Archive | April, 2012

Lessons learned from St. Gianna

27 Apr

April 28th, Feast of St. Gianna Molla

Our infantSt. Gianna's feast day is April 28th daughter Gianna’s first hospitalization, even though it was her healthiest, was by far the hardest for me. During later ones we would have the slim hope of transplant to focus on, but during this one, as they tested the heck out of our little girl, we were coming to grips with the truth. Inside what looked like a normal baby was a liver full of cells that couldn’t make enough energy to keep her alive. Our baby was going to die. Again.

St. Gianna Molla kept me company during those few days, as I had just received a biography of her for Mother’s Day, a week or two before. There were two things that stood out to me in this particular account of her life. The first was of the very real pain her martyrdom caused her family. It is easy to gloss over this in saints from eras long past, or for priests or religious even. But here was Pietro Molla, Gianna’s beloved husband, sharing about how hard it was for him to raise their four children alone. How hard he tried to protect his kids from the limelight surrounding Gianna’s growing popularity and her cause for canonization. How awkward it was for him to allow his personal love letters to be published all over the world. It was hard for him to share his Gianna with the Church, when he would much rather her have just been his unspectacular, non-miracle-working, grocery-shopping, diaper- changing wife!  Yet, he knew she was not his to keep to himself, and so he allowed the process to continue. In 2004, He and their three surviving children (their daughter Mariolina died a few years after Gianna did) were at her canonization ceremony. Wow.

Our Gianna was baptized and confirmed before she was old enough to sin, so we know she is in heaven. As the mother of a little saint, I can share some of Pietro’s sentiments: saint-making is tough! Especially at that moment in time, I did not want to share my Gianna with the Church. I did not want her to intercede for people or inspire them. I just wanted her to keep making diapers, and spitting up and wearing cute baby clothes, just like any other normal baby who lives to see their first birthday. I love St. Gianna Molla, and I am grateful for what she did and who she now is. But dang, she reminds me how real saints are, and that even when God is doing great and wonderful things, it still sometimes hurts!!

The second thing that struck me from that read of Gianna’s life was her unfailing trust in Providence. Can you imagine having to decide between giving your baby life and giving her a mother? St. Gianna didn’t want to die. She loved life, and especially her family. But she trusted God: that He was good as He claimed to be, and that He would take care of her family in her absence. Pietro talks in that book about the times that were darkest for him and the kids and how he could feel Gianna’s tangible presence. God did come through… through Gianna.

So this Saturday, as we celebrate 50 years of St. Gianna Molla’s new life in Christ, let’s let her example and her prayers help us along on our own difficult road of sanctification.

The Third Option

25 Apr

Ever been stuck between a rock and a hard place? Mary Magdalene was on Easter morning.  Well, actually, it was Jesus’ body that was stuck between a rock and a hard place, and she seemingly had no way to get to him.  This consumes her thoughts on the way to the tomb.  How will I get that stone moved? Jesus needs to be anointed. If I ask the guards, what will they do to me? Can the disciples move it? They would be thrown in prison if they tried! And further, they don’t have a great track record of sticking around when things get tough…

What I think is most striking about this inner dialogue of Mary is that as she runs through the impossibilities in her head, she keeps moving toward the tomb.  It seems like she has two options: to incur ridicule or worse from the guards at the tomb, or to fail to give Jesus a decent burial.  Yet when she arrives, she finds something altogether different. Jesus has provided a spectacular third option she never could have dreamed of.

I have been reflecting lately how so many of our pressing social issues come down to a failure to see and embrace that third option.  Our society forces people in difficult circumstances into a false dichotomy of horrible solutions.  If you’re in a troubled marriage, you have two choices: the trauma of divorce or the long agony of staying together “for the sake of the kids”.  Young, pregnant and unmarried? Your choices are abortion or a doomed future of poverty and underachievement. This is a brilliant tool of the devil.  No one likes divorce or abortion, but if you juxtapose it with something equally devastating, it suddenly seems like a viable option.  The “lesser of two evils”.

Now enter Mother Church, who is increasingly a lone voice against some of these “lesser evils”.  Prohibit contraception? You want women to become helpless baby factories! Prohibit assisted suicide? You want Grandma to linger is meaningless pain! Prohibit IVF? You want to deprive people of the beauty of parenthood! What our culture fails to see in every one of these tough cases is the third option.  The Church never just slaps on a legislative cuff.  Instead she gently takes the struggling sinner by the hand and says, “this is extremely difficult, but you can do it”.  In short, the third option is grace.

