Archive for the ‘Christian Perfection’ Category

Jesus’ Questions

February 3, 2017

Jesus Christ    By one count, Jesus asks 307 questions in the Gospels. Some of Jesus’ questions were rhetorical (asked to demonstrate a point) but other questions insist on a personal response. Below are some of his shorter questions. As you read this list, sense which questions Jesus is asking you today. What is your reply to him?

Why are you anxious about clothes?  — Matthew 6:28

Why are you terrified?  — Matthew 8:26

Do you believe I can do this?  — Matthew 9:28

Why did you doubt?  — Matthew 14:31

But who do you say that I am?  — Matthew 16:15

What do you want me to do for you?  — Matthew 20:32

Why are you testing me?  — Matthew 22:18

Could you not watch for me one brief hour?   — Matthew 26:40

Why this commotion and weeping?  — Mark 5:39

Why does this generation seek a sign?  — Mark 8:12

What were you arguing about on the way?   — Mark 9:33

Where is your faith?  — Luke 8:25

What is your name?  — Luke 8:30

Who touched me?  — Luke 8:45

Will you be exalted to heaven?  — Luke 10:15

Why are you sleeping?  — Luke 22:46

Have you anything here to eat?  — Luke 24:41

What are you looking for?  — John 1:38

Do you want to be well?  — John 5:6

Does this teaching shock you?  — John 6:61

Do you also want to leave me?  — John 6:67

Why do you not understand what I am saying?  — John 8:43

Do you believe this?  — John 11:26

Do you realize what I have done for you?  — John 13:12

Whom are you looking for?  — John 18:4

Shall I not drink the cup the Father gave me?  — John 18:11

Do you love me?  — John 21:16


For more of Jesus’ questions, check out this list.

St. Ignatius’ 14 Rules for Spiritual Discernment & The Lord of the Rings

January 26, 2017

Please enjoy, and freely Like and Share this video.
My special thanks goes to Mary Walker for lending her voice to this project.

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.

Reflections on Martyrdom

December 29, 2016

I have not seen and cannot recommend the recently-released Martin Scorsese film Silence, but reviewers describe it as haunting and unsettling for believers and non-believers alike. It is set in Japan during a fierce persecution of Roman Catholics in the mid-1600’s. In one scene, a Jesuit missionary is forced to watch arrested Japanese Christians be cruelly tortured before him. The young priest is told that these men and women’s sufferings will cease if he would only step on an image of Christ and renounce his faith. What does Jesus want his followers to do if faced with such a choice?

A person might think there is little harm done in trampling the crude likeness of someone, or by insincerely mouthing a few words, but Jesus told his disciples, “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.” (1) At the very start of his ministry it seems that Jesus himself was confronted with the film’s test; the temptation to deny God so that human suffering would end.

After his baptism, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” (2) But Jesus firmly refused. Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness by James Tissot 1886-1894.What was so wicked about the devil’s suggestion? What could be wrong with alleviating hunger? Imagine if Jesus had relented, waving his hand over a nearby brown stone and then biting through its soft crust. Then the devil could accuse him, “So, you have provided food for yourself—how can you now refuse to wield your power to feed the whole world!?” Satan also pressured Jesus to insist that the Father spare him from death: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down [from this great height]…” But Jesus again refused. The tempter preferred Jesus to be a messiah who would give people an abundance of material wealth and safety while leaving them in their sins, separated from God forever.

Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written: ‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.’” Jesus accepted suffering with and alongside us as a crucified savior-king and never surrendered to the temptation of becoming an earthly ruler who had denied God and bowed to Satan. Jesus Christ understood that he would be Isaiah’s “Suffering Servant” and “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” as St. John the Baptist proclaimed him. (3) Even as his desert tempter invited him to end all earthly hardship, Jesus in some sense foresaw the multitude of suffering martyrs who would follow his path after him. Jesus did not waiver. Jesus refused to capitulate to evil for this world’s fleeting, lesser goods because was not the will of God, his Father.

