Sunday, May 31, 2015

Gospel For Today: Trinity Sunday

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Most Christians don't spend a lot of time thinking about the Trinity, and that's a shame.  Jesus in today's gospel reading gives us the baptismal formula we are all familiar with.  
"Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit..." (Mt 28:19).  The Trinity is the faith we are baptized into.  The Trinity is the life of God that we aspire to be united with in eternity.  

You'd think contemplating the mystery of the Trinity would be a priority for the Christian. It certainly was a major concern of the early Church.  Most of the early heresies the Church dealt with Trinitarian questions.  Was Jesus Christ God or man?  Is the Holy Spirit also God?  Does the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father only or also from the Son?  The result of these early controversies is found in the creed we recite each Sunday at Mass, which is nothing less than an expression of faith in the Trinity.

Perhaps because the Trinity is called a "mystery" people feel that we can never fully understand it, so why bother?  Isn't the Trinity just one of those esoteric parts of our faith, of interest to theologians but not much use to the average Christian?  What does it matter if we care about the Trinity or not?

It does matter, and a great deal.  The Church's teaching on the Trinity is nothing short of a privileged glimpse into the inner life of God.  Every time we begin or end our prayer with the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, we express our faith in the Trinity, one God existing in three Persons.  The definition of the Trinity is simple to state, but profoundly difficult to comprehend.  Part of the trouble is that it is so outside of our experience as human beings.  As far as we are concerned, each person we know (including ourselves) exists as a separate being.  I have an existence that is distinct from yours, even though we are both human persons. 

It is not so with God.  With God you have three distinct Persons all of whom share the same divine existence.  The key to understanding this is the fact that God's very nature is existence.  In this God is unique.  I possess human nature meaning I exist as a human being.  But I could not exist.  I'm glad that I do, but the fact remains that my existence is optional.  My donkey, Waffles, possess donkey nature.  She exists as a donkey. She could just as easily not exist.  But God does not exist as anything.  He exists, period.  His nature, the Divine nature, is being itself.  This is why God revealed His name to Moses as "I am who am" (Ex 3:13).  He is the source of all existence, the only one whose existence is not dependent upon anything else.  God cannot not exist.

Since the divine nature is being itself, it follows that anyone who shares in that nature also shares in that being.  You and I can share in the same human nature as different beings.  Not so with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  They share the same divine nature and so share in the same being.  

God the Father knows Himself, and He knows Himself perfectly.  God's image of Himself is not like some dim reflection in a mirror, but perfect and real.  It is such a perfect Image of His being that it also has being.  This perfect Image of God is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, God the Son.  The Father and the Son know and love one another.  Their love is likewise so perfect that it shares in God's existence and has being. This perfect Love of God is the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.  All three Divine Persons know and love one another completely.

The unity of the three Persons of the Holy Spirit is a dynamic unity of love.  The Church at the Council of Florence stated, "Because of this unity the Father is entirely in the Son and entirely in the Holy Spirit; the Son is entirely in the Father and entirely in the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit is entirely in the Father and entirely in the Son."  In other words, each Person of the Trinity dwells within the other two in a relationship of perfect love.

If you have followed along so far, you may be thinking, "That's interesting, but why does that matter?"  It matters because the same God who exists as Three Persons dwelling eternally within one another in love also desires to dwell in you.  In John 14:23, Jesus says, "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home with him."  God is love (1 Jn 4:8).  The fact that God exists as a community of Persons means that God, in His very nature, is both lover and beloved.  Love is part of the very nature of divinity, and this Love wants to make His home in you and I.  

No, we do not understand this fully, and we never will.  But we do not need to fully understand it in order to receive the gift of God's love and His life, nor to appreciate its beauty.  If we accept the gift of God's grace, we will be spending heaven contemplating and communing with the Trinity.  We begin that life here on earth.  We can begin that life today.
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Gospel For Today - Pentecost


When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim (Acts 2:1-4).

Today we celebrate Pentecost Sunday, considered the "birthday" of the Church.  It is the day on which the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles, fulfilling the promise made by Jesus we heard last Sunday.  "[Y]ou will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8).  Immediately after the descent of the Spirit, the Apostles get about fulfilling their mandate.  They preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and draw in converts to the Church right there in Jerusalem.  In the rest of the book of Acts we see them doing the same in Judea and Samaria, and even as far away as Rome.  That fulfilling of Christ's mandate continues today as the Church ever vigilantly proclaims the good news of Jesus to the ends of the earth.

