Archive | July, 2011

Novice Training

28 Jul

One of the hallmarks of the Church in our time is the renewed emphasis on the role of the laity. Drawing upon the rich, traditional teaching of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), the Church reminds the laity that all of us are called to holiness by virtue of our Baptism, and we are all called to play an active role in the apostolate, serving as a leaven in the world.

All that’s well and good, but saying it doesn’t make it so. All Catholics–and not merely those who are called to the priesthood and/or religious life–need a sound Christian formation to be able to respond generously and well to their own personal vocation in Christ. We need ongoing catechesis.

In other words, we can’t expect the fruits of discipleship, such as growth in holiness, apostolic zeal, and so forth, unless we truly are disciples ourselves. Continue reading

St. Joseph’s Mother

26 Jul

Today the universal Church celebrates the feast of Saints Joachim and Ann, the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In discussing this feast at breakfast this morning, one of my children asked me the name of St. Joseph’s mother. What do we know about her?

Unfortunately, Scripture provides minimal information about St. Joseph. He first appears in the Infancy Narratives (Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2) as the husband of Mary, and is mentioned in subsequent passing references such as John 6:42: “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph?” By the time we come to Jesus’ public ministry, Joseph is out of the picture, and the Church generally believes that Joseph died prior to that time.

As for St. Joseph’s family background, the Gospel of Matthew says that Jacob was his father (Matthew 1:16). In the Gospel of Luke, however, Heli is listed as the father of Joseph (Luke 3:23). Through the centuries, Church Fathers and Scripture scholars have come up with different plausible theories to explain this apparent discrepancy in the Gospel accounts regarding Joseph’s father, but the fact remains that none of the accounts or other historical records identify St. Joseph’s mother for us.

Actually, there are relatively few individuals in the New Testament whose mother was identified for us. Often their lives are not recorded in Scripture or other early Christian sources until they get caught up in the mystery of Christ during their adult years.

Despite the paucity of historical information, St. Joseph is one of the most revered saints in the Church, and has the august title of being “patron of the universal Church.” One of the best magisterial sources for more information on St. Joseph is Pope John Paul II’s 1989 apostolic letter Guardian of the Redeemer (Redemptoris Custos).

Hotter Than Hell?

22 Jul

Given the current heat wave, it’s natural to make the comparison. After all, Jesus frequently speaks of the “fiery furnace” (Matthew 13:42, 50) or “unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:43-48) that awaits those who reject His merciful love. 

But aside from such hyperbole, how often do we think of hell? Do we have any unanswered “burning” questions about hell? While hell should be neither our goal nor our focus, we do well to recall the following “six-pack” of Church teachings on the subject:

(1) It’s real. Following the example of Christ, the Church warns us about the sad and lamentable reality of eternal death, known as hell (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1056). From the beginning, it’s been the work of Satan to get us to think that hell doesn’t exist (see Genesis 3:4-5; John 8:44).

(2) Eternal separation from God. Just as the glories of heaven are beyond our limited comprehension, so too we can’t fully appreciate in this life the torment that is hell. We do know that hell is eternal, and that the chief punishment of hell is separation from God, who alone can provide us the happiness for which we were created (Catechism, no. 1035).

(3) It’s a choice. God desires our salvation (1 Timothy 2:4). He does not want any of us to end up in hell. However, since God gave us the gift of freedom, we are able to make choices that have eternal consequences. By persisting in mortal sin and refusing the merciful love of God up to the time of death, one can freely choose to exclude himself or herself from communion with God and the joys of heaven (Catechism, no. 1033).

(4) Who’s there? Well, we don’t know. A very, very small percentage of the blessed in heaven are known to us because the Church, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, has declared them to be saints through the process of canonization. There is no analogous process for determining any of the human residents of hell, and it’s at least possible that even the most heinous, hardened sinners may have repented in the end.  

(5) Hope and intercession. Since we know that God wants all to come to repentance and be saved (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9), we have grounds for hoping that our loved ones who have died have been reconciled with God. The constant prayer of the Church is that all people would turn to the Lord and be saved from final damnation (Catechism, no. 1037). Perhaps those prayers were heard at the 11th hour with respect to our loved ones. And after their death, we still pray for the deceased, that they may be purified of their sin and thus fully enjoy the glory of heaven (Catechism, nos. 1030-32).

