Sunday, December 30, 2012

Gospel For Today

FEAST OF THE HOLY FAMILY OF JESUS, MARY AND JOSEPH

click here for readings

This is a season of feasts and celebrations!  Beginning this past Tuesday, on Dec. 25, we entered the season of Christmas with the great Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord.  The Christmas season traditionally runs to Epiphany (January 6 - hence the "Twelve Days of Christmas"), but the Church has in more modern times extended the celebration of Christmas to the feast of the Baptism of the Lord (January 13).  So don't be too quick to take down your holiday decorations!

The eight days which consist of Christmas Day and the week following are considered the Octave of Christmas, which is celebrated as one great continuous feast day in the liturgical year.  Within the Octave of Christmas we have many individual observances, which I think are telling.

Starting Dec. 25 we celebrate the birth of our Savior, the entrance of God the Creator into human history; not arriving on a chariot with a great army to be seated on a golden throne, but born as a helpless, dependent baby into a human family with a mother and a father. a manger filled with straw, where animals slept.  The world was made new and things would never be the same.

Immediately following this joyful celebration, we have on Dec. 26 the Feast of St. Stephen.  Stephen was the very first Christian martyr, the first person to die for his faith in Christ.  You can read about him in Acts chapter 7.  As he was being stoned to death, his final words were to ask God to forgive those who were killing him.  Some people may not feel that celebrating the death of the first Christian martyr fits the "tone" of the Christmas season.  It's supposed to be a time of joy and peace, right?

But I believe it is a perfect fit for this season.  Stephen's martyrdom tells us exactly what is demanded of us who rejoice at the Lord's birth in Bethlehem.  Now that the Christ has arrived in this human scene, we must be prepared to follow him -- even unto death.  Do you or I have that kind of commitment and devotion to Jesus today?  Are we willing to face those who would stone us because of our beliefs?  Even if it is just the metaphorical stoning of social pressure and derision?

On Dec. 28 we celebrated the Feast of the Holy Innocents.  This is the day the Church honors all of those young people who were killed by the order of King Herod in his attempt to destroy the Christ child whom he saw as a threat to his reign.  He ordered all boys in Bethlehem and the surrounding area under the age of two to be massacred.  The magi would not divulge to him where Jesus was, so Herod had to cast a wide net to catch him.  He failed.  But he slaughtered countless innocents in the process.  The Church recognizes that these innocent babies, too, gave their life for Christ in a way, even though they did not consciously know it.

Sadly, Herod's spirit is still alive and with us today, as an even greater number of innocents is slaughtered through the holocaust of abortion.  1.5 million lives are snuffed out each year in our country alone.  Who knows how many worldwide?  Do we have the courage of St. Stephen to continue to stand up and speak out for those without a voice; the most vulnerable and innocent among us?  Can we take the stoning that today's culture may throw our way for being pro-life?

And today, Dec. 30, we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family.  This is especially important in our time, as the family itself is under attack.  The foundation of the human family is marriage.  Many today mistakenly believe marriage as the union in which a husband and wife form a couple.  But that is not true.  It is a union in which a husband and wife form a family.  The purpose of every marriage is to engender children.  This is true even for those married couples that are unable to conceive a child.  There are other ways to share the spirit of selfless love that is parenting with the world -- adoption, foster parenting, community involvement, devotion to nieces and nephews, etc.  None of us are allowed to live selfish, self-centered lives because of a lack of children.  Every marriage is a vehicle for God to potentially bless with new life, and must be lived out in that spirit.

For the great majority of marriages, that means children; conceiving and bearing them, and raising them in a loving household.  This requires stability, which is why marriage is a life-long commitment.  Marriage creates a new family, and the family is the basic building block of human society.  Families make the culture, not the other way around.  Governments are established to protect and serve families, not vice versa.  But marriage and the family are under attack in a very real way in our society.  

It began back in the 1930s when the Anglican church decided to allow, with limitations, the use of contraception.  Their decision -- the first time any Christian body had allowed contraception for any reason -- said that it was permissible, only within marriage, and only for grave reasons.  But contraception is an evil, and once it had its foot in the door, it was not long before it came all the way in.  Now, contraception is considered "smart and safe" in our culture, the "responsible thing to do," and the Catholic Church alone stands as the only Christian body who continues to oppose it.  

What does this have to do with marriage?  Marriage, sex, and children have always been considered part of the same one good.  They could not be separated, for they belonged to one another.  The acceptance of contraception started to divide them.  People started to see sex as something one could enjoy without children.  And if one could enjoy sex without worrying about children, there was no real need for the lifelong commitment of marriage.  These three aspects of the same reality started to be treated as interdependent and unrelated pursuits.  

No fault divorce soon became common in our culture.  Abortion was demanded as a back-up for when contraception failed.  Sex is no longer seen as something one must wait until marriage to enjoy, but something which should be tried out before marriage (like taking a car for a test drive).  Children?  Only if you want them, and only when you are ready.

Today one can have sex with no children (and indeed children without sex), sex without marriage, marriage without children, and children without marriage, and we are taught to view each option as an equally valid choice.

The end result is that today in America 51% of all new births are out of wedlock.  For the first time in our history more children are born to unmarried parents than to married parents.  How many of those children will never know their father, or see him only every other weekend?  More than half of all marriages end in divorce, with multiple marriages being far too common - even expected.  The birthrate in many western nations is falling below replacement level, which means the population in most European countries is actually shrinking.  The only factor keeping American births above replacement level are minority birthrates, which are higher than for whites.  

And now, more and more people -- Catholics included -- no longer believe that gender has any bearing on marriage, and people of the same gender should be free to enter into marriage just as a man and a woman.  This is advocated for under the banner of fairness and equality, but it is only conceivable today because our culture has lost sight of what marriage truly is.

Today, we celebrate the Holy Family.  Mary and Joseph were married for the explicit purpose of raising a child.  Their marriage was devoted to their son, the Son of God, our Savior.  They were devoted to each other and to Him.  He was obedient to his mother and father.  This is the model family for us.  Please join me today in praying for the intercession of the Holy Family, for the healing of families in our world today.  And pray that Christians would have the courage of St. Stephen, and St. Thomas Becket, whose martyrdom we celebrated on Dec. 29, to stand up for our faith and convictions; to stand up for the family.

Please also say a prayer for my wife and I, who started our own family on this day twelve years ago, as we entered the sacrament of marriage.  She has been like a fruitful vine in my home, and given me children like olive plants around our table (Ps 128).  I am a blessed man, and give thanks to God each day for the family He has given me.

God bless, everyone!  And Merry Christmas!

--

WCU Catholic Campus Ministry

Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister

www.WCUCatholic.org

  

(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723

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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Gospel For Today

FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT (C)

Good things come in small packages.  We are reminded of this around any gift giving occasion, such as Christmas.  (I also get told this often because my wife is 13" shorter than I am).  We are saying this a lot in our household these days, with our kids inspecting the gifts under the tree, trying to see whose is the biggest.  I tell them, "You know a big present only means it's in a big box -- you don't know what's in the box."  My clever children soon get the point.  One says, "It could be a smaller present," and another, "the box could be empty!"  So they are learning not to judge things by their size.  

Neither does God judge things by their size.  Some of His most powerful and amazing gifts come in small packages.  In the first reading we hear proclaimed at Mass today, we hear God telling Bethlehem that it is "too small to be among the clans of Judah," yet regardless of size, "from you shall come forth from me one who is to be ruler in Israel...  his greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth; he shall be peace" (Mi 5:1-4a).

