Sunday, June 28, 2015

Gospel For Today: 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time


This past Friday the US Supreme Court declared that states have no right to limit marriage to two people of opposite sex.  Polls show a majority of Americans agree with that decision.  Our society's understanding of marriage has changed; but that change occurred long before last Friday.

The Church recognizes marriage as a basic aspect of human nature.  I say "recognizes" and not "declares" because marriage is something which preexists the Church.  It was not invented by a Church council but is part of our very human nature.  This is why we recognize non-sacramental marriages between non-Christians as valid natural marriages, be they Hindu, Muslim, pagan, atheist etc..  But this does not mean that we recognize anything and everything as marriage.  Whether natural or sacramental, a valid marriage must be intended for life and open to children (Can. 1055). This presumes a complementarity of gender.  Societies across the world of all cultures and faiths have recognized these truths to some degree.  But sometimes societies get it wrong.

This is why the Church has procedures in place for annulments.  An annulment is the recognition by the Church that a valid marriage never existed; because sometimes we get it wrong.  If one party enters into the marriage not intending it to be life-long, or not intending children, then they are not truly married.  If one party is already married to someone else at the time, they are not truly married to their second "spouse."  A wise priest commented to me once that the Church seems to be granting more annulments these days because there are fewer true marriages.  This is because our society's understanding of marriage has eroded during the last century.  

In 1930 the Anglican Communion decided in their Lambeth Conference that contraception could be morally licit.  Soon nearly all Protestant denominations reversed their teaching on contraception.  Contraception was once illegal to sell in the United States, but by the 1960's and the advent of the Pill, it was seen as the new norm.  The contraceptive mentality has led to an acceptance of abortion, the ultimate solution if your contraception fails.  Children are now treated as commodities to be purchased or discarded.  Have a baby but don't want one?  Get an abortion.  Want a baby but don't have one?  Get one made-to-order in a lab.  Whether you are married or not really doesn't enter into the equation.  

Marriage is about creating a stable family for the upbringing of children, but if children are removed from the equation then there is no reason why marriage should be a life-long bond.  So in 1969 California enacted the nation's first no-fault divorce law.  The rest of the country soon followed, meaning anyone could now divorce their spouse simply because one didn't want to be married any more.  There is no longer an expectation that couples entering marriage will be together for life.  At the dawn of the 20th century, the divorce rate in America was 7%.  By the 1980s it had grown to over 50%. 

I relate all of this only to illustrate that there are certain requirements as to what constitutes a valid marriage, and for decades we have lived in a society where an increasing number of "marriages" do not meet those requirements. 

In our second reading today (2 Cor 8:7, 9, 13-15), St. Paul speaks of equality.  He reminds us that Jesus became poor so that we might become rich, and with the abundance He gives us we should supply the needs of the poor so that "there may be equality."  St. Paul was talking about Christians sharing their material needs, but the same holds true for spiritual goods.  One spiritual good which many lack while others have in abundance is knowledge of the truth.

The collect from today's Mass contains the beautiful prayer "that we may not be wrapped in the darkness of error but always be seen to stand in the bright light of truth."  It is precisely by living in the bright light of truth that we can be lights to those who are spiritually poor, "that there may be equality."  

The Supreme Court has not given us "marriage equality."  Instead we have a great inequality between reality and practice when it comes to marriage in our society.  A proper understanding of the natural order is a good  Those who live in the light of truth have an abundance of this good.  Today, that abundance will have to supply the needs of our society.  How do we share this abundance?  Not by snarky comments on Facebook.  Not by spewing messages of hate.  Not by accusing anyone of being unworthy of love.  It is shared by living in the light of truth and generously sharing the love of Christ.

