Tuesday, July 31, 2012

We're All Called to Marriage?

Fr. Bryce Sibley, one of my Moral Theology professors in seminary, has an excellent article published over at the Homiletic and Pastoral Review website, on 'Discerning Marriage as Natural Vocation' and the reality that we are all called to marriage (even us celibate folks!). Below are a few highlights, for the full article check out the article HERE. 
It is necessary to clear up some confusion about the nature of marriage as a vocation, specifically in relation to celibacy and the priesthood as such. From my experience as a Catholic priest and university chaplain, this is the fundamental misunderstanding most young people encounter while considering a vocation. This confusion can have some serious effects on the ability to properly discern it, be it to priesthood or to marriage.
Yes, every priest and nun, even the Pope, is called to marriage, insofar as they are human beings. Theologically, this can best be understood in what Blessed John Paul II called the “spousal meaning of the body.” This means that the ensouled body, the person, is meant for the gift of self, particularly in marriage. Marriage is something to which every human person is called; it is the “default” vocation for all humans. So marriage, at its most basic level, is a natural vocation, a call written into our very DNA, into the very structure of our being. The married person is called to give himself totally to one person in love, while the celibate is called to give himself to all. 
 Here is the crucial point. Individuals called to celibacy will experience both calls at the same time: the desire for marriage, written into their nature, and the inclination to renounce marriage, which comes as a supernatural grace. They should also feel the natural desire to be a mother or father. I’ve talked to many young people who have thought that if they were called to celibacy, they wouldn’t feel the desire for marriage and children. Exactly the opposite! The person called to celibacy feels both at the same time, and then is called to renounce the desire for marriage.

We know that we are all called to marriage; we don’t discern it, we presume it. Practically, what needs to be discerned is the possibility of a call to celibacy.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Deus Providebit

Feeding the Multitude by Bernardo Strozzi
Readings for July 29/ Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time:
Second Kings 4:42-44
Psalm 145:10-11, 15-18
Ephesians 4:1-6
John 6:1-15

Deus Providebit. God will provide.

This inscription is found on the base of the statue of Our Lady that welcomes you to Notre Dame Seminary, where I went to graduate school. It always struck me because it wasn’t any lengthy quote - just two words in Latin – and yet those two words brought me comfort and solace in the most difficult of days that I had while there. In the midst of it all I had a firm hope and faith that God would in fact provide and can point to places where He did so, as I pray that each of you can do as well.

As we listen to the scriptures today we hear some of those ancient stories of how God has provided for His people. Second Kings and John’s Gospel both provide passages where food was miraculously multiplied by God, in the Old Testament at the command of Elisha and in the New Testament by the Lord Jesus. Tying these two stories together is that beautiful verse from Psalm 145: The eyes of all look hopefully to you, and you give them their food in due season. We are reminded that all things come from God and that He will give what we need, but also we are given a hint that while God gives what we need, what we need is often not what we expect to receive. The people with Elisha didn’t believe there was enough food and Andrew points out the loaves and fish almost as a sign of despair, as if to say it wasn’t even enough for the Lord and the Twelve alone, much less for thousands of others. And yet, the Lord provided and even provided a little extra for later. Deus providebit. God will provide.

Today we begin a five-week period of hearing and reflecting on John 6, wherein the Lord gives His Bread of Life Discourse, telling those who hear of what He will provide for His hearers and for all those who seek to follow Him in the future. As is so often the case, what the Lord says is a bit shocking, for He tells them that He will provide for their sustenance nothing other than His own Flesh and Blood. Surely this was not at all what they were expecting, and yet as we will hear in the coming weeks, this is indeed what He comes to give and commands us to receive. And here is one of the major differences between Catholicism and every other Christian community (excluding the Orthodox, of course).

