Sunday, December 29, 2013

Gospel for Today - Feast of the Holy Family


During the four weeks of Advent we anticipated the birth of our Lord, Emmanuel, God is with us.  And now for the past few days of Christmas we have been celebrating that birth.  The incarnation of our Lord and God as the smallest and most innocent among us - a human baby - is one of the great mysteries of our faith.  We will continue to celebrate that mystery for the remainder of the Christmas season, which ends with our celebration of the Baptism of the Lord on Jan. 12.  

In a way, celebrating Jesus' baptism so soon after we celebrate His birth seems fitting.  The common Christian practice is, after all, to baptize our babies soon after birth.  St. Paul compared Christian baptism to Jewish circumcision, which occurred eight days after a male child was born (Col 2:11-12).  In fact, some Christians advocated early on that parents should also wait eight days to baptize their children, but the Church, at the Council of Carthage in 253 AD, said there was no reason to delay baptizing an infant at all - it should happen as soon as possible.  

But when we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus we must remember that Jesus was an adult.  His baptism by John in the Jordan river marked the beginning of His public ministry, and would have occurred when our Lord was around age 30.  The feast of our Lord's Baptism is then a fitting start to the season of Ordinary Time, when we recount the many deeds of Jesus' public ministerial life.  But jumping so quickly from celebrating His birth to His public ministry at age 30 is kind of jarring.  It rather begs the question, what happened during all those intervening years?

Jesus is Emmanuel.  He is "God with us."  He is the Word made flesh.  He is the Creator, transcendent God, the Alpha and Omega come to enter into history as a part of His own creation.  That's what we, in theological circles, call a Big Deal.  So He is born, we have an angel appear to the shepherds, a star appears to the eastern sages, He is adored as King and then...  seemingly not much happens.  We get a little glimpse of Jesus as a child when he is discovered in the temple at age twelve.  But apart from that one brief scene, we hear nothing of Christ's life until three years before His crucifixion.  What was God-with-us doing all that time?

The answer is as simple as it is sublime.  He was living in a family.  Being part of a family is something that is easily taken for granted.  Compared to the mystery of the Incarnation it doesn't seem like that big of a deal.  But consider that when the Word did become flesh, He chose to spend the majority of His time in a family.   The day to day events of Jesus' life as the Son of Mary in her household are unrecorded by history because they were likely unremarkable.  He did ordinary things.  He talked with His mother.  He ate with her and with His cousins.  He did chores around the house.  He helped out.  He played.  He learned from His parents.  He loved them and was loved by them.  He was a son.  By spending His time in this manner, Christ blessed and baptized family life for all of us.  

The Church calls the family the "domestic Church."  Conversely, the Church herself is called "the family of God" (CCC 1655-6).   It is no surprise, then, that the Church's teaching on the family is rich.  Most of us might not notice this, because when we think of Church teaching we tend to think of things like transubstantiation, papal infallibility, venial and mortal sin, the sacraments and all that.  We don't need the Church to teach us about the family, we think.  We know what being in a family is all about.  But if we bothered to look up the word "family" in the index of the Catechism, we'd discover thirty-three subheadings!  (By comparison, "gospel" has fourteen subheadings, and "infallibility" only gets four).

Some of those subheadings under family are duties of children, duties of parents, evangelization of children, the image of the Trinity, in God's plan, a privileged community, and a reflection of the Father's creative work.  There is also social defense of and offenses against the family.  The Church takes the family very seriously indeed.  It is in the family that we typically learn first about God.  Even in an indirect way, we are taught to respect and obey authority.  We are taught to care for others, to make sacrifices for the good of others.  We are taught to love.  When we grow and learn to call God Abba, Father, the lessons taught us by our human father resonate and influence our relationship with God.  When we learn to regard the Church as Mother, our relationship with our own mother colors our view of the Church.  

If we compare the Ten Commandments given by God to Moses with the two Great Commandments of Christ, we discover that the first three commandments correspond to Jesus' injunction to love God, and the final five commandments correspond to Jesus' command to love our neighbor.  The fourth commandment, to honor our fathers and mothers, is the bridge that links the others, for by this commandment we are taught to love both our human parents as well as our Heavenly Father.  The family teaches us to honor the commandments.  It is where we learn to live a holy life.

From the beginning, God made us to be in families.  He made human beings as men and women, complements to each other, so that there may be husband and wife, mother and father.  He told them to be fruitful and multiply, filling the earth with children.  God is love, and love requires both a lover and a beloved.  Our Trinitarian God has this within Himself.  We have it within the family.  It is not unfair to say that, in certain respects, we are most like God when we are in a family.

It is no surprise that our Church has so much to teach us on the family.  At the end of that list of thirty-three subheadings in the index of the Catechism it says, "see also Marriage."  There we find another sixty-seven subheadings, including greatness of,  in God's plan, as cooperation with the love of God, directed toward the salvation of others, and transmission of faith in the domestic Church.  Marriage is the foundation of the family, and therefore is rightly considered very holy and revered by the Church.  Christ, in fact, elevated marriage to a sacrament.  This means that, as in all sacraments, God is present in marriage in a very special way.  And the Church is concerned with marriage in a very special way.

