Stir into Flame the Gift of God

From 1983 until 2015 I was a pastor/missionary. I valued greatly when someone told me that he or she was praying for me. Even with those assurances, there were days when it seemed that I was all alone, that the spiritual burden was greater than I could bear. Because of that experience I sense a great responsibility to pray now for those in spiritual leadership over me.

If you feel spiritual attack or pushback in your daily walk with Christ as a disciple, as a father or mother, as a college or high school student, or in the workplace, imagine what your priest/pastor is experiencing in their godly role of leading you and me to Christ.

Every morning I pray the following prayer for my priest. I found the prayer in the United States Grace Force Prayer Book.

O Almighty Eternal God, look upon the face of Thy Christ, and for the love of Him who is the Eternal High Priest, have pity on Thy priests. Remember, O most compassionate God, that they are but weak and frail human beings. Stir up in them the grace of their vocation which is in them by the imposition of the bishop’s hands. Keep them close to Thee, lest the Enemy prevail against them, so that they may never do anything in the slightest degree unworthy of their sublime vocation.

O Jesus, I pray Thee for Thy faithful and fervent priests; for Thy unfaithful and tepid priests; for Thy priests laboring at home or abroad in distant mission fields; for Thy tempted priests; for Thy lonely and desolate priests; for Thy young priests; for Thy aged priests; for Thy sick priests; for Thy dying priests; for the souls of Thy priests in purgatory.

But above all I commend to Thee the priests dearest to me; the priest who baptized me; the priests who absolved me from my sins; the priests at whose Masses I assisted, and who gave me Thy Body and Blood in Holy Communion; the priests who taught and instructed me, or helped and encouraged me; all the priests to whom I am indebted in any other way, particularly [Name(s)]. O Jesus, keep them all close to Thy Heart, and bless them abundantly in time and in eternity. Amen.

Imprimatur +Robert C. Morlino, Bishop of Madison, 6 September 2018

Sounding the Alarm

I started my day by reading the following from Blessed Charles de Foucauld:

“We must stand up for the rights of our neighbour who is suffering from injustice; we must defend them all the more vigorously because we see Jesus present in them. Surely this is our duty because of our love for others for his sake. We have no right to be ‘sleeping watchmen’ or dumb watch-dogs. Whenever we see evil we must sound the alarm.”

Blessed Charles served as a cavalry officer in the French army, as well as an explorer and geographer, before becoming a Catholic priest and hermit who lived among Tuareg in the Sahara Desert in Algeria. He was assassinated in 1916 and is considered a martyr and in the near future he will be canonized as a saint.

Charles de Foucauld lived among the Tuareg, a tribe of Muslims, for nearly 15 years. He studied their culture and learned their language and published the first French-Tuareg dictionary. He compiled the poetry of the Tuareg with the hope that it would help him to evangelize them. He spent his days praying, working, and caring for the very poor nomads that lived around him.

Foucauld’s curriculum vitae is very different from ours, but our call to care and seek justice. What is justice? The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines it this way:

Justice Is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor. Justice toward God is called the ‘virtue of religion.’ Justice toward men disposes one to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good. The just man, often mentioned in the Sacred Scriptures, is distinguished by habitual right thinking and the uprightness of his conduct toward his neighbor. ‘You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.’ (Leviticus 19:15)” (CCC, ¶1807).

Where do you see evil? Any where God or your fellow human beings (from conception to natural death) are not given their due, there is injustice. We are called to love God, to worship him, to recognize that he is the creator and author of our lives. We are called to love our neighbors as ourselves, to respect their rights and seek harmony in all relationships. I tend to want to go big, so big that I become frustrated and do nothing. The injustice can overwhelm us. Yet, the first step we take is to see Jesus present in each person and to love him or her for Jesus’ sake. Let’s join Blessed Charles de Foucauld in his prayer of abandonment.

Blessed Charles de Foucauld’s Prayer of Abandonment

Father, I put myself in your hands.
I abandon myself to you, I entrust myself to you.
Make of me what you will.
Whatever you make of me, I thank you,
I am ready for everything, I accept everything,
I thank you for everything.
Provided that your will be done in me, Lord,
as in all your creatures, in all your children,
in all those whom your heart loves,
I desire nothing else.
I put my soul in your hands,
I give it to you, Lord, with all the love in my heart,
because I love you,
and because it is for me a need of love
to give myself, to put myself in your hands,
I put myself in your hands with infinite trust,
for you are my Father. Amen.

