Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Weekly Update from CCM

Dear Students,

Next week may be finals week, but this week is our "week of finals" at CCM -- our final Wednesday night dinner of the semester, our final Mass of the semester, etc.  We know you are busy finishing up your assignments and preparing for exams, but we hope you can take some time to come by and spend some time in fellowship with your CCM family before the semester ends.  Here's what's going on this week.

  • TUESDAY (Today)
    • Adoration in the chapel from noon till 12:30.
    • Community Table volunteer service from 3:30-6:00pm.  Please by at CCM by 3:15 if you need a ride.  Let me know if you can join us!
  • WEDNESDAY (Tomorrow)
    • Adoration in the chapel starting at 5:30.
    • Evening Prayer in the chapel at 6:00.
    • Supper @ the Center at 6:30.  This will be our last Supper @ the Center of the year.  After dinner, we'll be doing a "Senior Send-off" for members of our CCM family who are graduating.  Please come out and show your support!
    • Small Group scripture study meets on the UC Balcony at 5:30pm.
    • Simply Stitched knitting/crochet group meets at CCM at 8:00pm.
    • Rosary & Confession at 3:30pm
    • Mass at 4:00pm.  Last Mass on campus of the year!
    • After Mass we will have a small reception for Jackie, who will be receiving her First Holy Communion this Sunday.  Please stay to celebrate with us!
Next week is Exam Week and so we will not be having our regular CCM schedule of activities.  However, the Catholic Student Center and Chapel will be open all next week, so please come by for prayer, if you need a quiet place to study, or just a place to get away from campus for a little while and de-stress.  We will be volunteering at Community Table next Tuesday from 3:30-6:00 for those who can make it.

Thanks to everyone who contributed in any way to making our fundraising dinner last Friday a success.  We raised over $2000 for our ministry!  Thanks to Fr. Voitus for allowing us to host the dinner at St. Mary's; to our student choir for providing music; to our student speakers, Rebecca and Katelyn; to all our students who helped prepare and serve food, and who stayed to clean up after; to Half Past for providing the food; and most especially to all the parents and St. Mary's parishioners who donated so generously to our ministry.  We couldn't do it without you!

Do you ever feel uncomfortable when non-Catholic friends challenge you about your Catholic faith?  Here's a fictional conversation between two friends about praying the rosary and the canon of the Bible.  It shows how two people can talk openly about their differences and remain civil at the same time.  Remember, St. Peter calls us to always be ready to give a reason for our hope, but to do so with gentleness and reverence (1 Pt 3:15).

At our Credo discussion this past Sunday the topic was marriage, and I know we did not have time to get to all the questions.  The subject of the nature of marriage is a hot button issue today.  Over 10,000 people marched in Washington, DC this past weekend in defense of marriage.  For those who could not be at Credo or who might still have questions, here is an article I put together back in May 2012 when there was a vote on the NC ballot to place a marriage amendment in our state constitution.  Even though that vote was three years ago, the information in the article about the nature and purpose of marriage, and the Catholic Church's teachings about homosexuality are still true and pertinent.  Please give it a read and feel free to contact me if you have any questions surrounding this issue.

I pray that each of you has a blessed week and that you may be free from stress and anxiety at the end of this semester.  Remember that God numbers each hair on your head and never ceases to hold you in His loving care -- that includes during exams and while writing papers, too!  Say a prayer and study well.

God bless,

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

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Gospel for Today - 4th Sunday of Easter


"I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep." - Jn 10:14-15

Many of my students know that I keep a small flock of Soay sheep; a rare breed of primitive domestic sheep from the St. Kilda islands in the north Atlantic.  Yesterday I was celebrating the end of the semester with a cook out for my students at my home.  They always enjoy being able to spend time with my family and see the livestock on my little smallholding.  One student asked me yesterday if being a shepherd made me feel like Jesus.  The answer is usually not, because I am certain my little flock is much easier to care for than the people of God!  But keeping sheep does give me an appreciation of the meaning behind Jesus' words when He calls Himself the good shepherd, and us His sheep.

Early during our gathering yesterday, while I was cooking at the grill, I saw a group of students hanging out by the pasture gate, admiring the animals.  All the sheep were in the far corner of the pasture, eyeing the strange crowd suspiciously.  Later in the afternoon I walked out to the pasture with just one student who wanted to see the new lambs.  This time, instead of keeping their distance, the sheep all lined up and walked toward me.  Why the different reaction?  The answer is simple.  My sheep know me.  They know I am the one who cares for them.  In other words, they trust me.  And because of that, they follow me.  

Jesus says, "I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me."  As members of His flock, we are to trust and follow our shepherd.  People often are described as sheep in a negative way; as dumb animals who are easily led and will follow the crowd.  It is true that sheep prefer to stay in a herd, an individual generally following the group.  But in terms of following a shepherd, sheep will only follow one that they trust.  Do you trust Jesus enough to follow Him?  Or are you following some other shepherd?

Jesus also speaks of wolves coming in and scattering the sheep.   There are many other voices out there calling for our attention besides that of Christ the Good Shepherd.  There are plenty of false gods left to worship.  We worship power.  We worship money. We worship sex.  We worship pleasure.  We worship comfort.  Most of all, we worship ourselves.  Any of these things can easily draw us away from God if we allow them to.  One definition of idolatry is valuing a created thing above the Creator.  This is what is sinful about allowing anything -- even a good thing -- to have a place in our lives higher than God.  It is disordered to love a lesser good above the highest good.  

The truth is, as St. Peter reminds us in today's first reading (Acts 4:8-12), "There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved."  Other things in this world may offer us power or pleasure or fame or comfort or wealth or any number of other good things.  But only Jesus can offer us life.  Only Jesus can offer us forgiveness and mercy.  Only Jesus can lead us to perfection and holiness.  "Beloved, we are God's children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed.  We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is" (1 Jn 3:2).  

So do not run after these other gods.  Do not follow these other shepherds.  There is but one Good Shepherd who has true love and concern for His flock.  He will lead us to where we need to go.  We simply need to learn to recognize His voice and then trust Him enough to follow Him.  We can hear our Shepherd's voice through the Church, as Christ has given us shepherds in His name, as He told Peter after the Resurrection, "Feed my sheep" (Jn 21:17).  We can hear our Shepherd's voice in the scriptures.  We can hear His voice through our prayer.  Once we come to know and love Christ, we will follow when we hear His voice -- not cautiously or hesitantly, but with trust and love.

Christ is the Good Shepherd.  He knows us, His sheep.  May we always strive to know Him, our shepherd, and never hesitate to trust in His loving care for us.

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

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Weekly Update from CCM

Good morning, students!  I hope your week is off to a great start and you are managing to dry out a bit.  This is the penultimate week for our regular CCM activities so we hope you can join us as we round out the year.
  • TUESDAY (Today)
    • Adoration in the chapel from noon till 12:30.
    • Community Table volunteer service from 3:30 to 6:00pm.  Meet at CCM by 3:15 to catch a ride over.
  • WEDNESDAY (Tomorrow)
    • Adoration in the chapel from 5:30 to 6:15pm.
    • Evening Prayer in the chapel at 6:00pm.
    • Supper @ the Center at 6:30.  Pasquale and Shawn are cooking up an Italian feast for us, including penne pasta with cream sauce, garlic bread and Ceasar salad.  We have a fun program planned for after dinner that will have you up and on your feet.  You don't want to miss this Wednesday!
    • Volunteers needed to help with food prep at Half Past for our fundraising dinner at St. Mary's this Friday.  If you are free any time after noon on Thursday and can lend a hand, please message me.
    • Small Group scripture study meets on the UC balcony at 5:30pm.
    • Simply Stitched knitting and crochet group meets at CCM at 8:00pm.
    • Annual Fundraising Dinner at St. Mary's from 6:00 to 8:00pm.  We will need lots of help before the dinner to finalize the food prep and set up the hall; help during dinner to serve beverages and work the kitchen; help after the dinner to clean.  If you are available at all on Friday from noon on to lend a hand, please message me.
    • Year End Cook-Out at my house with Baby Shower for Lexi, from noon till 4pm.  If you have not received the Facebook invitation and would like to attend, please message me for directions.
    • Rosary/Confessions at 3:30pm
    • Mass at 4:00pm
    • Credo from 5:15-6:15pm.  Our discussion this week will be on the sacrament of Marriage.  Come with questions!
    • Small Group scripture study at 10:30pm in Starbucks.
We are planning a Baccalaureate Mass in our CCM chapel at 5:30pm on May 9.  If you and your family/friends would like to participate, please let me know approximately how many are in your group so we can get a sense of numbers.  We will have a small reception after.  

