Category Archives: Faith

Holy Day of Obligation (or, why this is anything but Ordinary time)

Author’s Note: I’ve spoken to quite a few friends recently who have mentioned that it has “been awhile” since the last time they went to Mass. That led me to write the following.

Truly remarkable, life-altering occasions seem to come rarely in our lives and the lives of those around us. Certainly those in my age bracket may beg to differ as the costs of bridesmaid dresses and groomsmen tuxes seem to pile up summer after summer. If this describes a recent, but distant, history then you might now be familiar with the baby showers, Christenings, and first birthdays that come with such a blessed past. But upon further reflection it appears that these events certainly are rare – a handful at best, two at most. Knowing this intuitively we have a natural tendency to describe anything that happens with frequency as quite routine. Mundane. Old hat. Even our liturgical calendar is currently set to “Ordinary” time.

It’s quite easy for us to perhaps be lax during this time between Christmas and Lent.  Perhaps what is seemingly ordinary doesn’t quite rouse up the “extraordinary” out of us. Certainly we’d get out of the routine for a wedding, a Baptism, or another special occasion – but for some reason ordinary Sunday Mass is something that can be become optional. And of course it’s harder to turn down an RSVP to a very special occasion than it is to skip out on a routine duty.

And this got me to thinking – do we sometimes forget the invitation that we receive to gather at Mass every Sunday – and for every Holy Day of Obligation? Do we forget that it is God Himself, appealing through His Son, to come to Table to taste and see that He is good? Do we not realize that God thirsts for our prayer and worship (even though it adds nothing to His greatness)?

Ultimately to be lax in our Sunday obligation is seen as a very grave sin by the Church – it has been this way for as long as men and women have been gathering for the Eucharist. This is not so we can pad the collection plate, or give Catholics something new to feel guilty about – No this is because God Himself is present to bring about a miracle at every altar where the Eucharist is shared. The sacrifice of the Cross – the true Pole of the earth – is re-presented to all each and every time the faithful gather for Mass. And God provides us with the opportunity to have the most intimate union possible with Him – to partake of the very flesh and blood of His only begotten Son. If this is something that you cannot make time for you must ask yourself – what is it that I am making time for? What is it that is more important than giving the proper worship that God deserves and desires? What could possibly be getting in the way of accepting the free invitation of a God who pleads for you and is always patient for the sake of your Salvation?

This time may certainly be called Ordinary, but it celebrates something Extraordinary every day.  The Mass is never ordinary.  Indeed, Ordinary time is called as such because it’s the time given to us.  It’s the time given to celebrate the human project that was, is, and will be (God willing).  Ordinary time is our time.  It’s the time of our growth, of our pain, of our struggles, of our joys, and our suffering.  It is the time for us to continue to “work out our salvation.”     Do not be fooled by the frequency of Mass – there is nothing ordinary about it. The Mass IS the most remarkable and life-altering occasion there is, and the frequency of its celebration should not be a cause for laxity or a mundane disposition, rather it should make us realize the abundance that God wants to bestow on us.  Now that is a God worth giving time for every Holy Day of Obligation.

To forsake that abundance, to decline God’s invitation, this has real consequences for your relationship to Him, and to His Church.  Do not be fooled.  Declining God’s absurdly generous RSVP indeed is a grave matter, one that can have eternal consequences – not because He’s keeping score or taking attendance – but because He eagerly desires to spend eternity with those who eagerly desire Him.

So if it’s been a while since you’ve been to Mass, stop on by Confession, feel the forgiveness offered in Christ and then go on and celebrate that forgiveness and God’s radical love for us this, and every, Holy Day of Obligation.

A clean soul

Ed’s wonderful reflection on the sacrament of Reconciliation led me to my own thinking.

I don’t have any profound insights to share on this other than a desire to strongly encourage you to build a better habit of visiting the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I often hear of Catholics who don’t attend often, or haven’t been back since they first received the Sacrament! (Pastors haven’t helped this, I cannot call the last time I heard a solid homily in a parish setting on the sacrament – if at all)

There really is no better feeling in life than walking out of a confessional. I can never help but have a smile on my face, and am sometimes surprised when other penitents don’t.

