Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Weekly update from CCM

Dear Students,

For most of you, today is your last day of classes until next Monday, so I hope you all enjoy your brief respite.  May it be relaxing and renewing for you!  Please travel safe, those of you headed out of town, and we will see you back here next week.

In light of our mid-term break, our regular activities at the Catholic Student Center are on hold for this week.  So no Wednesday dinner and no Friday Adoration.  We WILL be having Mass, as usual, here next Sunday (March 4) at 7:30pm.  

A brief teaser for the following week: on Wednesday, March 7, we will be joined at our 6:30 dinner together by a representative from Crossroads.  This is a pro-life organization founded in 1995 by a student at Franciscan University in Steubenville, OH, in response to John Paul II's call to take the Gospel of Life out into the streets.  They organize a walk across our nation each summer in defense of human life.  We welcome them next week to WCU and invite them to speak about their wonderful ministry.  You don't want to miss it!

Politics and religion, especially the Catholic religion, have been in the news a lot these past few weeks, in light of the HHS contraception mandate being forced upon Catholic institutions.  But that's not the only time religion and politics mix.  I read an editorial this week which appeared in one of our nation's major newspapers that attempted (unsuccessfully) to tackle this subject.  The author of the editorial, whom I shall not name, was attacking the Republican presidential candidates for claiming their policies are based in Biblical values.  His response to them was essentially, "They are not reading the same Bible I am."

He then went on to quote many of the words of Jesus in support of helping the poor, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, healing the sick, welcoming the immigrant, and so forth.  He used these words of Christ to support the goals and actions of the Democratic party in our country.  He also pointed out that nowhere does the Bible record Jesus saying anything about contraception, or abortion, or homosexual marriage -- a pointed jab at the Republican candidates who support a more socially conservative agenda.  

I feel ill any time I read an article like this where someone attempts to remake Jesus in our image, or in the image of whatever social movement we are trying to advocate.  It has been done many times, throughout history.  In the past 100 years, Jesus to many has been a hippy, a communist, a socialist, a capitalist, and an eastern guru.  I'm here to tell you now that Jesus is not a Republican or a Democrat.  Jesus is not a liberal or a conservative.  He's not a Libertarian, He's not a Tea Party member, and He supports neither the Giants nor the Patriots.  Jesus Christ is God, and somehow I think God is above all of our human divisions.

This is the question Jesus posed to the Apostles after they reported people were speculating that He was Elijah or John the Baptist.  Peter spoke up, and confessed that Jesus was (and is) "the Christ, the Son of the Living God."  This was not Peter's opinion.  This was Revelation.  Jesus told him, "Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven."  

We are each called upon to give answer to the same question.  Who do we say that Jesus is?  Like Peter, our answer needs to be grounded in Divine Revelation - what has Jesus shown us about Himself.  Not what we would like Jesus to be, or what we need Him to be to advance our own agendas.  Being a Christian is nothing if not being in relationship with Jesus.  When I form a relationship with someone, I want to know them as they truly are, not as I imagine them to be.  That's not a real relationship, that's a fantasy.  A real relationship is based on knowing the other person truly for who they are.  We should strive always to know Jesus Christ as who He is, and form ourselves to His image, not the other way around.

So where do we go to learn about Christ?  Where is that Divine Revelation to be found?  Certainly in the Scriptures.  And for millions of Protestant Christians, the Bible is the only source of Revelation acknowledged by them.  So when they read an editorial like the one I mentioned, where the author claims that he and his political rivals "must be reading different Bibles," they are put in a quandary.  Which Bible is the right one?

Our editorialist was looking only at the words of Jesus, and making the claim that Jesus never condemned homosexual marriage or abortion, or contraception (the hot button social issues of the day).  I'm reminded of a person I once heard proclaim that she only read the "red words" in the Bible.  She was using a "red letter" edition that had all the words spoken by Christ printed in red ink.  To her mind, those were the only words worth reading, so she didn't read anything else.  We believe that the entire Bible is the Word of God.  The Catholic Church is wonderful about looking at the entirety of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, comprehensively, and drawing her teachings from that.

And of course, as Catholics, we do not believe that God's Revelation can only be found in the Bible.  Jesus Christ, after all, did not come to earth to write a book, but to establish a Church.  He called twelve men, gave them His authority, filled them with the Holy Spirit, and built the Church upon their foundation; a Church He promised would never fail.  That same Church exists today, and is the voice of Christ on earth.