O little town of Bethlehem, how many in the world dismissed you as an inconsequential, quaint little village; a small settlement hardly worthy of note?  Yet the Master of the Universe came into the world in one of your humble stables.  No one would have looked at that manger from the outside, with its feeding trough and beds of hay, a rough shelter for animals, and imagined that it held within it the Author of all Creation.

The same could be said for Mary herself.  In today's Gospel reading from Luke, we hear Elizabeth's greeting of her cousin, those famous lines that have become part of the daily prayer life of Catholic Christians across the globe for millennia.  "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?"

Mary is the mother of the Lord.  This humble virgin, of no consequence to the political powers that be, with no wealth to her name, no boastfulness about her -- she is the theotokos, the Mother of God (literally "God bearer").  How can a human women, a creature made by God, herself be the Mother of God who exists unbegotten from before all time?  

The Church struggled with this question in the fifth century when it defended Mary's title as theotokos from the Nestorian heresy.  The reason had little to do with Mary and everything to do with Jesus Christ.  The Nestorians claimed that Mary was only mother of Christ's human nature, not his divine nature, and so could only be called mother of his humanity.  The Church argued that one could not divide Christ in this manner.  Christ has a human nature and a divine nature, but he is one Person.  Mothers do not give birth to natures, but to persons.  Saying that Mary is the Mother of God does not mean that she created God, but only that the person she bore in her womb was, in fact, God incarnate.  (We celebrate Mary's title of Mother of God on her feast on January 1, a holy day of obligation).

It seems impossible to us that a woman could carry the very God who made her in her womb.  But nothing is impossible with God.  This is the miracle and the mystery of Christmas.  It is a mystery that, I confess, I did not truly appreciate until ten years ago when I sat in a church pew holding my infant daughter, my first born.  She was only five months old her first Christmas.  I sat listening to the readings at Mass, looking down at her tiny face.  

She was totally helpless.  So tiny and frail, still learning how to move her arms and legs, and discovering her fingers.  She was utterly dependent upon her mother and I for all of her needs; her food, her health, her comfort and happiness.  So fragile.

And yet the Lord God, the Alpha and the Omega, all powerful and eternal, my Savior and my Judge, chose to be born into this world as a tiny, helpless, humble baby, just like the one I held in my arms.  

The love between a parent and a child is one of the strongest things in the universe, and it is into this love that God desired to come into the world.  When we say that "he humbled himself to be born of the Virgin Mary," we need to realize just how humble a newborn truly is.  Can you imagine changing God's diaper?  Giving the Lord a bath?  Nursing him at your breast?  Putting little socks on his cold feet?  Are you even worthy of doing such things?  No.  Nor was Mary.  But God allowed her to anyway, and that is the great gift.

None of us today are worthy enough to approach the Lord; but He approaches us.  He invites us to come near, to know him intimately; indeed to take his very life into our bodies and carry him with us wherever we go.  He stands at the entrance to that Bethlehem stable and beckons us to come inside and see him at his smallest, so that we might learn of his greatness.

This is your Christmas gift.  The Lord of the Universe who came into creation once as a newborn babe comes again today under the appearance of bread and wine.  He wants to make his home in you.  Good things do, indeed, come in small packages.

In anticipation of the great Feast of the Nativity this Tuesday, a Merry Christmas to all of you!  God bless!

     



--
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Gospel for Today

THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT (C)

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.  Indeed, the Lord is near.

Today is the third Sunday of Advent, traditionally known as Gaudete Sunday.  Gaudete is Latin for "rejoice," and the name comes from the opening word of the Entrance Antiphon of today's Mass.  Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete.  Dominus enim prope est.  Which means, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.  Indeed, the Lord is near."

This joyful theme is repeated in today's readings.  In the first reading from Zephaniah (Zep 3:14-18a) we are told, "Shout for joy, O daughter Zion!  Sing joyfully, O Israel! ... The Lord, your God, is in your midst."

In our responsorial psalm today we acclaim, "Cry out with joy and gladness, for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel."

In our second reading (Phil 4:4-7), St. Paul says, "Rejoice in the Lord always.  I shall say it again: rejoice! ...  The Lord is near."

Today is a festive day indeed.  In the penitential season of Advent, a season of preparation, we pause and express our great joy and excitement for we know that the one we are preparing for is just around the corner.  His arrival is imminent.   In today's world, it is as if a family member you have not seen in a very long time sends you a text message saying, "the plane just landed, I'll be home soon."  His arrival is closer to being a reality.  It changes from something you simply long and hope for, to something you can actually see on the horizon.  Excitement and anxiety builds.  Last minute preparations are made.

What last minute preparations do we need to make for Christ's arrival?  That is the question put to John the Baptist in today's gospel (Lk 3:10-18).  His answer seems simple. If you have two cloaks, share with the person who has none.  To the tax collectors, he tells them to stop taking more from the people than the law asks for.  To soldiers, stop extorting people.  In other words, behave yourself.  These are lessons parents teach their children: share, be fair, play nice.  

The heart of John's message is this: be generous; be selfless; think of others before yourself.  Be satisfied with what you have.  

We prepare for Christ's coming by "being on our best behavior" because, as John describes it, Jesus is coming to clean house.  "His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

One may find it a bit unusual to read about burning in unquenchable fire on a Sunday that is supposed to be about rejoicing.  How is eternal punishment joyful?

We rejoice because we can avoid that fate.  This is John's message.  Repent, ask for forgiveness, and change your selfish ways.  Begin living for others, and you may save your own life.  For those suffering from oppression, hardship, and injustice, the coming Reign of Christ is indeed a cause for rejoicing, for all will be set right.  The wicked shall be punished, while the lowly and righteous shall be exalted.  

For those whose hearts are turned to God, today is a day for rejoicing.  St. Paul's tells us to have no anxiety at all.  In everything, give thanks to God.  "Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."

John the Baptist tells the soldiers to be happy with their wages. St. Paul tells us to be thankful in all things.  Can we make those sentiments a reality in our lives?  As children, we look forward to Christmas often with more anticipation about the new toys we expect to get, than excitement over the birth of Christ.  Suddenly the games and gadgets we already have look tired and old.  They fail to satisfy us; we long for the new toys that Santa will bring.  Even as adults we are groomed by society to feel a certain amount of dissatisfaction this time of year.  As the year draws to a close we are expected to make "New Year's Resolutions" and think about how we can make things better for ourselves.  I want to get a raise next year.  I want to loose weight.  I want to make better grades.  

Improving ourselves is a noble goal, of course.  But the biggest improvement we can make is to be thankful for what we have now.  Do we recognize the gifts God has already given us in our lives?  Are we satisfied with them?  If we are, then, like St. Paul, we need feel no anxiety.  We know we are being cared for.  We know we are beloved of God.

So today, be joyful.  Be calm.  Be thankful.  And stand ready to accept the gift of God's peace that He longs to give you.  The Lord is near.  Gaudete!

--
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Weekly Update from CCM

Good afternoon, all students!  Catholic Campus Ministry hopes and prays that you are having a successful and stress-free exam week.  We pray that you be free from anxiety and that you find joy and peace this Advent season.  Have a wonderful Christmas break.