If you think it’s weird, or you don’t feel comfortable, or are afraid the priest is going to judge you, well get over that IMMEDIATELY. I heard a great homily by a former Benedictine abbot who is living with us at the Seminary on sabbatical about this issue. His message was clear: do not discount the overwhelming grace that the confessor receives from the sacrament. By hearing the struggles, the pains, the sorrows, and the suffering of people a confessor has the opportunity to grow in sympathy, love, and compassion for others.

Cardinal George once said “some of the most important conversations on earth happen in a confessional.” It’s hard to argue with that.

So if you haven’t been to confession in a while, go! There’s nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Speechless

The opening of the Gospel of John continues to inspire and amaze.  John boldly proclaims “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.”

As Catholics we believe that the world was created ex nihlio, that is “out of nothing.”  The Creation account consistently repeats the phrase “and God said..”.  God didn’t roll his sleeves up, prepare the materials, gather His tools, and create the world.  No, he SPOKE it into existence, out of nothing.

And we know that all things were created through Christ who was the  Word.  And when it came time, at just the right time, Christ became flesh.  He who spoke the world – all we see, all we taste, all we touch, all we feel – into existence came onto the scene as an infant.  The etymology of our modern word infant comes from the Latin “infans” meaning “unable to speak.”

And so, on this Christmas morning we ponder the infant Christ, born of a Virgin, foretold by prophets, heralded by angels, blessed by shepherds and made possible through Spirit.  Let us set our minds on the manger of Bethlehem, where the Word made flesh humbled Himself in the most unimaginable way possible  as the Word, unable to speak.

The “War” on Christmas

It seems like every year the Christmas controversy rages.  You know which one I’m talking about.  Many faithful grumble aloud about the old “Holiday-Christmas” word switcharoo.  The Word on Fire blog even decried it as a “War on Christmas.”  I don’t want to seem like I’m coming down on people who feel this way.  Their frustration certainly is justified, and the injustice of making money on Christ’s birth while never wanting to mention His name  is certainly silly, but I think we sometimes get our knickers in a bunch unnecessarily.

When I drive around my hometown and see all the light posts adorned with decorations, I see all of the lighted shops, and all the Christmas trees in the window I can’t help feeling like this is all a part of the Divine drama of life.  To me the “war” on Christmas is actually the most dramatic representation of the need to evangelize we have in this world.  Sure, the world might not recognize Christ in Christmas, but it certainly does palpably show a desire for Him. Think about it.  Think of the millions of dollars municipalities in this country spend on their Christmas decorations.  Think of all the man hours that go into cutting down trees, readying decorations, and climbing the ladder to put lights up.  Think of all the hours shopping, cooking, cleaning, and preparing.  Is this not a sign that people truly desire the Christ, even if they don’t quite follow Him just yet?  Is this not a sign of the overwhelming desire for goodness, for peace, for love, and for joy?  Do the emotions and notions of giving, love, and sacrifice espoused by this “secular” event not echo (albeit imperfectly) the Gospel?  Should we really be grumbling against a world desperately desiring the birth of the Savior?  Or should we be sure we are at the forefront of telling the story of Christmas?

There’s an interesting story about the making of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (if there was ever a better representation of this constant commercialism struggle, I haven’t seen it).  Originally CBS executives balked at the idea of Linus proclaiming the Gospel of Luke.  However Charles Schulz stood firm and boldly exclaimed  “If we don’t tell the true meaning of Christmas, who will?”  Is this not our task?  Is this not our call?  Is this not the heart of evangelism?  It is our job not to rail against the culture, but to love the culture and help lead it towards Christ.  Let’s put away our grumbling and try to see this time through God’s eyes. At this moment our entire country is preparing for the birth of Christ, whether they know it or not.  Let’s try, through love, charity, and God’s grace, to show them that the greatest gift this holiday season is Christ Himself.  Imagine what the world could be if we try to encourage our brothers and sisters towards a true meaning of Christmas, instead of railing against their ignorance.