Pentecost Sunday is one of the high points of the Church year, but it is not like some of the other major celebrations on our calendar.  At Christmas, for example, Christmas Day is only the beginning of the celebration.  We celebrate Christmas Day for eight full days, called the Octave of Christmas.  This is followed by the whole Christmas season running through the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.  Easter is also celebrated with an octave, and we just concluded the long Easter season which lasts for seven weeks.  But there is no Octave of Pentecost.  There is no Pentecost Season.  Instead, tomorrow will be celebrated on the Church calendar as "Monday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time."  

Ordinary time seems so anticlimactic.  We call it "Ordinary Time" because the Sundays in this season are named after ordinal numbers (first, second, third and so forth).  But the word "ordinary," to most of us, also means plain, mundane, or hum-drum.  Certainly nothing exciting.  But I say it is rather fitting that Pentecost should be followed immediately by Ordinary Time, for it is immediately after Pentecost that we find the Apostles getting on with the ordinary business of the Church -- making disciples and bringing souls to Christ.  And there is nothing hum-drum about that.  The coming of the Holy Spirit redefines "ordinary" for the Church.  And it should redefine ordinary for you and I, as well.

Ever since that first Pentecost we have been living in the Season of the Holy Spirit.  Each of us who has received the Sacrament of Confirmation has had the Holy Spirit descent upon us.  Confirmation is like our own personal Pentecost.  We personally receive the Holy Spirit, but its effects are intended to be anything but personal.  Christ promised the Apostles that they would receive power, but it was not to be a self-promoting power.  It was the power needed to serve God and to serve others by being witnesses to Him.  The Apostles receive the power to speak in tongues, not for their own good but to enable them to preach the gospel to others.

One of the options for today's gospel reading is Jn 20-19-23, wherein Christ breathes on the Apostles and says, "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them."  Again we see the Apostles being given a power of the Spirit not for their own good, but for the good of the Church so that they may reconcile others to God.

Just as the Spirit gave power to the Apostles, so does each Christian receive special power upon their Confirmation.  We receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord.  While these are all good qualities in their own right, the primary purpose of each of these is to better enable us to serve God and serve others.  And consider these words from the Catechism.  Confirmation "gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross" (CCC 1303).  As St. Thomas Aquinas puts it, "the confirmed person receives the power to profess faith in Christ publicly" (Summa Theolgica III, 72, 5, ad 2).    

Receiving special strength and unusual power sounds like something from a comic book superhero story, but that is precisely what the Holy Spirit offers us at our Confirmation.  Yet how many of us (and maybe this is true of yourself), view our Confirmation as a graduation allowing us to move on with our "ordinary" life?  But as we see with the Apostles, the Holy Spirit has a way of redefining ordinary.  The ordinary life of the Confirmed Christian is to be a life serving God and one another, using the particular gifts the Spirit gives us to advance God's Kingdom.

The fact that many look upon Confirmation as the end of their Christian formation, rather than the beginning of their Christian mission, is why some bishops in the Western Church are working to restore the original order of the Sacraments of Initiation -- Baptism, Confirmation, and then first Eucharist -- an order always maintained in the Eastern Church.  (Dioceses in the US in which Confirmation is celebrated at a much younger age include PhoenixHonolulu, and now Denver).

It is never too late to start putting the gifts you received from the Holy Spirit at Confirmation into action.  May this Pentecost be the day you begin seeing your "ordinary" life in the light of the Holy Spirit.  Christ has given you your mission.  The Spirit has given you the power to fulfill it.  Let's get to work.

Recall then that you have received the spiritual seal, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence, the spirit of holy fear in God's presence.  Guard what you have received.  God the Father has marked you with His sign; Christ the Lord has confirmed you and has placed His pledge, the Spirit, in your hearts.  --St. Ambrose

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

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Joy and Concrete

A few days ago I was shopping at Lowe's.  I was picking up some bags of concrete to set some fence posts in our pasture.  But I also needed a few things from the garden center, so I ended up checking out there, on the opposite side of the store from where I picked up the concrete.

