Tag Archives: holiness

Be Holy!

16 Feb

dishes

In this week’s readings, we are exhorted to “be holy.” We might be inclined to think that this is a lofty call only for those off in monasteries. Well, it’s not! We are all called to holiness, and for married people, the vocation of marriage is our pathway to get there.

St. Katherine Drexel said that holiness consists in “doing God’s will as he wills it, because he wills it.” For us, that is so simple that we often miss it. It is found in everyday things like:

  • Doing that sink full of dishes or that load of laundry
  • Being home from work on time, so you can eat with the family
  • Helping with bedtime
  • Taking an extra 30 seconds to text your spouse something you appreciate about them
  • Saying a short prayer together before you both head out the door in the morning
  • Taking time to prioritize your marriage through a retreat or enrichment program.

For more ideas on seeking holiness through marriage see: www.JoyfulMarriageProject.com.

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.

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

Let’s Get Small

1 Oct

st. thereseBack when I was in college, the premier stand-up comic was Steve Martin, who produced the iconic, Grammy Award-winning album (yes, those were still the days of vinyl!) entitled “Let’s Get Small.”

As popular as Steve Martin’s work would become, it pales in comparison to what we might call the “let’s get small” spirituality developed 100 years earlier by an obscure Carmelite, known as Sister Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face. In fact, Sr. Therese’s “let’s get small” spirituality is now known to millions, and Saint Therese of Lisieux, the beloved “Little Flower,” whose feast we celebrate today, is commonly recognized as one of the greatest saints of modern times.

Let’s back up a minute and look at a very challenging statement of Our Lord from His Sermon on the Mount:

“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14).

One way of reading this passage is to conclude that it’s easier to go to hell than to heaven, and surely it’s a lot easier than people who are generally oblivious to this possibility are willing to admit. Certainly Our Lord’s sobering words should call us back to the “straight and narrow” journey of discipleship.

But St. Therese’s spirituality gives us another, complementary way of looking at this passage. St. Therese understood at a profound level the call to become childlike before God (cf, Matthew 18:2-4), confidently trusting in Him for everything. We must decrease so the Lord can increase in us (John 3:30). Making ourselves humble and childlike before the Lord–making ourselves small!–in a real sense is the key to being able to enter by the narrow gate.

Remember too that St. Therese was all about love. She sought to love the Lord minute by minute, doing even the littlest or perhaps even most disagreeable or mundane tasks with great love. We know that real love is not “puffed up” or “inflated” (1 Corinthians 13:4). Interestingly those images for pride suggest an artificial wideness that, to continue our analogy, hinder our efforts to enter the narrow gate–the entryway for living in the fullness of divine love. Being big in the world’s eyes or even in our own estimation does not help us squeeze through the narrow gate or the eye of a needle!

There’s a lot to love about St. Therese. She is not some heady theologian but rather someone who simply shows us that holiness is for everybody, and that true love and humility–the pathway to holiness–is eminently possible for all of us.

But we have to get small!

What the World Needs Now

12 Sep

religious sistersIn every age, and particularly during times of crisis, what the Church needs most is saints–the example and intercession of holy men and women. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “The saints have always been the source and origin of renewal in the most difficult moments in the Church’s history” (no. 828). Saints are the difference-makers.

In recent decades we’ve been blessed with Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa–both well on their way to being recognized as saints–whose holy lives bore effective, credible witness to the Gospel they proclaimed. But, as Vatican II teaches, holiness is not just for Catholic “superstars” like the Pope, but also for rank and file lay Catholics. Therefore, the first order of business for each of us must be a renewal of our own commitment to the Lord and His Body, the Church. We must commit ourselves to daily prayer and the sacramental life of the Church as the first–not last–resort.

Not without reason does Our Lord counsel us to remove the planks from our own eyes before trying to remove splinters from others’ eyes (cf. Mt. 7:15). Imagine there’s a mishap on an airplane, and the craft begins losing cabin pressure. In the face of such a calamity, most of us would want to be courageous, to do the right thing and help as many of our fellow passengers as possible. Yet, if we don’t use our own air mask first, in a matter of seconds we’ll be of no use to anybody. We would be among the first casualties.

