Sunday, September 30, 2012

Gospel for Today


What do we truly value?  I'm sure if most people were asked that question, they would say the things they most value are family, friends, health or integrity.  Religious people would no doubt say they valued their relationship with God the most.  As well we should.  But instead of answering that question with words, what if we answered that question with the way we live our lives?  Would our answer be the same?

We do give our answer to that question, every single day.  We are each only given so much time and talent in this world, and how we choose to invest those gifts is illustrative of what we truly value.  St. James, in today's second reading, tells us of a wealthy man who valued material riches above all other things.  We are not told if this man was a Christian or not.  Perhaps he went to Mass every Sunday, we do not know.  But even if he gave God lip service, his life gives testimony to what is truly important to him.  

St. James tells this rich man, "You have stored up treasure for the last days."  But what kind of treasure, and at what cost?  "Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud; and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.  You have lived on earth in luxury and pleasure; you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter.  You have condemned; you have murdered the righteous one."

This man gained his wealth by treating those in his employ unjustly.  He made his profits by not paying his harvesters their due wages.  He was able to live in luxury because he allowed others to suffer.  St. James says this man has stored up treasure for the last days, but what treasure?  Not his silver and gold, for they "have corroded."  Not his fine clothes, for they, "have become moth-eaten."  

None of these physical treasures will be with us when we face judgment.  They are nice while they last, but they are temporary.  In the end, the only thing we truly have is our person.  And this man has allowed his person to become as corroded and moth-eaten as St. James describes his other treasures.  He spent his life trading in the only thing he had of eternal value for things which will soon pass away.  Not a wise investment.

So what awaits this rich man?  St. James speaks of weeping and wailing, impending miseries, and flesh being devoured by fire.  Not a cheery prospect.  Jesus, too, warns us of where we may end up if we continue down that unrighteous path.  In today's gospel reading he speaks of "Gehenna, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched."  Jesus is speaking of hell.  Gehenna was a huge garbage pit outside of Jerusalem in Jesus' time, where the refuse and waste of society was burned.  There was always fire there, always a stench.  Not a pleasant place at all, but that was the closest thing on this earth that Jesus could think of to compare with the eternal destiny of those who lived lives of sin.  

A pastor was once asked by a parishioner if he believed Hell was real.  The pastor replied, "I can tell you this from reading the Gospels.  Jesus wants us to believe that Hell is real.  And he wants us to be afraid of going there."

People say that fear is not a good motivator, and perhaps they are right in certain respects.  But Jesus speaks of Hell far more often in the Gospels than he speaks of heaven.  And it's never pleasant.  When Christ speaks of Hell it is as a warning.  He loves us, and desperately wants us to turn our lives away from any path that would lead us to damnation.  How desperately?  Just look at what he tells the Apostles in today's reading.

"If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire.  And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter into life crippled than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna.  And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.  Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna."

It is tempting to think here that Jesus is just speaking metaphorically, or using a bit of hyperbole (ask your local English major).  He's not serious, is he?  

Let's get one thing straight.  Our hands, our feet, our eyes -- our bodies are pretty important.  They are gifts from God.  God did not make us pure spirits, only trapped in these physical bodies for a short while in this life.  No, God made us body and soul, part material and part spirit.  We are composite beings.  This is why we should respect our bodies, care for them, and treat them well.  Physical mutilation is wrong because we are maiming this gift from God.

Our bodies are good.  What Jesus is doing in this passage is underscoring just how bad sin really is.  Sin always gives us some temporary pleasure.  If there were no pleasure in sin, no one would be tempted to do it.  What Christ is saying is simply this -- it's not worth it.  No matter what thrill or joy you may gain from your sin, it's not worth the price of eternal suffering.  It's not worth the loss of heaven.  Is your hand causing you to sin?  Not worth it.  Cut it off.  Detach yourself from it.  Is your eye causing you to sin?  Not worth it.  Pluck it out.  Detach yourself from it.  

Is your desire for wealth or comfort causing you to sin?  It's not worth it.  Detach yourself from it.   How about your need for dominance and power (maybe not globally, perhaps just among your friends)?  Not worth it.  Detach yourself from it.  Or is your desire for a good name causing you to put down others?  That's a sin, and it's not worth it.  Detach yourself from it.

What do you truly value?  God gives you many gifts, but the principle one is your very self.  He created you and sustains you in being by his love.  When your life ends the only thing you will truly have is what you began your life with -- your self.  The best investments, then, are those things which cause us to grow in holiness, humility and integrity.  Our goal is a lofty one -- heaven, where we will see God face to face and be united with him forever.  Are we preparing ourselves for that in this life?  Or are we putting that off for another day, while we continue to invest our time in things which bring us, step by step, away from God and toward Gehenna?

Whatever those distractions are, they are not worth it.  Detach yourself from those things.  Remember the end game, and keep God always before you.

God bless!

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

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Weekly Update from CCM

Happy Fall!  

