Jesus could have known or guessed this, was instantly persuaded. Another explanation is that Jesus is referring to a memorable dream Nathanael has recently had. It’s strange that Jesus would describe an honest man as a son of Israel—that is, as a son of Jacob—whose duplicitous deeds are detailed in Genesis. But recall how Jacob once had a dream in which he saw the angels of God ascending and descending a stairway to Heaven while the Lord God stood beside him. (Genesis 28:10-19) Jesus alludes to that event in this encounter. Now if a stranger were to tell me about a conversation I thought no one else had witnessed, I’d be intrigued; but if someone were to accurately describe my dream from the night before, that person would have my full attention. Whatever the reason behind Nathanael’s change of heart it was the style of Philip and Jesus’ approaches that made it possible.

The Gospels show us through numerous episodes how the apostles started off as far from perfect. When told that Jesus was from Nazareth, Nathanael replies, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” This story presents Nathanael’s prejudice and how that bias nearly made him reject the Christ out of hand. What did Nathanael hold against those Nazarenes living some thirty miles away? Did he think them unfriendly, lazy, unrefined, impious, unscrupulous? Whatever the reason, he looked down on them and it showed.

Nathanael’s rash dismissal of the Nazarene maligns someone Philip regards as a great and holy man. Yet Philip does respond in anger. Instead, he urges Nathanael to learn more. “Come and see.” Nathanael is persuaded by his friend to give this Jesus guy a chance—a fair hearing—and this modest openness eventually leads to him being won over. Still today, one of the best means for dissolving prejudices of every sort is through experiencing “the Other” firsthand.

As Jesus sees Nathanael approaching he demonstrates a penetrating supernatural knowledge of him. Jesus probably knew what Nathanael had previously remarked in secret but Jesus does not reproach or condemn him for it. Instead, Jesus compliments what is good in Nathanael: “Here is a true child of Israel. There is no duplicity in him.” Though they do not yet see eye-to-eye, Jesus affirms his sincerity. This opens a door to dialogue that not only changes Nathanael’s mind but his entire life, as he goes on to become an apostle for Christ.

We could imagine a pricklier Philip or a different Jesus rejecting and condemning Nathanael for his initial disrespect toward the Christ of God; however, we see both practice tolerance toward him. Christians are commonly caricatured as easily offended but I have found that the more faithful variety show extensive mercy—which is very different than indifference. We are called to loathe error, but to love everyone. True tolerance does not hate others for holding wrong beliefs but loves them while trying to lead them to the truth.

It would be an oversimplification to say that forceful confrontation is never called for. Jesus occasionally denounced others, like “that fox” King Herod, the hypocritical Pharisees, and the evil spirits. Sometimes Jesus manifested his displeasure through bold prophetic acts, like flipping money-tables at the Temple or cursing the fig tree. Yet Jesus possessed perfect wisdom and a clear vision into others’ hearts. “Jesus knew their thoughts” and “did not need anyone to testify about human nature.” (Luke 5:22, John 2:25) We, however, must guard ourselves to be “slow to wrath,” for apart from the Holy Spirit’s prompting, “the wrath of a man does not accomplish the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19-20)

In this era of division, let us promote unity in advocating for the truth. In our disagreements with friends or strangers, online or face to face, let us shun anger, sarcasm, and revilement and presume the other’s good faith and sincerity. This manner of winsome mercy won Nathanael’s mind and heart for Christ and it can be just as powerful today.

Thy Kingdom Come — Tuesday, 1st Week of Advent

December 1, 2016

Readings: Isaiah 11, Luke 10

While recently visiting the Sea of Galilee in Israel I saw something in the skies I had never seen before. There were miles-wide concentric cloud rings with the occasional sound of long, rolling, man-made thunder. Though these things were interesting to behold, I hated the reason behind why they needed to be there. Northwestern Israel borders Syria and these high-altitude contrails and jet-engine sounds were from the Israeli Air Force’s U.S.-made F-15’s or F-16’s on defensive air patrols to ensure their neighbor’s civil war did not spill over into their own country.