That Church, to the joy of our editorial writer, does teach that we need to welcome the immigrant.  It does teach that we need to feed the hungry, care for the sick, and cloth the naked.  But, to the writer's frustration, the same Church also teaches that we need to respect the life of the unborn, that marriage is a sacrament established by God as the building block of society, geared towards the generation and raising of children, and as such is only possible between a man and a woman.  That same Church teaches that contraception denies the very life-giving gift that is our sexuality and turns it into something shallow and sterile and abusive.  

That Church speaks with the voice of Christ.  Like Christ, she is neither Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, communist or capitalist.  Like Christ, the Church is above such distinctions.  

So please, in your lives try to avoid the temptation to remake Christ in your own image; and avoid falling for the rhetoric of those who attempt to do so, especially for political or social gain.  Instead, strive as diligently as you can to remake yourself in Christ's image.  And nowhere will you find that image reflected more fully than in the Holy Catholic Church, the Body of Christ, the "pillar and bulwark of truth" (1 Tim. 3:15).

God bless!

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

Gospel for Today

Dated Feb. 26

click for readings

Most of us recall the story of Noah's Ark from when we were children.  If your family is like mine, you may have even had Noah's Ark toys to play with.  My kids, as toddlers, always enjoyed opening their little toy Ark and finding the pairs of animals; two flamingos, two giraffes, two alligators, two cows.  And of course there is Noah and his wife!  

But we perhaps don't spend that much time thinking of the story of Noah and the flood as adult Christians.  Today's first reading reminds us of the prominence of this story in salvation history.  Genesis 9:8-15, speaks of the end of the flood, when God places a rainbow in the sky and says, "See, I am now establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you... that the waters never again shall become a flood and destroy all mortal beings."

St. Peter speaks of the flood in today's second reading (1 Pet. 3:18-22) as being a salvific event.  He speaks of the eight people who were "saved by water."  This is interesting, as many of us would no doubt think of Noah and his family being saved from the water, rather than being saved by it.  But Peter, our first Pope, has a different take on it.  He describes the water as having a cleansing effect, washing the earth clean from the impurities of sin and corruption.  Humanity was given a fresh start, a new beginning.  Does any of this sound familiar?  

If it reminds you of baptism, you are in good company.  Peter tells us that the flood "prefigures baptism."  He says that the water of baptism "is not a removal of dirt from the body," but rather "an appeal to God for a clear conscience."  Like the waters of the flood, the waters of baptism wash us clean from all impurities (including Original Sin) and makes us new creations, reborn in Christ.  We get a fresh start.

The Gospel reading today (Mk. 1:12-15) says that "this is the time of fulfillment.  The Kingdom of God is at hand."  Like the flood with baptism, much of what we read in the Old Testament is fulfilled in the Gospels.  Or, more accurately, it is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  This includes, most especially, the covenant between God and His people, spoken of in today's first reading.  The story of the Bible is the story of God's covenant, His promise to us  God's first covenant was with Adam, an individual.  The second time God established a covenant it was with Noah and his family.  God next established a covenant with Abraham, father of nations.  Finally, we see this all fulfilled in Jesus Christ, who established a "new and everlasting covenant," not with an individual, a particular family or nation, but with all of us.  The word "catholic" does mean "universal" after all.  There is no one in all creation for whom Christ did not suffer and die.

As we set forth on our Lenten journey towards Easter, let us remember the covenant God has established with us, and strive to keep it.  Just as Noah sailed in the Ark for forty days during the flood, Jesus spent forty days isolated in the desert, fasting and praying in preparation for His mission.  So we, too, should spend these forty days of Lent in preparation and repentance, praying with the Psalmist, "Your ways, O Lord, make known to me; teach me your paths.  Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my savior" (Ps. 25:4-5).  

Weekly Update from CCM

Dated Feb. 21

Dear Students,

Happy Fat Tuesday!  For those who might not know, Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras in French), is the name traditionally given to the day before Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent.  The name comes from the fact that traditionally Catholics have abstained from eating meat during the season of Lent, and originally also eggs and fat.  In pre-modern cultures, there was no feasible way for everyone to preserve their stores of such food, and so celebrations were held before Lent began in order to feast and consume these perishable items.  In England the need to use up eggs and fat before Lent led to the tradition of serving pancakes on "Shrove Tuesday" as they called it.  And of course most of us are familiar with the Carnival held in New Orleans, itself a carry over from the European tradition.  The word "carnival" most likely comes from carne levare or "the taking away of flesh," a reference to the giving up of meat for Lent.

