The Real Meal Deal

During the years that I was in pastoral ministry it was not unusual to hear people express that they weren’t “being fed” at their local church. This realization often led the person to seek another congregation or denomination where it was hoped the spiritual nurture and nourishment that he or she sought would be found.

Since the focus of worship in most churches is the sermon—where the Word of God is expounded—the ability of the pastor or homilist to challenge and keep the hearer’s attention is of paramount importance. I remember all too well agonizing over sermon preparation knowing that my sermon had the potential to be totally forgettable, or to the other extreme, life changing.

With 33 years of ministry and many more total years in worship services I found it hard not to critique the sermons that I heard offered up. Even after coming into the Catholic Church I found myself using the same criteria. That is not to say that the sermon or homily is not important in the Catholic Church, but it is not the centerpiece of the Mass as the sermon is to the Protestant worship experience.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1324) states: The Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life.” This necessitated a shift in perspective for me, away from the centrality of the sermon or exposition of the God’s Word, as important as that is, to the holy Sacrifice of the Mass: the Eucharist, celebrating the Real Presence of Jesus Christ—Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity—under the appearance of bread and wine.

What I have discovered to my great joy is that I don’t leave church not feeling fed. The homily may be short, even lacking in presentation, but the privilege of receiving our Lord—Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity—is true food (John 6:55). It is the real meal deal!

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The Real Meal Deal

Rules of the Game

Watch any sporting event—from football to tennis to Mixed Martial Arts— and you will notice something significant: The inevitable presence of referees. Referees exist to enforce the rules of the game, for any sport worth watching has rules, and sometimes complex rules at that.

Rules ensure fair play, but they also give the athletes boundaries within which they can exercise and measure their skill. A boxing match without the boundaries of the Marquess of Queensbury rules would quickly descend into chaos and mayhem. Ears could be bitten off with impunity and below-the-belt blows would be a common occurrence. Mohammed Ali, Joe Frazier, and Rocky Marciano were great fighters, not because of their raw, uncontrolled violence or dirty punches, but because they knew how to fight within the rules and even use them to their advantage. Rules make the athlete and they make the game.

We live in an age that despises rules and strictures. We view them as an egregious violation of our unlimited freedom. The word “commandment” sends shutters down the spine of anyone steeped in postmodern ideology, for the dogmas of radical autonomy dictate that no-one anywhere can ever get in the way of what I want; no one can ever tell me no, even if I want to deny or manipulate the fundamental facts of reality.

Chesterton once quipped that, “We shall soon be in a world in which a man may be howled down for saying that two and two make four, in which people will persecute the heresy of calling a triangle a three-sided figure, and hang a man for maddening a mob with the news that grass is green.” Well, that day is no longer in the future. It is now.

Just as rules make the game, so they make a flourishing life in the world possible. We need boundaries to thrive and be our best selves. Radical autonomy, for all its allure, is ultimately a myth that ends only in anger, violence, and despair. You can call a stone a ball but it will still hurt when you kick it. You cannot fight reality and win.

Likewise in the moral life. Individuals today want to believe that morality is a fable designed to suppress their fun. Doing whatever we please is the sure road to happiness, we think. But just as in the physical world there are laws of action and reaction, so too they exist in the spiritual world. A disordered action will reap disordered results every time.

Yet, oblivious to this reality, most moderns are mystified when their disordered and immoral actions reap painful and unhappy results. Rather than examining whether or not our actions are the root cause of our suffering, we instead use our tremendous powers of science and technology to seek to eliminate the consequences of them. In doing so, however, we only create several new problems and things deteriorate further.

Since the beginning of her foundation by Jesus Christ, the Church has proclaimed moral teachings and given her children rules to follow. To an outsider, these may seem unnecessary and overly-complex. Yet, these commandments of the Church are nothing less than the rules of the game of life. The Church in her wisdom, like any good parent, knows that the human person must be told no from time to time for their own benefit.

There is, of course, a good reason for everything the Church teaches available to all those who inquire, and the Church’s teachings are hardly arbitrary. The ultimate goal of her commandments is not misery, not at all. It is nothing less than Beatitude—joy and happiness that never ends.

