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.

Family Ideas for Lent

11 Feb

40 daysLent can be a hard season to get excited about. Surely it lacks the jingle and sparkle of Advent. Even more, it’s longer, falls right as we are getting sick of winter and, more to the point, involves sacrifice.

Further, it’s difficult to explain to kids. Most kids can understand the excitement of waiting for a baby to be born. Even when there is sacrifice involved in Advent, it’s surrounded by a sense of joy. Many of us have a much harder time giving our kids a good focus for the sacrifice that leads up to . . . the violent death of our Savior.

Below are some suggestions for activities that can (hopefully) help your family to embrace the three practices of Lent: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

Prayer. Prayer is simply talking to God. The formal prayers of our Church are ways that Christians have been talking to God for hundreds, sometimes thousands of years. I think we need both “from the heart” time with God, as well as a way to connect with all those who have come before us (“formal” prayer). Here are some suggestions for ways to bring prayer alive for your family:

  • For younger children:
    • help them to tell God one thing they are grateful for and one thing they really need each day
    • print off a children’s version of the Stations of the Cross (some even have coloring pages), and talk about one each day
  • For older children:
    • Read scripture (maybe the Sunday Gospels?) and have them tell you one line that stood out to them and ask them why
    • Engage their strengths in learning the Stations of the Cross. If they are artistic, they can draw one per day or week. If they are writers they can write prayers for each station, etc.
    • Find famous paintings of the Stations from different cultures and explore them with your children
  • For teens:
    • Encourage them to start a prayer journal that you won’t look at
    • Use Lent as an excuse to get involved in a good youth group or teen retreat
    • Have teens write a “teen stations,” relating one or more of the Stations to the difficulties that teenagers face
  • As a family:
    • Make a regular time to pray together. If that is totally new to your family, try just saying one thing you are grateful to God for each day. Other options are a family Rosary, a chaplet of Divine Mercy, a decade of the Rosary, or one Station of the Cross each day
    • Use Stations the children have made (or print some from the internet) and put a small votive near each one around your home. Move around the house as you would around the Church as you pray.
    • Choose a short Scripture verse that is appropriate for the season and say it after every meal. You and your children will have it memorized in no time!

Fasting. I think the key to successful fasting as a family is to explain to everyone what it’s for. When we fast, we give up a material good for a spiritual one. Even young children can understand what it is to give something up for someone else. For example, my son was terrified of getting a flu shot last year, but he found courage to do it when we told him that he was protecting his baby sister from getting the flu. We sacrifice out of love for God.

  • For children:
    • Make a “crown of thorns” out of clay or craft wire with toothpicks for “thorns.” Each time a member of the family makes a small sacrifice, they take a thorn out of Jesus’ crown. This is a way of connecting their sacrifice to love for Jesus.
    • For each sacrifice, children get to put jellybean in a jar . . . that they can eat during the Easter season!
    • Remind children that sacrifices should be something they like that they are giving up, or something hard for them to do (i.e. doing what mom asks the first time they are asked!) Varying the sacrifices can keep it from being too burdensome, and can help children start thinking of ways they can sacrifice for others.
  • For teens:
    • Have your teens consider giving up video games, iPad, Facebook, cell phone time (for non-essential purposes), etc. If the prospect of being unplugged for 40 days is too overwhelming, maybe consider unplugging on Fridays. Hint: agree to do it with your child!
    • Ask teens to help plan and prepare the Friday meatless meal. They may enjoy looking into meatless meals that are a staple for other cultures.
    • Invite your teen to “give up” a treat that costs money such as a movie out with friends, a snack after school, etc. Put that money in a jar and allow them to choose the charity for donation.
  • For families:
    • Choose one night a week during Lent to be family night, where all activities are cancelled (this may take some serious effort!). Use the time to pray a little bit, then either play board games or watch a movie with a good message that will inspire conversation.
    • Join in with one of the other activities above.
    • Consider one thing your family can “give up” together.

Almsgiving. Almsgiving just means serving others out of love. Several of the suggestions above for sacrifice could be used for this as well, but here are a few more:

  • Parents “pay” for each sacrifice, putting coins in a jar for each good deed. Alternately, if there is a behavior your family is working on changing (for instance, saying “Oh my God!”), each member of the family can put a quarter of their own money in each time they say it! The money then goes to a charity of the family’s choice.
  • Skip a meal out in order to buy your family’s favorite groceries for a food pantry.
  • Volunteer together at your favorite organization together.
  • Practice “deliberate acts of kindness” within the family. You can even do a Lenten spin on the “Advent Angel” idea, having each member do secret, thoughtful deeds for another family member.

Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list, nor could any family handle everything mentioned. I hope it has gotten you thinking, though, about what will best help your family grow in holiness. Happy Lent, everyone!

Timothy and Titus Top Ten

26 Jan

Today the universal Church celebrates the feast of Sts. Timothy and Titus. Both were disciples of St. Paul and are mentioned in the New Testament. Timothy eventually became the Bishop of Ephesus and Titus became the Bishop of Crete, so they are important early witnesses to the structure of Church leadership.

St. Paul wrote two letters to Timothy and one letter to Titus that became part of the New Testament. These letters are commonly grouped together as the “Pastoral Epistles,” because they provide pastoral guidance to individual bishops rather than instruction for entire local Churches, such as in the case of the letters to the Corinthians or Romans.

In honor of the feast, I now humbly offer my “top ten” list of favorite verses from the Pastoral Epistles. Here it is:

(10) 1 Timothy 3:15: “The church of the living God [is] the pillar and bulwark of the truth.”

I’m probably underrating this one, perhaps because it is so frequently trotted out in the context of “winning” apologetics debates. While there is an unmistakable apologetics dimension, as St. Paul is clearly referring to the Church–and not the Bible alone–as the “pillar and bulwark of the truth,” what really moves me is the fact that I can turn to the Church, in season and out of season, for the truth.

(9) Titus 3:5: “He saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit.”

This is a really beautiful description of the Sacrament of Baptism, which is truly the doorway to the Christian life. I love the image of “regeneration,” as through the sacrament we become “new creations”–sons and daughters of God by adoption. Our Lord makes all things new!

(8) 2 Timothy 3:16: “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, . . .”

This popular verse connects the concept of “inspiration,” which means “God-breathed,” with Scripture’s value for the believer. And the next verse, sometimes overlooked, completes this beautiful insight:  ”. . . that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

(7) 1 Timothy 2:1-2: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way.”

This passage provides a biblical basis for remembering civil and Church leaders in the General Intercessions at Mass. For me, it’s a challenging reminder, especially after the disastrous 2008 election, to pray for our leaders despite their entrenched opposition on the issues that matter most. (The only thing that President Obama and I agree on is that there should be a playoff system in college football, but I digress.) And I have to say that “a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way” is a goal that really resonates with me.

(6) 2 Timothy 4:3: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings.”

That time has come. Many people today do not endure sound teaching, and sadly they can find New Age gurus, heterodox theologians, start-up “churches,” and even some Catholic clergy and religious who will tickle their ears. Instead of saying “Repent, and believe in the Gospel,” they say “You’re okay as you are, believe what you want.” This verse challenges me to have the humility to listen to the truth, and also the courage robed in charity to resist the temptation, born of a false compassion, to scratch ears rather than speak the truth. (See also 1 Timothy 1:19 about how going against what we know is right makes a shipwreck of our faith.)

(5) 1 Timothy 4:16: “Take heed to yourself and to your teaching; hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

What a wonderful verse for those of us who are parents or teachers, as it challenges us to walk the talk–not only for the good of our “hearers,” but also for our own salvation. This verse also touches on the need to persevere in the faith if we want to attain the “crown of righteousness” (cf. 2 Tim. 4:8).

(4) 2 Timothy 4:7: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

St. Paul’s use of military and athletic images to describe the Christian life summons men to step up and live generous, heroic lives for Christ. This verse also points to the necessity of persevering in the faith, lest we run aimlessly or otherwise become “disqualified” through mortal sin (see 1 Corinthians 9:24-27).  We’re not in heaven yet; we need to put on the armor of God and fearlessly run toward the prize.

(3) 1 Timothy 6:20: “O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you.”

What an amazing verse. St. Paul is instructing Timothy to guard the deposit of faith. Yes, the deposit of faith, summed up in the person and teachings of Christ, needs to be proclaimed, but it also needs to be safeguarded lest mere human wisdom or even outright error intermingle with the Word of God. So the Magisterium, or teaching office, of the Church not only plays offense (teaching the faith), but also defense (protecting the faith). Praise God that the Church proclaims the true faith in every generation, through the ministry of the apostles and their successors, by means of a special gift of the Holy Spirit.

(2) Titus 2:11-14: “For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men, training us to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world, awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.”

I know, it’s a hefty four verses, but it’s such an inspiring passage that I didn’t want to chop it up. I especially appreciate how Christian hope impels us to live virtuous lives.

(1) 1 Timothy 1:15: “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”

What can I possibly add to this verse? Here St. Paul, a la the late Howard Cosell, is simply “telling like it is.”

Well, those are my favorites. What are yours?

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