Monday, September 30, 2002
Maybe they've forgotten what the "good old days" were really like
This story from the Voice of America, describes the concerns of evangelical Mexicans to what they see as the closure of the gap between Church and state made by President Vicente Fox and various Catholic bishops in the country. President Fox, as this article points out, claims to support strongly freedom of worship and that he has no bias toward any particular church.
This leads me to ask any of you who might know: when the PRI originally came to power, did they move against all Christian churches, Catholic and otherwise, or did they have enmity only for the Catholic Church?
This position seems to be an interesting contrast to that held by evangelicals in America who seek to forge cooperation between Christian groups and various bodies of local, state, and federal governments. I wonder if such groups as the AFA would have a position similar to those of Mexican evangelicals if they felt that the government here was favoring the Catholic Church over their own churches.
Such could be a reaction, whether the facts warranted it or not, if President Bush's faith-based initiatives proposals were put into law to the degree that he originally proposed.
Now, don't get me wrong, I agree in large part with the President's proposals. But in a large community, where different churches run similar programs, all vying for the same government dollars, some will get funded and others will not. The reaction that I described above would certainly be a natural one for some churches to have.
A Strange and Unexpected Revelation:
A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings
Memorial of St. Jerome, priest
Ps 17:1bcd, 2-3, 6-7
An argument arose among the disciples
about which of them was the greatest.
Jesus realized the intention of their hearts and took a child
and placed it by his side and said to them,
"Whoever receives this child in my name receives me,
and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.
For the one who is least among all of you
is the one who is the greatest."
This passage might seem quaint and sentimental in our eyes, inspiring greeting cards, Precious Moments figurines, and other plastic statuettes that show Jesus playing soccer with a group of smiling youngsters. But when we strip away this cultural reaction, there is something striking and disturbing about what Jesus is teaching us here.
On our own, none of us can conceive of God in a way that is wholly distinct from the culture and the society in which we were born and raised. And, in part, such an abstraction was not willed by God who instead chose to take on human flesh in a baby conceived in the womb of a virgin who lived in a particular time and place.
In our own thoughts, some of us might conceive God as a president, CEO, or celebrity, only more impressive. We conceive God as a friend, only more dependable. We conceive God as a judge, only more consistent than those we see in the news.
We do not conceive God as a child. Yet this is what Jesus challenges us to do in today’s Gospel. Even as we try to lessen the greatness of God, we still have difficulty accepting that God is also revealed to us in those who are small and insignificant.
We refuse to do this because, as adults, we assume that what we do in the marketplace and in meeting halls, in pastimes and in politics is so much more important than anything else. We adults, under the surface, are a very insecure lot. We need possessions and power to cover up our vulnerabilities. And yet, as Jesus suggests to us today, it is in our weakness that we come closest to the greatness of God.
This is what we read Job experiencing in today’s first reading. In the moment before all of those disasters befell him, he would have concluded that he was a powerful man. And yet in an instant, all of those things and even people that he had used to build up this image were ripped away and shown to be nothing. Only he and God remained.
And yet even this was enough for Job to praise God’s greatness: “Naked I came forth from my mother's womb, and naked shall I go back again. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!"
In the midst of our own vulnerability and brokenness the greatness of God dramatically reveals himself to us in a way that flies in the face of all our conceptions. This happens every time that a baby is born. As a baby painfully comes forth from the womb into a bright, cold world, covered in blood, wailing and crying, those who are present become witnesses to this strange and unexpected revelation.
God shows himself to these people, not as a president, or CEO, or celebrity but in a little child, the least among them. God rushes toward us not in marketplaces or meeting halls, not in pastimes or in politics, but in a hospital or in a home, in an automobile or in an ambulance.
It is up to us to open our eyes to this revelation and to keep them closed and so keep stumbling through our lives.
Those who do take this risk and open their eyes become witnesses. And as they take to this astonishing event in, its ripple effects broaden and broaden. They come to realize that God revealed himself not only in the birth of this child, but in their own birth as well. Naked we came in to the world…blessed be the name of the Lord.
We find only shadows of God’s presence in the feeble greatness that we build for ourselves. But in the birth of a child (and in our own birth), in all of his or her vulnerability and smallness, God reveals himself to us in an unimaginable vividness.
Are we willing to take the risk to open our eyes to this strange and unexpected revelation? Are we willing to see it and accept the changes in our lives and in our world that such a revelation demands? Do not fear the changes for in the revelation there is the love of God for each of us.
Welcome, then, the children, the seemingly least among us, in Jesus’ name.
The latest installment of my column, "Catholic Reasons for Hope"
Please note: This is a new column that I began two weeks ago when the bulletin of the parish where I serve as DRE went from four to six pages. It is a question and answer column that is intended to help parishioners be able to give clear and concise answers to questions that others, both Catholic and non-Catholic, might ask of them. The questions which I answer in the column were submitted by parishioners.
“Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope…” (1 Peter 3:15)
Q: If we are invited to receive the body and blood of Christ at communion, why do some of us choose only to receive his body in the host and not his precious blood in the wine?
A: I cannot speak for the motivations of some Catholics who only receive Christ in the bread at Holy Communion and those others who receive him in both the bread and the wine.
But, in either case, all of us who receive him receive him entirely. The Church calls the different forms under which Christ truly comes to us in Holy Communion, that is, bread and wine, “species.” And the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that:
“ Since Christ in sacramentally present under each of the species, communion under the species of bread alone makes it possible to receive all the fruit of Eucharistic grace. For pastoral reasons this manner of receiving communion has been legitimately established as the most common form…” (paragraph 1390)
There are many possible reasons for only choosing to receive Christ only under the species of bread. Some may not like wine or need to refrain from it. Others might have an aversion to drinking from a cup from which that others have already drank.
But I suspect that many of us choose to refrain from partaking of the precious blood simply because it is a fairly new practice and we grew up in a time where it was not offered to us. I can remember such a time and I am only 32.
But whatever the reason for whatever practice, always remember that Christ is always totally present in the bread. Nevertheless, I encourage you to partake of communion under both species so that you might open yourself more fully to all of the ways in which Christ has chosen to give himself to us.
Saturday, September 28, 2002
The latest installment of my column, "Spiritual Reflections"
Go to the website of The Shelbyville News to read the latest installment of my column, "Spiritual Reflections." I would appreciate any feedback that you might give me on it.
Friday, September 27, 2002
The latest installment of my column, "Faith and Family"
Below is the text of my month column, "Faith and Family", published in The Criterion, the weekly newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. The column does not appear on the newspaper's website.
Last month I wrote about how parents can lay the foundations of faith in their young children so that when they grow to be adults they may choose to build upon on that groundwork in their own life of faith.
The important word in that previous sentence, however, is “may.” When your children grow up and move away, they may or may not choose to live the life of faith in which they were raised. And this is true no matter how loving you may be in passing the faith on to them as they grow under your care.
And it is a fact that many young adults when they move away from home choose to walk away from their faith of their childhood for some period. This can be a sad and frustrating experience for parents who value their faith and were diligent and caring in trying to pass it on to their children. Pushing and prodding a child to return to church after he or she has left the home, however, often does little good. It can even be counter-productive.
Parents in these situations can find consolation in the fact that they are not alone in their experiences. Many other parents in our time have seen their children’s faith grow cold for a period. But this phenomenon is not new to our generation. In fact, it has been happening throughout the history of the Church.
This fact can not only give us solace, but it can also provide us with important lessons. Nearly 1700 years ago there was a Christian woman who taught her first-born son the lessons of faith and planted the seeds of belief in his heart. It was her great desire to see him embrace with a fervor like hers the faith in Christ that filled her soul.
But as he grew and left home he turned his back on the Christian faith of his childhood and began living a life that rivaled that of the prodigal son. Yet in his case, unlike the son in the Gospel parable, the more dissolute he became the more successful he was in his career as a scholar and a private tutor.
Still, his mother kept on pleading with him, trying to convince him to change his ways and accept the Christian faith. In her desperation she once went to her bishop for advice. He listened to her and had only this to say to her, “It is time that you stopped talking to your son about God and started talking to God about your son.”
She followed this advice, all the while shedding many tears over her son’s lack of faith. But over the course of time, God listened to her and answered her prayers. His grace touched her son and led him to the waters of baptism. It even guided him into becoming one of the greatest leaders of the Church in his time.
Who was this man? He was St. Augustine, a doctor of the Church, one of the four great Latin Church fathers, and surely one of the most profound theologians of all time. And who was his mother? Her name is Monica and she is recognized by the Catholic Church as a saint. Her example, therefore, should give all parents hope and encouragement as they yearn to see their adult children embrace the faith.
