Thursday, July 25, 2013

Re: Welcome Freshmen, from Catholic Campus Ministry!

My apologies for the "half email" sent out a few minutes ago.  As you come to know your campus minister, you will realize that God frequently allows me to make public goofs like this in order to keep me humble.  Just roll with it....  :-)

Dear Freshmen,

Welcome, from Catholic Campus Ministry at WCU!  You are receiving this email because you have made contact with us over the summer, either at one of the orientation fairs or via our web site or Facebook page.  

We are only a few short weeks away from the start of the semester.  As your campus minister, I greatly look forward to meeting and getting to know you all, and I invite you to pop by my office at the Catholic Student Center any time to say hi.  If you did not find the Catholic Student Center during your Freshman Orientation, you can find a map to our location on our web site:

We are easy to find, only a short walk from the center of campus, between the UC and the Ramsay Center.  While you are on our web site, be sure to check out our calendar page for a look at what we have coming up this semester.  Your first week on campus will be a busy one, so to help you plan ahead, here are some things you don't want to miss.

Valley Ballyhoo, 4:30-7:30pm.  This is the big welcoming fair at the UC lawn where student organizations and other on and off campus groups set up information tables.  Catholic Campus Ministry will have a table and we encourage you to drop by and say hello.

This will be our first Sunday Mass on campus.  Mass is celebrated at 7:30 in the evening in our chapel at the Catholic Student Center.  Our celebrant is Fr. Joshua Voitus, pastor of St. Mary's, our local parish.  We gather to pray the Rosary half an hour before Mass, and offer snacks and fellowship after Mass.  (And starting on Sept. 8, we will be offering a catechetical and apologetics series called Credo from 9-10pm each Sunday, covering a wide variety of topics related to faith and morals.  Stay tuned for more information).

We have a new student open house - for Freshmen and transfers only - from 5:30-6:30pm.  This is your chance to get to know other new students, meet your campus minister and representatives from our student Peer Ministry Council, and ask any questions you have about Catholic Campus Ministry.  Then at 6:30 we will be joined by returning students for our weekly Wednesday fellowship meal together.  Each Wednesday at 6:30 we offer a free home cooked meal, followed by a faith-based program of some variety.  We hope you decide to become a regular part of our fellowship together!

Sunset hike and picnic on the Blue Ridge Parkway!  Gather at the Catholic Student Center at 6:00pm.  We will provide a bagged picnic dinner for you, and car pool together to Waterrock Knob on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  We'll enjoy a picnic and then a short but rewarding hike to the peak.  If the weather is nice, you can see three states from the top!  

Catholic Campus Ministry offers a variety of other opportunities to enrich your faith during the semester, including participation in Diocesan-wide campus ministry events.  Just some to keep in mind...
Eucharistic Congress - Charlotte, NC, Sept 13-14
Charis Retreat - Black Mountain, NC, Nov 8-10
Beach Retreat - Folly Beach, SC, date TBA

One of the first things you will learn about WCU is that on campus parking can be a challenge.  We can help!  Our Catholic Student Center has a lot near the center of campus that can hold about 50 cars.  One of the ways we raise funds for our various activities is by selling parking permits for our lot.  The cost is $50 per semester, and we only make and sell 50 parking stickers, so you'll never have to fight for a space.  If you are interested in purchasing a parking permit from us, please contact me.  We sell most of our permits during the first two weeks of the semester, so don't delay!  (Of course permits are NOT required to park in our lot for Sunday Mass!)

Just ask!  As your campus minister, I am always available via email, phone or text.  My cell is 828-508-0789.   Joining our Facebook group is another great way to connect with other Western students involved in campus ministry.

Again, welcome to WCU.  I am so glad to have you as a part of our faith community, and I look forward to getting to know each of you better in the coming weeks and months.

God Bless,
Matt Newsome

Mary Wright, Diocesan Director of Campus Ministry
Fr. Voitus, pastor of St. Mary's
WCU CCM Student Peer Ministry Council

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

Welcome Freshmen, from Catholic Campus Ministry!

