The Sacred Heart and Religious Freedom

Traditionally in Catholic circles, the month of June is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It seemed in my mind a calculated gesture to release the film For Greater Glory on June 1st. The film tells of the Cristero War of Mexico (1926-1929), and the Mexican people’s fight for religious freedom in an anti-clerical climate.

For Greater Glory struggles to explain the history of the conflict leading up to the Cristero War (how much of history can be told in a two-hour film?); how the loss of religious freedom was not done in one sweep with the ratification of the Calles Law of 1926. No, the Calles Law was only the last straw in a long, drawn-out oppression of the Church clerics written into the Mexican Constitution of 1917.

The people’s rebellion began peacefully, with non-violent protests and boycotts, and only escalated as the Mexican government under President Calles began to persecute clerics and the faithful more openly. The people rose up to fight for their religious liberty under the banner of Christ the King (Viva Cristo Rey – Long Live Christ the King).

But much before the Cristero War began, the people have been sharpened like swords fashioned in the hot flames by the oppression they have experienced. Today, here in the United States, where we enjoy and exercise our freedom to practice our faith openly is being challenged under the current President and his administration. You might be thinking, “Oh, Sister Lisa Marie, what we are experiencing is nothing on the scale of what happened in Mexico.” And, thankfully, your statement would be true.

However.

If we keep an attitude that what happened in Mexico can never happen here in the land of the free and the home of the brave, and continue to enjoy our freedoms and do nothing to preserve them, we will one day find our Catholic institutions – hospitals, schools and other charitable organizations – closing their doors. This will happen due to the regulations being put in place by means of the Health and Human Services mandate, which defines a religious institution in such narrow terms that Mother Teresa and her Sisters would not even be defined as a religious organization in their works of charity. And this, I fear, would only be the beginning.

Who will lose? First will be those who depend on these services. It is happening already with universities, in planning the new school year they are dropping their healthcare plans because of the mandate and the rising costs involved in meeting mandate criteria. Who will be next?

Those who benefit from Catholic Social Services – and other resources like it – will be the next hit. Catholic Social Services (go ahead and google it; they are found in almost all diocese in the United States, like this one in Sacramento, CA) employs not only Catholics, but people of other faiths too. Because of this, by definition of the HHS Healthcare Mandate, this large network of services for those in need would not qualify for religious exemption by the federal government (because they employ – and serve – people of other faiths). Strange isn’t it? The very quality that demonstrates her Christian principles works against the Church under the Obama administration.

The United States Catholic Bishops have been working to defend religious liberty and has sounded the warning to us all how the recent HHS Healthcare Mandate is a threat to not only our works of charity, but even more so to our ability to live out fully our faith. Our Bishops are proposing some ways in which we too might begin to defend our religious freedom:

  1. send your message to HHS and Congress telling them to uphold religious liberty and conscience rights;
  2. understand why conscience protection is so important;
  3. understand what the mandate includes;
  4. pray daily for the overturn of the HHS Healthcare Mandate; and
  5. participate in a Fortnight for Religious Freedom.

Other things to do:

  • Check with your diocese to see if it has other things planned. The Diocese of Sacramento will sponsor a Walk for Religious Freedom on the eve of Corpus Christi, a Eucharistic procession through the streets of Sacramento.
  • Pray for a positive outcome to the Fortnight for Religious Freedom activities taking place in dioceses across the country. Gerard Nadal is posting a Novena for the Fortnight on his blog for the next nine days to help in this preparation. Please consider praying it.
  • And please continue to pray for our Bishops.

We are called to walk with Christ. What better time to devote to this good work than in the month of June, dedicated to His Most Holy and Sacred Heart. In the picture above of the banner used during the Cristero War, it has a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus with the words, “Viva Cristo Rey!” Christ is our King, who from the Cross, paved our way to freedom from sin.

Let us pray that we will be able to continue to openly worship and serve Him.

Viva Cristo Rey!

A Lesson from For Greater Glory

Advertisements

Was Mother Teresa’s Work “Catholic”?

This past week more than forty Catholic entities across the country have filed law suits against the Health and Human Services (the biggest religious lawsuit in American history, too!) in the defense to protect religious liberty. Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of the Diocese of Washington D.C. went on the record yesterday to explain what the Church is fighting for:

Cardinal Wuerl uses the example of the work of Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity, that under the definition of the HHS Mandate would not be considered a Religious work. Why?

The HHS regulation exempts “religious” organizations only if they meet four criteria:

  1. their primary purpose is the inculcation of religious values,
  2. they primarily employ people who share their religious tenets,
  3. they primarily serve people who share their religious tenets, and
  4. it they are organized under the section of the Internal Revenue Code used by churches per se.

Under this narrow definition, the work of the Missionaries of Charity – and most Catholic institutions – would not qualify as religious, because Catholic charities have always provided their services to anyone – regardless of faith or lack of faith – that finds themselves in need. Catholic institutions employ many people of other faiths because of the skills they offer to assist the works of charities; not because they share in the same ‘religious tenets’.

Under such definition, it is true, Mother Teresa and her works of charity are not ‘religious’ at all, and would be forced to provide medicines and procedures (contraceptives and abortion-related procedures) that go against her religious beliefs. Her religious freedom to act according to conscience would indeed be suppressed. Either, she (now her Sisters in her name) would have to cease and desist from serving the dying who are not Catholic (which goes against her Christian principles of having loving concern for her neighbor), or provide the drugs and procedures that – by conscience according to her faith – she cannot provide. This would leave her with only one other option; to closer her doors to the poor altogether. If she defined her work in such a strict way, would she have picked up that first dying man on the streets?

