Taking Mary’s Hand

23 Oct

33 Days“Hold hands in the parking lot.”

If you spend any time with my family, you will inevitably hear my wife or me say these words to our daughter Maggie as we are coming out of the grocery store, restaurant, or even church. As her parents, we are well aware of the potential hazards that lie in wait as we make our way back to our van. Maggie’s temptation is to dart full speed ahead into the vast expansion of cars.

Could Maggie make it all the way to the van by herself in the midst of the busy parking lot? Perhaps, but we would rather not take the chance. Knowing our daughter, even if she did not get hit by a car, she would probably get lost. We don’t like either of those options. The safest, quickest, and surest path back home is for Maggie to take mom’s hand and allow mom to guide her back home.

That’s exactly what Marian consecration is all about. As children of God, we take the outstretched hand of Mary and let her guide us safely to our eternal home in heaven. In other words, we entrust the entirety of our life to Mary, the Mother of God. Our Blessed Mother promises to keep us safe from spiritual harm and prevent us from getting distracted and losing our way. Who wants to wonder around for hours trying to find the way?

Consecrating oneself and one’s family may sound like a difficult thing that requires a great level of already-attained holiness, but actually the opposite is true. It is a simple journey for the simple-hearted who simply want to be holy, not for those who already are holy. If it seems fancy and out of reach for you and the craziness of your busy life, then maybe it is exactly what the doctor ordered, or at least the physician of our souls. In the craziness of contemporary life, giving oneself to Mary is the way to go.

We love efficiency in America. We love a good deal. We love a guaranteed return on our investment.

Yes, Americans love efficiency. We place a high value on maximizing our effort. We have built some of the greatest factories that have mastered the way to bring about the standardization of quality products in the shortest amount of time.

With Marian consecration, Mary is the factory that turns all of her devoted children into “quality products.” What is the “quality product” that Mary produces? Mary turns her devoted children into “little Christs.” Mary accomplishes this much quicker than we can on our own because, simply put, she knows the end result much better than we do. The mother knows the Son, and knows how to help us be more like Him.

Yes, Americans love a good deal. With Mary, what is the great deal we receive, and what does it cost us to get it? We receive the promise of the sure guidance of the Queen of Heaven! In exchange, Mary simply asks us to place our trust in her. My little act of trust and commitment to the Mother of God gains me her prayers and maternal love. It would be crazy not to accept that deal!

Yes, Americans love a guaranteed return on their investment. With Mary, we have the guarantee from the Spouse of the Holy Spirit that she will honor the gift we make of ourselves and transform us into who God created us to be–and frankly, who we desire to be. Her track record is pretty good. To name a few, she multiplied the investment of four important saints in the recent history of the Church: St. Louis Marie de Montfort, St. Maximilian Kolbe, Bl. Teresa of Calcutta, and St. John Paul II.

I choose these four saints because they are the focus of Fr. Michael Gaitley’s book, 33 Days to Morning Glory. In his book, Fr. Gaitley takes the writings and insights of these saints and translates them into a common language for all of us to understand and implement into our daily lives.

On December 8, 2014, Archbishop Naumann is inviting and encouraging all Catholics of the Archdiocese to consecrate themselves and their families to Mary. The Archbishop is recommending this wonderful book by Fr. Gaitley as a means of preparation for the consecration day. If you get the book, which is only $2, you will see that the 33 days of preparation will change the trajectory of your life and family. If you have 10-15 minutes a day, you can do this! My wife, Libby, and I just used this book to renew our consecration to Mary this past August, and we found it refreshingly practical in its application to family life. It was like taking a breath of fresh air every day from the craziness of our schedules. It deepened our already good marriage, and it rooted us more deeply in our Catholic faith.

Think of it as a 33-day retreat that allows Mary to prepare you for a great awakening in your spiritual life and the life and a release of joy into your family.

Guest columnist Brad DuPont is a consultant for the Office of Marriage and Family Life for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

“Gay” Catholics Let’s Talk

14 Oct

To judge by the media reports one would think the Pope and his cardinals are building a float for the next gay pride parade.  Reporting on  recent Vatican statements has caused many Catholics to wonder if Church teachGayPope.jpging on homosexuality is changing. And so as a coordinator for our local Courage chapter, I thought it would be good to review the controversy, and bring some clarity to Catholics who may self identify as “gay”.

Yesterday (October 13, 2014)  the Vatican released a mid-way synod discussion report (relatio post disceptationem) on a discussion that bishops and clergy have been having regarding the pastoral challenges of helping families in our current culture.    This 58 paragraph synopsis that talks about the  institution of the family in crisis, has 3 paragraphs that deal with the pastoral challenges of “Welcoming Homosexual Persons”.