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

International Week of Prayer for Christian Unity | USCCB

I was reminded this morning at Mass that this is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The prayer corresponds to the intention of Jesus in his high priestly in John 17, prayed the evening of his arrest and the night before his crucifixion. Jesus prayed, “That they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (John 17:21 Douay-Rheims).

The desire to see the answer to Jesus’ prayer has played a major role in my spiritual journey. My very first blog on this site begins to share that story with you.

Over the weekend Charlotte and I read a new book by Bishop Joseph E. Strickland of the Diocese of Tyler, Texas. In the book, Light and Leaven: The Challenge of the Laity in the Twenty-first Century, Bishop Strickland “offers a forthright perspective on the state of the Church and the world today and calls on the lay faithful to meet its challenges unflinchingly. We must not shrink from the culture, but be a light to it; we must not retreat from the world but leaven it with grace and truth.” (from the back cover).

One of the sections in the book is entitled, “The True Spirit of Ecumenism.” I found it an excellent treatment of the desire for Christian unity in 2021.

The True Spirit of Ecumenism

I’ve often said weddings and funerals and presided in other settings where I knew there were numerous non-Catholics. We really have to honor the zealous faith of Evangelical Protestants. They are true disciples of Jesus Christ, often better Christians than we are—they’re doing it with minimal rations! We have a banquet of sacraments and saints and history and liturgy and the Magisterium, and they just have (their own private interpretation of) the scriptures. And not even all the scriptures—the complete canon of the Bible came about through the authoritative discernment of the Catholic Church, and they reject parts of that canon.

One of the great fruits of Vatican II, one that didn’t get tainted as much by the worldly “spirit,” has been Scripture studies—a greater appreciation of how the Bible is our book. And even the liturgy has been enriched through greater exposure to Scripture than before the council.

So we’ve got everything in the banquet of supernatural truth in the Catholic Church, but although Evangelicals lack our provisions, many practice admirable faith and make great sacrifices to live it. Many of them have been staunch allies in defense of unborn life and in other battles between Christianity and the secular culture. I have visited with them in such efforts, and they’re right there with us. Here in East Texas, one some of these issues Catholics are closer with their Evangelical Protestant brothers and sisters than they are with Catholics in some other parts of the country. On the life issues, on sexual morality, on the importance of traditional marriage, and on respect for this nation and its values, we are comfortable together as Catholics and Protestants. They are the salt of the earth.

Of course, what we believe about contraception is not even in their universe (with rare exceptions). “It’s just one of those Catholic things” (even though it isn’t). I pray, though, that as more of our Evangelical friends take note of the evil fruits of contraception, of the breakdown of families and society, they may start to appreciate the coherence of Catholic sexual morality—how our beliefs about marriage, sex, and unborn life are all of a piece—and become closer allies still.

In fact, over the years I’ve had a number of people and ministers from Protestant churches talk to me about that. I try to convey to them that the truth is the truth. It’s not Catholic truth versus Protestant truth. It’s simply the truth. It is reality.

Ecumenism is great, and we want to be loving and friendly with everyone. But ultimately it has to be about more than static dialogue or mutual understanding—it has to be about returning all Christians, even all people outside of Christian communities, to full communion with the Church. It can’t get stuck on “Well, you’ve got your truth and I’ve got my truth and we’ll agree to tolerate our differences.”

The Catholic Church is the Church Jesus established. The goal is for everyone to be part of his Church. I think when you’re honest with yourself and others on this point, ecumenism as we have become used to practicing it kind of falls apart. I’m not going to become part of some other Christian group, and I’m not going to compromise what the Catholic Church teaches in order to get cozier with some other Christian group. The Catholic Church is an imperfect institution, but it is holy and it is true because the Holy Spirit animates and guides her. So the endgame of ecumenism, if it is authentic, Spirit-led ecumenism, has to be complete unity in the fullness of the faith we confess together.

Are there Anglicans or Methodists out there who believe that ultimately everyone in the world needs to be Anglican or Methodist? I doubt that’s the approach they would take. So the kind of relativistic ecumenism that predominates, the kind that papers over differences and sets a low bar for similarities, seems more of a natural fit on the mainstream Protestant side. (Though of course there are Fundamentalists who think Catholics aren’t even real Christians, so they probably aren’t interested in that sort of ecumenism!)

