Potpourri on the Last Day of October

Happy All Hallows Eve! also known as Hallowe’en! Today is the first of three days (triduum) that the Church observes, followed by All Saints Day and All Souls Day. The three-fold observance commemorates the reality of heaven and hell, the communion of saints, and our obligation to pray for the Holy Souls in Purgatory. (Morning Offering from the Catholic Company)

Today is also the 501st anniversary of what is generally called the Protestant Reformation, but sometimes referred to as the “Protestant Revolt.” One of the issues that Fr. Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk, had with the Roman Catholic Church was the doctrine of Purgatory. It seems he never denied it, but disagreed with some points regarding it.

Great news comes out of Pakistan today. Pakistan’s Supreme Court acquitted Asia Bibi who was condemned to death in 2010 for blasphemy. A wife and mother of five children, she has been on death row for eight years awaiting her execution for allegedly having blasphemed the prophet Mohammed. Both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis had appealed for her release. This is a major victory for Asia Bibi, and potentially for others who have been accused of blasphemy in Pakistan. However, it is hard to predict as riots broke out in that country after the ruling.

The Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act would allow adults who received a prognosis of less than six months to live access to prescription medication that would end their lives. (News 12 New Jersey) There is strong support for this bill in the New Jersey legislature and it is likely to pass the Assembly. In previous attempts the Senate never took it up because then Governor Chris Christie guaranteed his veto. Current Governor Phil Murphy supports the bill, and so unless the populace expresses its opposition to the bill it will likely become law, making New Jersey the sixth state, plus the District of Columbia to allow doctors to prescribe medication to end someone’s life. Seventy percent of New Jerseyans support the bill becoming law. Last Sunday I heard a very good presentation from Monsignor Louis Marucci of St. Andrew the Apostle Roman Catholic Church in Gibbsboro, New Jersey. Read his letter to the New Jersey Assembly in the church bulletin for October 28, 2018 here.

November brings us the mid-term elections. There are plenty of reasons to be praying and to vote. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) will be meeting in Baltimore during the second week of November. They have a lot to process in light of all the disturbing and distressing news that has become public since the revelations concerning ex-Cardinal McCarrick on June 20. Thanksgiving is an opportunity to get with family. I’m looking forward to joining my wife, my sister and her husband in Florida to spend time with my dad and stepmother. We certainly have so much to be thankful for.

 

 

 

Potpourri on the Last Day of October

Evangelization: New or Otherwise

Last night Charlotte and I attended a dinner with our pastor and several other parishioners in preparation for our participation in a diocesan retreat on evangelization. Besides a lovely meal, we spent time sharing our stories and our particular interest and involvement in evangelization. We look forward to meeting monthly to continue to plan and pray in anticipation of the March 2019 retreat. This prompted me to search out what we mean by evangelization, something the Church has been engaged in for 2000 years.

What is the New Evangelization?

The website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops answers the question as follows: “The New Evangelization calls each of us to deepen our faith, believe in the Gospel message and go forth to proclaim the Gospel. The focus of the New Evangelization calls all Catholics to be evangelized and then go forth to evangelize. In a special way, the New Evangelization is focused on ‘re-proposing’ the Gospel to those who have experienced a crisis of faith. Pope Benedict XVI called for the re-proposing of the Gospel ‘to those regions awaiting the first evangelization and to those regions where the roots of Christianity are deep but who have experienced a serious crisis of faith due to secularization.’ The New Evangelization invites each Catholic to renew their relationship with Jesus Christ and his Church.”*

The Diocese of Camden, on their web page states: “We have the vision of evangelization for the Diocese of Camden rooted in the words of Bishop Galante: ‘Evangelization is not a program. It is to bring people into a relationship with Jesus’  We see evangelization as a continuous three-step process. We are invited to live this process and incorporate new parish members into this experience:

  1. Discovering Jesus through a personal encounter with him.
  2. Following Jesus, becoming his disciple.
  3. Proclaiming the Good News is to be a witness of Jesus.”

