Archive for October, 2010


Gospels That Little Kids Can Read

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

Last week, I discussed the catechetical dimension of the family Rosary, a point which Pope John Paul II emphasized in his writings on this traditional prayer. But 20 minutes is a long time for a five-year-old to sit still. How do we keep our kids engaged?

First, I try to get them involved, as kids naturally want to “do something.” So my children get to hand out Rosaries and prayer books, light candles, and lead individual mysteries, among other things. This can make for interesting Rosaries, especially when the children are not old enough to count to ten or to remember all the prayers! [more]

Second, I count on the children to remember prayer intentions. I receive lots of them, and I find their little memories often work better than mine. Even more importantly, this exercise requires the kids to think outside themselves, and thereby grow in Christian empathy.

Third, the family Rosary is a time for the children to quiet themselves. We find it very helpful to have picture books or images for the children to help them enter into the mysteries. Of course, as they get older, they use prayer books with a little more text, or even the Bible itself for “Scriptural Rosaries.”

Incidentally, a few years ago my family was blessed to belong to a parish in which the church was filled with beautiful stained glass windows depicting the mysteries of the Rosary. I refer to these windows as “Gospels that little kids can read.” It’s utterly amazing how much gets soaked in through their consideration of the events of Jesus” and Mary’s life. It really builds their religious imagination, too.

Several years ago I asked one of my older daughters what her favorite mystery of the Rosary was, and she immediately said the Coronation. I was a little surprised, as I have always had a little more difficulty with that one, since the scene isn’t laid out in detail in the Bible. I asked her why, and she said, “When we pray that mystery, I think about what heaven must be like.” 

Isn’t that what we want our children to think about? It reminds me of Philippians 4:8: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Living Fatima

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

On this date in 1917, the Blessed Virgin Mary made the last of a series of monthly appearances to three children in Fatima, Portugal. This apparition was different from the others, as it included what would become known as the “miracle of the sun,” which was witnessed by tens of thousands of people.

One of the primary messages of our Blessed Mother to Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta was that she wanted people to pray the Rosary daily and with great devotion. She especially called upon the faithful to pray for peace and for the conversion of sinners. If we follow her request, we can be confident that we will experience peace in our hearts, families, communities, and world, and that many people will turn their lives over to Christ.

For centuries the Popes have exhorted the faithful to pray the Rosary, most recently in Pope John Paul II”s apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae. In a particular way, October has been set aside as a month of special devotion to the Rosary, as Pope Leo XIII of happy memory stressed in his encyclical letter on the Rosary (Octobri Mense). Fittingly, the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary is celebrated on October 7th.

For that reason, this month at Catholic Hour we are featuring a weekly series on the Rosary. Last week, the focus was on the importance of praying the Rosary as a family. The next installment will be tomorrow, in which I will give some tips on introducing the Rosary to our children.

But while reading articles on the Rosary is good, praying the Rosary is even better!  When it comes to the Rosary, I urge people to take the “Nike approach”: Just do it!

Protected: Protecting the Sheep

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

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Protected: Must They Practice What We Preach?

Monday, October 11th, 2010

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Top Ten Lessons from 1 Corinthians 5

Friday, October 8th, 2010

I’m currently enrolled in a Bible study on 1 Corinthians in my parish. This week we were studying chapters 5-7. I’d have to say that of the 16 chapters of this epistle, I probably was least familiar with chapter 5. I’m not sure why, but I’ve rarely had the occasion to look that chapter up.

In studying that chapter this week, I was amazed by the applicability of this short chapter to many controversial issues facing individual Catholics and the Church as a whole today. And so, without scholarly exegesis or extensive commentary, I want to offer a top ten list of practical insights I derived from a careful read of 1 Corinthians 5. [more]

(1) Calling sin a sin

“It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father”s wife” (verse 1).

St. Paul does not dance around the issues. He goes straight to the point of identifying incest as immoral behavior, no matter who (Christian or pagan) commits it (see Leviticus 18; Catechism, no. 2356). He takes his responsibility for the Church in Corinth very seriously, as we’ll see in the succeeding verses.

(2) The error of misplaced “tolerance”
“And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you” (verse 2).