But if you really believe what we believe—that the Eucharist really is Christ’s body and blood, soul and divinity, and that Christ wants the whole world to be fed with it, not just the Catholic Club—then any goal short of that isn’t good enough.

I’ve often said we tend to be too literally “cradle Catholics”: we’re asleep, dozed off in the beauty of what we just kind of inherited or stumbled into because we happened to be born into a family that had us baptized as infants and gave us the basics of the Faith. A lot of the strength of the Church today is in converts who have embraced the Catholic faith after a long journey; they value Catholicism more because they had to learn for themselves how it’s of divine origin. They had to work through objections and the inertia of their former life and seize Catholic truth for their own, identify with it fully.

Many cradle Catholics, in contrast (and also some converts) have not had to “do the work” of studying and owning the Faith. Certainly, Catholicism is much more than just an intellectual enterprise, but the intellectual aspect is quite significant. Through study, we can come to really know who Jesus Christ is and what he has revealed to humanity. And of course, the Church began with adult converts! Many of her members who were contemporaries with Jesus never actually met him, but they came to know him by coming to know his teachings. So I think converts teach us a lot about how we should approach sharing the message of Jesus, the message of the Catholic Church, in today’s world.

Yet it seems as if today in the Church there’s too much of an anti-conversion attitude. “Let Protestants be saved by Protestantism and we’ll be saved in our slightly different brand of Christianity.” There’s a loss of evangelical fervor, too, as was hinted at during the Amazon synod. “Let’s not baptize anyone; instead, let’s see what the Church can learn from paganism.” Let’s admire their idols and see what we have in common. We’re not supposed to “proselytize,” which is supposed to mean that we don’t force the Faith on people, but it has functionally come to mean that we never try to convert anyone.

I think that’s anti-Christian. It’s not what Christ said, and it’s not what I believe Christ calls us to do.

If we don’t really believe the Faith enough to share it, to shout it from the rooftops, to tell other people that Catholicism is true and what they believe is at least partly false, then honestly, I quit. I don’t want any part of an amorphous, homogenous, compromised glob that doesn’t believe in much of anything. There’s plenty of that in the world already. If the Church was just one among many such groups, I would have to go work at Walmart or something.

But from the depths of my soul I’m constrained from following any other path because I do believe that Christ is the answer and that the Church presents Christ in his fullness. And as long as I’m breathing, I will continue to hold up that full Christ, who, through the Church he founded, offers rest to the restless heart of every person in the world. — Bishop Joseph E. Strickland

A good start on one 2021 goal

Freezing Fog
I’m enjoying the frozen fog in the trees of Madison, WI as I sit with God in Lectio Divina.

As I wrote recently, I was successful in completing one of my three goals for 2020—reading the Bible daily, thus reading through all 73 books of the Bible in one year!

This year I sensed a need to spend more time in smaller chunks of the Bible. I wanted to get back to practicing Lectio Divina and decided to use the Gospel reading for each day (lectionary) to move my way through the four Gospels.

Yesterday I saw a meme that said: “I’d like to cancel my subscription to 2021. I’ve experienced the free 7-day trial and I’m not interested.” We have gotten off to a rough start! But I am finding that my time with God in Scripture, unhurriedly reflecting and praying, is making a difference in how I see God, myself, and the world in 2021.

So far in eight days I have experienced the following:

Friday, January 1 — Solemnity of Holy Mary, Mother of GodLuke 2:16–21
And they [the shepherds] went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child; and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.

What the shepherds heard and saw, they made known concerning the Christ child. Hearing and seeing the Good News should lead us to declare as we share with others.

Father, you have revealed so much to me and made me privy to your great work of salvation. May I not keep it to myself, but share with others in such a way that they will be able to share with others.

Saturday, January 2 — Saints Basil the Great and Gregory NazianzenJohn 1:19–28
“What do you say about yourself?” [John] said, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

John (the Baptist) certainly had a specific role and ministry as the forerunner to Jesus, of preparing the way for the Lord. Yet every disciple of Jesus shares in the ministry of being a “voice of one crying in the wilderness” in which we found ourselves. Not only are we to conform our lives to the Lord, “make straight the way of the Lord,” we are to call others to that life-altering encounter as well.

Sunday, January 3 — The Epiphany of the LordMatthew 2:1–12
When they [the Wise Men] saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy; and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him.

In Matthew 2:2 we find the Wise Men arriving in Jerusalem and asking, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him.”

