Wednesday, December 26, 2012

St. Stephen and the New Evangelization

Meditation of Pope Benedict XVI
Angelus, December 26, 2012
Each year, on the day after Christmas, the liturgy celebrates the feast of St. Stephen, deacon and first martyr. . . . Allowing ourselves be drawn by Christ, like St. Stephen, means opening our lives to the light that calls, directs and makes us walk the path of good, the path of humanity according to God’s loving plan. . . .

St. Stephen is a model for all those who want to serve the new evangelization. He shows that the novelty of proclamation does not primarily consist in the use of original methods or techniques, which certainly have their uses, but in being filled with the Holy Spirit and allowing ourselves to be guided by Him. The novelty of proclamation lies in immerging ourselves deeply in the mystery of Christ, the assimilation of His Word and of His presence in the Eucharist, so that He Himself, the living Jesus, can act and speak through His envoy. In essence, the evangelizer becomes able to bring Christ to others effectively when he lives of Christ, when the newness of the Gospel manifests itself in his own life.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Do You Have Room for the Lord? Do You Have Time for Him in Your Life?

Midnight Mass Homily of Pope Benedict XVI
Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord
Dear Brothers and Sisters!

Again and again the beauty of this Gospel touches our hearts: a beauty that is the splendour of truth. Again and again it astonishes us that God makes himself a child so that we may love him, so that we may dare to love him, and as a child trustingly lets himself be taken into our arms. It is as if God were saying: I know that my glory frightens you, and that you are trying to assert yourself in the face of my grandeur. So now I am coming to you as a child, so that you can accept me and love me.

I am also repeatedly struck by the Gospel writer’s almost casual remark that there was no room for them at the inn. Inevitably the question arises, what would happen if Mary and Joseph were to knock at my door. Would there be room for them?

And then it occurs to us that Saint John takes up this seemingly chance comment about the lack of room at the inn, which drove the Holy Family into the stable; he explores it more deeply and arrives at the heart of the matter when he writes: "he came to his own home, and his own people received him not" (Jn 1:11).

The great moral question of our attitude towards the homeless, towards refugees and migrants, takes on a deeper dimension: do we really have room for God when he seeks to enter under our roof? Do we have time and space for him? Do we not actually turn away God himself?

We begin to do so when we have no time for him. The faster we can move, the more efficient our time-saving appliances become, the less time we have. And God? The question of God never seems urgent. Our time is already completely full. But matters go deeper still. Does God actually have a place in our thinking? Our process of thinking is structured in such a way that he simply ought not to exist. Even if he seems to knock at the door of our thinking, he has to be explained away. If thinking is to be taken seriously, it must be structured in such a way that the "God hypothesis" becomes superfluous. There is no room for him. Not even in our feelings and desires is there any room for him. We want ourselves. We want what we can seize hold of, we want happiness that is within our reach, we want our plans and purposes to succeed. We are so "full" of ourselves that there is no room left for God. And that means there is no room for others either, for children, for the poor, for the stranger.

By reflecting on that one simple saying about the lack of room at the inn, we have come to see how much we need to listen to Saint Paul’s exhortation: "Be transformed by the renewal of your mind" (Rom 12:2). Paul speaks of renewal, the opening up of our intellect (nous), of the whole way we view the world and ourselves. The conversion that we need must truly reach into the depths of our relationship with reality.

Let us ask the Lord that we may become vigilant for his presence, that we may hear how softly yet insistently he knocks at the door of our being and willing. Let us ask that we may make room for him within ourselves, that we may recognize him also in those through whom he speaks to us: children, the suffering, the abandoned, those who are excluded and the poor of this world.

There is another verse from the Christmas story on which I should like to reflect with you – the angels’ hymn of praise, which they sing out following the announcement of the new-born Saviour: "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased."

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving with the Holy Spirit and Bishop Loverde

This week we celebrate Thanksgiving, our nation's oldest holiday, but the parish of Blessed Sacrament got an early start with the Turkey Dinner we held last Saturday evening.

On Thursday (and on Friday too for many people), we will gather with family and friends for a feast of succulent turkey, gravy, potatoes, stuffing, corn and green beans, cranberry sauce, pies and cookies, delicious wine, and more. Before eating, many will "say grace" and go around saying what they are thankful for.

But even though many gathered around the table do have this tradition of saying what they are thankful for, we do not call this Thankfulness Day, but Thanksgiving Day. Even for nonbelievers, this day is Thanksgiving Day. And to give thanks, rather than being merely thankful, means giving that thanks to someone.

Who is that someone to whom we give thanks on this holiday? Sure, some of the thanks will go to family and friends, but primarily our "thank you" is given to God. (Indeed, the word "holiday," even though used in a civic setting, is derived from "holy day.") "Thank you" not only for the food around the table, but for all of the blessings of our lives, even if we do not recognize them to be blessings.

The word for "thanksgiving" in Greek is, as you may already know, "eucharistia." This is the name we give to the Blessed Sacrament, the Lord's Supper, Holy Communion, the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, whom we receive at the holy sacrifice of the Mass.

Bishop Paul Loverde came to our parish of Blessed Sacrament on Monday evening, November 19, for a Eucharistic celebration to confer the Sacrament of Confirmation upon many members of our parish community. Noting his own nervousness that the bishop might call on him when he was confirmed in 1950 at the age of ten, Bishop Loverde sought to reassure the confirmandi that one of the graces received from the Holy Spirit in Confirmation was that of strength and fortitude to not be afraid to give witness to the Lord, especially out there in the world, "where it really counts." In Confirmation, the Holy Spirit would come to dwell within the recipient; He would be a helper, a guide, and thereby transform the recipient into a clearer image of Jesus Christ to others and bind him or her more closely to the Church and her mission to be a witness of Jesus to others in everything we say and think and do.

Being a witness for the Lord in this world will not be easy for the newly-confirmed, Bishop Loverde said, but out there in the world is where this witness really counts, that is, that is where it is so necessary. From the many attacks on the sanctity of life to the scourge of drugs, alcohol, and pornography, to a culture of violence and injustice, and the many other failings or outright evils of humanity, the world is a cold and dark place, and it needs the Light of Christ that can shine through us by our witness of Him. The Holy Spirit is stronger than all the vices and evils of the world and with Him in our hearts, we can be heralds of hope to others. To do that, Bishop Loverde said, all one needs do is open his heart to receive the Holy Spirit in Confirmation, and then to allow Him to remain there, dwelling within you.

These graces received in Confirmation are crucial to being an effective witness, including the grace of strength to resist peer pressure to engage in any number of wrongful things that the world tempts us to do and, by having this strength to say "no" to these things, and "yes" to God instead, we provide a witness and example that encourages others to avoid the wrong and do the good, we can be Good News to them.

In Confirmation, we join in the mission of the Church to share the Lord with others. The word "thanksgiving" is "eucharistia" in Greek. The Lord is our Eucharist, our Grace, and as Confirmed Catholics, we should seek to invite others to our feast with Him and in Him.

The turkey and wine we will eat and drink on Thanksgiving Day will be deliciously good, but they are pale imitations of the real food, the real drink that the Lord invites us to receive to have life in abundance. More than merely saying what we are thankful for, we need to give that thanks to Him, and beyond saying grace, we need to open our hearts to the grace of the Holy Spirit, to dwell within us and be a light of the Lord to others. More than merely inviting others to share turkey on Thanksgiving, we need to invite others to share in our Lord, the fullness of life, in the Eucharist. In love, with the graces of the Holy Spirit we received in Confirmation, we need to invite them to join us at the real Thanksgiving meal, not merely once a year, but to join in the joyous feast everyday of our lives.

See also, The First Thanksgiving Day Proclamation of President Washington (1789)

(cross-posted at Adoramus Te)

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Church: Christ's Mystical Body

Episode Six of Fr. Robert Barron's Catholicism series --

Father Barron explores the Catholic Faith’s unique understanding of the relationship of Jesus Christ and the Church and presents the reality of the Church as a truly global culture. From the Church’s center in Rome to the cities of New York, Lagos, Manila and Rio de Janeiro, Father Barron explores the Catholic conviction that the life and presence of Christ continues to embrace humanity in all its joys and sorrows through the presence of the Church.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Living the Faith: Conscience and Election Day 2012

Tuesday, November 6, 2012, is election day. Part of living the faith -- everyday, in all aspects of our lives -- is the question of how to apply the truths of the faith, most especially the truths of the inherent dignity of the human person, in that part of civil society known as the political and electoral process. (See Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est 28-29)

Who should you vote for?

