Sunday, June 26, 2016

Two Weddings and a Reunuon -- the Joy of Family

Yesterday was a day filled with joy and laughter, of gatherings that brought people from near and far together for a variety of reasons. The day began with a car wash and Vietnamese wedding at our parish. The car wash was to help raise funds for a youth retreat at Franciscan University. While the kids were washing cars, I popped into the Church hoping to make a short visit. I came right in at the Consecration with the prayers chanted in Vietnamese and the lovely couple kneeling at the altar. The array of beautiful silk colors of women and children dressed in traditional costume was stunning -- a rainbow of color to celebrate the sacramental marriage feast.  I was grateful to experience it if only briefly.

It put me in the perfect frame of mind to head to a family reunion at a winery (now also the Red Shedman Brewry -- awesome craft beers -- I'm a beer snob, I don't say this lightly) owned by family members in Maryland (Linganore Winecellars). There were about 60 or 70 of us present representing 4 of the 6 Greco sibling and their children/grandchildren/great grandchildren. It was quite an event on a simply stunning day to be in the rolling hills of the Linganore Valley. We got to catch up with many extended family members that we hadn't seen for quite some time -- you know those folks you would only see at a wedding or a funeral (sad to say).

Because my husband had back surgery a little over two weeks ago, we didn't think we would be able to make it to the reunion, so I accepted another invitation to celebrate the wedding shower of two very lovely people, one of whom I work with. So, two cars traveled up to Maryland, and after a couple of hours of visiting with family, I left to attend the Wedding Shower of Matthew and Bonnie. What a fine evening to share food and laughter with some of the most wonderful people I have the pleasure to work beside. Excellent company, wonderful stories, some new faces and fabulous conversations -- what a treat.

It struck me that God had arranged my day so perfectly -- to include the weather being absolutely gorgeous! He had started my day at a wedding feast and ended it with the anticipation of another wedding feast, and sandwiched in the middle of these two sacraments was family -- the back bone of society; the institution that is at the center of some furious debate these days.

My family isn't perfect; no, we're a work in progress. There is pain and joy, success and failure, anger and forgiveness. But, most of all there is love. And, that is what comes from never letting go of the fact that in a family you were raised and from a family you will go forth to make your mark on the world. We are a fiercely devoted family. I pray that never changes -- and it is the one representative piece of our family that best resembles the Holy Family.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that family is the "original cell of social life" and that "[a]uthority, stability, and a life of relationships within the family constitute the foundations for freedom, security, and fraternity within society." (CCC 2207) It was here couched in the middle of one sacramental celebration and one anticipated sacrament of newly forming families that the words of the Catechism took shape in my mind.

As I reviewed the day, took in all the joy and fanfare, I was reminded about the blessings of family: the family of the Church, the family that is in such danger of being lost in the rubble of social upheaval. This precious institution, so vital to a free, secure and fraternal society must be preserved and protected. I am so glad to have a generous, loving and work in progress family. No family is perfect, but the foundation it provides will hold sturdy, even if and when we stray. Family is forever -- a faith-filled family is eternal.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

It's Mary's Month -- Properly Representing Devotion to Our Lady

May is the month of Our Lady, a month devoted to honoring the Mother of God. But, I suppose one would have to assent to belief in God before finding any necessity in honoring the women chosen from all time to be His mother.

Well, maybe assent to belief in God is not enough either. A majority of Christian's do not see any value in honoring Mary or venerating those dead who have been deemed by the Church to have lived lives worthy of canonization -- our Communion of Saints. Yet, all of them as Christians assent to belief in Jesus as their Lord and Savior and to heaven where their departed loved ones will dwell in life everlasting.  In other words, they are alive in heaven where Mary is, in a special and profound way, as the Mother of God, assumed body and soul (cf. CCC 971).

What's a Catholic to do about this issue?

I mean, Mary, our first tabernacle, deserves to be honored for the role she played in Salvation History and her continuing intercession for her children striving for heaven here on earth. And, how do we share this truth in a way that can be properly understood by all Christians?