While there may be many righteous things we can do, if we were only to devote ourselves to prayer, frequent reception of the sacraments of Confession and Holy Communion, weekly if not daily holy hours of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, spiritual and corporal works of mercy, and other such activities out of love for Our Lord and a desire to help rebuild His Church, we would be providing the greatest service we can possibly give.

The Difference the Eucharist Makes

22 Aug

pope celebrating MassAt Mass, we encounter the mystery of Christ becoming truly present under the appearance of bread and wine. Even though the sacred species look exactly the same after the consecration as they did before the consecration, we know by faith that there’s a world of difference.

Our Lord and Savior is truly present in our midst as our spiritual food. The change could not be more dramatic, nor more imperceptible.

That’s the objective reality of what we call “transubstantiation.” Bread and wine cease to be bread and wine but truly become the Body, Blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ, even though all the physical properties, such as size, taste, appearance, and composition, remain the same. We cannot see the difference, but we accept this teaching through the vision of faith.

But what does our encounter with this mystery actually do to us? In other words, what about those of us who are standing in line for Holy Communion? Do we look any different as we walk back to the pews? After all, we have the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ inside us. Are we any different fifteen minutes later, in the church parking lot or in the parish hall? Are we any different two or three days later? Does the Eucharist actually change us?

First, we need to understand that all the sacraments are meant to change us. A baby girl right after she is baptized looks exactly the same as she did before, yet now she is a child of God and a member of Christ’s body, the Church.

A young man, once he wipes off all the holy oil, looks exactly the same right after his Ordination, but now he is able to consecrate the Eucharist and to absolve us from our sins.

And we sinners look the same after we walk out of the confessional, but we have had our relationship with the Lord restored and renewed.

In all cases, we look the same on the outside, but at the core of our being we’ve been radically changed.

It’s no different with the Eucharist. As Pope Leo the Great wrote in the fifth century, “the partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ has no less an effect than to change us into what we have received.” The eternal Word of God took on flesh so that we might participate in the divine life, that we might truly become what we eat. The transformation of a sinner into a saint is the goal of every Christian life without exception. Therefore, all of us must be committed to leading changed, “Eucharistic” lives.

We use the Latin expression ex opere operato (literally, from the work having been done) to express the guarantee that Christ’s Real Presence and superabundant grace will be available at every validly celebrated Mass. However, just as we benefit from food’s nutrients only to the extent we digest them well, we benefit from the grace of the Eucharist only to the extent we effectively assimilate this spiritual food. We need to be properly disposed if we want to tap into the grace of the sacrament.

Pope John Paul II likened our “Amen” when we receive Communion to our Lady’s fiat at the Annunciation, when she consented to Our Lord’s making His dwelling in her virginal womb (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, no. 55). Our “Amen,” in a real way, gives the Lord permission to come in, change us imperceptibly from within, and orient us toward our true and eternal good. But this “Amen,” this permission, often comes with strings attached on our part, as we don’t necessarily want Him to change everything. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit gently and relentlessly guides us to the truth that we will find everlasting happiness as we fully surrender ourselves to the life-changing power of the most holy Eucharist.

The next time we’re at Mass, let’s consider the amazing reality that it’s not only the bread and wine that are being changed.

The foregoing is adapted from a book I coauthored entitled, Catholic for a Reason III: Scripture and the Mystery of the Mass, which is available through Emmaus Road Publishing.

Calling All Catholics!

4 Apr

Cardinal NewmanThe great 19th-century English convert, Blessed John Henry Newman, was a great proponent of the laity’s role in the Church. Once, when asked by his bishop what the clergy should think of the laity, Newman famously quipped, “Well, we’d look rather silly without them.”

