Who Would Want to Live in a Ghetto?

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Alley. Jacek Yerka (2004)

Here at the Pilgrim Center of Hope, I do a number of things, including screening telephone calls for our weekly show, Catholicism Live!. (That means if you called and weren’t given time to talk about your question or comment, you can blame me. Please send all hate mail to media@pilgrimcenteroffakeaddress.com)

Last week, we had a show about pornography, it’s toxicity, and tools for attaining freedom if you are one of the many men and women trapped in the grip of porn addiction.

The promo for this episode got thirteen shares on Facebook. Thirteen! But you know who didn’t share the promo?

The one lady who called in during the show.

I know this because I talked with her for a few minutes, and she vented her spleen about just how terrible it was that we were trying to educate the public about pornography and help for those mired in addiction.

Couldn’t we talk about something else?, she wanted to know.
There’s so much beauty in the faith and rich history of the Church, it would be better to tell others about those things, she asserted.
Do we really think someone who views pornography would listen anyway?, she posed.
And what if a child was listening and, you know, getting ideas!
, she fretted.

Maybe she has that last point; we could have put a disclaimer. But it was clear from the conversation that she just thought the subject was disgusting and didn’t want to be made uncomfortable. Nevermind mercy, forget hope – she just didn’t want to deal with the ‘ew’ factor!

Well, let me tell you: all sin is ugly. All sin. And there will always be particular kinds of sins that bother us more than others, often for good reasons. There is wisdom in being disturbed. But repugnance is no reason to draw up the Church’s lifeboats while casting an eye-roll.

There was one other comment this woman made that I found particularly revealing: she complained that our program had replaced the EWTN program on the Crusades. That, she asserted, is the kind of thing people should be learning about. We need to be able to defend our faith against the secular media, after all, and misinformation about the Crusades is always being used against the Church. In other words, why worry about sinners who are already lost? We need to defend ourselves!

No, people. This is exactly the wrong attitude, the un-Christlike attitude, and its ironic to worry about being misunderstood while advocating ignorance of others who need our help. I bring this up not because this woman has kept me up at night, but because I’m reminded of this episode as I read some of the feedback on the bishops’ recent document, Relatio post disceptationem, the result of a week of discussion at the ongoing Synod on the Family in Rome.

Much ink has been spilt over the emphasis on what’s called the “law of gradualness” – a long established, common sense rule of pastoral theology which encourages pastors to keep in mind that people grow into spiritual life gradually, rather than all at once.

The bishops have voiced a desire to ponder whether we have failed to create a welcoming atmosphere in the Church for people in “irregular unions” (homosexuals, divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, cohabitating couples), and whether keeping the “law of gradualness” in mind would allow Church leaders to seek out, walk beside, and love mercifully such people even while they are not living in full communion with the Church.

Here is one beautiful section of the document:

21. The Gospel of the family, while it shines in the witness of many families who live coherently their fidelity to the sacrament, with their mature fruits of authentic daily sanctity, must also nurture those seeds that are yet to mature, and must care for those trees that have dried up and wish not to be neglected.

22. In this respect, a new dimension of today’s family pastoral consists of accepting the reality of civil marriage and also cohabitation, taking into account the due differences. Indeed, when a union reaches a notable level of stability through a public bond, is characterized by deep affection, responsibility with regard to offspring, and capacity to withstand tests, it may be seen as a germ to be accompanied in development towards the sacrament of marriage. Very often, however, cohabitation is established not with a view to a possible future marriage, but rather without any intention of establishing an institutionally-recognized relationship.

23. Imitating Jesus’ merciful gaze, the Church must accompany her most fragile sons and daughters, marked by wounded and lost love, with attention and care, restoring trust and hope to them like the light of a beacon in a port, or a torch carried among the people to light the way for those who are lost or find themselves in the midst of the storm.

25. …The Church has to carry this out with the tenderness of a mother and the clarity of a teacher (cf. Eph 4,15), in fidelity to the merciful kenosi of Christ. The truth is incarnated in human fragility not to condemn it, but to cure it.

Many Catholics in the public sphere have praised this unified shift in tone from the bishops. While there are challenges and open questions left to be carefully contemplated (as always), it is clearly addressing issues with due consideration, that have been seen as needing this kind of attention for a long time.

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Refreshment at the city’s fountain of Taorimina. Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller (1846)

But not all are happy with the document. Many Catholics, in fact, are downright panicky. Consider these comments gleaned from Facebook:

“The truth is that if it’s approval people want, there are many other better places to find it. The Church’s role should simply be to proclaim the truth. Those who have ears will hear and God will build His Church.”

“Having just attended a retreat on the family, and restoring family life, I got a very clear perspective on the family, and how broken the family is in our society, and how fundamental the family is to our society. This synod, if it persists in the homosexual context, will completely break what the family is.”

