Archive for the ‘Human Dignity’ Category

Transfiguring Our Perception of Others

August 6, 2017

Today, Jesus hikes with his three closest apostles, Peter, James, and John, to the top of Mount Tabor in Israel. And there, Jesus is transfigured before them. His face shines and his clothes become intensely white. Then they hear God the Father speaking from a bright cloud that envelops them, declaring: “This is my beloved Son.”

In the Incarnation, some two thousand and seventeen years ago, the Eternal Word became Flesh, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity became Man, and the divinity of the Son of God became veiled within a human nature. It has long been my sense that Jesus is not changed or transformed at the Transfiguration so much as his apostles are allowed to glimpse him more deeply as he really, truly is: God from God, Light from Light. This light shines from his face as radiantly as the sun and from his body such that the fabric of his clothing is brightly illuminated like a thin lampshade.

When the disciples become frightened after hearing the Father’s voice and fall prostrate on the ground, burying their faces, Jesus comes over and touches them: “Rise, and do not be afraid.” And when the disciples raise their eyes, they see Jesus once more the same way as they had always seen him, and yet they see him differently now.

If we saw Jesus tomorrow while buying bread and milk at the store, or if Jesus visited our place of work, or came to our front door, do you think we would recognize him? I tend to doubt it. Many of the Jews in Jesus’ day noticed nothing extra special about him. “Is he not the carpenter’s son?” The Prophet Isaiah foretold of the Messiah that ‘there would be in him no stately bearing to make us look at him, nor appearance that would attract us to him.’ Even Jesus’ close friends sometimes had a hard time recognizing him after his Resurrection. The most famous example of this was on the Road to Emmaus. But by the gift of God’s grace, with the Breaking of the Bread, the eyes of Jesus’ disciples were opened and they recognized him in their midst. The reason I doubt that many would recognize Jesus amid their everyday lives tomorrow is because so few of us recognize him among us today.

In the very early Church, a man named Saul had a murderous hatred for the first Christians. One day, was traveling to Damascus, Syria to arrest any Christians he might find there and bring them back to Jerusalem in chains. As he was nearing Damascus, a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Saul asked, “Who are you, sir?” And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” This man went on to be converted to a Christian. We know him today as St. Paul.

Note how Jesus does not say, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting my Church,” nor “Why are you persecuting my people.” He says, “Why are you persecuting me?” Jesus identifies himself with his people and his Church because he is personally present within them. At the Last Supper, Jesus tells his disciples, “In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me… You will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.” Jesus speaks of his mystical presence within us our and neighbors at other times in the Gospels as well.

At the Last Judgment, Jesus tells us he will say to his saved sheep: ‘Whatever you did for one of the hungry, or thirsty, or naked, or sick, or imprisoned little brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for me.’ And then Jesus will turn and declare to the condemned goats: “Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.” These goats, Jesus tells us, will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous sheep to eternal life.

And so you see, recognizing, loving, and serving Jesus in other people must be a top and serious priority for us. Yet how many people do we interact with each day with so much thoughtless indifference? We speed past other people like so many unnoticed trees and cars as we drive along our way of life. Sometimes we even take the people living in our own home for granted, treating our family members worse than our mere acquaintances. Many failed to recognize Jesus’ importance in his day; while we overlook the importance of people in our midst today. As C.S. Lewis wrote:

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.

All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

So how can we begin to behold and relate to other people in the manner we ought, as Christ would have us do? Jesus himself was open and loving towards everyone. I would suggest two steps: First, ask for the gift of God’s grace at this Breaking of the Bread on the Feast of the Transfiguration, that your eyes may be opened to truly see others. And second, begin a habit of praying for, say, five or ten people every day whom you’ve never thought to pray for before. For example, the cashier who gave you change yesterday, that politician whom you dislike, the suffering people of North Korea, your child’s best friend, your quiet co-worker, and the person whom you heard just died. And then, the next day, chose another new collection of people to pray for. This practice will reveal to you your inter-personal, spiritual blinders, and help you to begin tearing them down. Let us ask Jesus to transfigure our perception of others so that we may see them more in the way that he beholds them, with love.

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America’s Greatness

July 5, 2017

In 1956, Peter W. Schramm’s family fled communist oppression in Hungary. The 10-year-old Peter asked his father, “But where are we going?” His father said, “We are going to America.” “Why America,” Peter prodded. His father replied, “Because, Son, we were born Americans, but in the wrong place.”

Other nations have been self-defined by their ancestral blood, but America has united people from all around the world. Other nations have self-identified by their ancient soil, but our country could fully incorporate other lands that desired to join our states. America is unique because America is founded upon an idea: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” These providential words echo the great Christian doctrine of universal human dignity.

Where America has failed to embody these words, those are our greatest shames; such as our past crimes against Native and African Americans, and against unborn Americans today. Yet wherever we have honored and defended human dignity, those represent our proudest accomplishments; including our abolition of slavery, our liberty and legal equality at home, and our defense and liberation of peoples abroad.

When some people are asked what makes America great they cite our wealth and military power. But if these alone were our criteria for greatness, then the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate would be a great man and Jesus the Nazarene would not. The true measure of our greatness, like all true greatness, comes from our likeness to the Lord. May God bless America to be a greater, fuller blessing to all, until Jesus Christ returns and his kingdom is perfectly established on earth.

The Catholic Catechism on Immigration

September 21, 2015

Paragraph 2241:

Catholic AmericanThe more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin.  Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him.

Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants’ duties toward their country of adoption.  Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens.