The Gospel as Relationship

Throughout the last two months this notion of the Gospel as Relationship has really consumed me. The idea was first kicked off when, while studying the 10 commandments, I had heard for the first time that some artist renderings of Moses with the tablets show three commandments on one tablet and the other seven on the other. It shows the delineation of the Law as commandments dealing with the relationship between man and God (the 3) and man with one another (the 7). While I could go on about how interesting the difference in number of commandments is, it really has driven home the Gospel as relationship.

Indeed this is what Jesus says when he is asked to explain the Law.  “To love the Lord God with all your heart, soul, and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself.”  This amazing summation of the law is a testament to the Gospel as relationship. Jesus is making it clear that true humanity is recognizing oneself as a relational being. Therefore, living in a way that pleases God is equated to living in a way that honors, respects, and helps to keep relationships holy, pure, and well formed. This really is the summation of our purpose. It’s also a beautiful reflection of heaven. Heaven is not just a place with winged angels playing harps, or where we get everything we want, heaven is a place of ultimate justice where peace, love, unity, and perfect relationship in harmony exists. Forever.

I think this notion of Gospel as Relationship is lost on the world at large, and even sometimes among Catholic faithful.  We sometimes get wrapped up in overly scrupulous practices, false senses of piety and holiness, and shallow religiosity.  But indeed, what Christ has come to redeem is the lost relationship with our Father, and therefore with one another.  He has established the way love should be with His Passion.  He has shown us true holiness, one that allows us to live a life of radical love, is possible and empowers us to do so through His Resurrection.  And then calls us to sanctify the world and our relationship to it through His Holy Spirit.  Indeed, the sum of all revelation, of all thoughts of final cause and purpose, and the Gospel itself is relationship.

Let us then get on with the work of tilling our hearts to build a better relationship with the Lord our God, so that we may be able to learn to love ourselves, accept ourselves, forgive ourselves as Christ has forgiven us, and ,therefore, radically love others as we do indeed love ourselves.  This is true religion.  This is true holiness.

Come, Holy Spirit, Come.

Death by a thousand cuts

I came across an online story discussing unsealed documents in the diocese of San Bernadino California regarding sexual abuse by priests.  As a Seminarian I cannot explain to you the overwhelming grief and pain it brings me every time I read a story like this.  There truly are no words to describe the deep pain I feel every time I read of hear of these stories.  There are also no words for the anger that I have for those who were so inept at handling the situation.

When I read stories like this I honestly ask myself and God “How do any of us stay in the Church?”  It literally is by the grace of God that faith can endure in these times.

I’m also sick of the apologetics that come with this situation.  They make me grow tired and weary.  How do we defend something that is so utterly indefensible?  How can we, with straight faces and upright hearts, try to discuss statistics, reasons, psychology, and the like?  And furthermore – how can some people out there actually get angry with the media?  Get angry with those who write and talk about this issue?

Are we being treated fairly?  Certainly not.  But what underlines this?  Why is there this huge rush to jump on the Church?  There are many who will point to the devil, many people will quote this as the everlasting battle of the “gates of Hell” encroaching on the Church.  And maybe some of that is in the midst of this.  But really, when you get right down to it, people intuitively expect so much more – and so much better – from the Church.  People, deep down inside of them, want to know that there is a place of salvation – even if they haven’t quite gotten around to surrendering to that salvation.  People want to know there’s a sense of divinity in this world, a place of God’s true presence, and a place that can still be held up as a model for something that is good, and right in this world.

And we have failed.  There are no other ways to say it.  There are no ways to twist the facts, massage the truth, or cleverly use misdirection.  We have failed miserably – and have destroyed hearts, lives, and faith in the process.  With each and every cover up, each and every secret archive we experience death by a thousand cuts, and each one of them hurts more than the one before.