In many ways our scripture readings this Sunday are about restoring the natural order.  Our first reading assures us that "God did not make death" (Wis 1:13).  Death is not natural.  And so in the gospel we see Jesus overcoming death by raising the daughter of Jairus (Mk 5:21-43).  There are other times Jesus restores the natural order.  Moses allowed a Jewish husband to divorce his wife.  But in Mark 10:1-12 Jesus says, "from the beginning this was not so."  Divorce is not natural, so Jesus commands that what God has joined together, no man can separate.  Christ restores the natural order of marriage when society gets it wrong.

The world today gets a lot wrong when it comes to marriage -- not just the one thing that was in the news so much last week, but many things.  It calls contraception a good, and children an inconvenience.  It considers life-long marriage to be an unrealistic ideal.  It says marriage has nothing to do with gender.  It says marriage is whatever you want it to be.  Tomorrow, who knows what the world will say about marriage?  But Catholic couples and others of good will can continue to stand in the bright light of truth by faithfully living their marital vocations.  Pray for all married couples that by the witness of their vocation they may share in Christ's loving restoration of the world.

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

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Gospel For Today: 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time


In today's gospel reading from Mk 4:35-41, we find Jesus calming the stormy sea.  As with most scripture passages, it is not hard to find multiple layers of meaning.  It would be easy, especially in light of Pope Francis' new encyclical, Laudato Si', to read this passage as an affirmation of God's dominion over creation.  Indeed, as our first reading from Job reminds us, God made the sea and it answers to His commands.  He is Author of all creation.  He made it; it belongs to Him.  We are but stewards of God's gifts.  

Our psalm today (Ps 107), is also set on a stormy sea.  The travelers in the storm are in distress and cry out to God.  He calms the sea.  "They rejoiced that they were calmed, and He brought them to their desired rest" (Ps 107:30).  There is a deeper meaning to our gospel that has less to do with Jesus' calming of the storm and more to do with His calming of our hearts.  

Jesus Himself is calm during this whole episode.  While the disciples on the boat are panicking, thinking they will perish in the storm, "Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion" (Mk 4:38).  Many artists depict this gospel story by painting Jesus boldly standing on the bow of the ship, defiant against the raging sea and storm.  According to the gospel, however, our Lord was in the back of the ship taking a nap.  He was at rest.

It is that rest that He wishes for His disciples, including you and I.  The disciples are worried about the storm but also a bit incredulous that their Master could be sleeping at such a time.  "Do you not care that we are perishing," they ask as they wake Him.  Jesus simply asks them, "Why are you terrified?  Do you not yet have faith?"

We all have stormy seas in our lives.  Sometimes the storms come from without, but all too often we find them within.  Our hearts, minds and souls can be raging against us at times, riddled with fear and anxiety.  Am I going to fail this exam?  Will I ever fall in love?  Will I find a job after I graduate?  Does grandma have to go to the nursing home?  Will mom's cancer return?  Why can't I make good friends?  Why doesn't anyone understand me?

Our storms can terrify us.  But Jesus says, "Why are you terrified?  Do you not yet have faith?"  Jesus desires to help us; not so much by making the storms disappear, but by giving us His peace which allows us to find rest even during the storm.

Having faith in Christ will not guarantee you an A on all your exams, or that you'll land your dream job or never have anyone you love get sick or die.  But faith will allow you to pass through these storms with peace, knowing that Christ is with you.  To have Christ is to have enough.  To have Christ is to have everything.  

Today we celebrate Father's Day.  Jesus teaches us, His followers, to call God Abba (Father), for He wants us to have faith in God's loving and fatherly care for us.  "Jesus asks for childlike abandonment to the providence of our heavenly Father Who takes care of His children's smallest needs" (CCC 305).

When we are frightened as children, we run to our father for comfort.  Dad can somehow make our fear go away simply by his comforting presence.  We have different fears as adults, but throughout our lives we have a Father who can calm our stormy hearts if we have faith enough to run to Him.  "Why are you terrified?  Do you not yet have faith?"