This is the battleground folks. The line is being drawn in the sand to tell all that on this issue, we cannot back down.

Let us continue to pray for the Bishops and all people of good will who stand with them, to fight for religious liberty in this country, before it is lost altogether. God help us if we close our eyes and try to appease this government that wants to strip away the right to practice one’s faith freely. What we give in to today, will pave the road we will walk tomorrow. I pray that we will not have to go the route of Mexico in 1917:

UPDATE: The sleeping church is waking up? via Catholic Lane

Dialogue with a ‘Heretic’

Now, how does one respond to this kind of message on Twitter:

In truth, I didn’t know a lot about Joyce Meyer when I retweeted her message, a quotation from Scripture: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” -Proverbs 3:5. I knew she is not Catholic; she is a professed Christian. Questions swirled around in my head, the words “heretic” and “oneHolyCatholicApostolic” bouncing back and forth in an odd game of ping-pong.

Is a non-Catholic Christian a heretic? What should be our attitude toward those who believe in Christ, yet who remain outside the loving arms of our mother, the Church?

One definition of a heretic: “a dissenter from established religious dogma; especially : a baptized member of the Roman Catholic Church who disavows a revealed truth; one who dissents from an accepted belief or doctrine.”

So, can one be a dissenter (heretic) if one was never a part of the established religion to begin with? The use of the word sounds so archaic in an age where dialogue between Christian churches and their people is commonplace. It gives the sense that Catholics have no business socializing with non-Catholics, as though they have nothing to offer us.

The pro-life movement gives us a different view: it is one great example of how Christians have united for the protection of the unborn. Common ground is a great place to start when there are differences. Does that mean we, as Catholics, are to lay down our Rosary beads for the sake of ecumenical dialogue (there, I said it!)? Absolutely not. We must not shy away from our Christian brothers and sisters by hiding our faith like a frightened ostrich with its head in the sand. Rather, we must know our faith and be willing to share it when others ask, and to affirm our brothers and sisters when we are on common ground. Blessed John Paul II gave us a great teaching in his encyclical Ut Unum Sint:

Ut unum sint! The call for Christian unity made by the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council with such impassioned commitment is finding an ever greater echo in the hearts of believers, especially as the Year 2000 approaches, a year which Christians will celebrate as a sacred Jubilee, the commemoration of the Incarnation of the Son of God, who became man in order to save humanity.

The courageous witness of so many martyrs of our century, including members of Churches and Ecclesial Communities not in full communion with the Catholic Church, gives new vigour to the Council’s call and reminds us of our duty to listen to and put into practice its exhortation. These brothers and sisters of ours, united in the selfless offering of their lives for the Kingdom of God, are the most powerful proof that every factor of division can be transcended and overcome in the total gift of self for the sake of the Gospel.

Christ calls all his disciples to unity. My earnest desire is to renew this call today, to propose it once more with determination, repeating what I said at the Roman Colosseum on Good Friday 1994, at the end of the meditation on the Via Crucis prepared by my Venerable Brother Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. There I stated that believers in Christ, united in following in the footsteps of the martyrs, cannot remain divided. If they wish truly and effectively to oppose the world’s tendency to reduce to powerlessness the Mystery of Redemption, they must profess together the same truth about the Cross. The Cross! (#1).

This led me to respond back to Mr Posh the following way:

Let us boldly hold on to our faith, and ask the Lord to give us courage, that we will not avoid our non-Catholic brothers and sisters, but be reminded by Blessed John Paul II, and look to the common ground of the Cross, by which to build bridges towards a true unity. Charity does demand it.

Originally posted at:

Mother of Sorrows – Mother of Hope

It was a terrible day; an incomprehensible day. Just hours ago my son was in this very room with his closest friends for the Passover. It was a festive night – one of the holiest nights – and yet, it was a night like no other I have ever known.  With Jesus, I have come to expect the unexpected, but nothing could prepare me for this.

It began as Passover always does, with prayers and songs, the questioning of why this is the holiest of nights, and the retelling of Israel’s deliverance from the Egyptians. From memory the ancient covenant at Mount Sinai was retold; and how God brought his people into the Promised Land. But at one point, Jesus spoke of a betrayer in our midst. That one of his inner circle was ready to hand him over. How our hearts were cut to think of it. ‘Is it I, Lord?’ echoed the voices of his friends. An examination of our hearts became a burden – have we betrayed him in some way? Then Peter was told that he would deny Jesus, not once, but three times!

There was a growing sense of awe and uneasiness at the thought, suggesting that after this moment, nothing would every the same again. The mood of finality increased at the height of the Paschal feast. He spoke words at the breaking of the unleavened bread, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” And again with the Cup of Atonement, he altered the customary words, stating, “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.”  The nuance wasn’t lost; I could tell by the faces of those gathered that they understood they were on unfamiliar ground. Questions began to form in their minds, yet, no one dared ask my son tonight. They ate the unleavened bread and drank the cup, pondering what he meant in the subtle changes words he chose to say.