“Jesus called a spade a spade way more than anybody else in the Bible. The results of the questionnaire sent out last year should have the Fathers of the Church scared for their eternal lives having allowed so many people to not only fall into but also to embrace grave sin. Their response: to focus on the positive aspects of the sinful choices Catholics have embraced.”

Do you see the same defensive irony in these comments as the lady who called into last week’s show? On the one hand, the Kingdom of God deserves to flourish, to have its truth understood and its rich splendor appreciated; and on the other hand, the Kingdom of God is as poor as a ghetto, so if the doors were opened, the roof would likely come tumbling down.

One of these views is correct, and here’s a hint: who would want to live in a ghetto?

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Rainbow, New York City. John French Sloan (1912)

The Crisis of the Family

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“Flight Into Egypt” by Giotto di Bondone, c. 1311

On October 5, 2014 Pope Francis called for a Synod on the Family in Rome. Cardinal Stanisław Ryłko, President of the Pontifical Council of the Laity, in issuing a statement for the Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family, said “Today more than ever, we need witnesses who live out the Gospel of the family to the fullest and with joy, and who show the world that it is a beautiful and fascinating way of life, a source of happiness for spouses and children.” These witnesses are needed, he says, even if the voice of the Church is “often contested, rejected and even ridiculed by the media.”
The family is the most basic and most important unit in society everywhere in the world. Wherever there are strong, secure and healthy families, there are strong, secure and healthy societies.

However, families have been greatly weakened everywhere in the Western world because of the growing influence of secularism. When people are more influenced by the world and what it has to offer than by faith in God and what He has revealed to us through the Scriptures and the Church, we have a crisis.

Secularism has led to individualism and the selfishness that leads to (among other things) divorce, uncontrolled passions, greed, and the loss of concern for the good of the other.

St. John Paul II said the root cause of the “culture of death” is preoccupation with efficiency, which is a product of secularism. We want what we want right now, even at the expense of our own good and the good of others.

The family is meant to be an environment where parents and children grow in love with each other and with God. For this to happen there must be an emphasis on prayer and worship. Spouses should pray with each other every day and with their children. It gives children a great sense of security to know their parents love each other and that they pray together.

Also necessary is the discipline which is a dimension of love. Even as parents must discipline their own lives – “You must deny your selves, take up your cross and follow me” – they must also provide the discipline for their children that will prepare them to live a life close to God, so they will discover their true dignity and the great plan that the Lord has for them.

When we have healthy, faithful families, we will have an increase in priestly and religious vocations needed for the life of the Church.

Obedience, Humility, Love – the Way of Happiness

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St. John the Baptist, Bernardo Strozzi, 1620. “He must increase; I must decrease.” (John 3:30)

To set the stage for this first reading, the prophet Ezekiel is addressing the special relationship that the Chosen People have with God. When they, as a people, are faithful to God, they experience the blessings of God together. However, when they, as a people, are unfaithful, they experience the wrath of God together. Nevertheless, if a son turns away from the evil ways of his father he shall not suffer the consequence of the father. Ezekiel is pointing out that individuals who turn to God will receive His mercy and blessings, no matter what they or their ancestors have done. Some believed God was unfair because He didn’t apply His punishment according to their expectations.

What about us? Do we believe God is fair? There are many people who refuse to believe in God because He doesn’t meet their expectations. They say, “If God is real, why does He allow so much suffering?” “Why doesn’t He answer my prayer?” Perhaps they are looking for an excuse not to believe. On the other hand, there is overwhelming evidence of the existence of God for those who want to believe. How could the order of the universe and all that exists be an accident; how could life begin when there was no life? For me some, of the most convincing evidence is the lives of the saints and the miracles God worked through them. Even more important than that, their lives are a testimony of what it means to live in a personal, intimate relationship with God and experience great joy, peace, and hope, even in the most difficult circumstances.

In the second reading Paul tells us how we can share in the joy of the saints. The Word of God, Jesus Christ, has made it possible by humbling himself, coming to us in human likeness and being obedient, even to the point of death out of love for us. For our part, Paul says, we must, “Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vain glory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others.”
The saints have reached their potential for happiness in this life and for all eternity because of obedience and humility in the same manner as Christ. The same will be true for us. It isn’t the easy road; we can only travel it with the help of God’s grace. In reality, anyone can travel this road if we chose humility and obedience to what God has revealed to us through the Scriptures and the Church.

Perhaps a good way to prepare our hearts is to pray a portion of the litany of humility written by Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val:

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, hear me.
From the desire of being honored, deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being praised, deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being preferred to others, deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being humiliated, deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being ridiculed, deliver me, Jesus

That others may be esteemed more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be praised and I unnoticed, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

Perhaps this emphasis on humility seems extreme, but this prayer has been prayed by many holy people. It is what Jesus is talking about when he says we must deny our selves, take up our cross and follow him; that we must lose our life for the sake of the Gospel. To lose our life in this fashion is to gain happiness now and for all eternity.