(6) Call to responsibility. The reality of hell is a wake-up call to each of us to use our freedom well, keeping in mind our eternal destiny. The love of God and neighbor should be the primary motivation for our actions, but a healthy awareness of hell and the desire to avoid it should help motivate us to do the right thing, especially in times of temptation or weakness (Catechism, no. 1036).

During these dog days of summer, stay thirsty, my friends, for the living water that leads to everlasting life (John 4:13-14; 7:37-38).

Sloth Management

20 Jul

In yesterday’s post, I discussed how the vice of sloth is by no means limited to the “couch potato,” but is a widespread problem in our busy, workaholic world. Now I would like to offer a three-point plan for conquering the vice of sloth and replacing it with virtues that will move us in the right direction.

(1) Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day

I recently had the occasion to reread Blessed John Paul II’s magnificent 1998 apostolic letter Dies Domini, on keeping the Lord’s Day holy. It’s hard to single out “favorites” from among John Paul’s voluminous writings, but surely this meditation on the Lord’s Day will benefit Christians “with ears to hear” for many generations to come. 

I heartily recommend this apostolic letter as spiritual reading. Perhaps we can even give up an hour or so of sports (gasp!) this Sunday to soak in some of the Holy Father’s insights as to what Sunday is all about in the first place.

One passage of Dies Domini really struck me: “[The Sabbath is] rooted in the depths of God’s plan. This is why, unlike many other precepts, it is not set within the context of strictly cultic stipulations but within the Decalogue, the ‘ten words’ which represents the very pillars of the moral life inscribed on the human heart” (no. 13).

Sunday Mass is not simply another requirement imposed on us by a Church that’s obsessed with “rules.” Rather, the obligation to remember to keep the day holy is prefigured and rooted in the commandment to keep the Sabbath day holy, which in turn is rooted in the very act of creation. And by creation I mean both God’s creation of the world, from which He took his rest on the seventh day, and God’s creation of us.

This call to worship, to rest from servile labor, to take stock of all that God has given us, is inscribed in who we are, and we are acting against our own good when we fail to remember to keep Sunday holy. As Our Lord noted, the Sabbath is made for man, and not the other way around.

On top of all that, we are commanded to “remember” to keep the day holy, which suggests that we might tend to “forget.”

When it comes to tithing our money, assuming that we even make an effort to support the Church financially, we look for the minimum we can get by with. Nobody ever says, “Is it okay to give more than 10 percent?” let alone tries to imitate the widow in the Gospel (Luke 21:1-4). Instead, we tend to give a mere pittance of what we’re able to give—certainly not enough to affect our overall spending habits. God asks for our first fruits and we give Him our spare change.

In a similar sense, God asks us to tithe our time, to give him one day per week. We’ve reduced the Lord’s Day to Sunday Mass, and even then we squawk if it lasts more than 45 minutes. We can’t get out of the church parking lot fast enough once we’ve “done our time.”

But as long as we view the Sunday obligation minimally and as a burden, we’re missing the point. While Sunday Mass is the source and summit of our Christian life for the week, the entire Lord’s Day should be set aside for God and family—in other words, for leisure and for freedom from servile labor. Surely there must be some flexibility in application, especially given our diverse, secular culture, but I daresay just as we can probably do a better job of tithing our money, we can do a better job of remembering to observe the Lord’s Day.

(2) Take stock of our schedule

Time is one of our most valued commodities, and we should spend it in a way that reflects our values and priorities. Getting the Lord’s Day right is the first and most important step, but we still have six other days to order correctly. Faith, family, work, and other pursuits are like ingredients that need to be added at the right time and in the right measure to make a tasty dish. If we don’t take the time to read and follow the recipe, the ingredients won’t come together in the way we’d like.

That’s why it’s so important for individuals, couples, families, and communities to take the time to identify their priorities and commitments and schedule their days and weeks accordingly. For those of us who tend to be lazy “under-achievers,” a schedule will keep us on task to make sure we meet our obligations. For those of us who tend toward workaholism and to be driven by the tyranny of the urgent, a schedule will make sure that we make time for prayer, reading to the kids, or other priorities that might get shoved aside if we’re not vigilant.

