Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Weekly Update from CCM

Good morning, students!

A few brief reminders for this week....

Your campus minister, doing his duty.
That's right, I have jury duty this week.  It's a week's service, which means that I may or may not be required to be at court any day this week.  The way it has been working yesterday and today is that jurors call in each day to see whether they will be required to report in or not.  So this week will be rather hit or miss as far as me being available in my office.  Jury service is an important part of our judicial system which I am glad to participate in.  I ask for your patience if I am not as available this week as I normally am.

Just Dance!
Catholic Campus Ministry is hosting a "Just Dance" party TONIGHT at the Catholic Student Center.  We'll get the ball rolling at 7pm, so please come by and join us for some FUN!

Supper @ the Center
Please join us this Wednesday night at 6:30 for our usual home cooked supper at the Center!  Our program this week will be discussion led by Alex Cassell about Christian acceptance.  Jesus commands us to love our neighbor.  But what happens when we don't necessarily like our neighbor?  What does it mean to love someone that you have personality conflicts with?  How do we form a good relationship with that person?  As college students, you know that your nearest neighbor can be very close by (like, in the bunk below you).  This should be an interesting discussion, so please join us.

Quote of the Week
"The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people." - G. K. Chesterton

Atheists on the Loose!
I have had several encounters with what you might call "evangelical atheists" this past week.  These are people who not only don't believe in God, they don't think anyone else should, either.  In fact, they believe religion is the greatest evil to befall mankind.  And they support this viewpoint by pointing out all of the horrible things that people in the past have done in the name of religion.  They point to wars and persecutions and things like that.  

What do we do in these situations?  Well, we can point out first of all that not all religions are the same.  For example, the Muslim religion believes that spreading the faith by violence is legitimate.  On the other hand, the Amish practice extreme Pacifism.  So it is wrong to paint all religions with the same brush.  

We can also point out all of the good things that religion has done for society - this is especially true of Christianity.  The Catholic Church is, after all, the largest charitable relief organization on the planet.  The Church practically invented the concept of charity.  One of the first things that the pagan Roman empire noticed about this new, strange group of Christ-followers is their capacity for love and charity.  They not only took care of their own poor and hungry - they also took care of others!  This was unheard of in pagan society.  Care for the orphan and the widow is practically built into our faith from the start (read the book of Acts).  The Church runs orphanages, the Church runs hospitals, the Church runs homeless shelters.  We do it all.

The Catholic Church also founded the world's first universities in the Middle Ages.  Catholic colleges and universities continue to be some of the most sought after schools today.  The Church has also been on the forefront of much scientific discovery.  The father of genetic studies was an Augustinian monk (Gregor Mendel), and the originator of the Big Bang theory was a Jesuit priest (Georges Lemaitre).  

But what about all those horrible things people do in the name of their religion?  What about religious wars?  My first suggestion is to not let the "evangelical atheists" off the hook when they make such claims.  Ask them about specifics and see if they even have their facts right.  For example, one example of religious persecution often cited is that "nine million witches were burned at the stake" during the "Burning Times" in the Middle Ages and later.  In fact, historians put the figure closer to 50,000.  Still a lot, but nowhere close to the 9,000,000 cited.  Moreover, these "witches" were not executed by the Church, but by secular authorities.  One could make the argument that these secular authorities were still members of the Christian faithful.

But here is the real point.  Yes, people have done bad things in the past.  And they continue to do bad things today.  People sin.  That itself is a tenant of our Christian faith.  We are weak, we are imperfect, we are fallen.  When we do horrible things such as fighting unjust wars, persecuting those who do not agree with us, or whatever else Christians get accused of, we do those things despite our religion, not because of it.  Our religion teaches us kindness.  It teaches us love.  It teaches us to cloth the naked, feed the hungry, care for the sick, and visit the prisoner.  It teaches us to love those who persecute us.  If we sometimes fail in these things, the fault lies within ourselves, not in the teachings of Jesus.

Mankind is totally capable of doing horrible things on its own, without help from religions.  The most horrible slaughters of the twentieth century were performed at the hands of atheistic communist regimes, such as Stalin and Mao.  One does not have to be religious to commit atrocities.  

