Friday, March 28, 2014

Gospel For Today - 4th Sunday of Lent

NOTE:  I am sending out this Sunday's gospel reflection early as I will be on retreat this weekend.  Reminder of our changed Mass time at 4:00pm.  See you there!


This Sunday we hear the gospel of Jesus healing the man born blind (Jn 9:1-41).  It is perhaps my favorite account of any of Jesus' healing miracles.  In case you are unfamiliar with the story, Jesus encounters a man who has been blind from birth.  There is some discussion among the disciples as to whether this man was born blind because of his sins, or because of the sins of his parents.  Jesus tells them that neither is true; he was born blind so that the works of God might be made visible through him.  It is then that Jesus performs his healing miracle and restores the man's sight.

This is where it gets interesting.  Jesus heals this man's eyes in a rather peculiar way.  First, Jesus spits on the ground.  Then, from the dirt and His saliva, He makes clay, or mud.  Then He smears that mud on the man's eyes with His fingers.  Finally, Jesus tells the man to go wash in the nearby pool of Siloam.  The man did as he was asked.  After he washed, his eyes were opened, and he could see.  

The reason this is my favorite of Jesus' healing miracles is because of the gritty physicality of it all.  Jesus heals the man's blindness, but He does so in a very hands-on, down-to-earth fashion.  It sounds more like something you might expect to find as a tribal folk remedy, rather than a method used by God Incarnate.  To cure blindness, make clay from soil mixed with human saliva; apply to eyes; then wash in water from the pool of Siloam.  Repeat as necessary.

As God Incarnate, why did Jesus have to anoint the man's eyes with dirt and spit?  Why did the man have to wash in the pool before the miracle took effect?  None of this was necessary for Jesus to heal him.  As God, all Christ had to do was to will the man's sight restored, and it would have been restored.  It would not have been necessary for Jesus to even touch the man.  There are, in fact, accounts of Jesus healing without being in physical contact with the person.  For example, Jesus brought the daughter of Jairus back from death without even seeing her (Mk 5:21-43).  So why when He healed the man born blind did our Lord have to use all this material stuff?

The answer is that He did not need to, of course.  Jesus chose to use physical matter to manifest His healing grace, because He deemed it good to do so.  And no doubt the use of physical matter is for our benefit more than His own.  All of this is very sacramental in nature; God manifesting His grace using elements of His own creation.

We must not lose sight of this essential fact.  Jesus Christ is God Incarnate, the Creator of "all things visible and invisible," as we profess in our creed.  He is the maker of the universe.  When He makes clay out of dirt and spit, we must remember that He made the dirt in the first place.  He made the pool of water the man washes in.  When He chooses to use material things to manifest His healing power, it is His matter He is using.  

And why should we not expect God to use elements of His own creation to communicate His grace to us?  God made us as creatures with a physical body as well as an immaterial, spiritual soul.  It makes sense that He would use matter from the physical world to communicate spiritual realities to us.  It's how He made us.  Jesus could have healed the blind man without so much as a blink of His eye.  But so that the man would know Who it was that healed Him, and understand the miracle and mercy, Jesus used the very earth and water He created, the saliva from His own mouth, and touched the man's eyes with His own hands.  We are matter and spirit, and so God comes to us in matter and in spirit.

The Sacraments Christ established in His Church operate in the same way.  Each of the Sacraments has a physical component: the waters of baptism, the oils used in confirmation and anointing of the sick, the laying on of hands of ordination, and most beautifully the bread and wine which become the Body and Blood of our Lord in the Eucharist.  In each of the Sacraments, God chooses to communicate His divine grace to us using elements of His physical creation.  Truly this is not for His benefit, but for ours.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that, "God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but He Himself is not bound by His sacraments" (CCC 1257).  This is true of baptism, and it is also true of the sacraments generally.  God made them for our good.

Let's just consider Baptism for a moment; the sacrament by which one is born again as a child of God, initiated into the Body of Christ, the portal into the Sacramental life.  Immediately after speaking of the necessity of baptism, the Catechism also speaks about ways in which the sanctifying grace of God might be made manifest apart from ordinary water baptism - it speaks of the baptism of blood, gained by the martyrs, and the baptism of desire.  "For catechumens who die before their Baptism, their explicit desire to receive it, together with repentance for their sins, and charity, assures them the salvation that they were not able to receive through the sacrament" (CCC 1259).

So if we can receive the graces of the Baptism simply by desiring the sacrament, why do we need the ritual?  Why do we need the water?  In his book, The Faith Explained, Fr. Leo Trese has this to say.

...I am sure that I have poured the water of baptism on the heads of many adults whose souls already were in the state of sanctifying grace.  They had already made acts of perfect love for God; they had already received the baptism of desire.  And yet in every such case, the convert has expressed his relief and joy at receiving, actually, the sacrament of Baptism.  Because, up to that moment he could not be sure that his sins were gone.  No matter how hard he might try to make an act of perfect love, he never could be sure that he had succeeded.  But when the saving water had flowed upon his head, he knew then with certainty that God had come to him.

This passage is not found in the chapter on Baptism, as one might expect, but rather in the chapter on "The Catholic Church."  For the Church, in addition to administering the Sacraments, is herself a Sacrament.  The Church, like us, is a citizen of two worlds, a union of the material and spiritual, the visible and invisible.  Our faith is a sacramental faith.  Ours is a spiritual faith of prayer and penance, of adoration and conversion.  We strive to inwardly conform ourselves to God's will.  But it is also a material faith of bells and incense, candles and stained glass, a faith that kneels and lays on hands, and sings praise.  It is a faith that feeds the hungry and clothes the naked.  It is physical and spiritual, because we are physical and spiritual.  It is sacramental.

