Archive | March, 2012

Died for Me

29 Mar

closing scene, Saving Private Ryan

My daughter Gianna, like her brother before her, had a rare genetic disease called Mitochondrial Depletion Disorder. Essentially, the cells in her liver could not make the energy they needed to stay alive, so her liver started to shut down. As a result, the doctors recommended a liver transplant. The chances of her getting a liver were slim (she needed half of a toddler’s liver, as she was only 3 months old) and the long term outcome of the risky surgery was questionable at best for her diagnosis. But it was the only chance we had, so we waded through all the blood tests and paperwork and waited for the phone to ring. Continue reading

What Happened to the “A” Word?

27 Mar

Before Lent, my family hangs a string of letters that spell A-L-L-E-L-U-I-A. Then on Fat Tuesday we put all the letters in a sack, only to take them out at Easter. Why does “Alleluia” go into hibernation for forty days?

We encounter several changes in the Mass during Lent. Probably the most distinctive liturgical change during the season of Lent, however, is the removal of “Alleluia” from any and every celebration. Both Advent and Lent share the same liturgical color (purple), and both drop the Gloria from the seasonal Masses, but only Lent forbids the use of “Alleluia.”

We notice this change most especially before the Gospel, when we sing “Glory and Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ” or some other alternative to “Alleluia.” Yet this ban also applies to liturgical music as well as the Liturgy of the Hours.

Alleluia, or “Hallelu-yah” is of Hebrew origin, meaning “Praise Yahweh.” It occurs frequently in Scripture, particularly in the Psalms, and is associated with the praise and jubilation of the choirs of angels around God’s throne in Heaven. In the Mass, we enter into the praise and joy of angelic worship as we receive a foretaste of heavenly glory.

Because of the penitential character of the season of Lent, singing or saying the word “alleluia” has traditionally been suspended during Lent’s forty days. During this season we reflect on our need for repentance to the extent we have fallen short in living out our baptismal faith.

The omission of alleluia during Lent goes back at least to the fifth century in the West. The hymn “Alleluia, Song of Gladness” contains a translation of an 11th-century Latin text that compares an alleluia-less Lent to the exile of the Israelites in Babylon. The text then anticipates the joy of Easter when glad alleluias will return in all their heavenly splendor.

At the Easter Vigil, the priest or deacon will chant a triple Alleluia before he reads the Gospel, and everyone present will respond with a triple Alleluia. The Lord is risen; the Kingdom has come; our joy is complete. In concert with the angels and saints, we once again greet the risen Lord with shouts of “Alleluia!”

And then our family will come home and roll away the stone in our Easter scene and celebrate the feast of Our Lord’s Resurrection.

And somewhere along the line we will once again the string the A-L-L-E-L-U-I-A across our mantle!

Time for Confession

21 Mar

Tonight the Sacrament of Reconciliation will be offered in all the parishes of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas from 6:00-7:00 p.m. as part of our Lenten Confession initiative. Whether it’s been a month or ten years since your last Confession, consider going over to the church this evening.

I’m frequently asked how often Catholics should go to Confession. Many people just want to know the minimum requirement. In that regard, the Church provides that all Catholics who have reached the age of discretion (approximately the age of seven) are required to confess their mortal sins once a year. In addition, if one has committed a mortal sin, he or she must go to Confession before receiving Holy Communion.

While that is the minimum requirement, the Church strongly recommends frequent reception of the sacrament–even when one has not committed a mortal sin since the previous Confession–as a means of growing in holiness (see Catechism, no. 1458). The Introduction to the Rite of Penance puts it this way:

“[T]he frequent and careful celebration of this sacrament is also very useful as a remedy for venial sins. This is not a mere ritual repetition or psychological exercise, but a serious striving to perfect the grace of baptism so that, as we bear in our body the death of Jesus Christ, his life may be seen in us ever more clearly. In confession of this kind, penitents who accuse themselves of venial faults should try to be more closely conformed to Christ and to follow the voice of the Spirit more attentively” (no. 7).

As for what might constitute “frequent” reception of the sacrament, monthly or even weekly Confession can make a significant difference in the spiritual lives of those who hunger and thirst for holiness.

After all, Christ’s first gift to His Church after rising from the dead was the gift of Reconciliation entrusted to His Apostles and their legitimate successors (Jn. 20:19-23), so that we may personally experience God’s mercy and peace.

How often should we go to Confession? Whenever we want to experience anew the mercy and peace of Christ. How about this evening?