Starving the Beast

July 22, 2015

A Baby Held In Hands

According to 2nd Vote, a consumer research app, the following corporations have all made direct contributions to Planned Parenthood—the group which sold and performed more than 327,000 abortions in our country last year:

Clothes & Body: Avon, Bath & Body Works, Converse, Dockers, Johnson & Johnson, La Senza, Levi Strauss, Macy’s, Nike, Unilever, Pfizer

Charities: American Cancer Society, March of Dimes, Susan G. Komen, United Way

Finance & Insurance: American Express, Bank of America, Deutsche Bank, Fannie Mae, Liberty Mutual, Morgan Stanley, Progressive, Wells Fargo

Food: Ben & Jerry’sPepsiCo, Starbucks, Tostitos

Industrial: Energizer, Clorox, ExxonMobil

Tech: Adobe, AT&T, Expedia, Groupon, Intuit, Microsoft, Oracle, Verizon

It is not a sin for a person to use the products or services of these Planned Parenthood supporting companies (since the customer’s connection to abortions is so very indirect and remote.) However, it might do good for many of us to cease, wherever possible, giving these companies our business and to let them know our reason why. For example:

Dear Sir or Madam,

It has come to my attention that your company has given direct contributions to Planned Parenthood, a group that has killed millions of innocent human beings. Because of this, as far as possible, I will no longer be your customer and I will encourage others to do likewise. I urge your company to reconsider its support of Planned Parenthood.

Sincerely,
{Signed}

[Links to each company’s feedback page are provided above.]

Finally, it should be noted that the largest single contributor to Planned Parenthood is not any of these companies, but our own government. In the 2013-2014 fiscal year, Planned Parenthood received $528.4 million in taxpayer-funded health service grants and reimbursements. Efforts to end this public funding of Planned Parenthood are also worthy of our support.

Source:  The Daily Signal – “Meet the 38 Companies That Donate Directly to Planned Parenthood

Ezekiel’s Consolation — Tuesday, 19th Week of Ordinary Time—Year II

August 12, 2014

Readings: Ezekiel 2:8-3:4; Matthew 18:1-5, 10, 12-14

The Lord GOD said to me: “As for you, son of man, obey me when I speak to you: be not rebellious like this house of rebellion, but open your mouth and eat what I shall give you.” It was then I saw a hand stretched out to me, in which was a written scroll which he unrolled before me. It was covered with writing front and back, and written on it was: “Lamentation and wailing and woe!”

He said to me: “Son of man, eat what is before you; eat this scroll, then go, speak to the house of Israel.” So I opened my mouth and he gave me the scroll to eat. “Son of man,” he then said to me, “feed your belly and fill your stomach with this scroll I am giving you.” I ate it, and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth. He said: “Son of man, go now to the house of Israel, and speak my words to them.”

How can a message of “lamentation and wailing and woe” taste sweet in the prophet’s mouth? Ezekiel found the message sweet because it meant God was neither blind nor indifferent to the evils in his midst and that these evils, one way or another, would not continue forever. Either sincere conversion or painful events would soon check his people’s wickedness. This was the prophet’s consolation. Jesus says:

If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills and go in search of the stray?

Guardian Angels by JHS MannIn the parable of the Lost Sheep, we focus on the lost sheep’s consolation while forgetting the ninety-nine’s desolation. The flock may fare just fine, but they will find the experience quite unsettling. Jesus tells us:

Whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.

It is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost.

For forty years, the people of our land have intentionally and legally ended the lives of roughly one million unborn children annually. What would the opposite of receiving Jesus look like, if not this? Jesus warns us:

See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.

This represents a warning, because God’s angels are fearsome and righteous creatures. Let us earnestly pray for our country’s conversion to a culture of life. Yet we too share Ezekiel’s consolation, for one way or another, this evil in our midst will not go on forever.

Enduring Despite Scandal — 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

July 17, 2011

I know of a man who was called and chosen to lead, to preach, and to be a minister on behalf of Christ. Good and powerful things were done through his ministry and he was respected by many Christians. However, despite outward appearances, this man was a sinner (a great sinner,) and when his sins became known he brought great scandal to the Church. It was revealed that he had repeated stolen from funds collected for the poor. It also became known that he had betrayed Christ, his people, and his vocation in a vastly more terrible way. So terribly, in fact, that Jesus said, “It would be better for that man if he had never been born.”  (Better for him if he had never lived life outside his mother’s womb.) This man, who preached the gospel, who worked mighty deeds, who drew crowds to Jesus Christ, was the Apostle Judas Iscariot.

Could you imagine being one of those Christians who had been evangelized by the Apostle Judas? What if he had preached the gospel and ministered in your hometown? Imagine how your faith might be shaken by his sins. How tragic it would be if any Christians had parted ways with Jesus Christ, the apostles and the Church because of the scandal of this one man.

Though the one, apostolic, and Catholic Church is holy, she does contain sinners. Jesus said that there would be weeds that grow alongside the wheat. It has always been this way, and so it shall be, until the separating harvest at the end of the age. There have been terrible sinners among the Church’s popes and priests, her lay men and women; children of the evil one. Yet, these sinners, should not make us forget about the Church’s many canonized and uncanonized saints, the children of the kingdom, through whom far greater good has been done.

Like the mustard seed Jesus described, His Catholic Church, which began as a speck in history, has grown into the largest of plants, a peaceful dwelling place which brings together all peoples. And like the yeast in the dough that Jesus spoke of, the works and teachings of His Catholic Church have raised up the whole world for the better. For instance, the Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization in the world and she has been the defender of universal human dignity through the centuries. The modern world accepts the concept of universal human rights as a given because the Catholic Church first championed human dignity by her teachings and deeds. Despite the sins of some of its members, let no one say that the Catholic Church has not been a source and a force for good in the world.

