Monday, December 29, 2014

More Like Mary


We live in the age of "likes."  So, wouldn't the world be a better place if more people started "liking" the Virgin Mother Mary? 

What if Mary started "trending"?!  The world might start to notice why God chose her for such a singular place in human history:
  • Humility triumphs over triviality:  As flawed and fallen human beings, many of us are tempted to think that the world revolves around our little selves--or that our little selves are so insignificant that nothing we do really matters.  When the Angel Gabriel announces the plan of salvation to Mary, the "favored one" (Lk 1:28), she neither demands ("what took you so long?!") nor demurs ("you must have the wrong person...").  Rather, the one conceived without sin sees herself neither as perfect nor as useless, but as the faithful servant of God--"I am the handmaid of the Lord" (Lk 1:38).  Mary's life is not all about herself, but is always centered on the will of the heavenly Father, on the life of her Son, and on the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

  • Solitude silences fear.  The scene of the Annunciation concludes with a potentially chilling line: "Then the angel departed from her" (Lk 1:38).  The Angel has just delivered world-shattering news; the drama of God's covenantal love will now play out in human history.  The "bomb" has been dropped, and now Mary is alone.  She has no blueprint to follow, no predetermined course of action on which to rely.  Yet her time alone yields not to loneliness or isolation.  Rather, this solitude sends her forth fearlessly to visit Elizabeth.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Pondering the Word Made Flesh


The following reflection comes from Romano Guardini's masterpiece entitled The Lord (pp. 14-16); may this same Lord fill your heart with the joy of his Presence this Christmas:
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God...
"God is being described.  With him is someone else, someone called 'the Word'; he is the expression of the meaning and fullness of God, the First Person, Speaker of the Word.  This Second Person is also God, 'was God,' yet there is only one God.  Further, the Second Person 'came' into his own: into the world which he had created.  Let us consider carefully what this means: the everlasting, infinite Creator not only reigns over or in the world but, at a specific 'moment,' crossed an unimaginable borderline and personally entered into history--he, the inaccessibly remote one!....What is meant is that God entered into history, thus taking destiny upon himself.
"However, this journey of God from the everlasting into the transitory, this stride across the border into history, is something no human intellect can altogether grasp.  The mind might even oppose the apparently fortuitous, human aspect of this interpenetration with its own 'purer' idea of godliness; yet precisely here lies hidden the kernel of Christianity.  Before such an unheard of thought the intellect bogs down.  Once at this point a friend gave me a clue that helped my understanding more than any measure of bare reason.  He said: 'But love does such things!'  Again and again these words have come to the rescue when the mind has stopped short at some intellectual impasse.  Not that they explain anything to the intelligence; they arouse the heart, enabling it to feel its way into the secrecy of God.  The mystery is not understood, but it does move nearer, and the danger of 'scandal' disappears.

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Joy Which is Shared

 


Are you ready for a little more joy in your life?  If so, would you commit to (re)reading Pope Francis' The Joy of the Gospel in 2015?

Maybe you don't have time to take on all 288 paragraphs in one sitting, but what if you could receive one paragraph per day of The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium), from January through October of 2015?! 
 
Call it a Christmas present to yourself.  Make it your New Year's resolution.  Or consider it an act of solidarity with Pope Francis, who is a walking witness to joy.  After all, the Holy Father wrote Evangelii Gaudium in a very personal way--for you and for me.
 
Indeed, in a recent interview, Pope Francis addressed those who have raised questions "what he really thinks," and he referred to this document as follows:  "That's what I think, not what the media says I think.  Check it out; it's very clear.  Evangelii Gaudium is very clear."
 
Very clear, indeed.  Very readable, as well.  And very relevant to our daily journey of missionary discipleship.
 
To subscribe, simply go to AJoyWhichIsShared.org.  After entering your email address into the "follow by email" section, you will receive a confirmation email; then, starting on January 1st, you'll receive one paragraph each day.  It is guaranteed to feed your mind, heart and soul in the months ahead!
 

Monday, December 8, 2014

St. Joseph of the Incarnation

"St. Joseph and the Christ Child"  +Guido Reni

God's sneaky-awesome presence among us begins with the anxious expectations of Advent.  It culminates in the contemplative season of Christmas:  The divine Author, Producer and Director of the drama of human history enters the stage that he himself created as a seemingly insignificant actor--in diapers and swaddling clothes. 

From the start, St. Joseph was there with the marvelous Mother of God, who "kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart" (Lk 2: 19).  The Scriptures do not share a single word spoken by Joseph, of course, but they invite us to enter into his silent reflection on the mystery of the Incarnation:  What was Joseph thinking and feeling as the Holy Family journeyed through Mary's pregnancy?  What awe filled his heart as he pondered the arrival of the divine Messiah?
  
Before any of the Apostles or Evangelists or Doctors of the Church, it was humble Joseph who stood beside the Blessed Mother and contemplated the reality of God with us.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church articulates four reasons why the Word became flesh (nn. 457-460); can't you picture Joseph discussing God's mysterious ways with his beloved Mary?
  • "The Word became flesh for us in order to save us by reconciling us with God" (CCC, n. 457).  Joseph knew that God's covenant with his chosen people was ultimately a promise of divine assistance in response to original sin.  He also knew that the promised salvation would be connected to the blood of the Passover lamb, and that the Messiah would deliver the definitive victory over slavery and death.  As he rocked baby Jesus to sleep, can't you imagine Joseph's heart quietly murmuring: "Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world" (Jn 1:29)?!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Watching and Preparing



Isn't surprising that the Lord's opening word of the Advent season is "Watch!" (Lk 13:37)?  We enter into these weeks of preparation not with an invitation, but with a sobering exhortation--the end is near!
 
Of course, even the wisdom of contemporary organizational gurus reminds us to "begin with the end in mind."  But the first weeks of Advent offer us even more urgent spiritual advice:  Be on guard for the return of Christ the King, today; be vigilant in preparing for the birth of the Christ child anew, here and now.
 
Advent raises many key questions of the spiritual life.  For example, how might I be be more attuned to the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God during this season of anticipation?  How can I make meaningful changes in the "footwork" of my daily life and so be better prepared to celebrate God coming to us as a helpless child?  How can I be more sensitive to the signs of Christ's daily comings, and therefore more prepared for his definitive arrival?
 
