Sunday, August 31, 2014

Gospel for Today: 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time


Last week we read  the iconic scene in Matthew's gospel where Peter confessed his faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God, after which Christ told Peter, "You are Peter (rock), and upon this rock I will build my Church."  The Catholic Church still today stands firm upon the rock of Peter, living on through his successors, the Popes.  But today, just a few verses later in the same chapter of that gospel, we find Jesus telling Peter, "Get behind me, Satan!  You are an obstacle to me."  What gives?  Did Jesus have a change of heart?  No.  Jesus is the same in both instances.  It is Peter who has changed.  

Peter could not accept what Jesus was telling the disciples; namely that He must go to Jerusalem, suffer, die, and then rise from the dead.  Peter could neither stomach nor understand this teaching.  "God forbid, Lord!" he told Jesus.  "No such thing shall even happen to you."

Last week, after Peter made his confession of faith, Christ said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon-bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but your Father in heaven."  In other words, Peter was not listening to other people, or even his own thinking, when he said that Jesus was the Son of God.  He was allowing himself to listen to God, and to trust what God was telling him.  By contrast, in today's reading Christ tells Peter, "You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do."  Peter was relying on his own inclinations and his own way of thinking.  He was trusting himself more than he was trusting in Christ, and that reliance on self is what led him astray.

Satan means "adversary," and it can be used as a name for Lucifer, the fallen angel; but it can also be applied to us when we allow ourselves to become adversaries of God.  We do this when we  rely on our own will above the will of God.  This is easy to do.  And it does not necessarily require a full and total rejection of God.   Peter was certainly not rejecting Jesus outright  when he told him He was not to die in Jerusalem.  Rather, what he was hearing from Jesus was hard for him to accept.  According to his human mind, what Jesus was saying did not make sense.  Why should the Messiah suffer?  Peter could not understand it, and so he denied it.  It was not a total rejection of God, but a lack of faith on the part of Peter that caused Christ to say, "Get behind me, Satan!"

It is easy for us to also lack faith, especially when confronted with a difficult teaching of the Church.  And let's face it, there are plenty of them.  Many of the Church's teachings can be hard for us to wrap our minds around intellectually.  How can God be both one and three?  How can a virgin give birth to a Son?  How can Christ be fully human and also fully God?  How can bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ?  

But for us today, more than the theological teachings of the Church, it is the moral teachings that confound us -- not necessarily because we do not understand them, but we find them hard to practice in our lives.  The "seven deadly sins" are called deadly because they have a way of anchoring themselves into our hearts and turning us away from the love of God.  We all have sins that we find especially hard to resist.  Take your pick -- pride, lust, envy, green, sloth, gluttony, wrath -- any can easily ensnare you.  We know these things to be bad for us.  Yet we allow ourselves to fall into bad habits and then we cannot see a way out.

The Church tells us we are to be holy.  But when we think about our own lives and how attached we are to sin, we can easily start to think that what the Church demands is unreasonable.  We can never live up to God's standards.  And so we don't even try.  We give up.  We become adversaries both to Christ and to our own good, and so Jesus rightly rebukes us. "Get behind me, Satan!"  

But Jesus rebukes us in order to correct us, and ultimately heal us.  He does not want us to give up.  Rather, He wants us to keep up the struggle, no matter how hard.  The fact that we struggle with sin is not a sign of weakness.  It is a sign of strength.  The struggle means we have not given up.  Ultimately, though, we must recognize that we cannot win the battle against sin by relying on ourselves.   We need His help.  Christ tells us, "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me."  We must deny ourselves because we are totally unable of saving ourselves.  We take up the cross of Christ because only there we find our salvation.

G. K. Chesterton once said that Christianity has not been tried and found lacking; rather it has been found difficult and not tried.  That is true in our day even more than in his.  We are afraid to even try, because the goal seems unreachable.  Yet, it is that goal -- the goal of being authentic, holy, people living in the love of God -- that calls to us in the deepest part of our beings, even as we try our best to deny that we need Him.  Our first reading today from Jeremiah beautifully describes the feeling that many who have distanced themselves from the Church experience, but dare not admit to.  "I say to myself, I will not mention Him, I will speak in His name no more.  But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it" (Jer 20:9).

Our souls hunger for God because we were made for Him; ultimately only God can satisfy our longings.  St. Augustine, whose feast day we celebrated last week, famously wrote in his Confessions, "Our hearts are restless, until they find their rest in Thee."  Our psalm today speaks of our souls thirsting for God in these terms: "O God, you are my God whom I seek; for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water" (Ps 63:2).

Yet even the soul that recognizes its deep hunger for God may still say, "How can I make a return to God, when I have strayed so far from Him?"  I am reminded of the advice of a sixteenth century Carmelite monk named Brother Lawrence, who when he failed in his duties to God simply confessed to God, "I shall never do otherwise if You leave me to myself; it is You who must hinder my failing and mend what is amiss."  And then he turned back to God and troubled himself no more about it.  

Ultimately it is this trust in God, this faith in His help and in His mercy, that will allow us to rise above our failings and become the holy -- and happy -- men and women God created us to be. Yes, we will fail.  Even Peter, the leader of the Apostles, the one upon whom Christ built the Church, failed in his faith on more than one occasion.  Yet he became a great saint, and now enjoys the Beatific Vision of God for all eternity.  You will fail in your faith, because you will continue to trust in yourself more than in God.  When you do, do not despair.  Do not give up.  Confess your sins, acknowledge your hunger for God, ask Him to help you grow in holiness.  Above all, keep trying.  Keep up the fight.  God knows it is hard, and He honors the struggle.  After all, one definition of a saint is a sinner who never gave up.

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

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Sanctifying your Day with the Liturgy of the Hours

A medieval breviary.
Those of you were were here last night for our after-dinner program heard Dr. Dorondo speak about his daily life as a secular Oblate of St. Benedict.  One of the things that he spoke of was how he sanctified his day by praying the Liturgy of the Hours.

A few of you came early for dinner and joined us in the chapel at 6:00pm for Evening Prayer (Vespers), which is also taken from the Liturgy of the Hours.  I hope to be able to offer Vespers every Wednesday in our chapel at 6:00 for those who wish to join us.

So just what is the Liturgy of the Hours, and how easy is it for someone to get started adding this to their prayer life?  Let's answer the first part of this question by first recalling just what is meant by "liturgy."

The word "liturgy" itself comes from the Greek word for public work, or work of the people.  In ancient Greece it was used to describe the public works that a citizen owed his community (things like ditch digging, road building, that sort of thing).  The Greek-speaking Jewish people adopted the word to mean the ritual offering that a Jewish man was obligated to offer each year on behalf of his family.  Christians inherited the religious meaning of the word and still use it today to refer to the communal, corporate prayer of the Church.

So liturgy is a public, corporate prayer, even when it is done alone.  It differs from personal prayer in that when one prays liturgically one is joined in prayer by the entire Church.  Personal prayer is a wonderful thing and absolutely necessary in order to foster a relationship with God.  But liturgical prayer is also vitally important, inasmuch as in the liturgy we offer prayers not as individuals, but as a part of the larger Body of Christ, on behalf of the Body of Christ.  The liturgy that most Catholics are familiar with is the Mass.  But the Liturgy of the Hours is (as the name states) also liturgical prayer.