We see that Jesus foreknew what Judas was freely going to do. Jesus said, “Did I not choose you twelve? Yet is not one of you a devil?” “Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” (He said this in reference to Judas.) Why did Jesus, who knew all the while what Judas would freely do, permit him to remain in their company? One could rightly say it was because the Father had ordained it so, or that it was necessary to fulfill Old Testament prophesies, or so that the Son of Man and Savior of mankind would experience the human suffering of betrayal by someone who knew Him well and should have loved Him. Perhaps there are one thousand true reasons for it in God’s providential plan, but I am convinced that one of these reasons is this: So that in the future, whenever one of Jesus’ own betrayed Christ’s Church, be they a member of the clergy or laity, it would not destroy our faith in Christ.      Ultimately, the only person our Catholic faith depends upon is Him, and Jesus will never let us down.

For those who have been alienated from the Faith because of scandals, let us pray whatever the offense, that no Judas shall keep them away from Jesus Christ and His Church.

Teachings Hardly Heard — 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

July 10, 2011

Like the rains that come down from heaven to water the earth, so we are called to live lives of self-gift, fruitfulness, and peace. Jesus comes down from heaven to give us life, to free us from futility and slavery to corruption. But sometimes when Jesus preaches, people hear without understanding and the evil one steals away the seed of truth He sows. For others, worldly fear and the attraction of riches prevent Jesus’ word from bearing fruit. But when His word lands on a person of openness and discernment, it bears a great fruitfulness for that person and others.

What are teachings that we as Catholics have tended to hear but not understand, to glace at but never really examine. What are the teachings of Jesus Christ’s Church which we hardly hear with our ears and toward which we are most tempted to close our eyes? These are the issues about which clergy are most hesitant to preach. Nevertheless, Jesus wills that we hear these things with our ears, understand them with our hearts, and be converted, that He may heal us. Please pray now, for the grace of the Holy Spirit, that your heart may receptive to His word.

One area about which we hardly hear with our ears is the harm in sensual or romantic fantasizes.

For men, this temptation tends to be toward indecent images. For women, it tends towards things like romance novels. With these things, a person looks at another, or imagines being with another, without ever touching them, but that does not make sensual or romantic fantasies o.k. or harmless. Recall how Jesus said, “Everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

What is the harm in these things? Real love is only found and shared in the real world. Sensual or romantic escapism leaves behind those we are called to love. Compared to these fantasies, no real man or woman, no wife or husband, can possibly measure up. These fantasies can be addictive and they change the way we look at and relate to others in daily life.

If books, magazines, or movies tempt you in this way, throw them out. If the internet is the gateway to fantasy, place near the monitor a picture of someone you love. Commit yourself to loving the real people in your life, for that is the only place where real love is found.

Another topic about which we hardly hear is the harm of contraception.

In the beginning, upon creating the first man and woman, “God blessed them, saying: ‘Be fertile and multiply.’”  To unite husband and wife in love, and to bless the world with new human life, God designed the one-flesh marital embrace. God created and wills this embrace for life as well as love. Contraception, however, separates life from love, to the harm of both.  This must not be done for as Jesus said, in the context of marriage, “What God has joined together, no human being must separate.”

Forms of contraception are not new, they’re actually quite ancient. And from the start, the Catholic Church has recognized the wrongness of intentionally contracepted acts. In fact, as late as 1930, all Protestant groups agreed with Catholics on this principle (before they began to splinter off.) If the constant teaching of the Church of Jesus Christ is not persuasive enough, consider the fallout of contraception.

A contracepting couple closes off their marriage, their embrace, to life. Therefore, if they unexpectedly conceive a child, the little one is not felt to be a gift from God but a mistake. Whenever the surprise blessing of a child is considered to be a curse, love for that child is wounded, and even the unspeakable becomes tempting.

Contraception also threatens the love of couples. Pope Paul VI foresaw this danger, as he wrote in Humanae Vitae, “It is also to be feared that the man who grows accustomed to contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and psychological equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, and no longer as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.” Contraception separates life and love to the harm of both.

What then does the Church ask couples to do; to have as many children as they physically possibly can? No—For serious physical, psychological, economic, or social reasons, a couple may limit their marital embraces to her cycle’s naturally infertile periods. This is called Natural Family Planning (or NFP) and its methods, when used as directed, are as effective as the pill. But unlike the pill, Natural Family Planning has no unhealthy side-effects, is not an abortifacient, and conforms with God’s will. Practicing NFP is fruitful within marriage, whether God blesses a couple with more children or not.

A third subject about which we do not hear is the harm of fornication, or partaking of the marital embrace without the covenant of marriage.

Body language speaks, and the message of the body in the marital embrace is one of total self-gift. It says, “I joyfully give myself to you, all of me, completely and forever.” Fornication, however, makes this language of the body a lie. Unless a relationship has been sealed, before God and the world, in the bond of marriage, either one of the couple can back out at any time, and the couple knows this. It’s always in the back of their minds. For this reason, these couples tend to repress anger and complaints, avoid facing problems in their relationship, and put off the hard questions about their future together.

The embrace of man and woman naturally forges strong emotional bonds between the couple. In marriage, that’s a good thing, but before a marriage this clouds judgment and can plaster over serious flaws, serious cracks, in a bad relationship, at least for awhile. And what if their embrace conceives a child they don’t think they’re ready for? The woman, to preserve the relationship, may be tempted or coerced toward an unspeakable choice she’ll always regret.

