Archive | June, 2014

The Vocation of St. John the Baptist

24 Jun

nativity of john the baptistToday is the 13th birthday of my son Samuel John. It’s also the liturgical feast of the Birth (or “Nativity”) of St. John the Baptist. It’s one of the three birthdays set aside for special celebration in the Church, the others of course being the Birth of Jesus (Christmas) on December 25th, and the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary on September 8th (nine months after the Immaculate Conception).

I thought I would refer our readers to this 2007 article at Catholic Exchange on the birth of St. John the Baptist. I especially appreciate the author’s focus on St. John’s vocation as it unfolded throughout the life of the herald of the Messiah:

“John was given a mission, a vocation, while still a mere babe. It would be many years before he would carry it out. He still would have needed help preparing for it. John would have needed his mother and father to help him learn about the faith of his ancestors, in coming to know of the God of Abraham and His relationship with the people of Israel. He would have needed someone to help him learn his prayers and all that the Scriptures contained. In other words, I imagine Zechariah and Elizabeth had an important part to play in helping their son discern what God was calling him to do.”

This reflection reminds all of us who are Catholic parents of the immense dignity and responsibility we have as “vocation directors” in the home.

 

Spiritual Cataracts

23 Jun

three blind miceToday’s Gospel is the familiar passage from Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, in which He advises us to remove the large beams from our own eyes before trying to remove the tiny specks from our neighbor’s eye. This lesson has long been a source of fruitful meditation for me.

On one occasion well over a decade ago, after hearing this Gospel at Mass, I decided to illustrate the point of the lesson to my children. What I did was blindfold two of my daughters after dinner, and they took turns trying to lead the other around the basement. Quite predictably, there were many humorous collisions and wrong turns. It was truly a case of the blind leading the blind–or in the case of my fair-haired daughters, the blonde leading the blonde! But when one of them was able to remove her blindfold, she was easily able to lead her sister from point A to point B.

The children learned that while it’s a very good thing to help others in need, we have to allow the Lord to help us first. Continue reading

God’s “Secret Service”

18 Jun

Sermon on the MountIn today’s Gospel from the Sermon on the Mount, Christ Himself teaches us about the traditional expressions of Christian piety: fasting, prayer and almsgiving. We hear about these things quite a bit during Lent, but really, they should be part of the fabric of the Christian life throughout the entire year. They purify our hearts and draw us closer to Our Lord and to our neighbor, especially the poor.

For that reason, one would think that it would be really edifying to see others fasting, praying, and giving alms. After all, good role models always help, right?

Yet, Our Lord’s recurring message today is to do these things in secret, when no one is looking, behind closed doors. Don’t even let your right hand know what the left hand is doing. The only one who needs to know the good that we’re doing is our heavenly Father.

But why is that? Why shouldn’t others be able to watch and learn from us?

The answer is that of course our actions should be edifying to others (cf. Mt. 5:16). However, as Our Lord explains in the course of His teaching, it is very easy for us to do things in order that others will notice us and think well of us. That’s pride, not good example. Sure, there are times that we do good things and others may notice, to their benefit. But our motive must always be  God’s glory, not our reputation. The best way to guard against the temptation to pride is to keep our acts of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving—as well as other acts of charity–to ourselves as much as possible. When we do that, we’re more likely to serve God and not ourselves.

And that’s the point, isn’t it?

Lyre, Lyre, Sanctifier

9 Jun

St. EphremToday the universal Church celebrates the feast of St. Ephrem the Syrian, a fourth-century doctor of the Church.

Of all the doctors of the Church, St. Ephrem is the only one who was what we would today call a “permanent deacon.” With the establishment of the permanent diaconate in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas in recent years, it seem especially fitting to take a closer look at St. Ephrem today.

Early in life, this fascinating saint attended the first ecumenical Council of Nicaea (325) and ran a catechetical school in Nisibis, which was in Syria. After the Persians annexed the area, Ephrem was a refugee, and he ended up as a monk and deacon in Edessa, in present-day Turkey.

St. Ephrem is known as the “Lyre of the Holy Spirit” because of the beautiful hymns he composed. He is the most famous of the Syriac Fathers of the Church, and in addition to his hymns he wrote many works of a biblical and apologetic character. Continue reading

Vatican II on Fostering Religious Vocations

3 Jun

religious sistersIn paragraph 24 of Vatican II’s Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life (Perfectae Caritatis, 1965), we find this summary of what we might call ”vocation ministry”:

“Priests and Christian educators should make serious efforts to foster religious vocations, thereby increasing the strength of the Church, corresponding to its needs. These candidates should be suitably and carefully chosen. In ordinary preaching, the life of the evangelical counsels and the religious state should be treated more frequently. Parents, too, should nurture and protect religious vocations in their children by instilling Christian virtue in their hearts.

“Religious communities have the right to make themselves known in order to foster vocations and seek candidates. In doing this, however, they should observe the norms laid down by the Holy See and the local Ordinary.

“Religious should remember there is no better way than their own example to commend their institutes and gain candidates for the religious life.”

Three things jumped off the page to me when I recently reread this document:

(1) Vatican II encourages more preaching on the evangelical counsels and the religious state, yet how often do we hear anything from the pulpit on the splendor of consecrated life?

(2) Parents not only nurture but protect their children’s vocations by instilling Christian virtue. One wonders how many religious vocations have been lost by parents’ failure to foster Christian virtue in the home through their own words and actions, and through the appropriate exercise of discipline.

(3) Religious have the right to promote their community, but in the end the most effective means of attracting young men and women is through their own personal witness of lives completely and joyfully given to the Lord.

Pope’s Intentions for June 2014

2 Jun

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

  • Unemployed. That the unemployed may receive support and find the work they need to live in dignity.
  • Faith in Europe.That Europe may rediscover its Christian roots through the witness of believers.

This month we honor the Sacred Heart of Jesus—not so much with our words but with our actions. For by our actions we show that our hearts are one with the Heart of Jesus.

What are the thoughts and feelings of Jesus’ Heart? In the Gospels we often read that the Heart of Jesus was “moved with pity” for the poor and suffering people who flocked to him (Matthew 9:36; 14:14; 15:32). Over the centuries the crowds have not diminished. They’ve increased. People continue to wander like sheep without a shepherd looking for relief. Now we, the Body of Christ, united in prayer with the Vicar of Christ, must hear their cries and respond as Jesus did.

Pope Francis cares about people who are left destitute “by unemployment which takes away their dignity as breadwinners.” He has said that this “physical destitution” often leads to the “moral destitution” of slavery “to alcohol, drugs, gambling, or pornography.”

At a conference last November, Pope Francis pointed out that the unemployment rate for young people under twenty-five is 40 percent or more. “This is a mortgage,” he said; “it is a mortgage on our future. And if it is not resolved soon, it guarantees a rather weak future—or no future at all.”

We share Pope Francis’ concern for individuals who are unemployed and robbed of their dignity. We are concerned for the future of our world if this affront to human dignity is not corrected. We share the love of the Heart of Jesus, “a love which is grace, generosity, a desire to draw near, a love which does not hesitate to offer itself in sacrifice for the beloved” (2014 Message for Lent). May the unemployed find support and may the causes of their plight be removed.

For reflection: How does unemployment relate to my duty to respect human life from conception to natural death?