Other names for the Liturgy of the Hours are Divine Office, Breviary, Psalter, and Christian Prayer.  Many times people may use these words interchangeably, but for our purposes we'll use Liturgy of the Hours.

The idea of marking set times (or "hours") of the day with formal prayer is an ancient one, representing the Church's desire to follow Christ's command to "pray without ceasing."  The Liturgy of the Hours grew from the monastic tradition of coming together at certain times during the day to pray and to praise God, largely by use of the psalms.  Historically, the day was divided into 8 three hour periods.  Monks and nuns would start their day by praying at midnight; they would pray again every three hours at 3:00am, 6:00am, 9:00am, noon, 3:00pm, 6:00pm, and finally prayer at 9:00pm before they would get a few hours sleep before rising again at midnight to start the cycle over.  Thus the entire day was sanctified by prayer.

From a very early date, lay people desired to imitate the monastics in their habit of prayer, but obviously not every person's schedule allows for the above sort of routine!  Traditional prayers such as the Angelus arose around the prayer schedule of the local monastery.  When farmers in the field would hear the monastery bells   sounding at 6:00am, noon, and 6:00pm to call the monks to prayer, they would bow their heads and recite the Angelus briefly, which is why the Angelus is traditionally prayed at those times.

So who prays the Liturgy of the Hours these days?  Is it only for monks and nuns?  No.  While professed religious are obligated to pray the Liturgy of the Hours each day, secular or diocesan priests are also obligated to pray them (though I believe they are only obligated to pray five of the hours; our priests need their sleep!), and deacons are obligated to pray two Hours.  These would be Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer (Lauds and Vespers in Latin), which are considered the "hinge" prayers of the liturgy.

Lay people, too, are invited to pray the Hours, as much as they are able, though they are under no obligation to do so.  More and more, the faithful laity are picking up the Liturgy of the Hours as a means of increasing their prayer life and consecrating the hours of their day to Christ.  Even if you are only able to pray the Hours at morning and evening, it is a wonderful way to begin and end your day by offering it to God.

The Liturgy of the Hours in their current form still consist mainly of the psalms, arranged with other scriptures, and intercessory prayer.  Being as it is liturgy, it is important than when one prays the Hours that they do so in the proper way.  Unlike personal prayer, you wouldn't just open up your Breviary or Christian Prayer book to a random page and start praying.  You could do that, and it might in fact be a wonderful prayer, but it would not be the actual Liturgy of the Hours.  Just like you wouldn't make up the prayers at Mass, it is important to pray the actual Hours for that time and that day, in the way that the Church intends.  In this way, your prayer is joined in unison with the prayer of the world-wide Church.

So how does one get started?  You could purchase the entire four-volume set of the Liturgy of the Hours and start praying all of the hours like the monks and nuns.  They only cost $125, which I'm sure is money every college student has laying around at their disposal, right?

Or you could do what I did, which is to purchase the single volume Christian Prayer book, which only costs $30 and has everything you need to pray Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Night Prayer.  And let's face it... you aren't going to start your adventure into the Liturgy of the Hours by praying all day long.  Starting with just Night Prayer might be a more prudent way to go (it's the shortest).  Starting with Morning and Evening prayer is a very common practice, as these are the two most important hours of the day.  This single volume has everything you need for that.

But then comes the step of learning how to use the book.  There are different different sections for different prayers, and different colored ribbons to mark the different sections.  You have to know if it is a saint's feast day or not.  And if it is a solemnity, a feast, a memorial, or an optional memorial.  Some of the prayers for the hours might be found in the common of martyrs, or the common of holy women, or they might be prayers proper for that day.  Is it Advent?  Or Easter?  Special prayers for the different seasons, too. I can vouch from experience that it takes some time to get used to navigating around the book and learning where you need to be when.  Having someone who already knows to show you how is a real help.  But once you do learn, it becomes second nature and (somewhat) less of a hassle.

Today, though, there are many resources that were not available to me when I first started praying the Hours.  There are many online resources and apps for tablets and smart phones that take all the guess work out of the process.

Two in particular I have found helpful are and  Both are available as apps for your tablet or smart phone.  I tend to like the format of DivineOffice better.  This is a paid app.  I think when I first looked at it, it was $15 to $20, but I happened to purchase it when it was on sale for $4.95.  I'm not sure what it is going for now.  One really nice thing about the DivineOffice app is that it has the index for the page numbers in the Christian Prayer book. So even if you prefer to pray using the book (I do), you can at least use the app to make sure you are on the right page.

The iBreviary app has the benefit of being free.  It also contains the Liturgy of the Hours in many different languages, including English, Spanish, French, and Latin.

The great thing about using either app to pray the Liturgy of the Hours is that they lay it all out for you in sequence, so you don't have to worry about flipping to this section of the book for the psalms, another section for the propers of saints, etc.  You just have to scroll and pray from top to bottom.  Both also have the option of praying the Hours for free online using their web site, so you don't even need to download the app (a great option for those who don't have a smart phone or tablet device).

Most people I know prefer to pray with a print volume versus a website.  And I agree, there is just something about holding a book in your hand (especially a well-worn prayer book) that is satisfying and that feels more pious.  But the apps and web pages can be great resources for those travelling on the road, and also for those just starting out.  Without investing any money, without having to learn to navigate the unfamiliar divisions of a complex prayer book, you, too, can begin praying the Liturgy of the Hours.  It's the official prayer of the Church, employed by nuns, monks, bishops, priests, deacons and lay people for centuries.  And you can start joining them in prayer today.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Weekly Update from CCM

Dear Students,

What a great first week at Catholic Campus Ministry.  It's been amazing reconnecting with returning students (including some visiting graduates), and getting to know so many new and enthusiastic freshmen.  Thanks to all who came out for Mass, for our Wednesday dinner, and for our hike.  We have many more opportunities for you to get together, enrich your faith, and enrich our community. Here's what's on the schedule this week.

St. Benedict of Nursia.  This week our Wednesday
Night program will feature guest speaker Dr. David
Dorondo, Oblate of St. Benedict.
This week we will begin our small group meeting schedule.  The small groups are an important part of our student ministry at WCU.  These are groups of 3 to 12 students who meet regularly for fellowship, encouragement, discussion and spiritual growth.  Small groups are for people just starting to respond to the Gospel in the initial stages of conversion as well as for the committed Christian seeking to deepen their faith.  Small group discussions are always based around a scripture passage, and the meeting time is centered in prayer.  To get a sense of what a small group meeting is like, you can watch this two minute video:

We currently have three ongoing small groups.  We invite you to participate in whichever one best fits with your schedule (if none of these work, please talk with us about starting a small group at better time for you).
MONDAYS from 6:30-7:30pm in the Village Commons.
TUESDAYS from 6:30-7:30pm in Balsam Lobby (note, there is no Tuesday Small Group this week due to the Confirmation Mass).
THURSDAYS from 5:30-6:30pm on the UC Balcony.

By attending a small group, you are not making a commitment to participate every week. You are welcome to just come and try it out -- and bring a friend whom you think may benefit from the experience!

Adoration: 12:00-12:30. Join us at noon in our chapel for thirty minutes of silent Eucharistic Adoration.  Great quality time with Jesus!