We were given a gift from the bishop, a book by Chris Lowney, Everyone Leads: How to Revitalize the Catholic Church. I confess I approach the book with hesitation and some prejudice as it is written from a entrepreneurial viewpoint. I am allergic to business strategies being employed to share the good news of Jesus Christ to a lost world. I will read the book and mark it up and let you know what I discover.

I found another book on my shelf by Dr. Scott Hahn called Evangelizing Catholics: A Mission Manual for the New Evangelization. I will reread it alongside the other. I will mark it up and let you know what I discover.

The bottom line is, as Lowney states on page 5 of his book, “The apostles were blessed by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, not with Harvard Business School educations.” He goes on to say, “Still, whether by intuition or by the Holy Spirit’s guidance, our earliest leaders embodied all the traits that today’s great leaders manifest: they were creative, took risks, adapted to new circumstances, unleashed each person’s talents, never wavered from their core values, emphasized the mission above all, and acted courageously, thanks to the transformation that God’s Spirit worked within them.”

Holy Spirit, guide your Church and may we be your ready servants, completely at your disposition to share the love and mercy of God with our generation!

Evangelization: New or Otherwise

“I Want to See!”

One of my favorite cameo characters in the Gospels is Bartimaeus, the blind man. Jesus heals many people and many of them go unnamed, but not Bartimaeus. St. Mark identifies him as “Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus.” I love his spunk, his lack of decorum, his insistence, and his desire to have an encounter with Jesus so that he could be healed of his blindness.

Yesterday’s Gospel reading was from Mark 10:46–52 (NABRE), and it tells the story of Bartimaeus’s encounter with Jesus.

As Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd,
Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus,
sat by the roadside begging.
On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth,
he began to cry out and say,
“Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.”
And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent.
But he kept calling out all the more,
“Son of David, have pity on me.”
Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”
So they called the blind man, saying to him,
“Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.”
He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.
Jesus said to him in reply, “What do you want me to do for you?”
The blind man replied to him, “Master, I want to see.”
Jesus told him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.”
Immediately he received his sight
and followed him on the way.

Against all opposition from the crowd who tried to shut down Bartimaeus, he finally gets an audience with Jesus who says to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus replies to Jesus, “Master, I want to see.” And Jesus says to him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” Bartimaeus not only received his sight, but immediately began following after Jesus. In the process he left behind everything, his cloak, his begging, and his blindness.

I heard this passage expounded upon yesterday by Fr. Vincent Guest at St. Luke Catholic Church in Stratford, New Jersey, where we were visiting for the annual “White Mass” to honor the medical professionals. Our own Bobbie Bradley, Director of the St. Peter Senior Center, was being honored as one of two recipients of the St. Luke Award. A busload of parishioners from St. Peter’s, mostly seniors, were present to celebrate with Bobbie. There was one person strangely absent, our dear friend Frank. Several asked about Frank throughout the day commenting on how much we missed him.

Last night just before Charlotte and I retired for the evening we were notified that Frank had suffered a massive stroke and had died Sunday morning. Our hearts were filled with sadness for our loss, but we couldn’t help but focus on his gain. This morning I crossed the street to attend 6:45 Mass. I serve as the lector on Monday mornings. I couldn’t help but think about Frank, that today I wouldn’t see him in his customary pew. I wouldn’t see him stop and pray at the front of the church for his beloved Rita who died less than two years ago. I wouldn’t get a chance to shake his hand after Mass and hear his genuine words wishing me a good day.

Reading the passage from Ephesians and the Psalms was more difficult than usual. Hearing our priest pray for the peaceful repose of his soul made it even more real. Yet in that moment in the liturgy when the celebrant leads us to respond:

V. The Lord be with you.
R. And with your spirit.

V. Lift up your hearts.
R. We lift them up to the Lord.

V. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
R. It is right and just.  

It hit me in that moment how interconnected we on earth become with heaven in the celebration of the Mass. Tears flowed as imagined my friend Frank now on the other side, yet still part of the great body of worshipers before the throne of God.

Frank’s heart prayer was the same as Bartimaeus, “I want to see!” Not only did he want to see his dear Rita again, he wanted to see Jesus. Today we pray for the peaceful repose of Frank’s soul. May he rest in peace!