Cohabitating couples can slouch into marriage; sometimes the man doesn’t really choose marriage so much as finally give in to others’ expectations. Then, after their wedding, nothing really seems different from before, and psychologically, the assumptions of their dating relationship carry into the marriage. Once their wedding day (which wasn’t as special for them as it should have been) drifts further away into the past, and marital difficulties inevitably arise, the old idea, the old escape hatch of breaking up and moving out, naturally returns, increasing the risk of divorce.

Fornication and cohabitation expose a person to emotional and spiritual pains, decrease one’s chances of marrying the right person, and increase one’s chances of divorcing in the future. No matter where you are in your dating relationships, Jesus Christ calls you to pre-marital chastity, for true love is found in purity.

A final topic about which we hardly hear is the harmfulness in acting out according to one’s same-sex attractions.

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes, “The number of men and women who have deep-seated [tendencies of this kind] is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.”

It is important for all of us to remember that a temptation, whatever it is, by itself, is not sin. Unless we go out looking for temptation, we are not responsible for the temptations which our genetics, upbringing, or environment send our way. What important is how we respond to our temptations, whether we give in to them and fall, or if stand strong with God like His saints before us.

As a Christian, and a fellow sinner, it would be wrong for me to look down on anyone. God loves everyone like He loves me. But at the same time, it would not be loving for me as a follower of Jesus Christ to say that acting out on one’s same-sex attractions is o.k. or harmless. The Old and New Testaments and the constant teachings of Christ’s Church are clear.

People of the same sex may be friends, even the dearest of friends with each other, but they’re not meant to be lovers. Man and wife were made each other. Their masculine and feminine differences compliment and complete each other and husbands and wives, as mothers and fathers. This is seen physically, in their marital embrace and in the conception of new life; but also psychologically and spiritually as well, in faithful marriages that last a lifetime. Persons of the same sex do not have this complimentarity and to ignore truth this leads to suffering, for such relationships are unhealthy for one’s body or soul. The tragically higher rates of promiscuity, transmittable diseases and cancers, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, depression, and attempted suicide, point to the brokenness of these lifestyles. (And one notes that these comparatively higher rates are found not only in our country, but also aboard, like in the Netherlands where such relationships are more common and much more socially accepted.) Jesus calls these brothers and sisters of His and ours to a different, better, happier way of life.

Regardless of our temptations, there is hope. Freedom from sin and joyful peace are possible for all of us, by the grace of Jesus Christ the support of one another. For example, Courage international is a Catholic organization which ministers to help those with same-sex attractions live chaste and happy lives. For more information about Courage groups in our area, or about how to enroll in Natural Family Planning classes see me after Mass or give me a call. If you are cohabitating and wish to return to chastity but you don’t know how you as a couple can practically achieve it, talk to me. God has solutions for those who seek His will. May the seeds of Jesus’ teachings find rich soil in your hearts and bear an abundant harvest for you and for others.

Independence Day Homily

July 4, 2011


What is the most important and the most famous sentence ever coined in the English language? I believe it was a declarative sentence, of thirty-five words, published two hundred and thirty-five years ago today.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Like a passage of Sacred Scripture, this sentence from the Declaration of Independence was more profound, and would effect more providential good, than its human authors ever imagined.

In their original context, these words from the Declaration of Independence were written to justify the American colonies’ separation from the English crown. At that time, many people believed in the divine right of kings, that a monarch had been invested by God with supreme authority to rule. There was precedent for this in the Old Testament, where God chose Saul, David, Solomon, and others to rule His people as anointed kings. In declaring that “all men are created equal,” the Founding Fathers were rejecting the idea that some men are born royal while others are born common. They further asserted that God Himself endows every man with certain rights, and that any government which deprives men of these rights may be justly replaced by its people. In this way, the signers justified the American Revolution.

How much did the Founding Father reflect on how their words about the equality of all men applied to men of color, such as those enduring intergenerational slavery? How much did they consider what these God-given rights required for the female segment of mankind? I would say that these words, like a passage of Sacred Scripture, carried truths more profound than their human authors knew.

These were providential words, for they have been, and continue to be, instrumental in the work of advancing and defending the rights and dignity of all people, from conception to natural death, in our country and around the world. Wherever our nation has failed to embody these words, we look back with shame; but wherever we have honored human dignity, these represent our proudest moments. Martin Luther King Jr. called these words our nation’s creed, and like him we have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights….”

This Fourth of July, let us thank God for this great gift to our country. Let us praise God for endowing each one of us with dignity and rights which every person and every government must respect. And in the future, let us remember and remind our neighbors, that if our country allows government and men to become our gods, human dignity and human rights will be swiftly brushed aside. Like the Psalmist, may our country always say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,my God, in whom I trust.”

The Joyful Mysteries, Meditations with the Saints

October 28, 2010

The 1st Joyful Mystery: 
The Annunciation

The Blessed Virgin Mary may have been just 13 years old when the angel Gabriel announced to her that she would give birth to Jesus. She shows us that even if you are young, God can still do big things with you, if you say “Yes” to Him.

On May 13, 1917, three Portuguese children were praying the rosary after lunch in a field on a clear blue day.  The eldest was Lucia, age 10, and she was with her cousins, Francisco and Jacinta, ages eight and seven. Suddenly, they saw two bright flashes. They looked up and saw “a lady, clothed in white, brighter than the sun…” The Lady smiled and said, “Do not be afraid, I will not harm you.” Lucia asked her where she came from. The Lady pointed to the sky and said, “I come from heaven.” Lucia asked what she wanted. The Lady said, “I have come to ask you to come here for six months on the 13th day of the month, at this same hour.”