It’s time for our leadership to do what we should’ve done a long time ago.  Beg, plead, and utterly fall at the feet of God for His mercy.  Anyone who thinks business as usual will work needs to simply be left behind.  The only response that seems logical is one of complete and utter surrender to God to make it right.  To beg Him to send among us prophets in our time to call us to deep repentance and renewal.

Sadly business as usual is still going on.  There are still people out there trying to hold up spinning plates and somehow trying to stitch back together tatters and threads that are torn beyond repair.  It’s madness.  And it needs to stop.

How do we endure in these times of great trial and distress?  The way Saints have for 2,000 years by focusing our minds, hearts, and souls on the Cross of Jesus Christ and ask the Great and Good Shepherd to lead His Church in these days.  May we have a renewed awe and love for Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist, and may we be set ablaze by God’s Most Holy and capable Spirit.

Dispassionate somethings

St John of the Cross in his masterful writing discusses the importance on being dispassionate towards things, experiences, thoughts, and ideas that seem holy.  It can be a difficult thing to grasp, but it is ultimately an understanding that God is infinite, and everything that we think, experience, and learn can help us come to terms with this ultimate nature of God, but can also eventually become a hollowed, graven thing that can be a stumbling block to our growth in grace.  I wrote the following in a spat of inspiration from this:

You must not confuse something that brings you to God as God Himself.  For the God who created that something out of nothing cannot be that something, but rather will use that something for you to explore his infiniteness beyond something.

What then, shall we despise that something for it is not God?  May it never be!  God constrained himself to the finite to bring us the reconciliation needed to be infinite with him.  We should be thankful for these somethings, but must be willing to loosen our grasp on them at any moment, because what we should always be eagerly desiring to grasp is He, Himself as He really is.

Oh the life of a pilgrim…

Faith and Reason

If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then empty (too) is our preaching; empty, too, your faith. Then we are also false witnesses to God, because we testified against God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all. (1 Cor 15:14-19)

These are the words of St Paul to the Corinthians (emphasis mine).  Here we catch a glimpse of the wonderful Catholic Tradition of Reason. St Paul makes it very clear – if what we teach and what we preach isn’t actually true – then we should be pitied! Such a proclamation might be offensive to modern, relativistic sensibilities, but its reason is sound.  The consequences of what you believe are the impetus behind how you act, and how you act then defines your personhood.  And if you’re not basing your belief on fact, on truth, then why bother?  Especially when it comes to living the Gospel – a Faith that calls one to radical discipleship, to a death to ones self.   If these things aren’t true, then we should be pitied.  Look at how many religious live in monastic communities, giving up all of their lives, making vows of poverty and forsaking a family.  Look at how many lay faithful make radical sacrifices to help the greater good – to minister, to evangelize and forsake all worldliness for the sake of Christ.  If what we believe is not true, then yes indeed we should be pitied!

St. Paul was of course responding to a controversy of his time regarding the teaching of the resurrection and how some in Corinth were preaching contrary to the faith in the resurrection in Christ and the resurrection of those who fall asleep in Christ.  It is the work of the apostles then and now to meet modern controversy straight-on and to help guide the faithful.  Perhaps one of the greatest controversies that has caused great scandal in the last 2 centuries has been that of a proper understanding of Creation in light of the theory of evolution.

Many biblical literalists proclaim a literal reading of the Genesis account and call their followers to abandon what modern science has taught us about how the Human Project has come to be.  In the book “In the Beginning .. A Catholic Underanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall” Pope Benedict (then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) lays out a well reasoned defense of how Catholics should interpret the findings of science in our time and a proper understanding of the Creation account.  His conclusion is simple: that these two things needn’t be mutually exclusive but rather are very complimentary to one another.  What I love about how he arrives to this conclusion is how he harkens the same spirit of St. Paul – a spirit that affirms human reason, thinking, and knowledge as given by God and therefore should not need to be contradicted nor completely ignored in order to understand our world and how God interacts with it.  In discussing the Genesis creation account Ratzinger boldly states:

“Yet these words [the Genesis account] give rise to a certain conflict.  They are beautiful and familiar, but are they also true?  Everything seems to speak against it. …. Do these words then count for anything? … Or have they perhaps, along with the entire Word of God and the whole biblical tradition, come out of the reveries of the infant age of human history, for which we occasionally experience homesickness but to which we can nevertheless not return, inasmuch as we cannot live on nostalgia? “

What boldness is proclaimed by the Holy Father in speaking like this.  It shows that the Catholic Faith is not afraid of asking the tough questions – even though today they are portrayed as a stodgy boys club who cling to traditions and medieval thought in a world that is eclipsing them.  Yet this is simply not the case.  The Catholic tradition has long since respected human reason, and sees it as one of the most precious gifts from God, and therefore is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to religious belief.  Because, if one is truly discerning and one truly uses the power of reason then they know that if what we believe isn’t true, well then we truly are the most pitiable people of all.

Temptation in the desert

Following a post titled, “The Man God,” by my comrade and caddy, Adam Fischer, Brian T. took to the comment board and sparked a discussion on the nature of Jesus’ temptation in the desert.  Since it got buried in a post no one else was reading anyway, I thought I’d reprise my response to Brian’s thoughts and see if there aren’t any other responses out there (or follow-up thoughts from Brian, for that matter).

In quick summary, Brian noted a reference Adam made to Jesus’ temptation, and asked for clarification.  He wondered in what sense Adam was speaking about Jesus’ “weakness,” particularly during the temptation, since it is a matter of faith affirmed by the Church Fathers that Jesus could not possibly have failed in His mission, even down to the smallest choices.  In other words, not only was He sinless, but He could not have sinned, due to His divine nature.

Brian posted several links to back up his stance, including this one.

Beyond the highlighted quote is a line from St. Leo the Great which says: “For we should not be able to vanquish the author of sin and death, were it not for the fact that our nature was assumed and appropriated by Him whom sin cannot sully and death cannot claim.”

This is exactly the way I perceive it, too, though my way is still rudimentary. In any case, the point I’d like to make is this: Death cannot claim Christ, but He did taste it. And for our part, when Jesus died, there was not an overwhelming confidence that He would rise, though He said so often that He would.

I am not about to segue-way into the idea that Jesus “tasted” sin, mostly because I’m not sure what that could mean. But if you’ll allow the analogy, I think this helps make a case: In the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, everyone knows Frodo is going to accomplish his mission and live to the end. In that sense, in the context of the story, he could not fail.

But if you read the story with that premise in mind, and therefore allow yourself to be bored with his adventures, you’re missing the point (and I don’t say YOU are missing the point, but one who reads it this way). There’s real danger there, which no one else has conquered and lived to tell about.

I agree that Christ could not have failed. Yet, He allowed that we should gasp at the thought of His death. We all fall to our knees when it is re-told on Palm Sunday. I doubt we would be doing this if it were a perfectly sterile event, if we read it in the manner described above: “Jesus appeared to be dead, but was not really, and proved this three days later by walking around with his scars in tact.”

Instead, we say, “He was crucified, died, and was buried. On the third day he rose again, in fulfillment of the Scriptures…” We might likewise say, “On the 40th day he was starving, vulnerable, and tempted. On that day he overcame temptation, in fulfillment of the Scriptures…”

Again, in all of this I don’t believe we (Brian, Fischer, and I) are opposed in any way. I would simply like to emphasize the danger involved, which leads to my echo of Adam’s point – That Christ did not, like Luigi grabbing the Invincibility Star in Super Mario Brothers, manifest His power to overwhelm the foe, in a show of force we are utterly incapable of imitating. Instead He turned to the Word of God, and let the Father be His strength, which we can certainly attain to.

(Full stop)

I want to add that I believe this issue teeters on edge of reason, leading to mystery.  Brian is correct to say that we should still be encouraged to think about it, to have serious minds plumb the depths and see what they can make of the landscape.  Nevertheless, I think there is something in Jesus’ temptation (and even, if I may conjecture, what temptation there might have been throughout His Passion) that teaches us about love, which we can come to understand yet is forever unspeakable.