Religion, especially the Christian religion, has the antidote to bring us up and above those sorts of things, if we only will listen to its message, take it to heart, and live it in our lives.  So when the "evangelical atheists" come knocking on your door, don't let them bully you into feeling ashamed of your faith.  Stand firm and be proud of all the good that Christianity stands for.  Stand firm for the Truth!

God bless!

At this time during the Liturgical year, the Church has much to say to us about hearing the call of God.  We have heard the story of the prophet Samuel, hearing the voice of the Lord calling him in the night.  We have heard the story of Jonah, responding to the call of the Lord to preach repentance to Nineveh.  We have heard of Simon, Andrew, James and John, leaving their fishing nets and following Jesus to become "fishers of men."

This Sunday we continue to hear about recognizing that voice of the Lord calling to us.  The first reading, from Deuteronomy, speaks about being a prophet.  The Lord warns that those who preach His words, but do not themselves listen, will have to answer for that.  (In other words, we need to practice what we preach!)  And he also warns that "if a prophet presumes to speak in my name an oracle that I have not commanded him to speak... he shall die."  It is fair to say not everyone is called to be a prophet.  If you do not have that calling, do not presume that you do.

But just because you may not be called to be a prophet, does not mean that you do not have a calling.  As St. Paul writes in Ephesians, "His gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers..."  There are different callings.  But we all have the same goal, and that is holiness.  Which is why the psalmist today reminds us, "If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts."  Whatever God is calling us to do, we must open our hearts to act upon that calling.

Another word for "calling" that Catholics should be familiar with is "vocation."  Generally when you hear this word in the context of the Church it refers to a priestly or religious vocation.  Many pastors over the past few weeks have no doubt found much in the scripture readings to preach about in terms of fostering vocations.  Our second reading today from 1 Corinthians has much to teach us in this regard.  

St. Paul instructs us: "An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord.  But a married man is anxious about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and he is divided.  An unmarried woman or a virgin is anxious about the things of the Lord, so that she may be holy in both body and spirit.  A married woman, on the other hand, is anxious about the things of the world, how she may please her husband.  I am telling you this for your own benefit, not to impose restraint upon you..."

One may be inclined to read St. Paul's writing and assume that the unmarried life is "better" than married life.  After all, the unmarried man or woman can be devoted entirely to the Lord.  Isn't that better than being divided?  I would not say "better" but I would say "higher."  Note that St. Paul is not saying that no one should be married.  He is not saying the unmarried life (as a priest, or as a religious brother or sister) is the way we all should live.  He is not imposing restraint on us, he tells us.  But some people are called to the celibate life, and there is much good to be found in such a life.

I am a married man.  And just as St. Paul states, I am concerned with pleasing my wife.  As it should be.  I need to provide a home for her, stability and security.  I need to provide love and affection for her.  Most of all, I need to help her grow in happiness, and the best way to do that is to help her grow in holiness.  I want to help her grow closer to God, and she does the same for me.  Together we have five children, and we need to provide a safe, happy, and loving environment for them to grow as persons, to grow in their knowledge of themselves and of the Lord, and to help them become saints.  We are both anxious about these things.  This is as it should be.  This is our calling as a married couple.  It is a natural calling, which God has raised to the level of a Sacrament by blessing the institution of marriage.

While marriage is a natural calling, a life of celibacy is a supernatural calling.  As St. Paul says, the unmarried man or woman is anxious only about the things of the Lord.  There is great freedom in that.  The life of priests, monks and nuns may seem to the outside observer to be very rigid and structured.  In truth those who are celibate are much more free to do the Lord's work than those who are married and raising families.  

I love my college students.  I love ministering to them.  I am concerned for them.  I care deeply for my ministry to them.  But that ministry will never be my first concern.  My wife and my children will always come first.  And this is as it should be, in my calling as a husband and a father.  If I were not living that calling to the best of my ability, I would not be a very effective campus minister, nor a very good Christian.  But a priest, a monk, or a nun are free in ways that I am not.  They are not bound by the same obligations.  They are free to be wherever and do whatever ministry the Church calls on them to do.  I have known many priests and nuns who have left behind everything they knew to answer the call to minister in some new way, in a new place, to fill a need only they could fill.  

