Love in the Time of Easter

8 Apr

Image result for easter lilyRecently during Mass, Maggie, my four-year-old daughter, grabbed my hand while we were listening to the homily. I thought she just wanted to hold my hand, but I was wrong. She gave my hand to my wife Libby, so we could hold hands during the homily. It deepened my realization that little ones desperately want their parents not only to be together, but to be “IN LOVE.” It is sometimes easy to forget that one of the greatest gifts we can give our children is our dedicated effort to grow in our marriage no matter how good or not so good it already is. No matter where we are or have been in our marriages, the natural instinct of my daughter, Magdalene, can give us deep insight into the supernatural reality of this Easter Season. Let’s explore.

What is it about an “in love” married couple that gives so much security to our little ones? I think it has something to do with the fact that a married couple is intended to be the very reflection and concrete experience of the love and goodness of God. Every married couple is intended to be a window into the life and love of the Holy Trinity. If the reflection that the couple is intended to convey is somehow cloudy, then the very stability that confidence in God’s existence offers is also clouded. Children want to believe that they come from love. If a child knows that their existence is the fruit of love, then they are confident that they exist for a reason.

We all know that children are created out of the love of God and that there is a reason for the creation of every child, but we as parents sometimes forget that we are supposed to be the living and tangible reminder every day to that reality by the way we love one another. It is not just about participating with God in the child’s creation, and then focusing on the child and figuring that our spouse is old enough and can take care of their own needs. When we intentionally choose to nurture the marriage relationship, we create the culture for a child to grow in a stable environment. If we were going to plant a garden, we would not be very successful if we did not tend to the soil. Passionate marriages are the optimal soil for the seed of children to flourish!

Yes, I said “passionate.” Some are scandalized by that word, so let me explain why I purposely chose it. When I say “passionate,” I am not talking about “an urgency to make love.” That is how the world defines it, and it is important to reclaim the language. When I say “passion,” I am talking about the type of passion that we celebrated on Good Friday. And no, I am not saying that marriage is torture. I am saying that the total self-abandonment of Christ on the Cross is the same self-abandonment that a married couple is called to have toward one another. The grace that was won on Calvary and offered through the Resurrection is made present to and through the Sacrament of Matrimony. John Paul II said it best when he said that married couples are a “permanent reminder to the Church of what Christ did on the Cross” (Familiaris Consortio).

The mystery of Christ’s Death and Resurrection is present in every home–what a wonderful plan in the wisdom of God! He knew that the Blessed Sacrament would not be able to make it into every home, but through Baptism and Matrimony, His sacramental presence has the potential to reach every house and neighborhood.

Our marriages are personal but not private. When we embrace the call to love one another as Christ loved the Church, we participate in the sanctification of the world. We can sometimes dismiss evangelization as a good idea that some people should do out there somewhere, or we wait around for our parish priest to form an evangelization committee.

The reality is that when we love our spouse passionately, we evangelize our children and our communities, and we participate in the redemption of the whole world. I invite every married man and woman, most especially myself, to step up the level of love in our relationship this Easter season. The grace is abundant, and when we take the time to prioritize our marriage, we are entering deeply into the mystery of Christ’s Death and Resurrection. If we enter into this mystery more deeply this Easter season, we will experience the power of Pentecost in a tangible way, and we will be a beacon of light in this world struggles to see the path to authentic happiness.

Sheep and Goats

2 Apr

In the past I’ve spilled perhaps an inordinate amount of ink on the Holy Thursday foot-washing rite, which surely has been the cause of some controversy in recent years. At the same time, though, the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper has never ceased to be one of my favorite liturgies of the year, and my family is eagerly looking forward to tonight’s celebration, grateful that there is no conflict with “March madness” or youth sports!

