Archive | September, 2012

Follow the Leader

27 Sep

Do any of the following quotes sound familiar?

“It’s my way or the highway!”

“You can’t tell him (or her) anything.”

“I don’t care what anyone else says . . .”

Or even, “Honey, please stop and ask for directions.”

These and many similar comments point to how our stubborn pride keeps us from seeking the input of others–usually to our own detriment. How often we lack the humility to realize that we don’t have all the answers, that we can and must learn from others.

There is a virtue that helps us to overcome this false sense of self-sufficiency. That virtue is docility, which is simply the ability to be taught. Even more, as a Christian virtue, docility is what enables us to be formed in the Catholic faith, to grow as disciples of Christ the Teacher.

Doctor Know

Docility comes from the Latin verb docere, which means “to teach.” From docere we get the word “doctrine”–that which is taught. During the era of “doctrine-free” catechesis (now there’s an oxymoron for you!), Church leaders and parents were rightly concerned that their children weren’t being taught, because teaching presupposes content. What was given to that generation–my generation–of young Catholics was many things (e.g., babysitting, sharing, collage-making), but it wasn’t doctrine.

From docere we also get the word “doctor,” which is another word for “teacher.” In the academic world, the most highly educated teachers earn their “doctorate.” In the Church, we have 34 doctors of the Church, from heavyweight philosophers and theologians such as St. Thomas Aquinas to amazing spiritual guides like St. Teresa of Avila. The members of this select group are held up to the faithful as eminently reliable teachers of Christian doctrine.

And then finally we have the virtue of docility, which refers to our habitual attitude toward “doctors” who teach us “doctrine.” In other words, it’s about how teachable or coachable we are. As we will see, this virtue has specific applicability to our relationship to the Church, which is our Mother and Teacher. But it also applies to our ability to be taught in every sphere of daily living.

Docility is the mean between the extremes of, on the one hand, an excessive, prideful self-reliance, and on the other hand, a passive, cowering submissiveness. It’s about finding and utilizing wisdom wherever it is found. Mother Teresa famously searched for the “hidden Jesus” in everyone, especially the poorest of the poor. I think it’s fair to say that that the docile person searches for the “hidden wisdom” in others. Let’s take a closer look. Continue reading

Why Doesn’t God Answer My Prayers?

25 Sep

I think all of us have had the experience of praying for something or someone and not getting what we asked for. In those instances, did God “hear” our prayer? If He did, why did He say no? After all, Our Lord encouraged us to ask for things in His name and He would come through for us (e.g, Mt. 7:7-8; 18:19; Jn. 15:7). So, we might be inclined to ask, “Why doesn’t God answer my prayers?”

Let’s start by providing some context. There are basically four types of prayer: (1) adoration or praise; (2) thanksgiving; (3) contrition (asking for forgiveness); and (4) supplication or petition.

For the first three categories of prayer mentioned above, we seldom trouble ourselves with the question of whether God heard our prayer. However, when it comes to prayers of supplication or petition–in other words, when we ask God for specific things–we naturally wonder about the efficacy of our prayer when we don’t get “results.”

Three things should be kept in mind when this happens.

First, we should reflect on our own motivation in seeking divine assistance. Are we praying to the Holy Trinity as the center of our lives, as the source and goal of our earthly existence? Or are we merely seeking to “use” God just to get what we want? God is our heavenly Father; He is not a “vending machine.”

Second, are we asking for something that is truly good for us? If what we’re seeking is not good, or if our hearts are divided, then we shouldn’t expect God to give it to us. After all, He desires our well-being, even when we don’t. As we heard at Mass this past Sunday, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (Jas. 4:3).

Third, we must become truly convinced that we don’t know how to pray as we ought (Rom. 8:26). We turn to God in our need, not always realizing that what we truly desire is much greater and deeper than our feeble requests. Further, our Father already knows what we need before we even attempt to ask (Mt. 6:8), yet awaits our prayers out of respect for our dignity as His sons and daughters, eager to grant us His blessings.

