Archive for July, 2010


Novice Training

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

One of the hallmarks of the Church in our age is the renewed emphasis on the role of the laity. Drawing upon the rich, traditional teaching of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), the Church reminds the laity that all of us are called to holiness by virtue of our Baptism, and we are all called to play an active role in the apostolate, serving as leaven in the world.

All that’s well and good, but saying it doesn’t make it so. All Catholics–and not merely those who are called to the priesthood and/or religious life–need a sound Christian formation to be able to respond generously and well to their own personal vocation in Christ. We need ongoing catechesis. In short, we can’t expect the fruits of discipleship, such as growth in holiness, apostolic zeal, and so forth, unless we truly are disciples.

In recent decades the Church has called the family the “domestic Church.” This is a powerful image that suggests something more than a once-per-week catechism class and maybe a crucifix on the wall. [more]

Men and women who are called to the religious life don”t take vows on the first day. Rather, they go through a period of spiritual formation and preparation known as the “novitiate.” By way of analogy, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the family is called to be a “lay novitiate,” with the family home being the “motherhouse.”

I’ve been called many things–and more often than not I deserved it!  But one accusation I’ve never really understood is the charge that my family is ”too religious” simply because we believe the faith should carry over into the way we live. When it comes to following Christ, we’re either “all in” or we’re not. The family, then, must be an incubator of faith, a school of virtue, and a training ground for prayer, always in a context of being a joyful, welcoming environment.

Today, I want to invite our readers to reflect on Catechism, no. 2225, which in my estimation calls us to see our homes as “lay novitiates.” As we read, let us ask the Lord how we might live this teaching more fully in our own families:

“Through the grace of the sacrament of marriage, parents receive the responsibility and privilege of evangelizing their children. Parents should initiate their children at an early age into the mysteries of the faith of which they are the “first heralds” for their children. They should associate them from their tenderest years with the life of the Church. A wholesome family life can foster interior dispositions that are a genuine preparation for a living faith and remain a support for it throughout one’s life.”

Martha, Martha

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

As Catholics, we try to balance in our lives of faith the active Martha and the contemplative Mary. Sometimes in the process Martha gets a bad rap. She’s anxious and worried about many things (Lk. 10:41), so at times we might picture her as a frantic busybody flitting around doing 101 things, while the serene Mary sits at the feet of Jesus.

But today (in two hours) is the feast of Saint Martha. She is a full-fledged saint, with all the rights and privileges that go with it! While activism without prayer can quickly turn into mere workaholism, prayer without active apostolate also lacks authenticity. 

At this exciting time in the Church, lay people are specifically called to roll up our sleeves and actively participate in the great work of the new evangelization. There’s plenty to do to keep all of us Martha’s busy.

May we imitate the faith of St. Martha, who said, “I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God” (Jn. 11:27). And, like St. Martha, may we express this faith in active works of charity.

As we do so, we must keep in mind the clear teaching of Scripture. Our Lord said that Mary chose the better part, the one necessary thing (Lk. 10:42). Our Lord is truly present at every Mass and in every tabernacle throughout the world. If we truly desire to be saints, we do well–frequently and with much love and devotion–to return to the Source: Jesus, Our Eucharistic Lord.

I think St. Martha would wholeheartedly agree. 

Catechetically Speaking . . .

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

I think the word “catechesis” can be part of the problem when it comes to embracing the Church’s catechetical efforts. It is the ugly step-sister of “evangelization.”

Think about it. Evangelization is hip. According to Pope John Paul II, it’s “new” and exciting and capable of energizing the youth. After all, evangelization is about proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. Everybody, Catholic and Protestant, is into that.

Catechesis, on the other hand, sounds foreign to many people. For all most people know, it’s an unpleasant procedure done at a doctor’s office. And even for those who might have an inkling as to what catechesis is, it certainly doesn’t conjure up the dynamic images of World Youth Day. Rather, to many it connotes the decidedly negative experience of mandatory CCD classes that bored them out of their minds–and often enough, out of the Church. 

