Archive | September, 2011

Protestant “Verses” Catholic

30 Sep

A Catholic school teacher once posed this question to me: “Protestants always have signs, t-shirts, billboards, and the like with John 3:16, so it seems that for them that is the one definitive verse of the Bible. If you had to sum up the Catholic faith in one Bible verse or passage, what would it be?”

Since today is the feast of St. Jerome (347-419), the patron saint of Scripture scholars and the renowned translator of the Vulgate edition of the Bible, I thought I would share with readers my answer to this intriguing question, and also invite the commentary and suggestions of others. Continue reading

St. Michael, Defend Us in Battle!

29 Sep

St. Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our protection against the malice and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou,
O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the power of God,
cast into hell Satan,
and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin
of souls. Amen.

See Revelation 12:7-12.

Let’s Be Catholic!

28 Sep

Today’s Catholics are called to be leaven in the new millennium. That’s a tremendous challenge, as the richness of our Catholic faith isn’t easily reducible to culture-friendly soundbytes, and timeless Christian wisdom is often portrayed in the media as simply one voice among many, or even as the “spin” of the “religious right.”

This all points to the ongoing need for prudent inculturation, which is the process of adapting–without diluting or disfiguring–the Gospel for new cultures and generations. Rather than withdraw into a secure Catholic ghetto, we’re called by our Holy Father to be an evangelizing presence in the world, allowing God’s grace to transform a generation that at times seems to be lost in cyberspace.

In other words, we’re called to be catholic!

The Catechism provides an outstanding exposition of the catholicity of the Church, which is one of her distinguishing marks, for we believe in “one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church.” The Church is “catholic,” or “universal,” both because she has already received from Christ the fullness of salvation (see Eph. 1:22-23), and because she has been entrusted with the mission of bringing the Gospel to the entire human race.

Regarding the Church’s missionary nature, the Catechism devotes an important paragraph to inculturation (no. 854), worth quoting in full:

“By her very mission, the Church travels the same journey as all humanity and shares the same earthly lot with the world: she is to be a leaven and, as it were, the soul of human society in its renewal by Christ and transformation into the family of God. Missionary endeavor requires patience. It begins with the proclamation of the Gospel to peoples and groups who do not yet believe in Christ, continues with the establishment of Christian communities that are a sign of God’s presence in the world, and leads to the foundation of local churches. It must involve a process of inculturation if the Gospel is to take flesh in each people’s culture. There will be times of defeat. With regard to individuals, groups, and peoples it is only by degrees that [the Church] touches and penetrates them, and so receives them into a fullness which is Catholic.”

The “new evangelization” requires profound respect for other peoples, cultures, and generations and absolute fidelity to the Person and teaching of Jesus Christ. It’s not an either-or proposition.

The Church calls us to build on the truths we already have in common with others while patiently fostering full communion in the Body of Christ. The glass is never only half full or half empty, it’s both. Dialoguing without ever summoning to conversion is cowardly and weak; summoning to conversion without first connecting with other people is foolhardy and harsh. We need grace and courage to hold these two realities together in our own particular network of relationships.

But, most of us aren’t missionaries in the strict sense. We don’t go anywhere except maybe to work or the grocery store or the mall. How do we live the catholicity of the Church? Continue reading

Why Did the Religious Cross the Road?

26 Sep

The Apostle of the Interior Life crossed the road to give spiritual direction.

The Benedictine crossed the road to pray and work.

The Camaldolese crossed the road to build a hermitage.

The Carmelite crossed the road (barefoot) to find a secluded place to pray.

The Little Sister of the Lamb crossed the road to seek the lost sheep and to beg her daily bread.

The Daughter of St. Paul crossed the road to open a Catholic bookstore.

The Dominican crossed the road to preach the Gospel.

The Father of Mercy crossed the road to give a parish mission.

The Franciscan crossed the road to be an instrument of peace (and to make sure the chicken was okay).

The Jesuit crossed the road for the greater glory of God.

The Mercedarian crossed the road to set captives free.

The Missionary of Charity crossed the road to reach out to the poorest of the poor.

The Norbertine crossed the road to rebuild Western civilization.

The Oblate of the Virgin Mary crossed the road to give a retreat.

The Passionist crossed the road to proclaim Christ crucified.

The Salesian crossed the road to educate young men.

The Servant of Mary crossed the road to care for a sick person in his or her own home.

The Sister of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration crossed the road to spend time with Jesus.

The Sister of Life crossed the road to bear witness to the value of every human life.

The Ursuline crossed the road to educate young women.

We all eventually cross the road. Why we cross the road makes all the difference.

The foregoing was originally published by the Institute on Religious Life.

Beautiful Game

23 Sep

In his spiritual classic Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales writes, “The most important thing of all . . . is that you cling firmly to the resolutions you have taken in meditation, so as to practice them carefully.”

