Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Weekly Update from CCM

Good (wet) afternoon, students!

A few updates to this week's schedule, so pay close attention...

St. Mary's is holding a Lenten Penance Service this evening at 6:00pm.  Anyone who wants to carpool from campus and can either offer a ride or needs a ride is encouraged to put a message on our Facebook Group.

"Supper @ the Center" at 6:30pm.  We will be joined this week by a special guest from the Pegnancy Care Center, who will be speaking with us briefly after supper about the services they provide and ways that we can help in their ministry to young mothers.  Kevin is cooking dinner for us, and it sounds like it will be a special treat, as well.  Pasta al forno con pomodori e mozzarella, with a special "lenten dessert."  

This Thursday, at 2pm our time, will be the precise moment that His Holiness Benedict XVI will abdicate the Papal See.  We'd like to support our Holy Father with our prayers.  We will have a short prayer service starting at 2pm in our chapel, including the rosary and Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.  It will last approximately 20 to 30 minutes.  Please come join us if you can.

Also, Thursday, we will have a regular Adoration hour from 6 to 7pm.  (As an aside, if anyone would like to participate in weekly Adoration but cannot make this scheduled time, please let me know what times you are available.  There is nothing that says we can only do it once a week!)

Stations of the Cross at St. Mary's at 5:30pm, followed by a soup and bread supper.

March 7:  WCU Professor of History, Dr. David Doronodo, will be giving a presentation at St. Mary's parish entitled "The Byzantine Church:  An Historical Overview." from 7 to 8pm.

March 9:  Road Trip to Conyers, GA, to visit the Trappist Monastery.  This is the monastery that Kevin is considering joining after he finishes his studies.  He'll lead us down to meet the monks, tour the monastery campus, pray with them, and see what a "monk's way of life" is all about!  We'll be leaving from the Catholic Student Center at 9am and returning to campus between 9 and 10pm.  For more information see our Facebook event.

March 14:  We'll be joining with the Methodist students at a "Coffee House Theology" night at The Point.  The event is still in the planning stages, so more details to follow...

We are planning a Spring Retreat at the Lake House again this year!  The dates are April 12-14, and the theme will be on God's Forgiveness.  More information to follow, but mark your calendars now!

¿Se Habla EspaƱol?

Would you appreciate a Spanish prayer group?  If you'd like to get together on a regular basis to be able to pray in Spanish with other Spanish speaking Catholics, please drop me a note.  It's an idea a few students have been tossing around and it would be good to know who else may be interested.

God bless, everyone!

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

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Gospel For Today


In today's gospel reading in Luke, Jesus takes Peter, John and James to the top of the mountain to pray.  While praying, his face changes and his clothes become white.  And then two men appear with him and begin conversing with him.  They are Moses and Elijah, and Jesus speaks with them of his exodus from Jerusalem.

We call this event the Transfiguration because the disciples see Jesus transfigured, manifesting his glory.  It is in his transfiguration that Christ displays to the disciples the reality of who he is.  

It is no happenstance that Moses and Elijah appear.  These are not merely two random Old Testament figures.  Moses is the giver of God's Law, and Elijah the most revered of the prophets.  Just as in today's reading, these two men also ascended a mountain to witness the glory of God (Ex. 24:15-18; 1 Kg 19:8-18).  

Moses had promised, "The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers -- it is to him you shall listen" (Duet 18:15).  

Now, in this moment, Jesus Christ reveals himself as the fulfillment of this promise -- indeed, of all that the Law and the Prophets give witness to.  God the Father's voice is heard from the cloud, "This is my chosen Son; listen to him."

Jesus speaks with Moses and Elijah about his "exodus from Jerusalem."  Exodus means "departure," but more than that, it calls to mind the historic exodus when Moses led the Isrealites out of their bondage in Egypt.  Christ is preparing to lead not just Isreal, but all of mankind out of our bondage to sin and death.  

In today's first reading from Genesis, God speaks to Abraham about the land promised to his descendants.  It was to this Promised Land that Moses led his liberated people.  But in today's second reading from Philippians, St. Paul tells us that now "our citizenship is in heaven." This is the new Promised Land, the ultimate goal of our new exodus from sin.  

Are you a fellow pilgrim on this journey to the heavenly kingdom?  To join this new exodus, you only must put your faith in the Lord, as Abraham did.  You need to follow the way of Mary, who said, "Do whatever he tells you to do" (Jn 2:5).  You need to heed the words of the Father: "Listen to him."  

Upon witnessing the Transfiguration, Peter tells the Lord, "Master, it is good that we are here."  We today climb that mountaintop whenever we come to worship at Mass. We can see the Lord in his transfigured glory in the Eucharist, if we have the eyes of faith.  We can head the voice of the Father, if we have the ears of faith.  And we can feel in our hearts and proclaim with our lips, along with Peter, "It is good, Master, that we are here."

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

Friday, February 22, 2013

How pro-life are Americans?

I want to begin by saying moral questions of right and wrong cannot be decided by popular vote.  If something is objectively evil, it doesn't matter if the majority of people think it is permissible.  Wrong is still wrong.

That being said, I recently read an article that gave some interesting statistics about Americans' view of abortion from recent Gallup poll data.  I thought it very informative, given that I frequently hear people speak of how evenly divided our country is on this issue.  Indeed, in 2011, when Gallup asked the question, "With respect to the abortion issue, would you consider yourself to be pro-choice or pro-life?" 49% responded pro-life, while 45% responded "pro-choice."  This is a pretty even divide (though it must be noted that in 1995 when asked the same question, pro-choicers won out by a 56% to 33% majority, so Americans are self-identifying more and more as pro-life).

