Archive | June, 2013

Digesting the Content

27 Jun

Catechesi TradendaeChurch documents can seem a bit daunting at first, especially to lay people who have not studied Catholic theology for any length of time. Yet the writings of the Popes and other Church authorities are far too important to be left merely to scholars or so-called “experts.”

I received a tip many years ago that I have found very helpful: Most Church documents, including Vatican II documents and papal encyclicals, are divided into numbered sections. Each section is bite-sized, usually 1-4 paragraphs in length. The tip is to read the document one numbered section at a time, and then try to summarize the content in one sentence. This may be a little challenging at first, but eventually you will get the hang of it and quickly zero in on the main point of the section.

One of Blessed John Paul II’s longest documents is Catechesi Tradendae, a 1979 apostolic exhortation on Catechesis in Our Time. Below you will find my summary of this document, with a few memory verses thrown in at no extra charge. Especially during this “Year of Faith,” you might want to try this method with one of the documents of Vatican II or an encyclical on a topic you find most interesting. Continue reading

Lessons from Jesus

25 Jun

Sermon on the MountToday’s Gospel gives us three challenging lessons from Jesus taken from His famous “Sermon on the Mount”:

“Do not give what is holy to dogs, or throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot, and turn and tear you to pieces” (Mt. 7:6).

Living in a largely de-Christianized society that sorely needs a “new evangelization,” we might tend to brush aside this verse. After all, we must be about bringing the Gospel to the unchurched, who might be considered the “dogs” or “swine” in this analogy. This verse points to the ever-present need to balance what we call in Church-speak “inculturation,” or making the mysteries of the faith accessible to a given culture, and the “reverence” that is always due to God and holy things. If we’re too serious or other-worldly we will not be able to inculturate the Gospel, and if we’re too hip we can easily water down or trivialize the “pearls” of our faith.

“Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the Law and the Prophets” (Mt. 7:12).

This is the most straightforward of the three lessons . . . and probably the most difficult. The people of Jesus’ time, thanks to the Law and Prophets, already knew this lesson, yet they needed Jesus to remind them. And today, surely we have heard the “Golden Rule” many times and have tried to drill it into our quarreling children. Yet we still don’t treat others as we would like to be treated, because we haven’t fully tapped into the love of God that has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom. 5:5). Let’s hear these words anew and make practical resolutions to do good to others today.

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few” (Mt. 7:13-14).

We don’t know the relative population of heaven and hell, and we do trust in the super-abundant mercy of God. Yet, this startling message reminds us that we are responsible for how we respond to God’s mercy, and how we live our lives. We might ask ourselves whether we’re heading through the narrow gate. If not, there’s still time to change course and choose the path that leads to abundant life (cf. Jn. 10:10).

Not by Faith Alone

20 Jun

faith and worksAll Christians affirm that no one can be saved by his or her own efforts. We are saved by the free, undeserved grace of God. Amen to that!

Where some Christians differ is regarding the role of human cooperation in our salvation, as some communities stress God’s primary activity in the work of salvation without adequately accounting for our responsibility to respond to the gift of grace. The truth is that God does not save us against our will, nor does He expect us, once justified through faith and Baptism, to sit back and not allow our faith to transform all that we are and all that we do.

Following, then, are but a sampling of New Testament passages affirming the truth that we will be judged not merely on our faith alone, but on a faith that manifests itself in charitable, upright deeds.

“The Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done.” –Matthew 16:27

“Then they also will answer, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’ Then he will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” –Matthew 25:44-46

“For he will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury.” –Romans 2:6-8

“He who plants and he who waters are equal, and each shall receive his wages according to his labor.” –1 Corinthians 3:8

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body.” –2 Corinthians 5:10

“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love.” –Galatians 5:6

“What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him?” –James 2:14

“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense, to repay every one for what he has done.” –Revelation 22:12

And then there’s 2 Timothy 3:16, which is often cited to affirm the special place of Scripture in the life of the Christian. Yet, the following verse (v. 17) affirms that the purpose of Scripture is so that we may be “equipped for every good work.”

Commitment Matters

18 Jun

Young men playing gamesI’m very concerned about the direction of many teenage boys today. They seem to lack motivation, focus, and religious sensibility, as they idly pass their time on their iPhones and X-Boxes.

