Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Weekly Update from CCM

Dear Students,

I hope you are enjoying your short week on campus!  Due to the Easter holiday we will not be having our usual Wednesday night dinner this week, nor will there be Mass on campus this Sunday.  I hope you all are able to celebrate Easter at home with your families.  For those who are staying on campus this week, I am including below the Holy Week schedule for St. Mary's parish.  Please post on our Facebook Group if you need a ride or can offer a ride to St. Mary's for any of them.  

  • TUESDAY (Today)
    • Adoration in the chapel from noon till 12:30.
    • Community Table volunteer service from 3:30 to 6:00.  Meet at CCM by 3:15 for a ride over.
    • No Supper @ the Center because of Easter Break.
    • Mass of the Lord's Supper at 7:00pm
    • Hispanic Outdoor Stations of the Cross at 1:00pm
    • Stations of the Cross (English) in the Church at 3:00pm
    • Celebration of the Lord's Passion at 6:00pm
    • Remember Good Friday is a day of fasting and abstinence from meat.
    • Easter Vigil Mass at 8:00pm
    • Though Holy Saturday is not a mandatory fasting day, the faithful are encouraged to maintain their fast until the Easter Vigil if they are able.
    • Mass at 9:00am
    • Mass at 11:00am
    • No Mass on Campus
The Sacred Triduum marks the high point of the Church's liturgical year.  Over the course of the year the Church recounts the important facts of Jesus' life and incorporates them into the life of the Church.  The Sacred Triduum is the time when we, in a very particular way, remember the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ -- the central events of our salvation.  Triduum means "three days," and the Sacred Triduum runs from the evening of Holy Thursday to the evening of Easter Sunday.  The USCCB web site says, "Though chronologically three days, they are liturgically one day unfolding for us the unity of Christ's Paschal Mystery."  It also makes mention of the Triduum as a "single celebration."

If you are able to celebrate with your local parish in the Triduum, I encourage you to do so.  The Triduum begins on the evening of Holy Thursday with the Mass of the Lord's Supper, where the Church recounts the institution of the Eucharist and the Priesthood.  The celebration ends with a procession with the Eucharist out of the church to "an altar of repose," recalling Jesus' time praying in the Garden of Gethsemene on the night before He died.  But the liturgy does not end on Holy Thursday.  There is no ita missa est, no "the Mass is ended, go in peace."  For it has not ended.  On Good Friday (the only day of the year when no Mass is celebrated), the liturgy silently resumes as the priest, deacon and servers process into the church and prostrate themselves before the bare altar and empty tabernacle.  No bells are rung; there is minimal singing.  The cross is venerated.  Again, the celebration never formally ends.  The people depart in silence.

Though not part of the Triduum liturgy, it is customary in most parishes to pray the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday.  (In many places they are prayed every Friday during Lent, or even all year long).  The Stations of the Cross is a traditional devotion recalling the events of the Passion.  What many people do not realize is that praying the Stations is actually a pilgrimage in miniature.  One of the most important aspects of our Catholic faith is that it is based on historical events.  Jesus Christ is not a fairy tale.  He walked the streets in Jerusalem.  He was actually arrested, tried, condemned and crucified.  And He truly rose from the dead.  

Because these are historical events, faithful Christians throughout history have sought to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and walk the Via Dolorosa ("Way of Sorrow"), following in Jesus' footsteps and visiting the places associated with His Passion.  In the Middle Ages, that became difficult because of Muslim occupation of the Holy Land, so St. Francis is said to have established the first Stations of the Cross, so that people unable to travel to the Holy Land could make a spiritual pilgrimage.  Today most every Catholic church has Stations of the Cross within the church -- some even outside on the church grounds.  On Good Friday, in many cultures, the Stations of the Cross are reenacted dramatically; even more poignantly recounting the historical events of this day.  (As will be the Hispanic Stations of the Cross at St. Mary's at 1:00pm).

The high point of the Triduum, and the pinnacle of all the Church's liturgies, is the Easter Vigil Mass, when the Resurrection is finally proclaimed, our fasting ends, the bells once more ring out and the people sing "Alleluia!"  This is the Mass at which catechumens are traditionally baptized and many thousands of people world wide will be born again into Christ on this night.  It is the longest Mass of the year, with multiple readings from the Old Testament recounting all of salvation history.  Finally, after the joyful celebration of the Risen Lord, we are told, "Go in peace, the Mass is ended, Alleluia, Alleluia!"  The events set in motion on Holy Thursday night have come to pass.  It is finished.