But the interesting thing about the Gallup poll is that it doesn't just leave it at that.  It asks further questions, and if we dig a little deeper we begin to get a more complete story of just how most Americans view abortion.  For example, Gallup also asks, "Do you think abortion should be legal in most circumstances or only in a few circumstances?"  In 2012, only 38% of Americans replied that abortion should be legal in most circumstances.

Also according to Gallup's latest poll, 69% of Americans favor a 24-hour waiting period before an abortion. Only 28% oppose a waiting period.  50% support showing women an ultrasound before an abortion.  And 71% support requiring parental consent (not mere notification) for girls under 18 seeking abortions.

Americans also support spousal notification laws 64% to 34% (requiring husbands to be notified if a wife seeks an abortion).  A whopping 87% support requiring women to be told all the risks of abortions before having one.  And 88% support telling women about abortion alternatives.

When it comes to the so-called "hard cases," 83% of Americans favor abortions to save the life of the mother and 75% support abortion for cases of rape or incest.  Sadly, 50% of Americans also favor abortions for eugenics (cases of birth defects).  However, these such cases account for only 3% of all abortions performed in this country.

When it comes to the other 97% of abortions performed, most Americans oppose most abortions.  Americans oppose abortions for financial reasons by a 61% to 36% margin.  Americans oppose second-trimester abortions 71% to 34%.  And we oppose third trimester abortions by 86% to 10%.

Gallup also gives statistics by political affiliation.  When asked whether they identify as "pro-life" or "pro-choice" we see no surprises.  67% of Republicans identify as pro-life, but only 41% of independents and 27% of Democrats.  However, when asked if they would favor banning most abortions, 79% of Republicans  replied yes, as did 60% of independents and 44% of Democrats.

What should we take home from all this?  Despite the fact that most Americans oppose most abortions, those in the radical pro-abortion minority are taking advantage of the fact that most Americans think there should be some access to abortion in rare cases.  As stated above, only 10% of Americans think third-trimester abortions should be permitted.  But every single pro-abortion (or "reproductive rights") advocacy group in the US supports third-trimester abortions.   Meanwhile they insist that "pro-lifers" do not represent main-stream America.

Finally, when compared to responses to these same questions asked 10 or 20 years ago, the pro-life numbers are steadily rising.  More Americans wake up every day to the horrors of abortion, and more and more realize the scientific fact that life begins at conception and abortion is nothing short of an intentional destruction of an innocent human life.  There is every reason to believe that the pro-life movement will continue to make significant progress in changing the culture of this nation into a culture of life.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Answering 8 questions about the papacy

I was challenged once by a rather fundamentalist Baptist to “prove from Scripture” eight different facts about the papacy.  I don’t know if my answers satisfied him, but I certainly surprised him by not being as stumped as he expected me to be.  Here, edited for brevity, are his questions and my replies.

1. Prove from scripture that the alleged authority given in Matthew 16:18-20 is given personally to Peter alone, in distinction from the rest of the Apostles and the rest of the corporate Church. 

This one is easy enough to do. The verse in question reads, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

In English, we are handicapped. Our word “you” can either be plural or singular, depending upon the context. But in most other languages, including Greek, in which this was written, and Aramaic, which Jesus spoke, there are different forms of the word “you” for plural and singular.

In this instance, all of the “yous” in the phrase above are singular except for the last two. What does this mean? It means that for most of His statement, Christ was speaking to only one person, until He shifted His subject towards the end. Who is this one person? Peter, whom Christ directly addresses.

Peter alone had his name changed to "Rock." Peter alone received the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And Peter, together with the rest of the Apostles, received the power to loose and bind.

2. Prove from scripture that all the rest of the Apostles and the early church acknowledged Peter as their spiritual head. 
3. Prove from scripture that Peter viewed himself as the spiritual head of the Church. 

These two questions are related, and so we will address them together. But before we see if the other Apostles saw Peter as the head of the Church, let’s first demonstrate that God did.

Christ was the one who said He would build His Church upon Peter (Mt 16:18). Christ also gave Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Mt 16:19), a direct reference to Is 22:22 where the servant Eliakim is granted, via the symbol of the keys, the authority of his master to become the Prime Minister of the Davidic Kingdom. Here in Matthew we have Christ using the same language and the same symbol of the keys to grant His authority to His servant Peter, making Peter the Prime Minister of His Kingdom. Christ also prayed that Peter's faith would strengthen his brethren (Lk 22:32). Christ named Peter as the chief shepherd of His flock (Jn 21:17).

Now, did the other Apostles, and Peter himself, see him in this leadership position? The book of Acts tells us volumes. Peter headed the meeting that elected Matthias to replace Judas (Acts 1:13-26). Peter led the Apostles in preaching after Pentecost (Acts 2:14). Peter received the first converts into the Church (Acts 2:41). Peter performed the first miracle after Pentecost (Acts 3:6-7). Peter inflicted the first punishment in the Church on Ananias and Saphira (Acts 5:1-11). Peter excommunicated the first heretic, Simon (Acts 8:21). Peter received the revelation from God to admit Gentiles into the Church (Acts 10:44-46). Peter pronounces the first dogmatic decision of the Church (Acts 15:17). Looking beyond the Acts, we see in Gal 1:8 that, after his conversion, the first person Paul seeks out is Peter.