While I was waiting in line, a young man who worked there approached me and asked if he could help me load my car.  As a still relatively young man myself, I'm not used to being asked if I needed assistance loading my vehicle, but I happily accepted, thinking how nice it would be to have to lift those heavy bags of concrete one less time each.

As he helped me load my purchases into the back of my Subaru, he told me how much he enjoyed loading bags of concrete.  "I used to work in the lumber department," he told me, "and I'd get to load concrete for people all the time.  But now they have me here in garden, and I never get to load concrete any more."  When we were done, he thanked me for letting him load my concrete, and dashed back into the garden center.

The next day, I found myself back at Lowe's in the garden center, to pick up a couple of other things I discovered I needed.  The same young man was working there.  He recognized me, waving from several aisles over, calling out, "Hey! Concrete man!"  I smiled and waved back.

There was a time when I would have felt inclined to poke fun at someone like that, for getting so excited about such a mundane chore (that every reasonable person knows is no fun to do).  Instead, I find myself in admiration over the ability to find such joy in such a simple thing.  I hope that I can find occasion in my life each day to find such joy in such simplicity.

The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything. -- St. Catherine of Genoa

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Gospel For Today - Ascension


Christianity is a religion of Incarnation.  We believe in a God who put on human flesh and was born into the world of a woman.  Our God fed at His mother's breast, had messy diapers, and all the rest that is part of human infancy.  Our God grew into a man and learned the carpenter's trade; a craft which involves taking elements of creation and transforming them into useful and even beautiful objects for the benefit of mankind.

Jesus' public ministry also used elements of physical creation for God's glory.  His first miracle was turning water into wine.  He used dirt and His own saliva to make mud to heal a blind man.  He instructed His followers to eat His flesh and drink His blood.  He met His death in a very real way on a very real wooden cross.  And His resurrection was just as much a physical reality as His death.  In the post-resurrection accounts of Christ He is seen eating and drinking.  St. Thomas was able to place his fingers into the wounds on Jesus' body.

Our religion is a very physical religion.  And today we celebrate the physical ascension of Jesus into heaven, human body and all.  The Second Person of the Trinity, the Son of God, came to earth to unite the divine nature with human nature and now He takes that human nature up to heaven with Him, where it remains part of the Godhead for all eternity.  Where He goes we hope to follow.  In the meantime, however, the Incarnation does not end.

Jesus established a physical Church to continue His presence on earth.  The Church is led by a physical hierarchy of bishops, priests and deacons who minister to the faithful.  Jesus established physical sacraments as means of conveying His grace through words, water, bread and wine, holy oils and laying on of hands.  The Church ministers to us and the sacraments strengthen us for two purposes.  One is so that we may have sure hope of following Jesus into heaven and seeing God ourselves face to face in the Beatific Vision.  The other is so that we, the faithful, may continue to be Christ's presence here on earth for others.  The Church is called the "body of Christ" (Eph 4:12) not only as a metaphor but as a description of reality.  The Church is made up of those who have been baptized into Christ, so that it is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us (to paraphrase Paul from Gal 2:20).

The last words Jesus speaks to the Apostles before His ascension are these:  "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8).  Our gospel reading today has Jesus instructing us, "Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature" (Mk 16:15).  We have our marching orders.  Our job as members of Christ's body is to bring Christ with us wherever we go.  Jesus tells us that this means "to the ends of the earth" and "the whole world."  There is not a race, nation, tribe or people to whom Christ does not desire to dwell among.  We are to bring Him there.  This means far-flung lands, yes, but it also means our own neighborhoods and homes, classrooms and offices.  

In today's gospel Jesus tells us to "go into the world."  He sends us, just as we are sent at the end of Mass by the deacon or priest.  It is interesting to note that the word apostle means "messenger" or "one who is sent."  We have been sent by Christ.  We have a mission to be His apostles.

Even more interesting is the instruction He gives us in our first reading from Acts to be His witnesses.  It is from the Greek word for "witness" that we get our word martyr.  Being a witness for Christ involves sacrifice. For many in the early Church this meant giving up your life as a witness to the faith.  For an increasing amount of Christians in the world today it means the same thing.  But even for those of us who do not face death for our belief in Jesus, we can still expect to clash often with the world around us as we strive to be true to our Christian calling.  That clash can even be against our own comforts and desires that stand in the way of our calling.  Either way, if your Christian faith does not make you feel at least a little challenged each day, how effective a witness are you being?