Spiritual guides often remind us that prayer is meant to change us, not God. God does answer our prayers, but often in ways we don’t expect, as His ways are not our ways (Is. 55:8-9). As we grow in our relationship with God in prayer, we come to understand more intimately that God richly provides for all our needs.

The following quote from the early Christian writer Evagrius Ponticus (c. 345-99 A.D.) sums it up well:

“Do not be troubled if you do not immediately receive from God what you ask Him; for He desires to do something even greater for you, while you cling to Him in prayer.”

Vatican II is a Home Game

24 Sep

Well over a decade ago I took a course from Dr. Scott Hahn in which he posed an elaborate question about responding in truth and charity to a Protestant interpretation of a passage from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans.

Students offered rebuttals based on the Letter of James and other teachings from Scripture and Tradition. Finally Dr. Hahn interrupted, saying, “Wait a minute! Romans is a ‘home game’ for Catholics.” He emphasized that Romans is not a “Protestant” book that needs to be countered with a “Catholic” book like James; he wanted our class to understand Romans and claim it as our own.

We have to understand that a similar dynamic is at work when it comes to dissident Catholics and Vatican II. In books such as Rome Has Spoken (Maureen Fiedler and Linda Rabben, eds.), we hear about the “rigid,” out-of-touch teaching of the pre-Vatican II Church. Vatican II came along and modernized–that is, changed–the Church’s positions on key issues. Now, in their estimation, we’re enduring consecutive pontificates that have forsaken Vatican II’s reforms and have retrenched in the old view.

The assumption on the dissidents’ part is that Vatican II is on their side. Our primary response should not be to quote from the Council of Trent or other reliable sources to “counter” or just plain ignore Vatican II.

Instead, we have to realize that Vatican II, as a legitimate ecumenical council of the Church, is a “home game” for us. Rather than work around Vatican II, and thus play into the dissidents’ strategy of pitting Vatican II against older tradition or the current papacy, we must learn what Vatican II really taught–without all the spin or the well-documented misadventures in implementation–and actually use the Vatican II documents to our advantage for the good of the Church. We’ll discover that Vatican II affirms teachings such as priestly celibacy, the inerrancy of Scripture, papal authority, and the need for moral conscience to be formed in accordance with Church teaching.

And of course now we have the authoritative Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is nothing other than the “Catechism of Vatican II.” During this “Year of Faith,” the Holy Father and Archbishop Naumann are asking the faithful to immerse ourselves in the Catechism as a sure guide for going deeper in our Catholic faith.

Got Wine?

21 Sep

Since Pope John Paul II introduced the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary about a decade ago, it’s been a joy and sometimes a challenge for my family to embrace these new mysteries. We are always on the lookout for new ways of approaching these rich episodes in Christ’s life.

As we’ve given more attention to the wedding at Cana (Jn. 2:1-11), the second Luminous Mystery, I’ve been amazed at the depth of this passage. There are so many ways to approach this event, where Christ worked His first public miracle. Let’s examine a few of them.

First, the fact that it’s a wedding itself is significant. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes, “the Church attaches great importance to Jesus’s presence at the wedding at Cana. She sees in it the confirmation of the goodness of marriage and the proclamation that thenceforth marriage will be an efficacious sign of Christ’s presence” (no. 1613). In the midst of a culture that devalues marriage, this mystery redirects our attention to the fundamental goodness of marriage–both as a human institution and as a personal vocation in Christ.

The wedding at Cana also shows our Blessed Mother in action. As we pray in the Hail Holy Queen, Mary is our “most gracious Advocate” (Catechism, no. 969). As she interceded for the poor couple who ran out of wine at their wedding, she intercedes for each one of us. Her purpose is always to manifest and magnify her Son’s glory (see Jn. 2:11). She encourages each one of us, as she encouraged the servants at the wedding, to “do whatever He tells you” (Jn. 2:5). That, in an inexhaustible nutshell, is the essence of Christian discipleship.