Whenever the Apostles’ names are listed, Peter’s name is always listed first (see Mt 10:1-4; Mk 3:16-19; Lk 6:14-16; Acts 1:13). Often the Apostles are simply called “Peter and his companions” as in Lk 9:32; 8:46; Mk 16:7. Peter spoke for the Apostles on many occasions (Mt 18:21; Mk 8:29; Lk 12:41; Jn 6:69). Peter’s name is mentioned in the Bible 195 times -- more than all the other Apostles added together.
Was he head of the Apostles? A fair and unbiased reading of the text would lead one to conclude so.

4. Prove from scripture that Peter was given the ability to make infallible proclamations. 

What did Christ promise to the Church through the Apostles? He promised that the Holy Spirit would guide them “into all truth” (Jn 16:13). He gave the Apostles the ability to speak with His own voice (Lk 10:16). And He promised to be with us always (Mt 28:20). Furthermore the Church is said in the scriptures to be the pillar and foundation (“bulwark” in some translations) of truth (1 Tim 3:15).  We therefore believe that Christ's Church is incapable of teaching error.

Now, do Peter and his successors have this infallibility in a special way? We believe yes. Where can this be found in scripture? One obvious but often overlooked place is 1 Peter and 2 Peter. Obviously Peter had the ability to make infallible statements at least twice -- when he composed these two books of the Bible, which Protestants and Catholics both accept as inerrant.

But there are other places. In Lk 22:32, Christ tells Peter Satan has demanded to have him, but that He has prayed for him “that your faith may not fail.” We have to accept that what Christ prayed for was achieved.  This would lead Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, in 256 to proclaim, “Would heretics dare to come to the very seat of Peter whence apostolic faith is derived and whither no errors can come?” This extra-biblical source illustrates the idea that Christ’s promises to Peter carry on through his successors.

In fact, if these things could not be passed on from generation to generation, how would Christ fulfill His promise to be with us always? Which leads us to the next question.

5. Prove from scripture that Peter’s personal authority could be  passed on through an unbroken line of successors. 

We see the idea of Apostolic Succession carried out with the selection of the first successor of an Apostle, Matthias, who was chosen to succeed Judas in Acts 1:25-26.  Furthermore, we read in several places of the Apostles ordaining bishops and priests to serve particular churches and carry on their ministry: 1 Tim 4:14, Acts 14:23, Titus 1:5, to name a few. They saw nothing questionable about passing their authority on to others. There are more examples of this kind if you need me to cite them all.

6. Prove from scripture that Peter used his authority to add extra-Biblical, but infallible and binding decrees upon the rest of the Church. 

This is impossible to answer, for the following reason. Any teaching of Peter that is recorded in scripture would, by definition, be scriptural. Therefore it is impossible to prove anything extra-Biblical from scripture. The question is a logical fallacy. Furthermore what we know as “the Bible” did not exist in Apostolic times.  They used the Hebrew Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament, but the New Testament was still being written, and would not be formally canonized until 405 AD.

7. Prove from scripture that extra-Biblical traditions would be required in order for the Church to remain pure and apostolic. 

We have the same problem with this question. Any tradition named in the Bible would not be “extra-Biblical.” But, if you’ll see it, there is an answer of sorts contained in your very question. You ask if anything outside of scripture would be needed for the Church to be apostolic. “Apostolic” means “based on the Apostles.” The Church, according to the Nicene Creed, is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. It is united, it is sanctified, it is universal, and it is based on the teachings of the Apostles.

If the Nicene Fathers thought like Protestants, the Nicene Creed would identify the Church as one, holy, catholic, and scriptural. But it doesn’t. This is because the teachings of the Church are based ultimately on what Christ and the Holy Spirit revealed to the Apostles. The Scriptures are valued because their teaching is Apostolic. The Apostles are not valued because their teaching is Scriptural.

8. Prove from scripture that not one of Peter’s personal successors could ever be in error. 

I can’t. But this is not Catholic theology. The Catholic Church has never taught, never suggested, that the Bishop of Rome, the successor of Peter, would never hold erroneous or even heretical views. What the Church does teach is that the successor of Peter would never teach heresy as a matter of the faith.

Why refuse to believe that God would grant the Church a special charism to prevent all of the faithful from being led astray? Surely He has performed greater miracles. Why is this one so hard to accept?

It seems to me that the anti-Catholics are preaching that the gates of hell have prevailed against the Church, and I just don’t buy it. Why? Because my Bible tells me otherwise, and I am a Bible-believing Christian!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Weekly Update from CCM

Dear Students,

I hope that you are all having a blessed start of the Lenten season.  Lent is characterized by three traditional practices; prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  I'll be focusing on these themes over the next few weeks on our Facebook Group, which is also a wonderful way to stay connected to all that is going on in Catholic Campus Ministry.

Many of you know I was away all weekend in Hickory to participate in the annual Give Your Heart Away service weekend hosted by our diocesan campus ministry office.  There were over 50 students there from colleges and universities all across the Diocese of Charlotte, including two WCU students.  We were able to provide volunteer service to six different worthy agencies in the Hickory region, and learned quite a bit about Christian charity in the process.  By serving those in need, we not only can see Christ in the ones we serve, but we also allow them to see Christ in us.  It is a beautiful way of spreading the Gospel.  To close the weekend, we all sang the hymn, "They'll know we are Christians by our love."  During this Lent, take some time to reflect on those words.  Does your love let others know you are a Christian?  (Or, to put it another way, if being a Christian were illegal, would there be enough evidence to convict you?)


