Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Weekly Update from CCM

Dear Students,

Happy Advising Day!  I hope you are all using it fruitfully!

Here's your update from CCM for this week.

This week for our fellowship dinner Joseph and Brandi are cooking, and the theme is Chinese!  No, you don't have to eat with chop-sticks. :-)  After dinner, I'll be giving a short "Primer on Lent" because Ash Wednesday is just around the corner.  After that, Rebecca will lead us in a fun game night.  Catholic pictionary, anyone?  It all starts at 6:30pm.

We have organized a volunteer day of service for anyone who is interested.  We will gather at CCM at 9:30 for an opening prayer and to sign up for service sites.  We will have a variety of service opportunities for you, including the Smoky Mountain Pregnancy Care Center, splitting and distributing fire wood to needy county residents, painting & clean up work here at CCM and possibly more.  We'll wrap up around 2:30 in the afternoon.  If you wish to participate we ask that you RSVP by joining our Facebook Event here.  (We need an idea of how many people are participating so we can be sure to have enough work sites).

Mass at 7:30pm.  Rosary & Confession 30 minutes before Mass.  For our Credo discussion after Mass, the topic this week will be "liturgy".  Come with questions!  Please also note that this coming Sunday, March 2, will be the last Sunday we will have Mass at 7:30pm.  There will be no Mass on campus on Sunday, March 9, due to spring break.  And on Sunday, March 16, we will begin our new 4:00pm Mass time.  Please help pass the word!

Our small group Bible studies continue to meet at 6:30pm on Mondays (3rd floor UC), Tuesdays (Benton Lobby), and Thursdays (UC balcony).  If you are not participating in a small group, please consider coming to one.  It's never too late to jump in, and more people are always welcome!

The season of Lent is right around the corner.  Ash Wednesday is March 5.  We will have a Liturgy of the Word and Distribution of Ashes here at CCM at 12:30pm.  As I stated previously, we will have a little Lenten primer after dinner this Wednesday, but for those who can't be there, or just can't wait, Lent is a penitential season before Easter that is traditionally marked by prayer, almsgiving and fasting.  It begins Ash Wednesday and runs through Easter (40 days, not counting Sundays).  You will be hearing more from me about Lent next week, but for now, here is a helpful article by Deacon Mike Bickerstaff entitled "Practical Advice for a Deeper Faith This Lent."

It is typical for Catholics to "give something up" for Lent.  This relates to the practice of fasting, which is integral to the Lenten season.  Often people are tempted to give up a vice in an attempt to better themselves, whether that be consuming alcohol, candy, smoking, etc.  Or they will give up swearing, or lying, or gossip.  Some of these things are sinful in themselves, such as lying and gossip, and others can be sinful if abused or misused, such as alcohol or even over-eating.  And so it would certainly be good to use Lent as a springboard to help us get rid of these harmful vices.

However, as good as that is, it's not really the spirit of fasting that Lent is all about.  The Lenten fast is about making a sacrifice, and for our sacrifice to be meaningful we ought to be sacrificing something is good.  If I give up coffee for Lent, it's not because coffee is bad for me and I ought not to be drinking it anyway.  If I give up coffee for Lent, it's because I view coffee as a good, something I value.  But as much as I love coffee, I love Christ more and I want to give up my enjoyment of coffee to remind myself of all that Christ gave up for me.  

I say this to hopefully inspire you to start thinking now about what you might want to give up this Lent.  As I said, you'll be hearing more from me about Lent in the weeks to come, not only about fasting, but also about prayer and almsgiving.  The purpose of all of these activities is to draw us closer to Christ.  I pray that the Lenten season may, for you, be a time of grace that draws you ever nearer to our Lord.

Pax Christi,

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

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Gospel For Today: 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time


Today we have one of those gospel readings that, if we are paying attention, should bother us a little bit.  Jesus says to us in today's reading (Mt 5:38-48), "Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect."  Wow.  I will admit, when I first came across that passage in my early studies of Christianity, I was more than a little bothered.  I was quite a bit bothered!  How could Jesus demand perfection from us?  As the Son of God, don't you think He would know that perfection is not possible?  Not for us fallen human beings?  Why would He demand something of us that He knows we will not be able to achieve.  He sets the bar too high.