And why should this surprise us?  Did not our God Himself become for us The Sacrament in the Incarnation?  When the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (Jn 1:4) the Second Person of the Trinity became the visible sign par excellence of the invisible reality of God.  The earthy grittiness of spit and mud is nothing compared to the very physical reality of Christ's Incarnation, His birth from the Blessed Mother's womb, His suckling at her breasts, and most especially His passion and death which we are soon to celebrate on Good Friday. 

We are privileged as Catholics to live in a world infused by God.  In Daniel 3:57-88 we read of all of God's creation blessing the Lord, from mountains and hills, seas and rivers, dolphins, birds, beasts, lightning and clouds.  Today in our gospel reading we see that even spittle and dirt offer their praises to the Creator.  Let all the earth proclaim the glory of God!  You and I, as citizens of both the material and spiritual realms, have the unique privilege of glorifying God in our bodies and our spirits.  Let us never cease to find joy in that blessed calling.

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

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Weekly Update from CCM

The Annunciation, by Bicci di Lorenzo (1373–1452)
Good morning, Students!  A Blessed Day to all of you!  Today we are privileged to celebrate the great Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord.  March 25 (exactly nine months before Christmas) is the day we recall the archangel Gabriel's appearance to Mary, communicating God's request that she might bear His Son, and Mary's fiat to God ("may it be done to me according to your word"), allowing for the Incarnation.  It is a great feasting day, a "day off" from the Lenten fast.  Today at Mass the Church is dressed in festal white, not penitential purple.  We sing the Gloria.  We celebrate the arrival of the Second Person of the Trinity into His Creation.

To learn more about the Annunciation, and how it announces the greatest of Christian mysteries, the Incarnation, and what that means for us, I encourage you to read this article by Deacon Mike Bickerstaff, "When All Creation Held its Breath."

Today we will have Eucharistic Adoration in the chapel from noon till 12:30.  We will begin, as usual, by praying the Angelus prayer at noon.  Very fitting for this day!

Father is offering a special Mass at St. Mary's this evening at 6:00pm.  Several of our students have been making a 33 day preparation for total consecration to Mary, which will culminate in their consecration at the parish this evening at 5:30.  Please come join us to celebrate and rejoice with them.  Then stay for the Mass for the Solemnity of the Annunciation.

Join us for "Supper @ the Center" at 6:30 Wednesday evening.  We will have a special guest joining us this week.  Batrice Adcock is the Natural Family Planning (NFP) educator for our Diocese.  She will speak with us after dinner about the Theology of the Body and about NFP.  This is great "vocational preparation" for the vocation of marriage, something which most of you are being called to.  So don't miss it!

I have a meeting in Highlands on Thursday morning, so there likely will be no Adoration this Thursday (see Facebook if that changes).  Our Knitting group continues to meet on Thursday evenings at Alex Cassell's house from 8:00-9:30.  If you know how to knit or crochet, or would like to learn, come out to make blankets and baby hats to donate to the Pregnancy Care Center and the hospital.  If you need a ride from campus, please contact Alex at or via Facebook.  

This weekend is our Spring Lake House Retreat.  If you signed up but have not paid your registration fee yet, please contact me ASAP.  Everyone signed up for the retreat should have received an email from me last week with info.  We will be leaving from the CCM house on Friday afternoon around 5:00pm, and returning to campus Sunday around 2:00pm.  I look forward to a great retreat with everyone!

Please note our new and permanent Mass time is now 4:00pm.  Help spread the word!  Father is available to hear confessions at 3:30.  After Mass, at Credo, our topic for discussion will be the Sacrament of Matrimony.  We'll talk about what the Church teaches about marriage, and the Rite of Marriage itself.  It should be a wonderful talk and I encourage all of you to attend.  Most of us will be living this vocation at some point in our lives; formation for the vocation of marriage is an essential part of Catholic life.  Come with questions!

If you are graduating this May and wish to participate in a Baccalaureate Mass, please email me your name, which Commencement Ceremony you will be participating in, and (approximately) how many family and friends you think might come to a Baccalaureate Mass.  Thanks!

The Angelic Warfare Confraternity is a supernatural fellowship of men and women bound to one another in love and dedicated to promoting chastity together under the patronage of St. Tomas Aquinas and the Blessed Virgin Mary.  We have some students on campus interested in becoming enrolled in this Confraternity, and Father Voitus has recently received permission from the Dominican Order to perform the enrollment ceremony.  We'd like to see if there is more interest.  Therefore I encourage you to take a look at this web site and pray about whether this is something that would be of spiritual benefit for you.

Until next week!
God bless,

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

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Gospel For Today - 3rd Sunday of Lent


Today we witness the encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well (Jn 4:5-42).  Or perhaps it is better to say we witness her encounter with Christ.  This woman of Samaria comes to the well to draw water.  There she meets Jesus who asks her to give Him a drink.  She is taken aback because she recognizes Jesus as a Jew, and Jews and Samaritans have nothing to do with one another (especially in matters regarding food and drink).  Plus, it was considered unseemly at the time for men to converse with women in public.  Nevertheless, Jesus continues to speak with her, and offers her "living water."  Jesus explains that this water is different from the water in the well: "Whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

When she asks Jesus for this water, Christ asks her to call her husband.  She replies that she has none.  Jesus then astonishes her by revealing that He knows that she has had five husbands and the man she is with now is not her husband.  Identifying Jesus now as a prophet, she asks Him whether God should be worshiped on Mount Gerizim as the Samaritans do, or in Jerusalem as the Jewish people do.  Jesus tells her of a day that is coming when God will be worshiped "in spirit and truth."  The woman then asks about the coming Messiah and Jesus replies, "I am He, the one speaking with you."

When the disciples arrive on the scene and are scandalized to see their teacher conversing with a woman, she returns to her town "leaving her water jar" and begins to tell everyone, "Come see a man who told me everything I have done.  Could He possibly be the Christ?"  The gospel tells us, "Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in Him, because of the word of the woman who testified."  They invited Jesus to stay with them, and after two days said, "We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world."

