Friday, February 27, 2015

Are Christians Always Happy?

Today several groups I follow on Facebook posted to their newsfeed an article entitled "15 Simple Acts of Charity that we Frequently Forget."  It's a pretty good list, and a good reminder to us all that acts of charity don't always have to be grand acts of heroic virtue.  There are many little things each of us can do every day to be more charitable toward one another, including the things on this list.

I do take issue with one item; or to be more accurate, the way the item is presented.  The first item listed is "Smile! A Christian is always full of laughter and happiness!"  

I don't have a problem with smiling.  Smiling is awesome!  Smiling is one of the easiest things any of us can do to bring a little light into someone else's day (and generally make ourselves feel better at the same time).  A smile when you see someone tells them, "I am glad that you are here with me."  That's a profoundly simple, and profoundly powerful thing.  And I agree, it can be an act of charity.

My issue is the assertion that "A Christian is always full of laughter and happiness."  Put simply, that is a false statement -- and one that I think has potential to cause harm.  Christians are not always happy, and the expectation that they should be can lead many to question the veracity of their faith.  

While the faithful Christians in my life are generally some of the happiest people I know (largely because they strive to avoid behavior that is self-destructive), no one is happy all the time.  Not even Jesus was happy all the time.  Think about when Jesus was turning over the money changers' tables in the Temple.  Think about when Jesus was betrayed by Judas.  Think about when Jesus was being nailed to the cross to die for our sins.  Was He happy at any of those times?  Or was he feeling righteous anger, sadness, or pain?

Jesus Christ is fully divine and fully human and that means He experiences the whole range of human emotions -- among them happiness, yes, but also sorrow.  The shortest verse in the Bible is also one of the most profound.  John 11:35 simply reads, "Jesus wept."  The occasion for our Lord's tears was the death of His friend Lazarus, famous for being raised from the dead by Jesus just a few short verses later.
When we consider that Jesus wept, let us appreciate what a profound thing this is.  Jesus, Who is the Son of God; Jesus Who is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity; Jesus Who is all holy and all good; Jesus Who knew at the time of His weeping that He would raise Lazarus from the dead; this Jesus wept.  He did not merely cry, but He wept tears of true sorrow.  Jesus grieved. Why?  Because His friend had died and that is an appropriate occasion for sadness.

So Christians should not equate happiness with holiness, and we should not be afraid to be sad.  The Bible tells us many times not to be afraid.  We are even told to not be anxious (Phil 4:6).  But nowhere are we told not to be sad.  Nowhere are we promised that we will not experience suffering.  In fact, we are pretty much guaranteed it.  Jesus did not say, "Hop on your rainbow pony and follow me."  He said, "Take up your cross and follow me" (Mt 16:24).  Being a Christian involves suffering.  In fact, being human involves suffering.  You don't stop being human when you come to believe in Christ -- you start being a better human.  So perhaps we can say that Christians learn to suffer better, which in a way make sense.

Jesus Christ is the perfect human being, like us in all ways but in sin.  And He suffered more profoundly than any human ever has.  He is our model, then, in suffering.  He did not come to take away all suffering in this world.  Rather, He comes down to our level and suffers with us.  He redeems us by His suffering and by joining our suffering with His, we can participate in that redemption, and so gain a sure hope of eternal beatitude in the world to come.

This idea that Christians should always be happy seems to be repeated more and more often these days.  Perhaps it is because we have a Holy Father who likes to speak a lot about joy.  But joy and happiness are two different things.  Happiness is something that you feel while joy is something you possess.  

We cannot always control our feelings.  Feelings often just happen to us, sometimes with good reason and other times not.  Good, faithful Christians may feel sadness for any number of reasons.  Perhaps, like when Jesus wept, you have lost a loved one.   Perhaps someone you love is suffering.  Maybe you have been through a break-up, lost a job, or failed a class.  These are all legitimate reasons to be sad.  Sadness is an appropriate response to a sad occurrence. Feeling sad does not make you a bad Christian.

Perhaps you suffer from clinical depression and often feel sad for no reason.  That does not make you a bad Christian!

Perhaps you just don't have a cheery, bubbly, happy-go-lucky personality.  Maybe you are more on the dour side.  That does not make you a bad Christian!

But when we are constantly told that Christians should be happy because of our faith in Christ, we may start to doubt our faith when we find ourselves not feeling happy.  This is a shame.  No one need feel that way.  (I want to punch people who tell grieving family members at funerals that they should "be happy" because their loved one is in heaven).  

Everyone prefers being happy to being sad.  And being a Christian has certainly brought me a lot of happiness.  But I have also suffered loss and gone through hard times, and during those times I experienced profound sadness.  Rather than make me a bad Christian, I believe those feelings of sorrow and pain have made me a more compassionate Christian.  Rather than being signs that my faith was weak, those times of sorrow only strengthened my faith because even when I was not happy, I was still able to find comfort in the peace and joy -- yes, joy -- of Christ.

