Tuesday, November 26, 2013

CCM Weekly Update

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  I hope you enjoy your break and travel safely.  Because of the short week, all of our normal weekly activities at CCM are on hold.  We will have Mass this coming Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent, at the usual time of 7:30pm.  Our Credo discussion after Mass this Sunday will be on the liturgical season of Advent itself.  What it is, really?  Is it just a pre-Christmas?  How are we supposed to be celebrating it?  Come with your questions!

Planning ahead for next semester, we are working on figuring out when the best time to have our small group scripture study sessions might be.  We have put together a Doodle poll that we'd like you to participate in, which will help us to identify the best times for people. So if you plan on participating in a small group next semester, or think you just might be interested in a small group, click on the below link and let us know your available times.

A reminder if you are interested in serving in a leadership capacity at CCM, either leading a small group, leading our Wednesday programs, or planning our retreat, please contact me if you have not done so already.  You must have been an active member of CCM for at least one semester to be considered for Peer Ministry Council.

We all know Thanksgiving is an American holiday, and not a Catholic liturgical holiday.  Nevertheless, there is much about Thanksgiving which is very Catholic in character.  Our word Eucharist means "thanksgiving" - to give thanks - and so each time we celebrate the Mass, we are celebrating a liturgical Thanksgiving feast.  

The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that Eucharist is essentially a prayer of thanksgiving (1360).  Just listen next time you are at Mass to how often either the celebrant or the faithful says the word "thanks."  But more than just at Mass, we should carry that attitude of thanksgiving out into the world.  The Catechism teaches us that believing in God means "living in thanksgiving" (224).  At Mass we asked to "always and everywhere give thanks" to God.

For this reason, prayer is essential to any true celebration of Thanksgiving.  Rather than being a day to overeat and watch football, our American holiday began as a celebration of thanks and praise to God.  It all began in 1621 when the governor of Plymouth dedicated a day for public prayer in thanksgiving for a good harvest, and the custom spread across New England.  In 1789 our first President, George Washington, declared Thursday, Nov. 26, "as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God."

From the beginning, then, Thanksgiving was intended as a day set aside for prayer.  When President Lincoln made him famous proclamation in 1863 declaring the last Thursday in November as a day of national observance, he reiterated the prayerful nature of the holiday.  After describing a litany of blessings the American people enjoy (despite being in the midst of the Civil War at the time), Lincoln underscored the fact that these blessings were "gracious gifts of the Most High God," which "should be acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People."  

Lincoln continued:  "I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the the United States, and also those who are at seas and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens."

To that, we Catholics would reply (in the words of the previous English edition of the Mass), "It is right to give Him thanks and praise."  So this Thanksgiving, enjoy your day off classes.  Enjoy some turkey, sweet potato casserole, stuffing, cranberries and pumpkin pie (I certainly will!).  Watch a football game if you like, and relax with the family.  Enjoy it.  But in the midst of that, take time to make note of your blessings.  Be aware that these things - including your existence itself - are gifts from God.  And offer prayers of thanks and praise.  

We'll see you back here next week!

Pax Christi,

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

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Gospel For Today - Christ the King


One unfortunate aspect of our fallen human condition is the fact that those who seek authority are so often ill suited to wield it.  Our politicians and would-be rulers seek positions of power for selfish reasons.  Their motivations are power an celebrity.  Even those who claim (some sincerely) to have altruistic motives all too often really mean that only their own gifts and genius can fix what's wrong with society.  Their idea of altruism is to use their superiority to manage the "little people," and so it, too, is self centered.

We have gotten so used to this brand of selfishness in our leaders that we take it for granted.  How often do you hear our own democratically elected representatives referred to as crooks or liars?  Just today I read an editorial that described our politicians as "sociopaths and deviants."  Hyperbole?  Maybe not when you consider the likes of Eliot Spitzer, Anthony Weiner, and Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.  We take political scandal for granted.  We accept it as the norm.  How else could you explain the culture of depravity that exists in most capitals across the globe?

In 1887 the British Lord Acton wrote a letter to Anglican Bishop Mandell Creighton in which he stated, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Great men are almost always bad men." And so we accept this truism. We assume that even those well intentioned politicians who promise to clean up the government will become corrupted by office once they assume power.  I have jokingly said that anyone who wants to be President of the United States should automatically be disqualified from the job.  There is great wisdom in how our Church chooses her popes.  No one "runs for pope."  Indeed, some of the best popes in history have been drug kicking and screaming from the monastery to the Chair of Peter.  

But if absolute power corrupts absolutely, what are we to make of Jesus?  Just listen to how St. Paul describes Christ today.  "The image of the invisible God... firstborn of all creation... thrones or dominions or principalities or powers... all were created through Him and for Him... He is before all things... He holds all things together... He is head of the body... He is the beginning... firstborn of the dead... in all things He is preeminent... in Him all the fullness was pleased to dwell..."  Can you imagine a better description of complete and utter power? As King of the Universe, Jesus Christ has all authority in heaven and on earth.  Why is He not also the most corrupt in heaven and on earth?

Jesus teaches us a different lesson about authority.  Jesus teaches us what true Kingship looks like by taking our idea of authority and standing it on its head.  In today's gospel reading we read of our King crucified like a common criminal, under a mocking sign proclaiming Him "King of the Jews."  People tease and taunt Him.  "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself."  

If you are king, save yourself.  Isn't that what we see so many modern day kings doing (whether they go by the name of president or prime minister, senator or mayor, etc.)?  It's all about saving themselves, saving their own image, reputation, fortune or seat of power.  This is not just a modern malaise.  Look at the example of Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who recognized Jesus' innocence but was too cowardly to resist the calls of the mob to crucify Him.  Instead he washed his hands of the whole affair and sent our Lord to the cross.  Unlike Jesus, his primary concern was saving himself.  