This is a story of evangelization.  The entire community begins to believe in Christ through the testimony of one person who had an encounter with Him.  They then seek to know Jesus better for themselves, and once they do so, they no longer believe merely on the testimony of another, but because of their own relationship with God through His Son.  Such is the Christian life; we are invited to come to Christ first through the witnessing of others, but eventually our faith must be founded in that personal relationship that is built by spending time with the Lord.

At the heart of this story is that initial, direct, and personal encounter that the woman had with Jesus.  And so we should ask, who is the Samaritan woman?  There are two ways we can answer this question.

From the point of view of the Jewish people, the Samaritan woman is very much on the unsavory fringe of society.  Firstly she is a woman, and as I mentioned above, it was considered rather unseemly for a man to be openly conversing with a woman in public at this time.  The gospel tells us that when the disciples discover Jesus at the well, "They marveled that He was talking with a woman" (Jn 4:27).

But even more striking, she is a Samaritan.  By this time there had been centuries of animosity between the Jewish people and the Samaritans.  Eight hundred years earlier, the Assyrians had invaded northern Palestine and forcibly removed the majority of the Israelites who lived there (see 2 Kings chapter 17).  But some remained, who intermarried with the invading tribes and assimilated many of their pagan practices.  These were the Samaritans.  Their faith was a mixture of Israelite and pagan religion.  

It is interesting to note that the five foreign tribes who intermarried with the Samaritan people introduced five foreign deities into the Samaritan religion.  These were known as Baal, which means "lord" or "husband."  So when Jesus tells the woman, "you have had five husbands, and the one you are with now is not your husband," in a way He is addressing the situation of all of the Samaritans, who have been unfaithful to God, Israel's covenant spouse, by worshiping these five false idols.

But more importantly, at least to her, Jesus speaks directly to her situation.  She has endured much struggle and hardship in her attempts at marriage.  She has not been pursuing the good of marriage in a correct and holy way.  Her life is conflicted and unsettled and not at ease.  Jesus sees this immediately and identifies the reality of her sins.  Nothing is hidden from Him.

The Samaritan woman is you.  That is to say, she is all of us -- a sinner in need of repentance and forgiveness who may not even realize it until we have an encounter with the Truth.  We go about our daily lives, doing what we need to do, perhaps without much thought, much purpose, or much joy.  The Samaritan woman was making a routine trip to the well to bring in water; daily drudgery.  We, too, follow the same routine day after day for the most part.  We go to class, we go to work, we check our Facebook or our email, we sit at the same table in the cafeteria for lunch.  Not that routine itself is bad -- routine can be good.  Monastic life is the epitome of routine, but it is routine crafted from holy discipline.  Routine without intention and without purpose is more existence than life.  That sort of daily drudgery can be mind numbing.

And then one day we meet Him.  We are not looking for it or expecting it, but we have an encounter with the Truth.  Perhaps it happens in a conversation with a classmate, or a friend, a professor, or campus minister.  Perhaps we meet Him in an article that shows up on our Facebook newsfeed.  Perhaps we meet Him at Mass, or at a Bible study.  We might not have even been looking for Him, but we look up one day, like the woman at the well, and discover that the Truth has found us.  Like the bright sun that reveals how dirty your car's windshield actually is, the light of Truth illuminates our failings.  "Of course you are unhappy," He tells us.  "You have been living with sin."  And He identifies for us, clearly, what those sins are.  But rather than feel condemned, we feel relieved.  We have been ill, and now finally we have a diagnosis and a prescription.  For the same One who shows us our sins offers us living water.  If we take this water, we know we will never thirst again, for this water is mercy and forgiveness.

When the Samaritan woman meets Jesus, and realizes who He is, she leaves her water jar at the well when she runs to tell others.  St. Augustine sees in her water jar the desires of those who seek to find pleasure in the dark wells of this world.  Drinking from these wells will always leave us thirsting for more.  The Samaritan woman had found living water that would never leave her thirsting, and so she left her jar behind.  Seeking happiness in the things of this world will always leave us wanting, because the things of this world - even the good things, but especially the bad - are finite and imperfect.  Our souls were made for a perfect and eternal happiness, and so we will only be happy when we fall in love with He who is perfect and eternal.  Other things may bring us a measure of temporary happiness, but will eventually leave us feeling empty.  As St. Augustine said in his Confessions, "My heart is restless, O Lord, until it rests in Thee."

When Christ comes to us and reveals to us our sins, let us pray that we, too, would have the courage and conviction to leave our dark desires behind, that we may drink deeply from that spring of water which wells up to eternal life.  Only then will we be healed.  Only that way will our hearts be at rest.

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

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Weekly Update from CCM

Greetings, students!  I hope all of you had a wonderful spring break.  We now enter into the last half of the semester.  If you haven't been to one of our events in a while, we encourage you to come on out.  Here is this week's schedule.

Eucharistic Adoration in the chapel from noon to 12:30.

Come to Supper @ the Center!  Alex Bogart and Brian Murray are grilling up some burgers and dogs for us (there will be veggie options, as well).  Time for a little pre-taste of spring!  We will have a special guest with us this week - a student from the University of Georgia who is both active in the Catholic Campus Ministry there and also very active in her sorority.  After dinner she will be giving a talk on "Being Greek and Staying Catholic."  It should be a great discussion, especially for any of you involved in a fraternity or sorority.  Please come out and join us!  Dinner is served at 6:30pm with the talk beginning around 7:30.

Also this Wednesday is the Solemnity of St. Joseph, patron of the Universal Church.  As a solemnity, it is a feast day (and one of the few days in Lent when we sing the Gloria at Mass).  So if you've given up something for Lent, feel free to indulge a little this Wednesday in honor of St. Joseph.  (Learn more about him by clicking here).

