Friday, August 26, 2016

The Virtue of Humility


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Our readings this Sunday speak to the virtue of humility. Jesus teaches that the one who exalts himself will be humbled and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.  He offers a parable (as He often does) to illustrate the point.  If you are invited to a wedding banquet, don't presume to sit in the place of honor.  Sit in a lower place and your host may invite you to a higher position.

Once I was having lunch at a meeting of diocesan employees. I was one of the last in line and so by the time I got my plate most of the seats were taken.  There was an empty seat next to the bishop, as well as an unoccupied table in the corner. Thinking of this parable, I sat down at the empty table.

Perhaps His Excellency had the same parable in mind when he called me over to sit by his side.  It certainly felt nice to be so recognized and welcomed by the bishop. Had I presumed to take the seat next to him initially, I would not have known his generous welcome.  I would instead be wondering if I had taken the rightful seat of another.

But is this the only reason to be humble -- so that we may occasionally get "warm and fuzzy" feelings when someone recognizes us?  Should I say I'm not that good of a singer in order to solicit complements on my singing voice?  Should I say I'm not that good looking so that people will tell me how attractive I am?  To be humble as a means of fishing for complements is a false humility.  It is, in fact, a form of pride.

The Catechism defines humility as "the virtue by which a Christian acknowledges that God is the author of all good."  So humility is less about recognizing how lowly we are than about recognizing how great God is.  If we know that God is the author of all good, then we know that we are not.  

Humility is about living in truth.  It is about recognizing who you are before God.  He is the Creator.  You are a creature.  He is infinite.  You are finite.  He is great.  You are small.  He is the source of all goodness.  You are the recipient.  

Our first reading from Sirach speaks of the humble finding favor before God.  It warns against seeking things that are beyond our reach or that are too sublime for us.  The goodness of God is beyond our reach.  Heaven is too sublime.  In humility, we need to recognize this.  We cannot create our own heaven.  We cannot be our own gods.

But our second reading from Hebrews reminds of an another important truth.  As Christians, we deign to approach that heavenly Jerusalem -- but not because of our own merit.  We can only approach God's splendor because of Jesus Christ, "the mediator of the new covenant" (Heb 12:24).

The philosopher Peter Kreeft has said that when we stand before God at our judgment and He asks why we should be admitted into heaven, our answer should not begin with "because I..." but must begin with "because You..."  

The Catechism also calls humility "the foundation of prayer" (CCC 2559).  Humility is a prerequisite for prayer for the same reason it is a prerequisite for salvation -- one cannot approach God in any way other than in humility.

This is why the Jesus Prayer is so powerful, and so enduring.  It is a prayer of humility.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God,
have mercy on me, a sinner.

This simple prayer is perfectly humble because it is perfectly true.  It has Jesus as its object, and rightfully acknowledges Him as the Christ, the Son of God, as Lord.  The one praying is the subject, rightfully acknowledging his or her sinfulness before the perfect goodness of God.  And it asks for what we most desperately need from our Savior -- mercy.  One who is not willing to be humble before God is incapable of receiving God's mercy.

In Christ, God humbles Himself, and paradoxically opens for us the path to exaltation.  Often in the gospels, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a wedding feast.  God has invited us to this feast. We take the lowest seat at the banquet when we recognize our own limitations as frail and fallen human beings.  In Christ, God asks us to join Him at the place of honor. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Praying with the Church

What is Evening Prayer?

You don't have to be a monk to pray like one!
Every Wednesday evening students gather at the Catholic Student Center at 6:30 for a free home-cooked meal and fellowship together.  But more happens on Wednesday evenings at CCM than just dinner.  For those who wish to arrive early, we meet in the chapel at 5:30 for Adoration and conclude at 6:00pm by praying Evening Prayer together.

So what is Evening Prayer?

Also called Vespers (its name in Latin), Evening Prayer is part of the Liturgy of the Hours.  So what is the Liturgy of the Hours?

As the name implies, it is part of the official liturgy of the Church.  Liturgy means literally, "the work of the people," and refers to that public and corporate prayer offered by the faithful, not just as individuals but specifically as members of the Body of Christ, for and on behalf of the Church.  The liturgy we think of most often when we hear the word is the Mass (which consists of two parts, the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist).  But every sacrament in the Church has its own liturgy, such as the Rite of Baptism, or the Nuptial Rite for marriage and so forth.