Thanks and God Bless,

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

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Gospel For Today: 3rd Sunday of Easter


"Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things."

This is the conclusion of our gospel reading for today, from Luke 24:35-48.  This, followed by His promise to send the Holy Spirit, are the last words Luke records Jesus saying to the disciples before His Ascension.  This is the meaning of Easter.  This is what it has all been for.  Why did Christ have to suffer and die, and then rise from the dead?  Jesus gives us the answer: so that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in His name.

And not only preached, but actuated.  We saw last week how Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit into the Apostles saying, "Whose sins you forgive are forgiven, whose sins you retain are retained" (Jn 20:23).  Thus the authority to convey Christ's forgiveness to those who repent and confess their sins is given to the Church.  But how are people to know to confess their sins?  How are we brought to repentance?  We need to be told and instructed, so Jesus commands His followers to witness to these things, to go tell the world.  We have examples today of two Apostles, Peter and John, doing just that.  Peter, in the first reading from Acts preaches about how the death and resurrection of the Christ was foretold in the scriptures, and ends his homily with the command to "repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away" (Acts 3:17-19).

Some today wish to believe that Jesus' death and resurrection means automatic forgiveness of sins for everyone, with nothing left to do on our part.  Hell, in this view, is an empty place (if it even exists at all).  All are saved by Christ, no exceptions. Still more, though they may not profess universal salvation, conduct their lives as if it were true.  "Jesus died for me and there is nothing else I need to do."  And so they don't go to Confession, to Mass, read the scriptures, pray, attempt to avoid sin, or make any effort to know God at all.

Those who believe this way are partly correct.  Jesus did die for all.  And there is nothing you or I can do to save ourselves.  We must rely totally on Christ if we are to be redeemed.  The work is His, not ours.  But the Catholic Church does not teach universal salvation.  The reason is summed up in a statement by St. Augustine: "God created us without us: but He did not will to save us without us."  This line from one of his sermons is quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which then immediately reminds us, "To receive His mercy, we must admit our faults" (CCC 1847).

We cannot forget that God is love.  We may think the most loving thing to do would be to universally save all mankind and make it impossible for anyone to go to Hell.  But that is not what love is.  Love does not force anyone into a relationship.  Love beckons and invites.  Love desires to be freely loved back.  Love wants to be in relationship with the beloved.  Heaven is nothing more than eternal union with God.  Hell is nothing less than eternal separation from God.  Our eternal destiny is determined by our relationship with the Creator.  Do we choose to be in relationship with Him or not?  That choice is made by us and by our actions in this life.

Our relationship with God is broken by sin, which originates in the human heart.  Our relationship with God is healed by forgiveness, which originates in the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  This is why St. Peter tells us in today's first reading to "repent" and "be converted."  To repent means to turn around, to change our minds.  We have to change our minds about our sins, turn away from them and back toward God.  To be converted literally means to be transformed.  When we repent from our sins and accept God's gift of forgiveness we are transformed into a new creation -- we become the person God made us to be.  But we do not transform ourselves.  We are converted by God, which can only happen when we turn away from sin and turn toward God.  Thinking we can transform ourselves into holy people is prideful.  Pride is the primordial sin, which is why humility is such an important aspect of growing in holiness.

John also gives witness to the need to repent and accept Jesus' forgiveness of sins in his letter from today's second reading (1 Jn 2:1-5a).  He writes of the importance of not only believing in God, but in living our lives in accordance with His will.  "The way we may be sure that we know Him is to keep His commandments," he writes.  "Those who say, 'I know Him,' but do not keep His commandments are liars and the truth is not in them."

While stressing the importance of keeping the commandments, John does not condemn those who fall into sin.  "My children," he writes, "I am writing this to you so that you may not commit sin.  But if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one."  Our sins separate us from God; Jesus offers us reconciliation.  

Both Peter and John give us the continuation of the Easter message.  This is what Easter was for.  This is what you should do about it.  Repent and be converted.  

Practically speaking, what does this mean? 
  • Become aware of your sins.  Most likely, you know the "biggies" that are weighing on your conscience.  Study the moral teachings of the Church to help you identify other areas of your life that are at odds with the love of God.  Firmly resolve, with Jesus' help, to avoid those sins in the future.
  • Return to the sacraments.  If you have been away from Mass and/or Confession for a while, the best time to return is today.  Right now.  If you don't know what to do, just tell the priest you want to confess but you are not sure how.  He'll gladly walk you through it and rejoice with you in your forgiveness.
  • Don't dwell on your sins!  You've repented and been forgiven, so don't give your past sins any more power over you by dwelling on them.  You are not that sinful person any longer, you are a new creation.
  • Build a relationship with God.  That's why Jesus died for you, and why you repented from your sins -- to restore your relationship with God.  Start working on that relationship today.  Pray.  Every day.  It doesn't have to be long or complex.  Just a few minutes each day to lift your mind and heart to God.  You just have to do it.  Get to know Him more by reading His Word.  One easy way to start is by following this link to today's readings on the USCCB web site.  At the bottom of the page you can subscribe to start receiving the daily Mass readings in your email each day.  Spend time getting to know the scriptures.
  • Finally, and most importantly, allow God to do His work in your life.  He wants to change you for the better, but change can be difficult.  Sometimes it can hurt.  Our human instinct is all too often to fight against it.  Don't do this!  Satan wants you to stay as you are, but God wants you to be so much more.  He's willing to do the heavy lifting to transform you into a saint, but you have to let Him do it.  Giving yourself over to God's will can be frightening, but remember that everything God wants to do for you is good.  There is no need to be afraid.  Give God permission to work in your life.
Christ is Risen!  Turn away from your sins.  Turn towards the Risen Christ, and be transformed!

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

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Coffee, the Rosary & the Bible

An imagined conversation between two friends enjoying coffee in the park...

CHARLES:  Sorry I'm late.  The line at Starbucks was moving really slow.  But I did remember this time that you don't take sugar, so I'm learning!  Here's your coffee.

FRANK: Thanks!  And I don't mind the wait at all.  It's a beautiful day, and I was able to get in some extra prayer time while I waited.  I got through three decades of the rosary.

CHARLES: [smiling] The rosary?  So were you praying or just doing "vain repetitions?"

FRANK:  Gimmie-a-break.  We've been over this, there is nothing "vain" about how I pray.

CHARLES:  I know, I'm just giving you a hard time.  I still don't know why you need those beads to pray, though.

FRANK:  Well, I don't need them, but they do help.  They keep me from losing count!

CHARLES: There you go, that's what I mean!  Why do you need to count your prayers?  I'm just saying all that repetition isn't Biblical.  The Bible tells us not to pray with vain repetitions.  Matthew 6:7.

FRANK:  Your Bible says that.  My Bible says, "do not babble."  And I'm not babbling.  I'm praying, so there.