All Christians agree that we can and should spend time reading the Sacred Scriptures and allowing the Word of God to nourish us. So important is it for us Catholics, that we have at four separate readings from the scriptures every Sunday, the responsorial psalm included, not to mention that the majority of the prayers in the Mass are scriptural. But as Catholics, we don’t stop at simply hearing and receiving the Word of God into our mind and heart. We also receive the Word of God in our very flesh. All non-Catholic Christian communities honor the scriptures but do not recognize the Lord in the Eucharist He commanded us to celebrate.

So as we conclude this first of five weeks of reflections on the gift of the Eucharist and its place in our lives, it is appropriate to pause and examine ourselves in this regard:

Do I really believe, as the Church teaches and as the Lord will say over and again in the coming weeks, that what we receive at Holy Communion is not bread and wine but is truly Christ's Body and Blood?

If so, am I showing that belief in the way that I receive Communion and attend Mass?

If you're struggling with belief, ask yourself why that might be. What is keeping you from total belief in His Presence with us. And then make the words of the man in the Gospels your own: Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Novena Alert!!!

Tomorrow, Friday, July 27 begins the Novena to St. Jean Vianney, patron of priests. Might I suggest you pray this novena for your local priest(s) for their fidelity in their vocation, holiness, and docility to the Holy Spirit? I know they would be grateful.

Check it out HERE. It's short, sweet, and packs quite a punch!

BTW - He's also an incorruptible! I love being Catholic!

Face-Melting Quote of the Day

Why do I love Venerable Fulton J. Sheen? Because of statements like this:

"A woman is capable of more sacrifices than a man. Man is more apt to be a hero, through some great passionate outburst of heroism. But a woman's love makes a thousand small sacrifices, sprinkling them through the days and the months; their very repetition gives them the character of the commonplace. Not only her soul, but her body, has some share in the Calvary of Redemption; furthermore, she comes closer to death than man, whenever she brings forth a child." 

-Venerable Fulton J. Sheen, Life is Worth Living

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

St. James the Greater

The Martyrdom of St James the Greater by Jean Fouquet
Today is the Feast of St. James, the Apostle. Last night I was reading through some of the readings in the Breviarium Romanum (pre-Vatican II breviary) and was struck by the 5th & 6th readings from the office of Matins:
After that Jesus Christ was ascended into heaven, James preached how that He was God, and led many in Judaea and Samaria to the Christian Faith. A while afterward, he went to Spain, and there he brought some to Christ, of whom seven were afterwards ordained Bishops by Blessed Peter, and were the first such sent into that country. From Spain James went back to Jerusalem, where he taught the Faith to diverse persons, and, among others, to the Magician Hermogenes. Thereupon Herod Agrippa, who had been raised to the kingdom under the Emperor Claudius, to curry favour with the Jews, condemned James to death for his firm confession that Jesus Christ is God. The officer who led James to the judgmentseat, at sight of the courage wherewith he was ready to offer up his testimony, declared himself also to be a Christian. As they were being hurried to execution, this man asked pardon of James, and the Apostle kissed him, saying, 'Peace be unto thee.' James healed a paralytic, and immediately afterwards both the prisoners were beheaded. The body of the Apostle was afterwards taken to Compostella, (in the province of Gallicia, in Spain,) where his grave is very famous. Multitudes of pilgrims from all parts of the earth betake themselves thither to pray, out of sheer piety or in fulfilment of vows. The Birthday of James is kept by the Church upon this day, which is that of the bringing of his body to Compostella. It was about Easter-time (Acts xii. 2-4) that he bore witness to Jesus Christ with his blood, at Jerusalem, being the first of the Apostles to do so.
St. James, Apostle of Our Lord, pray for us!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Longing for the Lord

Tablet from the dividing wall in the Temple
Readings for July 22, Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time:
Jeremiah 23:1-6
Psalm 23:1-6
Ephesians 2:13-18
Mark 6:30-34

“In Christ Jesus you who once were far off have come near by the blood of Christ.”