Let's start here. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this about Our Lady:
The Holy Spirit prepared Mary by his grace. It was fitting that the mother of him in whom "the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily" should herself be "full of grace." She was, by sheer grace, conceived without sin as the most humble of creatures, the most capable of welcoming the inexpressible gift of the Almighty. It was quite correct for the angel Gabriel to greet her as the "Daughter of Zion": "Rejoice." It is the thanksgiving of the whole People of God, and thus of the Church, which Mary in her canticle lifts up to the Father in the Holy Spirit while carrying within her the eternal Son (CCC 722).
She, the one whose "fiat" would make her the Mother of God (Theotokos) was prepared by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Her name was changed, "Hail, favored one" (Luke 1:28) which in all of Salvation History means that a covenant was formed between God and Mary in her fiat. This also means that God chose from all women throughout time the one that would best serve to be the "Vessel of Singular Devotion" to carry His Son, and bring about the Incarnation of the Word. She became the opposing force to the disobedience of Eve, or the "New Eve"; again not only does her role in human history change, but also her name.


St. Irenaeus proclaimed this truth in the 2nd century:

For just as [Eve] was led astray by the word of an angel, so that she fled from God when she had transgressed His word; so did [Mary], by an angelic communication, receive the glad tidings that she should sustain God, being obedient to His word. And if the former did disobey God, yet the latter was persuaded to be obedient to God, in order that the Virgin Mary might become the patroness of the virgin Eve.
And thus, as the human race fell into bondage to death by means of a virgin, so is it rescued by a virgin; virginal disobedience having been balanced in the opposite scale by virginal obedience. (Against Heresies, V.19.1, A.D. 180)
 
Close your eyes and consider Mary visited by the Angel Gabriel. She was young, betrothed to be married, and suddenly an enormous task of love was presented to her. A plan that would change her life and ours forever. Without being prepared for this express purpose, would you have said yes? Mary was Immaculately Conceived to prepare her for this precise moment; free from original sin, and all sin, she is able to offer the perfect vessel, and the perfect DNA to bring forth Jesus, the God-Man.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church offers us this:
The eyes of faith can discover in the context of the whole of Revelation the mysterious reasons why God in his saving plan wanted his Son to be born of a virgin. These reasons touch both on the person of Christ and his redemptive mission, and on the welcome Mary gave that mission on behalf of all men (CCC 502).

Not any woman could do this. Not at all -- chosen from all time, from all women, to bring forth the gift of restoration of mankind through the Passion, Death and Resurrection of her Son, Jesus Christ.

Assent to Marian doctrine, is part of proper worship of God -- the worship God deserves in justice. To honor His Mother is to tell Jesus that you believe in Him and the miracles, both large and small, that Trinity work in our lives.Mary helps us to grow in our right relationship to the Holy Trinity:

"All generations will call me blessed": "The Church's devotion to the Blessed Virgin is intrinsic to Christian worship." The Church rightly honors "the Blessed Virgin with special devotion. From the most ancient times the Blessed Virgin has been honored with the title of 'Mother of God,' to whose protection the faithful fly in all their dangers and needs. . . . This very special devotion . . . differs essentially from the adoration which is given to the incarnate Word and equally to the Father and the Holy Spirit, and greatly fosters this adoration" (CCC 971)

Mary was the first Holy Communion, carrying the Body and Blood of Our Lord within her. This is her month. Ask Mary, who is closer than any human being to Our Lord to send you the grace of faith and devotion. She's alive in heaven as a result of her Son's sacrifice. She's waiting to hear from you and to send you forth on a mission to bring people closer to Christ Jesus -- to help them to assent to understanding the Communion of Saints, but the teachings of the Church established by her Son.

O, Mary conceived without sin; pray for us who have recourse to you.


Thursday, May 5, 2016

Three Week Seminars on the Faith -- Hidden Gem at CDU

Did you know that you could study the faith from the comfort of your own home right at your laptop? Did you also know that you could earn Continuing Education Units for studying online in the stress free environment of your own office or desk?

There's a hidden gem at CDU that many may not be aware of -- THE THREE WEEK SEMINAR!


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The next seminar begins on May 9th:

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Friday, March 4, 2016

Pope addresses Pontifical Academy for Life at start of Virtue Ethics Workshop

(Photo courtesy of Zenit.org)
Pope Francis addressed the General Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life yesterday in preparation for the "Virtues in the Ethics of LifeWorkshop" which begins today in the Vatican. According to the Pontifical Academy for Life, the requisite nature such a workshop stems from “...a central need, for those who work each day in health care and research, to have certain criteria, not only regarding fundamental principles, but also the core of the act, which is the process of deliberation.” In other words, in order to make ethical decisions on life issues, one must properly inform their conscience and have a heart and mind in sync with God's will.