Let’s look, then, at a more positive, biblically based understanding of catechesis, which nonetheless closely parallels the formal definition found in the glossary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Shortly before ascending to His Father, Our Lord commanded the eleven apostles to go “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you . . .”  (Mt. 28:19-20).

That is what catechesis is all about: forming disciples who sit at the feet of Jesus, leading them to the sacramental life of the Church, and instructing them in the body of teaching that Christ entrusted to His apostles (what we Catholics often call the “deposit of faith,” drawing upon imagery found in St. Paul’s letters to St. Timothy).

It would be great if the word “catechesis” were rehabilitated, but even more we need to foster a renewal of the substance to which the word refers. In other words, now is the time for us to recommit ourselves to the Church’s catechetical mission–a mission in which all of us share as members of Christ’s mystical body.

Protected: Putting on Errors: How Pride Corrupts Catechesis

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

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Protected: The Catholic Church: A Gated Community?

Monday, July 26th, 2010

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Truth We Can Bank On

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

“O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you” (1 Tim. 6:20).

This sort of language is a recurring theme of St. Paul as he instructs his successor Timothy. In fact, St. Paul tells Timothy that “what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2; see also 2 Tim. 1:14).

But what exactly was entrusted to Timothy? [more]

The Church has always understood these passages as referring to the “deposit of faith” (cf. Catechism, no. 84). This sacred deposit is the entirety of the body of teaching Christ entrusted to His Apostles and, through them, to the Church. It is the full revelation of Jesus Christ–the Word of God–through Scripture and Tradition, ordered to uniting all mankind into the family of God: the Catholic Church.

If the Word of God is to be understood as a sacred “deposit,” I think it’s fair to understand the Church as the “bank.” Why do we entrust our money or other valuables to a bank? The answer is we want to protect our assets, and we want them to bear interest.

The fact of the matter is that Christ wants His Word to be zealously preserved in its fullness, and He also wants it to bear interest, to bear much fruit. He didn’t carelessly scatter His Word like someone throwing $100 bills into the wind, leaving it to chance where they might land.

Rather, Christ very intentionally entrusted the Word of God–His very self–to the Church as if entrusting it to a bank, so that it may be safeguarded and proclaimed from generation to generation until His glorious return. We catch a glimpse of this “intentionality” in Isaiah 55:10-11:

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return not thither but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”

One role of the Apostles and their successors is that of “security guards” for the bank, making sure that the deposit of faith is kept secure. Of course there has to be successors. If one by one all the security guards at a bank retire or die, who is left to watch the premises?

And even with armed, well-trained guards, banks do get robbed on occasion. But when it comes to the Church, the Apostles and their successors–that is, the teaching office of the Church, or “Magisterium”–have the special gift of the Holy Spirit to help them flawlessly safeguard the Word of God. 

But just as Our Lord severely criticized the tenant who buried his talent rather than return it with interest, He fully expects His Word to bear interest–in the Church and in each one of us who are baptized into His Church. The Church safeguards the deposit of faith precisely so that all men and women can draw upon the vast riches Our Lord has bestowed upon us. With joy we can then echo the words of the psalmist: “a day within thy courts is better than a thousand elsewhere” (Ps. 84:10).

In conclusion, I guess we can say that the priceless assets known as the “deposit of faith,” under the prudent, Spirit-guided management of the Magisterium, generate a healthy “economy” of salvation!

Sure, all analogies if pushed too far will collapse. And of course what the Church received as a gift she is to give freely as a gift, and not merely to those with ample collateral and a good credit history (the Pharisees?). In fact, Our Lord came especially for those who need a physician, who are most broken down by life’s burdens.

God Is Greater

Monday, July 19th, 2010

In today”s Gospel, we hear that Jesus is a “greater than Jonah” and also a “greater than Solomon.” While these and other ”great” Old Testament figures have much to teach us, they don”t hold a candle to Christ, the God-man.

After all, Christ is the fulfillment of the various signs and events of the Old Testament. Jonah”s three-day sojourn in the whale”s belly, as remarkable as that sounds, pales in comparison with the Resurrection of Christ on the third day. And Christ”s wisdom, untainted by sin and without limit, infinitely exceeds the created, human wisdom of King Solomon.