Following the feast, my son and his closest friends went to the Garden of Gethsemane, as they often did, to pray. That was the last I saw of my son until this afternoon. John came rushing in the room early in the morning with news. The Chief Priests had Jesus arrested. No reason was given. It was Judas who led the soldiers to him. John took me to look for my son, and we found him on the road leading out of the city to Golgotha. Oh, the crowds! The soldiers! The yelling! My heart almost broke then, seeing my child bloody from beatings, bearing a cross too heavy. Could I have carried it for him? I wanted to protect him from his suffering, but the best I could do was to offer the pain of my own mother’s heart with the sacrifice of my son. Through the streets he stumbled and fell, got up again, but the weight was too much to bear. Somehow, he went on, every painful step resonating in my sorrowing heart. When, Son of Mine, did you ever prepare me for this moment?

Nothing could have prepared me. I have always known at some unspeakable level that Jesus would not grow old: But how am I made ready to understand that my son, who as a babe was worshiped by kings, today, treated as a dangerous criminal was hung up on a cross to die? The pain is too much to bear.

But then, from the Cross, the words of our last Passover together come back to me. “This is my body… this is my blood.” It strangely consoles the pain of my heart, and I turn to trust that God’s work continues on.

(warning: graphic crucifixion scene)

This and other posts at:

Lenten Preparation

Lent. It’s just around the corner, and now is the time to consider what you desire to get out of it…

I don't own the rights.

Our Lay Canossians (tertiaries) have been talking at our February meetings about the upcoming weeks of Lent, and how they might make the best of this ‘Spiritual pilgrimage’ of the Church. The conversation started because one of them mentioned how meaningless it is to just ‘give up stuff’. So, we are taking another look at the Lenten experience, one that requires a deeper Christian maturity. Come, share your thoughts with us at our fledgling blog!

Update: There are some good ideas in the comments!

We Create the Culture We Live In

During the eight and a half years I lived in Rome, I witnessed a visible culture shift in the values of the local society. My first year or two there, it was common place on any given weekend to see families picnicking in Villa Doria Pamphili Park, or out shopping together on a Saturday afternoon. But as the years passed, it was too evident that the family life of the city seemed to be getting lost, and I wondered, “where did the families go?”

It doesn’t happen overnight, but it happens, that a society finds itself looking around wondering, “how did we get here?”, despite warnings from those around them that were voicing the alarm that went unheard.

Today, we hear a lot being discussed about the degradation of our American values, and many are asking this very question, “how did we get here?” and “Was it something that happened overnight, or did we too have voices pointing to the signs, that we simply chose to ignore?”

The central part of the answer to these questions is addressed by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput in his discourse on the defense of human dignity at the University of Pennsylvania last November. His discourse was built around four points.

Man’s Special Dignity.

…the whole idea of “moral witness” comes from the assumption that good and evil are real, and that certain basic truths about humanity don’t change. These truths are knowable and worth defending. One of these truths is the notion of man’s special dignity as a creature of reason and will. Man is part of nature, but also distinct from it…. But the greatest difference between humans and other animals is the grave. Only man buries his dead. Only man knows his own mortality. And knowing that he will die, only man can ask where he came from, what his life means, and what comes after it…When Christians and other people of good will talk about “the dignity of the human person” and “the sanctity of human life,” they’re putting into words what we all instinctively know—and have known for a very long time. Something elevated and sacred in men and women demands our special respect…We live in a society that speaks persuasively about protecting the environment and rescuing species on the brink of extinction. But then it tolerates the killing of unborn children and the abuse of human fetal tissue as lab material.

Beware of Technology without Moral Compass.

Science and technology have expanded human horizons and improved human life in vital ways over the last century. They’ve also, at times, done the opposite…Knowledge without the virtues of wisdom, prudence, and, above all, humility to guide it is not just unhelpful. It’s dangerous. Goethe’s poem, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice—which some of us probably know from the Mickey Mouse cartoon based on it—sticks in our memories for a reason. We’re never as smart as we think we are, and we have a bad track record when it comes to preventing the worst uses of our own best discoveries.

Science involves the study of the material world. But human beings are more than the sum of their material processes. Trying to explain the human person with thinking that excludes the reality of the spiritual, the dignity of the religious, and the possibility of God simply cripples both the scientist and the subject being studied—man himself.

In other words, scientists too often have a divided heart: a sincere desire to serve man’s knowledge, and a sincere disdain for what they see as the moral and religious delusions of real men and women. If this doesn’t make us just a little bit uneasy, it should. Both faith and science claim to teach with a special kind of authority. One of the differences is this. Most religious believers accept, at least in theory, that they’ll be judged by the God of justice for their actions. For science, God is absent from the courtroom.

God is not mentioned in the Constitution, but not because He’s unwelcome.

In effect, God suffused the whole constitutional enterprise. Nearly all the Founders were religious believers, and some were quite devout. Their writings are heavily influenced by biblical language, morality, and thought.

America could afford to be secular in the best sense, precisely because its people were so religious. The Founders saw religious faith as something separate from government but vital to the nation’s survival. In his Farewell Address, Washington famously stressed that “religion and morality are indispensable supports” for political prosperity. He added that “reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” For John Adams, John Jay, James Wilson, Alexander Hamilton, Charles Carroll, George Washington, and most of the other Founders—including Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin—religion created virtuous citizens. And only virtuous citizens could sustain a country as delicately balanced in its institutions, moral instincts, and laws as the United States.

