Archive for the ‘Christian Living’ Category

 

The Mother of All Liturgies: The Sacred Triduum

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

After living and celebrating the holy and penitential season of Lent, we enter into Holy Week which is the holiest and most important time in the Liturgical Year. Holy Week is the time in which we enter into the Paschal Mystery of Christ in a most unique and profound way. This reaches its climax in the celebration of the Triduum, the greatest of all liturgies, on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil when we truly walk with Christ and enter into his saving mystery. Even though the Triduum is celebrated over three days, it is actually one liturgy that begins Holy Thursday evening and ends late Holy Saturday night. In fact, it is often called the “mother of all liturgies.” Through the Triduum, we literally walk and journey with Christ from the celebration of the Last Supper, to the Agony in the Garden, through the Passion and Crucifixion, unto the celebration and joy of the Resurrection. It is a powerful and moving experience that all Catholics should experience if they are able to.

Holy Thursday

The Triduum begins on Holy Thursday night with the Celebration of the Lord’s Supper. The Triduum starts on a very celebratory note as we thank God for the gift of the Eucharist and the institution of the Priesthood. For the first time in weeks, we sing the Gloria and we recall with great love and thanksgiving the true Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, who in anticipation of his sacrifice on the Cross gives us his Body and his Blood as true food and drink. “For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” (John 6:55-56) With the institution of the Eucharist, Jesus also gives the command “Do this in memory of me.” Through this command, Jesus institutes the Priesthood of the New Covenant and gives the Apostles the authority to act in his person and through the power of the Holy Spirit change bread and wine into his Body and Blood. Thus, Holy Thursday recalls the great gift and mystery of the Priesthood through which Christ dispenses the great wealth of sacramental grace.

On Holy Thursday, we also recall that during the Last Supper in John’s Gospel, Jesus washed the feet of the Apostles. Through the reenactment of the washing of the feet, we are remember that Jesus himself came to serve and that we are also called to serve and bring Christ’s presence and Good News to the most vulnerable and outcast of society.

The mood of the Liturgy changes quickly after the Celebration of the Eucharist as we begin to move into the Passion of Christ and the beginning of the Agony in the Garden. In dramatic fashion, the altar is stripped and the Eucharist is processed out of the Church and the faithful are invited to enter into Christ’s passion. The absence of the Eucharist in the church is a reminder of the Lord’s passion and the cost of losing our communion with Christ through sin. What began as celebration now pauses in solemnity and sorrow as the passion of the Christ has begun.

Good Friday

The Triduum resumes with the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday. The liturgy begins in silence as the priests enter the Church and then prostrate themselves before the altar as a sign of penance and sorrow. We then move into the Liturgy of the Word which includes a passage from Isaiah’s description of the Suffering Servant. We then pray the powerful Psalm 22 which Christ exclaimed from the Cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” The Passion according to St. John is then read followed by the Veneration of the Cross. In this powerful moment, we literally find ourselves at the foot of the Cross adoring Christ, the Lamb of God, who as both Priest and Victim, offered himself for the salvation of the world. Finally, the Eucharist is brought in procession back into the Church so that we may receive the very Body of Christ, the fruit of the New Tree of Life, who is Christ crucified. The Eucharist is then taken in procession back out of the Church and the liturgy again pauses as we enter into the time of hopeful anticipation of the Resurrection.

The Easter Vigil

The Triduum ends with the celebration of the Easter Vigil which is the climax of the entire Liturgical Year. It is the celebration of the Resurrection of the Christ, and the entire loving plan of salvation accomplished in Christ.

The Easter Vigil begins in total darkness, the darkness of sin and the darkness of the grave. Then, the Easter fire is lit outside the Church which represents the light of the Resurrection. The Paschal Candle is then prepared and slowly brought into the Church in solemn procession as a symbol of the Resurrected Christ. As the Paschal Candle is processed in, the priest sings “Light of Christ.” The light of the Paschal Candle shatters the darkness of sin and death! As the Paschal candle continues to process into the Church, the individual candles of the gathered faithful are also lit, reminding us that each and every one of us, through our Baptism, are called to be the light of Christ in the world. Suddenly, the entire church is full of light, the light of the Resurrection!

“Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels! Exult, all creation around God”s throne! Jesus Christ, our King, is risen! Sound the trumpet of salvation!” These powerful words of the Exultet the great prayer of the Church that first announce the Good News of the Resurrection are then proclaimed. This begins the Liturgy of the Word that is a series of nine readings. These readings cover God’s entire plan of salvation accomplished in Christ, beginning with Genesis, then the Exodus, then readings from the Prophets. Then, in glorious fashion, the Gloria is sung and as the lights of the church come on, the full celebration of the Resurrection begins. The Epistle of Paul is read and the Gospel is proclaimed. Christ indeed is risen!

After the homily, the full fruits of the Resurrection are made visibly present through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. The Elect and Candidates who have been preparing for full communion with the Catholic Church are received into the Church. Finally, the Easter Vigil and the entire Triduum concludes with the Celebration of the Eucharist.