This is our job description as Christians.  We are sent into the world to be His witnesses.  We are called to be apostles and martyrs.  So why are we standing here looking at the sky?  We have our orders.  Let's get to work.

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

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Gospel For Today: 6th Sunday of Easter

Happy Mother's Day today to all those Mothers who continue to show us in their maternal love the selfless and tireless love which God has for us, His children.


God is love.  That simple statement from 1 John 4:8 is a comfort to many.  In fact, for many the one thing they may know about the Christian view of God is that God is love.  It's a short statement, and easy to remember.  But most people know it not because of its simplicity but because of the sense of comfort it brings.  We all love love, after all.  Who can say anything bad about love?  So the thought of God being love is nice.  It is comforting.

But if you really consider that statement in its profundity, you could be forgiven for feeling a bit uncomfortable.  The thought of God being love is paradoxically comforting and overwhelming at the same time, if we correctly understand love.  And therein lies the problem.  Most of us cannot say we truly understand love.  We glimpse it, and grasp at it, but we cannot comprehend it fully.  It is too much for us.  This is why God sent His Son into the world; to reveal to us the true face of Love, for we could not know it on our own.

Jesus tells us who would be His disciples, "As the Father loves me, so I also love you... If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love" (Jn 15:9-10).  Jesus shows us something important about love -- it is active.  Love is more than just a passive feeling.  It is more than an emotion.  To love someone means so much more than simply having generally positive feelings about that person.  Jesus says that to love Him we must do something, namely to follow His commandments.  He tells us: "This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends" (Jn 15:12-13).  We are to love one another as Jesus loves us.  Jesus gave His life for us.  This is His model of love.  It is a love without boundaries, without conditions, without reservation.  It is a love that holds nothing back.

This is our commandment: to love like Christ, without counting the cost.  Are you feeling a little uncomfortable now?  It is a love that leaves no room for selfishness, no room for big egos, no room for pride.  It is a love that is all consuming.  We may fear that if we abandon ourselves to love so completely we may lose ourselves.  Yet God is love, so the more we love the more we become like God.  This is what Christ means when He says "He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal" (Jn 12:25).  His words only make sense in the context of a total self-giving love.  To be a disciple of Christ is to be a disciple of love.  

As Christians, our task is to grow in love, yet we fail in love all the time.  One excellent definition of sin is "a failure of love."  But God gives us many opportunities to grow in love in this world, and so grow closer to Himself.  This is why Christ commands us to love the poor, the hungry, the imprisoned, the home bound, the widows and orphans, the lepers and the outcasts. We are even commanded to love our enemies.  (G. K. Chesterton once quipped that the reason why God commands us to love our neighbors and our enemies is because they are frequently the same people). 

The Church even gives us sacraments to call us into greater love.  Truly all the sacraments are manifestations of God's love for us, but there are two in particular that call us to become special icons of love.  I am speaking of the sacraments of vocation.

The Sacrament of Matrimony bonds husband and wife together in a life-long union of love.  When man and wife marry, they promise to love one another all the days of their lives, in sickness and health, for richer or poorer, better or worse.  In other words, it is a love without condition.  St. Paul, in his great passage in Ephesians 5:21-33 speaks of the marital relationship as being like the relationship between Christ and the Church.  "Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her" (Eph 5:25).  And the Church, in kind, loves Christ with an equally self-giving love as witnessed by the martyrs.  This is our model for marital love.  It is not for the faint hearted!

Marriage is the vocation that builds families and families are the primary school of love.  Fathers and mothers must learn self-giving when they raise their children.  Selfishness stands in the way of parenthood, which should reflect the love of our Heavenly Father to our children.  We honor mothers especially today, on Mother's Day, because of the selfless nature of maternal love.  Mothers show us, in their very bodies, something of God's love.  Carrying a child in the womb, and then nursing that infant at her breast, a mother gives of herself in a quite literal, physical sense to nourish the life of another.  Newborns are the most helpless, most innocent, and most dependent of all and so rely entirely upon the love of others for their lives.  Mothers give that love, which does not end with infancy but continues to be with their children all of their lives.  Is it any wonder that God, who came into the world in order to show us the depths of His love, would choose to come into the world through a mother?

