Archive | August, 2012

Happy Baptism Day!

31 Aug

This has been a banner couple weeks for the Suprenant family. Earlier this month, daughter Virginia enrolled as a freshman at Benedictine College. Last Saturday, yours truly as well as my son-in-law Nicholas began formation in our archdiocesan diaconate program. Yesterday was the seventh anniversary of the finalization of our son Raymond’s adoption.

And now today we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of our daughter Mary Kate’s Baptism–yes, the same daughter who is now known as Sr. Evangeline, a novice with the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.

We celebrate “Baptism Days” in our family, as we see them–with firm biblical and theological support–as second birthdays. Needless to say, this concept is a real hit with our kids. (So is “birthday week,” but I’ll save that for another post!) We consider these celebrations as excellent reminders to thank God for the mustard seed of faith that was planted in our children–and in us–at Baptism. And it also reminds us of our duty to nurture this life that God has entrusted to us as parents.

We usually at least sing and have cake to recognize the day. Sometimes we will get more elaborate and even light the candle the child received at his or her Baptism. Do the readers of this blog know their Baptism days and those of their children? If so, do you do anything to celebrate these special days?

Playing to Win

28 Aug

Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” This quote, attributed to the late coaching legend Vince Lombardi, illustrates our society’s obsession with winning. The Raiders’ Al Davis is known for the line, “Just win, baby,” while ESPN analyst and former Chiefs’ coach Herm Edwards is famous for the mantra, “You play to win the game.”

And of course, being a huge Chiefs’ fan myself, I always appreciated the fact that Herm Edwards put so much effort into winning–and especially into beating the Raiders!

Whenever we have a goal that is really important to us, we strive for it with our whole being. Yet while it does matter–at least to me–that the Chiefs win, how the game is played also matters greatly. My daughter’s soccer coach once told the team that “winners encourage each other and don’t give up.” I thought that was a wonderful lesson for the team.

My point today is simply that if we’re going to invest so much in winning a game or sports competition, how much more should we invest ourselves in winning the imperishable crown of heaven. Have we made Christ the center of our lives? Are we playing to win? “The kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent are taking it by force” (Mt. 11:12). The victory is there for the taking, but are we committed to giving our lives over to Christ? Or are we wimps who don’t really want to lose, but are unwilling to do what it takes to win?

Athletics provides many vivid analogies for teaching and living the Christian faith. This wasn’t lost on St. Paul, who frequently used athletic imagery to teach spiritual truths. Here’s a passage that I’ve taught to my sports-playing children:

“Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. Thus I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing. No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:24-27).

Let’s be winners in the spiritual life, running toward the imperishable crown, not giving up, and encouraging others–our spiritual teammates–on the journey. Let’s start anew today. Just do it!

Life Is a Highway

23 Aug

One of my sons’ favorite movies of all time is Pixar’s Cars. I’ve enjoyed watching this delightful film several times with them, and after each viewing I just can’t get the movie’s catchy hit song “Life Is a Highway” out of my mind.

As I think about the song’s lyrics I have to admit that in some sense life indeed is a highway. It is a movement, or journey, through space and time that begins at our conception and birth.

But where are we going?

Not surprisingly, then, when the Word of God became flesh, He identified Himself as the “way” (Jn. 14:6), and one synonym or code name for the early Church was “the Way” (e.g., Acts 9:2).

In fact, the New Testament is replete with suggestions that the Christian life is a road or journey. For example, in Luke 9:23, Our Lord says, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.” This suggests that we follow in Jesus’ footsteps the via crucis, the way of the Cross.

Similarly, in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10:29-37), the road to Jericho is a metaphor of life’s journey, which offers us the opportunity to be “neighbor” to those whom we encounter on the way, especially those in need. The parable reminds us that we’re not alone on the highway, that God doesn’t save us merely as isolated individuals, but as His beloved family.

When was the last time any of us were driving on the freeway without a destination? Sure, sometimes we might not be sure of the directions and even for a time get lost before we find our bearings and head in the right direction. And as we drive, especially on long journeys, we might not be thinking of our destination every minute.

But it’s safe to say that all rational, sober motorists are headed somewhere, and all decisions, such as lane changes, turns, and the like, are ordered precisely to getting there. Otherwise, it’s pointless to be on the road at all.

In the journey of life, what is our destination, our goal? Are we driving with a purpose in mind, or are we going through the motions, indifferent or ambivalent to the direction of our lives? Do we truly believe that life has a destination, that if we seek we truly will find?