The Church will not tell you who to vote for. Instead, it calls you to have an adult faith, such that, as with all decisions in life, your ballot should be based upon a properly-formed good conscience and well-informed prudent judgment. However, it must be understood that conscience is not the same as one’s opinions or feelings, and one cannot choose or create his own conscience. That is not the conscience, that is the will. Rather, conscience is a judgment of reason in the application of objective moral truth to a particular case.

A major objective of the New Evangelization is to explain the faith more effectively, including correcting misconceptions and misunderstandings that might present obstacles to conversion and people fully accepting and living the Good News of Jesus Christ. And one enormous area of misunderstanding in the modern day is this concept of conscience, an error which has led many astray. The word "conscience" comes from the Latin "con-scientia," meaning "with knowledge." Knowledge of what? Knowledge of something other than our subjective selves, something that is beyond the self -- it is knowledge of objective and eternal truth, the "anamnesis" of the Creator who exhorts us to love in truth. Rightly understood, conscience is not the voice of self or the personal will, but is the voice of God within our hearts, our very souls; it is the light of objective moral truth which is given us so that we might make our way in the dark. (See Blessed Pope John Paul II, Dominum et Vivificantem 43, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship 17)

The task of conscience is not to create moral truth, but to perceive it and then apply it, not ignore it. In our perception of such moral truth, we are assisted by the Magisterium of the Church, by the Pope and bishops, who are in turn specially guided and protected from error by the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete promised to us by Jesus Christ. Thus, as Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman noted, a properly-formed good conscience cannot be one that is in contradiction with the teachings of the Church.

Prior to the obligation of conscience is the obligation to properly form one's conscience, or more specifically, "an actual conscience, conscience understood as a 'co-knowing' with the truth," in the words of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (before he became Pope Benedict) in his 1991 talk, Conscience and Truth. If we have a false, improperly-formed conscience, one that is not "with knowledge" of objective truth, but is instead one that is "with ignorance" of objective truth, including knowing contradiction with authoritative Church teaching, including those teachings on the inviolability of human life, then we cannot assert a right to follow it. The obligation to follow one’s conscience is an obligation to follow a good conscience, one that is "with knowledge" of transcendent objective truth, and not a bad or malformed counterfeit "conscience." Conscience is meant to accuse one of error in sin, not justify it, and conscience is most emphatically not a license to delude ourselves to truth so as to justify doing, facilitating, or participating in that which is intrinsically wrong or mala in se (evil in and of itself). One's "subjective conviction and the lack of doubts and scruples which follow therefrom" are not sufficient, explains Cardinal Ratzinger in Conscience and Truth, "it will not do to identify man's conscience with the self-consciousness of the I, with it subjective certainty about itself and its moral behavior," especially in a relativistic age when so many can no longer see moral fault and sin. (see also Blessed John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae 24)

Photo of White Rose from Wikipedia
With this connection to transcendent objective moral truth, in all things, including when making electoral decisions, we have an obligation in conscience, written as law upon our hearts, to do the good and resist evil. (Gaudium et Spes 16) This obligation to follow a good conscience, properly formed in conformity with the teachings of the Church, does not restrict human freedom, but instead calls the person to genuine freedom in truth, for only in truth will one be set free. On the other hand, Cardinal Ratzinger continues in Conscience and Truth, "the identification of conscience with superficial consciousness, the reduction of man to his subjectivity, does not liberate but enslaves. It makes us totally dependent on the prevailing opinions and debases these with every passing day."
O Most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy, at this most critical time, we entrust the United States of America to your loving care.
Most Holy Mother, we beg you to reclaim this land for the glory of your Son. Overwhelmed with the burden of the sins of our nation, we cry to you from the depths of our hearts and seek refuge in your motherly protection.
Look down with mercy upon us and touch the hearts of our people. Open our minds to the great worth of human life and to the responsibilities that accompany human freedom.
Free us from the falsehoods that lead to the evil of abortion, other assaults on the truth of the fundamental dignity of the human person, and whicht threaten marriage, family life, and fundamental rights of conscience. Grant our country the wisdom to proclaim that God’s law of Love and Truth is the foundation on which this nation was founded, and that He alone is the True Source of our cherished rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
O Merciful Mother, give us the courage to reject the culture of death and the strength to build a new Culture of Life.
(cross-posted in large part at Adoramus Te)

See also -
Letters from Bishop Paul Loverde:From the USCCB, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship
From the Virginia Catholic Conference:Doctrinal Note, On Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
Human Life and the Obligation of Conscience

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Santo Subito: Answering the Call to be a Saint

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen. (Apostle's Creed)
Pope Benedict celebrated Mass one week ago for the canonization of seven saints and we are soon approaching the Solemnity of All Saints on November 1. Thus, this is an opportune time to begin a new continuing series on the saints and sainthood.

We are invited in this Year of Faith to rediscover and receive once again the precious gift which is our faith, including studying, meditating upon, and praying in communion with the saints. In this Year, we might seek to learn more about those saints whose names we took in Baptism and/or Confirmation, those saints whose feast day we celebrate on a particular day, those saints for whom we already have a certain affection, and those saints who we know little or nothing about.
By faith, across the centuries, men and women of all ages, whose names are written in the Book of Life (cf. Rev 7:9, 13:8), have confessed the beauty of following the Lord Jesus wherever they were called to bear witness to the fact that they were Christian: in the family, in the workplace, in public life, in the exercise of the charisms and ministries to which they were called. (Porta Fidei 13)
By their lives and testimony of faith, those saints who reside now in Heaven provide excellent examples for us to follow in addition to interceding for us before God. This is an exceedingly good thing. Yet, at the same time, it does present some difficulties for many people.

Read the rest of Santo Subito: Answering the Call to be a Saint at Adoramus Te.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Let Us Pray

From Adoramus Te, the blog of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church:
It begins . . . with prayer. It begins as it should, as it must if it is to be fruitful, with prayer.

Most appropriately, the Year of Faith was inaugurated at Blessed Sacrament with that most special prayer which involves adoration of our Lord in the most Holy Eucharist, the source and summit of our faith. There is a great need in this Year of Faith, together with the New Evangelization, for a better appreciation of the Real Presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, Father Anthony Killian said in his sermon at the Holy Hour on Thursday, October 11. He noted how St. Faustina recounts in her diary when Jesus had sadly told her that, all too often, with respect to the Eucharist, people "treat me as a dead object." But He is alive -- in Him, all things are made new, and we can ourselves be renewed in receiving the living Risen Christ, "the medicine of immortality, the antidote for death, and the food that makes us live forever in Jesus Christ." (CCC 1405, quoting St. Ignatius of Antioch)

Renewal in Him and through Him is a major reason for the Year of Faith. It is an exhortation to be renewed, Fr. Killian said, so that we can then joyously take that renewed and reinvigorated faith to others.

It must be a living faith and a lived faith that we take to others, rather than treating our Lord and our faith as if they are dead objects. We must open our hearts to Him, to His Spirit of Love and Truth, and worthily receive His Body in Holy Communion with Him, so that His Light might more clearly shine through us, through our lives and witness of Him.

How might we open our hearts in this Year of Faith? What are some of the activities we might engage in during this Year? How might we better inform our intellects and prepare ourselves for the New Evangelization, for our actively participating in the mission of the Church to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to a cold and dark world sorely in need of some good news?
Read the rest of Let Us Pray at Adoramus Te.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Her Immaculate Heart Will Triumph

Today is the 13th day of October, the day that Our Lady of Fatima made her final appearance to the humble shepherd children Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta, the day that a reported 70,000 people witnessed the "Miracle of the Sun." At that time, 1917, the world was suffering horribly in the slaughter of so many millions of people in World War I and our Lady warned of even worse horrors and death in a war that was to follow. Nevertheless, with a call for prayer and penance, she promised that her Immaculate Heart would triumph in the end. This is a very important thing to keep in mind as we engage in the New Evangelization.