A century later, the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), influenced in part by the writings of Cardinal Newman, announced that one of its goals was “to impart an ever-increasing vigor to the Christian life of the faithful” (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, no. 1). Therefore, the Council charted a plan for renewal on the premise that every baptized Christian has a crucial role to play in the life of the Church. In other words, holiness isn’t the exclusive domain of “professionals” (i.e., priests and religious), but rather the goal of every human life. This principle became known as the “universal call to holiness” and was discussed at length in chapter V of Vatican II’s Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium).

Given the centrality of this theme, the vocation of lay people to holiness and to participation in the Church through the renewal of the family and society informs every conciliar document. However, in the 1965 Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity (Apostolicam Actuositatem), the Council addressed the subject directly.

When my children were young, I would go into their room at night and sprinkle them with holy water. Depending on how trying of a day it was, I would give them an extra sprinkle or two or three. (Sometimes I would be tempted to bathe them in holy water!) As I went through this ritual, I would ask them, “Whose child are you?” to which they would reply, “God’s.” The point was to link their being Christians to their being children of God through the waters of Baptism. And, as Vatican II stresses, it’s our shared Baptism–deepened through the sacraments of Confirmation and the Eucharist–that provides the basis for the entirety of the Christian life.

For that reason, as we continue our series on the Vatican II documents, I thought I would call us to reflect upon this passage from the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity:

“The laity derive the right and duty to the apostolate from their union with Christ the head; incorporated into Christ’s Mystical Body through Baptism and strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit through Confirmation, they are assigned to the apostolate by the Lord Himself. They are consecrated for the royal priesthood and the holy people (cf. 1 Peter 2:4-10) not only that they may offer spiritual sacrifices in everything they do but also that they may witness to Christ throughout the world. The sacraments, however, especially the most holy Eucharist, communicate and nourish that charity which is the soul of the entire apostolate” (no. 3).

This is a broad topic, but here are a few thoughts to consider:

(1) Call to holiness means a call to apostolate. We notice that the document is not called the “Decree on the Holiness of the Laity.” Our pursuit of holiness cannot be seen in isolation from our participation in the Church, which exists to bring all men and women into full communion with Christ. Lay Catholics build up the Church through word and example in the midst of the world.

(2) It’s apostolate, not ministry. True, we often use “apostolate” and “ministry” interchangeably, and in fact “ministry” is the more commonly used term, especially in Protestant circles. Yet Vatican II intentionally refrains from using the term “ministry” in connection with the laity, as that term is ordinarily reserved for the sanctifying and teaching functions of the ordained. “Apostolate” is what we are all called to do by virtue of our Baptism. Here we see the Church balancing the “universal” call to build up the Church with the specific call of ordained ministers, whose participation in the one priesthood of Christ differs from that of the laity in essence and not merely in degree (Lumen Gentium, no. 10).

(3) It’s not about doing “Church” things. In recent decades the Church has seen an explosion of lay liturgical “ministries” as well as the growth of lay positions in the institutional Church (like mine!). These are good things in themselves, so long as we understand that when the Church calls for an active, engaged laity, she is speaking primarily of the role of the laity outside of the church building and church offices. The idea is not to have lay people look more like priests or religious–and certainly not more “lay bureaucrats”–but to encourage laity to “be what they are”: agents of the Gospel in the midst of the world. As Pope Pius XII noted back in 1946, laity must be “on the front lines of the Church’s life.”

(4) Renewing the temporal order. Priests minister to us, so that we in turn can bring Christ to the world. When the Church calls the laity to “renew the temporal order,” she is not being abstract, but very specific. We are called to evangelize our families, workplaces, social networks, and public places. Occasionally this may be a little more dramatic, but more often it takes place in the ordinariness of daily living, which when united with Christ becomes extraordinary and redemptive.