This insight really hit home this morning, as I look forward to my son Samuel’s soccer tournament, which begins this evening. Sam’s a fine young player, and the games are so much fun to watch. No wonder it’s called the “beautiful game.”

At the beginning of the season, Sam’s enthusiastic coach gave all the players a CD containing inspirational music, including Wavin’ Flag, the theme song for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that song in the car as I shuttle kids to and from soccer practices and games.

It’s now come to the point that I can be sitting at my desk or on the sofa, and the song will pop into my consciousness. For a moment I think of the beautiful game, and then I redirect my attention to whatever I happen to be doing.

It seems to me that God’s Word, as well as our own “resolutions” or applications drawn from the slow repetition of lectio divina, should also be so deeply rooted in us that it comes back to us from time to time during the day, drawing us to a renewed love and zeal. Sure, we need reminders, such as crucifixes and godly friends, but as people of prayer–as people who, after the example of Our Lady, hear the Word and keep it (see Luke 2:19, 51; 11:27-28)–it seems to me that the best means of calling to mind our resolutions is to have God’s Word so deeply ingrained in us that it’s never too far from our minds and hearts.

I know that I often rush through my prayer, and when I do, what I prayed about doesn’t come back to me very often during the day. But when I chew on a passage of Scripture over and over again, it does come back to me during the day, often at times when I most need a reminder.

I really don’t mind having the soccer song pop into my mind every so often, but even more, I desire to remember resolutions made in my prayer, lest the Word of God be without effect in my life (see 1 Sam. 3:19).

This day, let us take our cue from today’s beloved saint, Padre Pio of Pietrelcina who, despite the great things God did in and through him, simply wanted to be known as “a poor Franciscan who prays.”

Matt’s Top Ten

21 Sep

Today, in honor of the feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist, I thought I would provide my top ten list of favorite Gospel passages found exclusively in St. Matthew’s Gospel.

Matthew has some of the most beautiful passages in all of Scripture, including the visit of the Magi (Mt. 2:1-12) and the breathtaking Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5-7), as well as some of the most troubling, such as the massacre of the Innocents (Mt. 2:16-17), Judas’ suicide (Mt. 27:3-5), and the people’s acceptance of responsibility for Jesus’ execution (Mt. 27:25).

I went through the entire Gospel and identified the following ten passages unique to Matthew that I found the most inspiring. I hope you agree!

(1) Matthew 1:23 “’Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel’ (which means, God with us).”

Not only does Matthew apply the prophecy of Isaiah to Jesus and Mary, but adds for emphasis the meaning of the title “Emmanuel”: God is with us! Earlier in the genealogy (Mt. 1:1-17), Christ is identified as the long-awaited Messiah who embodies the promises made to Abraham and David. Now we also discover that the anointed one is God Himself, who has chosen to make His dwelling with us (see John 1:14). Continue reading

Are You Ready?

19 Sep

Football season is now in full swing. I know this because my young sons and I usually camp out in the basement on the first weekend of the season.

As we said our prayers in our sleeping bags following Notre Dame’s upset loss to South Florida, Samuel quoted one of his favorite lines from Rudy: “Notre Dame our Mother, pray for us!”

My pious son was praying for victory. He was not, however, thinking of a great battle like Lepanto or even of victory over sin and the triumph of Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart. Rather, the object of his prayer was next week’s game at the “Big House” versus Michigan. (His prayer apparently wasn’t efficacious, as the Wolverines pulled off an improbable fourth-quarter comeback to defeat the Irish 35-31.)

Football is a terrific sport, but we can take this form of entertainment too seriously. Sometimes our athletic allegiances go so far as to border on the sacrilegious. For example, when we lived in the Pittsburgh area, I heard of a priest who would wear black and gold vestments in honor of the Steelers.

I also heard of a parish that would give updates on football games during Mass, as though our salvation depends on that.

Those examples may be extreme, but they point to a reality faced by pastors around the country, as football and the Christian faith vie for our attention. It’s not uncommon for a Catholic to complain about the homily going five minutes too long (apparently the pastor was out of time-outs), only to watch seven hours or more of football later that same day. Many football fans will spend more time watching commercials on a given weekend than they will spend in church.

There are countless parallels that can be drawn by which we can assess where our own treasure lies. In preparing for Sunday, do we spend more time reading the sports page than reading the Gospel and other spiritual fare? Do we more frequently think of the Saints as our intercessors in heaven or as the NFL team that Drew Brees plays for? Do we tend to spend Advent preparing for Christmas or for the playoffs? (That shouldn’t be a problem for Chiefs’ fans this season, unfortunately.) The list could go on.

We armchair quarterbacks would do well to reevaluate our priorities in light of what’s truly most important in life. I have to admit I’ve hurried home from Mass so as not to miss any of the “big game.” What did that say about the importance I was placing on the Lord’s Day?