Confirmation Mass:  Bishop Peter Jugis will celebrate Mass this evening at St. Mary's at 7:00pm and will confirm 16 of our parish youth.  Several members of our WCU student choir will be helping to provide music for this Mass.  Anyone from our campus community is most welcome to come and celebrate with the parish, supporting our new confirmandi with your prayers.

NOTE:  No Tuesday small group this week!

Evening Prayer. 6:00pm in the CCM chapel.  We are going to begin offering evening prayer Vesper services each Wednesday prior to our dinners, for those who would like to take advantage of a mid-week prayer service.  Evening prayer (vespers) is one of the hours from the Liturgy of the Hours, a traditional liturgical prayer of the Catholic Church typically prayed by clergy and those in religious professions, but which the lay faithful are also invited to participate in as much as possible.  If you've never prayed the Liturgy of the Hours before, don't worry, we'll guide you through it.  Please come!

Supper @ the Center: 6:30p.  Join us for dinner this week.  Jessica Keene and Nancy Wiebelhaus are teaming up to prepare a delicious meal for us, with dessert!  After dinner, we have a special guest presenter.  Dr. David Dorondo is a professor of history here at WCU.  He is also an oblate of the Benedictine order.  An oblate is a lay person who has formally associated themselves with a religious order without taking the same level of vows as monks or nuns.  These lay associations are sometimes called "third orders."  Many religious orders have third order associations, and these will be the topic of Dr. Dorondo's presentation.  He's a great speaker, and it's always an edifying evening when he can join us, so you don't want to miss it!

Adoration: 12:00-12:30.  Thirty minutes of silent Eucharistic Adoration in our chapel.

Small Group: 5:30-6:30p on the UC Balcony.

Rosary & Confession: 3:30p.  Come half an hour early for Mass to pray the rosary with us.  Father is also available during this time to hear confessions.

Mass: 4:00p in our chapel.  Come early to get a seat by the AC!  

Credo: 5:15ish to 6:30p.  The Latin word credo means "I believe," and that is the topic for our discussion this week:  "I Believe" -- what does it mean to have faith, and why is it important?  Come with your questions!

Small Group: 6:30-7:30p in the Village Commons.

Simply Stitched is a group of students who knit or crochet (or wish to learn) and get together once a week to make items for donation either to the Smoky Mountain Pregnancy Care Center or for local parish families in need.  Anyone is welcome, and it's not just for the ladies!  They meet at Alex Cassell's house.  Those needing a ride carpool from CCM at 7:45pm.

Eucharistic Congress is Sept 19-20 at the Charlotte Convention Center.  This is the largest gathering of Catholics in our Diocese, who come together to hear great speakers, take advantage of some amazing Catholic vendors, fellowship with one another, and most importantly, adore our Eucharistic Lord!  We have special events for college students, including an overnight lock-in at St. Peter's in downtown Charlotte.  We'd like to get a large from from WCU going.  For more information, and to register, see:

In honor of our Wednesday night guest this week, you can get a jump start on the discussion by learning a little more about Benedictine Oblates.  You can read an introductory article about them here:

Many orders, not just Benedictines, have oblates or third orders.  Please come Wednesday night to find out more!

Until next week!
Pax Christi,

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

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Gospel For Today: 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time

REMINDER:  Mass is offered every Sunday in our chapel at 4:00pm.  Come 30 minutes early to pray the Rosary with us, or to have Father hear your confession.  Stick around after Mass for Credo tonight: the discussion topic will be "The Catholic Church."


Tu est Petrus, et super hanc petram aedificábo Ecclésiam meam...  This is the first part of the antiphon we hear at Mass today before the gospel reading.  It quotes from the gospel itself (Mt 16:13-20), which in English says, "You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it."  This iconic passage takes place at Caesarea Philippi, a place the gospel writer mentions specifically.  If you do a Google image search on line you can see this place.  There is a huge stone outcropping with a temple built upon it to the pagan god Pan.  It is by this backdrop that Jesus changes Simon's name to Peter (which means "rock") and says, "upon this rock I will build my Church."

This is obviously a very key moment in the gospels, and so it is important to consider just what is happening here.  This passage is foundational to our understanding of the Church, for Christ tells us not only that He intends to found His Church upon a person (Peter), but also what sort of authority that person will have.  "I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.  Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

The Church also gives us today an Old Testament reading from Isaiah 22:19-23 which speaks of keys being given to convey authority.  "I will place the key of the House of David on Eliakim's shoulder; when he opens no one shall shut, when he shuts no one shall open.  I will fix him like a peg in a sure spot..."  There is obvious similarity between this and our gospel reading.  What is the significance?

In the history of Israel, there developed the office of prime minister.  This person had the authority to rule over the kingdom in the absence of the king.  It was an office that could be passed on from one generation to the next, symbolized by keys.  What we read in our passage from Isaiah today is God passing on the authority of the prime minister of the Davidic kingdom from Shebna to Eliakim.  It is no coincidence that Jesus uses the same symbol of keys, and nearly the same phraseology, to establish the prime ministerial office of His Kingdom upon Peter, an office which can be passed on from one generation to the next.  The enduring nature of this office is implied when Christ promises that the gates of hell will not prevail against His Church.

Instead of "opening" and "shutting" as we hear in Isaiah, Jesus speaks of the power to "bind" and "loose."  This phraseology would also have been familiar to the Jewish people.  It signified to them the authority to teach and render binding decisions on the law, and the authority to include or exclude people from the community.  It also signifies the forgiveness of sins.  This is why even to this day we speak of the authority of the Church to teach, govern and sanctify (Catechism of the Catholic Church 888-896).

There is something about this passage, however, which can easily be overlooked in English translation.  Many languages have different words for the second person pronoun depending on whether it is singular or plural.  English uses "you" for both.  If we were reading this passage in Spanish, or more to the point, the original Greek, we would see that Jesus uses the singular "you" when He tells Peter, "I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven."  But Jesus uses the plural "you" when He says, "Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."  In other words, Peter alone possesses the keys of the kingdom (symbolizing the prime ministerial authority), but the Apostles together with Peter possess the power to bind and loose (CCC 881).  

What does all this mean for us in the Church today?  How does this authority granted to the Church by Christ play out in history?  We can give one very prominent example dealing with the scriptures themselves.  From the very beginning, the liturgies of the early Church included readings from sacred scripture.  These included readings from the Hebrew Bible, what we call the Old Testament, but very quickly also included readings about Jesus and the teachings of the new Christian Church.  These would include gospel accounts of Jesus' life and mission.  These would also include letters written by the Apostles to various people and Christian communities.  However, there was no set "New Testament."  There was no authoritative list of which books were inspired by God and which were not.

This led to some variation in what texts were read from during the liturgies.  To ensure unity in worship, local bishops, utilizing their authority as chief shepherds of their particular churches, began to keep lists of books which were approved for liturgical use in their church (what we would call a diocese today). The earliest such lists that we know of date to the end of the second century.  But still, this meant that different texts were considered canonical in one region but not in another.  This became problematic for the universal Church as different heresies arose, especially Gnosticism.  The Gnostics would write their own gospels, containing teachings rather contrary to the Apostolic faith, which would circulate and lead to confusion among the faithful.  (If you watch the Discovery Channel or the History Channel around Christmas and Easter you often see documentaries on "The Lost Gospel of Judas," or "The Lost Gospel of Thomas."  These are Gnostic gospels, not lost Christian gospels  The Church has known about them for about 1700 years, so no one should have their faith shaken by their existence.)