Whether you are celebrating Holy Week at home with your family, or right here in Cullowhee, I encourage you to join with the Church in prayer at this very special time of the year.  Pray for the grace to know Christ more intimately in your own life, so that you may join with Him in sorrow at His suffering for our sins, and join with Him in glory in His resurrection this Easter.

To learn more about the Sacred Triduum, read this message from Pope Benedict XVI from 2011.

God Bless,

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

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Gospel For Today: Palm Sunday


Palm Sunday (or Passion Sunday) begins Holy Week, one of the most intense times of the Church year, which includes not only Palm Sunday, but the Easter Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil and of course, Easter itself.  This is the week we celebrate the central events of Jesus' life culminating in the salvation of man, the renewal of creation, the tearing of the veil between heaven and earth.  As it says in Revelation 21:5, "He who was seated on the throne said, 'Behold, I am making all things new.'"  

There is much that could be said about the deep mystical meaning of the events recounted in the celebrations of this coming week, which incorporate the Last Supper, the arrest, suffering, death and burial of Jesus Christ, and ultimately His glorious Resurrection.  A lifetime studying theology could not exhaust the depths of that spiritual well.  One of the things that makes Holy Week so intense is the range of emotions encapsulated in these celebrations; from the sorrow on the Cross to the joy of the Resurrection.

Palm Sunday itself incorporates some rather intense spiritual highs and lows.  One of the unique things about the Palm Sunday celebration is that it has two gospel readings.  Mass begins with a reading from Mark 11:1-10, recounting the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, with people spreading branches on the road before him, shouting, "Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!... Hosanna in the highest!"  Yet moments later we endure a lengthy reading of chapters 14 and 15 of Mark's gospel, which recount the passion and death of Jesus and all the suffering that entails. We now shout, "Crucify Him!"  The gospel ends grimly with a cold, heavy stone being rolled over the entrance of Jesus' tomb.  

From celebration to desolation, from life to death, from joy to sorrow, all in one Sunday liturgy.  Is that not a reflection of our own spiritual lives?  Do we not all experience highs and lows on our journey toward God?  St. Ignatius of Loyola wrote of this phenomena.  He described times of spiritual consolation as those times when we are on fire with the love of God.  We feel that we can freely give ourselves to God with no hindrances, and see everything in our lives in the context of a loving God.  Spiritual consolation is often marked by joy, but it can also include sadness over our own sins, or when we contemplate the suffering Jesus endured for us (as we do this week especially).  But whether in joy or sadness we are thankful to God and filled with the theological virtues of faith, hope and love.

St. Ignatius also wrote of spiritual desolation.  These are times when our spirit feels heavy.  We feel a lack of faith, hope and love.  We feel the seeming loss of God's presence.  We don't feel like praying.  We become dry and tepid in our faith.  Spiritual desolation can be caused by our own laziness or negligence of the spiritual life.  But it can also be from God.  It can be a trial allowed by Him to help us learn whether we truly love God or simply love the gifts that God gives us.  Spiritual desolation can be God allowing us to see just how much we need Him in our lives.  

When we are in times of desolation, St. Ignatius advises us to be humble and patient.  One of the particular things he advises is to meditate upon how God seems to have abandoned us, and how it feels to be apart from God.  It may sound like an odd thing for a saint to advise, but this is precisely what Jesus did as He hung upon the Cross, in His time of desolation.  "My God, my God," He cries, "Why have you abandoned me?" Jesus is quoting from Psalm 22, which is a prayer for deliverance from suffering.  The psalm begins with this desolate plea and speaks of God's abandonment, but ends with a declaration of praise for God.  Even in the midst of suffering, the soul can give praise and glory to God.  Even in the midst of desolation, we can choose to live for the Lord.  

We can accept the desolation God asks us to endure.  Like Jesus, we can pray, "If it is possible, take this cup from me.  Yet not my will, but Your will be done."  We can accept desolation because of the promise of consolation, the promise of life, joy and peace that is ours if we accept them.  Those who suffer with Christ shall rise with Christ and share in His glory now in His Kingdom on earth, and perfectly for all eternity in the Kingdom that is to come.