The pope expounds on this notion of “fundamental principles” in light of a proper “process of deliberation”. He begins his statements will a bold assertion about the limitations of science and technology. Pope Francis unequivocally stresses that the Academy's work will be dedicated to a work much needed in the current culture:

These days will be dedicated to the study of the virtues in the ethics of life, a subject of academic interest, which addresses an important message to contemporary culture: the good that man does is not the result of calculations or strategies, nor is it the product of the genetic order or of social conditionings, but it is the fruit of a well disposed heart, of the free choice that tends to true good. Science and technology are not enough: to do good, wisdom of the heart is necessary.

Good stems not from conditioning, genetic make up or calculating; rather, virtue is at the heart of how one tends naturally toward good as an end, in keeping with the basic teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the matter:

The virtuous person tends toward the good with all his sensory and spiritual powers; he pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions (CCC 1803).

Pope Francis employs the phrase “free choice” as opposed to “free will”, perhaps recognizing it as more welcome and understood to the modern ear. This idea of reaching out and teaching to the culture using its terms and idioms seems ever present in his remarks – on occasion leading to misunderstanding and confusion.

In presenting the mission for the workshop, the Pontifical Academy speaks of ethics as “the perfect assistant, both on the level of conscience and on the level of act” to moral virtue. It is interesting, however that a workshop is necessary to bring this point forward. Obviously, this points to a culture that has moved so far away from virtue ethics that it requires remediation. Pope Francis made the point by saying:

In our time, some cultural orientations do not recognize the mark of divine wisdom in the created realities and not even in man. Thus human nature remains reduced only to matter, to be shaped according to any design.

It is this return to recognizing the “mark of divine wisdom” that calls the Pontifical Academy to its current task. An approach to life from a virtue ethics perspective recognizes that man has both dignity and worth based on a greater good to which he naturally tends – and because of he is made in both image and likeness to God, he is able to cultivate and improve his intellect and will to be better conformed to his spiritual and natural tendencies. This is the benefit and the beauty of virtue ethics: it encompasses the whole of man.

In his remarks, the pope clearly urges forward this effort toward implementation of virtue ethics when dealing matters concerning respect for life, especially in higher education and healthcare. His words remind those institutions of their duty to help nurture the student in this regard:

I encourage the Universities to consider all this in their programs of formation, so that the students can mature those dispositions of the heart and mind, which are indispensable to receive and take care of human life, according to the dignity that belongs to it in any circumstance. I also invite the directors of health structures and of research to have their dependents consider human treatment also as an integral part of their qualified service.

In the end, the workshop will help to reassert the Catholic teachings on life and value of moral virtue in its “being the habitus for mankind to choose the concrete good”. It will also help to perfect the one who acts and help to develop the ability to wisely discern with prudence the consequences of an action before it is undertaken “bringing to term the natural law on a practical level”.

The Pontifical Academy for Life has a formidable task at hand – attempting to turn the eyes of a misguided culture from darkness of isolating situational ethics to bright light of virtue ethics regarding life issues. It may take some time for their sight to adjust – to bring the eyes of the heart and the mind together and into focus on God's will – but if done with compassion and patience, all will be able to see the light soon enough.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Locking Arms Against the Purple Wave

Seton students lock arm against an angry crowd outside Supreme Court yesterday. (Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)



Yesterday the Supreme Court heard arguments related to the Texas law, H.B. 2 which places reasonable limits and sound restrictions on clinics that provide abortions in the State of Texas. The law draws upon substantial scientific research that children in utero are capable of feeling pain, thus restricting abortions beyond the gestational age of 20 weeks. It also provides an exception related to the health of the mother as well as a stipulation regarding the severe abnormality of the child. In addition to this, the law requires that prescriptions be provided and monitored by physicians, and that facilities meet the minimum requirement for ambulatory surgical centers. (I have linked above to the analysis of the bill.)

First, I don't see the rationale to oppose a law that not only wishes to provide for safe and sanitary conditions for those seeking legal abortions, but also includes the provision for the life of the mother and fetal abnormality as exceptions to the 20 week restriction on abortions in Texas. I am not sure why this law is being heard by the Supreme Court other than it contains the words "abortion" and "restriction" (which, as I said, are seemingly reasonable and sound from a legal perspective).