Today is the memorial of St. Vincent de Paul
Earlier today I posted my reflection on today's Mass readings. In it, I reflected on how our yearing to control things contrasts with God's invitation to us to let go of this desire and instead cling to that which is timeless which he planted in our hearts.
This is seen very much in the life of St. Vincent. Born into a peasant family, he appears to have first viewed the priesthood as a means of moving up the social ladder. Early in his career he tried to curry the favor of many potential patrons in the nobility. And, in fact, he had some successes in that.
However, he learned over the course of his life that these attempts to control his life, to manipulate and advance, were, in the end, futile and unimportant. And so he turned to the care for the poor and the re-evangelization of all social classes. He did this in part by using his connections to upper society to give aid and comfort to those below.
He had one foot in the luxury of the world and the other in the midst of squalor. But in this straddling he had his eyes fixed on eternity.
"We should strive to keep our hearts open to the sufferings and wretchedness of other people, and pray continually that God may grant us that spirit of compassion which is truly the spirit of God." --St. Vincent de Paul
An interesting story on Fr. Mychal Judge in today's NY Times (LRR)
This is an even-handed story that shows how so many groups of people have been drawn to this story. One group has even set up a website to promote his cause.
And it seems that the hagiography has already started. Apparently the story regarding the circumstances of his death are not entirely historically true. As the account went, he was killed by falling debris while outside the towers anointing a fallen firefighter. Well, as witnesses recount it, after he had anointed the man he went back into the lobby of the north tower and was then hit by debris coming down from the south tower.
But does such details really matter? In either case what he was doing was heroic. It is interesting to note, however, the comments on this slight change in the story from the widow of the firefighter that he had anointed:
`Listen, Father Judge is a priest and people need to hold onto that myth.' How wonderful does it sound that he died giving the last rites to a firefighter?""
The website was created by a man who never knew him. And his grave is often now visited by similar ones who only came to know through news reports.
But his fellow Franciscans appear to want nothing, at this moment, to do with the promotion of his cause. The article described his provincial as viewing his cause in this way: "to sanctify Father Judge was to define him too narrowly, to even do him an injustice."
There is surely a value, shown among many saints throughout history, St. Francis of Assisi included, who shunned any talk of saintliness connected with them. However, I have a hard time understanding how declaring a person to be a saint to be an injustice. How is such a recognition defining the person too narrowly? When a person is a saint, he or she has embraced all of eternity. There's nothing narrow about that.
I suspect that Fr. Mychal's provincial is concerned about how those of us on this side of eternity might narrowly jugdge him. Well, that's our problem to fix. Maybe we need to come to a more full, broad understanding of what it means to be a saint. But, in the meantime, I still don't think that it is an injustice to declare anyone saint insofar as the evidence that we have warrants it.
Fr. Shawn O'Neal's Sunday Homily
Twenty-sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A
Jesus causes the same level of shock as he did years ago with one simple statement: “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.” Perhaps we know neither tax collectors nor prostitutes, but some believers either know or know of people whose possible presence in Heaven would make believers cringe. That is a rather pathetic vision, in all honesty, but it is a typical vision.
Some believers presume that they know who is going to paradise and who is going to eternal punishment. That is both typical and pathetic as well. If anyone presumes these things, then they are bound to hear from the Lord the same message that he gave to Ezekiel – that it is our way that is unfair. Some believers presume that the words of righteousness will come from the mouth of a prominent herald. Even if these words come from this herald, are they going to be accepted and lived by? Many prophets have been ignored. Many “difficult teachings” – even Christ’s teachings – have caused people to change their loyalty to other teachers.
These acts will repeat throughout human history as long as humans attempt – rather than God – to instruct humanity about what is good and what is not good – what is fair and what is not fair. But as some supposed believers are playing this trivial game, the prostitutes and the tax collectors of this age have heard the words of life. They have given up all they have known for the sake of sharing in God’s joy now and forever. It will always be better for people to hear God invite everyone to share in his righteousness than it is for people to talk well of themselves. As long as anyone talks about how they are first, they are bound to find themselves in the back of the line because they missed the boarding call. If they find themselves in the back of the line, then there are bound to be complaints that God has not been fair to them. How typical. How pathetic.
Viewing Our Days through the Eyes of Eternity:
A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings
Memorial of St. Vincent de Paul, priest
Ps 144:1b and 2abc, 3-4
From the beginning of our lives to their end we desire to have control over things, over people. I can even see this in Michael. He is getting to the age where he grabs at things and wants to pull them to himself, even when it is my dinner plate and I keep pushing it away from him. (Hmmm...Who is really trying to be in control here...?)
Humans want to have power over things and people so that their lives can be safe and comfortable. If they don't have control then things outside themselves are a possible threat.
Part of our choice to place faith in God involves letting go of the need for control and trusting that he will protect us. It also involves letting go of those things that we think are important and so need the protection that control seems to offer. When they are no longer important, we no longer need control.
The writer of Ecclesiastes tries to show us this truth in today's first reading. Whereas so many of us try to control the world around us so that we might noth ave to weep, to experience loss, to be far from those we love, to be at war, and to kill, Quoheleth tells us that there is a time for all of these things, a time appointed by God.
All of us are given times for triumph and tragedy and none of us control when these times come to us. So we need not worry ourselves over the seeming need to control time. Instead, God invites us to cling in the midst of all of the changes of time to that which is timeless, that Spirit of his which he has poured into our hearts.
When we do this we will view all of the different times of our lives from the perspective of faith. Thimes of triumph and tragedy will become inextricably bound, one dependent upon the other, like the cross and the empty tomb. And when all of these times seem to come together, then we will start to view the days, months, and years of our lives through the glory-filled eyes of eternity.
Thursday, September 26, 2002
Exploring the Handbook of Denominations in the United States: National Association of Free Will Baptists
A week or so ago I started exploring different websites of the various denominations described in the great reference book, The Handbook of Denominations in the United States.
Well today I found the website of the National Association of Free Will Baptists. They are the denomination that was responsible for the missionary school in the Ivory Coast whose students were recently rescued in the midst of the rebellion that broke there in recent weeks.
Here's an update on the status of the students and others rescued from there. And here's a listing of the countries where they have missionaries, the names of their missionaries in those places, and information regarding those counties.
In exploring their website, I discovered something rather telling when I clicked on the button "Free Will Baptist Family." There are a series of concentric circles which layout links to various national organizations around the world, and national agencies in the United States. The rest of the diagram lays out in the general relationship of local churches to state and district organizations.
But what is at the center of all of the concentric circles? The entire Church that Christ founded? No, it is the outline of a person with the words "Individual Christians" over it. Again, I think that this is rather telling. But it shouldn't be suprising either.
On the "General Information" page, I learned that the Free Will Baptists in this organization describe themselves as "a fellowship of evangelical believers united in extending the witness of Christ and the building of His Church throughout the world."
The overall movement of Free Will Baptists had two different origins: one northern and one southern. Their origin only dates back to the 18th century, the southern branch being formed by Paul Palmer in a Chowan, NC. The northern branch emerged in 1780 under the leadership of Benjamin Randall in New Durham, New Hampshire. The two merged together less than a century ago, in 1935 in a meeting in Nashville, TN.
Here is a link to the page where they lay out their "Articles of Faith."
There are 16 different articles, ranging from "The Bible", "Resurrection, Judgment, and Final Retribution." Most of them touch upon the various fundamental points of evangelical doctrine. But there are also articles on such specific topics as tithing, and observance of the sabbath.
From the title of the denomination, one might assume that freedom of the will is important to them. Such an assumption would be correct. One their articles touches upon this belief:
The human will is free and self-controlled, having power to yield to the influence of the truth and the Spirit, or to resist them and perish.
Such a belief would seem to have an impact upon the way that they view salvation. Well, here is the text of their article entitled, "The Terms of Salvation":
The conditions of salvation are: (1) Repentance or sincere sorrow for sin and hearty renunciation of it. (2) Faith or the unreserved committal of one's self to Christ as Savior and Lord with purpose to love and obey Him in all things. In the exercise of saving faith, the soul is renewed by the Holy Spirit, freed from the dominion of sin, and becomes a child of God. (3) Continuance of faith and obedience unto death.
Continuance in faith and obedience unto death? Sounds kind of tough. Well, here's what they have to say about perseverance, another one of their articles:
All believers in Christ, who through grace persevere in holiness to the end of life, have promise of eternal salvation.
Actually sounds almost...Catholic. But the tough stuff comes back in their last article, "Resurrection, Judgment, and Final Retribution":
The Scriptures teach the resurrection of all men at the last day. Those who have done good will come forth to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation; then the wicked will "go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into life eternal.