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

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Weekly Update from CCM

Dear Students,

I hope your week is off to a great start.  The semester is going by quickly - Easter is almost upon us!  We are currently in the 5th week of Lent.  This coming Sunday is Palm (or Passion) Sunday, when we recount the triumphal entry of our Lord into Jerusalem and His subsequent passion on the Cross.  Next week is Holy Week, which includes the Easter Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday.  This time at the end of Lent is traditionally called Passiontide, as our focus is shifted even more acutely to Jesus' suffering and death for our sake on the Cross.  If you enter the chapel this week you will notice the statues and images are covered, as a sign of our spiritual mourning and increased fasting during this season.

We have a lot going on this week -- please join us for any or all of these events.

  • TUESDAY (Today)
    • Adoration in the chapel from noon till 12:30.  A half an hour of silent prayer time before our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.
    • Community Table volunteer service from 3:30-6:00pm.  Meet at CCM by 3:15 to ride over.  We are shy of volunteers this week so we could use a few extra hands. Please message Matt if you can come.
  • WEDNESDAY (Tomorrow)
    • Adoration in the chapel from 5:30-6:00, followed by Evening Prayer at 6:00 before the Blessed Sacrament.
    • Supper @ the Center is served up hot at 6:30.  Come join us for a free home cooked meal!  For our after dinner program this week, to help us prepare for Holy Week, we will show The Passion of the Christ.  We will watch the first half of the film during our regular program time of 7:30-8:30.  We will pause for a brief intermission and prayer, and allow those who need to leave at 8:30 to do so.  Those who wish to stay late will watch the final half from 8:30-9:30.
    • Adoration in the chapel from noon till 12:30.
    • Small Group scripture discussion from 5:30-6:30 on the 2nd floor of the UC (on the balcony if the weather is nice).
    • Spring Retreat begins this Friday evening.  Please pray for those on retreat with us this weekend.  (Retreatants, check your email for information).
    • 40 Hours of Adoration at St. Mary's begins at 5:00pm and concludes on Sunday morning at 8:00am.  You are most welcome to come by the parish at any time (especially the late night hours) to join in prayer.  You can find a schedule that includes Liturgy of the Hours and other devotions in this week's parish bulletin online.
    • Spring Retreat and 40 Hours Adoration continue.
    • Confession/Rosary at 3:30pm.
    • Mass at 4:00pm.  For our Palm Sunday Mass we will begin outside in the parking lot and have a procession into the chapel.
    • Credo from 5:15-6:30.  Our discussion topic this week will be the Eucharist.  Please come with questions!
    • Small Group scripture discussion at 10:30pm in Starbucks.
Please note that next week there will be no Supper @ the Center on Wednesday due to Easter Break.  There will be no Mass on campus on Easter Sunday.

This Wednesday, March 25, is exactly 9 months before Christmas.  No, I am not telling you this so you can get an early start on your Christmas shopping.  March 25 is when the Church celebrates the Annunciation -- the angel Gabriel's appearance to the Virgin Mary announcing that she was to conceive of the Holy Spirit and bear a Son.  

The Annunciation is a Solemnity, which means when it falls during Lent (as it does this year), our Lenten penance obligations are lifted.  As the feast forecasts the great joy of Christmas, it is like a little taste of Christmas during Lent.  Many cultures mark the day with special food - especially food that one would otherwise have traditionally given up during Lent.  In Sweden, waffles were traditionally served on this day; in fact it is still called Vaffeldagen in that country.

More important than being a day to eat waffles in Sweden is the fact that this day marks the event of Jesus' conception in the womb of Mary.  This is the day of the Incarnation, when the divine logos became flesh for us.  When this is remembered, this foretaste of Christmas no longer seems out of place during Lent.  We should meditate this week upon the coming of God among us as a babe in His mother's womb, in order that He might suffer and die for us on the Cross of Calvary, so that we may be glorified with Him in His Resurrection.
If you can, please come early this week for supper on Wednesday and join us at 5:30 in a time of Adoration in honor of the Annunciation.  We will begin by praying the Angelus, a traditional prayer recalling the events of the Annunciation, and end with Evening Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours.  If you would like to make it to Mass, Fr. Voitus will be celebrating Mass at 5:00pm at St. Mary's.  Either way, we hope this day is a special blessing for you as we prepare for the end of Lent and the start of our Easter celebration.

God Bless,

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

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Gospel For Today: 5th Sunday of Lent


In today's gospel reading (Jn 12:20-33), Jesus speaks of His coming glorification in terms of death and life.  "Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.  Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life."

