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.