Since Advent ushers in the Church's liturgical "new year," one of my resolutions this year is to consider the ways in which I am too busy building my own kingdom, and not focusing on His.  This year my self-examination will also include an honest assessment of my daily distractions and my trivializing temptations:  What dulls my mind and heart, and what lulls me into a sense of self-generated security?  In short, what sucks the Life out of me?
 

Monday, November 24, 2014

The King and his Immigrant Peoples

Christ the Pantocrator, "the Enthroned"

Policy, politics and liturgy seem to have converged on one fundamental theme this past week: The question of the King.

Every year as the Catholic Church concludes her liturgical cycle, the same stunning Gospel passage confronts us.  Matthew 25's "Judgment of the Nations" rings out regarding the return of the King who will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left, based on one simple criterion:

"Then the righteous will answer him and say,
‘Lord, when did we see you...a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?'
...And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you,
whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’" 

(Mt 25:37-40)

The fundamental revelation is that the King is present in the "strangers" or "aliens" whom we welcome--or whom we fail to welcome.  How we treat--or mistreat--them is how we treat or mistreat the King himself.  Therefore, the Christian question regarding immigration policies needs to shift from the merely political to the very personal issue of what our stance will be toward those we see as "outsiders."

Additional questions abound, of course.  For example, in the uproar and furor over the President's recent executive action, will some Anglo Americans give their Hispanic brothers and sisters the not-so-subtle message that they are not welcome?  In the awkwardness surrounding the political polarization on this issue, will Christians unwittingly strike an unwelcoming stance toward the King--suggesting that our nation is somehow impoverished rather than enriched by the presence of hard-working families who want an opportunity to flourish?

Monday, November 17, 2014

These Walls Can Talk

Michelangelo's Pieta in St. Peter's Basilica

How do you "read" a church when you walk in?

Are your eyes drawn first to the altar and the sanctuary, or to the stained glass windows?  Are you more of a statue or a painting kind of person?  Do you have favorite symbols or saints whose presence lifts your heart?  (One of my nephews is a great fan of St. Bonaventure, and he feels awfully close to Heaven every time he gets to see his old friend!)

We live during an age in which most people are visual learners.  So we should take the opportunity to explore the visible symbols in our local churches, in order to allow ourselves to be drawn closer to the invisible realities represented.  We should strive to develop the spiritual eyesight which is so necessary for Christian discipleship.  And we should look for opportunities to explore the meaning behind such rich signs.

Many representations of saints depict them holding the instrument associated with their death (if they were martyrs), or with some great insight or pivotal moment from their life.  So who's the guy with the grill, or the young man holding the rocks?  With google images now at our finger tips, it's possible to discover answers to such riddles with relative ease.  (These two examples come from the widows in the chapel of the Diocese of Joliet's Blanchette Catholic Center, by the way, and the searches proved them to be St. Lawrence and St. Stephen, respectively.)

How about the tabernacle which holds the Blessed Sacrament or the mysterious and pivotal presence of the altar, which signifies Christ?  Every church is a treasure trove of real signs which help make present the realities that they represent.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Birth of Counter-Cultural Catholicism


Cultural Catholicism is dead.  Just going through the motions because of ethnic or familial allegiances has proven to be an inadequate response to the challenges posed by radical secularism.

What will replace it is only beginning to emerge, but the birth of counter-cultural Catholicism will undoubtedly require the same the heroic virtue of great Christians from centuries past.  At the very least, this counter-cultural Catholicism will:
  • Not shy away from the call to discipleship, but will purposefully and intentionally follow Jesus, embracing his revolutionary way of life.
  • Not just "sacramentalize" members of the Church, but will promote effective evangelization--helping all Catholics know that the story of Salvation History is their story, that the good news of Jesus is their Good News.
  • Not reduce Christian charity to mere volunteerism or philanthropy, but will see life in terms of a gratuitous gift of one's self--including one's time and money.
This counter-cultural Catholicism will be neither pre-modern and reactionary, nor post-modern and complicit with the nihilism of our time.  Rather, as some observers have noted, it will be "trans-modern." Drawing from the rich treasury of resources within the Christian tradition, it will cut across the assumptions of modernity and open up new horizons for encountering the living God here and now.  Counter-cultural Catholicism will be transformational, changing hearts of believers person by person and so helping to rebuild society.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Naming our Holy Souls

 
So what's the cast of characters look like on your All Souls Day prayer list?  And are you able to "connect the dots"--in retrospect, of course--regarding how they helped reveal the face of Christ in your life?

Without having to canonize every family member and friend who has gone before us marked with the sign of the faith, the Church's celebration of All Souls Day invites us to commemorate and intercede on behalf of all those who are being purified on their way to full communion with Almighty God.  To pray for such holy souls is a spiritual work of mercy, and the Catechism reminds us that, "Our prayer for them is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective" (CCC, n. 958). 
 
This year my thoughts have returned to a pivotal time and a most memorable group of people.  It was the late '80s in a blighted neighborhood of North Philadelphia.  During a year of service in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, I was assigned to work in a day center for adults from the neighborhood who lived in nearby boarding houses and who had a variety of mental and emotional needs.  Many of them were also killer UNO players :)
 
The Center was housed in the rectory basement of Our Lady of Holy Souls parish.  Little did I know how aptly named the parish was!  It also took me a while to realize that the fun-loving, Philadelphia Philly fanatic, Religious Sister of Mercy named Sr. Mary Agnes (a.k.a. "Sr. Freddy" to her friends) was creating an environment of hospitality and love which reflected our Lord's recommendation.  "When you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind" (Lk 14:14).
 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Our Spiritual Fathers

6.21.1963--6.8.1978

Some people live under the sign of their horoscope.  But what if, as Catholics, we are spiritually linked to the Holy Father who was pontiff when we were born?

My gut intuition is that our spiritual Holy Fathers have something personal to say to each of their sons and daughters.  So do you know who was pope when you were born?  Do you have a favorite saying or inspirational passage from your spiritual Holy Father?  Are you a Pius XII, a John XXIII, or a Paul VI Catholic (like me)--or are you part of the "Catholic boomer" generation, born during the epic papacy of John Paul II?  Wherever each of us falls demographically, we are blessed to be on an incredible run of holy Holy Fathers, so we can rest assured that they are interceding on our behalf.