In the world and even in the Church today many extreme forms of immoral behavior are tolerated, if not protected. The one universally recognized “sin” is “intolerance,” meaning that the one thing that isn’t permitted is to condemn someone else’s action as morally wrong (unless the other person’s action was an act of intolerance!). I’m certainly not espousing a harsh, judgmental  condemnation of persons. However, if I understand St. Paul correctly, I think we tend to be arrogant (and cowardly) in our acceptance of conduct that is unacceptable. We should instead mourn, because those who commit serious sins are on the road to perdition. This should inspire in us to authentic, compassionate outreach, not a weak indifference. We must be evangelizers, not enablers.

We’ll touch upon the second half of this verse shortly.

(3) Recourse to the Church
“For though absent in body I am present in spirit, and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing” (verses 3-4)

St. Paul seems to be following the protocol for fraternal correction in Matthew 18:15-17. Apparently after private attempts to reconcile the sinner (perhaps by Chloe’s people, see 1 Corinthians 1:11), the matter was referred “to the church” (Mt. 18:17), represented by the Apostle Paul. Further, we see the authority St. Paul, as an apostle of Jesus Christ, is able to wield over the local Church, for the good of all. Compare that to the opposition and resentment we find toward the Holy Father and the “Vatican,” whose intervention is often not welcome (because of the aforementioned arrogance). For a recent case study, recall the reaction of some religious orders when they learned of the apostolic visitation of their communities.

(4) Excommunication sometimes is necessary

“When you are assembled, and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh . . .” (verses 4-5).

Earlier, in verse 2, St. Paul bluntly said that this notorious sinner must be removed from the community. This seems to fall in line with what we read in Matthew 18 concerning sinners who won’t accept correction from the Church: “If he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Mt. 18:17). In other words, practically speaking, that person is no longer a Catholic and cannot avail himself of the sacraments. Because of that, he is subject to the work of Satan without the protection of the Church. This is part of the binding and loosing authority of the Church (Mt. 18:18), and we see it at work when a person is “excommunicated” or denied the sacraments.

This is for the “destruction of the flesh.” While there may be some sort of physical or temporal punishment (as would be the case today when someone is convicted of sex crimes), St. Paul here is talking about “flesh” in a deeper sense. He is referring to our sinful nature, which must be cleansed so as to enter the presence of God. This experience of purgation, of isolation from the Church–like a child being sent from the family table to his or her bedroom–is not permanent, as we see in the conclusion of this verse . . . 

(5) Excommunication is a remedial, not vindictive, measure

“ . . . that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (verse 5).

Excommunication and any other sort of Church penalty is meant to rehabilitate the sinner, not to condemn him. It is tough love, though. Such a penalty not only challenges the sinner to reconcile with God and the Church, it also challenges the Church community to a higher form of charity. Is our charity wimpy and afraid to make waves, or does it courageously seek the eternal good of the other person. In that regard, it”s good to recall that authentic Christian charity is tough as nails–the nails of the Cross.

This charity also shows itself in our joyful willingness to embrace and forgive those who do seek to reconcile, reflecting divine mercy and not giving in to the fallen human tendency to hold on to grudges. 

One wonders what good it does the individual souls of Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, and other Catholics who, despite their public opposition to the Church, are permitted to receive the sacraments without their having a change of heart (i.e., conversion). What good has that done for the Church in the United States? I think sometimes we”re too worried about political ramifications or about offending someone (I”m guilty as charged), and not enough about our holy faith and the salvation of souls.   

(6)  The communitarian effect of sin

“Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened” (verses 6-7).

Just as through the Church, and especially through the Communion of Saints, we benefit from the prayers and good works of others done in the name of Christ, so too there is no such thing as a “private” sin. All sin is a cancer that can poison the entire body. This reality is only amplified as the sin becomes greater, more public, and more widely accepted. Isn”t that exactly how a cancer grows? Each one of us is called to be a positive “leaven” in the world, though which the Kingdom of God grows, and not a corruptive leaven of sin and division. The same holds true for the community of believers, as the Church herself is composed of sinners like us, and is always in need of renewal.

(7) Worthy reception of Communion

“For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (verses 7-8).