After meeting with Herod and explaining the purpose of their pilgrimage, Herod feigns devotion in order to discover more about this potential rival and says, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”

Worship is the focus of this entire narrative. When the Wise Men reach the house where the Child lived, guided by the star, they entered and fell down and worshiped him. They fell down. This was no nod of the head, or stiff bow or even a genuflect of the knee; they fell down upon both knees and they worshiped. What can we learn from the Wise Men as we approach this same Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament? O, come let us adore him!

Monday, January 4 — Saint Elizabeth Ann SetonMatthew 4:12–17, 23–25
From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” … And he went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people.

The coming of the kingdom of heaven elicits a response from us. We are called to repent. To repent is to recognize our current condition and turn away from it and in so doing turn to God; it is to go in the opposite direction—do a 180 degree change. We cannot remain in our life and practice of sin and enter the kingdom of heaven.

Tuesday, January 5 — Saint John NeumannMark 6:34–44
And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a lonely place, and the hour is now late; send them away, to go into the country and villages round about and buy themselves something to eat.” But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.”

There are obvious connections between the story of the feeding the 5,000 and the Eucharistic meal that Jesus offers us at every Mass. It was in this context in John’s Gospel that Jesus referred to himself as the Bread of Life. The disciples want Jesus to send the crowds away so that they can find their own sustenance. But Jesus turns the tables and tells them, “You give them something to eat.”

This continues to be the dilemma for God’s people. Too often the successors of the apostles are sending people away to fend for themselves and all the while they have access to the blessed Bread of Life and could provide life and nourishment to the flock.

Father, I pray a great awakening on men who are often more concerned about the social issue du jour than for the eternal destiny of those placed under their charge. I pray for a mighty move among these men and if they are not willing to give us something to eat, may another take their place.

Wednesday, January 6 — Saint André BessetteMark 6:45–52 (Actual day of Epiphany)
Jesus has fed the multitude. He puts his disciples in a boat. He dismisses the crowd. He goes up into a mountain to pray. It’s around 3:00 a.m. and the disciples are still on the lake frantically rowing against the wind. Jesus sees them in distress. He goes out to them walking on the water. But we are told, “he meant to pass by them.”

In the early days of my life and labor in this new location I am entering new areas and even some potential challenges. The religious and political landscape is tempestuous and the gale force winds are downright fearsome. I seek to row as the water washes over the boat. I look at Jesus as the disciples did and say, “You are not asleep in the boat. You’re not in the boat!” Then I look up and see a figure, a person seemingly with intention to walk right past me. Walk right past me? How is this happening? Who can walk on water?

Lord, if it’s you, why do you intend to pass me by? Like the disciples, I cry out to you. You come my way and get into my boat. The winds calm down. I don’t fully understand you or your intention. My heart is hard! Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!

Thursday, January 7 — Saint Raymond of PeñafortLuke 4:14–22
And he taught in their synagogue, being glorified by all. … And all spoke well of him, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth; and they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”

So the crowds in the synagogues were amazed and spoke well of Jesus as he taught them, even when he returned home to Nazareth. However, in Nazareth they still considered him as Joseph’s son and for them that limited the impact of his words.

Our perception of Jesus, if it is not grounded in divine revelation, will erect barriers and we will attempt to discount his teaching and his authority in our lives.

Friday, January 8 — Our Lady of Prompt SuccorLuke 5:12–16
“…and when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face…”

This comes from the story of Jesus cleansing a leper. The leper was in a sad state of affairs, and when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.”

This is the second incident of bowing before Jesus in the Scripture readings this week. The first was on Sunday when the Magi saw the child Jesus and they fell down and worshiped him (Matthew 2).

Jesus healed the leper and he went away whole, 100 percent cleansed of his leprosy. This healing miracle began with an act of worship and a statement of faith: “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” What does God want to accomplish in my life through worship that is grounded in faith?

Three Goals for 2020

2020 memes: The embodiment of this dumpster fire of a year – Film Daily

This is the next-to-last day of 2020. This morning as I was writing in my journal, something I try to do most days, I decided to see what I had written at this time last year. I found there three goals that I hoped to accomplish during this year that is near its end.

  1. To read through the entire Bible in the Douay Rheims translation. The DRB is a translation of the Bible from the Latin Vulgate into English. The New Testament was published in 1582, and the Old Testament in 1609-1610, before the King James Version in 1611.
  2. To endeavor to walk 10,000 steps each day, using my trusty Fitbit and taking advantage of my treadmill if the weather didn’t permit outside walking.
  3. To lose five pounds a month over the course of the year resulting in the loss of 60 pounds.

