Friday, September 25, 2015

Of Jealousy and Judgment

TWENTY-SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (B)
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Last week our scripture readings warned against jealousy, with Christ admonishing the Apostles for arguing about who among them was the greatest.  This week the lesson in humility continues with a warning to not be jealous of another's gifts.

In our first reading (Nm 11:25-29), a young man complains to Moses that two elders are prophesying who (in his opinion) should not be.  They were not among the elders gathered in the camp when the spirit of God came upon them.  Moses asks the young man, "Are you jealous for my sake?  Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets!"

Our gospel reading (Mk 9:38-48) recounts a similar tale.  John complains to Jesus that someone is driving out demons who is not one of the (known) followers of Christ.  Jesus tells John, essentially, to mind his own business.  He then launches into a sermon about the importance of rooting out personal sin.  In other words, turn that judgmental eye off of your neighbor and onto yourself.

We can be jealous of another's possessions, appearance, or status.  We can be jealous of another's spiritual gifts.  We can be jealous of their station or position.  I've seen it many times, even within the Church.  Why did the choir director have that person cantor the psalm?  I have a better voice!  Why did the pastor ask her to help plan the youth retreat?  I've been volunteering for longer than she has!  Why did the campus minister ask him to be on the Peer Ministry Council?  I never see him at our Bible study!

At its heart, jealousy means we are judging others as being less worthy than ourselves.  They don't deserve those gifts -- I do.  Lest we forget, judging others is something we are forbidden to do (Mt 7:1).  There are two phrases that often come up whenever moral issues are discussed or people are accused of being judgmental: "Love the sinner, hate the sin," and, "Who am I to judge?"

People often confuse judging a person with judging a person's actions.  Who am I to judge another person?  Absolutely!  It is God's place alone to judge the soul.  When we judge the state of another's soul, we usurp God's authority and invite judgment upon ourselves.  Who am I to judge another's actions? This is a different matter.  While we are forbidden to judge the state of anyone's soul, we are commanded to judge actions.  If we could not judge the rightness or wrongness of actions, we would have no way of avoiding sin.

Can you condemn a person's actions without condemning the person?  How do we hate the sin and love the sinner?  It helps to consider the three conditions which the Church teaches are necessary for one to be in a state of mortal sin -- that is to say, a state of separation from the life-giving grace of God.  There are three conditions which must be met:
  1. Grave matter -- the person must have committed an act which is objectively a serious sin.
  2. Sufficient knowledge -- the person must have known the act was sinful.
  3. Sufficient use of will -- the person must have wanted to perform the act.
Numbers 2 and 3 are subjective matters of which we have no knowledge when it comes to others. There is no way for us to be in another's head or know another's heart.  Further, we also generally don't know whether that person has since repented of their sin.  In other words, we cannot know the state of another's soul.

On the other hand, number 1 is objective.  We can know whether the act itself is sinful or not.  Not only is it permissible to make such a judgment, but it is considered an act of charity to admonish the sinner.  Sin is harmful -- even deadly -- to the soul.  If we truly love our neighbor, we want them to be happy and holy.  We want them to be close to God.  And so we rightly warn them away from sin.  This requires us to make moral judgments concerning actions.

But we are called first and foremost to make moral judgments about our own actions.   If we are scrupulous in judging others' actions without examining our own actions, we are guilty of the worst kind of hypocrisy.  We should look to our own behavior, our minds and our hearts and when we find sin there, root it out with the help of Christ.  Jesus warns us just how serious a matter sin is.  "If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off . . . If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off . . . If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out . . ."

Now, I don't want to see any one-eyed or one-legged students showing up at Mass this week!  Jesus here is engaging in hyperbole for the sake of emphasizing just how serious sin is.  Self-mutilation is in fact a sin.  God made your body and you are called to care for and respect it.  Jesus' point is that bodily harm, as bad as it is, is minor compared the the harm of eternal separation from God caused by unrepented sin.  

St. Ephaim the Syrian
One of the many reasons jealousy is wrong is because it keeps us concerned with judging others and prevents us from turning our gaze inward to discover our own sins.

St. Ephraim the Syrian, doctor of the Church, has very good advice for those who are tempted to judge others.  "Search not out the faults of men; reveal not the sins of your fellow; the shortcomings of your neighbors, in speech of the mouth repeat not.  You are not judge in creation ... If you love righteousness, reprove your soul and yourself.  Be a judge of your own sins, and chastener of your own transgressions."

Rejoice at your neighbor's triumphs.  Be sorrowful over their failings.  But do not neglect to turn your gaze inward, identify your own sins and come to repentance.  Make a good confession.  Be reconciled to God.   Then turn your gaze, unclouded by sin, upon God, the source of all holiness and joy, who loves each of us as His beloved child.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Wisdom from Above

TWENTY-FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (B)
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“Whoever receives one child such as this in my name,
receives me; and whoever receives me, 

receives not me but the One who sent me” (Mk 9:37).
I was an English major in college.  Originally I pursued a professional writing concentration, but switched to literature midway through my undergraduate career.  My advisor informed me,  "If you make this change, you will graduate very educated but not very employable."  I told him that I was attending college to get an education, not a job.