Here’s my purpose in mentioning this. The American Founders presumed the existence of natural law and natural rights. These rights are inalienable and guaranteed by a Creator; by “nature’s God,” to use the words of the Declaration of Independence. Such ideas may be out of fashion in much of legal theory today. But these same ideas are very much alive in the way we actually reason and behave in our daily lives…

The irony is that modern liberal democracy needs religion more than religion needs modern liberal democracy. American public life needs a framework friendly to religious belief because it can’t support its moral claims about freedom and rights with secular arguments alone. In fact, to the degree that it encourages a culture of unbelief, liberal democracy undermines its own grounding. It causes its own decline by destroying the public square’s moral coherence.

Dignity of the Human Person goes beyond Religion.

The pro-life movement needs to be understood and respected for what it is: part of a much larger, consistent, and morally worthy vision of the dignity of the human person. You don’t need to be Christian or even religious to be “pro-life.” Common sense alone is enough to make a reasonable person uneasy about what actually happens in an abortion. The natural reaction, the sane and healthy response, is repugnance…

Rejection of abortion and infanticide was one of the key factors that set the early Christians apart from the pagan world. From the Didache in the First Century through the Early Fathers of the Church, down to our own day, Catholics—and until well into the twentieth century all other Christians—have always seen abortion as gravely evil…

Working against abortion doesn’t license us to ignore the needs of the homeless or the poor, the elderly or the immigrant. It doesn’t absolve us from supporting women who find themselves pregnant or abandoned. All human life, no matter how wounded, flawed, young or old, is sacred because it comes from God. The dignity of a human life and its right to exist are guaranteed by God. Catholic teaching on abortion and sexuality is part of the same integral vision of the human person that fuels Catholic teaching on economic justice, racism, war, and peace.

These issues don’t all have the same content. They don’t all have the same weight. All of them are important, but some are more foundational than others. Without a right to life, all other rights are contingent….Society is not just a collection of sovereign individuals with appetites moderated by the state. It’s a community of interdependent persons and communities of persons; persons who have human obligations to one another, along with their human rights. One of those obligations is to not intentionally kill the innocent. The two pillars of Catholic social teaching are respect for the sanctity of the individual and service to the common good. Abortion violates both.

In the American tradition, people have a right to bring their beliefs to bear on every social, economic, and political problem facing their community. For Christians, that’s not just a privilege. It’s not just a right. It’s a demand of the Gospel…Believers can’t be silent in public life and be faithful to Jesus Christ at the same time. Actively witnessing to our convictions and advancing what we believe about key moral issues in public life is not “coercion.” It’s honesty. It’s an act of truth-telling. It’s vital to the health of every democracy. And again, it’s also a duty—not only of our religious faith, but also of our citizenship.

The University of Pennsylvania’s motto is Leges sine moribus vanae. It means “Laws without morals are useless.” All law has moral content. It’s an expression of what we “ought” to do. Therefore law teaches as well as regulates. Law always involves the imposition of somebody’s judgments about morality on everyone else. That’s the nature of law. But I think the meaning of Penn’s motto goes deeper than just trying to translate beliefs into legislation. Good laws can help make a nation more human; more just; more noble. But ultimately even good laws are useless if they govern a people who, by their choices, make themselves venal and callous, foolish and self-absorbed.

It’s important for our own integrity and the integrity of our country to fight for our pro-life convictions in the public square. Anything less is a kind of cowardice. But it’s even more important to live what it means to be genuinely human and “pro-life” by our actions—fidelity to God; love for spouse and children; loyalty to friends; generosity to the poor; honesty and mercy in dealing with others; trust in the goodness of people; discipline and humility in demanding the most from ourselves.

These things sound like pieties, and that’s all they are—until we try to live them. Then their cost and their difficulty remind us that we create a culture of life to the extent that we give our lives to others. The deepest kind of revolution never comes from violence. Even politics, important as it is, is a poor tool for changing human hearts. Nations change when people change. And people change through the witness of other people—people like each of you reading this. You make the future. You build it stone by stone with the choices you make. So choose life. Defend its dignity and witness its meaning and hope to others. And if you do, you’ll discover in your own life what it means to be fully human.

Please read Archbishop Chaput’s discourse in its entirety here.

___

The points made by Archbishop Chaput are applicable looking at the fabric of our society as a whole. How has our society changed over the years? Are we living with a moral compass to guide our decisions as individuals and as a nation? Or, are we as a culture beginning to abandon natural law that governs the human heart, despite religious affiliation or lack of one?

The key for the future of our country lies in what our Founders knew, and I believe we are fast approaching a pivotal point of no return. Chaput said, “America could afford to be secular in the best sense, precisely because its people were so religious. The Founders saw religious faith as something separate from government but vital to the nation’s survival. … And only virtuous citizens could sustain a country as delicately balanced in its institutions, moral instincts, and laws as the United States.”

The point of no return will arrive when secularism is no longer reigned in by virtue and an interior disposition of the individual to want to do good for self and for other. Do you see it creeping in?

I pray we will take to heart the wisdom of the Founding Fathers, and reclaim the delicate balance that has made this republic stand for the last 236-plus years, that the culture we create may sustain future generations.

May God be with us all.

Look at the Happy People!

As thousands take to the streets in Washington D.C. for the 39th annual March for Life, in protest to the the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision that allowed for 54 million abortions, President Obama released the following statement:

“As we mark the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we must remember that this Supreme Court decision not only protects a woman’s health and reproductive freedom, but also affirms a broader principle: that government should not intrude on private family matters. I remain committed to protecting a woman’s right to choose and this fundamental constitutional right. While this is a sensitive and often divisive issue- no matter what our views, we must stay united in our determination to prevent unintended pregnancies, support pregnant woman and mothers, reduce the need for abortion, encourage healthy relationships, and promote adoption. And as we remember this historic anniversary, we must also continue our efforts to ensure that our daughters have the same rights, freedoms, and opportunities as our sons to fulfill their dreams.”

