Monday, September 25, 2017

A Relatable Face of Holiness for Today

St. Vincent de Paul
Holiness looks like something. But is it possible that a 17th Century priest could speak to 21st Century questions about the meaning and purpose of life?

Known as the "Apostle of Charity" and "Father of the Poor," St. Vincent contributed to the internal reform of the Church in France through a simple formula: the faithful preaching of the Gospel; the intentional gathering of disciples of Jesus for meaningful Christian community and mutual support; and the radical commitment to serving the needs of the poor and the marginalized.

Faithful preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ--both in words and in actions--is the necessary starting point for a life of holiness. It not only comforts wounded sinners but also exhorts them to ongoing conversion of heart.  Faithful preaching of the Gospel resists the reduction of Christianity to a mere reflection of worldly wisdom or a mere repetition of universal religious claims--as if the Incarnation of God happens anywhere else but in Jesus Christ.

Meaningful Christian community and mutual support allows real relationships to flourish. This is the context in which people can let themselves be vulnerable and open their hearts to God's transforming grace. This is the place where authentic diversity of personalities and opinions can be held in tension, out of mutual respect. The human person is made for relationship with God, which sin has wounded and the grace of Christ has repaired, but it must be lived out in concrete, interpersonal relationships.

Radical commitment to serving the needs of the poor and the marginalized may be St. Vincent's most enduring legacy, and this may be the easiest point of entry for 21st Century Christians.  St. Vincent's Daughters of Charity, which he co-founded, and his Vincentian priests continue their work today. His designation as patron saint of all charitable societies keeps his smiling presence front-and-center for all who would serve the least, in the name of Jesus. But his abiding relevance for today might just be his simple, direct, hands-on approach to helping the people God placed right in front of him each day.

Notwithstanding heroic moments of Christian witness and/or martyrdom, most moments of holiness resemble small acts of kindness, offered out of love. This is because holiness looks like Someone--Jesus Christ--whose face we glimpse when we encounter the least and whose work continues in and through us when we serve those in need.

May St. Vincent intercede on our behalf that we might find everyday ways to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the ill, and visit the imprisoned (Mt 25:35-36)!

Monday, September 18, 2017

Embracing an Evangelizing Catechesis


USCCB Catechetical Sunday Resources

It all starts with a joke: The junior high teacher asks the class, "Who can explain the difference between ignorance and indifference?"  After a long, awkward silence, a weary student responds, "I don't know, and I don't care."  Exactly!

The old educational adage is that students will never care how much the teacher knows until they know how much the teacher cares. In terms of teaching the Catholic faith, people will never care to learn more until they experience why they should care.

An evangelizing catechesis starts with helping people care. It begins with the awareness that, before we can hand on what we have received from the Apostles, we need to help people hear and respond to the Good News of Jesus--personally. We need to return to the basic proclamation of the Gospel, the Kerygma, so that baptized Catholics might encounter the life-changing revelation anew--personally.

An evangelizing catechesis helps people move from caring into life-long learning.  Once people care about how the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ directly impacts them, they care to embrace ongoing conversion of heart and thus walk the path of missionary discipleship.

An evangelizing catechesis is rooted in the first announcement or kerygma. In the words of Pope Francis (EG, n. 164):
  • "In catechesis too, we have rediscovered the fundamental role of the first announcement or kerygma, which needs to be the center of all evangelizing activity and all efforts at Church renewal. The kerygma is trinitarian. The fire of the Spirit is given in the form of tongues and leads us to believe in Jesus Christ who, by his death and resurrection, reveals and communicates to us the Father’s infinite mercy. On the lips of the catechist the first proclamation must ring out over and over: 'Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.' This first proclamation is called 'first' not because it exists at the beginning and can then be forgotten or replaced by other more important things. It is first in a qualitative sense because it is the principal proclamation, the one which we must hear again and again in different ways, the one which we must announce one way or another throughout the process of catechesis, at every level and moment..."
An evangelizing catechesis compels a response. Indeed, the more I open myself to embrace the message that Jesus loves me personally, that he gave his life to save me personally, and that he is living at my side each day, the more I want to learn about Him. Likewise, the more I learn about Jesus Christ, the more I am drawn into friendship with Him and so drawn into the mystery of Trinitarian love--into the very relationship of the Son with the Father through the gift of the Spirit.

In the 2017 Prayer for Catechists from the U.S. Bishops, we ask that the Church's heroic and evangelizing catechists might help more people care to know the Truth which alone sets them free:

O God, our Heavenly Father, you have
given us the gift of these catechists to be
heralds of the Gospel to our parish family.
We lift them up to you in thanksgiving
and intercede for them concerning their
hopes and needs.