I will be at a Vicariate meeting this Thursday and away from campus from approximately 11:30 until 2pm, so I will not be able to set up for Adoration, as usual.  If anything changes and we are able to offer Adoration, I'll post it on Facebook

Remember, all Fridays in Lent are days of abstinence.  So "No meat for you!"  But fish is ok to eat - and here is an interesting blog post as to why.

There is an Open House on campus this Saturday, with a student organization fair in the UC Grand Room from 1-3pm.  If you can help man an info table for CCM during those two hours, please let me know.

Our new Mass time is at 4:00pm on Sunday.  Please help us spread the word.  Come 30 minutes early for Confession or to pray the Rosary with us.  After Mass, our Credo discussion this week will be on the sacrament of Holy Orders.  Fr. Voitus has a great presentation prepared for us, which you don't want to miss.  

Participating in a small scripture study group is a great way to add a bit of extra prayer to your routine during Lent.  If you have not participated in one this semester, now is a great time to give it a go.   We have student-led small groups meeting Monday, Tuesday and Thursday at 6:30pm at the following locations.
MONDAY - 3rd floor UC
TUESDAY - Balsam lobby
THURSDAY - UC balcony

Our Spring Lake House Retreat is scheduled for March 28-30.  As of now, we are full, but if we have any cancellations I will post it on our Facebook group.  If you wish to be added to a wait list, please let me know.  For those who have registered, please bring your registration money ($20) to me by the end of this week to confirm your registration.  Thanks!

The annual Bishop's Lenten pilgrimage is scheduled for Saturday, April 5, at Belmont Abbey College.  To view a schedule of activities and registration information, click here.

I pray that each of you is having a holy and spirit-filled Lenten season, and that you are each striving to grow closer to God through whatever personal disciplines, devotions and sacrifices you are making to mark this penitential and holy season.

Remember that Lent is a time of penance.  We had a wonderful Credo discussion after Mass this past Sunday on the sacrament of Reconciliation, aka Confession.  Fr. Voitus made the comment that he recommends people take advantage of this sacrament at least once per month.  Remember that while it is necessary that we confess our mortal sins, it is a good practice to confess even our venial sins.  If you do not think you have anything to confess, it is helpful to think of the examples of people such as Mother Theresa, John Paul II, and our current Holy Father Pope Francis, each of whom confess weekly.  

If you are having trouble identifying your sins, it's a good bet it is not because you are completely sinless!  We all fall short of God's ideal of perfection for us, but God wants to help us grow in perfection, and has given us this sacrament to help us along that path.  We need to learn to identify our sins so that we can be aware of them, repent of them, confess them, and with God's grace avoid them in the future.  To that end, a good examination of conscience is a great tool.  Here are a few designed especially with college students in mind:

So once you have made a good examination of conscience and want to make a good confession, then what? How do you find Father?  Do you need to make an appointment?  You can if you choose to, but it is not necessary.  Father Voitus is here early for Mass every Sunday and has set aside the 30 minutes before Mass specifically to hear students' confessions.  He's also more than happy to hear confessions after Mass if there is not enough time before Mass.  Just ask!  He also has regular confession time scheduled at St. Mary's on Saturday afternoons from 6-7pm.  Remember, it is NEVER an inconvenience to a priest to be asked to hear a confession.  This is his vocation, to reconcile souls to God.  So be not afraid!

And if it has been a while, don't let that stop you.  Just let the priest know approximately how long it has been and if you don't remember exactly what you are supposed to do, he'll help walk you through it.  The priest, as God's ordained minister standing the person of Christ, is never going to condemn you for being away from the confessional for so long - instead he will rejoice like the Father in the story of the Prodigal Son, that "my son was lost and now is found!" (Lk 15:11-32).

May God bless you in this Lenten season!
Pax Christi,

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

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Gospel For Today - 2nd Sunday of Lent

REMINDER:  This Sunday we begin our new Mass time at 4:00pm!  


In today's Gospel reading from Matthew 17:1-9, we hear the story of the Transfiguration.  Jesus leads Peter, James and John to a mountaintop where he appears with Moses and Elijah.  During that time Jesus' face is said to shine brilliantly "like the sun" and His clothes "white as light."  It ends with the voice of the Father proclaiming, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.  Listen to Him."  After it is all over, Jesus tells the three of them not to tell anyone what they just witnessed until after the Son of Man is raised from the dead.

When we read about the Transfiguration of Christ we are often reminded that Moses represents the law and Elijah the prophets, and in Christ we find the fulfillment of the law and prophets.  This is certainly true.  Moses and Elijah were the only two prophets who heard the voice of God directly - and both atop mountains, just as the Transfiguration now occurs atop a mountain with the voice of God the Father once more being heard.  Moreover, Moses predicted in Deuteronomy 18:15 that "the Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me," and "him you shall heed."  

What does Moses mean by "a prophet like me?"  What makes Moses unique?  We are told at the end of Deuteronomy, the last book of Moses, "there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face" (Dt 34:10).  Jesus is the prophet Moses predicted.  Like Moses, God knows Him "face to face," but their relationship goes even beyond that.  As John proclaims, "The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known" (Jn 1:17-18).

And so the Transfiguration is a momentous occurrence, giving testimony to the fact that Jesus is the one predicted throughout all the Old Testament scriptures.  Not only is Jesus the Messiah, the one that Israel has been awaiting.  His divinity has been revealed -- He is the Son of God.  But why reveal this truth to Peter, James and John at this time?  And why the strange command not to tell anyone else until "the Son of Man is raised from the dead?"  

Let us look at the series of events immediately leading up to the Transfiguration.  Only a week before, Jesus had asked his disciples, "Who do you say that I am?"  Some were saying that Jesus was the prophet Elijah returned to them, or one of the other prophets, but Peter nailed it in one when he said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God."  It was then that Jesus changed the name of Simon, the fisherman, to Peter, the rock on whom He would build His Church (Mt 16:13-20).