Jesus exercises a different kind of authority.   Jesus is a king in the line of David, and when God establishes David as king He says, "You shall shepherd my people Israel."  Along with his throne, God gives David a job description.  He is to be a king by being a shepherd.  Shepherds are rather humble fellows.  Theirs is not a rare or glorified position, but it is a vital one.  People depended upon sheep not only for wool for clothing, but also meat and milk.  Sheep were the lifeblood of the community.  A shepherd was expected to take care of his sheep, despite personal hazard.  He would stand out with his flock for hours on end, keeping eye out for predators, making sure no lamb got lost.  He was, first and foremost, a caretaker.

This is how God describes the role of a king.  "You shall shepherd my people."  He takes a position of ultimate power and authority and He flips it on its head.  He makes it so that only a humble man can yield that authority properly.  The antithesis of Jesus' kingship is Lucifer.  Lucifer was the brightest of the angels, beloved by God.  Yet he suffered from the sin of pride.  As great as he was, he would not serve.  The English poet John Milton puts these words in Lucifer's mouth in Paradise Lost.  "It is better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven."  And so he does.

In contrast we have Jesus.  "I am the Good Shepherd," He says, "The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep" (Jn 10:11).  He is willing to leave the 99 to seek after the one that is lost, risking all to bring the lost lamb back to the fold (Lk 15:3-7).  Jesus's humility and His sovereignty are not a paradox.  This is not a contradiction.  This is the key to understanding authority in Christ.

Jesus is not King of the Universe despite being the Good Shepherd.  Jesus is King of the Universe because He is the Good Shepherd.  Jesus is not King of the Universe despite being the Sacrificial Lamb.  Jesus is King of the Universe because He is the Sacrificial Lamb (Jn 1:29).  Jesus is not King of Kings despite being humble.  Jesus is King of Kings precisely because He humbled Himself by becoming obedient until death -- even death on a cross (Phil 2:8).

When God blesses us with authority in this world, we have a choice.  We can use that authority with pride.  We can choose to save ourselves.  We can say with Lucifer, "I will not serve."  Or we can use that authority with humility.  We can choose to sacrifice ourselves.  We can say with Jesus, "Thy will be done."  

Pray for all those in authority, that they exercise it with humility, giving of themselves in love for the good of others.  Only in this way can their kingship be a participation in the kingship of Jesus, the only King to whom you or I must bend our knees.  May we be citizens of His Kingdom, His alone, and His for all eternity.  

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

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Weekly Update from CCM

Dear Students,

As we approach the end of the liturgical year the focus of the Church turns to the end of time.  However, I know most of you are focused now more on the end of the semester!  I pray that you don't let the stress of these next few weeks distract you from God.  Take Him along with you as you study and get those last papers written.  Devote your higher education to a higher purpose and do the best you can in your studies because you know it pleases Him.

And give yourself permission to take a break now and again and reconnect with your faith and your Catholic friends at CCM!  We have a fun week this week.

Rebecca and Stephanie are cooking up some Tacos for us for dinner at 6:30.  Afterwards, Alex Bogart is leading our program - this week it's all about the family.  What does it mean to be brothers and sisters in Christ?  

A very special guest speaker will be at St. Francis in Franklin this Thursday evening.  Fr. Dwight Longenecker is a native of Greenville, SC who grew up in a very fundamentalist, anti-Catholic home.  He later became Anglican and was ordained an Anglican priest.  He moved to England where he pastored parishes for many years.  Ultimately, he returned to the US, and became a Catholic.  In 2006 he was ordained a Catholic priest under a special pastoral provision for married former Anglican clergy.  He lives once more in his hometown of Greenville where he serves as the pastor of Our Lady of the Rosary parish.  He is married with four children.  Fr. Longenecker will be speaking about his personal conversion, but also on the importance of living out the Catholic faith in a purposeful, intentional way.  His talk begins at 7:00pm, and we would like to organize carpools for any Western students who would like to attend.  St. Francis is about 30 minutes from campus, so we are hoping to leave from the Catholic Student Center by 6:20.

If you'd like to attend and either need a ride or can offer a ride, please post on our Facebook Group.  

For more information on Fr. Longenecker, see his web site and blog at:

Mass at 7:30pm.  Confessions and Rosary 30 minutes before Mass.  Be sure to stay for Credo immediately after Mass.  This week our topic will be vices & virtues.  It's sure to be an interesting discussion - come with your questions!

We are thinking now about our Peer Ministry Council leadership team for next semester.  If you missed my discussion of this last Wednesday, we are trying something a bit different.  Next semester we will be diving our Peer Ministers into different roles (small group leaders, program leaders, and a retreat team), and asking students to commit only to certain leadership positions.  This is meant both to take the pressure off of individual student leaders, and also to expand the leadership opportunities for others.

Please take the time to read my recent blog post about leadership (which essentially covers what I talked about last Wednesday).

And if you feel that you are being called to serve CCM in the spring semester as a Peer Ministry leader, please let me know.  

Thanks and God Bless!

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

CCM Leadership

As we approach the end of the semester, the Peer Ministry Council and I start to think about the leadership team here at CCM and what it's going to look like the next semester.  Peer Ministry Council is a group of students who regular and active participants in CCM activities, who are dedicated to building their relationship with Christ and to helping others do the same, and who have made the commitment to help plan and organize CCM activities for the semester.  We meet together once per week, and they also help advise me, the campus minister, on other matters relating to campus ministry.