Western society, once Christian to its core, has utterly rejected and turned with violent hatred against the teaching of the Church. And yet we cannot figure out why we are suffering. Rather than realizing that maybe the Church was right all along, frustrated moderns blame the church and her teachings for their pain. If only the Church were eliminated, then we could enjoy our disorders with impunity. But just as in the physical world, the spiritual world operates on the law of action and reaction. Disordered actions reap disordered results. We cannot fight reality and win.

Rules are necessary for full human happiness. Rules make a game, and they make a man. Far from living a life of lawlessness, every truly happy man has embraced a creed and a code. He lives by commandments, not because he is a joyless prude, but because he knows that actions have consequences, and just as bad actions reap bad results, good actions bear fruit in joy and lasting peace.

You may be skeptical. The only way to know this for sure, however, is to test it and experience it for oneself. If you would find happiness and peace, reject lawlessness which only leads to misery and with humility embrace the creed and the commandments. For this is the path to lasting happiness, joy, and peace, both in this life and the next.

The post Rules of the Game: Commandments and the Spiritual Life appeared first on The Catholic Gentleman.

Rules of the Game

Confession at the Shrine

I’m standing in line for confession at the Shrine of St. John Neumann in Philadelphia. John Neumann was Bishop of Philadelphia from 1852-1860 and is the first American Bishop to be canonized (1977).

As I prepare for my first confession in five weeks I sense the need for the graces I will receive through this sacrament. I am thankful that I can leave my sins in the confessional and receive the absolution from the priest in persona Christi.

At the beginning of 2019 I feel like I am carrying not only the weight of my own sins, but of those who seem to be struggling to offer the faithful guidance we need in a time unlike any we have ever lived. It’s easy for me to cry “foul” as I observe key church leaders, but fail to hold myself accountable for my failure to love and live in truth.

The priest heard my confession, absolved my sins in the person of Christ, and for my penance told me to reflect on Psalm 51.

“O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall show forth your praise.

“The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:15, 17 RSV).

Prayer to Saint John Neumann:

Whenever the opportunity presents itself, I will offer my services to my sisters and brothers. Every time I meet one of them I will treat as I would the Lord Himself! St. John Neumann, help me to see my need for conversion all the days of my life, through Christ, Our Lord, Amen.

Confession at the Shrine

Sitting in the Philadelphia Airport

I’m on my way to Lexington, Kentucky, to meet my new grandson Peregrine Sage Haas. So far I have only seen pictures, videos and a couple of live snoozes on FaceTime. He’s cute! He’s the fourth of four brothers, the ninth of nine grandchildren, and the eighth of eight grandsons. I am indeed a blessed man! My grand quiver is full of arrows!

I got to the airport by Uber. The driver Shawn congratulated me when I told him the purpose of my trip, then proceeded to tell me that his first grandchild had been born the day before mine and on his birthday! What a special gift to receive. Our 20-minute trip was a joyful conversation between two proud grandfathers.

We marveled over the gift of life and how much richer Christmas would be because of these two babies.

This morning’s Gospel reading references two baby boys and their mothers:

Mary set out in those days and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:39-45 NABRE)

Those two babies forever changed the world, accomplishing the purpose for which they were born. I pray that Shawn’s granddaughter and my grandson will accomplish the purpose for which they were born: To know and love God and serve Him forever!

Sitting in the Philadelphia Airport

Hell? Yes!

On a quiet Thursday morning (today) in a 6:45 a.m. Mass in a small town (Merchantville, New Jersey), at a Roman Catholic parish (St. Peter’s), with small group of people (maybe 60) a parish priest (Fr. Tim Byerley), gave a homily on the feast day of St. Albert the Great.

The Gospel reading for St. Albert’s feast was from St. Matthew 13. I will highlight the first part of the passage and the portion from which Fr. Tim took his four-minute homily:

Jesus said to the disciples: “The Kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind. When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets. What is bad they throw away. Thus it will be at the end of the age. The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”

Matthew 13:47–50, Saint Paul Daily Missal 

What impressed me this morning is that our pastor did not waste words in getting to the point, nor did he avoid the importance of the message on a very early Mass audience. In a nutshell, Fr. Tim spoke about the subject that Jesus focuses on here and in many of his teachings: the reality of the final judgment and the possibility that due to our actions hell is one destination that could be reached.