St. Paul tells us that the Kingdom of God is a matter of "righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Rm 14:17), and James says we should consider even our trials "pure joy" because testing our faith leads to perseverance (Jas 1:2-3).

That joy comes not from knowing that we will always be happy, but from knowing that even when we are not, we are still with God.  Even when we are overwhelmed by sadness, we can still love and be loved by God.  Like holy Job, we can still offer God thanks and praise in our sorrow and so the sorrow does not overwhelm us.

 Sharing a smile is a wonderful thing, and yes, even an act of charity.  But acknowledging someone's sorrow and sharing in it -- this is also an act of great charity.  Let us never shy away from an opportunity to show our love through compassion.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Weekly Update from CCM: Snow edition!

Dear Students,

We woke up to a winter wonderland in Cullowhee today!  Enjoy the snow, stay safe, and be warm.  Because of the weather, I will not be able to drive in to campus today, so our usual Tuesday noon Adoration time is cancelled.  Also, Community Table is closed today, so there will be no volunteer service there this afternoon.  

There is snow in the forecast again Wednesday night.  So all of our events this week are "weather permitting."  Please keep an eye on our Facebook Group or Facebook Page for updates as to whether a particular event is happening or not.  If you are not already aware, the best weather service local to the Cullowhee area is Local Yokel Weather, so I recommend that resource to you for regional specific weather news.

  • TUESDAY (Today)
    • As mentioned above, Adoration and Community Table service have both been cancelled due to weather.  
  • WEDNESDAY (Tomorrow)
    • Evening Prayer in the chapel at 6:00pm
    • Supper @ the Center at 6:30pm.  Jessica Keene is cooking this week.  Our after dinner program will be led by Katelyn and Shawn and will be all about the saints!  
    • Adoration from noon to 12:30 in the chapel.
    • Small Group scripture study from 5:30-6:30 on the 2nd floor of the UC.
    • Simply Stitched meets at CCM from 8:00 till 9:30 or so.
    • Adoration in the chapel from 3:30-4:00.
    • Confession/Rosary at 3:30
    • Mass at 4:00
    • Credo from 5:15-6:30.  Our discussion topic this week will be on the Sacraments.  What is sacramental theology?  What does it mean to have a sacramental world view?  What role do the sacraments have in our faith?  Come with your questions!
    • Small Group scripture study from 6:00-7:00 in the Balsam Lobby.
The dates for our spring retreat at the Lake House will be March 27-28.  The cost to register is $20 and space is limited to 16 students.  There will be a sign up sheet at CCM this Wednesday night, when we will begin taking registrations.  The theme this year is "Reasons Why" and we will be looking at some of the many reasons why it's great to be a Catholic.  We hope you can join us!

Speaking of "reasons why," many questions Catholics get asked have to do with our prayer tradition.  Why do we pray to saints?  Why pray the rosary?  Why do we pray formulaic prayers at all?  Most of the Catholics I know with solid prayer lives pray both using their own words and formulaic prayers.  Why pray using someone else's words?  Because often those prayers come to us from the saints, from scripture, or even from the Lord Himself (the "Our Father") and can express the thoughts we wish to express in words much clearer and more beautiful than we can manage ourselves.  Also, it is nice to have certain prayers memorized as an aid to us to be able to pull them out at a moment's notice and go to in a time of need.  

Today's gospel reading is from Mt 6:7-15, and is where Jesus gives us the Lord's Prayer.  It's also the passage in which Jesus warns us not to "babble" in our prayers "like the pagans."  Some translations use the phrase "vain repetition," which often gets brought up against Catholics, as many of our prayer practices involve repeating the same prayer multiple times.  Does this Bible verse mean we are wrong in praying the rosary, the divine mercy chaplet, or other forms of repeated prayer?

The answer is no, of course.  Praying the rosary or other forms of repeated prayer does not violate scripture.  For an in-depth look as to why, here is an article by Tim Staples, "Do Catholics Pray Vain Repetitions?" that goes into more detail about this question.

If you are unfamiliar with the rosary, we invite you to join us any time.  We pray the rosary half an hour before Mass each Sunday (3:30pm in the chapel).  There is also a group of students who have been meeting to pray the rosary Tuesday afternoons at 3:30 by the Catafount in the center of campus (though I don't know is that will happen today in the snow).  Come by, introduce yourself, and ask someone to show you how to pray the rosary.  It's a simple prayer that can draw you closer to our Lord through His Blessed Mother, and be a great comfort in times of need.

A young priest once saw John Paul II praying the rosary so devoutly that it really impressed upon him the importance of this devotion.  He began praying the full rosary every day, all four mysteries.  He still finds the time to do so today, even though that priest is now Pope Francis!