Rather than being associated with a sacrament, the Liturgy of the Hours is associated with time and our day-to-day lives.  It consists of prayers and petitions, mostly centered around the Psalms, offered at certain hours throughout the day, at morning, daytime, evening and night.  The purpose is to sanctify our whole day to God.

Have you ever heard a priest talk about praying the Divine Office or the Breviary?  Those are other names for the Liturgy of the Hours.

It surprises many to discover that priests are not required by Church law to offer Mass every day (though most do).  However, they are required by law to pray the Liturgy of the Hours daily.  This tells us just how important the Church considers this form of prayer.  Who else is required to pray the Liturgy of the Hours?  All clergy (including deacons), as well as professed religious (nuns, sisters, monks, friars, etc.) are required to pray all or part of the Liturgy of the Hours.

As lay people, the Christian faithful are encouraged, though not required, to also pray the Liturgy of the Hours as much as they are able.  Today, there are apps and web sites designed to help people pray the Liturgy of the Hours on the go, even without books, making it easier now than ever for the lay faithful to join in this daily prayer of the Church.

If you've never experienced this sort of prayer, we encourage you to come give it a try.  It only takes about 15 minutes, and we serve dinner afterwards.  We are trying something new this year, which is to pray Evening Prayer together in song.  The Liturgy of the Hours consists mainly of psalms, which are meant to be sung, after all.  We find that singing the prayer lends an added element of sanctity to the office, and -- even though it may seem counter-intuitive -- actually makes it easier to follow along and participate.  We use simple psalm-tones which you can pick up in just a few seconds.

Please do consider joining us any Wednesday at 6:00 for sung Vespers this semester.  God will reward your effort and devotion!

Friday, August 19, 2016

A Simple Choice


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Jesus rescuing sinners from the mouth of the devil.
When Jesus is asked how many people will be saved, He doesn't give a number. Instead, our gentle Savior speaks of "wailing and grinding of teeth" from those who will be cast out.  

You have to feel a little bad for homilists who have to welcome freshmen on the first Sunday of the new semester by preaching about wailing and grinding of teeth (hopefully not a commentary on what your time here at Western will be like!).  It would certainly be easier to preach on some of the more comforting words Jesus gave us.  Be not afraid.  Love one another as I have loved you.  Consider the lilies.

Yet this gospel reading is very appropriate for the start of a new year on campus.  Jesus' harsh words remind us that we have a fundamental choice to make -- do you want to go to heaven or not?  

A priest recently began a homily by telling his congregation that they could either become a saint or go to hell.  We don't often hear it stated so bluntly, but that's entirely true.

We tend to think of saints as the heroes of our faith who lived lives of virtue unobtainable by most of us.  They are heroes, and they did lead virtuous lives, but we are mistaken if we think saintly virtue is only for the few.  God made us each to be saints.  We may only know the names of a few saints that have been formally canonized by the Church.  But there are countless other saints whose names we do not know.  Being a saint is simply about living virtuously and becoming the person God made you to be.

We can't do it on our own.  Jesus is not saying, "Be good enough and you can earn your way into heaven."  None of us deserves heaven.  Yet God made us to be saints, but that is an end beyond what our nature is capable of.  By making us for sanctity, He calls us to something higher than ourselves, and for that we need to rely on Him.  Holiness requires cooperating with God's work in your life.

God will not force us to be something we don't want to be.  I saw a political cartoon recently that showed a "pro-choice" politician standing before God on Judgment Day.  God said, "I am personally opposed to hell, but I respect your right to choose."  If we choose to turn away from God, He will respect that.  This is the definition of what hell is -- eternal separation from God.  God doesn't send anyone there, but many choose it on their own.

College is a time of choices.  Not just your major, but other important, every day choices.  What friends will you make?  How will you spend your time?  Who and what will you allow to influence you?  Will you go to Mass?  Will you make your faith a priority?  Will you cooperate with God's will for your life?  Will you strive to enter through the narrow gate?  Will you grow in love and holiness during your time here?

At the end of the day, all of these choices will help you to make the one fundamental choice that we all must make.  Will you become a saint, or go to hell?

If you choose to become a saint, we at Catholic Campus Ministry will do everything we can to help you along that path.  We can't wait to make that journey with you.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Being Faithful


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What does it mean to be faithful?  To answer that question, let us first take it out of the context of religion.  We use the word "faithful" often to describe a marriage relationship.  Husbands and wives, we understand, are called to be faithful to one another. Two people pledge themselves to one another exclusively. 