Regardless, yesterday's hearing occurred -- but reasonable and rational was far from the atmosphere outside the Supreme Court.

Many pro-life advocates headed to the Supreme Court to peacefully stand to be the "voice of the voiceless" in this debate. Several of those advocates were high school students from Seton School -- the school my children attend.

Last night I had an opportunity to speak with a couple of the young men who were there and experienced the situation first hand. It was appalling to hear the level of physical and verbal abuse they endured. It was an angry wave of purple that required the pro-life advocates to lock arms to protect themselves and others.

Here's what one of the young men from Seton had to say on Face Book today:

    I don't usually post, well, anything on Facebook. And when I do, it's usually not political. You've been warned, read on at your own risk.

    I had the chance to attend the rally in DC today. Looking down from the steps of the Supreme Court building, the sight would have been reminiscent of the battle of Thermopylae- a sea of purple, those who stood for the culture of death, surrounded a group of pro-lifers, dressed in blues and linking arms.

    What I witnessed as part of that wall was downright disgusting. I was flicked off, cursed at, and had crude images thrust into my face. I was told I had no right to an opinion because of my gender. The pro-death people pushed in in a ridiculously aggressive way, covering our signs with theirs and screaming at every word our speakers said. I had to escort several elderly ladies through the crowd at one point to the pro-lifers, who had been surrounded on all sides. The pro-choice movement had blocked the sidewalks and roads and it was incredibly hard to get through. At one point a pro-death woman stole our microphone to chant in before throwing it into the sea of purple.

    And the most stupid thing about it is that _we want the same thing_. The proposed bill only raises safety standards for clinics. So this shouldn't be a problem in a safe operation, right? So why does planned parenthood need to pay- yes, pay- bus loads of people to come protest? If they were really pro-woman, they'd stand with us by their own choice, and wouldn't pay people to go for them.

    The media won't tell you much about our presence, but we were there!! We were in front of the Supreme Court making our presence known. We stood with God and his most helpless children, even when there were hundreds of them and only few of us. Standing up for what you believe in isn't bravery unless you're willing to stand alone. We know how the story ends, and that God will not abandon His people. It may take our lifetimes, and our children's lifetimes, and their children's lifetimes, but we will give equal rights to all people, born or unborn. The #‎ProLifeGen‬ is here to stay. Thank you to all who stood out there today. It was not an easy thing, but nobody ever said that doing the right thing would be easy. (Thomas Moore -- Senior at Seton School)

Most of these youth in attendance have only experienced the March for Life as taste of civil protest against abortion. It must be understood that being in a sea of like minded pro-life individuals marching to show their conviction to a cause is uplifting. Yesterday, these youth were challenged head-on by the opposition and their venom and vitriol. They experienced the specter of evil in their midst -- people who are aggressively fighting for the right to kill, and won't be happy until it is unrestricted and no longer regulated in any way (they probably won't even be happy then).

This young man's words resonate so strongly in my "mother's heart". This is the future, the type of man that I want to see more of moving forward. He locked arms for a cause. He cared and protected those around him -- to include the elderly and his peers. And, with his friends -- especially, fellow senior Patrick Dealey, the other young man who managed to document in photos the anger and hate within the crushing crowd and shared them with me last night -- stood for sound principles and for religious convictions.

It is encouraging to know that these courageous youth are among us. They and are willing to take up the standard for faith and reason in our country as the next generation of leaders. May God bless them on their way.

As for the hearing, a NY Times article on the matter said this:
The Supreme Court’s decision will probably arrive in late June, as the presidential campaign enters its final stretch, thrusting the divisive issue of abortion to the forefront of public debate.
Thrust away -- when it is clearly understood, there is very little upon which to debate regarding the provisions contained in the law. And, I think this new group of voters, who decided to defend life at on the steps of the Supreme Court yesterday, will welcome the opportunity to have their pro-life voices heard in the coming election!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

A Tribute to a Sister in Christ on Her Birthday

I have a friend -- we've been friends for a long time, since our children were babes -- who is about as true to the definition of achieving what it means to be truly human in this life as one can get. 

The Catechism begins with this on the subject (and this is what I will expand upon about my friend)
  
Being in the image of God the human individual possesses the dignity of a person, who is not just something, but someone. He is capable of self-knowledge, of self-possession and of freely giving himself and entering into communion with other persons. And he is called by grace to a covenant with his Creator, to offer him a response of faith and love that no other creature can give in his stead (CCC 357).    
     