Lent begins this week on Ash Wednesday.  Though it is not a Holy Day of Obligation (which means that Catholics are not strictly obliged to attend Mass on this day), many Catholics do attend an Ash Wednesday Mass as a wonderful way to mark the beginning of this penitential season.  There are four opportunities to attend an Ash Wednesday Mass in our area.

9:00am at St. Mary's
12:30pm here at the Catholic Student Center on campus
6:00pm at St. Mary's
8:00pm at St. Mary's (in Spanish)

A reminder that we are still planning on dinner this Wednesday - it will be a light meal, followed by a program let by Julianna Moore.  We look forward to her story of faith.  So please join us as we celebrate the start of Lent together at 6:30pm.

Lent is that period (nominally 40 days) before Easter, marked by fasting, prayer and almsgiving.  It is a period of penance and preparation for the joyful Easter season.

In previous generations, Catholics were required to abstain from eating meat for the entire Lenten season.  Today the requirements are less strict.  Here's a run down:
-All Fridays during Lent are days of abstinence from meat.  This does not include egg or dairy products.  It also does not include fish (or amphibians or reptiles, if one is so inclined to eat such things).
-Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of abstinence and fasting.  Our guidelines for fasting state that you can take one full meal a day.  You are also allowed two small meals if required to sustain strength, but the two together should not equal one normal sized meal.  You are allowed to drink liquids.
-You are not required to fast if you are ill, pregnant, or if you health would otherwise be impaired by fasting; or if your work requires sustenance.  (In other words, no one expects a construction worker to pass out and fall off of a high rise building because he hasn't had any calories that day).
-In essence, use common sense, but also don't use the Church's leniency as an excuse not to really fast.  Know yourself, your limits and requirements, and remember that it is supposed to be a penance.
-It is also strongly encouraged that you receive the Sacrament of Penance (Confession) during Lent.

The point of all of this is to help us to detach ourselves from physical comforts and to practice self-denial, reminding ourselves both of Christ's sufferings for us, and also that there are much greater joys to be had in heaven.  Because of this, it is also a common practice for Catholics to "give up" something during Lent, as a form of personal sacrifice.  For it to truly be a sacrifice, it should be something good that is being given up.  For example, if you say, "For Lent, I'm going to stop using the Lord's name in vain," that is very commendable, but not really a sacrifice.  You shouldn't be breaking the Commandments by using the Lord's name in vain to begin with.  So it's great for you to want to stop, but it shouldn't just be for Lent.

Often the things people choose to give up are food related.  That's because we love our food!  It is common to give up chocolate, or all desserts, or coffee, or soda, or ice cream.  These are all good things to deny ourselves; but do remember that Lent is not a diet plan.  Give up something because it is a sacrifice for you to do so, not because you'd like to lose a few pounds!

We often focus so much on the fasting aspect of Lent ("What are you giving up this year?") that we forget Lent is also a season of prayer and almsgiving.  Whatever kind of prayer you have as part of your normal daily routine, try to add to that.  Start praying the rosary each day.  Or make an effort to attend a daily Mass at St. Mary's at least once per week (they are at 9:00am every day but Monday).  Perhaps you can spend a little more time reading the Scriptures each day.  A great place to start is the daily Mass readings, which can be found on the US bishop's web site, here:
(Just click on the calendar day to see the readings).

Each Friday during Lent, we plan on having an hour of Eucharistic Adoration in our student center chapel, from 4 to 5pm.  And starting on Friday, March 2, we will also have Compline Prayer (Night Prayer) at 6:00pm.  Either would be a wonderful opportunity to spend some time with your fellow students in prayer this Lent.

Almsgiving refers to giving money to the poor.  I know a lot of college students count themselves in that category, but remember there is always someone worse off than you are!  We will have "operation rice bowl" bowls set out during Lent at the Student Center. You can also give to the local parish who will use the money to help area families in need; you can give to United Christian Ministries in town, who do so much to help our community.  If you would like to make a charitable donation (of any amount) and are not sure who to give to, I'd be happy to recommend other organizations.