One aspect of this beautiful liturgy that always captures my attention is the first reading, from chapter 12 of Exodus, in which the Lord gives the instructions for the Passover to Moses and Aaron. I tend to zero in on the part about the lamb being taken from either the sheep or the goats. The Lord isn’t particular on this point–the blood of either a sheep or a goat on the doorposts and lintel of the house will save the family’s firstborn from death.

In other contexts, there is a huge difference between sheep and goats. The example that immediately comes to mind is Matthew 25, where Our Lord says that at the judgment He will separate the sheep from the goats. The sheep obviously are those in a state of grace, those who are being saved, while the goats are those who are destined for eternal fire.

I don’t want to make too much of that, because these are two distinct passages with their own distinct messages. But on the night in which we celebrate and praise God for the gift of the New Covenant priesthood, we are reminded that ”in the old days” the Lord made use of both sheep and goats in the rite that prefigured the Mass. I find that to be a reminder of the efficacy of God’s salvific economy irrespective of the holiness or sinfulness of His ministers. When the New Covenant “instructions” are followed, Our Lord is true to His promises, and He becomes the living bread from heaven bearing everlasting life. What an awesome reality!

At the same time, whether we are sheep or goats does have eternal ramifications. And isn’t that what the Last Supper, and more specifically, the Institution of the Holy Eucharist, is all about?  The Good Shepherd, through the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, gives us the means to be recognized as His sheep, enabling us in turn to recognize and serve Him in the least of our brethren (cf. Mt. 25:31-46) and so come to enjoy the fullness of life with Him.

Let It Be Done!

25 Mar

our lady of graceToday when we use the word “fiat,” we typically refer to an arbitrary, capricious, or self-assertive act of the will. In today’s solemnity of the Annunciation we encounter an entirely different sort of “fiat.” Mary’s “fiat” (Latin, meaning “let it be done,” from Lk. 1:38) was a completely self-giving act of the will. The Annunciation was the decisive moment when Mary freely entrusted her entire self to God and consented in faith to become the Mother of the Redeemer (Lk. 1:26-38). She then faithfully devoted the rest of her life as “the handmaid of the Lord”–to the Person and saving work of her Son.

She was in a real sense the first disciple of Jesus, pondering the Word of God in her Immaculate Heart (cf. Lk. 2:19, 51).

Our Lady’s faithfulness was not a one-time occurrence, but rather part of an ongoing pilgrimage that constantly called her to empty herself, to give of herself, in imitation of her divine Son. In the Presentation at the Temple (Lk. 2:22-38), she learned that her beloved Son would be opposed in fulfilling His mission, and that a sword would pierce through her own soul. From the beginning, there was no mistaking that her fidelity would involve suffering (cf. Heb. 5:8).

Mary continued unswervingly in her pilgrimage of faith as the years quietly passed by. At some point, she encountered the natural human suffering of having St. Joseph, her loving husband, pass from this life. She was there at the beginning of her Son’s public ministry. At the Marriage of Cana, where Christ worked His first “sign,” she became a “spokesperson” for her Son’s will: “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn. 2:6). Not only does she hear the Word of God and keep it, but she exhorts others to do the same.

Vatican II (1962-65) beautifully summarized the climax of our Blessed Mother’s mission:

“[T]he Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross, where she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, enduring with her only begotten Son the intensity of his suffering, associated herself with his sacrifice in her mother’s heart, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this victim which was born of her” (Lumen Gentium, no. 58).

Mary’s motherhood did not end with bearing the Son of God. Rather, that’s only the beginning. Nor did it end with Jesus’ death on the Cross. At the foot of the Cross, Jesus entrusted Mary’s motherhood to St. John, the beloved disciple and, by extension, to the entire Church. She became the “New Eve,” the mother of all who are alive in Christ (cf. Jn. 19:26-27; Catechism, nos. 501, 511, and 969). Undoubtedly our Blessed Mother never tires of telling us to do whatever Jesus tells us. May we have “ears to hear” (Lk. 8:8) such wise motherly counsel!

