Monday, October 30, 2017

All Our Favorite Saints and Holy Souls

"Death comes for us all, even for kings it comes."

+St. Thomas More, from A Man for All Seasons

Catholics celebrate All Saints Day to remind ourselves that we are not alone.  The journey is not too difficult.  Our deeply desired destiny does not exceed our grasp.

We have not only a "cloud of witnesses" cheering us on, but also a cohort of patron saints assisting our charge onward and upward.

So who is on your A-team?  If you had to choose your top five canonized saints, who would they be and why?  Perhaps they have changed over the course of your ongoing conversion to Christ--according to the different ages and stages of your life. Or maybe you have realized their fidelity to you, even when you have grown lax or lukewarm on your journey Home.

It's good to name and invoke our spiritual friends, to trust that they walk with us, and to open our eyes to the ways that they intervene for us right now, on behalf of our eternal forever.

Catholics celebrate All Souls Day to remind ourselves of those loved ones--friends and family members--through whom the love of Christ has shone into our lives.  

The Light of the World is reflected everywhere that the grace of Baptism has made a soul holy.  The Love of God reverberates in every human heart, created in the image and likeness of Trinitarian Love.  Therefore, every glimpse of light and love here below should help open our eyes to the fullness of life for which we were made.

Can you name those Holy Souls, now headed home to God, who have most deeply touched your life?  Can you see in them an image of the Risen Lord drawing near to you, much as he did with the two travelers on the Road to Emmaus?

The heroic and everyday virtue in your favorite Holy Souls are sign posts on the Christian path of discipleship.  Whether it's your grandfather's kindness, or your aunt's passion for justice; whether it's your childhood friend's grit and heroic perseverance, or your neighbor's piety: The people who have left an impact on us have done so to the extent that they were pencils in the very hand of God.

We need to picture our all-time list of Holy Souls and then become like them--for the sake of all those we meet.  This is how usher in the Kingdom of God which is already at hand.

This is our prayer :)

Monday, October 23, 2017

Repaying to God What Belongs to God

"If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences,
it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength,
light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ,
without a community of faith to support them,
without meaning and a goal in life."

(The Joy of the Gospel, n. 49)

It disturbs me
that Jesus bled to death while nailed to a tree,
and yet we think that life is about trying to be a nice person.

It troubles my conscience
that we know our deepest identity lies in being children of our heavenly Father,
and yet we allow the world to indoctrinate us with inane alternatives.

It disturbs me
that so many people live in such existential misery here and now,
and yet we hesitate to share the Good News they long to hear.

It troubles my conscience
that so many Christians have heard Jesus' words, "I am the Way and the Truth and the Life,"
and then we quickly convince ourselves that there are lots of ways to the Father,
lots of truths, and lots of lives worth leading.
It disturbs me
that so many Catholics yawn their way through the miracle of the Mass,
and that even more are too busy with trivialities to be present to the Presence.

It troubles my conscience
that we are so eager to give so much to the various Caesars of our day,
and yet so willing to give so little to the God of all eternity.

World Mission Sunday is a poignant reminder that, when we meet our Maker, He will ask:  "Where are all of my children you were supposed to help bring home?"   Let's pray that we will be instruments of God's grace who help others live in friendship with Jesus Christ, with a community of faith to support them, with meaning and a goal in life--


Monday, October 16, 2017

A Proposal to Reduce Gun Violence and Womb Violence

If Catholics stood united in defending human dignity,
they could significantly impact the unfettered rights
demanded by both the pro-gun and the pro-abortion lobbies.

Neither the NRA nor NARAL will like this idea.  Catholics whose deepest allegiance lies with their preferred political party, rather than with principles of Catholic social teaching, will not appreciate it either.

But sometimes consensus-building and meaningful collaboration requires looking at old problems with fresh eyes. With the blood of our brothers and sisters continuing to cry out from the ground (Gen 4:10), isn't it time for some bold new beginnings?

Recent polls have shown an increasing openness to introducing reasonable limits to the "right to choose" both to abort the unborn and to bear arms: 81% of Americans favor restricting abortion to the first trimester, and 55% of Americans say that laws on gun sales should be more strict than they are now

If liberals who are opposed to "gun violence" really want to see reasonable restrictions on the right to bear arms, then they should be willing to accept reasonable restrictions on the violent act of abortion.  Likewise, if conservatives who are opposed to "womb violence" really want to see reasonable restrictions on abortion rights, then they should be willing to accept reasonable restrictions on gun ownership.

American Catholics are uniquely poised to be able to increase respect for human dignity by providing a united front in this two-pronged strategy.  Of course, to be consistently "pro-life" would require overcoming internecine culture wars--as well as pushing back against these two well funded and ideologically intransigent forces in the political American landscape.  Here are a few examples of how the potential compromises might play out:

  • Ban abortions after the first twelve weeks of pregnancy, AND ban the sale of assault weapons, bump stock and semi-automatic firearms.
  • Require parental notification for parents of minors seeking abortions, AND require a more uniform and rigorous process for background checks for all gun purchases.
  • Create an informed consent process which includes access to ultrasound images for all first-trimester abortions, AND create a meaningful process for tracking fire arm purchases which would include a national data base.

Mother Teresa famously asked "if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another?"  The now canonized saint of Calcutta famously added that "we must give until it hurts," and so these parallel questions seem to follow: If conservative Catholics refuse to limit their rights to gun ownership, how can they tell other people that they should not have unfettered rights to abortion? If liberal Catholics refuse reasonable restrictions on abortion, how can they tell other people that they have to limit their rights to bear arms?

Of course, owning a gun and procuring an abortion are not morally equivalent acts. They are, however, equally divisive political topics these days.  Isn't this all the more reason to find common ground for political collaboration?