She is indeed more than just a conglomeration of cells that form a sophisticated organism. She is someone in that she is made in God's image and likeness. My friend is a vision who carries the dignity of the image of God like a shining torch in the darkness. You can see her joy -- even in her frustrations or sorrows, there's no doubt that she is tethered to God in all that she thinks and does. Her beauty is both interior disposition and seen as an exterior expression -- faith and reason guiding her forward. 

When we talk, it is very rarely a shallow "how do you do", but a mutually respectful journey toward personal growth and insight. She is on a quest for self-knowledge, as we all should be to root out the evils of self-love and join herself more fully to Our Lord. And, on this quest she epitomizes what St. Catherine (a favorite of mine) writes in her Dialogue: "...for this should be the end and purpose of all her self-knowledge, to rise above herself, mounting the throne of conscience..." In all that I know of her, she does indeed strive to rise above herself to mount that throne -- to be the human person God wishes her to be through that fact that her dignity requires self-possession and continence. 

She is a person therefore, and in my experience of being her friend through the years, who freely gives and enters into communion with others because she can serve Jesus there. She prays without ceasing -- sharing her devotion to the Divine Mercy with everyone, especially with those who are ill or are dying; she serves the Church untiringly, and has instilled that virtue of service in her family; she opens her heart and her home to those who are in need, whose own families are unable or unwilling to attend to their needs, etc. She is without a doubt living the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. She inspires me and I marvel at her continued zeal -- truly a grace. 

Speaking of grace, my friend lives this next expression so clearly: "a covenant with his Creator, to offer him a response of faith and love...". The relationship between her and her God is visible in all that she does. Her response of faith and love often goes unrecognized -- but, never unwitnessed. She is a perpetual witness to her faith and love of the Trinity. And, in actuality, she'd prefer to fly under the radar of recognition. This is one of my most favorite of her many manifold gifts. 

To sum it up, you live this quote my friend: 

Act in such a way that all those who come in contact with you will go away joyful. Sow happiness about you because you have received much from God; give, then generously to others. They should take leave of you with their hearts filled with joy, even if they have no more than touched the hem of your garment. Keep well in mind the words I am telling you right now (Diary of St. Faustina, #55). 

You love God for all that He is; and you love me regardless of how I fail, because you constantly remind me (in actions perhaps more than words) that I am God's wonderful creation, too. Thank you, dear friend, as you celebrate a milestone birthday this week, for the gift of your friendship -- sturdy, true and real. You are a blessing in my life.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Prayer as Gift, Covenant & Communion: A Lenten Reflection

The Catechism of the Catholic Church begins its teaching on prayer with the question "What is prayer?" and with a quote from St. Terese of Lisieux: "For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy" (CCC 2558). Obviously, St. Terese's answer encapsulates the meaning of prayer both succinctly and profoundly. But, the Church doesn't end its instruction on the subject there; more must be unpacked and discovered regarding the definition offered by this Doctor of the Church. Therefore, the Catechism introduces prayer in terms of gift, covenant and communion.



Gift

When we enter into prayer, it's easy to fall into the lofty assumption that I am speaking to God and somehow that elevates my status, in other words, our attitude screams: "Look how holy I am!" The Catechism reminds us: "humility is the foundation of prayer, [sic] Only when we humbly acknowledge that 'we do not know how to pray as we ought,' are we ready to receive freely the gift of prayer" (CCC 2559). And, often we assume that we initiate  prayer, it is our decision to start the conversation with God. Yes, we do indeed decide to pray; it is a conscious effort on our parts. However, prayer is a response to the call from Our Loving Creator, it is He Who desires to speak with us and calls our name and offers us the gift of His presence in prayer. Our work in prayer is to be docile and remember who we are in relation to Our Creator and open our hearts to receive His Word.

