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Love in the Time of Easter

8 Apr

Image result for easter lilyRecently during Mass, Maggie, my four-year-old daughter, grabbed my hand while we were listening to the homily. I thought she just wanted to hold my hand, but I was wrong. She gave my hand to my wife Libby, so we could hold hands during the homily. It deepened my realization that little ones desperately want their parents not only to be together, but to be “IN LOVE.” It is sometimes easy to forget that one of the greatest gifts we can give our children is our dedicated effort to grow in our marriage no matter how good or not so good it already is. No matter where we are or have been in our marriages, the natural instinct of my daughter, Magdalene, can give us deep insight into the supernatural reality of this Easter Season. Let’s explore.

What is it about an “in love” married couple that gives so much security to our little ones? I think it has something to do with the fact that a married couple is intended to be the very reflection and concrete experience of the love and goodness of God. Every married couple is intended to be a window into the life and love of the Holy Trinity. If the reflection that the couple is intended to convey is somehow cloudy, then the very stability that confidence in God’s existence offers is also clouded. Children want to believe that they come from love. If a child knows that their existence is the fruit of love, then they are confident that they exist for a reason.

We all know that children are created out of the love of God and that there is a reason for the creation of every child, but we as parents sometimes forget that we are supposed to be the living and tangible reminder every day to that reality by the way we love one another. It is not just about participating with God in the child’s creation, and then focusing on the child and figuring that our spouse is old enough and can take care of their own needs. When we intentionally choose to nurture the marriage relationship, we create the culture for a child to grow in a stable environment. If we were going to plant a garden, we would not be very successful if we did not tend to the soil. Passionate marriages are the optimal soil for the seed of children to flourish!

Yes, I said “passionate.” Some are scandalized by that word, so let me explain why I purposely chose it. When I say “passionate,” I am not talking about “an urgency to make love.” That is how the world defines it, and it is important to reclaim the language. When I say “passion,” I am talking about the type of passion that we celebrated on Good Friday. And no, I am not saying that marriage is torture. I am saying that the total self-abandonment of Christ on the Cross is the same self-abandonment that a married couple is called to have toward one another. The grace that was won on Calvary and offered through the Resurrection is made present to and through the Sacrament of Matrimony. John Paul II said it best when he said that married couples are a “permanent reminder to the Church of what Christ did on the Cross” (Familiaris Consortio).

The mystery of Christ’s Death and Resurrection is present in every home–what a wonderful plan in the wisdom of God! He knew that the Blessed Sacrament would not be able to make it into every home, but through Baptism and Matrimony, His sacramental presence has the potential to reach every house and neighborhood.

Our marriages are personal but not private. When we embrace the call to love one another as Christ loved the Church, we participate in the sanctification of the world. We can sometimes dismiss evangelization as a good idea that some people should do out there somewhere, or we wait around for our parish priest to form an evangelization committee.

The reality is that when we love our spouse passionately, we evangelize our children and our communities, and we participate in the redemption of the whole world. I invite every married man and woman, most especially myself, to step up the level of love in our relationship this Easter season. The grace is abundant, and when we take the time to prioritize our marriage, we are entering deeply into the mystery of Christ’s Death and Resurrection. If we enter into this mystery more deeply this Easter season, we will experience the power of Pentecost in a tangible way, and we will be a beacon of light in this world struggles to see the path to authentic happiness.

Today’s “Apostle”

17 Mar

shamrockToday is the feast of St. Patrick, one of the most beloved saints in all of Christendom. It’s a day when all of us are “Irish” and probably are wearing something green. It’s a day of parties, 5Ks, and refreshments, not to mention corned beef, cabbage, and perhaps even green beer.

All of the festivity is in good fun, but in the process we shouldn’t forget about the historical figure of St. Patrick. He was born in roughly 387 A.D. and died on March 17, 461 A.D. His feast day is today because the feast day of most saints is the day they died and entered eternal life with God.