I grew up all my life hearing the phrase, "Nobody's perfect."  So you aren't too good at basketball... nobody's perfect.  So you didn't get an A on that test... nobody's perfect.  So you aren't the smartest kid in class... nobody's perfect.  So you can't draw a stick figure to save your life... nobody's perfect. So you have bad acne... nobody's perfect.  So you are nearsighted and need glasses... nobody's perfect.  So you have to wear hearing aides... nobody's perfect.  So you are in wheelchair... nobody's perfect.  So you come from a broken home... nobody's perfect.  So your family was evicted and now you are homeless... nobody's perfect.

What is Jesus thinking by commanding us to all be perfect?  Why set such an unattainable goal?  We can work our entire lives and never be the best at everything, all the time.  We can never be perfect.

What is Jesus thinking?  Jesus is thinking with the mind of God, and not the mind of man.  St. Paul tells us today in his first letter to the Corinthians that "the wisdom of this world is foolish in the eyes of God."  The wisdom of this world looks for perfection in ways that ultimately do not matter.  God looks for perfection not in our skills or talents, our knowledge or our expertise, our good looks or our social position.  God looks for perfection where it counts.

In our first reading today from Leviticus, God says to Moses, "Be holy, for I, the Lord your God am holy."  Note how closely this command parallels what Jesus commands us.  Perfection in God's eyes is not perfection in any of these worldly arenas that will pass away.  Perfection in God's eyes is holiness.  By commanding us to be perfect as God is perfect, Jesus is commanding us to be holy.

So what is holiness?  Jesus tells us in today's gospel that holiness means not only loving your friends, but also loving your enemies.  You might describe holiness as an abundance of love.  Look up "holy" in any dictionary and the definition will be something to the effect of being good, but always in connection with God.  In other words, it is not "good" as the world defines good, but as God does.  And so it is with perfection.

Christ never makes any demands of us that are impossible.  God always provides for us the means to fulfill our obligations to Him.  God commands us to be perfect - to be holy - and He also provides us with the tools to achieve that perfection.  The process of becoming holy is called sanctification.  Christ left His Church with the tools to help sanctify the faithful, to make us more holy and draw us closer to God.  I am speaking of the sacraments.  Christ gave us baptism, that rebirth through water and the Holy Spirit that marks us as children of God (Jn 3:5).  Christ gave the Church the "ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor 5:18), the authority to forgive sins (Jn 20:23) through sacramental confession, to reconcile us to God when we sin.  And Christ gave us His very flesh to eat, and His blood to drink, so that we may gain eternal life (Jn 6:54).  I speak, of course, of the Eucharist.  

Through baptism we die and rise with Christ, and are marked forever as God's children.  Confession and the Eucharist are the daily bath and daily bread of the Christian, keeping us clean and drawing us closer to God.  All of the sacraments are conduits of God's grace.  All of them are occasions where God reaches out to us, helping us to become more holy, more perfect.  But the sacraments are not magic.  God gives His grace, but we must use that gift in order for it to come to fruition.  St. Augustine said that, "God created us without our help, but He does not save us without our help."  

The sacraments generally are celebrated in a church, because they are gifts of the Church.  But they should not remain in the church.  We are meant to take those gifts out into the world.  What benefit is it for you to enter the church, receive the sacraments, and make a pious show while you are in the pews, and then go out and hate your neighbor?  Cheat on your exams?  Lie about a friend?  Hold a grudge? Disrespect others?  If you do so, you may have received God's grace, but you are casting that gift aside.  

We are told in today's readings both to love our neighbors and our enemies.  We are given examples of how to do this.  Take no revenge.  Don't hold a grudge.  Because these things do not harm your enemy but yourself.  They allow hatred and evil to find a home in your heart.  God, in our reading from Leviticus today tells us not to "incur sin" because of someone else's wrong doing.  When we hold hatred in our hearts towards others, we sin ourselves.  We allow someone else's sin to become our own.  

We are not called to hate.  We are called to love - even those who would hate us.  This can often be hard, admittedly.  But after all, Jesus does not command us to, "try your best," or "give it a shot."  He commands us to "be perfect."  And that's hard.  But it's not impossible.  God loves us, and He made us to be holy.  Jesus is only expecting us to become the holy people we were created to be, the perfect version of ourselves.  So He knows, better than anyone, that we can achieve this goal.  It's what we were made for.  He will help us get there.  We need only trust in Him, rely on Him, stay close to Him, and He will show us the path to perfection.

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

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Books Every Catholic Should Own (and Read!)

Sometimes it happens that I get asked by someone interested in becoming Catholic, or in living their Catholic faith more fully, whether there are certain books they should look to get.  While sometimes there are certain books I feel compelled to recommend to an individual because of that person's background or interests, or particular spiritual needs, there are a number of books that I feel every Catholic in general should own and use -- or rather, certain types of books.  Here's a list that I have compiled, and I'd welcome any additions.

