Tag Archives: Church

Mission Statement

1 Jul

nfpWhat is the mission of your marriage? Do you have an actual mission statement? A popular trend for married couples and families is to form a mission statement. In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus clues us into the mission of every married couple.

Jesus sends His disciples out 2 by 2 to proclaim the Kingdom of God, which means they were sent to announce the presence of God among us. With sacramental Marriage, the couple becomes the presence of God in the community as the sign of Christ’s love for the Church. God’s plan for every married couple is to bring His life and love into the local community through the way they love each other.

St. John Paul II said, “Couples are a permanent reminder to the Church of what happened on the Cross.” Does this mean that marriage is torture? No, it means that couples are the concrete reality that God’s love is tender and moves toward unity with the Beloved. This week, live your mission heroically!

The foregoing is this week’s installment of the “Marriage Minute,” produced by the Marriage and Family Life Office of the Archdiocese, which attempts to view the Sunday readings through the lens of the Sacrament of Marriage.

Thanks for Everything

27 Nov

Gratitude is the appropriate response when receiving a gift. As parents, we try to drill into our children the holy habit, or virtue, of saying “thank you” whenever we are the beneficiaries of a gift. We also teach our children to pray–to thank God, who after all is the source of all that we have and are.

Too often we take our lives for granted and don’t adequately acknowledge our abundant blessings. Sometimes, however, we may recognize the gift but not recognize the Giver. Instead, we take the credit ourselves. We “make our own breaks” and when things go our way, we are successful. At that point, we become like the man who prays, “Lord, help me find a parking place . . . never mind, I found one.” The truth, however, is that we are merely stewards, not manufacturers, of our material and spiritual blessings.

We also have to see the apparent tragedies, losses, and failures as gifts. This is where we truly need the vision of faith to trust that our loving God–even now, especially now–is drawing us to Himself.

I think the best way to develop the virtue of gratitude is to meditate on our most fundamental identity. We are truly “children of God” (1 Jn. 3:1). In fact, Jesus tells us that we must become like children to enter the kingdom of God.

While we may be adults in the world’s eyes, we’re still children in God’s eyes. We are utterly dependent upon Him for the life of grace freely given to us at Baptism. He cleans up our messes through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and He feeds us with the true bread from heaven.

And, as a Father who truly understands and desires what’s best for His children, He disciplines us, even though as it occurs we might not fully understand His purposes (see Heb. 12:11). And, as children who joyfully and confidently await Our Father’s blessing, we begin to see, with St. Thérèse, that prayer is “a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy” (Catechism, no. 2558). Continue reading

Mysteries of Light

5 May

Even though I was raised in a large, Catholic family and received 12 years of Catholic schooling, I left the Church as an undergraduate at the University of California and didn’t come back until I was in my 20s. My newly rediscovered love for Christ not only led me to study His teaching, but also to take a fresh look at traditional prayers and devotions used by Christian disciples for countless generations as aids to growth in the spiritual life.

Continue reading

Evangelization Now

27 Nov

Pope Francis2Chapter One of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on evangelization (Evangelii Gaudium, or “GE”) is entitled “The Church’s Missionary Transformation.” What the Holy Father seems to be talking about here is not only a new way of thinking about the Church, but also a new way of being the Church. Yet such newness is not about “novelty,” but rather about an interior conversion that leads to a renewed commitment to the Lord’s invitation to bring the “joy” of the Gospel to all people (EG 23).

Here are four points that I took away from this chapter:

(1) The Role of the Church. We’ve heard for decades now that the Church exists to evangelize. Pope Francis amplifies this point and emphatically adds what the Church does not exist to do. Namely, the Church cannot be about “self-preservation” (EG 27), “defensiveness” (EG 45), “security” (EG 49), or “mere administration” (EG 25).

The Gospel not only calls individuals out of their personal comfort zones, but it does the same for the Church on every level. The Church has to reexamine all she does through the lens of whether she is being faithful to her missionary mandate. Pope Francis flat out says that “we have always done it this way” (EG 33) can no longer be our approach. Instead, he envisions a “bold and creative” (EG 33) Church that is committed to pastoral discernment, purification, and reform (EG 30).

He notes that the parish has an ongoing role in the life of the Church, but that presupposes that the parish is in contact with the lives of its people, and that it “encourages and trains its members to be evangelizers” (EG 28). At the same time, the Holy Father insists that the parish must not become “a useless structure out of touch with people or a self-absorbed group made up of a chosen few” (EG 28).

(2) Get to the Point. Some may have difficulty with (or conversely, draw the wrong conclusions from) the Pope’s discussion of the “hierarchy of truths” (EG 31), his concern about an over-emphasis on unspecified “secondary aspects” of the Church’s moral teaching (EG 34 and following), and his openness to “nuance” in our understanding of doctrine (EG 40). Yet the Pope is not denying the importance of accepting the totality of Catholic teaching. He affirms that “all revealed truths derive from the same divine source and are to be believed with the same faith” (EG 36). So what is he getting at?

Basically, the Holy Father insists that we lead with the core of the Gospel message, in all its beauty, attractiveness, and simplicity. We must bear witness above all to “the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead” (EG 36). Everyone should know that “the Gospel invites us to respond to the love of God who saves us, to see God in others, and to go forth from ourselves to seek the good of others” (EG 39). Evangelization doesn’t end there (that’s why we have “catechesis”), but sometimes we forget that it must always begin there.