Our regular weekly schedule of activities is on pause until the spring semester (i.e. no dinner this Wednesday).  We will be spending the break getting geared up for another great semester at CCM.  Here are some important dates for you to mark on your calendar.

Jan 13:  First Mass on campus of the new year (7:30pm).
Jan. 25:  March For Life (DC)
Feb. 13:  Ash Wednesday
Feb. 15-17:  Give Your Heart Away service retreat
Mar. 15:  Bishop's Lenten Pilgrimage (Belmont)
Mar. 23-28:  CCM Alternative Spring Break trip (DC & Baltimore)

We hope you can join us at some of these events.  Of course we will have our regular Wednesday night dinners at 6:30 and will continue to offer opportunities for Adoration, the Rosary, Catholic discussion, Bible study and other faith enriching occasions, so stay tuned.  

Study hard, be safe, and have a great break!
Pax,
Matt


--
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Gospel For Today

Reminder:  Today will be the last Mass on campus for the year.  Masses on campus will resume on Jan. 13.  Enjoy your Christmas break, everyone!

SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT (C)

And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ...  Phil 1:9-10

What do you want for Christmas?  That's what everyone asks this time of year, as we prepare for our holiday gift giving.  But among all of our holiday preparations, are we preparing ourselves to receive the only gift that matters?

In today's Gospel reading we encounter the figure of John the Baptist, whose role as the last great prophet was to prepare the people of Israel to receive Christ.  "Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.  Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low.  The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God" (Lk3:5-6).  

Christ did not come to straighten out the hair pin curves on 107 between Cullowhee and Cashiers.  When John the Baptist is talking about making winding roads straight and filling in the valleys, he is talking about the roads and valleys of the human soul.  Are we prepared to receive Christ?  John may have been speaking to first century Jews at the time, but the message is still pertinent to us today.  Are we ready to receive Him?

I don't think the answer to that question can be a simple yes or no.  Preparing the way of the Lord in our hearts is not a one-time event, some activity we can do and then have it over with.  If we are not prepared, we need to get prepared.  And if we feel we are prepared for Him, we still need to continue working on it, making sure we stay that way.  It is an ongoing process.

I really like St. Paul's prayer in the second reading today, from his letter to the Philippians.  His prayer is that they may be prepared for "the day of Christ," which is to say His Second Coming.  He wants them to be pure and blameless when they meet Christ.  And the path he maps out for them is to increase in love, which will lead to more knowledge and better perception.  This love, knowledge, and perception will then allow them to "discern what is of value."

Discernment is a crucial aspect of our lives as Christians that often gets neglected.  Do we actively try to discern what is of value in our daily lives?  We participate in, and are influenced by so much each day.  Just think about what you see on Facebook, Youtube, on Pinterest, your email, your favorite blogs, television, what you hear on the radio, from your friends, your family, your professors, magazines, billboards, newspapers, movies, the list goes on and on.  Even beyond the media and the people in our lives, the general culture influences us.  From campus to the coffee shop, to the mall and museums, everything around us potentially molds and shapes our perceptions and thoughts.  

In the midst of all of this, we Christians have a great measure -- and that is Christ himself.  We have our very Maker, God Incarnate, Emmanuel (God is with us), the one who proclaimed boldly not the have the truth but to BE the Truth.  He is the way, the truth and the life.  He says, "Be not afraid," and also, "Come, follow me."  In Christ, and through His Church, we have a yard stick against which to measure every aspect of our lives.  If we increase in love of Him, as St. Paul prays, our eyes will be open so that we may "discern what is of value" amid everything we see and hear.

This does not, as some might fear, mean rejecting everything in the world.  It does mean, as Paul puts it in another letter, that we should "test everything; retain what is good" (1 Thes 5:21).  Everything can and should be tested against the mind of God, expressed in Christ, through His Church.  If it measures up, we should keep it.  If it fails to pass the test, it should be rejected as false and unworthy.  

This is true for small and large things. Every year around this season I hear some grumbling about "pagan" holiday traditions; things such as Christmas trees, wreathes, kissing under the mistletoe and yule logs are said to be of non-Christian pagan origins and therefore should not be endorsed.  Even the date of Dec. 25 is criticized as being the date of the pagan Roman festival to the God Saturn, celebrating the "Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun."  I say, so what?  We do not know the precise day of the year on which Jesus was born.  It is still an important enough occasion that we wish to celebrate it.  If people were used to celebrating the birthday of the Unconquerable Sun on Dec. 25, let's test that and retain what is good.  We retain the festival, the celebration, the joyful spirit; we reject the false Sun god and instead embrace the true Unconquerable Son, the Rising Star, Jesus Christ.  

The instruction to test everything and discern what is of value is even more important in our personal lives.  In choosing what it is we allow into our homes and into our minds, are we being discerning?  Are we testing everything against Christ and his love?  In choosing what we watch, what we read, the music we listen to; even the food we eat; even the friends we associate with; are we testing these things against what we know to be true in Christ? 

Only be doing so, by making Christ our rule and measure, can we begin to prepare the way for Him in our hearts, making straight the winding paths of our soul, and filling in the valleys.  The truly mystical thing about it all is that we need Christ in order to do this.  In order to prepare ourselves to receive Him worthily, we need to let Him into our hearts right now, as we are.  Christ is the end of the journey, but He is also the beginning.  He is the Alpha and the Omega.  He is the source and the summit.  He is the true Christmas gift.



--
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Weekly Update from CCM

Happy Advent!

This is the first week of Advent, but the last week of classes before exams.  It's also therefore the last week of regular activities in Catholic Campus Ministry.  We know you are busy cramming for exams, but we really hope you come and join us for our end of year holiday party!

This WEDNESDAY at 6:30pm, we have a special treat for dinner.  Our dear Maria is returning to Spain after this semester, and she wants to share with us a taste of her home before she departs.  She's whipping up some authentic Spanish omelettes for us, with a little help from Joseph.  You don't want to miss this meal!

After dinner, I'll do my famous rendition of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and we will have our annual Grinchy gift exchange!  Please bring a wrapped gift of $5 value to participate.  (I'll have some wrapping paper on hand at the Catholic Student Center for anyone who needs it -- just come by early before dinner).  

Then our choir will lead us in a round of Christmas carols.  Finally, those who want to continue the holiday spirit for the evening will be invited to wander the campus with our choir, singing Christmas carols and spreading good cheer.  

THURSDAY
"Tea @ 10" will meet as usual at Starbucks at 10pm for some good Catholic discussion.  (Several of us will also be going to see the Nutcracker at the Bardo Arts Center at 7:30pm, so perhaps we'll see you there!).

FRIDAY
Our final "TGIF" is here!  Get in one more power-hour with God before exams.   Come for Bible Study at 3pm.  Stay for Adoration at 4pm.

DEC. 8 - IMMACULATE CONCEPTION
Saturday, Dec. 8, is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  It is a Holy Day of Obligation in the United States, as the patron saint of our nation is Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception.   There will be a Vigil Mass at St. Mary's on Friday at 6:00pm, as well as a Mass on Saturday morning at 9:00am.  To organize rides and car pooling, please see our Facebook Group.  