I do not have that kind of freedom.  But I do see the blessings of married life every day when I come home to my wife and children.  Both the natural call to marriage and the supernatural call to celibacy are valid paths to holiness.  Many of you are at stages in your life when these kinds of choices loom closely before you.  Do not harden your hearts to whatever call you may have.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Weekly Update from CCM

Dear students,

I am sending out my weekly update one day early this week, for two reasons.

1. The deadline for registration for the Give Your Heart Away retreat (Feb. 10-12), is TODAY.  If you are one of those who like to wait till the last minute, this is the last minute.  Please email me with your intention to attend.  Registration is $50 for the weekend and includes meals and lodging.  You can read more about the weekend here.

2. Today is Jan. 22.  I did not want to let this date pass by without comment.  Why?  What is so special about today?

On this day in 1973, a war was declared on unborn human life in the United States.  If you were born after 1973 and are alive to read this email, congratulations.  You are a survivor.  Your mother had the legal right in this country to kill you at any point up to (and including) your birth, and she chose not to.  You are one of the fortunate ones.  There are approximately 54 million others in the United States who were not so fortunate.  That is the number of babies who have died by abortion in our country since Jan. 22, 1973.

There are a few students who will be absent from their classes today because they have bravely decided to travel to Washington, DC, to stand with hundreds of thousands of other Americans in protest to this holocaust.  Yes, I said holocaust.  I realize this is a politically loaded word, but consider this fact.  Over 11 million people were killed by the Nazi regime during the Holocaust, and over 407,000 Americans died in WWII to end that atrocity.  To date in our country over 54 million have died in the abortion holocaust.  According to statistics provided by the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, approximately 3,700 children in American die by abortion each day in our country.  World-wide, that number skyrockets to 115,000 per day.  This is, simply put, the greatest tragedy of our time.  

But where is the outrage?  People today who make a strong pro-life stand are often accused of being religious fanatics or zealots.  Is this a fair charge?

Today, as we mark the sad anniversary of Roe v. Wade, no doubt the news media (and your Facebook accounts) will be abuzz with varying opinions and views about abortion.  I wanted today to provide you with some points of reference to keep the arguments clear and focused.  Here are some recent arguments for legal abortion I have encountered, and how I would reply to them.

1.  Isn't this a religious issue?  Our government should not legislate morality.
Yes, my God tells me it is wrong to kill.  This is clearly stated in the Bible.  I'm no scholar of early linguistics, but I have been told that the original Hebrew word used in the sixth commandment meant not simply to kill, but to kill an innocent life.  Thus a better translation would be "murder."  (This allows for the taking of life in self-defense, for example).  And when we are considering innocence, who is more innocent than an unborn baby?  This is the worst kind of murder.

But here's the thing -- Yes, the Bible says murder is wrong.  But so does common sense.  My reason tells me that killing an innocent person is WRONG.  So my faith and my reason are in 100% agreement.  One does not need to be a Christian to understand that abortion is wrong (though kudos to the Christians for being the most vocal about it).  There are plenty of pro-life atheists out there, as well.

And what about our government legislating morality?  Of course our government legislates morality.  Governments do this all the time.  Our government has laws against murder (once you have been born); we have laws against theft; against slander; against fraud; all of these things are immoral.  They are harmful to us and to our society.  And so our government rightly outlaws them.  Abortion is also immoral, harmful to ourselves and to our society.  It should also be outlawed - as it was up till 1973.

2.  What about cases of deformity or if the baby is sick and wouldn't live long anyway?
Is a deformed human being any less of a human being?  Does someone who is born with a handicap have any less right to exist than you or I?  If the doctors tell us the baby will likely die before his first birthday, does that give us the right to shorten his life even more?  No, of course it does not.  Suggesting that a deformed, handicapped, or sick baby be killed before it is even born is a selfish act on our part.  Our motivation is to save ourselves the pain, suffering and hardship associated with being the parent of such a child.  Let's be honest with ourselves on that point.  Whether the baby is horribly deformed or perfectly healthy, we are still talking about taking an innocent human life.  That basic fact does not change.