This semester, we have had seven students on the Peer Ministry Council who have been responsible for putting on our Wednesday night programs, for planning our fall beach retreat, and also for leading the four different small group scripture studies we have going on each week.  It's been a lot for them (especially on top of classes and other clubs and organizations they are involved in), but they have done a fantastic job.

To try and make things less stressful for the Peer Ministers, and also to expand the opportunities for leadership, I have decided for the spring semester to do something a little different.  I would like to have a greater number of Peer Ministers, but subdivide the Peer Ministry Council into different leadership roles.  Students agreeing to be a Peer Minister would agree to participate in one or more of these roles, as they feel they can commit the time.  Those Peer Ministry Roles are:

The small group leader not only attends a small group weekly, but is also responsible for planning the group, including meeting time and location, scripture focus and discussion questions, as well as facilitation of the group discussion (making sure everyone has a chance to contribute, no one dominates the conversation, the group stays on focus, and so forth).  Each small group leader would ideally be partnered with another small group leader.  You can expect to spend at least one hour per week planning, in addition to actual small group time.

The program leader is primarily responsible for putting on our Wednesday night programs.  Depending on the number of program leaders, each may only personally be responsible for two or three Wednesdays, but every program leader is expected to give ideas and help plan each week as needed.  Planning a Wednesday program does not necessarily mean doing it all yourself - it can mean bringing in a speaker, or asking another student to give a talk, lead a prayer or other activity.  Our Wednesday night programs are a mix of catechesis, prayer, and social activities.

In addition, each program leader will be asked to come up with at least one "extracurricular" activity during the semester, such as a movie night, prayer service, road trip to St. Lawrence Basilica, service project, etc.

Members of the retreat team will serve on a committee to help plan and put on our retreat for the semester.  This committee will require fairly little time commitment for most of the semester, but intense time commitment in the weeks leading up to the retreat.

As I said above, these three subcommittees within the Peer Ministry Council are not mutually exclusive.  For example, someone can be a small group leader and also serve on the retreat planning team.  Someone who can commit the time can agree to do all three!  Or you may feel more comfortable committing to just one area.

Please think about how you may be able to give of your time and talent to make CCM a better place next semester.  If you feel that you'd like to be a member of Peer Council, please let me know you are interested, and in what area, and we will discuss the details further.

Thanks and God Bless!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Gospel For Today - 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time


As we approach the end of the Church year, the readings we encounter in the liturgy begin to look towards the end of all things.  The fancy word for that is eschatology, meaning dealing with the end times.  Today's readings are definitely eschatological in nature.  

But here we are in danger of falling into a trap.  There seems to be something within us, some sort of innate curiosity, that compels us to try to figure out just when and how the end will come.  Some of us are almost desperate to know.  Many of the kookier elements of our religion built their whole faith around trying to figure out when the end of the world would take place.  

To give one prominent example, Herbert W. Armstrong, who founded the Worldwide Church of God in 1933, predicted the end times would come in 1936, then sometime in the early 1940s, then in 1972, again in 1982, and finally during the 1990s.  And Armstrong is not alone in trying to predict the end of the world.  Even the respected Billy Graham once predicted the end would come in the 1950s.  Several years ago I recall seeing quite a bit on the Discovery Channel about the so-called "Bible Code," where modern false prophets would input words and phrases from the Hebrew Bible into computer software which would generate information about future events.  Most recently we had all the hubbub about the end of the Mayan calendar last December.  

Even within the Catholic Church we have our fringe element that tries to work out secret prophecies to predict the end days.  With each new papal election I have heard (and tried to ignore) a flurry of predictions that this next pope would be the last.  Most of these Catholic end-times predictions revolve around something called the prophecy of St. Malachy, which is itself a likely forgery.  (You can read more about that here.)

There is just one thing that all of these modern end-times prophets have in common.  They have all been wrong.  And yet people still fall for them.  There is just something in us that wants to know - our knowledge of when and how something is going to happen, even if we can do nothing about it, at least gives us the feeling of control.  So we want to know.  It's a natural desire.  

But look at Jesus' reaction when He is directly asked in today's reading from Lk 21:5-19, "Teacher, when will this happen?  And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?"  We want to know.  Tell us.

Jesus does tell them - sort of.  You can read in that text, and in the many verses that follow, lots of different signs mentioned by Christ.  Our Lord speaks of nations rising against nations, of earthquakes, famines, plagues, and "awesome sights and mighty signs" -- things that would make great action movies.  But listen carefully to how Jesus prefaces all of this.  "See that you not be deceived," He says.  Because He knows how easy we all can fall into deception on this point.  "For many will come in my name, saying, 'I am he,' and 'The time has come.'  Do not follow them!"  

He begins His talk about the end times by warning us not to follow all those people who will claim to know.  I'm sure you have heard people look at the horrible things happening in the news, our wars and conflicts and natural disasters, and say, "These must be signs of the end times."  Contrast this with the words of Christ: "When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for such things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end."

Those who are curious enough to open their Bibles and read the rest of this chapter in Luke, will come to this statement by Christ: "Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all this has taken place" (Lk 21:33).  And so many of the first Christians believed the end would come during their lifetime.  But Christ also said, in the parallel passage in Mark's gospel, "But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  Take heed, watch and pray, for you do not know when the time will come" (Mk 13:32-33).