St. Paul”s discussion here has strong Passover overtones (see Ex. 12:14-20). Now the Passover sacrifices have been superseded by the suffering, death, and Resurrection of Christ, the new and eternal Passover, or “paschal” lamb, whom we receive in Holy Communion. As St. Paul will further develop later in chapters 10 and 11 of the letter, our participation in the Eucharist requires faith and the proper dispositions. Just as the man St. Paul describes as living in an incestuous relationship should not receive Communion until reconciled with the Church, so too we must be reconciled with God and the Church prior to coming forward for Communion (regardless of whether someone is “denying” the sacrament to us). Here’2012-04-24 18:34:02′s what the Catechism says:

“We must prepare ourselves for so great and so holy a moment. St. Paul urges us to examine our conscience: ”Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself” (1 Cor. 11:27-29). Anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to Communion” (no. 1385).

(8) In the world, not of it

“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with immoral men; not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But rather I wrote to you not to associate with any one who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber — not even to eat with such a one” (verses 9-11).

St. Paul is holding believers to a different standard. Why? Jesus identified with sinful human nature so that we can identify with Him, and so be saved. So He goes out looking for all of us, wherever we might be. We read in the Gospel about how He would associate with tax collectors and sinners. St. Paul certainly is not at odds with this evangelistic, missionary spirit, which he embodied in a singular way in his own ministry, as he became all things to all men in the hope of saving at least some of them (1 Cor. 9:22).

What St. Paul is talking about in this instance is associating with “Christians” or “Catholics” whose public witness runs counter to the faith we profess. When we are too lax to draw appropriate lines, the witness of the Church to the world is compromised by the bad “leaven.”  And as we continually compromise to accommodate sinful behavior within the Church, there is also a subtle but unmistakable corrosive effect on the entire community.

So the call is to be in the world, but not of it. The world wants us to be of the world but not in it (“keep your private beliefs to yourself, please”). Let”s be leaven, and not the rest of the dough. Let”s be thermostats for Christ, and not thermometers. 

(9)  Church must be vigilant concerning her members

“For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside” (verses 12-13).

We are called to judge actions. As a father, I have to judge actions all the time. Some of my children”s conduct is unacceptable, and it needs to be addressed. When I correct my children, I”m not being “judgmental” or condemning my kids as persons. Rather, I”m fulfilling my role as a father.

We live in a relativistic age, when we”re supposed to live and let live, at all costs. I can”t “impose my beliefs” on others and, by the way, all moral norms (except for the modern imperative “thou shall tolerate everything”) are treated merely as personal beliefs and not as objective norms of conduct.

We find some solace in our unwillingness to call out sin in the important quote of Our Lord to “judge not, lest you be judged” (Mt. 7:1). Unfortunately, this call not to “judge” others is largely misinterpreted today so as to exclude any sort of fraternal correction. That is not the mind of Christ, and it is not the mind of St. Paul and the Church. We love (and don”t judge) the sinner, but sometimes we must judge actions.

(10) No compromising with sin

“Drive out the wicked person from among you” (verse 13).

This chapter has now come full circle. Of course the Church must be “pastoral” in her approach. But there’s no missing St. Paul’s message. He loves Christ. He loves the Church. He loves the sinner. He doesn’t give any quarter to human respect or diplomatic “niceness.”  I think that’s a perennially valid lesson for the Church at every level, from the Vatican and USCCB to individual dioceses, parishes, and families.

The Family Rosary

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

Back in 2002, Pope John Paul II issued a document entitled Rosarium Virginis Mariae, or more simply “The Rosary of the Virgin Mary,” to foster a renewed devotion to the Rosary in the new millennium. This magnificent teaching is for all the faithful, but in a very special way the Pope is speaking to families. Here is what he said to us:

“A similar need for commitment and prayer arises in relation to another critical contemporary issue: the family, the primary cell of society, increasingly menaced by forces of disintegration on both the ideological and practical planes, so as to make us fear for the future of this fundamental and indispensable institution and, with it, for the future of society as a whole. The revival of the Rosary in Christian families, within the context of a broader pastoral ministry to the family, will be an effective aid to countering the devastating effects of this crisis” (no. 6). 