In the Gospel we see the fairness of God. In the beginning, the one son says no to his father but later changed his mind and obeyed. The other son said yes to his father, but then disobeyed. The comparison of the two sons is another parable for the kingdom of God. Even if in the beginning we made bad choices, the Kingdom of God will be open to us if we turn back to God with a desire to do His will – no matter what we have done. First we must have the humility to accept the forgiveness of God through the sacrament of confession and then have the desire to be faithful to Him. At some point, we all must surrender our lives to Him. Is Jesus the Lord of your life? Do you want him to be the Lord of your Life?

In every age, including the present, there has been and continues to be stories of profound conversions. These testimonies are for our benefit so that we also will take God seriously and surrender our lives to Him. The sooner we begin ordering our lives to God, the sooner we will begin to reach our potential for happiness and peace.

Maybe some of you remember the name Lola Falana. She was a Las Vegas show girl in the 70’s and was a friend of Sammy Davis, Jr. She was a speaker at a Marian Conference here in San Antonio almost 25 years ago. She said that a debilitating illness brought her to her knees and that in her prayer she experienced the presence of the Lord. Later, she had heard that Our Lady had been appearing to some children, and so she turned to her in pray and received some relief from her illness. She had a profound conversion experience and gave her life totally to God. During her testimony, she said she now accepts all suffering and difficulties that come her way because she wants to suffer with Christ now, so that when she dies she will not have to go to purgatory; she wants to experience her purgatory now.

Suffering is often a wasted resource. We all are going to suffer from one thing or another, but if our suffering causes us bitterness or resentment, it is wasted. If, however, we offer our sufferings as a prayer in union with the sufferings of Christ, they become redemptive.

Sometimes we wait until we realize we need God’s help before we surrender our lives to Him. It doesn’t have to be that way. It shouldn’t be that way. He is waiting for all of us to turn to Him right now. Real life doesn’t begin until we begin the process of conversion.

Even if we have said “No” to God by living our life for our self, as soon as we say “Yes” we will begin to receive the graces we need from God. We do this by a commitment to daily prayer, living the sacramental life, reading the Scriptures, by continuing to be formed in our faith and by serving God and neighbor through our faith community.

Our Lord has a great plan for us that we can only discover by denying our self, taking up our cross and following him. The happiest people on this earth are those who are faithful disciples of Our Lord.

ABC’s of Catholic Living – Simple outline for a faithful home

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One of the most common questions we encounter in evangelization work is: “How can I bring up my children Catholic?” or “How can we strengthen our family’s faith?”

When my husband and I were married, we were determined to establish a Catholic household — a household in which the Catholic faith is seamlessly integrated into daily life. I’ve attempted to capture some of our guiding principles in this alphabetical list. What are your suggestions?

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“The Holy Family with the Infant St. John” by Bartolome Esteban Murillo

ADORATION – Adore God, individually and together.
We often ask God for favors, and forget to adore. “To adore God is to acknowledge him as God, as the Creator and Savior, the Lord and Master of everything that exists, as infinite and merciful Love.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #2096) Take time to lift your mind and heart to God, without asking anything. When you take this time, your children will notice! I remember often walking in on my mom during her prayer. Consider taking a trip to a local parish for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Whatever you do, develop your relationship with God as an individual and as a family.

BIBLE – Incorporate the Bible into your home life.
Many adults have told me that they remember a large Bible in their grandparents’ home that was displayed in a place of honor…but never seemed to be read! Do keep your family Bible in a central location, but make sure to read from it. This is easier when you develop a habit and have time set aside to do so. My husband and I established a time to read Scripture together when we come home from work, before preparing dinner.

COLORS – Use liturgical colors to decorate.
This is a fun and easy way to remain united with the Church around the world. Is today a martyr’s day? Wear red! I like to use green place mats on our dining room table during Ordinary Time. These are simple things, but they are visible ways to bridge our time in church with our time at home. See the calendar with liturgical colors at the U.S. Bishops’ website.

DINE TOGETHER – Make meal time family time.
Sharing a meal together means sitting down at the table together, face-to-face. This helps naturally develop relationships among family members. Research has shown that your family will reap many benefits.

EXAMINATION OF CONSCIENCE – Encourage family members to regularly examine their conscience.
Generally, we do so in silence for a few minutes, at the beginning of Night Prayer before bedtime. My husband will simply prompt, “Let’s pause for an examination of conscience.” Click here for one of my preferred examination methods.

FEAST DAYS – Celebrate feast days.
For example, on one of the apostles’ feast days we might make a special meal (pot roast with wine). You could also consider using special place settings for meals, having a dessert, or playing a game together.

GRACE – Say ‘grace’ before meals.
Speaking of meals, always pray before your meal! We like to thank God for our food and all involved in preparing it (farmers, truck drivers, grocery store workers, etc.). We ask Him to help us remain grateful for what we have been given, and to help us to share our resources with others. Praying before meals helps cultivate a spirit of thankfulness in each family member.