The purpose of studying at a university is to gain knowledge.  What we do with it is up to us.  Some seek to advance in a specialized field of knowledge with the goal of gaining employment in that field.  Others seek knowledge generally.  This was the goal of the classical liberal arts education which consisted of grammar, rhetoric and logic, to which the medievals added arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music. The goal of such broad learning was to move beyond mere knowledge of facts to an understanding of why things are the way they are, how things all fit together, and (most importantly) how one should live one's life accordingly.  We could (as the ancients and medievals did) categorize all this as philosophy, which comes from the Greek words meaning "love of wisdom."

We sometimes speak of someone being "wise in the ways of the world," but our scriptures this week speak of "wisdom from above."  Our gospel accounts both this Sunday and last Sunday give us examples of the difference.  Last Sunday we saw Jesus rebuking Peter for "thinking not as God does, but as human beings do" (Mk 8:33).  Jesus spoke of the need for His own suffering and death; Peter could not see the wisdom in his Lord suffering for others.  This Sunday we see the Apostles arguing among themselves over who is the greatest among them, while Jesus identifies greatness with the humble child and the servant.

This wisdom, which seems paradoxical from the world's perspective, is not learned through study but received as a gift.  In fact, wisdom is defined by the Catechism of the Catholic Church as "a spiritual gift which enables one to know the purpose and plan of God."  It is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (CCC 1831).

The fact that we cannot achieve this order of wisdom by the strength of our own intellect is underscored by its end -- to know the purpose and plan of God.  We seek this wisdom whenever we ask the question, "What is the purpose of my life?"  The answer comes not by earning a degree, but by being open and receptive to God's truth.

"God's truth is His wisdom, which commands the whole created order and governs the world.  God, who alone made heaven and earth, can alone impart true knowledge of every created thing in relation to Himself" (CCC 216).  God's wisdom is truth.  We are wise to the degree that we conform our human will to the truth.  Being wise also means knowing ourselves in relation to God.  This is the most perfect form of self-knowledge, because only by knowing who we are in relation to God can we know our true selves.

This sometimes means unlearning what the world has taught us.  The world teaches us to put ourselves first, but Jesus teaches us to be meek and serve others.  This leaves no room for selfish ambition (seeking to be greater than others) or jealousy (resentment of others' gains).  Our second reading (Jas 3:16-4:3) tells us these things are incompatible with wisdom.  St. James further describes "wisdom from above" in this passage.

Wisdom from above is pure.  When something is pure, it is uncontaminated and clean.  Pure air is healthy.  It is also clear, allowing us to see the world unmarred by the haze of pollution.  The purity of wisdom is healthy for our minds and gives clarity to our understanding.

Wisdom from above is peaceable.  When someone is described as peaceable, it means they avoid conflict and needless argument.  St. James says that the "fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace" (Jas 3:18).  The wise enjoy peace both in the home and the heart not by compromising the truth or moral principles, but by avoiding conflict for conflict's sake and always relating to others in charity.

Wisdom from above is gentle.  To be gentle requires mildness, not severity.  It means being kind and tender, compassionate and sympathetic to others.

Wisdom from above is compliant -- not in the sense of being a push-over or weak-willed, but in the sense of being good-natured and willing to obey rightful authority.  It means being willing to cooperate with another and accommodate another's needs and desires.

Wisdom from above is full of mercy, meaning always willing to forgive others who have wronged us.  Lest we forget, in the Lord's Prayer we ask God to forgive us our trespasses only to the extent that we ourselves forgive those who trespass against us.  If we are not merciful to others, we should not expect God to be merciful to us.

Finally, wisdom from above is consistent and sincere.  This means all of the above characteristics are genuine and unchanging.  The wise person is not gentle with some people but harsh with others.  The wise person does not speak words of mercy with her lips while holding a grudge in her heart.  The wise person does not seek peace on Sunday and sow conflict with a neighbor on Monday.  Wisdom involves a profound and deep consistency, for God's will and His love are consistent.  Wisdom that comes from the mind of God is unchanging because God is unchanging.

The world preaches "wisdom" that says watch out for number one; put yourself first because no one else will; take what is yours; be aggressive and assertive; seek fame, fortune and accolades.  God offers a higher wisdom.  The last shall be first.  The meek shall be exalted.  The greatest among you shall be your servant.

To the world this seems like a paradox.  But God demonstrates the truth of His wisdom through His Son who is both Lord of all and servant of all.  Jesus is the perfect image of God, and perfect source of Wisdom.  Be a philosopher -- be a lover of wisdom.  Seek and understand the wisdom from above which Christ offers and strive always to live your life in conformity with this truth.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Belief and Action

TWENTY-FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (B)
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Is Christianity a system of belief, or a call to action?  What if I told you it was both?

There have been many false prophets through the ages who have erred by over-emphasizing one side of this question over the other.  In our day many believe that simply being good is good enough.  Being a "good person" is seen as the paragon of virtue and the sure key to sainthood, regardless of whether one has faith in Christ or anything else.

On the other hand you have those following the traditions of 16th century Protestant reformer Martin Luther who taught salvation by "faith alone."  The idea is that we can never merit heaven by our own actions.  Only faith in Christ makes salvation possible, therefore faith in Christ is all you need.

Both of these views contain elements of truth, but neither is sufficient.  They each lack some truth contained in the other.

The Catholic Church, following the Bible, teaches that both faith and works are necessary for our salvation.  We see this teaching expressed clearly in today's second reading.  "What good is it, brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?  Can that faith save him? ... faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead" (Jas 2:14-18).

There is a clear difference between believing and putting that belief into practice. I might believe that investing in a certain stock can make me a millionaire.  But if I don't actually invest my money, my belief gains me nothing.  I can know that studying before an exam will help me to get a better grade, but that does me no good if I don't bother to actually study.