CHARLES: Well, I don't know what Bible you are reading, but my King James Version says "when you pray use not vain repetitions as the heathens do."  If you want to pray like a heathen, go ahead.  But that's not what Jesus says to do.

FRANK: I think what Jesus was saying was to pray sincerely and don't just say the words.  Right before that, He says, "Do not pray like the hypocrites."  I think He's just reminding us to pray intentionally and with meaning.  We shouldn't just be going through the motions.

CHARLES:  I can agree with that.

FRANK: But this does bring up an interesting point.

CHARLES: What's that?

FRANK: You read your translation of the Bible and think I'm guilty of praying with "vain repetitions" because I pray the rosary.  I read the exact same verse in my Bible that says "do not babble," and I think of the people in your church who like to stand up and speak in tongues.  Sounds like babbling to me.

CHARLES: That's not what we believe they are doing.

FRANK: I understand that.  That's not my point.  My point is that we can both be reading the same passage of the Bible and come to two very different conclusions.

CHARLES: And this surprises you?

FRANK: [laughing] No, it doesn't!  We've had too many conversations for that!  I'm just saying, you say your church's teachings are based on the Bible, right?

CHARLES: Yes, the Bible alone is our sole rule of faith.  That's one of our fundamental principles.

FRANK: So, my question is, which Bible?  Is it the one that says, "vain repetition," or the one that says, "do not babble?"  The translation makes a difference in how that verse is interpreted.  So how do you know you have the right translation?

CHARLES: Well, most people in my church use the King James Bible, and that's what my family has always used.  But I don't think it's a requirement.  I mean, I have other Bible translations I like to read.  The King James can be a bit formal for general reading, so I like to read others, too.

FRANK: So how do you know any of those are accurate?  I mean, if your whole faith is based on the Bible, it seems like it would be pretty important to have an accurate version of the Bible.

CHARLES: It is, I agree.  I guess I never really thought about it, but you are right, there are some translations that I just won't use.  I don't like paraphrases.  I feel that more literal translations are more authentic.

FRANK: And you are trusting in the translators to be faithful to the original languages.

CHARLES: Yes, I have to, I guess.  I mean, I don't speak ancient Hebrew or Greek or Aramaic.  I don't know anyone who does.  But the people who translate the Bible have studied these ancient languages and so we rely on their expertise.

FRANK: Do you think the Bible translators are infallible?

CHARLES: Of course not!

FRANK:  Good!  If you had said "yes" I would have called you out because you pick on me for thinking the Pope is infallible!  But that raises another question.  If you believe that the Bible is the infallible word of God, what does it mean if you don't have infallible translators?  Wouldn't that mean that your English edition of the Bible (whichever one you use) might contain errors?

CHARLES: We believe that the Biblical text, in its original languages, is the inspired word of God.  But any given translation or edition of the Bible could in theory contain errors, yes.

FRANK:  That's what we believe, too.  The difference is that you accept only the Bible as your rule of faith.  I don't.  As a Catholic, I believe in both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.  That makes a big difference.

CHARLES: What do you mean?  Does that mean you think Catholic translations of the Bible are infallible?

FRANK: No, what it means is that we interpret the scriptures in line with our tradition.  We don't have to interpret the scriptures by themselves.  So if there is a question about a particular translation or something, it gives us a broader context in which to work that out.  I'm just thinking what it would be like if I were in your shoes and only had the Bible to go on.

CHARLES: What do you mean?  Isn't it simpler and easier to just go by what the Bible says?

FRANK: But unless the translation you are reading was made by infallible translators, how do you know your Bible is really inerrant?  I'm just saying if the only thing you have to go by is the Bible, it's pretty important to have a correct Bible.

CHARLES: I see what you are saying...

FRANK: And for that matter, how do you even know you have the right books in the Bible?

CHARLES: Why wouldn't we?

FRANK: Well, you know Catholic Bibles and Protestant Bibles are different.  We have books you don't have in yours.

CHARLES: You mean the Apocrypha?

FRANK: We don't call them that, but yeah.  There were seven books in the Old Testament that Martin Luther took out.  So what I'm wondering is, how do you know he was right?  I mean, if my whole faith was based on the Bible, I'd want to make sure I had the whole Bible to go by.

CHARLES: But Luther removed them because they were not authentic.  The Jewish people didn't recognize them.

FRANK: Jewish people don't recognize the New Testament, either, but we accept that.  I'm just saying that if you think back to the beginning of the Church, there must have been different church leaders who had different ideas about what books did and did not belong in the Christian canon.  I'm sure that was a big issue for a while.  But the Church settled it, in councils and things, and eventually the whole Church agreed on this one canon.  Then in 1500 and something this guy Martin Luther comes along and basically says, "The Church is wrong, these seven books need to go," and publishes his Bible without them.  I just think it's pretty ironic that the man who started the whole Sola Scriptura thing with Protestants himself thought he had the authority to decide what should and shouldn't be in the Bible.

CHARLES: I never thought about that.  But I'm sure there were other good reasons Luther left those books out.  I mean, he did teach that the Bible was the sole rule of faith, with no higher authority.

FRANK: I know.  And he also taught consubstantiation, that the Real Presence of Christ coexists in the Eucharist with the bread and wine.  Is that what you believe, too?

CHARLES: No, our church believes that the bread and wine at communion are just symbols.

FRANK:  So if you think Martin Luther was wrong about that, how do you know he wasn't also wrong when he took those books out of the Bible?  All I'm saying is that if you believe in the Bible alone, you better be really certain you have an accurate and complete Bible.

CHARLES: That's true, it is important.  And I see what you are saying. But how do you know your Bible is accurate and complete?  I mean, you don't have infallible translators and publishers, so aren't you in the same boat?

FRANK: Except we do have an infallible Church.

CHARLES: So you think the Church is above the Bible?

FRANK: No, I think the Church is before the Bible.  Think about it.  The Bible, as we know it now, did not exist in Jesus' time.  Jesus and the Apostles had the Jewish scriptures.  That was their Bible.  The New Testament came later.  It took a few centuries for the New Testament to be written and the Church to determine what books belonged in it.  But even after that it was more than a thousand years before the printing press was invented and people could be reasonably expected to even have books.  And probably a couple of hundred years after that before most people could afford them, and knew how to read them.

CHARLES: What's your point?

FRANK: Jesus did not give us the Bible -- at least not directly.  He did found a Church.  And the Church gave us the Bible.  It was the Holy Spirit, working through the Church, that put the whole thing together.  And it is the Church that teaches us what is and is not in the Bible, and the Church that teaches us that the Bible is the inspired word of God.  Think about it -- for most of history, most Christians did not learn the Bible by reading it.  They learned their Bible because the Church taught it to them.  We take printed Bibles for granted today, but most Christians never had that.

CHARLES: I think I see where you are going.  You are saying that you believe what you do about the Bible because of what the Church teaches.

FRANK:  Exactly.  And I trust in the infallibility of the Church because she teaches with Christ's authority.  One of my favorite theologians is St. Augustine --

CHARLES: I love him.

FRANK: --he said once, "I would not believe in the gospels if the authority of the Catholic Church did not move me to do so."  When I first read that I didn't know what he meant by it. But I think I do now.

CHARLES: He trusted in the Church, so when the Church taught him about the gospels, he believed because of that trust he had in the Church.

FRANK: Right.  And isn't that how we all come to faith, for the most part?  I mean, how many people check out the Bible from the library and just start reading it cold, and from that come to faith?  We are taught to believe in the Bible by our parents, our Sunday school teachers, our pastors -- by people in the Church.  So really you and I are not so different.  I just acknowledge that my Church has divine authority to teach me, so I know I can trust in her teachings -- including what she teaches about the Bible.