How did I do with my goals in a year that was the “gift” that just kept on giving: working from home 12 weeks due to COVID, losing my job and doing free-lance work for five months, and then moving from New Jersey to Wisconsin to take on new role?

Let’s start with #3. The weight loss thing really suffered with being homebound, especially with COVID snacks. So I ended the year right where I began it. Makes sense, but it was a goal frustrated.

Then there’s the walking goal. Now being homebound or having bad weather did nothing to keep me from walking 10,000 steps each day. How did I do? With today and tomorrow to go, I attained 10,000 steps a total of 40 days! Ouch!!! And two of those days were the days I moved out of our apartment in New Jersey and the day we moved into our apartment in Wisconsin. So I had less than an 11% success rate! And I sold my treadmill when I moved! And I lost my Fitbit! Any other excuses?

So how did I do on the first goal of reading through the whole Bible? and for me that means 73 books, not 66! I had a chart that I used to mark off each day that I downloaded from The New Saint Thomas Institute and that helped me keep on track. So here’s the final tally: tomorrow morning, December 31, I will read 2 Maccabees 13—15, Sirach 51, and Revelation 22. I will achieve my goal of reading through the entire Bible in the Douay Rheims translation!

I really enjoyed and benefitted from this exercise. And I am reminded of words of St. Paul to Timothy: For bodily exercise is profitable to little: but godliness is profitable to all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. (1 Timothy 4:8, DRB)

While I wished I had accomplished all my goals, I am thankful that I made good on the first goal. With it came a growing faithfulness in prayer and consistency in the powerful weapon of praying the Rosary. I know that is what sustained me in all of the exigencies that presented themselves in 2020.

Handel’s Messiah in the Liturgy

How Handel wrote 'Messiah' is topic of Evening Talk; Star Party to follow |  Penn State University

As I read, and later heard the reading of the Old Testament in the Mass this morning, it seemed as if I were listening to a selection from Handel’s Messiah. George Frideric Handel composed the music for Messiah and the text compiled by Charles Jennens comes from the King James Version of the Bible.

So we read in Malachi 3:1-4 is what can be heard in the sixth section: “But who may abide the day of his coming?”

Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts.

But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap:

And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.

Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the Lord, as in the days of old, and as in former years.

I love Handel’s Messiah! It is my goal to listen to the complete work at least once during the Advent/Christmas season. I also love how the music plays in my head when I hear the related Scripture read in the Liturgy. What a powerful presentation of the story of God’s plan of redemption!

My friend Jon Tyson once stated that he believed that certain works of art and music will be enjoyed in heaven throughout eternity. He felt Handel’s Messiah would be on that list. I agree.

The unjust knows no shame

The Danger of the Evening Wolf - Daily Devotional from Truth For Life
“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” (Hosea 4:6 RSV)

If you have spent any time reading the Bible you will find a recurring theme. When individuals or nations misbehave, or let’s just say it—sin—God calls them on it. He sent the prophet Nathan to speak to King David about his sin with Bathsheba. He sent many prophets to call out Israel for her sins. Today’s first reading in the Mass is one of those situations where God uses the prophet Zephaniah to speak to King Josiah about the wickedness of Judah and the nations around her.

The reading in our lectionary takes up the first two verses of Zephaniah 3 and then skips to verse 9 to verse 13.

Woe to her that is rebellious and defiled, the oppressing city!
She listens to no voice, she accepts no correction.
She does not trust in the Lord, she does not draw near to her God.
(Zephaniah 3:1–2 RSV)

The next six verses are omitted in the reading.

Her officials within her are roaring lions;
her judges are evening wolves that leave nothing till the morning.
Her prophets are wanton, faithless men;
her priests profane what is sacred, they do violence to the law.
The Lord within her is righteous, he does no wrong;
every morning he shows forth his justice,
each dawn he does not fail;
but the unjust knows no shame.

Then the Lord speaks:

“I have cut off nations; their battlements are in ruins;
I have laid waste their streets so that none walks in them;
their cities have been made desolate, without a man, without an inhabitant.
I said, ‘Surely she will fear me, she will accept correction;
she will not lose sight of all that I have enjoined upon her.’
But all the more they were eager to make all their deeds corrupt.”