Ok, so this one should go without saying, but I'm saying it anyway.  It's the Word of God.  The Bible contains our divinely inspired scriptures.  You should own a copy.  But which one?  There are so many translations and editions out there these days, it's admittedly confusing.  Rather than offer a comprehensive list, I'll just give some general guidelines and mention a specific few.

  • Make sure it is a Catholic Bible.  That means it will contain the deuterocanon, consisting of the books of Sirach, Tobit, Wisdom, Judtih, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Baruch, and longer versions of Daniel and Esther.  Most Protestant Bibles will leave these books out, or if they are included at all, will include them in their own section between the Old and New Testaments, labelled "Apocrypha."  These books are not apocryphal; they are sacred scripture and belong in the Catholic Bible along with every other book.  Make sure your Bible has them.  (You can read more about the deuterocanon here.)
  • There are a couple of English language Bibles that the Church routinely uses, so if you are looking for advice on which translation to get, you may find this helpful.
    • New American Bible - this is the one the Church uses in the Lectionary, which is read from during the liturgy.  It's a fairly readable version, and if you want something that will correspond with the Mass readings, this is the one to choose.
    • New Revised Standard Version: Catholic Edition - this is the translation of the scriptures that is quoted from in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, so if you are looking for a Bible to help you as you study the Catechism, or one with somewhat more formal language, this might be a good choice.
    • Douay-Rheims - The Douay-Rheims Bible is an English translation that was authorized by the Catholic Church around the same time as the popular King James translation of the Bible.  So if you like the more formal and poetic early modern English used in the King James, the Douay-Rheims is for you.
    • The USCCB has a listing of other Church approved English translations on their web site.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church is a wonderful gift from the Church to the faithful to help us all learn about our faith and draw closer to God.  It is a comprehensive compilation of the Church's teachings about theology, morality, liturgy and prayer.  Take advantage of this gift!  The Catechism is an invaluable reference whenever you have a question about the faith.  Hint: learn to use the index and glossary.

The official Catechism of the Catholic Church is an invaluable resource, but it's not enough on its own.  It is also beneficial to have a guide or guides to help you to process the information contained in the Catechism and there are many resources that accomplish this.  Just a few are:
As an adult Catholic, you really ought to know what is going on at Mass.  A missal will help.  And I'm not talking about a little paperback throw-away missalette, though if that's all you have available to you, please use it.  I mean a real Missal that you can make your own, keep and pray with.  I'm not necessarily saying you should follow along in your Missal at Mass - you may find that helps you stay focused or you may find it distracting.  But outside of Mass, having a Missal will allow you to know the readings for the day, to pray with the Church, to be aware of special saint's days and feasts.  Plus Missals tend to have a lot of wonderful extra prayers and helpful information in them about the Church outside of the Order of the Mass and the daily readings.
As I mentioned above, a good Missal will most likely have all kinds of extra prayers in it, which is helpful.  But it's nice to have another Catholic prayer book, as well - something you can turn to when you need extra inspiration in your prayers, are having trouble finding the right words in your own prayers, or just want to try a new kind of prayer.  There are many of these to choose from, including:
Whether you are "into" apologetics or not, every Catholic at some point will be asked, "Why do Catholics do _____?" or, "Do Catholics really believe _____?"  When you find yourself in a position to defend or explain Catholic beliefs and practices (and you will), it helps to be prepared.  There are many helpful resources to help you in this arena.  Some basic ones are:

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Weekly Update from CCM

Dear Students,

My apologies for sending out this email late; we were without power for much of the day at the Catholic Student Center, but things are back up and running now.  

This week our cooks for Supper @ the Center are Casey and Sarah.  They have a wonderful spaghetti menu planned for us.  Joseph is leading our program afterwards.  He's got a wonderful discussion lined up for us called "Purifying Your Heart."  If you have any questions about love and relationships, this will be a great night to attend.  We'll see you there!

It's a boy!  We are having a baby shower for Elizabeth this Saturday at the Catholic Student Center and you are invited!  It will be from 2-4pm.  From 2-3 will be "girls only," and we'll invite the men to join in the celebration at 3pm.  Please come and share your well wishes and affection with Elizabeth as she prepares to welcome her son in a couple of months.  It is not necessary to bring a gift.