The Triduum is a powerful liturgical experience, not only during the celebrations at the parish, but also throughout the entire three days. One is able to literally experience and live the Paschal Mystery, the passion, death, and Resurrection of Christ. It is a profound way to truly contemplate the face of Christ and to deepen our communion with him. In addition, walking this journey with our Lord only deepens our awareness of the power and reality of the Resurrection and the presence and power of Christ in our lives. I encourage all to experience this journey of grace!

Lenten Reflection: A Tale of Two Gardens

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

As we begin our Lenten journey of conversion and repentance, we find that we often struggle with the old Adam within ourselves that is still inclined to sin and worldly desires and our new life in Christ that was given to us at baptism and is continuously renewed through Eucharist and Penance.  As a good reflection for the Lenten season, scripture reveals that there is a remarkable parallel in the Old Testament and the New Testament between the disobedience of Adam and the results of His sin, and the perfect obedience of Jesus and the results of his righteousness.  I call it “The Tale of Two Gardens.”  Here we so clearly see how Jesus completely atones for and reverses the sin and disobedience of Adam and though His sacrifice on the Cross restores our communion with God and once again obtains for us the gift of grace and eternal life.

Let us go back for a moment and recall what happened in Genesis Chapter 3.  Adam is in the Garden of Eden, and he is knows no suffering or evil and enjoys intimate communion with God and complete unity and harmony with his wife Eve and the rest of creation.  However, he is confronted with a temptation from Satan, and because of this gift of his free will, faces a fundamental choice.  Adam can either eat of the Tree of Life, which represents intimate communion with God through obedience to his plan and goodness, or he can choose to reject God, his life of grace and goodness, and view himself as a god who can determine for himself what is good and evil.  We know from the story that with Eve’s participation, Adam eats of the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Thus, through their disobedience, Adam and Eve were banned from eating of the fruit of the Tree of Life, which represents the loss of  eternal life and union with God.  They now suffer death, separation from God, and the natural consequences of sin.  Consequently, through Adam, sin and disobedience entered the world and through this original sin, all human beings from that moment are born disfigured by sin.  We no longer know God as our Father and are inclined to do our will and determine what is best for ourselves. We have literally forgotten who we are, images and children of God, and the dignity and destiny to which we are called.  But hope is not lost, for out of the chaos of that first sin comes the first announcement of the good news of salvation:  A savior will be born of a woman who will crush the head of Satan and sin and restore the human family to salvation and grace.

Now let us go to Matthew 26:36-46.  We find Jesus the New Adam in a garden:  the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before his Crucifixion.  Here, like Adam, Jesus faces a fundamental choice, although this one is quite different.  Jesus can either obey the Father’s plan of salvation that on the next day he will be beaten, scourged, and be nailed  Cross for three agonizing hours in order to die for all of the sins committed against him for all time.  Or Jesus can preserve his life, disobey the will of the Father and follow his own will and desires.  Not only does Jesus obey the Father, but he completely surrenders himself to the will of the Father three times, which in Scripture always means perfection:  “Father if it is possible, let this cup pass, but not my will be done but yours.”  Jesus perfectly obeys the Father’s plan to embrace the Cross to save us from our sins.  However, this obedience of Jesus has remarkable consequences.  Through His obedience, not only does Jesus atone for the disobedience of Adam, but He is hung upon the wood of the Cross, the tree of our salvation.  But this is no mere man hung upon a tree but Jesus  is God Himself.  Thus, because he is God the crucified Jesus becomes the New Tree of Life from which Adam and all his descendants had been banned since the first sin.  But what exactly were they banned from?  They were banned from eating of the fruit of the Tree of Life.  If Jesus hung upon the Cross is the New Tree of Life, then what is its fruit?

 

Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.  For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. (John 6:53-56)

 

Thus, the fruit of the New Tree of Life is the Eucharist, Jesus’ own body and blood, that He gives us to eat and drink so that we can once again have intimate communion with God and eternal life that was lost through the disobedience of Adam.

Consequently, through His perfect obedience, Jesus embraces the Tree of the Cross, which becomes the New Tree of Life and the fruit of the New Tree of Life is the Eucharist which once again gives eternal life, union with God, and destroys sin and death.  Jesus is the New Adam that reverses the sin of Adam and brings salvation to all humanity.

As we look into our own hearts, we face the same kind of fundamental decision each and every day.  Do we choose to follow the old Adam within our selves, or do we choose to follow Christ and cooperate with his grace in our lives?

Thus, we see in these two passages why the Father’s plan requires that Jesus must be fully God and fully human.  Jesus truly becomes God’s mercy and reconciliation to man and at the same time he becomes man’s obedience and reconciliation to God.  Because Jesus is truly human, His perfect obedience to the Father atones for the disobedience of the first man Adam.  But also because Jesus is God, He has the power to become in himself the New Tree of Life that restores humanity’s communion with God that was lost through Original Sin.  All of salvation history culminates at this moment, bringing out the depth of Christ’s meaning as He hung upon the tree and exclaimed the words, “It is finished!”