SUNDAY
This Sunday, Dec. 9, will be our last Mass on campus for 2012.   Our next Mass on campus will be January 13.  See you there at 7:30pm.  Come get your final blessing -- or is that a blessing for your finals?  :-)

God bless and have a great week!
Matt

--
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Gospel For Today

FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT (C)

"Don't do drugs."  Everyone is told this message many times over growing up, from teachers, counselors, police officers and parents.  Let's imagine one students goes to a college with very low tolerance for drug use, where very few students abuse drugs, and it's not really part of the culture; so this student successful avoids drugs throughout their college years.  Another student attends a university known as a party school, where a large part of the student body abuses drugs on a regular basis as part of campus social life; this student also avoid using drugs, though they have to constantly and consistently resist temptation and say no to their peers.  

Both students have done good.  But which would you describe as more heroic?  Obviously the second student, who had to pluck up the courage to say no.  The first student is in a situation where it is easier to live a virtuous life.  This is the type of situation we would want to create for ourselves.  But the difficult situation faced by the second student is also an opportunity to increase in virtue.  That student is surrounded by sin and so must exercise greater discipline to remain pure.  Thus an occasion of difficulty and duress can be looked upon as an opportunity to exercise heroic virtue and thus draw closer to Gd.

In today's Gospel reading, Christ leaves his followers with a warning.  The situation sounds dire indeed...  "nations will be in dismay... people will die of fright."  Christ encourages them to "be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent..."  He is speaking of the situation on earth before his Second Coming.  But he could be speaking to any of us, any generation (for indeed, no one knows when the Lord may return).  Each generation has faced trials and tribulations, some more dire than others.  

But the Lord says, "when you see these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand."  Remaining pure and holy through times of trial is a great occasion to draw closer to God.  It is through difficulty that we are redeemed.  How can we do this?

We must first learn to rely on the Lord.  One of the reasons Jesus says it is so difficult for a rich man to enter heaven is because people who have easy lives are not used to relying on others and asking for help.  And that is precisely what we need to do to invite God into our lives -- rely on him and ask for his gracious help.  Difficult times can teach us this lesson.

When we ask the Lord to strengthen us in difficult times, how does he respond?  Not by making us cold and hard hearted, to protect us from being hurt.  No, he does the opposite.  He increases our capacity for love.  In his first letter to the Thessalonians (today's second reading) St. Paul prays, "May the Lord make you increase and about in love for one another and for all... so as to strengthen your hearts..."  Love makes us vulnerable, it is true, but it is the only path to true strength.  A Christian overcomes trials and difficulties by love.

What does love gain us?  In addition to strengthening our hearts, St. Paul says it will make us "blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones."  In short, love gains us God; which is to say, it gains us everything.  

Advent is a season of expectation.  The name Advent means "coming."  We look forward to Christmas when we celebrate the first coming of our Lord at his birth over 2000 years ago.  That first coming is an historical fact.  So too will be his Second Coming.  Our entire lives should be a season of advent as we wait in joyful and loving expectation for that day.  There will be difficult times between that day and now.  Jesus assures us of this.  It will be hard.  But if we stay close to God, if we live our lives full of love and humility, joy and courage, we will remain close to him and by our heroic witness do glory to his holy name on that day.  Come, Lord Jesus!

--
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Weekly Update from CCM

Dear Students,

I trust you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving.  I hope each of you had an opportunity to relax and spend time with family and friends during the break.  It's time for that final push through to the end of the semester!  Things are also winding down at the Catholic Student Center, with only two more weeks of activities.  We have some light-hearted, fun things planned for you to hopefully provide a break from the stress of getting those papers and projects completed and studying for exams.

WEDNESDAY
This week is our next-to-last Wednesday dinner of the year.  Come join us at 6:30 for a home cooked meal.  Afterwards, we have a holiday-themed activity planned for you.  Those who participate will have a nice souvenir of their CCM family to take home with them over Christmas break, so you don't want to miss it!  Next Wednesday, Dec. 5, will be our last dinner of the year, and our annual end-of-semester/holiday party, including our infamous "Grinch Gift Exchange."  We ask people to bring a $5 value wrapped gift to share.  Stay tuned for details next week!

THURSDAY
I will not be in my office on Thursday due to a meeting at the Diocesan Pastoral Center in Charlotte.  The "Tea @ 10" discussion group will meet at Starbucks at 10pm.

FRIDAY
Our "TGIF" activities are back on track this week!  Bible Study at 3pm and Adoration at 4pm.  Come for one, or both of these faith enriching opportunities.  For our scripture study, we take an in depth look at the readings for the coming Sunday Mass.  It's amazing how much richer your experience of the liturgy is when you have read and prayed with the scripture readings in advance.  Come join our discussion!

A TIME FOR EVERY SEASON
Contrary to what some might lead you to believe, it is not Christmas yet.  It's not even Advent (that won't start until this Sunday).  But look around you and you'll probably find that "it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas..."  Every year, as Halloween approaches, you can count on retail stores putting away their pumpkins and getting out the Christmas wreathes, red bows, and artificial trees.  People complain that "it's not even Thanksgiving yet!" but the retailers at least have an excuse.  They are trying to sell products.  If people want to have holiday decorations for their home, the stores have to have them available well before the holiday.  And for many in today's society, Christmas begins the day after Thanksgiving, or before!

I saw my first Christmas tree glimmering in a neighbor's window ten days before Thanksgiving this year.  That's a new record for me.  Many families I know put up their Christmas tree the Friday after Thanksgiving.  The "Christmas Season" begins when they see Santa in the Macy's Parade, and ends with a grand celebration on Christmas Day.  But they have it wrong.  The Christmas season does not end on Dec. 25th -- that's when it begins.  We've been celebrating Christmas earlier and earlier in recent years.  Many people I know in their 60s and 70s have fond memories of setting up the Christmas tree with their families on Christmas Eve, before heading out to Midnight Mass.  One friend told me that he didn't even see a Christmas tree in his house until he come downstairs on Christmas morning to find his living room magically transformed into a holiday wonderland!  (Mom and Dad must have been busy that night).

Of course holiday traditions change over time, and my family does not wait until Christmas Eve to put up our tree.  I'm no Scrooge!  But we certainly don't celebrate Thanksgiving as if it were "Christmas Part I."  There is a whole liturgical season between now and Christmas called Advent, and we like to celebrate that with due reverence.  Our practice has been to decorate our home for the holidays gradually over the Advent season, with our home getting more festive as we approach the day of our Lord's birth.  We'll begin this Sunday with a simple Advent wreath, and by Dec. 25th we'll be in full Christmas mode!

However you mark the holidays in your homes, I encourage you to give each special time its due and not to rush ahead to the next celebration.  The problem with starting our Christmas too early is that we miss the grace and joy that Advent has to offer; and when Christmas finally rolls around we are tired of it.  The Church has a rich liturgical calendar full of special feasts and seasons; we should take care to live in the present, to enjoy the time that we are in and what it has to teach us.

This Sunday begins a new year in the Church.  The two grandest celebrations in the Church year are Easter and Christmas, marking the Resurrection of our Lord, and His birth in Bethlehem.   These celebrations are so important that we don't just mark them with a single day, but a whole season.  Christmas begins on Dec. 25, and lasts until the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which this year will be on January 13.  (I remember one year wishing a woman "Merry Christmas" the week after New Year and she looked at me like I lost my mind!)  The Easter season runs seven full weeks through Pentecost.  Each of these festival seasons is preceded by a more somber season of penance and preparation, Advent and Lent.  The rest of the Church's year is filled with other minor and major celebrations marking events in the life of Christ, and celebrating the lives of the saints.  It is important that we give each time and season its due.