The other sacrament of vocation is that of Holy Orders, to which certain men are called to grow in love by giving themselves fully not to one woman as a bride, but to the Bride of Christ, the Church.  It is worth noting that there are three orders in this sacrament; deacon, priest and bishop.  It is a hierarchical order, meaning one cannot be ordained to a higher order without having been ordained to the ones preceding.  This means that every cleric in the Church, from your parish priest to the Pope himself is first ordained to the order of deacon, so named from the Greek diakonos which means "servant."  To be ordained into Holy Orders in the Catholic Church you must dedicate your life to serve others in love.  Religious life, as well, is a powerful means of growing in love by accepting a vocation of total devotion to God in prayer and work.  There are many different religious orders, each with specific charisms.  Some are devoted to preaching, others to poverty, others to care for the sick, etc.  But each of these charisms are for a single purpose -- to manifest more fully God's love in the world.  

Matrimony, Holy Orders, and religious life are specific modes of life meant to be icons of love, to show the world what it means to live for others.  But the call to love is for all of us, without exception.  The unmarried benefit from the example of marital love, just as the laity benefit from the devout service of those in holy orders.  God is Love.  Therefore love is the universal vocation of all who would have God as their end.

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

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Shellfish and Straw Men

Are you a hypocrite for being against homosexual marriage if you also eat bacon or shrimp?  If you are scratching your head and thinking, "huh?" right now, then you probably haven't seen the arguments making the rounds on the inter-web claiming that Christians who are against same-sex marriage are either hypocrites or ignorant of their own faith..

The argument goes like this.  Leviticus 20:13 forbids homosexuality.  But Leviticus also forbids eating shellfish (Lev 11:9-12), and pork (Lev 11:7).  So if you are against gay marriage but enjoy eating either of those things, you are either a hypocrite or don't know the Bible.  Leviticus also forbids wearing clothing of mixed fibers (Lev 19:19), so if your shirt is a poly-cotton blend and you are against gay marriage, you are in the same boat.  The same applies if you have a tattoo, which is also verboten (Lev 19:28).

The point of these arguments is twofold.  It seeks to downplay the moral gravity of homosexual acts by putting them on par with outdated dietary restrictions.  Simultaneously, it aims to get Christians to feel ignorant of the Bible so that they will reexamine their moral beliefs and hop onto the sexually permissive bandwagon.  The assumption behind the argument is that Christians in general don't really understand the basis of much of what they believe.  One graphic I saw representing this argument ended with the admonition, "Before joining a major religion, you should really read all the paperwork."

The sad thing is, that assumption is likely correct.  A lot of Christians are ignorant of the Bible and many other aspects of their faith.  But for those who do know their stuff, this sort of argument comes across as very insulting, presuming that the Church has never read Leviticus.  I am reminded of the "shocking" report in Salon earlier this year revealing that Jesus descended into hell, a fact, "churches would rather not acknowledge."  Of course any Christian familiar with the Apostles Creed would be embarrassed for the reporter who made such a public display of her ignorance of Christianity.

Those making the "shellfish and bacon" argument for same-sex marriage are equally ignorant of the Christian teaching.  The first mistake is presuming that Christian moral teaching is based on making a list of what the Bible does and does not forbid.*  In reality, Christian morality is not based on the Bible, but on the natural law.  More on that later.

But what are we to make of all the things forbidden in Leviticus that Christians regularly do today?  Are we being unfaithful to God's word?  It is important to understand just what Leviticus is and what it is not.  Leviticus is the third book in the Old Testament, coming after Genesis and Exodus.  Exodus chronicles, among other things, Israel's infidelity to their covenant with God.  Because of this, God makes some changes to His plan for His chosen people, including the legal code given in Leviticus.

You can draw some parallels with parents who have to be increasingly strict with a disobedient son.  If the son is respectful to his father and mother, loving toward his siblings, and generally a good kid, the parents will need very few household rules.  But if the son acts up all the time, is disrespectful and disobedient, mom and dad will need to establish more rules to teach him how he ought to behave.  In a like manner, God's original plan for mankind was not one of following long lists of rules, but simply living in loving relationships with God and with each other.  When we showed our disobedience, our Father who art in heaven needed to apply some stricter rules.