Mass at 7:30pm, with rosary and Confession 30 min before Mass.  After Mass, our Credo discussion will be about the Eucharist, what the Second Vatican Council calls "the source and summit of our faith."  Come with your questions!

At the 11:00am Mass at St. Mary's, Anne Marie will be received into the Catholic Church, and will also receive the sacraments of Confirmation and First Eucharist. Please extend to her your prayers and congratulations.  Anyone is welcome to attend this Mass.

Also, a reminder that on Sunday, March 16, we will be changing our regular campus Mass time to 4:00pm.

As you know, the Give Your Heart Away service weekend was cancelled because of the weather.  We are working to put together another service opportunity day for students close to WCU.  We invite you to join us on March 1 here at the Catholic Student Center.  We will begin at 9:30am with prayer and then spend the morning working at several different service sites around campus.  We are working on lining up the work sites, but possibilities include the Smoky Mountain Pregnancy Care Center, the Catman2 animal shelter, splitting firewood for needy residents in the county, and clean-up and repair work right here at CCM.  We need to get an idea of who all is attending, so if you'd like to participate please sign up on our Facebook event page by clicking here.

As always, our Monday, Tuesday and Thursday small groups at 6:30pm are ongoing.  Our knitting group continues to meet Thursdays at 8:30 at Alex Cassell's house.  Please keep your eye on our Facebook group for more information about all of these and other opportunities.

In His Peace,

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

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Gospel for Today: 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time

REMINDER:  March 16 we will make the switch to our new Mass time of 4:00pm.  Today's Mass is still at 7:30pm.  See you there!

click here for readings

You have a choice to make.  "If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you."  This is the first line of our first reading today from Sirach.  If you choose you can keep the commandments. It's a simple choice, really, and not a hard one to make.  Do you want to do God's will or don't you?  I think the great majority of us would say yes to this question.  So it's an easy choice to make, but a difficult one to execute.  Sometimes the difficulty makes us think it is impossible.  But Sirach reminds us that it is not.  You can choose to live a holy life.  You can do it.  It is possible.  

Not only is it possible to follow the commandments, it is necessary for our salvation.  If you intend to spend the afterlife in eternal joy and happiness in the presence of the God who made you, and not in eternal torture and pain in the fires of Gehenna, this is a choice you need to make.  Whoa!  Hell?  Wait... that's not a topic of polite conversation.  Nobody talks about Hell anymore.  That's not the Jesus we know.  He's nice and welcoming and loving.  He would never send anyone to Hell.  

Perhaps you are right.  Perhaps Jesus doesn't send anyone to Hell.  But we can send ourselves there.  We can choose a path in life that leads to that fiery destination.  And Jesus wants us to get off that path.  He wants us to make another choice.  The first step in getting us to choose the right path is to make sure we know where the path we are currently on will lead us.  This is why Jesus in today's gospel reading (Mt 5:17-37) uses such language as "fiery Gehena" and "liable to judgment," and "thrown into prison."  He wants us to avoid this fate.  He wants us to do anything we need to do in order not to end up there, even if that means cutting of our own hand or plucking out our eye if it leads us to sin.  Jesus tells us we ave a choice (but that choice doesn't sound so easy any more).  

But hold on again...  isn't this the works-based salvation that Protestant reformers accused the Catholic Church of teaching?  Does the Church really think all we need to do is keep the commandments and our good deeds will save us? No.  The idea that we can earn our way to heaven by living a good life, apart from divine assistance, is actually one of the first heresies condemned by the Catholic Church.  It's called Pelagianism, after a fourth century British priest named Pelagius, who taught that original sin was a myth, and it was possible (at least in theory) for a man to be born and live his entire life without sin.  For Pelagius, Christ was not so the divine physician come to heal us from the wounds of sin as He was a divine good example for us to emulate in leading a sinless life.  St. Augustine spent a good part of his life combating the Pelagian heresy, which was roundly condemned by the Church.

We need Christ, and none of our good deeds have any merit apart from Him.  This is why immediately after Sirach tells us, "If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you," he goes on to say, "if you trust in God, you too shall live."  We need to do both.  We need to choose to do good and we need to choose to trust God.  Sirach spells it out quite plainly.  Before us are two options - water or fire, good or evil, life or death.  Whichever we choose will be given to us.  

But hold on a third time...  isn't this legalism?  Didn't Christ do away with the Old Testament notion that all we have to do is jump through God's moral hoops to get to heaven?  Again, no.  Christ did not come to do away with the old law.  He says as much today.  "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.  I have come not to abolish but to fulfill."  And then he speaks, like Sirach, of the importance of obeying the commandments.  