Is Jesus speaking in paradox?  In order to save our life we must die?  What sort of sense does that make?  Jesus illustrates His point beautifully with the grain of wheat.  A grain of wheat, on its own, is a pretty useless thing.  In order to become what it was meant to be, it has to be buried in the ground -- a kind of death.  Then and only then will the seed become the plant it was meant to be.  It is no accident that Jesus chose wheat to illustrate His point.  Once grown the wheat is harvested and made into bread to feed others.  By falling to the ground and dying, that little grain has become something that gives life to many.

We are also called to sacrifice ourselves for the good of others.  No, I am not necessarily talking about taking a bullet for someone.  I am talking about the little ways we are called to sacrifice our time, talent and treasure for the good of those around us every day.  We are called to be self-less, not selfish.  

Have you ever noticed that those who are overly concerned with self-fulfillment ("finding themselves"), and "getting their due" out of life are seldom happy?  They tend to be more brooding and angst-ridden.  Whereas those who practice self-discipline and self-sacrifice in order to help others seem far happier and more at ease with themselves.  

Viktor Frankl was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist, and also a Holocaust survivor.  In 1941, Frankl applied for and was granted a visa to the US.  The Nazis had already started to round up the Jewish people in Austria for the concentration camps, starting with the elderly.  Frankl knew that he could go to America and escape the danger, but that would mean leaving his parents behind.  He went to St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna to pray about his decision.  When he returned home, he found a piece of marble rubble from a local synagogue that the Nazis had destroyed.  Engraved on the rubble was a fragment of the fourth Commandment -- honor thy father and mother.  Viktor Frankl stayed in Austria to be with his parents.

They were sent, as expected, to the concentration camps.  While there, Frankl observed that those who fared the best in those conditions of extreme suffering were those who understood that being human means being directed to someone or something other than one's self.  They were the ones who were living for something greater than their own happiness and comfort.  Later in life, in his psychiatric practice, Frankl would help people overcome depression by helping them to find meaning in life outside of themselves.

Christ also directs us outside of ourselves.  In summarizing the Ten Commandments, Christ tells us two things: we must love our neighbors, but first and foremost we must love God.  Those two must always go together, the horizontal and vertical aspects of Christianity.  If we live only for ourselves, we miss both.

This is the key to unlocking Jesus' seeming paradox.  If we love our own life too much, if we live only for our self and our own happiness, then we cannot grow.  We will remain a (fairly boring and useless) grain of wheat.  And ironically, we'll be pretty miserable.  (Some have described hell as an eternity trapped within ourselves.)

But if we are willing to sacrifice for the good of others -- as Christ was willing to do for us -- if we love God and neighbor above our own comfort -- then not only will we preserve our life but we will find that blessed peace and eternal happiness for which we each were made.

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

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Weekly Update from CCM

Welcome back from break, students!  I hope you had a relaxing and enjoyable Spring Break.  Today is the feast of St. Patrick.  Are you wearing green?  This custom comes from the tradition which has St. Patrick using a shamrock to teach people about the Trinity (the shamrock has three leaves on one stem, just as the Trinity is three Persons in one God).  The Irish would wear a green shamrock pinned to their clothing on his feast day to remind them of this teaching.  Eventually this turned into just wearing anything green.

More on St. Patrick at the end of this e-mail.  First, here is this week's schedule.

  • TUESDAY (today)
    • Adoration in the chapel from noon to 12:30.
    • Community Table volunteer service from 3:30-6:00.  Meet at CCM by 3:15 for a ride over.  Please let me know if you plan on joining us so we can make sure you get a ride.
  • WEDNESDAY (tomorrow)
    • Evening Prayer in the chapel at 6:00pm.
    • Supper @ the Center at 6:30.  After our home-cooked meal, Katelyn and Joseph will lead us in a program about Mary.  One of her important feast days is coming up - March 25 is the Annunciation.  Why does Mary have such a large role in the Catholic faith?  What do we really believe about her?  What does this tell us about Jesus?  Come find out!
    • Adoration in the chapel from noon to 12:30.
    • Small Group scripture study from 5:30-6:30 on the UC second floor.
    • Simply Stitched knitting and crochet group meets at 8:00 at CCM.
    • Confession and Rosary at 3:30pm
    • Mass at 4:00pm
    • Credo after Mass until 6:30.  Our discussion this week will be about baptism and confirmation, two of the sacraments of initiation into the Church.  Why are they important?  Why are they distinct?  Come with your questions!
    • Small Group scripture study meets at Starbucks at 10:30pm.  This will be the new regular time and location.