“Therefore wait for me,” says the Lord, “for the day when I arise as a witness.
For my decision is to gather nations, to assemble kingdoms,
to pour out upon them my indignation, all the heat of my anger;
for in the fire of my jealous wrath all the earth shall be consumed. (Zephaniah 3:3–8 RSV)

The Mass reading picks up again at verse 9:

“Yes, at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech,
that all of them may call on the name of the Lord and serve him with one accord.
From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia my suppliants, the daughter of my dispersed ones,
shall bring my offering.

“On that day you shall not be put to shame
because of the deeds by which you have rebelled against me;
for then I will remove from your midst
your proudly exultant ones,
and you shall no longer be haughty in my holy mountain.
For I will leave in the midst of you a people humble and lowly.
They shall seek refuge in the name of the Lord,
those who are left in Israel;
they shall do no wrong and utter no lies,
nor shall there be found in their mouth a deceitful tongue.
For they shall pasture and lie down,
and none shall make them afraid.”
(Zephaniah 3:9–13 RSV)

I wonder why those six verses were omitted? It could be explained easily as needing to shorten the reading. Could be. Or perhaps the committee who selected the readings felt the first two verses sufficiently explained the wickedness of the nations. Could be.

Call me suspicious, even cynical, but I suspect the omitted verses were too intense. They call out four groups of people who were the leading culprits in leading Israel and the nations into wickedness: the officials, the judges, the prophets and the priests.

Her officials within her are roaring lions;
her judges are evening wolves that leave nothing till the morning.
Her prophets are wanton, faithless men;
her priests profane what is sacred, they do violence to the law.

When was the last time you heard a messenger from God boldly call out government officials, judges, prophets and religious leaders? If he or she did, public opinion, the media, and the powers that be would squash them, they would ridicule them as not being sensitive, not being politically correct, not being tolerant. And so those things that grieve God and pull us farther from him continue unchecked, unabated.

What Zephaniah tells us in the full context of his prophecy is that God is not like these human leaders. God is righteous. God does no wrong. Every morning God shows forth his justice, but is anyone paying attention? Each dawn God does not fail, but are we appreciative and responsive? Sadly, we often follow the example of our leaders in government, culture, entertainment and even in faith, and we are unjust and we know no shame!

God have mercy on us! God have mercy on our leaders in government and especially in the Church! Let’s seek our refuge in the Lord. Let’s do no wrong. Let’s utter no lies. Then we will pasture and lie down with our Good Shepherd and we will not be afraid!

Do Catholics pray to the saints?

Circle of friends: A closer look at the communion of saints

A few weeks ago I engaged someone close to me in conversation. He is not Catholic and actually has some prejudice about Catholicism. I asked him what were the main issues for him that created antibodies. His immediate answer was that Catholics pray to and worship the saints. I attempted to explain to him about the “communion of the saints” and how the Church is one yet composed of the Church Triumphant (the saints in heaven) and the Church Militant (those of us earth). I didn’t get into the Church Suffering (the faithful souls in Purgatory)—that will be a blog for another day. I told him that death does not separate us and that we are still part of the same Body of Christ. Finally, I told him that if I had a need I would not hesitate to ask my brother or sister in Christ to pray for me, how much more those who are already in the very presence of God.

He was not convinced with my explanation. I didn’t try to push him into believing. Honestly, that is a work of the Holy Spirit who guides us into the Church and teaches us through Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium of the Church. However, I did come across a treatise written by St. Augustine, a saint highly esteemed by Protestant and Catholic alike. His treatise is included in the Office of Readings today for the feast day of Pope St. Damasus I.

From a treatise against Faustus by Saint Augustine, bishop:

We, the Christian community, assemble to celebrate the memory of the martyrs with ritual solemnity because we want to be inspired to follow their example, share in their merits, and be helped by their prayers. Yet we erect no altars to any of the martyrs, even in the martyrs’ burial chapels themselves.

No bishop, when celebrating at an altar where these holy bodies rest, has ever said, “Peter, we make this offering to you,” or “Paul, to you,” or “Cyprian, to you.” No, what is offered is offered always to God, who crowned the martyrs. We offer in the chapels where the bodies of those he crowned rest, so the memories that cling to those places will stir our emotions and encourage us to greater love both for the martyrs whom we can imitate and for God whose grace enables us to do so.

So we venerate the martyrs with the same veneration of love and fellowship that we give to the holy men of God still with us. We sense that the hearts of these latter are just as ready to suffer death for the sake of the Gospel, and yet we feel more devotion toward those who have already emerged victorious from the struggle. We honor those who are fighting on the battlefield of this life here below, but we honor more confidently those who have already achieved the victor’s crown and live in heaven.