Read the rest of Her Immaculate Heart Will Triumph at Cinema Catechism.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Being on Fire with Truth and Love in the New Evangelization

Again, part of the New Evangelization is finding better, that is, more effective, ways to proclaim the faith, whether it be to people in places where secularization has taken hold in traditionally Christianized areas or out in the greater world. This means speaking the language that our intended audience of today speaks, rather than persisting in using "church speak" or the language of the 13th century.

Actually, this aspect of the "New" Evangelization is anything but new. The Church has sought to speak in the language of our audience since the very beginning, including appropriating various concepts from Greek and Roman philosophy to better explain Christian theology. An earlier example of using the words our intended audience uses is the very term "evangelize," which is not derived from the Aramaic and Hebrew used by Jesus and the Apostles, but is instead rooted in Greek. The word itself first appears, not in Salvation History, but in Greek literature and it is only later used in scripture by the prophet Isaiah to express more effectively, and to a larger audience, the announcement from God of a reason for His people to rejoice, that He would rescue them from exile and bondage.

Pope Benedict opened the first session of the Synod of Bishops with an explanation of the history and meaning of this term "evangelization," which interestingly shows itself to be implicit in the New Evangelization in and of itself. The Holy Father also meditated upon other various terms in his address, which was something of a lectio divina on the hymn for the "mid-morning" prayer (Terce) of the Liturgy of the Hours. (thanks to the incomparable Teresa Benedetta of the Benedetto XVI Forum for the translation)

Although God is all-powerful and thus is not dependent upon anything, Pope Benedict reminds us that the Lord has chosen to seek our help in the work of salvation. Jesus is our one and only Savior, but He also wants this to be a group effort. However, in making this effort, we must remember that the Church belongs to the Lord and we are mere servants, we can only cooperate with Him and not act solely on our own.

The Pope recalls the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in teaching that we must allow the Faith to so penetrate our being that it resounds through us, that we confess the Lord with our very lives, that we become witnesses of Christ even to the point of following Him to the Cross. We must know Him in our hearts so that we might speak of Him to others from our hearts in addition to speaking of Him intellectually from the head. This means working with the Spirit of Truth and Love, allowing our living faith to become enflamed and not merely lukewarm and passive.

The fullness of love, love to the extent of being on fire, is by its nature creative and transformative. We must allow ourselves to burn with this fire, the Fire that is the Lord, and only in this way will we be able to be effective in being not only a light to the world, but to help Him in the redemptive and sanctifying work of transforming the world from one of suffering and death to one of joy and eternal life.

Reflections of Pope Benedict XVI
Opening Session of the Synod on the New Evangelization
9 October 2012
My meditation refers to the word "evangelium", ("euangelisasthai" in Greek) (cf Lk 4:18). In this Synodal assembly, we wish to know more what the Lord is telling us and what we can and should do. The reflection is divided in two: the first, on the significance of these words, and then, I wish to try and interpret the hymn of the Third Hour, "Nunc, Sancte, nobis Spìritus," on Page 5 of the Book of Prayers.

The word "evangelium," "euangelisasthai," has a long history. It appears in Homer as the announcement of victory, therefore, an announcement of something good, of joy, of happiness. Then it appears in the "Second Book" of Isaiah [the the Deutero-Isaiah] (cf Is 40:9), announcing the joy of God, to say that God has not forgotten his people, that God who had apparently retreated from history is around and present. God has power, God gives joy, he opens the doors that lead from exile. After the long night of exile, his light appears, the possibility of his return to his people, renewing the story of goodness, the story of his love.

In the context of evangelization, three other words appear most frequently: dikaiosyne, eirene, soteria - justice, peace, salvation. Jesus himself reprised the words of Isaiah when he spoke of this "Evangelo" in Nazareth, bringing them to those who were excluded, to those in prison, to the suffering and to the poor.

But for the meaning of the word evangelium in the New Testament, beyond the Deutero-Isaiah (Isa 40-55), which opens the door - equally important is the use of the word in the Roman Empire, starting with Emperor Augustus, in which the word evangelium refers to a message coming from the emperor. Thus, the emperor's message, in itself, meant something good - a renewal of the world, salvation. An imperial message and therefore a message of power and might, as well as a message of salvation, renewal and well-being.

The New Testament accepts this situation. St. Luke explicitly confronts the Emperor Augustus with the Baby born in Bethlehem. Evangelium, he says, is a word from the emperor, the true emperor of the world. The true emperor of the world has made himself heard - he speaks to us.

This word evangelium, as such, is redemption, because man's great suffering - then, as now - is this: Behind the silence of the universe, behind the haze of history, does God exist or not? And if there is a God, does he know us, does he have anything to do with us?

This question is as relevant today as it was then. So many people want to know: Is God just a hypothesis? Or is he a reality? Then why doesn't he make himself heard?

"Evangelium" means God has broken his silence, God has spoken, God exists. This in itself is salvation: God knows us, he loves us, he has entered human history. Jesus is his Word, God-with-us, God who shows us that he loves us, who suffered with us to his death and then resurrected. This is the Gospel itself. God has spoken, he is no longer the great unknown, he has shown himself to us, and this is salvation.

The question for us is this: God has spoken, he has broken the great silence, he has shown himself to us - How can we make this reality reach men of today so that it becomes their salvation? In itself, the fact that he has spoken is salvation, it is redemption. But how can we let contemporary man know this?

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Communication of the Faith is an Interactive, Collaborative Process

Effective communication of ideas is not a one-way street, it requires the active involvement of both the speaker and the listener. Even if the listener is rather silent, as opposed to engaging in a dialogue, still in his passivity he must at least be as active as a sponge to receive and absorb the information, and not be so completely passive as to be like an inanimate stone, where the information simply washes over him. The most effective conveyance of information, however, requires that the listener be more than a sponge, that he provide signals or otherwise engage with the speaker, ideally having a conversation with him (the word "conversation" being from the Latin for "taking turns with").

Monsignor Charles Pope writes today of how important it is for good and effective preaching that the priest have some level of interactivity with his listening congregation.
I have commented elsewhere on the problem of poor preaching in our beloved Catholic Church. What I would like to do here is to note that the quality of preaching is not only dependent on the preacher but is also dependent upon the congregation. In our critique of Catholic preaching we tend to weigh in heavily on the priests’ shortcomings. But in this article I’d like to propose that our congregations in our parishes also have a role improving Catholic preaching.

My own experience as a priest powerfully underscores the role of congregation in helping to craft the preaching moment. I have served almost all of my 20 years in African American parishes. In these settings the congregation takes an active part in the preaching moment. Acclamations and affirmations such as “Amen!” “Go on!” “Make it plain preacher” “Hallelujah,” and the like are common. Hands are often raised in silent affirmation, nods of the head move through the congregation. Now all of this affects the preaching moment powerfully for me and helps it take shape and come to life.
Can I hear an "Amen"? What Msgr. Pope says about preaching proper can also be said about catechesis, on-going religious education and formation, especially because part of that role of the congregation in not leaving the priest hanging, leaving it all up to him to preach the Word, is the faithful laity being collaborators in that mission and helping to spread the Faith by evangelization and catechesis, etc.

In that respect, going into the Year of Faith, when we are all going to become more involved in our parishes and attending (or giving) the various talks and programs that are being offered for adults (or becoming more pro-active and involved in our kids’ education in CCD, etc.) — and we are all going to become more involved, right? right?? — in going to these talks and programs by priests and lay catechists, most of these are intended to be interactive, in other words, ask questions, help to get an actual group discussion going. Our priests and catechists are just that, they are not dentists, it shouldn’t be like pulling teeth with their audience.

Yesterday, in his address at the opening of the Synod of Bishops in Rome, Donald Cardinal Wuerl said an essential part of the New Evangelization is “a willingness to share [our faith] with others.” I know that the Monsignor has a fairly active and charismatic congregation, but many (most) other Catholics are notoriously reticent to express themselves and are all too often bumps on a log. But our faith is, by its very nature and at its foundational level, interactive, not passive. We need to get over our inwardness and become outward when it comes to sharing the faith.

I know that some of this is due to a feeling that to speak of our faith is to be an imposition upon people, but in proclaiming the Good News, we do not impose, we only propose. We offer them something better than what this cold world has given them. But that feeling of imposing ourselves on others certainly should not even be an issue when we are amongst fellow Catholics, especially Mass-going Catholics. Instead, we should be all too eager to share the joy of our faith and thereby confirm and strengthen our brothers and sisters in their own faith. Especially men — there was a period when I was not all that active and did not go to Mass regularly because church looked all too much like the stereotype of being something for old women — but with more men being active and speaking out, it will strengthen (and give “permission” to) other men to become more active.