Confession time -- I am a bit of a wimp when it comes to hot temperatures.  Summer time is great fun, but I always get excited at the prospect of cool autumn mornings.   Especially because we are blessed to live in a part of the world where the trees put on a nearly-miraculous display of color each year.  I can't wait!

And speaking of being blessed, Catholic Campus Ministry has some great stuff lined up, so let's get to it.

Ok, I know it was yesterday, but each week a group has started gathering at the fountain Mondays at 3:30pm to pray an outdoor rosary together.  What a great public witness to the faith, and our devotion to prayer!  If you are interested in joining in, all you have to do is show up.

Our chef this week is none other than Kaitlyn Conger.  We'll have a special celebratory dinner.  (What are we celebrating?  The fact that you're coming!  And that would be pretty lame if you didn't show).  After, Hunter will lead us in a short session on various forms of prayer, and talk about how different personality types may be drawn towards different prayer styles.  It would be helpful for those attending this week to know their four-letter Meyers-Briggs personality type.  I know a lot of you have taken this test at some point or another.  If you have not, or can't remember your type, there is a short (not official) online version you can take.  It's free and only takes about ten minutes.

"Tea @ 10" is a group of students who just like to talk about Catholic things.  They meet every Thursday at 10pm at the Starbucks here on campus.  All are invited to join them!

We were sorry to miss out on last week's Friday activities, but we had a great time at the Eucharistic Congress in Charlotte.  This week we are back on track!  Come join us for Scripture Study from 3-4pm.  And then stay for some solid prayer time in Adoration from 4-5.  By the way, our Scripture study group has been following the lectionary, looking ahead at the coming Sunday Mass readings.  You can find what readings we will be using this week by clicking below.

Volunteer service opportunity at the Catholic Student Center!  We have a small prayer trail, "St. Francis Path," that leads up the hill behind our center.  The path has gotten a bit overgrown with ivy, and so this Friday, at 5:15pm, we are having a student work session to get it cleared out and cleaned up.  If we have enough helping hands, we also need the grass mowed, and litter picked up from the parking lot.  Come help make your student center look beautiful!  

Less than two weeks until our Beach Retreat!  As of now, all available spaces have been taken, but we are still waiting on registration money from a few of you (you know who you are).  If you have not yet paid your $40 registration fee, or made some other arrangement with me, please do so ASAP.  After this week, I will open up any unpaid slots to others who want to go.  Those of you signed up will be receiving an email later today about the retreat.

I am happy to report that we have some additional spaces opened up for the Seeker's Retreat our Diocese is offering in Black Mountain this Nov. 2-4.  This is a peer-led retreat based on the Charis retreat model.  Students from college campuses across our Diocese will be participating.  If you had wanted to go but missed out on the early registration deadline, this is your chance.  Please come by the student center and see me for a registration form.  The fee is $50.

Did you know that over 300 students receive this weekly email update?  But less than a third of that number are on our Facebook group.  We use our Facebook group to send up-to-the-minute updates about things going on in Campus Ministry, and our Church in general.  We share links, articles, you-tube clips, prayer requests, and other interesting tid-bits about our faith, our celebrations, and our community.  If you have not signed up yet, please do check us out.  
If you are already on our Facebook group, please consider inviting other students you think would be interested.

Ok, the announcements being over, time for me to wax philosophical.  I had a weekend of blessings at the annual Eucharistic Congress in Charlotte this past Friday and Saturday.  I got to know some of the Sisters for Life a bit better.  I had the chance to meet some of your parents and siblings, and reconnect with those I already knew.  It was great to be able to talk to so many people about campus ministry and the great things we have going on here at WCU.  

But our faith is so much bigger than our campus ministry group here.  And I'm not just talking about campus ministry at App State, or UNCC, or Greensboro or Wake Forest.  Watching the Eucharistic Procession on Saturday morning was a good example of what I mean.  It went on and on, a seeming endless stream of people processing in after the Blessed Sacrament.  I saw Anglos, Asians, Africans and Hispanics.  I saw little girls in their First Communion dresses, and Knights of Malta in all their fine regalia.  Some groups sang and clapped as they marched.  Others prayed in silence.  Some people carried banners from their parish that looked like they were designed by professional graphic artists.  Others looked home-made, perhaps a project of the Faith Formation youth.  What a variety of people, all from our small Diocese!

Despite differences in language, culture, economic standing, education, and so many other things, we were all there for one common purpose -- to love and adore our Lord, who gave Himself to us on the Cross, and who continues to give Himself to us each day in the Eucharist.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, quoting the Second Vatican Council, calls the Eucharist, "the source and summit of our faith."  I'm afraid this has become one of those phrases that we, as Catholics, hear all the time but forget to ever really think about.  What does "source and summit" mean?  It means this is the beginning and the end.  This is where it all starts, and this is where is all winds up.  This is the utmost height our faith can reach, and the total depths that our theology can plumb.  It all flows from the Eucharist.  This is Jesus Christ.  And there is nothing else.