Faith in Christ is like that.  You can believe that Jesus is the Son of God, but then what do you do about it?  Does that belief make any difference in your life?

In today's gospel reading (Mk 8:27-35), Jesus asks the disciples a very important question: "Who do you say that I am?" Peter gives the right answer.  "You are the Christ."  Peter believes correctly.  But what Peter does next shows that he has failed to put that belief into action.

Jesus says something difficult to hear, which Peter cannot accept.  He speaks about how He would suffer, be rejected by all the elders, be killed and then rise from the dead.  This was too much for Peter and so he rebuked the One in whom he had just professed his faith.  Jesus' response was, "Get behind me, Satan!"  If we profess faith in Christ but choose to reject any of His teachings that we find difficult, then Jesus may as well be talking to us.

And let's be honest.  If we don't find any of Jesus' words difficult or challenging, we are not really paying attention.  Immediately after rebuking Peter, Jesus tells us to deny ourselves and take up our cross.  The impact of this statement is lessened because you and I have never witnessed a crucifixion.  But imagine what that phrase must have meant to the first-century hearers of Jesus.  Crucifixions were a regular, gruesome sight in first-century Palestine.  There has been no greater instrument of torture and execution devised by man than the cross.  Those condemned to die by this horrible method were often forced to carry the instrument of their own demise while crowds jeered and harassed them.  Every one of Jesus' hearers would have seen this and been familiar with the agony it involved.  This is what Jesus told them to emulate.

That certainly qualifies as a "hard saying" of Jesus.  So how do we put our faith into action when it comes to denying ourselves and taking up our crosses?  Denying yourself is compared to the cross because it means giving up that thing which is most precious to you -- your self.  When James speaks in his epistle of giving food to the hungry or giving a cloak to the naked, he's telling us to give up our own comforts for the sake of others.  Loving your neighbor means making sacrifices.

Now here's the kicker.  Christ doesn't stop at telling us to love our neighbors.  He tells us to love our enemies.  In last Thursday's gospel reading (Lk 6:27-38) Christ said, "Even sinners love those who love them."  Christ demands more from us.  He expects us to love even those who are indifferent to us or who hate us.

Love, like faith, requires action.  Just as it is not enough to say, "I believe in Christ" and not follow up that belief with action, so it is not enough to simply have loving feelings towards someone and not put that love into action.  Love costs us something of ourselves -- it requires us to deny ourselves.  That's hard enough to do for someone we actually like; imagine how difficult it is to actively love someone who hates you.  This is the love Christ calls us to.

Denying yourself, loving those who hate you -- this all seems like backwards nonsense to the world.  But as Christ tells Peter, "You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do."  Jesus knows that only by denying yourself can you learn what it truly means to love; and that the more perfectly we learn to love, the closer we come to holiness and to God, our origin and our end.

To love in this way requires faith and action, working together.  Word and deed.  This is what it means to live as a Christian.  This is what it means to "work out our salvation" (as St. Paul puts it; Phil 2:12).  This is what it means to become a saint.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Basic Catholic Prayers


The Angelus

Traditionally, the Angelus is prayed at 6:00am, noon, and 6:00pm.

V. The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary;
R. And she conceived by the Holy Spirit.
Hail Mary…

V. Behold the handmaid of the Lord.
R. Be it done unto me according to your word.
Hail Mary…

V. And the Word was made flesh,
R. And dwelt among us.
Hail Mary…

V. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God,
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray.
Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts, that we, to who the incarnation of Christ, Thy Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by His passion and cross be brought to the glory of His resurrection, through the same Christ our Lord.
Amen.



Regina Caeli
Prayed during the Easter Season in place of the Angelus

V. Queen of heaven, rejoice! Alleluia.
R. For he whom you did merit to bear. Alleluia.

V. Has risen, as he said. Alleluia.
R. Pray for us to God. Alleluia.

V. Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary. Alleluia.
R. For the Lord is truly risen. Alleluia.

Let us pray.
O God, who gave joy to the world through the resurrection of Thy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, grant, we beseech Thee, that through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, His Mother, we may obtain the joys of everlasting life, through the same Christ our Lord.
Amen.

The Divine Mercy Chaplet

The Chaplet of Mercy is recited using ordinary rosary beads. The Chaplet is preceded by two opening prayers from the Diary of Saint Faustina and followed by a closing prayer.


1. Make the Sign of the Cross
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

2. Optional Opening Prayers
You expired, Jesus, but the source of life gushed forth for souls, and the ocean of mercy opened up for the whole world. O Fount of Life, unfathomable Divine Mercy, envelop the whole world and empty Yourself out upon us.

Repeat three times
O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fountain of Mercy for us, I trust in You!

3. Our Father

4. Hail Mary

5. The Apostle's Creed
I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; He descended into hell; on the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty; from there He will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.

6. The Eternal Father
Eternal Father, I offer you the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your Dearly Beloved Son, Our Lord, Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.

7. On the Ten Small Beads of Each Decade
For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

8. Repeat for the remaining decades
Saying the "Eternal Father" (6) on the "Our Father" bead and then "For the sake of His sorrowful Passion" (7) on the following "Hail Mary" beads.

9. Conclude with Holy God (Repeat three times)

Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

10. Optional Closing Prayer
Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion — inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself.

The Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary

Wednesdays and Sundays

1.  The Resurrection:  Mk 16:1-8

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go and anoint him.  Very early when the sun had risen, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb.  They were saying to one another, “Who will roll back the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?”  When they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back; it was very large.  On entering the tomb they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe, and they were utterly amazed.  He said to them, “Do not be amazed!  You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified.  He has been raised; he is not here.  Behold, the place where they laid him.  But go and tell his disciples and Peter, “He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.”  Then they went out and fled from the tomb, seized with trembling and bewilderment.  They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.



2.  The Ascension:  Lk 24:50-52

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, raised his hands, and blessed them.  As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven.  They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God.



3.  The Descent of the Holy Spirit:  Acts 2:1-4

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.




4.  The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary:  Ps 16:10

For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, nor let your devout one see the pit.



5.  The Coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mary:  Rev 12:1-2

A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.  She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth.

The Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary

Tuesdays and Fridays

1.  The Agony in the Garden:  Mt 26:36-46

Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”  He took along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to feel sorrow and distress.  Then he said to them, “My soul is sorrowful even to death.  Remain here and keep watch with me.”  He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.”  When he returned to his disciples he found them asleep.  He said to Peter, “So you could not keep watch with me for one hour?  Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test.  The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  Withdrawing a second time, he prayed again, “My Father, if it is not possible that this cup pass without my drinking it, your will be done!”  Then he returned once more and found them asleep, for they could not keep their eyes open.  He left them and withdrew again and prayed a third time, saying the same thing again.  Then he returned to his disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest?  Behold, the hour is at hand when the Son of Man is to be handed over to sinners.  Get up, let us go.  Look, my betrayer is at hand.”



2.  The Scourging at the Pillar:  Jn 19:1
Then Pilate took Jesus and had him scourged.



3.  The Crowning with Thorns:  Mt 27:29
Weaving a crown out of thorns, they placed it on his head, and a reed in his right hand.  And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews.”



4.  The Carrying of the Cross:  Jn 19:16-17
Then he handed him over to be crucified.  So they took Jesus, and carrying the cross himself, he went out to what is called the Place of the Skull, in Hebrew, Golgotha.



5.  The Crucifixion:  Jn 19:25-30
Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala.  When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.”  Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.”  And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.
     After this, aware that everything was now finished, in order that the scriptures might be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I thirst.”  There was a vessel filled with common wine.  So they put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to his mouth.  When Jesus had taken the wine, he said, “It is finished.”  And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit.




The Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary

Thursdays

1. The Baptism of Christ in the Jordan: Mk 1:9-11

It happened in those days that Jesus came up from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”



2. The Manifestation of Christ at the Wedding of Cana: Jn 2:1-11

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding. When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings, each holding twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus told them, “Fill the jars with water.” So they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it. And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine, without knowing where it came from (although the servers who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this at the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe him.


3. The Proclamation of the Kingdom of God, with His Call to Conversion: Mk 1:14-15

After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”




4. The Transfiguration: Mk 9:2-8

After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them. Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, and they were conversing with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified. Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; then from the cloud came a voice, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them.




5. The Institution of the Eucharist: Mk 14:22-26

While they were eating, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many. Amen, I say to you, I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” Then, after singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.



The Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary

Mondays and Saturdays

1. The Annunciation: Lk 1:26-38

In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.” Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.


2. The Visitation: Lk 1:39-56

During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.

And Mary said: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is from age to age for those who fear him. He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy, according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.


3. The Nativity: Lk 2:1-14

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town. And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear. The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is the Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”


4. The Presentation: Lk 2:22-35

When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,” and to offer the sacrifice of “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,” in accordance with the dictate of the law of the Lord. Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord. He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:

“Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.”

The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”


5. The Finding of Jesus in the Temple: Lk 2:41-51

Each year his parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival customs. After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart.

Back to the Rosary.

The Rosary

Although obviously Marian in character, the Rosary is Christ-centered in its essentials. It is a meditation on the lives of both our Lord and the Virgin Mary. Christian prayer tries above all to meditate on the mysteries of Christ, as in the Rosary.

STRUCTURE OF THE ROSARY
Make the Sign of the Cross.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

APOSTLES’ CREED
I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
He descended into hell.
On the third day he rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from there He will come again
to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy Catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.
Amen.

For an increase in the virtues of faith, hope, and charity.

Our Father Who art in heaven, hallowed by Thy name
Thy Kingdom come, They will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread
and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us
and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. 

(repeat three times)

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning, is now and every shall be, world without end. Amen.

Now begin the mysteries of the day. Start each decade by announcing the mystery and directing your imagination and attention towards that particular episode in the life of Christ or our Lady. It can be useful to follow the announcement of the mystery with the reading of a related scripture passage. Then proceed to the recitation of the decade. On the large bead, say the Our Father. On each of the ten small beads, say a Hail Mary. Then pray the Glory Be.

It is customary in many places to end each decade with the following prayer given to us by our Lady at Fatima.

O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fire of hell, lead all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of Thy mercy.

Mysteries of the Rosary

JOYFUL (Mondays and Saturdays) 
1. The Annunciation
2. The Visitation
3. The Nativity
4. The Presentation
5. The Finding of Jesus in the Temple

LUMINOUS (Thursdays)
1. The Baptism of Christ in the Jordan
2. The Wedding at Cana
3. The Proclamation of the Kingdom of God
4. The Transfiguration
5. The Institution of the Eucharist

SORROWFUL (Tues and Fridays)
1. The Agony in the Garden
2. The Scourging at the Pillar
3. The Crowning with Thorns
4. The Carrying of the Cross
5. The Crucifixion

GLORIOUS (Wed and Sundays)
1. The Resurrection
2. The Ascension
3. The Descent of the Holy Spirit
4. The Assumption
5. The Coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mary


CONCLUDING PRAYERS
Hail, holy Queen, mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness, and our hope. To thee do we cry, poor, banished children of Eve. To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy towards us; after this, our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.

V. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God.

R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray,
O God, whose Only-Begotten Son, by His life, death, and resurrection, has purchased for us the rewards of eternal life; grant, we beseech Thee, that by meditating on these mysteries of the most holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we may imitate what they contain, and obtain what they promise, through the same Christ our Lord

Living or Just Surviving (as a Catholic): Part II

In Part I of this article, we talked about the difference between living and merely surviving.  Motivational speakers often encourage us to truly live, making the most out of life, rather than just coasting along from one day to the next.

The same is true of our Catholic faith.  It is easy to just coast along in our spiritual lives, doing the bare minimum our faith requires of us but not really advancing in holiness or growing any closer to God.

In our last article, we talked about the Precepts of the Church as a sort of "Bare Minimum List" for Catholics; things the Church requires us to do to remain Catholics in good standing.  That list included attending Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation, going to Confession at least once a year, receiving the Eucharist at least once during the Easter season, observing the Church's rules about fasting and abstinence, and contributing to the needs of the Church.

The Precepts of the Church can be found in almost any Catholic prayer book, including the Handbook of Prayers: Student Edition that we make freely available to students at Catholic Campus Ministry.  But why be satisfied with the bare minimum?  God made us for greatness, not mediocrity.  It is important to ensure that we stay minimally connected to God through His Church; but that's the starting line, not the goal.

The same prayer book has a section entitled, "How to be a Better Catholic," which contains some wonderful -- and practical -- advice on how to grow in holiness.  If you are not content with merely surviving as a Catholic, and want to start really living your faith, you can find some great ideas here.  One of the ideas is to adopt a Spiritual Game Plan.  Other prayer books and devotionals may call this adopting a Rule of Life.

We frequently associate Rules of life with monastic communities.  Monks and nuns living together follow a common Rule, often given to them by the founder of their order.  This Rule not only stipulates how members of the community are to get along with one another, but also establishes the guiding principles of the spirituality of the religious order.

As lay Catholics living in the world, we cannot be expected to live by the same monastic Rules as cloistered monks or nuns.  But that does not mean we cannot have a rich spiritual life.  Adopting a personal Rule of Life, appropriate to our individual needs and circumstances, can enrich our lives and help us to grow in holiness.  Here are some suggestions given in this "Spiritual Game Plan" that you can start doing today to draw closer to God.
  • Offer each day to God.  Start off your morning with a simple prayer offering both your work and your leisure this day to God's glory, and asking Him to keep your thoughts and actions pure.
  • Sanctify your work.  Your faith is not just for Sunday mornings.  It should infuse all you do.  That includes work and study.  Approach them with piety and a desire to praise God by doing well.  Set realistic goals for yourself and organize your priorities into a practical daily schedule.  Here's a great line from the Handbook of Prayers to remember: "Sanctifying ordinary work is the goal of our life."
  • Attend Mass more often than you have to.  As we mentioned in the last article, we are obliged to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation.  But why settle for the minimum?  Is it possible in your schedule to attend Mass on other days during the week?
  • Don't just "attend" Mass; assist at Mass.  Although we frequently speak of "attending" Mass, we should not approach it as if it were a spectator sport.  We are called to involve ourselves in the Mass through prayer.  Past generations would speak of "assisting at Mass."  This is a helpful way to approach our participation at Mass; we are assisting the priest and the rest of the congregation by offering our prayers to God.
  • Develop a daily prayer routine.  There are so many ways to do this.  There is always room for prayer in your day -- find it.  Mother Theresa once said that you should pray for at least an hour every day, unless you don't have time; then you should pray for two hours.  If you sacrifice time in your day for prayer, God will bless the rest of your time.  Don't be afraid to experiment with different forms of prayer and different times of the day until you find something you can stick with. Some suggestions:
  • Engage in Spiritual Reading.  You can start with one of the gospels or epistles in the New Testament.  Just read a little bit each day and pray with the readings.  You can use the daily Mass readings, or any other reading from scripture.  You can also read spiritual classics such as The Practice of the Presence of God, The Way of the Pilgrim, the Diary of a Soul, the lives of the saints or a daily devotional based on the writings of the saints.  
  • Make an examination of conscience at the end of the day.  Just a few minutes is all it takes. The Handbook of Prayers has a short examination. There are many others to be found.  (Just google "catholic examination of conscience.")  These are essentially lists of questions intended to help you reflectively examine how you have grown in vice or virtue and identify any sins.  Essentially:
    • Humble yourself before the presence of God.
    • Pray, "Lord, if you will, you can make me clean."
    • Ask for light to acknowledge your defects and virtues.
    • Reflect back on your day to discover where you may have sinned or missed an opportunity to love.
    • Ask for repentance, amendment and encouragement.
  • Go to Confession at least once a month.  Going even when you have not committed a mortal sin helps to keep your soul clean of any venial sin and prevents you from descending to a place where mortal sins are likely.  Even the pope goes once a week!
  • Seek out a spiritual director for guidance in the spiritual life.  This can be a member of the clergy, a professed religious, or a well-formed lay person.  The point is to find someone who is both more advanced than you in the spiritual life and whom you can trust to be honest with you.
  • Spend time in Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament and pray about how you are directing your life toward God.
  • Attend a spiritual retreat at least once a year to renew and re-energize your faith.  Just like your body needs a vacation from stress every so often, so does your soul need an occasional pampering.  Give yourself an annual opportunity for deeper conversion.
  • Always stay mindful that you are in the presence of God.  And remember that He loves you. :-)
  • Always remember to thank God.
  • Always do everything for the love of God.
  • Live as you would like to die.  None of us is guaranteed our next breath.
Some of the above ideas are general while others are specific.  Some will be easy for anyone to start doing immediately.  Others may require more effort.  You may not be able to do all of the above (in fact I would not recommend you start trying to everything at once), but you will be able to do at least some.  Start with one or two things and add more as time permits and the Spirit moves you.  Remember, these are only suggestions to help you begin to put together and live out your own Spiritual Game Plan or Rule of Life.  