Have a blessed, snowy day!
Pax Christi,

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

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Gospel For Today: 1st Sunday of Lent


Today's gospel reading from Mark 1:12-15 tells of the forty days Jesus spends in the desert being tempted by Satan.  Our own approximately 40 day journey through the season of Lent is meant to be evocative of Jesus's time in the desert so it is fitting that the Church gives us this reading today, on the first Sunday of Lent.  We are reminded as we fast and pray that Jesus also fasted and prayed for us.  But there is another aspect of Jesus' time in the desert that we often fail to give proper consideration, and that is our Lord's temptation.  We tend to skip past this aspect of Jesus' time in the desert as somehow not as relevant to us.  After all, Jesus is God, and can God truly be tempted as we are?  

We tend to equate temptation with sin itself.  We are tempted to do what we know is not right, and feel that this temptation is due to our sinful nature.  If we were not inclined to sin, we tell ourselves, we would not be tempted by these things.  Therefore it is hard for us to think of Jesus truly being tempted in the same way that we are.  We are tempted (no pun intended) to brush off Jesus' temptation in the desert as being a formality.  We think that because Jesus is without sin, He could not be truly tempted, and so see the story as an illustration of how foolish Satan is, thinking that he can do the impossible and tempt the Son of God.

But the gospels tell us otherwise.  Not only Mark's gospel, but also Matthew's and Luke's tell us of Jesus' temptation in the desert.  Obviously the gospel writers considered this an important episode in the life of Christ, and of great value to our lives as Christians.  They understood Jesus' temptation to be quite real, even though Christ was not fallen like the rest of humanity.  We must consider that Adam and Eve, both created without original sin, living in a state of grace and friendship with God in paradise, yielded to temptation the first time it reared its ugly head.  Being sinless does not mean never being tempted.  

I am a convert to the Catholic Church, baptized when I was 23 years old.  So unlike most cradle Catholics, I can remember my baptism.  Sometime after my baptism, I remarked  to my pastor about a strange effect it seemed to have on me.  I was anticipating experiencing a lessening of temptation once I was baptized.  I figured I had the life of God within me, helping me to resist sin, so I ought to be tempted less.  What I found was actually the opposite.  I seemed to be tempted more in my post-baptismal life and it was quite unsettling.  My pastor told me that this was common (and indeed I have since spoken with many others who have been baptized as adults and shared similar experiences).  With the grace of God dwelling within us, cleansed of original and actual sin by the waters of baptism, the negativity of sin stood out all the more in sharp relief.  Moreover, now a child of God, I made a loftier prize for the devil who was now working harder to lay claim to my soul.  Living a holy life in friendship with God certainly does not mean you will never be tempted.  Far from it.

This is why Christ Himself chose to undergo temptation.  By submitting to temptation, Jesus wants to show us that we need not be afraid of temptations.  In fact, suffering resolutely through our temptation can be an occasion of spiritual growth.  St. Alphonsus de Ligouri is an 18th century bishop and doctor of the Church, and founder of the Redemptorist order.  He taught that "the Lord sometimes permits that souls, which are dear to Him, should be tempted with some violence, in order that they may better understand their own weakness, and the necessity of grace to prevent them from falling. . . God permits us to be tempted, that we may be more detached from the things of earth, and conceive a more ardent desire to behold Him in heaven."

Isn't this what Lent is all about?  Better understanding our own weakness, and acknowledging our reliance on God's grace?  Becoming detached from things of this world and increasing our desire to be close to God?  You could say that temptation and Lent go hand in hand.  This is one reason why Catholics traditionally "give up something" for Lent.  We voluntarily choose to give up things that we are attached to -- be it dessert, caffeine, alcohol, or Netflix -- knowing that we will be tempted to enjoy these goods.  It does us no good to give up something we have little attraction to in the first place.  If you don't like coffee, giving it up for Lent is meaningless.  On the other hand, if you develop cravings for a mocha latte every time you see a Starbucks sign, then giving it up is spiritually beneficial because it trains you to resist temptation.  By disciplining ourselves to resist temptation in small matters, we become better able to resist temptation in larger matters.

St. Alphonsus also says, "When it is disturbed by temptation, and sees itself in danger of committing sin, the soul has recourse to the Lord and to His divine Mother... it humbles itself and takes refuge in the arms of divine mercy.  By this means, as is proved by experience, it acquires more strength and is united more closely to God."  Jesus truly was subject to temptation, and He resisted with God's help.  We are also subject to temptation time and again in our lives, but we can resist -- like Jesus -- with the help of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  

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

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Weekly Update from CCM

Good morning, students!  This week marks the beginning of Lent.  Did you know that the word Lent was originally a Teutonic word meaning springtime?  Looking at the weather this week certainly doesn't fill one with springtime feelings.  But by the time the 40 days of Lent are over, the rebirth of spring will be upon us, bringing with it warm weather, spring flowers, and the great celebration of the Resurrection of Christ.