What an amazing comfort this should be for us.  Because we know that no matter what differences we may have with our fellow Catholics, we stand united in the the Eucharist.  We know that no matter if we feel happy, sad, encouraged or downtrodden, whether we are sick or well, we have Christ in the Eucharist.  We know that regardless of whether the priest gives a good homily or not, whether the choir is on pitch, or singing the songs we like, or not, we have Christ in the Eucharist.  We know that wherever we travel in the world, whether we are at home or a thousand miles away, where there is a Catholic Church, we will find Christ in the Eucharist.  

This is all that matters.  A few weeks ago our choir here sang one of my favorite old hymns, "Be Thou My Vision."  The first lines of that hymn are:
Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart
All else be naught to me, save that Thou art

If you get past the thous and arts what this line means is this:  "All I want to look at and see is You, Lord.  You have total reign over my heart, because nothing else matters to me at all except for the simple fact that you exist."  Wow.  

It's kind of like being in love.

God bless everyone, have a great week!

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

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Gospel For Today


Today's readings from Scripture give us a good contrast between how mankind tends to behave on our own, and how we are capable of behaving with God's grace.  

In the "bad behavior" column, we have the example of the wicked one related in the book of Wisdom.  He has it in for the just man because he finds him obnoxious.  He complains that he "reproaches us for our transgressions of the law."  In other words, the wicked person is doing bad things, and is annoyed that someone would call him on it.  So what does he do?  He decides to test the just one.  He will revile him, torture him, and even "condemn him to shameful death," all to test his gentleness and patience, and to see whether God really loves him.  After all, if God loves him, He will save him, right?

This is, sadly, too often the mindset of those who live in darkness.  They resent those who live in light.  They don't like having the darkness of their deeds pointed out to them.  St. James describes them in his epistle reading from today.  "Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice... You covet, but do not possess.  You kill and envy but cannot obtain; you fight and wage war... You ask but do not receive because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions."

This is a selfish mindset.  It is a mind whose thoughts begin with "me, myself and I."  I am good.  I am right.  The others are all wrong.  My honor.  My glory.  My triumph.  My abilities.  I want.  I deserve.  We build ourselves up so much in our minds that we start to think we are beyond reproach.  So when others do reproach us, we think, "How dare they!"  When we do not receive the respect we think we deserve, we take offense.  We start to see ourselves as victims of cruel and unjust people.  We harbor hatred in our hearts.

But what about with God's help?  If we follow God's wisdom, our first thoughts are not of "me, myself and I," but of others; chiefly of the Lord, but also our neighbors.  Instead of hatred, envy, and conflict, we cultivate peace and humility in our hearts.  So let's look at the "good behavior" column.  

St. James tells us, "the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace."  The wise and humble person accepts correction from others, because he or she recognizes that they can always grow; there is always something to learn.  

In today's Gospel reading, the Apostles were acting in a very human way.  They were arguing about who was the greatest among them.  Jesus would have none of it.  That's the way things might work in kingdoms of men, but not in the Kingdom of God.  "If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all."  Our human expectations are flipped on their head.  

Jesus underscores this by showing them a small child.  And then their teacher and master, the awaited Messiah, the Creator of the Universe incarnate, tells them that when they receive a small child like this, they receive Him.  After all, this is how our Lord and Savior chose to come to us.  Not as a great warrior or noble king, but as a helpless child, utterly dependent upon others.

So the question we should ask ourselves is this.  If God is humble, what right have I to be proud?

The root of sin is pride.  It says, "I know better than you.  My wants and desires are more important than your love and wisdom."

The root of holiness is humility.  It says, "Let is be done to me according to your will, O Lord."   

Comparing your greatness to others is a fool's errand. Jesus would not tolerate it among His Apostles, so He certainly will not with you.  It does not matter if you are smarter, more devout, or holier than the next person.  Rather than being "holier than thou," the only person you need to be holier than is yourself yesterday.

God bless!

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

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Beach Retreat

Hello Matt! This is Byron Tenesaca. I am interested on going on the beach retreat because I had a great time last year. I'm currently working Wednesdays and Thursdays from 5pm till 10 pm and soon I might be working on weekends also so its going to be a little complicated to ask for a weekend off already. I was going to ask if I can manage to get that weekend off or if it happens that I don't start working on weekends yet, could I do some volunteering work or the sponsor thing already just in case. Thank you!

Weekly Update from CCM

Good afternoon, students!

What a rainy day in Cullohwee.  I hope you are all staying dry.  These days make me want to stay inside with a cup of hot tea or coffee and have good conversations, or a read a good book.  I hope many of you are doing the same.

This week, a few updates/reminders, and a few thoughts.

First, my usual invitation to our dinner on Wednesday.  Come by at 6:30 in the evening; you will always find a warm meal, and warm friends.  Everyone is most welcome.  

Second, this weekend is the Eucharistic Congress in Charlotte.  It's also Parents Weekend here at WCU.  I know many of you have family coming in from out of town.  Please feel free to bring them by our student center, but know that I will be with a group of students in Charlotte for the Eucharistic Congress.  Please pray for us on our travels, and for the success of the event.  