So Peter, even before the Transfiguration, had already proclaimed Jesus to be the Christ and the Son of God.  It is interesting to note that here, too, Jesus told the disciples not to tell anyone yet that He was the Christ (Mt 16:20).  It was at this time that Jesus started to tell them about the sufferings that He would have to undergo in Jerusalem, that He would be persecuted, that He would be killed, but also that He would be raised from the dead.  Peter objected greatly to this, saying, "Lord, this shall never happen to you" (Mt 16:21-22).  Jesus then told them that not only would He have to suffer and die, but that if they would truly be His disciples, they would have to take up their own crosses and follow Him.  "For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Mt 16:24-25).  

And so we see that immediately after Jesus is proclaimed as the long awaited Messiah, He begins predicting His own suffering, death and resurrection - and tells His followers that they, too, must follow Him in this.  Why start speaking of suffering right after His divinity is revealed?  Pope Benedict XVI has said, "Jesus' divinity belongs with the Cross -- only when we put the two together do we recognize Jesus correctly" (Jesus of Nazarth, v. 1).   But the Apostles at this time could not have known what we know now.  They had not yet witnessed the events of Holy Week.  Pentecost was still in the future.  Put yourself in Peter's shoes at this time.  You have proclaimed this man, Jesus, as the Christ.  You have come to believe in Him and to trust in Him.  All of your hope and the hope of Israel is on His shoulders.  And now He is telling you that He will soon have to die, and you, too, must die with Him.  He promises resurrection.  But is it any wonder Peter says, "God, forbid, Lord!  This shall never happen to you!"

It is after six days of this that Peter, James and John are led to the mountaintop by Jesus to witness His Transfiguration.  They see Christ in all His glory.  And they hear directly the voice of God saying, "This is my beloved Son... listen to Him."  The Transfiguration not only revealed God's glory in Christ, but it also served to strengthen the faith of the Apostles, to prepare them for the trials that were to come.  This is why Jesus told them not to tell anyone what they had seen until after He had risen from the dead.  Seeing God's glory and hearing His voice directly reassured them that they could, and should follow Jesus wherever He led them - even if He was leading them to the cross.

The Church gives us today the vision of the Transfiguration for the same reason.  Lent is a time of preparation and anticipation.  We, too, need to be strengthened before the events of Holy Week.  If we are to walk with Jesus into Jerusalem, and to see Him suffer and die there, we must also have faith in the resurrection.  We need to hear God's voice, assuring us that "This is my Son - listen to Him."  We need to listen to Mary, His devoted mother, saying, "Do whatever He tells you" (Jn 2:5).  Like Peter, James, John and the other Apostles, we need to be prepared to follow wherever He leads us, even if He leads us to the cross.  This is what it means to be a disciple.  This is what it means to be a follower of Christ.  It does not mean living a life free of pain and suffering.  It means living a life where you know your suffering has meaning, because of the One who suffers with you.  It means in the midst of trials, still being able to say, "Lord, it is good that we are here" (Mt 17:4).  

St. Paul tells us today to "bear your share of hardship for the gospel, with the strength that comes from God" (1 Tim 1:8).  Being a follower of Christ is not easy.  Like anything worth doing, there will be trials and hardships.  Whether you are dieting to lose weight, exercising and training to excel at a sport, or studying to ace an exam, it requires suffering and endurance on your part to persevere.  But you do it because the goal is worth it.  The Christian life is no different.  We should not expect it to be easy, but the goal is worth it.  

We can expect hardship.  Jesus tells us that plainly.  You want to follow Him?  Then here, pick up your cross and head to Calvary.  Because that's where He is going.  But the goal is worth it.  The same Jesus tells us, "Rise, and do not be afraid."  And so, like Peter and the others, we may not fully understand what trials the Lord has in store for the time ahead of us.  Yet we can, like Paul, have faith that we will be able to endure our share of hardship.  And we can, like Peter, continue to say, "It is good, Lord, to be here."

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

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Gospel For Today: 1st Sunday of Lent

REMINDER:  No Mass on campus this evening, due to Spring Break.  Next Sunday (March 16) we will begin our NEW MASS TIME at 4:00pm.

click here for readings

In today's gospel reading (Mt 4:1-11), Jesus does something interesting.  He fasts for forty days and forty nights.  The Church gives us this reading of Jesus fasting in the desert at the beginning of Lent, when we as a Christian people begin our own forty day fast.  But have you ever wondered why Jesus was fasting at all?

Perhaps we should start by asking why we fast.  Whenever the Catechism speaks of fasting, it is always in the context of penance (CCC 1434, 1438, 2043).  So what is penance?  Again, if we look up the definition in the Catechism we learn penance is "a conversion of the heart toward God and away from sin, which implies the intention to change one's life because of hope in divine mercy" (1431).

So it is good and necessary for us to fast, to help us change our life and turn our hearts away from sin and toward God.  But the question remains: why did Jesus fast?  Jesus is the sinless One.  Jesus is the Son of God, the divine Second Person of the Holy Trinity.  He is the Incarnate Word.  He is Lord.  Jesus certainly did not need to turn his heart away from sin and toward God, because His heart remained united with God always.  Yet Jesus began His public ministry by retreating into the desert and fasting for forty days.

Immediately before this passage in Matthew's gospel we read of Jesus' baptism.  We could ask the same thing about this.  We are baptized for the remission of sin.  So why was Jesus baptized?  John the Baptist had a similar question.  He told Jesus, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?"  But Jesus told him, "It is fitting to fulfill all righteousness" (Mt 3:14-15).  Jesus was baptized not for the forgiveness of His sins, but to bless the waters of baptism for the forgiveness of our sins.

Likewise Jesus fasted not as penance for His sins (which were none), but as penance for our sins.  This is the purpose for which the Son of God came into the world; to take the sins of all mankind on His own shoulders and bear the burden we cannot bear, pay the price we cannot pay, and so open the door of reconciliation and lead us back to God our Father.  

