Tag Archives: Baptism

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.

You Too Go into the Vineyard

20 Aug

vineyardIn today’s Gospel we hear the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Mt. 20:1-16). We can approach this rich teaching of Jesus from various perspectives. St. John Paul II reflected on this passage at length in his apostolic exhortation on the apostolate of lay people (Christifideles Laici). He encouraged all men and women to hear and take to heart Our Lord’s words, “You too go into my vineyard” (Mt. 20:4).

Whenever I’ve heard this parable, I’ve placed myself in the role of one of the potential workers. I need to do my part in the Lord’s vineyard. Further, I shouldn’t be envious of those who come into the vineyard later in the day, who nonetheless are equal recipients of the eternal blessings the Lord has in store for those who turn to Him.

Today, however, I was struck by the words of some of the potential laborers when asked why they were just standing there idly. They said, “Because no one has hired us” (Mt. 20:7). In other words, no one has invited them into the vineyard. And whose fault is that?

Through our Baptism, we are called not only to live the faith ourselves but also to call upon others–in endearing, encouraging ways–to join us in the work of helping others to grow in faith and holiness of life. Our Holy Father Pope Francis has emphasized that the Church has to be looking outward. There is a lot to be done in this vineyard.

As one of the men from our Archdiocese who is in formation for the diaconate, I can see that one aspect of being a faithful deacon is simply rounding up workers for our divine Landowner. May we all join together in this great task, which is rightly called the “new evangelization.”

This post originally appeared in August 2013.

What Is a Vocation?

9 Apr

vocationVocation comes from the Latin verb vocare, which means “to call.” A vocation is a calling from God and to God. A vocation naturally includes what we do “for a living,” but it goes much deeper than that. God has a personal plan for each one of us. This “plan” is our personal vocation, as God invites each one of us to a special relationship with Him through Christ.

Let’s take a closer look at how this plays out.

All the faithful, by virtue of our Baptism, have a vocation in the Church. All of us are called to a deep, personal, and communal relationship with the Lord and His family, the Church; all of us are called to holiness—to become saints; all of us have a role to play in bringing the Gospel to the world, one precious soul at a time.

Continue reading

Ever After

16 Sep

marriageWe all know that the institution of marriage is under attack these days. One of the root causes is the widespread assumption that we have the authority to manipulate the institution. Yet Jesus courageously proclaims that marriage is within God’s sole jurisdiction: “What . . . God has joined together, let no man put asunder” (Mt. 19:6).

In a valid Christian marriage, the man and woman are joined in a permanent, mutual bond that exists even when the spouses and the state consent to the legal fiction of a divorce. The more marriage is understood as a man-made convention, however, the more society will look to legal principles rather than biblical principles regarding marriage, and with disastrous ramifications.

Sadly, many Christians today at least implicitly believe that only the state has jurisdiction over their marriages, and they are divorcing at a rate comparable to that of society as a whole—if they choose to marry at all. No-fault divorce, prenuptial agreements, and “gay marriages” are natural progressions of an understanding of the marriage bond informed by the law of contracts, without regard to Scripture and apostolic Tradition.

Surely the exchange of marriage vows envisions a big act of faith and abandonment to divine providence. God asks couples to say “yes” in marriage before they literally know what they’ve gotten themselves into. Love may not be blind, but it is visually impaired, as we’re blissfully ignorant of most of the challenges and difficulties that lie ahead.

Family Ties

The reality is that once the husband and wife have exchanged their vows, everything has changed. The two have become one. And this affects in some fashion all our relationships.

After Maureen and I were married, for example, people I barely knew were my in-laws. My Irish wife became part of my French-Canadian family. We were to become “Mommy” and “Daddy” to the little ones God would entrust to us. Our friends and neighbors relate to us collectively as “the Suprenants.” And God Himself calls me–and most people–to an intimate relationship with Him precisely as a married person. I am the “pastor” of my domestic Church.

The fundamental relationship in a family is that of husband and wife, which forms the basis and framework for other familial relationships. Loving my beautiful wife as much as she deserves is humanly impossible, but happily the grace of the Sacrament of Marriage is “time-released.” The sacrament only begins with the wedding ceremony; the marriage covenant continues “till death do us part.” Each step of the way, divine grace is there for the asking, enabling our love to reflect, albeit imperfectly, the mysterious and eternal love affair between Christ the Bridegroom and His Church, the Bride.