We also have a football game this Saturday at 3:30.  One of the various ways we raise money for our campus ministry is by doing event parking fundraisers when we have home games.  I'm putting out a call for volunteers who can give two hours of their time, from 1:30-3:30 this Saturday, to help with this.  If you can smile and say "thank you," then you can do this job!  It's a great way to help out campus ministry, and I promise you'll be done in time to see the game.  Please contact me if you can volunteer.

Third, we have only three spaces left for our Beach retreat, Oct. 5-7.  I'd love it if we can fill those last three slots and have a full house for the weekend.  Here's what you can expect if you go:
-a weekend in a quaint beach house on Folly Beach.
-free time to go for walks, collect shells, take a swim, etc.
-stronger relationships with your fellow students
-great food!
-a closer connection with Christ, and understanding of God's role in your life
-amazing prayer experiences
-Mass at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in historic downtown Charleston
-a weekend without email, Facebook, cell phones, or distractions
-inspiring talks from some of your peers
-meaningful discussions with other Catholic students
-loads of new memories, and maybe a few new friends!

If all this sounds like your idea of an amazing weekend, come by the Catholic Student Center and pick up a registration form, or just email me your intent to go.  Cost is $40, and there are sponsorships available for those who need them (as well as opportunities to do volunteer work towards your retreat fee).  So don't let a lack of cash keep you from signing up.  

Lastly, a few thoughts from me.  With our presidential election looming, I'm sure your Facebook news feed has been full of political posts.  In fact, the only kind of posts I seem to get more of than political posts, are people complaining about political posts!  I wouldn't mind it so much, except that so much of it just seems to be people yelling at each other, and not listening to (or respecting) one another.  This seems to reinforce what many of us are taught, that polite people should not discuss "religion or politics."  These two subjects seem to get people hot under the collar, and so should be avoided.  Right?  Err... maybe not.

One of my favorite quotes from G. K. Chesterton (an early 20th century English writer and convert) is from his column in The Illustrated London News, April 7, 1906.  He writes, "I am not allowed in these columns to discuss politics or religion, which is inconvenient; as they are the only to subjects which seem to me to have the slightest element of interest for a sane man."

I think I understand what Chesterton was getting at.  Religion is about our relationship with God.  And politics is about our relationship with our fellow man in society.  These are two very important and fundamental aspects of our lives.  So why is talking about them considered taboo?  Well, I don't think it is because there is anything wrong with the subject matter.  I think today many people have simply forgotten how to talk about these things.  

Someone complained to me that bringing up religion or politics can lead to an argument.  I responded by looking up the definition of argument for him.  "A series of statements or propositions meant to support or provide evidence for the truth of another statement or proposition."  We have forgotten how to argue correctly.  Instead of crafting a rational series of propositions, we instead yell at each other and call that arguing.  Whether we are talking about our faith, or our political party, we tend to get irritated and frustrated by those who challenge us, because we do not know how to explain the rational basis for our beliefs.

St. Peter warned against this.  In his first letter, he tells us, "Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with a spirit of gentleness and reverence..." (1 Pet 3:15).  The Greek work St. Peter uses for "give an explanation" is apologia.  It is were we get our words "apologist" and "apologetics" from.  So if you hear someone described as an "apologist," that does not mean they go around saying, "I'm sorry" for everything.  No, it means someone who offers a reasoned explanation for something.  So a person might be an apologist for Marxism, or an apologist for Capitalism, and so forth.  There are religious apologists, as well.  There are Protestant apologists, and Catholic apologists.  

What St. Peter tells us is that we should be prepared to be apologists, at least on a personal level.  If someone asks you why you believe as you do, you ought to be able to explain it.  This does not necessarily mean they will be convinced, but at least you have demonstrated that you have a reason for your convictions.  

St. Peter also tells us how to do this -- with gentleness and reverence.  It means we have respect for the other person.  It means we are willing to listen to them, just as we wish them to listen to us.  It means speaking kindly, and keeping our tempers in check.  If you are explaining your beliefs to someone and start to get angry, you've already failed.  All this is good advice when talking about politics, but it is especially important when talking about religion.  After all, how can we obey the Lord's command to make disciples of all nations if we are afraid to "talk religion" with our own neighbor!

If all this sounds daunting to you, and you don't feel up to the task of discussing your faith with others, all I can do is encourage you to work on it!  Your faith is an important part of who you are.  No one expects every Christian to hold graduate degrees in theology, but you ought to know the fundamentals.  You ought to spend some time thinking about why you believe as you do, and I find that talking with others (again, with gentleness and respect) about matters of faith can actually be quite helpful in helping you to define and understand your own beliefs.

I have three books on my shelf which I refer to often.  Two are written by the same pair of authors, Peter Kreeft & Ronald Tacelli.  One is called Handbook of Christian Apologetics and the other Handbook of Catholic Apologetics.  As you would imagine, the former is more general while the latter gets into more specific issues such as the papacy, the Eucharist, etc.  The third book is called College Apologetics and is by Fr. Anthony Alexander.  It deals with arguments against the faith which one is likely to encounter on a college campus -- it was written in the 1950s, but you'd be amazed at how the same arguments keep getting repeated.  

