Sunday, March 31, 2013

Gospel For Today


He is risen! Alleluia!  Allow me to wish you a Blessed Easter by taking you back to Holy Thursday.  I was praying before the Blessed Sacrament immediately after the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord's Supper; the Sacrament had been removed from the sanctuary and taken to an altar of repose.  Like many churches, our place of repose was decorated with flowers and Easter lilies, making it a reflection of the Garden of Gethsemane, where our Lord spent his final hours before his Passion.

I was reflecting on this, putting myself there in the scene, waiting in the garden, keeping watch with Jesus.  As I meditated on this, a thought entered my mind:  He is there now.  

This was not merely a reenactment of an event which happened long ago.  Christ was there, is there, now, waiting in the garden to be arrested.  When he says, "Stay here and keep watch with me" (Mt 26:38), he is speaking to you and me.  

How can I say Christ is still there at Gethsemane?  Isn't he in heaven, seated at the right hand of the Father?  Yes, of course he is.  And that is precisely why he is still in the garden; why he is still suffering on the cross; and why he is even now risen from the tomb.  Christ lives and reigns from eternity.  And eternity gives one a very unique perspective.

Most of us have a very wrong view of what eternity is.  We tend to think of it is just a really, really, really incredibly long time that stretches forever before us without end.  When we think of eternity that way, and imagine heaven as us sitting and adoring God in awe and wonder for endless centuries, we cannot be blamed for thinking, "how boring."  No wonder we don't try very hard to get there.

But eternity is not "a really long time."  Eternity is completely outside of time.  From the perspective of eternity, all time is the present.  We cannot fully understand what that will be like from within time, but it means that there is no past and there is no future.  All time - every moment - is eternally now.

So from his perspective in eternity, Jesus is waiting right now in the garden for the soldiers to arrest him.  He is hanging right now on the cross, bruised and bleeding, struggling to draw one final breath.  He is emerging from the tomb, risen and glorified, the conqueror of death.  He is living through it all, right now, for you and for me.

Today is Easter Sunday.  It is the day in the liturgical year when the Church celebrates in a special way the Resurrection of our Lord.  But in truth, we celebrate the Resurrection every Sunday, just as every Friday is a day of penance in honor of our Lord's death. Every Mass is a memorial of his Passion.  We do not simply remember it as something that happened once long ago.  We believe that the celebration of the Mass truly makes present Christ's sacrifice for us, so that we may participate in it (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1362-1372).   This is only possible because God allows His Church to sacramentally "tap into" eternity.

As I thought of Jesus, from his perspective in eternity, perpetually living through the events we recollect during Holy Week, it occurred to me that this will one day be our perspective as well.  The human soul is immortal.  We will live forever.  That is not in doubt.  The question is what kind of life will it be?  

Every moment of Christ's life is eternally present to Him.  We only know the highlights.  His Incarnation; his being born of the Virgin.  His preaching in the temple.  Turning wine into water at the wedding in Cana.  Restoring sight to the man born blind.  Raising Lazarus from the dead.  The Last Supper.  His trial before Pilate.  His death on a cross.  His rising from the dead.  His ascension into heaven.  Jesus walked with us for thirty-three years.  How many hidden moments were there that we will never know of?  Each of these moments is eternally present to him.  For Jesus, each of these moments was a moment infused with grace.  He never wasted a single breath.

Can you say the same?  I certainly can't.  I have no shortage of wasted moments, missed opportunities, and times in my life that were certainly less than grace-full.  I am reminded of a lyric from Jack Johnson; "If I had a minute for every hour that I wasted, I'd be rich in time."  

In eternity, every moment of your life will be forever present to you.  You can go back and relive them all.  Whether this is a good or bad thing depends entirely on how you lived your life, the choices you have made.  So consider that as we celebrate Easter today.  Jesus Christ is risen TODAY.  This is the day - TODAY - that the Lord has made.  Live it, and every day, the way you want to live forever.

God bless, and Happy Easter!

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

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Gospel For Today


Today is Palm Sunday, also called Passion Sunday.  These two names reflect two very different aspects of today's liturgy, which is unique in that two different gospel readings are proclaimed.  In churches all over the world today people will gather outside the parish doors, or in the fellowship hall, parking lot, or otherwise out of the church proper to begin the liturgical celebration in joy and triumph.  We will read from Luke 19:28-40, of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, riding on an ass.  As he rides along people spread their cloaks out on the road for him, and "the whole multitude of his disciples" praises God with joy and sings, "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord."  

After the gospel reading we are given blessed palms and asked to lend our voices to the praising crowd, as we sing, "Hosanna to the Son of David, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel!"

Inside the church, though, is another matter.  Turn a page or two in Luke's gospel.  Now we hear of the Last Supper, Jesus's arrest and trial, his passion and his death.  We participate in the gospel reading this morning, reading aloud the words belonging to the gathered crowd.  With the crowd, we shout, "Crucify him!  Crucify him!"  Our voices are the ones that choose Barabbas over Jesus.  Our voices, that moments ago sang his praises, now condemn him.

Isn't this exactly like the human heart?  Aren't we all too often like Peter, swearing that we would never deny our Lord, but then before the cock crows find we have done it not once, but multiple times?  