St. Turibius of Mogrovejo

23 Mar

Today the Church celebrates the feast of St. Turibius (sometimes called Toribio) of Mogrovejo (1538-1606). Most readers probably aren’t familiar with St. Turibius. Not very often do we hear of friends naming their children “Turibius”! Yet, despite his relative obscurity, he’s one of the greatest bishops the Western Hemisphere has ever known.

He was born in Mayorga in the kingdom of Leon (I’m not kidding!) in Spain. He was a devout young layman who eventually made a name for himself as a civil and canon lawyer. When the Archdiocese of Lima needed a bishop, King Philip II recommended him to the Holy Father, who confirmed his selection as Lima’s new archbishop.

Turibius initially did what he could to resist his nomination, but in the end he acquiesced out of obedience to the Church. He was ordained a priest and consecrated as a bishop before being sent to Lima in 1587.

He was filled with great apostolic zeal. He founded many hospitals, schools, and churches–and also the first seminary in the New World! He was a reformer who called various councils and synods, and he used his legal expertise and holy wisdom to issue decrees for his archdiocese that were later adopted by other dioceses.

St. Turibius travelled to every corner of his huge archdiocese to reach out to his entire flock. He became the great protector of the native peoples, who were being exploited by the Spanish immigrants. And to assist in his work with the Indians, over the course of his 20-year archbishopric he mastered several Indian dialects.

There’s one final point I’d like to make about St. Turibius: He’s Exhibit “A” when it comes to the extraordinary impact a proactive, Spirit-filled bishop can have on the faith life of his flock. This impact not only involves “numbers” (large amount of converts) but also fostering an environment where holiness can really flourish. In that regard, I don’t think it’s a coincidence at all that two great Dominican saints–St. Martin de Porres and St. Rose of Lima–were very small children when St. Turibius arrived on the scene.

St. Turibius, pray for us!

St. Joseph, a Saint for Our Times

19 Mar

St. JosephSt. Joseph is one of the few saints to have more than one feast day. He also happens to be my patron saint, so when my wife and I were getting married, she asked which feast day I celebrated. Before I had the chance to answer, she mused out loud, “Definitely not St. Joseph the Worker.” She was right, though I’ve teased her ever since about this apparent commentary on my work habits!

The Church has traditionally honored St. Joseph during the month of March, so it seems appropriate this month to draw some insights from this great saint, especially today on his feast day.

At the outset of Luke’s Gospel, we read that part of John the Baptist’s role in preparing the people for the imminent coming of the Messiah was to turn the hearts of fathers to their children. In St. Joseph, we find a father whose heart is already exquisitely calibrated.

God was able to accomplish great things through this eminently faithful man of service. Priests, deacons, and laymen do well to pattern their lives after the beloved “Guardian of the Redeemer.”

While St. Joseph wasn’t a priest in the usual sense, this “just man” has much to say in response to today’s crisis of fatherhood–both the spiritual fatherhood of priests and the fatherhood exercised in the home.

St. Joseph was entrusted with the care of the Holy Family, the sanctuary of love where Jesus spent His hidden years. This family was, in embryonic form, the Body of Christ, containing both Christ and the mother of those who would come to believe in Him and keep His commandments (see Rev. 12:17). For this reason, St. Joseph, husband of Mary and foster father of Jesus, is considered the patron saint of the Universal Church.

Some men think St. Joseph got it all wrong. This is the age of Viagra, no-fault divorce, and the “sexual revolution.” The goal seemingly is sex without responsibility, whereas St. Joseph accepts the serious responsibility of marriage and family while foregoing the pleasure of marital intimacy.

Yet, St. Joseph got it exactly right. He tells modern man that it is possible and necessary–in fact, noble and manly–to live in accordance with the Church’s teachings on sexual morality. Certainly this does not mean that all men, particularly married men, are called to perpetual continence. But all men according to their state in life are called to chastity and at certain times in their lives (e.g., before marriage and possibly at times during marriage) are called to continence.