Two other books which are indispensable for understanding the faith are the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  No Catholic should be without either.  However, for the purposes of learning how to explain basic Christian beliefs to non-believers, and even those hostile to the faith, the apologetic handbooks I mentioned above are invaluable.  I strongly recommend them, or books like them, to anyone who would like to reinforce their knowledge of the faith and gain confidence in talking about it with others.

Finally, if anyone has any specific issues regarding the faith they are struggling with, or is having particular challenges on campus with moral or religious issues -- well, I'm here to help.  Please use me as a resource and don't hesitate to drop by.

God bless you on this rainy day,

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

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Gospel For Today


We celebrated two important feasts this weekend in the Church calendar.  Friday was the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross (also called the Exaltation of the Holy Cross).  Tradition has it that this feast was first celebrated in the seventh century to commemorate the return of a relic of the Holy Cross to Jerusalem.  The relic had been captured by the King of Persia, and was retaken by the Roman Emperor Heralius in 629.  When returning the Cross to Jerusalem, the Emperor wore his finest imperial robes and jewels in procession.  However, when he reached Mount Calvary, he found himself mysteriously unable to continue forward.  Zacharias, the Bishop of Jerusalem, mentioned to the Emperor that he did not look very much like Jesus carrying His cross to Calvary.   So the Emperor changed into humble penitential robes, after which he was able to continue.

Of course when we speak of the "Triumph of the Cross" we are referring to more than a seventh century battle and the return of a sacred relic.  We mean the ultimate triumph of Jesus' crucifixion.  This is one of the aspects of Christianity that confounded many early on (and still does today).  How can the cross, an instrument of torture, execution, and humiliation, a symbol of cruel oppression, be the instrument of triumph?  The Messiah, the Anointed One, is supposed to come to save us.  He is supposed to come and lead us to victory over our enemies, liberate us from oppression, and establish a new and everlasting kingdom of peace and justice.  He cannot very well do that stripped, beaten, and nailed to a tree.  A messiah is not someone who would accept humiliation, who would be spat upon, who would be mocked and scorned before being put to death.  This is not how a savior is supposed to act.

But that's exactly how the Savior acts, and that is what scandalized so many people -- even Peter, the leader of the Apostles.  We read of this in today's Gospel (Mk 8:27-35).  Jesus is giving His followers forewarning about what is to come.  He, their leader, teacher and master, will suffer.  He will be rejected.  He will be persecuted.  He will be killed.  Peter, who loved Jesus very much and who just before had proclaimed Him to be the Christ, would have none of it!  He would never rebuke his friend in public, so he takes Jesus aside and tells Him not to speak this way.  And Jesus' reply?  "Get behind me, Satan!"  

He tells Peter that this is how men think, not how God thinks.  For God sent the Messiah to save us, not from some temporal enemy, but from the eternal enemy.  He came not to preserve us in this current life, but to prepare us for a better one.  Indeed, He tells Peter, "Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake... will save it."  

This is the true Triumph of the Cross, and what Peter had yet to discover.  God Himself would suffer greatly and even die on our behalf, to take upon Himself the punishment for our transgressions. He would take all that hardship and pain and use it as the means of redemption for all mankind.  And He would come out on the other side glorified and exalted, giving us a taste of what awaits us if only we follow Him.

And how do we follow Jesus?  Yesterday the Church celebrated the Feast of Sorrows of Mary.  Like the feast that preceded it, this can sound like a contradiction to us.  Don't we think of Mary as the holiest of saints, and therefore the most joyful and happy?  Don't we sing, "Be joyful, Mary, heavenly queen?"  She is closer to Christ than any human being, so why would she be sorrowful? 

It is precisely because she is closer to Christ than any other human person.  As Jesus' mother, she loves Him more than anyone.  That is why His suffering would cause Mary more pain than anyone.  For love is a double-edged sword.  When you love someone, you open yourself to both the greatest joy and the greatest sorrow.  Their joy makes you joyful.  And their pain causes you pain.  Love, in this way, makes one extremely vulnerable.  This is another paradox of the Christian faith, for we do not normally think of God as being vulnerable, but our faith teaches us that God is Love.  

Loving someone means having compassion when they are suffering.  When two people marry, they vow to love the other "in good times and in bad, in sickness and health."  There are no contingencies with love.  And so while we celebrate Christ's Passion on Sept. 14, we celebrate Mary's com-passion on Sept. 15.  The word compassion means "to suffer with."  Mary, conceived without original sin,  full of God's grace, suffered more at the foot of the cross than anyone, because she loved more than anyone. 

Her compassion is our example.  This is the lesson of Christ, when He tells Peter today, "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me."   What does it meant to "take up our cross?"  It means that we must be ready and willing to suffer as Christ suffered.  But more than suffering like Christ, we must be willing to suffer with Christ.  We must have compassion.  