When you hear the predictions of false prophets, just remember that Jesus Himself did not claim to know when the end would come.  And why not?  Because to Christ, the specific day and time is not important, and so should not be important to us.  What is important is this: the end will come.  There will be an end.  Time is finite: it has a beginning and it will have an end (even modern science supports the fact that the universe will eventually wind down).  Our lives on this earth, too, are finite.  We had a beginning.  We will have an end.  Christ, in these eschatological statements, is trying to instill in us a sense of urgency.  We don't know when the end will come.  It could come at any time.  Be ready.

For whether the End of All Things comes during your lifetime or a billion years from now, there is one thing we know with absolute certainty - your personal end will come relatively soon.  Your own death is on the horizon.  Whether it happens today or 60 years from now, it's still a relatively short span of time we have to enjoy on this earth.  Your death is certain.

College students don't sped a lot of time meditating on their own mortality.  While it may sound morbid to contemplate your own death, this can and should be a very healthy exercise.  Medieval monastics used to keep human skulls on their bedside tables to remind them each morning as they rose that this may be their last day on earth.  

We should take our example from them, and live our lives as if we may not be here tomorrow.  Reflecting on death need not be grotesque.  Instead, it should help us focus on how we are living.  Each day we should take an account of our actions and our thoughts and our relationship with God.  Are we ready to stand before Him at this hour and give account for our lives?  Is there anything we need to repent of?  Today is the day for repentance!  Could we grow more in holiness?  Today is the day for sanctification!  Have we thanked God enough for our blessings?  Today is the day to give thanks!  It is easy to be lazy and put these things off until tomorrow, but we will one day (perhaps today) run out of tomorrows.

We may very well be living in the End Times in 2013.  I don't know.  It does not matter.  We should live as though we are.  Because each of us is living in our own personal End of Days.  We have, in a manner of speaking, been dying since the day we were born.  But we rejoice because we have the cure for death, the terminal illness of our existence.  We have been inoculated against that curse by Jesus Christ, who is the Resurrection and the Life.  Jesus speaks not only of tribulation but also salvation.  "They will seize you and persecute you... and they will put some of you to death... but not a hair on your head will be destroyed.  By your perseverance you will secure your lives."

Persevere in the faith.  Persevere in truth.  Persevere in love.  Don't be led astray by false prophets.  Stay close to Christ and no suffering or death -- not even the end of the world -- will overcome you.  Christ conquers all.

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

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Pope Francis and Pope Lando

Pope Lando is perhaps the coolest pope you never heard of.  And why should you have heard of him? He reigned for only a few months between 913 and 914, during an obscure period of history that goes by the name Saeculum obscurum, according to Lando's Wikipedia entry.  Pope Lando is most famous for something he had nothing to do with, and which is completely irrelevant to anything of import - the fact that some thousand years later he would share a name with a mustachioed character on Star Wars.  

Thinking back on this Saeculum obscurum during which Lando reigned as Roman pontiff has got me thinking just how "obscurum" most of history actually is, compared with our more recent times.  We don't know much about what Pope Lando did or said, and that's ok.  For the pope's job is not necessarily to say or do anything all that noteworthy, but rather is to preserve and hold fast to what has been entrusted to the Church in the Deposit of Faith.  Unless the times demand it, doing nothing is usually the most sensible thing to do.

We today are more used to seeing our popes as public figures and celebrities.  And this can be a good thing.  We see all the images of Pope Francis embracing the disfigured man, greeting children, speaking of "not judging" and so forth; we read about how he lives in a simple apartment and eschews luxury; we look at his portrayal in the public sphere and we see this as a great evangelizing tool.  People across the globe see this and are inspired to come closer to God.  This is good.

His predecessor, too, was a public figure.  So much of what Benedict XVI did was full of rich symbolism.  To give just one example, look at his visit to the UK in 2010, a visit I was able to participate in.  He landed in Edinburgh, Scotland, where he was greeted by Queen Elizabeth II on Sept. 16, which is the feast day of St. Ninian.  Ninian is an obscure saint to most of the world, but he was the first Christian missionary into what we now know as Scotland.  So the date was deeply significant.  

While in the UK, Benedict XVI beatified John Henry Cardinal Newman.  Cardinal Newman (who is the patron of campus ministies, by the way) was an Anglican who converted to Catholicism.  During the papal Mass celebrated in Westminser Abbey, Benedict wore a stole that was originally made for Pope Leo XIII.  And Leo XII was the pope who wrote Apostolicae Curae, the document declaring Anglican orders null and void.  Like the date chosen for his arrival in Scotland, the choice of vestments for this Mass was no accident.  Everything Benedict did was carefully thought out and purposeful, and is of rich symbolic meaning for those in the public with a keen eye.  This symbolism would largely be lost had Benedict reigned in obscurity.

And do we even need to mention the public aspect of the long and gloried reign of John Paul II?  JPII was the ultimate media pope!  Leaving alone his ability to shine in front of a crowd or a camera, he wrote something like a billion pages of text as his legacy, a rich theological treasure that the Church will be mining for decades to come. Again, very much a figure in the public eye.

We are used to our leaders in the church - especially our popes - being public figures.  We look to them for inspiration and guidance.  And we hope and pray that their actions in the public eye will be as evangelizers, bringing people closer to Christ.  This is a good thing.

But let's not forget a time when this was not so.  Let us not forget about those many popes and bishops who labored in obscurity.  In days before the internet, before television, before the radio, before even the printing press...  what must that have been like for the average Catholic?  When a new pope was elected it may take months for the news to even reach you.  And when you heard the name of the new Holy Father, it likely meant nothing to you.  There was no "Vatican Watch."  There was no list of papabili circulating in the blogosphere.  You simply had faith that the Church was being led by the Holy Spirit and you prayed for the man currently sitting in the Chair of Peter.  I imagine Pope Lando's short reign was over before many of the faithful in Europe even learned his name.  