Help us, O Lord, for we are troubled; give the command, O God, and bring us peace.
--gospel antiphon from the Liturgy of the Hours, Morning Prayer for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

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

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Gospel For Today: 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time


In our readings from Mass today, the Lord extols smallness.  In our first reading from Ezekiel, God speaks of taking a small shoot from a cedar and planting it on the mountain heights of Israel, where it becomes a majestic cedar with birds of every kind dwelling under it (Ez 17:22-24).  In our gospel reading today Jesus uses similar language when He describes the kingdom of God as being like a mustard seed; the smallest of all seeds that when fully grown becomes the largest of plants with birds of the sky dwelling in its shade (Mk 4:26-34).

God seems to delight in doing big things with the small.  He raises up the bowed down and exalts the lowly.  This is certainly not the only time in scripture we hear of how good it is to be small.  Elsewhere Jesus speaks of being small as a prerequisite for heaven.  We are told that unless we become like little children we will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Mt 18:3).  Jesus speaks of the way to heaven as being like a narrow gate (Mt 7:13), and even compares entering heaven to passing through the eye of a needle (Mt 19:24; Mk 10:25).  It would seem that to pass through that narrow gate into heaven, we -- like Alice in Wonderland -- must ourselves become small.

Why does God love smallness so?  I suggest that it is because He Himself is small.  I speak of the great humility of God.  Come again?  How can God, the Creator of the Universe, omnipotent and eternal, Who sits on the throne of heaven with the earth as His footstool, adored by angels and archangels -- how can this God be small and humble?  Jesus Himself says, "I am meek and humble of heart" (Mt 11:29), so we know it must be so.

Consider this.  God is the highest of all beings.  Everything else that exists was created by Him, comes from Him, and is therefore lower than Him.  We may think that such a condition would make humility impossible, but paradoxically from His heights, God shows us the perfect virtue of humility.  Remember that God is Love, and love always desires to move outside the self to the other.  For God, the highest of all beings, any movement outside of Himself is always a lowering and humbling movement.  In a manner of speaking, God has nowhere to go but down.

This is why we speak of Jesus "humbling Himself."  In that great poetic passage of St. Paul's letter to the Philippians, the Apostle writes that we should have the same attitude of Jesus Christ, "Who, though He was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.  Rather, He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave ... He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.  Because of this, God greatly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name" (Phil 2:6-9).

It is good for us to be small, like the mustard seed, for several reasons.  First, it is a recognition of the truth, for we are all small before the majesty of God.  Humility begins by recognizing and living in that truth.  But also, when we are small we are like Christ, who made Himself small for us.  And as today's readings tell us, God delights in doing great things with that which is small.  In Christ's humility, God exalted Him.  And so if we share in Christ's humility, in His smallness, we will also share in His exaltation and be brought with Him into the delights of the kingdom of heaven.

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

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Gospel For Today: Corpus Christi

click here for readings

Today we celebrate the solemnity of Corpus Christi, that great solemnity of the Eucharist, which the Second Vatican Council calls "the source and summit of the Christian life" (Lumen Gentium 11).  The popular hymn At That First Eucharist sings of it as the "great sacrament of unity," and the Catechism says, "The Eucharist is the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion of the divine life and that unity of the People of God" (CCC 1325).

Yet for many people the Eucharist can seem like a source of division.  Consider this not uncommon scenario.  You have been talking with a friend about your faith.  He is not Catholic, but has been asking questions about Catholicism.  You have been sharing what you know, and what the faith means to you (especially your love of the Eucharist).  You are excited by his interest and want to encourage him, so you invite him to come to Mass with you next Sunday.  To your great joy, he accepts.  You go to Mass together, but before you enter the church you remember something you need to tell him.  "Oh, before I forget," you say, "During Communion, when everyone goes up to receive, you can't.  That's just for Catholics.  Non-Catholics can't receive Communion in our Church."