After all, "compromise" need not be a word connoting weakness or absence of principles; it could suggest "making a promise with others" in order to promote the common good and respect human life.

Monday, October 9, 2017

What Really Happens at Mass?

It’s such a simple question, and yet where should a committed Catholic begin, if asked to respond? 

It depends on the audience, of course, but in one way or another an adequate response would include a few most basic elements. Check out the three themes below, and consider what else should be included on the list:

1.      Heaven touches Earth, once again.

Whether it is an intimate gathering in a small chapel or a papal event celebrated with millions, the Mass invites us to celebrate with a “cloud of witnesses.”  All the angels and saints gather with Christ’s body on earth, the Church, and we are invited to participate in the eternal worship and praise of the Father, in the Son, with the Holy Spirit.

One of the times that I was most aware of this experience was several years ago at the annual pilgrimage to Washington, DC, for the March for Life. First there was the Vigil Mass for Life at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception; it was a “high” Mass with a 45-minute procession, incense and traditional hymns, and thousands of reverent pilgrims. Then the very next morning, we celebrated an equally stunning Mass at the nearby Verizon Center—this time, with praise and worship music, and a “youth rally” kind of feel.

Each of these events felt like there was so much more going on.  One of the high school students described it best on our bus ride home when he said, “Those Masses were the most joyful and the most peaceful I’ve ever felt in my life.”  Sure signs of the Holy Spirit at work!

2.      The Holy Spirit re-presents Christ’s passion, death and resurrection.

When Jesus said to the Apostles—and to us—“Do this in memory of me”, the context and message was obvious: Passover meal; “memory” as “memorial”; making oneself present at the event. In prayer, when I try to picture myself present at Jesus’ crucifixion, it is hard to imagine making it to the foot of the Cross with the Blessed Mother, Mary Magdalene and the beloved disciple. 

However, I am able to see myself present in the crowd, listening to Jesus’ last words. I can even imagine myself as one of the other apostles who initially fled after Jesus’ arrest, but then circle back incognito to draw closer to the Sacrifice:
  • “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” seems to be directed right at me. 
  • “Today, you will be with me in paradise” sounds like the answer to the prayer I long to hear.
  • “Behold, your son; behold, your mother” provides a glimmer of hope and hint of a path forward amid the devastation.
  • "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” seems to say even more about me than about Jesus’ intimate relationship with the Father. 
  • “I thirst” makes me long to do something, anything, for the Lord. 
  • “It is complete” hints at Jesus’ intentionality and reminds me of Jesus’ mysterious words and actions at the Last Supper. 
  • "Father, into your hands, I commend my Spirit” seems to sum up Jesus’ whole life—“being for” the Father. 

3.      We encounter the real presence of Jesus in the most unique way.

Finally, and ultimately, there is the matter of the transformation of bread and wine before our very eyes. Eucharistic Adoration has helped deepen my experience of the Mass, and frequent participation in the Mass has helped me appreciate the ongoing presence of our Risen Lord in tabernacles and monstrances around the world.

Why? Because in the Eucharist I experience a peace which the world cannot give. I have experienced the Lord’s joy has filling me, so that my joy is complete. And I have seen the slow but steady transforming power of the Eucharist in my own life!

Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us—

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Only Way to Overcome the Enemy Which is Us

"Have in you the same attitude
that is also in Christ Jesus."
(Phil 2:5)

With cities and streets turned into killing fields, it is time we confront life's great "either/or" decision.  Either we adopt a radically different mindset, embrace a profound metanoia, literally the "new mind" of Christ; or we accept the inevitable consequences of our worldly mentality which is rooted in slavery to self and the relentless drive to impose one's will upon others.

"Though he was in the form of God, [Jesus] did not regard equality with God something to be grasped" (Phil 2:6). Grasping at equality with God is one way to define original sin. It also helps us see what the sin of idolatry looks like today: We set ourselves up as gods who have to power to decide when life begins and when life ends, whose lives are worthy to be lived and whose deserve to be eliminated.

"Rather he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness..." (Phil 2:7)  The Law of Love alone provides an antidote.  It guarantees that we fulfill ourselves only by pouring ourselves out on behalf of others. To put on the mind of Christ means that we look at life through the eyes of those who are suffering and those who are powerless, rather than through the eyes of those who must dominate and enslave others in order to feel more free.

"And found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Phil 2:8).  The worldly mindset sees only "kill or be killed," and thus the cycles of violence swirl on.  The "will to power" is not just a quaint tag line of nihilists and anarchists, but it also includes the justification of "preemptive" strikes against anyone we fear. Christian humility accepts the fact that death is swallowed up by the Cross of Christ. It knows that obedience to the will of the Father never includes the killing or the silencing or the shaming of another.

"Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name" (Phil 2:9). Whenever the name of my country comes first, or the name of my tribe, or the name of my political party or my cause--we can rest assured that slavery to self has a strong grip on us. The only antidote is to name the temptation for what it is, a spirit of self-absorbed worldliness, and then to cast it out in the name of Jesus.

"That at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth" (Phil 2:10). Whether people "take a knee" in the name of defending liberty and protesting racial injustices, or whether people protest the taking of a knee in the name of love of country, it must be done out of a pure intention to put God first, others second and self third. Otherwise, it will merely perpetuate the worldly cycles of division and hatred and--ultimately--death. Ongoing Christian conversion of heart and mind "takes a knee" at the name of Jesus precisely because he alone reveals the way to the Father, which is the path of humility and obedience.

"And every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil 2:11). We have seen the enemy, indeed, but we praise God that he has shown us the Way forward-- so that the cycles of worldly violence, domination and condemnation might be broken once and for all.

Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us!