Tag Archives: grace

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

Evangelizing Church

11 Dec

Pope Francis 4As we well know, our Holy Father chose as his patron and model St. Francis, who is known for the statement, perhaps apocryphal, that we should “preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.” While there is some wisdom in that statement, we cannot conclude (or perhaps rationalize) that words aren’t important in the work of evangelization. In fact, they are usually necessary!

Pope Francis surely thinks so. He opens chapter three of his apostolic exhortation on “the joy of the Gospel” (Evangelii Gaudium, “EG”) with the statement (quoting Blessing John Paul II) that “there can be no true evangelization without the explicit proclamation of Jesus and Lord, and without the primacy of the proclamation of Jesus Christ in all evangelizing work” (EG 110). He says that our “absolute priority” must be “the joyful, patient, and progressive preaching of the saving death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

In today’s installment of our series on Evangelii Gaudium, we will unpack the first half of the chapter on the proclamation of the Gospel (EG 111-34), in which the Pope focuses on the role of all Catholics in the work of evangelization. He reminds us that evangelization is the work of the entire Church, understood as the pilgrim People of God (EG 111). Now, it may be daunting to hear that we are personally called to be on the front lines of the Church’s mission to bring the joy of the Gospel to all people, but the Holy Father quickly adds a few crucially important considerations:

  • It’s not about our own efforts, but about allowing God’s grace to work through us, so that the Church may be the sacrament of the salvation God offers the world (EG 112). Grace always comes first!
  • Drawing on a key emphasis of Vatican II, Pope Francis says that we are saved not as isolated individuals, but as a family (EG 113). The Church is our home, and all are welcome to share our joy.
  • As Church, we are have the dignity of being leaven in the world, offering hope, mercy, and encouragement to all (EG 114).

The Holy Father spends a considerable amount of time talking about “culture,” which has to do with “the lifestyle of a given society, the specific way its members relate to one another, to others, and to God” (EG 115). Grace presupposes and builds upon culture, and at the same time culture gives flesh to the faith. The Holy Father stresses that “Christianity does not have simply one cultural expression” (EG 116). He especially points out that European Christianity at a particular moment in history does not exhaust the richness and possibilities of our faith (EG 118). He does not see “cultural diversity” as a threat to Church unity or Catholic orthodoxy, but rather as a telltale sign of the Church’s vitality. After all, unity is not the same as uniformity (EG 117).

Perhaps the “heart” of this section of the apostolic exhortation is the Holy Father’s insistence that we become not mere missionaries and not mere disciples, but “missionary disciples” (EG 120). He challenges all of us, right now, in the present moment, to be agents of the new evangelization. He says we can’t be “passive observers” so as to leave the work of evangelization to so-called ”professionals” (EG 120). He doesn’t deny that we need to mature in the faith through ongoing catechesis, but nonetheless we should not “postpone” evangelization until some later time (EG 121).

One way that the Gospel gets “inculturated” is through expressions of popular piety and devotion (EG 122).  The Pope affirms things such as taking children on pilgrimages, fingering the Rosary, lighting candles, praying before a crucifix and other simple yet profound expressions of the Holy Spirit at work in individual hearts and in our culture (EG 123-26).

The Pope also discusses the person-to-person dimension of evangelization, even in the midst of conversations with strangers (EG 127). In paragraph 128, he describes how we can share our faith in dialogue with others. Some of the adjectives he uses are “respectful,” “gentle,” “humble,” and “willing to learn.” We can’t lose sight of the fundamental message: the personal love of God who became man, who gave Himself up for us, who is living and who is offering us His friendship and salvation.  When the circumstances are right, he encourages us to pray with people and to remember that we don’t have to have “fixed formulations” memorized in order to communicate our faith (EG 129).

He encourages us to be open to various charisms or gifts of the Holy Spirit, which build up the entire Church (EG 130). We seek the Holy Spirit to build unity amidst our diversity and to heal divisions. We ask for the Spirit’s grace to be open to differences that at times can be “uncomfortable” (EG 131).

The Holy Father promotes apologetics in the work of evangelization—perhaps not so much in the traditional sense of responding to Protestant arguments, but in the sense of putting reason and the sciences at the service of evangelization (EG 132). In that regard, Pope Francis is very supportive of the work of theologians, yet he does remind them that theology exists for the purpose of evangelization (EG 133). He ends this section with a brief mention of Catholic universities and schools, which combine education with the explicit proclamation of the Gospel, so as to foster the evangelization of culture (EG 134).