As we begin a new Church year this Sunday, I encourage you to explore the spirit and traditions of Advent.  Mark this special time in its own way.  Keep the Christmas spirit as a spirit of anticipation, like you are looking forward to the arrival of a very special guest.  Advent is indeed a time of preparation and anticipation.  I have found in my time that the best way to guarantee a Merry Christmas is with a prayerful Advent.

God bless all of you!
Matt



--
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Gospel For Today

SOLEMNITY OF CHRIST THE KING (B)

Today we celebrate the end of the Church's liturgical year, the last Sunday before we enter the Advent season, and the start of a new year for the Church.  The readings last Sunday focused on Christ's return at the end of time; as we move into Advent the readings will continue to look forward to Christ's second coming for a couple of weeks until we shift gears and begin to look back to His first coming as a babe in Bethlehem, in anticipation of the Christmas celebration.  But regardless of whether we are speaking of His coming at the end of time, or his coming as a newborn in a manger, we speak of his arrival as that of a King.  And so it is fitting, as we cap off the liturgical cycle, to have one final, grand celebration of Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe.

However, this is not some ancient feast, first celebrated 1600 years ago in Antioch or Ephesus.  Christ the King is actually a very modern celebration, first being instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI.  He did so as a way of combating secularism.  Secularism is essentially living your life as if Christ did not matter.  Pope Pius XI wanted to remind us that Christ absolutely did matter -- not just when we attend Mass on Sunday, but every day, every hour of our lives, in every aspect of our lives.  Christ is King of the Universe -- all space and time, in all its aspects.

Today's celebration is meant to remind us of certain things.  First, Christ is the creator of the universe.  All things were made by Him, and so all things belong to Him.  Second, that Christ is our redeemer and has purchased us with His very Body and Blood.  We belong to Him.  Third, He is head of the Church.  And lastly, that God has bestowed upon Christ all the nations on earth; all are in His care.  In other words, there is no limit, either in time nor space, to Christ's sovereignty.  "I am the Alpha and the Omega" says the Lord.  The beginning and the end.  

We should not think of Christ as being like earthly rulers -- the royalty and politicians that we know and see on the news.  Rather, our worldly leaders should try to be like Him in their leadership.  Our earthly kings resemble Christ in their kingship in the same was that the artist resembles God in His creating power.  The artist creates, and in doing so shares in some small way a character of God the Creator.  But the painting, sculpture, or poem is a small, dim reflection of the glory of Creation itself.  And so our worldly leaders, at their best, are still dim reflections of the benevolent and eternal kingship of Jesus Christ.

Jesus exercises His kingship with the heart of a shepherd.  While the readings at today's Mass speak of glory and power and dominion (and rightly so), the prayers offered in the Liturgy of the Hours show us what kind of King we have in Christ.  The intercessory prayers from the morning office begin, "Christ, you are our savior and our God, our shepherd and our king, lead your people to life-giving pastures."  And they continue, "Good Shepherd, you laid down your life for your sheep, rule over us, and in your care we shall want for nothing."

Christ is a majestic King, ruling over the cosmos from all eternity.  He is also a shepherd who does not want even one lamb to go astray.  Today we should rejoice, for we have such a powerful and loving Lord.

-----

The Church gives us an opportunity this day to gain a plenary indulgence -- that is, a remission before God of all the temporal punishment due for sin which has already been forgiven (when our sins are forgiven in the sacrament of Confession, the eternal punishment for those sins is remitted, but there may be temporal punishment still due us.  It is this temporal punishment that is paid in purgatory).  To gain a plenary indulgence, one must be in a state of grace, have recently gone to confession, receive the Eucharist, and pray for the intention of the Pope.  These things are generally done on the same day as the indulgenced act, but can be done "within several days" (according to Canon Law).  To gain the indulgence today, the Church asks us to make a public recitation of this prayer.

Most sweet Jesus, Redeemer of the human race, look down upon us humbly prostrate before you. We are yours, and yours we wish to be; but to be more surely united with you, behold each one of us freely consecrates himself today to your Most Sacred Heart. Many indeed have never known you; many, too, despising your precepts, have rejected you. Have mercy on them all, most merciful Jesus, and draw them to your Sacred Heart. Be King, O Lord, not only of the faithful who have never forsaken you, but also of the prodigal children who have abandoned you; grant that they may quickly return to their Father's house, lest they die of wretchedness and hunger. Be King of those who are deceived by erroneous opinions, or whom discord keeps aloof, and call them back to the harbor of truth and the unity of faith, so that soon there may be but one flock and one Shepherd. Grant, O Lord, to your Church assurance of freedom and immunity from harm; give tranquility of order to all nations; make the earth resound from pole to pole with one cry: Praise to the divine Heart that wrought our salvation; to it be glory and honor for ever. Amen.

--
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Weekly Update from CCM

Dear Students,

Have a WONDERFUL Thanksgiving break!  Because of the break this week, our usual Catholic Campus Ministry activities for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday are cancelled.  We WILL be having Mass this Sunday at 7:30pm, as usual.  We will be celebrating the great solemnity of Christ the King, so we hope you can join us.  

Thanksgiving is an American holiday, not a Catholic holiday, but it still is a holiday deep with religious significance.  Many people assume the first Thanksgiving was celebrated at the Plymouth settlement in November of 1621.  It was then, to mark the first anniversary of the their arrival, that Governor William Bradford declared a day of prayer thanksgiving to God for their survival.  The sixty pilgrims were joined by ninety or so Native Americans, and after that, the custom of celebrating a day of Thanksgiving spread to other colonies in the New World.

After the Revolutionary War, President Washington declared that November 26, 1789, be "a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and sole favors of Almighty God."  But it did not become a national holiday until 1863 when Lincoln declared that the last Thursday in November be celebrated each year "as a day of Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father."

So, in its origins, Thanksgiving is a holiday established in our country not just as an occasion to "give thanks" in a generic sort of way, but specifically to give thanks to God for all the blessings we have in our lives.  

This thought is very much in keeping with Catholic tradition.  Our principle feast, the Sacrament we celebrate each day in Catholic churches across the world, and which faithful Catholics are obliged to participate in each Sunday, is the Eucharist.  That word -- eucharist -- comes from the Greek meaning, "to give thanks."  

When Christ instituted the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, he did so by taking bread and wine, blessing it, and offering thanks to the Father.  He instructs us to do the same, in memory of Him.  With this Sacrament, we are forever linked to the sacrifice Christ made for us on the cross at Calvary.  Forever more, from that point on, animal sacrifices would no longer be offered in an attempt to make reparations to God for our sins.  The bloody sacrifices of old represented a people trying their best to say, "I'm sorry" for their failings and imperfections, their evils and wrong doings.  But no amount of sacrifice on their part could make up for the distance between our sinfulness and God's holiness.

Only God could bridge that gap, and He did exactly that through the perfect sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ.  Now, when we participate in the sacrifice of the Mass, we do so with a spirit of eucharist.  We do so with a spirit of thanksgiving.  

This Thursday, wherever you are, whether you are gathered around a table with family, enjoying a delicious feast, or sitting alone eating a more humble meal, don't forget to offer a prayer to your Heavenly Father in gratitude for all the many blessings in your life; especially the greatest blessing of all, the gift of His Son, our Savior.  Don't forget to say, "Thank you, Father."

