¿Me incluyo en este número?

Lectura del santo Evangelio según Mateo:

En aquel tiempo, Jesús dijo a sus apóstoles: “Yo los envío como ovejas entre lobos. Sean, pues, precavidos como las serpientes y sencillos como las palomas. Cuídense de la gente, porque los llevarán a los tribunales, los azotarán en las sinagogas, los llevarán ante gobernadores y reyes por mi causa; así darán testimonio de mí ante ellos y ante los paganos. Pero, cuando los enjuicien, no se preocupen por lo que van a decir o por la forma de decirlo, porque en ese momento se les inspirará lo que han de decir. Pues no serán ustedes los que hablen, sino el Espíritu de su Padre el que hablará por ustedes. El hermano entregará a su hermano a la muerte, y el padre a su hijo; los hijos se levantarán contra sus padres y los matarán; todos los odiarán a ustedes por mi causa, pero el que persevere hasta el fin, se salvará. Cuando los persigan en una ciudad, huyan a otra. Yo les aseguro que no alcanzarán a recorrer todas las ciudades de Israel, antes de que venga el Hijo del hombre.” (Mateo 10:16–23)

La lectura del Evangelio del leccionario de hoy es inquietante. De verdad, muchas de las palabras de Jesús lo son. El contexto de estas palabras, obviamente, es una conversación entre Jesús y sus discípulos, que posteriormente se convierten en sus apóstoles. De las Escrituras y la tradición sabemos que ellos soportaron todas estas cosas frecuentemente mientras salían a predicar el evangelio. Todos sufrieron el martirio con la excepción de san Juan el Amado, y su vida no era nada fácil.

A lo largo de los 20 siglos de historia cristiana, hombres y mujeres han escuchado estas palabras y se han preguntado si se aplicaría a ellos. Para millones de ellos ha sido el caso. Hoy hay personas sin cuenta en todo el mundo que conocen la realidad de este pasaje profético de la Biblia pronunciado por nuestro Señor.

¿Y qué de nosotros? Cada vez que he leído este pasaje me imagino un peligro distante y distópico que nunca me afecta la vida, ni la de mi familia. ¿Pero si tú y yo no tenemos esta ventaja? ¿Qué pasa si estamos incluidos en el número de los que claman en Apocalipsis 6:9–11?

Cuando el Cordero rompió el quinto sello, vi debajo del altar, con vida, a los degallados por anunciar la palabra de Dios y por haber dado el testimonio debido. Y gritaban con fuerte voz, diciendo: —Señor, que eres santo y siempre dices la verdad, ¿cuándo nos harás justicia y vengarás la muerte sangrienta que nos dieron los habitantes de la tierra? Se les entregó entonces un vestido blanco a cada uno y se les dijo que esperan todavía un poco hasta que se completara el número de sus compañeros y de sus hermanos, que como ellos iban a ser martirizados. (Biblia de América)

No sabemos lo que el día de hoy ni el mañana nos trae. Debemos oír la palabra del Evangelio de hoy y no buscar la forma de excluirnos de ella o presentar razones por qué todo esto no nos sucede (como ha sido mi costumbre). Solo Dios conoce nuestro futuro y con eso Jesús nos da una palabra de alivio y un desafío.

We don’t know what today and tomorrow holds for us. We should hear the word of the Gospel today and not immediately exclude ourselves or come up with all the reasons why it won’t happen to us (as has been my custom). Only God knows our future, yet Jesus does give us comfort and a challenge.

La palabra de alivio: “No se preocupen por lo que van a decir o por la forma de decirlo, porque en ese momento se les inspirará lo que han de decir. Pues no serán ustedes los que hablen, sino el Espíritu de su Padre el que hablará por ustedes”.

La palabra de desafío: “Todos los odiarán a ustedes por mi causa, pero el que persevere hasta el fin, se salvará”.

Una oración por la preservación de la fe.
(San Clemente Hofbauer, 1751-1820)

Oh Jesús, redentor, autor y consumador de nuestra Fe, te suplicamos desde lo profundo de nuestro corazón afligido, no se extinga la preciosa luz de nuestra Fe. Nos aflijan los disgustos, nos afecten los infortunios, pero que no nos falte la Fe.

Oh Jesús, autor y consumador de nuestra Fe, concédenos la paz y la unidad. Confórtanos y consérvanos en tus santos servicios, para que por ti y en ti vivamos siempre. Amén.

Are you keeping the saints busy?

What is the Communion of Saints? | Catholic Life - The Roman ...

Some time ago two coworkers were talking a few cubicles away from me and one said “If you believed in asking the saints to pray for you, which I don’t, maybe you should ask John Knox (Scottish Presbyterian reformer) to pray, because he’s probably not too busy.” The insinuation is that Catholics are keeping their saints busy. If only it were so!