These reflections came to mind last week on the December 28th Feast of the Holy Innocents, those little ones who died in place of Jesus Christ. When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi. (4) Modern biblical scholars estimate Bethlehem’s population was around 1,000 at that time, which means that up to about twenty infants were slain. (5)

These babies and toddlers have been venerated in the Church since the first century.  Early Church Fathers, including St. Irenaeus of Lyon and St. Augustine, and the liturgical tradition of the Church have celebrated them as saints and martyrs. (6) This pair of titles is remarkable for those “who, though still unable to profess [Jesus] in speech, were crowned with heavenly grace on account of his birth.” (7) None of these young Jewish boys were baptized or made a conscious decision to die for Jesus, but they were all saved through Christ.

Jesus spoke of the importance of baptism for salvation, for instance saying, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” (8) Yet he also said, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.” (9) The Church, lacking an explicit teaching from Christ about children who die unbaptized, “can only entrust them to the [great] mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them.” (10) Perhaps the Lord, knowing his own provisions for their salvation, has kept us in our uncertainty lest we employ the twisted logic of Herod, Pharaoh, or Pilate to rationalize the intentional killing of little ones. In any case, it has been the firm conviction and long tradition of Christ’s Catholic Church that the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem now dwell with him in Heaven.

Jesus Christ and his martyrs, from Bethlehem to Japan, reveal and witness to strengthening truths: That this life, however long or short, is not all that there is. That God can bring salvation out of evil, even from crimes and disasters that break our hearts and surpass our understanding. And the martyrs affirm that, as Charles Spurgeon said, “Suffering is better than sinning. There is more evil in a drop of sin than in an ocean of affliction. Better [to] burn for Christ, than [to] turn from Christ.” Whatever terrible crosses may afflict us or those we love we can remember that our crucified Lord has suffered likewise and is always with us. Jesus tells us, “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” (11)

26-martyrs-of-japan

A memorial to “The Twenty-Six Martyrs of Japan,” a group of Roman Catholics executed by crucifixion on February 5, 1597 at Nagasaki. Their feast day (i.e., St. Paul Miki and companions) is February 6th.

Footnotes:
(1) –  Matthew 10:32.
(2) –  Matthew 4:1-11.
(3) –  Isaiah 52:13-53:12, John 1:29 & 1:36.
(4) –  Matthew 2:16.
(5) – Raymond E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, pp.104–121.
Donald A. Hagner, World Biblical Commentary, Matthew 1–13, pg.37.
“Holy Innocents” entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia. 
(6) – Hugo H. Hoever, Lives of the Saints, pg.525.
(7) –  Opening Mass Prayer for The Feast of the Holy Innocents.
(8) –  Mark 16:16.
(9) –  Matthew 19:14.
(10) – Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1261.
(11) – John 16:33.

 

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.

Catholic Teachings About The End Times

November 10, 2016

Catechism of the Catholic Church #668-679

I.  HE WILL COME AGAIN IN GLORY
Christ already reigns through the Church…

The Resurrection by Piero della Francesca, 1450-1463.        “Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.”
Christ’s Ascension into heaven signifies his participation, in his humanity, in God’s power and authority. Jesus Christ is Lord: he possesses all power in heaven and on earth. He is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion,” for the Father “has put all things under his feet.” Christ is Lord of the cosmos and of history. In him human history and indeed all creation are “set forth” and transcendently fulfilled.

        As Lord, Christ is also head of the Church, which is his Body. Taken up to heaven and glorified after he had thus fully accomplished his mission, Christ dwells on earth in his Church. The redemption is the source of the authority that Christ, by virtue of the Holy Spirit, exercises over the Church. “The kingdom of Christ [is] already present in mystery,” “on earth, the seed and the beginning of the kingdom.”

        Since the Ascension God’s plan has entered into its fulfillment. We are already at “the last hour.” “Already the final age of the world is with us, and the renewal of the world is irrevocably under way; it is even now anticipated in a certain real way, for the Church on earth is endowed already with a sanctity that is real but imperfect.” Christ’s kingdom already manifests its presence through the miraculous signs that attend its proclamation by the Church.

…until all things are subjected to him.