The coastline of the Sea of Galilee is beautiful, peaceful, and prosperous. We were able to celebrate a Mass in an outside chapel near the site where Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection and had breakfast with his disciples (as recorded in John 21.) But while we were free to tour and worship without threat or fear, the people of Aleppo, Syria were under siege just 250 miles north. There the Russian bear and the Syrian wolf are allied against the ISIS serpent in a battle for the right to rule over the suffering lambs and little children caught in the middle. The prophet Isaiah’s poetic vision of the radical peace the Messiah (or Christ) would someday establish has not yet fully come:

       “Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
       The calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them.
       The cow and the bear shall be neighbors,
together their young shall rest;
the lion shall eat hay like the ox.
       The baby shall play by the cobra’s den,
and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair.
       There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD, as water covers the sea.”  (Isaiah 11:4-9)

The Infant Child of PragueOn one occasion, turning to the disciples in private, Jesus said, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I say to you, many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.” (Luke 10:23-24) Many great Old Testament figures longed for the promised Messiah but died before his coming. We are blessed to live in an age which has seen his arrival and blessed to have heard his message. Yet further blessed are we if we pray and prepare the path for the New Creation Christ promises to bring.

Along the sea of Galilee, it is possible to give no thought to the suffering and death happening not so far away. Likewise, in our beautiful, peaceful, prosperous country it is possible to ignore that there are grave evils in our midst, happening just out of sight. But blessed are we if we choose to long and labor for the life of the New Heavens and New Earth.

        “Blessed are they who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
        …Blessed are they who hunger and thirst
for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
        …Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
        …Blessed are they who are persecuted for
    the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the
    kingdom of heaven.”  (Matthew 5)

What Remains of Capernaum Today — Monday, 1st Week of Advent

December 1, 2016

Readings: Isaiah 4, Matthew 8

galilean-sunrise-at-tiberius-november-2016Capernaum was a home base for Jesus Christ during his ministry in Galilee. Josephus, the 1st century A.D. Roman-Jewish historian, wrote that 30,000 people lived in Capernaum. Josephus has a bad reputation for exaggerating his figures but even if the true number were one-third that, Capernaum would still be a major city on the ancient trade route. But today, if you visit Capernaum (or Kfar Nahum “Nahum’s village” in Hebrew), you will find very little standing there. There are the ancient ruins St. Peter the Apostle’s home and of  a fourth-century synagogue, a couple of Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches and monasteries, but not much else. The nearby surroundings are dry orchard fields and rocky barrenness. Capernaum is no longer a great, impressive city. Jesus had once foretold of its desolation:

        “And as for you, Capernaum:
‘Will you be exalted to heaven?
       You will go down to the netherworld.’
       For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.”  (Matthew 11:23)

One thing remaining from Capernaum are the Gospel accounts of this encounter between Jesus and a centurion. Once, when Jesus entered the city, the centurion approached and appealed to him, saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, suffering dreadfully.” Jesus told him, “I will come and cure him.” The centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed. For I too am a person subject to authority, with soldiers subject to me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith….” And Jesus said to the centurion, “You may go; as you have believed, let it be done for you.” And at that very hour his servant was healed. (Matthew 8)

The centurion does not do very much in this episode. According to Luke 7’s telling, he actually communicated with Jesus through intermediaries. So what about him impressed Jesus so much? The centurion’s few words reveal his reverent humility and confident trust before Jesus, and his loving concern for his suffering servant. Jesus is not impressed by world wealth and power, by great cities or empires, but by acts of faith and love, which remain before him always.

Catholics Who Moved Mountains

September 29, 2016

        Jesus said his apostles, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” On another occasion, he told his disciples, “Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

        Though I have yet to come across any historical accounts of saints transplanting foliage or excavating stones by faith-powered miracles, there are many historically-documented incidents of Catholics achieving the seemingly-impossible on earth through their faith.

St. John Paul II and the Soviet Union’s Fall

        Karol Wojtyła barely survived the Nazi’s occupation of Poland, but once that evil was defeated the Soviet Union replaced them. As parish priest and later as an archbishop, Wojtyła championed the Catholic Faith against the atheistic communists’ religious persecution. Upon his election as pope in 1978, John Paul II’s first papal journey abroad was to go back to his homeland.