Maybe our spiritual Holy Fathers complement the work of our earthly fathers and our baptismal Godfathers, supplementing where there were deficiencies or failures and reinforcing where there were solid foundations laid for us.  In honor of the recent beatification of Pope Paul VI, I'd like to share some "gratitude attitude" for his ongoing role in my life.

After guiding the Second Vatican Council to its conclusion, Paul VI stood courageously and prophetically on at least three major issues which have helped shape who I am:

Monday, October 20, 2014

Of Synods, Sinners, and Saints

"The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization":
The Extraordinary Synod of Bishops 2014
The Pharisees and the Herodians join forces in trying to skewer Jesus on the horns of a dilemma, hoping to cause a schism among his followers.  But what if this is the story line not only of a recent Sunday Gospel (Mt 22:15-21), but also of the recent Extraordinary Synod on the Family?

Might we imagine the following variation on the passage noted above:

The Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap the Synod Fathers in speech.
They sent their disciples to them, with the Herodians, saying,
"...Is it lawful to reach out to those in 'irregular' family situations or not?"

A simple "Yes" to this question would worry those who are concerned about truth:  Will the Church be faithful to her mission of safeguarding God's unchangeable teachings?  A blunt "No" to this question would worry those who are concerned about mercy:  Will the Church be faithful to her mission of offering God's universal gift of salvation to the world?

In the Gospel account noted above, of course, the Pharisees ostensibly care about observing the letter of the law, and they resent that Jesus invites sinners and tax collectors to a new life.  As collaborators with the Romans, the Herodians are concerned about making accommodations with the worldly powers-that-be, and they resent that Jesus brings a counter-cultural vision of the human person to those whose hearts are yearning for something more.

Both groups resent that Jesus holds truth and mercy together.  When Jesus says, "For the Son of man has come to seek and to save what was lost" (Lk 19:10), he in unafraid of calling "the lost" lost, even as he seeks them out and offers them a fresh start.  Thus Jesus reveals that presenting the truth without mercy is not truthful, just as offering mercy without the truth is not merciful. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Life vs. Indifference

Respect Life Sunday 2014

"I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly."
(Jn 10:10)

But we live in such confusing and disorienting times.  The attitude seems to be "whatever"--as in "whatever goes," and "don't bother me".  Indeed, Pope Francis maintains that "a globalization of indifference has developed"; he writes that, "Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people's pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else's responsibility and not our own" (EG, n. 34). 

So would we even recognize the abundant life if we saw it--or if it reached out to touch us?!  And are we even able to weep at the suffering of yet another "masterpiece of God's creation"?

Each October, the Church's celebration of Respect Life Sunday is intended to help us overcome our indifference.  If the theme seems at times politicized and polarizing, it may be because there are so many confusing and disorienting "Life" issues to sort out:

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Mystery of God

www.catholicmemes.com
Each Sunday, Catholics around the world profess faith in a God who is higher than the highest height, and yet closer than my inmost self: "I believe in one God..."  This initial and most fundamental affirmation of the Christian faith immerses us in the Mystery of God. 

But our God is not a puzzle which we need to solve, or a logarithm which we must comprehend.  Rather, our God is a Person with whom we enter into relationship.  Indeed, St. Paul speaks of God as the One in whom "we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28).  We always already exist in relation to the Mystery of God, so the question for each of us becomes how we might grow in awareness of and openness to this living Presence.

But who is our God, and what are the implications of believing in him?

Our God is neither identical with his creation nor separate from it; our God is not an abstract or anonymous Power which kicked creation down the proverbial hill and then retreated to watch the show from a distance.  Rather, our God reveals his very name--"I AM" (Ex 3:15)--in order to assure us that He is not just one being among many.  Our God IS the very act of existence itself. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

Our Trio of Heavenly Helpers

Wouldn’t it be comforting to know that someone’s literally “got your back”—both physically and spiritually?  And wouldn’t it be nice to receive signs about God’s plan for your life—not to mention additional healing and wholeness as needed?!

Almighty God is God, of course--so infinitely grand and expansive that billions of stars move and have their being within him, so infinitely small and still that he is closer than our inmost selves. Therefore, we can always to “straight to the top” with any and all of our needs. 

However, in the wisdom of God’s loving plan since the dawn of time, his angels stand ready to help us on a moment’s notice.  Among these special “helpers,” the most powerful and most revered are the three archangels whom the Church celebrates on September 29th:  Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael.  Though they often act without being noticed, we can catch glimpses their respective missions:

 
          Michael:  The Warrior, who leads the battle against Satan and his minions. 

      Have you ever seen the face of the Evil One in the contorted look of someone intent on doing you harm, or in the pained look of someone enslaved in their evil?  If so, the mere mention of Michael’s name is enough to terrify this enemy.  Indeed, the St. Michael Prayer is one of the Church’s most powerful in its arsenal of resources.  It reminds us that our life is a matter of spiritual warfare: “St. Michael, the Archangel, defend us in battle”!




Monday, September 22, 2014

Evangelizing Resolutions

St. Vincent de Paul
"Have in you the same attitude
that is also in Christ Jesus."
(Phil 2:5)
 
 
Maybe it's just me, but it seems like I miss a lot of opportunities to evangelize.   
 
Don't get me wrong, if someone is asking an authentic question, I've got not problem talking about the faith handed down to us from the Apostles, or waxing poetic regarding the fact that God is Love.  But it seems like there are so many other moments when I could be doing a better job of witnessing to the reality of God's self-revelation in Jesus.
 
So, inspired by a few recent events and experiences of my friends and family, I plan on adding the following phrases into my regular repertoire at the start of this new school year:
  1. "I'll be praying for you."  One of my best friends, who also happens to be a great listener, has a totally natural way of responding to people with this phrase.  The other day an acquaintance ended up sharing his Job-like recent experiences--failed business venture and marriage, isolation from his children, health and work issues.  I listened intently, but was at a loss for words.  If had had this phrase on the tip of my tongue, it would have helped articulate what I was feeling from the bottom of my heart!

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Third Way

whatisthethirdway.com
Few issues are as emotionally sensitive and potentially divisive among Catholics as homosexuality.