Hell is not a popular topic as I have mentioned here before. Not only is it not popular, but it is also hardly mentioned, despite the fact that Jesus talked about it a great deal. Think back to the last time you actually heard hell mentioned in a sermon or homily. I’m thinking many of you dear readers under the age of 40 may never have unless you took part in a series on the “Four Last Things”—Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell.

Fr. Tim so rightly pointed out that when final judgment, including the possibility of going to hell by the choices we have made, is excluded from our teaching and practice, then Christianity becomes just another philosophy that you try to live by, but in so doing, you choose what you want and what you don’t want. Since converting nearly three years ago I’ve learned there is a phrase for that: “Cafeteria Catholic.” Honestly, I believe there are not only “cafeteria Catholics,” but cafeteria “Christians” of all stripes.

Is it any wonder then, when the possibility of spending eternity in hell is removed from our hearts and minds, our lives and our practice, our homilies and our catechism, that we begin to live like the Israelites in the book of Judges: “every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25 RSV). The story of humanity is littered, maybe I should say “trashed”, with our rationale, excuses and defenses for why we do what we do. We alter our vocabulary to fit our chosen lifestyle and then we ask God to bless us and what we do. This can be anything from “blessing” an abortion clinic or seeking to redefine the timeless teaching of the Church in Sacred Scripture and Tradition regarding the Sacrament of Marriage. Once we throw out the doctrine of the possibility of our choices leading to eternal damnation, then the “sky is the limit” as to what we will adopt in our depravity.

Jesus makes it very clear: “Thus it will be at the end of the age. The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.” I would rather put my faith and confidence in him than in any “theologian” or “church leader” who teaches otherwise with an agenda.

On the Feast of All Saints, St. Albert the Great preached a sermon from Revelation 7:17

After portraying their beatitude, St. Albert explains this passage of the Apocalypse: “The Lamb which is in the midst of the Throne shall rule them, and shall lead them to the fountains of the waters of life” (vii. 17). 

“In God’s kingdom, there are five fountains, to which the Lamb will lead His elect. The first is the source of consolation; there the Lord shall wipe away their tears. The second is the fountain of repose; for after having dried up their tears, the Spirit, that is the Holy Trinity, will say: ‘Henceforth they shall rest from their labours.’ The third is the source of refreshment; for they who are at rest shall be refreshed and inebriated with the superabundance of God’s house. The fourth is the source of joy. The elect, by reason of the heavenly consolations, the sweets of repose and the most agreeable refreshment, shall be in jubilation. They shall sing their salutations with gladness in the courts of the predestined. The fifth is the fountain of love. How ardently will they not love Him, Who consoles them, Who gives them rest and loads them with every good? Isaias, speaking of this fountain, says: ‘You shall draw water with joy from the fountain of the Lord.'”

“On the other hand, in hell there are, five fountains, to which the infernal dragon thrusts the souls of the reprobate, that they may drink thereof. The first is called Styx. When souls drink of those waters, they conceive a mutual hatred of each other. The second is named Phlegethon. The property of its waters is to enkindle the rage of the damned, first against themselves, then against those through whose fault they are lost. The name of the third is Lethe: scarcely have the reprobate tasted of it than they lose the knowledge and recollection of past joys and pleasures. The fourth is Acheron. The damned on applying their lips to it immediately sink into indescribable sadness. The fifth bears the name of Gocytus. The effects of those waters are such that they who drink of them weep without ever experiencing the least consolation.”

St. Albert the Great, pray for us!

Hell? Yes!

Che cosa?

Pope Francis gestures at the end of the weekly audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican

With all due respect, I want to ask Pope Francis, “Che cosa?” or as we would say here in America, “Say what?”, in response to his order to the United States Council of Catholic Bishops not to vote on two proposed measures that would have begun to show a modicum of movement to deal with the latest and greatest sexual abuse scandals in our beloved Church.

This scandal is really a continuation of the revelations of 2002, that erupted once again in June like the famous Mount Etna, Europe’s most active volcano. The concerns of the Catholic faithful that the Church continues to lose ground in our secularized, humanistic culture were magnified as we realized that too many of our leaders were “in bed” with the permissiveness and promiscuity of mainstream practice.