This process presupposes that marriage is not a static reality. We don’t say “I do” and continue to live as before. Rather, the marriage bond is ordered toward an ongoing deepening of the marital relationship. The more I know Maureen, the more I love her. The more I love her, the more I want to know her. Through the life-transforming power of the Holy Spirit, the joys and sufferings of married life have brought us closer to each other and, most importantly, to our blessed Lord.

What if after I married Maureen I moved to another city and never gave her a second thought, perhaps visiting on Christmas and Easter, maybe calling her every few years when I needed some money or some other favor? Such a marriage would be neither love-giving nor life-giving, and the abundant grace available through the sacrament would be largely squandered.

“Absent father” is a common pejorative expression that points to a dad’s inadequate involvement in his children’s life. Even more fundamentally, though, we have a crisis of “absent husbands.” This phenomenon unjustly deprives the entire family of the pivotal relationship of husband and wife. While a good husband and father helps to form a positive image of God’s paternal, even spousal, love for His people, an absent husband and father images a Church without Christ, with foreseeably devastating consequences.

Maturing in Faith

From this brief sketch we see how marriage is a sacrament that plays out over time, calling for an ongoing, ever-deepening commitment to our spouse.

Baptism, by which all of us are introduced into the life of faith, has a similar dynamic. When we’re baptized we’re cleansed of original and actual sin and truly become sons and daughters of God. Yet this reality calls for ongoing doctrinal formation so that we can know Our Lord and His teachings more deeply and internally, and ongoing spiritual formation so that we can love the Lord our God more personally, more intensely, above all things, and with all our hearts, minds, and strength.

Baptism immediately entails a whole network of relationships in the Family of God. We have bishops, pastors, religious (some in habits and others incognito), godparents, and fellow parishioners–not to mention all Catholics through our participation in the communion of saints. And even those who are not Catholic or even Christian identify us as “Catholic”–hopefully “by our love” and certainly by our Church affiliation.

All these relationships are vitally important, but the basis of them all is our connectedness to Jesus Christ by being baptized into His death and thereby becoming new creations in Him. Our ever-deepening relationship with Christ gives us the grace to be constructive, productive members of His Body, the Church. That’s why the Church stresses the priority of prayer and the primacy of our own need for further conversion, repentance, and renewal as the necessary prerequisites for godly action.

An absent husband and father exemplifies a marriage that is not fulfilling its purpose. Similarly, an “absent Catholic”—one who does not pray, who gives the faith little or no thought except on Christmas and Easter, who does not work to foster his or her interior life–exemplifies a Baptism that is not fulfilling its purpose. And what is the purpose of Baptism? It is nothing less than communion with the Blessed Trinity and the company of angels and saints.

In my home, we are in “back to school” mode. May all of us make it our aim this school year to replenish our hearts, that we may be renewed in our baptismal commitment to Christ, to the glory of God our Father.

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.”

Putting on Heirs

7 Jan

St. RaymondToday is the feast of St. Raymond of Penyafort. As readers will recall, I have an adopted son named Raymond, and having this great Dominican canonist as a patron saint played into our name selection. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I (or should I say, my son) was getting a Dominican “twofer,” as there is another great Dominican Raymond: Blessed Raymond of Capua, the spiritual advisor of St. Catherine of Siena. Of course, only a few years after Raymond’s birth, his sister Mary Kate became Sr. Evangeline, a Dominican sister.

Given Raymond’s special feast day, I thought I would share with our readers some further reflections on adoption and what it teaches us about God.

Adoption in the human family is often misunderstood today. Even more so is our adoption into the family of God, the Church.

Being God’s children by adoption doesn’t mean that we’re second-class citizens in the kingdom of God, as though God couldn’t have had “children of His own.” And it’s not some sort of legal fiction, as though He simply lets us think we’re His children to help our self-esteem.

Rather, we’re confronted with the controversial passage that through Baptism we truly become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4). Our adoption in Christ means that through grace we are able to participate in the very life of God.