Grace is a poorly understood concept today, but simply it means God’s supernatural power which we have access to by our Baptism and by the other sacraments.  What it means is that we never face our hardest times alone.  We face them with the same power that moved the stone for Mary Magdalene.  Grace opens doors where no doors should be able to open.

The third option is a transformed marriage where partners can learn to slowly rebuild trust and love again.  It is adoption, where an infertile couple becomes parents, the young person is able to continue with their education and the baby gets to live.  It is Natural Family Planning, through which couples learn to be generous in their love, open to God’s will for their families and through which they can either space their children or often conceive children despite low fertility.

I’m not naïve. I know that life is not a Hallmark movie.  That’s the beauty of grace! I know that sometimes the third option is an ability to survive one of the first two horrible options.  If Grandma is terminally ill, grace normally won’t provide a miraculous cure.  But God will illuminate the meaning of Grandma’s suffering.  Like all suffering endured with Christ, it can be a powerful avenue of grace for others.  This is true of any suffering we let God into.

Finally, the best part about the third option is that it is available even after one of the “lesser evils” is chosen.  There is hope for those who have divorced, whether that choice was made for safety, against one’s will or in the pursuit of a happier life.  There is forgiveness and healing for those who have chosen abortion, or IVF or contraception.  Here, too, the third option opens up floodgates of mercy and peace that never could have been imagined before.  No matter what the situation, choosing the third option of grace leads to a surprisingly rich joy.

So this Easter season, let’s approach the tomb with our deepest anxieties.  Let’s offer them up to the Lord and see what miracles await us.

Note: Grace is often channeled through practical avenues.  For help in understanding the issues raised in this post or in getting practical help, please contact your pastor or the Respect Life or Family Life Offices.

Got Faith?

24 Apr

I recently received this question via email: “Does everyone receive the gift of faith? Why or why not?”

I think this is a most timely topic to consider, especially with the “Year of Faith” just around the corner. What follows is my response to the questioner. I welcome others’ comments and insights on this subject.

If we mean by “faith” an explicit belief in the person and teachings of Our Lord Jesus Christ, then clearly not everyone has received the gift of faith. That’s why the Church’s perennial mission is evangelization–to offer the gift of faith to all men and women. All of us play a role in that effort.

And while we cannot judge the state of individual souls, it would also seem that there are those who have been invited, but have rejected the invitation (cf. Lk. 14:15-24).

While I cannot pretend to know “God’s thoughts” on this, as my thoughts are not His thoughts and my ways are not His ways (cf. Is. 55:8-9), I would like to offer a couple observations that shed light on this crucial issue.

First, faith is very much a personal gift. We all are called to answer for ourselves Our Lord’s question, ‘Who do you say that I am?’ (Mt. 16:15). If someone were to offer us a $100 bill, no strings attached, we might wonder why others weren’t given a similar offer, but at the end of the day we still have to accept or reject the offer that was personally made to us.

Second, God wills that all be saved and come to the knowledge of truth (1 Tim. 2:4). The ordinary way that this occurs is through the gift of faith received at Baptism. However, God does not place limits on Himself. He is all good and willed the existence of every man and woman who has ever lived. So, the Church holds out the possibility of salvation for all those who have not knowingly and willingly rejected Him.

In that regard, perhaps the parable of the talents or gold coins is useful (cf. Mt. 25:14-30;  Lk. 19:11-27). As Catholics we have been given the fullness of the faith. We have received “10 talents,” so more is expected of us. However, those who were given only 5 or 2 or even just 1 talent will be judged worthy to enter our heavenly Father’s kingdom if they fruitfully use whatever talents they were given. (And woe to us if we take our Catholic faith for granted and bury our talents in the ground.)

How God works with those who do not have faith is a mystery that’s beyond us in this life, but surely we know that a person is infinitely better off with faith and with all the graces that derive from being a faithful disciple of Christ. Indeed, we were made for life with God as Christ’s brothers and sisters, so using our “10 talents” well involves our inviting those around us to the wonderful life of grace that God has in store for us in this life and in the next.