And so regional councils of bishops together met and discussed which books should officially be included in the canon of the Bible.  Two councils, at Hippo in 393 AD and Carthage in 397 AD, would approve the list of 73 books which are still contained in the Catholic Bible today.  These were local councils (not full ecumenical councils of the Church), and so their decrees are not binding on the universal Church.  So in the year 405, Pope Innocent I, successor of St. Peter, affirmed the same list of 73 books.  The case was closed, so to speak, from that point forward until the Protestant Reformation when Martin Luther and his followers questioned the legitimacy of certain Old Testament books (what Catholics call the deuterocanon and Protestants call the apocrypha) and removed them.  The Council of Trent (1545-63), a full Ecumenical Council of the Church, exercising the teaching authority of all the bishops united with the pope, reaffirmed the canon of 73 books in the face of this controversy.  

And so the very reason we have the scriptures that we do today, and the faith that they contain the inspired Word of God, is due to the exercise of the teaching authority to bind and loose that Christ gave to Peter, His "prime minister," and to the Apostles.  This is why St. Augustine could say, "I would not believe in the gospel if the authority of the Catholic Church did not move me to do so" (397 AD).  

In the end we all submit ourselves to some authority, even if only the authority of popular opinion.  To be true to ourselves and who we were made to be, we should submit ourselves only to the authority of God, the author of all Creation.  That authority exists in Christ, His Son, who not only became man but saw fit to allow man to share in that divine authority.  That authority has been transmitted from Peter and the Apostles down through the ages right to today with Pope Francis and all the bishops of the Church, including our Bishop of Charlotte, Peter Jugis.  It is the same Church that Christ founded upon Peter, teaching the same Apostolic faith, and possessing the same authority from God to lead her people to salvation.  

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

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Weekly Update from CCM

Dear Students,

It was wonderful to see so many of you filling our chapel this past Sunday at Mass.  What a wonderful choice to begin the new academic year by giving worship to God and receiving His Son in the Eucharist.  I pray that you continue to seek nourishment through prayer and in the sacraments during your time at WCU and throughout your lives.  We have a full week of activities at CCM, and so plenty of opportunities for you to meet one another and get involved in our ministry.

Thirty minutes of silent Eucharistic Adoration from noon to 12:30 in our chapel.  (We try to offer this every Tues & Thurs.  Also note: if people are interested in Adoration at other times during the week, that can be arranged.  Please contact me.)

New Student Open House. 5:30-6:30.  Any new freshmen and transfer students are invited to join us to get introduced to one another, to your campus minister, and our campus ministry.  New students only, please!

Supper @ the Center. 6:30-8:30.  All students are invited to join us for our first weekly "Supper @ the Center," a home cooked meal followed by a short program.  This is a great time for weekly fellowship and we hope you will join us.

Adoration 12:00-12:30 in our chapel.

Sunset Picnic & Hike.  Be at the Catholic Student Center by 6:00pm.  We will carpool to the Blue Ridge Parkway to Waterrock Knob.  We'll enjoy a simple picnic dinner and then hike to the top of the Knob.  It's just a little over one mile and is rated "novice to intermediate," meaning the trail is pretty easy for the most part, but there are some steep, rocky sections.  Wear appropriate footwear.  Also, we'll be at about 6000 feet elevation, and it can get chilly in the evenings, so a sweatshirt or light jacket might be good to have.  You'll want to bring a camera, as well!

To get more information about the hike itself, visit this page on the Hiking the Carolinas web site.

It would also be good for you to RSVP to our Facebook event so we can get an idea of numbers in advance.  Thanks!

Byzantine Rite Divine Liturgy at St. Mary's.  Those needing a ride from campus please meet at the Catholic Student Center by 5:00.  There will be a short talk at the parish about the Byzantine liturgy at 5:30.  The Divine Liturgy (Mass) itself will begin at 6:00, and be followed by a cook-out at the parish.

This liturgy will be celebrated by three visiting Ukrainian Rite clergy (one priest and two deacons).  To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time the Divine Liturgy in an Eastern Rite will have been celebrated in western NC.  Many of you will not have had the opportunity to experience a liturgy of one of the Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church before, and so I encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity.  

Again, we have a Facebook event for this, and it would be good to RSVP so we have a sense of numbers.

Mass at 4:00pm in our chapel.  Come 30 minutes early to pray the Rosary with us.  Father Voitus is available for Confessions during this time, as well.  After Mass, stay for our Credo discussion.  The topic this week is "The Catholic Church."  Why is the Catholic Church so special?  What makes her different from other religions and Christian denominations?  Come with your questions!

Our Small Groups begin meeting next week.  These are student led groups that meet weekly to pray together, read the scriptures, and discuss their faith.  Participating in a small group is a fantastic way to boost your prayer life and get intentional about your relationship with God.  We are starting with three small groups this semester, meeting at the following times:
MONDAYS 6:30-7:30 in the Village Commons
TUESDAYS 6:30-7:30 in the Balsam Lobby
THURSDAYS 7:30-8:30 on the UC Balcony (or inside on the 2nd floor if the weather is bad).

In honor of our visiting Ukrainian Rite clergy this week, here is an article about the Eastern Rite Churches written by Fr. William Saunders.  He answers the questions: "As are many Latin Rite Catholics, I am a bit ignorant about the Eastern Rite Churches.  What are the differences between the Rites?  Can Latin Rite Catholics fulfill their Sunday obligation by attending an Eastern Rite Mass?  Can Latin Rite Catholics receive Holy Communion in an Eastern Rite Catholic Mass?  Is the Eastern Rite Catholic Church the same as the Orthodox Church?"  Click here to read the answers!

BONUS: Here is a short video showing the Ukrainian Rite Divine Liturgy being celebrated in a small village in Ukraine.

Until next week!
God bless,

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

Monday, August 18, 2014

Bishop, Priest & Deacon

Those of you who stayed after Mass last night know that we had a visiting Ukrainian Rite deacon with us, Father Deacon Kevin Bezner.  At the end of the evening I asked the deacon to give a blessing for us, forgetting momentarily that Eastern Rite deacons don't do that sort of thing.  (Western, or Roman Rite deacons may offer blessings not reserved for a priest or a bishop).  The good deacon casually replied that he "can't" bless.  I corrected him, saying that he "can, but may not," and then Father Voitus said something that sounded very technical and canonical and probably went right over everyone's heads. (That's ok if it did!)

So the deacon offered a prayer for us, Father gave a blessing, and all was well with the world.  The whole exchange described above played out in a few seconds and you may have missed it.  But it provides an opportunity to make a point about the relationship between the deacon and/or priest and his bishop.

The Catholic Church has a three-fold hierarchy of Holy Orders: bishop, priest and deacon.  There is only one sacrament of ordained, apostolic ministry, but three "degrees" or orders of that sacrament.  Once a man is ordained into an order, he can never be "unordained."  So a deacon does not cease to be a deacon if he is ordained a priest.  A priest does not cease to be a priest if he is ordained a bishop.  Only the bishop, then, has the fullness of Holy Orders, as he is deacon, priest and bishop together.  Only the bishop is the successor of the Apostles, and ministers of his own right with Apostolic authority.  The ministry of the priest and the deacon is an extension of the ministry of the bishop, and can only be undertaken with the authorization of the bishop.  We refer to this as "faculties."  If a priest or a deacon does not have faculties from his bishop, he cannot perform ministerial duties.  (This does not mean he is no longer a priest or deacon, it simply means he cannot exercise ministry as such).