And here's the take home lesson.  The relative obscurity that our Church leaders toiled in during the pre-mass media days did not stymie the growth of the Church.  Evangelization happened.  It happened without the photos of popes embracing the poor and downtrodden.  It happened without the new encyclicals being issued every year or two. It happened without the blogs and the podcasts and the tweets.  It happened because faithful Catholics everywhere lived the gospel.  It happened because of people like you and I.

I'm not saying the our modern media - from Gutenburg to Zuckerman - is not a good tool for evangelization.  It is.  And I am super happy that our modern popes and bishops are learning to use every means of communication possible to spread the light of Christ.  That's a very good thing.  But we cannot allow ourselves to use this as an excuse to rest on our laurels.  We cannot fall into the trap of letting our church leaders do all the hard work of evangelizing and thinking therefore we don't have to. 

Because here's the truth of the matter - as ordained ministers in the Church, their primary role is to minister to and support the laity.  And as lay faithful, our primary role is to go out there and bring others to Christ.  By virtue of their baptism, priests and bishops - and yes, the pope - share in this role.  And God bless them.  But it is not their job alone.  That job belongs to you and me. So let's be grateful for the souls won over through the examples of the public figures in the Church, seen through modern media.  But let's not allow ourselves to become lazy in our own evangelical efforts.  Even today, the most important work done in the Church does not get reported by the news; because it happens in the parishes, in the workplace, and in the homes of the faithful every single day, who are living the Gospel of Christ.  

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

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Weekly Update from CCM

Dear Students,

What a wonderful weekend!  I feel so privileged to have been able to spend time with over 60 students, from 10 different schools across our Diocese together on retreat in Black Mountain.  We had students attend from WCU as participants, but also as student leaders who were able to bring others closer to Christ through their speaking, singing, and the witness of their faith-filled lives.  I feel truly blessed to be your campus minister.

Great things, as always, are happening this week.  Here we go...

Rebecca and Anne Marie are cooking us up a dinner of spaghetti and meatballs, so come hungry!  After dinner, I want to have a brief discussion about student leadership at CCM.  We rely on student leaders to do so much - plan our Wednesday night programs, plan our retreats, lead our small groups, and so much more.  We are already thinking ahead to next semester and who will be able to serve as a peer minister or small group leader.  If you think you are interested (or just wonder about what that might involve) be sure to be at dinner this Wednesday.  Then we'll round off the evening with a fun night of "Catholic Pictionary!"

We have a special event this Thursday called "One Campus One Purpose," which we have helped to organize along with the Wesley Foundation and the Cooperative Student Fellowship.  It will be at Illusions in the UC starting at 7:00pm.  It's an ecumenical event featuring music, prayer, and discussion.  We invite you to take this chance to meet people of different backgrounds, spend time getting to know each other, and fellowship with one another.  I'm encouraging our normal Thursday night small groups to meet at their regular time at 6:30, pray together, and then make their way to Illusions to participate in this event.  Let's represent the Catholic Church well!  

This is our last home football game of the semester!  If you can volunteer for a couple of hours before kick-off to work the parking lot for us, please let me know.

Mass at 7:30pm.  Rosary and Confession 30 minutes before Mass.  Credo this week will be on the Natural Law, which is the foundation for our Catholic moral tradition.  You don't want to miss it, so stick around after Mass and put your thinking caps on!

Mark your calendars for next Thursday.  At 7:00pm, at St. Francis of Assisi parish down in Franklin, special guest Fr. Dwight Longenecker will be speaking.  Fr. Longenecker is a former Anglican priest who is now an ordained Catholic priest, and pastor of Our Lady of the Rosary in Greenville, SC.  He's also married with four children!  Father is the author of many books and has his own Catholic radio program in Greenville.  His talk will be, "Why I am Catholic Today: Being an Intentional Catholic."  I'd like to get a carpool group together from WCU to drive down to hear him.  (St. Francis is only about 30 minutes from campus).  If you are interested, please meet at the Catholic Student Center at 6:15 - and if you can drive people, please let me know.

Just a couple of changes to note:  we have folded our Monday night small group into the Thursday night group.  So now the meeting times and locations are:
TUESDAY: 6:30 at Balsam Lobby
THURSDAY: 6:30 at UC Balcony
THURSDAY (graduate group): 6:30 at Catholic Student Center
NOTE: This week and next we are encouraging our Thursday groups to attend special events in place of their normal meeting.  
We are already starting to look at next semester.  Next week you will receive an invitation to participate in a Doodle poll about when our small group meeting times should be.  Also, if you think you'd like to be a small group leader next semester, please get in touch with me.

That's all for this week - I hope to see you at some of these events, and, as always, God Bless!

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

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Gospel For Today - 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

click here for readings

It is easy for us Christians to take for granted the resurrection of the body.  After all, our Lord and Savior is the One who rose from the dead after three days in the tomb.  He is the Resurrection and the Life.  Our creed culminates with our profession, "I believe in the resurrection of the body."  Our Catechism teaches, "Belief in the resurrection of the dead has been an essential element of the Christian faith from its beginnings" (CCC 991).  St. Paul exhorts, "How can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead?  But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain..." (1 Cor 15:12-13).

Belief in the resurrection of the dead is fundamental to Christianity.  But it was not so for Judaism, our elder brother in the faith.  The Sadducees, such as those Jesus spoke with in today's gospel reading from Luke 20:27-38, did not believe in the possibility of resurrection.  Hence their somewhat convoluted question to Jesus, hoping to catch our Lord in an inconsistency.  