HOLY FATHER – Love and pray for the Pope.
Keeping a picture of the Pope in your home as a reminder of his spiritual leadership, as well as a reminder to pray for him. Keeping a photo of the Pope in your home can also help educate children about your family’s unity with all Catholics under the “shepherding” of the Holy Father.

IMAGES / ICONS – Have sacred images or icons in your home.
We enjoy having Eastern Christian icons in our home, especially ones that have particular meaning to us: The Last Supper, the Wedding at Cana, the Holy Family, etc. Each one invites us to contemplate the subject matter. Christian / Catholic artwork in your home will help remind family members that our faith is important to us, and that it is beautiful!

JUSTICE – Discern how your family should live Catholic social teachings.
How much does your family know about the Church’s social teachings? My husband and I try to challenge ourselves to attend occasional presentations on topics like immigration, war, homelessness, etc. When we clean out our closets, we donate to St. Vincent de Paul instead of selling those items. We also contribute to charities that assist individuals in difficult situations. What can your family do? There are so many options, you can find a way that suits your family. Look into ministry or charity programs / activities in your area. Let prayer guide your decisions.

KNOWLEDGE – Grow in knowledge of Church teachings.
Our Faith has always encouraged individuals who seek to understand. Encourage one another to ask questions about Church teaching. Keep reference books in your home, such as the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the YOUCat (youth catechism), subject-specific books, etc. Attend presentations together at your parish or diocese. Watch or listen to Catholic programming. One of the greatest lessons you can teach your children is having the humility to say, “I don’t know the answer. Let’s find out together.”

LOVE – Foster a loving environment in your home.
Learn to communicate lovingly with one another.  If you need help, don’t be ashamed to seek out resources or counseling; communicating well with your family is your calling from God! Families reflect God (Love) to the world.

MASS – Attend Mass Together.
If it’s possible for your entire family to attend Mass together, do so. Mass is the most important ‘moment’ in our lives. Try to prepare by reading the Mass readings beforehand, so you can listen to them more prayerfully during Mass. Ask each other, “What struck you about the homily?” Stay a few minutes after Mass to thank God for this special time with him.

NATURE – Practice good stewardship of nature.
God has entrusted Creation to us. We need to practice good stewardship habits, like reducing our food / water waste, re-using materials, and recycling whatever we can.

OBEDIENCE – Practice healthy and holy obedience.
This is a doozie! Obedience is a ‘bad word’ in modern society, but in Scripture and our faith Tradition it’s a healthy virtue. Obedience is not to be mistaken for condoning abuse of power. Rather, it means that each family member has a specific role, and we maintain peace in our homes by honoring the natural structure of those roles. Family members with the most authority are responsible for loving as Christ loves. See a reflection on this by Father Chris Rengers, OFM.

PRAYER – Pray all ways. Pray always!
When and how can families pray together? Maybe we should ask: “When can we not pray together??” Use any opportunity to pray; all it takes is saying, “Can we take a moment to pray?” or, “Let’s offer this time (ex: stuck in traffic) as a prayer. Who can we pray for?” Learn the Guardian Angel prayer. Pray the three expressions of prayer: Vocal prayer, meditation, and contemplation.

QUIET – Build quiet times into your family life.
Not all noise is bad. In fact, some noises are very good! But generally speaking, our society tends toward “productivity” and if we’re always busy, we will miss God’s “still, small voice” whispering to us. Our Catholic faith has a long history of appreciating silence, so let’s keep it alive in our family life. I know of families with small children that designate a few hours on Sunday as “unplugged” time: no electronics! Family members are encouraged to read, pray, take a walk, etc.

RECONCILIATION – Schedule times to participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation – and reconcile with one another at home.
Confession can be scary, but it’s important that we make it a part of our lives. Adults can teach youth about the wonders of this sacrament by making it a priority and a regular habit. Go to the church as a family. Encourage (but do not force) children to participate in this sacrament. Demonstrate God’s mercy at home: When husband and wife have a conflict, work to reconcile as soon as possible. Teach children to apologize. Don’t be afraid of apologizing to children when you’re out of line; modeling humility and love is crucial. “Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children. By knowing how to acknowledge their own failings to their children, parents will be better able to guide and correct them.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2223)

SACRAMENTALS – Use sacramentals.
Sacramentals are small signs and instruments of grace, like a blessed Rosary, Holy Water, blessed Holy Medal, or Blessed Salt. My husband and I started a ritual in which we bless each other with Holy Water every morning before heading out the door, and every evening before bedtime. We also have many other sacramentals that help us remain close to our faith during prayer, in times of difficulty, or in everyday life.

TITHE – Give to the Church and charity before everything else.
Tithing is a Biblical practice based in ancient Jewish life that continues in Christian life. Traditionally, tithing is giving 10 percent of one’s income to God. This requires prayerful discernment for each family. For us, that 10 percent equals 1 percent to our Archbishop’s annual appeal, 5 percent to our parish, and 4 percent to other charitable causes. Tithing may seem challenging at first, but we have found it to be a freeing practice. It keeps us accountable to contributing to our community’s well-being, and reminds us of the proper ordering of our priorities.