With respect to working with the preacher, during the homily, even if you are not saying aloud “Amen,” etc., there are forms of non-verbal communication to help the preacher see that he is being heard and understood, one of which is actually paying attention and not flipping through the bulletin, or nodding or even just facial expressions can demonstrate if the priest is being understood and accepted or if there are possible objections to what he is saying, which allows him to then further explain and assuage any possible doubts. After Mass, rather than running for the car, give the priest encouragement by taking a moment or two to thank him for the good points he made in the homily, things that gave you something to think about. Better yet, rather than remaining a stranger with a vaguely familiar face, establish a personal relationship with your pastor and associate priests so that they at least know your name, and then when you discuss the homily with him, or offer constructive ideas for the future, you will be able to really engage with each other and he will know if he is on the right track, if his message is getting through effectively. Go to daily Mass now and then, rather than just on Sunday, and thereby help yourself as well as helping others in prayer and grace.

During the week, go to the talks and programs and workshops offered by your parish (or some nearby parish) and participate. Blessed Sacrament in Alexandria has something going on all the time, as do many of our neighboring parishes -- look in your parish bulletin or look in the diocese or archdiocese newspaper for scheduled events. Few things are worse than to see some speaker give a presentation, periodically asking questions, trying to draw people out, and hearing nothing but crickets in response. So, even if you already know the answer, help him or her out, and ask some question. Don't be a dead audience so that the speaker does not have to suffer a slow death up there. Involvement in the Church, both at Mass and on-going faith formation, should not be like going back to high school or college, where people are in fear that the teacher might cold call on people to say something.

In prayer and reading scripture and other works of faith, here too be interactive. Have an actual conversation with God in prayer, not a rote and mindless monologue, and notwithstanding the response that Job received, do not be afraid to ask questions and sincerely seek understanding, and then be willing to shut up and let God get a word in edgewise. Learn about lectio divina to similarly actively engage with the word of God, rather than just passively reading the text, resulting in the words being seeds that just sit there and never take root and sprout in you.

If we are to succeed in turning things around in this world, we must have “a willingness to share [our faith] with others,” as Cardinal Wuerl said. We must take the cover off the lamp and allow the Light of Christ to shine. Help out our priests in their preaching, help out our catechists in their teaching, help out our Lord in spreading His Good News.

(largely cross-posted at the ADW blog website)

Sunday, October 07, 2012

We were Made for a Fullness of Love That is by its Very Nature Unitive and Fruitful

The Mass readings for today, which happens to be Respect Life Sunday, answer the questions that have been asked since the beginning: Why do we exist? What is the meaning of life?

Philosophers and men and women of all stripes have struggled with those questions, but the answer is quite simple and reveals itself to be rather obvious once it is known -- the meaning of human life is to love and be loved in truth, more particularly, not an impoverished love or partial truth, but in the fullness of love and truth.

This answer proves itself to be clear when we consider our own personal experience and observe our own bodies, made male and female, such that even non-believers should be able to understand it. But for those of use who are believers, we have the benefit of the answer being further enlightened by the divine revelation contained in today's readings, which include passages that Blessed Pope John Paul II referred to extensively in presenting the theology of the body. I will not here repeat that teaching, which we have been considering recently over at Cinema Catechism, but will instead invite you to read the following previous posts:

The Existence and Nature of Man and the Meaning of Life
Having a Spousal Relationship with Christ
Beyond Salvation: Becoming One with the Lord
St. Thérèse and Our Relationship with the Lord
Respect for Human Life and Contraception: An Application of Theology of the Body
The Theology of the Body is a Theology of the Fullness of Love

See also - The Church's Positive Teachings on Human Sexuality, Contraception, and Life Issues
The Lie that is Contraception and the Truth of Authentic Feminism

Thursday, October 04, 2012

The Good Life of Gift-of-Self in Love to Others, but Loving God First

If something is holding you back from God and a more holy life, you must let it go even if you get some good benefit from it. This is a hard lesson to learn, as we discussed in considering the Gospel reading for last Sunday's Mass. We must let these things go and detach ourselves from an undue attachment to worldly things and concerns, especially if those things involve sinful activities, but even if they are non-sinful, yet are not on the path that we are called to follow. No matter how essential you may think the fruits of this activity or practice are, if they are preventing you from a closer relationship with the Lord, you must cut it off, amputate that hand diseased by sin, chop off that well-intentioned foot that keeps taking you in the wrong direction and down the wrong path.

This brings us to the Gospel reading for Wednesday, which involves a similar lesson:
As Jesus and His disciples travelled along they met a man on the road who said to Him, "I will follow you wherever you go." Jesus answered, "Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head."

Another to whom He said, "Follow me," replied, "Let me go and bury my father first." But He answered, "Leave the dead to bury their dead; your duty is to go and spread the news of the kingdom of God."

Another said, "I will follow you, sir, but first let me go and say goodbye to my people at home." Jesus said to him, "Once the hand is laid on the plough, no one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God." (Luke 9:57-62)
We've been speaking a lot about the New Evangelization, and will speak of it a lot more as we begin and live the Year of Faith, and a large part of the New Evangelization is finding more effective ways to spread and explain the Good News of Jesus Christ. Now, this aspect of the New Evangelization promises to be rather tricky, requiring us find ways to get around the pre-built defenses that many people of today have against the Christian faith. It is not as if we are in a society where people have never heard of Jesus before, they have -- practically everyone has heard of His name, and of course those Catholics and non-Catholic Christians who have fallen away from the faith have certainly heard of Him, but they have built up a "wall of separation" against Him due largely to the fact that what they have heard and learned about Christianity is false and wrong. So we need to find ways to speak to former believers and non-believers in ways that they will listen to us and thus get to know the truth about Jesus and the Faith. And it is in the light of such truth that they will be set free of their pre-conceived opposition and objections to the Good News. And the people of this world are in great need of some good news right now.

In learning how to best speak to non-believers, one of the best resources is to talk to converts, to read their conversion stories and discover exactly what it is that finally clicked, that drew them in to want to have a relationship with Jesus Christ. Perhaps the most famous of these conversion stories is St. Augustine's Confessions, and because of his experiences in decadent Roman society, what with the modern world increasingly becoming like Rome, he is a person that the modern person can relate to very much. But then again, Augustine did live 1600 years ago, so maybe there are some more recent models we can turn to?

An excellent resource for learning about conversion of non-believers to believers is Jennifer Fulwiler, who writes at Conversion Diary. She was a long-time atheist who believed that God and Christianity were rather irrational and absurd, but who, after embarking upon a search for truth like Augustine, later entered the Catholic Church with her husband at the Easter Vigil in 2007. Jennifer and her husband are celebrating their ninth wedding anniversary, which is made all the more joyous with the news that they are expecting baby number six. She recounts how, before their conversion, they thought that they had the good life, a life of comfort and freedom, but in all that comfort, something was missing, they felt a sense of emptiness which they tried to fill with even more worldly things.

Now, a few years later, they have five children ranging from 8-years-old to 15-months, with a sixth on the way, and Jennifer reflects on her current life:
We’re so busy and tired, I’m not sure if we’ll even do anything to celebrate. Between homeschooling, dance class, soccer, scouts, general chaos management and me feeling astoundingly exhausted and vaguely sick all the time, I think that what we’d both like for our ninth anniversary is the opportunity to get 12 straight hours of sleep (that is the traditional nine-year gift, right?).

This is not the easiest phase of life I’ve ever been in.
But she then goes on, after remembering their past life, to remark that all of this living and doing for other people is the real good life. Following her profound conversion, Jennifer understands that
the way to be happy isn’t to amass nice stuff or go on awesome vacations or even to think about yourself much at all. The way to be happy is to love. And real love always involves self-sacrifice; in fact, love and self-sacrifice are basically the same thing.
Yes, life is hard when all of your time is filled with doing things for and with other people. It can be loud and chaotic and messy and more work than you've ever had to do in your life.

But life is harder still when all of your time is empty and alone, and you struggle to find something to do to fill that abyss in your life, even though you might have various material possessions that promise you comfort, but never really fulfill that promise. Our temporal existence can be excruciating without something, or more specifically, someone, to help us live it. To have what some might think is the ultimate freedom, the radical autonomy to be without any duty or obligation to others, is actually a taste of Hell.