It is also a good idea to every so often reexamine your Spiritual Game Plan and adapt it to your changing circumstances. The daily realities of life as a college student are different from a single professional young adult, a young married couple, a parent of a toddler, parents of teens, empty-nesters and no on.  Just like you change up your exercise routine from time to time to keep it fresh, you will find you need to change up your spiritual workout regimen, as well.  

One thing you will note about all the suggestions on this list: you don't need to be part of a group, club, or support group to start doing them.  Only YOU can start doing these things, and YOU can do them on your own.  This does not mean that having a group of friends who are also committed to growing in their spiritual lives (as you would find at a campus ministry) is not helpful.  Surrounding yourself with good pious friends can make a world of difference.  But it does mean that when it comes to advancing in your spiritual life, the onus is not on your friends but on yourself.  Even if you do not participate actively in a campus ministry or a social group at your parish, you can still grow closer to God through Christ in His Church.

This is the adventure set before every Christian, to grow in holiness with the help of God, and so grow into your complete self, a self that has been made new in Christ.  May God bless you on your journey.

Living or Just Surviving (as a Catholic): Part I

I'm sure you have heard motivational speakers talk about the difference between "merely surviving" and "truly living."  The idea is that mere survival means you are just getting along, coasting through life, not really contributing or getting anything out of it.  Whereas if you are truly living you are seizing the day, getting the most out of every moment, absorbing and appreciating all the good things around you.

Of course we all want to be fully living, not merely surviving.  But when it comes to our faith, how often do we take the time to ask ourselves if we are truly living as Catholic Christians, or just surviving?

If you have not seen them yet, we have these wonderful little prayer books available at CCM called the Handbook of Prayers.  If you don't have one, pick one up next time you come by (they are free to students).  This book has loads of great Catholic prayers, as well as a lot of good general information about the Catholic faith.  One of the things it has is a list of the Precepts of the Church.  A lot of Catholic prayer books have this list somewhere toward the front.  The idea behind the Precepts is that these are the minimum obligations of a Catholic; the things you ought to be doing to remain a Catholic in good standing.  I call it the "Bare Minimum List."  There are only five things on this bare minimum list.  Here they are.
  1. "You shall attend Mass on Sundays and on holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor."
  2. "You shall confess your sins at least once a year."
  3. "You shall receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season."
  4. "You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church."
  5. "You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church."
That's a pretty simple list, and you may be reading it thinking, "I do all those things and more."  Good for you.  But you may be thinking, "Wow, I didn't know I was supposed to be doing that."  And you would not be alone.  Nevertheless, these are the things considered so vitally important by the Church as to be tied by obligation to our very identity as Catholics.  So let's talk about what these obligations entail and why they are important.

1. You shall attend Mass on Sundays and on holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor.

One thing to be mindful of is that these obligations are serious but not absolute.  Sunday Mass attendance is a good example.  There are (a few) legitimate reasons to miss Mass on Sunday.  If you are sick, no one expects you to come spread your germs among the congregation.  Likewise if you are taking care of someone who is sick, and cannot leave their side to attend Mass.  Or if you physically cannot get to a Catholic church; for example, if you are a scientist stationed at an Antarctic research facility for six months, or if you get snowed in at home during the winter.

All that being said, Mass attendance is a serious obligation which can only be dispensed with for serious reasons.  Being on vacation does not mean a vacation from Mass.  Just because you are away from your home parish does not mean you are not obligated to attend Mass somewhere.  It is expected that any time you travel you would check to see when and where Sunday Mass would be celebrated near you.  

These French soldiers stationed in south Lebanon
don't even have a church building but are still fulfilling
their duty to worship at Sunday Mass.
If you are uncertain whether a particular reason for missing Mass is serious enough to lift the obligation, there is a simple question you can ask yourself.  Do I want to attend Mass, but cannot?  Or do I not really want to attend Mass, and am looking for an excuse not to?  If you desire to attend Mass but genuinely are unable to, then your reason for not attending is probably legitimate.  But let's not kid ourselves.  Most people, in most places, have multiple opportunities to attend Sunday Mass.  Even in our small town we have a Saturday night Vigil Mass and two Sunday morning Masses at St. Mary's, followed by a Sunday afternoon Mass on campus.  That's four different opportunities without even having to drive to the next town over.  