On July 13, the incredibly beautiful Lady appeared again. Lucia asked her who she was, and for a miracle so everyone would believe. The Lady answered, “Continue to come here every month. In October, I will tell you who I am and what I want, and I will perform a miracle for all to see and believe.” Then she taught them this prayer: “Oh my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need of Thy Mercy.”

At noon, on October 13, 1917, some 70,000 people were gathered in the field. With a flash of light, the Lady appeared to the children and declared, “I am the Lady of the Rosary.” Some spectators cried out and the crowd turned their eyes upward to the cloudless sky, and they gazed on the sun without the least discomfort.  They saw it tremble and danced in a miraculous way.

Mary, Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta teach us this lesson: Even if you are young, God can do big things with you, if you say “Yes” to Him. Let us pray that we would be open to doing God’s will every day.

The 2nd Joyful Mystery:
The Visitation

“During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, ‘Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.’” (Luke 1)

Imagine how St. Elizabeth must have felt to have Mary, Mother of God, walk in through her door. Elizabeth could not see the tiny Jesus, a fetus in Mary’s womb, but she was convinced that He was hidden there. How would you treat someone if you knew that Jesus was hidden inside of them?

Blessed Mother Theresa cared for the poorest of the poor in the streets of Calcutta, India. Despite years of strenuous physical, emotional and spiritual work, Mother Teresa seemed unstoppable. Though frail and bent, with numerous health problems, she always returned to her work, to those who received her compassionate care for more than 50 years. How did she do it? She could do it because she encountered her beloved Christ both in times of prayer and in the people she cared for. Mother Teresa remembered Jesus’ words, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40) Mother Teresa loved others as if they were the Lord Himself.

Blessed Mother Teresa and St. Elizabeth teach us this lesson: Jesus is present in your classmates here at school, so you should always be welcoming and loving toward them. Let us pray for the grace to love others in this way.

The 3rd Joyful Mystery:
The Nativity

In his youth, Francis had been quite rich, the son of a wealthy merchant, yet he sensed that there was more to life. He put his former life behind him and devoted himself to following Christ. One day, at Mass, the Gospel told of how Christ’s disciples were to possess neither gold nor silver, nor traveling items, but were to exhort sinners to repentance and announce the Kingdom of God. Francis took these words as if spoken directly to himself, and as soon as Mass was over he threw away what little he had and went forth at once, exhorting the people of the country-side to penance, brotherly love, and peace. He was poor, but clearly happy, and others were attracted to join his movement. By the time of his death, hundreds had joined his religious order. On October 3, 1226, St. Francis died a penniless, but happy man. 

St. Francis of Assisi loved Christmas.  In fact, one story tells of how he petitioned the Holy Roman Emperor to make an edict that grain and bread should be provided to birds, beasts, and the poor this day, so that all God’s creatures would have occasion to rejoice in the Lord. St. Francis also invented the Christmas tradition of making a model of the nativity scene. These nativity scenes, called Crèches, remind us that even though Christ was rich in Heaven, he became poor when he was born on earth in a barn. Yet, Jesus was a happy man, despite his poverty.

Jesus and St. Francis teach us this lesson: You do not need to be wealthy in order to be happy. Let us pray that we may be content and happy with the riches that we have.

The 4th Joyful Mystery: 
The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple

In the year that Jesus was born, “there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout” and he longed to see the Messiah who would save God people. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would indeed see the Christ before he died and Simeon trusted and hoped in that promise.

One day, the Spirit inspired him to come into the temple. When he say Mary and Joseph carrying in the baby Jesus to offer a sacrifice for Him, Simeon “took him into his arms and blessed God, saying: ‘Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.’” (Luke 2)

What are the promises the Lord has made to us?  Do we trust and hope in these promises? Simeon teaches us this lesson: That we ought to trust and hope in the Lord’s promises, for all of them will be fulfilled in the sight of all someday.

The 5th Joyful Mystery:
The Finding of Jesus in the Temple

This is a true story, the story of a Catholic mother of three whose oldest son joined an anti-Catholic religious cult. It started him down a path of sinful pride and many sensual sins. It broke her heart and for years she prayed tearful prayers for his conversion.

She even asked the bishop to intervene in winning over her son. He counseled her to be patient, saying, “God’s time will come.” When she persisted in asking, the bishop (perhaps busy with many other things) famously reassured her: “Go now, I beg you; it is impossible that the son of so many tears should perish.”

That mother was St. Monica, and that son of hers, who was lost and found, was the great St. Augustine. Sts. Monica and Augustine teach us this lesson: that your persistent prayer can help people to find Christ. Let us pray for someone that we know, that he or she may be drawn closer to Jesus Christ.

Sources:
On Fatima
On St. Francis
On Blessed Mother Teresa

The Author of Life — Tuesday, 27th Week in Ordinary Time—Year II

October 5, 2010

If you took our Catholic faith and boiled it down to its most central and fundamental truths what would you have? I think you would end up with these four foundations:

First, that God is three divine persons who are one in being, a union we call the Trinity. Second, that Jesus Christ is both God and Man, a reality we call the Incarnation. Third, that Jesus Christ, to save us from sin and death, suffered, died, resurrected and ascended, an event we call the Pascal Mystery, and from which Jesus empowers His Church’s sacraments. And fourth, that every, single, human being has inherent worth and surpassing value, a truth we call the dignity of the human person. It is this fourth fundamental truth of our Catholic Faith that I will focus upon today.