To be with others who have need of you, need of your love, need of your self-giving, is the more authentic freedom, paradoxical as it may seem, because it is more true to our nature as human persons — we are made to love and be loved in truth, and it is in such truth that we are set free. We are free to be who we are made to be, social creatures made for fruitful loving communion with others in one being.

The further paradox, though -- and to return us to our original point -- is that to fully love the other, to better love our spouse or our children, we must in a sense, put them second, not first. That is, we must love God first, before we love them. Our first priority is to follow Jesus, even before burying our dead father, even before saying goodbye to the family at home. (Luke 9:57-62)

The way to be happy, the way to the good life, is to love. But if we feel that we should or must love our spouse first and foremost, even before loving God, we end up giving them an impoverished love. Rather, we must love God first before we love others, we must put our love of God before our love for our spouse or children or friends or any other worldly thing. But in so doing, we do not love our family members less, but more. In following Jesus before first burying our dead father, we do not leave his corpse there to rot in the roadside, we do not abandon our beloved family members. Quite the contrary. In loving God before loving them, we love them even more.

To love our spouse or children or parents or others more perfectly, we must love them through the Lord. In loving God before we love them, God takes our love, purifies it, multiplies it by His own, and gives it to the other in an even greater and fuller measure than we could on our own. In love, God is not a competitor, He is a multiplier.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Hard Lesson to Learn

Suppose there is a guy -- or let's suppose that it is you -- who engages in a certain activity, a certain practice. And this practice provides him with a measure of comfort and a degree of happiness. Life appears to be much better for him, much easier for him, because of this practice. Conversely, were he to stop this practice, and thereby lose out on those resulting benefits, he believes that life would be much harder. Thus, for fear of losing those benefits of comfort and happiness, he continues the practice.

Now let us suppose that the activity or practice that he engages in is morally wrong. Perhaps this wrongful activity or practice is economic or sexual or perhaps it involves perpetuating a lie about this or that. In any event, despite gaining certain advantages and benefits from engaging in it, it is wrong, it is sinful. Or maybe the practice is not sinful at all, but it is not the right path for him in life, it is not the life that God intends for him and the practice is keeping him from that right path.

What to do? What to do? With respect to the former case, he knows that what he is doing is wrong, but he fears losing the things that he gains from it. The benefits he gets are not themselves wrong -- some comfort in life, some economic or emotional security, and the peace of mind that goes with having these things -- but the means to those good ends are bad. He is otherwise a good and decent fellow, and he sincerely does want to be good and do good, but he also believes that he needs these goods things and were they to be taken away, so he believes, he would despair, he would be lost. Augustine was at a similar point in his life -- knowing what was right, wanting to do right, but enjoying the benefits of the wrong he was doing -- when he famously exclaimed, "God grant me chastity . . . but not yet."

Likewise, with respect to the latter case, where the practice is not sinful, just wrong in the sense that it is not what God intends for him, he continues the practice because of the benefits that he enjoys. He really has not put much thought into whether it is the right path in life, into what he might be called to, what his particular vocation is at that point, he only knows that the activity provides him with some comfort, happiness, and security, all of which he would not want to lose.

The Gospel reading for today has Jesus counseling,
"If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut if off. It is better for you to enter into life crippled than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna, where 'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched." (Mk 9:43-48)
It is a hard lesson to learn, and harder to implement. But we need to let go of that wrongful practice, we need to detach ourselves from those sinful deeds, and those non-sinful deeds that are keeping us from our proper path, no matter how much we might enjoy them or even depend upon them.

And if we do not let go of that practice or activity voluntarily ourselves, perhaps God in His providence and mercy might intervene and take it away Himself. Although we might be alarmed at the loss, to have what we think is a necessity snatched away from us, we should be thankful to God for doing us the favor. He did what we knew should be done but did not have the will to do ourselves.

It may not be easy at first, it may cause our anxiety level to skyrocket. But rather than bemoan the loss of the bad, whether we let go voluntarily, or He takes it away involuntarily, we should seek the grace of understanding the lesson of the pruning of the branches, the lesson of the lilies of the field, the beatitude of being poor in spirit, of putting our lives in His hands and trusting that He will replace those ill-gotten gains with something better. We need to trust that after closing the bad door, He will open a good door for us; new opportunities will present themselves, opportunities for obtaining good by doing good, rather than by doing wrong. What we thought was our misfortune may instead be our salvation.

Friday, September 21, 2012

"What I want is mercy, not sacrifice. And indeed I did not come to call the virtuous, but sinners."

Today is the feast day for St. Matthew, whose name I took in Confirmation. Matthew the despised tax collector, Matthew the sinner, Matthew the unworthy, Matthew the recipient of wholly unwarranted gift and grace from the Lord, "It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick."

 A sermon by St Bede the Venerable
Jesus saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office, and he said to him: Follow me. Jesus saw Matthew, not merely in the usual sense, but more significantly with his merciful understanding of men.

He saw the tax collector and, because he saw him through the eyes of mercy and chose him, he said to him: Follow me. This following meant imitating the pattern of his life – not just walking after him. St. John tells us: Whoever says he abides in Christ ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.

And he rose and followed him. There is no reason for surprise that the tax collector abandoned earthly wealth as soon as the Lord commanded him. Nor should one be amazed that neglecting his wealth, he joined a band of men whose leader had, on Matthew’s assessment, no riches at all. Our Lord summoned Matthew by speaking to him in words. By an invisible, interior impulse flooding his mind with the light of grace, he instructed him to walk in his footsteps. In this way Matthew could understand that Christ, who was summoning him away from earthly possessions, had incorruptible treasures of heaven in his gift.

As he sat at table in the house, behold many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples. This conversion of one tax collector gave many men, those from his own profession and other sinners, an example of repentance and pardon. Notice also the happy and true anticipation of his future status as apostle and teacher of the nations. No sooner was he converted than Matthew drew after him a whole crowd of sinners along the same road to salvation. He took up his appointed duties while still taking his first steps in the faith, and from that hour he fulfilled his obligation and thus grew in merit. To see a deeper understanding of the great celebration Matthew held at his house, we must realise that he not only gave a banquet for the Lord at his earthly residence, but far more pleasing was the banquet set in his own heart which he provided through faith and love. Our Saviour attests to this: Behold I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

On hearing Christ’s voice, we open the door to receive him, as it were, when we freely assent to his promptings and when we give ourselves over to doing what must be done. Christ, since he dwells in the hearts of his chosen ones through the grace of his love, enters so that he might eat with us and we with him. He ever refreshes us by the light of his presence insofar as we progress in our devotion to and longing for the things of heaven. He himself is delighted by such a pleasing banquet.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Another Gourmet Tip of the Day

This is a lesson that I have learned many times over. But if you use this tip, you will find your cooking experience to be so much easier and enjoyable.

When heating water, after putting the water in the pot and putting it on the stove, so that it will come to a vigorous boil much faster, it is really helpful if you then turn on the burner.

You will be amazed at how quickly this will happen. There have been times when I did not use this helpful tip and I would come back five, ten minutes later and the water would essentially still be at room temperature and probably would take another hundred years, if that, to finally come to a boil. Of course, by then, I've gotten hungry and eaten something else.

So, for more successful heating of water to a boil, turn on the burner.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Gourmet Tip of the Day

Here's a helpful tip I learned this evening --

When you put a slice of American cheese on a hamburger, be sure to first remove the plastic wrapping. That way, when you bite into it, you will be able to actually eat the cheeseburger, rather than wonder what that strange crunchiness is.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The New Evangelization: “In this sign you will conquer!”

Today, on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Pope Benedict published his Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente on the Church in the Middle East. Despite its title, the teachings in the document really apply to us all. The Middle East, which includes the Holy Land as well as parts of what was once called Christendom, is an especially appropriate setting in which to consider the New Evangelization, which includes re-evangelizing those places where Christ once was, but no longer is or is marginalized, places where difficulties and hardship may impede access to or a full relationship with Christ, perhaps beginning with ourselves. The document is now posted in pdf format here at the Vatican website, but hopefully they will soon post an easier-to-read hmtl version.