3.  What about rape?  Are you suggesting that a woman who becomes pregnant as the result of rape be forced to give birth and raise the child of her attacker?
Here is a better question.  What has that baby done to deserve the death penalty?  Nothing.  That child does not inherit the sins of his father.  The rapist needs to be punished, not the baby.  The mother does not necessarily need to raise the child.  There are thousands of families in America waiting - sometimes years - for a child to adopt.  Let the child live.  Let him enrich the lives of others.  Don't punish him for something he had no part of.  

Moreover, by having an abortion, the mother is being violated a second time.  She needs love, compassion, and support.  But that does not mean killing an innocent child, which she may one day come to regret.  Again, let's keep the issue clear before us.  Killing an innocent person is wrong.

4.  What about cases where the mother's life is in danger?
C. Everett Coop, surgeon general of the United States under President Reagan, once commented than in his entire career as a pediatric surgeon, he never once encountered a case where the life of the mother could only be saved by a direct medical abortion.  Let's get one thing straight.  Abortion is NOT a medical procedure.  The goal of medicine is to promote health and life.  The goal of an abortion is the direct ending of a life.  

Any doctor worth his or her salt knows than when treating a pregnant woman, you are dealing with two patients.  If there is a life threatening situation, the first goal would be to save the lives of both patients, the mother and the child.  If that is not possible, then you save the life of the patient whom you can.  Some treatments for the mother may have the consequence of sacrificing the baby.  This is NOT the same as a direct abortion, the goal of which is to end life, not save it.

A large percentage of Americans believe that abortion should be legal in cases of rape and "life of the mother."  According to the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, less than 1% of abortions in the United States are because of rape.  Only 6% are due to potential health problems for either the mother or the baby.  The remaining 93% of all abortions are due to "social reasons," meaning the baby is simply unwanted or would be an inconvenience.

Mother Theresa once said, "It is a tragedy to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you please."

5.  But what about overpopulation?  Aren't there too many people on the planet already?
No.  This is a huge misconception, still lingering decades after books such as The Population Bomb (1968) were published.  The fears expressed in this book, and others like it, were that the growing world population would result in hundreds of millions of people starving to death because of a lack of food - as early as the 1970s.  The predictions in this book have been since disproved, but the fear lingers on.  We, as a species, are very poor about predicting the future.  In 1900, the greatest worry of New York City's city planners was what they would do about all the mess caused by the overwhelming number of horses that the growing city population would require.  The automobile was not even on their radar (nor was radar, for that matter).

The authors of The Population Bomb had no idea about the advances that would be made in agriculture and food production.  We today have more than enough food to feed everyone on the planet.  That is not the problem.  The problem is distribution and access.  And that is a problem that can be addressed without killing innocent people.  Let's not loose sight of what abortion is.  It is killing an innocent human being.

6.  Isn't abortion just a hot-button, divisive political issue?  If you are really pro-life, shouldn't you also be concerned about all the children whohave been born, and who are poor, hungry, or sick?  Don't we need to care for them?
Yes, we do.  But this is a red herring.  It suggests that pro-life people are not concerned with taking care of poor and oppressed children in our society.  In fact, they are.  As a group, pro-life Americans are more concerned for the welfare of born children than anyone else.  Let us not forget that the largest relief and charitable organizations in the world are operated by the Catholic Church.

This point is often brought up to divide and distract.  Usually, it is brought up to criticize someone who may be supporting a pro-life Republican candidate, as opposed to a Democratic candidate who has a more left-leaning policy in terms of social welfare and/or immigration.  Let me just make this point about that.  Everyone I have ever met, Republican or Democrat, Liberal or Conservative, has agreed that we need to take care of the poor and downtrodden in our society.  They differ on what they think the best and most effective means of doing that is.  And that's ok.  We can have different opinions about how best to go about helping the needy.

But abortion is different.  It is about the taking of innocent human life.  And that is never okay.  It is never permissible.  Mother Theresa also once said that "If abortion is not wrong, then nothing is wrong."  And this is what it boils down to.  It is not okay to end an innocent human life.  If we can do that, we can do anything.