Granted, this is to some extent a perennial issue. Many young men (like me!), after sowing some wild oats, eventually make the difficult transition from adolescence to adulthood and accept the responsibilities that come with it.

The present generation of teens has it a little tougher in some ways. Too many are raised without a strong sense of faith and family. They seem to have no mooring, no anchor to draw them back from the pagan society that has enveloped them.

And they have never learned about commitment. Instead, they have been brainwashed by the “anti-commitment” ideology of the culture of death and the entertainment industry.

I have much more than a passing or speculative interest in all this. I am the father of three daughters who are still single. I presume that not all of them will be called to the religious or single life, so I wonder about the “pool” of young men that will be on the scene as I wake up to find that my little girls have one-by-one become young women. After all, this is largely a post-divorce culture. While divorce is the tragic consequence of a commitment gone awry, many young people today (perhaps children of divorce themselves) don’t understand the point of commitment in the first place.

And then there are my young sons, and I wonder how they will navigate through this cultural morass and become men of honor and commitment.

As I completed law school I had a “re-conversion” to the Catholic faith, and I became very serious not only about the practice of the faith, but also about my attempt to live a God-centered, purpose-driven life. Yet even then I occasionally experienced the erratic tendencies of my adolescence. This was especially the case in my vocational discernment as I pursued, in quick succession, a legal career, religious life, and secular priesthood as a seminarian.

But then God put into my heart a love for the woman who would become my wife. Now, over 22 years later, despite my own limitations and sins, He has continued to give me the grace to love and serve Him through my faithful, self-giving love for Maureen.

All vocations in Christ are responses to God’s invitation to enter into an intimate, personal relationship with Him. This is nothing other than an invitation to love. How do we love Christ? How do we authentically love anybody? By giving completely of ourselves: by committing ourselves to the other.

The vocation to love God plays itself out differently in every person. For most of us, it will lead to another invitation—to enter into a marital relationship that reflects the union of Christ with His Church (see Ephesians 5:31-32). For others, it may lead to an invitation to the consecrated life or to the priesthood.

But the point is, love without commitment entails using God and others, not giving of ourselves to them. Without a sense of commitment, we are a culture, as C.S. Lewis would say, of “men without chests.” Without a sense of commitment, all vocations—including the primordial vocation to Christian holiness—fall by the wayside.

The current vocations landscape—and here I refer to the relative dearth of committed Catholic marriages as well as to the shortage of priests and religious—indeed poses serious pastoral challenges to the Church. Yet I think a concerted effort to restore a sense of commitment to today’s youth will go a long way with God’s grace toward fostering a new springtime of vocations in the Church.

One good place to start is by exhorting and equipping parents, teachers, and mentors to devote themselves to the youth, after the pattern of St. Paul: “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess. 2:8). When we authentically share the Gospel with the next generation, we are also sharing ourselves, becoming a gift to them.

This of course entails a challenge to the “older generation” to live what we teach. Young people don’t have any use for teachers unless they are first and foremost witnesses. Our own Christian commitment must be continually renewed through the Eucharist and manifested in virtuous lives of service to others.

These brief reflections on Christian commitment also have an obvious application to the goal of Catholic formation. So often the concern is about numbers (how many baptisms, RCIA candidates, seminarians, etc.) or about what catechism series is used or having the most up-to-date catechetical methods and technology aids.

While all those things are important, the goal of all Catholic formation, especially when it comes to youth, must be a personal commitment to Jesus Christ. Any so-called “vocation crisis” goes hand-in-hand with a “commitment crisis.” The perennial response of the Church to this challenge, amplified in recent years by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, is to introduce young people to the captivating person and life-giving teachings of Christ and let him or her fall in love.

Why Confess Sins to a Priest?

13 Jun

ConfessionalI think that the best way to answer this question is by beginning with Baptism. Through the Sacrament of Baptism, a person is cleansed of original sin and receives the “grace of a new birth in God the Father, through His Son, in the Holy Spirit” (St. Irenaeus, 2nd century bishop). Through this regeneration in water and the Spirit, a person becomes a Christian, born again as a son or daughter of God (Jn. 3:3-6; Rom. 8:14-17).

After becoming a child of God, one may freely damage or break off his relationship with God through sin. While venial sin damages our relationship with God, mortal sin actually severs the relationship through the loss of God’s supernatural life of grace within us (cf. 1 Jn. 5:16-17; Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 1854-64).