God bless,
Matt

--
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Gospel For Today

THIRTY-THIRD SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME (B)

I'm sure you've seen the cartoons of the old man walking through the city streets holding a sign saying, "The End is Near!"  No one takes him seriously.  But that's what Jesus tells us in today's Gospel reading.  He speaks of the "days [of] tribulation" and the sun being darkened, the stars falling from the sky, and the Son of Man coming in the clouds to gather up the elect from the ends of the earth.  The End Times.

It sounds like a Hal Lindsay book (or a Kirk Cameron movie), doesn't it?  Our Evangelical and Fundamentalist brothers and sisters tend to be a bit more concerned with the end of the world and the Second Coming of Christ than Catholics typically are.  But each year at this time, as we approach the end of the liturgical year, our readings start to focus more on the end of all things.  

We are preparing the Advent, which will start in two weeks, after the final great celebration of Ordinary Time, next Sunday's feast of Christ the King.  The word advent comes to us from the Latin for "coming," and it refers not only to Christ's first coming as a newborn baby at Christmas, but also to his second coming in glory at the end of time.  Like the first Christians who believed Christ would return during their lifetimes, we continue to look forward to the second coming of Christ to this day.

We live in an area surrounded by Protestant Christians, many of whom have rather different understandings about the end of time than the Catholic Church has traditionally held.  Many of you have no doubt heard of "the Rapture," an event in which all the faithful Christians will supposedly be taken up into the sky to meet with Christ, after which they will be removed from the earth while the period of tribulation takes place -- a horrible time of trials and testing, giving sinners one last opportunity to repent before the end of time.  

We hear about this from many of our Protestant friends, but we don't hear about it at all from our Catholic pastors.  Why is that?  Well, there is a good reason.  It's not what the Church believes about the Second Coming.  Truth be told, it's not what most Protestants believe, either.  The idea of a pre-tribulation rapture was unheard of in Christianity until the 1800s, when it was formulated by a man named John Nelson Darby, an early leader of the Fundamentalist movement.  

Darby is the father of what is known as Dispensational theology.  Darby's theology was picked up by a man named Scofield who published Darby's view in his Scofield Reference Bible, which was sold widely across America and England.  And so Darby's view of the Rapture became more widely held, especially among Fundamentalist and Evangelical Protestants; it has even found its way into more mainstream Protestant circles.  But it is utterly foreign to Catholicism.

If you'd like to read a bit more on different Christian's views on the Rapture and the End Times, and what the Catholic Church teaches about them, I refer you to this brief article by Catholic Answers.

So what do Catholics believe about the end of the world?  Most importantly, we believe that it will happen.  Not just an end to our little planet Earth, but an end of all things, of all time.  We live in a finite universe.  All of creation had a beginning, and it will have an end.  Our story will come to a close.

We do believe that Christ will come again, as we pray each time we recite the Nicene or Apostle's Creed.  We believe that the Second Coming will occur at the end of time (not at the beginning of some thousand-year earthly reign of peace here on earth).  And we believe in the general resurrection -- that is, at the end of time all the dead will be raised from the earth.  The righteous will be gathered together with Christ, while the unrighteous... not so much.  

As the first reading today from Daniel attests, "Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake; some shall live forever, others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace."

And most importantly, we don't pretend to know precisely when this will take place. We don't comb through books like Daniel and Revelation, looking for some secret code or formula that will tell us the precise day and hour of the Second Coming.  If you see or hear of anyone doing this, don't give him the time of day.  For Christ himself has said, "But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father" (Mk 13:32).

But that day is coming.  Of that we can be sure.  And whether the end of time will be tomorrow or billions of years from now, we each will face our own "end time" in our lives comparatively soon.  Any of us could die this hour, or eighty years from now.  But we will die, and we will face our own judgment, in anticipation of the final judgment to come.  

Are you prepared for that this day?  This is the message for us as the Church year draws to a close, as we think of the end of all times, and look forward to the advent, to the coming of our Lord in glory.  May we be among those standing ready to welcome Him in joy and in love.

  

--
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723


Friday, November 16, 2012

Are you interested in Spring Break with CCM?

Dear Students,

So I know most of you are probably not thinking SPRING BREAK yet, but it will be here before you know it. This coming Spring Break is March 23-March 31. That is also Holy Week (March 31 is Easter). Your Peer Ministry council and I are talking about putting together an Alternative Spring Break trip that would involve a trip to the Washington, DC, area where we would do a variety of activities involving both volunteer service as well as pilgrimage (visiting the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, as an example) and sight seeing. 

Keeping in mind that this is also the Easter holiday, and knowing many of you would have family commitments, we need to gauge the interest level to know whether we can make this a reality. To this end, I have posted a poll in our Facebook Group. The re
sults of this poll will help us to determine whether we will be putting on this trip, and how long it will be. As this is all still in the planning stages, we cannot tell you precisely how much it will cost. Our lodging will be free. The majority of activities we plan to do would be free. Our only costs would be food, and travel expenses. For the sake of this question, let's estimate for now it would cost between $100 and $150 per person (obviously more or less depending on how long the trip is). 

We are asking people to respond according to their interest in going. We are asking people to indicate if they are likely to go on the trip -- we are not asking for a firm commitment at this time. (Although do not say you are interested if you know good and well you are not likely to go). 

We'd like to know as soon as possible what the interest level is so that we can get to planning. Please follow the link below to go to this poll question on Facebook.  There is an option for not interested, and there is also an option for those who are interested in principle, but who cannot go this year (this lets us know it might be something to consider in the future).  Thanks, everyone, for your attention.


--
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Weekly Update from CCM

Dear Students,

I hope you are all having a great week.  Let's get right to this week's announcements!

WEDNESDAY
Our chefs du jour for our Wednesday night fellowship meal will be Mary & Britt.  They will be making chili for us - a nice warm meal for a cold autumn evening.  After dinner, Kaitlyn has a fun Thanksgiving-themed program lined up for us, with an optional field trip to Jack the Dipper afterwards, for any who are so inclined.  So come join us for an evening of fellowship and fun this Wednesday at 6:30pm!

THURSDAY
Our regular "Tea @ 10" Catholic discussion group will be meeting at 8:00pm this week (so I guess we need to call it "Tea @ 8").  The meeting will be at the Catholic Student Center rather than Starbucks, as usual.  The change in time and venue is to accommodate me.  I'll be joining the group this week, and ten is past my bedtime. :-)  The topic of the week is homosexuality -- what does the Church teach, and what should our attitude/relationship as Catholics be towards those with same-sex attraction?  I'll be there to answer your questions.  In other words, this is not a lecture, but a Q&A and discussion opportunity.  The discussion group is open to any and all who wish to attend.  If you have a particular question you would like addressed, but would prefer not to ask it in front of a group, please email your question to me at ccm@wcucatholic.org and I will answer all emailed questions on Thursday night anonymously.  Hope to see you there!

FRIDAY
A reminder that each Friday we offer Bible Study at 3pm, followed by Eucharistic Adoration at 4pm.  It's open to all, very much come-as-you-are, and a great way to start off your weekend.  Come and spend some quality time with the Lord who made you!  