      Though already present in his Church, Christ’s reign is nevertheless yet to be fulfilled “with power and great glory” by the king’s return to earth. This reign is still under attack by the evil powers, even though they have been defeated definitively by Christ’s Passover. Until everything is subject to him, “until there be realized new heavens and a new earth in which justice dwells, the pilgrim Church, in her sacraments and institutions, which belong to this present age, carries the mark of this world which will pass, and she herself takes her place among the creatures which groan and travail yet and await the revelation of the sons of God.” That is why Christians pray, above all in the Eucharist, to hasten Christ’s return by saying to him: Marana tha! “Our Lord, come!”

        Before his Ascension Christ affirmed that the hour had not yet come for the glorious establishment of the messianic kingdom awaited by Israel which, according to the prophets, was to bring all men the definitive order of justice, love, & peace. According to the Lord, the present time is the time of the Spirit and of witness, but also a time still marked by “distress” and the trial of evil which does not spare the Church and ushers in the struggles of the last days. It is a time of waiting and watching.

The glorious advent of Christ, Israel’s hope

        Since the Ascension Christ’s coming in glory has been imminent, even though “it is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority.” This eschatological coming could be accomplished at any moment, even if both it and the final trial that will precede it are “delayed.”

        The glorious Messiah’s coming is suspended at every moment of history until his recognition by “all Israel,” for “a hardening has come upon part of Israel” in their “unbelief” toward Jesus. St. Peter says to the Jews of Jerusalem after Pentecost: “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for establishing all that God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old.” St. Paul echoes him: “For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?” The “full inclusion” of the Jews in the Messiah’s salvation, in the wake of “the full number of the Gentiles,” will enable the People of God to achieve “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” in which “God may be all in all.” 

The Church’s ultimate trial

The Devil Tempting a Young Woman by André Jacques Victor Orsel, 1832.

        Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the “mystery of iniquity” in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh.

      The Antichrist’s deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the “intrinsically perverse” political form of a secular messianism.

        The Church will enter the glory of the kingdom only through this final Passover, when she will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection. The kingdom will be fulfilled, then, not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancy, but only by God’s victory over the final unleashing of evil, which will cause his Bride to come down from heaven. God’s triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of the Last Judgment after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world.

II. TO JUDGE THE LIVING AND THE DEAD

The Resurrection by El Greco, Madrid, 1596-1600.      Following in the steps of the prophets and John the Baptist, Jesus announced the judgment of the Last Day in his preaching. Then will the conduct of each one and the secrets of hearts be brought to light. Then will the culpable unbelief that counted the offer of God’s grace as nothing be condemned. Our attitude about our neighbor will disclose acceptance or refusal of grace and divine love. On the last day Jesus will say: “Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”

        Christ is Lord of eternal life. Full right to pass definitive judgment on the works and hearts of men belongs to him as redeemer of the world. He “acquired” this right by his cross. The Father has given “all judgment to the Son.” Yet the Son did not come to judge, but to save and to give the life he has in himself. By rejecting grace in this life, one already judges oneself, receives according to one’s works, and can even condemn oneself for all eternity by rejecting the Spirit of love.

A Litany for the Souls in Purgatory

November 2, 2016

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 stokes,

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 twenty-four 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.

On Our Separated Brethren

October 30, 2016

At the end of this month, four hundred ninety-nine years ago, a German Augustinian Catholic priest and theology professor sent the archbishop of Mainz a letter and a list of ninety-five statements disputing the Church’s teachings on indulgences. The friar later may have also posted his “ninety-five theses” as an invitation for debate on his university’s chapel door in Wittenberg. Events would snowball from there, with examinations and public debate, and ultimately an excommunication. That monk’s name was Martin Luther.

martin-luther-portriat-by-lucas-cranach-the-elder-1528

Martin Luther (1483-1546)

Luther rebelled in the belief that he was calling the Church to holy reform, back to its original purity, freed from all false additions. But unlike St. Francis, whose radical devotion to the Gospel and the Church strengthened Christendom, Luther’s efforts brought about division which remains to our day. The “Protestant Reformation” gave rise to Lutheranism, Calvinism, Anglicanism, and their many denominational breakoffs, including Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists,  Evangelicals, Pentecostals, and others.