Pacifism Is Hell

19 Apr

The documents of Vatican II frequently refer to the Church on earth as the “pilgrim Church.” This image emphasizes the truth that we are a people who are on a journey to our true home. We need the supernatural virtue of hope–the virtue of the pilgrim–to remain faithful to the Lord, trusting in His infinite goodness and promises.

In choosing to emphasize the “pilgrim” nature of the Church, the Council did not use the more familiar term “Church militant” to distinguish the faithful on earth from those already in heaven (Church triumphant) or in purgatory (Church suffering). Yet the Church has not scrapped military imagery in referring to the spiritual life. As the Catechism teaches: “The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle” (no. 2015).

I can fill up this entire blog with quotes from Scripture as well as writings of Church Fathers and doctors that use terms such as “soldiers,” “battle,” and “weapons” to describe the Christian life. Like athletics, warfare provides us with terms and concepts that help us understand our vocation to holiness.

Part of the reticence in using military imagery today is surely the result of our own painful experience of armed conflict, having just lived through the bloodiest century in human history. We understand that war must truly be a last resort, undertaken justly and only when there is no other way to defend ourselves.

However, in the case of our perennial conflict with the forces of evil, there should be no doubt as to the justice and necessity of waging full-scale spiritual war. The Enemy has invaded our souls, our families, and our country, and we need the courage and steadfast resolve to give no ground to his advances. When it comes to salvation, pacifism is a losing proposition. Unless we proactively fight against sin, we’ll be swept aside. Just look at the Church in much of what used to be Catholic Europe. Continue reading

Genuflection 101

12 Apr

Not long ago someone posed this question to me:

I know we are always to genuflect when entering and leaving the church for Mass. But are we supposed to genuflect when coming for non-Masses, such as parent meetings for Confirmation?

This is a very good question for all of us to consider, even if we automatically genuflect whenever we enter a church. “Automatically” could mean a virtue, a godly habit. But it could also mean a mindless act that we do without considering why we do it. So, let’s look at this issue a little more closely.

Genuflection is the bending of the right knee to the floor and then rising again to a standing position as an act of reverence toward Our Lord, who is truly present, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, in the most Blessed Sacrament. As St. Paul wrote, even at the name of Jesus, every knee must bend (Phil. 2:10). Even more, we should bend the knee before the Lord Himself!

We genuflect upon entering a church not strictly because it’s a church building, but because Our Lord is present there in the tabernacle. Typically the tabernacle is in the center of the church, or in some other prominent place indicated by a sanctuary lamp that is kept burning. It is to this Presence that we genuflect.

A couple points. Obviously we reverence the Eucharist during Mass. You will notice, for example, that the priest genuflects immediately after the bread and wine are consecrated, as he acknowledges that Our Lord is now present on the altar.

Christ’s presence in the Eucharist doesn’t end when Mass is over. Hosts remaining after Mass are kept in the tabernacle, both for adoration of Our Lord outside of Mass, and also to give to the sick and dying as needed. Sometimes a large host is exposed in a monstrance for adoration, but even when the Eucharist is simply reserved in the tabernacle we should adore Him there, and one way we do that is by genuflecting when we come into His presence.

It follows, then, that we would genuflect upon entering the presence of the Lord when we walk into a church, regardless of whether we’re there for Mass, for private prayer before Our Lord, or for some other parish event.

The only exception to that would be in the unusual case of the Blessed Sacrament not being reserved in the church. For example, sometimes the Sacrament is removed when the church is being cleaned or renovated, or when the church building is being used for a special (non-liturgical) event such as a concert.

And of course the tabernacle is empty on Good Friday, so this past Friday if we attended Good Friday services we simply bowed to the altar as we entered the church. Whenever the Sacrament is not present in the tabernacle, the sanctuary lamp will not be burning.

Genuflecting may seem like a small thing, but this act of reverence is a building block that will leads to an ever more profound awareness of God’s presence in our midst!

God’s Rescue Mission

4 Apr

As the final stage of God’s “rescue mission” to save sinful humanity, He entered into our suffering and misery. Rather than remain at arm’s length, He stepped right into our dysfunction. He rolled up His sleeves, and got His hands dirty—even to the point of enduring a most degrading form of death.

In his Letter to the Philippians, St. Paul not only emphasized Christ’s humility, but also His obedience (Phil. 2:8). Christ was ever faithful to His Father’s rescue mission. He fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy that God’s servant would bear our iniquities so as to restore us to right relation with our heavenly Father (cf. Is. 53:10-11; Catechism, no. 623).

