Archive | October, 2013

Just Do It!

30 Oct

praying the rosaryAs this month dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary comes to a close, I thought I would take this occasion to call all of us to renew our desire to pray the Rosary frequently and with much fervor and devotion.

I’m not necessarily talking about a major overhaul of our spiritual life. Rather, let’s look at it from the standpoint of a dieter. This is a subject I know something about, as I have had to battle obesity ever since childhood. I’m sure that over the years through various diets I’ve lost hundreds of pounds. Most of them did not stay off. Rather, I only started to get a handle on my weight as I made sustainable, lasting changes in my lifestyle.

Similarly, sometimes we make spiritual resolutions–with much zeal and the best of intentions–which turn out to be fad diets for the soul. So, when I strongly encourage the daily recitation of the Holy Rosary, I’m encouraging all of us to look at our daily lives and see what small, long-term changes we can make so as to the make the Rosary an even greater part of our day.

I’ve heard it said that the Church, given her size and “conservative” nature, moves in centuries. I don’t think it’s too much for us to move in “decades”–finding moments throughout the day to meditate on the life of Christ with His beloved Mother.

Back in 2002, Blessed John Paul II issued an apostolic letter on the Rosary entitled Rosarium Virginis Mariae. In this letter, the Holy Father encouraged the faithful to embrace the Rosary in positive, evangelistic terms. He stressed the Rosary as a powerful prayer for peace and for the renewal of families. What I’d like to discuss here, however, is the way he anticipated and answered various objections to the Rosary in a winning way:

Objection #1: The Rosary detracts from the sacred liturgy. Pope John Paul II said that the liturgical renewal did not lessen the importance of popular devotions like the Rosary. In fact, he noted that that is a common misunderstanding of Vatican II. The fact is that it’s not an either/or proposition. The Rosary does not conflict with, but rather sustains the liturgy. Done right, the Rosary actually fosters a deeper participation in the liturgy.

Objection #2: The Rosary is “unecumenical.” In response, the Pope emphasized the Christ-centered nature of the prayer and the right understanding of the veneration to be given to the Mother of God. Quoting Vatican II, he noted that “when the Mother is honored, the Son is duly known, glorified, and loved.” Done right, the Rosary aids and surely does not hinder authentic ecumenism. Just ask experienced pro-lifers.

Objection #3: The Rosary is outdated and is no longer being learned by children. The Pope gently chided those who think this way and invited them to take a fresh look at the Rosary. He suggested that perhaps the problem has been that many youth have not been introduced to the Rosary and in the process we may be selling them short. As the World Youth Days attest, youth are indeed attracted to the faith and specifically are attracted to the Rosary. Done right, the Rosary surely appeals to today’s youth.

So, to those of you who may still be on the fence when it comes to praying the Rosary, I invite you to become Nike Rosary Warriors: Just do it!

For those of you looking for solid resources on the Rosary, I suggest Tim Gray’s book Luminous Mysteries: Biblical Reflections on the Life of Christ, which provides biblical teaching and profound meditations on each of the new “Mysteries of Light.” And for a broader introduction to Marian doctrine and devotion, I recommend a book I coedited with Scott Hahn entitled Catholic for a Reason II: Scripture and the Mystery of the Mother of God. Both titles are available through Emmaus Road Publishing.

Luke’s Top Ten

17 Oct

LukeIn anticipation of the feast of St. Luke tomorrow, I thought I would offer a top ten list of favorite passages from St. Luke’s Gospel, but with a twist: All selected passages must be substantially unique to St. Luke’s Gospel. In other words, the mere fact that St. Luke includes an interesting detail, such as the sweating of blood during Our Lord’s Agony in the Garden, isn’t good enough. The following list, then, contains favorite Gospel passages that likely would have been lost if they were not recorded by St. Luke the Evangelist.

The list is in order of appearance in St. Luke’s Gospel:

(1) Luke 1:26-38 Annunciation

The announcement that the Son of God is coming into the world, and Mary’s breathtaking response. It doesn’t get any better than that!

(2) Luke 1:39-56 Visitation

Another “Joyful Mystery”; I’m particularly fond of Mary’s hymn of praise, known as the “Magnificat.” There’s also a fascinating connection with the Old Testament, as Mary is revealed as the New Ark of the Covenant.

(3) Luke 2:1-20 Nativity

One might protest that St. Matthew includes some mention of Jesus’ birth and infancy, but the details provided here are mostly unique to Luke’s Gospel—everything from their being no room at the inn and being laid in a manger to the adoration of the shepherds and the glorious praise of the angels.

(4) Luke 5:1-11 Call of Simon the Fisherman

I love the invitation to Simon Peter to “put out into the deep” and Simon’s subsequent response to the miraculous catch of fish: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Despite his weakness and failings, he would become a “fisher of men.”

(5) Luke 10:29-37 Parable of the Good Samaritan

A good reminder to make “real” our commitment to love our neighbor as ourselves.