Fr. Shawn, pastor of St. Joseph in Bryson City, has recommended this Lenten video series called "40."  It looks interesting, and I am looking forward to viewing it myself.

I have also recent discovered this web site, which I plan on spending some time with this Lenten season.

A few other announcements.  We are organizing a Habitat for Humanity work day on March 10th.  Anyone interested in participating needs to sign a waver, which we have available here at the student center.  

Remember our spring retreat coming up March 23-24.  This will be a lock-in retreat and the theme is "The Seuss is Loose."  It will be a fun weekend, and the sign up sheet is hanging on the fridge here at the center (where all families keep their important papers!).

I hope everyone has a blessed Lenten season and hope to see you at Mass tomorrow!

Gospel for Today

Dated Feb. 19


"See, I am doing something new!"  So proclaims the Lord in our first reading today from Isaiah (Is. 43:18-19, 21-22, 24b-25).  This quote from Isaiah calls to mind St. John's vision of a new heaven and a new earth, described in Revelation.  "The one who sat on the throne said, 'Behold, I make all things new'" (Rev. 21:5).  The one on the throne is, of course, Jesus Christ.  I always liked the fact that Mel Gibson put those words into Christ's mouth on the road to His Crucifixion inThe Passion of the Christ.  

So what is this new thing which God is doing through Jesus Christ, His Son?  The Gospel readings these past few weeks have all spoken of healing.  We have commented in each case how even though these passages describe Jesus's miraculous healings of the body, what they truly point to is Christ's mission to heal our souls.  Today's Gospel reading makes that explicit (Mk. 2:1-12).

Jesus and the disciples are in Capernaum; there a large crowd gathers around them such that when a group of men attempt to bring their paralytic friend to Christ for healing, they are forced to lower him down through the roof.   When Jesus sees the paralytic He surprises the gathered crowd by saying to him, "Child, your sins are forgiven."  

You cannot imagine how scandalous this was for Christ to say!  The scribes immediately began to grumble among themselves.  "Who but God can forgive sins?"  Jesus, in response, healed the paralytic man so that he could walk again.  He performed this healing, He said, "that you might know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth."  The crowd was astounded, saying, "We have never seen anything like this."  

Christ has done something new.

The scribes in today's Gospel reading were both right and wrong.  They were absolutely correct that only God has the authority to forgive sins.  Their error was that they did not understand Jesus to be God.  As the Son of God, He shares in the Father's authority.  As the version of this story recorded in Matthew puts it, "God... had given such authority to human beings" (Mt. 9:8).  The matter of who has authority to forgive sins is an essential one.  The mission of the Church, after all, is a mission of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18).  Becoming reconciled with God means being forgiven of our sins.

If God has the authority to forgive sins, and Jesus shares in that authority, what does He do with it?  Where do we go to seek such forgiveness?  Allow me to lead you on a little journey through the Scriptures... 

Before the Ascension, John records this encounter the Apostles had with the Risen Lord.  "'As the Father has sent me, so I send you.' When He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.'" (Jn. 20:21-21).

Here we see Christ passing this authority to forgive on to men, specifically the Apostles, the leaders of the Church.  And if you think about this logically, if the Apostles are to have the authority to forgive or to retain the sins of others, how are they to know of these sins?  It follows that repentant disciples of Christ  would be confessing their sins to the Apostles, seeking Christ's forgiveness.

In his second letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul talks about "the ministry of reconciliation."  He says that Christ "entrusted the message of reconciliation to us" [the Apostles], and that "we are ambassadors of Christ, since God is making his appeal through us" (2 Cor. 5:18-20).

Today we use the term in persona Christi when discussing the Sacrament of Reconciliation (or Confession).  We believe that when we hear the words of absolution in the Confessional, that it is not the priest who forgives us, but Christ Himself, speaking through the words of His ordained minister.  And so the Church continues today the ministry of reconciliation begun by Christ 2000 years ago.

God wants us to be healed.  He wants to forgive our sins.  The only condition is that we must ask for forgiveness.  God is love, after all; while He wants desperately for us to be reconciled to Himself, He will never force Himself upon us.  He lets us come to Him on our own.  But He desperately longs for us to be forgiven.

"You burdened me with your sins," He says through His prophet, "and wearied me with your crimes.  It is I, I, who wipe out, for my own sake, your offenses; your sins I remember no more" (Is. 43:24-25).