Forgive Me Father for I Have Sinned: Why Confession?

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

 

     Often called our “second baptism”, the sacrament of Penance cleanses us of our sin and restores us to new life in Christ.  It is a great sacrament of healing, one which ought to be approached often and with great confidence and trust, and is truly a fountain of mercy and grace flowing from the heart of Christ himself through the Church.  But many times, the question is asked:  “Why must we confess our sins to a priest?”  This is a great question frequently asked by non-Catholics and even many Catholics.  Let’s explore these reasons more closely. 

     First, it is Christ himself that established the sacrament of Penance and the confession of sin to one who shares the apostolic ministry entrusted to the apostles and their successors. He gave the apostles and their successors the power of the Holy Spirit to forgive or retain sins on the evening of his resurrection (see John 20: 19-23).  Thus, we confess our sins to a priest first and foremost because it is the will of Christ.  But it goes much deeper than that.  As with any sacrament, the priest is ministering in persona Christi which means “in the person of Christ”.  That simply but powerfully means that Christ is really present and working through the priest.  Thus, it is Christ who baptizes, Christ who confirms, and Christ who hears our sins and forgives them.  We are not just telling our sins to a mere man, but to Christ himself who is truly present and working through the priest. 

     The second reason has to do with the nature of sin and the healing that is needed to bring about true penance or reconciliation.  First, when we sin and deliberately choose to disobey God and turn against his goodness, it wounds or in the case of mortal sin severs our relationship with God.  It is we who break the relationship, not God.  God, like with Adam after the first sin, always searches for us and calls us back to himself.  This is what we call the divine dimension of sin.  Sin always affects our relationship with God and either diminishes or destroys the life of grace within us.  Through confessing our sins to the priest, we are confessing our sins to Christ himself who restores us to our relationship to the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit.  We come to the foot of the Cross and lay our sins before the Lamb of God who washes them away through the blood that flowed from his side.  That is what really happens when one goes to confession.   

    Secondly, when it comes to sin, there is no such thing as a “private sin.”  Yes, sin can be done privately in that no other person knows about it (but God does), but even a sin that is done in private still hurts and effects others.  Every time we sin, even if it is alone, it affects our ability to love, to be in relationship, and to live in communion with others.  This is certainly true when we commit a sin that directly affects or hurts another, but even sins committed in private, and even our sinful thoughts hurt others indirectly as well.  Sin by its nature isolates and wraps us in ourselves.  Thus, every sin has social consequences, harming and even destroying our relationship with others.  Even more powerfully, as a member of the mystical Body of Christ the Church, sin wounds our communion with the Church and in the case of mortal sins severs our relationship with the Church.  This is called the human dimension of sin.  By confessing our sins to the priest, we are also confessing to the leader and representative of the community and the Church, and therefore our relationship with others and the Church is also reconciled.  Therefore, by confessing our sins to a priest, both the divine and human dimensions of sin are reconciled and our communion with God and the Church is fully restored.    

     The third reason we confess our sins to a priest has a lot to do with our human nature.  God in his wisdom knows that the confession of our sins brings about a deeper and more complete healing of ourselves.  The more we become isolated the more sin is allowed to fester and become worse.  Sin loves to operate in the dark.  When we keep sin inside ourselves it becomes like a cancer eating at our souls and our humanity.  The best way to defeat sin, like cancer, is to get it out and to bring it into the light of Christ.  The reality is that unless sin is brought into the light and brought out of ourselves, true healing is very difficult.

     This is the beauty of the sacrament of Penance.  It brings about in us a true healing.  When we confess our sins to another, we are required to look the sin squarely in the eye, take ownership and responsibility for it, and admit it to another.  We literally empty ourselves of sin so we may be filled with the grace of Christ.  The Catechism powerfully brings out this aspect of the confession of sins: 

    

The confession (or disclosure) of sins, even from a simply human point of view, frees us and facilitates our reconciliation with others. Through such an admission man looks squarely at the sins he is guilty of, takes responsibility for them, and thereby opens himself again to God and to the communion of the Church in order to make a new future possible. (1455)

  

     This is the most powerful aspect of the sacrament of Penance.  Remember that all the sacraments are visible tangible signs that make present to us in a natural way what God is doing supernaturally.  God is communicating his grace to us in a way that we can really know and experience his love for us.  Penance is an extraordinarily human and tangible experience of God’s mercy and forgiveness.  If we were to only ask God for forgiveness, we would simply have to trust that he has forgiven us.  But through confessing our sins in the sacrament of Penance, we have in a real and fully human way given our sins to Christ, and then we in turn experience and know Christ’s forgiveness in a real, human, and tangible way through the ministry of the priest.  At the end of confession, the priest lays his hand upon us calling down the power of the Holy Spirit, and we hear and know the reality and power of Christ’s mercy and forgiveness through the prayer of the Church:

 

God, the Father of mercies, through the death and the resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

 

     Therefore, by confessing our sins to a priest, not only are we participating in the sacrament of Penance that Christ established and is working through, but it also fully heals us from the consequences of sin, brings about a more real and complete healing of our human nature, and we also come to know and experience in a real and powerful way God’s love and mercy that pours forth from the heart of Christ.  May we, through this season of Lent, come to a new and deeper appreciation and practice of this powerful sacrament of Christ’s healing, grace, and forgiveness. 