A question which points to this might be framed this way:  A lover may say to a beloved, “I would never dream of doing (an act which betrays the beloved).”  Would it be better for the lover to say, “In all my decisions regarding my love for you, I have carefully considered all of the options and their consequences.  Every time, I have chosen to love you with my whole heart.”?

You are what you eat

I’m currently spending two weeks at Behtlehem Farm.  If you’ve never heard of the place stay TUNED our podcast hitting next weekend will tell you all about them!

The Farm is a wonderful place though.  It sits upon some of the most beautiful land our country has, and is all together an amazing place to reflect, to pray, and to work.  When volunteers and group weeks come through the Farm discusses eating as a moral act.  They try to show those passing through how what we choose to eat affects the whole of God’s creation.  From farm to table, they take volunteers through the process of how creation is often harmed by what it is we put in our body, and ironically creation is continued to be harmed in our own humanity as we eat things that often are a detriment to our health.

I can tell you, some of the best meals I’ve had have been on the Farm.  There’s something to be said about food that is literally picked from the garden moments before it enters the ingredient list for that day’s meal.  This has also caused me to kick around a hypothesis that I’d like to share with all of you.  We often talk about how there are so many things in modern society that take us away from God.  Conservative Christians sometimes blast popular culture, entertainment: music, movies, tv and the like as eroding our societal values and also causing us to replace God with things that are so much less important.  While some of this is often true, I think the biggest thing that has caused us to push God out of our modern lives is what we eat and how we prepare it.

The average American is incredibly ignorant about our food chain.  We have no idea how food goes from soil to our plates, and genuinely we just don’t want to know.  Furthermore we are also incredibly unaware of how much our daily sustenance and life hangs on the balance of nature, on forces we do not control.  I’m throughly convinced that our lack of knowledge and understanding of the basics of our food supply has a huge correlation with the decline of faith in our country. The fact is without clean water and properly grown and raised food we would all cease to be.  We know this on a certain level, and we understand it – but we’re incredibly blind when it comes to coming to grips with the enormity of it.  What is man that God pays attention to us?  Can we cause it to rain so our crops can be watered and the harvest can happen?  Can we order our seasons to ensure our crops will grow correctly, and be ready to be put on our table?  Can we do any of these things?

We’ve become a drive thru nation.  Our service based culture has extended into our kitchens, the hearts of our homes, and now take -out or ordering-in rules our day.  Eating has become a chore, or something tacked on in our days.  We get our food from god knows where, and just continue on with out busyness. And all the while we don’t realize how very powerless we are to even sustain our own lives, how absolutely dependent we are on the whole of creation to stay ordered and in balance so that we can continue living.

This then can also seep into Mass.  When was the last time we really took a step back and thought hard and long about the “presentation of the Gifts?”  The bread and wine shared at the altar no longer consist of the fruit of our labor, of our fields, of our vine.   Totally lost is the offering of the people to God as a pleasing sacrifice so He can in turn offer His Spirit to change them into the Real Presence.  No our hosts and our wine have just turned into a catalog number in a religious goods catalog.  Our presentation of the Gifts simply another task to be checked off by our Sacristarians and Liturgy coordinators.  And so, our understanding of God’s call to participate in the Eucharist is dimmed to the point of being snuffed out.

We can decry a “secular” culture all we want for giving us profane entertainment and banal celebrities, but let’s instead take a look at what it is we’re feeding our bodies, what it is we’re putting on the table, and how absolutely dependent on God we are to sustain our physical well being.  From there let us remember and never forget the amazing call to participation that God gives to us in the Eucharist.  God, in his infinite wisdom, chose the most basic of human necessities to portray the most profund moment of human history.  Our spiritual sustenance is found in the Eucharist.  Let us not allow this seepage to continue.  Let us eat morally, let us contemplate our need for God both for our physical and spiritual sustenance, and let us reflect on how both of those things start with the work of human hands.