(6) Luke 10:38-42 Martha and Mary

This passage is really short, but the Church is so much richer for knowing that, despite the wonderful hospitality offered by St. Martha, Mary chose the greater part.

(7) Luke 15:11-32 Parable of the Prodigal Son

This is arguably the most famous—and most profound–of all of Jesus’ parables. I love the image it gives of God the Father, and what it teaches me as a human father.

(8) Luke 18:9-14 Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

I love this parable, as humility before God is the key to authentic prayer.

(9) Luke 23:39-43 Good Thief “Steals” Heaven

While other Gospels mention that Jesus was crucified between two thieves, only St. Luke gives us the final exchange between the two thieves. Who can forget Jesus’ words to the good thief: “Amen I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

(10) Luke 24:13-35 Road to Emmaus

This is perhaps my favorite post-Resurrection story concerning Jesus, in which the two disciples’ hearts “burned” as Jesus opened the Scriptures to them, and then they definitively recognized Him in the breaking of the bread. This episode is probably the story alluded to in Mark 16:12-13, but of course only St. Luke gives us details.

I hope you concur that this is a pretty amazing list of great Gospel passages recorded only in Luke. Perhaps even more amazing is that I could probably come up with a second top ten list of beautiful passages unique to Luke (e.g., Canticle of Zechariah; Presentation in the Temple; Finding in the Temple; Jesus declares a Jubilee; Raising the Widow of Nain’s son; Parable of the Lost Coin; Parable of the Unjust Steward; Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus; Cleansing of the Ten Lepers; Zacchaeus). But the ten listed above are my favorites in this category.

What is your favorite passage from Luke?

By the way, I included an image of St. Luke with an ox. St. Luke’s Gospel is often represented by an ox, which is symbolic of Old Testament sacrifices and priesthood. St. Luke’s Gospel opens with Zechariah’s priestly service in the Temple.

According to Luke

15 Oct

Gospel of LukeThis week I’d like to focus some attention on St. Luke, author of the third Gospel and companion of St. Paul. We will celebrate his feast day this coming Friday. Meanwhile, we are working through his Gospel in our daily Mass readings.

I don’t know about you, but I grow weary of study Bibles and Bible studies that go to great lengths to explain to us that so and so didn’t actually write the book of the Bible that bears his name, and that the events described in the book didn’t really happen anyway. I want biblical materials that trust God’s inspired Word and our rich Catholic Tradition, not agnostic pseudo-scholarship.

That’s why I find the opening paragraphs of the introduction to the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible on The Gospel of Luke such a breath of fresh air:

“Early manuscripts of the third Gospel are titled “According to Luke” (Gk. Kata Loukan). This heading is not part of the original work but was added later as a signpost of apostolic tradition. Indeed, the earliest Christians unanimously ascribed the work to Luke, a Gentile physician and companion of the Apostle Paul (2 Tim. 4:11; Philem. 24). Several Church Fathers, such as Irenaeus (A.D. 180), Tertullian (A.D. 200), and Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 200), assert Luke’s authorship of the third Gospel, and an anonymous list of NT books, called the Muratorian Fragment (c. A.D. 170), also attaches his name to it. There is thus no reason to doubt Luke’s authorship of this Gospel, since the tradition is virtually uncontested in early Christianity.

“Luke himself is unique among the writers of the NT. First, he is the only Gentile author to compose a NT book–all others were of Israelite descent. Paul hints at his Gentile identity when he numbers “Luke the beloved physician” among his uncircumcised companions (Col. 4:14). Secondly, Luke is the only evangelist to write a sequel. In addition to his Gospel, he wrote the Acts of the Apostles as the second part of a two-volume work. The Book of Acts picks up where Luke’s Gospel narrative ends, showing how the Holy Spirit’s work in the life of Jesus now operates in the living community of Christ’s mystical body, the Church.”

A number of years ago I was privileged to help found Emmaus Road Publishing (which takes it name from chapter 24 of St. Luke’s Gospel), motivated by the famous words of St. Jerome: “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” Emmaus Road continues to make resources such as the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible available for those who hunger for God’s Word. Also on the Gospel of Luke, Emmaus has Tim Gray’s popular study entitled Mission of the Messiah, which has now gone through multiple printings. Check out Emmaus Road for more information on a wide range of biblical and catechetical resources.

A Lesson in Humility

10 Oct

pharisee and tax collectorI sometimes find it helpful to my spiritual life to put myself in the place of the characters in Our Lord’s parables. Of course, sometimes I put my wife in them as well. She’s 100% Irish, so I’ve lightheartedly renamed the Parable of the Persistent Widow, who nags the judge until she gets what she wants, the Parable of the Irish Woman.

One parable that I think teaches an important lesson to long-time Christians is the Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector found in Luke 18. The Pharisee’s prayer is a laundry list of things the Pharisee is doing for God, while the Tax Collector humbly prays, “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.” The latter prayer was acceptable to God, the former wasn’t.