Dear Freshmen,

Welcome, from Catholic Campus Ministry at WCU!  You are receiving this email because you have made contact with us over the summer, either at one of the orientation fairs or via our web site or Facebook page.  

We are only a few short weeks away from the start of the semester.  As your campus minister, I greatly look forward to meeting and getting to know you all, and I invite you to pop by my office at the Catholic Student Center any time to say hi.  If you did not find the Catholic Student Center during your Freshman Orientation, you can find a map to our location on our web site:

We are easy to find, only a short walk from the center of campus, between the UC and the Ramsay Center.  While you are on our web site, be sure to check out our calendar page for a look at what we have coming up this semester.  Your first week on campus will be a busy one, so to help you plan ahead, here are some things you don't want to miss.

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

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Gospel For Today - 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time


"Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ..."

Our second reading today from Colossians 1:24-28 begins with these words from St. Paul. They can be troubling for many Christians.  "What is lacking in the afflictions of Christ..."  Whatever can St. Paul mean?  Is he saying that Christ's sacrifice for us was not not complete?  Is he saying that more is needed?  It certain sounds that way.

As Catholics, we are sometimes accused by our Protestant brothers and sisters of denying the efficacy of Christ's single sacrifice.  He died once on Calvary in a perfect sacrifice which was sufficient for the salvation of all men, yet we Catholics claim that our Mass is also a sacrifice, an offering of the Body and Blood of Christ to the Father over and over again.  It is as if we are denying that the unique sacrifice of Jesus was good enough.

Of course that is not what we believe at all.  We do believe, along with our Protestant brethren, that Christ's sacrifice on the cross was universal and complete, sufficient reparation for the sins of all humanity.  We do not "re-sacrifice" Him in the Mass.  Rather, the sacrifice presented in the Mass is the same sacrifice of our Lord at Calvary, re-presented (made present to us today) in and through the Mass.  The bread and wine we offer become through Christ's words of consecration and the power of the Holy Spirit the same flesh and blood that was offered on our behalf on the first Good Friday.  Thus we in the year 2013 are able to participate in Christ's single, timeless offering of Himself nearly 2000 years ago.  When you are at Mass, you are at the foot of the cross.

St. Paul's comment about filling up what is lacking in Christ's sufferings can be similarly misunderstood.  Again, we believe that Christ's sacrifice is universally sufficient and complete.  Nothing is lacking in His suffering - except for perhaps one thing.  And that is our acceptance of it.  

It has often been said that "God is a lover, not a rapist."  He does not force Himself upon us, but He lovingly invites us into relationship with Him.  God made us as beings with intelligence and free will.  The Catechism teaches us that God "enables men to be intelligent and free causes in order to complete the work of creation" (CCC 307).  That applies equally to the work of our salvation.  The Catechism goes on to say that we can "enter deliberately into the divine plan by [our] actions, [our] prayers, and [our] sufferings" (CCC 307).  

The Catechism reaffirms that "the cross is the unique sacrifice of Christ" who is "the one mediator between God and man."  But because He has united Himself to us, "the possibility of being made partners" in His sacrifice is offered to us.  This is what it means when Christ invites us to take up our own cross and follow Him (CCC 618).

We Catholics are also sometimes accused of thinking we can "earn our way into heaven" with our good works.  Certainly good works are an important part of the Christian life and a means of becoming holy people.  But we can never "earn" anything by them in God's eyes, and this is not Catholic teaching.   Suggesting we can "earn" something from God implies an equality between man and God which is not there.  When I do a job for someone, I expect to be paid for it, because I and my employer are equal in our dignity; my time may be traded for his treasure because there is an equality of value there.  But nothing is equal between man and God. There is nothing we could ever do that would put God in the position of owing us anything.  