His face looks crestfallen.  He was excited about attending his first Mass, and now, despite all your efforts to be welcoming, he is met at the door by a message of rejection.  He gets offended, feeling he is not welcome at your table.  What can be done here?  How can we be welcoming and invitational to others (which is a necessary component of evangelization), while respecting the laws of the Church regarding reception of Holy Communion?

First of all, when bringing someone new to Mass with you, right before you sit down in the pew is probably not the best time to bring up the matter.  Talk with them well beforehand about what the Church teaches regarding who may and may not receive the Eucharist.  And make sure you know what that teaching actually is.  

The "Order of the Mass" booklets we have in the pews in our campus chapel contain this statement on the inside cover.  Most worship aids and pew missals used in other parishes will contain something very similar.

Reception of Holy Communion is open to Catholics in a state of grace (not conscious of any mortal sin), who have fasted for at least one hour prior to reception.  (Water and medicine do not break the fast.  The elderly and those who are sick as well as those who care for them, are not obliged to fast.)  Non-Christians, and those Christians who are not in full communion with the Catholic Church, are welcome to worship with us, but should not present themselves for Communion.  We invite you to pray for Christian unity.

It is very important to understand that this is not a simple matter of "Catholics get to receive the Eucharist, non-Catholics don't."  If that were all it was, it would be exclusionary and divisive.  But this is not the case, and it is important that the newcomer you bring to Mass, and you yourself, understand this point clearly.

The invitation to the Eucharist is open to all.  But, as the Catechism reminds us, "To respond to this invitation we must prepare ourselves for so great and holy a moment" (CCC 1385).  The Catechism then goes on to quote from St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians.

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.  Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. (1 Cor 11:27-29).

Christ promises life to those who eat His flesh and drink His blood (Jn 6:53), but Paul warns that those who do so unworthily risk receiving spiritual death.  The Church therefore, out of care for the souls receiving the Eucharist, wants to ensure that those who do so are adequately prepared.

This means, first and foremost, being in a state of grace.  In other words, the one receiving is not conscious of any mortal sin.  If one has committed a mortal sin (which includes neglecting the Sunday Mass obligation), one needs to have recourse to the sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession), to repent and receive the Lord's forgiveness before receiving the Eucharist.  In this way you make your soul a welcoming home for the presence of the Lord.

Secondarily, you must also prepare your body.  This means observing the Church's fasting requirements.  Currently, one is only required to fast for one hour before receiving Holy Communion (past generations had stricter requirements).  

So, if a Protestant Christian believes in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, is not conscious of having committed any mortal sin, and fasts for one hour, can he or she receive the Eucharist in the Catholic Church?  The answer is still no.  

The reason is that the Eucharist is not just one aspect of the Catholic faith which non-Catholics can take or leave.  The Eucharist is the faith.  Again, we turn to the Catechism, which reminds us that the Eucharist completes Christian initiation (CCC 1322).  "The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it.  For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ Himself, our Pasch" (CCC 1324).  

We call the Eucharist "Communion" because it is both the sign and means of our communion not only with Christ, but with the Church (which, not insignificantly, is also called the Body of Christ).  In other words, it is by reception of the Body of Christ (the Eucharist) that our union with the Body of Christ (the Church) is made complete.  

Those Christians who remain outside of the Catholic Church are, by definition, not in full union (communion) with the Catholic Church.  We wish them to be.  We strongly desire them to be.  And we hope, though our witness and our welcome, and the Holy Spirit working through us, that they may seek to be united with the Catholic Church.  If they do so, then receiving the Body and Blood of Christ in the Holy Eucharist will be the completion of that unity.  But until that time, reception of the Eucharist by a non-Catholic is a dishonest act.  

I find marriage to be a helpful metaphor here.  As Catholics we believe that the sexual act between a husband and wife is a beautiful, holy, life-giving act.  It is a supremely good act, but one that belongs properly only within marriage.  By that act the husband and wife are saying, "I give myself completely to you."  This is why premarital sex is wrong, because you are saying with your bodies "I am united completely with you," while in fact you are not united in marriage.  It becomes a dishonest and sinful act.