UNION – Live as members of the Communion of Saints.
Keep pictures of the saints in your home. We have them all over; the refrigerator, living room, bedroom. They are family members, role models, and prayer intercessors for us. Read the lives of the Saints with your children, and talk about your favorite saints. Ask the saints for their prayers.

VIRGIN MARY – Practice devotion to Our Blessed Mother.
Jesus entrusted Mary to Saint John, the “beloved disciple.” She is the Mother of Christ and our spiritual mother. Have a special picture of Mary in your home. Teach children the Rosary prayers, and pray together. Perhaps they would like to learn the Angelus prayer, or the Salve Regina – like this little boy!

WHIMSY – Enjoy life!
Pope Francis and many of the saints have reminded us to live joyfully as Christ’s followers. Sing, dance, play, laugh, tell stories… enjoy the good things of life in moderation.

CRUCIFIX – Have a Crucifix in your home.
Saint Paul spoke on the importance of preaching Christ crucified, and Catholic tradition has long used the crucifix to remind us of God’s love. The crucifix is a powerful sacramental that, when honored and matched with a Christian life, can help our family fight temptation.

YES, LORD – Encourage each member of the family to live their vocation.
Introduce your children to priests, religious sisters, nuns, brothers, consecrated people, and other families. Share a meal with them. Help children understand that God calls each of us to a certain life; the life for which we’re best suited. During family prayer, ask the Holy Spirit to help each family member discover and “say yes” to this calling.

ZEAL – Demonstrate authentic enthusiasm for your faith.
Zeal is not “nice feelings” or “warm fuzzies” about being Catholic. It’s the fire that burns within us; the Holy Spirit’s work, that drives us to live as Catholics no matter what situation we find ourselves in. How can we live this in family life? Discuss what you appreciate most about our Faith, or what motivates you to do what’s right. When you make a decision, explain to children how our Catholic faith has affected your decision. Tell them why you are glad to be Catholic, even when you don’t “feel” excited. Children (and adults!) need to learn that our experience as Catholics will include times of strong emotions and other, more challenging times; but we maintain a zeal for faith thanks to our relationship with the Holy Spirit.

Mary’s Birthday

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“Let us celebrate with joy the birth of the Virgin Mary, of whom was born the Sun of Justice…. Her birth constitutes the hope and the light of salvation for the whole world… Her image is light for the whole Christian people” (From the Liturgy).

September 8th is a day the Church celebrates the birth of Mary, the Virgin Mother of God. It’s interesting to know that the Church celebrates three births in the Liturgical Calendar. I am sure you will immediately think of the birth of Jesus as one! The other two are: John the Baptist on June 24th and Mary’s on September 8th.

We would certainly understand the reason for celebrating the Birth of Jesus, the Christ, and John the Baptist served as a forerunner of Jesus, baptizing people as a sign of their repentance.

The Dictionary of Mary contains this entry on the birth of Mary:

“Her birth is ordained in particular toward her mission as Mother of the Savior. Her existence is indissolubly connected with that of Christ: it partakes of a unique plan of predestination and grace. God’s mysterious plan regarding the incarnation of the Word embraces also the Virgin who is His Mother. In this way, the Birth of Mary is inserted at the very heart of the History of Salvation.”

The origin of the celebration of Mary’s birth as a feast day in the Liturgical Calendar began in Palestine. Crusaders built a church over the house of Mary’s parents, Joachim and Ann, in Jerusalem, between 1131 and 1138. The church was consecrated and named after St. Ann.

The Church of St. Ann is the only Crusader church built in the 12th century that is intact and still used today as a place of worship and pilgrim destination. There are two levels. The lower level, or crypt, has parts of the original Church built in the Byzantine period over the home of the maternal grandparents of Jesus. Nearby a beautiful, colorful Icon of Mary’s birth can be seen.

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I have visited this Church during our pilgrimages to the Holy Land. It’s very simple with its massive, high stone walls. There is a sense of warmth and welcome when you walk in, knowing that this Church was built over the site of Mary’s birth.

To the left, candles burn by a white statue of St. Ann with Mary as a child.

MJ & St. Ann in JRS

Pilgrims will light candles asking the intercession of both Mary and her parents.Toward the front is Jesus in His Eucharistic Presence. Small wooden benches invite visitors to pray in silence.

As we think about Mary on her birthday – today or on any day – think about her simplicity and immense love for God. And think about her as the Mother of God, who longs for every person to experience her Son’s mercy and consolation.