Address of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Visit to St. Paul's Basilica in Harissa for the Signing of
the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente
Apostolic Journey to Lebanon
14 September 2012
Providentially, this event takes place on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, a celebration originating in the East in 335, following the dedication of the Basilica of the Resurrection built over Golgotha and our Lord’s tomb by the Emperor Constantine the Great, whom you venerate as saint. A month from now we will celebrate the seventeen-hundredth anniversary of the appearance to Constantine of the Chi-Rho, radiant in the symbolic night of his unbelief and accompanied by the words: “In this sign you will conquer!” Later, Constantine signed the Edict of Milan, and gave his name to Constantinople.

It seems to me that the Post-Synodal Exhortation can be read and understood in the light of this Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, and more particularly in the light of the Chi-Rho, the two first letters of the Greek word “Christos”. Reading it in this way leads to renewed appreciation of the identity of each baptized person and of the Church, and is at the same time a summons to witness in and through communion.

Are not Christian communion and witness grounded in the Paschal Mystery, in the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Christ? Is it not there that they find their fulfilment? There is an inseparable bond between the Cross and the Resurrection which Christians must never forget. Without this bond, to exalt the Cross would mean to justify suffering and death, seeing them merely as our inevitable fate. For Christians, to exalt the Cross means to be united to the totality of God’s unconditional love for mankind. It means making an act of faith! To exalt the Cross, against the backdrop of the resurrection, means to desire to experience and to show the totality of this love. It means making an act of love! To exalt the Cross means to be a committed herald of fraternal and ecclesial communion, the source of authentic Christian witness. It means making an act of hope!

In examining the present situation of the Church in the Middle East, the Synod Fathers reflected on the joys and struggles, the fears and hopes of Christ’s disciples in these lands. In this way, the entire Church was able to hear the troubled cry and see the desperate faces of many men and women who experience grave human and material difficulties, who live amid powerful tensions in fear and uncertainty, who desire to follow Christ – the One who gives meaning to their existence – yet often find themselves prevented from doing so. That is why I wanted the First Letter of Saint Peter to serve as the framework of the document. . . .

Ecclesia in Medio Oriente makes it possible to rethink the present in order to look to the future with the eyes of Christ. By its biblical and pastoral orientation, its invitation to deeper spiritual and ecclesiological reflection, its call for liturgical and catechetical renewal, and its summons to dialogue, the Exhortation points out a path for rediscovering what is essential: being a follower of Christ even in difficult and sometimes painful situations which may lead to the temptation to ignore or to forget the exaltation of the Cross. It is here and now that we are called to celebrate the victory of love over hate, forgiveness over revenge, service over domination, humility over pride, and unity over division.

In the light of today’s Feast, and in view of a fruitful application of the Exhortation, I urge all of you to fear not, to stand firm in truth and in purity of faith. This is the language of the Cross, exalted and glorious! This is the “folly” of the Cross: a folly capable of changing our sufferings into a declaration of love for God and mercy for our neighbour; a folly capable of transforming those who suffer because of their faith and identity into vessels of clay ready to be filled to overflowing by divine gifts more precious than gold (cf. 2 Cor 4:7-18).

Ecclesia in Medio Oriente provides some elements that are helpful for a personal and communal examination of conscience, and an objective evaluation of the commitment and desire for holiness of each one of Christ’s disciples. The Exhortation shows openness to authentic interreligious dialogue based on faith in the one God, the Creator. It also seeks to contribute to an ecumenism full of human, spiritual and charitable fervour, in evangelical truth and love, drawing its strength from the commandment of the risen Lord: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. Behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:19-20).

The Exhortation as a whole is meant to help each of the Lord’s disciples to live fully and to pass on faithfully to others what he or she has become by Baptism: a child of light, sharing in God’s own light, a lamp newly lit amid the troubled darkness of this world, so that the light may shine in the darkness (cf. Jn 1:4f. and 2 Cor 4:1-6). The document seeks to help purify the faith from all that disfigures it, from everything that can obscure the splendour of Christ’s light. For communion is true fidelity to Christ, and Christian witness is the radiance of the paschal mystery which gives full meaning to the Cross, exalted and glorious. As his followers, “we proclaim Christ crucified … the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:23-24)

“Fear not, little flock” (Lk 12:32) and remember the promise made to Constantine: “In this sign you will conquer!” (emphasis added)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Days When Life As You Know It Ends

Life as you know it can change in an instant. The world can change in an instant. A prime example is September 11. We woke up on that day in one world and we went to bed that night in another. The plans that we had made and the path that we had expected to follow, both as a nation and individually, came to an abrupt end that day, and we were thrown onto a different course.

The Lord has warned that such could happen, that such will likely happen to us in our lives. We often will not know the time or the hour of life-changing events or, most especially, life-ending events. And so, we must always be ready, always be prepared, and part of that preparation for the possibility of catastrophic change is not merely stocking up on those things that might be changed or lost in an instant, but by building our lives on rock, on things that last, the eternal things, that is, the Eternal One, rather than building on lives on sand, which are then washed away when the inevitable storm comes, such as the sands of temporal worldly things, worldly wealth, possessions, jobs, health, all of which will one day crumble and turn to dust.

With the Lord, in hope, we are already saved. With Him, all things are possible, including perseverence in the face of hardship, peace of heart and mind, love, and even the ability to forgive, rather than retaliate in self-corrosive hate, when that hardship and life-changing event are brought about by evil and wrongs against you.
Eternal and Merciful God, at times of tragedy our intellects seek understanding, our hearts seek healing, and our souls turn to You: our source of hope and solace. Heal our troubled nation as our nation turns its eyes to You and comfort those whose lives are changed forever: those who have perished, those who have lost family, friends or loved ones, and those who now live in the aftermath of these acts of terror. May God bless our national leadership, may God bless our servicemen and women, and may God bless America. Amen

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, let thy protection be upon all those who are in the service of our country; guard them from all harm and danger of body and soul; sustain and comfort those at home, especially in their hours of loneliness, anxiety, and sorrow; prepare the dying for death and the living for your service; give success to our arms on land and sea and in the air; and grant unto us and all nations a speedy, just and lasting peace. Amen
September 11, 2001. Many of us remember it as if it were yesterday. But also, for many, we experience our own personal September 11 in our personal lives when they are radically ended and our path forever changed by, for example, death of loved ones, illness and/or injury, job loss and inability to obtain other employment, or even the adverse consequences of our own sin and folly. But whether you are an entirely innocent victim or a sinner, the Lord is ready to protect us.

Written on Saturday, September 15, 2001

I drove by the Pentagon today. I decided to go by a condo I saw advertised that is nearby. Luckily, the damage appears to be quite localized to the crash site. I drove down the parkway along the river and then onto the highway that runs past the Pentagon.

As I approached, I saw the building, standing as firm and imposing as always. I curved around and the next side of the five-sided building was perfectly fine, but there in the parking lot were countless trucks and trailers. I could see some smoke and smelled food being cooked for the rescuers. There was a McDonald's sign atop one tent.

Then, I came around the bend and saw the unmistakable black markings along the exterior from the fire and smoke. Now I could see the crash site, the middle of the building that was rubble.

I turned off onto my exit and got on Arlington Ridge Road, on the heights above D.C. On the far east end, there is a hairpin turn and at that end there is a park, what used to be Fort Albany -- a place on the heights where cannon and other guns were placed to protect the city from attack in the Civil War. Here were many people, looking across the highway to the damaged side of the Pentagon. None of them said much of anything. Everyone just staring grimly at the collapsed middle. A few taking pictures.

As I said, thankfully, the damage was fairly localized, so I gazed around the city. Being on the heights, I could see a few miles to the spires of the National Cathedral. I could see about six miles in another direction to the dome of the National Shrine at my school Catholic University. The Washington Monument of course loomed over everything.

It was a beautiful day and a beautiful city. The one thing I could not see, try though I might, was the White House. Only two stories high, nestled in the trees, perhaps its lack of visibility saved it from being the place of destruction.

I had thought about going to a funeral mass for one of the victims this morning at St. Thomas More Cathedral here in Arlington, but my sleep was kind of restless last night and I woke up late. For the first time in the 12 years (so many!) that I've been here, I experienced a bit of personal apprehension for my safety.