This is truly, wonderfully, something new.  

Weekly Update from CCM

Dated Feb. 14

Dear Students,

What a wonderful weekend we just had in Hickory at Give Your Heart Away, our annual diocesan service retreat for college students.  We had over 63 students representing schools such as UNCG, UNCC, NC A&T, App State, Wake Forest, Davidson, Wingate, UNCA, and of course our own WCU.  We had nine students from Western attend this wonderful weekend of helping our neighbors, growing in the love of God, and fellowship with our fellow college Catholics.  We are already looking forward to next year!  I just want to personally thank those students from Western who attended for helping to make the weekend such a success.

This week at CCM...
We will be joined this Wednesday for dinner by WCU's own Dr. Stephen Miller, professor of economics.  We've asked Dr. Miller, who is also a parishioner at St. Mary's (and can often be seen at our Masses on campus with two of his beautiful children) to come and speak about the so-called "population explosion" from the point of view of an economist.  

A large part of the big push in our society towards contraception and sterilization comes from this idea that we are over-populating the planet and that if we do not check our population growth, there will be massive famine, disease, and chaos which will not only cause human suffering on a global scale, but will also destroy the earth's environment.  It all stems from a book called The Population Bomb, published in 1968.  Much of the science in this book has long been discredited, but the fear it inspired lives on.  

I know many of you are familiar with the satirical on-line newspaper, The Onion.  A few weeks ago, they ran a story with the headline of "Scientists: 'Look, One-Third of the Human Race has to Die for Civilization to be Sustainable, so How do we Want to do This?'"  You can read the article by following the link, where you will find such gems as, "'The longer we wait, the higher the number of people who will have to die, so we might as well just get it over with,' said Dr. Chelsea Klepper, head of agricultural studies at Purdue University, and the leading proponent of a worldwide death day in which 2.3 billion people would kill themselves en masse at the exact same time."

While this is meant as satire, the sad reality is that there really are people who think this way and who advocate for a drastic reduction in the earth's population.  Obviously the Catholic Church opposes such a view on a moral level.  Dr. Miller will share with us why this viewpoint makes no sense from an economic standpoint, either, by illustrating how reducing the human population will actually have a negative impact on our society.  It should be a very interesting discussion, so please join us for supper at 6:30pm tomorrow.  

Next week...
It is hard to believe, but next week is the beginning of the Lenten season; that season of penance which prepares us for the joys of Easter.  Ash Wednesday is Feb. 22, and marks the start of Lent.  While it is not a Holy Day of Obligation, it is a wonderful way to begin our penitential journey of prayer, and so I invite all of you to attend an Ash Wednesday Mass.  We will have Mass here in our chapel at 12:30pm.  Mass will also be offered in town at St. Mary's at 9:00am, 6:00pm, and at 8:00pm in Spanish. 

Spring Retreat Info...
Our Spring retreat this year will be the weekend of March 23-24 (Friday night to Saturday night).  We will be having a lock-in at the Youth Center at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Waynesville.  We know everyone needs something fun and lighthearted at the end of the semester to help boost you through exams, so we have decided to take a look at our Catholic faith through the lens of the beloved children's author, Dr. Seuss.  So come join us for "The Seuss is Loose!" retreat.  Sign up sheet is on the fridge at the Catholic Student Center.  Cost is only $20, and as always, sponsorships are available.  Stay tuned for more info.

From the Bishop...
Have you read our bishop's statement regarding the recent Health and Human Services mandate forcing all Catholic agencies to include contraception and sterilization as part of their insurance plans?  If not, read it here:

And be sure to follow the link the bishop includes to the NC Catholic Voice web site, where you can make your voice heard!


Gospel for Today

Dated Feb. 12


Today's Mass readings might make a dermatologist's skin crawl.  The first reading from the book of Leviticus in the Old Testament is all about what to do with lepers.  If a man has "a scab or pustule or blotch" then he will be declared unclean "since he is in fact unclean" and must dwell apart from the rest (Lv. 13:1-2, 44-46).

On a surface level, this advice makes since from the point of view of not wanting to spread contagion through a community.  Someone with an infectious disease is kept isolated from the rest of the people, to prevent its spreading.  But just like last Sunday's readings, the lesson today is not merely about physical ailment, or physical healing.