What do we as Catholics believe about the Christians in these non-Catholic communities and what does the Catholic Church believe about herself? The following excerpts on this subject are drawn from The Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraphs #816-822):

The sole Church of Christ is that which our Savior, after his Resurrection, entrusted to Peter’s pastoral care, commissioning him and the other apostles to extend and rule it…. This Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him.

The Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism explains: “For it is through Christ’s Catholic Church alone, which is the universal help toward salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained. It was to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, that we believe that our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant, in order to establish on earth the one Body of Christ into which all those should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the People of God.”

In fact, in this one and only Church of God from its very beginnings there arose certain rifts, which the Apostle strongly censures as damnable. But in subsequent centuries much more serious dissensions appeared and large communities became separated from full communion with the Catholic Church – for which, often enough, men of both sides were to blame. The ruptures that wound the unity of Christ’s Body – here we must distinguish heresy, apostasy, and schism – do not occur without human sin: As Origen wrote, “Where there are sins, there are also divisions, schisms, heresies, and disputes. Where there is virtue, however, there also are harmony and unity, from which arise the one heart and one soul of all believers.”

However, one cannot charge with the sin of the separation those who at present are born into these communities that resulted from such separation and in them are brought up in the faith of Christ, and the Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers…. All who have been justified by faith in Baptism are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers in the Lord by the children of the Catholic Church.

Furthermore, many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church: the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope, and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as visible elements. Christ’s Spirit uses these Churches and ecclesial communities as means of salvation, whose power derives from the fullness of grace and truth that Christ has entrusted to the Catholic Church. All these blessings come from Christ and lead to him, and are in themselves calls to “Catholic unity.”

Christ bestowed unity on his Church from the beginning. This unity, we believe, subsists in the Catholic Church as something she can never lose, and we hope that it will continue to increase until the end of time. Christ always gives his Church the gift of unity, but the Church must always pray and work to maintain, reinforce, and perfect the unity that Christ wills for her. This is why Jesus himself prayed at the hour of his Passion, and does not cease praying to his Father, for the unity of his disciples: “That they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be one in us, … so that the world may know that you have sent me.” (John 17:21) The desire to recover the unity of all Christians is a gift of Christ and a call of the Holy Spirit.

Certain things are required in order to respond adequately to this call:

– a permanent renewal of the Church in greater fidelity to her vocation; such renewal is the driving-force of the movement toward unity;

– conversion of heart as the faithful try to live holier lives according to the Gospel; for it is the unfaithfulness of the members to Christ’s gift which causes divisions;

– prayer in common, because change of heart and holiness of life, along with public and private prayer for the unity of Christians, should be regarded as the soul of the whole ecumenical movement, and merits the name “spiritual ecumenism”

– fraternal knowledge of each other;

– ecumenical formation of the faithful and especially of priests;

– dialogue among theologians and meetings among Christians of the different churches and communities;

– collaboration among Christians in various areas of service to mankind. “Human service” is the idiomatic phrase.

Concern for achieving unity involves the whole Church, faithful and clergy alike. But we must realize that this holy objective – the reconciliation of all Christians in the unity of the one and only Church of Christ – transcends human powers and gifts. That is why we place all our hope in the prayer of Christ for the Church, in the love of the Father for us, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

“The Rosary Is…”

October 21, 2016

    “My favorite prayer.” ~ Pope St. John Paul II

     “The Bible on a string.” ~ Fr. Ronan Murphy

     “A school for learning true Christian perfection.” ~ Pope St. John XXIII

     “A prayer both so humble and simple and theologically rich in Biblical content.” ~ Pope St. John Paul II

     “A treasure of graces.” ~ Pope Paul V

     “A priceless treasure inspired by God.” ~ St. Louis De Monfort

     “A powerful weapon.” ~ St. Josemaria Escriva

     “The weapon for these times.” ~ St. Padre Pio

     “The scourge [against] the devil.” ~ Pope Adrian VI

     “A powerful weapon to put the demons to flight and to keep oneself from sin.” ~ Pope Pius XI

     “The most excellent form of prayer and the most efficacious means of attaining eternal life.” ~ Pope St. Leo XIII