Holy Orders are the same whether one is speaking of the Western or Eastern branches of the Church.  A Byzantine (Eastern) Rite priest is just as much a priest as a Roman Rite priest.  They participate in the same priesthood of Christ.  A Roman deacon and an Eastern deacon are ordained into the same diaconate.

As I mentioned before, deacons in the Roman Rite can and do offer blessings.  They can offer any blessing that is not specifically reserved to a priest or a bishop.  As there is no ontological difference between Eastern deacons and Roman deacons, an Eastern deacon can offer the same blessings that a Roman deacon can.  But deacons in the Eastern Rites operate under a different discipline than western deacons do.  Eastern Rite deacons do not have faculties to offer blessings, and so they may not, even though they are ordained to the same diaconate as their Roman counterparts.  No cleric may exercise any ministry he has not been granted faculties for by his bishop.

Normally lay people only hear about "faculties" if a cleric has been behaving badly and has his faculties revoked by his bishop as a punitive measure.  But, as was illustrated last night, it also comes into play when we are considering the different Rites in the Catholic Church, and the different faculties certain orders of clerics are or are not granted according to the traditions of those Rites.

This three-fold ministry of Holy Orders is certainly nothing new.  In fact, it has been around since the very beginning of the Church.
"You must all follow the bishop as Jesus Christ follows the Father, and the presbytery [priests] as you would the apostles.  Reverence the deacons as you would the command of God.  Let no one do anything of concern to the Church without the bishop.  Let that be considered a valid Eucharist which is celebrated by the bishop, or by one whom he appoints.  Wherever the bishop appears, let the people be there; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church."  
The above quote comes from St. Ignatius of Antioch, writing to the Church in Smyrna c. 110 AD.  St. Ignatius, bishop and martyr, learned the Christian faith from the Apostle John, and was chosen to be bishop of Antioch when St. Peter, who founded the Church there, went to found with St. Paul the Church in Rome. While we certainly must acknowledge certain external differences between the Church of the first few generations of Christians and the Church of today, it is noteworthy to see how much remains the same.

Read more about what the early Church fathers have to say about bishops, priests and deacons here. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Gospel for Today: 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time

A reminder, especially for the new students, that our campus Mass resumes today at 4:00pm in our chapel.  If you have not already located the Catholic Student Center, you can find directions on our web site.  We also encourage new students to join our Facebook group to stay current on the latest announcements, events, prayer requests and helpful faith-enriching information throughout the week.


Imagine your best friend is sick; deathly ill, in fact.  You don't know what to do and you are afraid she won't make it.  So you rush her to the hospital.  You spot a doctor in a white coat walking down the hall and call for him to help.   You know he can hear you, but he doesn't say a word.  He doesn't even acknowledge your presence.  You keep calling, until some orderlies ask the doctor if he wants them to tell you to leave.  But you rush up to the doctor and ask him for help one last time.  And he looks at you and says, "We don't treat dogs here."

Ouch.  How incredibly rude and offensive!  You'd expect that doctor lose his job and maybe even face criminal neglect charges.  Now imagine that doctor is Jesus.

We can't imagine being treated this way, especially when we are in a desperate and vulnerable situation.  Yet this scene is more or less what we read in today's gospel (Mt 15:21-28) of the Canaanite woman who asked Jesus to heal her daughter.  This sort of encounter doesn't really fit our image that we have of Jesus.  Jesus is nice.  Jesus is friendly.  Jesus helps people.  We don't imaging Jesus telling someone who is desperately asking Him for help that they are a dog not worth the effort.  Yet here it is, in the scriptures we read today.  What are we to make of this?

Well, by the end of the gospel reading, we learn that Jesus does indeed help this woman.  He heals her daughter.  And he even commends the woman, "O woman, great is your faith!"  This is the lesson Christ teaches us today -- the faith expressed by the Canaanite woman.

You see, the Canaanites were considered unclean by the Jewish people, who commonly referred to them as "dogs."  If we imagine ourselves as Canaanites being told that it is not right to take the food meant for the children (the Isrealites) and throw it to the dogs,  we would take great offense.  We would walk away in a huff, declaring we were "too good" to be treated that way.  But not the woman in today's gospel.  She didn't let her ego get in the way of her faith.  She said, "Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters."

It is only then that Christ tells her, "O woman, great is your faith!'  The Canaanite woman is humble, and that is the key to unlocking the door of God's grace.  Humility is so hard for us today, with our over-inflated egos.  We think we deserve so much, and this is why we simply cannot tolerate people being rude to us, or depriving us of what we believe is our due.  This attitude may do you well when you are shopping for a new car or negotiating a salary increase.  But when dealing with God, it is the exact wrong attitude to have.  When it comes to God, the truth is you don't deserve anything.  Not a thing.  You can never merit any favor from God.  You can never be in a position where God owes you anything.  

We don't like that sort of imbalance of power.  We prefer dealing with equals.  Being in a relationship with someone who will never owe you anything, but to whom you will always owe everything is intolerable -- unless you possess humility.  And the Canaanite woman gets that.  This is why she is content to beg for scraps.  And this is why she receives an abundance of grace.

God never gives because He owes us.  He gives because He loves us.  And how He loves us!  That same Jesus who tells the humble woman today, "It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs," would go on to endure the worst kind of humiliation and death for people just like her (and you, and me).  He would pour out His grace upon all mankind in such a way that would be utterly unbelievable if it were not true.  Not because He owes us.  Because He loves us.

He continues to pour those graces upon His Church even to this day.  The Canaanite woman only begged for scraps from the masters' table.  We have available to us the very bread of heaven, the Body & Blood of Christ.  Think about this: you have the opportunity every Sunday -- every day if you so desired -- to be kissed on the lips by your Maker.  This is the intimate way God desires to come to us in the Eucharist at Mass.  

The Canaanite woman was happy to beg for only the scraps of God's grace.  Is the Eucharist something you would be willing to beg for?  Most of us have never been in a situation where we were deprived of the sacraments.  But far too many of us have turned away from them by choice or by neglect.  We have taken God for granted.  Today, as we start a new semester at WCU, and as many begin their college career away from home for the first time, I pray that you never take God's gift of the sacraments for granted.  Today is the first Sunday that many of you will go to Mass not because your parents make you go, but because you want to give God worship and commune with Him.  

Worshiping with the Church every Sunday and making a habit of prayer every day, help to keep us humble.  These things help remind us each day that we are dependent upon God and should be thankful for all He gives us.  But make no mistake.  We should not strive for humility thinking that humility will merit God's favor.  This is false humility.  Humility does not merit God's favor: humility is recognizing that nothing merit's God's favor.  Therefore humility allows us to approach God not with the cry of modern man -- "I deserve...!" -- but with the plea of the Canaanite woman, "Please, Lord..."  Only the humble heart can receive God's grace, because only the humble heart knows it must ask for it.  May we all have such humility.