Even those of us who aren’t football fans may occasionally find ourselves at Mass thinking about the activities planned for later in the day rather than what’s taking place on the altar. If we were watching a football game or engaging in one of our favorite pursuits, would we let our mind wander so much?

When the Church emphasizes the need for “full, active, and conscious” participation in the liturgy, the goal is not the proliferation of speaking parts and sundry liturgical ministries so much as to beckon us to enter more deeply into the realities celebrated in the liturgy, to be aware of who we are and what we’re doing at Mass.

Our participation makes all the difference. If we don’t engage ourselves in heavenly things, we will put disordered energy into worldly pursuits. As great as Notre Dame (or Nebraska, Kansas State, or Mizzou) football is, God desires more for us than that.

Notre Dame our Mother, pray for us!

Holy, Holy, Holy!

16 Sep

I often encounter people of faith who have axes to grind with the Catholic Church. It seems that every time I patiently answer one question, they come up with five more.

Behind many of these questions is the unspoken assessment that the Catholic Church can’t be the true Church because the Church isn’t holy. It’s a big, money-grubbing bureaucracy with wealthy bishops, pedophile priests, and ignorant, superstitious laity. How could such an institution claim to have the “fullness of truth”? Why can’t I just pray to God in my own way and with my own Bible without having to pay homage to this corrupt institution?

Our apostolic faith teaches us that we believe in “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.” The Church’s unity, or “one-ness,” can be quite a challenge for many, given the disunity among Christians, even within the visible Church.

Yet, I think the “holiness” of the Church may be even more difficult to understand and accept at first blush than the Church’s unity. After all, the Church is composed of frail, weak, sinful human beings, yet we have the gall to say the Church is holy.

The truth is that we’re able to make such a bold statement only because individually and as a Church we have Christ in us, transforming us, healing us, reconciling us to the Father. Continue reading

Chrysostom on Withholding Communion

13 Sep

Today is the feast of St. John Chrysostom, the famous Bishop of Constantinople at the turn of the fifth century. He was given the title “Chrysostom, which means “golden mouthed,” because of his eloquent sermons. He’s also known as a doctor of the Church because of his timeless, orthodox teaching.

In his book Luminous Mysteries, Scripture scholar Tim Gray quotes at length from St. John Chrysostom’s homily “On the Institution of the Eucharist,” which I reprint below. I think you’ll agree that it’s quite instructive on the controversial subject of the sacred minister’s duty to withhold Communion from a notorious sinner:

“I speak not only to the communicant, but also I say to the priest who ministers the Sacrament: Distribute this gift with much care. There is no small punishment for you, if being conscious of any wickedness in any man, you allow him to partake of the banquet of the table: ‘Shall I not now require his blood at your hand?’ (2 Sam. 4:11). If some public figure, or some wealthy person who is unworthy, presents himself to receive Holy Communion, forbid him. The authority that you have is greater than his. Consider if your task were to guard a clean spring of water for a flock, and you saw a sheep approach with mire on its mouth–you would not allow it to stoop down and pollute the stream. You are now entrusted with a spring, not of water, but of blood and of spirit. If you see someone having sin in his heart (which is far more grievous than earth and mire), coming to receive the Eucharist, are you not concerned? Do you try to prevent him? What excuse can you have, if you do not? Continue reading

The Lord Is Near

8 Sep

The Pope continued his teachings on prayer this week by beginning a series of weekly meditations on the Psalms, which he calls the “prayerbook par excellence.” Yesterday (September 7th) he reflected on Psalm 3, a psalm of lament and supplication imbued with trust in God’s saving presence.

I invite readers to ponder the Pope’s reflections in their entirety, but here is his closing summary, which will give you a good sense of the Holy Father’s message to us today:

“Dear brothers and sisters, Psalm 3 presents us with a prayer full of trust and consolation. In praying this psalm, we can make the psalmist’s sentiments our own–[the psalmist] who is a figure of the just man who is persecuted, and who finds his fulfillment in Jesus. In suffering, in danger, in the bitterness of misunderstanding and offense, the psalmist’s words open our hearts to the comforting certainty of faith. God is always near–even in difficulties, in problems, in the darkness of life–He listens, He responds and He saves according to His ways. But we need to know how to recognize His presence and to accept His ways, like David in his crushing escape from Absalom his son; like the just man who is persecuted in the Book of Wisdom; and finally and fully, like the Lord Jesus on Golgotha. And, when to the eyes of the impious, God seems not to intervene and the Son dies, precisely then are true glory and salvation’s definitive realization manifested to all who believe. May the Lord grant us faith; may He come to the help of our weakness; and may He enable us to believe and to pray in every anxiety, in the painful nights of doubt and in the long days of suffering, by trustfully abandoning ourselves to Him who is our ‘shield’ and our ‘glory.'”