THANKSGIVING (and a way to help CCM!)
Are you headed home for Thanksgiving?  Do you know anyone in your family who would like to help out Catholic Campus Ministry?  Or do you know anyone in your family who would like a chance to win $2000?  There is a way they can do both at once!  CCM in the Diocese of Charlotte is putting on a raffle with a grand prize of $2000 cash (with a second place prize of $1000).  Each chance is $20, and the all of proceeds go to support campus ministry.  I have raffle tickets on hand to sell.  What I would like is for as many students as possible to agree to take a few tickets home over Thanksgiving to offer to family members.  Are you thankful for free meals every week with your CCM friends?  Are you thankful to have Mass available on campus?  Are you thankful to have so many wonderful retreat opportunities?  Are you thankful to have a campus minister available to listen to you, pray with you, and answer your questions?  These things are only possible because of the generous gifts of parents, friends, and other family and supporters.  This Thanksgiving, please invite your family to help support us, too.  

If you are going to be talking with your parents before you head home next week for Thanksgiving break, why not ask them if they would be willing to buy a ticket or two, or if they think grandma or Aunt Edna might like to take a ticket?  That way you will know going home that you've already got some tickets sold.  If you are willing to help out with this raffle fundraiser effort, please come see me and I'll assign some tickets to you.  Whether you sell the tickets or not over the break, you will have my thanks and gratitude!  

Pax Christi,
Matt 

--
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Gospel for Today

THIRTY-SECOND SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME (B)

Jesus sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, "Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood."

Sometimes the points Jesus make seem so straightforward, one has to wonder why his disciples seemed so befuddled most of the time.  This passage appears to be one of those instances when our Lord was so plain spoken.  His point is obvious.  If Bill Gates gives a million dollars to charity, it may be the equivalent of you or I giving only a dollar, in terms of its impact to our finances.  However, if a homeless man has only $5 to his name after a day spent begging on the streets, and he chooses to buy two items from the Wendy's dollar menu and put the other $3 in the collection basket at the church, his sacrifice is much more significant, because it represents more of a hardship for him.

It's not hard to see the difference between the two gifts.  Bill Gates is never going to miss that million dollars.  But the $3 the homeless man gave could have bought him breakfast and lunch the next day.  This is what Jesus meant when he said the rich men were contributing "from their surplus wealth."  They were giving what they did not really need anyway.  That's not what we are called to do.  We are supposed to give the first fruits of our labor to God -- not the leftovers.

I think most of us get this.  We can see how the $3 gift from the man who has nothing means more than the million dollar gift from the man who has everything.  We get that, we really do.  But...

But isn't there a part of us, perhaps a big part, that says, "So what?"  

What does it matter how much it cost the giver to make the gift?  What does it matter if the donor was giving from his surplus or not?  The end result is that Bill Gate's million dollar gift can do far more to help people in need than the poor man's $3.  Wouldn't any charitable organization much rather have the million dollar gift?  In fact, if a few more billionaires like Bill Gates would make million dollar donations, then charities would not have to rely so much on small donations from poor people who probably can't afford to give anyway.  They'd be better off.  Wouldn't this actually be a better scenario?

From a purely pragmatic, secular, material vantage point, that is probably true.  But since when was Jesus concerned about purely material, pragmatic things?  

We are getting ready to enter into the season of Advent, which, like Lent, is a penitential season.  These seasons of penance in the Church year are marked by prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  Why do we do those things?  We pray to help us grow in holiness.  We fast to purify and discipline ourselves, so that we can grow in holiness.  And we give alms to help those in need, right?  Well yes, that is part of it.  But almsgiving is grouped alongside prayer and fasting for a reason.  Like prayer and fasting, the deeper, spiritual meaning of almsgiving is to help us grow in holiness, as well.

Almsgiving is a two sided proposition.  On the one hand we give to help others.  But that gift is simultaneously a sacrifice which helps us to sanctify ourselves.  Living the Christian life, becoming more Christ-like, involves making sacrifices.  It involves self-giving.  This applies to all aspects of our lives -- we freely and joyfully give of our time, our talent, our love, and our material goods.  If we only give of our surplus, then we may be achieving one of the goals of almsgiving, helping others, but we are neglecting the other goal, that of sacrifice; and so our gift is of no spiritual benefit to us.

When we give freely -- not just from our excess, shrewdly calculating what we can afford -- we foster a sense of detachment from our worldly goods.  That is an excellent spiritual practice.  It reminds us that our material possessions don't really belong to us.  They belong to God; we are only borrowing them for a while.  We don't actually need those things.  We will not find joy and happiness in material possessions.  

I recently read a homily from a priest who was making a point about why the Scriptures say it is so hard for a rich man to enter heaven.  It is not because there is anything wrong with being rich, per se, this pastor said.  But rich people are far less accustomed to relying on God.  It is much harder for them to trust and ask others for help.  They are too self-reliant, and this bleeds over into the spiritual realm.

The woman in today's first reading gives us the opposite example.  Elijah comes to her and asks for a cake of bread.  This poor woman only had a small handful of flour and a few drops of oil left to make bread with -- enough for her and her son to have one last small meal before they starved.  Why didn't Elijah find the town baker to ask for bread?  Surely someone like that would have been far more likely to have an extra loaf on hand he could give.  He'd never miss it.  But that's not the point.  Elijah asked the poor woman who had nothing.  And she gave to Elijah from her poverty.  Elijah told her "Do not be afraid," and because she trusted in God, the scriptures tell us she and her son were able to eat for a year after that.  She did not fear.  And the Lord provided.  

This is the spiritual practice Jesus wants us to foster in ourselves.  Give freely from what you have.  And do not fear.  The more you give to help others -- not only money, but of your time, your love, your talents as well -- the more you give, the more you empty yourself, the more you will be filled with the spirit of Christ.  The more you will grow in holiness.  You will learn to rely on the Lord.  You will learn to trust in Him for your needs.  And only then will you find peace.

God bless!
Matt

--
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Weekly Update from CCM

Dear Students,

Today is Election Day.  I hope you all were able to vote.  More on that later... for now, here's what's coming up with CCM this week!

WEDNESDAY
Come join us for our regular weekly fellowship dinner & program this Wednesday at 6:30.  Ali is cooking for us, and in a little post-Halloween spookiness, Kevin is putting together a program about those renegade angels... demons!  Come learn a little about the creepier side of our faith.  It should be interesting!

THURSDAY
The "Tea @ 10" discussion group is meeting in Starbucks at 10pm.  Anyone is welcome to join, and bring your questions about the Catholic faith.  Also a note:  due to an Education Vicariate meeting in Hickory, I will be out of my office all day on Thursday.

FRIDAY
Come join us for our Bible Study at 3pm, followed by Eucharistic Adoration in our chapel at 4pm.  

SATURDAY
This Saturday is our Habitat For Humanity work day!  If you have already contacted Kaitlyn Conger about going, she will soon be sending you information about what time to meet.  (We don't usually know exactly where the work site is until a few days before hand, so that impacts how early we will need to meet to leave campus).  If you have not already sent your intent to go to Kaitlyn, please do so ASAP!  Her email is kmconger1@catamount.wcu.edu or you can find her on Facebook.

SUNDAY
Rosary at 7:00pm.  Mass at 7:30pm.  

THE CITY OF GOD...
St. Augustine of Hippo wrote his masterpiece (one of many masterpieces, I may add), City of God, in the early fifth century.  He wrote this work to explain Christianity's relationship not only with competing religions and philosophies, but with the Roman empire, as well.  It is perhaps the earliest work that tackles the subject of how the church should relate to the state.  In that work, St. Augustine argues that it does not really matter what form of government man lives under, so long as that government does not force him into iniquity.