Why does the Church ask us today to be the voices that call for Christ's death?  I know some people who literally break down into tears as they shout those words at Mass; it breaks their heart.  We do this because we are the ones who crucified Christ.  We are the ones who are responsible for his suffering and his death -- you and me, and every other person who has ever sinned, which is to say everyone.  We need to be reminded of this not simply so we can express gratitude (though we should), but so that we can feel true sorrow for our part in Christ's passion.  It should break your heart.  It should hurt.  

But Jesus doesn't just suffer because of us; he suffers for us.  Christ is not only crucified for us; he asks us to join him on the cross.  "If you would be my disciples, you must take up your cross and follow me."  Being a Christian means you must suffer on the cross as well.  Jesus did not come to end all suffering; he came to transform suffering into a means of salvation. The way this is achieved is to join our suffering to his.

When we are baptized, we are sacramentally joined to Christ's death and resurrection.  From that moment on, each occasion of suffering in our life can draw us closer in communion with our Lord's passion.  This all sounds rather grim, I know.  But the Passion is not the end of the story.  Palm Sunday is followed by Easter.  When we join our suffering to the Lord's, we join with the one who conquered death.  The more we die with Christ, the more we will rise with him.  This is the great joy of the cross.

Hanging from the cross, beaten and bruised, thirsty, humiliated, and in excruciating pain, our Lord uses one of his last breaths to exclaim, "My God, my god, why have you abandoned me?"  Did Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, really feel abandoned by God?  No.  Our Lord was quoting from Psalm 22, which we hear at today's Mass.  The psalm is prophetic.  Composed by divine inspiration hundreds of years before the Crucifixion, the psalmist speaks of being mocked, having his hands and feet pierced, surrounded by evil doers, and having lots cast for his garments -- all things that describe the suffering of the Christ.  But then the psalmist proclaims, "But you, O Lord, be not far from me; O my help, hasten to aid me.  I will proclaim your name to my brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will praise you..."

Jesus was never and could never be separated from God.  And God is never far from those who suffer with His Son.  The closer you come to the cross, the closer you draw to God.  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel, and the Suffering Servant.  

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

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Weekly Update from CCM

Dear Students,

It's less than a week before Spring Break, and then only one more month until the summer.  God is smiling down upon our valley with this foretaste of spring and I hope you are enjoying it, as I am.  Today is the Solemnity of St. Joseph, the foster-father of Jesus and the patron saint of the universal Church.  He is also patron of fathers, of husbands, of workers, carpenters, and many other things.  It is very fitting that this day was chosen for the inaugural Mass of our new Holy Father, Pope Francis.  More on that below.  First, some notes about this week's schedule.

Please note we are meeting at 6:00 this Wednesday night, NOT 6:30 as usual.  This week we are being joined by students from the Methodist and Presbyterian campus ministries (and perhaps others) in an outdoor Stations of the Cross.  We will meet at the Catholic Student Center at 6:00 to begin our prayer, which will proceed across our campus.  We'll end up at the Methodist church, where they will host us for dinner.  So please join us in sharing one of our most beloved traditional Catholic devotions with our non-Catholic brothers and sisters, and enjoy their fellowship and hospitality.  

Please note there is NO MASS on campus Palm Sunday or Easter Sunday.  Sunday evening Mass on campus will resume April 7.  For those staying in Cullowhee over Spring Break, Sunday Masses at St. Mary's are at 9 and 11 am, as usual.  If you need a ride, please post a message on our Facebook group or contact me.  If you can offer rides, please post that, as well.  Everyone have a wonderful spring break and a blessed Holy Week!

Our Spring Retreat this year is all about forgiveness; God's forgiveness of us, and our need to forgive one another.  The dates are April 12-14 and it's only $20 to go.  We'd like to have a final count before we leave for Spring Break, so please sign up this week if you have not already.  Sign up sheet is here on our fridge -- where every family keeps important information.  Or just email me your intent to go and I can add your name.

In a somewhat unusual move, Pope Francis this morning opted to not use the normal readings for the Mass for the Inauguration of the Pope.  Instead he chose to use the readings from today's Solemnity of St. Joseph.  This is a wonderful reminder to us, linking the patron of both fathers and of the Church to the Bishop of Rome, who is spiritual father for the whole Church.  

What this brings to my mind today are the strong links between the sacrament of matrimony and the sacrament of holy orders.  Both are sacraments of vocation.  All too often in today's discourse the two are pitted against each other.  We are told that celibacy is a bad thing, because marriage is a good thing.  We are not often told the opposite today, but in the past there have been ultra-ascetic heretical groups that forbade marriage altogether as an evil and required celibacy of all believers.  Both are wrong.  Neither is the position of the Catholic Church.

The Church teaches us that marriage is good, and worthwhile, and holy.  But the Church teaches us also that some people are called by God to set that good aside for the purpose of another good.  While Christian marriage is a great witness to God in the world (the family is often called the "domestic church"), those who give up the possibility of marriage to embrace life in the priesthood or as professed religious give witness to God in a different sort of way.  They are able to give themselves in service to the Church and her people fully, in a way that a husband or wife, responsible for one another and for children, simply cannot.