Likewise non-Catholics who receive the Eucharist, as well as those Catholics not in a state of grace, are saying with their body, "I am in full union with the Church," when in fact they are not.  Reception of the greatest gift Christ intends to give to us therefore becomes an act of dishonesty and occasion of sin.  One begins to understand why St. Paul warned against this so strongly.

We don't just want non-Catholics to receive Communion in the Catholic Church.  We want them to be in communion with the Catholic Church, and receive all the graces that entails.  So the next time you bring a non-Catholic to Mass and have "the conversation" with them about the Eucharist, make this point.  We care for their spiritual good, and it is for that reason the Church cannot admit them to Communion.  But we desire to; moreover we want them to desire to.  And if they do so desire to receive the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, that path is open to them.  It is a path to unity with His Church, to the fullness of the faith, to the source and summit of the Christian life.

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

Friday, June 5, 2015

Rosaries for Dad (and other men types)

You may have given roses to mom on Mother's Day; why not a rosary to dad on Father's Day?  We may not typically think of rosaries as a masculine gift item, but I say we ought to, especially in light of these bits of wisdom from the saints.
The holy rosary is a powerful weapon. Use it with confidence and you'll be amazed at the results.  -- St. Josemaria Escriva
The rosary is the weapon for these times. -- St. Pio of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio)
Give me an army saying the rosary and I will conquer the world. -- Bl. Pope Puis IX
The rosary is a powerful weapon to put demons to flight and to keep oneself from sin. -- Pope Pius XI
Obviously a rosary is not a weapon like a sword or a pistol, meant to be used in violent, physical combat.  Rather, it is a weapon meant to be used in spiritual combat, which is an altogether more powerful and profound undertaking.  Both men and women are called to engage in spiritual combat in their quest for holiness, yet in my experience most rosary prayer groups only have a few men, if any at all.  And more Catholic women I know are regular rosary prayers than men.  Granted, this is anecdotal, but I don't believe my observations to be outside the norm.

Why is this?  Why are men forgoing this powerful spiritual weapon, much praised by the saints?  Could it be that most rosaries one encounters look more like something from grandma's jewelry box than a weapon for spiritual combat?  OK, that is clearly not the only reason, but it certainly doesn't help to encourage men in praying the rosary to put something sparkly and dainty into their hands.

Your dad probably won't pray with this.
Time for a disclaimer.  Yes, men can certainly pray well with effeminate looking rosaries.  And yes, women can pray well with more masculine looking rosaries.  In fact some women prefer the simpler look of a manly-style rosary, and some men really like the beauty of a more feminine rosary (reminding them of the perfect embodiment of womanhood in the Blessed Mother).  When I became Catholic myself one of the first things I did was to buy a rosary made from beads in the shape of rose blossoms.  I just thought it was pretty cool!  But that's not my go-to rosary.  You have to admit -- most Catholic men you know would probably feel more comfortable carrying something like the below rosary with them, making them that much more likely to pray the rosary more often.

Dad wants this rosary.
But here's the problem.  If your local Catholic goods shop is like most I've seen, it might have a dozen or more very pretty and dainty bejeweled rosaries, and maybe one of two that could be described as "manly."  The more masculine styles offered are probably of the less-expensive wooden bead variety.  Not that a low cost is a bad thing.  These are perfectly fine rosaries, and the most important thing is of course how you pray, not what the rosary you pray looks like.  

Nevertheless, the appearance and quality of your rosary matter.  Why do I say that?  Because you should have a rosary that you will actually want to use.  I was given some good advice once about buying a Bible that I think applies here.  When asking about which Bible to purchase for myself for spiritual reading, I was expecting advice on what translation to get.  What I received was advice about choosing one with a good size font, with pages that were easy to turn, that lied flat when open, with a good quality binding, and that felt good in my hand.  The point was that the best Bible to buy is the one you will actually enjoy reading.  The same is true with the rosary.