What does it mean for a person to be faithful to their spouse?  The most basic answer is not having extramarital affairs.  Anyone who is engaged in adultery we would say is being unfaithful.  It doesn't matter if the spouse discovers the affair or not.  Being faithful in your marriage is not just about when your spouse is looking.  It means being faithful even when your spouse is absent.  Otherwise, it is not really faithfulness at all, only the appearance of such.

Further, we understand faithfulness to be about more than outward actions.  Faithfulness is also a matter of the heart.  One may not be carrying on a physical affair, but if a husband spends his lunch hour browsing sites like or looking in the personals section of Craig's list, he is not being faithful in his heart.  Any wife would justifiably feel betrayed.

One of the strongest metaphors used to describe our relationship to God is marriage.  In the famous passage from Ephesians 5 when St. Paul talks of marriage, he ends by saying, "This is a great mystery; I speak of Christ and the Church" (Eph 5:32).  The Church is called the Bride of Christ; Christ is the Bridegroom.

So our understanding of marriage can help us to understand what it means to be faithful to God.  Would anyone consider a wife faithful to her husband if she kept her marriage vows just one day per week?  Not at all.  Yet for many Christians, this is how they treat their relationship with God.

I go to Mass every Sunday.  That's very good.  Do you carry your relationship with God into the other six days of the week?

I pray with my family before meals.  That's very good.  Do you also pray alone, when no one is watching?

Being a Christian is not about going through some ritual motions.  It's about entering into a covenant relationship with God.  Just as in marriage, that relationship is exclusive.  There are certain acts which are incompatible to a marriage relationship.  Adultery, whether in the flesh or in the heart, violates the faithfulness of marriage.  Likewise there are acts which are incompatible with a healthy relationship with God.  To be part of the Bride of Christ means following His commands.  These are the terms of the covenant. We can be adulterous in our relationship with God when we fail to live by them -- even when we think no one is looking.

All of our readings for this Sunday speak of being watching, ready and vigilant -- of being faithful.  Just as the wife remains faithful to her husband even when he is away from home, so we are called to be faithful to Christ, even when He is not with us in the flesh.  

The letter to the Hebrews reminds us of Abraham and Sarah (Heb 11:8-19), who followed God's commands even though they didn't understand where they were being led.  They trusted in the Lord, and that trust allowed them to stay faithful to their calling.  

In our gospel (Lk 12:32-48), Jesus speaks of servants waiting vigilantly, with lamps lit, ready to meet their master's return from a wedding (again, the marriage metaphor).  Even to the second or third watch, they remain vigilant to be ready for the master's return.  Christ speaks also of servants whom the master has entrusted to distribute food.  If they carry out this duty faithfully in his absence, they will be rewarded.  

Being faithful is not about acting as you ought to only when you are being watched.  It is not about going to church on Sunday so you can be seen by the pastor.  It's something you carry with you every hour of the day.  You should be faithful to God in your studies, in your work, in your leisure time, in your relationships with others, in your heart and in your mind.  If you are only faithful when it is convenient, or when you think others are watching, it is not faithfulness at all.

But that's so much!  Who can be vigilant and faithful at every moment?  Is it too much to ask a husband or wife to be faithful to their spouse at every moment?  No.  For the married couple, faithfulness is not a chore, but a joy, because they do it out of love!  It is my pleasure and my privilege to be faithful to my wife every single day, because she is the only one I choose to give myself to.  She would say the same for me.  Can the demands of marriage be a burden at times?  Sure.  But it is a burden we both bear happily, because it is born with love.

And so faithfulness at all times to God becomes a joy and a privilege when we give ourselves to God in love.  Can it be burdensome sometimes?  Certainly.  I'm sure the cross was burdensome to Christ, but it was a burden He bore willingly out of love for us.  Jesus teaches, "For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be" (Lk 12:34).  If our treasure, that which we value most, is in God, then our hearts will be faithful to Him in all of our thoughts, words and actions.

But what happens when we are not faithful?  Adultery can be disastrous to a marriage.  But it doesn't have to be.  I've seen marriages recover from unfaithfulness when spouses are willing to forgive one another.  If we have been unfaithful in our relationship to God, we can take solace in this -- God is always faithful, and God is always ready to forgive.  We may break our covenant with Him, but He will never break His covenant with us.  