Steven Ertelt and Elizabeth Scalia have some good insights on their posts regarding the president’s remarks.

On my post, Walk for Life West Coast 2012 in pictures, it is encouraging to see a so many people – especially a lot of young people – who too are seeking to ‘fulfill their dreams’ by coming out to stand by what they believe. And a comment hits home as to why the March for Life movement has been so effective:

“I have been at every west coast walk for life. Since I cannot walk the walk any more, I sat and watched those who did as they passed by on Larkin and turned down Market St.. A happier group of people I have never seen. Laughing, singing, praying, pushing strollers, wheelchairs. We are family. I wanted to call to negative passers-by, “hey! look at the happy people! Maybe you should check them out!” You are wonderful! A model of Goodness, Kindness, of Christ and His Blessed Mother.. God bless you all and Mary love you.”

Which brings up the stark contrast between the pro-life camp showing up in the thousands:

credit: Karl Mondon of Bay City News

and the pro-abortion camp that is, well, not in the thousands:

Justin Herman Plaza, SF, 11:19am || credit: Walk for Life West Coast Blog

But beyond the numbers the stark contrast comes with what the scriptures refer to the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

Walking shoulder to shoulder down Market Street, despite the early morning chill still in the air, my heart was warm, to be in the presence of a joy and peacefulness that filled the air. It was almost intoxicating, to the point the small bands of protesters we passed by were hardly noticed.

The evidence of these ‘fruits’ in one’s life, points to the presence of the Holy Spirit working in him.  Where we see the fruits manifested, God’s presence is there.

May the Lord bless each person who took a stand for life in all its stages, from the San Francisco Bay to the Washington Mall. May their voice continue to resound through the whole world, and may God be with them, that they will continue to reflect joy to the world.

The Cross from the Creche

 

We received a very curious Christmas card.

Mary is tenderly holding the sleeping Christ child, her veil a crimson red. Behind her is the cross, and an owl peering out from over her shoulder.

It is not unusual to have Mary caressing her newborn infant Son in greeting cards at Christmas time. However, the imagery around the Mother and Child seem all wrong.

Mary is dressed in red. Red often stands for the Holy Spirit, but it also represents blood and suffering,  of Christ’s passion and of martyrdom. Placed in the context of the nativity, it reminds us that this is no ordinary child being held by a mother. Her garment is a foretaste of the sword that will pierce her heart.

The Cross.  Philippians 2:7-8 remind us:

“He emptied himself…coming in human likeness;

and found human in appearance, he humbled himself,

becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.”

Our Christmas celebrations sometimes conveniently leave us to stay at the manger scene, while to understand the full meaning of the Incarnation, we must reach beyond the tenderness of the creche to the Cross. Some of Christmas’ finest songs still remind us of the ‘why’ of the Word made flesh:

Nails, spear shall pierce him through

The cross be borne for me, for you.

Hail, hail the Word made Flesh,

The Babe, the Son of Mary!

– What Child is This, verse 2

=> Read More at Ignitum Today

Related:

Advent – A Call to Wait

Passion of Cross and Mary’s Role

Three Reasons for Mary

Who Are You?

Reading ahead for this third Sunday of Advent, in the Gospel (John 1:6-8, 19-28), we hear the narrative of some priests and Levites sent into the wilderness to question John the Baptist. The dialogue that unfolds, if we can imagine, is rather odd. The inquirers approach the rough man dressed in camel’s hair:

“Who are you?” they ask.

John:  “I am not the Christ.” 

The inquirers continue, “What are you then? Are you Elijah?”

“I am not.”

“Are you the Prophet?”

“No.”

So they said to him, “Who are you…what do you have to say for yourself?”

I was struck in reading this dialogue, with the question, “Who are you?”

How do I respond to such a question? Who am I? 

The Gospel passage begins by describing John as one “…sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him” (John 1:6).

Is this also the role of every follower of Christ? To give testimony to the Light, which is Christ? To be like John, allowing ourselves to become less and less, as those to whom we testify grow in their knowledge of Jesus (ref. John 3:30).

John the Baptist is a reminder for us, a contrast to the way the world would like us to see reality. His austerity tells us, all his attention is upon the “one among you whom you do not recognize…whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie” (John 1:26-27). Our world is uncomfortable with such a message of self-depreciation, and even more so with a messenger that points to Christ by the very way he lives his life. It is not possible for a person to live with such conviction if they are not certain of who they are.

The question begs an answer. “Who are you?”

 

Through the Eyes of God

 

Do you want God
to see the way you see
and do what you think
needs to be done?

or,

Will you allow yourself
to see reality
through the eyes of God?

 

 

 
Say to the LORD,
“My refuge and fortress,
my God in whom I trust.”

Psalm 91:2

Get Clean: Is Confession that Simple?