Why is attending Mass so important?  The reasons are many and varied, but suffice it to say, everything we have is from God.  It is only right that we pause for at least a short time in our busy lives to recognize Him and give Him thanks.  We have 168 hours during the week.  Mass takes up one of them.  If we cannot give God even that, how committed are we to our faith?

God also gives us the gift of sabbath, a day of rest.  He did not make us to live lives of servile labor.  By commanding us to rest on Sunday, He gives us a chance to be fully human and reconnect with what is truly important.  Let's not turn down this gift.

And lest we forget, holy days of obligation are days of the year outside of Sunday that are important enough celebrations in the Church that they carry the same obligation to attend Mass as a Sunday.  Click here for a list of what those days are.  They are called holy days of obligation, not holy days of "come to Mass if you want to and it's not too inconvenient."  The requirement to attend Mass on holy days of obligation also means that you should be at least minimally aware of the Church's liturgical calendar, so that these important feasts don't catch you off guard (however, if you attend Mass every Sunday, you'll no doubt hear a reminder of upcoming holy days from the pulpit).

Out of all five precepts on this "bare minimum list," the obligation to attend Mass is listed first for a reason.  If you do nothing else as a Catholic, you need to be attending Mass on Sundays.  To fail in this obligation is to live a life outside of the Church.

2. You shall confess your sins at least once a year.

Yes, the Pope also goes to Confession!
Confession is important. It's the way God established in His Church to convey His forgiveness to us and allow for our reconciliation to Him when we have fallen.  When we turn away from Him in sin, He invites us to turn back to Him (repent means to turn around) in this sacrament.

By requiring us to confess our sins at least once a year, the Church simply recognizes reality.  We are sinners.  In countless ways we fall short of the perfect love of God.  If it has been more than a year since your last confession, I guarantee you it is not because you are sinless.  Either you don't recognize your sins, or you are running away from God's mercy.  Either of those is foolish.  By requiring us to confess our sins at least once a year, the Church is keeping us honest with ourselves.  You need Confession.  If it's been a while, the good news is all you have to do is come back.  Just walk into the confessional and say, "Forgive me father, it has been X years since my last confession."  The priest and the Holy Spirit will guide you from there.

The requirement to confess our sins at least once a year is also there to allow us to keep the next obligation, which is...

3. You shall receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season.

The Eucharist is the "source and summit of our faith" (Sacrosanctum Concilium).  It completes our initiation into the Christian life.  It is a gift from God that we are not meant to receive only once but over and over again to sustain us -- give us this day our daily bread.  

This particular precept may seem strange to modern day Catholics who are used to receiving the Eucharist every time we are at Mass, but frequent reception of the Eucharist used to be much less common.  It is necessary before receiving the Eucharist to examine one's conscience to make sure one is not guilty of mortal sin.  Otherwise, sacramental confession is first required to ensure that one receives the Eucharist in a state of grace.  In order to grow in love of God and neighbor, the Church has established as a minimum that we should receive the Body and Blood of our Lord at least during the Easter season, which is the high point of the liturgical year.  

4. You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church.

Rules on fasting and abstinence have never been less strict than they are at the present time in the Church.  However, one consequence of them being so light is that people sometimes forget that they are serious obligations.  As a reminder, Catholics between the ages of 18 and 59 are obliged to fast only two days per year: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday (that obligation is lifted for those who are ill).  On fasting days you are permitted to take up to two small meals (snacks) that together do not equal one whole meal.  Catholics are also required to fast for one hour before reception of the Eucharist.  Water and medicine do not break the fast.

Catholics over the age of 14 are obliged to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays during Lent.  An often overlooked fact is that all Fridays during the year are days of penance, with the general obligation to abstain from meat.  In the US (and other parts of the world) the bishops have allowed for the faithful to substitute some other form of penance in place of abstaining from meat on Fridays outside of Lent.  But every Friday is still a day of penance, in honor of our Lord's passion, just as every Sunday is a day of joy in honor of our Lord's resurrection.  

Of course, fasting in the Church is not merely about not eating food.  It's about discipline, penance and prayer.  As we fast we should be praying for ourselves and for others and remembering what God suffered out of love for us.

5. You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church.

This means you are expected to contribute to the Church according to your own ability.  This includes making a weekly offering in the collection basket, but is not limited to that.  If you cannot contribute financially to the Church, consider contributing time or talent.  Join the choir.  Volunteer to mow the lawn.  Sweep the floors.  There are all sorts of needs you can help to address.  When it comes to financial offerings, the Church does not mandate a certain percentage of your income.  The idea of tithing 10% is biblical (from the Old Testament; cf. Lev 27:30-33, Num 18:21-28, Deut 26:12-13) and is certainly a fine thing to do.  But the Church only requires that as a member of the Church you assist somehow in providing for the Church's needs.  The Church leaves it to your prudential judgment to determine how you can best contribute.

.
_____

That's the "Bare Minimum List."  Go to Mass.  Go to Confession.  Receive the Eucharist.  Fast when the Church tells us we ought to fast.  And help provide for the needs of the Church.   

The Precepts of the Church are not my list.  Nor is it a list of helpful suggestions.  This is the bare minimum list given to us by the Church herself of what we need to do to "survive," as it were, as faithful Catholics.

But is mere survival all we are after?  Is it enough as a Christian to just "get along" in our faith?  The Church has such a rich treasury of grace at her disposal and she gives of it so freely, it would be foolish not to take advantage of all she has to offer.