I've always realized in the abstract that if we ever suffer a missile attack, all I'll ever know of it is a momentary bright flash and that's the last you'll hear of me, but its never really concerned me. Never once during the Gulf War was I concerned. But late last night, as I was on the computer, I heard this very loud BANG! and then all the power went out. It was a very unusual sound, but last week I would have simply figured someone crashed into a electrical pole or a transformer blew, but this isn't last week. It was a sound I hadn't heard before and, although there is nothing in this neighborhood worth attacking, I was a little jumpy after that. Just to be safe, I reported it to the police. Just in case.

So, we all have to be a little more vigilant now that we are at war. A buddy of mine from high school is in the reserves and I expect he'll be one of those called to active duty. Over in the District, the national guard has been deployed. Many street corners have humvees sitting there with soldiers on the sidewalks. I'm glad to see them. Not for my benefit, because except for being startled last night, I'm not too concerned about me getting it, but I do expect further attacks on us. This is war, not merely for some in uniform going to southeast Asia, but for all of us.

We all have our part to do and sacrifices to make. It’s entirely possible that we will not be able to all be together this Thanksgiving. I expect we will have positioned our troops and have launched our campaign by then. If so, expect the airports to be shut down again. Even if we have not launched our attack by then, expect the planes to be grounded. Our enemy is perfectly aware that Thanksgiving is the busiest time of the year for air travel and would like nothing more than to kill some more of us.

If the planes are flying, as passengers, we'll need to stay alert during the flights and prevent that from happening. If hijacked, we need to emulate the heroes of the plane in Pennsylvania and retake the plane, no matter the cost. As for me, if I'm hijacked and we cannot regain control -- shoot us down. I'll not allow them to make a low-tech missile out of me.

At the same time, pray for true peace. Pray for my buddy as he gets activated and sent into battle. Pray for our enemy, that God grant them grace and wisdom to choose peace. Pray for us, that, as we destroy that enemy, that God grant us grace and strength to not hate those He commands us to love, that we kill not for vengeance, but to end the violence and the capacity and will of the enemy to make war on us, until the day we again may live in peace with these children of God.


Added September 11, 2010

The morning of September 11, 2001, I was at the Arlington Courthouse, waiting for cases to be called in both circuit court and general district court. During a break, I popped down to the clerk's office for something and, while I was there, the phone rang and the clerk answered it. After a moment or two, he told us that a plane had just crashed into the Pentagon, which is about two miles or so to the south.

We thought that that was odd, to say the least. National Airport is almost right next to the Pentagon, but still, how could a plane crash into it?

I next went up to circuit court, where there was still a break, but the judge was on the bench talking to the clerks and bailiffs, saying that "this is war." Still not comprehending (not knowing anything about New York), I went down to general district court to see if my case down there could be called.

A few moments after I entered the courtroom, I saw sheriff's deputies running up to the bench, saying something to the judge. The judge then announced that all the cases were being cancelled and that an evacuation of the building had been ordered for safety reasons. (Apparently this was when there was a plane approaching D.C. (Flight 93). The deputies and police were also needed for mass mobilization to the Pentagon and throughout the area.)

Once outside, I talked to one of the prosecutors who said that he had seen a very low-flying plane over in the direction of the Pentagon.

As I got into my car to drive home, there was a report on the radio of an attack at the State Department, but that was later determined to be false. There was also talk about an attack on the World Trade Center and something about a collapse or possible collapse. In my mind at the time, I was thinking that they meant some of the facing had come off or something like that.

When I got home (about a mile away) and turned on the TV, I don't remember when it was that I first saw that the WTC building or buildings had collapsed entirely. I don't have any recollection of "Oh my God," but I must have had a response of that type. I was definitely stunned enough to not really remember my reaction, considering that I believed at the time that 25-30,000 people had just died, maybe even as high as 50,000 (thank-you Lord for the WTC personnel and firefighters who were able to evacuate the towers so efficiently).

After sitting in front of the TV for a few hours, I walked out of the house and went over to Lee Highway, which leads directly to the District. There were long lines of crowds of people walking down the sidewalk, they were federal government workers evacuating D.C. on foot because the Metro (subway) had stopped running.

In the days that followed, heavily armed military personnel began to populate many of the street corners. We were happy to see them.

See also Why I Believe, or, How I Know that God Exists

September 11: Never Forget

O God of love, compassion, and healing,
look on us, people of many different faiths and traditions,
who gather today to remember the attacks on our nation,
that day of incredible violence and pain ten years ago.

We ask you in your goodness
to give eternal light and peace
to all who died in Arlington, New York, and Pennsylvania -—
the heroic first-responders: our fire fighters, police officers, emergency service workers, and Port Authority personnel,
along with all the innocent men and women
who were victims of this tragedy
simply because their work or service
brought them there on September 11, 2001.

We ask you, in your compassion
to bring healing to those
who, because of their presence there that day,
suffer from injuries and illness.
Heal, too, the pain of still-grieving families
and all who lost loved ones in this tragedy.
Give them strength to continue their lives with courage and hope.

We are mindful as well
of those who suffered death, injury, and loss
in the days and years following in the on-going battle against terrorism.
Our hearts are one with theirs
as our prayer embraces their pain and suffering.

God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world:
peace in the hearts of all men and women
and peace among the nations of the earth.
Turn to your way of love
those whose hearts and minds
are consumed with hatred.

God of understanding,
overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy,
we seek your light and guidance
as we confront such terrible events.
Grant that those whose lives were spared
may live so that the lives lost here
may not have been lost in vain.
Comfort and console us,
strengthen us in hope,
and give us the wisdom and courage
to work tirelessly for a world
where true peace and love reign
among nations and in the hearts of all.
--See Prayer His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI at Ground Zero, New York
Sunday, 20 April 2008

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Ephphatha! Be Opened to Hear and Speak in God's Language of Love

This week, over at Cinema Catechism, we are beginning Fr. Robert Barron's Catholicism series in preparation for the Year of Faith and the New Evangelization. So it is appropriate that the Gospel reading for today should have Jesus saying "Ephphatha." (Mk 7:31-37)

A few weeks ago, on August 12, we read of Elijah becoming weary and sleeping after fleeing for his life. He is woken by an angel and told to get up and eat. Elijah then eats some hearth cake, drinks some water, and promptly goes back to sleep. The angel returns, touches him and insists, "Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!" And this time, Elijah listened and ate fully so that, strengthened by that food, he could walk forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God. (1 Kgs 19:4-8)

We too, like the prophet, too often have been wanting to sleep. But it is necessary now for us to get up from our slumber and eat of the Word of God, and the Eucharist as well, so that we might be filled and strengthed for the journey of New Evangelization that awaits us.

And in addition, we should here adopt the "Ephphatha," which Jesus said and pray that He say to us, so that we too, in our closed-in deafness and muteness, might be opened up to communication and relation (communion) with God and others as we prepare ourselves and thereafter go out into the world to proclaim His Good News.

Reflection of Pope Benedict XVI
Sunday Angelus, 9 September 2012
Dear brothers and sisters!

At the heart of today's Gospel (Mk 7, 31-37) there is a small but, very important word. A word that - in its deepest meaning- sums up the whole message and the whole work of Christ.

The Evangelist Mark writes it in the same language that Jesus pronounced it in, so that it is even more alive to us. This word is "Ephphatha," which means, "be opened."

Let us look at the context in which it is located. Jesus was travelling through the region known as the "Decapolis", between the coast of Tyre and Sidon, and Galilee, therefore a non-Jewish area. They brought to him a deaf man, so that he could heal him - evidently his fame had spread that far. Jesus took him aside, touched his ears and tongue, and then, looking up to the heavens, with a deep sigh said, "Ephphatha," which means, "Be opened." And immediately the man began to hear and speak fluently (cf. Mk 7.35).

This then is the historical, literal, meaning of this word: this deaf mute, thanks to Jesus’ intervention, "was opened", before he had been closed, insulated, it was very difficult for him to communicate, and his recovery was '"openness" to others and the world, an openness that, starting from the organs of hearing and speech, involved all his person and his life: Finally he was able to communicate and thus relate in a new way.

But we all know that closure of man, his isolation, does not solely depend on the sense organs. There is an inner closing, which covers the deepest core of the person, what the Bible calls the "heart." That is what Jesus came to "open" to liberate, to enable us to fully live our relationship with God and with others.

That is why I said that this little word, "Ephphatha – Be opened," sums up Christ’s entire mission. He became man so that man, made inwardly deaf and dumb by sin, would become able to hear the voice of God, the voice of love speaking to his heart, and learn to speak in the language of love, to communicate with God and with others.

