Tag Archives: Bl. John Paul II

The Road to Emmaus

23 Apr

Every year on Easter Wednesday Mass we hear St. Luke’s account of Our Lord’s appearance to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.

This Gospel passage brings to mind the Eucharistic “amazement” that Pope John Paul II sought to rekindle in the faithful through his final encyclical letter, Ecclesia de Eucharistia:

“To contemplate Christ involves being able to recognize him wherever he manifests himself, in his many forms of presence, but above all in the living sacrament of his body and his blood. The Church draws her life from Christ in the Eucharist; by him she is fed and by him she is enlightened. The Eucharist is both a mystery of faith and a ‘mystery of light.’ Whenever the Church celebrates the Eucharist, the faithful can in some way relive the experience of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus: ‘their eyes were opened and they recognized him’ (Lk. 24:31).”

Perhaps when praying the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary this Easter season, we might want to reflect on this episode during the decade devoted to the Institution of the Eucharist, as it vividly connects Holy Thursday with Easter faith.

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.

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

Winning Souls, Not Arguments

10 Jan

ecumenismAfter our Christmas hiatus, we continue this series on the documents of Vatican II with some reflections on the 1964 Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio, or “Restoration of Unity”).

Ecumenism, or the building of unity among Christians, was one of the pastoral priorities of Vatican II. It’s not surprising, then, that an entire conciliar document would be devoted to this topic. The emphasis on ecumenism is brought home in the opening paragraph of the Decree on Ecumenism:

“The restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the principal concerns of the Second Vatican Council. Christ the Lord founded one Church and one Church only. However, many Christian communions present themselves to men as the true inheritors of Jesus Christ; all indeed profess to be followers of the Lord but differ in mind and go their different ways, as if Christ Himself were divided (1 Cor. 1:13). Such division openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world, and damages the holy cause of preaching the Gospel to every creature.”

Since Vatican II, Catholics at all levels have grown in our ecumenical sensibilities. As Blessed John Paul II noted in his 1995 encyclical on the subject (Ut Unum Sint, or “That They May Be One”), ecumenism “is not just some sort of ‘appendix’ which is added to the Church’s traditional activity,” but rather “an organic part of her life and work” that “must pervade all that she is and does” (Ut Unum Sint, no. 20).

I think most Catholics instinctively “get it,” but it doesn’t always play out very well in our encounters with non-Catholic Christians. There are a couple reasons for this.

First, in my opinion, we tend to treat ecumenism and apologetics (the art of explaining and defending the reasonableness of our faith) as mutually exclusive or even opposing disciplines. I’m sure we’ve encountered an approach to ecumenism that so emphasized principles such as “unity,” “charity,” and “communion” that real doctrinal differences were overlooked—either out of ignorance or to avoid perceived conflict.

We’ve also encountered an approach to apologetics that promoted doctrinal correctness in a harsh or unattractive way—hardly a recipe for “Christian unity.”

The problem is that we sometimes put too much emphasis on the argument rather than the person. When that occurs, apologetics is reduced to winning arguments and ecumenism is wrongly viewed as avoiding or even conceding arguments. Rather, the goal must always be to lead others in truth and charity into full communion in the Catholic Church, the Family of God.

Truth (apologetics) and charity (ecumenism) are opposite sides of the same coin!

Further, in his encyclical on ecumenism, Blessed John Paul II rejected doctrinal compromise as incompatible with fidelity to the Gospel. So clearly apologetics has its place, and its renewal in recent years has had a positive influence on the Church. Apologetics done appropriately advances authentic Catholic unity by (a) removing unnecessary stumbling blocks, (b) clarifying misconceptions, and (c) demonstrating the reasonableness and consistency of Church teaching (cf. 1 Pet. 3:15).

When it comes to both ecumenism and apologetics, we also tend to put too much emphasis on our own efforts. In ecumenical discussions, we implicitly think, “if only I’m nice enough, tolerant enough, or open-minded enough.” Meanwhile, in apologetic discussions, we implicitly think, “if only I’m smart enough, prepared enough, or convincing enough.”