But the veneration strictly called “worship,” or latria, that is, the special homage belonging only to the divinity, is something we give and teach others to give to God alone. The offering of a sacrifice belongs to worship in this sense (that is why those who sacrifice to idols are call idol-worshipers), and we neither make nor tell others to make any such offering to any martyr, any holy soul, or any angel. If anyone among us falls into this error, he is corrected with words of sound doctrine and must then either mend his ways or else be shunned.

The saints themselves forbid anyone to offer them the worship they know is reserved for God, as is clear from the case of Paul and Barnabas. When the Lycaonians were so amazed by their miracles that they wanted to sacrifice to them as gods, the apostles tore their garments, declared that they were not gods, urged the people to believe them, and forbade them to worship them.

Yet the truths we teach are one thing, the abuses thrust upon us are another. There are commandments that we are bound to give; there are breaches of them that we are commanded to correct, but until we correct them we must of necessity put up with them. (Lib. 20, 21; CSEL 25, 562-563)

Look forgivingly on thy flock, Eternal Shepherd, and keep it in thy constant protection, by the intercession of blessed Damasus thy Sovereign Pontiff, whom thou didst constitute Shepherd of the whole Church.

Through Jesus Christ, thy Son our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

“Buddy-buddy Christianity”

priest standing beside altar

I have mentioned before in this blog that I am reading through the Bible in 2020. On this 10th day of December I began reading in The Apocalypse of St. John the Apostle, more commonly known as the book of Revelation. St. John was one of Jesus’ original 12 disciples, one of his inner circle of three along with his brother St. James and their fishing companion St. Peter. John is the author of the fourth Gospel that bears his name and he also wrote three letters: 1, 2 and 3 John. John refers to himself in his Gospel, not by name but as the disciple “whom Jesus loved.” According to tradition, his mother Salome was a sister to the Blessed Virgin Mary, making John the first cousin of our Lord. He, of course, is the disciple to whom Jesus entrusted his mother in the final hours of his life on the cross.

So with that in mind, I invite you to join me in reading John’s encounter with the risen, glorified Christ on the Lord’s day in the first chapter of Revelation (1:9–18, RSV).

I John, your brother, who share with you in Jesus the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Per′gamum and to Thyati′ra and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to La-odice′a.”

Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden girdle round his breast; his head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters; in his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth issued a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand upon me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one; I died, and behold I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”

So John, the beloved disciple, who walked and lived with Jesus for three years, who leaned on his breast at the Last Supper, encounters Jesus in all his glory and how does he respond? He doesn’t say, “Jesus, what’s up?” nor does he call him “buddy” or even “Rabbi.” He writes, “when I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.”

Seven years ago my mother-in-law passed away. The day after her death, my father-in-law engaged three of his children and me in a very significant conversation. At this point my wife’s father was in his 90s and due to physical infirmities found it difficult to communicate clearly. However, that morning he was articulate and to the point. The overall tenor of his expression was sadness due to the lack of unity in the family over religion. He identified how he understood the religious practice of each of us in the room. When he came to my wife and me, he talked about our “buddy-buddy Christianity.” I didn’t need much commentary to understand what he was referring to.

Our practice of faith was casual, low-key, and interactive. That carried over into our expression of faith and how we shared our faith. Jesus was Lord, but he was mainly our best friend. I never would have considered falling at his feet as though dead. Also, I would have been very careful not to ruffle anyone’s feathers by insisting on Jesus’ kingship. No, Jesus loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. Nothing wrong with that message, but it isn’t the whole story according to John in Revelation 1. The Jesus upon whose breast he leaned, now was so “awesome” that he fell to his feet as dead.

Fast forward to the present and I am a Catholic convert. No longer is Communion merely a symbol of Jesus’ Body and Blood, received at the whim of the pastor’s planning or the church’s schedule, but the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. In every Mass I go forward and receive the host on my tongue, I am receiving the actual Body and Blood of Christ. While the host still retains the appearance of bread, in reality it is now the Body of Christ. Therefore, being the Body of Christ, special reverence is given to Christ in the Sacrament, and also in the Tabernacle where the host is kept, and also in the church where the Tabernacle resides.