After a while, we might think we’re in control of our own destiny. At least we’re on cruise control. We’ve accepted Jesus as the Lord of our lives. We’ve become part of His family through the waters of Baptism. We recognize that acceptance of Jesus means the acceptance of His one, true Church and all that entails. We know that we are called to lead lives worthy of our calling. The Lord summons us to obey the Ten Commandments and, even more, to live lives of charity, often expressed in terms of spiritual (e.g., teaching others the faith, praying for others) and corporal (e.g., feeding the hungry, caring for the sick) works of mercy.

At least to some extent, some of us can say that we’re doing all this. So, when we come before the Lord, it can be very easy–at least for me–to relate more to the Pharisee than to the Publican in the above parable: “Yeah, Lord, I know I’m not perfect, but gee, look at all this stuff I’ve done and am doing to help spread Your kingdom. I’m one of the good guys. In fact, I work for the Archdiocese and am in formation for the permanent diaconate. You can’t get much more Catholic than that. Amen.”

Doing good things out of a living faith, hope, and charity are good and necessary. But the more fundamental truth is that we’re all sinners and, without God’s grace, we’re lost. Recognizing and living this truth is humility. Deep down, we all know this truth, but sometimes our thought processes and actions say otherwise. Jesus calls to Himself the “little ones,” but part of us wants to be “big shots.”

I had a friend named Larry who in jest would pray, “Lord, help me find a parking spot . . . never mind, I just found one.” It’s good for me recall this joke from time to time as a reality check. The fact of the matter is that it’s not about me. I get in the way far more often than I help the cause, and when I’m able to help a little, it’s because I was open to God’s grace working in my life, at least imperfectly.

Pride leads us to take the credit for our successes and blessings and brings about an ungodly discouragement in times of failure. The truth is that none of us is quite ready for canonization. Sanctification is God’s work–not ours–accomplished throughout the course of our lives. Speaking for myself, He still has a ton of work to do.

Regardless of what might happen during the course of the day, we do well to conclude our day with the prayer of the tax collector: “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

Creation Matters

4 Oct

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, one of the most beloved saints in all of Christendom, and now the patron saint and inspiration of our new Holy Father.

No religious figure is as closely tied with nature as St. Francis. He is the patron saint of animals, zoos, ecology, the environment, and peace, among other things. When we think of him, we’re more likely to call to mind “Brother Sun, Sister Moon,” and not an apologetics debate or Church politics. I like to think there’s a little St. Francis in all of us–hence the recurring joke that even God doesn’t know how many Franciscans there are in the world.

So today is a great day to look at some of the issues that resonate with our “inner Francis.” For example, where do we stand as Catholics when it comes to going “green”? And what about animal rights? PETA surely seems to be over the top, but don’t we condemn cruelty to animals? What principles should form our approach to the environment? To the animal kingdom? WWSFS? (What would St. Francis say?) Continue reading

Let’s Get Small

1 Oct

st. thereseBack when I was in college, the premier stand-up comic was Steve Martin, who produced the iconic, Grammy Award-winning album (yes, those were still the days of vinyl!) entitled “Let’s Get Small.”

As popular as Steve Martin’s work would become, it pales in comparison to what we might call the “let’s get small” spirituality developed 100 years earlier by an obscure Carmelite, known as Sister Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face. In fact, Sr. Therese’s “let’s get small” spirituality is now known to millions, and Saint Therese of Lisieux, the beloved “Little Flower,” whose feast we celebrate today, is commonly recognized as one of the greatest saints of modern times.

Let’s back up a minute and look at a very challenging statement of Our Lord from His Sermon on the Mount:

“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14).

One way of reading this passage is to conclude that it’s easier to go to hell than to heaven, and surely it’s a lot easier than people who are generally oblivious to this possibility are willing to admit. Certainly Our Lord’s sobering words should call us back to the “straight and narrow” journey of discipleship.

But St. Therese’s spirituality gives us another, complementary way of looking at this passage. St. Therese understood at a profound level the call to become childlike before God (cf, Matthew 18:2-4), confidently trusting in Him for everything. We must decrease so the Lord can increase in us (John 3:30). Making ourselves humble and childlike before the Lord–making ourselves small!–in a real sense is the key to being able to enter by the narrow gate.

Remember too that St. Therese was all about love. She sought to love the Lord minute by minute, doing even the littlest or perhaps even most disagreeable or mundane tasks with great love. We know that real love is not “puffed up” or “inflated” (1 Corinthians 13:4). Interestingly those images for pride suggest an artificial wideness that, to continue our analogy, hinder our efforts to enter the narrow gate–the entryway for living in the fullness of divine love. Being big in the world’s eyes or even in our own estimation does not help us squeeze through the narrow gate or the eye of a needle!

There’s a lot to love about St. Therese. She is not some heady theologian but rather someone who simply shows us that holiness is for everybody, and that true love and humility–the pathway to holiness–is eminently possible for all of us.

But we have to get small!