In our lives, there are a lot of people that make us ooh and ahh. We talk about being “star-struck” when in the presence of a movie star or sports hero. It”s always a big deal to get a photo op with a president or governor or some other VIP.

And every time I’2012-04-24 18:35:46′ve been in the presence of the Holy Father, people suddenly are unable to put together a coherent sentence–overcome not only by his personality and presence, but also by his office and all that it represents.

And when we have an opportunity to meet someone like that, we naturally jump at the opportunity.

But in the tabernacle we have a “Greater than _________.” You fill in the blank. Jesus is a “greater than Barack,” a “greater than Lebron,” a “greater than Hannity.” I”m sure we all realize that, but why aren”t we spending more time with Jesus–at Mass, in Eucharistic adoration, in moments of prayer throughout the day?

Our assessment of “greatness,” to be meaningful, must be reflected in our time and priorities, which in turn reflects a heart given over to Christ.

What Are the Disciples Doing?

Friday, July 16th, 2010

Today”s Gospel at Mass was the familiar episode from the opening verses of Matthew 12, where Christ was asked why His disciples were picking heads of grain on the sabbath. There are many important dimensions to this reading, including the authority of Christ as “Lord of the sabbath” (verse 8), who represents something “greater than the Temple.”

But something else really struck me this morning. Think about it: The Pharisees confronted Jesus (with implied criticism, if not outright rejection) based on what they saw His followers doing. They said, “See, your disciples are doing what is unlawful . . .” (verse 2).  The disciples were hungry and started picking the heads of grain. As Jesus went on to explain in this “teachable moment,” there was nothing wrong with this.

Yet, the point remains that in every generation people form judgments about Christ and about His Church based on what they see the disciples (us!) doing. [more]Of course in many cases we may give a good “witness,” not only in word, but also through actions rooted in charity. Other times, though, we may give a negative witness. When we sin, we not only wound our own relationship with God, but we also make it harder for others to turn to the Lord.

Or, for those who are already believers, our bad example makes it easier for them to turn away from the Lord. 

We don”t fully understand the gravity of the word “scandal.” We tend to think that scandal simply means a public, perhaps newsworthy sin. Well, that might be part of it, but it goes much deeper. Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. It”s nothing short of being an accomplice to spiritual murder. Check out Catechism, nos. 2284-87, 2326 for its treatment of scandal under the fifth commandment (“Thou shall not kill”).

And we all know what Jesus has to say about those who would lead His little ones astray (see Matthew 18:6).

So today, while always striving to follow Jesus, who judges hearts, not appearances, let”s be mindful of the importance–for great good but also possibly for ill–of the example we give to others.  

Last Monday”s Gospel

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

I”ve been in Chicago for my brother Bob”s funeral, so I haven”t had a chance to post for the past couple days. Please remember my brother, one of the last surviving members of the U.S.S. Saratoga, in your prayers.

Three things jumped out at me in Monday’s Gospel, which was taken from the conclusion of chapter 10 of St. Matthew’s Gospel. I thought I would offer a a few things that came to mind as I heard this Gospel anew.

(1) God’s sense of humor.

This week marks the 20th anniversary of my becoming engaged to Maureen, so I find it very amusing that in Monday’s Gospel Our Lord would say, “I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set . . . a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

A little piece of Suprenant family trivia: I actually was waiting for the next Marian feast day to propose, which was July 16th, Our Lady of Mount Carmel. However, that feast fell on a Monday that year, so I proposed the preceding Saturday, July 14th. (Hey, if the Church can move the Ascension to Sunday . . .) [more]

And, joking aside, my wife’s care for my mother in her old age and infirmity up until her death last year was most edifying to me and a tremendous witness for our children.

(2) The lost life.

Our Lord gives us the paradox that if we truly want to be happy, if we truly want to live, then we will lose our lives for His sake. In this teaching we find, among other things, a wonderful catechesis on the deadly sin of greed (aka avarice, covetousness), which is a disordered love of getting and possessing.