It seems like there are only two ways to approach the topic:  Either a self-righteous and judgmental condemnation of those who experience same-sex attractions, or a self-righteous and judgmental condemnation of those who want to be faithful to the Christian vision of human sexuality.  Either a blind abandonment of loved ones who are homosexual, or a blind abandonment of Jesus' teaching on marriage, "from the beginning."  Either a blind embrace of homophobic attitudes, or a blind embrace of gay culture.

There is, however, a third voice which has up until now remained largely voiceless.  It speaks with credibility about a way beyond these polarized alternatives.  Indeed, this "third way" gives voice to men and women who have embraced both their homosexual orientations and their call to live the Gospel. 

If your mind and heart is open to hearing about the real struggles and profound insights of this new voice in what too often seems like a tired and tiresome discussion, make a plan to set aside 30 minutes to watch The Third Way.  Please don't judge it until you've seen it, and please stay open to the possibility that there is indeed a way forward for all of us on the topic of homosexuality and the Catholic Church.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Discipleship and Encounter


Let’s face it, we're all in the same boat. 

Moreover, as G.K. Chesterton noted, "Not only are we all in the same boat, but we are all sea sick"!

Our personal sea sicknesses may differ.  They might be self-inflicted, or the result of decisions by people we love; they might involve illnesses, troubled relationships, problems at work or school.  Regardless of its specific details, every type of seasickness has the same remedy--discipleship rooted in a personal encounter with Jesus.

In other words, once we recognize that we are all "in the same boat," the question becomes whether we will allow Jesus into our boat.  Luke's Gospel recounts a scene which needs to be replayed in each of our lives:  With the crowd pressing in to hear the word of God, Jesus climbs into Simon's boat (Lk 5:1-11).  Already tired from a full day of fishing, Simon was washing his nets.  He was finished.

Yet perhaps Simon knew, deep down, just what kind of boat he was in.  Clearly his heart was open just enough to be touched by Jesus' next request, "Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch."  Thus the next question for us becomes:  Will we dare to face the deep waters?  Will we trust Jesus enough to lower our nets again--perhaps in a place where we've never fished before?

Monday, September 1, 2014

Toward an Economy that Serves

TV coverage of Notre Dame's home football games are punctuated by inspiring promotional pieces for the university titled, "What would you fight for?"  Following Labor Day 2014, perhaps the question worth exploring is, "What would you work for?"

Many of us would likely answer, "For my family" or "For my future" or "For my economic independence."  However, economists of all stripes--along with many politicians--would suggest in a variety of ways that we work to serve the economy.  Whether they tend more toward free-market capitalism or state-controlled socialism, the powers-that-be want to frame human work in terms of whether or not it serves national or international economic growth.

Catholic social teaching offers a more "personalizing" vision for human work: We work "for" the building up of the human person.  Indeed, on its deepest levels our work reflects the work of God himself, who creates, redeems and sanctifies.  In a powerful section entitled "Economic Activity and Social Justice," the Catechism of the Catholic Church emphasizes that "Economic life is not meant solely to multiply goods produced and increase profit or power; it is ordered first of all to the service of persons, of the whole man, and of the entire human community" (n. 2426).

Even as he simultaneously offered a profound critique of Marxism, St. John Paul II also incorporated insights from Catholic social teaching in his carefully qualified criticism of global capitalism.  In his encyclical Centesimus annus, John Paul asks whether capitalism is the answer for Third World countries; he then answers, "if by 'capitalism' is meant a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious, then the reply is certainly negative" (CA, n. 42).  The economy must serve the human person, not vice versa; economic freedom must serve human freedom more deeply understood, in the sense of the ability to choose what is true and good and beautiful. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Witnesses in the Face of Intolerance

"Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers,
and if he does listen to teachers, it's because they are witnesses."
+Pope Paul VI
 
The Christian Martyrs Last Prayer
In light of journalist Jim Foley's gruesome execution, did you find yourself wondering how you would face such a death?  I couldn't help but ponder what my final thoughts and gestures would be.  Would I pray for my enemies?  Would I be able to forgive the man who was about to kill me?  
 
Based on an essay he wrote following an earlier abduction in 2011, entitled Phone Call Home, I'm guessing that Jim Foley met his death like countless Christian martyrs down through the centuries--that is, filled with God's grace, carried by the Holy Spirit, and sustained by the love of Christ present in his heart.  Perhaps it's more than a coincidence that his murder fell so close to the Church's commemoration of the passion of St. John the Baptist (August 29th).
 
And what about the Christian witness provided by his family?!  The secular press seemed almost shocked to find a Catholic family which was palpably sustained by its faith.  Again, I couldn't help but wonder what my response would be if one of my loved ones was so brutally murdered.  Would I turn to prayer or thirst for vengeance?   Would I be the Christian witness which (post)modern people so desperately long to see, or would my response be just as worldly as that of any non-believer?
 
Ultimately, there is one question whose answer points to whether or not we would be witnesses under such extreme circumstances:  For Jesus asks each of us each day, "Who do you say that I am?" (Mt 16:15). 
 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Blessed are the Peacemakers

In addition to this bold Beatitude, Jesus' Sermon on the Mount also offers the seemingly unconditional commandment to "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Mt 5:44).  Even more radically, perhaps, Jesus provides us with one of the most non-violent teachings possible while being arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane: He implores Peter to put down his sword and then pronounces that "all who take the sword will perish by the sword" (Mt 26:52).

In the face of the all-too easy tendency to justify the use of violence to resolve international conflicts, the Catholic Church has made a conscious and intentional return to Jesus' non-violent stance since the Second Vatican Council.  From Paul VI's cry, "No more war, never again war!" and John Paul II's bold claim that he would have walked to Baghdad on his knees to prevent the first Iraq War, to Pope Francis' call for a day of prayer and fasting to prevent Western military interventions into war-torn Syria, the trend has been decidedly non-violent.

So how can we now make sense of the Vatican's position on intervening in Iraq?  Is Pope Francis flip-flopping, or abandoning what some have called his position as Global Peacemaker-in-Chief? In recently calling the U.N.'s Secretary General and the entire international community to action in Iraq, was the Holy Father merely concerned for the countless Christians being driven from their homes and slaughtered by radical Islamists?  Or is there something more going on here?