I Confess…What is it about the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation that makes it so hard? Some Catholic dioceses in New York held a video contest to encourage young people to look at this sacrament in new light. The winner is… “Get Clean”:

(h/t Rome Reports)

The video begins with a young woman glancing through the pages of a glamour magazine, and mentally compares herself with the women featured. The word envy appears along her jawbone. She then moves to the bathroom, washes her face, and in her self-scrutiny, she finds a flaw on her skin and the word ‘fear’ forms on her cheek. She then applies makeup to cover up her flaw, all the while becoming obsessed with her looks, and ‘vanity’ creeps in across her forehead. She is frantically washing her face again, with other words added – ‘hate’, ‘liar’, ‘worthless’… she throws down the towel and slams her fist down in ‘rage’. Slumping to the floor in ‘despair’.

Then, she seems to come to a decision. She gets up, and we see her enter into a building, a Church. She sits for a moment next to the baptismal font. She dips her fingers in the water, and makes the sign of the cross, noticing some black smudge on her fingertips. She looks at the door to the confessional, goes in, kneels down, and makes her confession. As she prepares to leave, we notice that all the words are gone. She is clean. In a last sign of thanksgiving, she kisses the Crucifix before leaving.

I found the short video quite powerful, using simple imagery to capture how our souls sometimes might look, if we could see them; how our attitudes can turn to sin and take control of us.

I also thought it captured well how seemingly harmless things, like reading a magazine, can get the best of us if we are not in check with our thoughts and motivations; how these things can plant seeds in our minds contrary to that which God tells us in his Holy Word.

But what I found most inspiring in the video is how the woman models the simplicity of the sacrament. Like her, we too can stand up, and with faith in the Lord and in his sacraments, face our failings and find healing and forgiveness. It’s that simple. She models the advice of Saint John Vianney, “After a fall, stand up again right away! Do not leave sin in your heart for even a moment!”

YOUCAT (226) asks the question, “But if we have Baptism, which reconciles us with God; why then do we need a special sacrament of Reconciliation?” In response, it says:

Baptism does snatch us from the power of sin and death and brings us into the new life of the children of God, but it does not free us from human weakness and the inclination to sin. That is why we need a place where we can be reconciled with God again and again. (CCC1425-1426)

As I told one group of young ladies on retreat, “many of us forget that we have two parts of us that are linked together; both a body and a soul which is not seen. Our world pays attention to the physical part of us, and wants us to forget that we are also spiritual creatures.” The sacrament of Penance helps to remind that we are more than just physical creatures, but that our nature is both physical and spiritual; what makes us unique from all creation is the gift of having a soul. Yes, we will make mistakes; what grace that we have a way by which to be reconciled when that happens!

A note about feelings. In the youtube thread for the video, there are concerns that this video points to feelings which in themselves are not sinful. This is true. Where we need to be careful, however, is what we do with our feelings. Interestingly, the words the makers of the film chose to use are almost all related to the the seven ‘deadly sins’: envy (wishes the good in the other diminishes); lust (disordered desire, when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes); vanity (a type of pride in ones appearance in a disproportionate way) and rage and hate (daughters of wrath, a disproportionate amount of anger). Where our feelings of envy, fear, worthlessness and despair become sinful is when we let them control us and we willfully act uncharitably towards others because of them. It is for this reason, the filmakers make use of them to make their point. Even these heavy-handed sins are washed away by the power of the sacrament, and we are made clean.

Our confession is made complete in four simple steps:

1. Examine of Conscience: looking at the things in our lives that separate us from God’s love;
2. Act of Contrition: let the Lord know your truly sorry (our true contrition is necessary for valid sacramental confession), and that we wish to amend the wrong we did, and ask for the grace to avoid sin and its occasions;
3. Confess our sins to a Priest;
4. Complete any penance given as reparation for our sins.

The next time you go to Confession, then, listen carefully to the words of absolution, which the priest prays following your confession of sins and prayer of contrition. May you sense the true presence of our Lord Jesus in them, who is truly present in all His sacraments.

Prayer of Absolution:

“God, the merciful Father,
by the death and Resurrection of his Son
has reconciled the world to himself
and sent the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of sins.
Through the ministry of the Church
may he 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. Amen.”

Amen. Let us thank the Lord for the gift of this and all His sacraments, recognizing how much the Lord must love us and want us to ‘get clean’.

Marriage by God’s Standard

The Gospel today (Matthew 19:3-12) helps us to consider anew marriage as intended by God. The reading today begins with the Pharisees asking Jesus a question regarding marriage and divorce, to which Jesus responds:

Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator made them male and female and said, For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, man must not separate.

“What God has joined together, man must not separate.”

When a man and a woman are joined in Holy Matrimony, by their union they are changed forever, ‘the two shall become one flesh,’ to the point that separation causes harm to those joined together:

In this clip, Caleb is telling his friend Michael how his marriage is finished, to which Michael uses salt and pepper shakers to demonstrate a part of marriage often overlooked today – the EFFECT of matrimony.

To many (like Caleb), marriage is an act that takes place between the man and the woman, but what many don’t realize, the marriage act has an lasting effect, a marriage bond, by which “the spouses mutually give and receive one another (and that union) is sealed by God himself” (CCC #1639).  What God has joined together, let no one separate.

The Pharisees were not satisfied, however, and questioned further as to why Moses commanded that a man may divorce his wife? Jesus simply responds, “Because of the hardness of your hearts.”

Hardness of heart is a heart closed to love. Our society often equates ‘love’ with an emotion or feeling, and has forgotten the deeper, more accurate compass – that of commitment – by which to gauge ones relationship. This is important in any relationship, but especially in spousal relationships.