So be vigilant.  Be constant.  Trust in the Lord and wait patiently for Him.  For this, above all, is what He asks of you -- to be faithful in all you do to His loving will.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Evangelical Catholic & Peer Ministry

This coming week I am excited to be accompanying two of our Peer Ministry students to Malvern, PA, for five days of training from The Evangelical Catholic.  The Evangelical Catholic is an apostolate that seeks to equip college students to be better able to live their Catholic faith and evangelize their peers on campuses across the country.  Each year they put on numerous Evangelization Training Camps where campus ministers and student leaders from different universities come together to learn how to better evangelize on their campus.  It's a wonderful training experience for members of our peer ministry team.

Our two student leaders and myself will surely come back from this experience with renewed energy for our faith and our ministry, with lots to share with the other peer ministers and students on our campus.

I want to take this opportunity to talk about what a peer minister is and why our peer ministry team is so important.

As the name implies, a peer minister is someone who ministers to their peers -- in this case, college student ministering to college student.

As an adult campus minister, I come from a different place than the students I minister to.  I am married.  I have children.  I have decades more experience in the world.  I've had the opportunity to study the faith, pray it, and live it, to an extent that college students have not.  In other words, I am able to bring a lot of knowledge and experience to this ministry that someone in their late teens and early twenties simply will not have.  And that's a good thing.

But I'm not in the classrooms with you.  I'm not experiencing dorm life with you.  I can relate to you like a mentor, coach, teacher, father or uncle but not as a brother, teammate or a friend.  This is where our peer ministers come into play.

A peer minister is able to support college students on a peer-to-peer level.  These are your fellow students.  They are in your classes.  They live in your dorms.  They face the same challenges and obstacles as you.  They have the same fears and concerns as you.  And they are there to help uplift you and encourage you in the faith as a brother, sister, friend or room-mate would.  It's a different sort of relationship, and one that I find greatly augments our ministry on the WCU campus.

So what do our peer ministers actually do?  The answer is: lots of things.

I rely on the peer ministers to help keep me abreast of what's going on with the students on campus, and what the general needs and concerns of the student body are.  I also rely on them to help me be aware of any specific concerns of our ministry.

Peer ministers help me to plan most of our activities and events.  Peer ministers currently serve on one or more teams, depending on their availability, interest and the needs of our ministry.  One team coordinates our Wednesday night programs.  Another leads up our small group Bible studies.  And a third team plans the retreats we put on each semester.  Peer ministers may also be asked to help with other things that come up, such as helping to organize service activities.

In a more general way, peer ministers are ambassadors for campus ministry (and by extension, the Catholic Church) on our campus.  They are evangelizers in the classrooms and dorms, a welcoming presence to any who come through our door.  They are to offer Christian support to their fellow students.

Of course, all Christians are called to evangelize and be ambassadors for Christ, not just peer ministers.  But peer ministers help to do this in a specific way.

So how does one become a peer minister?  Peer ministers agree to serve on a per semester basis.  The peer ministry team for a given semester is selected at the end of the semester previous (so our team for the Fall semester was selected last April).  We don't hold elections or anything like that.  The usual process is for students to recommend someone -- usually these recommendations come from current peer ministers, but any student can recommend a peer whom they think would do a good job.  Someone students with an interest in peer ministry will recommend themselves.  Sometimes I may approach a student whom I think would bring helpful gifts to our ministry.

I take all recommendations seriously, and discuss with the individual student what being on the peer ministry team entails.  We discuss their interest, their commitment to the ministry, and their time availability for the coming semester.  Then I make the final decision based on the qualifications of the individual and the current needs of the team.

What we look for in a peer minister is someone who not only is a faithful Catholic, but also someone who has demonstrated a commitment to campus ministry.  A student must be active in our campus ministry for at least a full semester before being considered for peer ministry (so freshmen coming in now would be eligible for peer ministry in the Spring semester of 2017).  We are looking for students who faithfully attend Mass, who participate in a small group Bible study, who regularly come to most of our Wednesday dinners, and generally participate in our events.  In other words, someone for whom campus ministry is an important part of life at WCU.

Good prior knowledge of our faith is a plus, but it's not as important as a willingness to learn and a desire to be faithful.

If you think you may be interested in being a peer minister, the best thing to do is to be a faithful and active member of our campus ministry community.  Look for ways to express servant leadership throughout the semester.   Then come talk with me about serving as a peer minister in the coming semester.

God bless,