The interpretive key comes, I think, from the section of the Catechism which deals with "Safeguarding Peace" (CCC, nn. 2302-2317).

When commenting on the Fifth Commandment, "Thou shall not kill," the Catechism moves from discussion of respect for human life and for the dignity of persons to a discussion of what is entailed in actively promoting peace.  The line of reasoning includes the following highlights:

Monday, August 11, 2014

Black Grace and White Grace

Blessed Fulton J. Sheen
While recently enjoying some family vacation with my wife, children and wonderful in-laws, I was also blessed to have another wise friend nearby:  Blessed Fulton J. Sheen.  Although the book I was reading was  written in 1950, Sheen was able to share some piercing insights about how we (post-)modern men and women experience God's grace.  (No wonder he is considered a forerunner of the new evangelization!)

The following selection describes the movement toward Christ-centered living, which alone can fulfill the deepest and most authentic desires of our self, and it introduces a very helpful distinction between "Black" and "White" Grace:

“There are two great moments in the life of every soul as it advances to the Christ-centered level.  The first is negative and passive; the second is active and Divine.  The first crisis is an overwhelming sense of emptiness, which is actually ‘Black Grace’; the second is a sense of the Divine presence, or ‘White Grace.’  The first experience involves a discontent, a consciousness that God is making an impact on the soul.  The first condition is a result of Godless living; it might be called the negative Presence of God in the soul, as God’s actual Grace is His positive Presence.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Better or Better Off

Peter Maurin (1877-1949)
Co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, Peter Maurin had a dramatic influence on Servant of God Dorothy Day.  He also had a talent for writing what he described as "easy essays."

They may be easy to read, but I doubt they were easy to write, and I know they are rather challenging to live!  Here's a sample, for your consideration, from the Houston Catholic Worker Newspaper (vol. XXXV, n. 5):


Better or Better Off
  1. The world would be better off,
    if people tried
    to become better.
  2. And people would
    become better,
    if they stopped trying
    to be better off.
  3. For when everybody tries
    to become better off,
    nobody is better off.
  4. But when everybody tries
    to become better,
    everybody is better off.
  5. Everybody would be rich
    if nobody tried
    to be richer.
  6. And nobody would be poor
    if everybody tried
    to be poorest.
  7. And everybody would be
    what he ought to be
    if everybody tried to be
    what he wants the other
    fellow to be.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Signs of Undercover Catholics

www.catholicmemes.com
We all know and admire them.  They impress us in various ways and inspire others to be better people.  As you move through this week, keep an eye out for friends and neighbors who bear these marks of being "undercover Catholics":
  1. They are drawn to beauty, and they know it's not just in the eye of the beholder.
  2. They want to make the world a better place.
  3. They ignore gossip and refrain from detraction.
  4. They know that love is more than just an emotion, and so they choose to love each day.
  5. They look first for the good in others.
  6. They own their possessions, not vice-versa (and they try to give them away as if they belong to someone else).
  7. They care about the common good.
  8. They understand that a person's soul is infinitely precious.
  9. They strive to live in solidarity with those who are vulnerable.
  10. They are willing to make sacrifices for others.
Like most practicing Catholics, these "undercover Catholics" don't necessarily exhibit all of these characteristics--but they wish they did.  In fact, deep down they want to be not just "nice" but holy, and they realize that "The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy in life is not to become a saint" (Leon Bloy). 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Christ in the Border Crisis

 
With so much violence spilling over around the world--witness the Ukraine, Syria, Israel and Palestine, as well as Iraq and Afghanistan--it's easy to gloss over the violence which lurks behind our nation's ongoing border crisis.
 
In recent testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on Unaccompanied Children, Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas emphasized that "Violence perpetrated by organized transnational gangs, loosely-affiliated criminal imitators of gangs, and drug cartels, has permeated all aspects of life in Central American and is one of the primary factors driving the migration of children from the region" (p. 7).  Isn't it time that we begin to address both the immediate crisis and the root causes--through both works of mercy and works of justice?
 
Of course, even to ask this question and raise this topic is bound to offend someone:  The political polarization is so extreme; visceral reactions simmer just below the surface of apparent civility.  As followers of Jesus, however, we should be willing to admit to ourselves and to others that we know what needs to be done.  Here are seven starting points for more meaningful conversations about the boarder crisis: 

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Metric for Missionary Disciples



What if we're all "on the spectrum"?  Wouldn't it be nice to evaluate to what extent we are "spiritually worldly" and to what extent we are becoming the "missionary disciples" Christ needs us to be?

The brief self-assessment below flows out of Pope Francis' commentary on "Spiritual Worldliness" in The Joy of the Gospel (EG, nn., 93-97).  The Holy Father lays out the issue as follows:  "Spiritual worldliness, which hides behind the appearance of piety and even love for the Church, consists in seeking not the Lord's glory but human glory and personal well-being" (EG, n. 93).  So, take a quick look at where you stand in relation to the goal of growing in holiness as a missionary disciple of Jesus:
 
 
Spiritual Worldliness                                                 Missionary Discipleship           
 
0       1        2         3            4          5          6          7          8         9         10    
<--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------->
 
Seeking human glory                                                     Seeking the Lord's glory
and personal well-being                                                 and the well-being of others
 
Subtly pursuing                                                               Openly pursing
one's own interests                                                          Christ's interests
 
Cultivating appearances                                                  Cultivating ongoing
                                                                                         conversion of heart
 
Concerned with feeling                                                    Concerned with the
superior to others                                                             Gospel and the good
                                                                                         of others
 
Pursuing the pleasure of                                                  Embracing evangelical
complacency and self-indulgence                                   fervor
 
Attracted by elitism                                                          Willing to open the door
and classifying others                                                       of grace to others

Preoccupied with the Church                                            Concerned with the
as an institution, the property                                            Church as the People of 
of a select few                                                                   God, especially the poor 
 
Enjoying talk about                                                            Offering of one's life
"what needs to be done"                                                    in a spirit of service
 
Fascinated with social                                                        Bearing the mark of
and political gain                                                                Christ crucified and risen
 

Monday, July 7, 2014

A Renewed Personal Encounter

"I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment,
to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ,
or at least an openness to letting him encounter them;
I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. 
No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her..."
(Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel [=EG], n. 3). 