7.  If you want to prevent abortions, you should encourage more use of contraception.
This one is often aimed directly at Catholics, because our Church teaches that both abortion and contraception are intrinsically evil.  (That is to say, they are objectively wrong, morally).  This argument seems to have surface logic to it.  If more people used contraception, there would be less unwanted pregnancies, and therefore fewer abortions.  But the reality does not play out that way.  In fact today contraceptive devices and drugs are more advanced, and more readily available to more people than at any point in human history.  And we still have over one and half million abortions per year in our country.  In fact, the number of abortions have increased as the widespread use of contraception has increased.  

If you want to read an in-depth view about how and why this would happen, read Humanae Vitae by Pope Paul VI, in 1968.  This papal document was prophetic in what it predicted would happen if contraception became widespread.  Here is the document:

And if you don't have time to read the whole thing, look at this article, "Humanae Vitae, a Generation Later" by Janet Smith for a good summary.

Essentially, contraception and abortion have the same motivation - consequence free sex.  Just as we today want to be able to eat anything we want without gaining weight (the natural consequence of overeating), we also want to have all the sex we want without the natural consequence of sex.  Yes, sex is pleasurable, but it is not only about pleasure.  It is also about bringing in the next generation of human life.  And that is why it should rightly only be practiced within the context of marriage, when a man and a woman have dedicated themselves to one another in a life-long relationship.  Marriage is the institution created for raising a family, the basic building blocks of our society.

This is why being pro-life, and bring pro-marriage and pro-family all go hand in hand.  And contraception runs counter to all of that.

I know this email has been lengthier than my usual weekly missives, and I beg your indulgence for that.  This is a very important issue facing our society today, and one which I would hope young people such as yourselves feel ready to take up and make their own.  My prayers are with those students marching on DC today, and my prayers are with all of you here at WCU, and with with expectant mothers and unborn children across the nation.  May they all have the love, support and encouragement they need to choose life!


Gospel For Today

Third Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

This Sunday's first reading comes from the book of Jonah, 3:1-5, 10.  It tells of God calling to Jonah, the prophet, and commanding him to go to Nineveh to preach a message of repentance.  Jonah warns the inhabitants of the city that the Lord would destroy Nineveh in forty days.  The people hear the message, begin fasting and wearing sackcloth, and because of their repentance God did not punish them.

On the surface this reading seems to be about repentance.  And so it is.  The people of Nineveh repented of their evil ways and so avoided God's punishment.  But it's also about another form of repentance.  It is about the repentance of Jonah.  You see, Jonah did not want to be there.

The book of Jonah is one of the shortest in the Bible.  It falls between Amos and Micah, and in my little pocket edition of the Bible it fits on just two pages.  It is easy to flip right past it and never know it is there.  But take ten minutes of your time and read it.  Most of us no doubt know at least part of the story.  The name "Jonah" to us conjures up images of a giant whale, swallowing the prophet whole.  But that's only part of the story.

The book begins by God calling Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach there against the wickedness of the people, just as in today's reading.  Only Jonah does not go.  He tries to flee from God.  In fact, he goes so far as to board a ship bound for Tarshish, which is in modern-day Spain -- about the furthest place on the map from where he was.  In other words, he was trying to go to the ends of the earth to escape the call of God.  

But it did not work.  God found him, and caused a storm to rock the ship until eventually the sailors were forced to toss Jonah overboard to prevent God from destroying their vessel.  Once in the waves, that is when the great fish rose up and swallowed the prophet whole.  Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days (a foreshadowing of the three days Christ spent in the tomb), before praying to the Lord, after which the fish vomited him up on the shore.

And it is here that today's reading picks up.  For the second time the Lord called Jonah and commanded him to go to Nineveh.  This time Jonah obeys, and the Lord's work is done.

Today's gospel reading (Mk 1:14-20) also tells of men who were called by the Lord.  Simon and Andrew; two fishermen, busy about their business, casting their nets into the sea of Galilee, hoping for a good haul.  Jesus walks by and sees them.  "Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men," he says.  And so Simon and Andrew abandoned their nets, and followed Jesus.  They heard the call of the Lord and responded to it.  As did the brothers James and John, whom Christ found mending their fishing nets with their father, Zebedee.  They heard the call of Christ and left their father there in the boat, mending the nets.  John and James had a higher calling.