The Heart of a Father

19 Mar

The Catholic Church “heartily” celebrates the feasts of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, with the heart symbolizing the immense love of our Lord and His Blessed Mother for each one of us.

Yet, Catholic husbands and fathers might also consider meditating on the heart of St. Joseph, the third member of the Holy Family, whose great feast we celebrate today. His heart is an apt symbol of the love he contributed to the mystery of the redemptive Incarnation that was unfolding under his watch.

And now that same masculine vigilance and love, once focused on his beloved wife and the Christ Child, is bestowed on each one of us, as he is universally invoked as the patron of the Catholic Church.

At the outset of St. Luke’s Gospel, we learn that part of St. 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 so as to make ready for the Lord a people that was truly prepared for Him (cf. Mal. 3:23-24; Lk. 1:17). In St. Joseph, we find a father whose heart is already exquisitely calibrated.

His heart is always in the right place, and God was able to accomplish great things through this eminently just and faithful man.

St. Joseph’s fatherly heart jumps off the page throughout the biblical accounts of Christ’s childhood. Let’s take a brief look at just one such familiar episode: the Finding of Jesus in the Temple (Lk. 2:41-52), the Fifth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary.

“Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up according to custom” (vv. 41-42).

These verses may seem unremarkable at first blush, though as St. Joseph is carting the Holy Family from place to place in the first century we can be certain these journeys were much more onerous than a leisurely afternoon drive in the air-conditioned minivan. But even in his fidelity to the Jewish practices of his time, St. Joseph gives us a most timely lesson on the value of men being observant Catholics. Too often we find at Sunday Mass mom and the kids, but where’s dad? St. Joseph challenges us men to allow our love for the Lord and zeal for our faith to set the tone for the entire family.

Real men go to church! Continue reading

Back in the Pink

15 Mar

This coming Sunday is Laetare Sunday, which is the popular name for the Fourth Sunday in Lent. Its name comes from the first word of the introit (“entrance antiphon”) for the Mass, taken from Isaiah 66:10-11: “Laetare Jerusalem,” which means “Rejoice, Jerusalem.”

Because the midpoint of Lent is the Thursday of the third week of Lent (today!), Laetare Sunday has traditionally been viewed as a day of celebration, on which the austerity of Lent is slightly relaxed, because today we’re given a glimpse of the joy of Easter. The passage from Isaiah continues, “Exult, exult with her, all you who were mourning over her.” It is a day of joy and exultation!

On Laetare Sunday, therefore, the purple vestments and altar cloths of Lent are set aside, and rose ones are used instead. Flowers, which are normally forbidden during Lent, may be placed on the altar. Traditionally, the organ is not played during Lent, except on Laetare Sunday.

The custom of rose vestments is tied to the so-called “station churches” in Rome. The station for Laetare Sunday is the Basilica of the Holy Cross of Jerusalem, where the relics of Cross and Passion brought from the Holy Land by St. Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine, were deposited. On this day, the popes customarily blessed roses made of gold, which were sent to Catholic royalty. The biblical reference is Christ as the “flower” sprung forth from the root of Jesse (Is. 11:1). Thus, the day was also called Dominica de Rosa, or “Rose Sunday.” From there the idea of rose-colored vestments developed. This Roman custom eventually spread to the whole world.

Laetare Sunday has a counterpart in Advent: Gaudete Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent, when purple vestments are also exchanged for rose ones. The point of both days is to encourage us as we progress toward the end of each respective penitential season. For those who get the two days confused, remember that “Lent” and “Laetare” both begin with “L.”

Reflections on Fasting

13 Mar

How’s your Lenten fast going? Is it getting tough? Are you steadily holding firm? Have you given up? Or maybe you are starting to lose your attachment to what you gave up.  Wherever you are at with your fast, I want to share a little bit about what I have been reflecting on as I fast this season.

Remember for whom you fast.  My dad is a pilot and can get passes for my family.  He recently gave up a whole day to take my son out east to visit.  He had to get up at the crack of dawn to catch a flight to KC, and due to a flight delay, he didn’t get back home until around 9pm.  He endured a long, boring day of sitting on airplanes and in the KC airport, but did it without a second thought in order to spend time with his grandson and to save us the airfare.