The media has reported on these brief statements as if they represented  a change in Church teaching on the morality of homosexual unions, describing it as a “seismic shift”  and a sign of  Pope Francis’s purported willingness to embrace the gay and lesbian sexual lifestyle into the life of the Church.

Don’t believe the hype.  It is so crucial to look at the documents themselves to avoid the media spin.  So  read the  mid-way synod discussion report and decide for yourself. Please keep in mind that this document expresses opinions of leaders in the Church and is not infallible Church teaching itself. So Catholics of good will can respectfully disagree.

As someone who helps to lead the Courage apostolate here in the Archdiocese, I personally think a few of the statements on homosexuality are very unfortunate in their ambiguity.  Andy Comiskey does a good job of exploring the problems of buying into the false anthropology of gay identity  in his blog post: The Bad, the Good, the Urgent: An initial take on the Synod of Family Report.

When it comes to sex it is easy for us to fool ourselves. As humans our longing for pleasure and cheap intimacy can dissuade us from the truth.  So let’s be very clear: the Church can’t and won’t ever teach that deliberate sexual arousal between two men or two women, no matter their level of love or commitment for one another, is morally good.  The Church won’t teach that homosexual acts  are morally good  for the same reason  it won’t teach other sexual sins are morally good.  The Church won’t teach that sexual arousal that a person has exclusively with himself, or between a man and a woman who are not married or who deliberately make their sex act infertile, are morally good acts.  What often  gets lost in these discussions of homosexuality  or any other sexual diversion is the fact that sin can never make us happy, and to pretend otherwise is ultimately unjust and uncharitable.

However,  while it is important to love people enough to teach the truth the Church must always practice mercy.  And mercy is messy.  Mercy meets people where they are at and tries to bring them to a better place.  Let’s face it, family life all across the world is in a mess.  If you read the whole document you will see that the bishops are talking in the pastoral context of broken families and individual who are sexually and relationally broken.

For Christians in the Kansas City area who are struggling in the brokenness of unwanted same-sex attraction (SSA) we have a support group.

I help lead the local chapter of the Courage Apostolate.  Courage Kansas City is a collaborative effort of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. We have groups that meet on both sides of the state line on a regular basis.

We offer spiritual support to Christian men and women with same-sex attractions who desire to live chaste lives in accordance with the teachings of Scripture and Catholic moral teaching.

Call us at 913-428-9893 if you would like to know more about joining Courage KC.

You can also call that number if you are interested in Encourage, the support group for friends and family of people with SSA.

 

 

 

 

 

The Book of God

30 Sep
St. Jerome

St. Jerome, Doctor of the Church

One of the central documents of the Second Vatican Council was its Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum. This pivotal conciliar document has called Catholics to draw more effectively upon the life-changing power of Sacred Scripture.

And yet, Dei Verbum is not simply about the Bible. The title of this document itself is instructive. The Council Fathers did not call it Dei Liber (“Book of God”) but Dei Verbum (“Word of God”). The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us why this distinction is important:

“The Christian faith is not a ‘religion of the book.’ Christianity is the religion of the ‘Word’ of God, not a written and mute word, but incarnate and living. If the Scriptures are not to remain a dead letter, Christ, the eternal Word of the living God, must, through the Holy Spirit, open our minds to understand the Scriptures” (no. 108, footnotes omitted).

For All the Saints

One of the principal themes of the Second Vatican Council was the universal call to holiness. The renewal of the Church hinges on the ongoing sanctification of all her members. This is the work of God, but all the faithful must be personally engaged in the process.

Dei Verbum takes us to the point of entry into this new life in Christ Jesus. It comes down to the “obedience of faith” that we give to God as He reveals Himself to us (DV, no. 5). As our Lord Himself says, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it” (Lk 11:28).

It is the great mission of the Holy Spirit, the “soul of the Church,” to reveal Christ to us and bring us into communion with Him and all His holy ones. As St. Paul says, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (2 Cor. 12:3). The gift of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles and to the entire Church surely includes the singular blessing of Sacred Scripture, but encompasses the totality of what Christ bequeathed to His Church, including the sacred liturgy. In this regard the Holy Spirit “is the Church’s living memory” (Catechism, no. 1099), making present and effective in our lives the saving works of Christ. Dei Verbum, no. 9 therefore affirms that Sacred Tradition and Scripture are bound closely together and flow from the same divine wellspring, which is none other than the Holy Spirit.