From this, it would sound like our salvation, in the end, is determined on what we have done. So much for salvation by faith. That gets back to term #2 in the "Terms of Salvation." It says that one must have "Faith or the unreserved committal of one's self to Christ as Savior and Lord with purpose to love and obey Him in all things."
So what is operative here: faith or the purpose to love and obey? If both are equally operative, then I would tend to think that this is fairly close to the Catholic position. However, these articles are rather terse and would need a lot of expansion to see how harmonious they are with Catholic beliefs.
Don't just do something, sit there:
A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings
Thursday of the Twenty-fifth Week of Ordinary Time, Year II
Ps 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14 and 17bc
Is the author of Ecclesiastes filled with despair? Is his seeing of vanity in all things evidence of a lack of hope? He seesm to wonder why men work so hard, why they talk so much, why they are always seeking something new. He wonders about all of this because he knows that the world will not be changed because of our work, that we can never explain things completely by our own words, and that, in the end, there is indeed nothing new under the sun.
Is this a message of despair? It is only this for those of us who seek the fulfillment of our lives in our own accomplishments in this world. Ultimately our fulfillment will be found not in what we do but in who we are in relationship with God.
I think that Thomas Merton had the perspective of Quoheleth when he turned a typically American proverb and had it read thus: "Don't just do something, sit there."
The more that each of us comes to realize the wondrous presence of God in our world and throughout our history, the more we will realize that our efforts to change ourselves and our world are nothing but a wisp of air.
We, by ourselves can do nothing to change ourselves or our world. Only God can do this. We can and are called to cooperate with him. But, by ourselves, we can do nothing. This is what God wil reveal to us if we only relax from all our efforts, refrain from doing something and just sit there.
But what then? After God brings us to this realization what do we do then? The only thing that is not vanity is to help others come this same relationship with God. In Christian terms, this is evangelization.
All of this will not lead to us giving up on the world. We will still build cities and great monuments. But the city that we will build will be the city of God. And the monuments that will rise in its center will be the temple of the Holy Spirit, that temple that is truly in our own hearts, our consciences.
Wednesday, September 25, 2002
School for missionary children in the Ivory Coast secured by French troops in the midst of fighting
One hundred American children attend the International Christian Academy based in Bouake, Ivory Coast. They came in danger when rebels fighting against the country's government came onto the school's campus to fire at the government's troops. The school is run by Free Will Baptist Foreign Missions, based in Nashville, TN.
This situation reminds me of some thoughts that I had last summer following the tragic death of Martin Burnham. He and his wife had been evangelical missionaries in the Philippines and then been held prisoner for close to, if not more than a year. All the while their children were in America under the care of relatives.
I accept that all Christians are called upon to participate in some way in the mission of the Church. However, I think that this work of evangelization should be done in the context of their first vocation, to be husband and wife, father and mother. Now in saying this I am not excluding the possibility that spouses and even entire families might be able to work to proclaim the Gospel in a foreign land.
That having been said, I wonder if God's plan for any marriage and family has the long-term separation of parents and children, as in the case of the Burnhams, or the placing of children in harm's way, as in the case of those in the Ivory Coast. I tend to think this is not part of God's plan.
I do believe that It is part of his plan that Christian families live out their faith deliberately and in a public way, proclaiming to the world around them through their words and their deeds the wonders of God's love. This word needs to be done also in all areas of the world, even (and especially) those parts where many live under the threat of war and violence.
But I suspect that God is calling others to this work, those who have not yet been or will not be called to the married life.
If I am not taking something into account in making this judgment, please let me know.
Having What We Need, Not What We Want:
A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings
Wednesday of the Twenty-fifth Week of Ordinary Time, Year II
Ps 119:29, 72, 89, 101, 104, 163
My wife Cindy is the oldest of the eleven children in her family. Her father, the only income earner in the family, has worked in a factory for over thirty years, never earning a large salary. Cindy has told me on occasions that her family always had what they needed but never had what they wanted.
She says this with no tinge of regret or disappointment. However, she also hides none the difficulties or challenges lying underneath them. In the end, though, she wouldn't trade the circumstances of her childhood for anything. She and her brothers and sisters always had a roof over their heads, food to eat, and clothes to wear (even i they were being constantly handed down).
But they also had an abundance of love and support from their parents. They the hearts of their children with faith too. And what the children lacked in allowance money, toys, and new clothes, they gained in imagination, shared time together, and deep and abiding bonds of love that endure to this day. Cindy tells me of how she and her siblings would play 'school bus' or 'store' for hours in the basement together. And when they gather together now, they still play games, enjoy each other's crowded company, and make a point to stay together for the whole day.
So, in many respects, Cindy and her siblings were and are very rich indeed, just not as the world defines that term. They were and are rich, however, as today's scripture readings understands it.
The author of Proverbs asked only for what he needed, neither riches nor poverty. The latter would lead him to the sin of stealing while the former would lead him to the sin of pride. When he had just enough material goods to fill his needs, he was able to focus on the greatness of God and the dependability of his words which he also praised in today's first reading.
Jesus sent out the Twelve only with the words of God: the good news of his reign an the power to cure the sick with a word of command. They would imporess no one in the villages where they went with their attire or their material wealth. Although Luke does not record their words, we can imagine that they might have been very much like what Peter said to the crippled beggar at the Temple in chapter three of Acts: "I have no silver and gold, but I give you what I have; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk." (verse 6)
Cindy's parents did not give their children the silver or gold of weekly allowances, expensive toys, or trendy clothes. But they filled them to overflowing with the enduring silver of unconditional love and the fire-tried gold of deep faith in God. This is a wealth that is now paying dividends. Cindy and I hope to follow in her parents' example in the way that we care for our son Michael.
Yesterday's allowances, toys, and clothes are quickly forgotten. The gifts of love and faith will endure. May God give us the grace to give them to Michael out of the abundance of them that God has given to us.
Tuesday, September 24, 2002
Renewing the dialogue: How can one know if another is saved?
It has been a while since Glen Davis, JACK, and myself have had any interchanges in our dialogue. I think that all of us have been busy in our own lives, ministries, etc.
However, I hope that we can renew it. There are many questions that remain unanswered, a lack of knowledge in all of us regarding the beliefs and traditions of each other's church.
One of the last issues about which we were conversing dealt with the way in which a person can lose his or her salvation. Glen held that it was possible but that it could only happen through a deliberate renunciation of Jesus Christ as Lord. He also stated that personal sinfulness was not necessarily a sign that this had occurred nor was it a cause for it occurring.
As a result he said that one is not totally assured of his or her salvation. However, if one can only lose it through a deliberate and conscious renunciation of Christ, then, even if the salvation is not 100% assured, the risk of losing it is very low indeed. One might lead a sinful life, might not be able to explain in clear detail that one is saved, might not have any outward sign at all that one is saved and still be saved. After all, if one loses one’s salvation only through a formal renunciation of Christ as Lord, then there would seem to be a lot of leeway for one who is saved.
From one perspective this gets us back to the issue that brought about this discussion to begin with. I had expressed my sadness about and frustration with the evangelization of baptized Catholics in Central and South America and of Catholic Hispanics in the United States. Glen, in response, stated that many Catholics in these areas are not really followers of Christ and, by extension, not saved. Therefore, they need to be evangelized.
But my question is, Glen, how do you know that these people are not followers of Christ, given your understanding of how one loses it that I laid out above? How do you know with moral certainty that these people are truly not saved? If I have misunderstood your position on this, please let me know.
I suppose that the issue of how one can lose their salvation is related to how one attains that gift of God. That was the last question that I believe I had asked Glen. Does it happen in one moment or is it more drawn out, does it occur over the course of a believer's life as he or she cooperates or fails to cooperate with God's grace?
How we answer both the question of how one gains and loses salvation will determine how we view the status of Catholic Christians who are being evangelized by Pentecostal and evangelical Christians.
If it happens in a moment but it cannot be taken away by one's sinfulness but only by a clear renunciation of Christ as Lord, then I repeat the question I asked before: How do you truly know if one is not saved given those conditions?
If it happens over the course of the life of the believer (as the Catholic Church holds), then those who are baptized as Cathoic Christians do not need a primary proclamation of the Gospel. They need the ministry of the Church to help them cooperate with the grace given them by God in their baptism.
The faithful in the Catholic Church do this with varying degrees of fervor. And we should pray that we do it better than we have in the past. However, we do not treat this brothers and sisters in faith as if they are not Christians. They were claimed by him in baptism. They need the ministry of the body of Christ on earth, the Church, in order to help them cooperate with his grace. They have already been saved, but they (and we) also need to work out, with the help of God's grace, their salvation in fear and trembling, and they need to place their hope in the sure promise of Christ that they will be saved at the moment of their death.