May we be attentive to the presence of
your Word in them, a Word that lifts up
and affirms, calls forth and challenges, is
compassionate and consoles.

We pray that our parish family will always
be blessed with those who have responded to
the call to share in Christ's prophetic mission
as catechists. May we too be open to the
universal call to service that Christ addresses
to all of his disciples, contributing our gifts to
the communion of faith, the Church.
We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen!

Monday, September 11, 2017

A Fatima Centennial Self-Evaluation

What if the Blessed Virgin Mary asked me
to pray the Rosary every day?


The Mother of God's message at Fatima was meant to be personal. Not just for the three shepherd children to whom she appeared over a six-month period in 1917--the long-suffering St. Lucia and her recently canonized cousins, Jacinta and Francisco--but for me and for you.

So, here's a spiritual "gut check": How would you rate your level of knowledge and commitment on the following Fatima spectrum?

1_____________________________2____________________________3
Novice                                   Intermediate                                       Advanced
Aware                                       Fairly Familiar              Well-versed in the details
Not so interested
                 Open to the implications                   Deeply devoted

If you are somewhere between a 1.0 and a 2.5, check out the brief overview below which outlines Our Lady's maternal messages at Fatima (and if you're closer to a 3.0, enjoy thinking about all the other key details we might include, given the 100 years of Fatima)! But wherever we might fall on the spectrum, this very public 20th-century miracle should provoke some deeper self-reflection during this centennial year.

Four Fatima-related questions for ongoing self-assessment:

  1. Do I believe that Heaven is closer than imaginable? Jesus wants us to embrace his Mother as our Mother, and she always stands ready to intercede on our behalf. Isn't Fatima's evidence of Mary's ongoing maternal concern enough to open my eyes to life's deeper realities?

  2. Do I believe that Hell is a real possibility? Presumption is still a sin, and assuming that all will be saved is just as problematic as thinking we can know who might be damned. Dorothy Day said that we only love God as much as the person we love the least. Isn't it time to consider whether I actually hope for the salvation of those whom I love the least--and whether I am actively concerned for those who are clearly very far away from God?

  3. Do I understand why and how my sacrifices might contribute to the salvation of souls? The Law of Love revealed on the Cross shows us that it is in self-giving that we find self-fulfillment; it is in self-emptying that others are raised up. Isn't it time to start offering my daily sufferings and sacrifices for the salvation of souls?


  4. Do I believe that praying the Rosary each day can change the world?  Twenty minutes is easily gobbled up skimming social media, surfing the internet, or vegging out in front of some show. Isn't it time to plan how/when I can commit to a daily Rosary--in the car, during a daily walk, or before resorting to screen time? 

 A brief review of Mary's messages during the six Fatima apparitions:

  • "I come from Heaven" (5-13-17): Announced by a flash of supernatural light, the Blessed Mother asks the three children whether they will bear the sufferings that God sends them in atonement for the sins that offend God and for the conversion of sinners. She promises that the grace of God will strengthen them, and asks them to pray the Rosary every day to bring peace to the world.
  • "The Fatima Prayer" & Devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary (6-13-17): The beautiful Lady returns as promised, shares the prayer which is now included at the end of each decade of the Rosary (see below), and again urges the three children to pray the Rosary every day. The Blessed Mother also asks the children to promote devotion to her Immaculate Heart, as a path to lead the whole world back to God.
  • The Vision of Hell and the Three Secrets (7-13-17): With reassurances that Heaven is their destiny, reminders of daily Rosaries, and the prediction of an October miracle, Our Lady proceeded to shock Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta with a vision of eternal damnation. She then commented: "You have seen hell, where the souls of poor sinners go. It is to save them that God wants to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If you do what I tell you, many souls will be saved, and there will be peace." In addition, the Blessed Mother shared the secrets of the message of Fatima, whose drama would unfold in the decades that followed--including the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart.
  • Delayed Visit & Promise of Basilica on the Site (8-19-17): Growing pressure from arrogant atheists and secular obstructionists caused increasing problems for the three children, and a local political figure prevented them from keeping their monthly appointment on the 13th. However, the Blessed Mother greeted the children a few days later with this message: "Pray, pray very much. Make sacrifices for sinners. Many souls go to hell, because no one is willing to help them with sacrifice."
  • Prediction of Future Visions (9-13-17): With crowds continuing to grow, the Blessed Mother's message once again focused on making sacrifices and praying the Rosary. She also promised the children that, one month later on her final visit, they would have a vision of Our Lord, Our Lady of Sorrows and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, and St. Joseph with the Child Jesus.
  • Miracle of the Sun Witnessed by at least 70,000 People (10-13-17): The children saw the visions promised in September; the massive crowd saw the rain stop, the skies open, and the sun become a whirling dervish. Even as many of the hardened cynics and skeptics feared the end of the world, the Blessed Mother reassured the children that the war would end soon. Perhaps the most stunning evidence of this supernatural occurrence was the fact that all who were present admitted that the "miracle of the sun" had dried their previously rain-soaked clothes and shoes.