It’s not an overstatement, then, to say that the family Rosary can and must play a pivotal role in the renewal of our society. For that reason, I’m going to dedicate a post each week during October to this issue, and in doing so I hope to provide practical encouragement and assistance to individuals and especially families to “put out into the deep” (Lk, 5:4) and make the Rosary part of their daily life.

Today, I simply want to note that praying the Rosary as a family has a teaching component. Yes, it’s primarily a prayer, but the focus on the individual mysteries over time provides important catechetical formation for everyone involved, especially children.

I must admit that I didn’t have a particularly high opinion of the Rosary as a child. I don’t want to be critical of my late father. I like to say that as the youngest of fourteen children I’m grateful that my Mom and Dad didn’t have the “good sense” to stop at thirteen! But my Dad, for whatever reason, didn’t even mention the mysteries as he prayed the Rosary, but just seemed to be rattling off the prayers. That seemed empty and boring to me.

Now, the prayers themselves are powerful, but it’s very important that we don’t skip over the meditative dimension of the prayer. After all, while the prayers are the percussion, the meditation is the melody.

Next week I will discuss ways to introduce this prayer to children, but for now I simply want to emphasize the importance of announcing the mystery. And particularly when praying the Rosary with one’s family or in some other group setting, I’ve found it very helpful to include a short biblical reading with each mystery to further aid our entry into the given mystery.

More to come. And by the way, my wife Maureen and I wrote an entire chapter on the family Rosary in Catholic for a Reason IV: Scripture and the Mystery of Marriage and Family, which is available through Emmaus Road Publishing.

Vatican II Is a Home Game

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

Well over a decade ago I took a course from Scott Hahn in which he posed an elaborate question about responding to a Protestant interpretation of a passage from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans.

Students offered rebuttals based on the Letter of James and other teachings from Scripture and Tradition. Finally Dr. Hahn interrupted, saying, “Wait a minute! Romans is a ‘home game’ for Catholics.” He emphasized that Romans is not a “Protestant” book that needs to be countered with a “Catholic” book like James; he wanted our class to understand Romans and claim it as our own.

We have to understand that a similar dynamic is at work when it comes to dissident Catholics and Vatican II. In books such as Rome Has Spoken (Maureen Fiedler and Linda Rabben, eds.), we hear about the “rigid,” out-of-touch teaching of the pre-Vatican II Church. Vatican II came along and modernized–that is, changed–the Church’s position. Now we’re enduring consecutive pontificates that have forsaken Vatican II’s reforms and have retrenched in the old view.

The assumption on the dissidents’ part is that Vatican II is on their side. Our primary response should not be to quote from the Council of Trent or other reliable sources to “counter” or just plain ignore Vatican II.

Instead, we have to realize that Vatican II, as a legitimate ecumenical council of the Church, is a “home game” for us. Rather than work around Vatican II, and thus play into the dissidents’ strategy of pitting Vatican II against older tradition or the current papacy, we must learn what Vatican II really taught–without all the spin or the well-documented misadventures in implementation–and actually use the Vatican II documents to our advantage for the good of the Church. We’ll discover that Vatican II affirms teachings such as priestly celibacy, the inerrancy of Scripture, papal authority, and the need for moral conscience to be formed in accordance with Church teaching.

And of course now we have the authoritative Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is nothing other than the “Catechism of Vatican II.”

The foregoing is an excerpt from an article I wrote for the November 2002 issue of This Rock magazine entitled “The Grammar of Dissent.”

The One Thing

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

One of my favorite comedies from the early 1990s was City Slickers, in which three middle-aged, troubled men–led by the character “Phil” played by Billy Crystal–find meaning through time spent on a cattle-driving vacation. One of the interesting subplots of the movie is the relationship between Phil and the mysterious “Curly” character, played by Jack Palance.

At one key moment, Curly revealed to Phil the “secret of life.” He said it”s “one thing, just one thing.” Of course Phil wanted to know what the ”one thing” was, and Curly replied, “That”s what you got to figure out.” 

On a natural level, Phil proceeds to figure out his priorities, leading him to reconnect with his family.

In the Gospel at Mass today, we received a similar message from Our Lord Himself. When Martha confronted Him because she was doing all the work while her sister Mary simply sat at His feet, Jesus responds:

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her” (Lk. 10:41-42).  