As a sacrament, and as something established by God, we believe that sacramental marriage is indissoluble.  Jesus said, "What therefore God has bound together let not man put asunder" (Mk 10:9).  Sadly, it is no exaggeration to say that marriage - and by extension the family - is under attack in a very directed way in today's world.  I have heard some Catholics complain about the frequency and perceived ease with which the Church grants annulments today.  They sarcastically refer to them as "Catholic divorces" and imply the Church is hypocritical in not allowing divorce while granting so many annulments.   An annulment, of course, is not a divorce, but a recognition that a true sacramental marriage never existed to begin with.  I heard a wise priest remark once that perhaps the reason there are so many annulments today is that there are so few sacramental marriages.  I believe this to be true.

I recently saw a cartoon that inadvertently illustrated this point.  It consisted of three panels.  In the first was a rather intoxicated couple in wedding attire.  The caption above them read something like "met 30 minutes ago and married by an Elvis impersonator in Vegas."  In the second panel was a scruffy looking older couple.  The caption above them read, "She's been married and divorced four times, and she is his seventh wife."  Finally in the third panel were two attractive, clean cut men holding hands, with the caption, "Been in a committed, loving relationship for twenty years."  Below it all the caption read, "Why are the first two marriages right and the last one wrong?"

The proper reaction to the cartoon is that none of the scenarios pictured is right.  None are true marriages.  Same-sex marriage is not the bugaboo that will corrode marriage in our society.  It is a sign of the fact that marriage is already very badly corroded.  No-fault divorce laws and the widespread use and acceptance of contraceptives that has happened since the 1930s have seen to that.  Marriage is a life-long partnership between a man and a woman that is ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of children (CCC 1601; CIC 1055; GS 48, 1).  When we enter marriage without being open to children, without an understanding of marriage as a life-long covenant, without the will or desire to help our spouse and our offspring enter heaven, then we do damage to God's plan for marriage.  We do damage to God's plan for the family.  

That, my friends, is something which our society needs to change.  It is something that society needs to repent from.  But "society" is made up of families like yours and mine.  And the only way to change society's view of marriage for the better is for you and I to live God's vocation of marriage faithfully in our own lives.  Most of you reading this are college aged.  And most of you will be married at some point in your life, some of you relatively soon.  What have you done to prepare yourself for the vocation of husband or wife?  

I suggest three things:
1. Look up "marriage" and "family" in the Catechism.  (You have a copy, don't you?)  What the Church teaches is the ideal for the family life.  It gives us something to strive for.
2. Take a look at a special web site our bishops have established,  Whether you are married, engaged, dating, or thinking about dating, there is good material here for you.
3. Meditate on the example of the Holy Family.  Pray to Mary and Joseph to be inspirations for you as wife, husband, father and mother.  Give Jesus a place of honor in your life now, so that He may continue to have that place of honor in your marriage.

Merry Christmas!  Today our Savior is born and the angels rejoice!  May Emmanuel be honored during this season and the whole of the year in your home and in your family.

God bless,

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

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Gospel For Today - 4th Sunday of Advent


"Is it not enough for you to weary people, must you also weary my God?  Therefore the Lord Himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel."

The above quote from Isaiah is taken from today's first reading.  During today's celebration of the fourth and final Sunday in Advent we look forward with greater anticipation than ever for the coming of Emmanuel - God with us.  This exchange described in Isaiah 7:10-14 is interesting.  God wants to give His people a sign of the coming savior - a virgin conceiving and giving birth to a son - but Ahaz and Isaiah seem almost afraid to ask.  God tells Ahaz to ask for a sign from the Lord, but Ahaz responds, "I will not ask!  I will not tempt the Lord!"  And Isaiah speaks of people wearying God - it is easy to imagine the Israelites perpetually pestering the Almighty with cries of "show us a sign, show us a sign!"  

One is brought to mind of Jesus' words to Satan when He was being tempted in the desert.  Satan was pestering Christ by saying things such as "If you are really the Son of God, turn this stone into bread," and "If you are really the Son of God, leap off this cliff and your angels will save you."  Jesus responded by reminding the devil, "You shall not tempt the Lord your God."

When we ask for signs from God, we are usually more like Satan than we are like Ahaz or Isaiah.  We ask for signs not from faith, but from doubt.  God, if you are really there, please show me a sign.  Or we ask for signs as a means of shirking our own responsibilities.  God, if you want me to change majors, give me a sign.  God, if you want me to quit my job, just show me a sign.

Often we may ask for a sign from God when we are facing a major decision, especially one that involves a greater purpose in our life, and our relationship with Him.  God, if you want me to be a priest, show me a sign.  God, if you desire me to enter consecrated life, show me a sign.  God, if you want me to marry, just send me a sign.  Praying, talking to God, listening to His word, and trying to discern His will in your life is certainly a good thing to do, especially as we discern major life decisions such as these.  But we should not expect a burning bush, or a new star to appear in the sky.  If this is the sort of sign we expect, then we expect too much.  We weary our God.