WEDNESDAY:  Join us for Supper @ the Center at 6:30pm.  Kat will be in the kitchen and Kaitlyn is offering our after dinner reflection, so it will be an evening of "K"s!  Wednesday nights are great nights to bring a friend.  We offer good home cooked food, and good company, and all we ask in return is a smile.  :-)

THURSDAY:  As usual, Eucharistic Adoration will be offered in the chapel from 6-7pm, with our choir meeting to practice immediately after.  Don't know what you are giving up for Lent yet?  Why not give up some time?  Offer one hour a week in adoration of our Lord.

FRIDAY:  Pray the Stations of the Cross at St. Mary's at 5:30pm and then join in a soup and bread supper.  

SUNDAY:  Mass at 7:30pm in our chapel.  Rosary 30 min before Mass.

NEXT MONDAY:  Rosary at the Fountain at 5pm.

NEXT TUESDAY:  Lenten Penance Service at St. Mary's at 6:00pm


Catholics are always advised to do their homework, especially when it comes to things you hear about the Catholic Church.  There is a lot of misinformation floating around about what we believe and practice, and people are more than willing to repeat things without bothering to find out if they are true.  

I'll give you one example.  Last week, when Pope Benedict XVI announced his intention to abdicate the papacy come Feb. 28, a non-Catholic person left a comment on my Facebook page that essentially said, "good riddance."  He accused the Holy Father of being all sorts of things, including being "stubbornly unapologetic" about the clergy child sexual abuse scandals (which preceded his time in the papacy by decades).  

I am sure he was just repeating what he heard from other sources.  However, I knew that was not true.  I did a Google search for "pope apologizes," and immediately received over 1.5 million hits.  Of the ten news articles on the first page alone, eight of them were about Pope Benedict XVI apologizing for the church's role in the sexual abuse scandal, each in a different country, over the span of seven years.  (As for the other two, one was Benedict XVI apologizing for remarks he had made about Islam which were taken out of context, and the other was about John Paul II).  Is the pope unapologetic?  Quite the contrary, he has apologized on behalf of the church for this abuse often and repeatedly.  

The same person accused the pope of being "too conservative," by which he no doubt meant conservative on moral values, specifically having to do with sex, specifically contraception and abortion.  Again, had this person done his homework, he would have discovered that the pope is, in fact, Catholic, and it is his duty to teach the Catholic faith, including those teachings having to do with sexual morality.  Rather than being an "arch-conservative," Pope Benedict XVI's record shows he is actually quite liberal.  Not liberal in the sense that we use the word in American politics, of course.  But liberal in the true sense of the word, in that he has done much in his pontificate to increase liberty and freedom.

I'm thinking of his issuing of Summorum Pontificum that allowed for the celebration of Mass in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite by any priest who wanted to do so.  Prior to this, a priest who wanted to celebrate Mass according to the 1962 Rite was required to have special permission from his bishop, but Benedict XVI made it available to any priest, anywhere, no permission required.  It was a very liberal thing to do.

Likewise he has done much to reconcile into the Church those separated from her, be they Anglicans on the one hand, or members of the schismatic Society of St. Pius X on the other.  He has reached out to these groups and beckoned them to come home.  Rather than being exclusive, as the media often portrays him, Benedict XVI's deeds and desires show him to be a very inclusive and welcoming shepherd.  He has engaged in dialog members of the Eastern Orthodox hierarchy as well as representatives of Islam.  

But the secular media do not focus on this.  Instead they wonder if the next pope will be "more open" or "more modern," and wonder if he will "change the Church's teachings" on things such as abortion and contraception or same-sex marriage.  They remain so focused on our modern obsession with sex they fail to see any other issues.  And they have obviously not done their homework.  

Whomever is chosen to become the next Shepherd of our Universal Church, he will not be Benedict XVI.  Nor will he be John Paul II.  He will be himself, and he will -- with the grace of God -- handle the challenges of the papacy in his own way.  But we know one thing for certain.  He will be Catholic.  And Jesus Christ will continue to keep His promise to the Church, that the gates of hell will not prevail against her (Mt 16:18), that she will be led into all truth (Jn 16:13), and will be the pillar and bulwark of truth (1 Tim 3:15).  He will do this through Peter, whose strength will not fail, and who will strengthen his brethren (Lk 22:32).  The solemn duty of the successor of St. Peter is not to invent Catholic doctrine or to change it.  It is to safeguard it, preserve it, and do what he can to pass it on to the present generation.

In the coming weeks there will be much said in the media about the Holy Father (both new and old).  Some of it will be good information, no doubt.  But much of it won't be.  Some falsehoods will be stated out of malice, but more out of ignorance.  In the days to come, I encourage you to think for yourselves, do your homework, and don't accept everything you hear from the talking heads.  

Most of all, pray for our Holy Father Benedict.  And pray for the man who will be chosen by the Cardinals to fill his shoes!

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

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Gospel For Today


Today's gospel reading from Luke relates Christ's temptation in the wilderness.  It's a familiar story to Christians.  Jesus enters the desert to fast for forty days, and while there Satan tempts him.  He encourages Christ (who is fasting) to turn a stone into bread.  Jesus rebukes him, saying, "Man does not live by bread alone."  Satan then offers to make all the kingdoms of the world Christ's if he will give him worship, and Jesus again refuses, because he will only give worship to God.  Lastly Satan tells Christ that if he really is the Son of God he should leap off the highest parapet of the temple and let God's angels protect him.  Christ refuses and says we should not tempt God.

As I said, it is a familiar account to most Christians, and a perfect reflection to begin our Lenten journey of forty days of fasting.  Jesus was able to resist the temptations offered him by the devil because he placed his faith and trust in God first.  We can, like Christ, do the same when faced with our own temptations.

But there is a sentence in this gospel passage that especially strikes me.  I don't want it to go by without notice.  It says, simply, "He ate nothing during those days, and when they were over he was hungry."  