Man has lived under the oppressive burden of sin since the beginning, when Satan first slithered his way into the Garden and Adam and Eve succumbed to temptation.  We are reminded of this story in our first reading at Mass today (Gen 3:1-7).  What Satan temps Adam and Eve with in the Genesis account sounds pretty good to us.  He tempts them with knowledge.  Knowledge is good thing, right?  What is wrong with wanting knowledge?  In and of itself, nothing.  Except that the manner Satan tempts them to gain that knowledge requires disobedience to God.

Satan is also there with Christ in the desert, tempting our Lord.  Look what Satan temps Jesus with, as He is fasting for our sins:  bodily comforts and pleasure.  Jesus is hungry after a forty day fast, and so Satan tempts Him to use His power to turn stones into bread.  What is wrong with eating bread, we may ask?  Nothing at all.  Satan tempts Jesus with all the kingdoms of the world.  What is wrong with that, we may ask?  Don't all of us desire power and influence, affirmation, comfort, and the like?

Just like he did in the Garden of Eden, Satan tempts Christ with things that appear to be good.  But there is always a catch.  In this case, Satan was attempting to distract Jesus from His mission of fulfilling God's will by suffering for our sins, thus reconciling man with God.  Sin is like this for us.  It always appears to be good, and often even has good aspects.  After all, if there were nothing good about our sins, they would not tempt us.  Food is good, but gluttony is a sin. Sex is good, but lust is a sin.  Wine is good (Jesus enjoyed it!), but drunkenness is a sin.  Every sin has an element of good, and that is what attracts us.  But sin also requires us to turn away from God; to use and enjoy that good in a manner that is contrary to His will and His love.  Sin turns the focus on ourselves and away from God.

Adam and Eve succumbed to this temptation.  But Jesus did not.  He resisted, and like Christ we, too, can resist and say, "Begone, Satan!" when tempted by our own devils.  Our Lenten fast is designed to strengthen us and prepare us to resist sin.  We give up things that are good, things we enjoy, to remind ourselves that God is the ultimate good and no lesser good is worth losing Him.  If we can voluntarily detach ourselves from personal pleasures, it makes it much easier for us to resist the temptations we will face to indulge in pleasure contrary to God's will.

The Church no longer requires us to keep a strict Lenten fast as it did generations ago.  Our fasting in this age is voluntary.  But if we desire to be disciples of Christ, if we desire to follow Him into the desert this Lent, we will find ways to fast in our lives.  We will find ways to practice detachment, and so prepare ourselves, like Christ, to be victorious over Satan and his temptations.

May this Lent strengthen you and encourage you, and draw you closer to God through Christ.

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

Thursday, March 6, 2014

I ate meat on Friday... am I going to Hell?!

Lent is here, and along with it meatless Fridays (and Ash Wednesday, which is now behind us).  Some of you may no doubt be wondering if eating meat on a Friday is really such a big deal.  If you slip up and have a ham sandwich, is that really a sin?  The answer is maybe yes and maybe no.

First of all, we need to acknowledge that there is nothing objectively sinful about eating meat, or eating meat on a particular day.  In other words, the act of eating meat in and of itself is not wrong, and not enough to get your soul into any trouble with the Almighty.

Abstaining from meat on Fridays is not a moral teaching of the Catholic Church, on par with not using contraception, not committing adultery, or coveting your neighbor's possessions.  Abstaining from meat on Fridays is a discipline set in place by the Catholic Church for the spiritual good of the faithful. It is a discipline which the Church can (and has) changed depending on the needs of the particular time and place.

So if you eat meat on a Friday the sinful thing is not the eating of the meat itself, but the disobedience to what the Church is asking us to do as a matter of discipline.

Let's imagine three different circumstances.  In the first instance, you  know the Church says Catholics should not eat meat on Fridays during Lent but you don't really care.  You fail to see why it's such a big deal, and don't see any need to change your normal Friday cheeseburger habit simply because the Church says it's a penitential season, that Christ died on a Friday, or whatever other nonsense the Church goes on about.  You are going to do what you want to do and eat what you want to eat.  So there!

Is this a sin?  Yes, it is; and a serious one.  But the sin is not in the eating of meat; it is in the total disobedience to the Church and disrespect for her authority to guide, govern and teach us in the ways of holiness.

Now let's imagine a second scenario.  Again, you know that the Church expects Catholics to abstain from meat on Fridays and you want to obey the Church in this and respect the discipline.  But as you are getting ready for bed it suddenly dawns on you that today is Friday and you totally had a cheeseburger for lunch and didn't even think about it.  It was not your intention to disobey the Church, you just forgot all about it.  Is this a sin?  Probably a small one, yes.  The sin is not as serious as willfully disobeying the Church.  This smaller sin is one of neglect.  Part of the reason why the Church asks us to mark Fridays by refraining from eating meat is to remember that on this day Christ died for our sins, and therefore it is good for us to keep it as a day of penance.  If we forget what day it is, or that we are expected to do penance on this day, then we have become too distracted by other things and need to strive to keep God in first place in our lives.

In the third scenario you are aware of the Church's discipline of abstaining from meat, you know it's Friday, and you are all set to do without meat and keep Friday as a day of penance.  You go to Taco-Bell for lunch and order a plain bean burrito.  You take your first bite and think to yourself how especially yummy these beans taste... then you realize, this is beef!  They gave you the wrong order!  Have you sinned by eating meat on Friday?  No, you have not.  It was not your intent to disobey the Church by eating meat.  Sin requires active engagement of your will.  You cannot accidentally sin.  Now, if you decide at this point that you don't really care and keep eating your beef burrito, that's another matter.  But eating meat by accident is not sinful.