(5) It’s all about being united with Christ. Consider this analogy: Imagine there’s a mishap on an airplane and the craft begins losing cabin pressure. In the face of such a calamity, most of us would want to be courageous and help as many of our fellow passengers as possible. Yet, if we don’t use our own air mask first, in a matter of seconds we’ll be of no use to anybody. We would be among the first casualties. Similarly, our first responsibility as Christians is to open our own hearts to Christ each day, allowing Him to change us and work through us. Only then does “apostolate” happen!

How do you understand your baptismal vocation to holiness and to mission?

Introducing the Devout Life

24 Jan

St. Francis de SalesToday the Church celebrates the feast of St. Francis de Sales, a 17th-century bishop and doctor of the Church. St. Francis de Sales is known as one of the true masters of the spiritual life. Through his spiritual masterpieces, such as Introduction to the Devout Life and Treatise on the Love of God, he continues to guide many men and women on the road to holiness.

I especially recommend Ralph Martin’s recent bestseller, The Fulfillment of All Desire, which synthesizes the insights of St. Francis de Sales and other spiritual giants into a single volume for contemporary readers.

In the Office of Readings for today, we are given the following excerpt from Introduction to the Devout Life, which exhorts all of us to strive for sanctity in our daily lives:

“When God the Creator made all things, he commanded the plants to bring forth fruit each according to its own kind; he has likewise commanded Christians, who are the living plants of his Church, to bring forth the fruits of devotion, each one in accord with his character, his station and his calling.

“I say that devotion must be practiced in different ways by the nobleman and by the working man, by the servant and by the prince, by the widow, by the unmarried girl and by the married woman. But even this distinction is not sufficient; for the practice of devotion must be adapted to the strength, to the occupation and to the duties of each one in particular. Continue reading

More Light to the Nations

4 Dec

light of ChristLast week, I offered a reflection on the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium), the central document of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), which sets forth how the Church is called to bring the light of Christ to the world (cf. Lumen Gentium, no. 1). I focused on the document’s emphasis on the Church as the “People of God,” or “Family of God.”

Before continuing to the next document in this “Year of Faithseries on the sixteen documents of Vatican II, I thought I would point out some additional significant teachings from Lumen Gentium, which is incredibly packed with beautiful teaching on the nature and mission of the Church. I limited myself to a “top ten list” of other teachings found in that document that I have found to be especially significant. I’ve obviously omitted many topics, but I hope this approach nonetheless gives readers some helpful “snapshots.” I have chosen to let the quotes speak for themselves rather than “spin” them through the use of commentary.

 (1) Church as sacrament of our “family unity” with God and with one another (no. 1)

“Since the Church is in Christ like a sacrament or as a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race, it desires now to unfold more fully to the faithful of the Church and to the whole world its own inner nature and universal mission.”

(2) The Catholic Church is “not just another Christian denomination” (no. 8)

“This is the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, which our Savior, after His Resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd, and him and the other apostles to extend and direct with authority, which He erected for all ages as ‘the pillar and mainstay of the truth.’ This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity.”

(3) The ordained priesthood is distinct from the priesthood of the laity (no. 10)

“Though they differ from one another in essence and not only in degree, the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood are nonetheless interrelated: each of them in its own special way is a participation in the one priesthood of Christ.” Continue reading

Follow the Leader

27 Sep

Do any of the following quotes sound familiar?

“It’s my way or the highway!”

“You can’t tell him (or her) anything.”

“I don’t care what anyone else says . . .”

Or even, “Honey, please stop and ask for directions.”

These and many similar comments point to how our stubborn pride keeps us from seeking the input of others–usually to our own detriment. How often we lack the humility to realize that we don’t have all the answers, that we can and must learn from others.

There is a virtue that helps us to overcome this false sense of self-sufficiency. That virtue is docility, which is simply the ability to be taught. Even more, as a Christian virtue, docility is what enables us to be formed in the Catholic faith, to grow as disciples of Christ the Teacher.