The marital act is a sacred expression of one’s total gift to one’s spouse and must not degenerate into a merely recreational, selfish act of self-gratification. St. Joseph gives himself totally to Mary. He embodies true love and marital fidelity to his beloved spouse even in the absence of physical intimacy.

A significant element of fatherhood is playing good defense–in other words, protecting the precious treasures that have been entrusted to us. Wolves in many forms pose serious threats to families and parishes. Our response as men of faith must not be fear or anxiety in the face of such threats, but rather vigilance and courage.

During this month devoted to the Guardian of the Redeemer, may all of us fathers draw renewed strength from this holy hero. St. Joseph, patron of the universal Church, pray for us!

This article appeared earlier this month in The Leaven, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

Lift up Your Hearts!

18 Mar

cyril of jerusalemSandwiched between the more popular feast days of St. Patrick (yesterday) and St. Joseph (tomorrow), we celebrate the feast of St. Cyril of Jerusalem. This 4th-century Church Father and Doctor of the Church could be considered the “patron saint” of RCIA (the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults), as he has left us in his “Catechetical Lectures” instructions for new Christians in the days immediately before and after their initiation into the life of the Church at the Easter Vigil. In these catechetical instructions, we find very strong insistence on the value and efficacy of the Sacrament of Baptism as well as a clear affirmation of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

St. Cyril died in 386, just a few years after participating, as Bishop of Jerusalem, at the First Council of Constantinople. This Council is known for completing the Creed commonly known as the Nicene Creed.

Here is a short sampling from one of St. Cyril’s catechetical lectures, in which he unpacks part of the Preface (prayers) that are said immediately before the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass. As you will readily see, this message is just as applicable to us as it was to Christians in St. Cyril’s time:

“The Priest cries aloud, Lift up your hearts. For truly ought we in that most awful hour to have our heart on high with God, and not below, thinking of earth and earthly things. In effect therefore the Priest bids all in that hour to dismiss all cares of this life, or household anxieties, and to have their heart in heaven with the merciful God. Then you answer, We lift them up unto the Lord: assenting to it, by your avowal. But let no one come here, who could say with his mouth, We lift up our hearts unto the Lord, but in his thoughts have his mind concerned with the cares of this life. At all times, rather, God should be in our memory but if this is impossible by reason of human infirmity, in that hour above all this should be our earnest endeavor.”

Today’s “Apostle”

17 Mar

shamrockToday is the feast of St. Patrick, one of the most beloved saints in all of Christendom. It’s a day when all of us are “Irish” and probably are wearing something green. It’s a day of parties, 5Ks, and refreshments, not to mention corned beef, cabbage, and perhaps even green beer.

All of the festivity is in good fun, but in the process we shouldn’t forget about the historical figure of St. Patrick. He was born in roughly 387 A.D. and died on March 17, 461 A.D. His feast day is today because the feast day of most saints is the day they died and entered eternal life with God.

As a young man he was captured and enslaved by the native peoples of Ireland. Many years later, he returned to Ireland as its bishop. He is known as the Apostle to Ireland, as through his zealous evangelization virtually the entire nation came to accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

He liked shamrocks not because they are green, but because he could use them to teach about the Trinity.

Of course there are many legends associated with St. Patrick, such as the deal about his driving out all the snakes. Who knows on this side of the divide where fact ends and embellishment begins. But we do know that what I wrote in the preceding paragraphs is true, and that alone is more than enough for us.

Most of us are not called to evangelize entire countries like St. Patrick. We may not be the Apostle to Ireland, or even to Kansas. But chances are we are called to be the apostle to our family, our circle of friends, our workplace, or some other local community that we are able to influence. That is not beyond us, as our baptism comes with a commission to bring Jesus to others.

O God, who chose the Bishop Saint Patrick to preach your glory to the peoples of Ireland, grant, through his merits and intercession, that those who glory in the name of Christian may never cease to proclaim your wondrous deeds to all. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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