“If anyone does not wish to have Mary Immaculate for his Mother, he will not have Christ for his Brother.” – Saint Maximilian Kolbe

 

Becoming Fully Human – a Sign of Contradiction

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“Presentation At the Temple” by Andrea Mantegna, c. 1455 “Behold this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign of contradiction (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34)

In today’s first reading we see that Jeremiah regrets his call to be a prophet because it has caused him so much anguish. And yet, when he decides he will no longer be the Lord’s messenger, he discovers he cannot hold the message within himself. He has a burning desire to speak the Lord’s name. It is not possible to truly love God and not be His servant.

In the second reading, St. Paul exhorts the Romans not to be conformed to the ways of the world, but to be converted to a new way of thinking and living in relationship with God. Like Jeremiah, it is in their desire to do the will of God that they will discover the purpose of their lives.

In the Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples that he must suffer, die and be raised from the dead. In the previous text, Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, identifies Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” But now, using his own logic, he rebukes Jesus because he said he must suffer and die. Jesus tells Peter he is an obstacle to the plan of God because he is only thinking as a man. After this encounter with Peter, Jesus tells his disciples what is necessary to follow him. Jesus says, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Those are the perpetual conditions for faithfulness to God; from Abraham, to Jeremiah, to St. Paul, to you and me and everyone in between and forever. Those of the Old Testament would not have understood about the cross, but they did understand about denying themselves and placing the will of God first.

Of course it is Jesus himself who defines what carrying the cross means. Jesus, truly God and truly man in obedience, submits his will to the will of the Father. Jesus, the Word of God, who participated in creation, allows lowly creatures to humiliate, torture, and crucify him for the sake of the salvation of humanity. Jesus proves the wisdom of God is beyond our comprehension and that His ways are not our ways. Nevertheless, he expects the wisdom of God to transform us.

As St. Paul says in the first letter to the Corinthians, “The message of the cross is complete absurdity to those who are headed to ruin, but to those of us who are experiencing salvation it is the power of God.”

It is for this reason that Jesus makes the cross the condition of discipleship. It is under the weight of the cross; our trials, afflictions and difficulties in this life; that we truly recognize that we need the Lord’s help. Our trials are an opportunity to draw close to God and receive the grace that will sustain us. Our challenge is to not look so much at ourselves and our trials, but to focus on Christ.

The more we look at our suffering, the bigger it becomes and our imagination magnifies it beyond reality. We can spend many anxious moments worry about things that never happen, which reflects our lack of trust in God. In our prayer we may not receive every thing we want, but we will receive what we need; that is a promise from Our Lord. It is a beautiful thing to discover that suffering is not just meaningless pain, but that it has great value in God’s plan and is redemptive.

A few years ago I visited a woman in the hospital who had terminal cancer. Even though she was in much pain in the advanced stages of her illness, she thanked God for her cancer because she said it helped to save her soul. Her illness gave her time to assess the direction of her life and to draw close to God.

The suffering we experience is not only for our purification, but for the Body of Christ. Again St. Paul gives us his insight. In his letter to the Colossians, he says. “Even now I find joy in the suffering I endure for you. In my own flesh I fill up what was lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his body, the Church.” Christ’s suffering was perfect and the means of salvation for all humanity, but his suffering was not complete in the fact that he continues to suffer in his body; the members of his Church. And when we unite our sufferings with his they become redemptive.

Of course discipleship is not only about suffering. It is about discovering God’s great plan for us so that we can reach our highest potential for happiness in this life. We do that by not just living for ourselves. Our vocation is not about us. It’s about entering into a personal relationship with God which allows us to discover our gifts and His plan in which we will use those gifts. That requires that every day we spend some time with God. We all have twenty-four hours each day and the way we spend that time says a great deal about our relationship with God.

If we are to become spiritually mature we must frequently deny ourselves. We cannot eat, drink, work, sleep or do anything to excess without harming ourselves physically, spiritually and relationally. When we live only to please ourselves we are an obstacle to God’s plan and to our own happiness.

Every vocation, religious, married or single, finds its beginning and end in God and depends on the grace which He offers us in abundance through the Church and her sacraments. No matter who we are, how old we are or what we have done, we can become a faithful disciple of the Lord because of his goodness and grace, by making a firm decision to believe what he has revealed through the Scriptures and the Church and to follow him as Our Lord. We begin with the sacrament of reconciliation and make a commitment to pray daily and read the Scriptures, make an effort to know and love Jesus, continue to be formed in the faith and to share your faith with others in word and service, and make every effort to overcome sin and grow in virtue.

St. Irenaeus, a disciple of St. Polycarp who was a disciple of St. John the Evangelist once said, “The glory of God is man fully human.” We become fully human, fully alive when we deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life!

When Boldness Bears Fruit

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“Christ and the Canaanite Woman” by Jacolpo Palmer the Elder (1480 – 1528)

There is a story of a woman from Canaan that heard about Jesus. In her desperate concern for her daughter’s healing, she ran after Jesus calling out “Have pity on me, Lord, ..! My daughter is tormented by a demon!” Jesus doesn’t respond immediately and others around Him were ‘bothered’ by the woman and asked Jesus to send her away. Jesus appears to be harsh at first (you have to read the entire passage in Matthew 15:21-28), but he does so in order to strengthen the woman’s faith.