But many Jews did believe in a bodily resurrection.  And we see in our first reading today testimony to the power of that faith (2 Mac 7:1-2, 9-14).  Seven brothers, along with their mother, were captured and tortured.  The king who held them captive was attempting to "force them to eat pork in violation of God's law."  The brothers' response?  One said, "We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors... the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever.  It is for his laws that we are dying."

Another brother held out his hands and said, "It was from Heaven that I received these; for the sake of his laws I disdain them; from him I hope to receive them again."  Yet another of the brothers attested, "It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by him."  Their belief in the resurrection infused their faith and gave them the courage to stand up to even the harshest of oppressors.  

We today may look at this scene and think, "Aren't these brothers overreacting?  All this, because someone wants to make them eat pork?  I mean, I know their religious laws forbid it, but be reasonable... if given the choice between a ham sandwich and death by mutilation, that's an easy choice.  Live to fight another day.  It's not worth it."

And that's the difference between men with faith like these brothers, and most people of today.  These brothers would argue vehemently with the assertion that "it's not worth it."  On the contrary, their faith, they would say, is worth everything and anything, because it is that faith that will save them.  It is faith that keeps them loyal to God, their creator.  And it is He who will raise them up on the last day.   These brothers understood well; if you do not attain everlasting life, then ultimately you attain nothing at all.

The world we live in today is not much different from the world of the seven brothers.  Oh, no one is trying to force people of faith to eat pork sandwiches.  Besides, for us Christians, those dietary restrictions have been lifted.  The prohibition of eating certain foods (along with a host of other laws) was a religious discipline given to the people of Israel by God.  And it was the same God who lifted those restrictions (see Acts 10:9-16).  But at the time of Maccabees, it was the law of God and these men would not violate it, no matter the personal cost to themselves.

Today we still live under the law of God, but it is a moral law based not on some seemingly arbitrary rule from on high, but on the natural law.  That is to say, our moral law is based on what it means to be human.  That law is not particular to a certain race or tribe, but is universally applicable to all mankind.  It is, as St. Paul puts it, "written on our hearts" (Rom 2:15).  

The Catholic Church in America is in a situation where many of its faithful are being required by our government to violate that law by providing insurance coverage for procedures that we know to be immoral - contraception, sterilization, abortion.  This is the scandal of the HHS mandate as it still stands today.  But there are more examples beyond even this.  A Protestant couple in New Mexico who own their own photography business have been taken to court for declining to photograph a same-sex couple's wedding.  A Methodist church in New Jersey was sued last year for not allowing their gazebo to be rented out for a same-sex marriage ceremony.  Christians today are more and more routinely being forced to do things that violate our consciences and our moral principles.

But the real scandal here is that so many Christians - Catholics included - do not see what is the big deal.  These are the ones who would look to the seven brothers in today's first reading and say, "Suck it up.  Eat the ham sandwich.  It's not worth it."  They do not understand.  These men were willing to lay down their lives rather than violate, not an objective moral principle, but a discipline of their faith.  Yet we today stand so willing to violate our own human nature to avoid having to pay a fine.  I suggest that we have come to this point only because we have so often and so routinely violated that moral law of our own volition.  Therefore we are all the more ready to do so when a little pressure is applied.

I have never been put in a position like the seven brothers we read about today.  But I would not be surprised if at some point before my days have ended I find myself standing in their shoes.  I expect many of you will face a similar moment.  I hope and I pray for each of us, myself included, that we may have the courage and the faith to stand firm, and say along with those brave souls, It is from Christ that I received this body and this life; it is for the sake of Christ that I disdain them; from Him I hope to receive them again.  Amen.  

WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723
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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Weekly Update from CCM

Good afternoon, students!

A quick update of our schedule this week:

This week the Wiebelhaus twins are cooking us dinner!  Baked ziti is on the menu, so come hungry, but leave room for homemade brownies for dessert.  After dinner, Joseph and Rebecca will be teaching us about "Hispanic Catholic Traditions."  If you are an Hispanic Catholic, come share - if not, come learn about this vital part of our Catholic culture.  

Please note I will be out of my office on Thursday this week to attend an Education Vicariate presentation in Hickory

This weekend is our Diocesan Discipleship Retreat.  We have seven students from WCU joining students from nine other college campuses in our diocese.  Please pray for those of us on retreat.  If you have signed up please check your email for information about car pools, arrival time, etc.

Rosary & Confessions at 7:00pm.  Mass at 7:30pm.  After Mass, our Credo session will be about "Last Things," Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, the Resurrection of the Body and all that good stuff.  Come with your questions!

On Thursday, Nov. 14, we will join students from other campus ministries at Illusions in the UC at 7:00pm for "One Campus, One Purpose," an ecumenical evening of prayer and discussion.  Let's have a great Catholic showing at this event!

On Thursday, Nov. 21, at 7:00pm, Fr. Dwight Longenecker will be giving a talk at St. Francis of Assisi in Franklin entitled "Why I Am Catholic Today: Being an Intentional Catholic."  Fr. Longenecker is a former Anglican priest, and former anti-Catholic evangelical Protestant.  Hear him tell of his conversion story, and his journey into the Catholic priesthood (as a married man with four children).  We plan on organizing a carpool from WCU for students who want to attend this talk, so if you are interested please post in our Facebook group.

Remember our small groups continue to meet on Mon, Tues, and Thurs each week.  Participating in a small group is a great way to get to know fellow Catholics and grow in your faith.  

Have a great week and God Bless!