“I Want to See!”

Predicting the Weather

A special person in my life is a six-year-old boy named Anthony. Anthony and his three brothers have adopted Charlotte and me as “Ama” and “Papa,” honorary grandparents, and since we are part of the same parish and live only a couple blocks apart, we get to see them often.

Back to Anthony: this little boy has an uncanny ability to “predict” the weather. He will look out of the window or go outside and tell you that it is going to rain, or that there will be a storm, and will insist upon it even when it doesn’t seem likely. Then sure enough, right on cue, the rain or the storm will begin. Not only does Anthony have an awareness to all things meteorological, he is deeply connected spiritually. How I love to watch him in the Mass. He takes in everything from the procession of the Cross, the altar servers, and the priest celebrant to the final benediction. You can hear Anthony’s childish voice singing the “Gloria” and the “Alleluia” over those around him. And he actively recites the “Our Father” and the Creed. And when Mass is over the first thing that Anthony does is go see “Father,” the priest who celebrated the Mass that day.

I thought of my dear Anthony when I heard the Gospel reading this morning from St. Luke’s chapter 12:54–56, a most interesting and perplexing chapter.

Signs of the Times. He also said to the crowds, “When you see [a] cloud rising in the west you say immediately that it is going to rain—and so it does; and when you notice that the wind is blowing from the south you say that it is going to be hot—and so it is. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky; why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

Little Anthony may have his eyes on the clouds in the sky, but he also models for me a “little one” who has his eyes on Jesus and the wonderful gifts available for us to be most effective for our Lord in the present time.

Of all people Christians, as Jesus said, should be those who are alert and aware and are able to interpret the present time. That is a challenge for all of us. We live, breathe and ingest our milieu. It is difficult to separate ourselves from influences, opinions and attitudes that we share with the rest of our culture. In some cases Christians have been shamed into believing that they have to march in lockstep with the prevailing attitudes, because to do other, is insensitive, unkind, even hateful. Try to express a conviction that you hold because of your commitment to the Church and Sacred Scripture and watch the fur fly and the insults begin.

That, of course, does not mean Christians should not exercise compassion and kindness, yes we must. We are called to love, yet we are also called to speak the truth. All love and no truth makes us insipid and useless in a world that desperately needs a dose of salt and light. It makes me realize that I can be an expert, or up to date, on all the trivia, all the gossip, even that the Duchess of Sussex forgot to remove a price tag from her dress, and be of no good to the world around me, because I would have failed to “interpret the present time.”

I hear Jesus say, “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come” (Mark 13:33 NABRE). We don’t know when the time will come to speak a word, share a material resource with another, give witness of our faith, be confronted with a trial or a temptation, or most importantly to go to meet our Lord. Be watchful. Be alert. Read the signs of the present moment you are in. May the Holy Spirit guide us! Thank you little Anthony for teaching me!

Predicting the Weather

Jesus Inevitably Brings Division

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Roman Catholic Man

The Youth Synod is Rome is mercifully in its last week. Reading and watching reports coming out of the Vatican has been like watching an impending train wreck in slow motion. You can see what is happening, you are in anguish, you even cry out to give warning, but to no avail. The car crossing the tracks will be obliterated by the oncoming train whose conductor is either asleep at the controls or willfully planning to ram into the car.

Now that may sound uncharitable or judgmental, but sometimes the truth is hard to say and hard to hear. This morning’s Gospel reading is one of those passages where our Lord speaks and we jerk ourselves to attention and say, “What?” In case you weren’t in Mass this morning, you can read it here:

Jesus: A Cause of Division.“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:49–53 NABRE)

This is one of those passages that we would like to say that Jesus obviously doesn’t really mean what he is saying. Isn’t he the Prince of Peace? Didn’t the angels announce at his birth: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14)? He is, and they did!

We are uncomfortable with a Jesus who says he has come to set the earth on fire and he wishes it was already blazing. Bishop Robert Barron this morning in his devotional based on this passage writes, “He’s throwing fire down, much like the God who destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.” He’s right and it’s the same God! This does not fit with the popular concept of Jesus “meek and mild” who looks and acts more like a 1960s flower child then the eternal holy God of the universe.