With that in mind, here are some links to places where you can purchase some really nice looking, masculine style rosaries for dad (or yourself, or any other men-types in your life).  I am not affiliated with nor am I receiving compensation from any of these companies.

  • Bishop Sheen Rosaries:  
    From their web site:  "The mission of Bishop Sheen Rosaries is to provide high quality rosaries to our customers, while simultaneously helping fund a school in Uganda. We are only happy when you are happy with your new sacramental! Every rosary that is sold from Bishop Sheen Rosaries is prayerfully handmade."  They have special rosaries for police officers, firefighters, Knights of Columbus, and other generally masculine styles.  They look tough and made to last.
  • Fishers of Men Rosary:  
    From their web site: "This unique rosary is made primarily of genuine fishing components. The cord is genuine nylon fishing cord, the beads are tin split shot sinkers (lead-free), and the ichthus charm is attached with a swivel clip. The center was special-made for this rosary and shows Jesus calling the fishermen on the back. This special rosary comes with a prayer card with a Prayer for Vocations and an explanation of the rosary. 10% of the net proceeds from the retail sale of this rosary is donated to priestly vocations."
  • Combat Rosary:
    From their web site:  "The Church Militant Combat Rosary is based upon the original pull chain rosary that was commissioned and procured by, believe it or not, the U.S. government and issued by the military, upon request, to soldiers serving in World War I. Some of these rosaries were also seen in WWII. Veterans recognize them as “Service Rosaries.” Made of strong metal pull chain, this rosary is meant to endure. Special locking jump rings add to this rosary’s toughness. This rosary’s endurance is meant to highlight the hopeful words of Psalm 136: “His love endures forever.” This Combat Rosary’s use of the Pardon Crucifix, Miraculous Medal and St. Benedict Medal makes it a powerful spiritual assault weapon against evil forces attempting to separate us from the love of God and His will for our lives."
  • Rugged Rosaries by CordBands:  
    A hobby-turned-business out of northern California, this family operation hand makes rugged, military inspired rosaries from authentic 550 Paracord.  They have a wide variety available, including rosaries for firefighters, soldiers, police officers, Celtic themed, and others.
  • Make Your Own!  Rosary Army has some excellent and easy to follow instructions on their web site showing how to make your own tied-knot cord rosaries.  They have links to where you can buy the right kind of cord to use.  And you can either end your rosary with a tied-knot cross or attach your own crucifix.  (You can find some really nice looking crucifixes for rosary-making on Etsy).

I'm certain there are other quality, masculine rosaries to be had out there, but these are a few I found doing a quick search.  Of course, if it has been a while since dad has prayed the rosary, a good companion to your gift would be Real Men Pray the Rosary: A Practical Guide to a Powerful Prayer, by David Calvillo and published by Ave Maria Press.  Like the rosaries linked to above, I'm not getting any kick-backs from my recommendation; I'm simply passing along a resource.

Finally, in addition to giving a rosary to your dad on Father's Day, you can also pray a rosary for your dad on Father's Day, or any day of the year.  Why not begin or end your rosary with this powerful prayer for fathers composed by Pope St. John XXIII.

St. Joseph, guardian of Jesus and chaste husband of Mary, you passed your life in loving fulfillment of duty. You supported the holy family of Nazareth with the work of your hands. Kindly protect those who trustingly come to you. You know their aspirations, their hardships, their hopes. They look to you because they know you will understand and protect them. You too knew trial, labor and weariness. But amid the worries of material life your soul was full of deep peace and sang out in true joy through intimacy with God's Son entrusted to you and with Mary, his tender Mother. Assure those you protect that they do not labor alone. Teach them to find Jesus near them and to watch over him faithfully as you have done.