Some even go so far as to perversely boast, a la rock band AC/DC’s notorious song “Highway to Hell,” about going the wrong way. If our intended destination were north, who would want to brag about heading south?

These questions held some poignancy for me recently as my wife and I drove home from the airport after attending an out-of-town wedding. We longed to be reunited with our children. Needless to say, we drove with a purpose and took the most direct route home, our hearts filled with joyful anticipation.

The drive home vividly reminded me how much every fabric of our lives should be ordered to our final destination. The unexamined life is not worth living, but a life caught up in the quest for eternity is eminently purposeful and passionate. After all, life is a highway, and we’re headed home!

The Family That Overtook Christ

20 Aug

Today is the feast day of St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153). For many people, unfortunately, St. Bernard is merely a big, lovable breed of working dog. Even those of us with Catholic sensibilities might not know too much about him. Maybe we remember that he was devoted to Our Lady (which saint wasn’t?), and that he is believed to be the author of the prayer commonly known as the Memorare (”Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary . . .”). But even that’s probably pushing it.

It’s a shame we don’t know more about him, because Bernard was no ordinary monk. His singular holiness, his amazing zeal, his prolific spiritual writing, his founding of dozens of monasteries, and his decisive, godly impact on ecclesial and world affairs during his incredible life are all a matter of historical record.

My wife, children, and I really enjoyed reading together as a family The Family That Overtook Christ. It’s the story of St. Bernard’s remarkable family. His father Tescalin has been declared “Venerable” by the Church, and his mother, Alice, his sister Humbeline, and his brothers Guy, Gerard, Andrew, Bartholomew, and Nivard have all been declared “Blessed.” It’s one of the most edifying things I’ve read in a long time. One of the most challenging, too. The holy siblings frequently attributed their exceptional religious formation to their parents, who truly raised a generation of saints. Isn’t that the goal of all of us Catholic parents? May we single-mindedly lead our families in pursuit of Christ!

Bernard was no ordinary monk. In fact, he is no ordinary saint. He is one of only 34 saints to have been declared a “doctor of the Church,” whose exceptional, timeless teaching is a sure guide for all of us in our own journey to God.

Now maybe some of us have heard of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, and a few of us may even have known about the Memorare. But how many of us have bothered to pick up one of St. Bernard’s classic works, such as his Treatise on the Love of God or his commentary on the Song of Songs?

fulfillment3d.gifI realize that these spiritual classics aren’t as readily available in bookstores as the Da Vinci Code or Fifty Shades of Gray. And even if we found them, we might find them a bit daunting or intimidating. That’s why I’m so grateful to Ralph Martin for writing The Fulfillment of All Desire. In Fulfillment, he takes the writings of seven great doctors of the Western Church, including St. Bernard, and presents them in a systematic, easy-to-read way. Heck, even Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, the Pope’s personal preacher and retreat master, has heartily endorsed this book for all who want to grow in the spiritual life.

So, in gratitude to God for lifting up holy teachers like St. Bernard of Clairvaux, I’d like to conclude with the collect for today’s Mass:

O God, who made the Abbot Saint Bernard a man consumed with zeal for your house and a light shining and burning in your Church, grant, through his intercession, that we may be on fire with the same spirit and walk always as children of light. 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.

What God Has Joined

17 Aug

What does Jesus really mean when He says, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery” (Mk 10:11)? This may seem straightforward enough, but in our culture of “hook-ups,” “no-fault” divorce, and “gay marriage,” we tend to lose sight of God’s plan for marriage and occasionally need some reminders.

First, what is adultery? It means a married person having relations with someone who is not his or her spouse. We may reason that if a marriage “ends” in divorce, then the slate is clean — the person is free to marry a second spouse without committing adultery. Is that true?

This reasoning would be legitimate if a divorce really could end a marriage, if a state or the individuals themselves — or even the Church — were to possess the authority to do so. But Jesus courageously proclaims that marriage is within God’s sole jurisdiction: “What God has joined together, man must not separate” (Mt 19:6) we hear in today’s Gospel.

In a valid Christian marriage, the two become one in a permanent, mutual bond that exists even when the spouses and the state consent to the legal fiction of a divorce. Therefore the Church has constantly and emphatically taught that a consummated Christian marriage cannot be dissolved. In an analogous way, we understand that Christ the Bridegroom has become one with His Bride, the Church, and will never part company with her (cf. Mt. 28:20; Eph. 5:25-32).