God will send us the signs that we need.  Even though Ahaz did not want to tempt the Lord by asking Him for a sign, God nevertheless revealed that He would come among us through a virgin birth.  Likewise, He sent a sign to Joseph.  He sent an angel to him in a dream (the word angel means "messenger"), telling him, "Do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.  For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.  She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."

But Joseph never asked for a sign.  Certainly, he was faced with a difficult decision.  And certainly he relied on prayer to help him decide what to do.  Our gospel reading today (Mt 1:18-24) describes Joseph as "a righteous man."   And this is the key.  Joseph was not fretting over what was the right thing for him to do.  Rather he was more concerned simply with doing the right thing.  

He had taken Mary to be his wife.  The Gospels are shy on the details, but according to certain extra-biblical sources, such as the Protoevangelium of James (c.150 AD), Mary was a young woman who had been consecrated to God and sworn to a life of celibacy, much like our modern nuns.   Joseph was an older man, a widower with grown children, who took Mary into his home as her guardian.  The practice in those days was for consecrated virgins to marry men - usually older men who already had a family - as a means to provide them with safety and security.  It was understood to be a non-sexual marriage, and indeed one of the responsibilities of the husband was to guard his bride's chastity.

According to the Protoevangelium Joseph had left home to attend to his buildings and when he returned after a long while, he found Mary six months pregnant (and quite visibly so!)   It reads, "And she was in her sixth month; and, behold, Joseph came back from his building, and, entering into his house, he discovered that she was big with child.  And he smote his face, and threw himself on the ground upon the sackcloth, and wept bitterly, saying: With what face shall I look upon the Lord my God?  And what prayer shall I make about this maiden?  Because I received her a virgin out of the temple of the Lord, and I have not watched over her!"

Thus the difficult decision that Joseph is faced with in today's gospel.  He decides to divorce her quietly, so as not to expose her to shame.  He wants to do the right thing in this difficult situation, so as not to bring Mary shame, nor bring disrespect to God or His temple. He doesn't ask God for a sign.  He simply tries to conduct his life in a way pleasing to God.  

In this case God gives Joseph a sign to direct him - an angel telling him not to be afraid to take Mary into his home.  God becoming incarnate in this world and being born among us is rather a big deal, and Joseph is just the sort of man God desires to raise His Son - a righteous man who strives to live a life of holiness and integrity. Rather than "wearying God" or "testing God" by demanding signs of Him for every decision in our lives, we should strive to be like Joseph.  We should seek to live lives of holiness and draw ever closer to God.  Rather than be filled with anxiety over whether you should become a priest, or a sister or brother, or whether you should work for this company, or marry this person, or enter this major, etc., we should focus on being holy people.  The rest will come.  Strive to be the holiest version of yourself that you can be, and it will be revealed in time whether that means taking holy orders, entering a religious community, marrying, and so forth.  Just know that the sign you receive from God is not likely to be an angel appearing in a dream - the birth of God-with-us is rather a special occasion!  More likely it will be an inner sign such as profound joy and the peace of Christ in your heart.

Finally, let us heed the words of the angel to Joseph and not be afraid to take Mary and her child into our homes as we prepare for Christmas, and the rest of the year, as well.  I love the thought of Mary being visibly pregnant with Jesus.  Are you visibly pregnant with Jesus?  Not in the literal sense, of course, but can others readily see the presence of Christ in your heart?  Pregnant women are often said to have a "glow."  Can you imagine the glow you would have if people readily saw the presence of Jesus within you?  Make this your prayer today as we anticipate the celebration of our Savior's birth.  God is with us.  Accept Him into your life, and don't hesitate to let it show.

If you are interested in learning more about the extra-biblical Protoevangelium of James, which gives more back-story to the lives of Mary and Joseph and has contributed much to our Sacred Tradition, the whole text is available free online.  Just click the below link:

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

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Gospel For Today - 3rd Sunday of Advent

REMINDER - No Mass on campus over the winter break.  Our next Mass on campus will be Jan. 12.


Today, the third Sunday in Advent, is traditionally called Gaudete Sunday ("Gaudete" is the Latin word meaning "rejoice"). The name comes from the Entrance antiphon for today's Mass.  Gaudéte in Dómino semper: íterum díco, gaudéte. Dóminus enim prope est.  "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.  Indeed, the Lord is near."  Because of the joyful character of today's Mass in the midst of this penitential season, the liturgical color is lightened from violet to rose.

So today, when homilists across the globe will be preaching about joy, I thought I'd take a somewhat different tack and talk about evil.  Yes, yes, I know.  Halloween is over, and with it scary movie season.  It's nearly Christmas; we are supposed to be talking about hope and joy, happiness and good cheer.  No one wants to hear about evil.  'Tis the season, after all!  