When I come into the church I immediately recognize the very presence of the Risen and Glorified Jesus Christ. He is waiting for me. That will impact my conduct. I will show reverence in my conduct, my speech and my activity. I have entered into sacred space. I have entered into the presence of the eternal King. I have entered his courts with praise. It is fitting for me to bend the knee before him. We call that “genuflection.” Unless physically impossible, a simple neck bow will not do. I have come into the Holy of holies. In the Old Testament a person who entered the “Holy of holies” unworthily was struck dead!

That’s another reason why the Tabernacle that houses the host is situated in the center of the altar. Although many tabernacles were moved off to the side or to another location in the church nearly 50 years ago, we should make every effort to return the Tabernacle to its rightful place. Why is this? Because Jesus is the center of our faith, our life and our hope. Our eyes should be drawn to his holy majesty. He is our focus, our North Star, our guiding light.

When we encounter the living Christ in the Holy Eucharist, we heard the same words he spoke to St. John: “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one; I died, and behold I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. What happened to John as this encounter with Jesus? He was given a mission. Jesus told him, “Now write what you see, what is and what is to take place hereafter.” (Revelation 1:19 RSV).

John wrote the book of Revelation after his encounter with Christ. The revelation is God’s definitive word of how he will work through his Church and counter the assaults of the enemy against all of God’s creation. What a mission John undertook! What mission will we receive when we properly approach and receive our Lord Jesus in Holy Eucharist? I can’t tell you what it will be, but I can tell you it will change your life! When Isaiah had his encounter with the holy, holy, holy God, his first response was “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips,… for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5 RSV). He was touched with a hot coal that purified his lips. Subsequently he was called to a mission. He responded: “Here am I! Send me.” (6:8 RSV).

“Lord, I am not worthy,… but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” “Hear am I! Send me.”

Is 2020 pressing on your last nerve?

men's white dress shirt

Each morning the Daily Readings in the lectionary are part of my devotional time. These are the readings that are read in the daily Mass. Some mornings a verse will jump out at me. Other mornings I am hard pressed to remember what I read. Today I decided to revisit the readings and soak in them a little longer.

My wife and I have just moved from South Jersey to Wisconsin. I accepted a position with a parish in Madison and have been on the job now three days. I come to the role with energy and excitement, but I can in no way ignore that this is the twelfth month of the year 2020. Allow me to share just a little about my 2020. I’m sure we will have some points in common.

January 2020: My dad died from Parkinson’s at the age of 87. Little did I know that I was given a great gift in being able to attend his funeral. So many others were not afforded that opportunity in their loss due to what was coming.

March 2020: We were introduced to the Coronavirus (COVID-19). So very little was known, except that it was highly contagious. We were asked to quarantine for 15 days to slow the spread. For me, as for many others, that meant working from home. At the same time our religious services/Masses were suspended. We didn’t know it then, but that would go on for at least three months. For some it continues.

May 2020: We watched with horror the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Protests over his death took place in many places. Unfortunately, some of these protests were co-opted and became riots with looting destroying businesses and even homes. There was a general sense of anger, frustration and hopelessness that pervaded our lives.

June 2020: After working from home 12 weeks, I was notified that due to restructuring, my job was being eliminated. Suddenly I had no job. I joined a vast number of other people who also lost their livelihood. We were able to return to Mass with many safeguards in place.

July/August 2020: I sent out resume after resume, but nothing seemed to attract anyone’s attention.

September 2020: I interviewed for my current position and planned a trip to America’s Dairyland.

October 2020: I traveled to Wisconsin to see first-hand the job opportunity. The grip that COVID had on the nation was evident in the precautions taken in the airports, airplanes and in all public settings. While in Madison, I accepted the new position.

November 2020: Packing, celebrating Thanksgiving, praying for friends and family members who contracted the virus, and a presidential election that truly divided the nation occupied the month.

That brings me to December and I’m on the job as Director of Evangelization and Community Outreach for Good Shepherd Parish. My responsibility is to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with those who have not heard and with those who really aren’t sure there is good news. And hopefully encourage all of us who need some good news!

For a people who are weary, worn down and worried as 2020 comes to an end, especially in this season of Advent, this morning’s readings are a source of “glad tidings of comfort and joy!”

Isaiah 40:28–31
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary, his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. (RSV)

If that wasn’t enough, Jesus, the eternal Son of God, comes among us and reinforces this incredible news we first hear from the prophet Isaiah!

Matthew 11:28–30
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (RSV)

I have a feeling that Jesus understands when life presses on our last nerve. I cannot but accept his invitation to come.