The story of Jesus' forty days in the desert has two components.  One is that he was able to resist all the temptations Satan had to offer, from a single loaf of bread, to all the kingdoms of the world.  The other is that he was able to deny himself a basic good -- food.  His denial of Satan is the fruit of a disciplined will and trust in God.  His denial of his own hunger is the spiritual exercise that strengthens that will in the first place.

Let us not lose sight of this in our own Lenten observance.  Every year around the beginning of this season I hear people encouraging others to take a different approach to what they give up for Lent.  These well meaning folks say instead of giving up chocolate, or coffee, we should try giving up gossip, or anger, or jealousy, or lust, or selfishness.  These things, they say, would make a true and pleasing sacrifice to the Lord.  That is what the Lord truly wants of us, for us to become better, more holy people after his own heart.

And to a certain extent I agree.  We should give up gossip and jealousy and selfishness and those things, to the extent that we struggle with them.  We should give them up, however, because they are sinful.  Giving up sinful things is something a Christian should strive to do all year round.  Lent is a season of repentance and penance, yes.  And if the graces of this season encourage you to let go of some of these sinful inclinations then that is a wonderful thing.  But that's not quite the point of the Lenten fast.

Why did Jesus give up food for forty days?  Is food sinful?  Is it bad to eat?  No, quite the contrary.  Food is necessary for life.  It is a good.  That's why the abuse of food (gluttony) is a sin.  And that's why giving it up can be a worthy sacrifice.  After all, in order to be a true sacrifice, the thing we sacrifice must be good.  Think of the ancient Israelites making animal sacrifices to God. It was an unblemished lamb that was offered, not the runt of the litter, not the lame and the sick lambs.  They offered their best as a sacrifice.

Likewise, when a priest makes his vow of celibacy it is not because marriage is bad.  On the contrary, it is only because marriage is such a great good that freely giving it up can be such a noble sacrifice on the part of the priest.  

My wife and I, before Lent, were having a dinner table conversation with our children about what they were each going to try to give up this year.  My wife reminded them, "It should be something that you will be happy to have back again at Easter."  That's a good way of thinking about it.  For it to be a true sacrifice for us, it ought to be something good we will miss. It should be a little hard for us to let it go.  What we do when we make this kind of Lenten fast is to both offer something good to the Lord, and also discipline our own will.  If we can tell ourselves "no" in small matters, then we will be able more easily to tell Satan "no" when he tempts us in greater things.

If you have decided to give up something sinful during Lent, I am not saying don't bother!  That's a worthy goal and I encourage you in it.  Seek out the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) and pray for God's assistance in conquering that sin.  But I also encourage you to think of something good that you can also offer to God this year.  By denying yourself a good thing, you will strengthen your spirit and build the discipline necessary to continue resisting the temptation to sin long after Lent is over.

God bless!

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

Monday, February 11, 2013

Special Weekly Update from CCM

Good morning, students.  

I'm sending out this update a day earlier than usual in light of the news from the Vatican this morning.  For those of you who have not yet heard, this morning Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation, effective Feb. 28.  You can read his announcement in full on the Vatican web site.  It's very brief.

His stated reason, in so many words, is advanced age.  He was already 78 years old when he was elected pope in 2005.  Now he is in his late 80s. "After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God," he states, "I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry."

Many of you will be asking, "Can he do that?"  No pope in our modern experience has ever resigned.  But it can happen.  The last time a pope resigned was in the fifteenth century, so it does not happen often.  But Church law allows for it, so long as the resignation is made freely (which is why Benedict uses the phrase, "with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, etc." in his statement).  

My initial reaction upon hearing the news this morning was shock.  It certainly was not expected.  I remember seeing his predecessor, John Paul II, endure in his reign despite his debilitating Parkinson's disease, which was getting worse by the day.  Many said he should resign.  But he did not.  He suffered and weakened in the public eye, never abandoning his post, never ceasing his ministry of servant of the servants of God.  In fact, his suffering was one of the great aspects of that ministry.  The final weeks and days of Bl. John Paul II's reign were a great witness to the power of redemptive suffering and the dignity of all human life, no matter its stage or age.  

After taking time to reflect, I believe that Benedict XVI's resignation is another powerful witness for our age.  It takes great humility to hand over the See of Peter.  And the virtue of humility is sorely needed in our age.  What other powerful leader in our world today would freely hand over his position without violence, protest, or even a referendum demanding his ouster?  I can't think of one.  But Papa Benedict does it freely, and surprises us all.  It takes great humility to admit that one cannot do something, and to admit that with dignity and contentment.  

I honestly do not think that Joseph Ratzinger ever wanted the job of pope.  When he was elected in 2005, he was already 78, as I said, and looking forward to a quiet retirement.  Well, surprise, surprise, the Holy Spirit had other plans for him.  And as Benedict XVI, he worked with the Holy Spirit to fulfill his God-given role to the best of his ability.  I believe the greatest leaders are often the ones who do not desire power, who do not want the job but do it anyway.   Benedict's reign was longer and more fruitful than any would have expected it to be.  He wrote three encyclicals, including Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), which is sure to be read for centuries.   He issued Summorum Pontificum, the motu proprio that allowed what is now known as the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite of the Mass to be celebrated with great freedom.  More recently he issued Anglicanorum Coetibus, making it easier than ever before for Anglicans to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church.  He is a great man who has accomplished more in his short time in the chair of Peter than any of us could have imagined.  And now he is vacating that seat gracefully.