The wedding at Cana is the first of seven “signs” in the Gospel of John that bring to light the glory of God shining forth through the Word made flesh. The Catechism succinctly describes the meaning of this “sign”: “The sign of water turned into wine at Cana already announces the hour of Jesus’s glorification. It makes manifest the fulfillment of the wedding feast in the Father’s kingdom, where the faithful will drink the new wine that has become the Blood of Christ” (Catechism, no. 1335; see also no. 2618).

During a private retreat, a less obvious dimension of this Luminous Mystery came to “light” for me. Continue reading

Preaching to the Masses?

19 Sep

On occasion the issue arise as to who may give the homily at Mass. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) provides clear guidance on this issue:

“The Homily should ordinarily be given by the priest celebrant himself. He may entrust it to a concelebrating priest or occasionally, according to circumstances, to the deacon, but never to a lay person. In particular cases and for a just cause, the homily may even be given by a Bishop or a priest who is present at the celebration but cannot concelebrate” (no. 66, footnote omitted).

Similarly, the Code of Canon Law, canon 767, provides:

“Among the forms of preaching, the homily, which is part of the liturgy itself and is reserved to a priest or deacon, is preeminent; in the homily the mysteries of faith and the norms of Christian life are to be explained from the sacred text during the course of the liturgical year. . . . It is for the pastor or rector of a church to take care that these prescripts are observed conscientiously.”

The requirement that the homily be given by an ordained minister is not a denigration of the laity. In fact, it should be noted that all baptized Catholics have the right and duty “to work so that the divine message of salvation may be known and accepted by all men throughout the earth” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 900). Through Baptism, all Christians participate in Christ’s prophetic office, and are called to bear witness to the Gospel not only by example, but also by proclaiming the Word of God to believers and non-believers alike (cf. Catechism, nos. 904-07). Continue reading

Hating the Sin, Loving Our Friends

13 Sep

I recently received a letter from a concerned parent which contained this comment: “One of our daughters has stated that she believes that they are turning against their gay friends if they support the Catholic Church doctrine on the subject.”

Is the Church really against people who identify themselves as “gay”? Of course not. But how do we explain the Church’s position in a culture that increasingly promotes homosexual liaisons and even “gay marriage”? What kind of guidance can we give parents such as one quoted above? After all, the Church has always taught—based on natural law and Scripture–that homosexual acts are serious sins (see Catechism, nos. 2357, 2396).

First, I think we should be clear as to what we mean by terms such as “love” or “friendship.” Our Lord said that there is no greater love than to give one’s life for a friend (John 15:13). Friendship entails sacrifice; love involves a sincere gift of self to another.

Further, when we truly love someone, we desire his or her good. The greatest good we can desire for another is his or her eternal salvation. This may sound good in theory, but it can be most challenging in practice when our friend or loved one is on a trajectory away from God. Are we willing to speak the truth in love to them? Do we have the courage to be ambassadors of hope and mercy? Alternatively, out of human respect, misplaced tolerance, or lack of religious conviction have we become “enablers” of sin?

The Church has always taught that we love the sinner even as we hate the sin. The Church certainly would not want anyone’s children to “turn against” or sever their relationships with their homosexual friends, but would challenge them to be “real” friends who desire their friends’ eternal well-being.

Second, it just may be the case that our children’s friends are so hostile to the Church that our children’s espousal of Catholic teaching on homosexuality alone would end the friendship. Here we have to affirm the challenging truth that fidelity to Jesus Christ and His Church must be the priority. We hold out every available olive branch, but we cannot deny Christ just to keep a friend. Our Lord on several occasions reminded us that our vocation as Christians would at times require us to face rejection, even from those close to us (see, for example, Luke 12:49-53). Yet He does give us the consolation of His Holy Spirit to help us in those difficult situations.