God bless,

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

Friday, September 14, 2012

Words of Life & Liberty - Arden, NC

Dear friends - This notice just came my way - I want to share this
opportunity with you. Sue
Arden is near Asheville, and should be abeautiful day for a drive!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Weekly Update from CCM

Dear Students,

Greetings once more from Catholic Campus Ministry!  We hope and pray that you are finding opportunities to enjoy this fall-like weather we have been experiencing this week.  Take a few moments to get out and enjoy some of the beauty that God is bestowing upon our mountains here lately.  Fall is right around the corner!

Lots of opportunities to fellowship and grow in your faith coming up, so let's get to it!

As always, we will gather for our weekly fellowship meal at 6:30 here at the Catholic Student Center.  Chesnee and James are cooking for us this week; this will also be the first visit here of their little baby daughter Matyline.  So let's all come out and give little Mattie a big welcome!  After, we'll have a faith program, as usual, so be sure to stick around for that.  

A few students have decided to start getting together Thursday nights at 10pm at the Starbucks here on campus to discuss Catholic thinking, their favorite saints, religious life, etc.  So if you are a night owl and like talking theology and spirituality, come join the party at Starbucks!

Thank God It's Friday!  Friday afternoons are a great time to come by the Catholic Student Center and start off your weekend the right way by thanking God.  We have started a Scripture study/discussion group that meets from 3-4pm, and then from 4-5 we have Eucharistic Adoration in our chapel.  Please come as you are, for all or part of these power-packed two hours.  

Also, this Friday at 7pm, at St. Mary's church in town, there will be a showing of the movie October Baby.  If you have not heard of this wonderful movie about a teenage girl who discovers she was adopted after a failed abortion attempt, click below to get more information and watch a trailer.

The showing at St. Mary's is free.  We'd like to get enough people going from campus to organize a carpool -- if you plan on going, post a message on our Facebook group and let us know if you can offer a ride, or need a ride.


Sept 21-22, Charlotte.  If you are planning on going to this event, please let me know this week.  Cost is $15 and that gets you food Friday night, breakfast and lunch on Saturday, floor space to crash at St. Peter's, and a campus ministry t-shirt.  For information about the speakers and schedule for the event, see

Oct 5-7, Folly Beach.  The theme this year is "Finding your way."  There are only SIX SPACES left, so if you have not yet signed up and would like to go, get on the list soon!  Cost is $40, and covers your meals from Friday night to Sunday lunch.  Sign up sheet and registration forms at the Student Center.

Nov 2-4, Black Mountain.  Our allotted spaces for the Diocesan college retreat have been taken, and we are now starting a waiting list.  We'll know after Sept. 20 how many new slots may open up.  People on the waiting list will be added in the order they signed up.  So far there are only two students on the wait list, so contact me to get your name added!  Cost is $50.

More information about all of these events can be had by contacting me at the Catholic Student Center.  Just come by my office or give me a call or email.

A local pastor recently purchased a copy of Matthew Kelly's book, Rediscover Catholicism, for every family in his parish.  He had seven copies left over, and has given them to our campus ministry program to be given to any interested student.  Those seven copies are currently on the coffee table in our living room, and are available for free to whomever wants to come by and claim them.  First come, first served!  

This book is part of the Dynamic Catholic series; for more information on this book, and other books from the series, go to: 

That's it for this week.  Everyone have a safe and blessed week, and I look forward to seeing you at one of our upcoming events!
Pax Christi,

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

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Gospel For Today


Reading today's scripture lessons, it is easy to spot the common theme.  They all reference healing in some way -- opening the eyes of the blind, healing the lame, feeding the hungry, making the deaf to hear, setting captives free, and so on.  The gospel reading from Mark has Jesus curing a man who is deaf, and has a speech impediment.  This miraculous healing causes people to talk about Jesus and say, "He has done all things well.  He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak."

There is much to reflect on in these passages.  Surely they speak of the mercy of God.  They remind us of our own need for healing (physical or spiritual).  And the miracle performed by Jesus gives testimony to his divinity.  All these things are true.

But what struck me this week in reading the Gospel was the sheer grittiness of the encounter between Jesus and the deaf man.  Place yourself in the scene.  Imagine that you are the deaf man and this Jesus comes up to you.  What does he do?

The gospel reading gives us a vivid description.  Imagine Jesus standing before you.  First he sticks his finger into your ear.  Then he spits, and puts his fingers into your mouth to touch your tongue (the gospel does not say where Jesus spits, so perhaps it is on your tongue, or into his hands).  Then, while he has his hands in your ear and in your mouth, he leans his head back and looks up.  Then he opens his mouth and groans.  Afterwards, he speaks the word Ephphatha which means "be opened."  And suddenly you can hear the rush of sound entering your ears.

What impresses me about this whole scene is not necessarily that Jesus performed a miracle -- we are rather used to hearing about Jesus doing that.  Rather, it is the way he performs it.  Think about it.  Jesus is the Divine Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.  As God, couldn't he have simply willed that the man be healed, and it would have been so?  Certainly that is within God's power.  

But that's not how he chose to go about it.  The way he chose to heal involves touching, spitting, and groaning.  It all comes across as very physical.  