March 27-29.  Currently all spots are full.  Those  who signed up need to bring their $20 registration to me this week.  If any spots open up I will post it on Facebook.

St. Patrick's Day has turned into an Irish cultural holiday in America (which sadly to some people means a "drinking holiday").  But did you know St. Patrick wasn't even Irish?  He was born in Britain (some say near Dumbartonshire, Scotland), and captured as a youth and sold as a slave into Ireland.  Ireland was pagan at the time, but there must have been some Christian influence there because Patrick converted to Christianity during his captivity.  He escaped around age 20 and returned to his homeland.  He studied for the priesthood and was eventually ordained a bishop.  He was sent by the Church back to Ireland, the land of his captivity, as a missionary.  He spent the last 40 years of his life there, preaching the gospel and founding churches.

March 17 is celebrated as his feast day because that is the anniversary of his death - his "birthday" into heaven.  On the general Church calendar, his feast is considered a commemoration, which is a rather low-level celebration.  In fact, during the season of Lent, commemorations are not really celebrated at all.  But in some places in the world, including Ireland, St. Patrick's feast day is kept as a solemnity, the highest level of feast day.  When a solemnity falls during Lent, it gives a sort of reprieve from the Lenten fasting, which explains why St. Patrick's day became such an important cultural celebration in Ireland.  That tradition of festivity carried over into the United States with the waves of Irish immigrants in the 19th century.

In the United States, though, March 17 is still only a commemoration on the Church calendar.  We do have two other solemnities coming up soon, though - the feast of St. Joseph on March 19 and the Annunciation on March 25.  So feel free to let up a bit on your Lenten fasting on those two days!

To learn more about St. Patrick, you can read this short article here. Or to go more in depth you can read this longer article from the old Catholic Encyclopedia.  There you will find a beautiful prayer attributed to St. Patrick often called his loricum or "breastplate."  It is a prayer to the Trinity which ends with this invocation to Christ to be with us always.

Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left,
Christ in the fort,
Christ in the chariot seat,
Christ in the poop deck,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

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

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Gospel For Today: 4th Sunday of Lent

Please join my family and I in rejoicing over the birth of our new son, Jasper Alexander Newsome, born this past Thursday.  I couldn't imagine a better way to have spent my spring break!  We will have Mass this afternoon on campus at 4:00pm and resume our regular campus ministry schedule this week.


Jesus teaches Nicodemus.
Today, the fourth Sunday of Lent, is traditionally called Laetare Sunday.  This name comes from the Introit (Entrance) antiphon for the day, which begins Laetare Jerusalem or "Rejoice, Jerusalem!"  The chant tells us to rejoice, all of us who love Jerusalem, and gather round her, for her sorrow is at an end.

This may seem an odd way to begin the Mass, considering the content of the first reading today (from 2 Chr 36).  It tells of the people of Judah "adding infidelity to infidelity, practicing all the abominations of the nations and polluting the Lord's temple ... in Jerusalem."

It speaks of God reaching out to them, again and again, but always meeting rejection.  "[T]hey mocked the messengers of God, despised his warnings, and scoffed at his prophets."  Eventually it got so bad that the enemies of Judah burned down the temple, toppled the walls of Jerusalem, and destroyed all their sacred objects.  The people themselves -- those who were not killed -- were exiled into Bablyon where they became slaves.

The Psalm today (Ps 137) is a lamentation of that time in captivity.  "By the streams of Bablyon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion."  And, "How could we sing the song of the Lord in a foreign land?  If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand be forgotten."

And yet today we begin the liturgy by singing, "Rejoice, Jerusalem!"  In light of the scriptures today, what is there to rejoice over?

As it turns out, plenty.  You see, the story does not end there.  The first reading tells of a God who "had compassion on his people," calling out to them again and again.  God did not forget or forsake Jerusalem, despite its infidelities.  This is an important lesson, for God never ceases to have mercy and compassion on His people.  His mercy did not cease when His people were enslaved by the Chaldeans.  His mercy did not cease when the Persians came to power, under king Cyrus.  His mercy never ceases, despite His people's rejection.

His love and His mercy continued until it reached the level of perfection spoken of in today's gospel (Jn 3:14-21).  This includes the verse that is seen along highways and at football games all across the nation.  "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life."  This is the gospel in a nutshell.  This is the good news.