During your time at WCU, know that you are in my prayers, and in the prayers of the larger CCM community.  Know that we are here for you whenever you need us, but more importantly, know that Christ is here for you.  You will form many new relationships during your college years and those relationships will form who you are.  The most important relationship you can develop is you relationship with Christ.  CCM is here to help facilitate that relationship in any way we can.  It starts today with Sunday Mass, with the Eucharist, the "source and summit of our faith" (Lumen Gentium 11).  You don't have to beg for scraps.  You are invited to the feast.  

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

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Choosing the Fourth Option

Let me admit up front that I realize this topic may only be of interest to certain liturgy-geeks such as myself.  But it deals with something that truly impacts all of us, and that is the music we hear at Mass.  As any of us can attest, the music we hear at Mass has a profound influence on the atmosphere of prayer and can enhance our worship when done well; it can also have the opposite effect if done poorly.  Therefore, it only follows that the Church actually has instructions as to what should and should not be sung.  Those instructions can be found in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal.

For the singing at the Entance of Mass, during the Offertory, and at Communion, the Church gives four options for selecting what is sung.  I'll paraphrase the first three.

  1. The antiphon (proper chant) for that particular day given in the Roman Missal (the book the priest uses to say Mass) or the Graduale Romanum (Roman Gradual, the official music book of the Roman Rite of the Church, which contains Gregorian chant).
  2. The antiphon (proper chant) for the liturgical time given in the Graduale Simplex (Simple Gradual, another official music book of the Roman Rite of the Church, giving simpler Latin chants arranged for the liturgical seasons).
  3. The antiphon (proper chant) for the day or season from another collection of chants and antiphons with ecclesial approval.  (This may include vernacular translations of the above).
And now I will quote the fourth option verbatim.
"another liturgical chant that is suited to the sacred action, the day, or the time of year, similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop" (GIRM 48).
This quote is from the most recent third edition of the GIRM that was promulgated at the same time as the current third edition of the Roman Missal.  The prior edition, for the number four option as listed above, simply read, "another appropriate liturgical song," which is a rather open-ended guideline.  And it was this fourth option that the great majority of American parishes used for the Entrance, Offertory, and Communion at Sunday Mass.  A hymn would be selected from the parish hymnal as "an appropriate liturgical song."  This practice was so wide spread that most Catholics in the pews were unaware (and remain unaware) that three other options are available.

But with the new edition of the Roman Missal, it would seem that the Church wants to lead us in a direction towards more truly liturgical singing.  And so if your cantor or choir is not singing the proper chants for that day or season from one of the official liturgical texts (the Roman Missal, Roman Gradual, or Simple Gradual), or from another similarly approved collection of antiphons, then they should at least be singing "another liturgical chant that is suited to the sacred action, the day, or the time of year."  This is rather specific.

One thing that has slightly confused me about option four, however, is figuring out just what would qualify.  I mean, it seems very specific.  It must be a liturgical chant (not just any religious song).  It must be suited to either the sacred action (what is taking place in the liturgy at the time), or the specific day, or the time of year (such as Lent, Advent, Easter, etc).  My question about this fourth option has been this: what qualifies that does not already fall under the first three options?  It seems like if you are looking for a liturgical chant suitable to the sacred action or the time of year, you'd be looking in either one of the official collections of liturgical music (options one and two) or in another approved collection of liturgical chants (option three).  What else is there?

Well, yesterday, for the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, I used option four for the Communion chant.  Here is my reasoning why.

Yesterday was also freshman move-in day on campus, and as such we offered an afternoon Mass in our campus chapel so that the incoming freshmen could attend Mass.  However, the choir are all returning upperclassmen and were not back yet from summer break.  So I handled the music.  My general habit when having to cantor a Mass with no other choir is to chant the antiphons from the Simple English Propers by Adam Bartlett (which would fall under option three).   This collection features English translations of the antiphons from the Roman Gradual.

Last week was also very busy for me preparing for the students to arrive back on campus, so I did not have a lot of time to prepare.  Most of the chants were familiar to me from previous years, and offered no problem.  However, the melody of the Communion Antiphon was unfamiliar.  The text is from Lk 1:48-49, "All generations shall call me blessed; for he who is mighty has accomplished great things on my behalf."  This is from what is called the Magnificat or the Canticle of Mary.

The gospel reading for the Mass was Lk 1:39-56, which includes the entire Magnificat.  It so happens that there is a very simple Gregorian chant setting for the Magnificat which is familiar to me.  And that is what I chose to sing instead of the proper antiphon.  I chose option four.

It is a liturgical chant.  It is suitable not only to the day (the Assumption), but also to the liturgical action.  What does the Magnificat have to do with Communion, you might ask?  The proper Communion chants from the Roman Missal and Roman Gradual most often are taken from the gospel text for that Mass, as a means of drawing together the gospel and the Eucharist.  So chanting the Magnificat during Communion is well in keeping with that tradition.

So there you have it.  I finally found something that would qualify as an "option four" selection that made liturgical sense and seems in keeping with the spirit of the other three options.  And I believe this is key -- understanding that the fourth option is the fourth of four options to be considered and not the first "go-to" option as so many parish musicians have been conditioned to using it.

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. 
From this day all generations will call me blessed: 
the Almighty has done great things for me 
and holy is his Name. 
He has mercy on those who fear him 
in every generation. 
He has shown the strength of his arm, 
and has scattered the proud in their conceit. 
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, 
and has lifted up the lowly. 
He has filled the hungry with good things, 
and the rich he has sent away empty. 
He has come to the help of his servant Israel 
for he has remembered his promise of mercy, 
the promise he made to our fathers, 
to Abraham and his children forever.”

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Weekly Update from CCM

Dear Students,

Students are starting to arrive back on campus this week, and by the weekend most all of you will be here.  Catholic Campus Ministry is looking forward to a wonderful, Spirit-filled semester with you.  We welcome many new freshmen this year and also look forward to seeing all of our returning students again.  To help you prepare for your arrival at Western, here is a preview of our upcoming schedule.  We have a lot going on to kick off the year, and we invite you to come to as many of our events as you are able.

This Friday is move-in day for freshmen.  But more importantly, it is also the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which is a holy day of obligation for Catholics.  A holy day of obligation is a very special day in the Church; so special that, like on Sundays, Catholics are obliged to attend Mass.  This obligation is not intended to be a burden, but rather a joy, an opportunity for us, as an entire Church, to take a break from the normal routine of our lives and honor God as we celebrate these important dates on the calendar together.  

Of course, this Friday will be an extra-busy day for those moving into their dorms, so it make it as easy as possible for you to fulfill your obligation and celebrate this great solemnity with us, we are having a special Mass in our chapel at the Catholic Student Center at 4:30pm.  We are located just a stone's throw from the Ramsey Center, so freshmen will have plenty of time to get to the Freshmen Convocation there at 5:30.  

Valley Ballyhoo is WCU's grand festival to kick off the start of the year.  CCM will have a table set up at Valley Ballyhoo so please stop by and say hi.  We'll be on the UC lawn from 4:00 to 6:00pm.  

We have Mass on campus each Sunday during the semester at 4:00pm.  If you'd like to come 30 minutes early, we usually pray the rosary before Mass. Father Voitus is also available during that time for confessions/reconciliation.  Please stick around after Mass if you can.  We'll be introducing our Credo series with an informal Q&A session.