Those rules were useful for teaching the chosen people about God's will and establishing a little discipline, but the rules in and of themselves were not sufficient.  They were tools to help us grow and not meant to be everlasting.  Once the child is grown, the parents' rules are no longer enforced.  Either the son has learned his lesson and grown into a loving, respectful man, or he has not and will face the consequences of his selfishness as an adult.  The same is true in our faith.  In the fullness of time (Gal 4:4), God sent His Son into the world -- not to abolish the law but to fulfill it (Mt 5:17).  In other words, Jesus does not tell us that the old rules are all wrong.  But He does expect us to follow the greater moral truth upon which they are based.

Far from tossing the old law out the window, Jesus shows us what is at the root of the commandments -- love of God and love of neighbor (Mt 22:37).  For example, He instructs us that it is not enough to simply not commit adultery.  We should not even look at another with lust in our hearts (Mt 5:28).  It is not enough to simply not kill, but we should not hate (Mt 5:22).

For some commandments of the old law Jesus seems to actually be more strict.  This is especially true regarding marriage.  For example, divorce was tolerated under the old covenant.  Not so with the new.
And the Pharisees came up and in order to test [Jesus] asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?"  He answered them, "What did Moses command you?" They said, "Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to put her away." But Jesus said to them, "For your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment.  But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female.' 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two but one flesh.  What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder" (Mk 10:2-9).**

 So Jesus seems to be ramping up the requirements of the law in many respects.  But what about all those restrictions in Leviticus we no longer follow.  Most Christians I know eat bacon and shrimp, wear poly-cotton clothing, and a few even have tattoos!  Are we all going to hell for ignoring the laws of God?  Has all of Christianity somehow managed to forget whole chunks of the commandments?  Not surprisingly, the answer is no.  As it turns out, this very matter was dealt with pretty early on in the Church, by none other than the Apostles themselves.  You can read about it, as a matter of fact, in the Bible (you know, that book that we Christians are supposedly ignorant about).

In Acts 10 you can read about Peter receiving a vision from God showing all the different kinds of animals the Jewish people were forbidden to eat.  God told him, "What God has made clean, you are not to call profane" (Acts 10:15).  Lest Peter miss the message, God repeated this three times.  In Acts 15 we read about the Apostles gathering in Jerusalem, deciding (under the guidance of the Holy Spirit) that it is not necessary for converts to Christianity to observe the Mosaic law, including circumcision for the males.

What is going on here?  Why are some laws of the Old Testament retained, and even intensified, while others are done away with?  What is the difference?  Those laws which remain are those which pertain to the natural law.  Jesus, talking about marriage above, makes reference to "the beginning of creation" and then quotes from the book of Genesis.  In other words, Christ is referencing a law that was written into human nature itself as a part of creation.  This is different than the disciplinary laws later imposed by God.  In Romans 2:15, St. Paul talks about the Gentiles (non-Jews) having the law of God "written upon their hearts."  In other words, even non-Jewish people who did not have the benefit of God's revelation were still expected to abide by this natural law and would be judged accordingly.

The question is, are the prohibitions against homosexual acts in Leviticus part of this natural law, that has been written into our nature from the beginning?  Or are they, like the dietary and ritual laws of the old covenant, now obsolete, having been fulfilled in Christ?

Again, we can look to St. Paul, who wrote most of the New Testament.  While Paul is adamant about Christ having "ransomed us from the curse of the law" in Galatians 3, he certainly understood homosexual acts to be incompatible with a Christian understanding of sexual morality.  Paul condemns homosexual acts three times, in Rom 1:26-27, 1 Cor 6:9, and 1 Tim 1:9-10.  

There is much in Leviticus forbidden by God besides eating pork and shellfish.  Adultery, incest, and bestiality are also forbidden (in the same section forbidding homosexual acts).  Yet no one is making the claim that these restrictions, too, should be cast aside because we now eat pork.  We correctly understand these moral imperatives to be of a different order.  Dietary and ritual laws are disciplinary in nature.  Other commandments, including those dealing with sexual morality, are part of our human nature and so are perfected, not abolished, with the coming of Christ.

In talking about human sexuality, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, like Christ, hearkens back to Genesis: "Male and female He created them..." (Part III, Ch 2, Article 6, I).  It talks about our universal vocation to chastity, which simply means "the successful integration of sexuality within the person..." (CCC 2337).  And it warns us against offenses against chastity, including lust, masturbation, fornication, pornography, prostitution and rape (CCC 2351-2356).