I see this personally even as a campus minister in our small Catholic community here at WCU.  I am not clergy, and I am not called upon to do all the many things that clergy are expected to do; I cannot hear Confessions, I cannot baptize your children, or witness your marriages; I do not receive 3am phone calls to come to the hospital and administer Last Rites.  But even with my much more limited ministerial responsibilities, I often have conflicts between ministering to my students and being a husband to my wife, and a father to my children.  I am a finite man with only so many hours in the day.  And my wife and children will always win.  Always.  Because marriage is my vocation.  

I could not even begin to imagine being a pastor responsible for the spiritual needs of a large parish with a wife and kids at home.   I know some do it.  Contrary to what many think, there are some married Roman Catholic priests (mostly former Anglican clergy who have received special dispensation from the discipline of celibacy).  But even they will admit that it is not the ideal.  It's hard.  We in the Latin Rite allow for married men to be ordained as deacons, and in the Eastern Rite churches married men may even be ordained priests.  But even then bishops are only selected from among the celibate clergy, because it better reflects the ideal of Christ's self-sacrificial priesthood.

When a man forgoes the good of being a husband and a father so that he may be ordained as a priest, he is allowing himself to be husband to the Bride of Christ (the Church) and a father to all her children.  This is true of your parish priest.  And it is true of Pope Francis.  The title "pope," it is good to remember, comes from the Greek word papas, which which is a very informal word for father; like our English word "papa."  Papa Francis, like Papa Benedict before him, is spiritual father for over a billion Catholics.  Please pray today, on the feast of St. Joseph, patron of fathers, for strength, courage and guidance for our Holy Father.  And remember, he can only be father to us because of the sacrifices he has made in his life, including the great sacrifice - and gift - of celibacy.  

Pope Francis is already being called a "reformer."  But what does that mean?  To the secular media, a "reformer pope" is one who might allow contraception and abortion, married priests, and so forth.  But true reform of the Church means something else.  For a glimpse at what a Pope Francis reform might look like, check out this article from the Catholic Culture web site.

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

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Gospel For Today


Habemus Papam!  We have a pope!  And already Pope Francis is under the microscope of media speculation.  In the past few days I have read that as Archbishop of Buenos Ares he was a strong supporter of liberation theology.  I have also read that he was very critical of liberation theology.  I have read that he was unenthusiastic about Benedict XVI's Summorum Pontificum, which liberated the Tridentine Mass, blocking attempts by his priests to implement it.  I have also read that he welcomed Summorum, and within 48 hours of its issuance had already established a parish in downtown Buenos Ares to celebrate the old Mass.  

These are reports from the past; what about now that he is pope?  His first morning as pontiff he went the church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome to pray to the Blessed Mother.  That is also the titular church of Bernard Cardinal Law, who resigned from the Archdiocese of Boston 10 years ago in disgrace over his role in the child sex abuse scandals.  According to some media reports, Pope Francis met Cardinal Law there and warmly greeted him, "rubbing salt in the wounds" of abuse victims.  But according to other media reports, Pope Francis had Cardinal Law banished from his titular church altogether and refused to see him!  

Which version is the "real" Pope Francis?  Obviously you cannot believe everything you read.

Why do we do this?  Why do we immediately seek to critique and judge?  The first thing we often do is look for faults in the newcomer, reasons to not like him.  Even if it means having to make something up.  This is a serious fault.  This is a sin.  

In today's Gospel reading, the scribes and the Pharisees bring a woman before Jesus.  This woman, they tell him, is an adulterer.  In fact, she was caught in the act!  And according to the Law, she should be stoned.  "So what do you say?" they ask our Lord.

Note that they do not stone her themselves, which according to their minds, they should have every right to do.  That is not enough.  They have to bring her before Jesus, involving Him, asking Him to mete out the punishment, looking for Him to smile upon their righteous disapproval.  They have courage enough to accuse, courage enough to condemn, but when it comes to doing something about it, not so much...

But our Lord would have none of it.  "Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to cast a stone," He tells them.  Deflated, they all began to walk away.  As for the woman caught in adultery, Jesus does not condemn her.  Instead He loves her.  He forgives her.  And He commands her to leave her old life behind and sin no more.

Maybe you are excited about the election of Pope Francis.  Maybe you have read some critical commentary that makes you uneasy about his papacy.  Either way, I encourage you to try one thing.  Try loving him.  And refrain from comparing him with Benedict XVI or John Paul II.  That's not your job.  And he is neither of those men.  He is Francis, and God will judge his papacy according to whether he is the best Francis he can be.

I can guarantee you one thing about our new Holy Father.  He is a sinner in need of forgiveness.  In that he is just like you and me.  

I can guarantee you another thing.  He is a new creation.  Cardinal Bergoglio is no more.  The life of Pope Francis is just beginning.  He's like you and I in that regard, as well.

Allow me to quote from today's first reading from Isaiah:

Remember not the events of the past,
the things of long ago consider not;
see, I am doing something new!
Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

The Lord is capable of making all things new; including the Church, including you and me.  We are constantly in need of renewal -- all of us.  Whether we are talking about a new neighbor, a new pastor, a new campus minister, a new bishop, a new professor, or a new pope, allow the Holy Spirit to work something new in him.  Allow the Holy Spirit to work something new in yourself.  This is the whole purpose of the sacramental life of the Church.  Each Confession and Absolution, each reception of the Eucharist, is a call to leave our former lives behind and become a new creation in Christ.  This is the point of our Baptism, of our Confirmation.  It is something we recommit ourselves to each Sunday at Mass when we stand up and say, "I believe..."  It is something we each ask for when we say, "Lord, I am not worthy...  but only say the word..."