The same prayer book I spoke of at the top of this article also has a section entitled, "How to be a Better Catholic."  In it you will find wonderful advice on some pretty basic things you can be doing to get the most out of your Catholic faith.  It's the difference between just surviving and truly living.  

If you are ready to move beyond the "Bare Minimum List" of survival as a Catholic and really start to live your faith to the fullest, click on to Part II of this article.

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Central Mission of our Faith

TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (B)
click here for readings


In this Sunday's gospel reading (Mk 7:31-37), Jesus heals a man who is deaf and has a speech impediment.  Christ touches the man's ears and tongue, prays to heaven, and the man is cured.  He can hear and speak clearly.

This is but one of the many healing miracles that Jesus performs.   Wherever He goes, Jesus exhibits great concern for those who suffer.  Not only does Christ heal the deaf and mute, but also the blind, the lame and the leper.  The Church continues to this day to carry on Christ's healing ministry, operating countless hospitals and clinics, homeless shelters, orphanages, food pantries and relief organizations.

Perhaps all this is what Joe Biden had in mind this past week when he made the comment that "Catholic social doctrine" is "the central mission of our faith."  Biden, a Catholic, was being interviewed about Pope Francis' upcoming visit to the United States, and the emphasis that this particular pope has put on the social teachings of the Church.  But is Biden correct?  Is Catholic social doctrine the central mission of our faith?

Catholic social doctrine is one aspect of the Church's moral teachings.  Catholic moral theology helps us determine what human behaviors are right and wrong.  Given that human beings are social creatures, moral behaviors are not simply private matters.  Catholic social teaching brings to bear the moral teachings of the Church on the broader societal level.

The term "Catholic social doctrine" is relatively new in the Church's lexicon.  When discussing the social teachings of the Church, many look back to the late nineteenth century papal encyclical Rerum Novarum, written by Pope Leo XIII in 1891 to address the many concerns of the working class at the time, including just wages and the right of free association.  These and other social themes were taken up by subsequent popes (especially Pope St. John Paul II), up to and including Pope Francis.  The social doctrines of the Church concern not only the rights of workers, but also our societal obligations toward the poor, the sick and the oppressed.

But the concept of social doctrine goes back to the early Church Fathers, the Apostles, and Christ Himself.  As we have seen in the gospels, Jesus heals the sick and feeds the hungry.  In the Acts of the Apostles, we see the early Church caring for orphans and widows.  St. Augustine wrote in City of God in the early 5th century of the need for society to promote the common good.

Today the Church operates a world-wide network of hospitals, orphanages, schools, shelters, clinics and food pantries.  It has been observed that the Catholic Church is the single largest charitable organization on the planet. Of course the word "charity" comes from the Latin caritas, meaning "love."  All of the charitable endeavors of the Church are driven by and serve the Church's primary mission of love -- and not just a generic love, but a deep and abiding love of neighbor that is fueled by an even higher love for God.  Without this love, charity looses its soul.

It can be argued that the Catholic Church invented the concept of charitable ministry.  In the 360s, the Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate noticed something strange about Christians.  They were taking care of the poor and sick -- not just their own, but even the poor and sick among the pagans.  This was unheard of at the time and it led many to support the Church, even though it was officially illegal.  Julian made a vain attempt to replicate (and replace) the Church's charitable efforts with government-sponsored charity, but those efforts ultimately failed because they were not rooted in the love of God and neighbor.

So let's go back to Joe Biden's statement.  Is Catholic social doctrine the "central mission of our Faith?"  I would answer no, for one very simple reason.  Helping people on this earth is not enough.  If this were Jesus' central mission, then His mission was a failure.  The ears which Christ opened in today's gospel ceased to hear when the man died.  Likewise his tongue was no longer able to speak.  The blind man's eyes, healed by the touch of Christ, would grow dark once again.  Even Lazarus's miraculous resurrection was temporary.  Poor Lazarus had to suffer death twice.

In City of God, St. Augustine envisions a just society as one organized in such a way as to promote virtue and discourage vice.  He took a long view of justice and charity.  To him, the "common good" was primarily about care for man's soul, and secondarily for his body.  Social justice was a means to an end; that end being heaven.  By identifying social doctrine as the "central mission" of the Church, Joe Biden confuses the means with the end.

Jesus' healing miracles are likewise a means to an end.  When people see Christ healing the deaf and mute man, they proclaim, "He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak" (Mk 7:37).  This alludes to our first reading today from Isaiah, which says in part, "Here is your God... he comes to save you.  Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing" (Is 35:4-6).  Jesus's healing miracles point to His divinity.  They are meant to draw our gaze to Him and in Him recognize Love incarnate.

Fr. Ronald Knox
In 1938 Fr. Ronald Knox preached about the Catholic Church's approach to charitable work.  "Her eyes are set on the world beyond," he proclaimed.  "She tends, feeds, teaches her children distractedly, only that she may point them to heaven; she will not lose her soul in what the world calls charity."

We don't need to wonder what the central mission of the Church is.  We don't need a committee to devise a mission statement.  Our mission has been given to us by our founder.  "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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Mt 28:19-20).  Our mission is to make disciples.  Our business is reconciling souls to God.

We are called to promote justice, yes.  We are called to perform works of mercy, yes.  We do these things out of love of God, who is perfectly just and perfectly merciful, and love of neighbor, who are the recipients of His justice and mercy.  But true love of neighbor does not end there.  True love takes the long view.  True love longs to see our neighbor perfected with us in heaven, resting in the the peace of God for all eternity.