Our feelings can betray us, and when the ‘feeling’ is gone, we seek to fill that void of emotion with something outside of our commitment (or covenant). May we learn from the One who is always faithful how to become persons of love. The Scriptures use the wedding banquet as a symbol of God’s love for us. Let us then, study His commitment, and pray, that in our own choosing to love, may the doors open to life-lasting relationships, and yes, love by God’s standard.

___

 

God Cannot Be Out-Done

God’s generosity cannot be out-done. It is overflowing. Abundant. Without measure. This is the image of God that comes to me at the consecration of the Eucharist at Mass. There, on the Altar as the wine and bread become the Body and Blood of Jesus, in the words of Saint Thomas Aquinas:

O hidden God, truly hidden beneath these appearances…sight, touch, taste are all deceived in their judgment of you…

There, in the Chalice and on the Paten, God’s generosity is manifested in a way our senses fail to recognize; indescribable grace flows from Jesus’ true presence, like the waters flowing abundantly from the temple (Ezekiel 47).

Today’s first reading (Aug 10 – Feast of St Lawrence) speaks along these lines. We are called to sow bountifully, and God in His abundance provides the means for the work:

The point is this: he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work. As it is written, “He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures for ever.” He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your resources and increase the harvest of your righteousness. – 2 Cor 9:6-10

No matter how generous we are, God is ever the more generous, not to be out-done. God’s boundless outpouring is the means of our success, our “harvest of righteousness”. 

Yet, the invitation is intensified in the Gospel of John 12:24-26. Jesus challenges us to be generous without measure, like a “grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies…it produces much fruit.”

Falling, dying to self, is fruitful. Just as it was for Christ to die on a tree, only to have that tree be the root of abundant harvest; of abundant life.

If we attempt to comprehend God’s goodness we will find ourselves desiring to follow his example, even to die to ourselves, and in our dying, bear much, much fruit.

 

Are You Speaking God’s Word to a Brick Wall?

Have you ever experienced wanting to speak to someone, to tell them the hope you have in the Lord Jesus, only to hear in your head, “Oh, I’ve tried so many times to speak God’s word to her, and it always falls off of her like water against a rock.”

In these moments it seems we are speaking to a brick wall, for no signs are evident that she’s ‘getting it’. It seems like a waste of time. Is it, really? When we speak the Word of God to others, is it ever really wasted?

In these moments of doubt, when the Word seems to fly over the head of another, the words of Isaiah leave me with hope:

Thus says the Lord:
Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it”  (Isaiah55:10-11).

These words of God are an encouragement to all who are called to share His Word with others. It may seem at times we are not making any headway, and that’s okay. It isn’t us that are accomplishing the important part; we are only the messenger. So, in delivering God’s message, what is our part?

Prayer. First and foremost, before we share the Good News with anyone, we must ask the Lord to guide our minds and hearts to speak His word, and His word alone. Praying first, accomplishes a lot.

Perhaps you have experienced it? Being in an unplanned situation where you find yourself before someone who needs a word of encouragement. You don’t feel prepared, and you find yourself sending up a silent prayer, “Dear God, send your Spirit that I might have your word to speak.” These small moments of prayer are signs of our docility. It shows our disposition to be God’s instrument as a messenger. We place ourselves at the disposal of God, recognizing we have nothing to offer the person in their moment of crisis, except God.

What transpires, more often than not when we are docile, is a moment of grace for both the one in crisis as well as for us, the messengers. We find ourselves saying things that we would not have thought of on our own. We recognize after the fact, that “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). The meeting becomes a holy one, guided by the True Minister, Christ himself.

Be prepared. As Christians, we have a duty to witness to others of our faith. As Saint Paul teaches us, “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your faith” (1 Peter 3:15).  Our testimony to the truth works on two levels. The first – by grace – is bestowed by God. The other part of the formula – our preparation – comes through the deepening of our own relationship with God at the Font of Sacred Scripture, Prayer and the Sacraments. When we are faithful, consistently, in taking the Word of God in our lives and meditating on it, the more apt and ready we are to share that word from our experience with it. God, more fully can use us because of our preparation (Note: it is not because of our preparation that makes us the best witnesses, but it does make us more open to be understanding of the brokenness in others, and thus more credible witnesses of God’s love).

Thirst for Souls. When we reflect on the earthly ministry of Jesus, we can recognize his zeal for souls through the hours of time he spent, sometimes days at a time, preaching, teaching and healing those who came to Him. He saw them as sheep without a shepherd, and worked endlessly to bring the love of God the Father to those who needed Him most. Jesus hungered after the soul of the Samaritan woman at the well, and through her others came to believe in Him (“I have a food to eat of which you do not know” John 4:32). His final act of redemption on the Cross reveals His thirst; so thirsty for souls as to hand over His own life on the Cross (John 19:28). The deep desire of Jesus, aligned with the Father’s divine will, was rooted in charity of its purest form: unwavering love for God demonstrated through his ‘obedience unto death’; and love for the souls of all of the Father’s children. We too, as we are called to carry forth Jesus’ mission and message of salvation, must desire to bring all to the Father through Jesus Christ.

Despite what society might want us to believe, love for our neighbor and for God and His divine will is not a feeling, but rather, it is born out of a choice. Love of its purest form is not based on emotion, but on one’s decision to do what God would desire, regardless of our ‘feelings’. Our thirst for souls will grow, as we ask God to give us the grace to love. May He fill us with love for the person before us, that we may act in her best interest. This may require us to desire holy courage, especially if the person has not been so friendly towards us in the past. Ministry of the Word is not about us. It is a self-emptying to want the best for the other. Naturally, we don’t want to look like a fool in the eyes of the other, and yet God’s word often may appear to be foolish to the wise. If God wants, let us be fools for Him in our speech.