We see "John 3:16" plastered in so many places that we tend to not see it any more, and not hear the content of its message.  But today, we have St. Paul explaining to us just how much of a mercy this is.  "God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ" (from the second reading today, Eph 2:4-10).

And so we rejoice today.  Because, like the ancient people of Judah, we have rejected God.  We have rejected His prophets, His messengers, His pleas for repentance.  We have rejected His love and mercy.  But He has not ceased to pour it out upon us.  Despite our sins, our transgressions and our failings, God's mercy is constant.  In fact, the depths of our failings make His mercy shine all the brighter.  He has given us His Son, not to condemn us, but to save us.

And so, rejoice, Jerusalem!  Your sorrow is at an end.  Let those of us who love her, who love the ways of the Lord, who have chosen light over darkness, let all of us gather around her.  Let us rejoice!

(Originally written for the 4th Sunday of Lent, 2012).

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

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Gospel for Today - 3rd Sunday of Lent (B)


Today the Church gives us a rather lengthy reading from Exodus where God delivers to Moses the Ten Commandments.  These commandments form the bedrock of our Catholic moral teachings, and while some of them tell us what to do (keep the Sabbath holy, honor your father and mother), the majority of them tell us what NOT to do.  Perhaps for this reason, many people's perception of the moral law is a negative one, something which restricts us from doing what we want.

The moral law is restrictive but not in the way you might think.  The moral law is restrictive in the way that guard rails are restrictive.  It is there to keep us on the right road, to help us avoid driving headlong off of a cliff. There are some roads on the Blue Ridge Parkway I would be terrified to drive on if there were not protective guard rails.  But because they are there I feel safe and so am more free to enjoy the scenic highway.  So the moral law allows us to more freely live good and holy lives.

Our Catholic moral teaching is based on the natural law.  The Ten Commandments belong to this natural law tradition.  So what is the natural law?  In a nutshell, natural law morality is based upon human nature.  There are things which are appropriate and fitting with human nature (morally good actions), and things which run counter to our human nature (morally evil actions). The "thou shalt nots" of the Ten Commandments warn us away from actions which are beneath our human dignity.

Buy a new microwave and it will come with a set of instructions.  In those instructions will be a warning page with a list of things not to do.  Doing those things would be bad, not because they offend the manufacturer, but because they will cause damage to the microwave and prevent it from functioning as it should.  You have a choice.  You can ignore the instructions and hope you don't break your new microwave, or you can heed the warnings given by the people who made the microwave and have a much easier time of using it. 

For us, the Ten Commandments are like that warning page.  The reason immoral acts are bad are not because they offend God, but because they are bad for us.  They go against our nature and harm our human dignity.  St. Thomas Aquinas points out that "the only way we offend God is by acting against our own good" (Summa Contra Gentiles III, 122).  Our sins do offend God.  He is offended because our sins cause us harm, and He loves us.  He loves us so much that He sent His only begotten Son to save us from our sins (Jn 3:16).

Commenting on today's gospel reading, wherein Jesus drives the money changers from the Temple, the third century theologian Origin notes that Jesus "always begins by reforming abuses and purifying from sin; both when He visits His Church and when He visits the Christian soul" (Homily on St. John, 1).  Like the money changers in His Father's house, Jesus desires to drive out sin from our hearts, so that we, too, may be fitting houses for the Father.  It behooves us to reflect on our sins, especially during this season of Lent, so that we can allow Jesus to drive that evil out of the hidden corners of our lives.  

Most of us are not used to reflecting on sin.  Thinking about our immoral actions makes us feel guilty, and guilt doesn't feel good.  Pain does not feel good, either, but it can be useful if it gets us to stop doing the thing that is causing us pain.  The same is true of guilt.  It is a good thing if it leads to repentance, which is the first step of accepting Jesus's offer of redemption.  You cannot repent from a sin of which you are not aware.  Some sins may be obvious to us, but other things we may not even realize are sinful because the judgment of our conscience has been clouded.  There are sins of commission (things we do), as well as sins of omission (things we should have done but didn't).

A great aid to identifying the sins in your life is an examination of conscience.  Many holy people have composed these lists of guiding questions meant to help us reflect on our own lives and conduct.  Most examinations are based on the Ten Commandments.   The USCCB has a very short examination on their web site.  Here is a somewhat longer (but still short) examination written by Fr. John Trigilio.  Most any Catholic prayer book will have an examination of conscience.  Doing an examen at the end of each day is a useful tool to help keep your life oriented toward Christ.