In upholding the indissolubility of marriage, the Church has carefully distinguished divorces from annulments. An annulment, or a “decree of nullity,” is a finding by the Church that a genuine marriage never existed. The principal bases for annulments are lack of form (it was not really a Christian marriage ceremony), incapacity (e.g., the person is under age or already married), or a failure of consent (e.g., the person lacks the emotional or psychological maturity to consent to marriage).

But if a real Christian marriage exists and has been consummated by the couple’s engaging in the marital act, the Church teaches — in fidelity to Christ — that no human being or institution has the power to dissolve it.

Given this clear teaching, the alarming rise in annulments of consummated Christian “marriages” in recent decades can be a source of scandal, particularly here in the U.S., where the annual number of annulments has risen dramatically since the 1960s. Both to those who love the Church and to those who ridicule her, the seemingly routine granting of annulments on such a large scale appears to be a development that threatens the Church’s pivotal teaching on the permanence (“indissolubility”) of marriage.

This threat is not explicit, since an annulment is not a divorce in principle. However, if the teaching — embodied by canon law — is easily avoided, its credibility is compromised. To our shame, a skeptic of the Church’s claims regarding marriage can point to the annulment process as a convoluted system of “Catholic divorce.” How do we respond to this challenge? I’d like to offer six points for our readers’ consideration: Continue reading

Guardian-Variety Angels

14 Aug

Today’s Gospel contains some beautiful teaching on God’s special love for His children and how as a Good Shepherd He will go looking for His little ones when they wander astray.

It also contains the verse that most typically is cited in support of the Church’s teaching on guardian angels–namely, Our Lord’s words in Matthew 18:10: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.” The context is that He loves His little ones so much, that He even has angels looking out for each one of us!

Several Church Fathers taught that God assigns everyone an angel to watch over him or her throughout one’s life. In fact, the guardian angels are commemorated in the Church’s liturgy on October 2nd each year.

Guardian angels are also discussed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 336:

“From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. ‘Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life’ (quoting St. Basil). Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God.”

Other biblical passages in support of this beautiful teaching include Luke 16:22; Psalm 34:7, 91:10-13; Job 33:23-24; Zech. 1:12; and Tobit 12:12.

As for the Church’s teaching on angels in general, paragraphs 328-54 of the Catechism provide an excellent overview. If you don’t have a copy of the Catechism, it would be a good investment. Click here for more information.

Whoever becomes humble like a child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven. Perhaps one aspect of that humility is not becoming too “grown up” and self-sufficient to turn to one’s guardian angel for assistance.

Know the Lord!

9 Aug

I am sure many homilists today will focus on the Gospel, and rightly so, as we hear the critically important exchange between Our Lord and St. Peter in Matthew 16, where Our Lord refers to Peter as the “rock” on whom He will build His Church.

Here, however, I’d like to focus our attention on the first reading, from the prophet Jeremiah, in which he foretells a new covenant between God and His exiled people (Jer.31:31). God has been gradually forming His people throughout salvation history through a series of covenants, as with Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David. Now Jeremiah foretells a new covenant unlike the others.

God’s law, in the form of the Ten Commandments, was written on stone tablets, instructing the people how to live in right relationship with God. Yet these commandments did not come with the grace to keep them. They were more like instructions for playing a new sport or musical instrument, containing many “thou shall nots.” They were imposed from the outside and the people had to adjust to them, often by trial and error. The commandments seemed burdensome to a stiff-necked people that was not always willing to be taught or led (sound familiar?). As Jeremiah notes, the people were not faithful to their covenant with God (cf. Jer. 31:32).

Jeremiah says that the new covenant will not be a law imposed from the outside, as on stone tablets, but a law on the “inside,” written on the human heart (Jer. 31:31). This new interior law will become part of who they are. They will no longer need “lessons” or tedious practice, as with a sport or an instrument, but rather God’s law will become second nature to them.

With Christ, we see the fulfillment of this prophecy. The law has taken flesh. The Holy Spirit now dwells within us, transforming us. And each time we receive Jesus in Holy Communion, we welcome Our Lord into our bodies and into our hearts, renewing and strengthening the grace we received at Baptism.