But that is us.  Christ is another matter.  Christ, while being fully man (and thus able to suffer and to die) is also fully God.  As God Himself, Christ's actions can be meritorious before God and this is precisely why His suffering on the cross is meaningful.  And here is the key in all of this.  Through baptism, we have been joined to Christ.  Our faith teaches that baptism makes us new creatures, members and co-heirs with Christ, and temples of the Holy Spirit (CCC 1265).  Baptism, like all sacraments, conveys God's grace to us, and when we receive God's grace we receive His very life.  God makes His home within us.

What this means is that whatever we do, we bring God with us.  This has several effects.  For one, it means that when we sin it is even more scandalous than before, because we bring God into our immorality. Thus St. Paul chastises the wayward Corinthians, "Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?  Shall I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute?  Never!" (1 Cor. 6:15).  

But it also has the wonderful effect of making God participants in our good works and in our sufferings.  While our actions on our own can merit us nothing before God, when we act as Christians, as members of Christ's body, our good actions are 1% us and 99% Christ within us.  Thus our good works can have merit, because they are the works of Christ.

So, too, with our suffering.  For the Christian, suffering is not pain alone, but pain with meaning, pain with purpose, because it is pain also suffered by Christ.  It becomes pain which can make us holy.  And just as Christ's suffering is endured for the salvation of all men, our own suffering, joined with Christ, can aid in the salvation of others, as well.

This is what it means when we are told to "offer up" our suffering to Christ.  It means we join our suffering to His, for the benefit of ourselves and of all humanity.  It gives meaning and merit to our pain.

And thus we, like St. Paul, can fill up "what is lacking" in Christ's afflictions; for the only thing lacking in His perfect sacrifice is for us to participate fully in it; for us to climb up on that cross and suffer with Him.  Christ cannot do this for us; but He can and does go before us.  He shows us the end of suffering is joy, the end of death is resurrection.  Let us take up our cross and follow Him to eternal life.

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

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Gospel For Today


Sometimes you have to wonder, "What's the big deal about the Ten Commandments."  Whenever there is a news story about some debate somewhere about their display in a courtroom, or in a public park, part of me wants to say, "Ok, leaving alone the whole separation of church and state issue, what is so offensive about thou shall not kill, thou shall not steal, thou shall not bear false witness, thou shall not commit adultery, etc.?  Isn't all this common sense?  Do we really have to be told this?"

The answer is both yes and no.  We know of the Ten Commandments (also called the Decalogue) as being given to Moses directly from God Himself.  As a direct communication from God, they are considered Divine Law.  However, the content of the Decalogue is strictly from the natural law.  This means they are precepts based on our own human nature.  If we think about what it means to be a human being, we can understand with our own reason that the things forbidden in the Ten Commandments are beneath our dignity.  They are bad for us; we go against our nature when we do them.  You might say (and in fact St. Paul did say) that these laws are written on our hearts (Romans 2:15).

This is not some secret wisdom that it took Christians hundreds of years to figure out.  In fact, Moses said as much right from the beginning.  From today's first reading (Dt 30:10-14):

For this command that I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you.  It is not up in the sky, that you should say, 'Who will go up in the sky to get it for us...' No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.

So why don't we?  Why is it so hard to simply carry out the law written on our very being by the One who made us?  The answer is sin; specifically original sin, but also the many personal sins we pile on top of it.  

Besides being kicked out of Paradise, pain in childbirth, and having to labor for our food, one of the consequences of original sin is called concupiscence.  This is just a big, fancy word meaning "the tendency to sin."  Even though we were made good by God, and in our essence are still good, we have this annoying habit of choosing things that are bad for us.  We decide, over and over again, to go against God, against ourselves, and against our better judgment.  Bad behavior is so attractive to us; we become selfish, self absorbed, and get mired in greed, lust, gluttony, jealousy, or whatever your pet vice may be.

We say to ourselves, "we are only human," even though these things are contrary to human nature.  If we acted "only human" we would be fine.  When we sin we act less than human. 

