Monthly Archives: October 2014

“Imitators of Us and the Lord”

Standard
Martyrs and Saint Virgins. Lucas Signorelli (1499-1502)

Martyrs and Saint Virgins. Lucas Signorelli (1499-1502)

If someone asked you today, “What is the most important thing in your life,” what would you say? There are lots of things important to all of us, but what is most important? Take a moment to think about that. It is easy to be distracted by our busy routines and the pressures to fulfill our responsibilities and plan for our future. However, what is our purpose for being on this earth? Are we here by accident or are we part of God’s plan? If God has a plan for us, what is it?

In today’s Gospel, the religious leaders tested Jesus. They wanted to know if he knew God’s plan. Jesus gives them the answer; “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as your self. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” We could say that all of God’s revelation depends on these two commandments. If no one observed these two commandments, God’s divine revelation would cease to have meaning. God’s Word has reached us because others have believed and lived it, even at the shedding of their own blood.

In the second reading from Paul to the Thessalonians, he says, “And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, receiving the Word in great affliction, with joy from the Holy Spirit, so that you became a model for all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.” Even though it was a hardship for them to receive the Word of God, the Thessalonians, “with joy from the Holy Spirit,” became models for other believers, which made it easier for Paul to preach. If there are no witnesses, preaching has little effect.

In October 2008, we were in Thessalonica with a group of pilgrims. We were also in Philippi where Paul was imprisoned and in Ephesus, Corinth, and other places where the Roman ruins consisted of, among other things, amphitheaters where Christians were martyred for the faith. Their faith was more important to them than their lives.

Now, what about us? Is it “in (God) that we live and move and have our being” as Paul says in Acts 17:28? Have we found our purpose in Him?

He has not given us the commandments as a means to dominate us, but as a means to guide us. And because He knows us and the strength of our nature He has made them commandments, not suggestions. We may think we know what is best for us, but if God is not in the picture we are only deceiving ourselves. At some point we all must surrender to the love of God. We must make a firm decision to follow Jesus as our Lord and to be faithful to what he has revealed to us through the Scriptures and the Church.

Our temptation is to say, “Well then, what is the minimum I must do?” Of course that would be a mistake. If we are only interested in doing the minimum, we soon perceive the minimum only as an obligation and a burden which becomes too difficult to fulfill.

God has a wonderful plan for humanity in general and each of us individually, but He must be the most important part of that plan. The only way we will reach our potential for happiness is by drawing closer and closer to God who is the source of all love and all that is good. For this reason He has given us the Church and the sacraments as a source of grace. We have everything we need to become a saint, but it depends upon our desire, our free will.

Do you want to be a saint? Of course we all want to go to heaven, but do you want to be a saint now? God’s plan is that we be saints now; that we cooperate with His grace and live our lives in union with Him for our own sake and the good of the Church. It is in our decision to struggle to do the “Will of God” and our effort to be faithful that we are purified and become witnesses of what we believe. It is the will of God that we be purified now instead of after our death. The unfolding of the Kingdom of God depends on the sanctity of the baptized. St Therese, the Little Flower, once said, “The creator of the universe awaits the prayer of a poor little soul to save other souls.” It is not only our prayers that Our Lord needs, but also our faithfulness, our witnesses and our charity.

When something is important to us we invest in it. If you want to be a good student, you will study hard. if you want to be a good athlete, you will practice hard. How much more should be our concerned about being a good Christian, which has eternal consequences for our selves and the people we love, and the whole world.

To be a good Christian requires us to enter into a personal relationship with Our Heavenly Father by making a commitment to daily prayer, reading the Scriptures, living the sacramental life, continuing to be formed in the faith, and participating in our faith community by being good stewards of what we have received.

This relationship with God should influence every important decision we make. And this is not an obligation or a burden, but the proven path to real happiness, now and forever. God has a great plan and we all are part of that plan.

Advertisements

Who Would Want to Live in a Ghetto?

Standard
alley

“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.

refreshment

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?

rainbow

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

The Crisis of the Family

Standard
flight-into-egypt-1

“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.