If we were gods in our own right, we wouldn’t need to be adopted, just as if my adopted son Raymond were by birth a Suprenant, we wouldn’t have had to bother with all the bureaucratic red tape that goes with adoption in the human family. And if God were distant and uninvolved with us, we would not truly be His children. Continue reading

The Necessity of Baptism

10 Oct

Does one really need the Sacrament of Baptism in order to be saved?

This vitally important question is addressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1257. Here is a summary of the Catechism’s nuanced teaching on this subject.

We must begin with the reality that we are conceived and born in a state of sin and alienation from God. This state of sin and alienation is called “original sin.” We are in need of redemption, and Christ is the one savior of the world (Acts 4:12). All salvation comes through Him alone.

Jesus clearly taught that we must be baptized in order to attain eternal life (Jn. 3:5). In addition, His final instruction, or “commission,” to His Apostles was that they make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (Mt. 28:19).

Based on Christ’s explicit teaching, the Church has always emphasized the need to be reborn as a child of God through Baptism in order to participate in His victory over sin and death.

The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal life. Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the opportunity to request the sacrament.

Yet, while God has bound salvation to the Sacrament of Baptism, He Himself is not bound by His sacraments. God can still bring about the salvation of the unbaptized who are faithful to the lights they have been given. As St. Peter said, “Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35).

The Church does not know with certainty the eternal destiny of infants who die without being baptized. She entrusts them to the great mercy of God (cf. Catechism, no. 1261).

Happy Baptism Day!

31 Aug

This has been a banner couple weeks for the Suprenant family. Earlier this month, daughter Virginia enrolled as a freshman at Benedictine College. Last Saturday, yours truly as well as my son-in-law Nicholas began formation in our archdiocesan diaconate program. Yesterday was the seventh anniversary of the finalization of our son Raymond’s adoption.

And now today we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of our daughter Mary Kate’s Baptism–yes, the same daughter who is now known as Sr. Evangeline, a novice with the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.

We celebrate “Baptism Days” in our family, as we see them–with firm biblical and theological support–as second birthdays. Needless to say, this concept is a real hit with our kids. (So is “birthday week,” but I’ll save that for another post!) We consider these celebrations as excellent reminders to thank God for the mustard seed of faith that was planted in our children–and in us–at Baptism. And it also reminds us of our duty to nurture this life that God has entrusted to us as parents.

We usually at least sing and have cake to recognize the day. Sometimes we will get more elaborate and even light the candle the child received at his or her Baptism. Do the readers of this blog know their Baptism days and those of their children? If so, do you do anything to celebrate these special days?

The Vocation of John the Baptist

25 Jun

Yesterday was the birthday of my son Samuel John. It was 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.

Christ Himself was the eternal Son of God who came into the world as our Savior. The Blessed Virgin Mary was “saved” from the moment of her immaculate conception by a special grace of God, in anticipation of the merits of Christ. John the Baptist was conceived a fallen human being like the rest of us, but remarkably was filled with the Holy Spirit in the womb (cf. Lk. 1:41, 44). The rest of us come into the world in a state of alienation from God. That’s why saints’ feast days are usually the day of their death–the day they enter eternal life. (And note, the Church also celebrates the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist on August 29th.)

Anyway, 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.

Tie a Yellow Ribbon

18 Jun

Samuel (number 12) today

I originally wrote the following article for Lay Witness magazine in 2002, shortly after the adoption of our son Samuel. Since today marks the tenth anniversary of his adoption, I thought I would reprint it here, with some minor updates.

Maureen and I were married on February 2, 1991, during the Gulf War. At that time, people were tying yellow ribbons everywhere as a reminder of our loved ones who were away at war. We all needed reassurance during this time of conflict and uncertainty.

The homilist at our wedding told us that our marriage needed to be a yellow ribbon, a witness to life and love amidst the hatred, despair, and death we saw around us. We were newlyweds when the Gulf War ended, and of course now nation is still at war in that region, as well as embroiled in the ongoing, complex war against international terrorism.

Meanwhile, Maureen and I have quietly lived our marriage vows for over two decades. We remember Pope John Paul II telling us over and over again that civilization passes by way of the family. We are far from perfect, but we have taken seriously the challenge we received at our wedding–a challenge issued to all Christian families–to be joyful witnesses to Christ in the midst of the world.