The conversation continued with chuckles and with an assurance that there is a hole in the Catholic theology of the “Communion of the Saints.” I listened and immediately wondered what I would do the next time one of my coworkers asked me to pray for them. Am I any more qualified to lift their concern in intercession to God? Just because I am on earth, how is my prayer more effective than the prayer of one who is in the very presence of God?

I know that the idea of asking the saints to pray with us and for us is foreign, even abominable to many who identify as Protestants or Evangelicals. The ironic thing is that the joke was being made by someone who should know better, but that is not the point of this article.

The point is that the Church is one, whether in heaven or on earth. The writer of Hebrews tells us in chapter 12, after giving us a run down of the faith of many Old Testament saints, that “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” Mary Healy in her commentary on the book of Hebrews writes: “As we run this race, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, as if filling the stands of a huge sports arena. They are the saints of the old covenant (now joined by those of the new covenant), who are rooting for us and passionately interested in the outcome of our lives.”

These are more than pictures or statues or memories in a dusty history book; they are real, living (more living than ever) saints who have won the victory and are in the very presence of God and of the Lamb in heaven. We are united not only in prayer, but also every time we celebrate the Mass which draws heaven and earth together through the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb that was slain before the foundation of the world for their sin and ours.

The book of Revelation gives us another clue to this amazing ministry the saints have in heaven. In chapter 5, verse 8, John writes: “And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.”

Now of course the unfounded argument or accusation is that Catholics pray to the saints, somehow elevating them to a divine status reserved only to Jesus. This, of course, is not true. What is true is seeing the saints as any other member of the Body of Christ whose main role is to continue to be part of that Body and care for one another. So when you ask me to pray for you, you are not divinizing me, but asking me to fulfill my God-given role of ministering to you as part of the Body of Christ. When I ask St. Francis de Sales to pray for me, I am not divinizing him, but asking him to intercede on my behalf.

One of the great gifts that my Catholic faith has given me is recognizing that death does not separate us. We are in the Church Militant; the saints are in the Church Triumphant; but it is one Church and Jesus Christ is our Head. Another benefit of the gift is knowing I have earthly and heavenly intercessors pulling for me, rooting for me and passionately interested in the outcome of my life.

(Originally published December 5, 2018

Far from the Maddening Crowd

I am spending a week far from the maddening crowd. I find myself in a rural county with less than 15 COVID cases, visiting family.

This slowdown comes on the heels of losing my job due to downsizing by the company I worked for the previous three years. Taking that job in 2017 led me out of the nation’s most populous city to a small borough in a neighboring state.

This week of welcome exile brings me encounters with grandsons, chickens and rabbits, far from the maddening crowd.

Unfortunately, my penchant for staying connected and the responsibilities I have back home inform me of the increasing instability of our time. There will always be those who take full advantage of a crisis for their own aims and not necessarily what is best for the general welfare.

Statue of St. Junípero Serra pulled down in Los Angeles

This becomes especially worrisome when those entrusted with governance and spiritual guidance cower to the maddening crowd. We await our government leaders to fulfill their constitutional responsibility to protect and defend us, yet they seem more focused on safeguarding their political futures.

We look to spiritual leaders to lead us in truth with courage and they respond with sophistries and point out that their hands are tied—it’s up to the laity! That response is honestly worst than the former. That is not what they are called to.

So what do we do? For the first group we have the ballot box. We are no longer silent. We don’t wait around for the next French or Cultural Revolution. For the second group we turn to our Lord, we pray, we take up spiritual arms, and we stand in vigil before our churches and the glorious reminders of the symbols of our faith. We remember those before us who gave their utmost for the kingdom of God and the social kingship of Christ. I think of the Vendeans in France (1790s) and the Cristeros in Mexico (1920s).

As Christians face our own challenges in 2020, hopefully a remnant of our spiritual leaders will come out of hiding, honor Christ, embrace suffering and join us!

¡Viva Cristo Rey!

I’m a doorkeeper

For a day in your courts is better
    than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
    than live in the tents of wickedness
(Psalm 84:10 NRSVCE)

Last weekend our parish reinstated Masses after a three-month hiatus due to the pandemic. Right on the heels of the return of the weekend Mass was a return to daily Mass, something I treasured every day until March 18. The 6:45 a.m. Mass was my daily time to encounter our Lord–Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Holy Eucharist. That daily meeting with Jesus made the difference in my day. Suddenly that encounter was no longer possible! How my heart yearned for our Lord!

Returning to Mass was not a return to what we experienced pre-March 18. Social distancing must be practiced, masks are expected, and seniors and those who in poor health are discouraged from attending. In the midst of all this I have been heartened to see my brothers and sisters returning with hunger, courage and vigor.