Pray for Pope Francis and pray for our Church. Pray to the Lord who makes all things new.  

God bless!

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

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Weekly Update from CCM

Dear Students,

The conclave to elect the new Bishop of Rome and shepherd of the universal church has began today.  And word is in from the Eternal City -- no pope for you!  Black smoke was seen around 2:45 (our time) rising from the Sistine Chapel, which is the signal that no candidate received the needed 2/3 majority in today's round of voting.  There will be two ballots each morning, and two each afternoon, until a 2/3 majority is reached.  At that point, white smoke will rise from the Sistine Chapel and Catholics world wide will be able to rejoice and say habemus papem, "We have a pope!"


Wednesday:  Please join us for dinner this Wednesday night at 6:30 at the Catholic Student Center.  A free, home cooked meal is offered each week.  Please come as you are.  After dinner, we will have a rosary making workshop.  Kat Sumeracki and Jessica Keene will be teaching us to make tied knot cord rosaries.  All the materials will be provided.  We hope you will join us!

Thursday:  We have a special opportunity this Thursday, and so a slight change of schedule.  We will have Eucharistic Adoration at 6pm as usual.  But at 6:45 we will leave and head over to The Point coffee house (across the street from the Cullowhee Post Office) where we will meet with students from the Wesleyan (Methodist) campus ministry at 7pm for an evening of music, prayer and faith sharing.  There will be small group discussions about various faith topics.  This is a wonderful opportunity to learn about the faith of others and to share the beauty of the Catholic faith with those who might not have been exposed to Catholic tradition.  Please come join us!  You can either meet us at the Catholic Student Center before 6:45 to ride over to The Point together, or just meet us at the coffee house at 7pm.  (The evening should wrap up around 8:30).  


Sunday:  Mass at 7:30pm, as usual, with Rosary prayed 30 minutes before Mass.  Just a note that this is the last Mass on campus before Spring Break.  There will be no Mass offered on campus for Palm Sunday or Easter Sunday.  If anyone needs rides to St. Mary's for either of those days, please use our Facebook group to find a ride, or let me know and I will help arrange a ride for you.

Wednesday:  Next week we are planning something a bit different for the final Wednesday dinner of Lent (before our break).  We will be gathering at the Catholic Student Center at 6:00pm (note the earlier time), where we will be joined by students from the Methodist campus ministry.  We will pray an outdoors Stations of the Cross with them, beginning at our chapel and ending up at their student center where they will then host us for dinner.  Another great ecumenical opportunity, and a wonderful way to share a Catholic devotion with many students who will have never had that experience.  Please plan on coming a half an hour early next Wednesday so that you can join us in prayer.


We are taking sign-ups for our Spring Retreat, April 12-14, at the Lake House!  This year's theme is "Forgiveness" and the cost is only $20.  Sign up sheet is on the fridge here at the Catholic Student Center.  We'd love for you to go!  There will be peer talks, prayer, games, canoeing, s'mores, opportunity for Confession, and to grow in faith and fellowship.  For more information please see me or a peer minister.

And speaking of peer ministry....  have you wondered what the Peer Ministry Council is all about?  Or who is even on it?  I put up a blog post this week explaining this aspect of our campus ministry.  If you missed it, take a look:

Please continue to pray for the cardinals and the Church this week, that the Holy Spirit guide them in selecting the best pastor for the Catholic Church.  By this time next week we should have a new Holy Father.  I'll post information to our Facebook group as it is available.  It is an exciting time in the Church!

God bless,

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

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Gospel For Today


Today is just a little bit different.  Today the Church uses rose or violet colored vestments instead of the usual Lenten purple.  Unlike the rest of Lent, instrumental music may be heard at Mass today, and the altar may be decorated with flowers.  This is Laetare Sunday, named for the first word of the Entrance Antiphon for today's mass.  Laetare means "rejoice," and our opening chant begins, "Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her.  Be joyful, all who were in mourning; exult and be satisfied at her consoling breast."

The words of the entrance chant are meant to set the tone for the rest of the Mass.  (This is why the Church asks us in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal to sing the proper antiphon from the official liturgical books of the Church, and not substitute some other song of our choosing).  The tone for today's Mass is clear -- be joyful!  We are still in the penitential season of Lent, but the tone -- like the liturgical vestments -- is somewhat lightened.  For today we discover what the suffering and death of our Lord has accomplished for us.  In one word: reconciliation.

St. Paul states it very clearly in today's second reading (2 Cor 5:17-21).  I implore you to read it carefully.

Brothers and sisters: Whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.  And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.  So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us.  We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.

Every Catholic should be familiar with this verse, and be ready to quote it when speaking with non-Catholics about sacramental Confession.  This is the "ministry of reconciliation" Paul speaks of, which he said is the "message entrusted to us [the Church]" by God.  Through this ministry, God appeals to us, through the Church, to be reconciled to himself. 