 

Catechesis: Handing on the Person of Christ

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

Last week, I had the privilege of attending the St. John Bosco Catechetical Conference at Franciscan University of Steubenville.  It was a fantastic week of networking and collaborating with catechists and catechetical leaders from literally around the world who are working tirelessly in the vinyard of the Lord in handing on the faith to those the Lord has entrusted to them.  The ministry of catechesis is one of the most crucial ministries in the Church and is part of the Lord”s commisioning to the Chuch to “baptize all the nations in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teach them all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20)   I thought that this would be a great opportunity to reflect upon what exactly is catechesis, and that in reality, we are all catechists and are called to hand on the very Person of Christ.

What is catechesis?  Catechesis comes from the Greek meaning “to echo.”  It is the mission entrusted to the Church by Christ to “echo” or to faithfully hand on what Jesus has revealed to us through his Incarnation, his life and mission, and the Paschal mystery of his death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven.  In fact, through catechesis, it is not so much what we hand on but Whom.  As John Paul II simply but profoundly states in his letter on catechesis Catechesi Tradendae:   “At the heart of catechesis we find, in essence, a Person, the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, ‘the only Son from the Father…full of grace and truth.’”  (CT, 5)  Here we see the essence of what catechesis is:  the handing on of the person of Christ, and truth he reveals and the life of grace he offers to us.  First and foremost, catechesis must hand on the truth of Christ and who he is; the full revelation of the Father and the full revelation of our own humanity destined for eternal glory.  For it is only in the truth of Christ that we can come to know true freedom and the fullness of human life:   “For I came that they might have life and have it abundantly.” (Jn 10:10)  This truth about Christ in turn leads us to his life, a life of abundant grace found especially in the celebration of the sacraments and most profoundly in his real presence in the Eucharist.  As catechists, we are the instruments the Lord uses to echo this truth so that others may come first to know him and then have communion and life through Him.  “[Catechesis] is to seek to understand the meaning of Christ’s actions and words and of the signs worked by him…Accordingly, the definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ:  only He can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity.”  (CT, 5)

Thus as catechists, we hand on not our own teaching, but Christ’s teaching.  What a profound gift it is to be the instrument Christ chooses to use to bring his grace and truth to those entrusted to us!   In order to be true and effective catechists we must have the humility to know and understand our role of instrumentality.  With this precisely in mind, Pope John Paul beautifully and powerfully lays forth the role of the catechist:

Every catechist should be able to apply to himself the mysterious words of Jesus: “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me”.  Saint Paul did this when he was dealing with a question of prime importance: “I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you”.  What assiduous study of the word of God transmitted by the Church”s Magisterium, what profound familiarity with Christ and with the Father, what a spirit of prayer, what detachment from self must a catechist have in order that he can say: “My teaching is not mine”! (CT, 6)

This indeed is a tall order and we don’t do it perfectly!  But, if we as catechists are to more faithfully echo the person and teaching of Christ, then we ourselves must see that we are immersed into his mystery in our own lives by contemplating and pondering the mystery of Christ through prayer, the sacraments, and our own personal study and ongoing “faith seeking understanding” and conversion of heart.   The more we are rooted in Christ, the more perfect and clear will be our echoing of Christ and his truth.  We see in Mary, who was the first catechist, the first to echo Christ and his truth, a profound living example for us who catechize.  For often in the gospel do we see Mary “pondering these things in her heart.” (Lk 2:19)   She allowed the mystery and truth of Christ to so penetrate her being that she was able to perfectly reflect the light of her Son.  As John Paul explains:

Christ is the supreme Teacher, the revealer and the one revealed. It is not just a question of learning what he taught but of “learning him”. In this regard could we have any better teacher than Mary? From the divine standpoint, the Spirit is the interior teacher who leads us to the full truth of Christ (cf. Jn 14:26; 15:26; 16:13). But among creatures no one knows Christ better than Mary; no one can introduce us to a profound knowledge of his mystery better than his Mother.  (RVM, 14)

Thus, it especially when we ponder with Mary the mystery of her Son through the rosary that we sit at the “school of Mary” and come to a deeper knowledge and communion with her Son.  Through the rosary we join with her in pondering in our own hearts the saving truth of Jesus Christ and come into a more intimate communion with him.  This is why the rosary is above all a Christ-centered prayer in which we learn Christ with and through the intercession of his Mother.  Therefore, devotion to the rosary can be a powerful spiritual tool in helping us come to a deeper knowledge of Christ so that we may be ever more faithful in “echoing” Christ through our ministry of catechesis.