How does Christ fulfill the law?  He peels back the outer layer of the commandments and shows us the heart of the matter.  The commandment says do not kill.  Jesus says not to be angry with your brother.  The commandment says not to commit adultery.  Jesus says do not look at a woman with lust.  Jesus shows us that the commandments are not only about our actions, but our inward disposition.  Not killing someone is easy.  Not hating someone, not holding on to anger or bitterness -- that's hard.  Not having an extra-marital affair is easy.  Not harboring lustful thoughts is much, much harder.  Not breaking a solemn oath might be difficult at times, but it's a fairly simple matter.  Being truthful in every little thing you say is much more demanding.  Christ did not come to make our lives easier.  He came to make them better.

When I was in college, I had friends who were Wiccan.  They told me that their basic moral tenant was, "Do no harm."  That sounds good as far as it goes.  But Christianity goes beyond "do no harm," and tells us, "do good."  It tells us to be good.  Christ shows us what is at the heart of all the commandments - Love.  To keep the commandments in spirit as well as in deed means we must become loving people.

This is the choice we have to make.  Today's lesson is that it is possible to make that choice.  We can choose good.  Even when it is difficult; even when it feels like we are outcasts, with the world standing against us, we can choose the right thing.  Even when it feels like an unbearable burden to follow God's law, and all our habits and desires are pulling us in the direction of sin, we can make that choice.  We can still choose to do good.

We can make that choice, even in the most difficult of circumstances, because we know making the choice is only the first step.  The second is vital.  Choose to love.  And then trust in God.  

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

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Weekly Update from CCM

Dear Students,

Are you all ready for Snowmageddon?  The weather that is being forecast for this week may impact some of our events, so please keep an eye on our Facebook Group where any changes or cancellations will be announced.

Because of the predicted snow we are not planning anything formal this week.  As most of you live on campus within an easy walk of the Catholic Student Center, we are not really worried about road conditions, but sidewalks can still get slippery.  Just use your best judgment as to whether you can come in.  For those who will be here, we'll have pasta Alfredo at 6:30pm, followed by a game night.

Our small groups are going very well this semester, and continue to meet Monday on the 3rd floor of the UC, Tuesday in Balsam Lobby, and Thursday on the UC Balcony from 6:30 to 7:30pm.  If you haven't made it to one this semester please feel free to join one.  Each is ongoing, and there is no commitment - just come as you can.  Again, keep you eye on our Facebook Group for notices of any cancellations.  

They are calling for better weather this weekend, so our annual service experience is still on!  Those of you attending who have not yet paid your registration fee, please get that to me ASAP.  Plan on meeting at the Catholic Student Center at 3:00pm on Friday to depart.  

Mass this Sunday will be at 7:30pm.  As usual, we'll have the Rosary and Confession available 30 minutes before Mass.  Our Credo discussion after Mass this week will be about the sacrament of Baptism.  Bring any questions you have!  

We have been actively soliciting opinions about Sunday Mass times, specifically 7:30pm as it is now, or 4:00pm.  On Superbowl Sunday we had Mass at 4:00pm and many expressed a strong preference for that time afterward.  We have polled people on Facebook and at Mass as well as in individual conversations.  While there is a small minority that prefer the 7:30pm time, and a somewhat larger minority that have no strong preference either way, the great majority of people have expressed a preference for the 4:00pm time.

You have spoken, and we have listened.  Starting on March 16, which is the first Sunday back from Spring Break, we will begin having Mass at 4:00pm each Sunday.  We will still have the regular Sunday activities with Rosary and Confession 30 min before Mass and Credo afterward.  Please help us to spread the word about this change in the coming weeks.

Thank you, and please stay safe and warm this week as you go about your business on campus.  

Pax Christi,

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

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Gospel For Today - 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time

REMINDER:  We are back on our regular schedule this Sunday with Mass at 7:30pm.


Jesus tells us in today's gospel reading from Matthew 5:13-16 that we Christians are the light of the world.  He also tells us that our light should not be put under a bushel basket, but placed high on a lampstand.  "Your light must shine before others," our Lord says, "that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father."

There are two questions prompted by this.  What is the source of our light?  And how do we make sure we are not hiding it under a basket?