This physicality is a key aspect of our Catholic faith.  Many of the ancient heresies contained the idea of dualism.  That is, they believed that only things of the spirit are good, whereas anything material was inherently evil.  Some of these ancient heresies, for example, believed that Jesus was a being of pure spirit, and only appeared human in order to teach us; and the message he came to teach was that we needed to free ourselves from all attachment to this physical world; that heaven meant being released from our bodies and living as pure enlightened spirit.  These heresies have always been condemned by the Church, but they continue to creep up from time to time even today.

Our faith is a very physical faith.  Our God, we believe, was Incarnate.  That word means "made flesh" -- it has the same root at carnal and carnivore.  Our God was born as a baby from his mother's womb.  And anyone who has ever seen a birth knows was a messy business that is.  He was nursed at his mother's breast, which is a very intimate, physical action. 

Furthermore, he wants us to commune with him in a very physical way, as well.  Just as he was nourished by his mother's body, he wants us to be nourished from his.  He commands us to eat his flesh and drink his blood.  

When he heals people, he does so by touching them, and using things such as spit and mud (as in the case of the man born blind).  His first miracle was to turn water into wine, and it was performed at a wedding, celebrating the union of a man and a woman into one flesh.  

Our Lord is a physical Lord, and would suffer great physical pain and humiliation for the sake of our sins, and would die the worst kind of physical death on the cross for us.  And then he would rise bodily from death.  His glorified body was physical, as well -- he invited Thomas to touch his wounds, and he did ordinary things such as eat fish.  It was that physical body which Ascended into heaven and now sits at the right hand of the Father.

This is our faith.  It's not just some esoteric spiritual construct.  It's physical and Catholics rejoice in this.  It is why we use material things in our worship such as candles, incense, stained glass, and bells.  We engage all of our senses in our adoration of God, even taste as we consume the Eucharist and drink from the precious chalice.  

Our faith is sacramental.  In the sacraments, God is made truly present to us by means of physical signs.  Just as Jesus used things such as spit and mud to heal people, he continues to use physical elements to transmit his grace to us today -- the waters of baptism, the sacred oils of healing and confirmation, the bread and wine that become his very Body and Blood.  

We are taught to have a certain detachment from physical things in this world, it is true.  But not because material things are evil.  Rather, it is because all of this is passing away, and something better is being prepared for us.  At the end of time our bodies will rise from the grave and we will exist in eternity not as ghosts or spirits, but as human beings, with a body and a soul.  This is, after all, how God made us to be.  We will inhabit the "new earth" that will be created -- perfected, but still very much material.  A perfect physical home for our perfect physical bodies.  

When God created the physical world, he looked upon it and said, "It is good."  We also need to recognize it as good, and look upon it as a grand work of art which then leads us to praise the artist, who is the ultimate good.

God bless!

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

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Weekly Update from CCM

Greetings Students!  

I hope you all enjoyed your 3-day weekend and are getting back into the swing of things here on campus.  A few announcements this week from Catholic Campus Ministry...

As always, you are invited to a free, home-cooked meal at the Catholic Student Center at 6:30.  James & Chesnee are cooking for us this week, and we'll have a short faith program afterwards.  Hope to see you there!

Many students have expressed an interest in getting together for a regular Bible Study and/or faith sharing group.  I put out a poll on Facebook several days ago with some suggestions for time.  So far the time people seem to like the most is Friday from 3-4pm.  So let's give it a try!  Anyone interested, please come to the student center.  We'll start with prayer, and a reading of the Scriptures, followed by a faith-filled discussion.  And after, if you can please stay for our regular weekly Adoration from 4-5pm.  It's a great opportunity to Thank God It's Friday!

This Saturday we are planning a "Day Out with CCM."  Please join us on our road trip to Asheville!  We'll tour the NC Arboretum, taking in all the gardens, walking trails, and exhibits they have to offer.  Then we will visit the historic Basilica of St. Lawrence and attend the Vigil Mass there.  Finally we'll end up at Olive Garden for dinner before returning home.  The only cost is your meal (plus a couple of dollars to cover the parking fee at the Arboretum).  Anyone interested, please be at the Catholic Student Center and ready to leave by 10:00am.  

Sept. 21-22, Charlotte NC
College students from all across the Diocese are coming to Charlotte to hear some amazing speakers, learn about the Eucharist, get in some awesome prayer time, and meet fellow Catholic students from schools such as UNCC, UNCA, UNCG, Wake Forest, NCA&T, Davidson, App State, and more!  St. Peter's church is right across the street from the Convention Center and is allowing us to crash in their basement -- we'll be taking shifts for all night Adoration in the Church.  If staying up late, meeting new Catholics your age, spending some serious time on your knees in prayer, and hearing speakers from all across the country sounds like your idea of an awesome weekend, just contact me to sign up!