Bible Christians

While Catholics do not limit God’s self-revelation to the Bible alone (“sola scriptura”), we must affirm with St. Jerome, whose feast we celebrate today, that “ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”

The fact of the matter is that Catholics have not been well “versed” in Sacred Scripture. Surely, Catholics know much more of the Bible than we think we do–to the extent we’ve stayed awake at Mass and catechism class. Still, we experience something of an “inferiority complex” when it comes to the Bible. When challenged on the more controversial aspects of our faith with the dreaded “Where in the Bible…?” questions, we are needlessly bewildered and intimidated. Continue reading

7 Habits of Highly Effective Deacon Candidates

18 Sep

deacon candidatesArchbishop Naumann has approved the formation of a new cohort of candidates for the diaconate in 2015. This group will embark upon a five-year program that, God willing, will culminate in their ordination as deacons.

The first step in the process will be a series of information nights this fall held at various locations throughout the Archdiocese. At these sessions, we will provide more details on the diaconate and answer any questions people might have.

The decision to step forward and apply for the program is a matter of discernment on the part of both the individual applicant as well as the Archdiocese. For her part, the Church does not expect “perfect” applicants, but men who are open to the working of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

Despite the marvelous individuality of all our deacon applicants, there are some qualities shared by all outstanding candidates for the diaconate. As we discern whether to accept them into the program, we consider many factors, including the presence (or absence) of these qualities:

(1) Disciple Anyone who would apply for the diaconate should be an enthusiastic disciple of Jesus Christ. His relationship with Christ should be the source of his interest in the diaconate. Further, his discipleship should be lived in a positive way that serves as a bridge rather than an obstacle for others who are seeking Christ.

(2) Service The most distinctive characteristic of a deacon is service. In fact, the word “deacon” comes from the Greek word for servant. The diaconate is not for men who fail to pour themselves out in service of others, especially the poor.

(3) Prayer Candidates for the diaconate receive ample instruction on prayer. Still, the candidates should already manifest a desire for intimacy with the Lord through the sacraments and daily prayer. After all, we’re looking for disciples and not merely skilled bureaucrats or social workers.

(4) Virtue Of course character matters! While everyone is in some sense a work in progress, we look for men who are balanced, humble, joyful, and compassionate.

(5) Love for the Church Love for Christ is not enough; we want men who, in imitation of Christ, are willing to lay down their lives for the Church. Men with their own agendas or axes to grind aren’t encouraged to apply.

(6) Parish Deacons must come from somewhere! Most good deacon applicants have a track record of service in their parish and local community, and are typically recommended by their pastor.

(7) Leadership We want men who have the courage and generosity to assume greater responsibility in the Church. Deacons aren’t necessarily the most intelligent or skilled, but they are men open to leadership after the heart of Christ.

For more information on the diaconate, visit www.archkck.org/deacons. This article originally appeared in The Leaven.

St. Robert Bellarmine on the Eucharist

17 Sep

St. BobToday is the feast of St. Robert Bellarmine. In honor of his feast, I thought I would once again share with our readers this excerpt from St. Robert’s teaching on the Eucharist:

Take and eat: This is My Body. Weigh carefully, dear brethren, the force of those words. . . .

Suppose a prince promised one of you a hundred gold pieces, and in fulfillment of his word sent a beautiful sketch of the coins, I wonder what you would think of his liberality? And suppose that when you complained, the donor said, “Sir, your astonishment is out of place, as the painted coins you received may very properly be considered true crowns by the figure of speech called metonymy,” would not everybody feel that he was making fun of you and your picture?

Now Our Lord promised to give us His flesh for our food. The bread which I shall give you, He said, is My flesh for the life of the world. If you argue that the bread may be looked on as a figure of His flesh, you are arguing like the prince and making a mockery of God’s promises. A wonderful gift indeed that would be, in which Eternal Wisdom, Truth, Justice, and Goodness deceived us, its helpless pensioners, and turned our dearest hopes to derision.

That I may show you how just and righteous is the position we hold, let us suppose that the last day has come and that our doctrine of the Eucharist has turned out to be false and absurd. Our Lord now asks us reproachfully: “Why did you believe thus of My Sacrament? Why did you adore the host?” may we not safely answer him: “O Lord, if we were wrong in this, it was You who deceived us. We heard Your word, THIS IS MY BODY, and was it a crime for us to believe You? We were confirmed in our mistake by a multitude of signs and wonders which could have had You only for their author. Your Church with one voice cried out to us that we were right, and in believing as we did we but followed in the footsteps of all Your saints and holy ones . . .