But in case you haven't noticed, there's a lot wrong with the world.  And no, I'm not just talking about the harm we cause one another (though there is certainly plenty of that to go around).  I'm talking about the bad things that happen to people who really don't deserve it.  People get sick.  People become disabled, or are born that way.  Some lack the ability to walk, or the ability to see, or the ability to hear, through no fault of their own.  People have their homes destroyed in natural disasters.  People lose loved ones to all manner of unavoidable tragedy.  And people often feel these losses most acutely during the holiday season.

These things are evil.  Don't get me wrong.  I'm certainly not saying that people who suffer from maladies, or who are born with disabilities, are evil; nor am I saying they suffer because of some evil they have done.  What I am saying is that the existence of these maladies is itself an evil.  It's what the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls a physical evil (310).  

Unlike a moral evil, no one is culpable for physical evils in this world.  They are part of the reality we experience after the Fall; part of this creation God has made which itself is journeying toward perfection.  Inasmuch as creation is not perfect yet, that is a physical evil.  We may not be used to thinking of natural occurrences as "evil" because we typically reserve that word to something that involves a moral judgment.  But we do recognize the existence of physical evil in our everyday speech.  When someone is blind we say it is because there is "something wrong" with his eyes.  When someone cannot hear there is "something wrong" with her ears.  We recognize that something is not as it should be.  Evil is, after all, simply the absence of a good that should be there.

"But why did God not create a world so perfect that no evil could exist in it?  ...with infinite wisdom and goodness God freely created a world 'in a state of journeying' toward its ultimate perfection.  In God's plan this process of becoming involves... the existence of the more perfect alongside the existence of the less perfect, both constructive and destructive forces of nature.  With physical good there exists also physical evil as long as creation has not reached perfection" (CCC 310).

Creation is journeying toward perfection.  This means it is not there yet, and so suffering still exists.  But the prophet Isaiah gives us a foreshadowing today of what to expect in the perfect world to come.  "Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak, say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not!  Here is your God, He comes with vindication; with divine recompense He comes to save you.  Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing" (Is 35:1-6a).  In the new creation we find healing, not sickness; we find wholeness, not brokenness; we find sight, not blindness; no one will be dumb or mute, we will all sing in the choir of saints and angels.  

John the Baptist knew that these were signs of the Kingdom of God.  This is why, in today's gospel (Mt 11:2-11), when he asks if Jesus is the one who is to come, Jesus replies by citing the healing miracles He has performed.  "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers and cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them."  Jesus healed these people not only because He loved them individually (which of course He did); He was signalling a universal healing.  Christ's ministry was not just to a few wounded and broken people in Palestine; it is a universal ministry for all places and all times.  His ministry is nothing less than to bring creation to perfection.  This is the good news.  We, too, can be citizens of God's Kingdom, this perfect creation with no ills or calamities, no famine, no war, no poverty or homelessness.  Think about all the sources of suffering in your life or in the lives of loved ones.  No cancer.  No heart disease.  No diabetes.  No fire or flood.  No frightened hearts.

John the Baptist is the one sent to prepare the way before Christ.  And what is that way?  What must we do to become citizens of this new perfect creation?  John tells us to do one thing, over and over again.  "Repent!"  This is where that other kind of evil comes into the story, the evil we are all too familiar with - moral evil.  

"Angels and men, as intelligent and free creatures, have to journey toward their ultimate destinies by their free choice and preferential love.  They can therefore go astray.  Indeed, they have sinned.  Thus has moral evil, incommensurably more harmful than physical evil, entered the world" (CCC 311).

Just as physical evil is the absence of a good that ought to exist (an eye that cannot see, legs that cannot stand, a tongue without a voice, etc), so is moral evil the absence of a good.  Only with moral evil, that absence is caused by our own choosing.  And for those evils we commit, we are culpable.  We are accountable when there is hatred instead of love; when there is greed instead of charity; when there is anger in place of forgiveness.  When we commit moral evil, when we sin, we make ourselves less than we were created to be.  We wound ourselves.  We cannot take those wounds with us into paradise, where there is no brokenness.  

Jesus healed the physical evils of the lame and the blind.  So, too, He stands ready to heal the more harmful moral evils of our own sins.  But just as moral evil is caused by our own choice, the healing must begin with our own choice. We need to choose to turn away from our sins.  This is what it means to repent.  We need to leave those evils behind us and ask humbly for His forgiveness.  If we empty our heart of sin, Christ will fill it with joy.  To quote our first pope, "There is cause for rejoicing here" (1 Pt 1:6).  To quote our current pope, "The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.  Those who accept His offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness.  With Christ joy is constantly born anew" (Evangelii Gaudium 1).

Prepare your heart to welcome Jesus this Advent.  Prepare yourself to be a citizen of that perfect world to come.  Then you can sing with the saints, Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.  Indeed, the Lord is near!  Gaudete!