These words of Saint Paul remind us that the mission of Christ on Earth was to unify all people, to draw them to Himself and bring them with Him ultimately to the heavenly home He has gone to prepare for us. To illustrate this unifying presence of Christ, Saint Paul speaks of how Christ, in drawing all people to Himself, has torn down the dividing wall of enmity. This was a vivid, striking image for any person who had knowledge of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.  The Temple was built in levels, with literal walls dividing each section. Everyone could enter the outer court, Jews and Gentiles both. But then there was a wall with signs indicating that only Jews could enter the next court and any Gentile caught trying would be killed immediately. Beyond this Jewish court was a court for the Jewish men, then one for the priests, then the Holy of Holies itself, where God dwelt. To say that Christ broke down the dividing wall meant that no longer were the Jews and Gentiles separated and the men and women separated – they were all members in the same court and as such they were all able to worship the Lord side by side. But just because one is able to do something doesn’t mean that they will.

A brother priest in another diocese was named chaplain of the high school in his area and, in an effort to help promote vocations and increase religious activities for the guys, invited only guys to be altar servers. Shortly after making this decision, he received some complaints from parents and faculty. He decided that it might not be the time to make such a change and instead reverted to the previous policy – that guys and girls both could be altar servers. The funny part is that when he put the sign-up sheets out, not a single girl signed up. Despite the uproar for the ability to serve, none apparently wanted to do so.

In a similar way, all of humanity has been blessed beyond understanding to be welcomed into the Presence of God. We can pray to Him wherever we find ourselves in the midst of our days. We can come before Him in Adoration at the chapel or in the tabernacle. And we can even receive His very flesh and blood here in Holy Communion. But just because we can do all of these things, that doesn’t mean that we will. We must choose to follow Christ, choose to be consumed with zeal for the Truth of the Gospel, and choose to allow Him to be in everything that we do.

In the Gospel today we hear about the great crowd that so deeply longs for the Truth of God that they run over 10 miles around the lake to the other side and arrive before Jesus and the Apostles do. They burned with love for God and longed to be in His Presence and hear the words that would continue to give them life. And for their perseverance and love, the Lord had pity on them and taught them many things.

St Mary Magdelene by Carlo Dolci
Also, this Sunday we celebrate the feast of St. Mary Magdalene, a great Saint of the Church whose soul longed to be with the Lord. So great was her desire to see the Lord after His death that when the Apostles and all others had left the tomb of Christ, she remained. And because she remained there waiting and longing for Him to return, He came to her and spoke with her before He did to the others.

My brothers and sisters, the Lord has opened wide the gate to Heaven and has given us the path to enter through it in the teachings of Holy Mother Church. But it is for us to take the steps forward and choose to follow the Lord and to be renewed in His love.

Through the grace of a worthy reception of Holy Communion and by the intercession of St. Mary Magdalene and our Guardian Angels, may we have hearts that burn with love for Jesus Christ. If the fire was never there, may it be born today. If the fire has died down, may the Holy Spirit rekindle it. And if it still burns, may it increase today and everyday until the day when the One for Whom we long calls us to Himself.

St. Mary of Madgalene, pray for us.
Guardian Angels, pray for us.
Blessed Mother of us all, pray for us.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Chosen for Holiness

Readings for July 15/ Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time:
Amos 7:12-15
Psalm 85:9-14
Ephesians 1:3-14
Mark 6:7-13

As we listen to the readings today we hear this repeating theme of being chosen, of being specially selected by the Lord. The thing is, though, that we’re not chosen for the sake of being chosen. We are chosen for a purpose, the Lord chooses us with something in mind, something he desires us to accomplish. We hear about Amos who is chosen by the Lord and taken from the flocks to go prophecy to the people of Israel. The Twelve are chosen by the Lord and sent out to heal the sick and cast out demons. They had a purpose. And as Saint Paul reminds us today that we have be chosen by God, we must recognize that we too have a purpose.