I'm on baby patrol
Cindy is working today so I'm using my day off to spend some time taking care of Michael. And as he isn't a very good napper, I don't know how much time I'll have for blogging today. We'll see how it goes.
Monday, September 23, 2002
Catholic Reasons for Hope
Please Note: Last Friday I posted the first installment of the column, "Catholic Reasons for Hope" which will be appearing weekly in my parish's bulletin, recently expanded to six pages. A box was placed in the back of the church over the weekend for parishioners to submit their own questions. The following will be in next Sunday's bulletin and is a response to one of the questions put in the box yesterday.
Q: What is the best way to explain to non-Catholics that our religion does not advocate drinking on Saturday night and confessing on Sundays to have that sin taken away?
A: I would start by simply saying that the Catholic Church does not advocate such a practice.
Such an opinion seems to lack some knowledge about the Church’s moral teachings and its beliefs regarding the sacrament of Reconciliation.
In our moral teachings, we as Catholics believe that all humans are created in the image and likeness of God. Although the original sin of Adam and Eve has marred this image, it is renewed when we are washed in the waters of baptism.
Those who are baptized are called by God and given grace by him “...to lead... a life ‘worthy of the Gospel of Christ.’” (Phil 1:27, Catechism 1692). The calling that all of us have as Catholic Christians is, then, a high one, not one that advocates a sinful kind of drinking of alcohol.
Yet even though we have been given the grace to follow this calling, we still sin at times, refusing to cooperate with that grace. Jesus, however, has given us the sacrament of Reconciliation in order to restore us to God after we went away from him in our sins.
In order for the sacrament of Reconciliation to be valid, one must be truly sorry for one’s sins and strive, with the help of God’s grace, to avoid that sin in the future. It would seem, as was implied by the question, that some non-Catholics believe that we don’t think that this is necessary. That is simply not the case. They must be present in our hearts and on our lips.
The Holy Father on educational reform
He says that what needs improvement is not so much the programs or the funding as it is the relationship between the teacher and the student. Students perform better when their teachers lead them to seek the meaning of what they study "in relation to their growth and the reality that surrounds them." Pope John Paul also noted that schools play a vital role in laying the foundation of the culture of the students, thus increasing the importance of authentic reform there.
Rock of Faith Missionary Baptist Church in Indianapolis destoryed in last week's tornado
The pastor of the church thoughts are turning often now to Job.
Somehow there is some meaning in the fact that a church building with that name would be destroyed so quickly.
An interesting story on Hong Kong's new archbishop, Joseph Zen
Zen has been sharply critical of the communist Chinese government and is hailed by human rights activists there as a hero. As he moves into a role of central leadership in such a vulnerable but yet influential position, he certainly needs our prayers as does the rest of the Catholic Church in China.
Sunday, September 22, 2002
Good News about Hispanic Ministry at St. Joseph
Those of you who are regular readers will remember how I had another meeting last Thursday evening for the development of Hispanic ministry within the parish where I serve as DRE.
Well, our first Mass in Spanish has been scheduled for Sunday, November 3 at 2:30pm. Although we won't be observing it since it falls on a Sunday, November 3 is a good day for our parish to begin this ministry. It is the feast day of St. Martin de Porres who, along with St. Rose of Lima, was one of the first Hispanic saints born in the Americas.
Interestingly enough, St. Martin is also considered by many to be the first black American saint. I think that is evidence that the lines of distinction between various races and ethnic groups are not as firmly drawn as we sometimes think they are.
Busy day at the parish
On the schedule for me today at the parish will be the regular religious education classes for 3-year-old pre-schoolers through the 10th grade. A new "Sunday Lunchtime Bible Study" will be held from 11:45-12:45, following the end of our 10:30 Mass. And a new "Catholic Refresher Course" will be held 6:00-7:00 pm. I'll be the presenter in both of these sessions.
Saturday, September 21, 2002
The latest installment of my column, "Spiritual Reflections"
Go to the website of The Shelbyville News to read the latest installment of my column, "Spiritual Reflections." I would appreciate any feedback that you might give me on it.
Friday, September 20, 2002
Tonight there are many hundreds, if not thousands of people without homes who had them this morning in a stretch of Indiana stretching from the Bloomington through the area northeast of Indianapolis. Tornadoes struck down throughout this area of the state and destroyed and severely damaged many homes, apartments, businesses, and, yes, schools.
Pray in gratitude to God, then, that no one was killed in these storms and no one (as far as I know) severely injured. But please keep in your prayers all those who have been affected by these storms in any way. May God continue to protect those in the storm's path as it moves to the east.
A New Feature: Catholic Reasons for Hope
Please Note: The following is the text of a new column that will appear in the weekly bulletin of the parish where I serve as DRE. Our bulletin has recently gone from four to six pages. With the added space I was given the opportunity to have my column in it, apart from the week-to-week news that I pass on.
This week's column simply introduces it to the parishioners. In the future it will be a question and answer column of an apologetic nature. Thanks to Jim Drummey, author of Catholic Replies, whom I met last weekend at the Catholic Writer's Festival and who has encouraged me in this endeavor.
In his first letter, St. Peter tell us to “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope…” (1 Peter 3:15).
We, as Catholic Christians, are called upon to be able to give an explanation for the hope that is within each of us. And this is nothing less than our hope in the promises of Jesus Christ in which we have placed our faith.
Yet there are times when people ask us questions about our faith and we are caught off guard. We don’t know what to say or we end up giving an answer that doesn’t even satisfy us, let alone the person who asked the question.
“Catholic Reasons for Hope” will be a weekly column in the bulletin which will hopefully help you in these kind of situations. Your participation in the column will be very important.
There will be a box in the back of church which will have a sign on it that says “Catholic Reasons for Hope.” There will be sheets there on which you can write your own questions that will be answered in the column at a later date.
The questions can be about our beliefs or our practices. An example of a question about our beliefs might be: “What do Catholics believe about ‘being saved’?” An example of a question about our practices might be: “Why do Catholics genuflect when coming into church?”
So I encourage you to start filling the box with questions so that all of us can take St. Peter’s words to heart and so “be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.”
Fr. Shawn O'Neal's Sunday Homily
Twenty-fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A
Saint Margaret of Cortona might not be a saint that many people know about, but she might very well be a saint with whom we can identify with more than others. She serves as the patroness of some not-so-beautiful people: hobos, tramps, the homeless, the mentally ill, reformed prostitutes, not-so-reformed prostitutes, and people tempted to do various evil things. On the bright side, Margaret also serves as a patroness for midwives, laywomen who are single, and for people who grieve the loss of parents. But enough about her titles for now. Here’s some info about her life.
She was born in 1247 in Loviano, Italy. She died in Cortona in 1297. She left her dad and stepmother (with whom she did not get along) when she was seventeen and she moved in with her boyfriend – a man whose name is still not known. They lived together for nine years – as in they never got married – as in cohabitation – as in shacking up – and even if she said in later years that she did not like the arrangement, she still went along with it. She gave birth to a son. The lover was murdered. Not only was she forced to grieve the loss of her lover, her stepmother convinced her father and the rest of her family to abandon her by not accepting her into the house once again.
Margaret claimed that God called her to move to Cortona. When she arrived there, she received assistance from two ladies whose names we do not know. They gave both her and her son a place to stay. They also introduced her to the Franciscan friars who ran the neighborhood church. After many years of continued struggle with temptation, she became a Third Order Franciscan – of which in later years she founded her own chapter. Her group maintained a hospital in Cortona that sought to care especially for the sick of the region.
Instead of talking more about her life, and it would be easy to do so, I want to present to you another interesting fact about her. She was not canonized until 1728 – 431 years after she died. In my own opinion, that wait for being a declared a saint is rather appropriate for Margaret. She’s the patroness in many respects of the saying “better late than never”. If you ever discover her confessions, you will see that she would have loved to have ascended to a higher level of holy living earlier in her life; she admitted that she was afraid of change, but she had no regrets in changing her ways of life and living as God wanted her to live.
Picture Heaven in your mind right now. If you prefer to picture Heaven as the place where everyone receives a fluffy cloud for a homestead, then go with it. Picture Margaret on her fluffy cloud. Picture some of our most favorite and/or most popular saints as they reside on fluffy clouds around her. These saints would not say either “Well, it’s about time, honey!” or “Who do you think you are to be up here with us?” Rather. they would have rejoiced that she was with them and that they were all with God. They were praying for her and supporting her throughout her life on earth.
That is how saints act. That is how we are called to act. Unfortunately, we act all too often in the spirit of both the grumpy workers in today’s Gospel reading and of the goody-goody older brother of the Prodigal Son who acted more like a goat than the goat that his father gave him. It is much easier to insult sinners than it is to show them the correct path. It is also easier to look upon the faults of other people than it is to look upon our own faults.