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

Monday, December 9, 2013

On the Immaculate Conception

Today we celebrate the great Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.  Normally this feast would fall on Dec. 8, but as Sundays in Advent take precedent, the celebration has been transferred to today.

Just what is meant by the Immaculate Conception?  Perhaps because it falls on the calendar so close to our celebration of Christ's Nativity at Christmas, there is a widespread misconception that this term refers to the miraculous and virginal conception of Jesus Christ in the womb of Mary.  This is incorrect.  The Immaculate Conception refers to the conception of Mary by her parents, Joachim and Anne.

We believe that this conception took place in the usual natural way, but that by a special grace of God, Mary was conceived without original sin.  In other words, she was conceived and lived her life in the same state of blessed friendship with God that our original parents, Adam and Eve, enjoyed before the Fall.

The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was officially defined and proclaimed in 1854 by Pope Pius IX:
 "We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine, which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary in the first instant of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful" (Ineffabilis Deus).

Because this definition was formally given to the Church in 1854, some mistakenly assume the belief only dates back to the mid-nineteenth century, and is therefore historically suspect.  However, the belief in Mary's Immaculate Conception in fact dates back centuries before this proclamation.

It has its roots in the New Testament.  We find the greatest support for this doctrine in Luke 1:28, where the angel Gabriel calls Mary "full of grace."  In the original Greek, the word is kecharitomene, which St. Jerome translated into Latin as gratia plena.  But the Greek word has a meaning deeper than the Latin or English might at first suggest.  Kecharitomene is the perfect passive participle of the verb charitoo.

The Greek indicates a perfection of grace.  A perfection must be perfect not only intensively, but extensively.  The grace Mary enjoyed must not only have been as 'full' or strong or complete as possible at any given time, but it must have extended over the whole of her life, from conception.  That is, she must have been in a state of sanctifying grace from the first moment of her existence to have been called 'full of grace' or to have been filled with divine favor in a singular way.  This is just what the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception holds (Keating, Catholicism and Fundamentalism, 269).

The writings of the early Church Fathers are full of references to Mary's absolute purity.  Perhaps the most famous is St. Augustine, who in his writings against Pelagianism said that all have known sin "except the Holy Virgin Mary, of whom, for the honor of the Lord, I will have no question whatever where sin is concerned" (On Nature and Grace 36).

Nor is the belief in Mary's Immaculate Conception a purely Catholic one.  No less of a Protestant than Martin Luther himself wrote, "She is full of grace, proclaimed to be entirely without sin... God's grace fills her with everything good and makes her devoid of all evil... God is with her, meaning that all she did or left undone is divine and the action of God in her.  Moreover, God guarded and protected her from all that might be hurtful to her" (Personal Prayer Book, c. 1522).

Another myth concerning the Immaculate Conception is that this doctrine means Mary did not need a savior; in other words, she did not need Christ.  This would mean that Christ did not die for His mother, Mary, and His sacrifice did not redeem her.  Again, this is not what this doctrine means at all.  In fact, in the very definition of the doctrine, Pius IX clearly states that this special grace given to Mary was because of "the merits of Jesus Christ," and that Christ is "the savior of the human race," which includes His mother.

But how could Mary be saved by her Son on the cross before Jesus was even born?  We must remember that God does not operate in time as we do.  God exists in eternity.  Jesus Christ exists in and from eternity.  God is outside of time and therefore not bound by time.  Rather than not being saved by her Son, Mary was in fact the first one saved by Jesus.  How fitting that Christ, who loves Mary more than any human son has ever loved his mother, desired to save her from sin from the very moment of her conception.

But if Mary was never subject to original sin, can she really be said to have been "saved" from sin?  She was never suffering from sin to begin with, so how can she be "saved" from it?  Think of two people walking towards a pit in the ground.  The first falls in the pit and cannot climb out on his own.  Another person comes by with a ladder and lowers it into the pit, allowing him to climb out.  That person has been saved from the pit.

The second person also walks towards the pit, but this time, before he falls in, someone comes along and grabs the back of his shirt, pulling him back from the edge, so that he never falls.  Has this person not also been saved from the pit?

Mary's salvation by Christ is like the second example.  She never fell into sin, but this preservation in grace was due to the salvific work of Christ.  And why would Christ save His mother in this special way?  It is so that His mother might not only be the first one saved by Him, but also the one saved most perfectly, most completely.  It is so that she can be the preeminent example of holiness for all Christians.  It is so that she can more completely show, through her life and her person, the way to her Divine Son.

For, like all other Marian doctrines, its purpose is not so much to teach us about Mary, but to teach us about her Son.  Mary was prepared by God, from the moment of her conception, to receive Christ into her womb.  Let us pray today that we may prepare ourselves to receive Him into our hearts this Advent.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Gospel For Today - 2nd Sunday of Advent

REMIDNER:  Today is the final Sunday Mass on campus of the semester (7:30pm).  For those sticking around over the winter break, Masses at St. Mary's are at 9:00 & 11:00am Sunday mornings.