CHARLES: Well, I trust my church, too, but I trust in the Bible more.

FRANK:  So if your church taught you one thing from the Bible, and you read the Bible and think it is saying the opposite thing, who is wrong?  You?  Your church? Or maybe your Bible?

CHARLES: I don't know man, stop bugging me with these hypotheticals.  

FRANK: I'm just saying, it's an important question!  Or I think it would be for me, if I were basing my whole belief system on how I interpret the Bible.

CHARLES: And I'm just saying my coffee is gone, and I'm running late for class.  Say, I have a test in this next class, can you please pray for me?

FRANK: Sure, but just once.

CHARLES:  Why just once?

FRANK: I wouldn't want to be guilty of "vain repetitions" now, would I?

Charles groans and crumples up his empty coffee cup, throwing it at Frank, who bats it away.  

FRANK:  See you tomorrow?

CHARLES:  You bet.  Next time it's your turn to buy the coffee!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Weekly Update from CCM

Dear Students,

I hope you are having a great week, despite the rain.  I'm sure you have heard "April showers bring May flowers."  One of the psalm antiphons from Morning Prayer today in the Liturgy of the Hours is, "You have visited the earth and brought life-giving rain to fill it with plenty, alleluia."  What a beautiful way to envision God's Incarnation, as a loving rain falling from heaven to bring new life to the earth.  Remember that the Easter season lasts six weeks, until Pentecost -- so we can still say Happy Easter!

Here is this week's schedule.

  • TUESDAY (Today)
    • Adoration from noon till 12:30 in the chapel
    • Community Table volunteer service from 3:30-6:00pm.  Meet at CCM by 3:15 for a ride.  Please let me know if you'd like to volunteer today!
  • WEDNESDAY (Tomorrow)
    • Adoration from 5:30pm until the end of Evening Prayer, in the chapel.
    • Evening Prayer at 6:00pm.
    • Supper @ the Center at 6:30pm.  This week JohnMark and Mairenn are cooking up some jambalaya for us.  Yum!  Our program this week, led by Shawn and Pasquale, will take a look at Film and Faith, focusing on the Star Wars saga.  How does Star Wars relate to Catholic faith and morality?  It will be a great discussion and we hope you can join us.
    • Fundraising Dinner volunteer meeting at 8:30.  Joan from Half Past will meet briefly with all students volunteering to help at our upcoming fundraising dinner (see below).
    • Small Group scripture study meets on the UC balcony from 5:30-6:30.  Bring a friend!
    • Confession/Rosary at 3:30pm
    • Mass at 4:00pm
    • Credo from 5:00 to 6:15pm.  Our discussion topic this week will be on Liturgy & Prayer.  How do Catholics pray?  Does it matter how you pray?  Learn how to enrich your prayer life -- come with questions!
    • Small Group scripture study meets at Starbucks at 10:30pm.  Bring a friend!
Are you graduating this May?  We'd like to honor you at our last Wednesday dinner of the semester.  We are also seeing about scheduling a Baccalaureate Mass to celebrate your success.  Please get in touch with me if you are interested in participating in either of the above.

Our annual campus ministry fundraising dinner will be at St. Mary's on Friday, April 24, at 6:00pm.  We rely on student volunteers to make this happen.  We need volunteers on Thursday afternoon and also Friday afternoon and evening.  If you can help, please get in touch with me or join our special Facebook event for the dinner volunteers.  There will be a brief meeting at CCM this Wednesday evening at 8:30 with Joan from Half Past (the caterers) for all volunteers.

In my gospel reflection this past Sunday, on Divine Mercy, I mentioned how our gospel reading from John 20:21-23 shows us where Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, grants the Apostles the authority to forgive sins -- the start of the Sacrament of Confession or Reconciliation.  There is, in fact, much more scriptural evidence than this for the establishment of this sacrament, as well as the testimony of many early Church Fathers.  If you are curious as to the origins of this sacrament, or need help answering the question, "Why do Catholics confess their sins to a priest?", take a look at this article below.  It was originally written for an RCIA class several years ago, but I have just now added it to our campus ministry blog to make it easier for you to share with others.
Until next week, I pray you continue to have a blessed Easter season!
Christus Resurrexit!

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

Confession in the Scriptures & Early Fathers

The Sacrament of Confession, also called Penance or Reconciliation, is considered one of  the Sacraments of Healing in the Church (along with the Anointing of the Sick). While Baptism (one of the Sacraments of Initiation) conveys the forgiveness of sins, original and actual, it does not prevent the baptized person from committing any future sins, nor do its effects automatically forgive any future sin we may commit. For forgiveness of sins committed after baptism, the Christian has recourse to the Sacrament of Confession.

If the Eucharist is the regular meal of the Christian (our daily bread), then Confession is like our daily bath. It is a Sacrament that the Church encourages us to take advantage of often. The Pope himself maintains a regular schedule of weekly confession.

As mentioned earlier, this sacrament is called by different names, each one referring to some aspect of the sacrament. Confession refers to the fact that the penitent audibly confesses his particular sins. Penance refers to the penance that the priest assigns us, as satisfaction for our sins. Reconciliation refers to the end result of our confession and forgiveness, our reconciliation with God. This sacrament is also called the Sacrament of Conversion, since through it we turn away from our sins and towards God.

For most non-Catholics, it is the act of audibly confessing our sins to a priest that they find objectionable. Let us, then, walk through Scripture to see just where this practice began.

And just then some people were carrying a paralyzed man lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” The some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, perceiving their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – he then said to the paralytic – “Stand up, take your bed and go to your home.” And he stood up and went to his home. When the crowds saw it, they were filled with awe, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to human beings.
Matthew 9:2-8

In this passage, the Jewish scribes are troubled by Jesus’ claim to be able to forgive sins. They understand, and correctly so, that only God has the authority to forgive us our sins, since our sins are ultimately committed against God. What they fail to understand is that Jesus is God, and as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, possesses this divine power to forgive sins. On that level, this passage is an affirmation of the divinity of Christ. On another level, however, this passage also indicates that God has given this authority “to human beings.” Christ’s divinity, joined now for all of eternity with human flesh, has enabled human beings to participate in this divine ministry of Christ, the ministry of forgiveness, as we shall now see.

After the Resurrection, before Christ Ascended into heaven, He said to the Apostles:

“As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
John 20:21-23

Before, we read that Christ explicitly has the authority to forgive sins, and it is implied that this authority is, or will be, inherited by humanity. In this passage, we read now where Christ, having the authority to forgive sins, expressly passes this authority on to the Apostles, the first leaders of the Church. If the Apostles are to be able to either forgive or not forgive people’s sins, of course they would have to have some way of knowing what those sins are. Thus the need for auricular confession. Unless a penitent comes before a minister of Christ’s Church and confesses his particular sins, that minister will not know what sins to forgive or retain.

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
2 Corinthians 5:18-20
Here we read St. Paul very clearly speaking of the “ministry of reconciliation.” This ministry, he says, God has given to us. It is not a ministry that belongs to God alone, as some Protestants believe, and as the pre-Christian Jewish community we encounter in Matthew’s Gospel above understood. God has deemed to share this ministry with His Church. This does not mean that the ministers of the Church have this authority by their own right. No, the authority to forgive comes only from God. But, as St. Paul says, “we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us.” As with all the other Sacraments, the priest is simply standing in persona Christi, that is, in the person of Christ. In the confessional, it is Christ who forgives you, through His ministers.

Are there any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.
James 5:14-16

James here speaks of the prayers of church “elders.” The Greek word that is translated as “elder” in the New Testament is prebytoi, which is where we get our English word “presbyter” or “priest.” James is again confirming what we have seen in other places in the New Testament. That Christ left the authority to forgive sins to His Church, His priests, who are His vicars. So “confess your sins to one another” James implores us, “so that you may be healed.” For is there is no confession, there can be no forgiveness.