To help us prepare for the joy of Easter, the penitential season of Lent officially begins tomorrow.  Ash Wednesday is so-named from the practice of imposing blessed ashes on the foreheads of penitents.  The ashes themselves are traditionally made from burning the palms used in the previous year's Palm Sunday celebration, and invoke scriptural imagery, including, "All are from the dust, and to dust all will return" (Ecclesiastes 3:20), and, "I repent in dust and ashes," (Job 42:6).  

Ashes are meant to remind us that we are mortal; just as God made us from the dust we will again return to the dust.  Being reminded of our mortality, we should ponder our own death and whether we are prepared today for that eventuality.  Are we in a right relationship with God?  If the answer to that question is no, then Lent should lead us to repentance from our sins and a return to God.  If we are in a right relationship with God, Lent can still lead us into a deepening conversion and draw us closer to Him.

Our Ash Wednesday service on campus will be at 12:30 in the chapel.  It will consist of a Liturgy of the Word with distribution of ashes, and so will be somewhat shorter than an average Mass.  Remember that non-Catholics can receive ashes, too (it's not like Holy Communion) and so this is a good opportunity to invite a friend to come with you and experience this rich tradition of the Church.  Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation, but for those who wish to go to a Mass, there are Masses offered at St. Mary's at 9:00am and 6:00pm in English, and 8:00pm in Spanish.

Now for our schedule this week...
  • TUESDAY (Today)
    • Adoration in the chapel from noon to 12:30.
    • Community Table volunteer service from 3:30-6:00pm.  Meet at CCM by 3:15 for a ride over.
  • WEDNESDAY (Tomorrow)
    • Ash Wednesday Liturgy of the Word with distribution of ashes at 12:30 in the chapel.
    • Evening Prayer at 6:00pm in the chapel.
    • Supper @ the Center at 6:30pm.  Brian and Danny are making homemade pizza for us!  Our program after dinner will be led by Pasquale and Mairenn.  The topic is "Sacrifice."  Why do we make sacrifices during Lent?  How does this relate to Jesus' sacrifice for us? If you are still wondering what to sacrifice this Lent, be sure to come for some help and ideas.
    • Remember that Ash Wednesday is a day of fasting and abstinence, meaning no meat, and only one full meal (up to two smaller snacks may be had, as long as they don't add up to a full meal).  Liquids don't break the fast, so they are OK.
    • Adoration in the chapel from noon til 12:30.
    • Small Group scripture discussion from 5:30-6:30 on the 2nd floor of the UC.
    • Simply Stitched meets at CCM from 8:00 to 9:30ish.
    • Adoration in the chapel from 3:30-4:00pm.  (We are trying out a new time this week in hopes that more will be able to participate).
    • Remember every Friday during Lent is a day of abstinence, so no meat!
    • Confessions/Rosary at 3:30.
    • Mass at 4:00.
    • Credo from 5:15-6:30.  Our discussion this week will wrap up our tour of Catholic moral theology with an overview of "Sin & Grace."  Come with your questions!
    • Cat Fair in the UC Grand Room from 5:00-7:30pm.  CCM will have a table set up, so come by and say hi!
    • Small Group scripture discussion in Balsam Lobby from 6:00-7:00pm.  

What are you doing this Lent to make it a more prayerful time?  How do you plan on getting to know Christ better, and love Him more intensely?  The spiritual benefits of Lent don't just happen magically.  You have to participate.  If you are still unsure of how to do that, coming to our discussion Wednesday evening may help give you some ideas.  Here are some other suggestions.
  • You can sign up to get a Lenten reflection in your email each day.  There are many services available to do that.  Here is one.
  • You can read a little bit of scripture each day and prayerfully reflect on it.  The USCCB web site gives the readings from each day's Mass.  It's a great way to get to know scripture better and to pray with the Church.
  • If reflecting on scripture with others is more your thing, you can start attending one of our small groups either Monday or Thursday evenings.
  • Try to come to Adoration at least once a week; if the Adoration times don't work for your schedule, come spend some quiet prayer time in the chapel on your own.
  • Pray like a monk!  You can start praying one of the offices of the Liturgy of the Hours, just like monks, nuns, priests, and countless lay people do each day.  You can find these prayers online at or download the app to your phone or tablet.
  • You can spend Lent in a tent!
  • You can give up, or lessen, something you are attached to - like coffee, Facebook, or sweets.  But remember to accompany your sacrifice with prayer to reap the spiritual benefits.  
These are just a few ideas to help you get the most out of Lent.  We pray that this will be a season of renewal and spiritual growth for all of you.

Pax Christi,

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

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Gospel For Today: 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time

SPECIAL NOTE:  This week begins Lent on Feb 18, Ash Wednesday.  We will have a Liturgy of the Word with distribution of ashes at the Catholic Student Center chapel at 12:30pm on Wednesday.  There will also be Masses offered at St. Mary's at 9:00am and 6:00pm in English, and 8:00pm in Spanish.