(3) Don’t Obsess About the Weeds. Pope Francis says that in the presence of weeds (human failings, sins, setbacks, etc.) we must “not grumble or overreact” (EG 24) or otherwise distort the Church’s message of mercy. I think he is telling the Church to keep the big picture of saving souls in mind (EG 43). Customs and practices that no longer help the process may need to go. Similarly, the Church should not burden the faithful with excessive precepts and rules (EG 43).

He talks about keeping the doors of the church open—not just literally, but also in the sense that all feel welcome and that the sacraments be available to all as “a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak” (EG 47). “Conservatives” may wonder if this applies to the openly defiant politicians who nonetheless present themselves for Communion, while “liberals” may have to rethink withholding sacraments from homeschoolers who bypass their sacramental programs. We’ll see what ramifications all this will have. But clearly the Holy Father says we must be “facilitators” rather than “arbiters” of grace (EG 47), recognizing that the Church must always be merciful and patient toward those who are struggling in their journey of faith (EG 44-45).

(4) Go Forth! The chapter begins and ends with a clear exhortation to embrace in our daily lives the Church’s perennial mission to go forth and make disciples. The Pope is not into “armchair evangelization.” He wants us all to be ministers of the “joy of the Gospel,” recognizing that God’s Word is “unpredictable” and awesome in its power to save (EG 22). He stresses that the Church has, in a sense, a “preferential option for the poor” even in her evangelization efforts. Surely this will be a theme to which the Pope will return later in the apostolic exhortation.

For my money, the most compelling words of the chapter are found at the end of the chapter: “If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light, and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life” (EG 49).

How can we remain complacent in the face of this godly challenge?

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.

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

Undivided Heart

25 Jan

religious sistersThe next document in our series on the documents of Vatican II is the 1965 Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life (Perfectae Caritatis). A few preliminary thoughts on this document:

(1) One blogger has noted that the document could really have benefited from having headings, and happily did the work for us. If you choose to read this document yourself during the “Year of Faith,” you might want to use these headings to help keep the “big picture” in mind.

(2) Some readers may not be disposed to reading this document, because they assume, based on the precipitous decline of religious life in the years immediately following Vatican II, that Vatican II must not have said anything worthwhile on the subject. This decline in religious vocations had several causes, but Perfectae Caritatis isn’t one of them. Some religious communities have struggled not only in keeping their numbers up, but even more importantly, in remaining faithful to their religious charism and to the Church. We see some of this playing out in the recent controversy involving some aging members of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. However, the communities that have embraced the Church’s teaching in Perfectae Caritatis and Pope John Paul II’s follow-up document Vita Consecrata (“Consecrated Life”) tend to be the ones that are thriving in our time. Click here for one such example.

(3) In the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) we have an overview of the various states in life in the Church. In some of these subsequent documents, specific members of the Church (e.g., laity, priests, bishops, etc.) are addressed. Perfectae Caritatis takes the broad teaching of Lumen Gentium and then focuses more specifically on consecrated life. This approach models for us the importance of viewing religious vocations from within the larger context of the Church.

I especially invite readers to consider this passage from section 12 of Perfectae Caritatis:

“The chastity ‘for the sake of the kingdom of heaven’ (Mt. 19:12) which religious profess should be counted an outstanding gift of grace. It frees the heart of man in a unique fashion (cf. 1 Cor. 7:32-35) so that it may be more inflamed with love for God and for all men. Thus it not only symbolizes in a singular way the heavenly goods but also the most suitable means by which religious dedicate themselves with undivided heart to the service of God and the works of the apostolate. In this way they recall to the minds of all the faithful that wondrous marriage decreed by God and which is to be fully revealed in the future age in which the Church takes Christ as its only spouse.”

This idea of consecrated persons having an “undivided heart” is further amplified in two passages from Vita Consecrata, the 1995 apostolic exhortation of Pope John Paul II that reflects upon Vatican II’s teaching on consecrated life. The Holy Father magnificently sets forth the beauty and depth of loving God with an undivided heart:

First, from section 1:

“In every age there have been men and women who, obedient to the Father’s call and to the prompting of the Spirit, have chosen this special way of following Christ, in order to devote themselves to him with an ‘undivided’ heart (cf. 1 Cor. 7:34). Like the Apostles, they too have left everything behind in order to be with Christ and to put themselves, as he did, at the service of God and their brothers and sisters. In this way, through the many charisms of spiritual and apostolic life bestowed on them by the Holy Spirit, they have helped to make the mystery and mission of the Church shine forth, and in doing so have contributed to the renewal of society.”

Later, from section 21:

“The chastity of celibates and virgins, as a manifestation of dedication to God with an undivided heart (cf. 1 Cor. 7:32-34), is a reflection of the infinite love which links the three Divine Persons in the mysterious depths of the life of the Trinity, the love to which the Incarnate Word bears witness even to the point of giving his life, the love ‘poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit’ (Rom. 5:5), which evokes a response of total love for God and the brethren.”

Praise God for the call to love and serve Him with an undivided heart! May many young men and women generously respond to this unique call!

For more information on this subject, I strongly recommend the Institute on Religious Life.