May we all entrust ourselves to the maternal intercession of Mary who was for us the model catechist, and the first to hand on the Person of Christ.  As Pope John Paul II powerfully prays:

May the Virgin of Pentecost obtain this for us through her intercession. By a unique vocation, she saw her Son Jesus “increase in wisdom and in stature, and in favor.” As He sat on her lap and later as He listened to her throughout the hidden life at Nazareth, this Son, who was “the only Son from the Father,” “full of grace and truth,” was formed by her in human knowledge of the Scriptures and of the history of God”s plan for His people, and in adoration of the Father. She in turn was the first of His disciples. She was the first in time, because even when she found her adolescent Son in the temple she received from Him lessons that she kept in her heart.  She was the first disciple above all else because no one has been “taught by God” to such depth. She was “both mother and disciple,” as St. Augustine said of her, venturing to add that her discipleship was more important for her than her motherhood.  There are good grounds for the statement made in the synod hall that Mary is “a living catechism” and “the mother and model of catechists.”

May the presence of the Holy Spirit, through the prayers of Mary, grant the Church unprecedented enthusiasm in the catechetical work that is essential for her. Thus will she effectively carry out, at this moment of grace, her inalienable and universal mission, the mission given her by her Teacher: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” (CT, 73)

Go in Peace to Love and Serve the Lord

Monday, June 27th, 2011

     Pope Benedict XVI, on the Feast of Corpus Christi, preached a very powerful homily on the Eucharist as the antidote to the many evils in the world.  However, the Eucharist is the antidote only if we, who receive the Real Presence of Jesus Christ, allow the Body and Blood of Jesus to transform our hearts and minds so that we can go out and transform the culture by being a true witness of Christ.  This is why we are commissioned at the end of Mass to “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”  We come to Mass not only to worship, but we  ourselves are sacrificed to the Father with Christ really present in the Eucharist so that we may be graced, transformed, and prepared to go out and do Christ”s work, and to be his presence in the ordinary places of secular life.   This is at the very heart of our mission as lay members of the Church.   As the Second Vatican Council teaches us: 

But the laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven. In this way they may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity. Therefore, since they are tightly bound up in all types of temporal affairs it is their special task to order and to throw light upon these affairs in such a way that they may come into being and then continually increase according to Christ to the praise of the Creator and the Redeemer. (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, 31)

 

     Therefore, we must resist the temptation to leave our Catholicism at the door of the church and realize that each one of us is empowered by the Eucharistic Christ to go out and make a difference in the world, to be the presence of Christ and the Church where there is much darkness and sin.   Only through our presence enlightened, transformed, and graced by the Real Presence of Christ can our culture be transformed from a culture of death to the culture of life. We cannot afford to sit on the sidelines anymore, there is too much at stake!  We must have the courage and the consolation to know that Jesus is truly with us, and that he will give us the strength, the words, and the wisdom to make a difference in world.  Communion with Jesus Christ in the Eucharist calls us to mission, and the mission fields are not in a far away country.  The mission fields are here, in our families, in our parishes, in our schools, in the workplace.  These are the places where we must make a difference and make the light of Christ known to all!

     With all this in mind, let us meditate on the powerful words of the Holy Father who is reminding us of the power of the Eucharist in our lives and our calling to go out and share in his redeeming work and be his witnesses to all we encounter:

So from the gift of Christ”s love comes our special responsibility as Christians in building a cohesive, just and fraternal society. Especially in our time when globalization makes us increasingly dependent upon each other, Christianity can and must ensure that this unity will not be built without God, without true Love. This would give way to confusion and individualism, the oppression of some against others. The Gospel has always aimed at the unity of the human family, a unity not imposed from above, or by ideological or economic interests, but from a sense of responsibility toward each other, because we identify ourselves as members of the same body, the body of Christ, because we have learned and continually learn from the Sacrament of the Altar that communion, love is the path of true justice.

Let us return to Jesus” act in the Last Supper. What happened at that moment? When he said: This is my body which is given to you, this is my blood shed for you and for the multitude, what happened? Jesus in that gesture anticipates the event of Calvary. He accepts his passion out of love, with its trial and its violence, even to death on the cross; by accepting it in this way he transforms it into an act of giving. This is the transformation that the world needs most, because he redeems it from within, he opens it up to the kingdom of heaven. But God always wants to accomplish this renewal of the world through the same path followed by Christ, indeed, the path that is himself. There is nothing magic in Christianity. There are no shortcuts, but everything passes through the patient and humble logic of the grain of wheat that is broken to give life, the logic of faith that moves mountains with the gentle power of God. This is why God wants to continue to renew humanity, history and the cosmos through this chain of transformations, of which the Eucharist is the sacrament. Through the consecrated bread and wine, in which his Body and Blood is truly present, Christ transforms us, assimilating us in him: He involves us in his redeeming work, enabling us, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, to live according to his same logic of gift, like grains of wheat united with him and in him. Thus unity and peace, which are the goal for which we strive, are sown and mature in the furrows of history, according to God”s plan.