What is your higher calling?  What is God calling you to do?  Are you ready to drop everything and respond to that call, as did the fishermen in today's gospel?  Or are you hesitant and fearful, like Jonah?  For even though Jonah refused, and even tried to run away and hide from God, the Lord never ceased to call him.  He was with Jonah on the ship.  He was with him in the belly of the fish.  His call to Jonah never ceased, and when Jonah finally did answer the call, his works glorified the Lord.

How long have you been running from what God is calling you to do?  He is still calling you.  It's not too late to answer.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Gospel For Today


Today's readings are about doing the will of God.  The first reading from 1 Samuel 3:3b-10, 19, tells us the story of the prophet Samuel, when he was a young boy, hearing the call of God.  Three times Samuel heard a call at night, and three times he went to Eli, the priest who was responsible for Samuel's formation.  "Here I am.  You called me," Samuel said.  "I did not call you," Eli said, "Go back to sleep."  The third time, Eli discerned that it was the Lord's call that Samuel heard, and so instructed him that if he heard the call again, to reply, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening."

The same theme is echoed in the psalm response: "Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will."  The verses are from Psalm 40.  They speak of the fact that God wants more than our "offerings."  He wants nothing less than ourselves.  "Sacrifice or offering you wished not, but ears open to obedience you gave me.  Holocausts or sin-offerings you sought not; then said I, 'Behold I come.'"

Today's gospel reading is John 1:35-42, and recounts how Andrew discovered that Jesus was the Messiah, and told his brother Cephas (Peter), and how they both came to Jesus.  Their response to encountering Jesus was in effect to say "Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will."  

This is all well and good, but what does it mean?  Being ready to do the will of God means that we make a total gift of ourselves to Him.  It means recognizing the fact that we do not belong to ourselves any longer; we belong to Christ.  St. Paul tells us in our second reading today, "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?  For you have been purchased at a price.  Therefore glorify God in your body" (1 Cor 6:17-20).

When we give ourselves to God, and realize that we are members of His body, it should give us pause when we consider doing something that we know we ought not to do.  For if we are joined with Christ, then when we sin, we do not just sin in ourselves, but we involve Christ in our immorality.  We in effect commit sacrilege every time we sin.  This is the message St. Paul is telling us.  Our bodies are temples.  We must not spoil them.  

The upside to this, of course, is that when we perform good actions, we do so as members of Christ's body.  And whereas you and I on our own may only be capable of performing good acts on a natural level, with Christ those actions become infused with supernatural grace, won at the price of the Cross.  Thus we are able, by giving ourselves over to God's will, of achieving wonderful heights of joy and holiness.  

Ultimately this is God's will for us.  God wills us to be happy.  He created us out of love, and we are made for joy.  He did not make us for His sake, but for our own, so that we may share in and know His goodness.  We are meant for happiness.  If we listen to the call of God, if we can say - and truly mean it - "Lord, I want to do your will," we will become what God created us to be.  We will be truly happy.

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

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Weekly update from CCM

Dear Students,

It has begun!  The spring semester is off to a great start, and I hope you are all excited about being back at WCU.  We are hitting the ground running at Catholic Campus Ministry, so let me tell you about some great things in the works.

In case you are new to campus ministry, we have a regular weekly schedule of worship, prayer, and fellowship.  Each Sunday evening you are invited to gather at the Catholic Student Center at 6:30 for a half hour of apologetics, where we learn how to answer common questions about the Catholic faith and better explain her teachings.  Then at 7:00pm we pray the rosary together in our chapel.  Finally, at 7:30pm we celebrate Holy Mass, with Fr. Alex from St. Mary's.  Father is also available to hear confessions before and after each Mass.

Every Wednesday night we gather as a community at 6:30pm for a free home cooked dinner together.  Our dinner is followed by a program, which generally lasts from 7:30 to 8:30.  Some weeks we might have a discussion about an important aspect of our Catholic faith; some weeks we might have faith sharing; other weeks we might be playing games!  Our weekly programs are organized and put on by your fellow Catholic students, so let us know your ideas!  We'd love for you to get involved.

Our first Wednesday dinner of the semester will be tomorrow, so we hope to see you at 6:30 here at the Center!