What does Augustine mean by that?  Aren't some forms of government better than others?  Well, sure.  But it is important to remember that the Catholic Church does not endorse any one particular form of government.  The Church allows for people to live in a democracy, under a monarchy, in a federal republic, a tribal system, and many other forms of government.  One can argue that certain types of government are better economically, or socially, etc., but these are questions for lay people to decide.  In terms of the Christian faith, St. Augustine says any of these are fine, so long as none of them force man "into iniquity."  That is, no form of human government should force a man to live in sin.

This is, in Augustine's view, the exact opposite of government's purpose.  Government, according to his treatise, is aimed primarily at the common good.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church, quoting from the Second Vatican Council, tells us that the common good is "the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily" (CCC 1906).  The Catechism then goes on to identify three elements of the common good: respect for the human person, social well-being and development, and peace.  "It is the role of the state to defend and promote the common good of civil society" (CCC 1910).  Finally, "the common good is always oriented towards the progress of persons: 'The order of things must be subordinate to the order of persons, and not the other way around.'  This order is founded on truth, built up in justice, and animated by love" (CCC 1912).

So in a just society, persons come before things.  And the common good helps those persons to reach their fulfillment.  Now human persons have certain needs that need to be met; food, water, hygiene, education, etc.  A just society should allow people to acquire those things.  But these essentials are there in order that we may more easily pursue our fulfillment.  The ultimate end of man, our purpose in life, is to be holy so that we may share eternity with our Creator.  A just society is one in which each individual is allowed to better himself and grow in holiness.  

This does not mean that human governments should necessarily outlaw everything that is immoral and damaging to a man's soul.  Even St. Augustine saw that this would be foolish.  He makes the point that making everything that is a sin punishable by law would place an unduly heavy burden on people.  Only those sinful things which are especially damaging to the social order should be outlawed (things like murder and theft, etc.).  

But the flip side of this is that human government should NOT in any way, through its laws and precepts, inhibit men from living good moral lives.  Human government should never force its citizens to cooperate in sinful actions, to act against their consciences, or otherwise prohibit people from following the good.  Such a government would stymie moral growth and development, and do harm to the common good.

I thought about St. Augustine and his City of God today when I read this quotation from one of our Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson.  "A wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor and bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government."  I thought about St. Augustine today in the voting booth as I cast my ballot.

I know most students reading this will have already voted by absentee ballot.  I just want to say to you, no matter how the election turns out, to please do your best, throughout your lives, to do what you can to help form and sustain a just society in our country.  At the end of the day, your job is not to be a good Republican or a good Democrat.  It's not even to be a good American.  Your job is simply to be good.  Let's pray for our government leaders, that they may help to create a society that helps people achieve the good.

God bless!
Matt

--
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Gospel For Today

THIRTY-FIRST SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME (B)

click here for readings

"Which is the first of all the commandments?"  Jesus replied, "The first is this.. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.  The second is this:  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no other commandment greater than these."


The above is from today's Gospel reading (Mk 12:28b-34).  My question for you is this:  When Jesus says there is no other commandment greater than these, is he doing away with the commandments given to the Isrealites by God through Moses?  The answer is no, he is not.  Jesus himself said he did not come to abolish the old law, but rather to fulfill it (Mt. 5:17).  Rather than doing away with the Ten Commandments, what Jesus does in today's gospel is to get right to the heart of them.

The Ten Commandments are a great gift to mankind.  I have heard people grumble that Christianity is all about the negative, telling people what they cannot do, and the Ten Commandments are the perfect example of this with all their "Thou shalt nots."  My response to this is to laugh and point out that it was much more efficient for God to tell us the few things we can't do than to list out all the great multitude of good things we can do.  Besides, knowing one's limitations can be freeing.  

Imagine a playground for children that's set in the center of a small desert island in the south Pacific (I don't know why anyone would build such a thing, just go with it).  The ocean currents are swift and dangerous, and so to keep the children safe, they have to stay huddled in the center of the island, for fear of getting too close to the shore and being swept away.  Now if someone comes along and builds a fence around the perimeter of the island, the children can freely enjoy the whole island without fear.  God's commandments are like that fence.  They are not restrictive, but freeing, because they establish the safe boundaries for our lives.  Stay within the perimeter of the commandments and you are free to enjoy all life has to offer without worry of being swept away by sin.  It is only when we "jump the fence" that we are in danger.  That's not freedom; it is spiritual suicide.

Jesus today shows us that God's commandments are not in fact based in negativity; they are based in love.  First and foremost is the love of God.  The first three commandments deal with this love.

1. You shall have no other gods before me.

2. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.

3. Remember to keep holy the Lord's Day.

All of these have to do with our right relationship with God.  The rest of the commandments deal with how we relate to our neighbors.  Jesus tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves.  This means...

4. Honor your father and mother.

5. Don't murder.

6. Don't commit adultery.

7. Don't steal.

8. Don't lie.

9. Don't covet your neighbor's spouse.

10. Don't cover your neighbor's goods.

The fourth commandment can actually be considered a "hinge" between the first three and the last six.  Jesus teaches us to call God our Father, and so the first father we must honor is the one "who art in heaven."  Human parents derive their authority (and their position of honor) from the divine parent, God.  And so we honor our fathers and mothers here because they are the first reflections of God for us as children.  While we acknowledge God as our Creator, we know our parents had a hand in it, as well (we call the act of conceiving children procreation after all, because we assist in God's act of creation).  They brought us into being, they teach us the ways of the Lord, instruct us in the faith, and show us what it means to be good and loving Christian people, with the hope of eternal life for us.  And we honor them for doing those things.

And what if our human parents don't do those things, or don't do them well?  We still honor them, perhaps not so much for what they are, but for what they ought to be; for what they could be in cooperation with God's grace.  

We honor them not because we have to, but because we know it is right to do so.  We honor them because we love them.  

And that, dear students, is the motivation behind all of the Commandments -- love.  When we break any commandment, it is a violation of love.  We commit an unloving act, either against a fellow human being or against God himself.  We do harm to a relationship (and to our own dignity).  This is why we call Confession the Sacrament of Reconciliation -- because through it we are reconciled with God and with our neighbor.  

St. Augustine once summed up the whole moral law in this way:  "Love God.  Then do as you will."  

What he meant was not that it is okay for us to do anything at all, so long as we say we love God.  What he meant was that if you truly love God you will not want to do anything that would damage your relationship with Him.  You would not want to do anything that was against Love. 

This is why Christ implores us to love God, not just a little, and not just on Sundays.  We need to love him with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, with all our strength.  It should be a fierce love.  And likewise with our neighbors -- we don't just love them when it is convenient to do so, but we love them as we love ourselves, which means constantly and consistently wanting nothing but good for them.  Our love of self should motivate us to become saints, so that we may enjoy eternity with God, in communion with the other saints and angels.  We want our neighbors to be there, too, so we should be helping them to become saints in this life.

It's all about love.  Love of God.  Love of neighbor.  Love of self.  (In that order).  Put that into practice and things start to make sense.

God bless!

Matt

--

WCU Catholic Campus Ministry

Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister

www.WCUCatholic.org

  

(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723

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