The fact of the matter is that Christian unity, like faith itself, is mainly a matter of grace. For that reason, I want to leave readers with the following excerpts from the Decree on Ecumenism which stress our own personal renewal in Christ as the indispensable key to promoting Christian unity:

“There can be no ecumenism worthy of the name without a change of heart. For it is from renewal of the inner life of our minds (cf. Eph. 4:24), from self-denial and an unstinted love that desires of unity take their rise and develop in a mature way. We should therefore pray to the Holy Spirit for the grace to be genuinely self-denying, humble, gentle in the service of others, and to have an attitude of brotherly generosity towards them. . . .

“All the faithful should remember that the more effort they make to live holier lives according to the Gospel, the better will they further Christian unity and put it into practice. For the closer their union with the Father, the Word, and the Spirit, the more deeply and easily will they be able to grow in mutual brotherly love.

“This change of heart and holiness of life, along with public and private prayer for the unity of Christians, should be regarded as the soul of the whole ecumenical movement, and merits the name, ‘spiritual ecumenism’ (nos. 7-8).”

Mary, Our Model for the Year of Faith

11 Dec

crowning of maryAt the conclusion of his 2011 apostolic letter Porta Fidei (“Door of Faith”), in which he called for a “Year of Faith,” Pope Benedict XVI writes: “Let us entrust this time of grace to the Mother of God, proclaimed ‘blessed because she believed’ (Lk 1:45).”

In his 1986 encyclical Redemptoris Mater (“Mother of the Redeemer”), written approximately 2,000 years after the birth of Mary, Blessed John Paul II provided us with a profound meditation on Mary in the mystery of Christ and His Church, holding her up as a model of faith for all Christians. He noted that the faithful not only venerate and invoke Mary, “but also seek in her faith support for their own” (Redemptoris Mater, no. 27).

Taking to heart these words from our last two Popes, let’s use St. Luke’s Gospel as our guide for tapping into the richness of Mary’s faith. Continue reading

Catechesis on the Sixth and Ninth Commandments

5 Dec

Stone tabletsThis week we will treat the Sixth and Ninth Commandments together. First, we have the Sixth Commandment (Catechism, nos. 2331-2400):

You shall not commit adultery.

It is generally understood that this commandment applies not merely to adultery itself, but all misuses of one’s sexuality. Amidst a culture that is largely addicted to sex (see this amazing article by Dr. Peter Kreeft), this commandment calls us to reexamine how we understand the incredible gift of human sexuality.

The Ninth Commandment (Catechism, nos. 2514-33) provides:

You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.

As we shall see, this commandment forbids cultivating thoughts and desires that are connected to actions forbidden by the Sixth Commandment.

It’s easy to look at the Sixth Commandment simply from the standpoint of prohibited activities. But if we look just a little deeper, we will quickly see it’s all about fostering the virtue of chastity. It is a moral virtue requiring much effort, but at the same time it’s a gift of God and a fruit of the Holy Spirit. It is expressed in our friendship with others.

Chastity is related to the cardinal virtue of temperance, in that it helps us to moderate our sexual passions according to reason and Christian morality. All men and women are called to chastity according to our state in life. Chastity is not the same as continence or celibacy, which entails refraining from sexual activity. Even married people with active, healthy sex lives are called to live chastely. Sex is not evil. In fact it’s more than good. It’s holy.

The “theology of the body” taught by Blessed John Paul II has helped us to understand the gift of human sexuality in a healthy, more holistic way that recognizes the complementarity (see Catechism, no. 372) of man and woman. Theology of the body helps us to understand our sexuality as a way of seeking the good of others rather than using them as objects. Continue reading

Got Wine?

21 Sep

Since Pope John Paul II introduced the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary about a decade ago, it’s been a joy and sometimes a challenge for my family to embrace these new mysteries. We are always on the lookout for new ways of approaching these rich episodes in Christ’s life.