Making an examination of conscience helps us to get past the surface of the commandments and to uncover their heart, as Jesus does.  The commandment says not to murder.  Jesus tells us not to hate (Mt 5:22).  The commandment says not to commit adultery.  Jesus tells us not to lust (Mt 5:28).  Jesus shows us the spirit of the commandments -- a spirit of love.  

Our gospel today ends with this poignant phrase.  Jesus "did not need anyone to testify about human nature.  He Himself understood it well" (Jn 2:25).  Jesus is the perfect man and so He embodies human nature perfectly, untainted by sin.  Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves.  He is our Creator and our Redeemer.  As the author of human nature, He knows best what is good for us, and what will bring us everlasting joy.  A good examination of conscious, followed by sacramental reconciliation (confession) helps us to see ourselves in the light of Jesus, warts and all; as one fallen, but one He desires to redeem.

Let us pray this Lent for the grace to know Jesus more intimately and to follow Him more closely, so that we may come closer to being the beautiful saints He made us to be.

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

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Weekly Update from CCM

Dear Students,

I know this is a crazy week for many of you as you try to catch up with school work after last week's snow days before heading off for Spring Break.  I'll be praying for you this week, and remember that the chapel is always open if you need quiet prayer time.  God speaks to us in the silence of our hearts, and it can be hard to find that silence during busy times.

Most of you will be going off campus for break.  Please travel safely.  My family will have a very eventful Spring Break, as we will be welcoming our sixth child into the world on March 12.  I ask for your prayers for a safe delivery and health for mother and baby.  Our other children cannot wait to meet their new sibling!  

Rather than taking a congruous length of time off for paternity leave, I have arranged to take my leave in smaller chunks for the duration of the semester. That means after Spring Break I will be taking one or two days off per week to be home with my family.  It should not effect our campus ministry schedule much, but it does mean that you'll be less likely to find me in my office if you just pop in.  So be sure to message me if you need to set up a time to chat.  I'm only a text, email, phone call or Facebook message away. :-)

Without further adieu, 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 6:00.
    • Supper @ the Center at 6:30.  Kristen and Katelyn are making homemade calzones for us.  I can't wait!  After dinner, our program will be about Reconciliation.  Lent is a penitential season, when the Church encourages us especially to examine our conscience, repent of our sins, and make a return to the Lord.  For some of us, maybe it has been a long time since we went to confession.  We'll discuss this sacrament and give some tips about making a good confession.  Sacramental Bonus: we will have Fr. Peter Shaw, pastor of St. Joseph's in Bryson City, joining us, and he will be available during and after the program to hear confessions for any who wish to take advantage of the opportunity.
    • Adoration in the chapel from noon till 12:30
    • Small Group scripture study/discussion from 5:30-6:30 in the UC, 2nd floor.
    • Adoration in the chapel from 3:30-4:00pm.
    • No Mass or Credo on campus this week, due to Spring Break.  Mass times at St. Mary's for Sunday morning are 9:00 and 11:00.
Our Monday night small group is changing it's normal meeting time and location.  After Spring Break, Monday's small group will meet at Starbucks at 10:30pm.  We hope this new time and place will enable more people to participate.  Please come, and bring a friend!  Thursday's small group will remain at 5:30 on the 2nd floor of the UC (though if the weather is nice, they may move outside to the balcony).

Our Spring Lake Retreat is set for March 27-29.  We will once again be staying at the Ramsay's lake house (about 15 minutes from campus) - thanks to the generosity of St. Mary's parishioners, Dr. and Mrs. Ramsay.  The theme this year will be "Reasons Why" and you will have the chance to hear some of you fellow students talk about the reasons why they have chosen to remain (or to become) Catholic in their college years.  It's going to be an amazing retreat.  Registration is $20.  Space is limited to 16 students and as of today only a few spaces are left.  Contact me ASAP to register!

Christians are joy-filled people, right?  So does that mean Christians are supposed to always be smiling and happy?  Does that mean Christians shouldn't ever be in a bad mood?  Or grieve?  Is sadness a sin?  I talked about this in a special blog post this past week.  In case you missed it, here's a link.  Check it out.  I even used an animated gif, so I am anticipating a grammy for special effects.  :-)

Have a wonderful break, and I'll see you all back in Cullowhee in a couple of weeks!