Oct. 5-7, Folly Beach SC
The theme for our annual fall beach retreat this year is "Finding Your Way."  Our fall beach retreat is one of the most popular events we offer during the year, and space is limited to only 16 students, so you don't want to miss it!  "Faith, Friends, Food and Fun" pretty much sums it up.  Does the thought of getting off campus for a weekend, walking barefoot in the sand, having some amazing faith sharing sessions and prayer time with your friends, watching the sun rise over the ocean and renewing your relationship with God appeal to you?  This is the retreat for you!  Registration is $40 per person and there will be registration forms available at our Wednesday dinner this week.  Space always fills up fast for this one, so get your registration in early!

If you have questions about any of our upcoming events, or ideas of other things you'd like to see us offer, please get in touch.

Have a blessed week!
Pax Christi,

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

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Gospel for Today


St. Augustine of Hippo, that venerable doctor of the Church, has famously said, "Love God, then do as you will."  This, indeed, is the key to the moral life.  But there is a right way and a wrong way to interpret that phrase.

The way that many moral relativists today would interpret it -- the wrong way to interpret it -- would be to claim that it does not matter what you do or how you behave.  So long as you love God, that is all that matters.  You could be the biggest scoundrel on the planet, but if you love God, you will be alright, guaranteed a place in heaven.  Or perhaps not the biggest scoundrel...  perhaps just not behaving as you should be.  Drinking a little too much.  Saying a few too many "white lies."  Not being honest with your friends, or yourself.  Engaging in sexual activity that you know the Church would not approve of, because in your case it is different.  In your case it is alright.  Because you are in love...

It is easy -- way too easy -- for us human beings to rationalize and justify all of our pet sins.  And we usually do so by telling ourselves, "I love God, so it's ok."

But is that all there is to it?

Today's Scripture lessons help us to see what St. Augustine really had in mind when he penned that phrase.  In the first reading, from Deuteronomy, Moses is preparing the Israelites to hear "the statutes and decrees" which have been given to him by the Lord.  That is to say, the Decalogue, or what we call today the Ten Commandments.  He tells them, very pointedly, not to add to what he commands nor subtract from it, and to observe them carefully.  

It is not necessary for me to repeat the Ten Commandments here. (You do know them, right?  Right?).  But they contain such harsh and burdensome commands as "do not kill," and "do not commit adultery," and "do not steal."  And oh yes, "honor your father and mother," (that one can sometimes be a challenge for youth coming into adulthood).  

Now let's jump to the Gospel reading from Mark chapter 7.  Jesus and his disciples are seen by the Pharisees eating a meal with unwashed hands.  Now this was not a mere offense against hygiene, but against an established custom of the elders.  One must purify one's hands before eating, just as one purified one's kettle, cup and jug.  These traditions were paramount to the Pharisees, and the mere fact that Jesus and his followers were not paying them due honor was a horrible offense.  

Jesus' response to their criticism is the heart of today's teaching.  "Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile."  This is a teaching worth meditating on.

Think of the things which come from within our hearts which defile us.  Jesus lists many, including unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, envy, arrogance, folly, etc.  These are all sins which originate from within our person, as all sins do.  A wise person once told me that, as Catholics, we do not live in fear of "accidentally" sinning.  It is not as if we can be walking around outside and step in puddle of sin by mistake.  Sin is something we choose to do, it involves our heart and our will.  And Christ is teaching us that this is what defiles.  

Christ cares about more than our actions.  He wants our heart.  In another Gospel passage he tells a questioner that yes, it is a sin to commit murder, but if you hold hatred for your brother in your heart, you have already committed murder.  Likewise adultery is a sin, but if you look at another woman with lust in your heart, you have committed adultery.  What matters most is in your heart.

Does this mean our actions do not matter?  Of course not.  For our actions are the outward expression of what is in our heart.  This is what James' letter is getting at in today's second reading.  "Be doers of the word and not hearers only."  He calls "true religion" that which cares for widows and orphans.  Elsewhere in his letter he says that faith without works is dead.  Jesus points out that what is most important is what is in our hearts, but James reminds us that our actions are important, as well.  This is not a contradiction, for what we do on the outside ought to reflect who we are on the inside.  What Jesus warns against are those whose outward lives may seem pious, but whose inward disposition is selfish and impure.  

So how do we interpret St. Augustine's moral teaching in light of this lesson?  "Love God, then do as you will."  Like Christ himself, St. Augustine is pointing out the primacy of our hearts.  What is most important is not what we do but who we love.  In all of our decisions, in all of our actions, in anything requiring a moral choice on our parts, we begin with this solid principle -- love God.  That must always be our starting point.  Love of God means many things; it means we must also love our neighbor, and we must love ourselves; we are all God's creation.  It means we would not want to do anything to offend God, to go against His will for us.  Loving God means we want to be worthy lovers of God.  We want Him to be pleased with us.  We want to be close to Him.  It means all of these things and much more.

And if we begin with the love of God as our first moral principle, then we can "do as we will," because when we truly love God, we only will to do what God wills for our lives.  We would not desire to do anything that would erect a barrier between us and God, which is exactly what sin does. 

Love God.  Then put that love into action.  Allow your outward life to reflect that love that is within your heart.  

God bless and have a great week!

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