To Know or Not to Know?

3 Sep

On January 21, 2005, my wife and I left St. Joseph’s hospital in St. Paul, MN with our newborn son, Isaac. The adventure was about to begin both literally and figuratively. Literally, we were venturing out into a Minnesota snowstorm, and figuratively, we were venturing into the world of parenting. We survived the literal journey home and the jury is still out on whether we will survive the figurative one. I remember thinking when we left the hospital, “So . . . they are just going to let us take him home, eh?”

That question was a sign of the insecurity that Libby and I had about the world of parenting.

However, when we made it to our house, I remember turning on the stereo and listening to Frank Sinatra sing the song from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel. The title of the song is “Soliloquy,” and it is all about a new father and his optimism, excitement, and pride for the future of a newborn son. As I danced around the living room holding my son and singing as loudly as I could to the blaring music, I could summarize my feelings as, “This fatherhood thing is new, but I like it!” In the midst of the chaos, I found a new confidence in myself and a desire to do whatever possible to sacrifice for the good of Libby and Isaac. I had a level of self-knowledge that I never had previously. My lived experience was matching up to St. John Paul II’s fifth reason for the difference between natural family planning (“NFP”) and contraception. Let me explain.

John Paul’s first few arguments for maintaining the integrity of the unitive and procreative dimensions of the marital act certainly make sense on a natural level, but he also argues that NFP is confirmed through divine Revelation. What does that have to do with my newfound confidence and self-knowledge? Specifically, John Paul points to Genesis 4:1, which is the passage where Adam comes to know his wife, Eve, and they conceive and bear a son. John Paul points out that this “knowing” is not merely a euphemism for having intercourse, but rather involves a much deeper knowledge of self and one’s spouse. It is exactly the kind of knowledge I experienced after we brought Isaac home.

To put it simply, a whole new level of who I am came alive when I became a father.

It is like opening a door to a room that I didn’t know existed. I opened the door, and I began to explore the wonder of the room.

Isaac’s birth also opened the door to see a whole new side of Libby. I saw my love for her deepen in a way that I didn’t know was possible. To use the same analogy, Isaac was the key that opened the door to a new room in Libby’s heart. I discovered her tender and gentle motherly compassion that never had an outlet before Isaac came into our lives.

The gift of parenting also opens our eyes to the knowledge of how important we are in God’s plans. We discover the dignity of being called to cooperate in the creation of new human life. We realize that when God commands Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply,” it is not just to populate the earth. Rather, it is one of the ways that God reveals the depth of His love for us. He commands us to do what is good for us and what we will find truly rewarding and joyful. John Paul cites this biblical passage to illustrate the importance of connecting sex and babies. NFP gives hopeful couples the great knowledge of how to maximize their fertility and conceive a child “with the help of the Lord” as Adam and Eve did.

When we disconnect sex from babies, it is too easy to miss the beauty of God’s goodness in both the conjugal act and the gift of children. We can take for granted and miss the tremendous blessing of both. The Church does not want anyone to miss the goodness of God, and that is the motive for all her teachings. Love for her children is the interpretive lens through which we should view any difficult teaching of the Church. The motivation is never, “I want to ruin someone’s fun.”

For me, I know that I always want people, especially my children, to give Libby the benefit of the doubt in everything. My default position is, “if they only knew Libby like I know Libby,” they would understand why she is doing or saying that.” Our kids don’t always accept it initially, but after they have time for her discipline to sink in, they realize that their mom loves them very much and is acting in their best interest. My spousal knowledge inclines me to assume the best in her.

The same principle is true of Christ and His spousal relationship to the Church. God wants all of His children to love the Church like He does and trust that she always has our eternal happiness in mind.

As I have tried to explain over the past few weeks, the Church certainly has good reasons for her support of NFP and for insisting that contraception is not good for a relationship. First, NFP allows a couple to speak a language of truth to one another through the language of the body. Second, NFP respects the great dignity that couples have as humans made in the image and likeness of God. Third, NFP allows a couple to respect their fertility as an integral part of who they are. Fourth, NFP builds the character of the couple who use it. Lastly, NFP is consistent with biblical Revelation.

Pope John Paul II spent much time in his early priesthood with young married couples. He was a keen observer of the many joyful marriages he witnessed. He once remarked that he “fell in love with human love.” Even though JPII was one of the most brilliant theologians and philosophers in the 2,000-year history of the Church, some of his greatest insights and contributions to the Church came from spending time falling in love with human love and witnessing firsthand the beautiful gift of married love lived well.