Click here for readings

In today's gospel from Mark 1:40-45, we find a leper kneeling before Jesus pleading, "If you wish, you can make me clean."  Jesus stretches out His hand to touch the man and says to him, "I do will it.  Be made clean."  The gospel tells us that "the leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean."

Why all this talk of cleanliness? After all, if you or I were suffering from a horrible disease we would say, "please heal me," or "make me well."  We would not ask to be cleaned.  If we want to be clean, we take a shower, we don't call a doctor.  

It is telling that the Church pairs this gospel with a reading from Leviticus.  In this reading the Lord tells Moses and Aaron (head of the priestly caste) that if someone has leprosy he should be brought to a priest and "the priest shall declare him unclean" (Lv 13:2).  And, "As long as the sore is on him he shall declare himself unclean, since he is in fact unclean.  He shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp" (Lv 13:46).

We may read this and think this was simply a way of preventing the spread of contagious disease by removing an infected person from the community.  And it partly was that.  But more importantly, an unclean person was cut off from the Temple, and thus from the ability to give worship to God in the way that the Mosaic law mandated.  This is why it was the purview of the priest to declare a person unclean, as it had to do more with ritual purification than with health or hygiene.  

The leper was cut off from his people, but even more importantly, he was cut off from his God.  This is why the leper in today's gospel is on his knees before Christ saying, "If you wish, you can make me clean."  His desire is for more than healing; it is for the reconciliation that his healing will bring about.  And so, after Jesus makes the man clean, He tells him, "Go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed."  Now cleansed, the man could again offer ritual worship.  Jesus was reconciling the man to the religious community, and through the community to God.

Those of you at Mass last Sunday heard Father say in his homily that all of Jesus' healing miracles come with "an expiration date."  This is true.  Everyone whom Jesus healed eventually died.  The eyes of the blind man cured by Christ years later ceased to see.  Lazarus, raised by Christ from the dead, died a second time.  The healing miracles of Christ are but signs of the greater miracle Christ performs, which is the forgiveness of our sins, the cleansing of our hearts, and our reconciliation to the Father.  This miraculous healing has no expiration date.  To borrow another phrase from the marketplace, "the offer is still valid."  Christ has left with the Church this "ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor 5:18).  

We suffer from spiritual leprosy.  Sin is a disease of the heart, a malady of love.  Like the leper, we long to be made clean.  We today can still kneel before the Lord and say, "If you wish, you can make me clean."  We can hear Christ's voice spoken to us, "I do will it.  Be made clean."  We can go to the priest, just as Christ commanded the leper to do, and offer the cleansing prescribed.  That is, we can make a good confession and receive the absolution of Christ through the sacrament.  By the grace God offers through this sacrament, we will be reconciled to the religious community, the Church.  And more importantly, through the Church, by the cleansing power of Christ, we will be reconciled to the Father.  We will be made clean.

Fr. Voitus is available to hear confessions every Sunday at the Catholic Student Center at 3:30pm.  He's also available by appointment.  If you have been away from the sacrament for some time, it can be a daunting thing to go back.  It helps to remember, though, that the focus of the sacrament is not really on your sin -- it's on God's forgiveness.  And that's a very positive thing -- a cause to rejoice!  If it has been a while since you have received the sacraments, we encourage you to come back.  To help you out, click here to download a brief guide on "How to Go to Confession" offered by the US Catholic Bishops.

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

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Weekly Update from CCM: Preparing for Lent

Dear Students,

I hope your week is off to a great start.  Just a reminder that this is the last full week before Lent begins.  The US Catholic Bishops have a short Q&A on Lent on their web site (click here).  You'll find more information on Lent and Ash Wednesday below.  For now, here is this week's schedule.

  • TUESDAY (Today)
    • Adoration in the chapel from noon till 12:30.
    • Community Table volunteer service from 3:30-6:00.  (Meet at CCM by 3:15 for a ride).
  • WEDNESDAY (Tomorrow)
    • Evening Prayer in the chapel at 6:00pm.
    • Supper @ the Center is served at 6:30.  This week we are serving chicken and potato salad.  Our program after dinner will be on "Films and Faith."  We'll explore religious and ethical themes found on many popular movies today.
    • Adoration in the chapel from noon till 12:30.
    • Small Group scripture study from 5:30-6:30 on the 2nd floor of the UC.  All are welcome - bring a friend!
    • Simply Stitched meets at CCM from 8:00-9:30ish to knit and crochet items for charity.  If you don't know how, we'll teach you!
    • Give Your Heart Away is this weekend!  If you signed up to go on this service weekend with us, make sure you have paid your registration fee and checked your email for a message from me about our departure time Friday afternoon.
    • Confession/Rosary at 3:30pm
    • Mass at 4:00pm
    • Credo discussion after Mass until 6:30.  The topic for our discussion this week will be "Sexual Morality."  Come with your questions!
    • Small Group scripture study meets from 6:00 to 7:00pm in Balsam Lobby.
    • Ash Wednesday:  We will have a Liturgy of the Word with distribution of blessed ashes at 12:30 in the chapel.  There will also be Masses at St. Mary's at 9:00am, 6:00pm, and 8:00pm (in Spanish).  
A graphic from Catholic News Service depicts the three pillars of Lent: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
As mentioned above, next Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, which is the official start of the Lenten season.  Lent is a penitential season in the Church, which means it is a time when we collectively remind ourselves that Christ suffered on the cross to redeem us from our sins.  Our proper response to that is to repent of our sins, pick up our own cross, and follow Him.  Lent has traditionally been marked by an increase of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  In his Lenten message for 2015, Pope Francis encourages us to be "merciful, attentive, and generous."  We should be merciful in our relations with others, attentive to the Lenten call for prayer, and generous with our own time, treasure and talents.  