(3) Cultivate virtue

If we’re not actively engaged in cultivating virtue, then our lives will start looking like my lawn. There are still some patches of green grass, despite the heat, but each day there are also more weeds. Overcoming vice and developing virtue go together, just as it’s not enough to pull weeds without also fertilizing and watering the grass.

When it comes to sloth, the corresponding virtues are justice, charity, and magnanimity. Sloth is about fulfilling our obligations to God and neighbor, which brings into play the various forms of justice. However, the motivation for fulfilling these obligations should be supernatural charity, which moves us out of our small, self-serving world so that we might live for others.

When the spiritual laxity of sloth overtakes us, we are like a football team that has lost its momentum. We are set back on our spiritual heels and feel ill-prepared to do what is necessary to turn the tide. From this perspective, we can see how the “end game” of sloth is despair, as eventually the negative momentum snowballs, and we lose the will to compete. Magnanimity, however, literally means being “great-souled”; it is the virtue that gives us the confidence that we can do all things in him who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13), that we can truly run so as to win (1 Corinthians 9:24).

Each time we act against our disinclination to pray, as well as work into our day habits of prayer (e.g., saying a Hail Mary when we’re stopped in traffic) and sacrifice, we are replacing sloth with virtues that will help us become saints. And it all starts with getting up off the couch and onto our knees.

This article originally appeared in the January 2008 issue of This Rock magazine, published by Catholic Answers.

The Sin of Sloth: What the Couch Potato and the Workaholic Have in Common

19 Jul

When many of us think of sloth, we probably conjure up images of an ugly South American animal that eats shoots and actually hangs around. Or maybe we think of unshaven Joe Sixpack lying on the sofa all weekend, not lifting a finger except to open another cold one.

The latter is a fairly apt image of the vice of sloth or its synonyms such as boredom, acedia, and laziness. Boredom refers to a certain emptiness of soul or lack of passion; acedia refers to the sadness that comes from our unwillingness to tackle the difficulties involved in attaining something good; laziness more generally refers to the torpor and idleness of one who is not inclined to exert himself.

Sloth encompasses all these ideas and more. In his Modern Catholic Dictionary, the late Jesuit Fr. John Hardon defined sloth as “sluggishness of soul or boredom because of the exertion necessary for the performance of a good work. The good work may be a corporal task, such as walking; or a mental exercise, such as writing; or a spiritual duty, such as prayer.”

One might have the impression that sloth is not a typically American sin. The virtues of diligence and industriousness are deeply ingrained in our nation’s Protestant work ethic. Our youth learn early on that the way to get ahead—at least for those who don’t win the lottery—is by working hard. The early bird catches the worm. Early to bed, early to rise. In a competitive, dog-eat-dog business world, everyone is looking for an “edge,” and that typically comes from outworking the competition.

And even apart from an employment context, when we want to communicate that our lives have been normal and healthy, we report that we’ve been “keeping busy.” Continue reading

There’s a Patron Saint for That!

15 Jul

Yesterday’s post was devoted to Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha. I always thought that she should be the patron saint of fast-food restaurants (you know, “Take-it-with-ya”). In this spirit, I thought I would propose some other “patron saints” for your amusement as we look forward to the weekend.

Fast-food restaurants (Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha)
Chocolate milk (St. John Bosco)
Potpourri (St. Peter)
Bargain hunters (St. Francis de Sales)
Second helpings (St. Thomas More)
Pooty cats (St. Sylvester)
Bald dudes, bad hair days (St. Hedwig)
Furniture (Chair of St. Peter)
Forest fires (St. Blase)
Former first ladies (St. Hilary of Poitiers)
Distilleries (St. Pius V)
Perfumes (St. Peter Chanel)
Pilgrimages (St. Martin of Tours)
Security blankets (St. Linus)
Royals fans (Our Lady of Sorrows)
Entryways (St. Isidore)
Dog kennels (St. Bernard of Clairvaux)
Dairy farmers, Packer fans (St. Maximilian Kolbe)
Lite beer (St. James the Less)
Moneylenders (St. Charles Borromeo)
The Suprenant children (Seven Sleepers of Ephesus*)
Computers (St. John Damascene–think about it!)

*Unfortunately, the legendary Seven Sleepers of Ephesus are no longer on the Roman calendar!