St. Paul gives us the answer to the first question.  The source of our light is Jesus Christ.  In our second reading today, from 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, St. Paul says, "For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified."  When Paul was letting his light shine among the Corinthians, he acknowledges that the light, and the good that it brought to the people there, was not from himself.  For himself, he writes, "I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling, and my message and my proclamation were not with persuasive words of wisdom.."  

How many of us can identify with that feeling?  How many of us are hesitant to talk to others about our faith because we feel unequipped to spread the gospel?  We don't feel like we have "persuasive words of wisdom" and so we don't try to evangelize at all.  St. Paul tells us today not to let that be an excuse.  When you realize that the light shining within you is not your light, but the light of Christ, then you know that it is not you who evangelizes but God who evangelizes through you.  St. Paul tells the Corinthians this so that they may know the message was not from him but from the Spirit; "so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God."

I heard a speaker once giving a presentation about Mary, the Mother of God.  He described Mary as shining with a light like the moon.  The moon shines brightly but does not generate any light on its own.  The moon shines brightly because it reflects the light of the sun.  And so Mary shines brightly, not with her own light, but by reflecting the light of her divine Son.  When Christ today tells us that we are the "light of the world" this is what He means.  The light He wants us to let shine before others is His light.  He is the Sun; we are called to be little moons, like Mary, reflecting His light and His glory.

So what about the second question? How do we avoid hiding our light under a bushel basket?  How do we make sure we put our light high on a lampstand for others to see?  Our first reading today gives us the answer.  From Isaiah 58:7-10:  "Thus says the Lord:  Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own.  Then your light shall break forth like the dawn..."

This is how we make sure our light is shining, casting forth into the world and dispelling the darkness.  We must perform good deeds.  And by performing good and loving deeds, we become good and loving people.  Our psalm response today tells us, "The just man is a light in darkness to the upright" (Ps 112:4a).  

Do we become just simply by performing good deeds?  If we share our bread with the hungry, if we clothe the naked and shelter the homeless, is that enough to make us good people?  Does that alone please God and glorify Him?  

The answer is no.  Not that alone.  We must perform good deeds.  We must be charitable.  We must be just.  But we can never forget that the light shining forth from us through these actions is not our own.  It is the light of Christ.  "The charity of Christ is the source in us of all our merits before God" (CCC 2011).  Our union with Christ is the only thing that gives our actions meaning and value.  

We may well ask, if we give bread to the starving man, what does he care if we are motivated by Christian charity or some other motive?  He is being fed either way.  And that is correct.  He may not, in fact, know our motive.  He only knows his belly is full.  But we must ask ourselves if our goal is to please others or to please God?  We may spend our lives feeding the hungry without Christ, and they will be fed.  But at the end of our life our deeds will merit us nothing.  We may find ourselves standing before God our Judge listing out all the good things we have done and discovering that there is nothing at all in our power that can earn God's favor.

Or, we can be like St. Theresa of Lisieux, who wrote that she did not want to work to attempt to build up merits before God.  "I want to work for your love alone," she wrote in her diary.  "In the evening of this life, I shall appear before you with empty hands, for I do not ask you, Lord, to count my works.  All our justice is blemished in your eyes.  I wish, then, to be clothed in your own justice and to receive from your love the eternal possession of yourself."

St. Theresa understood that the only way to let her light shine was to become a mirror of Christ's light. Her good deeds and just works then became not her own works, but the loving works of Christ.  In this way the smallest act on her part would become an act of God's love in the world.  In this way our smallest acts of charity have infinite value in eternity.

Let your light shine, Christ implores us.  Let them see your good deeds, that they may glorify your heavenly Father. Pray with me today that, like St. Paul, St. Therese, and all the saints, you may reflect the light of Christ perfectly in your own life, so that His light may shine ever brighter upon the world through your good deeds, performed in God's grace.

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

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Weekly Update from CCM

Greetings, students!

It's another week in the 'Whee and another great week in campus ministry.  Here's what Catholic Campus Ministry has offered for you this week.

Our Tuesday night small group is finally meeting!  Even though the past two weeks have been cancelled due to snowy weather, nothing is stopping them tonight, so come out to the Balsam Lobby at 6:30pm to participate in faith, fellowship, and scripture study.

Come to "Supper @ the Center" at 6:30pm.  Hunter is cooking for us and macaroni casserole is on the menu.  So it will be a comfort food sort of evening.  Anne Marie is leading up our program after dinner, and the topic is on being judgmental.  In what ways are we called to make judgments?  In what ways are we wrong to make judgments?  It should be a fruitful discussion, so please come join us.