     “A magnificent and universal prayer for the needs of the Church, the nations and the entire world.” ~ Pope St. John XXIII

     “The most beautiful and the most rich in graces of all prayers; it is the prayer that touches most the Heart of the Mother of God.” ~ Pope St. Saint Pius X

    “Of the greatest value, not only according to the words of Our Lady of Fatima, but according to the effects of the Rosary one sees throughout history.” ~ Sister Lucia, one of the seers of Fatima

     “The book of the blind, where souls see and there enact the greatest drama of love the world has ever known; it is the book of the simple, which initiates them into mysteries and knowledge more satisfying than the education of other men; it is the book of the aged, whose eyes close upon the shadow of this world, and open on the substance of the next.” ~ Venerable Fulton Sheen

The Blessed Virgin Mary at Prayer

The Little, Great Saint

September 21, 2016

st-therese-of-lisieuxSt. Thérèse Martin  (1873–1897 AD) was born in France into a devout, Catholic family. All five daughters entered religious life and both parents (Louis & Zélie) went on to be canonized in 2015. Thérèse received special permission to join the Carmelite convent in her hometown of Lisieux at the young age of 15. She would live and pray and work there in obscurity until her death from tuberculosis at the age of 24.

After her passing, the publishing of her spiritual autobiography, “The Story of a Soul,” was phenomenally successful and there were widespread reports of prayers being answered through her intercession. St. Pope Pius X (1903-1914) privately described her as “the greatest saint of modern times” and she was canonized in 1925. Her feast day is October 1st.

Despite her greatness, Thérèse experienced everyday difficulties like our own. Amidst these she sought to do small things with great love; calling this her “Little Way” to holiness and Heaven. This is one episode St. Thérèse relates in her (highly-recommended) autobiography:

The practice of charity, as I have said, dear Mother [Mother Agnes, that is, her biological sister, Pauline, who was prioress at the time,] was not always so sweet for me, and to prove it to you I am going to recount certain little struggles which will certainly make you smile. For a long time at evening meditation, I was placed in front of a sister who had a strange habit and I think many lights [spiritual insights] because she rarely used a book during meditation. This is what I noticed: as soon as this sister arrived, she began making a strange little noise which resembled the noise one would make when rubbing two shells, one against the other. I was the only one to notice it because I had extremely sensitive hearing (too much so at times.) Mother, it would be impossible for me to tell you how much this little noise wearied me. I had a great desire to turn my head and stare at the culprit who was very certainly unaware of her ‘click.’ This would be the only way of enlightening her. However, in the bottom of my heart I felt it was much better to suffer this out of love for God and not to cause the sister any pain. I remained calm, therefore, and tried to unite myself to God and to forget the little noise. Everything was useless. I felt the perspiration inundate me, and I was obliged simply to make a prayer of doing it without annoyance and with peace and joy, at least in the interior of my soul. I tried to love the little noise which was so displeasing; instead of trying not to hear it (impossible), I paid close attention so as to hear it well, as though it were a delightful concert, and my prayer (which was not the Prayer of Quiet) was spent in offering this concert to Jesus.”

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?

How Many Will Be Saved?

August 19, 2016

In this Sunday’s gospel, someone asks Jesus from the crowd, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” Jesus replies, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” (Luke 13:24) Instead of quoting some particular figure, like one million or ten billion souls, Jesus says, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate…” We are left to wonder: in the end, will the number saved be numerous or few?

All-Saints by Fra Angelico, 1400's.In the Book of Revelation, St. John witnesses a vast number of saints worshiping God in heaven. He beholds “a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.” (Revelation 7:9) Note that this ‘countless multitude’ is different and much larger than the “one hundred and forty-four thousand marked from every tribe of the Israelites” that St. John enumerates several verses before. Jesus came to save souls not only from the twelve tribes of Israel. As the Lord declares through the prophet in Sunday’s first reading, “I come to gather nations of every language; they shall come and see my glory.” (Isaiah 66:18) Based on this, we can confidently say that a great number will be saved.

On the other hand, in our gospel’s parallel passage from St. Matthew, Jesus says, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13-14) The ‘few’ who enter the narrow gate to life sounds smaller than the ‘many’ who do not. Based on this, it would seem that the number saved will be comparatively small.