In the next post, we will turn to what Pope Francis has to say about the role of the Sunday homily in the work of evangelization!

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.”

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).

The Third Option

25 Apr

Ever been stuck between a rock and a hard place? Mary Magdalene was on Easter morning.  Well, actually, it was Jesus’ body that was stuck between a rock and a hard place, and she seemingly had no way to get to him.  This consumes her thoughts on the way to the tomb.  How will I get that stone moved? Jesus needs to be anointed. If I ask the guards, what will they do to me? Can the disciples move it? They would be thrown in prison if they tried! And further, they don’t have a great track record of sticking around when things get tough…

What I think is most striking about this inner dialogue of Mary is that as she runs through the impossibilities in her head, she keeps moving toward the tomb.  It seems like she has two options: to incur ridicule or worse from the guards at the tomb, or to fail to give Jesus a decent burial.  Yet when she arrives, she finds something altogether different. Jesus has provided a spectacular third option she never could have dreamed of.

I have been reflecting lately how so many of our pressing social issues come down to a failure to see and embrace that third option.  Our society forces people in difficult circumstances into a false dichotomy of horrible solutions.  If you’re in a troubled marriage, you have two choices: the trauma of divorce or the long agony of staying together “for the sake of the kids”.  Young, pregnant and unmarried? Your choices are abortion or a doomed future of poverty and underachievement. This is a brilliant tool of the devil.  No one likes divorce or abortion, but if you juxtapose it with something equally devastating, it suddenly seems like a viable option.  The “lesser of two evils”.

Now enter Mother Church, who is increasingly a lone voice against some of these “lesser evils”.  Prohibit contraception? You want women to become helpless baby factories! Prohibit assisted suicide? You want Grandma to linger is meaningless pain! Prohibit IVF? You want to deprive people of the beauty of parenthood! What our culture fails to see in every one of these tough cases is the third option.  The Church never just slaps on a legislative cuff.  Instead she gently takes the struggling sinner by the hand and says, “this is extremely difficult, but you can do it”.  In short, the third option is grace.

Grace is a poorly understood concept today, but simply it means God’s supernatural power which we have access to by our Baptism and by the other sacraments.  What it means is that we never face our hardest times alone.  We face them with the same power that moved the stone for Mary Magdalene.  Grace opens doors where no doors should be able to open.

The third option is a transformed marriage where partners can learn to slowly rebuild trust and love again.  It is adoption, where an infertile couple becomes parents, the young person is able to continue with their education and the baby gets to live.  It is Natural Family Planning, through which couples learn to be generous in their love, open to God’s will for their families and through which they can either space their children or often conceive children despite low fertility.

I’m not naïve. I know that life is not a Hallmark movie.  That’s the beauty of grace! I know that sometimes the third option is an ability to survive one of the first two horrible options.  If Grandma is terminally ill, grace normally won’t provide a miraculous cure.  But God will illuminate the meaning of Grandma’s suffering.  Like all suffering endured with Christ, it can be a powerful avenue of grace for others.  This is true of any suffering we let God into.

Finally, the best part about the third option is that it is available even after one of the “lesser evils” is chosen.  There is hope for those who have divorced, whether that choice was made for safety, against one’s will or in the pursuit of a happier life.  There is forgiveness and healing for those who have chosen abortion, or IVF or contraception.  Here, too, the third option opens up floodgates of mercy and peace that never could have been imagined before.  No matter what the situation, choosing the third option of grace leads to a surprisingly rich joy.

So this Easter season, let’s approach the tomb with our deepest anxieties.  Let’s offer them up to the Lord and see what miracles await us.

Note: Grace is often channeled through practical avenues.  For help in understanding the issues raised in this post or in getting practical help, please contact your pastor or the Respect Life or Family Life Offices.

Got Faith?

24 Apr

I recently received this question via email: “Does everyone receive the gift of faith? Why or why not?”

I think this is a most timely topic to consider, especially with the “Year of Faith” just around the corner. 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 (cf. 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 for all those who have not knowingly and willingly rejected Him.

In that regard, perhaps the parable of the talents or gold coins is useful (cf. Mt. 25:14-30;  Lk. 19:11-27). As Catholics we have been given the fullness of the faith. We have received “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 they fruitfully use whatever talents they were given. (And woe to us if we take our Catholic faith for granted and bury our talents in the ground.)

How God works with those who do not have faith is a mystery that’s beyond us in this life, but surely we know that a person is infinitely 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.