The last time a new pope was elected it was after the death of John Paul II.  The Church was in mourning, so the atmosphere was a bit different then than it is now.  I had only been Catholic for a few years at that time, and John Paul II was the only pope I had ever known.  I remember noting a marked difference in the reactions of my Catholic vs. my non-Catholic friends.  The Catholics I knew were mourning the loss of a great pope, yes.  And there was some excitement and anticipation over who the next pontiff was going to be.  But people were relaxed about it.  No one was really worrying much.

By contrast, my non-Catholic friends were filled with anxiety.  Who would be the new pope?  It could be anybody?  What if it was someone awful?  What if he changed everything John Paul II had worked so hard for?  Or what if he didn't?  They expressed sympathy for me and other Catholics, because after all, it must be nerve wracking!  Anything could happen!  Was this the end?!

Of course it is not the end.  And my Catholic friends all knew that, which is why the excitement we all felt at the prospect of a new Bishop of Rome was different from the anxiety our non-Catholic friends thought we must be feeling.  The Church has been around for 2000 years.  We have had 266 popes in that time span.  Some have been saints.  Some have been scandalous.  Most fell somewhere in between.  But the Church and the Faith have endured.  Christ promised Peter, the first Pope, "Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it."  We know this, with the certainty of faith.  

Sure, some things may change with a new pope, because whomever is elected in the coming conclave will not be Benedict XVI.  And he won't be John Paul II.  He'll be who he is, and that will bring with it his own style and personality, and God's grace will work through him according to His will.  But the faith will go on.  The Church will go on.  Because we know it is not the job of the Pope to invent the faith.  His role is to safeguard it and present it to us in our present day and age.  He is a custodian.

When my wife woke up this morning and I greeted her with, "Good morning, sweetheart.  The pope resigned," her first reaction was a quizzical, "What?"

Then she picked up the phone and called our dentist's office to confirm the appointments we have for our children later today.  Life goes on.

Pray for Benedict XVI for a long, happy and restful retirement.  Pray for the Cardinals who will be meeting soon to elect the newest successor of St. Peter.  Pray for the man whom the Spirit selects to take on that role.  May he be as humble as his predecessor.  

Monday:  Meet to pray the rosary at the Fountain at 5pm!  (Rain location, UC Balcony).  Catholic student discussion group meets at Starbucks at 8:00pm.  All are invited!

Wednesday:  It's Ash Wednesday!  We will have Mass on campus at 12:30 in our chapel.  Masses will also be offered at St. Mary's at 9am, 6pm, and 8pm in Spanish.  Join us for dinner at the Catholic Center at 6:30pm.  We'll have a simple meal in keeping with the start of Lent, and a discussion following about what some people give up during the Lenten season.

Thursday:  Adoration from 6-7pm.

Friday:  The Knights of Columbus are having a Fish Fry at St. Mary's at 5:00pm.

I had planned to write more about the start of Lent this week, but Benedict's resignation has taken precedence!  I'll only remind you in this space that Lent is a penitential season.  Every Friday in Lent is a day of abstinence.  Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of fasting and abstinence.  What do we mean by those terms?  Abstinence means refraining from the eating of meat.  Fish is ok, as are meat based broths and gravies.  For those who are vegetarian, it is suggested you select another food item to refrain from eating, in the spirit of penance.  

Fasting means taking only one full meal during the day.  It is also permitted to eat up to two small snacks which together do not add up to one meal.  Drinking liquids does not break the fast.  Those who are ill, pregnant, or whose work requires greater nourishment are excused from the requirement to fast, as are those over 65.  

I'll be posting more about Ash Wednesday and Lent on our Facebook group, as well as updated information about Benedict XVI's resignation and the upcoming Papal Conclave as it is available.  

God bless, and have a great week!

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

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Gospel for Today


This Sunday we hear three different accounts of three different people who all accomplished great things despite their personal feelings of unworthiness.  Each tale is distinct, but the parallels are apparent.  

In the first reading from Isaiah, the prophet sees a vision of God seated on a mighty throne, surrounded by Seraphim (the highest of the angels).  Isaiah cries, "Woe is me, I am doomed!  For I am a man of unclean lips..."  We like to imagine God as a warm, cuddly, bearded father-figure, benign and somewhat toothless.  But Isaiah's reaction tells us otherwise.  Faced with the power and majesty of the Almighty, the prophet trembled and despaired.  For it is only in the light of perfect holiness that we are able to see just how unholy we are by comparison.  

I heard the Chicago priest Fr. Robert Barron say once that the soul is like the windshield of a car.  It may look clean until we point the car towards the sun.  Suddenly, when the light hits the glass, we can see every streak, smudge and squashed bug, and we realize just how dirty our windshield is.  Isaiah, standing in the light of God and His angels, realized just how unclean he was, unworthy to be in God's presence.  

Admitting his unworthiness for having unclean lips, one of the seraphim came to Isaiah and touched a burning ember to his lips.  The angel said, "Now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged."  (There is an allusion to purgatory here.  The word "purgatory" means "a purging," where we are cleansed from any lingering attachment we have to our sins before we enter the presence of God in heaven).

Having thus been cleansed, the prophet is ready to respond bravely to God's mission for him.  "Whom shall I send?"  "Here I am."

The gospel reading today tells of a similar encounter with the Almighty.  In Luke 5:1-11 we read of Jesus coming to Peter (then still called Simon) on the shore of Lake Gennesaret.  Jesus draws a crowd, preaches to them from one of the fishing boats out on the water, and then commands Simon to row out and lower the nets.  Now they had been fishing all day and caught nothing.  But they did as Jesus asked and hauled in so many fish they had to call out a second boat to hold them all. Knowing that he had just witnessed a miracle and was in the presence of divine power, Simon falls on his knees before Jesus and says, "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man."  