Have you ever had someone do you a favor like this? Conversely, have you ever had someone do you a favor with such a bad attitude that you would have rather done it yourself? In either circumstance, you know how important the disposition of the giver is.  When we are fasting, it’s good to keep in mind that we are doing this for someone, not just gritting through something uncomfortable just for the heck of it.  We fast for Jesus, who gave up so much more for us than we can imagine.  How can I complain about passing up a bowl of ice cream when the one I offer the sacrifice for shed every last drop of blood for me? We want our sacrifice to be a joyful gift to Jesus.

Fasting as bonding.  When my son Peter was critically ill and it was obvious that he would die, friends of ours drove from Minnesota (where we lived) to St. Louis (where he was in the hospital) just to be with us.  They knew they couldn’t “do” anything for Peter, but they wanted to share in our sorrow, so they came. Then, they returned home a day before us and cleaned my whole house since I had left it in a hurry and it was in no shape to host my whole family who would be coming up for the wake and funeral.  In the following months they continued their love and support.  I now live 6 hours away from these people, but they will be lifelong friends.  Our friendship was tried in fire.

These friends came to mind when I heard a talk recently.  The speaker mentioned that when Jesus allows suffering in our lives it is out of a desire to grow closer to us by being together with us in our pain.  Jesus didn’t want my son to die, as death was never part of his original plan for mankind.  But he was glad to be closer to me than my friends from MN, or my family or anyone could have been.  And through that experience, I have grown deeper in my relationship with Him.  I think that when we fast, we are returning the favor.   By giving up something we like, we are saying to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, or on the Cross that we want to suffer a little bit with him.  We not only want to think about his passion, but enter into it in some small way.

Fasting is decadent.  Every once and a while in my house we run out of Tupperware.  When that happens, I will scratch my head wondering who didn’t return a container or if there are gnomes that roam our house at night searching for the plastic stuff.  Then, I clean out the fridge and my supply is magically replenished! In this analogy, if we don’t clear out the putrid, rotting leftovers in our lives, there is no room for storing the freshly baked muffins.

The connection to fasting is this.  We often cling to things that keep us from receiving all that God has for us.   Fasting helps us to empty ourselves of not only nasty stuff, but of things that are good, but get in the way. So often we focus our fasting on being sad for losing the things we liked.  How much would we benefit from focusing on all the good things God will fill us with instead!

At this halfway point in Lent, things can start to drag a little.  My prayer is that we all gain a spiritual “second wind”, and wherever we are in our Lenten observances, renew our efforts to grow in love of God in this holy season.

Living Vicariously

12 Mar

We’re all accustomed to referring to the Pope as the Vicar of Christ. After all, it was Peter who received the keys, and as Catholics we recognize the role of St. Peter’s successor as Christ’s chosen representative to rule and guide the Universal Church until the end of time.

But one teaching that sometimes gets overlooked today is that the bishops are not simply vicars of the Pope, but vicars of Christ Himself in the particular Church (i.e., diocese) assigned to them. They legitimately exercise their role only in communion with the Pope, but nonetheless they personally exercise their office in the name of Christ as a successor of the apostles. He is neither a mere representative of the Pope nor does he legitimately exercise authority apart from the Pope (See Catechism, nos. 880-96, especially 894-95).

Of course we saw all this play out last week when Archbishop Naumann made his ad limina visit to the Holy See with the other bishops from Kansas and Nebraska.

Some may be surprised to know that a number of Popes have even referred to Christian parents as vicars of Christ in the home. For example, Pope Pius XI, in his 1929 encylical Divini Illius Magistri, wrote: “Parents . . . should be careful to make right use of the authority given them by God, whose vicars in a true sense they are.”

Of course this truth connects well with Vatican II’s emphasis on the family as the “domestic Church” or “Church in miniature.”

Now the Pope, the bishops, and Christian parents are all vicars or representatives of Christ in different senses and in different realms, but these roles again need to be understood and exercised in a complementary, not competitive sense. Continue reading

Scouts’ Honor

9 Mar

In “Scouts’ Major Failing” (Kansas City Star, 3/8/12), commentator Mary Sanchez issued an open letter to Robert Mazzuca, an executive with Boy Scouts of America who was in town earlier this week for a prayer breakfast. The purpose of her letter was to call upon Boy Scouts to change their policy prohibiting openly homosexual men from serving as scout leaders and volunteers.

Sanchez uses the pronoun “we,” as though she speaks for all or even most KC-area residents, which clearly is not the case.