And before I close, a little FYI...  Did you know that every Friday during the year is a day of penance, not just during Lent?  According to the Code of Canon Law (which is binding on all Catholics), "Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity fall on a Friday" (Can. 1251).  Here in the United States, our bishops' conference has determined that outside of Lent, Catholics are allowed to substitute some other form of penance in place of abstaining from meat if they desire - but you still have to do something as a penance on a Friday.  You are not off the hook!  During Lent, it's not an option, and you have to give up meat on Fridays (and Ash Wednesday).

Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are also days of fasting, but that's another post!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Weekly Update from CCM

Dear Students,

Happy Fat Tuesday!  Or, as it is traditionally know, "Shrove Tuesday."  Today is a day of festivities and celebration before we begin the penitential season of Lent tomorrow with Ash Wednesday.  Lent is a season of fasting and abstinence, but the particular fasting disciplines set by the Church have changed over time.  It used to be that Catholics were required to abstain from meat throughout Lent, as well as products derived from meat (eggs, dairy, fat, etc).  Both to celebrate before the fast and to use up any foods that would not keep until Easter, the days preceding Ash Wednesday were used to cook and serve cakes and bread and other such treats so that the eggs and dairy would not go to waste.  If you'd like to learn more about Fat Tuesday, check out this brief article by Fr. William Saunders: "Shrove Tuesday and Shrovetide."  

More about Ash Wednesday and Lent at the end of this email, after our schedule update.

Eucharistic Adoration today in the chapel from noon to 12:30.

This Wednesday is, of course, Ash Wednesday.  We will have a Liturgy of the Word with distribution of blessed Ashes in our campus chapel at 12:30pm.  All are welcome.  Receiving ashes on your forehead at Ash Wednesday is not a sacrament, but a sacramental - something meant to remind us of our own mortality and help us to prepare our souls by repenting of anything sinful in our lives.  Therefore even non-Catholics and Catholics who have been away from the practice of the faith for a while are invited to come and receive the blessed ashes.

St. Mary's will also have three Ash Wednesday Masses:  In English at 9:00am and 6:00pm and in Spanish at 8:00pm.  If you are planning on driving to one of these Masses and would like to offer rides, please post on our Facebook Group

We will have our regular Wednesday night meal at 6:30pm.  This week will be a simple fish supper in keeping with the Lenten season.  After dinner, we will have a special program led by Kat and Rebecca about the three hallmarks of Lent: fasting, prayer and almsgiving.  Please join us!

Eucharistic Adoration in the chapel from noon to 12:30.

There will be NO MASS on campus this Sunday, due to spring break.  For those remaining on campus over break, Sunday Masses at St. Mary's are at 9:00am and 11:00am.  Please post on Facebook if you need a ride.

REMINDER:  When we return from break, Mass on Sunday, March 16, will be at 4:00pm.  This will be our usual Mass time for the remainder of the semester.

SPRING RETREAT - March 27-29
We are busy planning our spring retreat for this year!  Our retreat will be the last weekend in March (from Friday evening, March 27, through Sunday March 29).  Our retreat will be at the Lake House once more, and will include plenty of free time for canoeing and relaxation as well as prayers, moving peer talks, discussions and reflection.  If you'd like to join us, the fee is $20 and the registration form is online.  Just click here to register.  Space is limited so sign up now!

Bishop Jugis' annual Lenten pilgrimage is scheduled for Saturday, April 5, at Belmont Abbey, and college students from across the Diocese are invited to join him.  For a schedule and registration information, please see:

Lent is that 40 day period before Easter (not counting Sundays) that is marked, as I said above, by prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  It is a penitential season meant to assist us in preparing ourselves to meet the Lord (both in the joyful Easter season, as well as at the end of our own lives) by repenting of our sins, purifying our spirits, and drawing closer to Him in holiness.

The Church gives us many tools to help us along this path, one of which is the discipline of fasting and abstinence.  While the doctrinal teachings of the Church cannot change (though they can develop and be clarified), Church discipline can and does change, at the prudence of the Church, to meet the needs of a given time and place.  As I said before, the Lenten fast used to mean abstaining from meat and all meat products.  These days, it is much less restrictive, though it remains something that we should take seriously.

The official guidelines for fasting and abstinence during Lent can be found on the US Bishop's web site, here.  In short, if you are between the ages of 18 and 59, you are required to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.  Fasting means that you are allowed only one full meal during the day.  You are also permitted two smaller meals (think of them as snacks) that together do not add up to one meal.  These are if needed to maintain strength and health.  For example, someone who works a physically demanding job and needs to maintain caloric intake to avoid passing out.  Or someone who is a diabetic and needs to keep sugar levels regulated.  Use common sense, in other words.  Someone who spends all day sitting a desk and is otherwise in good health can fast more strictly than a diabetic physical trainer.  Liquids, such as water, do not break the fast, nor does medication.

Ash Wednesday and all Fridays during Lent are also days of abstinence from meat.  This means no flesh meat.  Fish is considered permissible, as are broths made from meat.  

In addition to these fasting rules, Catholics are encouraged to "give up" something else during Lent.  What to abstain from is a personal decision, but it should be something good you are giving up, in order to truly be a sacrifice.  The point of the exercise is to both increase discipline and also to make an offering to the Lord.  Giving up swearing, for example, or gossip, or some other vice is a good thing, but it's not really in the spirit of the Lenten fast.  You should not do those things because they are bad to do, regardless of the season.  For Lent, we are asked to give up something that is good, that we enjoy, as a way of detaching ourselves from the things of this world that are passing away - even the good things - and to remind ourselves to rely on God, who is the source of all goodness and who will never pass away.

For more information on the Lenten practice of fasting and abstinence, I invite you to read this article by Deacon Mike Bickerstaff, "Why Do Catholics Practice Fast and Abstinence?"  I'll also be posting more helpful information relating to fasting, prayer, and almsgiving on our Facebook page throughout the Lenten Season.  Remember, fasting is just one aspect of Lent.  We are also encouraged to ramp up our prayer life as well as our charity to those in need!