The grumbling workers in today’s Gospel reading want God to be fair. God is more than fair. God reconciles us to himself when we deserve to be cast from his sight. God gives generously to us when we deserve nothing from anyone. God continues to love us even during the times when we say either by our words or by our actions that we do not love him. God prefers not to sit at home and count his money, but rather spend it on the ransom needed in order to free us from sin.
I hope that through the inspiration of today’s Gospel reading and through the intercession of Saint Margaret of Cortona, either a member of this congregation or any child of God may discover anew how much the Lord loves them. May they seek reconciliation with God and with his Church before it is too late. May God welcome them back to himself. May God’s people welcome them back –even the goody-goodies who would usually say, “Well, it’s about time, honey!” at a time such as this. Better late than never.
Living in the Present with Our Eyes on the Future:
A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings
Memorial of Saints Andrew Kim Taegon, priest and martyr, Paul Chong Hasang, martyr, and their companions, martyrs
1 Cor 15:12-20
Ps 17:1bcd, 6-7, 8b and 15
Today we in the Church celebrate the memorial of several martrys for the faith from Korea. They lived for Christ just over 150 years ago, and died for him with some 10,000 other martyrs in a brutal persecution in the 1840s. In their witness of the living and dying, they embodied as full as we humans can the meaning on Christ's resurrection, the rising from the dead in which everyone will share.
It was this resurrection that some of the Corinthians to which Paul wrote seemed to have doubted. They were among those pitiable ones who hoped in Christ for this life alone. If Andrew Kim Taegon, Paul Chong Hasang, and their many companions had held such a shallow hope, they would have been led to deep and eternal despair in their final sufferings.
But these great examples completely embraced the meaning of the resurrection. They embraced it as completely as they did their own death. Such extreme models of faith might seem that relevant to us who do not live under such persecutions. But, my friends, the stories of St. Andrew Kim Taegon and St. Paul Chong Hasang can have incredible effects on our day-to-day lives.
I know that in my own life (and I suspect that this may be true for many of you) my faith in Christ is often like that of the Corinthians about which Paul wrote in today's first reading. I hope and pray that he will relieve my stress or help me or my friends overcome this or that illness.
In and of themselves these are good prayers and Jesus hears them. And the providence of God is working in our lives every moment of every day to draw us closer to him. But we need to be able to live in the present with all of our hopes and prayers. When we are given the gift to be able to discern God's providence working in our lives our eyes are being opened to catch a glimpse of the great wonder of the resurrection that each of us will experience.
This is the good news of the kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed as he journeyed from town to town as we read in today's Gospel. The Twelve and the women who followed him had experienced the working of small wonders in their lives and so were given glimpses of that kingdom. This was the same experience of Andrew, Paul, and their companions. And it is the same experience that Jesus offers to us every day of our lives.
Let us call upon these Korean martyrs, that through their intercession Christ may open our eyes to the great wonders all around us and help us experience the power of the resurrection touching us all every moment of every day.
Thursday, September 19, 2002
Patriarch Alexy II cranks up the rhetoric in the Russian Orthodox Church's dispute with the Catholic Church
He claims that Rome has an "expansionist strategy" in its ministry in Russia.
Interestingly, he argues that the leaders of the Catholic Church in Russia look at the country as if "there exists neither a church nor a Christian culture in Russia."
Whether or not the leaders of the Catholic Church there actually work along this perspective is debatable, although Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz as well as the Holy Father have tried to be very careful in the way they have described the ministry of the Church in Russia, showing much respect and reverence for the Russian Orthodox Church.
However, the charge is a very serious one. He could be arguing, by extension, that the leaders of the Catholic Church in Russia work as if there are no Christians at all there. For if there is no Church, there would be no Christians.
The perspective that Patriarch Alexy accuses the Catholic leaders in his country as having seems actually to be the one that many Pentecostal and evangelical Christians have in their work in Central and South America and among Hispanics in the United States. They, in general, if not always in particular, work under the assumption that most, if not all, Catholics are not Christian. If they felt otherwise they would recognize that the Church exists in those countries and so would not need the work of a first proclamation of the Gospel.
It would be interesting to explore the reaction of the Catholic bishops in Central and South America to such attitudes among our separated brothers and sisters in faith. How is it similar to or different from the reaction of Alexy II?
An interesting follow-up to yesterday's 'religious census' story
One of the reasons why there is a move afoot to divide the Diocese of Richmond, VA is that the Hampton Roads area of the state has had a 43% growth rate among Catholics over the past 10 years.
The opening line of the article describes the situation in an interesting way:
"If the Hampton Roads area were a person, it would be a Southern Baptist making a conversion to Roman Catholicism."
Last night's Confirmation Mass
Some 95 young people from four parishes received the sacrament of Confirmation through the ministry of Archbishop Daniel Buechlein last night at S.S. Peter & Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. May the grace that was showered upon them and the Spirit with which they were sealed strengthen them in their striving to live as a disciple of our Lord.
In his homily, Archbishop Buechlein quoted from the Holy Father's message at the most recent World Youth Day. He challenged the young people to build a civilization of love, brick by brick. And he also illustrated how this can be done in difficult circumstances by telling them a story of recently deceased Cardinal Francois Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan.
He told them how he while he was in prison received wine and hosts from friends and celebrated Mass there, using his hand as a chalice, using only three drops of wine and a drop of water. Archbishop Daniel told the young people that while they might not experience the dark challenges that Cardinal Thuan did, they are and will always have times of darkness in their lives and that it is during those times that they can rely on the gifts of the Spirit to help them, even then, build a civilization of love, brick by brick.
It was certainly one of the best homilies that I have heard Archbishop Daniel deliver.
Little Blogging Today
As I noted yesterday, I'm on baby patrol today. I'm also going to be busy doing some work around the house. Finally, in the evening there is going to be a meeting at the parish to make some firm plans to get a Spanish Mass scheduled on a regular basis, as well as laying the foundation for other Hispanic ministries (please keep those involved in the meeting in your prayers).
So, as you can see, I've got a lot on my plate today. My blog has to go on the backburner for today.
Wednesday, September 18, 2002
Confirmation Tonight, Michael Tomorrow
Why haven't I been blogging much today? Well, last year's 10th graders from our parish is going up to S.S. Peter & Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis for the celebration of their Confirmation. I've been busy putting together some last minute details. I've also been busy doing regular office work since I will be out of the office tomorrow taking care of Michael.
Actually, my sister-in-law will be helping me a good deal with that since her husband, my brother-in-law will over at the house to help me install a new exhaust fan in the bathroom. My Dad will also be over to help with painting our front porch and installing new porch light. Ah, the wonders of domestic chores!
Keep the confirmation class in your prayers.
Now that's why I haven't been blogging. Why haven't you been visiting (the hit numbers have been way down...)?
Who knew? The most religiously diverse state in the nation is Illinios
This AP story gives details of the results of the 2000 Religious Congregations & Membership Study, conducted by Glenmary Research Center, a a Catholic research and social service organization based in Nashville. Go here to explore the results in more detail.
The survey showed that the Mormons and Assemblies of God had the highest percentage increase in membership over the past ten years at over 19%. Some of that high percentage could be due to their comparitively overall small numbers. There are 4.2 million Mormons and 2.6 members of the Assemblies of God.
The Catholic Church also showed strong growth, increasing by over 16%. Much of that growth was tied to the influx of Hispanics to various parts of the country. But that growth is still considerable considering that there are 62 million Catholics in the U.S.
The Southern Baptists grew by only 4.9% but still remain the largest Protestant denomination. The Presbyterian Church U.S.A. reported the sharpest decline in membership at 12%, down to 3.1 million.
Hallmark or Heaven?:
A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings
Wednesday of the Twenty-fourth Week of Ordinary Time, Year II
1 Cor 12:31-13:13
Ps 33:2-3, 4-5, 12 and 22
Its too bad that Paul's praise of love has become such a cliche. You can find his words in so many places: on greeting cards, on framed embroideried pieces, on t-shirts, and God-knows-how-many wedding invitations.
I tend to think that the meaning of his words is being lost in all of this exposure. Its not that I want his words to be proclaimed any less. By no means. It would be great if they were known as widely with their full message as they are now, with a very limited one.
So much of our own, contemporary understanding of love seems to have been injected into the mix. When many people read the words, "The greatest of these is love", they think that Paul (if they know that some guy named Paul actually wrote them) is praising the emotional rush of the beginning of love.
Its too bad, then, that the entirety of the thirteenth chapter of St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians could not be printed on all of those Hallmark cards, those pillow shams, and those wedding napkins. For if it was, then we all might get a more fullsome insight into the true meaning of love.