The earliest Christian instructional document that we have, outside of the New Testament, is the Didache, also called The Teachings of the Apostles, written about the year 70 AD. In it, we read that we are to “confess your sins in church.” For those that think audible confession was a trick of the Catholic Church dreamed up in the Middle Ages, they only need to read the writings of the Early Church Fathers to be corrected.

Tertullian, in the year 203, speaks of a problem that many today still have going to confession. It’s like going to the doctor. It doesn’t seem to be a pleasant matter, and our tendency is to avoid it whenever we can. Yet if we are sick, we need to see the doctor, and we cannot be healed otherwise. Tertullian writes, “[Regarding confession, some] flee from this work as being an exposure of themselves, or they put it off from day to day. I presume they are more mindful of modesty than of salvation, like those who contract a disease in the more shameful parts of the body and shun making themselves known to the physicians; and thus they perish along with their own bashfulness" (Repentance 10:1 [A.D. 203]).

One of the great Easter Fathers of the fourth century, John Chrysostum (whose name means “golden tongued”) has this to say. "Priests have received a power which God has given neither to angels nor to archangels. It was said to them: ‘Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose, shall be loosed.’ Temporal rulers have indeed the power of binding; but they can only bind the body. Priests, in contrast, can bind with a bond which pertains to the soul itself and transcends the very heavens. Did [God] not give them all the powers of heaven? ‘Whose sins you
shall forgive,’ he says, ‘they are forgiven them; whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.’ What greater power is there than this? The Father has given all judgment to the Son. And now I see the Son placing all this power in the hands of men [Matt. 10:40; John 20:21–23]. They are raised to this dignity as if they were already gathered up to heaven" (The Priesthood 3:5 [A.D. 387]).

Today, people who deny that the Church has any authority to forgive sins no longer go to the priest for confession. “I confess my sins directly to God,” they say, “and He forgives me.” And then they pay hundreds of dollars to a psychiatrist who will sit and listen to their sins.

The Protestant has it half right. If you are truly sorry for your sins, God will forgive you, even if you do not confess your sins to a priest. Remember, God made the Sacraments for our benefit, but He Himself is not bound by them. This act of being “truly sorry” for one’s sins is what the Catholic Church calls perfect contrition. The Catechism teaches, “Such contrition remits venial sins; it also obtains forgiveness of mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to have recourse to sacramental confession as soon as possible” (CCC 1452).

What this means is that if someone is perfectly contrite, that contrition itself brings about the forgiveness of sins. But, if someone is really perfectly contrite, they should also be moved to seek out sacramental forgiveness in the confessional. Otherwise, there is the danger of “fooling oneself” into believing you do not need the sacrament. This is what the entire Protestant movement has done, by doing away with sacramental confession altogether.

The Catholic Church teaches that even imperfect contrition is sufficient for sins to be forgiven in the confessional. If you are repentant enough to come to confession, that shows that your heart is at least seeking reconciliation with God, and God will not keep Himself from those who seek Him.


Many non-Catholics also object to the performance of penance associated with this sacrament. They see it as some kind of “works-salvation” that they object to. Remember that “penance” and “repent” have the same root word. Christ calls each of us to repent. If to repent means to “turn around,” then penance is the act of that turning.

To properly understand why we need to perform acts of penance as satisfaction for our sins, we need to first understand just what sin is, and what its effects are. A sin is a breaking of a relationship. Our sins not only harm our relationship with God, but many of them also harm our relationships with our neighbors, and even with ourselves.

Absolution means that we are forgiven of our sins, but it does not take away all the negative effects of the sin itself. You cannot steal money from someone, confess that sin, and expect to keep the money. Remember that God is not only perfectly merciful, but also perfectly just. Justice requires some satisfaction for our sins to be made.

If you are playing baseball in my back yard, accidentally hit the ball through my window, and come up to me and apologize, I’ll probably forgive you. I know it was an accident, and I won’t be mad at you. You are forgiven. But my window is still broken, and someone needs to pay to fix it. Justice requires that since you broke it, you fix it.God is perfectly merciful, and so He will always forgive us if we come to Him with a contrite heart. But God is also perfectly just, and so expects us to make proper atonement for our transgressions.

The traditional penances spoken about in the New Testament and by the Early Fathers are fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. The particular penance assigned by a particular priest to a particular penitent may vary widely. A good priest will try and properly fit the penance to the sin. At different times in history, penance was more or less harsh than it is now. For very grave sins, medieval penitents would often be required to perform public penance of one form or another, such as standing outside the church in sack cloth and ashes for a period of so many days. Today, most penances prescribed are in the form of prayers or Scripture readings.

And “prescribed” is a very good way of looking at the penance assigned to you by your confessor. Just as the doctor may prescribe a particular medicine for your physical healing, the priest prescribes the medicine of penance for your spiritual healing. This proper understanding of penance also can help one come to grips with some of the more “controversial” Catholic doctrines, such as purgatory. If we have been forgiven of our sins, then we are not condemned to eternal damnation when we die. But we must also perform just satisfaction for our sins before we enter heaven. If we have not done proper penance on earth, we must complete the satisfaction for our sins in purgatory (where we are “purged” or made pure, before we enter heaven).

The Sacrament of Confession, though avoided by many Catholics today, and abandoned completely by Protestants, is a Sacrament of God’s Love and Mercy. G. K. Chesterton, when asked why he became a Catholic, replied, in his usual witty manner, “To get my sins forgiven.”

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Gospel For Today: 2nd Sunday of Easter


In the Jubilee Year of 2000 Pope St. John Paul II declared the second Sunday of Easter to be celebrated each year as a feast to Jesus' Divine Mercy.  And now 15 years later, Pope Francis has declared another Jubilee Year -- a year devoted to Mercy, to be celebrated from Dec. 8, 2015 (the feast of the Immaculate Conception) to Nov. 20, 2016 (the feast of Christ the King).  In his very first Angelus address as Pope, Francis reminded us, "Let us not forget that God forgives, and God forgives always."  This extraordinary holy year is a needed reminder to the world of God's great and loving mercy that can be found in the Catholic Church.

Recently I had the pleasure of escorting several students on retreat, the theme of which was "Reasons Why."  Each student on retreat was asked to reflect on the reasons why they were Catholic.  For some a decision was made to become Catholic as an adult.  For those born into the Church the decision must still be made in adulthood to remain a Catholic.  Why make that choice?  What does the Church have to offer?

When the English writer G. K. Chesterton was asked why he became a Catholic, he famously answered, "To get my sins forgiven."  Chesterton had a way of getting to the heart of the matter.  Truly, if the Church is stripped down to its core, the only reason for its existence is to mediate God's mercy to sinners so that they (we) may be reconciled to Him.  That is it.

The whole drama of salvation history has been all about this.  God's covenant relationship with the people of Israel.  The Incarnation.  All the teachings of Jesus. His passion and death.  His glorious resurrection.  The establishment of the Church.  All this has been about one simple thing: reconciling man to God by means of His mercy.

In our gospel today the Risen Christ appears to the Apostles one week after that first Easter Sunday. They are locked away in a room, hiding in fear.  But Christ does not want them to be hidden.  He does not want them to be fearful.  So He gives them His peace.  And He sends them on a mission.

"Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you."  And when He had said this He breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.  Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them.  Whose sins you retain are retained" (Jn 20:21-23).  

And so Jesus, the Son of God and the only man possessing God's authority to forgive sins, passes that authority on to the first leaders of the Church; an authority subsequently passed on to every priest and bishop from that time to this.  This is the origin of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, or what is commonly called Confession.  We humble sinners come before the priest, that minister of mercy, to confess our sins.  The priest, not on his own authority but with the authority granted by Christ through the Holy Spirit, conveys God's forgiveness.  