What if you had a chance to hear the basic proclamation of the Gospel anew, as if for the first time?  Wouldn't it be wonderful to really hear not just that there is a God, but that he is both higher than the highest height and closer than our inmost self?

Wouldn't it be transformative and life-changing to hear that this one true God is a Father?  Your Father, and my Father.  Wouldn't it change our lives to know that the Father loves us intimately and personally--in and through the seemingly mundane details of our daily lives.

What if we could embrace the truth that this loving Father knows that our world is a mess and understands that each of us is wounded or hurting in some way?  So passionate and so compassionate is this Father that he is literally willing to give away his only-begotten Son.  For you, and for me.  Wouldn't it fill you with wonder and awe to learn that this heavenly Father purposefully sent his beloved Son to empty himself, so that the world might again be full of love?  He wants each of us to know that we are never alone and that the Son saves us--through his passion, death and Resurrection.

What if we could open our hearts to this beautiful revelation of the Triune God, as he pours out his Spirit upon us right now?  The salvation and wholeness offered by the God-Man is extended to us through the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Wouldn't it bring us true peace and authentic hope if we really knew that the Son of God wants each of us to have so much more life?  Indeed, he knows we cannot be who we want to be on our own, so he reassures us that the Holy Spirit transforms us.  The Lord knows that we cannot find the fulfillment of our heart's deepest desires on our own; so, thanks to the work of the Spirit, he liberates us from self-centered slavery, for other-centered freedom.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Self-Evident Truths

"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 words from the Declaration of Independence provide the foundation upon which our democracy stands.  Or falls.
 
If we accept the premise that our Creator has made all men and women equal and has endowed us with "unalienable" rights--rights which are not to be separated, given away, or taken away--, then we have a common ground for meaningful public discourse and rational decisions about particular policies.  However, if we deny truths such as the right to life or liberty or the pursuit of happiness, our society becomes subject to the arbitrary whims of those wielding power.
 
Indeed, if the only "self-evident" truth is that there is no truth, then we have effectively embraced a new Declaration of Dependence:  Our "rights" will be perceived as coming from the government; our value for human "life" will be determined by whether it is "productive" or "wanted"; our definition of "liberty" will be dictated by whatever the often tyrannical majority deems appropriate.  Our laws will inevitably become unjust.  And, as Martin Luther King wrote in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, "An unjust law is no law at all."
 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Loving Ugly

Statue of Homeless Jesus
In sports, we often talk about "winning ugly."  As Christians, it's time we start talking about "loving ugly." 

In other words, we need to ask ourselves whether we are willing to love our neighbors even when they don't live up to our almighty expectations.  We need to look beyond the pedigree or paperwork or social position or nationality which we deem worthy.  And we need to ponder the mysterious fact that God himself loves ugly.

It's not that God thinks ugliness is a good thing, of course.  It was certainly not part of his original plan.  Rather, having allowed us the freedom to love as we desire, God is willing to reach out to us even when we've rejected or mocked or silenced him.  Moreover, Jesus revealed that he expects his followers to do the same: "But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust" (Mt 5:45). 

From a merely worldly perspective, this is either ridiculous or down-right offensive.  In the eyes of the Pharisaical world, only perfect people count.  Whether it's the "beautiful crowd" (judging by outward physical appearances, of course), or whether it's those gifted with strength, smarts, or wealth, the message is all about dividing and conquering:  We're in--you're out; we measure up--you never will.  Those who are into "loving pretty" basically imply that they are the "blessed" and that the rest of us should step aside.  The economy of exclusion and spiritual Gnosticism both hinge on such a mentality, as Pope Francis has pointed out, since some people count more than others.  And most don't count at all.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Freedom to Serve?

www.fortnightforfreedom.org
Ever since Jesus said, "Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me" (Mt 25:40), Christians have been feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick and the imprisoned.  Indeed, both corporal and spiritual works of mercy have defined the Church's mission for centuries, and Western civilization has particularly benefited from this gratuitous Christian witness.

But the question raised by the radical secularism of our time is whether followers of Jesus should be allowed to serve others in accord with their well-formed consciences, and in his Name. 

In the face of such a dramatic question and such a rapid turn of events in American history, many people have simply yawned.  Indifferent to whether the government redefines freedom of religion as mere freedom to worship, they naively ask, "Why can't we all just get along?... And why can't the Church keep out of politics?"  Others have used the issue of religious liberty as yet another bludgeon against Christianity, in general, and the Catholic Church in particular.  They resent Christians for resisting the "truths" which radical secularism want to impose, and they insistently question, "Why don't people just keep their religion a private affair, so we can maintain alleged neutrality in the public square?"  In other words, it's OK for the federal government to force its will upon the people because that's it's job, but it's no longer OK for Christians to follow teachings handed down from Jesus through his Church.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Fathers of Mercy

As Father's Day approaches, so does the anniversary of my father's death.  It's been four years, which in some ways seems like a long time.  But it mostly seems like yesterday.  (Here's a link to an all-time classic photo of a couple holy fathers!)

During my dad’s final months, one of our family’s favorite activities was reading the various notes sent by friends near and far.  One of the best was from a boyhood baseball teammate.  Basically, the two had played on a legendary team that had made it to the championship game of the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA, but they had not been in touch for over fifty years.  The old teammate wrote to say that he had heard my dad was battling cancer, and he went on to offer words of support and the promise of prayers. 

In this note, however, he also recounted the last inning of the championship game, which their team ended up losing.  Down by five runs in their final at-bat, this old teammate had tried to bunt his way on base; he went on to apologize to my dad for this bad decision and commented:  “I never was good at bunting and wasn’t very fast—what was I thinking?!”  My family and I were touched by this note, but I was struck by the fact that this poor guy seemed to be still haunted by that game so long ago.

In the final weeks of my dad’s life, as his ability to speak was slowly fading, he became a master of non-verbal interactions.  He also seemed to become even funnier and more insightful while using fewer and fewer words.  At one point when we were alone, I sat down next to him and said that I wanted to apologize for all of the stupid things I had said and done down through the years.  He looked over with a twinkle in his eye and said, “Talking about bunting in the last at-bat?!”