She says that there are many among the 2.7 million young men currently involved in scouting “who now or later will identify as gay,” and that the Boy Scouts “is failing them.” She does acknowledge that Boy Scouts have chartering organizations, most of which are churches, which presumably have moral reservations in this area. Therefore she is “insistent” that Boy Scouts’ leadership needs to be proactive in making its organization more accepting of homosexuality.

When it comes to homosexuality, the Catholic Church makes some very important distinctions. A person with same-sex attraction must always be treated with dignity, respect, and compassion. However, homosexual acts, as consistently taught in Scripture and throughout Christian history, are gravely sinful. Because homosexual acts are sinful, the inclination to commit such acts is considered a disorder. In that sense, any inclination to commit immoral acts is a disorder. The term used for this in Catholic theology is concupiscence, and all of us struggle against inclinations to various sins.

Sanchez, meanwhile, uses the commonly accepted term “gay,” which in today’s parlance refers to someone with same-sex attraction who identifies himself according to that attraction and who has embraced it as a good thing. While most people still accept in some fashion “the other commandments,” our sexually promiscuous culture has gone to great lengths to legitimize sexual activity that our Judeo-Christian culture has traditionally regarded as sinful, including homosexual acts.

Boy Scouts, the Catholic Church, and many others therefore do not think it is healthy or wise to encourage developing, adolescent men who may experience same-sex attraction to identify themselves as “gay” and to become part of the “gay culture.” Sanchez disagrees, and that is her right. But she does not stop there, but rather lectures the Boy Scouts and Christian churches for not agreeing with her–for not abandoning their deeply held beliefs and buying into the spirit of the age.

Sanchez begrudgingly acknowledges that the Boy Scouts have the right to prohibit openly homosexual men from leading groups of young men because of the U.S. Supreme Court (Boy Scouts of America v. Dale), but she openly questions whether the Boy Scouts–and by extension, the Christian churches with whom they closely work–should continue to have this right. In an age where the government is trying in unprecedented ways to take away our right to the free exercise of our religion, one cannot help but be disturbed by attempts to tell Christian churches, organizations, and parents what we must teach our children regarding homosexuality.

We are not that far removed, if we are not vigilant, from having the expression of Catholic teaching regarding homosexuality considered a criminal offense. An article appearing this week at National Review tells the story of a Canadian gentleman who took out an advertisement in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, and he and the paper wound up getting fined $9,000 for “exposing homosexuals to hatred or ridicule.” Here is the entire text of the offending advertisement:

Romans 1:26
Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13
1 Corinthians 6:9

That’s right: three Scripture passages on homosexuality. The Bible is now considered hate speech, and those who teach what it says can expect to be prosecuted if the United States follows the lead of other secularized Western nations.

For those of us who hold, as a matter of faith and/or science, that same-sex attraction is a disorder, it is eminently sensible not to place someone who openly embraces such a disordered inclination in a position to mentor
impressionable, pubescent boys who are in the process of developing
their own sexual identities.

It would also be unwise to send an openly homosexual man on overnight outings with adolescent boys in the same way that it would be foolish to send a heterosexual man on overnight outings with adolescent girls. It’s a matter of prudence, not discrimination.

Sanchez acknowledges the great effects the Boy Scouts have had on her own siblings as well as on the greater Kansas City community. The Boy Scouts have developed a formula based on Christian values that has withstood the test of time. God bless them for remaining true to their principles in a society that needs their principles and values now more than ever.

Taking Our Medicine

8 Mar

All of us have had the experience of realizing that we have sinned. We understand that what we did was wrong, and we can readily discern the negative effects of our actions. We then sincerely ask the Lord for His mercy and we try to make things right with anyone we may have hurt.

As Catholics we appreciate the gift of divine mercy and peace that is ours through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which “offers a new possibility to convert and to recover the grace of justification” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1446). In other words, we realize we’re spiritually sick, and so we desire the appropriate remedy.

During this Lenten season all the parishes in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas are offering the Sacrament of Reconciliation from 6:00-7:00 p.m. on Wednesday evenings, in addition to the usual Confession times. We do well to take advantage of this archdiocesan initiative, and we may want to visit the archdiocesan website for a variety of resources on Confession.

As we make our Act of Contrition after confessing our sins, we “firmly resolve with the help of God’s grace to sin no more.” We’re banking on God’s help, but in this prayer we’re telling Our Lord that we are absolutely serious about avoiding sin in the future.

In other words, we’re committed to doing whatever we can to help reverse the cycle of sin in our life, to wipe it out at the source.