Jeremiah says that when the prophecy is fulfilled, the people will “know the Lord” (Jer. 31:34). How well do I know the Lord? Is it evident to those around me that I know the Lord? Do I joyfully welcome God’s law into my heart, or do I offer resistance, preferring my own way instead?

In the Church’s wisdom, we are called today to revisit these and similar questions, as we recommit ourselves to Christ and the Church He founded on the rock.

What’s Happening Down There?

7 Aug

A recurring criticism of Catholic theology by other Christians is our belief in the communion of saints. More specifically, we believe that there is a spiritual bond uniting believers on earth, souls in purgatory, and the blessed in heaven. We believe that those who are “saved” and are now in the presence of God are aware of what’s happening on earth and in fact can be counted on to pray for us.

For that reason, I thought an article appearing last week at christianpost.com was pretty interesting. The article is about Protestant Evangelist Greg Laurie, who lost his son in an automobile accident four years ago. Since that time he has been reflecting on heaven as well as the virtue of hope. While he limited the scope of his inquiry to Scripture alone, he still came to the conclusion that people in heaven know what’s going on here on earth. Here’s an excerpt:

Pointing to scripture found in Revelation [and] Luke chapters 15 and 16, Laurie  explained that he believes that people in heaven have knowledge of what is  happening on earth.

“Let me take it a step further. I think people in heaven know a lot more  about earth than we may realize,” he said.

“People in eternity are aware of the fact that loved ones are not saved. This  is based on Luke 16 . . . In the afterlife we are the same person with real memories  of earth. You will know more in heaven than you will on earth, not less. We  don’t all get a collective lobotomy when we go to glory.”

A second point he made during the sermon is that when people come to believe  in Jesus it’s “public knowledge in heaven.”

“There is joy in heaven whenever one person repents,” he said. “Whenever  someone turns to God on earth they break out in applause in heaven.”

His third point about heaven is that people there know about the time and  place of events on earth as evidenced by passages in Revelation. . . .

Again, pointing to verses in the Bible, he added as a fourth point that there  will be a connection between those in heaven and those on earth. Those in heaven  will be aware of the spiritual status of their loved ones.

He doesn’t seem to be too far removed from a Catholic understanding of the communion of saints.

Laurie assures his listeners that heaven is not one long church service. He reminded of a quip I once heard from Dr. Peter Kreeft, who said in effect that hell is an eternal church service without God, while heaven is eternity with God without the church service.

The Economy and the Election

1 Aug

This week The Leaven published “The Economy and the Election,”  the fourth in a series of reflections related to the upcoming election, offered by the leaders of the four dioceses in Kansas.

The purpose of this series of articles is not to tell us how to vote or to provide some sort of “voter’s guide.” Rather, as our teachers in the faith, the bishops are helping us to understand our role as Catholics in society, and what that means as we exercise the right and responsibility to vote in the upcoming election. As the most recent reflection makes clear, “The Church’s duty is to articulate principles; it is the duty of the lay faithful in their mission to renew the face of the earth to put those principles into action.”

While I think the document in its entirety is worth reading (it’s not that long, btw), we do well to consider the bishops’ conclusion:

“If the primary criteria in our evaluation of candidates for public office is, ‘Which person will help me get the biggest piece of the pie? (either because of their support for lower taxes or for programs that directly benefit me),’ we are failing to employ the principles of our Catholic social teaching. We end up adopting a politics of self-interest, not stewardship.

“In his 1961 inaugural address, President John F. Kennedy famously posed the question, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.’ Perhaps we can take this even further. Taking our cue from the saints, ask what you can do for your country, for your state, for your community, for your family. Ask what you can do for the poor and most vulnerable and needy in your midst. How you answer these questions should inform your vote.

“When you think in those terms, you become drawn to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, which have always been part of our Catholic tradition. You will also become drawn to what Pope Benedict XVI has called the ‘market of gratuitousness,’ a culture governed by human solidarity, not the thirst for acquisition–a culture that looks first to the family, churches and the local community to provide for the needs of the poor and the vulnerable, and a culture that lives to serve and not be served (cf. Mt. 20:28).”

For those wishing to go deeper into the social teaching of the Church in preparation for the upcoming election, I recommend reading the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, which is generally available at Catholic bookstores, and which can also be viewed online. It is a masterfully summary of the Church’s social teaching as it has developed over the past century. If you read just six or seven paragraphs per day, you will have read the entire volume before the election.

May we truly “think with the Church” and bring the Gospel to bear on the important issues we face in our community and in our world!