    After revealing herself to be Our Lady of the Rosary, the Virgin Mary also told the children: "People must amend their lives and ask pardon for their sins. They must not offend our Lord any more, for He is already too much offended!"

A Closing Fatima Prayer:

Let's pray that we continue advancing along the spectrum of Fatima devotion, as we move ever closer to our personal and communal judgment days: "O my Jesus, forgive us our sins; save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those who are most in need of your mercy."

Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us--
DDS

P.S. Don't miss the Holy Father's announcement of a plenary indulgence through the end of this liturgical year.

Monday, September 4, 2017

A Litany of Laboring Love

 

For all those laboring to recover from Hurricane Harvey,
Christ hear us.

For all those laboring to help others find meaningful work,
Christ hear us.

For all those laboring build a more just society,
Christ hear us.

For all those laboring to bring new life into the world,
Christ hear us.

For all those laboring to exercise responsible dominion over creation,
Christ hear us.

For all those laboring to care for the infirm and the elderly,
Christ hear us.

For all those laboring to create grace-filled Christian families,
Christ hear us.

For all those laboring to serve the Lord in the least,
Christ hear us.

For all those laboring to build bridges of trust and solidarity,
Christ hear us.

For all those laboring to bring peace amid senseless strife,
Christ hear us.

For all those laboring to offer up their sufferings for the salvation of souls,
Christ hear us.

For all those laboring to seek first the Kingdom of God,
Christ hear us, Christ graciously hear us.

Most Holy Trinity, laboring to draw all people into the eternal exchange of Love,
Have mercy on us!

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Truth, Beauty, and Goodness of God's Creation


"Even before revealing himself to man in words of truth,
God reveals himself to him through the universal language of creation,
the work of his Word, of his wisdom:
the order and harmony of the cosmos--
which both the child and the scientist discover--
'from the greatness and beauty of created things comes
a corresponding perception of their Creator,'
'for the author of beauty created them' (Wis 13:3,5)."

What if we encounter almighty God--who IS Truth and Beauty and Goodness--in our everyday experiences of truth, beauty and goodness?  

Reflecting on St. Francis of Assisi's profound communion with God's creation, St. Bonaventure maintained that we have the capacity to see "vestiges" or "traces" of God's Trinitarian Presence throughout the cosmos. Francis didn't love creation in a pantheistic way, as if the created order was divine in and of itself, but he affirmed its deepest dignity as a mirror in which we gaze upon the very wisdom of God.  St. Francis' sacramental world view enabled him to encounter the Supernatural in and through the natural order.

Our own glimpses of God's glory in and through nature are like detecting the fingerprints of the Creator in his creation. Such experiences of the truth and beauty and goodness of creation are not mere matters of taste, as today's prevailing relativism claims with ironic and absolute certainty. When we find ourselves touched by an overwhelming sense of the order and harmony of the cosmos--the unfolding miracle of new life in the womb; the power of the sea, or the majesty of the mountaintop; the preternatural dance of darkness during a total eclipse of the sun--we rightly sense that we are apprehending something More
Such moments of wonder are not mere matters of opinion. They are the perception of a reality which expresses itself through nature, even as it transcends the physical world. Individual human souls may have different sensibilities or capabilities to notice and appreciate these experiences, but all persons are capable of discovering truth, goodness and beauty. We may prefer a sunrise to a sunset, but we dare not deny that they are both literally awesome.  

The question, however, is what we make of these experiences. To perceive the truth that "everything is connected....everything is interconnected" (Pope Francis) should lead us to marvel at the beauty of creation's language. But it should also compel us to protect and defend the goodness which overflows from God through his created order.

Since Holy Father Francis has designated September 1st as the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, we might consider acting on these insights in one of the following ways:
  • Resisting the "throwaway culture" (Pope Francis) and rejecting products and practices which contribute to a toxic environment.
  • Exploring deeper issues about climate change through resources from organizations like the Catholic Climate Covenant.
  • Praying that we might personally and collectively have the mind to know, the heart to love, and the hands to serve God in and through our care of creation.

Finally, as the revealed Word of God reiterates, let us not fail to marvel at the Truth and Beauty and Goodness who is the source of all our everyday experiences of these three transcendental attributes of the Lord God:

"In the beginning was the Word....
All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be."
John 1:1,3

"He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation.
For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth,
the visible and the invisible...
all things were created through him and for him.
He is before all things,
and in him all things hold together."

Colossians 1:15-17