One of the universal truths about humanity is that everyone wants to be good.  No one wakes up in the morning thinking, "I think I'm going to do some evil today!"  Yet we have an terrible capacity to do evil.  We do this by justifying our actions in our own minds.  Before we can perform an evil deed, we first convince ourselves that what we are choosing to do is really in some way good.  We have gotten quite good at this sort of thing.  The more we do it, the more we sin, the more we forget about the natural law and fall into self destructive behavior.

What is the remedy?  This is the good news.  We have been given the answer from our very Creator.  A "plug in," if you will, from our Designer to fix this bug in our systems. 

Moses said to the people: "If only you would heed the voice of the Lord, your God, and keep his commandments and statutes." So is the answer obedience?  That is certainly part of the solution. But there is more to it.  Jesus lifts the veil and shows us what is at the heart of the commandments.  "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself."

This is a summary of the Ten Commandments.  The first three commandments tell us what it means to love God (no false idols, do not take His name in vein, keep the Sabbath holy).  The last six commandments tell us what it means to love our neighbor (don't kill, steal, lie, covet, etc.).  The fourth commandment links the two together (honor your father and mother - including your heavenly Father).  So if we loved God perfectly, and loved our neighbor perfectly, we would not need to be told the commandments.  We would simply do them.

This is why St. Augustine summarized the moral law by saying, "Love God, then do as you will."  The real solution to the problem of sin -- the only solution -- is love.

But we don't love perfectly.  There is too much love of self in the mix.  Too much damage from sin.  We need help.  And this is where the real good news can be found.  Not only are we called to love perfectly, but we are loved, and loved perfectly.  God our Creator, the author of our human nature, loves us.  And with that love He is willing to fill in what is lacking in our own charity.  

He offers us His grace, His very life, in the sacraments.  His gift to us is a gift of love, and with that gift we may begin to love not as fallen man does, but as God does.  This is how God intended us to be from the beginning.  We have fallen, but He will restore us.  We only need to cooperate with the cure.

The cure is Jesus Christ, God Incarnate.  He established a Church to teach us, govern us, and sanctify us (make us holy).  If we hold fast to the Church, we hold fast to Christ.  We will come to know God's love and mercy for us, and so be equipped to show love and mercy to others.  

We can, with God's help, start to be truly human.

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

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Gospel For Today

click here for readings

There are many examples in history of Christians attempting to purge themselves from any attachment to the physical.  Some of these attempts have been healthier than others.  On the one hand you have the more ascetical religious congregations, such as certain Carmelite communities, Trappists, etc.  On the other hand you have heretical groups such as the Cathars of medieval Europe.  

What makes one group holy and another heretical?  And what about those of us who don't live in medieval monasteries, but in modern homes with our families?  Are we, as Christians, required to eschew material goods and pleasures?

St. Paul writes in his letter to the Galatians (today's second reading) that "the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world."  This certainly suggests that he is no longer attached to material concerns; they have no more hold over him.  

Likewise in today's gospel reading from Luke we hear Christ telling the seventy-two He sends out to carry no money bag, sack, or sandals.  They were to have nothing with them, depending entirely upon the charity of those they meet.  It certainly seems that for the Christian, a certain detachment from material goods is expected.

But the Cathars we mentioned before preached a radical detachment, and they were condemned as heretics.  In fact, the great Dominican order was founded to go and preach among them and convince them of the error of their ways.  What gives?

The Cathars certainly did teach that the Christian should have no attachment to physical things of this world.  But they did so for all the wrong reasons.  They taught that the physical world -- all of nature -- was evil.  This included not only food and drink, material wealth, and other goods; it also included our very bodies.  

The Cathars were a medieval revival of an even more ancient heresy called Manicheism. The Manicheans were dualists.  This meant they believed in two gods.  In their view, the lesser evil god was responsible for creating the physical world, while the good god of light was responsible for creating the spiritual world.  Thus things of spirit were good while physical things were evil.  A human being, in their view, was a good soul that was trapped in an evil body.  Salvation for the Manicheans and the Cathars meant freeing the soul from the body.