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

Monday, November 4, 2013

Gnosticism and the Gospel of Judas

This is a "blast from the past" that I wrote in 2006 when National Geographic's publication of the Gospel of Judas was getting a lot of press.  I'm highlighting it here again today following our discussion after Mass last night about how the canon of the Bible was determined by the Church, and what happened with this sort of spurious gospel account.

I've noticed that whenever Christmas and Easter roll around the news is suddenly filled with stories about religion. However, in order for it to be “newsworthy,” it has to be controversial, and the controversy for Easter 2006 is the newly rediscovered Gospel of Judas.

For those who have missed the buzz, it is a second century Coptic text, unearthed in Egypt in the 1970s, and recently authenticated, translated and published by National Geographic. This gospel account delves into the relationship between Jesus and Judas. Specifically it reveals that Jesus gave Judas secret information withheld from the other Apostles; moreover Christ actually instructed Judas to turn him in to the authorities in order to facilitate the crucifixion.

Of course, this is not a canonical gospel. It is not now, nor has it ever been, approved by the Church as a divinely inspired text. The canon of the Bible was put together during the first few centuries of the Church, with the final proclamation being made by Pope Innocent I in 405 AD. Prior to that time, many other so-called “gospels” were in circulation, purporting to give “the real story” about Jesus, all of which were refuted by the Church as falsehood. One of these was the Gospel of Judas.

News stories about this gospel say that it is a Gnostic text, but they don’t really tell you what that means. To read the news, the Gnostics were just another branch of Christianity. “Christian Gnostics,” according to the Washington Post (April 7), “believed that salvation came through secret knowledge conveyed by Jesus.”
An AP article posted on Fox News (April 6), quoted Marvin Meyer, professor of Bible studies at Chapman University in Orange, CA, as saying that the text illustrates “the diversity of beliefs in early Christianity.” Elaine Pagels, a professor of religion at Princeton University quoted in the same AP article, gave her opinion that “the people who loved, circulated and wrote down these gospels did not think they were heretics.” But to really understand the Gospel of Judas we need to know the real truth about the Gnostic believers who wrote it. Contrary to the impression given by the publicity surrounding this document, Gnosticism was not simply a rival form of early Christianity. It was a completely distinct religion that in fact pre-dated Christianity by some time. The Gnostics might not have considered themselves heretics, but they certainly were not Christian.

Gnosticism actually originated as an Iranian cult, but over time borrowed from Greek philosophy, as well as from other religions such as Judaism, popular mystery cults, and (after the coming of Christ) Christianity. One of the key tenets of the Gnosticism was a dualistic belief in two gods. There was a lesser evil god who created the material, physical universe; and there was a greater good god, who created the spiritual realm. The good god created our souls, but by some disaster at the beginning of creation, they were trapped in evil physical bodies. Salvation, for the Gnostics, consisted of possession of secret knowledge (gnosis) so that the good soul may be freed from the evil body upon death. The Old Testament God was identified with the evil god, while Christ, in the New Testament, was identified with the good god, come to give special knowledge to a select few of his followers.

One can easily see how such a view of the universe is completely incompatible with Christianity, especially Catholicism, which has always taught that there is but one God, creator of everything, seen and unseen (that is, physical and spiritual) and that, as stated in the Genesis account, this entire creation is seen by God as essentially good. Nor does salvation mean freeing our souls from our bodies. To separate the soul from the body is death, and we believe Christ came to free us from death; that our souls will be reunited with our resurrected bodies in eternity.

Knowing that this Gospel of Judas is a Gnostic, and not a Christian, text allows us to better understand certain controversial elements. The following passage from the Washington Post article illustrates the point:
[The Gospel of Judas] describes conversations between Jesus and Judas Iscariot during the week before Passover in which Jesus tells Judas “secrets no other person has ever seen.” The other apostles pray to a lesser God, Jesus says, and he reveals to Judas the “mysteries of the kingdom” of the true God. He asks Judas to help him return to the kingdom, but to do so, Judas must help him abandon his mortal flesh: “You will sacrifice the man that clothes me.” 
We clearly see Jesus offering Judas “secret knowledge” (a key element of Gnosticism). The other Apostles, who do not possess this gnosis, pray to a “lesser god,” (another key element), and Judas is instructed to help Jesus abandon his body so that he may return to the kingdom. All of this is Gnosticism in a nutshell, and it is all foreign to Christianity.

What is the Church’s response to this? It was made over 1800 years ago, when St. Irenaeus of Lyons wrote Against Heresies in 180 AD. Speaking of the spurious gospel accounts used by the Gnostics, he writes:
It is not possible that the Gospels can be either greater or fewer in number than they are. Just as there are four regions of the world in which we live, and four universal winds, and since the Church is disseminated over all the earth, and the pillar and mainstay of the Church is the Gospel, the breath of life, it is fitting that she have four pillars, breathing immortality on every side and enkindling life in men anew… [3, 11, 8] 
The true gnosis is the doctrine of the Apostles, and the ancient organization of the Church throughout the whole world, and the manifestation of the body of Christ according to the succession of bishops, by which successions the bishops have handed down the Church which is found everywhere; and the very complete tradition of the Scriptures, which have come down to us by being guarded against falsification, and which are received without addition or deletion… [4, 33, 8] 
The fact that people are willing to rewrite the story of Christ is nothing new. It is still going on today. Whether it is the Gnostics and The Gospel of Judas or Dan Brown and his DaVinci Code, Jesus is being remade in the author’s image. The real Jesus, as portrayed in the authentic gospels of the New Testament, calls us to be remade in His image.