What is Credo?  I'm glad you asked!  Credo is Latin for "I believe."  It's what we call our time after Mass, where for about an hour to hour and a half, we discuss a particular topic relating to our Catholic faith, culture, and traditions. The topic each week is different, and over the course of the year we will cover a wide range of topics dealing with theology, morality, liturgy and prayer.  The discussions are usually quite excellent, making Credo a fun way to learn more about your faith each week.  For our first week, we are keeping it informal with an open Q&A session.  So this is your opportunity to ask any question you want about the Catholic faith.  We hope to see you there!

Silent Adoration from noon till 12:30 in the chapel.

New Student Open House at 5:30pm.  This is a time just for new students, meaning any freshmen, transfers, or returning students who might be new to CCM.  This is an opportunity for new students to get to know one another, get to know their campus minister, and get to know about CCM. 

Then at 6:30 we will be joined by returning students for our first "Supper @ the Center."  Each Wednesday evening we invite you to enjoy a free, home-cooked meal and good fellowship, followed by a short program related to the faith.  We usually wrap up around 8:30 (though people are welcome to stay longer just to hang out).  

Silent Adoration in the chapel from noon to 12:30.  Sunset picnic & hike to Waterrock Knob.  Meet at CCM before 6:00pm, when we will carpool up to the Blue Ridge Parkway for a picnic together (PB&J sandwiches, chips, Little Debbies, and bottled water will be provided).  Then we will take a short hike to the top of Waterrock Knob in time to see the sun set over the Great Smoky Mountains.  On a clear day, you can see three states from the top!  

Returning students, please note the day.  We normally have our Waterrock Knob hike on Friday of welcome week, but this year we have moved it to Thursday to take advantage of a special opportunity.

Three visiting Ukrainian Catholic clergy (two deacons and one priest) will be at St. Mary's giving a short talk on the Byzantine Rite, and celebrating a Byzantine Divine Liturgy (the Mass). I imagine not many students will have had the chance to participate in any liturgies of the Eastern Rites before (the Byzantine Rite being the largest of the Eastern Rites in communion with the Catholic Church).  To my knowledge, this will be the first time a Byzantine liturgy will have been celebrated in the NC mountains.  I would like to invite as many students as possible to join us in this experience.  Anyone who needs a ride, please be at the Catholic Student Center before 5:00pm.  We will leave at 5:00 to drive over to St. Mary's Catholic Church.  One of the Byzantine clergy will give a short talk about the Eastern rites at 5:30. Then, at 6:00, they will celebrate the Divine Liturgy, which is the Eastern term for the Mass.  After the Divine Liturgy, we are invited to stay for a picnic & pot luck supper.  

Please drop by!  The Catholic Student Center is open during the day, and into the evening (until about 10pm), for your use.  I'll be at the Catholic Center as much as I can the next two weeks to meet & greet anyone who wants to pop by.  But even if I am not here, you are welcome to come and hang out.  The Center is here for you, so please use it!  We have lots of great Catholic books & magazines for your reading, a TV & DVD player, a Wii, free Wi-Fi, comfy couches, and of course the chapel, which is open for your use whenever you need a quiet place to pray.  
Parking:  We are currently selling parking stickers for our CCM lot.  These cost $50 per semester.  We only print 50 stickers each semester, and once they are gone, they are gone.  So come by CCM to get yours soon.
Small Groups:  You'll be hearing us talk a lot about our small groups at CCM events next week.  These are student-led groups that meet various places on campus during the week.  They meet for about an hour for Bible study, prayer & discussion.  Participating in a small group is a wonderful way to enliven your faith, grow closer to God through the scriptures, and get to know some amazing Catholic students.  The small group leaders will be meeting this Saturday to determine the meeting times and locations, which will be reported in next week's update.  Please consider joining a small group as a part of your campus ministry experience.  They are a great introduction to CCM, as well, so please invite a friend to come with you!

As a reward for reading to the end of this email, I will try to include a link to an interesting or topic fact about our faith.  As this Friday we celebrate Mary's Assumption into heaven, let's take a look at just what that means.  Does that mean Mary did not die?  Is this the same as Christ's Ascension into heaven?  Is this belief found in the Bible?  And what does this have to do with the Immaculate Conception?  All these questions and more are answered in this article, by Catholic Answers.  

Please know that my prayers are with all of you as you make your way to Cullowhee this week.  I look forward to seeing you all in the days to come.

God Bless,

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

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Gospel For Today: 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time

PLEASE NOTE:  This Friday, Aug. 15, is Freshmen move-in day.  It is also the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a holy day of obligation for Catholics.  To allow students who will be on campus that day to fulfill their obligation and celebrate this wonderful feast day with the Church, we will have Mass in our chapel at 4:30pm.  (Freshmen will have time to get to the Ramsey Center before the 5:30 Freshman Convocation).  Our regular 4:00pm Sunday afternoon Masses will begin next Sunday, Aug. 17.  For any new student who has not found our location, please see here.

​I had the privilege yesterday of leading several faith formation catechists on a retreat to help them prepare for the start of a new school year.  These are people who volunteer their time preparing children to receive the sacraments, teaching them the faith, and leading them closer to Christ.  In sharing both the struggles and joys of their ministry, one catechist remarked that whenever she felt frustrated or discouraged it was usually because she was trying to do it all herself.  She did not mean that others in the parish were not helping her.  What she meant was that she was carrying the full responsibility of bringing these children to Christ on her own shoulders.  She was forgetting that God has a role to play.  It is Christ who saves them, after all, not her.  

I can relate.  In campus ministry, as with any ministry, there are ups and downs.  The work can feel like a burden or a privilege.  The times when I feel discouraged are precisely those times when I hold the reigns too closely; when I get caught up in the mundane minutia of the job and forget to spend time in the chapel praying for the ministry.  The times when I feel a great energy in our campus ministry are those times when I make the effort each day to pray for God's guidance.  I remind myself that He is in charge, and trust Him to lead the way.  

In ministry, we need to always remember to stay focused on Christ and learn to rely on Him.  But isn't this true in any task we undertake?  It is not only those laboring in ministry that need to spend time in prayer each day and ask for God's help.  Shouldn't it also be true of the doctor going into surgery?  Shouldn't it also be true of the bus driver transporting kids to school?  Shouldn't it also be true of the college professor making a lesson plan?  Shouldn't it also be true of the student preparing to study?  

No matter what your task in life is at the moment, that task will be less burdensome, more joyful, and more pleasing to God if you rely on Christ to help you.  In transitioning to a college life, it can be very easy to lose sight of this.  You are away from home and your normal routine.  You are meeting new people, getting used to a new schedule, adapting to a new environment.  This early stage in the semester can be a time of excitement, chaos, anxiety, and anticipation.  It would be very easy to abandon your usual prayer routine.  It would be very easy to not think about Jesus for a while.  It would be very easy to start bad habits that will become hard to break out of later on.

But this time of transition is also a great opportunity to establish some wonderful new habits.  You will be making new friends on campus.  Find some good Catholic friends.  You will be getting used to a new schedule. Go ahead and put prayer time in your schedule, and time for CCM events.  You will be taking on new adult responsibilities for yourself.  So make an adult commitment to the faith.  Decide to get serious about your relationship with God.  Develop a devotion to Him not because that's what your parents expect of you but because you love Him.  Make that choice.