Pax Christi,

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

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Gospel For Today: 2nd Sunday of Lent


Today's gospel reading (Mk 9:2-10) gives us the story of Jesus' transfiguration, when Peter, James and John witness Christ shining in all His heavenly glory, standing on the mountaintop with Moses and Elijah.  The transfiguration is ripe with meaning and significance.  After predicting His passion and death, Christ gives His disciples a preview of the glory of His resurrection, and indeed the glory that awaits us as His followers.  He converses not just with two random figures from the Old Testament, but with Moses and Elijah, representing the law and the prophets.  Jesus is shown as the One whom the law and the prophets were pointing towards, their end and their fulfillment.

That Jesus is the fulfillment of the old covenant is why the Church also gives us today the story of Abraham sacrificing his son Isaac.  This is one of the better known stories from Genesis, but perhaps we do not know it as well as we think we do.  For those who are not familiar, God asks Abraham to take his only son to Moriah to be offered as a sacrifice.  Abraham obeys, and takes Isaac with him to the top of the mountain, carrying the wood for the sacrificial pyre.  He binds his son and lays him on the wood, but at the last moment an angel tells him to stop.  A ram appears caught in a thicket, so Abraham sacrifices the ram instead.  God tells him that because he did not withhold even his own son from Him, Abraham and his descendants will be blessed.

On our first reading of this story, we may be shocked that God would ask one of his faithful followers to make such a harsh sacrifice.  But on second reading, we may recall that God was willing to sacrifice His Son for us.  When we read the story a third time, we may marvel at Abraham's obedience and unshakable faith.  And maybe on a fourth reading, we notice the son.  Our reading from the Lectionary today only gives us excerpts from this passage in Genesis.  I encourage you to open your Bible and read all of chapter 22.  One of the verses not found in today's reading is Gen 22:6. "Thereupon Abraham took the wood for the holocaust and laid it on his son Isaac's shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife."

Isaac carried the wood.

We tend to imagine Isaac as a child.  I did a little experiment and did a Google image search for "Abraham and Isaac."  I was not surprised to find that much of the modern artwork depicting this scene shows Isaac as a young boy.  But older artwork shows him as a young man, fully grown.  The scriptures do not tell us how old Isaac was at this time.  But we do know that Abraham was already a hundred years old when Isaac was born (Gen 21:5).  By this time, Isaac was definitely the stronger of the two, which is why he had to carry the wood.

Another verse not given us in today's reading is Gen 22:9b, "Next he tied up his son Isaac, and put him on top of the wood on the altar."  When we read this, we would be wrong to imagine a strong adult man tying up a young child.  Abraham was in his advanced old age, while Isaac was large and strong enough to carry a large amount of wood to the top of a mountain.  Isaac at any point could have overpowered the feeble Abraham, yet he allowed himself to be bound, knowing full well what that meant.

Both Abraham and Isaac demonstrate great faith and obedience.  Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son.  Isaac was willing to be sacrificed.  Jesus, too, was completely obedient to the Father, and Jesus, too, was a willing sacrifice.  Like Isaac, Jesus carried the wood for His sacrifice.  Like Isaac, Jesus allowed Himself to be bound.  When Abraham told Isaac that "God Himself will provide the sheep for the holocaust," that prophecy was fulfilled not by the ram in the thicket, but by the sacrificial offering of God's own Son.

Jesus' transfiguration took place just after He began to teach about His own coming passion (Mk 8:31).  Peter objects to the idea that Jesus, whom he loves, should have to suffer and die.  Jesus rebukes him, and teaches that "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it" (Mk 8:34-35).  It is then, after this difficult saying, that Jesus takes Peter, along with James and John, to the mountain top and is transfigured before them.  Being obedient, holding nothing back from God, and being willing to deny yourself to the point of losing your very life are hard, hard things to do.  But this is the Christian life.  This is the only way to save your life.

Jesus shows us what lies down that road -- suffering, trial, persecution, even death, but also life, glory, radiance and beauty.  Jesus blazes the trail of obedience so that we may follow Him down that path.  Let us pray this Lent for the faith of Abraham and Isaac.  Let us pray for the strength to carry our cross and follow Jesus.  Let us pray for the grace of obedience to our heavenly Father.  And let us pray that we may be transfigured, formed into Christ, sharers in His divine glory.

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