The very first thing that the faithful are supposed to hear when Mass begins is something called the Introit (Entrance) Antiphon.  In many parishes this is replaced by a hymn, but ideally we hear the antiphon for the day, which is part of the liturgy of the Mass and taken either from the Roman Missal or the Roman Gradual (a music book for the Roman Rite).  The Introit is taken from the scriptures and sets the tone for the liturgy of that day. The Introit Antiphon for the Second Sunday of Advent is from Isaiah 30:19, 30.  "O people of Sion, behold, the Lord will come to save the nations, and the Lord will make the glory of His voice heard in the joy of your heart."

This antiphon is announcing the theme of the day.  That theme is our anticipation of salvation; a salvation which will manifest itself in joy. Salvation and joy.  How do we get there?  How do we make that salvation and joy our own?  Our readings today give us a road map.

Our first reading, like our entrance antiphon, is from the prophet Isaiah.  Isaiah 11:1-10 speaks of judgment, but not the frightening kind of judgment.  That word "judgment" to us has connotations of harshness.  None of us likes to be judged. When we call someone "judgmental" it is never a good thing.  And that is because we fear being judged unfairly.  We fear being judged too harshly.  We fear being judged by someone who has no place to judge us.  But this is not the kind of judgement that Isaiah speaks of.  "Not by appearance shall he judge, nor be hearsay shall he decide, but he shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the land's afflicted."    The judgement that Isaiah foretells is one in which everyone - even those who do not normally receive fair judgment in this world, such as the poor - shall be judged fairly, with justice, based not on external appearances but on the internal worthiness of their heart.

This divine judgment, then, is different from our human judgment in that it can only bring peace. For when we are judged with perfect and complete justice, then even those who are condemned know that they are condemned worthily and fairly.  We need have no fear of being judged unfairly by the Lord.  Our only fear should be fear of our own personal sin, in which we make ourselves unworthy of His acceptance; make our hearts too hard to ask for His mercy.  The Lord's judgment is nor harsh, but fair and just. "Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace forever," as our Psalm today says.

In the second reading today, St. Paul begins by telling us, "Whatever was written previously was written for our instruction, that by endurance and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope" (Rm 15:4).  When Paul mentions "what was written previously," he has in mind the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures that foretold the coming of Christ.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines hope as "the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ's promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit" (CCC 1817).  Hope tells us that there is an answer to that desire for happiness that comes from within our soul.  Hope tells us that Christ is waiting for us to come to Him, and that He will provide us with the graces we need to get there.  Hope tells us that though we struggle in this life, the act of struggling itself is an act of love for God.  Hope allows us to know that the justice Isaiah foretells can be ours, as well as its accompanying peace.

Our Gospel reading today is preceded by the Alleluia verse: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight His paths, all flesh shall see the salvation of God" (Lk 3:4, 6).  The prophet Isaiah spoke of a voice in the wilderness that would say, "Prepare the way of the Lord."  That voice is John the Baptist, who today tells us, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" (Mt 3:1).  John tells us to prepare for the coming of the Lord, the coming of the just judge, the one who is an answer to our hope.  And how do we prepare for His coming?  We repent.  

"Repent" is another of those words that sound scary to our ears because of certain negative connotations.  But it simply means reorientation.  When we repent, we reorient our lives by turning away from the bad and turning towards the good.  If we have hope in salvation, if we have faith in Christ, then we must turn away from anything in our lives that would lead us away from Him and reorient ourselves toward our goal.  The Catechism says, "Interior repentance is a radical reorientation of our whole life, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed" (CCC 1431).  

The Catechism goes on to talk about a "salutory pain" that often accompanies repentance, because we realize just how harmful our previous sins are, and how much they have wounded Christ whom we love; so we are rightly saddened by our past transgressions.  But our repentance does not leave us in sadness.  It spurs us on to reject those sins and to reorient our lives for Christ.  We no longer wish to offend Him, but to love Him and do what is pleasing in His sight.  Our repentance, if lived out, leads us not to sorrow, but to joy.

Just as there is a proper antiphon which should be sung at the beginning of Mass, there is also a proper antiphon to be sung during Communion.  As we receive Communion today, the Second Sunday of Advent, we ideally hear this antiphon from Baruch.  "Jerusalem, arise and stand upon the heights, and behold the joy which comes to you from God" (Bar 5:5, 4:36).  This is the end of our encounter with Christ.  This is the fruit of our hope and our repentance -- joy.

Joy is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit.  It is the mark of one who has faith and hope.  It is the mark of one in love with Christ.  We are now back to where our liturgy began today with Isaiah's words.  We have faith in the Lord who will come to save all nations.  We hope in His just judgment.  We have prepared the way for Him in our hearts by repenting of anything that may keep us from Him. And so our hearts are filled with joy.