Confession is also called Penance and Reconciliation. These three names all tell us something different about the sacrament.  "Confession" describes our action of freely admitting our sins and failures before God's ordained representative.  "Penance" describes our actions performed in reparation out of sorrow for our sins.  But "Reconciliation" describes not our action, but God's action towards us.  As St. Paul describes, we are made "a new creation; the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come."  We are reconciled to God, through Christ, and the vehicle for this is the ministry of reconciliation God entrusted to the Church.

Today's Gospel reading is the very powerful story of the Prodigal Son.  It is a parable of a son who turned away from his father and his father's ways, and who lived to regret it.  Life outside of his father's house was miserable and hard.  "Wretched" would be a better word.  And so he decides to repent of his ways and come back home, begging his father to at least accept him as a servant.  

Is this not how we sometimes can feel when we go to Confession?  Perhaps we've been living a life for some time which was far from our Heavenly Father's ways.  We have been far outside of His house.  And we are tired.  We have been living in the metaphorical pig sty with the Prodigal Son, and we have had enough.  We long to return to the life of the Church and be reconciled to God, even if it is just as one of his lowly servants.  

But God doesn't do probation.  His reconciliation is not conditional.  You will never hear in the Confessional, "Alright, we are going to give you another try.  We'll let you back in, but you have to start from the bottom and work your way up."  God is like the father in the parable.  As soon as he saw his son walking up the path toward him "he ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him."  He dressed his son in the finest robes, put a gold ring on his finger, slaughtered the fattened calf and put on a feast!

"'This son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.'  Then the celebration began."

We use that word "celebration" often in speaking of the sacrament of the Eucharist.  We refer to the priest who "celebrates Mass."  We don't often think of "celebrating" the sacrament of Confession.  But we should.  God celebrates each time a sinner returns to him.  And the penitent is the honored guest at the feast.  

Today, the Church reminds us to rejoice!  "Be joyful, all who were in mourning."  It is the Church's great joy to invite you into this celebration.  In the words of St. Paul, "We implore you on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God."  Or in the words of the psalmist  "Taste and see the goodness of the Lord."  You've been given a great invitation.  You just need to decide to RSVP.

God bless, and enjoy your day!

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

Friday, March 8, 2013

Peer Ministry

This Wednesday at dinner a student raised the question of how one gets on the Peer Ministry team, and it made me realize that I perhaps don't explain the role and purpose of our Peer Ministry Council as well or as often as I should.  I really ought to be highlighting this once a year, if not once a semester, especially for new students.  Here is my attempt to remedy that!

Our CCM is very much a peer ministry.  What do I mean by that?  I am your campus minister (and very happy to be that!) and there are many different ways in which I strive to minister to the student body here at WCU.  One of those ways is to assist you in ministering to each other.  That is what peer ministry is about; students ministering to their fellow students.  To that end we have a Peer Ministry Council (often times just called "Peer Council" but I don't like to forget the "ministry" part).

The Peer Ministry Council is a group of students who meet weekly to assist me in planning and organizing  the programs we offer through CCM.  Or, to put it more accurately, I assist them in planning these events.  Mainly this consists of the Wednesday night programs, and our Fall and Spring retreats, but can also include other things such as service opportunities, day trips, social functions, etc.  In addition to helping plan these activities, the Peer Ministry Council also serves as my sounding board for other ideas I might want to try out, and in general helps keep me informed about what is going on with the student body.  So in addition to being a planning committee, they also serve as kind of a student advisory board for me.

I want to emphasize one important thing.  While the Peer Ministers are very much in leadership positions within CCM, being on the Peer Ministry Council is not the only way to exercise leadership in CCM.  For example, Joseph Coca has been doing a wonderful job since last year of organizing and leading our student choir.  This is very much a leadership role, and he has done this without being on the Peer Council.  Students who attend our Wednesday night programs will know that Kevin Toole has offered a couple of wonderful presentations for us this semester, and has also put together our monastery tour this Saturday, and he is not currently on the Peer Council.  Sarah Taylor has been in charge of our weekly Adoration services for a full year now and is not on the Peer Council.  So there are very many ways to exercise leadership in our campus ministry without being a "Peer Minister."

Nor is the Peer Council about popularity.  Peer Ministers are not chosen because they are better liked than other students, nor because they are "holier" than other students.  So how are they chosen?

The Peer Ministry Council generally consists of between 4 to 7 students at a time.  There is no set number, but I find 4 to 7 to be ideal for our size ministry here at WCU.  Students are asked to serve for one semester at a time and at the end of each semester are given the option to continue serving or to step down.  So when Peer Ministers graduate or step down, openings are created that need to be filled.

The process starts simply with a conversation between me and the Peer Ministers-- not so much a conversation about who we think might be good choices for the team, but a conversation about the team itself.  What are our needs?  What are our current strengths?  What are our current weaknesses?  This conversation helps us to decide what qualities we need to look for in new team members.

Ideally, the Peer Ministry Council should be a balanced group that reflects the students involved in CCM.  If our current Peer Council is more women than men, we will want to look for more male members.  If most of our Peer Ministers are seniors and juniors, we might look for freshmen and sophomores to add to the team.  Maybe we have people who can come up with great ideas and are wonderful at behind the scenes planning, but not so comfortable in standing up and giving presentations.  We might want to balance that out by looking for new members who are good public speakers.  In other words, what qualities does the current team perhaps lack that we should look for in new team members?