Like Isaiah, Simon Peter recognized his own imperfection in the shining light of the perfect God.  Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid," (a message He would often repeat), "from now on you will be catching men."  Simon left everything of his old life behind that day and began to follow Christ.  Of course we know how the story ends.  Simon the fisherman becomes Peter, the head of the Apostles, first Pope and Vicar of Christ, the Rock upon which Jesus builds the Church.

What is the message here?  That God can do great things through weak men?  Certainly, that is part of it.  That God can heal us of our sins and shortcomings, cleanse what is unclean in our souls?  Certainly, that is true, as well.  But Isaiah and Peter were two great men in the history of the faith.  They were special cases, right?  What about people like us, just regular ordinary people?

Or you may be thinking, Isaiah and Peter were imperfect, sure, but how bad were they really?  I've done some pretty rotten things; there is no way God can be calling me to do His work.  I've worked too hard against Him for too long to do Him any good now.

St. Paul would say otherwise.  Our second reading today is from 1 Corinthians, where St. Paul calls himself, "the least of the Apostles, not fit to be called an Apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God."  Now you need to know some history of Paul to appreciate this.  Paul (or Saul as he was called then), was a Pharisee.  In fact, he was the most pharisaic of the Pharisees, the most zealous in persecuting Christians, whom he viewed as heretics and blasphemers.  He was out to destroy the Church, travelling from synagogue to synagogue encouraging the Jewish people to punish anyone who accepted Jesus as the Messiah.  Paul was personally involved in imprisoning many Christians.  He was involved in their torture, trying to get them to renounce their faith in Christ.  And when St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was being stoned to death, Paul was there holding the coats of those casting the stones.  So when Paul says he was unworthy to be called an Apostle, he meant it.

So what happened?  Did Paul just change his mind, suddenly becoming a good guy?  

No.  Christ happened.  

"I have toiled harder than all of them," Paul says.  But then he continues, "Not I, however, but the grace of God that is in me."  And that's the key.  Paul, the sinner, would be completely incapable of doing God's work on his own.  Any of us would be.  But because Christ now dwells within Paul, it is Christ who works through him.  

If you are a baptized Christian, then you have been united to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Christ dwells within you, too, just as He dwells within Paul.  And you are just as capable of accomplishing what God wills for your life as Paul was.  That does not necessarily mean you are going to be an apostle, or a prophet.  As we heard in last Sunday's readings, some are apostles, some are teachers, some are prophets, some work mighty deeds, etc.  We all have different tasks.  

You are not Isaiah.  You are not Peter.  You are not Paul.  You are you, a unique person made in the image of God, with your own perfection before you.  God wants the same thing, ultimately, for all of us.  Holiness.  But holiness looks just a bit different on each of us, for we are different people.  What is God calling you to become?  If you don't know, have you asked Him?  Whatever it is, you can take comfort in Christ's words to Peter.  "Do not be afraid."  He's not calling you to do anything that He's not ready to help you accomplish.  For He lives within you, and works through you, if you only allow Him to do so.  

God bless, and have a great week!

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

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Weekly Update from CCM

Good afternoon, students!  

I just got back from grocery shopping for tomorrow night's dinner.  Ali is cooking spaghetti with meatballs for us (or for you vegetarians, spaghetti without meatballs).  She's also got a nice after-dinner activity prepared for us based around one of our recent scripture readings from Mass.  Don't miss it, come tomorrow night at 6:30 -- and bring a friend!

For those of you planning on going with us on our Baltimore/DC spring break trip this year (or if you are considering going and want more info), we ask that you come to one of two information meetings we have planned.  The first will be this Wednesday at 6:00pm.  The second will be this Sunday night, immediately after Mass.  You don't need to come to both, but you do need to come to one.  The meeting should only last about 20 minutes.  One thing that will be mentioned at the meeting is a need for a $50 from anyone going by Feb. 10

Your Peer Ministry Council and I are working on putting together a spring retreat this semester.  We'll be returning this year to the same lake house we used in 2011, for those who were there.  More information will be coming as we continue to plan, but those interested please go ahead and mark your calendars for the weekend of April 12-14.

Lent will be here before you know it!  We will have Mass celebrated in our chapel on campus on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 13, at 12:30pm.  Fr. Alex will also offer Mass at St. Mary's at 9:00am, 6:00pm. and 8:00pm in Spanish.

Ok, so admittedly Mondays can use a lot of work to make them awesome.  But we are trying!  Our Rosary prayer group is moving their meeting time to 5pm starting this coming Monday.  This is to allow greater participation by those who want to come together and pray a rosary on campus.  The usual place will still be at the fountain, with a bad weather location being the UC Balcony.  Also beginning this Monday our Catholic student discussion group is starting up again.  They plan to meet at Starbucks every Monday at 8pm to discuss a different faith-related topic each week.  Any student is welcome to join them!

Many of you are members of our Facebook Group (and if you are not, you should join).  Many students are my personal friends on Facebook, as well.  (My policy is that I don't send any student a friend request, though I will happily accept a student who sends a request to me).  I don't mind any student friending me if you want to get a glimpse into your campus minister's life (yes, it is just as exciting as you think it is).  Of course, this means I get a glimpse into my students' lives, as well.  And usually that's a pretty good, reaffirming thing.  Sure, every now and then a student will use some language in a post that I'd rather not see them using, but that's pretty rare overall.