 

A New “E-vangelization”

11 Sep

In my senior religion class at St. Francis High School, I read the book Future Shock by Alvin Toffler. What we were supposed to take out of the book is that the world is changing at an ever-accelerating rate. If we are not firmly rooted in the transcendent—namely, Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8)—we will be overcome by stress, disorientation, and information overload. In other words, we would be “future shocked.”

In the 35 years since that class, technology has changed virtually everything we do. Even little things, like how we get directions or book flights, are completely different now.

OurSpace

What is the “public square” today? St. Paul brought the Gospel to the Areopagus (see Acts 17), the “public square” in Athens where learned pagans gathered to discuss education, philosophy, and religion.

What is today’s Areopagus? Is it the town hall meeting? The school auditorium? The football stadium? While there are many physical “public squares,” we must say that the public square today is cyberspace. Two billion people use the Internet. Hundreds of millions of young people “hang out” at Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, or other social networking sites. What would St. Paul do today? Continue reading

Anger Management

6 Sep

Why is anger considered a deadly sin? After all, didn’t Christ Himself get angry at times?

Anger is unique and tricky because it is both a capital, or “deadly” sin (gravely evil) and also a passion (morally neutral, or even amoral). All human beings have passions, feelings, and emotions. The passion of anger is rightly directed toward perceived evils, and the better formed we are the more our emotional response of anger will be calibrated rightly.

For example, a saint would be angered by sin; one with less virtue might be angered by having to wait an extra minute in a shopping line. But the intellect and will must call the shots, not the anger–otherwise, we will move from passion to sin. That’s why it’s often important to cool off–if necessary and if circumstances allow–before responding to a perceived evil or injustice.

The passion of anger can and must be put to good use. We have a duty to resist evil, and so the lack of passion is a defect insofar as it would lead us to indifference toward sin.

How we deal with our anger matters greatly. Any evil that comes our way must be opposed righteously–always with the goal of fostering the salvation of souls and never to exact revenge. The crosses, abuses, and frustrations that provoke us to anger are the very stuff of our salvation. That doesn’t mean we must become doormats. However, when we seek legitimate redress we must unite ourselves more completely to Christ and gratefully welcome these opportunities to grow in grace and virtue through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Above all, we should pray fervently for those who cause us to become angry. Having a godly attitude toward them won’t necessarily change them (though it might), but we’ll find that these prayers will change us, softening our hearts but not our minds.

Our Lord was like us in all things but sin. Therefore, He experienced the passion or emotion of anger, but He never committed the sin of anger. Meekness is the virtue opposed to anger, and Jesus said, “Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart” (Mt. 11:29).

For more on the virtue of meekness, which moderates the passion of anger, click here.

Pope’s Intentions for September

4 Sep

Following are the Intentions of our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI for the month of September, courtesy of the Apostleship of Prayer:

  • Politicians.  That politicians may always act with honesty, integrity, and love for the truth.
  • Help for the Poorest Churches.  That Christian communities may have a growing willingness to send missionaries, priests, and lay people, along with concrete resources, to the poorest Churches.

Since the 16th century, the month of September has  been set aside to honor Our Lady of Sorrows, whose feast will be celebrated on Saturday, September 15th. At the foot of the Cross, the Blessed Virgin Mary suffered a martyrdom of the heart because of Our Lord’s torments and the greatness of her love for Him. As Vatican II teaches,

“[Mary] advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the Cross, where she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, grieving exceedingly with her only begotten Son, uniting herself with a maternal heart with His sacrifice, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this Victim which she herself had brought forth.”

The Church has traditionally recognized seven sorrows of Mary:

(1) The Prophecy of Simeon (Luke 2:33-35)

(2) The Flight into Egypt (Matthew 3:13-15)

(3) The Loss of Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:41-52)

(4) The Meeting of Jesus and Mary on the Way of the Cross (John 19:17)

(5) The Crucifixion (John 19:25-30)

(6) The Taking Down of the Body of Jesus from the Cross (John 19:31-37)

(7) Jesus Laid in the Tomb (John 19:38-42)

Click here for some traditional devotions to Our Lady of Sorrows.