In the letter to the Ephesians we are reminded that we have been chosen by the Lord from before the foundation of the world. That means that before the world or any of us existed as we know it, the Lord mysteriously knew us, loved us, desired us, and chose us. We have been part of His divine plan and as an important part as God’s own adopted sons and daughters. We are reminded of the great mystery of that – so incredible is it that we have been brought into the interior life of God that Saint Paul can’t help but call it to mind except in this great litany of praise of God’s blessings. We the creatures are invited to participate in the plan of our Creator. And as we hear in the Gospels, to whom much has been given, much is expected. Since we have received this incredible gift of adoption, something we could never even have dreamed to ask of God, how much more are we called to live lives that illustrate that adoption?

Because we were adopted, we are not called not simply to live in the world but to be holy and without blemish in the sight of God. Holy and without blemish. At the seminary we prayed the Liturgy of the Hours in community and this reading from Ephesians came up every Monday at Evening Prayer and I always felt a bit uneasy praying it in community because we would fire through that phrase “called to be holy and blameless in his sight” (it was a different translation of the scriptures) as it was no big deal. But when I pray it myself I have to sit there for a moment and really let those words sink into my heart. We are called to be holy (pause) and without blemish in his sight. It hits me quite often when I pray it because that is an incredibly difficult challenge. It’s not even something we can do ourselves, it is Christ who does it in us, but we must strive and cooperate with His work.

He chose us to be holy. But not just holy in the sense of praying some daily prayers. We are called to be holy in the sense of being different, set apart. Anybody who drives up to this church knows clearly that it is a church, a house of God, set aside for a particular purpose. The vessels we use are not normal cups, the vestments not normal clothes, and the decoration of the inside nor normal decoration. It is special, consecrated, noticeably different than worldly things. That is the holiness that each of us is called to show to the world. The people in our homes, schools, work, and community ought to be able to look at us and see the we are Christian by the charity we extend to others, the joy that exudes from us and the peace that permeates everything we do. It shouldn’t take a cross or medal around our neck to show that we are follows of the Lord.

But Saint Paul doesn’t stop there. He takes it a step further and challenges us not only to be holy but also without blemish in the sight of the Lord. ‘Without blemish’ is a sacrificial term used from often in the Old Testament. When the Jewish people would come to sacrifice an offering to the Lord at the Temple, the high priest would first inspect the animal to be sure it had no broken bones, no deformities, or anything else that would make it a less-than-perfect offering because they knew that the Lord deserves only the best of what we can offer. Saint Paul says that we ought to be like that animal who, when inspected by our Heavenly Father, is found without blemish, with no defect, perfect. Being realistic, I admit that none of us can be perfect in this life, but we still have the obligation to strive for perfection as we wait for the day when we are truly perfected in Heaven. 

To come back around, this holiness and perfection is the purpose for which we were chosen. We were chosen to glorify God by becoming saints of heaven, which means we must be men and women of great holiness on Earth. Also, if we are the people God created us and chose us to be, we will bring many souls with us to the gates of Heaven because they will see in us the life of God. Mother Teresa and Blessed John Paul II couldn’t go anywhere without people flocking to them to see them, to pray with them and to simply be in their presence because they showed in a powerful way the life that God desires for us. We may not be people known universally like they were, but we can be people known locally for our own holiness. May we today receive well the Holy Eucharist, that our souls might be continually converted to the Lord and purified, that on the day when we are called to stand before the Father we may indeed by holy and without blemish in His sight. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Funny and Educational Video

Those of you who know me personally know of my great appreciation for the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite (aka The Traditional Latin Mass). Some don't care for it, some are confused by it, and since the introduction of the Mass of Pope Paul VI (likely the regular Mass you attend) many have never been exposed to it. With all of that in mind, I saw this entertaining and excellent video of a young lady explaining the Traditional Latin Mass and encouraging others to at least open themselves to the experience of attending it. While this video is focused largely on the Extraordinary Form, nearly all of what she says applies also to the Ordinary Form (your regular Sunday Mass) and thus is applicable there as well. Do enjoy!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Coping with the Thorns

Mass Readings for July 8/ Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time:
Ezekiel 2:2-5
Psalm 123:1-4
2 Corinthians 12:7-10
Mark 6:1-6

“A thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated.”