The psalmist says to God:

“Truly you have formed my inmost being;
you knit me in my mother’s womb.
I give you thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made”

From the womb, God fashioned your inmost being, giving you an intellect to know, a freewill to act, and a desire for loving communion with others. Made in God’s own image and likeness, made for a purpose and made for love, every human life is precious from conception to natural death.

Sadly, laws sometimes disregard this dignity, and even Christians can forget it too. Martha looked down on her sister because she thought Mary was not being useful enough or productive enough. Martha only saw Mary as causing a burden to herself, yet Mary was exactly where the Lord willed her to be.

As Mrs. Eichstadt said before, God has a providential plan for each one of you. Like St. Paul, the Lord has set you apart from your mother’s womb for a great story which He has in mind. But anyone who would presume to cut short an innocent life would deprive God of a masterpiece.

Assisted suicide or euthanasia rips out the crucial final chapters. Suicide, murder, or neglect of our neighbor unto death, would end a story halfway. And abortion prevents the story from ever being told. Jesus is the author of our lives and He is to be the one who decides when our lives end. Maybe you will always remember the homily when Father tore up a book, but remember this too: every human life is precious and worth more than many, many books.

4 Truths of Human Nature

June 18, 2010

Who We Are Before God

In relating to God (especially in prayer) it is important to know who and what we are. In short, each one of us is Loved, Limited, Sinful, and Good. These are four truths of  our human nature.


1st Truth:  You are Loved

The Denial:  “God doesn’t love me.”
This Denial’s Consequences:  Sadness, Anxiety, Resentment
The Truth:  God created you in love and holds you in love. Jesus loves you, and Mary, angels, and saints (on earth and in heaven) love you, too.
The Fruit of Living in this Truth:  Peace, Trust, Love

[Lord,] you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for what you hated, you would not have fashioned. And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you? But you spare all things, because they are yours, O LORD and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things! (Wisdom 11:24-12:1)

God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. (Romans 5:9)

This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. (John 15:12)


2nd Truth:  You are Limited

The Denial:  “I don’t need God. I can do anything, if I just believe in myself.”
This Denial’s Consequences:  Pride, Frustration, Folly
The Truth:  You are, and will always be, God’s limited, finite, and dependent creature.
The Fruit of Living in this Truth:  Humility, Patience, Communion

When I see the heavens, the work of your hands, the moon and the stars which you arranged, what are we that you should keep us in mind, mortal man that you care for him? (Psalm 8:4-5)

If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do its builders labor; if the Lord does not watch over the city, in vain does the watchman keep vigil. In vain is your earlier rising, your going later to rest, you who toil for the bread you eat: when he pours gifts on his beloved while they slumber. (Psalm 127:1-2)

I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)


3rd Truth:  You are Sinful

The Denial:  “I don’t have any real sins.”
This Denial’s Consequences:  Impenitence, Corruption, Sin
The Truth:  Even after baptism,
concupiscence remains, inclining you to sin.
The Fruit of Living in this Truth:  Contrition, Conversion, Sanctification

No one is good but God alone. (Mark 10:18)

…All have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)

If we say, “We are without sin,” we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing. If we say, “We have not sinned,” we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 5:8-10)  


4th Truth:  
You are Good

The Denial:  “I’m worthless.”
This Consequence:  Sadness, Shame, Despair
The Truth:  Your human nature remains good, despite wounds and weakness.
The Fruit of Living in this Truth:  Joy, Hope, Fruitfulness

Then God said: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. … God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good.” (Genesis 1:26,31)

[The Gentiles] show that the demands of the law are written in their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even defend them on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge people’s hidden works through Christ Jesus. (Romans 2:14-16)


Finally,
some true and helpful things to remember about God’s attitude towards you: 

  • God not only loves you, He likes you, too.
  • God works all things for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28); including every evil that befalls you and your own past sins.
  • God is easily pleased, and hard to satisfy.  

A Mystery Revealed — Trinity Sunday

June 2, 2010

You may recall my mention of one of my favorite professors at seminary, Dr.  Perry Cahall. And I remember him telling us one day in class, “If, someday when you’re a priest, I hear that you got into the pulpit on Trinity Sunday and tell the people, ‘You know, the Trinity is a mystery, and so there’s really nothing we can know or say about it…’ I will hunt you down like the dogs you are.” This is my first homily on Trinity Sunday, and I’m going to make sure I give Dr. Cahall no reason to come after me.

The Trinity is a mystery, but that doesn’t men we know nothing or can say nothing about this central mystery of our Faith. In Catholic theology, a “mystery” is not something which is unknowable to us, it is just something which our human reason could not have discovered on its own.

Imagine if you came upon a sophisticated and well-written mystery novel. It’s so good that you can’t put it down. But as you get towards the end, you discover that the last couple chapters of the book are missing. You noticed some clues as the story unfolded, but without those last pages you can’t figure out the identity of the one “who did it.” You might try to find the ending in another copy of the book, but what if no other copies existed and no one had ever read the ending before? Your only hope would be to speak with the author. The author could tell you the rest of the story. The author could unveil the mystery for you and reveal the identity of the one “who did it.” Like that in sophisticated mystery novel, our God has placed clues throughout creation and His Old Testament interactions with His People. Yet, it was not until the coming of Jesus that the “who done it” was plainly revealed: God, the Author of the universe, is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Today I would like to talk about some common questions people have about the Trinity. For instance, how is God both one and three, and then what difference does the Trinity make?

Some people have trouble with the concept of the Trinity because they think it is the claim that “one equals three” in God. However, this is not what we believe about the Trinity. The number one does not equal the number three, not in God or anywhere else, and not even the omnipotent power of God can make a logical contradiction true.