Ask Jesus to help you.  Ask Him to help you stay faithful and grow in holiness and wisdom during your time in college.  Ask Him to help you with your studies.  Ask Him to help with your relationships.  Just ask Him to help.

In today's gospel reading from Matthew 14:22-33, people always remember the miracle of Jesus walking on the water.  But the more impressive miracle is not that Jesus walked on the water, but that Peter did.  Jesus, after all, is the Son of God.  He made the water. He made walking, for that matter.  We shouldn't be surprised that He can walk on whatever He wishes.  Peter is just a man.  He's a faulty, fallen, frail human being just like us.  But Peter had the courage and conviction to say, "Lord, if you command me to, I will come out to you on the water."  

How often do we hold back from asking the Lord to help us do something, because we are afraid God will say yes, and then actually expect us to do it?  "Lord, command me to come to you on the water."  What a ridiculous request, on the face of it.  Walking on the water?  That's impossible!  But Peter did it.  He only fell when he became distracted by the storm raging around him.  He allowed fear to take hold of him.  But Jesus says, "Do not be afraid."  When Peter kept his focus on Christ, the miraculous happened.  

Your time in college can be a time of great turmoil and stress.  You can feel tossed about by the waves, like the disciples' boat in our reading today.  But do not be afraid.  If you keep your focus on Christ and rely on God's help, you can achieve some seemingly impossible things.  Don't get distracted by the storm and lose sight of what matters.  Cling close to Christ.  You just might walk on water.

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

Friday, August 8, 2014

Sex, Matt Walsh, and Close Mindedness

I recently posted a link on my personal Facebook account to a blog post by Matt Walsh entitled, "I will not teach my kids about safe sex because there is no such thing."  I liked what Walsh had to say about the negative consequences of the rather irrational view our modern culture has of sex.  He contrasted that with the rather more rational approach, rooted in the natural law (though he did not use that term), which tends to lead to happier, more fulfilling sex lives.

When I posted the link to the article, I highlighted one section which compared college students engaged in the casual sex, hook-up culture to faithful married couples.  (I chose to highlight this particular quote because, as a college campus minister, I have quite a few college-aged Facebook friends, and thought this might get their attention).  Here's the quote I used:
Imagine the college students who have to chug 6 rum cocktails and 8 Natty Lights between them before they can anonymously copulate in someone’s dorm room. But they require more than booze; they also need pills and condoms and explanations the morning after about how this was all just for fun and it didn't mean anything. Why do we say that these people enjoy sex? The man who makes love to his wife of 20 years enjoys sex; these people only enjoy certain physical sensations.
It is no secret that alcohol and sex tend to go hand in hand on college campuses, and Walsh's comment made me wonder just how many college students themselves have wondered why, if sex is so good, do they need alcohol to "loosen them up" in order to enjoy it?  Something to think about...

I also like this particular quote because it highlights the fact that married people -- especially religious married people -- do tend to report having very satisfying sex lives.  I think that's a good message for young people to hear, as well.

Both of these assertions that Matt Walsh alludes to are backed up by numbers.  In 2008 Parade magazine polled 1,001 American married couples about their sex lives and found that an overwhelming 88% of them reported being happy in that regard.  Not incidentally, the pollsters also asked about religious practices and discovered that religious practitioners had sex with their spouses more frequently and described it as more fulfilling.  Evangelical Protestants, Catholics, and mainline Protestants topped the list.

By contrast, in 2013 the Journal of Sexual Research published a study of 3,900 college students from across the country which found that students who participated in casual sex reported higher anxiety and depression rates and a decrease of self-esteem and general happiness.

Matt Walsh did not cite either of those studies (or other similar studies that have found the same things to be true), but his general observations correspond with what these sorts of studies would lead us to expect.  The other thing Matt Walsh did not cite was the Bible.  Or Humanae Vitae.  Or the Catechism.  Or the Koran or the Dalai Lama, or any other religious source.  In fact, rather than "proof texting" anything he just gave his observations and laid out his arguments in a way that I found made a lot of sense.  I thought it was a thought provoking piece, which is why I linked to it. I was hoping it would spark a debate on the topic among my Facebook friends.

And I did get some comments.  Quite a few, actually.  Unfortunately they were not exactly what I was hoping for.  Let me be clear: I was not anticipating that everyone in Facebook land would agree with Walsh's position.  In fact, I fully expected argument.  But I didn't really get argument, and that's what is disappointing.  What I got was dismissiveness.   What I received were comments to the effect of, "I fundamentally disagree with this article, but as this is coming from a religious point of view, it's not worth arguing about."  Bleh.

How disappointing.  I would respect that point of view if Walsh were in fact making his argument from a religious perspective.  But that's not what he is doing here.  If I wanted to convince an atheist of the existence of God and I tried to do so by quoting the Bible, I would be foolish.  The atheist would not need to argue against me.  He'd just reply, "Well, I don't believe in the Bible."  He also wouldn't be inclined to consider my point of view.  It would be like a Catholic trying to convince a Baptist about the Real Presence in the Eucharist by quoting a papal encyclical.  The Pope's words have no authority with him, and so would be dismissed.

So to what authority can you appeal when arguing with someone from a different faith, or no faith at all?  You appeal to reason, to logic, to science, to "the facts."  Right?  Here is how Matt Walsh describes much of our modern attitude toward sex.  He says our pursuit of sex while trying to avoid emotional attachment and/or the generation of life
is like planting a seed in the ground and calling it a mistake when a tree begins to sprout because you thought the soil was infertile.  You may have believed this, but still the seed is doing exactly what seeds are supposed to do, and you did exactly what a person is supposed to do if they want to make a tree grow.  You may be a fool, but this was no accident.  
Next, you cut down the sapling and toss it in the fire, and then you continue to plant seeds.  Each time, you cry that all of these damned trees keep shooting out of the ground.  When someone comes and tells you to stop planting until you're ready to deal with a forest, you weep and accuse the person of being cruel and judgmental simply because they're articulating the basic rules of botany. 
Matt Walsh makes some acute observations and articulates them reasonably, without recourse to religious dogma. In theory, this should be fertile ground (no pun intended) for debate among people with different viewpoints about God and faith.  The reality I saw today, though, as demonstrated on my Facebook page, left me disappointed.  People disagreed with Walsh, but no one argued against him.  They dismissed him not because he was making a religious argument, but simply because he is a religious person.  (He's Catholic, by the way.  I did not know that when I originally linked to his post, I had to look it up).

That's a shame, especially coming from those claiming to be open minded, because Matt Walsh has a point.  We like to think, in today's society, that we can have "safe sex," by which we mean "using protection."  But protection against what?  Against the very things sex is meant to accomplish.  The irony is that we today want our food to be "all-natural" and "organic," but insist on our sex with pills and latex.  We prefer our beef to be hormone free but not our wives and girlfriends.  Walsh is telling us -- accurately, in my opinion -- that our culture today is simultaneously obsessed with sex and deathly afraid of it.  We want sex without the emotional attachment.  We want sex without the babies.  We want sex without any of the things sex actually does.

Maybe it's time to realize that our modern society doesn't really understand sex all that well.  Maybe it's time to realize that we've been sold a bill of goods when it comes to "safe sex."  Check out his article for yourself and see what you think.  Just try to keep an open mind.