Jesus came to our world with a specific purpose. “There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!” The only way that we can be brought to peace with God is through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ His Son. But that doesn’t mean we get to say, “Thanks, Jesus! We’re good! I’ll quote you and give lip service to you, but for the most part I’m going to keep doing what I want to do and live in the way that makes me happy.”

And then Jesus asks that all important question: “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” Human beings want their cake and eat it too. We want peace without the cross. Oh, it’s OK in our minds that Jesus died on the cross, but don’t ask us to get anywhere near the cross ourselves. “I don’t want to die. I want to live. I want to be happy. I want to be fulfilled. I want to be free to express myself in the way that I determine is best for me.” Those words are heard and read everyday of the week and when they come from the lips of “Christians” they are lukewarm puke that Jesus can’t stomach.

Following Jesus causes division! In the family, in the workplace, in society, in the nation, and in the world. When we deny the rightful place of Jesus to apply his fire and sword to our lives in order to conform us to His righteousness, we automatically divide ourselves from him.

That’s what’s so disturbing about what seems to be happening in Rome this month. A Protestant theologian who writes for First Things and other publications, Carl Trueman, wrote today in Public Discourse, the Journal of the Witherspoon Institute the following:

Whatever side one chooses in the Reformation of the sixteenth century—be it Bellarmine or Calvin—one thing is for sure: the Tridentine Catholics and the Magisterial Protestants were debating matters of real, ultimate significance. I am a Protestant by conviction and have very serious disagreements with Rome, but I regard traditional Catholicism as asking the right questions and providing substantial answers about the nature of sin, redemption, grace, faith, the sacraments, and eternal destiny. Christianity is a religion with a holy God and a tragic vision of a magnificent but fallen humanity at its core, so tragic that only a bloody sacrifice—the sacrifice of God Incarnate—can atone. I may reject the Mass but I can at least see that it marks the centerpiece of a serious theology and ecclesiology and is attempting to address the complexity of the human condition. By contrast Instrumentum Laboris (Synod of Youth) points to a church that seems to be losing sight of those central issues. The Catholic Church could well be exchanging her theological birthright for a Mass of sociological potage.

Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church and only He can rescue her from “this present darkness.” “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Amen.

Jesus Inevitably Brings Division

We Have Been Given a Trust

Today’s Gospel reading picks up where yesterday’s reading left off. Jesus tells a parable about a home invasion. He says, “Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come” (Luke 12:39–40 NABRE).

Then Peter, speaking for all of us, asks, “Lord, is this parable meant for us or for everyone?” (Luke 12:41). Jesus then teaches an important truth that is universal for all of us: the more we are entrusted with from God, the more is required of us. In fact, he says:

“Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more” (Luke 12:48).

At this point we can echo Peter’s question: “Lord, is this…meant for us or for everyone?” I know my mind went immediately to those in Christian ministry, especially after spending more than 30 years in evangelical pastoral ministry. In my present circumstances I think of my priests, the bishops and cardinals, even the pope. They are the ones who have been entrusted with much and even still more.

Let me pause here for a moment and say that it is incumbent upon us to pray earnestly for those who are responsible for our spiritual care. There is a string of passages in Hebrews 13 that speak to this:

Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

17 Obey your leaders and defer to them, for they keep watch over you and will have to give an account, that they may fulfill their task with joy and not with sorrow, for that would be of no advantage to you.

18 Pray for us, for we are confident that we have a clear conscience, wishing to act rightly in every respect. 19 I especially ask for your prayers that I may be restored to you very soon.

At the same time that we pray for our spiritual leaders, we have to recognize that we too have been entrusted with much: life, health, talent, treasure, family, time, and especially as Christians, the call to make a difference with our lives. How are we stewarding that trust?

A. W. Tozer, an American evangelical pastor of the past century was fond of challenging his listeners and readers to “live with eternity’s values in view.” I quote him:

“The spiritual man habitually makes eternity-judgments instead of time-judgments. By faith he rises above the tug of earth and the flow of time and learns to think and feel as one who has already left the world and gone to join the innumerable company of angels and the general assembly and Church of the First-born which are written in heaven. Such a man would rather be useful than famous and would rather serve than be served. And all this must be by the operation of the Holy Spirit within him. No man can become spiritual by himself. Only the free Spirit can make a man spiritual.”