However, “few” and “many” are relative terms which depend upon the context. For example, more than 18,000 Olympic medals have been awarded in the modern Summer and Winter Games and that is indeed many. But how many Olympic medalists have you personally ever met? Probably, at most, only a few. In a more tragic example, around 130,000 Americans die annually in accidents and that is awfully many. But at the same time, roughly 99.96% of Americans do not perish in accidents each year, making the 0.04% who do a relative few. The word “many” sometimes refers to a majority of people, but not always.

Jesus Christ suffered and died on the cross to redeem all mankind. Even if there were only one sinner on earth in all of human history, it seems that Jesus would have become man in order to offer himself for just him, or her, or you. Suppose that the number of human souls condemned on the last day turns out to be only a dozen. Knowing how much our Lord loves each and every person, will not those twelve feel like many in the heart of Jesus and those billions he saves seem far too few? In any case, Jesus never reveals to us whether most human beings will be saved or lost. Either outcome is possible.

Why was Jesus not more clear about exactly how many people would be saved? Because he knew how such knowledge would be harmful for us. He knew that if we were told that most people would be saved in the end, it would lead us into dangerous presumption. If we were told that most people would be lost, he knew it would lead us into poisonous despair. Jesus “did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.” (John 2:25)

Instead of providing us with some number or percentage, Jesus gives us some much more valuable and beneficial advice: “Strive to enter through the narrow gate (for whether you are saved or not depends, in part, upon you.)” God “wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.” (1st Timothy 2:4) And to “as many as did accept him, [Jesus] gave power to become children of God.” (John 1:12) Let us strive to cooperate with God, let us accept the Lordship of Jesus Christ in our lives, so that we may be numbered among “the few” who are saved and enter into life.

The Braod and Narrow Way, 1883.

The Divided Household of Luke 12

August 12, 2016

In Luke 12:51-53, Jesus tells his disciples:

“Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

What do the family dynamics within this divided household look like? For starters, exactly how many people are we talking about? St. Ambrose (337-397 AD) clarifies this point:

Though the connection would seem to be of six persons, father and son, mother and daughter, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, yet are they five, for the mother and the mother-in-law may be taken as the same, since she who is the mother of the son, is the mother-in-law of his wife.”

Jesus describes these five persons as divided into two factions, “three against two and two against three.” We learn from his further details that the father opposes his son, while the mother opposes the other two females. Depending on whether this father and mother are allied or not, their household could be divided in two possible patterns.

Luke 12 Divided Households

Figure 1 shows the family split generationally, with the parents set against the children. In Figure 2, the fractures cut between the couples. (Jesus not mentioning marital strife suggests the first interpretation and this is the favored reading of St. Bede,1 yet the ambiguity of these passages may well be intentional.2) In any case, Jesus is the occasion for this household’s divisions. One side (either the blue or the orange) rejects him while the other acknowledges him as Lord. Sometimes one’s allegiance to Christ leads to interpersonal conflict, even within families.

This prompts St. Ambrose to ask:

“Are we to believe that [our Lord] has commanded discord within families? How is he our peace, who has made both one? How does he himself say, ‘My peace I give you, my peace I leave you,’ if he has come to separate fathers from sons and sons from fathers by the division of households? How is he cursed who dishonors his father and devout who forsakes him?”

St. Ambrose unknots the seeming paradox in this way:

“It is necessary that we should esteem the human less than the divine. If honor is to be paid to parents, how much more to your parents’ Creator, to whom you owe gratitude for your parents! … He does not say children should reject a father but that God is to be set before all. … You are not forbidden to love your parents, but you are forbidden to prefer them to God.”

People sometimes hesitate to commit to Christian lifestyle changes, pursue their God-given vocations, or enter Christ’s Catholic Church because they fear the reactions of family, friends, or others. But even if following Jesus Christ entails sacrifices, these persons should not be afraid to place God first. Notice how the Lord does not say “five will be divided, four against one and one against four.” When three unbelievers pit themselves against two faithful ones, the pair are blessed with each other’s support. Should your family disown you, the Lord will summon faithful friends to your side. Even if your friends should leave you, the Lord provides you with the household of believers in his Church. Even if your parish community should fail to welcome or support you, the Lord will not make you stand alone — for Jesus Christ is always at your side and will never abandon you.