We might come to see that emotional rush that we feel at the beginning of love is just a small foretaste of what we will experience when we shall know even as we are known, when shall see face-to-face.
This more complete loving about which Paul wrote is, of course, the love that is the bond God and man. Our childish, human loving is bieng put away little by little the more that God's grace transforms us into the mature men and women that he has created us to be.
When he has lifted us up to our full stature we shall see God face-to-face, we shall know him as he knows us. That is the unimaginable greatness which awaits us in heaven.
But how unimaginable is it? Are we simply left with the cliches about love that we find on factory-made blankets that we buy at Cracker Barrel or in pop songs that are turned out by the dozen? Thankfully we have been given an alternative, even here.
The all-consuming love of God was unleashed upon the earth when the Son of God took flesh, when he showed through his words and his deeds that the kingdom was at hand. It was shot out to the four corners of the world when Jesus stretched out his arms on the cross and when he revealed in his rising a love that conquers death.
Each of us who believe were bathed in that love when the waters of baptism were poured over us. And we have seen the beginning of its full embodiment in us when we give ourselves to another in marriage, or to all of the faithful in priestly ordination or in religious vows.
We who seek to embrace this love more completely have place our faith and hope in the promise that Jesus speaks to us in today's Gospel: "...wisdom is vindicated by all her children." Before we accept the wisdom of God's love it seems to us to be absurd. But we are still just children, loving in the childish ways that we have learned from the messages we find on TV and t-shirts. As children it is more difficult to accept a love that involves a dying to oneself.
But even in our shallow loving, God has given us even there a glimpse of his greater love. And with that tiny foretaste we children, at some point, decided to take the risk of faith and so choose to place our hope in Jesus' promise. And now we are striving to cooperate with the grace that was showered upon us at our baptism. As we do this we children of God experience more and more the vindication of that wise promise. We experience it through the love of God poured into our hearts and flowing out to touch the lives of others through our selfless service.
Tuesday, September 17, 2002
Sean Gallagher has gone national, National Catholic Register that is...
This week's edition of the National Catholic Register has an article by your's truly. It is in the "Culture of Life" section of the newspaper. The editor of that section is, by the way, Tim Drake. The website does not post all of its articles (that would be a challenge, as they have quite a few articles from week to week). Therefore I will post it below. However, I'm adding a link to the Register in my list of Notable Links found along the left.
Please read it. If you have any comments or other feedback on it, please let me know.
Finding Strength in Numbers: Making Saints a Part of the Family
An ancient proverb tells us that there is strength in numbers. This can be true for armies going into battle. It can be true when citizens rally together behind an important cause, like civil rights, or the pro-life movement. It can also be true in ordinary circumstances as well, such as the day-to-day challenges of family life.
A wife can draw on the strength of her husband when she finds work, either at home or at the office, particularly burdensome. The loving care of siblings and parents can lift up children and teenagers when they feel weighed down by peer pressure. And each family member can be a source of grace for the other through their prayers to God and their common devotion to each other in all matters.
The strength of prayer and devotion can also be added to the family by making saints a part of their number. Sometimes this happens through the deliberate choice or tradition of the family. At other times it might seem that God, in His providence, sends saints into the life of a family in surprising and mysterious ways.
This is what happened recently in the lives of Torie Winter and Craig Smythe. When the lives of their respective daughters were both threatened by grave illnesses, two American saints, recently beatified, became ordinary parts of their families in ways that they would have never expected. Torie and Craig may have been mystified about how these saints became parts of their families, but they will be forever grateful for the strength that they have added to them.
After a difficult pregnancy for herself but one that showed no problems regarding her unborn child, Torie Winter gave birth in a New Orleans hospital to her daughter Brynn. In ordinary circumstances this would be an occasion of awe-filled joy. But on May 22, 2000 feelings of confusion and anxiety filled the delivery room.
Ordinarily, a mother has her newborn baby in her arms within seconds after the child is born. But when Bryn was born, she was blue and was not moving. “They rushed away with her.” Torie recounted, “The doctor was yelling for a specialist.”
Torie soon learned from the doctors that Brynn had clipophile syndrome. They told her that her baby would probably be blind, deaf, and mentally retarded. Various vertebrae in her neck and spine, as well as her ribs were fused. And then, when just over a week old, Brynn experienced seven seizures over two days. She was in a neonatal intensive care unit. Her parents were expecting the worst.
Then one night Torie came to Brynn’s bed and saw a card lying on it. The card had a prayer on it and a picture of a priest. The man was Fr. Francis Xavier Seelos, a Repemptorist priest who ministered in various parts of the United States in the 19th century and who eventually died and was buried in New Orleans. The prayer on the card asked for his intercession. So she and her husband Larry started praying. Torie described that she and Larry felt that the card was “a sign from heaven.”
The seizures stopped when they started praying to Fr. Seelos. As they continued to pray to him over the following months, the vertebrae and ribs started to become unfused. “I’ve never seen spinal fusions become unfused.” Brynn’s doctor said, “Whatever you all are doing, keep it up.” He wrote to Torie and Larry a year later and told them that what had happened to Brynn was not scientifically explainable.
As Torie and Larry have continued to pray to Fr. Seelos over the past two years, Brynn’s scoliosis (curvature) of her spine has also continued to improve against the expectations of doctors. But Bl. Fr. Seelos has also become an ordinary part of the life of the Winter family. “I carry his relic in a locket with me everywhere I go,” Torie says, ““I have a couple of pictures of him up around the house, almost like he is family.”
Similarly, Bl. Mother Theodore Guerin has been welcomed into the family of Craig and Julia Smythe of Pendleton, IN. Devotion to the saints was not a part of their life of faith before their nine-year-old daughter Sarah was diagnosed with a rare and life-threatening cancer-like disease in July, 1999.
In the days leading up to a surgery scheduled for her in November of that year Craig contacted Tony Barrett, the principal of St. Ambrose School in Anderson, IN where Sarah was a student. When Craig told Tony of Sarah’s condition, he immediately told him, ““You must have a relic from Mother Theodore Guerin.” As Craig knew nothing of her and had no devotion to any saint, all he could say in response was, “Who is that?”
He learned more about her from Sr. Mary Kevin Tighe, SP, the promoter of Bl. Mother Theodore’s cause. As the surgery approached, everyone in the family had many concerns and misgivings about it. But they also started praying to Mother Theodore, in Craig’s words, “all the time.” He felt that Mother Theodore was somehow calling to them, “Appeal to me! Put this in my hands,” he felt her saying to him.
When the day of the surgery arrived, Sarah went into the operating room with a framed prayer card that contained a relic of Mother Theodore. The surgery was successful. However, Sarah has had more since then. The family has had to travel to St. Louis for treatments and surgeries. And on their way there, they have stopped at Mother Theodore’s tomb to pray. Still, they acknowledge that Sarah’s condition is likely to always be a part of her life.
But so will Bl. Mother Theodore. Sarah composed a prayer that she prays to her every night at bedtime: “Dear Mother Theodore Guerin. Thank you for loving us the way you do. Make us completely well. And keep us completely well.”
And she is an integral part of the entire life of the Smythe family. “She is part of our lives,” Craig said, “sometimes on an hourly basis.” Craig’s two stepsons, who both suffer from muscular dystrophy, have been “bowled over” by how praying to her has helped smooth out the challenges in their lives.
Some might say that the devotion to the saints seen in the Winter and the Smythe family would lessen their faith in Christ. Just the opposite, Craig says: “Our devotion to Mother Theodore Guerin in no way obscures our faith in Christ. It absolutely enhances it because time and time again when I speak to her, her answer is always the same, ‘I have taken your petition to God and put everything in his hands.’” And when Torie prays to Bl. Fr. Seelos, she says that “I’m asking him to pray for me to Jesus.”
In the end it would seem that ordinary Catholics like the Winters and the Smythes have found strength in numbers by making saints a part of their families. This can be true for any of us, whether our families are burdened by disease or not. Still, it is important to recognize that the examples of the Winters and the Smythes are not really that extraordinary. Although some diseases are described as “rare”, it is the family that never experiences the challenges of life-threatening illness or injury that is truly rare.
Such struggles might be the occasion for some families to come to know a saint. But as the stories of the Winters and the Smythes show us, once we welcome a saint into our homes, they can become very much a part of the family. They add strength to our numbers.
What's in a name? Apparently quite a bit for this pastor
Pastor Dan Huggins of Cleveland Avenue Church of Christ in Long Beach, MS recently put this message on his church's sign: "There is one God, and His name is not Allah." He claims that the messesage "was never meant to be...antagonistic." Well, if it was meant to nurture dialogue between Christians and Moslems, I think that he needs to find a medium that can handle more than just a few words...