Without illusions, without ideological utopias, we walk the streets of the world, bringing within us the Body of the Lord, like the Virgin Mary in the mystery of the Visitation. With the humble awareness that we are simple grains of wheat, we cherish the firm conviction that the love of God, incarnate in Christ, is stronger than evil, violence and death. We know that God is preparing for all people new heavens and new earth where peace and justice prevail — and by faith we glimpse the new world, that is our true home. Also this evening as the sun sets on our beloved city of Rome, we set out again on this path: With us is Jesus in the Eucharist, the Risen One, who said, “I am with you always, until the end of world “(Mt 28:20). Thank you, Lord Jesus! Thank you for your fidelity, which sustains our hope. Stay with us, because the evening comes. “Jesus, good shepherd and true bread, have mercy on us; feed us and guard us. Grant that we find happiness in the land of the living.” Amen.

Dr. Kreeft on Religion and Sex

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

Back in the mid-1980s I was a student of noted philosopher and author Peter Kreeft while attending an east coast seminary. I”ve been blessed to have had many outstanding teachers through the years, but Dr. Kreeft had the incredible gift of being able to make even the most abstruse philosophical concepts accessible to everybody.

Today I stumbled upon the transcription of a talk he gave last fall at the national convention of the Catholic Medical Association. His topic was to show the profound connection between religion (i.e., Christ) and sex to a culture of sex addicts. His presentation was part theology of the body, part commonsense philosophy and social commentary, and it was all vintage Dr. Kreeft. It”s one of the best articles I”ve read in a long, long time. Here”s how he opens his discussion:

“To see that the Sexual Revolution has been radical in thought as well as behavior, just look at the revolution in language. When people use the word ”morality” today they almost always mean sexual morality. That’2012-04-24 18:32:12′s a remarkable new development, an astonishing narrowing; it”s as if we started to use the word ”state” to mean only Russia, or the word ”technology” to mean only ”computers.” The reason for the new development is obvious from my two comparisons: sex, Russia, and computers are where there have been the most radical revolutions.

“No one speaks of a revolution in any other area of morality. No one speaks of the Property Revolution or the Bearing False Witness Revolution. In fact the rest of the natural moral law is pretty much still in place. Almost no one defends terrorism, sadism, cannibalism, insider trading, nuclear war, environmental pollution, rape, hypocrisy, torture, or murder. We are still ”judgmental” about those things. But if it has anything to do with sex we dare no longer be ”judgmental.””

It only gets better. For the complete text, click here. Kudos to the excellent Catholic Education Resource Center website for transcribing the lecture and making it available to the public!

 

Awakening Consciences

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

In case you missed it, last Saturday parishes and dioceses throughout the world celebrated a “Vigil for All Nascent Human Life.” This unprecedented event was the initiative of Pope Benedict XVI, who presided at the vigil held at St. Peter”s Basilica in Rome.

The Pope”s homily for the occasion beautifully tied together the themes of Advent (the event coincided with the beginning of Advent) and a resounding pro-life message. The following paragraph from the transcript of the homily seems to be getting the most play, and deservedly so:

“There are cultural tendencies that seek to anesthetize consciences with misleading motivations. With regard to the embryo in the womb, science itself highlights its autonomy capable of interaction with the mother, the coordination of biological processes, the continuity of development, the growing complexity of the organism. This is not an accumulation of biological material, but a new living being, dynamic and wonderfully ordered, a new unique human being. So was Jesus in Mary’s womb, so it was for all of us in our mother’s womb. With the ancient Christian writer Tertullian we can say: ”he who will be a man is already one” (Apologeticum IX, 8); there is no reason not to consider him a person from conception.”

For the full text of the Pope”s homily, click here.

  

A Moral “Condomdrum”?

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

The initial wave of misinformation regarding Pope Benedict XVI and the issue of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS has already passed, and now people are actually examining the Pope”s statements and realizing that there has been no change in the Church”s teaching on contraception.

I think this is the key sentence in the book interview that has produced such controversy:

“[The Church] of course does not regard [the use of condoms] as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.”

First, note that Pope Benedict says flat out that the use of condoms is not a real (i.e., practical, effective) or moral solution to the HIV/AIDS crisis. It”s not a moral solution. And btw, it doesn”t work.