Of homosexuality, the Catechism teaches, "Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.  They are contrary to the natural law.  They close the sexual act to the gift of life.  They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity.  Under no circumstances can they be approved" (CCC 2357).

It then goes on to say, "Homosexual persons are called to chastity," and reminds us that their goal is the same as everyone else's, namely "Christian perfection" (CCC 2359).  That cannot be achieved, though, by ignoring God's word, or pretending that part of God's word does not apply to a certain segment of people.  That cannot be achieved by encouraging behavior that is counter to our human nature and dignity, or accepting sexual acts that run counter to the very meaning and purpose of human sexuality.

This is a complex issue.  More accurately it is a simple issue made complex by the overarching sexual ethos currently accepted by our society which runs counter in so many ways to traditional Christian morality.  It is a matter which ought to be discussed with openness, honesty and charity.  That is not achieved by straw-man arguments like the above.  Let's concern ourselves less with what God thinks about shellfish, pork, or polyester shirts, and more with what He thinks of you and I, and how we each in our own lives can grow in our vocation to chastity and so grow closer to that goal of Christian perfection.

*Admittedly, I am sure there are Christians out there who really do base their views of sexual morality on literal readings of Leviticus, and perhaps those people should feel a bit called out by these arguments.  But these views do not represent the greater tradition of Christian moral teaching based on the natural law.

**Those who claim Jesus never said anything about the matter of same-sex marriage should read this passage carefully.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Weekly Update from CCM: Exam edition!

Dear Students,

Know that my prayers are with you during this exam week.  Because of exams, we will not have our regular weekly activity schedule.  We do have some things going on today, however, which we hope you can join us in.

  • Adoration in the chapel from 12:00 to 12:30.
  • Community Table volunteer service from 3:30 to 6:00pm.  Please meet at CCM by 3:15 for a ride.  Let me know if you plan on coming this afternoon so I'll know who to look for.
The Catholic Student Center and Chapel will be open all this week for your use, if you need a place to pray or just a quiet place to get away and relax.  Please make use of it.  

Did you know that there is a patron saint of test takers and poor students?  St. Joseph of Cupertino is perhaps better known as the Franciscan friar who would levitate as he prayed (seriously).  But when he first approached the order for admission he was turned away because of his lack of education.  He persevered and was eventually not only accepted into the order but also ordained a priest.   It is said that when he was being examined for admission into the order, he miraculously was only asked questions he knew the answers to!

Below is a prayer for the intercession of St. Joseph of Cupertino for success in examinations.

O Great St. Joseph of Cupertino who while on earth did obtain from God the grace to be asked at your examination only the questions you knew, obtain for me a like favour in the examinations for which I am now preparing. In return I promise to make you known and cause you to be invoked.
Through Christ our Lord.
St. Joseph of Cupertino, Pray for us.

St. Thomas Aquinas is also a well known patron saint of students.  Here is a student's prayer composted by this saint, known as the "Angelic Doctor."

Come, Holy Spirit, Divine Creator, true source of light and fountain of wisdom! Pour forth your brilliance upon my dense intellect, dissipate the darkness which covers me, that of sin and of ignorance. Grant me a penetrating mind to understand, a retentive memory, method and ease in learning, the lucidity to comprehend, and abundant grace in expressing myself. Guide the beginning of my work, direct its progress, and bring it to successful completion. This I ask through Jesus Christ, true God and true man, living and reigning with You and the Father, forever and ever.

Our prayer for you this week is not only for success on your exams, but for relief from stress and anxiety, for safe travels home, and for a blessed summer.  Especially for our graduates, we pray for success in life, and that you may be open to the will of God in your new adventures.

God bless!

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

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Gospel For Today: 5th Sunday of Easter

REMINDER: Today is our final Mass on campus of the semester, at 4:00pm.  After Mass this afternoon, there will be no Credo discussion.  Instead, we will have a reception to celebrate Jackie Perez's First Holy Communion, as well as a farewell to Rebecca Romo, who is graduating this Saturday.  Please join us.  Also, remember that the Catholic Student Center and Chapel will be open all next week if you need a quiet place to pray or space to relax during exams.