May we as the Church learn about authentic human love from JPII and not settle for a counterfeit version.

Guest columnist Brad DuPont is a consultant for the Office of Marriage and Family Life for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. He credits Dr. John Grabowski’s talk at the 2014 Theology of the Body Congress, “Something Old, Something New: Tradition and Development of Doctrine in the Theology of the Body’s Teaching on Marriage” for inspiring this series of articles.

Preaching on Pornography

28 Aug

The following guest post is by Deacon Mike Schreck from Church of the Nativity parish. This post originally appeared on the website of My House Initiative, a dynamic outreach of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

Earlier this year, after attending an information session on the dangers of Internet pornography, and especially the resources now available to those who struggle in this area, I felt the Holy Spirit tugging at my heart to preach on pornography. I am a husband and father of four, and also serve as a permanent deacon within the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. I usually preach a couple times a month, and in looking ahead at my preaching schedule, I noticed that I was scheduled to preach on the 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time. In the Lectionary for that weekend, Matthew’s Gospel includes Jesus’ admonition that someone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matt. 5:17-37), as well as the prophet Sirach’s encouragement that we can keep the Commandments (Sir. 15:15-20). Although I was naturally hesitant to preach on such a sensitive topic in front of men, women and children of all ages at a weekend Mass, in my heart I knew that was exactly what the Holy Spirit was calling me to do.

I knew that I needed to warn our parish families about the dangers of Internet pornography, but also that the primary focus of my preaching would be sharing the Good News of hope that is available to those who struggle with pornography. As missionary disciples, we must never condemn the sinner, but we must not shy away from sharing words of hope and encouragement to those who struggle with sin in this or other areas. With so many people of all ages struggling with Internet pornography, and the devastating affects that I know it is having on parishioners’ lives and their marriages, I knew that God was calling me to share the Good News that there is hope and that there are new avenues of support and encouragement now available to those who struggle in this area. And yet, I wasn’t sure how to go about crafting my message of hope on such a sensitive topic.

As I wouldn’t be preaching for another two weeks, I prayed about it a lot! But I didn’t stop there. I also sought input from my brother deacons, from Sam Meier, who coordinates the Archdiocese’s My House Initiative, and from other friends and family members. I ran through a couple drafts of my homily with my unofficial team of trusted advisors, who for the most part encouraged me and gave me good feedback, including recommendations on points I might want to include in my homily. And then, one weeknight while praying in the Church after work, I ran into a friend, who has young children of his own. I approached him and explained my plan to preach on pornography. My friend expressed his admiration that I would tackle such a difficult subject and his belief that there is a need for such preaching, but he also expressed concerns regarding the sensitivity of preaching on such a sensitive topic in front of young children, and of course their parents.

After reading through a draft copy of my homily, he stated that he really appreciated the positive manner in which I was tackling the subject, and he shared with me that he is actually a Covenant Eyes Accountability Partner for one of his relatives and several of his friends, one of whom had actually lost his job as a result of viewing pornography at work. With that being said, he also recommended that I not use the word “pornography” so much, but after mentioning pornography at the beginning of the homily, use references such as “viewing explicit images” or “visiting inappropriate websites” throughout the rest of the homily.

Making this change probably made the homily easier for parents of young children to hear, but it definitely made the homily easier for me to preach as I practiced it with my wife and children, and when I then preached the homily at four of the Church of the Nativity’s five Masses that weekend. The congregation’s response to the homily was pretty amazing. I am used to parishioners sharing words of appreciation and encouragement as they depart, but more than any Mass before or since that weekend, I was struck by the depth of appreciation expressed by a large number of parishioners that waited to come over and shake my hand, express their appreciation, and request copies of my homily to share with friends and family members. Most of these parishioners were men, but I received positive feedback from a number of mothers and wives as well. One parishioner was almost in tears as she asked for a copy of my homily that she might take and share with her husband at home. For weeks afterward, I ran into parishioners in a variety of settings, who thanked me for my homily or asked that I e-mail them a copy that they could share with others.

I was hesitant to take on such a delicate topic, but with the support and encouragement of others, I followed the promptings of the Holy Spirit to share the Good News of hope to those who struggle with pornography. With so many men, women and children struggling with Internet pornography and pornographic novels, there is a need for more clergy to share the Good News of hope to those who are struggling. In the words of the prophet Sirach, “You can keep the Commandments.” With God, all things are possible.

Here is the text of Deacon Schreck’s inspiring homily.

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