Elsewhere in scripture St. Paul tells us:

"All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them.  And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us.  We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God" (2 Cor 5:18-20).

God wants nothing more than to shower His mercy upon us, but because His mercy comes from love it cannot be forced.  It can only be accepted.  Each time we come to the confessional we accept God's gift of mercy.  Each time a soul comes back to the Church, God rejoices at the reconciliation.  This is why He established the Church -- to open wide the gates of His mercy.

Come through those gates.  Come into the Church, the "community of believers that is one one heart and mind" (Acts 4:32).  To be reconciled to God is to be reconciled to one another.  Mercy is the mission of the Church and mercy is the mission of all in the Church.  The priest is the ambassador of Christ sacramentally in the confessional.  But every Christian is an ambassador of Christ in the world, helping to spread the message of His mercy to all who need it.  To receive God's mercy is to become yourself a conduit of mercy for others.  Every time you forgive someone in your heart, you are doing God's work.  Every time you hold anger or hatred in your heart toward another, you are doing the work of Satan.  Do not allow bitterness and anger to gain a foothold in your life.  Be an ambassador of forgiveness.  Show mercy to others, and you will know God's mercy all the more.

Let us pray for an increase of mercy in the world and in our hearts, today on this day of Divine Mercy, during the extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, and for all years to come.

Saturday, April 11, 2015


As a follow up to my previous posts on the "wedding cake" debate regarding same-sex marriage (from April 3 and April 4), I want to respond to certain criticism I have seen suggesting that those who decline to participate in same-sex wedding ceremonies (such as bakers refusing to make wedding cakes) are being un-Christian.  The accusation is that people who make such decisions in the name of their faith are going against the teachings of Jesus.

It can be an effective argument.  Christians are called to follow Jesus' example in love.  Christians are commanded not to judge others.  Are those who refuse, on religious grounds, to bake wedding cakes for same-sex marriages hypocrites?

Many memes I have seen along these lines have the same basic message.  Jesus ate with sinners; and you won't even sell them a cake. Ouch.  That can cut to the heart, especially if we are refusing to bake that wedding cake out of hatred or fear of association with people we deem to be unclean, like modern day lepers.  And no doubt many people feel this way about homosexual couples.  But is that necessarily the case?

Again, as I mentioned in the last two posts I made on this topic, there are important distinctions many are missing.  There is a fundamental difference between associating with sinners and participating in their sin.  Jesus associated with known sinners.  Jesus never participated in their sin.  Christ dined with prostitutes and tax collectors (who were viewed as little more than government-sanctioned thieves).  Christ did not support or encourage them in their prostitution or thievery.  Jesus associated with sinners in order to lift them out of their sin, not affirm them in it.

Consider the encounter between Jesus and the woman caught in adultery (Jn 8:1-11).  The people were preparing to stone her for her sin.  Jesus poignantly said, "Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone."  The people walked away, because none of them were prideful enough to claim to be without sin.  The message is that it is hypocritical of us to condemn a sinner because we are sinners ourselves.  But the story does not end there.  Jesus also does not condemn the woman but instructs her, "Go, and sin no more."  Christ forgives her in order to free her from her sins, not to allow her to continue sinning.  Jesus' message to the same-sex couple is the same: "Go, and sin no more."  (By the way, He has that same message for you and me).

Is the baker who refuses to make the wedding cake like the crowd wanting to stone the adulterous woman?  Again, an important distinction needs to be made between condemning someone for their sin and choosing not to involve ourselves in their sin.  Our faith teaches us not to judge others (Mt 7:1).  But we are required to judge actions -- chiefly our own actions.  We are expected to do good and not evil.  That's what the Ten Commandments are all about.  We are called to foster virtue and avoid vice.  It is sinful for us to engage in immoral actions, and doubly sinful for us to lead others into sinful actions.  A baker can refuse to make a wedding cake for a same-sex marriage because he does not wish to involve himself in a sinful action.  By so doing the baker is judging his own actions and making a decision about what is right or wrong for him to do.  Now he may also be judging the same-sex couple in his heart, and that would be wrong.  But we have no way of knowing that.  To assume that the baker has hateful intentions would mean we ourselves are guilty of judging others.

One cartoon I recently came across showed an overweight man in line at a fast food restaurant.   The young man behind the register is refusing to serve him because gluttony is a sin.  The message is clear: if we say it is OK to refuse service to someone because we think they are sinning, where do we draw the line?  This argument will no doubt convince a lot of people who do not make the distinction between associating with the sinner and participating in the sin.  The cashier in the cartoon is being hypocritical because he, himself, is a sinner.  But there is a difference between refusing to sell a cake to a same-sex couple because we think they are sinning, and declining to design and create a special cake to celebrate a same-sex wedding.  There is a difference between a cake and a wedding cake, just like there is a difference between a dress and a wedding dress.  The latter is specially meant to celebrate and honor the occasion.  If we understand it to be an occasion of sin, we should be free not to involve ourselves in it.

So what would Jesus do?  Jesus was a carpenter, not a baker.  Would Jesus have made a table or a stool for a man who worshiped Baal?  No doubt he would.  Would Jesus have carved an altar to be used in making ritual sacrifices to the false God?  Can anyone even imagine Him doing so?  The question answers itself.

If we stop associating altogether with anyone we think is living a sinful lifestyle, then we are being judgmental and hypocritical.  A just society must be able to tolerate sinners to a certain degree because we are all sinners.  All of us fall; all of us need forgiveness.  But a just society must also allow each individual to follow his or her conscience and not force anyone to engage in a sinful act or participate in the sinful action of another.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Weekly Update from CCM

Dear Students,

I hope you all had a wonderful Easter Break.  The bad news is that the next break is not until Summer break.  The good news is the next break is Summer Break!  For some of you, this will be your last semester at WCU.  We want to honor anyone graduating; if this applies to you and you are interested in participating in a Baccalaureate Mass, please email me.  I would need to know which Commencement you are participating in, approximately how many family/friends you'd have coming, and when they would be arriving in town (i.e. are they coming up the Friday before?).  

We are back in the swing of things at CCM.  Here is this week's schedule.

  • TUESDAY (today)
    • Adoration in the chapel from noon till 12:30.
    • Community Table volunteer service from 3:30-6:00pm.  Meet at CCM by 3:15 for a ride over.
  • WEDNESDAY (tomorrow)
    • Adoration in the chapel from 5:30-6:15.
    • Evening Prayer (vespers) in the chapel at 6:00.
    • Supper @ the Center from 6:30-8:30.  Jackie and Pasquale are cooking, and our program is being led by Mairenn and Bekka.  They have a special CCM scavenger hunt game night planned for us, so you don't want to miss this week!
    • Adoration in the chapel from noon to 12:30.
    • Small Group Bible study on the UC balcony from 5:30-6:30.
    • Simply Stitched knitting & crochet group meets at CCM from 8:00-9:30.
    • This Sunday at the 11:00am Mass at St. Mary's, our own Jessica McLawhorn will be received into full communion with the Catholic Church with the sacraments of Confirmation and Eucharist.  Please join us if you can to celebrate with Jessica!
    • This Sunday is also Divine Mercy Sunday.  Our schedule on campus will be slightly different.  We will begin at 4:00pm by praying the chaplet of Divine Mercy together -- for those who have never done so, it is super easy and we'll have guides on hand.  Mass will begin immediately after the chaplet (approximately 4:15 or so).
    • Our Credo discussion after Mass will be about the Eucharist.  Come with questions!
    • Small Group Bible study meets at 10:30pm in Starbucks.