Every member of the Peer Ministry Council is free to suggest names for consideration as new members.  And then that name is discussed, both pros and cons -- not making any judgment on the person, but simply discussing whether that person brings the qualities we need for a balanced Peer Ministry team.  (Remember, everyone whose name is discussed is a person that at least someone on the team thinks would make a great leader!)

As your campus minister, I have to consider two things.  1) Would this student be good for the Peer Ministry Council?  And 2) would being on the Peer Ministry Council be good for this student?  Sometimes that second consideration outweighs the first, and I am always mindful of the good of the individual student in my decisions.

In the end, the decision to invite a new student onto the Peer Ministry Council is made through consensus.  We do not take a vote.  Rather we discuss the matter until a consensus is reached. (As campus minister I do have the final say, but I have yet to disagree with a nominee reached through consensus).  That nominee is then approached, in private, by myself; told of the duties of being on Peer Council, and asked if they can commit to serving for at least one semester.  If they say yes, they are on board!

That's the process in a nutshell.  No one "applies" to be on the Peer Council, though if someone does feel a calling to serve our campus ministry community in that capacity, they are certainly free to express that to me and it will be kept in mind.  Although if you do not get asked to serve, please understand it doesn't mean you are not valued; it is more likely that a different set of qualities was needed to balance out the current team.

There are some qualifications for who can serve on the Peer Ministry Council.  It is expected that anyone being considered for PMC will have been active in campus ministry for at least one semester.  "Being active" means more than simply showing up for Mass on Sundays.  It means you have been a part of our community and participated in our programs.  It is also expected that you be a good witness for the Catholic Church.  This does not mean you have to be a saint, or a great apologist or theologian.  But it does mean that you are living a lifestyle that is not in discord with the Catholic faith, regularly attend the sacraments, etc.  You should also be a "team player" as most things are decided as a group.  No room for big egos at our table!  Finally, when you agree to serve on PMC, you also agree to make campus ministry your first priority at WCU after your academic studies.  This does not mean you cannot be involved in other campus groups; but it does mean that when conflicts arise between those other groups and CCM activities, you give priority to CCM.  Except for serious reasons, Peer Ministry Council members are expected to participate in and support CCM activities.

So, if you want to be on the Peer Ministry Council, what's the best thing to do?  My advice would be to read the above paragraph and then start to live it.  Be an active member of our campus ministry community.  Be a good witness of the Catholic faith.  Participate in the Sacraments.  Bring me your ideas.  And most importantly, don't wait for an invitation to start being a leader.  As I have said above, being on the Peer Ministry Council is not the only way to exercise leadership in campus ministry.  There is only room for so many students on PMC, so doing these things won't guarantee you'll be nominated.  But it will  likely make you a leader in our community one way or another.  And it is guaranteed to make you a valuable part of our faith family, and quite possibly draw you closer to God in the process.  That's really our only goal.

So that's the Peer Ministry Council, in a nutshell.  Our current members are Ali Daughtery, Alex Cassell, Kaitlyn Conger, Hunter Reid, Kat Sumeracki, and Rebecca Trujillo.  At the end of this semester, some of our current members will be graduating.  Others will be stepping down to allow more time for other responsibilities.  So we will be thinking and praying quite a bit this semester about the make up of our Peer Ministry team for the coming year.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Religion and Politics

Here lately I have seen many items come through my Facebook news feed with a common theme; religion has no place in politics.  I am seeing these sentiments shared by my religious and non-religious friends alike.  My strong suspicion is that what people mean by "keep religion out of politics" these days is that we should not legislate morality.  And what they mean by "morality" is sexual morality.   You know the drill -- abortion, contraception, homosexuality, divorce, etc.

There are important distinctions which are absent from most of the modern day talk of religion and politics.  We seem in our society to have forgotten that there is a difference between legislating morality and legislating theology.  While the latter would seem silly in most Western countries today, the former is absolutely necessary.  Let me give you an example to help demonstrate my point.

Legislating theology (bad):  Arianism* is illegal.
Legislating morality (good):  Murder is illegal.
*an early heresy named for the priest Arius who taught that Jesus was the highest of all God's creatures, but that he was a created being and therefore not one in being with God the Father.

People often object to legislating morality by pointing to examples from the past of unjust legislation of theology.  There were times when citizens were obliged to pay tithes to the Church of England, even if they were Catholic, Presbyterian or Baptist.  Or places where Catholics were forbidden to hold public office.  That sort of thing.  Of course these examples show how unjust we can be as a society if we allow the governing class to dictate our religious practices.

But our governing class does have a crucial duty to legislate moral practice within society, and there are wise and foolish ways to go about it.

St. Augustine makes this very point in The City of God.  There is a very important relationship between the civil law and the moral law.  St. Augustine cautions that it would be imprudent to attempt to make everything which is immoral also illegal.  Man is a weak creature who all too often falls into sin, and fails to live up to the moral law.  Subjecting man to legal penalties and imprisonment every time his virtue fails him would be placing an undue burden upon the citizenry.  However, he also recognizes that there are some immoral actions which are so harmful to society that they must be forbidden by the civil authorities in order to foster the common good.