We believe one God, comprised of three divine persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God is one What, as three Who’s. There is one divine nature, but three divine knowers, three divine willers, and three divine actors. We do not believe in three anonymous forces, but three loving persons. There is no God apart from or beyond these three persons.

Now the Father is not Jesus Christ. Jesus is not the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit is not our Father. They are distinct persons. Yet, at the same time, each possesses the fullness of the divinity: perfect goodness, infinite beauty, perfect knowledge, infinite power, perfect mercy, and infinite love. We do not worship three gods, but three eternal persons who comprise one God.

The belief in the oneness of God was firmly instilled into the Jewish people. This conviction helped to keep Israel from falling into the worship of false gods and experiencing all of the evils that brings. For instance, Israel’s Canaanite neighbors were idolaters, who worshiped mere objects as gods that could make them happy. They practiced child sacrifice, killing their own children in hopes of receiving greater blessings in this life from the gods. And they had temple prostitution, in which promiscuous sexuality was as hailed as sacred.

Notice how our society has become more and more like those pagans as it has drifted from belief in the one true God. Our worship of objects which we think can make us happy is called materialism, or consumerism. Our human sacrifice, done in hopes of greater blessings in this life, is called abortion. And some have raised up sexual promiscuity as the way of greatest freedom and happiness.

The Jews were spared all of these evils so long as they clung to their conviction that “All gods are not the same, and we are to worship only one.” The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Even to this day, observant Jews pray a prayer twice daily called the “Shema Yisrael,” from a passage in Deuteronomy:

“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!  Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.”

Jews remain Jews today because they do not believe that Jesus is the promised messiah, or the Christ, the one for whom they have been waiting. Sometimes they criticize Christians saying we are not really monotheists, but polytheists, who believe in three gods: “The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!”

Yet, revealingly, the word that God inspired in this Old Testament passage (“The Lord is one”) is not one of the words in Hebrew which always means numerical and solitary oneness (such as “yachid” or “bad”.)  Instead, the Holy Spirit selected a word which usually means a unified oneness: “echad.” This word (“echad”) is the same word used in Genesis, where God says of man and woman, “the two shall become one flesh.” In their union, the persons are as one being. And recall, God had said, “Let us make man in our image , after our likeness. …[And] God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.” When husband and wife become a unified one, as one couple, in time, they are in the image and likeness of the Father, Son, and Spirit, who have are a unified one, as one God, eternally.

So what difference does the reality of the Trinity make for our lives? The Trinity shows us that God is not a solitary individual, isolated and alone. God is a loving communion of persons. This is the reality we come from, and this is the reality we are called to, in this life and the next.

In our post-modern age, some people talk about “the meaning of life” as if it were some kind of joke, or an unsolvable mystery beyond our capacity to discover or know. But we Christians believe we know the meaning of life, for it has been revealed to us. The meaning of life is the loving communion of persons. The loving communion of persons is what gives our lives meaning and it will be our primary delight forever in Heaven. Love is the reality we come from, and the reality we are called to.

‘Hear, O Church of God! The LORD is our God, the LORD is a unified one!  Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.’ Love the Lord your God, who is Father, Son, and Spirit, and become like the God you love.

Our World’s Salvation — February 2 — Presentation of the Lord

February 2, 2010

Simeon’s eyes looked upon a baby and foresaw our salvation in Him. When we look back today, at the centuries past, we can see that Jesus Christ has indeed been a light for all the nations.

Even if one were to look at Jesus of Nazareth without the eyes of faith, any fair assessment of history must name Him and the Church that He founded as the greatest cause for good in human history. Jesus Christ came and was the light for a darkened world.

For example, in the ancient world, women’s status ranked near that of slaves, but Jesus showed a reverence towards all women, even intimately involving them in His ministry. Christianity noted His example and began to acknowledge women’s dignity and equality as persons.

While the ancient world wielded total dominance over slaves, Christianity professed slaves’ equality as persons before Christ. (In fact, several early popes were former slaves themselves.) Christianity told masters that they would be held accountable at the Judgment for the good or bad treatment of their slaves, for Jesus had said, “Whatever you do to the least of my brothers you do to me.” The abolishment of slavery came gradually, but it finally came as the result of Christians’ efforts in light of Christ.

Infanticide was common in the ancient world. Sometimes the unwanted little one was physically disabled, or female, or merely inconvenient. But Jesus treasured all children, and He said, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.” So Christianity renounced infanticide and would later establish orphanages and promote child adoption.

Jesus showed concern for sick persons and healed them. Jesus also feed hungry crowds. So Christianity has established hospitals and soup kitchens. Today, as throughout the centuries, the Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization on earth.

An eye for an eye was the ancient law, and hating one’s enemies comes naturally, but Jesus did not seek revenge.  Jesus said, “Love your enemies,” and He prayed for His enemies from the cross. Many Christians have followed His example, promoting peace and reconciliation.

Jesus taught his wisdom to great crowds of men and women, the poor and rich, the young and old, so Christianity established schools and universities. Today the Catholic Church educates more children than any other scholarly or religious institution and you are a part of this number.

Our Marshfield area Catholic schools exist today because of Jesus Christ, the greatest person who has ever lived. The public schools have Jesus to thank for their schools, too, but they are not allowed to speak His name. But we can speak His name, and we can thank Him like Simeon here today, for coming into our darkened world and shining His saving light.