It’s hard to offer an alternative to a culture that has lost its way, particularly when it seems that many of our leaders are on the same road to perdition. And then our spiritual hopes for purification, reparation and renewal are dashed, or maybe delayed, when our Holy Father, who offered great hopes of reform, has either hoodwinked us or is just as complicit as the rest. His rhetoric toward those who care about this downward spiral in the Church is disturbing at least, and unconscionable at best: “Be careful around those who are rigid. Be careful around Christians – be they laity, priests, bishops – who present themselves as so ‘perfect,’ rigid. Be careful. There’s no Spirit of God there. They lack the ‘spirit of liberty’.”

You and I must continue to pray for our Holy Father, for our cardinals and bishops here in the U.S., and especially for our priests who lead us on the parish level. This isn’t just about the Catholic Church regaining its reputation. This is about the salvation of souls in our nation! This is Jesus’ concern—why He came and died on the cross and rose again—establishing His Church to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:19–20 RSV).

[Photo: Max Rossi/Reuters]

Che cosa?

An Object in Motion…

SEPTemberdaysPriestly Fraternity of St. Peter

There seems to be a spiritual application to Newton’s First Law of Motion. “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.”

I see personal application to this in my own spiritual journey. I have known times in my life that there was little discipline to get up on time, and what I read was the news or sports stories or social media, and while I may have filled my mind with current events and other facts, it didn’t do anything to move me closer to God. So in this case my body at “rest” stayed at “rest” and the “rest” was not good for my soul. I can look back to those times and lament how much time I wasted being passive in my spiritual life.

Conversely, when I am actively engaged in my spiritual devotion, my spiritual life and fervor stays in motion and is fueled by the motion to continue to be in motion. For example, getting up at 5:00 a.m. and getting right into spiritual disciplines, followed by 6:45 a.m. Mass, praying the Rosary on my way to work, and sprinkling prayer throughout the day keeps me connected to the Source of my spiritual life. Motion begets motion and generates a daily commitment to stay in motion.

The turning point that changed the direction of my life was when I became structured and disciplined in my spiritual practices. I wasn’t Catholic yet, but I can’t help but believe that it was one of the portals God used to lead me to the Church. As I stated in an earlier blog it was a commitment to daily lectionary readings that gave me a foothold in the spiritual disciplines.

I share all of this to draw an analogy. As I have delved deeper into Catholic spirituality I am discovering that there are many practices and disciplines that once were commonly practiced among Catholics. For example, there were more holy days of obligation, fasts, Rogation Days, Ember Days, etc., and many of these things including the changes in the Mass go back to the years following Vatican II. For some reason, in the United States especially, the tendency was to deemphasize certain disciplines and decrease the frequency of others. My wife’s experience pre-Vatican II was going to confession every Saturday before Mass on Sunday. “But now only 2 percent of Catholics go regularly to confession, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, a nonprofit organization affiliated with Georgetown University—and three-quarters of them never go, or go less than once a year.” And now some are putting it as low as 25 percent!

In 1955, 75 percent of Catholics attended weekly Mass. That number has dropped to 39 percent in the period between 2014-2017. Why are we surprised that there is little distinction between Catholics and the general population when it comes to marriage and divorce, birth control, abortion, homosexuality and conduct in general? We also shouldn’t be surprised at the current state of affairs in the Church relating to sexual behavior in the clergy and the laity.

The theory of expecting less from the faithful and hopefully opening the door to those who were outside the Church was ill-conceived and now seems to be an idea hatched in hell. Thousand and thousands of people have left the Church, given up on the Church or never entered in because they were not challenged with a life-changing message and something worth giving up their lives for. Inside or outside, it pretty much seemed the same.

Thank God for faithful bishops, priests, religious, deacons and laity who over the past 50 years have carried the torch of spiritual life and discipline for the rest of us. May their number increase! May we take our place alongside of them! What can we do?

Pray the Rosary daily. Find an Eucharistic Adoration Chapel and spend time there. Make a commitment to go to daily Mass as often as possible. Read the Sacred Scriptures. Pray. Fast. Go to confession at least once a month or even twice a month. Observe Ember Days.

Okay! What are Ember Days? Check the link above. The September Ember Days are Wednesday, September 19, Thursday, September 20, and Saturday, September 22. These are ideal days to abstain from food, not a full fast, and pray for our Mother Church and our Holy Priests. And pray for our Holy Father, Pope Francis. Let’s turn the tide. Let’s be “objects in motion” that will remain in motion for the glory of God. Amen.

An Object in Motion…