Covenant

When we think of the word covenant with regard to the people of God, we recall the Old Testament Covenants with Noah, Abraham, etc., and the New Covenant established in the coming of the Messiah in the New Testament. These images are important to understanding prayer as covenant. "Christian prayer is a covenant relationship between God and man in Christ. It is the action of God and of man, springing forth from both the Holy Spirit and ourselves, wholly directed to the Father, in union with the human will of the Son of God made man (CCC 2564). Just as God established covenant relationships with Noah, Abraham, Moses and David in the Old Testament, in the unique, individual  prayer of every person, The Holy Trinity forms a union that binds man to God and God to man. This unity in prayer is one of love and mutual self-giving -- it is a relationship of hearts. Prayer, especially after reception of the Eucharist is the closest man can come to heaven on earth. Again, St. Terese of Lisieux expresses it beautifully and simply: "My heaven within the Host safe hid and peaceful, lies, here Jesus Christ abides, divinest, fairest Fair. From that great fount of love doth endless life arise; There, day and night, my Lord doth hearken to my prayer" (Poem: My Heaven on Earth).

Communion

Prayer is a relationship. It is not one sided: I speak and ask; you listen and give. We have seen that prayer is given freely and responded to freely; it is a bond of the heart to one Whom we love and Who loves beyond measure -- in Creation; in Passion, Death and Resurrection; in the indwelling Spirit. "[P]rayer is the living relationship of the children of God with their Father who is good beyond measure, with his Son Jesus Christ and with the Holy Spirit" (CCC 2565). In this communion of hearts, we join with the angels and saints in offering just praise and worship to God, in giving thanks for the joys and sufferings that will sanctify us, in begging forgiveness for our transgressions and in asking for heavenly assistance in our needs. Queen of Angels and of Saints, Our Blessed Mother intercedes for us in our needs, as well. In these ways, we receive the grace necessary to reach out beyond our individual and unique relationship with the Trinity to offer the gift of prayer to others, to invite them in and teach them how to pray. This is the communion we know as the Body of Christ in the Church Triumphant, Church Suffering and the Church Militant. St. Paul explains by use of analogy: "If [one] part [of the body] suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy" (1 Cor 12:26). It is up to His faithful disciples to honor all people by sharing with them the gift of prayer; helping them to hear the loving call of God and respond with humility and awe.

Prayer as gift. Prayer as Covenant. Prayer as Communion. May we each enjoy this experience of prayer during our Lenten journey. And may we make time to pray before the Blessed Sacrament so as to understand the meaning and value of these words spoken by Archbishop Fulton Sheen: "The holy hour in our modern rat race is necessary for authentic prayer. Our world is one of speed in which intensity of movement is a substitute for lack of purpose; where noise is invoked to drown out the whisperings of conscience; where talk, talk, talk gives the impression that we are doing something when really we are not; where activity kills self-knowledge won by contemplation…" Slow down, visit with Jesus, listen to Him speak to your heart, and share the glorious gift of prayer with your neighbor.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Relationship between mission and mercy

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1b/Altaraufsatz_in_drei_Abteilungen_mit_dem_Gnadenstuhl_-_Google_Art_Project.jpgIn his Jubilee Audience given on January 30th, Pope Francis speaks of “the close relationship between mercy and mission”. This connection is not unique to a New Testament world, although as Pope Francis rightly remarks: “we are called to be missionaries of the Gospel”. However, missionaries of mercy are seen throughout the Old Testament (since the dawn of time) and are the precursor to what Christ Jesus will sanctify as our mission as Christians in the New Covenant.

We can first look at how we are formed with the natural law written on our hearts. We maintain that echo of the supernatural gifts from the Garden (although wounded by the Original Sin) which remind us constantly in our conscience of what is right and what is wrong, to seek the good to which we are ultimately called. It sparks in us a compassion for others, if properly regarded; we are keenly aware, even without the Gospel that our life and the lives of others are precious. A beautiful example of this in the Old Testament is when Abraham pleads to God for mercy on the city of Sodom (cf. Gen 18: 16-33). It is his mission in conversation with God to show his own level of compassion for the people of the city, and to be their voice before God. In turn, his plea is heard and honored. Another example of manifold mercy is that of Joseph when he was sold into slavery in Egypt. He is shown compassion when he interprets Pharaoh’s dream and is given a position in Egyptian leadership as a result; he then turns to his brothers who are seeking food because of famine in Israel – those same brothers who schemed, sold him into slavery and lied to his father about his death – tests them and then shows them mercy and forgiveness; in the end, Pharaoh shows mercy to the entire family and establishes for them a place of comfort and prestige in Egypt (cf. Gen 37- 45). The instances of mercy in the Old Testament are too numerous to list, but each begins and ends with the person being moved by a desire to do the will of God even if it wasn't immediately apparent that this motivation was the impetus to the act of mercy.