Greed involves a failure to trust in Our Heavenly Father’s goodness, so we seek security in worldly realities, rather than in God alone. But a security built on worldly realities is a security built on sand, not solid rock. Or, as yesterday’s saint, Blessed Kateri, might say: “You can’t Tekakwitha when you die.” (Sorry about that!)

(3) The prophet’s reward. 

We also hear in today’s Gospel that whoever hears the Apostles (and thus their successors) hears Christ Himself, which is a commonly cited biblical support for the perennial teaching regarding the apostolicity of the Church and all that entails. But there’s more here. When we support the Church and her leaders, we are supporting Christ Himself, and when we support the work of our bishops, missionaries, and the like, we share in their “reward.” In other words, just as formal cooperation with sin makes us guilty for the sin, so also such formal cooperation with the mission of the Church fully makes us partners in the “new evangelization.”

Catholicism “Lite”: Less Fulfilling?

Monday, July 12th, 2010

Fifteen years ago, while editing Lay Witness magazine, we were creating an ad for the (then) new Catechism of the Catholic Church, opposing it to a fictitious “Catechism ”Lite.”” You know what I”m talking about: only half the commandments of the regular Catechism, and one-third the doctrines.

Over the past couple decades we”ve seen countless variations of this humorous (and, to our sorrow, often accurate) description of an approach to Catholic faith and life that is watered down, minimalistic, and largely uninspiring. In fact, we might say “Catechism lite” or “Catholicism lite” and not have to complete the thought. [more]

At the same time, I”ve found that while most practicing Catholics would take the “Catechism” over “Catechism lite” in theory, the real-life situation is often quite different. Those who want to believe, celebrate, and live the Catholic faith in its fullness are labelled, sometimes pejoratively, as “conservatives.”

I realize this is a game played largely by dissident Catholics who are trying to legitimize their own brand of Catholicism or political agenda. Yet not only do political terms like “conservative” and ”liberal” not fit in Church discussions (really they”re only alienating stereotypes), but there’2012-04-24 18:35:51′s something else: Calling the full embrace of the Catholic faith “conservative” makes it seem as though it”s only one of a spectrum of equally acceptable ways of being Catholic.

In fact, it suggests that the goal would be somewhere between the extremes of “conservative” and “liberal.” Let”s split the difference and go with eight of the ten commandments (I think many would suggest the 6th and 9th for exclusion!) and three-fourths of the doctrines. For them, that may not be “Catholic lite,” but surely Catholic “enough.”  

Obviously this is a big challenge that I can”t fully address in one brief blog post. But I do want us to think about other ways we can express the progression from a nominal or dissident form of dabbling in the Catholic faith to a full commitment to all that the Church proposes for belief.

The models I”ve thought of most recently don”t quite “fit” for one reason or another–I guess that”s true of most analogies–but I thought I would offer them for your consideration.

When it comes to coffee, perhaps the proverbial “Catechism lite” would be decaf, and those who don”t want to be too ”extreme” might go for the caff-lite. Perhaps the “fullness” would be a triple-shot of espresso from the Mystic Monks!

Or, when it comes to milk, we have different watered down versions that we gradually get used to (skim, 1%, 2%, etc.), or perhaps we”ll add chocolate or even ice cream to make it all more palatable. While whole, unadulterated milk may not be goal when it comes to dairy-based beverages, we do want the whole, unadulterated faith if Christ is truly the Lord of our lives. 

With apologies to the milk intolerant, we might then say that soy milk would represent the false forms of faith and spirituality that pass themselves off as Catholic, but really aren”t, just as soy milk isn”t really “milk.” While there are good reasons for people to choose alternatives to dairy, there is no good reason to choose alternatives to Christ and the fullness of the Catholic faith proclaimed by the Church.

To take it a step further, we might say that the saints are the “cream” of the crop!

What images can you think of? Whatever they may be, the fullness of the faith, what St. Paul called the “full stature” of Christ (see Ephesians 4:13 and surrounding verses), must always be the goal for all.