        While there, he celebrated an outdoor Mass before millions, proclaiming Jesus’ words, “Be not afraid!” The crowd shouted in reply, “We want God! We want God! We want God!” Speaking in defense of human dignity, he encouraged all people to peacefully pursue true freedom. The threat posed by this Polish pope (armed merely with his words, example, and prayers) was so potent that the Soviets may have ordered his nearly successful assassination in 1981.

        On the 1984 Feast of the Annunciation, Pope John Paul consecrated Russia (along with the whole world) to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, just as she had requested in her appearances at Fatima, Portugal in 1917. On Christmas Day, seven years later, a miracle was realized. Mikhail Gorbachev peacefully resigned as the President of the Soviet Union and from atop the Kremlin, the Soviet flag was lowered forever. The ‘Evil Empire‘ ended not by a thousand Sun-bright nuclear blasts, but through the peaceful power of God and the faithfulness of his holy, humble servant.

St. Joan of Arc’s Liberation of France

 joan-of-arc-at-the-coronation-of-charles-vii       In the 15th century, France was delivered from English domination by history’s most-unlikely military commander; a teenage peasant girl. Joan had no military training, but she was compelled by visions and the voices of Sts. Michael, Catherine, and Margaret to lead the French forces, drive out the English, and see prince Charles VII crowned king at Reims. With divine help, she achieved all these feats before her martyrdom at the hand of the English at the age of nineteen. Mark Twain (though not generally a fan of historic Christianity) wrote of her:

Whatever thing men call great, look for it in Joan of Arc, and there you will find it. …It took six thousand years to produce her; her like will not be seen in the earth again in fifty thousand. …  She is easily and by far the most extraordinary person the human race has ever produced.

        St. Joan of Arc was indeed great, but her glory was but the mere reflection of God’s infinite splendor.

Fleming’s Discovery of Penicillin

        History has seen many great Catholic scientists, including Copernicus (Sun-centrism), Bacon (the scientific method), Descartes (modern geometry), Mendel (genetics), Pasteur (microbiology), and Lemaître (the Big Bang Theory) just to name a handful. But one Catholic scientist’s search for effective antibiotics in the early 20th century saved an estimated two hundred million lives. Through insights occasioned by providential occurrences, Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin. In this, he saw himself employed as an instrument by God:

I can only suppose that God wanted penicillin, and that this was his reason for creating Alexander Fleming.”

St. Patrick’s Conversion of Ireland

        In the 5th century, a 16-year-old boy was kidnapped from Britain and sold into slavery on a distant, pagan isle. There he experienced a spiritual awakening. He tells us:

I used to stay out in the forests and on the mountain and I would wake up before daylight to pray in the snow, in icy coldness, in rain, and I used to feel neither ill nor any slothfulness, because, as I now see, the Spirit was burning in me at that time. And it was there of course that one night in my sleep I heard a voice saying to me: ‘You do well to fast: soon you will depart for your home country.’ And again, a very short time later, there was a voice prophesying: ‘Behold, your ship is ready.’ And it was not close by, but, as it happened, two hundred miles away, where I had never been nor knew any person. And shortly thereafter I turned about and fled from the man with whom I had been for six years, and I came, by the power of God who directed my route to advantage (and I was afraid of nothing), until I reached that ship.”

        Lead on by this faith, he went on to become a priest, a bishop, and a missionary to the land of his former bondage. Today we think of Ireland as a very Catholic country, but it only became so through the courageous faith of St. Patrick.

Our Lord’s Redemption of the World

        In the 1st century, by his short three-year ministry in a backwater of the Roman Empire, this poor man from Nazareth transformed the world forever. Jesus Christ is the pattern for all fruitful disciples who have followed him since, achieving the impossible through faith and the power of God. One anonymous author describes Christ in these words:

Greatest man in history, named Jesus.
Had no servants, yet they called Him Master.
Had no degree, yet they called Him Teacher.
Had no medicines, yet they called Him Healer.
He had no army, yet kings feared Him.
He won no military battles, yet He conquered the world.
He committed no crime, yet they crucified Him.
He was buried in a tomb, yet He lives today.