Everyone have a wonderful and relaxing Spring Break, and we'll see you back on campus the following week!

Pax Christi,

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

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Gospel For Today - 8th Sunday of Ordinary Time

REMINDER:  Today is the last Sunday we will have Mass on campus at 7:30pm.  Next week (March 9) there will be NO MASS on campus due to Spring Break   The following Sunday (March 16) we will begin our new Mass time of 4:00pm.


As a Christian, I don't worry so much any more.  That is rather an amazing statement when you stop to think about it.  Just look at the world.  Wars are being waged.  People are starving.  Marriage is falling apart, with nearly half of all marriages ending in divorce, and half of all children in this country being born out of wedlock.  Sex, violence and disrespect are all over the media.  Yes, looked at in the light of Christian values it looks like the world is going to hell in a hand basket.  Why wouldn't we all be filled with fear, anxiety, and trepidation about the future?  

I am concerned about those things.  I do wish the world were better.  But I am not filled with anxiety.  In fact, the opposite is true.  In my faith, I find that I am filled with great peace and calm.  How could this be?

Jesus tells us plainly in today's gospel (Mt 6:24-34), "do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear.  Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?"  Our Lord goes on to describe the birds and the flowers and how God takes care of them all; and are we not so much more valuable than these things?  Certainly God will take care of us.  Christ has some very valuable words for us. He reminds us, "Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your lifespan?"  And He tells us, "Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself."

Is Christ telling us all to become slackers?  Hardly.  He has work for us to do.  He gives us a very important task: seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.  Seek holiness.  Then, Christ tells us, we will no longer be filled with worry about our own life.  Because in truth, that is what fills us most with anxiety - our own lives.  We may watch the news and see images of brutal warfare, or we may see an appeal on television to help starving children; and we may have concern for these things.  We may (and we should) have compassion for these people.  But it is when we consider our own lives that so many of us experience true anxiety.  

College students can experience this most acutely.  Most of you are transitioning from a station in life where you were, for the most part, taken care of.  Mom and dad made sure there was food in the fridge, that you had clean clothes, and handled all of the "grown up stuff" like insurance and taxes, paying utility bills and so on.  Now in college, it's kind of like a twilight zone.  You are, in many ways, on your own.  But your next meal is still only a short walk to the cafeteria.  Mom and dad are still handling a lot of the "grown up stuff," but there is a growing sense that this will end soon and you will have to be responsible for your own security and finances.

This anxiety of entering the "real world" can be especially hard on seniors.  That world is right around the corner.  Every day the questions grow more urgent: Will I have a job when I graduate?  Will I have to live at home again? Will I be able to repay my loans?  Will I find someone to marry?  Who will take care of me?  We are rightly concerned about ourselves.  At the end of the day, we all just want to know will I be okay?  

Christianity gives us a different perspective.  It gives us the perspective of eternity.  It reminds us that all of this - college, jobs, girlfriends and boyfriends, our families, wars and hunger, all the stress and business of this world - it all will fade away.  It will fade away, but we will live on.  We may in this life experience pain and hardship (along with joy), but that will fade away.  And we will live on.  Christianity tells us that the world is dying, but that we are immortal.  We cannot, therefore, be anchored to this world.

It is when we anchor ourselves to the passing things of this world that we become filled with anxiety.  If we anchor ourselves to money, we will be anxious about losing our wealth.  If we anchor ourselves to our work, we will be anxious about losing our job.  If we anchor ourselves to our friends, we will be anxious about losing them.  We can anchor ourselves to our good looks, our reputation, our social status, our hobbies, even our families.  And all of these things can be taken away against our will, through no fault of our own.  We may end up alone, hungry and cold living under a highway overpass.  Or we may end up old and infirm, in a rest home with no family to visit us.  We imagine any number of horrible fates for ourselves.  And we are filled with anxiety.

The Christian anchors himself or herself in God.  We find peace, because God will never be taken from us against our will.  We know that whatever other trials we may have to endure in life, the only way we can lose God's love is if we willingly reject it. St. Augustine famously said, "My heart is restless, until it finds rest in Thee, O Lord."   The same sentiment is expressed in our Psalm today (Ps 62), in which we sing, "Only in God is my soul at rest."  

This is why St. Paul could say, "It does not concern me in the least that I should be judged by you or by any human tribunal; I do not even pass judgment on myself... the one who judges me is the Lord" (1 Cor 4:1-5).   St. Paul does not find his worth in the eyes of man but in the eyes of God.  His peace comes not from knowing that he will not be judged, but that God will judge him with perfect justice and perfect mercy.  There is a difference between presumption and trust.  It is presumptuous to assume that God will take care of us, no matter what we do, therefore we don't need to do anything.  Our peace comes not from presumption, but from trust.  We can trust that God will remain faithful, if we remain faithful to Him.  Remember that God is Love, and Love does not force itself on us; Love invites us.  God wants us, but He wants us to want Him.

Anchor yourself to God.  Find rest in God.  We are given a great opportunity at this time of year to remind ourselves that nothing is more important than our right relationship with Him.  Lent is coming up, a time of prayer and fasting.  In fasting we willingly give up things which we enjoy in order to remind us that - as good as these things may be - there is a greater good.  By fasting we remind ourselves that, though we enjoy these things, we do not need these things.  They may, after all, be taken away from us one day.  And that's okay.  Because we are anchored in something higher, that will never pass away.

Take advantage of this Lent.  Make it an intentional season of growth for you - growth in personal holiness and growth in your trust in the Lord.  I encourage you to examine your life and identify anything that may be filling you with anxiety.  Ask God to help you detach yourself from these worries.  Come to Him in the confessional.  Seeking the kingdom of God means working on your relationship with Him.  The rest and assurance you will find in His arms is worth the effort.

Only in God is my soul at rest;
from Him come my salvation.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my stronghold; I shall not b disturbed at all.
Ps 62:2-3

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