Other great things coming up...

If you signed up last semester for our ski trip to Boone, we plan on leaving from the student center at 4:00pm this Friday.  Please be there.  If you haven't signed up, but wish you had, please let me know you'd like to go ASAP.  We will be crashing at the App State Catholic Campus Ministry house.  There is a registration fee of $20 to cover our meals while we are there, plus the cost of equipment rental if you don't have your own ski gear.  We will be returning to campus Sunday afternoon.

If anyone is interested in attending the March For Life in Washington, DC, Jan. 21-24, please contact Alex Cassell at alcassell1@catamount.wcu.edu if you have not done so already.  Thanks!

Give Your Heart Away is the name of our annual Diocesan service retreat for college students.  We are holding it once more this year in Hickory and the dates are Feb 10-12.  It is an awesome weekend filled with prayer, service to the community, and fellowship with Catholic students from across the diocese.  Registration forms are available here at the Catholic Student Center.  The registration fee is $50 and the deadline is Jan. 20.  Please don't miss this one, it's a great event!

Our choir would like to recruit new singers and musicians.  If you have a God-given talent and you'd like to use it to help us worship God in our liturgies, please volunteer.  The choir meets to rehearse Wednesday afternoons from 5:30-6:30 (an hour before our weekly dinners).  

Stay up to date with what's going on in campus ministry.  Bookmark our web site, www.wcucatholic.org, where we have an updated calendar of events and links to other great catholic sites.  Also, join our facebook group, if you have not already done so, to get the latest information about WCU Catholic Campus Ministry. 

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

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Gospel for Today

The Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord
The Universal Church

Today's Gospel reading is from Mt 2:1-12.  For many Christians, this is the familiar conclusion to "the Christmas story."  This gospel passage recounts how magi (or wise men) from the east came to Jerusalem, asking for the "newborn King of the Jews."  They had been keeping an eye on the stars, you see, and something they saw in the stars told them that a great king had been born, and they wanted to come pay homage.  All the scribes in Jerusalem told them that the expected Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem; the star they had been following also pointed the way to Bethlehem.  And so there they went, and there they found Mary and the child Jesus, payed him homage, and offered him gifts.

What is the point of this story?  Why is it retold each year at the conclusion of the Christmas season?  It is the fulfillment of ancient prophecy, as recounted in the Old Testament reading from today's Mass.  Isaiah 60:1-6 speaks of the light of Jerusalem (the Messiah), and of the universal reach of that light.  "Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance," Isaiah foretells.  "Raise your eyes and look about; they all gather and come to you... the wealth of nations shall be brought to you.  Caravans of camels shall fill you, dromedaries from Midian and Ephah; all from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the Lord."

In other words, when the Christ comes, he will not only be the light of Jerusalem, but his light will shine on all nations, near and far.  This is why our Psalm response for today is, "Lord, every nation on earth will adore you."  The verses are from Psalm 72, part of which reads, "The kings of Tarshish and the Isles shall offer gifts; the kings of Arabia and Seba shall bring tribute.  All kings shall pay him homage, all nations shall serve him."

The adoration of Jesus by the magi from the east is the fulfillment of these Old Testament prophecies.  It means that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the light for whom not only Jerusalem but all the world was waiting.  It means that Jesus is not only the savior of the Jewish people, but of all mankind.  The universality of Christ's mission was attested to in the New Testament by St. Paul.  In today's second reading (Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6), Paul tells us that "the Gentiles [non-Jewish people] are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel."

It does not matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile - there is no one from whom Christ was not born.  There is no one for whom He did not die.  His salvific mission is for all.  He is Lord over all the heavens and earth - you and me included.

This universality of the Lordship of Christ is what we attest to when we call our Church "Catholic."  The word "catholic" comes from the Greek words kata and holos, meaning "universal."  We believe that our faith, the faith given us by Christ, is universal.  It is meant for all.  The first record (that we know of) of this term being used as the proper name of the Church was from St. Ignatius, second bishop of Antioch (St. Peter was the first).  Ignatius wrote letters to various Christian communities and this body of writings tells us much about the Church in the first generation after the Apostles.  St. Ignatius was taught the Christian faith by the Apostle John, and was most likely ordained by St. Peter.   He wrote in a letter to the Smyrneans in 110 AD, "Let no one do anything of concern to the Church without the bishop. Let that be considered a valid Eucharist which is celebrated by the bishop or by one whom he ordains [a priest]. Wherever the bishop appears, let the people be there; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church."  Doubtless he did not make the name up himself, but learned it from the Apostles, at whose feet he was taught the faith.