This is the real story, and the real controversy that no news editor dares print. Apocryphal gospels and pulp fiction novels may titillate us, but they serve merely to distract from the greater story. The gnosis brought by Christ was not meant to be kept secret. In fact, He gave his followers a mandate to spread the news to all the nations. Let us continue, then, to preach that gospel – the real gospel, transmitted by the Church

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Gospel For Today - 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time


I have started to read a book entitled Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus, by Sherry A. Weddell.  Mrs. Weddell is the co-founder of the Catherine of Siena Institute, and the creator of a gifts-discernment program designed specifically for Catholics.   These programs are meant to help leaders in Catholic parishes identify and build upon the gifts that God has given them.  It was during the course of one of these gift discernment interviews that Mrs. Weddell had a troubling epiphany about a problem plaguing many Catholics today.  She was talking to a woman who was a leader in her parish.  She asked, "Could you briefly describe to me your relationship with God?"  This parish leader surprised her by stating flatly, "I don't have a relationship with God."

Of course, that did not mean God did not have a relationship with her.  The problem was that she did not reciprocate that relationship.  And she is not alone.  Only 30% of Americans who were raised Catholic still practice the faith as adults.  Fully 10% of the American population is made up of ex-Catholics.  These numbers seem shocking, but what is even more troubling is the number who remain in the Church - sometimes even in leadership roles - despite the lack of any intention to be disciples of Christ.  Like the woman in this interview, they do not seek to nourish a relationship with God.

God is already in relationship with us.  He loves us.  That may sound like a trite statement, but it is true.  We know it is true because we exist.  "For you love all things that are," reads the book of Wisdom, "and loathe nothing that you have made; for what you hated, you would not have fashioned.  And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it...?"   God is Being Itself (He names Himself simply as I AM), and we have being because we are maintained in existence by His love.

So we live and breathe and have our being in a deep and fundamental relationship with God.  The fact that we can be so blind to that truth does not make it any less real.  It is the most real thing about you.  But do you reciprocate that relationship?  Do you acknowledge God your Creator and seek to know Him better?  

God wants more than to love us; He desires our love in return.  How many of you have experienced unrequited love?  How many know the pain of loving someone and not having that love returned?  And how many know the joy of being in relationship with someone you love who loves you back?  God experiences both sorrow when we do not return His love, and great joy when we do.  He wants us to be in a right relationship with Him.  "Therefore you rebuke offenders little by little, warn them and remind them of the sins they are committing, that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in you, O Lord!"  Those little pangs of guilt you feel, the anxiety, the doubt, and the trouble in your life caused by your own sins are road side signs put there by God to warn you - you are going the wrong way!  He wants you to heed those signs and turn back to Him.  

God made us to know Him.  Our minds were made to know the truth.  He is Truth.  Our hearts were made to love the good.  He is Goodness.  He gave us the freedom to love Him or reject Him because only in that way could our love be real.  But His work of creation in us is incomplete until we are in that right relationship with our Creator.  You and I are still being made.

That effort is ongoing, and requires our cooperation with Him.  St. Paul encourages us as he encouraged the church in Thessaloniki, "We always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of His calling and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith..."  God desires to make us worthy  This is why the book of Wisdom does not just say that God overlooks people's sins, but that He overlooks them "that they may repent."  It is an ongoing process of perfection that begins by us seeking God.

Finally today Luke gives us the story of Zacchaeus, that short little tax collector - and like most all tax collectors in those days, likely corrupt and considered unworthy by society.  Zacchaeus finds himself in a situation that should sound familiar to a lot of us.  Short as he is, he is lost in the crowd, unable to see Jesus.  Isn't that exactly how we so often find ourselves - struggling to see Jesus in our lives, overwhelmed by the crowd of distractions around us?

So what does Zacchaeus do?  He runs ahead, he escapes the crowd.  And then he climbs a tree "in order to see Jesus."  Jesus calls to him and "receives him with joy,"  This is exactly what you and I must do. If and when we are lost in the crowd and can no longer see Christ working in our lives, we can either sit there in self pity and whine about our condition or we can do what Zacchaeus did - we can seek Christ out.

Run ahead of the crowd.  Climb a little higher.  Maybe for you that means going on a retreat.  Maybe it means blocking off 20 minutes of prayer time each day.  Maybe that means joining a scripture study group.  Maybe that means seeking out the sacrament of Reconciliation and returning to Mass.   You need to get to a place where you can see Jesus.  That is the first step toward building a relationship with Him.  That is the first step toward being a disciple of Christ.  That is the first step toward being the full and complete person God made you to be.

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

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Both/And or Either/Or?

You may have heard it said, as I often have heard, that Catholicism tends to be more "both/and" than "either/or."  What does that mean?

I believe it means this: most errors (which is to say, most heresies) come about by emphasizing one truth to the exclusion of another truth.  For example, we believe that both faith and works play a part in our salvation.  If you emphasize works to the exclusion of faith, you have Pelagianism.  If you emphasize faith to the exclusion of works you have Lutheranism.

We believe that both the Sacred Scriptures and the Sacred Traditions of the Church contain revealed truths of the Deposit of Faith.  If you emphasize the Scriptures to the exclusion of Tradition, you have Protestantism.

I've just described the twin errors of Sola Fide (faith alone) and Sola Scriptura (scripture alone).  Very little in Catholicism can be described as "X alone."  We do, of course, believe in Sola Christe, which is to say Christ alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  It is by Christ alone that we can be saved.

However, even then there is the danger of creating an "either/or" error.  What about the Church?  What about Mary?  What about the saints?  To emphasize Christ in such a way that excludes the Church and the saints is fallacy.  It would be like claiming Shakespeare to be the greatest writer of the English language while simultaneously denouncing his sonnets and his great plays.  One cannot revere the artist while denouncing the art.