In the coming of Christ Jesus and His teachings throughout His public ministry, it is clear that we are to deepen this natural inclination to show mercy toward others. Jesus brings that echo from the Garden into full resolution. He teaches us Two Great Commandments upon which the Ten Commandments are ultimately based:
You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments (Mt 22:37-40).
The whole law, the prophets depend on these. Everything is established in these two commandments. Mercy is based on these commandments. When Jesus commissions the apostles to forgive sins, to make disciples in every nation, there is at the heart of this a need to show mercy and compassion (cf. Jn 20:23; Mt 28:19-20). They would not be well received, they were changing centuries of thought and belief and were contradicting social norms in every culture. This mission of mercy could not happen without the grace that came from the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus.

Pope Francis reminds each of us in his teaching:
For the mercy we receive from the Father is not given solely for our benefit, but for the good of all, by transforming us into instruments, missionaries of mercy. By being such missionaries, we come to experience more deeply the gift of mercy in our own lives.
To be a missionary of mercy, then, is to recognize that first we have the law written on our hearts – that natural inclination to do good and avoid evil – then, we receive the grace to share the Gospel message with others, showing them mercy and forgiveness, by virtue of Christ Jesus and his commissioning. Pope Francis entreats each of us to embrace that we are “bearers of Christ”.



Thursday, January 21, 2016

As they enter the Kingdom

It's been a rough first half of the school year. We've lost not one, but two parents to cancer (and had another just recently diagnosed and several others who are living with cancer). In a school population made up of about 200 families, that's a remarkable statistic. And, because we are such a small school, mainly made up of siblings and cousins -- with a real small town America feel -- it strikes at every raw emotion. These weren't people who were acquaintances. Our children didn't simply pass them their children in the hallway; they grew up with them. They watched their families grow. We frequented their businesses, we smiled at their children's talents. We were part of their existence and they were part of ours. We may not have been close, but they knew us and we knew them. They prayed for us, and we prayed for them.

It's hard to witness these families experience the news of cancer. It's hard to watch them wage their war against the enemy disease. One friend today put it beautifully -- these people didn't lose their battle with cancer, they won it. They fought the fight for as long as God asked them to endure; and believe me they endured with the example of holiness that each of us can draw upon when it is our time to struggle. They were true witnesses to redemptive suffering, to surrendering to the will of God -- not giving up, but doing His will in each moment. And all of those moments required the virtues of strength, perseverance and trust to continue on, to look for the hope of a cure, to leave no stone unturned.

I know that in the grand scheme of things, death is unavoidable. Sadly, when you love someone, the reality is that one of you will have to leave before the other. There are very few who get to make that journey into eternity together. When you are a Christian, however, death is the entrance into a new way of living. While we will surely feel the pain of that loss here in what we have left of our own existence on this side of heaven, we know that the ones we have loved have entered into eternity. We will pray for them as they make their way to heaven, and they, when they arrive in the Beatific Vision, will pray for us through the remainder of our sojourn here on earth.

Does this knowledge make it easier to bear the loss?

Not even remotely.

But, the comfort and grace that descends on us from the Heavenly choirs of angels and saints, the warmth of compassion that is showered down by the Blessed Mother, and the strength and love given by the Trinity in these times is a remarkable balm to the heart wounded by the loss of a loved one.

Faith -- Hope -- Love.

Faith -- that God's promises are true and we will ardently trust in Him.

Hope -- that we will be made worthy through the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Love -- the greatest of these is love -- that God, Who is Love, will remain ever present in our lives. And, like our friends and family who have gone before us bearing in their flesh the witness of Love, we too will be an inspiration to others in emulating their love through joyful sacrifice.

Requiescat in pace, dear friends. Pray for us as you enter the Kingdom. Help us along our way as we journey toward that same reward.


Saturday, December 26, 2015

Can you have a holy family?



The word holy means sacred and dedicated to God. It stands to reason that Mary and Joseph did indeed have a holy family; there could be no two people more sacred and dedicated to God than Blessed Mother and St. Joseph. They tended to the Christ Child from the moment of His conception to His birth in Bethlehem, into exile in Egypt to escape King Herod, and through the silent years leading up to his public ministry, Passion, Death and Resurrection. It was this family that dedicated itself to God – literally. 