But what about the second part of the sentence? Let”s consider a homosexual male prostitute (in which case there would be no issue of contraception), who is on the journey to conversion. He should not be in that profession, and he should find a ”more human way” of living his sexuality that respects the good of the human person. As possibly a step in that direction, he may begin to use condoms so as to prevent possible harm to his clients. That does not make his conduct morally good. In fact, statistics show that this doesn”t even make his conduct particularly “safe.” However, it could signal that he’2012-04-24 18:33:12′s becoming more open to the good of others, which could eventually lead him to Christ and liberate him from his bondage to sexual sin.  

Janet Smith compared it to bank robbers who started to use blanks in their guns out of concern for others” safety. It doesn”t make the bank robbery morally good, but it does represent a little more concern for all the innocent bystanders, tellers, etc., which in itself is a positive step that could lead to conversion and restitution. In affirming that element of goodness in the decision not to use bullets, one would certainly not be encouraging criminals to practice “safe robbery.” Yet it is possible that the impulse of responsibility that led to not using bullets may be part of a much greater transformation leading the criminals to repent and to be open to God”s mercy.

The message–echoing the Ten Commandments–remains the same: Do not kill. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal.

I guess when you throw together (a) widespread societal rejection of the Church”s teaching on moral issues, (b) journalists covering the Church who really have no understanding of the Church”s teaching on contraception, (c) quotes from the Holy Father that are incomplete and taken out of context, and (d) Pope Benedict using a popular forum to provide a very nuanced theological opinion on a delicate subject–and one on which our own society is completely out to lunch–then you have the recipe for, well, what we”ve seen the past few days.  

Here are some additional links on the subject that shed more light on the subject:

What Pope Benedict actually said

Jimmy Akin

Janet Smith  

 

Seeing Is Believing

Monday, November 8th, 2010

My first few days as a law student in the early 1980s were a little daunting. After all, I had seen the 1973 movie The Paper Chase a couple times and had some idea of the incredible stress involved in being a first-year law student.

My textbooks were so thick that I needed to make two or three trips to carry them from the bookstore to my car. My professors were just as intimidating as John Houseman’s character in the movie. What had I gotten myself into? [more]

Early on, though, the dean of the law school gave the new students a very helpful pep talk. He advised us not to get bogged down with all the specific cases and statutes we would be studying. The goal wasn’t so much that we would memorize everything, but rather that we learn to “think like lawyers.” Once we saw the big picture, we could confidently go and look up particular points of law as needed.

I think this practical wisdom carries over to the spiritual life. When it comes to our faith, we must learn to “think like Catholics.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church has “summarized” Church teaching in 2,865 paragraphs with thousands of citations to Scripture and various other sources, so there’s enough material to last us a lifetime. Yet, the key is not only learning the specifics of our faith, which indeed is very important, but also to continually develop an authentically Catholic worldview and vision that coherently brings everything together. But how do we understand this “Catholic vision”?

I think most of us have encountered “3-D” movies in which we had to wear special glasses to see the film the way it was intended to be seen. We’d miss crucial elements of the movie if we tried to watch it without the special glasses. Similarly, I’m very sensitive to my granddaughter’s grabbing my bifocals. I know how dependent I am on my glasses to clearly see the physical reality around me.

When it comes to our faith, instead of “3-D” glasses or bifocals, we need an authentically Catholic lens–the lens of faith–to see the fullness of reality with its natural and supernatural components. Faith empowers us to see the divine amidst the human. Jesus is not simply a good man, but the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. Scripture is not simply a collection of ancient human writings, but also truly the work of the Holy Spirit. And the Church is not merely a human institution, but also the Mystical Body of Christ and the means of salvation for the whole world.

We know from experience that our vision is blurry and limited. The Church teaches that since the fall of Adam and Eve, we have difficulty discerning what is true and good. Faith isn’t “Catholic spin,” but corrective lenses that compensate for the effects of original sin, until we are able to see our Lord face to face (1 Cor 13:12)–what has been traditionally called the beatific “vision.”

And if we have corrective lenses, shouldn’t we wear them? Shouldn’t we allow our faith to give us greater clarity in every aspect of our lives?

Faith is very challenging today. It takes a strong faith to acknowledge an “apostolic” Church if the “apostle” in our midst fails in his duties. It takes a strong faith to accept a “holy” Church when we’re constantly confronted with the sins of her members (not to mention our own).

Faith involves accepting–without “seeing”–the lordship of Jesus Christ. It requires the virtue of docility, or the ability and willingness to be formed and nurtured by the Church. It’s more than simply looking at the Church from the outside; it entails stepping inside and becoming part of the Family of God.

In this light, we see that faith isn’t merely a one-time, all-or-nothing proposition, but a continual call to an ever-deepening commitment to Our Lord. Surely all of us can and must believe everything that God has revealed through Christ and His Church with greater understanding, conviction, and joy. With the Apostles, we do well to beg the Lord to “increase our faith” (Lk 17:5).

But even prior to that, we must make our own the words of blind Bartimaeus to Jesus: “Master, I want to see” (Mk. 10:51).