During the weeks of Lent, I will be suggesting ways in which you can participate in the call to pray, fast and give.  This week before Lent begins, I want to begin with a few thoughts on fasting to help us prepare in advance.  What is required and what is recommended?  

Required Fasting
The Church actually requires very little of us in the way of fasting.  There are only two days that Catholics are obliged to fast:  Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.  On fasting days, Catholics are permitted to eat one full meal, and may take up to two small snacks which together don't add up to one full meal.  Liquids don't count as breaking the fast. For example, you could have a banana or yogurt in the morning to get you going, have a granola bar in the afternoon to sustain your strength, and enjoy a regular meal in the evening.  Since liquids don't count, you can have as much water, milk, coffee, etc as you like.  And use your common sense.  If your daily activities are very physical and require a lot of calories, or if you are diabetic or have other medical concerns, don't do anything that is going to negatively impact your health.  The Church does not want you passing out!  On the other hand, you do want to make it sacrificial.  If you are a relatively healthy young person, maybe you don't need that little snack in the afternoon.  Maybe you can offer up your hunger pains for the good of your soul, or for the benefit of others.  Use discernment and common sense.  Remember, too, that Ash Wednesday and every Friday during Lent are also days of abstinence, which means no meat.  For fasting purposes, the Church only counts the meat of warm blooded animals, so fish, reptiles, etc are permissible (good to keep in mind if the dining hall starts serving alligator).

Recommended Fasting
Most Catholics also choose additional ways to fast during Lent.  Usually this involves giving up food items, but not always.  This is strictly up to you, and self imposed.  So you can give up all sweets for Lent, or maybe just chocolate.  I have known people to give up all beverages except for water.  One traditional practice is to give up meat.  The trick is to avoid having Lent becoming a diet plan.  If you want to start a healthy diet, then start a healthy diet.  That's good!  But that's not what Lent is about.  Your Lenten sacrifice should be about doing penance and building discipline, the point of which is to help us avoid sin and turn toward Christ.  We discipline ourselves to say "no" to something we enjoy (like chocolate or coffee) so that when we are faced with sinful temptation, we can be stronger in our ability to resist it.  Meanwhile, the suffering we endure while building that discipline can be offered to Christ in reparation for our sins and/or the sins of others.  That means that we pray when we fast.  In the Church, fasting is always accompanied by prayer to ensure that our discipline does us spiritual good.

This week, think about what you can sacrifice this Lent.  What can you give up that will be a true sacrifice for you, but not an overwhelming burden?  Remember the point is not to beat yourself up.  This is a self-imposed sacrifice and you don't want to take on something too difficult which will only lead to failure and frustration.  For example, I wouldn't recommend going on bread and water all Lent without some serious consultation with a spiritual director (and a nutritionist)!  But maybe you can give up lunch two days a week and instead spend that time in prayer.  Maybe you can give up your daily Starbucks and instead give that money to someone in need, or a local charity.  

Your sacrifice does not need to involve food.  Think of other things in your life that you are allowing to have too high a place.  Perhaps you can give up make-up, Facebook, or limit your texting or video game time.  Ask a friend to make a Lenten fast with you, so you can support one another.  But remember to accompany your fast with prayer, or it will not be as effective.  Next week, we will discuss different ways to increase your prayer life this Lent.

Until then...

Pax Christi,

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

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Gospel For Today: 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time


In today's gospel reading (Mk 1:29-39), we see a busy Jesus.  He cures Peter's mother-in-law from her illness, as well as multitudes of infirm and possessed people from the town.  Then the next morning (which was a Sunday, by the way), the gospel tells us that He rose early "and went off to a deserted place, where He prayed."  

This is a habit one sees Jesus engage in over and over again throughout the gospels.  He spends time in public, preaching, healing or performing other miracles and proclaiming the Kingdom of God.  But then He always retreats to a quiet place to spend time with the Father in prayer.  Personal prayer was an integral and necessary part of Jesus' ministry.  To put it another way, even God Incarnate needed to spend time communing with God in heaven during His time on earth.