The Lord has abundantly blessed our marriage with children. We have six beautiful children (they take after their mother) and 14 godchildren. [And now one grandchild.] We’ve welcomed at different times many others into our home, including our elderly parents, siblings, and college students. I thank the Lord every day for the singular gift of our family, our little domestic Church.

Yet we’ve also endured times of sorrow. Maureen has had several pregnancies end in miscarriage. Many families have experienced miscarriages and know what a silent, difficult cross they can be. After all, here we are in a contraceptive society, in a “culture of death,” willing to accept new life, only to have the child taken from us before we can even hold him or her. We’ve entrusted these little ones to our merciful Father, trusting amidst the tears that these tragedies are part of a larger, more glorious plan.

Family life isn’t a contest in which the players with the most children at the end of the game win. Yet Maureen and I wanted to be as open as possible to the Lord’s blessing. We have always considered adoption at some point, and after some of the pain from the miscarriages subsided, we realized in 2001 that we had room in our hearts and our home for another child. So we took the next step . . .

We didn’t have the money to go through an expensive agency. Further, we weren’t looking for a “designer baby” with all the “right” qualities. We simply wanted to be open to accept whatever gift the Lord would want for us.

We decided in February 2001 to receive 36 hours of “training” through the county to become certified as foster/adoptive parents. We also obtained a home study, a comprehensive report prepared by a social worker concerning the suitability of an adoptive family. We figured that by going through these at times onerous steps, we would be ready to act quickly should a child become available.

We had our home study sent to various Catholic Charities offices in our region. We expressed a willingness to consider any age, race, gender, or special needs, but we hoped for a younger child so that there would be a better chance of forming good attachments. We made ourselves available, and then we had to wait.

One morning in September 2001, months after completing our home study and only a few days before 9/11, Maureen commented to me how nice it would be to have a son. I nodded as I left for the CUF office. Later that day, I had slipped out of the office to go to our parish’s adoration chapel to prepare for a talk I was going to give that weekend. While I was there Maureen and my three youngest daughters tracked me down. They told me that we just received a call from Catholic Charities of Pittsburgh. We were going to be able to adopt a baby boy!

The baby was only two months old. Interestingly, the foster parents were calling him Samuel. I would have been inclined to go along with a noble biblical name like Samuel anyway, but remarkably I happened to be studying the book of 2 Samuel when I received the happy news from Maureen. Only later did I learn that Samuel John’s birthday was June 24th, the feast of the birth of John the Baptist, the new Samuel. (I do assure Maureen that she’s considerably younger than St. Elizabeth!)

Baby Samuel quickly became an integral part of our family. I couldn’t imagine loving a biological child more than I love Samuel. He is also now a loving big brother to Raymond, whom we adopted at birth in 2004.

We have much to teach Samuel, but he has already taught us so much. For one thing, his (usually!) pleasant, outgoing disposition and his “I’m just happy to be here” smile continually calls us to gratitude for God’s gifts and to put our worldly concerns in perspective.

Further, his addition to our family has been a concrete lesson on the gift of adoption that all of us received at Baptism. We are not second-class citizens but truly children of God. “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 Jn. 3:1). As we rejoice in the expansion of our little family, even more does our Heavenly Father take delight in sharing His glory with the creatures He has fashioned in His image and likeness.

Samuel’s story would not be possible without a whole network of people who were committed to the Gospel of life. I’m thinking of the various social workers and Catholic Charities personnel, Samuel’s loving foster parents, and our many family members and friends who have stormed heaven with their prayers and who have materially helped us in myriad ways. Above all, my heart goes out to Samuel’s birth mother. She read our anonymous “birth parent letter” and chose our family for her child. I pray with utmost confidence that our Lord will bless her heroic generosity and draw her closer to Himself.

I think we need to proclaim these little pro-life “success stories” to our contemporaries. In a world in desperate need of “yellow ribbons,” we must be ambassadors of a supernatural hope rooted in the goodness and promises of the Lord of Life. We know that Jesus Christ through His Church is the world’s salvation and hope, and in the power of the Holy Spirit we are able to tell one another and the world, “Do not be afraid.”