Because of Christ’s humility and obedience, His Father raised Him from the dead and “highly exalted him” (Phil. 2:9). As Our Lord Himself foretold, “Every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk. 14:11). We who have died with Christ in Baptism have firm hope that we will be exalted with Him (cf. Rom. 6:3-4; Col. 2:12). This entails our own embrace of the Cross each day, in whatever form it may take, such as sickness, suffering, or setbacks of any kind (cf. Lk. 9:23).

St. Paul also stresses the “name” of Jesus, a name which is above every other name (Phil. 2:9). For the Jews, the name above every other name is none other than the name of God, YHWH (often rendered “Yahweh, ” or Kyrios in Greek).  This name is generally translated as “Lord” in the Old Testament. Kyrios is the same word that St. Paul uses when he says that “Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil. 2:11). Therefore, St. Paul is saying that in raising Jesus from the dead and exalting Him in heaven, the Father is showing forth the sovereignty of He who is the “Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:8; see generally Catechism, nos. 446-51).

St. Paul’s expression that at the name of Jesus “every knee should bow” (Phil. 2:10) is a direct allusion to Isaiah 45:23, and it reflects his conviction that the Lordship of Christ must extend over all creation (cf. Eph. 1:15-23). This point is solidified by the reference to the three levels of the universe according to ancient thought: “in heaven,” “on earth,” and “under the earth” (cf. Ex. 20:4).

And so we add our voice to that of all creation when we proclaim the good news that “Jesus Christ is Lord” (Rom. 10:9; 1 Cor. 12:3; Phil. 2:11).

Merry Chrism Mass!

2 Apr

This week, the bishop of each respective Catholic diocese throughout the world, in the company of many of his priests and deacons, will celebrate the Chrism Mass. This Mass typically takes place at the cathedral or some other central location that will accommodate a large number of concelebrants. Archbishop Naumann will celebrate the Chrism Mass for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas tomorrow (Tuesday) at 11:00 a.m. at the Savior Pastoral Center chapel.

At the Chrism Mass, the bishop blesses the oil of the sick, the oil of catechumens, and most notably the chrism that will be used throughout the diocese in the coming year.

Our family likes to attend this Mass whenever we can. Not only does it prepare us for the rest of the Holy Week liturgies, but it is a singularly beautiful manifestation of the local Church in all its splendor and richness. I recommend it highly to you and yours.

And if you are unable to attend this year, it still might be fruitful to privately contemplate some of the prayers and blessings used at this Mass. Just to give you a taste, here is just one of the forms of the consecratory prayer used in blessing the chrism:

Rite of Consecrating the Chrism

Let us pray that God our almighty Father will bless this oil so that all who are anointed with it may be inwardly transformed and come to share in eternal salvation.

God our maker, source of all growth in holiness, accept the joyful thanks and praise we offer in the name of your Church.

In the beginning, at your command, the earth produced fruit-bearing trees. From the fruit of the olive tree you have provided us with oil for holy chrism. The prophet David sang of the life and joy that the oil would bring us in the sacraments of your love.

After the avenging flood, the dove returning to Noah with an olive branch annouced your gift of peace. This was a sign of a greater gift to come. Now the waters of baptism wash away the sins of men, and by the anointing with olive oil you make us radiant with your joy.

At your command, Aaron was washed with water, and your servant Moses, his brother, anointed him priest. This too foreshadowed greater things to come. After your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, asked John for baptism in the waters of Jordan, you sent the Spirit upon him in the form of a dove and by the witness of your own voice you declared him to be your only, well-beloved Son. In this you clearly fulfilled the prophecy of David, that Christ would be anointed with the oil of gladness beyond his fellow men.

And so, Father, we ask you to bless + this oil you have created. Fill it with the power of your Holy Spirit through Christ your Son. It is from him that chrism takes its name and with chrism you have anointed for yourself priests and kings, prophets and martyrs.

Make this chrism a sign of life and salvation for those who are to be born again in the waters of baptism. Wash away the evil they have inherited from sinful Adam, and when they are anointed with this holy oil make them temples of your glory, radiant with the goodness of life that has its source in you.

Through this sign of chrism grant them royal, priestly, and prophetic honor, and clothe them with incorruption. Let this be indeed the chrism of salvation for those who will be born again of water and the Holy Spirit. May they come to share eternal life in the glory of your kingdom.

We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.