Christian Defense (Not Defensive Christians)

Friday, November 5th, 2010

In the ongoing debates on same-sex marriage, gay activists have tried to sell the public–with some success–on the unsubstantiated claim that homosexuality is a genetically determined condition that is fixed and permanent.

Yet, before making the leap to societal recognition of a “right” to homosexual acts and institutions that support them, gay activists must still confront the reality that their goals are extremely offensive to most people of faith.

The Law of Moses condemned in strongest terms a man lying with a man as with a woman, and all religions that honor Moses as a prophet–Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Mormonism–have held homosexual acts to be sinful. Traditional Christian groups up to the present day, notably the Catholic Church and Evangelical Protestantism, have retained these core moral beliefs, which are rooted in the nature of man and woman and God’s plan for marriage.

Clearly, then, traditional Christianity stands squarely in the way of the gay rights movement and specifically of the push for same-sex marriage. So what”s the strategy for overcoming this roadblock? [more]

Gay activists tend to take two contradictory approaches to this problem, depending on their own set of religious beliefs of lack thereof.

On the one hand, there are gay activists who make no bones about rejecting Jesus Christ. They have conducted a major campaign to link religious disapproval of homosexual behavior with violence against persons with same-sex attractions, equating it to racism and racial violence. Every chance they get they use inflammatory words such as discrimination, intolerance, bigotry, hate, and homophobia in referring to those who assert, especially on religious grounds, that homosexual acts are contrary to God’s law. Their implication is clear: Such religious zealots are the cause of anti-gay violence.

Of course, the fact is that those who commit acts of violence against persons with same-sex attractions are virtually never churchgoers. Christianity strongly condemns violence against persons with same-sex attractions.  Interesting, the cold facts are that persons who engage in homosexual behavior are more likely to suffer violence from gays and lesbians than from others (a 1998 American Bar Association Journal article estimates the prevalence of domestic violence among homosexual couples themselves to be 25 to 33%).

In addition, “organized religion” is frequently presented as the oppressive majority, while the homosexual community casts itself in the role of oppressed minority, thus equating the “gay rights” movement to the civil rights movement or other more respectable and compelling causes. For a very recent example of this “victimhood” approach, see this article on the homosexual community’s attendance at an annual memorial service for Holocaust victims.

Other gay activists with some religious or even Christian sensibilities take a completely different tack. They take the position that the Bible and enlightened Christian morality really doesn’t condemn homosexual activity on the part of homosexuals engaged in faithful, committed relationships. The biblical arguments they use are obviously flawed, but they are enough to appeal to more liberal Christian groups who want to justify the behavior, a la Bishop Gene Robinson of the American Episcopal Church.

And even among churches and denominations that have held the line on the official teaching, we have seen the inroads of gay activists and dissenting theologians sowing seeds of doubt and confusion. One frequently hears, for example, that contrary to Church teaching (cf. Catechism, no. 2357), the sin of Sodom was not homosexual activity but merely inhospitality.

What does the New Testament really say? Here is an illustration, drawn from my previous “Straight Talk” post:

“Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:9-11).

First, note that there are actually two words in the Greek that are combined to form the word “homosexuals” in the above translation: malakoi (literally, “effeminate males who play the sexual role of females”) and arsenokoitai (literally, “males who take other males to bed”). Despite persistent attempts to relativize or explain away this passage, what St. Paul is saying is beyond reasonable dispute, and it’s entirely consistent with other biblical passages on the subject and two millennia of Christian teaching.

Second, St. Paul is writing here to baptized Christians, some of whom used to engage in one or more of these serious sins. Even though they have now been washed, they are still prone to commit these sins and, if they want to inherit the kingdom, they must not return to such sinful ways.

So, those who engage in homosexual acts are expected to walk away from that lifestyle, and in fact people even in St. Paul’s time were apparently able to do it, with God’s grace. Surely it can be a long, difficult road that can at times involve relapse, but contrary to the modern line that some people are just born that way and unable to restrain themselves, it is indeed possible and necessary to decisively turn away from such a lifestyle.

Finally, there are many sins listed in this passage. While we might not experience predominant same-sex attractions ourselves, we are inclined to a host of other sins, and for each of us the first priority must be to turn away from those sinful areas of our lives.

Still, there is good reason to single out homosexuality for special mention. While many forms of immoral conduct are rampant today, they are nonetheless considered wrong and utterly to be avoided. We don’t celebrate “drunk driving month.” We’re not required to give our employees sensitivity training so that they can be more understanding of the internal conflicts of adulterers. When we condemn corporate crime we’re not called “greedophobes.” We don’t congratulate sneak thieves who “come out of the closet.”

When it comes to homosexuality, though, we are getting bullied and tricked into moving from decriminalization to societal recognition and institutional legitimacy.

As St. Paul wrote, we must not be deceived. Committed Christians hold the key–not only when it comes to playing defense against social engineering, but even more when it comes to proclaiming the truth about human nature and, even more, leading others to the fullness of life in Christ.