As we’ve given more attention to the wedding at Cana (Jn. 2:1-11), the second Luminous Mystery, I’ve been amazed at the depth of this passage. There are so many ways to approach this event, where Christ worked His first public miracle. Let’s examine a few of them.

First, the fact that it’s a wedding itself is significant. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes, “the Church attaches great importance to Jesus’s presence at the wedding at Cana. She sees in it the confirmation of the goodness of marriage and the proclamation that thenceforth marriage will be an efficacious sign of Christ’s presence” (no. 1613). In the midst of a culture that devalues marriage, this mystery redirects our attention to the fundamental goodness of marriage–both as a human institution and as a personal vocation in Christ.

The wedding at Cana also shows our Blessed Mother in action. As we pray in the Hail Holy Queen, Mary is our “most gracious Advocate” (Catechism, no. 969). As she interceded for the poor couple who ran out of wine at their wedding, she intercedes for each one of us. Her purpose is always to manifest and magnify her Son’s glory (see Jn. 2:11). She encourages each one of us, as she encouraged the servants at the wedding, to “do whatever He tells you” (Jn. 2:5). That, in an inexhaustible nutshell, is the essence of Christian discipleship.

The wedding at Cana is the first of seven “signs” in the Gospel of John that bring to light the glory of God shining forth through the Word made flesh. The Catechism succinctly describes the meaning of this “sign”: “The sign of water turned into wine at Cana already announces the hour of Jesus’s glorification. It makes manifest the fulfillment of the wedding feast in the Father’s kingdom, where the faithful will drink the new wine that has become the Blood of Christ” (Catechism, no. 1335; see also no. 2618).

During a private retreat, a less obvious dimension of this Luminous Mystery came to “light” for me. Continue reading

The Church and Capital Punishment

8 May

When it comes to the controversial topic of capital punishment, Catholics are often divided along political lines: Political conservatives tend to favor capital punishment, while political liberals tend to oppose it.

But are the Church’s teachings on the death penalty so bland and/or confusing that our political affiliation should, by default, form our perspectives on the issue?

It seems that much of the disagreement on this subject stems from the fact that we have not allowed ourselves to be formed by the Church’s teachings in their fullness and that, at times, we have received a distorted presentation of such teachings. While immersing ourselves in the Church’s teachings will not eliminate all disagreement, it will at least allow us to understand the parameters of authentic plurality and perhaps come to a deeper appreciation of God’s plan for all humanity.

Now, the Church has never taught that capital punishment is intrinsically evil. Moreover, the Church has always recognized that the state has the authority, in certain circumstances, to impose the death penalty on one who has committed a “capital offense.” This point immediately distinguishes capital punishment from acts such as abortion and euthanasia, which are intrinsically evil and thus ought never to be chosen (Bl. John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae [“EV”], nos. 62, 65 [1995]), and certainly can never be legitimized by the state (EV 73).

So abortion and capital punishment are not morally equivalent, even though it should be self-evident that fundamental principles concerning the right to life should inform our thought on both topics. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, despite its well-publicized opposition to the use of capital punishment, does not categorically condemn the practice. Rather, it affirms that in appropriate cases “the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty” (Catechism, no. 2267).

This “traditional teaching” is found in the Roman Catechism produced following the Council of Trent (1545-63) and in the writings of many noteworthy saints, such as St. Thomas Aquinas. St. Paul himself taught that civil government bears the sword as the agent of God’s vengeance and therefore is “God’s servant for your good” (Rom. 13:4).

Recognizing that the Church has always admitted that the death penalty can be a justifiable exercise of the state’s authority, we now examine why the Church opposes capital punishment today. Continue reading

Out of Africa

8 Feb

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita (1868-1947), an African saint who was canonized in 2000 by Blessed John Paul II. I really didn’t know that much about her, other than the fact that she was from the Sudan, had been kidnapped in youth, and eventually became a religious in Italy.

Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised that Pope Benedict XVI talked about St. Josephine at length in his 2007 encyclical on Christian hope, Spe Salvi. Here is what the Holy Father had to say about her:

“To come to know God—the true God—means to receive hope. We who have always lived with the Christian concept of God, and have grown accustomed to it, have almost ceased to notice that we possess the hope that ensues from a real encounter with this God. The example of a saint of our time can to some degree help us understand what it means to have a real encounter with this God for the first time. I am thinking of the African Josephine Bakhita, canonized by Pope John Paul II.

“She was born around 1869—she herself did not know the precise date—in Darfur in Sudan. At the age of nine, she was kidnapped by slave-traders, beaten till she bled, and sold five times in the slave-markets of Sudan. Eventually she found herself working as a slave for the mother and the wife of a general, and there she was flogged every day till she bled; as a result of this she bore 144 scars throughout her life.

“Finally, in 1882, she was bought by an Italian merchant for the Italian consul Callisto Legnani, who returned to Italy as the Mahdists advanced. Here, after the terrifying ‘masters’ who had owned her up to that point, Bakhita came to know a totally different kind of ‘master’—in Venetian dialect, which she was now learning, she used the name ‘paron’ for the living God, the God of Jesus Christ. Up to that time she had known only masters who despised and maltreated her, or at best considered her a useful slave. Now, however, she heard that there is a ‘paron’ above all masters, the Lord of all lords, and that this Lord is good, goodness in person. She came to know that this Lord even knew her, that He had created her—that He actually loved her. She too was loved, and by none other than the supreme ‘Paron,’ before whom all other masters are themselves no more than lowly servants. She was known and loved, and she was awaited. Continue reading

Will Shields and the Objective Superiority of Consecrated Life

25 Jan

As Pope John Paul II affirmed in his 1996 apostolic exhortation Vita Consecrata (Consecrated Life), “Christian tradition has always spoken of the objective superiority of the consecrated life” (no. 18).

In today’s world, there is a built-in suspicion of any and all claims to objective truth. But in this particular case, even some faithful Catholics have difficulty accepting the truth that consecrated life, and also the sacred priesthood, are objectively higher callings than vocations to marriage or to the single life.

At the same time, Vatican II rightly emphasized the “universal call to holiness” of all baptized Christians. In other words, we’re all called to be saints, and we all therefore have a vital role to play in the Church’s mission. In that sense, all the baptized are “equal” and play a vital role in building up the Church.

So we need to balance, on the one hand, the “objective superiority” of consecrated life, and on the other hand, the “subjective superiority” of being faithful to our personal vocation in Christ, whatever it may be.

As a long-standing, diehard Kansas City Chiefs fan, I need to trot out my Will Shields analogy:

We all know that the quarterback is objectively the most important position in football. Quarterbacks handle the ball on every play. They are typically acclaimed when the team wins, and they are blamed when the team loses. Ask Matt Cassel. They make the most money, and they get to do most of the commercials, especially when they’re “6′5″ with laser-rocket arms” like Peyton Manning.

Meanwhile, offensive linemen do much of the grunt work in relative obscurity. They’re rarely noticed except when they commit a penalty or the defensive lineman they’re suppose to block crushes the quarterback.

Will Shields, a long-time offensive lineman for the Chiefs, retired a few years ago. He was named to the Pro Bowl about a dozen times (after awhile I lost count), and one day he will be enshrined among pro football’s elite in the Hall of Fame, having achieved a level of greatness on and off the field that very few quarterbacks have achieved. In fact, this year he is a semi-finalist for this honor, in his first year of eligibility.

In a real sense, he embraced his calling and used his gifts appropriately and well. Surely if he insisted on being a quarterback at 300+ pounds, he would never have had anywhere near the same level of success. The offensive line was his particular path to football immortality, and he fully embraced it.

Similarly, the “superior” vocation for any given individual is the one that the Lord has chosen for us. Fidelity to our own calling and gifts is our road to sanctity. We need to emphasize the personal vocation in Christ given to each and every Catholic at their Baptism, yet without denying the objective beauty, desirability, and yes, “superiority” of a life fully consecrated to Our Lord.

Together as a Church we have to come to a proper balance on all this, as the Church has many members, but is truly one Body.