Also this Wednesday is the CAT Fair in the UC Grand Room from 5-8pm.  Catholic Campus Ministry will have a table set up, so if you are going please stop by and say hi!

Our Thursday night small group is going strong, and welcomes you to join them.  Our Thursday night group meets on the UC balcony at 6:30pm.  (If the weather is bad, they will be inside the UC).

Also, Alex Cassel's knitting group is continuing to meet Thursday nights in her home at 8:00pm to knit items for charity.  Anyone who would like a ride or needs to carpool please meet Alex here at CCM between 7:30 and 7:45.  

This Friday Father Voitus will be on campus to offer a special First Friday Mass for us at 4:00pm.  We will have Adoration and Benediction immediately after Mass.  Please come if you can, it's a great way to start off the weekend.

We are offering a special Sacred Music Workshop this Saturday from 10:00am till about 2:30(ish) here at the Catholic Student Center.  This is not just for choir members.  Anyone with an interest in sacred music and the liturgy is welcome to join us.  We'll be talking about the liturgy of the Mass, its structure and parts, the role music plays in our worship, and what the Church has to say about liturgical music including the documents of Vatican II and the General Instruction of the Roman Missal.  If you appreciate good music in the liturgy, please come!  No cost, but I do ask you let me know if you'd like to come so I can get an idea of numbers.

We return to our regular Mass time this week at 7:30pm.  As always, come 30 minutes early for Rosary or for Confession.  After Mass, our Credo discussion group will talk about what it means to have a sacramental world-view.  If you have any questions on the sacraments, please bring them!  We look forward to the discussion.

(PS - many students have expressed a strong liking for the 4:00pm Mass time that we offered last week.  I'm interested in knowing what the general consensus is for a 4:00pm vs. 7:30pm Mass time preference, so I have set up a poll on our Facebook Group.  If you'd like to weigh in, please answer the poll.  I'm NOT saying the time will change based on the poll, but I AM interested in knowing people's preference).

Our Monday night small group has decided to change their location and will now be meeting on the 3rd floor of the UC, still at 6:30pm as usual.  Keep an eye on our Facebook Group for more announcements and updates.

Feb 14-16 is the Give Your Heart Away service weekend in Hickory.  Registration is closed for the event, however, if you have signed up to go and have not paid your registration fee yet, please bring that to me ASAP.

Rebecca gave a wonderful program on Christian service last Wednesday night.  Many have been asking about some of the resources she mentioned.  The Catholic Volunteer Network is online at:

I still have several copies of their Renew magazine here at the Catholic Student Center that gives volunteer service opportunities for 2014.  They list volunteer opportunities with Catholic agencies in the US and around the globe that last anywhere from a year, or a summer, or just a long weekend.  Many offer stipends towards college loans!  Please take a magazine with you the next time you are here, or check out their resources online.

God bless everyone, and have a great week!

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

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Gospel for Today - Presentation of the Lord

REMINDER:  Mass on campus this afternoon will be celebrated at 4:00pm.  Note the time change for this week only.  


We are very blessed this year that Feb. 2 falls on a Sunday.  Most years the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord passes without much notice, because it is not a holy day of obligation and so consequently most Catholics are not aware of its occurrence. But when it falls on a Sunday, it supersedes the Sunday celebration and we get to experience some things that are a bit out of the ordinary.  For example, the priest has the option of starting Mass outside of the church with a special blessing of candles.

This sort of unique custom is a reminder of just how rich Catholicism truly is.  Ours is a faith that is 2000 years old and it has roots that go back thousands of years before that in the Jewish religion.  It is not surprising that we have many ancient traditions.  This is a part of our heritage as Catholics.  This is a part of the rich tapestry of the Catholic faith.  And what is most fascinating about these traditions is that one only has to peel back a layer to glimpse the profound and beautiful truth that is expressed in these practices.

Today's feast commemorates the presentation of the Lord in the Temple by Mary and Joseph, forty days after His birth, in accordance with the Mosaic law.  From the gospel reading today: "When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord..." (Lk 2:22).

The ancient Jewish people considered a mother who had given birth to a male child to be unclean and so Mary is at the Temple to undergo ritual purification.  This involved making a sacrifice for sin and being prayed for by a priest.  For this reason this feast day has been called in the past the Purification of the Blessed Virgin.  In the East it was celebrated with a penitential emphasis, recalling this sacrifice in reparation for sin.  

The Armenian Catholics called the feast "The Coming of the Son of God into the Temple," highlighting the fact that this is the first time the Son of God enters into the House of God.  In the Western Church a different tradition has developed around the feast.  The custom arose of blessing candles on this day, and so the feast became known by the popular name of "Candlemas."