Why is prayer so important?  If our idea of prayer is simply asking God for things, then we may wonder why Jesus (who was God) needed to pray at all.  But prayer is much more than that.  The Syrian monk St. John Damascene called prayer "the raising of one's mind and heart to God."  More than merely asking God for things we want, as if He were a sort of celestial Santa Claus, prayer involves actively putting yourself into God's presence.  

To get a sense of why this matters, imagine a young engaged couple who, after their wedding, each take their own cars back to their separate apartments.  They don't move in together.  They don't see each other during the day.  They don't call or even text one another.  But once a week, on Sunday morning, they get together for an hour after breakfast just to check in.  The rest of the time they don't communicate at all.  Would anyone call this a good marriage?  Of course not.  

If we wouldn't expect a husband and wife to have a relationship like that, why do we think it's sufficient for a relationship with God?  I sometimes get students express frustration because they don't feel close to God.  When I ask them how often they pray, the answer is usually "never" or "not often."  With human friends and family members, relationships are fostered by spending time together.  Prayer allows us to foster our relationship with God by spending quality time with Him.  And that means more than just saying grace before meals or showing up for Mass (though those are good things to do).

St. Terese of Lisieux wrote in her dairy, "For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy."  When the scriptures speak of prayer, sometimes it is said to come from the soul or the spirit, but most often -- more than a thousand times -- the scriptures say prayer comes from the heart.  So when we pray, it must come from the heart.  "The heart is our hidden center, beyond the grasp of our reason and of others; only the Spirit of God can fathom the human heart and know it fully... it is the place of encounter... it is the place of covenant" (CCC 2563).  

Lent is fast approaching (Ash Wednesday is Feb. 18), which is a time when the Church pays special attention to the practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. I will be giving more suggestions in the coming weeks on ways to pray.  But the main thing is to simply start praying.  Prayer does not require adopting the right posture or having the correct words to recite.  Christian prayer is not about learning a special technique. The seventeenth century French monk, Brother Lawrence, said that there was no art or science needed to approach God, "but only a heart resolutely determined to apply itself to nothing but Him, or for His sake, and to love Him only."  

When we pray with our heart, it is our whole self that prays.  Turn your thoughts and your affections to God, and that is prayer.  That is something each of us can do today, and something which each of us can stand to do more.  With a heart directed to God, only then will the words of our prayer find meaning.  With a heart directed to God in prayer, only then will we begin to truly know His presence and love.  

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

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Weekly Update from CCM

Good morning, students!  Here's another awesome weekly update from Catholic Campus Ministry!  Today, Feb. 3, is the feast of St. Blaise, a rather obscure 4th century saint who is nevertheless associated with a special tradition in both the East and West of the Church.  Scroll down below this week's schedule to learn more about St. Blaise.

  • Adoration from noon till 12:30 in the chapel.
  • Community Table volunteer service from 3:30-6:00.  Meet at CCM by 3:15 to ride over with us.  We have room for 4 or 5 students, so let us know if you plan on joining us this week.
WEDNESDAY (Tomorrow)
  • Evening Prayer in the chapel at 6:00pm
  • Supper @ the Center from 6:30-8:30.  Pasquale is our chef this week, and Katelyn and Bekka will be leading our after-dinner program.  The topic this week is, "Should I Eat the Apple?"  It will be an interactive discussion about pleasure, desires and right order.  It will also introduce some great topics to get us thinking about Lent (which is coming up faster than you know).
  • Cat Fair in the UC Grand Room from noon till 3:30.  CCM will have a table set up to showcase our awesome ministry.  Please come by and see us!  If you can spare some time to help staff our table, please let me know.
  • Small Group scripture study/discussion from 5:30-6:30 on the second floor of the UC.
  • Simply Stitched meets at CCM at 8:00pm.  If you can knit or crochet, or want to learn how to help make items for charity, please come!
  • Confession/Rosary at 3:30pm
  • Mass at 4:00pm
  • Credo from 5:15-6:30.  As last week's Credo discussion was postponed for the Superbowl, this week we will be discussing the topic of "Life & Death" issues.  We'll talk about the morality of issues such as the death penalty, euthanasia, abortion, self-defense, just war and so forth.  Come with your questions!
  • Small Group scripture study/discussion meets in Balsam Lobby from 6:30-7:30.  All are welcome to participate!

Feb 14-16.  For those who registered to attend this service weekend sponsored by the Diocese of Charlotte, thank you!  If you have not done so already, please remember to bring your registration fee to me this week.  

Today is the feast of St. Blaise.  St. Blaise was an early fourth century bishop and martyr about whom very little is known.  But he has long been venerated in both the east and west for his miraculous healing abilities.  According to legend, even animals would come to him for healing (though they would never disturb him while he was at prayer).  After Blaise was arrested for his Christian faith, he continued to heal people while in prison, including a little boy who was choking on a fish bone.  For this reason, the intercession of St. Blaise has long been invoked for healing of all sorts of throat ailments.  