As a young man he was captured and enslaved by the native peoples of Ireland. Many years later, he returned to Ireland as its bishop. He is known as the Apostle to Ireland, as through his zealous evangelization virtually the entire nation came to accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

He liked shamrocks not because they are green, but because he could use them to teach about the Trinity.

Of course there are many legends associated with St. Patrick, such as the deal about his driving out all the snakes. Who knows on this side of the divide where fact ends and embellishment begins. But we do know that what I wrote in the preceding paragraphs is true, and that alone is more than enough for us.

Most of us are not called to evangelize entire countries like St. Patrick. We may not be the Apostle to Ireland, or even to Kansas. But chances are we are called to be the apostle to our family, our circle of friends, our workplace, or some other local community that we are able to influence. That is not beyond us, as our baptism comes with a commission to bring Jesus to others.

O God, who chose the Bishop Saint Patrick to preach your glory to the peoples of Ireland, grant, through his merits and intercession, that those who glory in the name of Christian may never cease to proclaim your wondrous deeds to all. 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.

Star of the New Evangelization

31 Mar

Pope and BVMWe now come to the final installment of our series on Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium, or “EG”).

As is typical of many papal documents in recent memory, the Holy Father concludes with some reflections on the Blessed Virgin Mary and a prayer seeking her maternal intercession for the “new evangelization” (EG 284-88).

The Pope describes Mary as being singularly present in the midst of God’s people. As at Pentecost, her prayer for the coming of the Holy Spirit gives birth to “the Church which evangelizes” (EG 284). We look to her to understand the spirit of the new evangelization, for which we fervently desire a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Father continually stresses the close connection between Mary, the Church, and each individual believer. At the foot of the Cross, at the moment of the new creation, Jesus entrusted the Blessed Virgin Mary to John—and to us! The Church would never have to journey in this world without a mother (EG 285).

I found some of the titles for Mary at the conclusion of EG to be quite interesting and revealing. She is called the “Mother of the Living Gospel” and “Star of the New Evangelization.” She is the model of both contemplation (cf. Luke 2:19, 51) and pastoral concern for others (cf. John 2:5). She teaches us about a different sort of strength, one rooted in love, humility, and tenderness. The Pope calls upon the Church to embrace this Marian “style” of evangelization (EG 288), so that the joy of the Gospel may truly reach to the end of the earth, especially to God’s little ones.

Takin’ It to the Streets

16 Jan

Pope Francis5As we continue our tour of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium, or “EG”), we come to a chapter that clearly is close to the Holy Father’s heart. This chapter is entitled “The Social Dimension of Evangelization” (EG 176-258). He’s clearly very concerned about an impoverished if not distorted approach to evangelization that would downplay the social dimension of the Gospel (EG 176).

Today we will consider the Pope’s reflections on how the heart of the Gospel, or “kerygma,” necessarily has communal and social repercussions (EG 177-85). After all, according to the Holy Father, “the very heart of the Gospel is life in community and engagement with others” (EG 177). This perspective clearly reflects the understanding that authentic faith cannot be separated from our life in the world.

Pope Francis remarkably notes that Christ has not only come to redeem individual persons, but also human relationships (EG 178). There is a profound connection in the Gospel between evangelization and human development. The Holy Father says that our “primary and fundamental response” to God’s love is “to desire, seek, and protect the good of others” (EG 178).

He then goes on to provide strong biblical support for the proposition that fraternal love must go hand in hand with our acceptance of the Gospel. For that reason, we can say that charity is a “constitutive element of the Church’s mission and an indispensable expression of her very being” (EG 179, quoting Pope Benedict XVI). The Church exists to evangelize, which means that the Church exists to radiate the love of Christ to the world, inviting all to a relationship with the living God.

The Holy Father urges us to avoid two extremes when it comes to the Gospel. On the one hand, he says the Gospel is not merely a “me and Jesus” proposition. On the other hand, it’s also not simply about doing random acts of kindness to make us feel good about ourselves. Rather, the Gospel is all about the Kingdom of God (EG 180)! Our very lives must bear witness to the reality that “the Kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15). This kingdom encompasses every aspect of human existence, and it injects supernatural hope into human history (cf. EG 181).