Another great Father of the Church, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, talks about why the Church is called Catholic in his Catechetical Lectures of 350 AD.  He says that the Church is called Catholic "because it extends over the whole world, from end to end of the earth, and because it teaches universally and infallibly each and every doctrine which must come to the knowledge of men, concerning things visible and invisible, heavenly and earthly, and because it brings every race of men into subjection to godliness, governors and governed, learned and unlearned, and because it universally treats and heals every class of sins, those committed with the soul and those with the body, and it possesses within itself every conceivable form of virtue, in deeds and in words and in the spiritual gifts of every description."  

St. Cyril also advises people that if they are visiting another city, they should not simply ask "Where is the Church?" but rather, "Where is the Catholic Church?" because all manner of heretical sects will call themselves churches, but Catholic "is the name peculiar to this holy Church, the mother of us all, which is the spouse of our Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God."

The Church is called Catholic because her truths are universal, and the salvation Christ brings is meant for all men, for all time.  The New Covenant established by Christ was not with one nation or one people, but for the world.  The Catholic Church, likewise, is not of one particular culture or era, but of everywhere and all times.  And most importantly, for all people.   This is the message of Epiphany.  This is what the wise men who came to the child Jesus recognized 2000 years ago.  And, as a favorite bumper sticker of mine says, "wise men still seek Him."  So come, let us adore Him!

WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723
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Friday, January 6, 2012

A season of feasts!

Greetings students, from Catholic Campus Ministry!  And welcome back to Cullowhee!

As everyone trickles back in to campus, I wanted to touch base and remind everyone that our first Mass of the semester (and the first of 2012) will be this Sunday at 7:30pm.  This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany.  That got me thinking about all the other feasts and memorials that have been celebrated in the Church calendar since break began.

Are you aware of all of these important dates?

Obviously we have Christmas on Dec. 25, otherwise known as the "Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord," when we celebrate the birth of our savior, Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh.

On Dec. 26 we celebrated the Feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr (read Acts chapters 6 & 7).  Most people today remember this date from the traditional carol "Good King Wenceslaus looked out on the Feast of Stephen..."

Dec. 27 was the Feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist.

Dec. 28 was the Feast of the Holy Innocents.  The Gospel reading from that day is from Mt. 2:13-18.  It recounts how King Herod was deceived by the magi who told Joseph to take Mary and their baby and flee into Egypt.  Herod issued an order that all boys in the vicinity of Bethlehem age two or younger be slain, because he was afraid of the prophecy of a newborn king.  All of the innocent children who died at Herod's command are considered martyrs by the Church, because they died on Christ's behalf.

Last Friday, Dec. 30, was the Feast of the Holy Family (Jesus, Mary and Joseph).  And Sunday, Jan. 1, was the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.  

This past week we have celebrated the Feasts of St. Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen, both Doctors of the Church, on Jan. 2,; St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, early American saint, on Jan. 4; and another great American saint, St. John Neumann, on Jan. 5.  

It truly is a season of feasts and celebrations!  And all of this, I remind you, takes place during the Christmas season, which is still ongoing.

Despite the fact that the stores start setting up for Christmas practically the day after Halloween, and if you happen to go shopping on Dec. 26 you are likely to see Valentine's Day displays, the actual Christmas season according to the Church does not begin until Dec. 25 and runs for a couple of weeks.

This Sunday we celebrate the Epiphany, when the magi from the east come to pay our Lord homage.  And the following day, Jan. 9, we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which marks the official end of the Christmas season.  

So even though the secular world may be telling us "the holidays" are over, remember we do not take our marching orders from them!  There are still a few days of Christmas left, so as we move back into our dorms and get ready to start a new semester of classes, let's not forget to stop and wish one another a Merry Christmas!


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