In this life, strict practitioners did this by living very ascetic lives, detached from any physical goods.  They ate only the bare minimum to sustain them.  And they forbade marriage, as the purpose of marriage was to unite two (evil) physical bodies in an (evil) physical union, the result of which was to create a new (evil) physical body in which another (good) soul could be trapped.  

Of course this view of creation is all wrong.  Even though it may appear that these heretics have certain things in common with ascetic religious orders (living simple lives, detachment from material goods, celibacy), their theology is miles apart.

We believe in one God.  We profess this each and every time we recite the Creed.  It is the first and foundational article of our faith.  And this God created the entire universe, all that is visible and invisible, as we also recite in our Creed.  This means God is creator of both the physical and spiritual realms.  All creation comes from Him, and that means all of creation is good.

God made us as creatures with physical bodies and spiritual souls.  This is why it is so wrong for us to think of our existence in heaven (or hell) as disembodied spirits.  We are not meant to be ghosts.  We are human beings, and we will be human beings in heaven (or hell).  Human beings have bodies and souls.

St. Paul mentions a "new creation" in his letter today.  This current world and everything in it (including our bodies) exists in time, and everything in time has a beginning and an end.  It will pass away.  We will pass away.  But our faith tells us of "a new heaven and a new earth" that will exist in eternity.  Christ's Resurrection is the first fruit of the future resurrection in which we will all rise from the dead in our new bodies.  Our ultimate destiny is not to live as ghosts for all eternity in some dimension of pure spirit.  We will exist in eternity as we are now, with physical bodies - but perfected and glorified.

God even uses the physical to communicate His love to us.  Think about the Sacraments.  We are baptized into Christ with water poured over us.  We receive God Himself in the form of bread and wine.  Our priests are ordained by the laying on of hands.  These are all very physical acts.

Think of the Incarnation.  This is the doctrine that makes Christianity absolutely unique among all other religions.  We believe that the God who made the universe Himself entered into His creation to be born of a woman.  This means God resided in His mother's womb; He nursed from her breasts; He crawled around, and later walked, ran, played and worked on the ground of this earth.  He breathed the same air we do, drank the same water.

So the Christian rejoices in the physical world.  We look upon it as a great work of art created by the hand of God.  We look upon it as a wonderful gift which has been put into our care, for us to enjoy responsibly.  But even more importantly, the Christian realizes that the goodness of this world is only a reflection of the goodness of the One who made it.  

It is precisely because of its goodness that the physical world can be such a temptation for us.  We may begin to see material things as good in their own right.  Holy ascetics live lives of detachment from material goods, not because they think the physical world is evil but because they recognize that it is not the greatest good.  They practice self-denial as a discipline to prepare themselves for the perfect world to come.

Those of us who are not called to a life of strict asceticism can still learn a lot from this practice. It is important that we understand that the material things we use and enjoy are only good inasmuch as they reflect the goodness of God.  When we enjoy a good meal, a good glass of wine, good music, a lovely mountain view, or even the feel of rain on our faces, we must realize that these things are gifts to us from the Creator.  We should allow the good things of this world to draw us closer to Him.  

This is why it is appropriate from time to time (such as Fridays and the penitential seasons of Advent and Lent) for us to practice a little self-denial as a reminder that these physical things, as good as they are, are not the ultimate good.  There is a greater glory for which we strive.

That greater glory is described to us in our first reading today from Isaiah.  God tells of the comfort that we will find in the new Jerusalem.  Listen to the very physical language He uses.  "Oh, that you may suck fully of the milk of her comfort, that you may nurse with delight at her abundant breasts!... As nurselings, you shall be carried in her arms, and fondled in her lap; as a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you..."

Yes, our Catholic faith is a physical faith.  We surround ourselves with images and incense, bells and smells, art and architecture.  And we throw some glorious parties.  Unlike the Cathar, we can enjoy this creation as a gift from God.  But unlike the materialist, we recognize its goodness as a mere shadow of the goodness to come, the goodness of the new creation, which will even more perfectly reflect the glory of its maker because unlike this world, it will not pass away.

I hope to see you there!

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