This reminds me of St. Paul”s missionary work in Athens (Acts 17:22 and following). He came upon an altar with an inscription, “to an unknown God.” St. Paul used this as a launching point for his evangelization there, as he said, “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. . . .”

Here, we have a popular Hollywood movie that rightly points us to look for “the one thing” that will bring meaning and order and peace to our lives. This insight resonates with the hearts of all men and women.

Yet, that”s as far a movie without Christ can take us. While the characters in City Slickers are left to figure out for themselves “the one thing,” we can proclaim to them and to all those in the world that are yearning for meaning and order and peace that turning to Christ is definitively the one thing–not just for Curly or Phil or even Leon, but for all people at all times.

I think St. Augustine, who spent a lot of time looking for the one thing before latching onto it, says it best:

“You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.”  

Is Obama saved?

Monday, October 4th, 2010

I”m not sure how many of you saw this Reuters article on President Obama”s response to the question, “Why are you Christian?” It”s not my purpose here to critique his response, which seemed to blend sincerity with political savvy, though only he knows the proportions of each. And we can readily sense the difficulty of fielding such a question in a way that alienates neither Christians nor the secularists that form much of his political base.

To me, all this brings to the surface some issues I”ve pondered for many, many years. For one thing, are many people saved, or relatively few? God desires the salvation of all (1 Tim. 2:4), yet Scripture is also clear in saying that all salvation comes through Christ (Acts 4:12), leaving a big question mark concerning those with no conscious awareness of this fact. Beyond that, even among those who in some fashion “accept” Christ, there is justified uncertainty regarding their being in communion with the one, true Church.

Further still, there are many instances where Scripture that describe the road to eternal life as narrow (Mt. 7:13-14), or difficult (Lk. 18:25). On one occasion, Jesus even said, “Not every one who says to me, ”Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my father in heaven” (Lk. 7:21). He goes on to call those who claim to be Christian but who fail to do God’2012-04-24 18:34:09′s will “evildoers.” [more]

I”ll go into this issue in more depth in upcoming posts, but it seems to me that where we come down on all this affects every aspect of the Christian life. We don”t know the percentages, and we don”t know how God inwardly deals with people who do not have a living relationship with Him at the hour of their death. But does our answer–and President Obama”s answer–to the ultimate questions about Jesus Christ matter? And if it does, what does that answer require of us? We”ll look at that in an upcoming post.

The other question I like to ponder is what constitutes a “Catholic” in practical, meaningful terms–especially when it comes to those at times exasperating polls concerning what “Catholics” believe and think.

President Obama says he”s a Christian and so we take that at face value. But then Our Lord seems to say that there are those who call upon His name but in truth are evildoers, or at least not part of His company right now. So what does that mean for those of us who call ourselves Catholic? The Church is clear that Catholics must persevere in faith, hope, and charity in order to be saved, so there isn”t a question on the level of doctrine. Still, in practice many of those who identify themselves as Catholic are leading lives far removed from Christ and His Church. That gets back to the original question, Are many saved, or are few saved? Is the road to eternal life narrow and difficult, or do all roads lead to the same place? These questions matter greatly, at least to me.

We will come back to this in future posts.



Blessed Are the Meek

Friday, October 1st, 2010

At first glance, meekness may be the most unattractive Christian virtue. Today, many people think of “meekness as weakness,” the antithesis of the “holy” self-assertion that enables us to get our own way. We picture a meek person as a wimp or doormat, not as a virile, Christian man.

Yet, those of us who are serious about following the Lord and growing in Christian virtue know that the Bible presents a different image of meekness. Our faith extols meekness not only as a desirable virtue, but also as a beatitude and fruit of the Holy Spirit. Moses, who boldly delivered an entire nation from bondage, is described in Scripture as “the meekest of men” (Num. 12:3).

Surely Jesus Himself embodied all the virtues, but when it comes to meekness, there can be no doubt. He says, “Learn from me; for I am meek and humble of heart” (Mt. 11:29). Not only is Our Lord meek, but He also expects us to imitate His meekness. This message is for everybody, but in a special way it goes out to today’s men, for whom meekness sadly is a rare commodity. [more] (more…)