St. Thomas Aquinas also writes very eloquently on the relationship between civil law and the moral law.  He points out that in order for the laws of man to be just laws, they must correspond to the moral law (which is to say the natural law).  If any of man's laws contradict the moral law, then they are unjust laws and therefore not truly laws at all, and should not be obeyed.

To sum up both of these great theologians' positions, not everything which is immoral should be illegal, but everything that is illegal should be immoral.

And so yes, of course we legislate morality.  Morality after all is the science of determining right from wrong. And the only reason anything ought to be illegal is that it is wrong.

We have laws against murder, because murder is wrong.  Murder is the taking of an innocent human life.  Now when someone suggests that abortion is also the taking of an innocent human life and therefore we ought to have laws against abortion, they are not allowing theology to intrude into politics.  They are using their moral compass to guide their political mind, and that should be what all politicians aim to do.

We have laws against theft because thievery is wrong.  Thievery is the acquisition of property to which you have no right.  Now when someone suggests that at a certain point the tax rate crosses the line and becomes federal thievery, are they also guilty of mixing religion and politics?  Or are they simply questioning the ethics of current policy, which is their right and duty to do?

All of our laws are rooted in morality, or at least they ought to be.  Morality deals with human conduct.  Politics deal with the relationships of human beings living in a society.  Of course we cannot separate the two.  And of course religion will play a part in both, as religion has a great deal to do with both human conduct and human relationships.  Though we must exercise prudence in its political role.  (Uh oh, prudence is one of the Cardinal Virtues taught by the Catholic Church... does that mean we should leave prudence out of politics?)

When discussing these issues, the questions that need to be raised are 1) is the action in question immoral? and 2) would outlawing it increase the common good, or place an undue burden on the individual?  Moral authorities such as the Church are excellent guides in answering the first question.  The role of politicians and legislators is to answer the second question.

We live in a modern, pluralistic society.  It would be unjust to make Judaism illegal, or Catholicism, or Protestantism.  It would be unjust to make atheism illegal.  People must be allowed to follow their consciences and worship God (or not) as they choose.  And we must allow our politicians to do their best to create just and moral laws to govern our shared society.  Those laws will deal with human behavior and human relationships.  And sometimes things we may want to do will be illegal, because sometimes we want to do things that are not good for us, or not good for society.

Questions about the legality of such things as abortion, homosexual marriage and the like should be addressed in these terms.  And yes, absolutely, questions of morality have a prominent place in these debates.  So let's recognize this and allow morality its proper role in politics and stop pretending that the Inquisition is upon us whenever a politician suggests certain actions may be morally wrong.

One can say morality is precisely the area in which religion and politics overlap, inasmuch as both religion and politics have an interest in human behavior.  In our zeal to keep religion separate from politics, have we also separated morality from politics?  I think this is a fair question to ask, especially since these days we seem to be hearing more and more about the lack of ethics among our political class.  Is there any wonder?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Weekly Update from CCM

Good rainy afternoon, students!  

This week, we hope you join us Wednesday night for dinner at 6:30pm.  Our after-dinner program will be led by Alex Cassell and will discuss our Catholic beliefs about the papacy.  A perfect topic for this interregnum period in our Church.  Our Wednesday dinners are always home-cooked and always free, so please come if you can and bring a friend!

Ever wondered what life behind the monastery walls is like?  This Saturday join other students from Catholic Campus Ministry on a day trip to visit the Trappist Monastery in Conyers, GA.  Holy Spirit Monastery was founded in 1944 and is the first native-born Trappist foundation in the United States.  We will have a chance to meet some of the 36 monks in residence there, pray with them, tour the abbey grounds, visit the Monastic Heritage Center (a museum of monastic life), see their famous Bonsai Gardens, and more!  You can discover more about Holy Spirit Monastery on their web site.

Those planning to attend should meet at the Catholic Student Center before 9am.  We plan on leaving at 9:00 sharp, and returning to campus sometime between 9 and 10 that evening.  If you plan on going, please RSVP via our Facebook event so we can get an idea of how many to expect.  There is no charge, other than to chip in for gas and whatever you might want to eat on the road (there is a cafe and gift shop at the Abbey).  How many chances in life do you get to meet a Bonsai Master Monk?  

Next week, in addition to our regular schedule of activities, we have been invited to participate in a Coffee House Theology night hosted by the Methodist Campus Ministry.  Our students and theirs are meeting this week to plan the particulars.  It will be held at 7:00pm on Thursday, March 14, at The Point coffee house (right across the street from the Cullowhee Post Office).  There will be live music and discussions about various faith & theological issues.  It's a great opportunity to share with those from other Christian traditions and learn not only about some of our differences, but more importantly what we have in common.  We hope you can attend.

It has been said that you should pray for 20 minutes every day, unless you don't have time.  Then you should pray for one hour a day!  Lent is a time when we, as Catholics, especially devote ourselves to prayer.  In addition to your regular prayer life, remember that we have a Rosary group that meets at the Fountain in the center of campus each Monday at 5pm, and Adoration in our chapel every Thursday from 6-7pm.  Also, our chapel is open each day for anyone who wants to come by for a few quiet moments of prayer time before Our Lord.