Coming as it does the day after Candlemas (the popular name of the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord on Feb. 2, which includes a special procession and blessing of candles), the St. Blaise throat blessing is administered using two crossed candles placed at the throat.  Fr. Voitus will be offering the throat blessing after the 9:00am daily Mass at St. Mary's today, but he will also be administering it after all Masses this coming Sunday, including our 4:00pm campus Mass.  Anyone, whether Catholic or not, or whether you have a throat ailment or not, is welcome to come forward after Mass and receive this blessing.

For more information on St. Blaise and the blessing of throats, click here

O glorious St. Blaise, who by your martyrdom left to the Church a precious witness to the Faith, obtain for us the grace to preserve within ourselves this divine gift, and to defend — without concern for human respect — both by word and example, the truth of that same Faith, which is so wickedly attacked and slandered in these our times. You miraculously restored a little child who was at the point of death because of an affliction of the throat.

Grant us your mighty protection in similar misfortunes. And, above all, obtain for us the grace of Christian mortification, together with faithful observance of the precepts of the Church, which keep us from offending almighty God. Amen.

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

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Gospel for Today: 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time

REMINDER:  Mass is celebrated in our chapel at 4:00pm every Sunday afternoon - before you "worship at the altar" of the television during the Superbowl tonight, be sure to worship at God's altar this Sunday.  He's waiting for you!


​A big part of the reason why I am Catholic today has to do with the matter of authority.  Our gospel reading for today deals with Jesus' authority to teach and to cast out demons (Mk 1:21-28).  This is certainly impressive, but why is it important to us?

As an old English Lit major, I notice that the word authority contains the word author.  Much of what I did in college involved expositing on the ideas contained in various works of literature.  Naturally, many of my classmates and I had different notions about the meaning of certain works.  If the author of the text we were studying had been in the classroom with us he could have told us definitely what he had in mind while writing.  Can you imagine taking a class on Shakespeare taught by the Bard himself?
An author has ownership over his story, because he or she is the creator of that story.  In a sense, all of creation is a story -- a divine story told by a Divine Author who continues to write us all into existence.  Just as Shakespeare is the ultimate authority on his own plays, God is the ultimate Authority over the universe.  Just as my English major colleagues and I were trying to get close to the mind the author of the works we studied, the aim of religion and philosophy is to get close to the mind of the Author of us all.  

This is why the episode in today's gospel is such a shock to the people in the synagogue.  The teachers and prophets of the Jewish faith were those to whom God revealed certain truths, and who therefore could speak with the authority of God.  But Jesus was not speaking on behalf of one with authority.  He possessed that authority in His own person.  "The people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes."  In Christ, the Author has entered into the story.  It is no wonder people found His words astonishing.

Jesus further demonstrates His authority by showing command of the spirit world.  A demon was possessing a man in the synagogue. Jesus cast the evil spirit out with the simple command, "Quiet! Come out of him!"  Jesus elsewhere tells us, "If it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you" (Mt 12:26, 28).  By demonstrating command even over unclean spirits, Jesus is both showing His divine authority and inaugurating the kingdom of God.  When we find true authority, we desire to submit to it.  We want to be citizens of that kingdom.  The question for us then becomes, can this kingdom still be found today?

The answer is yes.  Jesus used His authority to establish a Church to share in that authority.  To His apostles he said, "Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Mt 16:19).  After His resurrection, Jesus appeared to His apostles. "He breathed on them, and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained" (Jn 20:22-23).  The specific authority to forgive sins is key to the central mission of the Church, which is to reconcile human beings to God -- to lead us back to the Author who created us.  Jesus possessed God's authority to forgive and bring sinners back into union with Him (Mk 2:1-12).  Jesus passed that very authority on to the Church.

The early history of the Church, found in the book of Acts, the various epistles contained in the New Testament, and in extra-biblical writings from the first, second and third centuries show us examples of a Church exercising the authority of Jesus.  After Jesus ascended, decisions had to be made.  What is the role of gentiles in the Church?  Do gentiles have to obey the Jewish laws?  How are disputes within the Church settled?  How do we identify true or false teaching?  What happens with someone denies the faith, but then repents?  Can we accept such a person back?  Many questions that we take for granted today, such as what books are in the Bible and the definition of the Trinity, had to be discussed and settled by the early Church.  When these questions arose, rather than everyone "doing their own thing," the Church looked to the successors of the Apostles, the bishops ordained by them for leadership, to settle these matters with authority.

We still look to the bishops, the Apostolic successors, for that authority today.  We still come to the Church for reconciliation with God.  Why is this important?  Because we want a Church that will be right when we are wrong.  We want a Church that can challenge and correct us.  We want a Church we can trust to speak the authentic Truth, not just what we want to hear.  We want a Church that can lead us to the Author of us all.  

Those who heard Jesus teach in the synagogue recognized His divine authority.  May we recognize that same voice of authority in the teaching, love, and forgiveness found in the Catholic Church today.

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