What I do see on occasion, and it always makes me cringe, is the acronym "FML."  I don't have to tell you what it means, but the last two letters stand for "my life," and the first letter doesn't stand for "festoon."  People use it to express frustration, maybe because they just broke up with their boyfriend/girlfriend (which is always painful), or because they have roommate issues (who doesn't at least once in college?), or maybe feeling overwhelmed with schoolwork.  Sometimes people just use it in a lighthearted way because something silly or embarrassing happened to them.  I discovered a whole FML web site in which people are asked to post their embarrassing stories.  One example was a young man who was partnered with a girl in his art class.  They were asked to sketch each other, and he thought he was doing a pretty good job until he showed her his sketch and she said, "That's ok, I can't draw very well, either."  To him, that was a FML moment.  

But I hate to see anyone use this phrase, for any reason.  Your life is a gift to you from God.  God created us, each one of us, as a sheer act of love.  He didn't have to make you, or me, but He did because He wants to share His life with us.  God, the Almighty Creator, the Great "I Am" who is existence itself, is sustaining you in being at this very moment.  If He ever stopped loving you, you would cease to be.  The very fact that you have existence at all means you are sharing in God's life, which means you have your being within Him.  Everything you have, you have from God.  (And, might I point out, every student I have ever met has led a life far better than 99% of the human population that has ever been born).  

So when I see a student post "FML," it feels like they are giving the finger to God.  They are taking this precious gift of His and tossing it back in His face, not even saying, "Thank you," but "F*** you."  

Now, before I hear from anyone saying, "But that's not how we mean it!" let me say I know that.  I know that's not how you mean it.  And that's my point.  If you don't mean it, don't say it.  Words are important.  Don't believe me?

"No foul language should come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for needed edification, that it may impart grace to those who hear." Eph. 4:29

"I tell you, on the day of judgment people will render an account for every careless word they speak."  Matt. 12:36

These days we don't just need to worry about the words coming from our mouths, but also from our fingers, as we tweet, text, and type.  In many ways these words are more enduring, as they don't fade away after we speak them.  All I'm saying is words are powerful things.  They are a tool we possess to convey truth and goodness, but they can also be used in pernicious ways.  Use yours for uplifting one another, and giving thanks to God.

God bless!

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

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Gospel For Today


Anyone who has ever been to a Catholic wedding will recognize today's second reading, from 1 Corinthians.  It is full of some of the most quotable lines of St. Paul's writings. 

"If I speak in human and angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal."

"If I have all faith so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing."

"Love is patient, love is kind... It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."

"So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love."

If you'll forgive the pun, what St. Paul does here is get to the heart of the matter.  Our best actions, our most eloquent words, our noblest deeds, our strongest faith -- all of these things can be spoiled by a lack of love.  If I had to summarize in one sentence what God wants from us, I would have to say, "He wants our hearts."  He wants us to love.

This helps to explain what Christ meant when He said He did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it (Mat 5:17).  Think about these things.  The Commandments say to not commit adultery.  But Jesus says, "everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Mat 5:28).  Likewise the Commandments say not to kill.  But Jesus tells us to not even to be angry with our brothers (Mat 5:22).

The Commandments say "Thou shalt have no gods before me."  But Jesus says, "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind..." (Lk 10:27).

You see how Jesus' teachings do not contradict or do away with the Commandments, but rather get to the heart of their meaning.  Christ goes on to say in the same passage from Luke that you should "love your neighbor as yourself."  It follows if you love your neighbor, you will not desire to lie to him, steal from him, kill him, seduce his wife, or covet his possessions, etc.  Just as if you love God with all your heart, you will not take His name in vain, disobey His commands, or worship false gods (by treating other things as if they are more important than God is).

This is why St. Augustine could summarize the whole of the moral law in one sentence.  "Love God; then do as you will."  He did not mean this in a modern day, relativist sense.  Some mistakenly interpret Augustine today to mean we have permission to do whatever we wish, so long as we love God.  This is not true.  There are some things which we may never do because they are contrary to our nature, contrary to the way God made us.  We call these mortal sins.  They are beneath our dignity and actually cause us spiritual damage when we do them; things such as murder, adultery, fornication, blasphemy, dishonesty, theft, and the like (things which violate the Ten Commandments).  What St. Augustine means is that if we truly love God, we will have no desire to do these things.  In fact, the thought of them abhors us.  So if you truly have love of God in your heart, you are free to do what you will, because you will only desire to do what is pleasing to God.

So how do we increase our love for God and neighbor?  We decide to love.  Today.  

Think about this: Jesus commands us to love.  This means that love is an action, an act of the will, something we can make up our minds to do.  It is more than just a human emotion.  If love were simply an emotion, Jesus could not have commanded it of us.  You cannot command someone to feel an emotion.  Telling someone who is sad to "feel happy," is ineffectual.  If we could choose to feel happy, no one would ever feel sorrow!   You cannot choose to feel frightened, or joyous, or frustrated.  These are things that happen to you, not things you can choose.

But love is different.  You can choose to love.  God would never command us to do something impossible.  Love is an act of the will.  And it is like anything else we do -- it is a skill we can practice and improve over time.  When one first begins to love it can be shaky, haphazard, and require great effort.  But over time, with practice, it can become effortless and graceful.  The great practitioners of love do so with marvelous achievement!  (Think of the saints as our "Lovers Hall of Fame").

One final -- and essential -- fact about love.  God is love (1 Jn 4:8).  This is the crux of St. Paul's teaching.  We can perform mighty deeds and achieve all that is great in the eyes of man.  But if we do it all without love, we do it without God.

God bless!

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