One of the ways we celebrate the end of the year at CCM is with a Fundraising Dinner at St. Mary's.  It's a wonderful way to not only raise funding so that our ministry can continue, but also to showcase our students and the good work we are doing. We can't do the fundraiser without student help!  Our dinner is being catered by Half Past, and they need student volunteers to help pull it all together.  Our dinner is Friday, April 24, at 6:00pm.  We need student volunteers to help prep food the day before (Thursday) and also on Friday afternoon.  We also need students to help set up and decorate the hall at St. Mary's, to be on hand to serve food and meet & greet our guests.  Finally, we need all the help we can to clean up after.  If you can volunteer to help, please sign up via the Facebook Event we have created for our volunteers.  Thanks!  

Today is Tuesday in the Octave of Easter on the Church's liturgical calendar.  What does that mean?  Octave means "eight days."  Major celebrations in the Church year such as Easter and Christmas are celebrated with octaves, meaning instead of just one day we rejoice for eight full days.  Moreover, on the liturgical calendar, these eight days are in many ways treated as one.  So each day this week is Easter Sunday, in a way of speaking.  In praying the breviary, the psalms and antiphons are the same each day this week.  Why celebrate octaves?  Is it because these celebrations are so special they simply cannot fit all in one day?  Partly.  But the octave also points to the reality that Jesus does something very special for the world in His Incarnation, Passion and Resurrection.  The number seven was always very significant for the Jewish people because of the seven days of creation.  Jesus brings us into the "eighth day" of creation -- the new creation -- which is why Sunday is such a special day for us.  Sunday was counted by the Israelite as the first day of the week.  So for us it is the first day of the new creation -- the eighth day.  This is why baptismal fonts traditionally are made with eight sides, because the newly baptized are being brought into this mystical eight day.  Read more about octaves here.

In the year 2000, Pope St. John Paul II declared the 2nd Sunday of Easter (the Octave of Easter) to be a special feast in honor of God's Divine Mercy.  The devotion to the Divine Mercy had grown since the death in 1938 of Sister Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun who had been granted many visions of Christ who spoke of the importance of accepting His mercy.  St. Faustina wrote of these visions and her devotion in her diary, which was published after her death.  From this, the prayer of the Divine Mercy chaplet was introduced to the world.  We will be praying this chaplet together this Sunday at 4:00pm before Mass.  To learn more about the devotion to Divine Mercy, click here.

Until next week!
Pax Christi,

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

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Gospel For Today: Easter Sunday

HAPPY EASTER!  A reminder that there will be no Mass on campus this evening.  Masses at St. Mary's are at 9:00 and 11:00 AM today.  Masses will resume on campus this coming Sunday at 4:00pm.  We hope you have a wonderful Easter holiday and safe travels back to campus.


Rejoice!  Today the Easter Alleluias ring!  Christ is Risen!  As in our baptism we are joined to Christ's death and resurrection, we have been joined with Christ in death through our Lenten penance and now rise with Him in Easter joy.  Today our family celebrates the baptism of our son, Jasper, born into this world three weeks ago and born again today in Christ.  We rejoice with all who have been baptized in Christ this Easter, or in the past.  I present to you today the following excerpt from St. Augustine on the end of our Lenten fast and the Easter Alleluia.  Please join me today in praising the Lord!

Our thoughts in this present life should turn on the praise of God, because it is in praising God that we shall rejoice for ever in the life to come; and no one can be ready for the next life unless he trains himself for it now. So we praise God during our earthly life, and at the same time we make our petitions to him. Our praise is expressed with joy, our petitions with yearning. We have been promised something we do not yet possess, and because the promise was made by one who keeps his word, we trust him and are glad; but insofar as possession is delayed, we can only long and yearn for it. It is good for us to persevere in longing until we receive what was promised, and yearning is over; then praise alone will remain.

Because there are these two periods of time - the one that now is, beset with the trials and troubles of this life, and the other yet to come, a life of everlasting serenity and joy - we are given two liturgical seasons, one before Easter and the other after. The season before Easter signifies the troubles in which we live here and now, while the time after Easter which we are celebrating at present signifies the happiness that will be ours in the future. What we commemorate before Easter is what we experience in this life; what we celebrate after Easter points to something we do not yet possess. This is why we keep the first season with fasting and prayer; but now the fast is over and we devote the present season to praise. Such is the meaning of the Alleluia we sing.

Both these periods are represented and demonstrated for us in Christ our head. The Lord's passion depicts for us our present life of trial - shows how we must suffer and be afflicted and finally die. The Lord's resurrection and glorification show us the life that will be given to us in the future.

Now therefore, brethren, we urge you to praise God. That is what we are all telling each other when we say Alleluia. You say to your neighbor, "Praise the Lord!" and he says the same to you. We are all urging one another to praise the Lord, and all thereby doing what each of us urges the other to do. But see that your praise comes from your whole being; in other words, see that you praise God not with your lips and voices alone, but with your minds, your lives and all your actions.

We are praising God now, assembled as we are here in church; but when we go on our various ways again, it seems as if we cease to praise God. But provided we do not cease to live a good life, we shall always be praising God. You cease to praise God only when you swerve from justice and from what is pleasing to God. If you never turn aside from the good life, your tongue may be silent but your actions will cry aloud, and God will perceive your intentions; for as our ears hear each other's voices, so do God's ears hear our thoughts.

--from St. Augustine of Hippo's discourses on the Psalms

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

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Apples & Oranges

Yesterday I posted about religious liberty, going into the distinction made in moral philosophy between proximate and remote material cooperation with immoral acts. I wrote about business owners' right to decline certain jobs or contracts for things which would violate their conscience.

This discussion, of course, is relevant because of the ongoing national discussion over homosexual marriage.  You may have read my post from yesterday and asked yourself, "Wouldn't those same arguments apply to those who disagree with interracial marriage?  People once thought that was wrong, but now we understand that to be bigotry which society cannot tolerate.  Isn't same-sex marriage the same thing?"

Same-sex marriage and interracial marriage are in fact two very different matters.  The easiest way to explain the distinction is with a question.  The question involved in interracial marriage is, "Should these two people get married?"  The question involved in same-sex marriage is, "Could these two people get married?"  Those are two fundamentally different questions.

The Catholic Church has never viewed race as an impediment to marriage.  The opposition that once existed to interracial marriages was based on societal conventions, not Church teaching.  The Catholic Church and other Christian bodies have contributed to the ongoing change in attitudes over race relations.  The Second Vatican Council taught that, "Every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language, or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God's design" (Gaudium et Spes, 29, 2).

The issue in the past with interracial marriages was never about whether the couple could validly be married, but whether society should accept people in such marriages.  Interracial marriages caused scandal in a society where black and white people were thought to be on very different rungs of the societal ladder.  Likewise marriages between rich and poor were seen as scandalous, as were inter-religious marriages.  People were expected to marry within their own social class.

The question in all of these cases was never "is this marriage valid?" but, "is this marriage a good idea?"  Today, due largely to the efforts of Christians participating in the Civil Rights movement of the mid-20th century, marriages between people of different races, religions and economic classes are widely accepted.  This is a change for the better.

When it comes to the question of same-sex marriage, however, there is a different issue in play.  The question is not whether such a marriage is a good idea, or whether it would cause scandal.  The question at hand is whether this is a marriage at all.  Are two people of the same sex even capable of entering into marriage?  The answer, according to how the world has always understood marriage up to this point, is No.

For many centuries, western society has understood marriage to be what the Catholic Church defines as a "covenant by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole life... by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring" (CCC 1601).  Granted, throughout the long span of human history and across a wide range of cultures, one can find different understandings of marriage.  Not all societies view marriage as monogamous.  Not all societies view it as a life-long bond.  But all forms of marriage everywhere have involved a joining of male and female for the procreation of children.  The gradual widespread understanding of marriage as a mutually exclusive, life long relationship has been refined largely because such a relationship is best suited for the good of the spouses and of the children.