Given our commitment to “sin no more,” it would be extremely helpful to have some understanding of the underlying causes of our sins. I’m sure we all ask ourselves on occasion, “Where did I go wrong?” Surely we’re all prone to sin because of our fallen nature, but it’s also true that sin isn’t all that innovative or trendy. My sins and your sins are not all that original. Ask any confessor! It’s actually quite possible to trace most of our sins to some very basic moral errors.

That’s why paragraph no. 1792 is one of the most enlightening entries in the entire Catechism. It lists some of the main reasons why we go astray. Here’s what it says:

“Ignorance of Christ and His Gospel, bad example given by others, enslavement to one’s passions, assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, rejection of the Church’s authority and her teaching, lack of conversion and of charity: these can be at the source of errors of judgment in moral conduct.”

Several of these items jump off the page to me. Doctrinal dissent has consequences in the moral life. My bad example (known as “scandal”) can lead others to sin. Ignorance is not “bliss” when it comes to the Gospel. And this Catechism quote makes abundantly clear that an erroneous approach to conscience leads to errors in moral judgment.

Conscience is vitally important. It’s God’s way of revealing His truth to us in concrete circumstances, so that we can choose the good He desires for us. So having a well-formed conscience is about doing what God wants, not what “I want.” There are many voices–internal (for example, our own preferences, memories, motivations, and disordered desires) and external (for example, family, friends, and the media)–competing for our attention. We need a certain interiority to be able to hear the Shepherd’s voice, to discern God’s law that is already on our hearts.

Too often we do whatever is expedient, agreeable, or enjoyable, and then we claim that we’re just following our conscience. All we’re doing then is adopting a relativistic–and ultimately atheistic–mindset and giving it the veneer of religiosity. The rejection of the objective moral law is not an exercise of authentic freedom, but rather is the submission to slavery. As the Catechism teaches, this is nothing other than the licentious assertion of one’s autonomy from God and from the moral order.

In number 1792, the Catechism, gives all of us a firm basis for examining our consciences. It leads us to ask these and similar questions of ourselves:

  • Am I ignorant of Christ and His Gospel?
  • Do I seek the Lord’s guidance through regular, humble prayer?
  • Do I assiduously study and internalize the Bible as well as other reliable sources of Catholic teaching and spiritual wisdom?
  • Do I gravitate toward people who aren’t good for me?
  • Do I too readily follow others rather than act as my own person?
  • Am I too concerned about what others think?
  • Is a shared belief in Jesus Christ and His Church the most important factor in choosing my friends and associates?
  • Am I a slave to my passions?
  • Am I mired in habitual sin?
  • Do I overindulge or pamper myself?
  • Do I try to justify conduct that Our Lord considers sinful?
  • Is there a part of my life that I haven’t turned over to God?
  • Are there Church teachings I refuse to accept?
  • Do I strive to form my conscience based on the firm foundation of Catholic truth, or do I look for teachers who will “tickle my ears” (2 Tim. 4:3)?
  • Do I strive to see Christ in those around me, especially the poor and the annoying?
  • Do I really take to heart the fact that all men and women have God-given dignity and value?
  • Do I treat others with basic kindness, patience, and respect?
  • Do I serve only myself?

The Divine Physician doesn’t expect us to overcome these perennial difficulties on our own. In fact, we can’t. However, if we can diagnose the sources of our particular sins, we can better seek out and apply the right spiritual medicine this Lenten season.

Chilling Attack on Religious Freedom

7 Mar

A stinging Wall Street Journal editorial has backed Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York in his criticism of the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate, describing the White House stand as a “chilling” attack on religious freedom.

Catholic World News summarizes:

“Citing Cardinal Dolan’s report on a meeting with White House aides, at which representatives of the bishops’ conference were told that issues of conscience were ‘off the table,’ the Journal editorial observed: ‘In other words, the White House’s solution is merely for the bishops to shut up about the wrinkles.’ With their condescending citation of some liberal Catholics who approved the mandate, the Journal continued, the Obama administration was ‘in effect telling the bishops that they know less about church teachings than your average Washington Post columnist.’

“The Journal recognized the Obama administration’s strategy of dividing the Church, noting the implicit White House message that ‘Catholics who actually abide by their faith are opposed to modernity.’ The editorial concluded with the observation that apparently the Catholic bishops cannot stop ‘the dominant wing of America’s governing political party from insisting that religion kneel before its secular will.'”