When we hear this bizarre statement from St. Paul, one of the first questions that come to mind is ‘What was the thorn in the flesh?’ Unfortunately we don’t really know the answer. Saints and scholars throughout the centuries have debated and made great arguments. Some say it was sexual temptation, others suggest it was a physical deformity or illness, still others believe it was rejection from the Christian community or even a literal thorn that was permanently embedded into him. The reality is that while we may not have much knowledge about the thorn, what we do have is a beautiful example of what to do when we are experiencing some sort of trial.

All of us have a thorn in the flesh; something that makes us realize that we are not in control. It could be an illness we or a loved one have, it could be financial difficulty, spiritual desolation, sinful desires or any number of things. Whatever it is, we all have the task of dealing with it in a way that will bring us closer to Christ. To help with this, we have the words of St. Paul to guide us.

Let us first notice the great openness he has with the community to whom he writes. He bares his soul in a most courageous way in order to help them and us, not because he is boasting in himself but because he knows the importance of boasting in Christ. Opening himself to the Corinthian community, he gives us a sort of four-step method to dealing with trials: humility, perseverance, abandonment and trust.

First, we must humble ourselves. This is always the necessary first step in the spiritual life. It is easy to try to handle things ourselves and to devise our own plans and methods of operation, but in reality the only thing guaranteed to help us is to simply realize that there are some things that we cannot fix but that God can. So, we humble ourselves and bring our prayers before God to let him know that we are in need.

Secondly, we must persevere in our prayers. Three times St. Paul turned to the Lord in prayer seeking for the thorn to be removed. He persisted in his prayers until the Lord gave some response. We must follow his example and bring our own thorns before the Lord and pray for their removal. If the thorn is removed, we rejoice. But if the thorn is like that of St. Paul and remains, then we must recognize, like him, that God is permitting it for a reason. St. Paul points out that the thorn in his flesh kept him from getting too elated, which helped him to be humble and grow in holiness. The same goes for us too; the thorns of our lives may be the very things that gain us entry into heaven. But to admit this takes faith. This leads us to the next step.

Once we accept the reality of the thorns in our lives, we are faced with a choice: we can with either abandon ourselves to the Lord or we can simply abandon the Lord. I have seen many good Catholics faced with great trials pushed almost to the point of abandoning the Lord because they were not able to see that God was doing something beyond what they could see, feel or understand. We also get a glimpse of it in the scriptures this weekend. We hear about the ancient Israelites who were obstinate of heart and also about the Israelites of Jesus’ hometown who received no healings or miracles because they were unwilling to believe that God would work through – and even become - a humble carpenter that they knew. We, the spiritual children of Israel, can easily be the same. And so we must make a conscious choice to abandon ourselves to the Lord – to let go of our expectations and plans and allow God’s plan to come into view.

Once we have begun this third step of abandoning ourselves to the Lord, we have the fourth step of continuing to trust that the Lord’s plan is what is best for us and will bring us true joy despite some difficulty. This can be difficult, but here we lean once again on the promise of Christ made to St. Paul and which he makes also to us: “My grace is sufficient for you.”

And from where does that grace come? The Eucharist and Confession, as well as Eucharistic Adoration and personal prayers. Here, in the places where we encounter our God in a real and tangible way, we find the grace that permits us to allow Christ to live in and through us and to be the strength in our weakness. Through St. Paul’s intercession, may we have hearts open to receiving that grace today, that we might rely upon Christ and Christ alone.