From this perspective, we understand that the Church has so much meaning and depth to offer to everyone. For that reason, the Pope insists that faith cannot “be restricted to the private sphere” or seen as existing only “to prepare souls for heaven” (EG 182). God desires us to experience legitimate “enjoyment” (see 1 Timothy 6:17) in this life as a foretaste of the fullness of happiness prepared for us in heaven. Therefore, our conversion necessarily entails our commitment to work for the common good.

Further, faith cannot be considered an exclusively private matter such that it is excluded from our social lives (EG 183). Our faith impels us to seek to make a difference in the world and work for the just ordering of the society. The Pope insists that the Church cannot be relegated to the sidelines in the fight for justice, as her positive message has much to offer the world today.

Pope Francis readily admits that the apostolic exhortation is about evangelization, not the social doctrine of the Church. For the latter, the Pope heartily recommends the faithful to study the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, especially in light of the many grave social issues confronting the world today (EG 184). He also states the obvious fact that the Church does not have a “one size fits all” solution to the various complex issues we face today. While the Church articulates the operative principles, it is up to the local Church and communities to apply these principles to their unique circumstances.

The Pope ends this section by informing us that he is now going to take up two issues that he believes are most urgent and significant at this moment in human history: the inclusion of the poor in society, and the promotion of peace and social dialogue (EG 185). We will take up those issues in the next installment of this series.

Going to the Lost Sheep

10 Jul

calling of disciplesIn today’s Gospel, we hear St. Matthew’s account of the call of the Twelve Apostles (Mt. 10:1-7). Two points really struck me as I listened to the inspired text.

First, the New Testament gives us four lists of the Apostles (Mt. 10:2-4; Mk. 3:14-19; Lk. 6:13-16; Acts 1:13, 26). The four lists are not identical, but they all mention St. Peter first. Three different apostles (Andrew, James or John) are named second, depending on which list we’re reading, but Peter is always first.

This is a fairly simple point, but nonetheless an important one that strongly suggests the recognition of the primacy of Peter among the Twelve. This is completely separate from a study of other significant scenes where Our Lord addresses Peter alone (especially Matthew 16, Luke 5, and John 21) or where Jesus is with His “inner circle” of Apostles (Peter, James, and John) at key moments, such as the Transfiguration or Agony in the Garden.

The other point that struck me today was Jesus’s curious instruction to the newly commissioned Twelve in Matthew 10:5-6: “Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town. Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Clearly the master plan is to invite all men and women into the New Covenant family–that is, the Church (see Mt. 28:18-20; Mk.16:16; Catechism, no. 543). Yet Jesus instructs His leaders to follow a certain progression (see also Acts 1:8). After all, the Israelites were the chosen people, God’s special possession. Through His relationship with Israel through salvation history, God would eventually fulfill His promise to Abraham to bless all nations through him (cf. Gen. 22:18).

I see a similar dynamic at work in the “new evangelization.” The master plan has not changed: We want to invite all men and women to a relationship with Christ and His Church. Yet there is a sense that we must first reach out to the “lost sheep” in our midst: cradle Catholics, uncatechized Catholics, alienated or disenfranchised Catholics, former Catholics, “cultural” Catholics, or any other sort of Catholic who for any reason needs to hear anew (or for the first time) the good news. It may begin with a smile, an act of friendship or service, or simply a heart-felt invitation to come home.

After all, it’s really not about the Twelve. Nor is it about those of us who are already active in the Church. It is about helping others come to Jesus.

Servants of the New Evangelization

6 May

Pope FrancisLast month I heard a wonderful keynote address by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston on “The Deacon as Servant of the New Evangelization.” While his comments were directed to a room full of deacons, the principles of evangelization that he identified are applicable to all Catholics:

(1) Conviction The first Christians were immersed in the Word of God. They spoke with “bold assurance”—not of their own creation, but through the power of the Holy Spirit. As we see from modern-day examples such as Mother Teresa, such conviction is not “arrogance,” but the fruit of lives turned over to Christ.