 


Footnotes:

1. St. Bede (672-735 AD) assumes Figure 1 for his allegorical interpretation of the Divided Household:

“By three are signified those who have faith in the Trinity, by two the unbelievers who depart from the unity of the faith. But the father is the devil, whose children we were by following him, but when that heavenly fire came down, it separated us from one another, and showed us another Father who is in heaven. The mother is the Synagogue, the daughter is the Primitive Church, who had to bear the persecution of that same synagogue, from whom she derived her birth, and whom she did herself in the truth of the faith contradict. The mother-in-law is the Synagogue, the daughter-in-law the Gentile Church, for Christ the husband of the Church is the son of the Synagogue, according to the flesh. The Synagogue then was divided both against its daughter-in-law, and its daughter, persecuting believers of each people. But they also were divided against their mother-in-law and mother, because they wished to abolish the circumcision of the flesh.”


2. Perhaps our Lord (in preaching these words) and the Holy Spirit (in inspiring these Lucan passages) fully-intended this ambiguity. By providentially allowing for both readings (i.e., Figures 1 & 2) this teaching can reflect more varieties of interfamily conflict: spousal, sibling, in-law, parental and filial.


Perspective for Our Times

August 9, 2016

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

So begins Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Our time is a mixture of good things and bad. In some ways we’re progressing, while in others we’re in decline. Some despair, but the trials of past generations were far worse than ours. As St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 A.D.) observed:

“Is there any affliction now endured by mankind that was not endured by our fathers before us? What sufferings of ours even bears comparison with what we know of their sufferings? And yet you hear people complaining about this present day and age because things were so much better in former times. I wonder what would happen if they could be taken back to the days of their ancestors–would we not still hear them complaining?  You may think past ages were good, but it is only because you are not living in them.”

There has been no perfect “Golden Age” since Eden. We learn from the New Testament that even the first-century Christian communities had controversies within and persecutions from without. Yet pining for a romanticized past pairs with an opposite, pervasive error today: thinking that “old things” have nothing to teach or offer us. C.S. Lewis noted this modern disposition in 1955:

“…Chronological snobbery [is] the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realization that our own age is also ‘a period,’ and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them.”

The ignorant dismissal of the past leads to foolishness today. All advocate for change, but not all change is progress. For example, naively tearing down the wrong fences can permit evils to get in. G.K. Chesterton wrote in 1929:

“In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

We live in a time filled with serious problems and great blessings. We have grave reasons for concern, such as the present threats to religious liberty and the persistent Culture of Death, but we should not despair. Not only do we know Who wins in the end, but even today’s broken world has good things to offer. Computers are facilitating new technologies and improved communications. Healthcare advances are saving and enhancing lives. International economic development is helping billions rise from poverty. Imagine how these modern-day advances in communication, healthcare, economic wealth, and other fields could be utilized for the Kingdom of God. Jesus once asked his disciples:

“Do you understand all these things?” They answered, “Yes.” And he replied, “Then every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.” (Matthew 13:51-52)

To keep proper perspective today we must be neither naive nor despondent. We should be conscious of both the dangers and the opportunities around us. These present times will surely try us, but there has yet to be an era of the Church that has not tested the saints. Our generation is called to be faithful witnesses to Christ’s Church and Sacred Tradition. As Scripture says:

Anyone who is so ‘progressive’ as not to remain in the teaching of the Christ does not have God; [but] whoever remains in the teaching has the Father and the Son.”  (2nd John 1:9)

The world may refuse to heed us as it recklessly marches on but we can still benefit ourselves, for this life and the next, by holding on to  timeless truths. Our Church has persevered through controversies and persecutions from its beginning. It challenged the Roman culture while making use of the best things it had to offer to introduce and spread the Kingdom of God on earth. That Kingdom endures to our day. By keeping what is good and rejecting what is evil, let us remain ever-faithful to Jesus Christ in our times.

O Jerusalem by Greg Olsen