Her perseverance is recognized by Jesus and he tells her “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And the woman’s daughter was healed from that hour.

This story is a good lesson for us all. The woman’s confidence in Jesus whom she believed was the Messiah, and her boldness bore fruit – her request for her daughter’s healing was answered.

The woman’s boldness came from her deep humility, her love for her daughter, and her trust that Jesus could heal her daughter. This is a good formula for our prayer as well. We must recognize our insignificance in our relationship with Almighty God, and that God who is almighty still desires us to have a personal, intimate relationship with Him.

We begin by recognizing that we need God, not only for our own well being but also for the people we love and share our lives with. Humility will lead us into obedience to the Word of God, and obedience will be the source of the hope we long for and the peace that only Christ can give.

Let us remember this story of this woman from Canaan; our faith and trust in Jesus will bear fruit. 

“Persevere in prayer. Persevere, even when your efforts seem barren. Prayer is always fruitful.”
(
St. Jose Maria Escriva, The Way, p. 101)

Becoming Human the Catholic Way

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“First Steps, After Millet” (1890) by Vincent van Gogh

Learning what our Catholic faith teaches does not always have to mean trying to figure out on our own how to put deep theological insights into our everyday lives.

Why?

Because we are blessed with many Catholic thinkers and authors who figure it out for us.

I discovered this recently for myself. You see, my life has become exceptionally busy. My schedule has multiplied with many good things, so I am not complaining . . . . too much.

But it became apparent, as weeds started sprouting in my garden beds and dog hair accumulating along the baseboards with not a minute to spare to pull and sweep, that I needed a plan. Things were out of balance. So because I learned through my Catholic reading the importance of balance for a Godly life, I went about finding a way to remedy the situation.

I hired a landscaper and housekeeper, my thirteen year old son. I knew it would not be long as school floated into summer that he was going to start asking for money. So, I decided I could use some of the tips from Catholic parenting books on raising virtuous children and teach him the value of work and money while benefiting myself in the process.  

It has worked out beautifully except for one thing. A few weeks into this new arrangement, I began to feel strangely disjointed. I would not have been able to explain it before, but now I realize that what I was missing was a connection I once had and no longer enjoyed.

It was in reading a book by one of this year’s Catholic Women’s Conference speakers, Emily Stimpson, that I discovered why. She writes in her book, These Beautiful Bones: An Everyday Theology of the Body, that humans need to move their bodies in participation with God’s creative plan in order to be fully human. She says it does not have to be anything extraordinary; we just need to use the bodies God blessed us with to create a ‘good’ on a regular and consistent basis.

It made me wonder if this was true in my life and I realized that I was not moving my body parts as much as I had before. And even though the writing I am producing and the conference I am coordinating do participate in God’s creative plan, the sitting and staring at the computer screen is not the motion that completes the deal.

I decided to test her theory by giving myself one do-able project each week that I could complete from beginning to end that would:

  1. Move my body
  2. Participate with God by creating a ‘good’ for others (my family, the world, or both) and
  3. Fit into my very busy schedule

My first project was to weed the garden beds. I told myself, no going to the nursery to buy more plants, no trimming hedges, no getting distracted and piling on more than I have time to handle. It took only an hour and the beds looked clean and beautiful. The next weekend, I cleaned out one closet and put clothes we no longer wear in a bag for St. Vincent de Paul. An added ‘good’ was when my husband came home thrilled that our walk-in closet once again lived up to its name.

What did I learn?

That disjointed feeling I was experiencing disappeared. What I had missed was using all of me: soul, mind AND body. Yes, it is a little thing, but it is a little thing with Eternal perspective. And in a world that loves to complicate, I learned a simple way to live for God by being fully human in the very everyday circumstances of my life.

So as you make your summer reading list, do yourself a favor and add a few Catholic authors to it. It is very possible you will find the answers to whatever is just not quite right in your everyday life.

“What If We All Prayed for Just One Person?” + Radio Prayer Service for Middle East

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I am tempted – and perhaps all of us in the U.S. are tempted – to allow headlines regarding tragedy in the Middle East to “go in one ear…and out the other”.

There is just so much tragedy.

Oftentimes, we feel overwhelmed by life’s events — whether in distant lands, or in our own homes and offices. In those times, I’m reminded of Mother Teresa’s words: “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” That goes for everything — clothe just one person, hug just one person — and pray, too. If you can’t possibly pray for all the suffering people in the world, pray for just one.

In fact, it was only after my pilgrimage to the Holy Land, that I realized the Christians there are not just statistics. They are Johnny the tour guide with a sharp wit, Hanan the gracious relief worker, Rabab the singing English teacher.

Today I received an email from Brother Stephen, who works at Bethlehem University in the West Bank. He was passing along the news that one of the university’s graduates, Hashem, a husband and father of two little girls and a boy, was killed while peacefully protesting the violence in that region.