I know of no better way to recapture eternity’s values than participating in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, as in that moment in time we on earth are united with heaven celebrating the timeless sacrifice of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, everything in the universe, cry out:

“To the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor, glory and might,
forever and ever.”

The four living creatures answered, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped. (Revelation 5:13–14 NABRE)

With a full and grateful heart join with the angelic chorus today! You have been entrusted with much!

We Have Been Given a Trust

Gird Your Loins

Do what? This morning’s Gospel reading in the Mass is taken from the New American Bible Revised Edition and uses terminology that is not common in our everyday vernacular. When was the last time you “girded your loins?”

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Gird your loins and light your lamps
and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding,
ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.
Blessed are those servants
whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival.
Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself,
have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them.
And should he come in the second or third watch
and find them prepared in this way,
blessed are those servants.” (Luke 12:35–38 NABRE)

Still not sure what it means? I took at look at other translations and found these options:

  • “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit” (NRSV)
  • “Be ready for whatever comes, dressed for action and with your lamps lit” (GNT)
  • “Be ready and keep your lamps burning” (CEV)

That helps, doesn’t it? Jesus is speaking to his disciples, and that includes us. He is speaking of a future event, particularly of his Second Coming. He will come unannounced. He will not send a two-weeks’ notice. He will appear suddenly, and therefore he is cautioning us, instructing us, even warning us to be ready.

Jesus says we should be like servants that are awaiting the return of their master. In Middle Eastern world in which Jesus lived, it was not appropriate for a master to arrive home and have to wake up his servants in order for them to serve him. Their responsibility was to be alert and ready at a moment’s notice to open the door and let him in and wait on him. Jesus says that the servants who are vigilant for the return of the master are to be blessed.

If Jesus is speaking to us, how are we to be vigilant for his impending return? At least seven times in the New Testament we find the answer to this in a three-word phrase: “Watch and pray!” Another five times we are told to “be alert.” How are we doing? It seems Jesus was concerned about our tendency to nod off and get distracted. In Luke 18:8 he asks this question: “But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (NABRE).

We don’t know when Jesus is coming; that’s the point of this teaching. We do know that Jesus will return for a second time “coming upon the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” (Matthew 24:30 NABRE). We should also know that Jesus could come for you and for me at any moment. Will he find us ready?

As a life-long evangelical and now Catholic convert I look our readiness from an interesting perspective. I grew up in a church that gave great credence to the Second Coming of Jesus. Perhaps that is why we were “busy” with the things of the Lord. Part of our practice as Christians was to be in church every time the door was open: Sunday school, morning worship, evening service, midweek prayer meeting, monthly missionary service, reading Scripture and family prayer. Little by little though those practices became cumbersome and even a little “legalistic.” One by one these expressions dropped off until we were focusing solely on a Sunday morning worship celebration with lively music and well-honed sermons. Now we ask why people are not engaged in Scripture and why the lives of so many evangelicals resemble the lives of the pagans around them.

I have learned that there have been many changes in the Catholic Church as well. I have written about some of these in earlier blogs. In the Catholic Church, as well as in the evangelical communions, the past fifty years have been lean in spiritual expression. For Catholics there has been a precipitous drop off in Mass attendance, in participating in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession), praying the Rosary, and in many shortcuts and “modernizations” of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The St. Michael prayer was placed on the shelf by many American churches in the 1960s, and only recently is being prayed again as we find ourselves in the worst crisis American Catholicism has ever faced.

And we wonder, Christians of all stripes, why our culture has lost its way and has become so opposed to true Christianity! Jesus’s words ring in our ears today: “Gird your loins and light your lamps!” “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival.”

And what will Jesus do with those he finds watching and praying? “Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself, have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them. And should he come in the second or third watch and find them prepared in this way, blessed are those servants.” Wow! and Amen!

Gird Your Loins