We learned last week that while God is concerned with healing our bodies, what is most important is the healing of our souls.  Human beings are an interesting bunch.  We alone of all creation possess both a physical body, like the animals, as well as an immaterial and immortal soul, like the angels.  We have our feet in both worlds.  And while our physical bodies will eventually die and decay away, our souls live on forever.  And so it is of primary importance that our souls are taken care of.

Disease in the soul is called sin.  And that is the true leprosy that we need to be concerned with.  When we sin, when we commit immoral acts, we are putting scabs, pustules and blotches on our souls.  And the Church, in fairness, may tell us that we are unclean.  When the Church tells us something is gravely sinful, such as contraception, or abortion, or adultery, theft or lying, it is not doing so to be mean-spirited or contrary.  Far from it.  It calls those things unclean because they are "in fact unclean" (like the leper in the first reading).  Put simply, the Church calls it like it is.

But the Church has a solution for those with unclean souls, other than simply casting them out.  In today's Gospel reading from Mark we find a leper approaching Jesus and saying, "If you wish, you can make me clean."  And Jesus does.  He says, "I do will it.  Be made clean."  The Gospel tells us than that the leper "was made clean" (Mk. 1:40-45).  

Thus it is for sinners.  We are made clean through the mercy of Jesus Christ.  This is of vital importance.  Our sins are not simply covered up, like bandages placed over the scabs and pustules of the leper.  Our sins are not simply hidden.  No, we are made clean, just as the leper was made clean.  We are truly healed when we come to God seeking forgiveness, most especially in the sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession).

Martin Luther taught that the forgiven sinner is like a "snow covered dung hill," made pure and white by the sacrifice of Christ, but still a pile of excrement at the core.  The Catholic Church has always disagreed with this way of thinking.  It is not enough to simply have our sins covered up.  We need to be made clean, to be made holy.  And that is what Christ does for us.  Like the leper in today's Gospel, He does will it.  He makes us clean.

Weekly Update from CCM

Dated Feb. 7

Dear Students,

A couple of timely announcements from Catholic Campus Ministry this week.  First, please join us this Wednesday for Supper at 6:30.  We have had a last minute change to our scheduled program.  We had hoped to be joined this week by a religious sister from one of six different women's religious orders who will be participating in our diocesan Give Your Heart Away retreat this weekend.  Unfortunately I learned earlier today that this had fallen though and would not be possible.  Thankfully we always have a Plan B.  Our evening program will be "How Others See Us" and will be led by yours truly. :-)  I hope you can make it!

Please pray for those who will be attending the Give Your Heart Away retreat this weekend in Hickory.  This is a diocesan wide Christian service retreat for college students, and we have several from WCU attending.  Please pray for safe travel and a Christ-centered weekend for all participants.

Finally, please put March 23-24 on your calendar for our campus ministry Spring Retreat.  The theme this year is "The Seuss is Loose" and it will be a fun, lighthearted look at the Gospel message through the lens of our favorite children's author.  We will have a sign up sheet for the weekend here at the Center beginning this Wednesday night.

"Born OK the FIRST TIME."  

That was the message I saw on a bumper sticker on the car ahead of me as I pulled into campus this morning.  Of course this was this person's rebuttal to the Christian concept of being "born again," that is, born again in Christ.  It is a phrase that comes from John's Gospel.  "Except a man be born again of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" [John 3:5]. 

This is what we believe happens at our baptism, that we are made new creatures (born again) in Christ, being united in His death and resurrection.  We believe that this sacramental encounter with God has several effects, not the least of which is to cleanse us of the stain of original sin.  And really that phrase, "cleanse us of the stain of original sin" is an imperfect one.  For original sin is not truly something extra we have on our souls that needs washing off.  It is more like something missing, a hole that needs to be filled in.  And the only thing that can possibly fill it is God.

"My heart is restless, O Lord, until it rests in Thee," is the prayer of St. Augustine.  We all have felt this restlessness, this "something missing" in our lives, this hole only God can fill.  

Well, most of us.  Apparently not the driver of this car, or at least not that he admits.  His statement, "Born OK the first time," is an assertion that there is nothing wrong with him, nothing that needs fixing.  If that's true, he's doing better than the rest of us (maybe I should have followed him to ask him his secret?).  