More difficulties for the Catholic Church in China
A bishop was arrested on September 9. This followed the sentencing of three priests in July to three years in a labor camp. Who knows? Maybe this Christmas we'll be buying toys that they made...
Christopher Reeves blames the Catholic Church and President Bush for lack of embryonic stem cell research
Guilty as charged! I don't mind the Church taking criticism like that. Reeves seems to think that the Catholic Church had undue influence over President Bush in his decision to limit government supported embryonic stem cell research. Here's what he thinks would be going on if it were unlimited:
"If we'd had full government support, full government funding for aggressive research using embryonic stem cells from the moment they were first isolated, at the University of Wisconsin in the winter of 1998 -- I don't think it unreasonable to speculate that we might be in human trials by now."
Yeah, there'd be lots of human trials, lots of human embryos undergoing a trial of which death would be the only result. As it is, though, there still can be privately funded research on such cells. I suspect that Mr. Reeves and those who support his view could band together and contribute a lot funding for it on their own. I'd be intereted to know what he thinks about research on stem cells gathered in other ways: through placentas, from human fat tissue, etc.
Maybe he is thinking a lot about these other options. He certainly isn't thinking about the vast difference between the Catholic Church and the Jehovah's Witnesses:
"There are religious groups -- the Jehovah's Witness, I believe -- who think it's a sin to have a blood transfusion. Well, what if the president for some reason decided to listen to them, instead of to the Catholics, which is the group he really listens to in making his decisions about embryonic stem cell research?"
Raising the Dead, Healing the Body:
A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings
Tuesday of the Twenty-fourth Week of Ordinary Time, Year II
1 Cor 12:12-14, 27-31a
Ps 100:1b-2, 3, 4, 5
Luke tell us that a "large crowd" were with the widow of Naim as she went to bury her only son. Such would have been the custom in most funerals of the day where social death rituals were well-established. All the people who gathered to accompany the widow would have been the community's sign of support for her.
But would she have felt the effect of such a sign? I kind of doubt it. On the one hand, her grief would have been especially great. As a widow she would have already buried her husband. Now she was being asked to bury her only son as well. On the other hand, she probably knew in the back of her mind that all of these people who were supporting her during the funeral rituals would not be there later on when the horrible demands of being a widow without the support of her son became heavy upon her.
In the body of the children of the Lord that made up that town, the widow was a very sick member. She had been connected to the members that were her husband and son. And as they were now dead, the life was also flowing out of her.
Yet in the larger scheme of things, the people of the town would have sen her as an expendable part of the body. They may have looked at her in that way, but Jesus did not. To him, she was as an essential part of the body of believers as would have been any of the great leaders of the town's synagogue.
So he showed mercy upon her. And in doing that, he showed the townspeople that mercy shown to the most humble members of their body will have good effects upon the whole. In raising the widow's son, Jesus performed three miracles. He raised her dead son back to life. He placed new hope and new life back into the heart of the widow. And he revitalized the life of the entire body of believers in the town.
That last miracle may have been the greatest of all. Through their witnessing of Jesus' act of mercy, they were able to proclaim, "God has visited his people." It would seem that they had begun to place their faith in Jesus. Maybe after that miracle they would no longer see a simple widow as an expendable part of the body. For if one of them could be the recipient of such a great miracle from God, then it would have been clear that they deserved the care of all. In this way the body of believers in the town of Naim would be given life throughout its members.
Jesus' act of mercy toward that widow showed the people of Naim, the people of Corinth in today's first reading, and we ourselves that God's favor is not distributed to people based on their prestige in society. In calling us to be his children, he is calling us to be one, as he is One. As Paul explained in today's first reading, different people will have different gifts, duties, and responsibilities. But all of these are directed toward the unity of all believers.
This is an important truth for us to keep in mind. For the more that all of us who believe heed God's call to unity, the more offices, ranks, and priveleges will cease to be a source of division. When all believers work together, inspired by God's grace, for the good of individual members as well as the good of the entire body, then those who are not yet one with us will be able to witness our life together and truly say with the people of Naim, "God has visited his people."
Ron Hansen on Writing as Sacrament
The novelist (who happens to be Catholic) Ron Hansen was the keynote speaker at last weekend's Catholic Writer's Festival in Steubenville. I describe him as I do above because, while his faith comes out in his fiction, it does so in often ways that are indirect. He discusses this aspect of his writing and more in "Writing as Sacrament", published in the Spring 1994 edition of The Image Journal. In trying to show the general sacramentality of writing, Hansen explores how writing can be the occasion for a "graced interaction between the human and divine."
Monday, September 16, 2002
Love Bade Me Welcome
Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack'd anything.
A guest, I answer'd, worthy to be here:
Love said, you shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful: Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?
Truth Lord, but I have marr'd them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat.
So I did sit and eat.
The reflection on today's Mass readings reminded me of this poem by the early 17th century English poet, George Herbert (1593-1633). If you take the link I provided above, you will not only be given the text of the poem but also a lovely musical setting of it by Ralph Vaughan Williams (if you have Real Player, it starts automatically when you bring up the page).
The website also has a commentary on the poem. Sadly, however, the person making the commentary failed to understand that Herbert is telling us that "Love" has been best and most fully expressed to us through the Eucharist, Love's "meat." It is through the Eucharist that Love takes our "unkind, ungrateful" hand and leads us into the feast.
Yet the soul in this poem protests, claiming that it is not worthy to be Love's guest through his "dust and sin", through marring the eyes that Love created. Love doesn't deny that such evil had happened, but calmly asks it, "..know you not...who bore the blame?"
It is with this question, this recognition by the soul of the greatness that Christ has done for us in his death on the cross, that it at least does not want to withdraw from Love's presence. Now it is willing to serve at the feast. But Love is determined to set a feast for the soul and becomes a rather forceful host, not just inviting, but almost compelling the host to sit and be served: "You must sit down...and taste my meat."
Our logic is totally confounded when we are confronted with a Savior who comes "not to serve but to serve." It is a good and natural reaction that when we meet someone greater than us we tend to be deferential to him or her. And when we extend this instinct to our relationship with our Lord, we often find ourselves feeling the need to do this or do that to serve him, to make him feel welcome, to make ourselves pleasing in his sight.
And yet as this lovely poem shows us, our Lord sees through all of our futile efforts and loves us still the same. We can do nothing to show enough deference to Christ. It is good that we make the effort. But it is important that we realize that our efforts will always fall short.
That, however, should not lead us to despair. In fact, it should only lead us more quickly into an experience of Christ’s saving grace that we received at our baptism. For as Paul has noted it is when we know that we are weak that we are truly strong (2 Cor 12:10).
Jesus gives us the grace to do many good things. But even if we were to do the greatest thing in the history of the world, it would be a speck in the shadow of the great things that Christ has done for us in his passion, death, and resurrection, and in his continuing presence among us in the Eucharist.
Filled with such an awesome awareness as this, all we can do is sit down in dumbfounded love and eat.
Fatima to build a church that will hold 9,000
The current basilica there holds only 900 although 10,000 come to Mass there on Sundays. Reportedly, the new church will be round. I wonder what Michael Rose would say about that? Better yet, I wonder what he would say that the Blessed Virgin would say?
A priest in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis resigns as pastor and goes on administrative leave
The Indianpolis Star has finally posted the full text of an article from September 6 detailing the resignation of Fr. Micheal Kelley as pastor of a parish in southern Indiana. He had already been at St. Luke's Institute for several months. But the resignation came after charges of sexual misconduct.
I find it interesting that Bob Smith, the man bringing the charges against Fr. Kelley, had turned 18 before the priest made physical advances on him. But Smith noted that the two had known each other since he had been in junior high and when Kelley had still been a seminarian.
Maybe there were some cracks in the screening process...
The article details how Smith went to officials of the archdiocese in 1989 with the accusations. Smith claims that their first reaction was to ask him, "You're not going to the press, are you?"
If that is true it is obviously sad. Hopefully things have changed. Hopefully.
A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings
Memorial of Saints Cornelius, pope and martyr, and Cyprian, bishop and martyr
1 Cor 11:17-26, 22
Ps 40:7-8a, 8b-9, 10, 17
An older man once told me a story about the time when extraordinary eucharistic ministers were first introduced in our parish. He was one of the men invited by the pastor to be one. At a meeting of all those who had been chosen he spoke up and said, "But I'm not worthy to do this." The pastor paused, looked at him straight in the eye and replied, "None of us are."