(Recommended viewing:  “Epic” produced by Catholics Come Home )

Persons are Mysteries — Tuesday, 1st Week in Ordinary Time—Year II

January 12, 2010

Persons are always a mystery to each other. You could be lifelong friends with someone, and never exhaust their mystery. Husbands and wives can be married for fifty or sixty and still surprise each other.  Persons are always remain a mystery because our thoughts and minds, our motives and hearts, are hidden from each other. Realizing this, we should be very careful about the conclusions we arrive at about others.

For example, in the first reading, Hannah comes to the temple with a great longing in her heart. She wants a child and she asks for this from God at length, from her heart, with tears. 

Eli [the priest,] thinking her drunk, said to her, “How long will you make a drunken show of yourself? Sober up from your wine!”

She is pouring out her heart as a saint before him, but Eli thinks she is a drunk. (This is not one of the greatest moments in history for priestly pastoral ministry.) It’s wrong to get drunk, and it would be o.k. for Eli to tell her so if she were, but she’s not. Eli doesn’t understand  her. He doesn’t even understand what’s happening right in front of him. Oftentimes, we’re just like Him.  Another example of arriving at false conclusions in seen in the Gospel:

In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit; he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?

The demon doesn’t understand Jesus’ motives.  The demon looks at things in terms of power, control, and domination, not love. The demon thinks that no one can be better than himself. Thus, Jesus is a threat that must be knocked down.

It’s not our style to accuse and criticize people so directly.  We’re too timid for that. When someone commits a fault or offense, how likely are we to go to them face to face about it? How much more likely are we to complain to someone else about it out of their presence?

What’s wrong with speaking negatively about others?  For starters, what we think we know is often false, like we saw with Eli. And even if the report is true we judge uncharitably, like the demon.  Speaking negatively about others is also unhelpful.  Jesus says in the Gospel. “If your brother sins against you, go to him in private.” This can clear up many misunderstandings and result in a solution. Instead, we may talk to everyone in the world about our burden besides the one person we actually need to. Finally, speaking negatively about others, even in private, wounds unity.  Even if your criticisms never find their way back to the person which they are about, harm is still done.  The person you are speaking with will wonder to themselves, “Does this person talk about me behind my back to others? How small of a fault on my part would that take?”

At times you will be misunderstood and people will speak ill of you, especially if you are faithful in following Jesus Christ.  But as for your part, never speak a bad word about anyone, unless it is really necessary. Live in this way and people will respect & love you for it. People will notice, as they did with Jesus, and say, “This person does not speak like the others. They speak like Jesus Christ.”

4th Sunday of Advent—Year C

December 20, 2009

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, she cried out in a loud voice and said, “How does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Who am I that the Lord would come to me? Who are we that the Lord God would become one of us?

Lord, in the words of the psalm, when we see the heavens, the work of your hands, the moon and the stars which you arranged, what is mankind that you should keep us in mind, mortal man that you care for us? Yet you have made us little less than gods; with glory and honor you crowned us when, for us men and for our salvation, your Son came down from heaven, and by the power of the Holy Spirit He was born of the Virgin Mary and became man.

We tend to think of the idea of God becoming a human being as the most natural thing in the world, but the event of the divine and eternal Second Person of the Trinity taking on human flesh (what we call the Incarnation) is probably the most remarkable thing that has ever happened; even more remarkable than our creation or redemption. That is why we bow profoundly when we recall the wonder of the Incarnation in our profession of faith each Sunday. “For us men and for our salvation, He came down from heaven. By the power of the Holy Spirit, He was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.”

Who are we that the Lord God would become one of us? Who am I that the Lord would come to me? Who we are and why Christ came to us can be summed up in this: we are sinful, limited, loved and good. This sums up human nature in four words. We are sinful, we are limited, we are loved by Him and we are good.

We need Christ as our savior because we are sinful. Even though we know what is right we freely and frequently choose what is wrong. Our sin hurts us, one another, and our relationship with God. He has come for us because we cannot save ourselves.

We are limited, finite creatures. We can forget this or deny this, but it only leads to our own frustration and failure. We are not God, and God doesn’t expect us to be—that’s His job. We must remember that we are limited, in need of His help and help from one another.

When are we are human beings most fully alive?  Not as isolated loaners, but in communion with others. Even the hermit in his desert hut needs spiritual communion with the Lord and His Church if he is to be a complete and happy person. Remember the Unabomber? He lived in a remote shack too, but without this essential communion with God and neighbor.

Though we are sinful and limited, we are also loved and good; for God has lovingly made us good, in own His image and likeness. When we prefer ourselves to God, denying our dependence on Him and scorning Him by our sins, this goodness may be wounded and obscured, but it is never abolished. Jesus Christ always sees this good in us, and He always loves us for it. He loves you for who you are now and for the person He knows that you can become with His help. You are sinful and limited, but never forget, that no matter what, you are loved by Him and good.

We are sinful, limited, loved and good. Knowing this makes us Christians the salt of the earth and shows us how to pray. In fact, the word “salt,” S-A-L-T, sums up the four varieties of Christian prayer: Sorrow, Asking, Loving, and Thanks

We pray in sorrow for our sins.
We pray in asking for our needs.
We pray in love for God loves us.
And we pray in thanks for all He gives us.

I am sinful, so I say “I’m sorry”
I am limited, so I say, “Please.”
I am loved, so I say, “I love you.”
And I am good, and richly blessed, so I say, “Thank you.” 

Who are we that the Lord God would become one of us? Who am I that the Lord would come to me? We are sinful, limited, loved and good. So let us prayerfully prepare for the imminent coming of the Lord, Jesus Christ, our God made flesh this Christmas, with sorrow, asking, love, and thanks.