Monday, June 2, 2014

Toward a Poly-Lingual Pentecost

My oldest daughter and some courageous classmates are finishing a semester abroad in Latin America--living with host families, immersing themselves in the culture, and mastering Spanish through their studies and travels.  It's both amazing and edifying how much effort it takes to learn a new language.  As someone who has dabbled in learning a second language (or faked his way along through an unknown one!), I am struck by how important it is to ask over and over again, "How do you say this in your language?"

"Spirit-filled evangelizers," as Pope Francis' describes intentional disciples of Jesus, are much like second-language learners: We have to figure out how to speak of the Supernatural in a natural, everyday way; we need to learn how to talk about Mercy in an all-too-merciless world; we have to transpose our experience of Christ into language that makes sense to those who are wandering about without a Good Shepherd guiding them. 

In other words, we need to constantly ask ourselves, "How can I describe my lived-experience of God's grace in words that will make sense to people of this time and place?"  Ultimately, the answer is that we need to learn the language of the heart.  We have to communicate "heart-to-heart," in a way that testifies to the Truth and Goodness and Beauty we have encountered in Christ. 

If you're like me, however, this means that we need to reflect a bit more deeply on our own experience in order to translate the terms and categories we use to think about our lives.  Was I raised by a merely wonderful family, or by a wonderful Christian family?  Did my experiences of the Sacraments of initiation merely mark transitional moments in my life, or were they new beginnings?  Are my favorite hymns or Scripture verses merely passing inspirations, or are they the living Word of God reverberating in my heart?  Do the mercy and absolution I experience in Confession merely meet my emotional and psychological needs, or are they an encounter with Christ risen and present in the ministry of his Church? 

Monday, May 26, 2014

Hope

As we wind down our 50 day celebration of Christ's Resurrection from the dead, perhaps there's no better time of the year to reflect on the oft-overlooked theological virtue of Hope. 

The following is a selection from Charles Peguy's The Portal of the Mystery of the Second Virtue. which also appeared in Communio: International Catholic Review (Fall, 1994).  Presented as a monologue on the part of God himself, Peguy's vision offers us a glimpse of "the little girl of hope":

"...My three virtues, says God.
The three virtues, my creatures.
My daughters, my children.
Are themselves like my other creatures.
Of the race of men.
Faith is a loyal Wife.
Charity is a Mother.
An ardent mother, noble-hearted.
Or an older sister who is like a mother.
Hope is a little girl, nothing at all....
"And yet it is this little girl who will endure worlds.
This little girl, nothing at all.
She alone, carrying the others, who will cross worlds past.
As the star guided the three kings from the deepest Orient.
Toward the cradle of my Son.
Like a trembling flame.
She alone will guide the Virtues and Worlds.
One flame will pierce the eternal shadows....
"We too often forget, my child, that hope is a virtue, that it is a theological virtue, and that of all the virtues, and of the three theological virtues, it is perhaps the most pleasing to God.  That it is assuredly the most difficult, that it is perhaps the only difficult one, and that it is undoubtedly the most pleasing to God.
"Faith is obvious.  Faith can walk on its own.  To believe you just have to let yourself go, you just need to look around.  In order not to believe, you would have to do violence to yourself, frustrate yourself.  Harden yourself.  Run yourself backwards, turn yourself inside-out, thwart yourself.  Faith is completely natural, easy-going, simple, easy-coming.  Very easy-coming.  Very easy-going.  It's a woman that everyone knows, a nice old lady, a nice old parishioner, a nice woman from the parish, an old grandmother.  She tells stories about the old days, what happened in the old days.
"In order not to believe, my child, you would have to shut your eyes and plug your ears.  In order not to see, not to believe.
"Unfortunately Charity is obvious.  Charity can walk on its own.  to love your neighbor you just have to let yourself go, you just have to look around at all the distress.  In order not to love you would have to do violence to yourself, torture yourself, torment yourself, frustrate yourself.  Harden yourself.  Hurt yourself.  Distort yourself.  Run yourself backwards, turn yourself inside-out.  Thwart yourself.  Charity is completely natural, simple, overflowing, very easy-coming.  It's the first movement of the heart.  And the first movement is the right one.  Charity is a mother and a sister.
"In order not to love your neighbor, my child, you would have to shut your eyes and plug your ears.
"But hope is not obvious.  Hope does not come on its own.  To hope, my child, you would have to be quite fortunate, to have obtained, received a great grace.
"It's faith which is easy and not believing which would be impossible.  It's charity which is easy and not loving which would be impossible.  But it's hoping which is difficult....
"And the easy thing and the tendency is to despair and that's the great temptation. 
"This little hope moves forward in between her two older sisters and one scarcely notices her.  On the path to salvation, on the earthly path, on the rocky path of salvation, on the interminable road, on the road in between her two older sisters the little hope

Monday, May 19, 2014

Easter Revelations & Resolutions


Most Catholics love Lent--a season of striving, full of hope for new habits.  But what about Easter, the longest and most glorious season of the liturgical year?  What would our lives look like if we started making Easter resolutions?

Lent is custom-made for "doers" and "list makers" like me.  But the Easter season poses a challenge because it is less about doing and more about being.  If Lent is a matter of identifying areas for growth through prayer, penance and almsgiving, then Easter is a matter of allowing myself to be drawn into the very life of the Blessed Trinity. 

Pope Benedict's Jesus of Nazareth describes this essential fact about Jesus' Resurrection: "an ontological leap occurred, one that touches begin as such, opening up a dimension that affects us all, creating for all of us a new space of life, a new space of being in union with God" (p. 274).  The final weeks of the Easter season draw us into the depths of the mystery revealed by Jesus' passion, death and Resurrection. 

The key word for the Easter season is encounter.  Our eyes are opened to the myriad of ways we can meet the Risen Lord each day.  Our hearts are drawn into a real relationship with our heavenly Father.  Our ears become more attuned to the still, small voice of the Spirit.  These weeks of walking with the Christ are an invitation to embrace the mystery of Trinitarian Love within which we live and move and have our being.

For the first disciples as for us, Jesus' teachings and sayings become comprehensible only after encountering the light of the Resurrection.  He came and walked among us--suffering death and then rising--in order to reveal the very face of the Father's love; he poured out his life in order to shower us with the Spirit.  The Risen Lord frees us from the fallacy of self-determination (my experience, my meaning, my health and prosperity, my will, etc.), and he reveals that Truth and Life are found in another, absolutely unique Way.