(2) Engagement It’s instructive that Luke’s sequel is called the “Acts of the Apostles” and not the “Good Intentions of the Apostles” or the “Pastoral Plan of the Apostles.” Pope Francis is calling the Church to stop focusing on internal issues and instead actively engage in the mission of Jesus for the life of the world.

(3) Bridge-building We must be bridges and not obstacles for meeting Christ. As channels of Christ’s peace, we must adapt to the needs of those around us. A good New Testament role model is Barnabas, the “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36) who made it possible for St. Paul to become the great Apostle to the Gentiles. Do I make it possible for others to shine, or is it about “me” or “my ministry”?

(4) Remember the poor Cardinal DiNardo recounted the story from the conclave that as it appeared that Cardinal Bergoglio would be elected, Cardinal Hummes turned to the future pope and whispered, “Always remember the poor.” We hear talk of “transforming the culture” and sometimes it seems very abstract. What it means in large part is making works of mercy and charity a greater part of who we are as Church. It’s not rocket science: helping people who need material or spiritual help is the basic building block of renewal.

(5) Use words A “tsunami of secularism” is battering our society. We’re deceiving ourselves if we believe that our society is even neutral when it comes to the Christian faith. Sadly, our culture has largely cut itself off from God. Even within the Church, there are many who go through the motions without a close personal relationship with the Lord.

Do we need to pray and set a good Christian example? Of course. But it can’t end there. Pope Francis understands that we have to talk to people about Jesus. After all, the Church exists to evangelize, to call everyone to salvation in Christ through the forgiveness of sins.

That’s our story, and today all priests, deacons, religious, and laity must take up the Holy Father’s challenge to invite others to a life-changing relationship with Christ in His Church.

The Gift of Faith

29 Apr

gift of faithAs I seem to be in dialogue so frequently with friends and relatives these days who have lost the faith (or never had it to begin with), I recently had the occasion to review my response to this question that I received via email a couple years ago: “Does everyone receive the gift of faith? Why or why not?”

During this “Year of Faith,” I think it’s especially important for to consider these most fundamental questions.

What follows is my response to the questioner. I welcome others’ comments and insights on this subject.

“If we mean by ‘faith’ an explicit belief in the person and teachings of Our Lord Jesus Christ, then clearly not everyone has received the gift of faith. That’s why the Church’s perennial mission is evangelization–to offer the gift of faith to all men and women. All of us play a role in that effort.

“And while we cannot judge the state of individual souls, it would also seem that there are those who have been invited, but have rejected the invitation (cf. Lk. 14:15-24).

“While I cannot pretend to know ‘God’s thoughts’ on this, as my thoughts are not His thoughts and my ways are not His ways (Is. 55:8-9), I would like to offer a couple observations that shed light on this crucial issue.

“First, faith is very much a personal gift. We all are called to answer for ourselves Our Lord’s question, ‘Who do you say that I am?’ (Mt. 16:15). If someone were to offer us a $100 bill, no strings attached, we might wonder why others weren’t given a similar offer, but at the end of the day we still have to accept or reject the offer that was personally made to us.

“Second, God wills that all be saved and come to the knowledge of truth (1 Tim. 2:4). The ordinary way that this occurs is through the gift of faith received at Baptism. However, God does not place limits on Himself. He is all good and willed the existence of every man and woman who has ever lived. So, the Church holds out the possibility of salvation to all those who have not knowingly and willingly rejected Him. In that regard, perhaps the parable of the talents is useful. As Catholics we have been given 10 talents, so more is expected of us. However, those who were given only 5 or 2 or even just 1 talent will be judged worthy to enter our heavenly Father’s kingdom if he or she fruitfully uses whatever talents they were given.

“How God works with those who do not have explicit faith is a mystery that’s beyond us in this life, but surely we know that a person is better off with faith and with all the graces that derive from being a faithful disciple of Christ. Indeed, we were made for life with God as Christ’s brothers and sisters, so using our ‘10 talents’ well involves our inviting those around us to the wonderful life of grace that God has in store for us in this life and in the next.”