When a person chooses to kill that life of grace through mortal sin, God, who is full of mercy, seeks to reconcile His prodigal son or daughter to Himself (cf. Lk. 15:11-32). God alone can forgive sins, yet He empowered the Apostles and their successors–bishops and priests–to carry out His ministry of reconciliation (cf. 2 Cor. 5:18-21). In fact, Christ instituted the Sacrament of Reconciliation as His first gift to the Church on Easter Sunday. As St. John writes:

[Jesus said,] “As the Father has sent Me [with all authority, Mt. 28:18], even so I send you.” And with this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (Jn. 20:21-23; cf. Lk. 10:16; Mt. 16:19, 28:18-20).

The Church’s power to bind and loose (Mt. 16:19, 18:18) provides further scriptural evidence for this sacrament. As the Church has taught for 2,000 years, the priest exercises his ministry in persona Christi (that is, in the person of Christ). This means that in confessing one’s sins to a priest, one truly confesses one’s sins to Christ Himself and receives pardon from God. Because the priest acts in persona Christi, he is the spiritual head or “father” of the community (cf. 1 Cor. 4:14-15). Thus, Confession reconciles us with Christ and His Body, the Church, whom we have wounded by sin.

Sin is never a private matter, since it always disrupts the order of creation and the whole community (cf. 1 Cor. 5:1-6). Through Christ, the priest forgives the sinner in the name of the whole community, the Body of Christ. “Reconciliation with the Church is inseparable from reconciliation with God” (Catechism, no. 1445). In his New Testament Epistle, St. James exhorts us, “[C]onfess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed” (Jas. 5:16).

The Sacrament of Confession is one of healing. It makes us aware of our sinfulness and our dependence on God; therefore everyone is encouraged to receive the sacrament frequently in order to grow closer to Lord and to one another.

So sin is not a solitary matter, nor does any Christian have a “God-and-me-alone” relationship with the Father (1 Cor. 12:12-26). Confessing our sins within the Body of Christ allows us to reconcile with God and strengthen the Church, providing a witness so that all may turn and repent (2 Pet. 3:9).

Pope’s Intentions for June

4 Jun

Pope Francis2Following are the Intentions of our Holy Father Pope Francis for the month of June, courtesy of the Apostleship of Prayer:

  • Mutual Respect. That a culture of dialogue, listening, and mutual respect may prevail among peoples.
  • New Evangelization. That where secularization is strongest, Christian communities may effectively promote a new evangelization.

The Apostleship of Prayer provides some very helpful reflections to help us embrace the Pope’s intentions each month. Here is what the Apostleship of Prayer says about this month’s “mission intention”:

The old evangelization looked to the mission fields far away. The new evangelization hits home. Pope Benedict said that the new evangelization is “directed principally at those who, though baptized, have drifted away from the Church and live without reference to the Christian life.” It seems every family has a story like that.

In a General Audience last year, the former Pope spoke of this “drifting away from the Church” where “the truths of faith or religious rites are not denied but are merely deemed irrelevant…as though God did not exist.’”

How shall we respond to this “drifting away” all around us? Pope Benedict said: “We cannot speak of the new evangelization without a sincere desire for conversion. The best path to the new evangelization is to let ourselves be reconciled with God and with each other. Solemnly purified, Christians can regain a legitimate pride in their dignity as children of God, created in his image and redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus Christ, and they can experience his joy in order to share it with everyone, both near and far.”

We are called to be, in Pope Benedict’s words, “the true actors in evangelization, to show the beauty of the Gospel to those who are indifferent or even hostile,” to “invite, as it were, tepid believers, to live with the joy of faith, hope, and charity.”

Jesus calls us, as He led the apostles, to be “fishers of people.” The bait we use is the witness of our lives. The new evangelization is to speak and act in the joy of faith, hope, and love.

Reflection

What are the characteristics of my life that “show the beauty of the Gospel” and invite others “to live with the joy of faith, hope and charity”?

Scripture

Luke 5:1-11 “Do not be afraid.”

Prayer of the Month

Holy Mary, star of the new evangelization, make us the light of the world. We receive Christ in the Eucharist; help us build the Kingdom in the world. Teach us to do whatever He tells us. May our study of His life lead us to love Him, and our love for Him lead us to imitate Him. If we are what we should be, we will set the world ablaze and affect the culture. We ask your intercession to make this so, through Christ, our Lord. Amen.