Today, as God sends down His word, let us make the decision to help it to be fruitful. Just as the Lord allows the rain to fall on both the good and the bad, is it possible that He also desires the Word to fall indiscriminately upon all of us? Does the Lord know something that we do not when we feel that ‘quickening of our spirit’ to share the Word with someone? How His word has the power – not on our telling it but solely on what it is – to penetrate the most callous of souls and soften the hardest of hearts? So, the next time we feel we are standing at a brick wall, let us recall the Lord’s promise: “My word shall not return to me void, but shall.do.my.will”!

You Are Witnesses of These Things

There I was looking up into the clouds wondering what it must have been like for the disciples on the day of our Lord’s ascension into Heaven.  He had just finished telling them, “You are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:48).  I turned a page back in my Bible asking myself, “what things?” And so begins each disciples contemplation of the  Risen and Ascended Lord and his or her individual place in the story of Salvation. What things are we witnesses of?

The seasons of Lent and Easter are summarized nicely in these verses of Luke, 24:45-47:

Jesus said to them, “Thus it is written that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentence, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

This story is summarized in the heart of every Christian in the Eucharistic acclamation: Keep in mind that Jesus Christ has died for us and is risen from the dead. He is our saving Lord; he is joy for all ages.”

Christ has died. Lenten time of penance. Christ is Risen. Easter time of celebration. These two movements of the Christian reality, however, are often where we close the book, but the story doesn’t end there – and neither should our telling of it. The Gospel of Luke tells us Jesus was taken up into heaven. The Ascension of our Lord. Yes, Life conquers death with His resurrection, and is “seated at the right-hand of the Father” through his Ascension. This is recalled through the prayer of Psalm 110, prayed at Vespers every Sunday evening: “The Lord’s revelation to my master: “Sit at my right: your foes I will put beneath your feet.” Jesus our Lord now reigns from heaven, and does not leave us alone, but remains with us in particular ways to strengthen us against the things of this world which may try to make themselves first-place in our lives. Eucharist, and Holy Spirit.

Over the last 90 days – 40 Lenten days of penance and 50 days of Easter joy – we have immersed ourselves in the recollection of the Christian mystery, “Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again!”  And with the ascension we are standing with the Disciples looking up at the clouds rejoicing, and yet asking, what next? What do we do with the mystery we have lived in a liturgical way through the last 90 days?

“You are witnesses of these things.”

We are witnesses. What does that mean? The greek word used, μάρτυρες (martoores), reminds us of the word martyr, a word that has come to mean in our modern use one who has testified to the death of their belief in something. Is this what Jesus had in mind for us? Are we called to become martyrs? The Latin text uses the word “testes”, from testimoniare : to prove, to give evidence, to witness. The Christian life is a combination of both these words: martyr and witness.

First, we are called to be martyrs through our being baptized into Christ, as St. Paul teaches (Romans 6:3-4,11):

Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as (being) dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.

However, our martyrdom is not, usually, a physical death, but a letting ourselves die to the ways the world tries to shape our thoughts, our ways of acting, and even more craftily, to desensitize us from thinking about the right things, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise” (Phil 4:8). This ‘martyrdom’ accepts that the world will hate us because we stand against the current, stirring up in the souls of others the Truth the exists in every human heart. In this thought, we begin to see where our second word becomes intertwined in our every day living.

Jesus told his disciples “you will be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The idea of witnessing – to give testimony to our faith – is not a by-product of the Christian faith; it is the central stage on which Christ is made known and thus, made loved. Our witness sometimes requires words, but always requires right act. And what is it that we are giving testimony to in our daily lives? Are we proclaiming Christ through our words and actions in a way that leaves those who encounter us to confirm in their hearts a goodness deeper than civility expects. Our testimony — if rooted in the Christ-love we contemplate on the Cross — touches others to see Christ through our loving them.

How do we combine these two necessary components of the Christian life? To die to ourselves so to give living testimony of God’s love?

There is the old saying, “you are what you eat”. What is the nourishment that carries us from Sunday to Sunday? What is it that our senses take in when we are not at Mass being refreshed by God’s Word and His very Body and Blood in the Sacrifice of the Eucharistic Celebration? My confessor and I were discussing the media of today as a real stumbling block for all of us – priests, religious, and laity alike. Images are often suggestive and violent, lyrics and words do not lift up our thoughts to God, and the worst part, our society that claims to be believers in God see nothing wrong, as though the human being can separate itself from that which it takes in through its senses.  We’ve heard the reasoning before: “It’s just a movie!” “The kids are just dancing!” “Abstinence isn’t a viable option.” All of these reasons try to justify a shift in moral norms. But do we have to listen to them?

What message do we send to those around us by the films we watch, the books we read, the music we listen to, the things we “like”. By our using media we morally might disagree with, we are choosing to support them – we create a market for them to thrive. It reaffirms the current trend that these are acceptable to us Christians. Our witness is lacking, in these small things, perhaps.

As we look up into the heavens at the Lord’s ascension, let us also reflect what made it possible. The Cross. Sacrifice. Obedience to the Father. Let us pray, that we too might follow the example of our Lord Jesus, that when our day to meet Him comes, He may not find us lacking.