The "Way" of Jesus is not just one way among many, but it is the one path to authentic union with the Other.  Our life becomes "de-centralized" of self, and a new reality is revealed for us and in us and through us:  "And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always....On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you" (Jn 14:16, 20).  Created in the image and likeness of God, we are made for communion, for intimacy with the One who is an intimate communion of Persons.

The reality of the Resurrection is always dynamic.  The encounter with the Triune God revealed in Christ always leads to action on behalf of the beloved.  Jesus himself does not rest during the Easter season.  He is glorified, but does not glory in himself; he is triumphant in his victory over sin and death, but not a triumphalist.  Rather, the Risen Lord is a man on the move:  He is intent on returning to the Father to prepare a place for us; he is resolved not to leave us orphans; he promises to return again at the end of time.

Pope Benedict concludes his reflection on the Resurrection by inviting us to appreciate the divine way that God elicits our love following the event of Easter.  Down through the centuries, God allows the light of the Easter to be refracted through the apostolic witness of the Church:

If we attend to the witnesses with listening hearts and open ourselves to the signs
by which the Lord again and again authenticates both them and himself,
then we know that he is truly risen.  He is alive. 
Let us entrust ourselves to him, knowing that we are on the right path. 
With Thomas let us place our hands into Jesus' pierced side and confess:
'My Lord and my God!'" (p. 277)
 
This Easter, recreated by the Resurrection, let's resolve to sit silently, to open ourselves, and to search anew for signs that point us toward the Mystery of mysteries.
 
Peace and God bless,
David
 
P.S.  If you are on Facebook and interested in following the Newman Institute--which features faith formation opportunities around the Diocese of Joliet--please check out the following link (and "like" it!): https://www.facebook.com/pages/Diocese-of-Joliet-Newman-Institute/750025821687162.

Monday, May 12, 2014

A Mother for the 21st Century

Human life passes through the selfless gift of mothers.  So why do we struggle to embrace the fact that there is one Mother through whom Life itself passed?

With so many mothers grieving over their lost children--witness the horror of the kidnapped Nigerian school girls, or the ongoing plight of Western youth swept away by a sea of hopelessness and meaninglessness--isn't it time that we turn back to the Mother of mothers?  In the 20th Century, Catholics prayed for an end to Communism, with its distorted view of the human person and its justification of violence as a means to some supposedly greater end.  Perhaps it's time for 21st Century Catholics to pray in earnest for an end to the terrorism of Islamic fundamentalists, as well as to the nihilism of radical secularism.

Many people who think that Pope Francis is "progressive" have been befuddled that he keeps promoting devotion to Our Lady, even exhorting us to pray the Rosary.  Some people may think this is just a vestige of piety from which he hasn't yet liberated himself.  But what if Pope Francis' Marian devotion is actually part of the secret to his personal relationship with Christ?  After all, Jesus received his flesh and took on his physical body thanks to Mary.  Doesn't it make sense that the King of kings would want us to see him through his Queen Mother's eyes--to meditate on his life along with her? 

Why are we so quick to accept any news or gossip we hear as fact, and yet even more quick to dismiss the countless apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary during the second millennium of Christianity?  Are we really more rational than our ancestors, or are we just more offended at the content of our Mary's motherly reminders?  "Repent; make reparation for sin; and pray--particularly the Rosary":  This may sound strikingly similar to advice our own moms have had to dish out--e.g., "stop acting like a fool; clean up your mess; and we're going to talk..."  Of course, whether it comes from our earthly or our heavenly Mother, such words are always spoken out of love with our best interests in mind.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Holy Fathers of the New Evangelization

Was the recent canonization of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II "just business" for you, or did it get personal?

For the Church as a whole, the event provided yet another global opportunity for Pope Francis to advance the work of the new evangelization.  For me, John Paul II has been one of my heroes for decades; so this felt very personal indeed!  In fact, I received the Sacrament of Confirmation right around the time he became pope, and my gradual, sometimes circuitous process of conversion unfolded along with his historic papacy. 

John Paul's commissioning of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and his encyclical letter on The Gospel of Life, among other magisterial works, proved to be pivotal in my intellectual and spiritual journey.  In addition, his brilliant insights on the "Theology of the Body" crystallized truths which Pope Paul VI had articulated and which had already started shaping my own marriage and family.  His devotion to our Blessed Mother and his courageous witness to Hope--as well as his critique of the cancerous culture of death and his call for a civilization of love--helped me navigate my own path of Christian discipleship.  His commitment to the revelation of Divine Mercy confirmed and concretized my own experiences of God's grace offered in the Person of Jesus, through the ministry of his Church.

Perhaps above all, however, John Paul's call for a "new evangelization" continues to lift up and transform my heart.  In the face of challenges posed by a post-modern culture intent on washing countless souls away from their Savior, Jesus' blunt question seems less and less rhetorical:  "When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Lk 18:8).  But, thanks to the countless everyday evangelizers who are embracing the baptismal call to holiness, I definitely see signs of the "new springtime" which JPII envisioned.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Delving into Deeper Truths

Aslan, the King of Narnia
SPOILER ALERT:  If you have never read C.S. Lewis' masterpiece, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, this post-Easter selection may give away much of the story for you :)  If you have read it and want to enjoy one of its most precious passages again, then please read on...
++++++++++++++
 
Prior to his passion and death, Jesus had told the Twelve and the other disciples that he would indeed suffer and die, but that we would be raised on the third day.  After the Resurrection, he asked two of them on the road to Emmaus, "Was it not necessary that the Son of Man should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" (Lk 24:26).
 
Jesus opened the Scriptures for the two disciples so they could understand everything in the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms which spoke of him--centuries in advance.  He unpacked the mystery of a God who so loves the world that he sends his only Son to suffer, die and then rise--for us. 
 
But why was it necessary?  In his allegorical adventure of four human children into the magical Land of Narnia, C.S. Lewis circles around this question by presenting Aslan the Lion King as a Christ-figure.  In order to defeat the evil Witch who has taken siege of the land, Aslan enlists the help of the human children in support of the forces for good.  However, after one of the boys commits treachery and betrays Aslan and the others to the Witch, the law of the land--the Deep Magic--dictates that she has a rightful claim to his life.  The traitor must die.