I have a new role at daily Mass in this post-pandemic world. I am an usher, or as I prefer to think “a doorkeeper in the house of my God.” What a joy to greet folks as they walk through the open front door (to minimize touching surfaces) and give them a hidden smile (behind my mask) and open the door into the nave (again to minimize contact with surfaces).

My duties also include dismissing each pew to go forward to receive our Lord in the Holy Eucharist. My heart sings for joy as I watch my fellow parishioners partake of the Bread of Life!

I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than live in the tents of wickedness! I trust you have had a blessed Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus! And that you have been able to return to the house of our God.

This Catholic cannot join in!

Pope Francis has asked the following to happen on May 14. I take this request from the Holy Father’s Twitter account.

I would like to remind you that on 14 May, believers of every religion are invited to unite themselves spiritually in a day of prayer, fasting and works of charity, to implore God to help humanity overcome the coronavirus #pandemic. #HumanFraternity #PrayTogether

I cannot join him in this prayer because the apostle Paul warns us not to do this very thing in 2 Corinthians 6:14—7:1 (NABRE):

Do not be yoked with those who are different, with unbelievers. For what partnership do righteousness and lawlessness have? Or what fellowship does light have with darkness? What accord has Christ with Beliar? Or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said:

“I will live with them and move among them,
    and I will be their God
    and they shall be my people.
Therefore, come forth from them
    and be separate,” says the Lord,
“and touch nothing unclean;
    then I will receive you
and I will be a father to you,
    and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.”

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of flesh and spirit, making holiness perfect in the fear of God.

Believers of every religion cannot unite themselves spiritually! The only One who can unite us is Jesus Christ!

42 months and counting…

This Sunday, September 29 will mark 42 months since my reception into the Roman Catholic Church. To translate that into years, it has been three and one-half years, and I have not regretted that decision in the least. I consider it a conversion in so many ways. It is not that I wasn’t a Christian, I was. In fact, I grew up in a Christian home with Christian parents who guided my steps several times a week to religious services. I attended a Christian college and then seminary and for more than thirty years served as a Christian pastor and missionary. I married a Christian wife and raised our three children in the Christian faith. Yet I needed a conversion.

What I converted to was the “one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church”, the Church that Jesus founded upon the rock of Peter and His confession, the Church against which the gates of hell will not prevail. I converted not only to Christ’s Church that is nearly 2000 years old, but also to the Church that is the “the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15 DRA). No longer do I have to depend on my own interpretation of Sacred Scripture. I am in the bosom of Christ’s Church—the pillar and bulwark of the truth. I can trust Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium of the Church.

I now see quite a few passages that were troublesome and perplexing in the pure light of the Church’s teaching. That especially relates to the “Bread of Life” discourse that Jesus gave in the synagogue in Capernaum in John 6. Jesus said, Amen, amen I say unto you: Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed: and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, abideth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father; so he that eateth me, the same also shall live by me.”

As I daily partake of the Real Presence of Christ—Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity” in Holy Communion, John 6:54-58 comes alive to me and Communion is not a symbolic remembrance of something Jesus did a couple of millennia ago. He offers himself completely to me and to all who come to him by faith.

So it’s no wonder that I can’t stop talking about the joy I have in coming to know Christ fully in the fullness of his Church. Never has sharing my faith been more enjoyable and necessary. I have a sacred duty that compels me share the depth of Christ’s love for us that we experience as part of his body, the Church.

In light of what I have shared and the experiences of many converts to the Catholic Church, I find myself disheartened as I read the following paragraphs from a meeting of our Holy Father with Jesuits from Madagascar y Mozambique. You can read the full story here. Pope Francis says:

Today I felt a certain bitterness after a meeting with young people. A woman approached me with a young man and a young woman. I was told they were part of a slightly fundamentalist movement. She said to me in perfect Spanish: “Your Holiness, I am from South Africa. This boy was a Hindu and converted to Catholicism. This girl was Anglican and converted to Catholicism.” But she told me in a triumphant way, as though she was showing off a hunting trophy. I felt uncomfortable and said to her, “Madam, evangelization yes, proselytism no.”

What I mean is that evangelization is free! Proselytism, on the other hand, makes you lose your freedom. Proselytism is incapable of creating a religious path in freedom. It always sees people being subjugated in one way or another. In evangelization the protagonist is God, in proselytism it is the I.

I recognize that this was part of an answer Pope Francis gave to a priest asking about proselytism by “prosperity gospel” adherents in Africa—a group that pulls many away from true biblical teaching. But can you imagine how badly the young woman felt after being told that her efforts in evangelization—sharing the good news of Christ in his Church was somehow wrong?

“For if I preach the gospel, it is no glory to me, for a necessity lieth upon me: for woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:16).

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!

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.

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.

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!