Doctor Know

Docility comes from the Latin verb docere, which means “to teach.” From docere we get the word “doctrine”–that which is taught. During the era of “doctrine-free” catechesis (now there’s an oxymoron for you!), Church leaders and parents were rightly concerned that their children weren’t being taught, because teaching presupposes content. What was given to that generation–my generation–of young Catholics was many things (e.g., babysitting, sharing, collage-making), but it wasn’t doctrine.

From docere we also get the word “doctor,” which is another word for “teacher.” In the academic world, the most highly educated teachers earn their “doctorate.” In the Church, we have 34 doctors of the Church, from heavyweight philosophers and theologians such as St. Thomas Aquinas to amazing spiritual guides like St. Teresa of Avila. The members of this select group are held up to the faithful as eminently reliable teachers of Christian doctrine.

And then finally we have the virtue of docility, which refers to our habitual attitude toward “doctors” who teach us “doctrine.” In other words, it’s about how teachable or coachable we are. As we will see, this virtue has specific applicability to our relationship to the Church, which is our Mother and Teacher. But it also applies to our ability to be taught in every sphere of daily living.

Docility is the mean between the extremes of, on the one hand, an excessive, prideful self-reliance, and on the other hand, a passive, cowering submissiveness. It’s about finding and utilizing wisdom wherever it is found. Mother Teresa famously searched for the “hidden Jesus” in everyone, especially the poorest of the poor. I think it’s fair to say that that the docile person searches for the “hidden wisdom” in others. Let’s take a closer look. Continue reading

The Family That Overtook Christ

20 Aug

Today is the feast day of St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153). For many people, unfortunately, St. Bernard is merely a big, lovable breed of working dog. Even those of us with Catholic sensibilities might not know too much about him. Maybe we remember that he was devoted to Our Lady (which saint wasn’t?), and that he is believed to be the author of the prayer commonly known as the Memorare (”Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary . . .”). But even that’s probably pushing it.

It’s a shame we don’t know more about him, because Bernard was no ordinary monk. His singular holiness, his amazing zeal, his prolific spiritual writing, his founding of dozens of monasteries, and his decisive, godly impact on ecclesial and world affairs during his incredible life are all a matter of historical record.

My wife, children, and I really enjoyed reading together as a family The Family That Overtook Christ. It’s the story of St. Bernard’s remarkable family. His father Tescalin has been declared “Venerable” by the Church, and his mother, Alice, his sister Humbeline, and his brothers Guy, Gerard, Andrew, Bartholomew, and Nivard have all been declared “Blessed.” It’s one of the most edifying things I’ve read in a long time. One of the most challenging, too. The holy siblings frequently attributed their exceptional religious formation to their parents, who truly raised a generation of saints. Isn’t that the goal of all of us Catholic parents? May we single-mindedly lead our families in pursuit of Christ!

Bernard was no ordinary monk. In fact, he is no ordinary saint. He is one of only 34 saints to have been declared a “doctor of the Church,” whose exceptional, timeless teaching is a sure guide for all of us in our own journey to God.

Now maybe some of us have heard of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, and a few of us may even have known about the Memorare. But how many of us have bothered to pick up one of St. Bernard’s classic works, such as his Treatise on the Love of God or his commentary on the Song of Songs?

fulfillment3d.gifI realize that these spiritual classics aren’t as readily available in bookstores as the Da Vinci Code or Fifty Shades of Gray. And even if we found them, we might find them a bit daunting or intimidating. That’s why I’m so grateful to Ralph Martin for writing The Fulfillment of All Desire. In Fulfillment, he takes the writings of seven great doctors of the Western Church, including St. Bernard, and presents them in a systematic, easy-to-read way. Heck, even Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, the Pope’s personal preacher and retreat master, has heartily endorsed this book for all who want to grow in the spiritual life.

So, in gratitude to God for lifting up holy teachers like St. Bernard of Clairvaux, I’d like to conclude with the collect for today’s Mass:

O God, who made the Abbot Saint Bernard a man consumed with zeal for your house and a light shining and burning in your Church, grant, through his intercession, that we may be on fire with the same spirit and walk always as children of light. 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.