Accepting interracial marriages required a change in how our society understood race.  We no longer view race as a valid reason for discrimination, and rightly so.  There is nothing about the color of one's skin that should prohibit anyone from entering into a marital covenant as described above.

But accepting same-sex marriage requires a change in how our society understands marriage.  When opponents of same-sex marriage say, "This issue is not about homosexuality, but about marriage," this is what they mean.  To accept same-sex marriage means discarding old ideas about the nature of marriage and defining it as something else; some other kind of relationship.  What the new definition of marriage is to be is yet to be seen.  But this is what is at stake.

Whether society's understanding of marriage should stay the same, ought to be changed, or has already been changed, is a topic for another article.  But comparing the issue of same-sex marriage to interracial marriage is like comparing apples and oranges.  It is a red herring that misses the crux of the issue currently before our country.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Religious Liberty and Participation in Evil

With the ongoing national discussion about Religious Freedom legislation, I find myself having to explain why Christian business owners would not want to involve themselves in same-sex marriage ceremonies.  If a same-sex couple wants you to bake them a cake, or be their wedding photographer, then what does it matter if you agree with their lifestyle?  It's not you getting married, after all. Shouldn't you be expected to just do your job?

Human beings live in society with other human beings, and that means that -- like it or not -- we often find ourselves cooperating with another's sinful actions.  Life is complicated.  The question is, morally speaking, how closely can we cooperate in another person's immorality?  For example, we all know the Catholic Church teaches that abortion is a mortal sin.  So we understand procuring an abortion ourselves is wrong.  And performing the abortion (as a doctor or a nurse) would also be wrong.  But what about driving someone to the clinic?  What about working as a receptionist in that clinic?  What about donating money to a non-profit that gives money to the clinic?  What about buying toothpaste from a company that donates part of their profits to a non-profit that supports abortion clinics?  You can see where this line of thought leads.  It is very difficult to operate in society without somewhere, somehow supporting immoral actions.  The question is how much is too much?  At what point do we become guilty of the immorality ourselves?

Catholic moral teaching makes a distinction between formal and material cooperation in evil.  Formal cooperation is when you cooperate in the immoral act and share in the evil intentions.  In other words, you agree with the immortality you are supporting.  This is always wrong.

Material cooperation in evil occurs when you do not intend for the immoral action to occur but your actions somehow cooperate with or support the immoral action.  This may or may not be wrong do to, depending on how closely your material cooperation is associated with the immoral act.  The Church further makes a distinction between proximate and remote material cooperation.  Proximate material cooperation means you are directly contributing to the immoral act, in which case you share in the guilt of that act even though you do not intend the immorality.  Remote material cooperation means that you have contributed to the immoral act in a way that is somewhat removed.  In this case, you may or may not share in the guilt of the action depending on just how closely you were associated with it, and whether your involvement gives rise to scandal.  For example, the person who sold you the cell phone which you used to call the abortion clinic to make an appointment for an abortion in a way contributed to the act, but in no way can be considered to share in the guilt of that act.

With these principles in mind, we can begin to see why morally minded Christian business owners would not want to participate in same-sex wedding ceremonies or receptions that celebrate same-sex marriage.  Whether you agree with the position or not, it is clear that the Catholic Church (along with most other traditional Christian bodies) considers same-sex marriages to be immoral.  The reasons why are matter for another article.  But given that fact, it should not come as a surprise that Christian business owners who wish to follow the teachings of the Church would not want to cooperate with an event they understand to be immoral.

Let's look at the example of a cake decorator.  Obviously, there is nothing immoral about baking a cake.  Nor is there anything immoral about selling a cake to a homosexual couple.  Selling someone a cake in no way contributes to whatever sinful actions a couple may or may not be doing behind closed doors.  So refusing to sell a cake to a person or a couple simply because they are homosexual would be bigoted and wrong.

But creating a cake to be used at a wedding reception celebrating a homosexual union would involve the cake decorator in proximate material cooperation with the same-sex marriage.  The cake decorator would appear to be giving at least tacit approval to the marriage, giving rise to scandal and possibly incurring personal guilt.  He or she should be free to decline to participate in what they believe to be an immoral act.  On the other hand, the company that sold the cake decorator the flour used to bake the cake would be involved in remote material cooperation and incur no guilt (in fact they probably wouldn't even know about the wedding).

For me, a useful way to make the distinction involves the use of personal time and talent.  The company that sells the flour to the bakery is not investing personal time and talent in the same-sex wedding or reception.  They made, packaged and sold the flour; what anyone does with the flour after they purchase it is out of their hands.  On the other hand, the cake decorator is expected to invest personal time and talent into creating a special cake (similar to a work of art) for a particular couple to help celebrate their union.  The cake decorator is expected to be personally involved in a way the flour company is not.  This makes the difference.  Likewise buying a sheet cake from the local grocery store is different than commissioning a special wedding cake from an artisan bakery.  The latter involves personal time and talent in a way that the former does not.

To date, the cases I have seen where business owners were taken to court over their refusal to participate in same-sex weddings have all been cases where personal time and talent is expected of them; cake decorators and photographers top the list.  Believe it or not, I myself have been in a similar situation.  Many of my students know of my involvement in the Scottish tartan industry.  I created the St. Ninian tartan design to celebrate Pope Benedict XVI's historic visit to Scotland on Sept. 16, 2010.  I have been commissioned to create many other tartans for individuals and businesses, and special events.

Once I received an email inquiry asking if I could create a tartan design for a wedding.  It came out in the course of the conversation that the wedding was to be between two men.  I politely declined and explained my reasons for not being able to accept the commission.  Thankfully, the person understood and respected my position.  He was disappointed, but appreciative of my honesty.  We parted on amicable terms.  I am fully aware that it could have turned out differently.  I could have been sued.  I could have had to go into debt to pay for court costs or other fees.  I could have been involved in litigation for years, my good name being slandered in the community.  I could have potentially lost my home, creating hard times for my wife and children.  I am grateful that none of that happened, but it has happened to others.

Why would I, or others, be willing to risk those sorts of consequences?  It is because we know that society is not our ultimate judge.  We know that one day we will find ourselves standing before our maker and having to give an account of our actions.  We know that if we intentionally cooperate in something that we know to be evil, we jeopardize our own souls.  We pray for the courage to stand by our convictions and what we know is right.  We know our actions have eternal consequences.

Moreover, I was also concerned about scandal.  People know I am Catholic.  At the time the above took place, I was not working for the Church as I am now, but I was very active in my parish and anyone who knew me at all knew about my faith.  If word got out that I was designing a special tartan to celebrate a same-sex marriage against the teachings of my faith, I would appear as a hypocrite.  It would cause scandal to those who knew me and undermine my witness to the faith I claim to profess.  In other words, I declined this commission out of concern for both myself and others.  It was a matter of personal integrity.

What Religious Liberty legislation attempts to do is to prevent people who make similar choices from being persecuted in the courts.  This applies not only to those who decline to cooperate with same-sex marriages, but also medical professionals who decline to participate in abortion or euthanasia, pharmacists who refuse to distribute abortifacient drugs, book store clerks who refuse to sell pornographic material, and nuns who refuse to provide contraception through their health plans.

The Second Vatican Council taught in Dignitatis Humanae (the council's document on Religious Freedom) that man "must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience.  Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters" (DH 3, 2).  We may have lost the battle in this country when it comes to same-sex marriage.  But if faithful people can be forced against their wills to violate their conscience and cooperate in immoral actions, then we will have lost our souls as well.