Our Holy Father's recent apostolic exhortation is entitled Evangelii Gaudium, meaning "the Joy of the Gospel."  It is mostly about evangelization - another word that can have negative connotations for many of us.  It can be intimidating for us to share our faith and evangelize others.  We don't feel prepared.  We don't feel ready.  Pope Francis assuages those fears.  He tells us that evangelizing, sharing the gospel, should be an act of joy.  And more than that, the greatest tool for so doing is simply to be joyful.    Francis teaches, "anyone who has truly experienced God's saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love... if we are not convinced, let us look at those first disciples, who, immediately after encountering the gaze of Jesus, went forth to proclaim Him joyfully: 'We have found the Messiah!'" (EG 120).

People see a joyful person and say, "I want what they have.  I want that joy."  Today, in the liturgy, we have been given the road map to joy.  Follow it.  Live it.  Share it.  Our Lord will come to save us all.  The glory of His voice can be heard in the joy of your heart.  

Pax Christi,

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

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

CCM Update - Part 2

Dear Students,

I left two very important items out of my update email last night.

We are trying to select the best days and times to hold our small group sessions next semester. If you are interested, or even think you might be interested, please fill out the doodle poll at the link below.  Filling out the poll is not a commitment, but it does help us determine the times most people are available.

If you were not able to participate in a small group this semester, here's what they are all about.  Small groups meet on various days in different locations around campus, such as the UC or in a dorm.  They are anywhere from 3 to 8 students, one or two of whom act as facilitators, who gather to pray and discuss a particular passage of scripture.  It's kind of like a Bible study, but more like lectio divina done in a group (for those familiar with that form of prayer). The focus is on praying with the scriptures, but small group members also catch up on their weeks, support one another in prayer, and encourage each other in the faith.  Each small group meeting lasts about an hour.  We encourage you to get involved during the spring semester!  We'll be announcing small group times and locations before the start of classes in January.

You can purchase your Spring 2014 parking sticker in advance at the Catholic Student Center.  The price is $50 per semester, and we don't oversell.  It's a great way to not only guarantee a parking spot on campus, but also support your campus ministry!  I'll have the spring stickers available in my office starting today.

Thanks and God Bless!

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

Monday, December 2, 2013

Weekly Update from CCM

I'm sending this out a bit early this week, because I know we all are busy with the end of the semester.  This is our LAST WEEK of CCM activities before exams!  

We'll have 30 minutes of Eucharistic Adoration in the chapel from noon to 12:30.  Come spend some quality quiet time with Jesus. After, I'll be getting our holiday decorations down from the attic, so anyone who can come by and help decorate for our party on Wednesday, please feel free!
RCIA from 4:00-5:00pm.

Our final Supper @ the Center of the semester begins at 6:30pm!  Kat is cooking up a holiday feast for us, home cooked just like mom makes.  After, we'll have our annual Grinch gift exchange.  If this is your first year, you don't want to miss it.  Everyone please bring a wrapped gift (up to $5 value) to exchange.  If you need wrapping paper, I have some set out in the CCM living room.  After our gift exchange, we'll hit the sidewalks and go caroling around campus, bringing cheer to stressed out students.  We hope you'll join us!

Friday is Dec. 6 - St. Nicholas' Day!  Fr. Voitus has invited us over to the rectory to help decorate for the season.  He'll also be offering a special St. Nicholas Day Mass for us at the church.  We'll have 30 minutes of Adoration (with Benediction) starting at 4:00pm.  Mass will be at 4:30pm.  After Mass, we'll walk over to the rectory for a pizza dinner and decorating party.  We'll have a car pool leaving from the Catholic Student Center at 3:30 to head over to the church.  Those who can't leave at 3:30 are welcome to join us later.  (Note: we have a Facebook event for this and invites were sent out to all in our Facebook group.  It would be helpful to confirm on Facebook if you plan on going, so we can get an idea of numbers).

Our final Mass on campus of 2013.  Mass is at 7:30pm, as usual, with Rosary and Confession 30 minutes before Mass.  After Mass, our Credo discussion will be about our duties to God (the first three commandments).  Hint: it's more than just avoiding graven images.  It will be our last Credo until Jan. 12, so don't miss it!  

Even though we won't have our regular activities during finals week, the chapel will be open for your use - and please use it!  It can be easy to forget to make time for God when we feel busy and stressed, but that's precisely when we need Him in our lives the most!  Please know that I'll be praying for you during exams.  Please remember to pray for one another.

Speaking of St. Nicholas, if you thought he was just some jolly old elf who delivers presents once a year, you've never met the real Santa Claus.  St. Nicholas was a real life bishop of the Church who died in 343 AD, and did some amazing things in his life, including getting into a fist fight with the heretic Arius during the Council of Nicaea.  So if someone asks you if you believe in Santa Claus, be sure to say "Yes!  And you don't want to mess with St. Nick!"
Read more:

I'll keep sending out my Sunday gospel reflections during the break, but this will be our last scheduling update until the week before the Spring semester begins.  I wish all of you success on your exams, safe travels home, a glorious Advent, a merry Christmas, and a happy New Year.  See you all back here in 2014.