What must it have taken to be the mother and foster father of the Son of God? The Bible tells us that Joseph was a righteous man (cf. Mt 1:19), so that must be an important character trait; and Mary is said to be full of grace (cf. Lk 1:28) which the Church declared as the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. These were people chosen specifically for the purpose of being holy, for they were asked to take on the tremendous task of allowing the Incarnation to occur through them.  In addition, they were given the responsibility of protecting the Child so that He might do the Father’s will and reconcile man to God, restoring that once lost relationship.

The example of the Holy Family makes becoming one seem unattainable. However, we know this cannot be so. God reveals what is true and good so that we might have hope and a way to follow. If it weren’t possible to be a holy family, He would not have gone to such lengths to make one present, to bring His Son to us in such a way for our salvation. The message is clear – it may be difficult – but it is clear. We are meant to emulate this family, and do the best we can to be holy, as our heavenly Father is holy, as His Son is holy. This is only possible if we take time to develop a relationship with this special family, to ask their intercession for our own families, and beg the Holy Spirit to dwell with us constantly as we strive for holiness.

What are some secrets to having a holy family:
  • ·         Keep your family Christ-centered
  • ·         Pray as a family/spend time in Adoration as a family
  • ·         Make prayer a priority
  •        When troubles arise, forgive
  • ·         Never downplay your faith or its essential role in the life of the family

“Do not be afraid,” the angel told Mary and Joseph (Lk 1:30; Mt 1:20). Ultimately,
with like confidence, especially in the current climate of our society and its bitter attack on the family, it is imperative that we remain unafraid and follow the way of the Holy Family.

Yes, you too can have a holy family!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Lions & Monkeys & St. Peter's -- Oh My!



The backdrop: It’s the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. The Catholic world is participating in a Holy Day of Obligation. The hearts of the faithful are centered on the sinless conception of the woman who will carry and bear the Savior, according to the St. Andrew Novena – “at midnight, in Bethlehem, in the piercing cold.” 

Enter video crews: setting the stage for a spectacular light display -- “Fiat Lux: Illuminating Our Common Home” -- to be made manifest on the fa├žade of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Surely, it was to be one of the finest light displays to bring attention to a Holy Day that has ever been attempted, and therefore permitted to happen on such a holy place.

The outcome: THIS...

photo courtesy of catholicherald.co.uk

And, the Catholic world railed (here, here & here)-- many so appalled that there were cries of sacrilege. Others noted that there was not a single religious symbol in the display. Or, outrage over the fact that the Church collaborated with the World Bank (which promotes programs supporting abortion, contraception and other population control  measures) as well as endorse the agenda of climate change. It simply disemboweled Catholic sensibilities and the result: hemorrhaging of Catholic pride. 

Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Pope Francis has been asking the hierarchy and the faithful to take a step outside of their self-centric point of view (for example: here) -- love the faith, and draw the sinner in to her mercy and forgiveness; stop thinking that Catholicism is all ritual and no hard work; reach beyond the Church walls to creation and the creatures (to include man) living there. 

It was not only a Holy Day of Obligation, let’s remember. It was also the opening of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. And, we were given an opportunity, right on the walls of St. Peter to engage our faith. And, what did most of us do? Lashed out, cried foul, whipped up our opinions into frenzy. 

What did we fail to do? SHOW MERCY. 

Nice.

The final assessment: Do I think it was appropriate to feature animals on the hallowed walls of St. Peter’s?

Probably not. 

Did the images change the minds of others about the face and the heart of Catholicism?

Perhaps. 

I read several opinions from both Catholics and non-Catholics who viewed the show and thought it was lovely – an expression of creation on a most well-known and respected religious symbol – the Church, who is creation’s guardian.

The fact of the matter is this, Pope Francis is not your run-of-the-mill pope – and that’s an understatement. But, he does have a way of reaching people, recognizing what is vital to their humanity in the moment and touching that place with tenderness, sincerity and truth illuminated by the love of Christ for all of creation. 

And, while we may not understand what to us looks to us like unconventional, unorthodox and sacrilegious practice, might we also be reminded of what the Jews thought of Jesus and his decisions to sit at table with sinners, heal on the Sabbath, and preach with authority like no other in the Temple. 

Will our response to the Vicar of Christ be what Our Lord and Savior received because people were afraid of His methods?

No, our response to this should be to prepare, to listen and to watch, but most of all to pray and show mercy.