For this reason, the word and the gesture of '"Ephphatha" are included in the Rite of Baptism, as one of the signs that explain its meaning: the priest touching the mouth and ears of the newly baptized says: "Ephphatha" praying that they may soon hear the Word of God and profess the faith. Through Baptism, the human person begins, so to speak, to "breathe" the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus had invoked from Father with that deep breath, to heal the deaf and dumb man.

We now turn in prayer to Mary Most Holy, whose Nativity we celebrated yesterday. Because of her unique relationship with the Incarnate Word, Mary is fully "open" to the love of the Lord, her heart is constantly listening to his Word. May her maternal intercession help us to experience every day, in faith, the miracle of '"Ephphatha," to live in communion with God and with others.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Augustine in His Own Words


You have made us for Yourself and our heart has no rest until it rests in You.
--Book III, ch. 6

The soul is weak and helpless unless it clings to the firm rock of truth. Men give voice to their opinions, but they are only opinions, like so many puffs of wind that waft the soul hither and thither and make it veer and turn. The light is clouded over and the truth cannot be seen, although it is there before our eyes.
--Book IV, ch. 14

Let the ears of my heart move close to your lips, and let me listen to you, who are the Truth . . . You are steadfast, constant in yourself; but we are tossed on a tide that puts us to the proof, and if we could not sob our troubles in your ear, what hope should we have left to us?
--Book IV, ch. 5

Make your dwelling in Him, my soul. Entrust to Him whatever you have, for all that you have is from Him. Now, at last, tired of being misled, entrust to the Truth all that the Truth has give to you and nothing will be lost. All that is withered in you will be made to thrive again. All your sickness will be healed. Your mortal body will be refashioned and renewed and firmly bound to you, and when it dies, it will not drag you with it to the grave, but will endure and abide with you before God, who abides and endures forever.
--Book IV, ch. 11

Eternal Truth, true Love, beloved Eternity – all this, my God, you are, and it is to you that I sigh by night and day. When first I knew you, you raised me up so that I could see that there was something to be seen, but also that I was not yet able to see it. I gazed on you with eyes too weak to resist the dazzle of your splendor. Your light shone upon me in its brilliance, and I thrilled with love and dread alike. I realized that I was far away from you. . . . And far off, I heard your voice saying I am the God who IS. I heard your voice, as we hear voices that speak to our hearts, and at once I had no cause to doubt. I might more easily have doubted that I was alive than that Truth had being.
--Book VII, ch. 10

When He made the world, He did not go away and leave it. By Him, it was created and in Him it exists. Wherever we taste the truth, God is there. He is in our very inmost hearts, but our hearts have strayed from Him. Think well on it, unbelieving hearts, and cling to Him who made you. Stand with Him and you shall not fall; rest in Him and peace shall be yours. * * *
--Book IV, ch. 12

Our Life Himself came down into this world and took away our death. He slew it with His own abounding life, and with thunder in His voice He called us from this world to return to Him in heaven. From heaven He came down to us, entering first the Virgin’s womb, where humanity, our mortal flesh, was wedded to Him, so that it might not be forever mortal. * * * He did not linger on His way but ran, calling us to return to Him, calling us by His words and deeds, by His life and death, by His descent into hell and His ascen­sion into heaven. He departed from our sight, so that we should turn to our hearts and find Him there. He departed, but He is here with us. He would not stay long with us, but He did not leave us. He went back to the place which He had never left, because He, through whom the world was made, was in the world, and He came into the world to save sinners.
--Book IV, ch. 12

I was in a ferment of wickedness. I deserted You and allowed myself to be carried away by the sweep of the tide. * * * But in my mother’s heart you had already begun to build Your temple and laid the foundations of Your holy dwelling * * * How presumptuous it was of me to say that You were silent, my God, when it was I who drifted farther and farther away from You! Can it be true that You said nothing to me at that time? Surely the words which rang in my ears, spoken by Your faithful servant, my mother, could have come from none but You? Yet none of them sank into my heart to make me do as You said. * * * It all seemed womanish advice to me and I should have blushed to accept it. Yet the words were Yours, though I did not know it. I thought that You were silent and that she was speaking, but all the while, You were speaking to me through her, and when I disregarded her, your handmaid, I was disregard­ing You, though I was both her son and Your servant.
--Book II, ch. 2-3

City of God--

St. Augustine points out that there cannot exist a nature in which there is no good. It is because there is still good in man that he can feel the anguish of the desolation of modern times:
"There exists, then, a nature in which there is no evil, in which, indeed, no evil can exist; but there cannot exist a nature in which there is no good. Hence not even the nature of the Devil himself is evil, in so far as it is a nature; it is perversion that makes it evil. . . . The good that God imparts, which the Devil has in his nature, does not withdraw him from God's justice by which his punishment is ordained. But God, in punishing, does not chastise the good which He created, but the evil which the Devil has committed. And God does not take away all that He gave to that nature; He takes something, and yet He leaves something, so that there may be some being left to feel pain at the deprivation.
"Now this pain is in itself evidence of the good that was taken away and the good that was left. In fact, if no good had been left there could have been no grief for lost good. For a sinner is in a worse state if he rejoices in the loss of righteousness; but a sinner who feels anguish, though he may gain no good from his anguish, is at least grieving at the loss of salvation."
--Book XIX, Chapter 13

On Free Choice of the Will--

St. Augustine teaches that evil results from freely choosing to be ignorant and by turning away from Truth: "each evil man . . . is the author of his own misdeeds. . . . Possibly, evil comes about from the fact that man turns his back upon learning and estranges himself from it. . . . to do evil is nothing than to stray from the path of learning."

Those that choose to turn away from this truth, must then live in darkness and slavery to error. "Freedom . . . is not true freedom except for those who are happy and who adhere to the eternal law." "Hence, when we say that men are unhappy by their own choice, we are not saying they want to be unhappy but that their will is such that unhappiness results of necessity and even against their will."

"Augustine: [W]hatever that nature is which rightfully excels a mind adorned with virtue, it cannot possibly be unjust. Consequently, though it were within its power to do so, not even this nature will force the mind to become a slave to passion. . . . where passion lords it over the mind, dragging it about, poor and needy, in different directions, stripped of its wealth of virtue, now mistaking the false for the true, even defending something vigorously at one time only to reject at another what it had previously demonstrated, while all the while it rushes headlong into other false judgment; now withholding all assent, while fearful for the most part of the clearest demonstrations; now in despair of the whole business of finding the truth while it clings tenaciously to the darkness of its folly; now at pains to see the light and understand, and again falling back out of weariness to the darkness? And all the while, the cruel tyranny of evil desire holds sway, disrupting the entire soul and life of man by various and conflicting surges of passion; here by fear, there by desire, here by anxiety, there by empty and spurious delights; here by torment over the loss of a loved object, there by a burning desire to acquire something not possessed; here by pain for an injury received, there by the urge to revenge an injury. On every possible side, the mind is shriveled up by greed, wasted away by sensuality, a slave to ambition, is inflated by pride, tortured by envy, deadened by sloth, kept in turmoil by obstinacy, and distressed by its condition of subjugation. And so with other countless impulses that surround and plague the rule of passion. How could we ever think that this is not a punishment when, as you see, it is something that all have to suffer who do not hold fast to wisdom?
"Evodius: I do indeed consider this a heavy penalty and one that is absolutely just, if a man, who once occupied the summit of wisdom, should choose to descend therefrom and become the slave of passion. . . . [but] man was so perfectly created by God and established in happiness that it was only by his own will that he fell from this state into the miseries of this mortal life."

"[I]t is the mark of a wicked and perverse soul to become a slave to the pursuit of those things which should rather be regulated according to the good pleasure of the soul whose right to rule derives from divine order and law. . . . we do evil from the free choice of the will."

Miscellaneous --

Believe that you may understand . . . Understand that you may believe.
--Serm. 43, 9: PL 38, 258

He who made you without your participation, does not justify you without your participation. He has made you without your knowledge; He justifies you if you will it.
--Serm 169, 11, 13: PL 38, 923.

God does not command what is impossible; but when He commands, He exhorts you to do what you can and to ask for what you cannot do.
--De natura et gratia 43, 50: PL 44, 271, Cf. Conc. Trid., D-S