And remember - Keep MASS in Christmas!  :-)

God bless,

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

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Gospel For Today: 1st Sunday of Advent


Today we begin a new year in the Church.  Today we reset the clock and go back to the liturgical beginning.  Having just celebrated the great Solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe, recognizing His crowning glory and eternal reign over all, we begin the cycle anew today by celebrating His birth as a small, humble baby in a manger in Bethlehem....   

...oh, wait.  Nevermind.  That's Christmas, and Christmas is another month way.  Although you'd never know that from the secular displays in the world around us.  People have been gearing up for the "Christmas season" since the day after Halloween (I saw my first outdoor Christmas light display on November 6 this year).  But if you take your cues instead from a liturgical calendar, you will find that the Christmas season begins on Dec. 25 and runs until the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord on Jan. 12.  Our liturgical New Year does not start with a babe in a manger.  We have to wait a while for that.  And that's just what our year starts with -- waiting.

During the month of November, as I enter into the annual "it's not Christmas yet!" season, I'm always afraid of coming across as a Grinch or a Scrooge.  The reality is that I absolutely adore Christmas, and it is precisely because I treasure the holiday so much that I want to wait to celebrate it at its proper time.  There is an order to things.  Before Easter we must have Good Friday.  Before a wedding there must be an engagement.  And before Christmas we have Advent.  The word "advent" means "coming."  Our Savior is coming.  We await His arrival.  

Good things come to those who wait.  The quick thrill of instant gratification is rarely all it's touted to be.  But we forget this simple truth.  We live in a world that wants it now.  When I buy something online, I'm told if I just pay a little extra shipping I can have it by tomorrow.  When I shop for groceries the aisles are full of instant everything; instant grits, instant oatmeal, instant pudding.  We ship fruits and vegetables in from tropical climates so we don't have to wait for them to be in season.  I'm in the midst of this culture of instant gratification myself.  My favorite feature of my Netflix account is the "Watch it Now" streaming video.  I'll take my Internet high speed, thank you.  And even though I know cooking my oatmeal on the stove the old fashioned way tastes a thousand times better than the instant stuff, I also know it takes twenty minutes longer to make.  So most mornings my microwave does my cooking for me.  And I'm still waiting for someone to invent a Star-Trek style transporter device so I can get to where I want to go without that annoying travel time.

I need reminding - we all need reminding - that some things are worth waiting for.  A meal prepared the proper way, with time and care, really does taste a thousand times better.  We should all enjoy that from time to time.  A college degree that takes you four years and lots of hard work to earn is worth more because it took time to achieve.  Waiting for marriage before giving yourself fully to your beloved is perhaps the most perfect example of something worth waiting for.  If something is good and worthy of love, then it is worth experiencing in its proper time, in its proper place.  It is worth not spoiling.  

When we wait for a good thing, we always find our capacity to appreciate it enhanced by our waiting.  Our society today hates to wait for anything.  And so I am grateful to the Church for giving us this season of waiting and preparation.  In the midst of all the holiday business and stress that we have created for ourselves, the Church whispers to us, "Slow down.  Wait.  He'll be here soon.  And it will be magnificent."

Today we are reminded that we still await our Lord.  He came in the flesh over 2000 years ago in the Incarnation.  And we wait for the proper time in the liturgical year to celebrate that coming.  But from the beginning of the Church, we have also been waiting for our Lord's second coming at the end of time.  And from the beginning, we have awaited that glorious coming with a sense of immanence.  Because part of waiting also means being ready for what is awaited.

St. Paul tells us today, "You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep.  For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand." 

And so we wait.  We wait joyfully for the great celebration of Christ's Nativity that is but a few weeks away.  But we also wait for the glorious coming of our savior, the timing of which is unknown to all.  We wait.  And we prepare.

The semester at WCU is almost over.  You'll be doing a lot of preparing in the coming days; preparing for exams, preparing to return home, preparing to celebrate the holidays.  In the midst of all your end-of-semester preparations, do not neglect the most important preparation of all.  Have you prepared yourself for the advent of Jesus in your heart?  As I have said before, we do not know whether the Second Coming of Christ in all His glory as Judge will happen today or a billion years from now.  But that hardly matters because one day - relatively soon, in the grand scheme of things - you will meet your personal end and come before Jesus as merciful and just judge.  We should recognize that our judgment can happen at any time and make ourselves ready for that moment.  And then we wait.

St. Paul tells us that the time for foolishness and "works of darkness" are over.  "The night is advances, the day is at hand," he says.  "Let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and list, not in rivalry and jealousy."  Enough of that nonsense.  We are better than that.  We are Christians.  We have an eternal hope.

Likewise Jesus implores us in today's gospel, "Stay awake!  For you do not know on which day your Lord will come...  So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come."

This we know with certainty - He is coming.  For us to be prepared, we must first let His advent reign always in our hearts.  Advent reminds us that He is worth waiting for.

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