There are many stories like Hashem’s — of one person who is in need of prayer.  What if we all joined together and prayed for just one person?

For Hashem…
or for Ayham, his 11 year old who is now ‘man of the house’…
or for Sharna, the 23 year old pregnant mother killed in Gaza…
or for her baby girl, who was delivered by emergency C-section…

As Mother Teresa said, “Do not wait for leaders. Do it… person to person.” So we will. Please join in a special prayer service this week:

Live Radio Broadcast: Prayer for Our Brothers and Sisters in the Middle East
on Catholicism Live! hosted by Deacon Tom and Mary Jane Fox
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
8:00 PM – 9:00 PM (Central Standard Time)

We invite you to have a crucifix or image of Christ with you, as you listen and participate. Together, let’s follow the example of our shepherd Pope Francis, and these holy bishops:

“Let us pray much for peace in the Middle East: please pray!” – Pope Francis

“We cannot be Christian but to be for the other.”
– Bishop Barnaba Yousif Habash, Syriac Diocese of Our Lady of Deliverance

“I believe in the effect of prayer even though in the immediate moment we don’t feel any result. We have to continue tirelessly to pray for peace.” – Bishop William Shomali, Auxiliary to the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem

“The whole church of the Middle East is a church of Calvary. Do not leave us alone.”
– Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal

“Pray for us.” – Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako (Iraq)

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17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

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“John Donne Arrives in Heaven” by Stanley Spencer (1911)

In today’s Gospel, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a treasure and to a pearl of great price. When they are discovered, the one who finds them sells all he has to acquire them. The point is the value of the kingdom of heaven, which leads us to the last comparison; the net thrown into the sea. At the end of the age all humanity will be gathered together and some will be invited into the kingdom of heaven and others will not.

As Jesus says in another place, “Where ever your treasure is, so also will your heart be.” Mt.6:21. Those to who the kingdom of heaven was of primary importance during their life and who were faithful witnesses of their love for God and neighbor will receive their treasure in heaven.

In the first reading we see that Solomon answered wisely when God offered to give him whatever he asked for. When he asked for an understanding heart so that he could serve God and His people better, God was pleased. In his heart, Solomon was not far from the kingdom of heaven. It was as if he was prophesying what Jesus would tell us in the Gospel of Matthew: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.” Mt. 6:33. These words from Jesus are the light that will guide us into his kingdom. They are the fulfillment of the Two Greatest Commandments; we must love the Lord Our God with all our mind, Heart, soul and strength and our neighbor as our self. When we order our lives to God, the kingdom of heaven is at hand, even in the midst of suffering.

So we must ask ourselves, where is our treasure? What are you willing to give everything you have for? One resource that we all have equally is time. Every one of us has 24 hours each day and how we use that time has a great deal to do with our proximity to the kingdom of heaven.

I have heard people say they do not have time to pray. What is it that you are doing that you can do without God’s help? It is His love that sustains us, allows us to take our next breath. It is said “No prayer means no faith,” because prayer is our connection to God, and without faith we have no real hope.

We are all aware of the terrible things that are happening in the Middle East and Africa. There will be more martyrs in this century than in all the other centuries put together. Right now there are Christians living in Mosul, Iraq, being told they have three choices: they must either convert to Islam, pay a tax and leave their home, or be killed. Because of this, the Patriarch of Mosul said the city is empty of Christians for the first time in Two thousand years. In Syria, young Christian men are being crucified among other atrocities. This violence against Christians is not something that is passing; it is escalating.

Bishops in the Middle East wonder why the rest of the world is silent as Christians are being persecuted. We may not have to shed our blood for our faith in this country, but there is a growing hostility to Christianity even here. When our culture accepts and promotes immorality as normal, it sees Christianity as an adversary.

Even in the Holy Land which is sacred to the three major religions there is much tension. At the end of our pilgrimage two weeks ago we spent an additional three days in Jerusalem to pray and visit friends. Though life is difficult, they want to remain there because of their faith and their love for the land. Presently there is less than one and a half percent of the population that is Christian. They tell us that the most important thing we can do for them is to tell people in the U.S. that they, the Mother Church, the descendants of the first Christians, are still present in the Holy Places and they need our prayers and they need us to come there on Pilgrimage because their survival depends on the presents and prayers of pilgrims.

There is an urgency for those of us who take our faith seriously to increase our prayer time, fast and make sacrifices as people have done in the past when faced with great conflicts. Wars have been won when multitudes have joined together in praying the rosary.

Jesus closes this Gospel by asking, “Do you understand all these things?” Like Solomon, let us pray for the gift of understanding, but also for the greater gift of faith, because by faith we are often called to believe that which we cannot understand. The Scriptures and the Church will guide us into the kingdom of heaven if we believe what has been revealed to us and then act on what we believe.

Faith is a gift from God, but believing is a choice. The question we must ask ourselves is; does our faith influence all the important decisions we make?