"I am the vine, you are the branches.  Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing" (Jn 15:5).

Jesus today calls Himself the vine, and we who would be His followers the branches.  The meaning of His metaphor would have been apparent to those in the agricultural society of His time, as it is to anyone today who has done a bit of gardening.  If a branch is cuff off from the vine from which it is growing, it will wither and die.  The same is true with us.  If we want to continue to live in Christ we must remain connected to Him.  Only then will we grow and bear fruit.

What fruit?  The Catechism, quoting from Gal. 5:22-23, says, "He who grafted us onto the true vine will make us bear 'the fruit of the Spirit... love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.'"  Can anyone imagine a soul in heaven lacking in any of these?  Can you imagine an unfaithful person in heaven?  Or being in heaven and having no peace, or no joy?  These are the characteristics of the saints, and we can achieve them not only in heaven, but in this world, as well, so long as we remain grafted onto the true vine of Christ.

The important question then becomes, how do we remain in Christ?  Is it enough to belong to a church?  To go to Mass on Sundays?  To read the Bible every now and then and try to be kind to people?  These are good things, but they are not enough on their own.  Most of us, I imagine, know plenty of people who go to church, read the Bible, and lack many of the fruits of the Spirit.  Perhaps they lack self-control.  Perhaps they lack patience.  Perhaps they lack love.  They may be like a branch that has been partially torn from the vine.  It still hangs on, receiving some life from the vine but it is withering and will die unless it is grafted back on.  (And perhaps this describes ourselves).

So how do we truly remain in Christ?  In today's second reading (1 Jn 3:18-24), John says, "Now this is how we shall know that we belong to the truth... because we keep His commandments and do what pleases Him.  And His commandment is this: we should believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as He commanded us. Those who keep His commandments remain in Him, and He in them."  Believe in Jesus.  Love one another.  It sounds so simple, yet to follow this path takes perseverance.  A "casual Christian" will not remain one for long.  

There are some who believe in Jesus but fail in following His commands.  They feel they don't need to change their habits of life because they believe in Jesus and that's all that matters.  Yet Jesus clearly says, "Not all who say to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father" (Mt 7:21-23).  The scriptures also say, "Even the demons believe, and tremble in terror" (Jas 2:19).  Belief alone is no guarantee of holiness.

Nor is merely following the commandments sufficient.  Some think that it is enough to simply be a loving person and to do good things.  Many of us, no doubt, know people who are atheists or agnostics whom we would describe as "a good person."  Maybe they even practice the corporal works of mercy better than many Christians we know, volunteering at the soup kitchen, helping to shelter the homeless, donating to charities, and always lending a helping hand to their neighbors.  Yet, as we read last Sunday, there is no salvation through anyone else but Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12).  We cannot save ourselves.

Jesus is clear in today's gospel.  "Without me you can do nothing" (Jn 15:5).  We are incapable of loving as we ought without God for one simple reason; God is love.  Therefore any act of love we perform, if it is loving at all, is a participation in the love of God -- even if we do not recognize it at the time.  But to grow in love we must grow closer to God, the source of love.  Trying to love without God is like trying to swim without water, or trying to breathe without air.  

To love without believing is to be a social worker, not a saint.  To believe without loving is to be a Pharisee, not a saint.  To be a saint, to be one abiding in Christ, we must believe and love.  How do we know if we are succeeding in these things?  Because the fruits that are born by a life in Christ begin to be apparent.  Love.  Joy.  Peace.  Patience.  Kindness.  Goodness.  Faithfulness.  Gentleness.  Self-control.  These gifts will manifest in your life to the extent that you abide in Christ, and He in you.  If you examine your life and find them absent, it may well be that you lack in your belief or your love.  What to do then?  Do not despair, and do not be afraid, but rely on Christ.  For He knows that none of us can believe or love perfectly without Him.  Ask for His help.  Pray for an increase of faith and love in your life.  Pray that the fruits of the Holy Spirit will be made manifest in you.  And be ready for what comes.  

Jesus lets us know that sometimes the vine grower has to prune a branch so that it will bear more fruit.  Perhaps you and I need a little pruning now and then to help us perfect our faith and our love.  Pray today that God will prune away from your life anything preventing you from believing and loving perfectly, so that you may grow in Christ and know the comfort of the fruits of the Spirit in your heart.

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