Why the association with candles?  Christ is called the light of the nations, and in the pre-electric era, candles were the primary source of light for most people.  Candles are also used on the altar at Mass, as well as in private devotional prayers, as a type of sacrifice.  Christ, of course, is the ultimate sacrifice.  He is the lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.  His all-sufficient sacrifice is precisely why we no longer are called to make animal sacrifices in reparation for our sins.

But we are still called, as a people of God, to make sacrifices.  For one, we are called to be Christ-like, and Christ sacrificed Himself for us.  And so we, too, are called to sacrifice ourselves for the good of others - sacrificing our time and talent, and if need be sacrificing our lives for our neighbors, or our faith.  We are also called to make sacrifices as reparation for our personal sins, to both demonstrate to God our contrition and also so that we may identify more perfectly with Christ's sacrifice for us.  This is why the priest assigns us a penance in the confessional, and why as we approach the Lenten season we will begin to think about what we will be "giving up" as a Lenten sacrifice.

Lighting candles has been seen as a form of minor sacrifice offered in prayer.  Candles represent an act of human labor - the work of our hands.  In pre-industrial days someone had to make the candle by hand.  The bees had to be cultivated and cared for.  The beeswax had to be collected, and then molded into the proper form.  If you did not make the candle yourself, you paid money to the one who did, and that money represented a sacrifice of your time and energy.  Either way, to burn the candle, to watch it disappear, is a small sacrifice of time and talent to God.  As the smoke from the candle wafts up into the sky, it symbolizes our prayers being lifted up to heaven.  And the light from the burning flame represents the light of Christ come into the world. 

This is why candles have always been used in prayer.  It was not just so the near-sighted monk could read his breviary in the darkened cell.  The very act of lighting a candle and allowing it to burn is a form of prayer and sacrifice.  Burning candles are just one small element of the rich tapestry of Catholic tradition.  The candle may inspire our eyes, but we also have incense to inspire our nose (the smoke from the incense rising to heaven is a form of prayer just like the smoke from a burning candle).  To inspire our ears there is the chant.

As the candles are being lit the faithful would hear this chant proclaimed.  Ecce Dominus noster cum virtute veniet, ut illuminet oculos servorum suorum, alleluia.  "Behold, our Lord will come with power to enlighten the eyes of His servants, alleluia."  

As the faithful proceed with their lighted candles into the church to begin Mass, they sing Lumen ad revelationem gentium, et gloriam plebis tuae Israel.  "A light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory of your people Israel."

And as Mass finally begins, they hear "Your merciful love, O God, we have received in the midst of your temple.  Your praise, O God, like your name, reaches the ends of the earth; your right hand is filled with saving justice."

These chants and antiphons inspire us and teach us about the faith.  The entrance chant for the Mass has us right there in the Temple in Jerusalem with the Christ-child.  We imagine ourselves in the gospel reading, in the Temple, watching and praying as Mary presents Jesus to the Lord and is ritually cleansed, as Simeon holds high the Son of God and offers praise to the Father.  Then from the Temple we go out and bring the good news of Christ to "the ends of the earth."  We become evangelizers.  We proclaim His name and His praise to all peoples, as we remember the lessons of Epiphany.  Christ is truly a "light of revelation to the Gentiles" and we must do our part to cast that light to all corners of the earth - even the one called Cullowhee!  

All of this is only how Mass begins.  This is what I mean when I say that every tiny aspect of our Catholic heritage is filled with layer upon layer of meaning. The candles, the incense, the music, the rituals and customs are all part of what makes our faith so solid and real.  God made us as beings with both a material body and a spiritual soul.  He communicates to us both through the senses of our bodies as well as in the inner chamber of our spirit.  It is only right, therefore, that we involve both body and spirit when we worship Him.  The rituals of the Catholic Church inspire our senses precisely to help us do that.  

This is one of the lessons we can take home from today's liturgy - that there is a lesson hidden in every aspect of our faith, every lighting of a candle, every psalm that is sung, every time we bend a knee.  This is a lesson we can incorporate into our lives as Catholic Christians.  

For those of you attending Mass tonight at WCU (or this morning at St. Mary's), you are invited to bring any candles you may want to use in your personal devotional prayers to be blessed by Father Voitus before Mass.  And let us remember each time we light a candle, to offer a silent prayer of praise to the One who is the light of the world.  

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