Can you think of any others? Let us know about them on Facebook or at our Family Room discussion board

Lily of the Mohawks

14 Jul

Today the Church celebrates the feast of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, the beloved “Lily of the Mohawks.”

She was born the daughter of a Mohawk warrior in what is now upstate New York in the mid-17th century. Her mother died from small pox when she was only four years old. Kateri survived the diseased, but it disfigured her face and impaired her vision.

As a young woman she was converted and baptized by a Jesuit missionary. She was shunned and abused by her relatives because of her faith. Yet she was undeterred in her devotion to Christ crucified and to the Eucharist.

This young woman of God became known for her deep spirituality, her embrace of suffering, and her care for the sick and elderly. She died at the tender age of 24.

When Pope John Paul II beatified her in 1980, Kateri became the first native American to be formally declared “Blessed.”

Blessed Kateri is especially known here in Kansas City for lending her name to Camp Tekakwitha, a Catholic adventure camp at Prairie Star Ranch that connects kids and families with the heart of Jesus Christ, offering prayer and Scripture study as well as an array of exciting outdoor activities.

If Blessed Kateri is the “Lily of the Mohawks,” perhaps this wholesome youth outreach could be called the “Lily of the Jayhawks.” May she continue to intercede for Camp Tekakwitha and for the youth of our Archdiocese.

I’d like to end this post with the opening prayer for today’s Mass in honor of Blessed Kateri, which in my opinion is especially beautiful:

Lord God,
you called the virgin, blessed Kateri Tekakwitha,
to shine among the Indian people
as an example of innocence of life.
Through her intercession,
may all peoples of every tribe, tongue, and nation,
having been gathered into your Church,
proclaim your greatness
in one song of praise.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.

Apostles of Kindness

12 Jul

One of my most beloved priests is Fr. Jerry. That’s not his real name. I don’t want to embarrass him, and besides, he always made a point of avoiding or deflecting this sort of praise and attention.

Whenever I would visit with Fr. Jerry, whether in the confessional, the parish hall, or the local coffee shop, he was always so focused on our conversation. I felt like I mattered, that I was the only other person in his world. And he was like that with everyone.

He made a point of knowing everyone in our large parish and called each of us by our first name. No matter what was going on in his life, he always was able to muster a smile and an encouraging word, even a simple “Leon, you’re a good man.” But he was not afraid to gently correct or admonish me when he needed to.

I mention Fr. Jerry as an example of the attractiveness and power of the virtue of kindness. Fr. Lawrence Lovasik wrote an amazing book nearly 40 years ago entitled The Hidden Power of Kindness: A Practical Handbook for Souls Who Dare to Transform the World, One Deed at a Time. This contemporary classic unpacks the fundamental role of kindness in the Christian life.

Kindness is not a mushy niceness or a wimpy brand of charity, but rather is deeply rooted in the Word of God. Kindness (or “kind” or “kindly”) appears dozens of times explicitly in Scripture, and countless other times by way of synonym or implication. Continue reading

St. Maria Goretti, Chastity, and Modern Living

5 Jul

Tomorrow  the Church celebrates the life of St. Maria Goretti, a pious, young Italian girl who a little over a century ago was stabbed to death, preferring to die rather than give in to the demands of a rapist.

A few months back, my family viewed an excellent documentary on St. Maria Goretti entitled Fourteen Flowers of Pardon. Ignatius Press also has a fine video on this saint with accompanying study booklet.

A few thoughts on this beautiful saint:

(1) She is considered a “martyr” by the Church. That’s not a big deal at first blush, but think about it. She wasn’t asked to deny an article of the Creed. She wasn’t told by her assailant (who incidentally underwent a conversion in prison and was present at her canonization) to “reject Christ or die.”

Rather, she adamantly refused to cooperate in any form of sexual impurity. She accepted death rather than sacrifice her chaste virginity. She was a devout young lady who knew the seriousness of sins against the Sixth and Ninth Commandments, how they are more than capable of severing our relationship with Christ. She died rather than compromise her relationship with Christ, and so is honored as a martyr.

From this it is easy to see why St. Maria Goretti is a fitting patron saint for today’s youth, whose faith is undermined not only by poor religious instruction and secularist ideologies, but often in more concrete fashion by the pervasive sexual immorality of our culture.

Yes, virtue still matters! Continue reading