One of the prerequisites for accepting Christ as our Savior is recognizing the fact that we need to be saved.  We need to recognize the fact that the human race, as a whole, is not "OK."  That we are flawed.  We are essentially good, yes.  But we are imperfect.  We are not living up to our great potential as human beings.  Another way of saying that is that we are fallen.

And we need to recognize that this is true not only of society but of ourselves as individuals.  When we ask the question, "What is wrong with the world?" the best and shortest answer is "I am."  And if you do not realize this, if you do not realize that you are wounded, you are weak, and that you have fallen, then you will never ask for help getting up.  And we all need help getting up.

History is full of people who accept God into their lives only after they have hit rock bottom.  Sadly, this is what it takes for some people to realize that they need help.  We can hope and pray that our "Born OK" driver doesn't need to fall that far before he accepts God's grace in his life.


Sunday, February 5, 2012

Gospel for Today


This Sunday's readings tell us a lot about healing.  In the Gospel reading from Mark 1:29-39, we read of Jesus healing Simon Peter's mother-in-law.  (Yes, Peter, our first Pope, was married; although he was apparently a widower as no mention of his wife is to be found in the Bible.  One early tradition has it that Peter's wife died a martyr.)  After Christ healed Simon's mother-in-law, more and more people came to him for healing, so that "the whole town was at his door." 

One gets the sense in this reading that this demand for healing was somewhat tiresome for Jesus, for early the next morning He rose early, in order to go off alone and pray.  Simon finds Him, and says, "Everyone is looking for you."  And why wouldn't they be?  In that age of primitive medicine, even a minor illness could quickly turn into something life threatening.  And along comes a man who could heal the blind, the lame, the feverish, the infirm.  Wouldn't you be lined up at his door, you and your family?

But Christ tells Simon Peter, "Let us go to the nearby villages so I can preach there also.  For this purpose I have come."  This is an important moment that we should not miss.  Simon is telling Jesus, "Hey, there is a line of people back at the house - they are waiting for you to come heal their wounds and illnesses."  And Jesus tells him, this is not why I am here.  I have a more pressing task.

Jesus is the great physician, to be sure.  His is a healing mission.  But Christ, as always, is not so much concerned with outward, superficial things.  He cares more for essentials.  He gets to the heart of the matter.  Christ's healing of people's bodies is only an outward sign of the true healing He has come to work - the healing of our souls.

For every person that Jesus healed, including Peter's mother-in-law, has one thing in common.  They all died.  Jesus healed them of their pain and suffering for a while, and certainly they each were very grateful of that.  It was God's will.  However, that does not change the ultimate reality that these fleshly bodies of ours are decaying.  We are fading away, and so is everything on this earth.  We may die today, tomorrow, or many decades from now, but we will die one day.  This will all pass away.  Jesus wants us to be concerned with that which will not pass away.  He may heal our bodies, yes, but what is most important is that He heal our souls.

In the Psalm today we acclaim, "Praise the Lord, who heals the brokenhearted."  We all know what it means to be brokenhearted.  It does not mean you have artery blockage, or a weak valve.  It means you bear a wound in your spirit.  And if you have ever truly suffered from a broken heart, you know that you would gladly trade that pain for a physical ailment any day.

Job reminds us in today's first reading that this life is full of heartbreak.  "Is not man's life on earth a drudgery?" he asks.  He speaks of man as like a slave that longs for shade, or like a hireling waiting for his wages.  But there is no shade in which to find rest.  The hireling toils long, but his payment never comes.  Job speaks of lying in bed and not being able to sleep.  "Then the night drags on.  I am filled with restlessness until the dawn." 

We can all identify with Job's restlessness.  We all know what it feels like to work hard and be unrewarded.  To be tired and not know rest.  Like a slave out working in a hot field, yearning for a spot of shade, we are all yearning for... something.  Even those of us who have a lot of "creature comforts" have this feeling.  No matter what we accumulate in this life, there is always that feeling of yearning for something more.

This restlessness is a symptom of a wounded spirit.  St. Augustine spent much of his young life seeking pleasure and happiness wherever he could find it.  (He is the one who supposedly said, "Lord make me chaste, but not just yet.")  But he was never satisfied.  Happily, Augustine found the cure for his yearnings.  "My heart is restless, O God, until it rests in thee."  I invite you to make that prayer your own this day, to petition Christ, the Divine Physician, to heal whatever wounds are in your soul.  Find a cure for your broken heart.  Find rest in the Lord.

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