The same could be said, not only of being an extraordinary eucharistic minister, but also of being able to partcipate in the Eucharist in any capacity. And indeed, just before communion we do repeat the words of the centurion that we read in today's Gospel: "I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof.", " Oh Lord, I am not worthy to receive you..."
A friend of mine, born and raised Catholic but now no longer practicing, takes offense at these words. He seems to have a high understanding of humanity and believes that if we have been created in God's image then we are indeed worthy to receive him.
I am saddened that he has so misunderstood our faith that he nows feels compelled to reject it. I am saddened that he values his own assumptions and conclusions so much that he is not open to the full truth of those words that offend him so much.
For if he were open to a more fullexploration of their meaning, he might discover that we are seen as blessedly unworthy in the eyes of our Lord. We are told by the priest, "Happy [blessed] are those who are called to this supper.", just before we respond with the words that I quoted above.
Our response in which we acknowledge our unworthiness is simply an acceptance on our part of reality. Yes, we were created in the image and likeness of God. But we were still created by the Creator. In the merely human realm there is an unbridgable gulf between the beautiful statue of a man and the man who sculpted it. No matter how stunning the statue of David is in the Academia in Florence, the man Michelangelo is far more impressive. But God, who created Michelangelo, surpasses them all.
It is that reality that the old parishioner had in mind when he said that he wasn't worthy of being an extraordinary eucharistic minister. And it is that reality that, unfortunately, my friend and the people of Corinth whom Paul criticized in today's first reading had forgotten or denied. But I suggest that many of us, including myself, do not experience the full meaning of the words, "Oh Lord, I am not worthy to receive you..." when we say them at Mass.
Were we to do so we would have in our hearts and minds an awareness of what it is to which we are being invited: the Lord's Supper. We are being invited to participate, in some mystical way, in that same Last Supper that he shared with his disciples 2000 years ago. We are being offered his own body and blood as food and drink.
And we would also be aware of our own situations. I am aware of the simple humility of my day-to-day life, my faults and failings, my little triumphs, none of which make me worthy to be invited to the Lord's Supper.
But I and all of us have been invited. The priest, speaking in persona Christi, tells us so at every celebration of the Eucharist. Therefore, with all of this reality in mind, all that we can say is, "Oh Lord, I am not worthy to recieve you, but only say the word and I shall be healed." Thanks be to God, he has said the word and we have been healed. That is the greatest reality of which to be aware.
Sunday, September 15, 2002
The latest installment of my column, "Spiritual Reflections"
Go to the website of The Shelbyville News to read the latest installment of my column, "Spiritual Reflections." I appreciate any feedback that you can give me on it.
The Catholic Writer's Festival is still going on as I write. Cindy, Michael, and I, however, had to return early so that I could work in the parish this morning. Still, it was a good experience for me and, hopefully, for the other participants and presenters as well.
Getting to meet other writers, editors, pubishers, et al., whose faith is alive and who are inspired to share that faith through the written word was an uplifting and encouraging experience for me. I think that it will pay dividends not only in my writing, but in my ministry in the parish as well.
But I think that the most important thing that I took away from the Festival was something came to Cindy and I a little more indirectly than the sea of information and advice that was given out at the various sessions. In meeting so many people involved in Catholic writing, I noticed how wide and varied their lives are.
They aren't just stuck in front of their computers, continually turning out work after work. Their day-to-day lives are filled with joy and sadness, blessings and crosses. They are filled with relationships, both bound here on earth, and those that cross into heaven. And it is from the fertile ground of the daily lives of these writers that so many inspired words blossom and grow.
This help me reaffirm a truth that I have already acknowledged. My becoming a better husband, father, and DRE (in that order) will help me become a better writer. God's grace flows to me most abundantly through the vocation to which he has called me. And while I believe strongly that he has called me to be a writer, this vocation can only be secondary to my married vocation.
Friday, September 13, 2002
We're hitting the road...
and heading for Steubenville for the Catholic Writer's Festival. It'll be a six-hour drive from here to there. Hmmm...six hours in a car with a four-month-old baby...shouldn't be too bad...
A goodly number of Catholic bloggers will attending the Festival. It will be interesting to, in Emily Stimpson's words to me, be able to put a face with a blog.
Thursday, September 12, 2002
Great Potential in Difficult Circumstances:
A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings
Thursday of the Twenty-third Week of Ordinary Time, Year II
1 Cor 8:1-7, 11-13
Ps 139:1b-3, 13-14ab, 23-24
Each and every one of us have a tremendous potential for good. It is greater than what any of us can imagine. In today's Gospel Jesus calls us to act towards one another just as his Father does. He calls us to act in such a way to be worthy of being called "children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked."
With the grace that he offers us, each of us have the great potential to act just as God acts. We can love our enemies, lend without expecting repayment, be mistreated without needing to seek revenge. But just because we have the potential to act as God acts does not mean that we are truly on a par with him. For we also have the potential to become an enemy to someone else, to borrow money and never pay it back, and to mistreat others. This is the undercurrent of realism that lies beneath Jesus' ideals in today's Gospel.
With the gifts that God has given us we have the ability to know what is good and what is evil. Yet so often our wills seem to lack the power to choose consistently the former over the latter. And such a choice for the good becomes all the more difficult when we are surrounded by peple who do not even hesitate in choosing to do evil.
This is the challenge that our nation continues to face in our response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. While there is justice in our fight against terrorists and those who support them, it is often a small step from there to acts that are unjust. On the one hand we have been able to bring some degree of freedom and material relief t the people of Afghanistan. But on the other hand, there has been a significant human and civilian cost in these actions when bombs go astray and when targetting is done without precision.
Such situations, however, are not of our choosing. We would prefer not to be in them at all, especially as they become more and more complex, as with our possible confrontation with Iraq. But, as the world stands now, it is through coosing the good in the midst of a difficult circumstances that all of us will be able to be called children of the Most High.
If everyone followed the teachings of Jesus in today's Gospel we wouldn't need them. We wouldn't have enemies. We wouldn't have those who hate us and mistreat us. There wouldn't be those who borrow without repaying. But, in the end, there are more than enough of those folks around who do choose evil and wickedness.
What is up to us is how we choose to respond to sinful choices of others. Will we join them in their sin? Or will we choose the good and so be rightly called the children of the Most High? I think it is safe to say that each of us, at different times in our lives, have made choices for the good and choices for evil.
In either case, God is always be kind to us. If we choose the good, his grace is there to strengthen that one act into a habit, a virtue. If we choose evil, his grace is still there to lift us up in our repentance. For, you see, what is great about us is our potential. What is great about God is already a reality.
Wednesday, September 11, 2002
A World That Is Passing Away, Another That Is Being Born:
A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings
Wednesday of the Twenty-third Week of Ordinary Time, Year II
1 Cor 7:25-31
Ps 45:11-12, 14-15, 16-17
"...The world in its present form is passing away." These were the words of Paul to the Corinthians almost 2000 years ago. But they could have just as easily come from the lips of millions in the aftermath of the attacks of September 11, 2001.
No one says such words with happiness in their hearts. Even Paul, who elsewhere wrote that he did not care whether he lived or he died, seems to have been filled with forboding when he wrote these words to the believers in Corinth.
The people who said these words one year ago did so in an acknowledgement that their worlds would be changed forever. In the moments when the planes crashed into the WTC towers, into the Pentagon, and into the ground in Pennsylvania, husbands and wives lost their spouses, children their parents. All of us lost our sense of security. The world that we had known had indeed passed away.
Another world hs arisen in its place, a world very different from the one that we had known. It is a world with homes that have empty places at the dinner table. It is a world where simply getting the mail can require an act of faith, where we wonder if those who threaten us are living just around the corner.
It would be easy for all of us, in the face of so many horrible changes, to live a life of fearful despair. But this is not what Paul calls us to when he tells us that our world is passing away. For although he acknowledges the trials that await him and all believers, he also can recommend with a confident hope that all of us place no trust in our possessions, in any attachment to the things and even people of this world.
Underlying his words to us today is his unmovable, undying faith in Jesus Christ. It is a faith that he desires to see be strengthened in all of us. Paul's was a faith that would always stand, no matter what. And he wants us to know this faith. He wants us to have a faith that will stand even when the signs of strength in our world fall.
Although I, like the rest of us, have struggled to find meaning in the attacks of September 11, my faith has arisen out of it all the stronger. At the time that it happened, I suspected that Cndy and I were expecting. As I write this today, one year later, my four-month-old son is stirring and starting to awaken in the room just next to where I am.
As this young life awakens to a new day, may the undying grace of God awaken our own faith on the first anniversary of 9/11. The life of Michael, which was just beginning in Cindy's womb one year ago, is a sign to us and maybe any of you who read this that Christ's presence is always being born anew into our world which is continually passing away.