Jesus on the Cross

3 Interpretations of the Parable of the Dishonest Steward

September 17, 2016

Luke 16:1-13

The Parable of the Dishonest Steward, Biblia Ectypa, 1695.#1: The previously-dishonest steward is merely writing-off his own commissions. Likewise, we must forgive our debtors’ debts (or sins) so that we may be shown mercy. (Matthew 6:12) But why would his commissions be 20% for one debt and 50% on another? Perhaps the dishonest steward is actually covering his thievery’s tracks. Which brings us to…

#2: The steward is giving away what belongs to the rich man, his boss. Likewise, everything that we possess belongs to God, but we win favor though sharing these blessings with others. Both Mercy and Generosity win welcome into eternal dwellings, for Jesus says ‘whatever you do for the least of these you do it for me’ and ‘the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.’

#3: What would have become of the dishonest steward without his decisive plan and action? Disaster. Likewise, we must be intentional about our own religious/spiritual growth. “The children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.” What excuse do we have? More importantly, what is our plan?

The Prodigal Us — 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year C

September 11, 2016

Readings

It has been said that there are two kinds of people in this world: sinners who think they’re saints, and saints who know they’re sinners. Every saint has a past, and every sinner can have a future. We all have been the Prodigal (or wasteful) Son at various times in our lives. Whether for years, for days or hours, or just for moments, we have each strayed from and returned to our Father-God who delights to have us back. When we are being tempted to sin, we are being tempted to leave our Father’s house and no longer keep his company. In sinning we say, even if in a small way, “You may not be dead, but I want it to be as if you were. Give me an inheritance now. I can have an easier time, or a more enjoyable time, misusing your stuff than I can have by remaining with you.”

The Prodigal Son took his father’s things and went off to a distant country. The Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of this World are countries distant from each other, and yet they exist side-by-side. Sinners and saints live side-by-side together here below, but the difference between them is vast. A life of sin may be easier for awhile. The Prodigal Son enjoyed sensual pleasures and was free of his duties, like working in the fields with his older brother. But sin soon leaves us spent and depleted, as in drought and famine. If honest with ourselves, we sense our dire need.

At first, the Prodigal Son attempted his own coping-mechanisms short of repentance. He hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the pigs. (For Jews, tending ritually-unclean pigs would be one of the most degrading things a person could do.) The Prodigal Son longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. (His boss provided for the swine better than for him.) A sinner’s life is slavery. It’s unsatisfying, it’s unhappy, and they feel unloved. This does not excuse away the bad and harmful things they do, but hurting people hurt people. And knowing this, we can feel compassion for sinners.

The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt, St. Petersburg, 1662.Coming to his senses, realizing how much he has lost, the Prodigal Son decided to go back home. He knew his unworthiness, so he prepared a speech to persuade his father to show mercy. But his Father needs no persuasion. While his son was still a long way off, the father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. I imagine the father saw him from a long way off because he often looked to that road hoping his son would return. This day, he did. The father ran to his son—even though in that culture a dignified men would not run. Men might walk or let others come to them, but this father ran to his son. Then the father restores his son, with robe, sandals and ring, and declares a feast.

The son had decided to leave and decided to return home. The decision to dwell in the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of this world is our choice. We are free, to wander or return, because God’s offer of grace (including his invitation to the sacrament of reconciliation) is always there. Though we wander in sin, averting our eyes from God, we can never escape his sight. Psalm 139 says, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to the heavens, you are there; if I lie down in the underworld, there you are.” And when we turn back to him, he runs to us, as the same humility we saw in the Incarnation. And then the celebration begins. As Jesus says, “There will be more joy in heaven [and among the angels of God] over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.

As St. Paul declares in our second reading, “This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Every saint has a past, and every sinner can have a future. In this Year of Mercy, let us each trust in God’s mercy, respond to his mercy, and practice mercy as Jesus would have us do.