Have a blessed Lent, and try to stay dry these next few days!

Pax Christi,

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

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Gospel For Today


"I am..." For us, this is an incomplete statement.  We can finish the thought in so many different ways.  I am a campus minister.  I am a husband.  I am a father.  I am a brother, a son, a friend, etc.  These statements all tell you something about myself; my occupation, my vocation, my relationships.  All of these things make up part of who I am, but none of them are the totality of who or what I am.

I could be very specific and give you my name.  "I am Matthew."  This tells you who, but not what, I am.  I could be very general and say, "I am a human being."  This tells you what I am in the most basic terms.  The statement "I am" can be read as "I exist as..."  Other aspects of my existence may change over time -- my relationships may change, I can change occupations, or even change my name if I were so inclined.  But I cannot change the fact that I am a human being.  That is the nature of my existence.

A human being is one who has his "being" -- that is to say, his existence -- as a human.  We are speaking of human nature, that thing which all humans, young and old, short and tall, black or white, male or female, possess in common which makes them distinct from orangutans and elephants and porcupines.  To speak of a thing's nature is to speak of the type of existence it has.  When you read the word "tree" you have an image in your mind of what a tree is, even though I have not written of any specific tree.  We know that there are all manner of trees -- junipers, oaks, ash, beech, maple, willows, etc -- but we also know that all of these things have something in common, their "treeness," that makes them different from bushes and vines.  

So it is with we human beings.  We all share our type of existence in common.  And it is this common human nature that makes up the backbone of our moral law.  Catholic moral tradition is rooted firmly in the natural law, which takes as its basis our human nature.  Put simply, when we act in accordance with our nature, we are doing moral good.  When we act against our nature, we do harm to our human dignity, and do a moral evil.  So this idea of "nature" or "essence" is very important to our lives even though natural law is not taught much in schools anymore, outside of a few philosophy courses.  

All this is very interesting, you may be thinking, but what does it have to do with today's scripture readings?  As I said to begin with, when we begin a statement, "I am," there are many different ways we can finish it, the most fundamental of which is to tell our nature, or what we exist as.  "I am a human person."  

So how does God complete that statement?  What is God's nature?

In today's first reading from Exodus Moses has an amazing encounter with the Living God in a burning bush.  God speaks to Moses directly.  He tells him, "I am the God of your fathers," and says He has heard the cry of the people of Israel in Egypt and He will rescue them from their slavery.  Moses asks a very simple, but important question.  "If I go to the people of Israel and tell them 'the God of your fathers' sent me, and they ask me your name, what should I tell them?"  In other words, who are you?

God's answer is short and profound.  "This is what you should tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you."  God gives His name as, "I am who am."  In Hebrew (which has no vowels), this is the tetragrammaton YHWH, the holy name of God which devout Jews dare not pronounce and even to this day cannot be spoken within Catholic liturgies.  

For us, as I said, "I am" is an incomplete statement.  We must qualify our existence by saying what we exist as.  "I am Matthew," or "I am a husband," or "I am a human being."  For God, "I am" is a complete statement.  God does not "exist as" anything.  He exists, period.  "I am who am."  He is existence.  By revealing His name to us in this way, God is giving us a very intimate glimpse into His being.  We learn something about God's unique nature.  The divine nature is existence itself.  To be God is to be existence.

What does this tell us about God?  If we look around us in this created world, everything we see has two things in common.  1) It exists, and 2) it does not have to exist.  All that we can observe, including you and I, has a dependent existence.  We could just as easily not have existed and the cosmos would get along just fine.  In fact, there need not be any cosmos at all when it comes down to it.  We have a borrowed existence, and so the question arises, borrowed from where?  Or from whom?  

But since God's very nature is existence, He cannot not exist.  His is the only existence that is not dependent upon something else.  Therefore he must be eternal, never having a beginning and never having an end.  Everything that exists does so only because it shares in God's existence, in His being.  In this way we each have a share in the Divine Life.  And we continue in our existence only because we are sustained by God's love.  A great theologian once said that if God every stopped loving you, for one brief moment, you would vanish out of being.  

In a few weeks time we will hear in the scriptures of the arrest of Jesus, of His trial and subsequent crucifixion on Good Friday.  He will be accused of blasphemy.  How did He blaspheme?  It is because He made such statements as "I AM the bread of life," and "I AM the way, the truth and the life."  He said, "I tell you, before Abraham was, I AM."  

By making such statements, Jesus was identifying Himself, for those who had ears to hear, with the eternal God who is existence itself.  Christ is YHWH.  He is the Great I AM.  He is life.  And either he is wrong and guilty of blaspheming.  Or He is right...  and if He is right...  well, then that changes things.

Understanding this is why the Apostles could meet their deaths with joy in their hearts, for love of Christ.  It is why countless disciples and converts risked their own lives to live for Him.  Christ is the One who spoke to Moses in the burning bush, who gave spark to all Creation, entered into Creation itself to redeem it.  Realizing this means a paradigm shift.  It means making fundamental changes in your life.  It means repentance and conversion in the light of His love.  It means nothing can ever be the same.

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