The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

The thoughts expressed here are my personal thoughts and sometimes reflect my political views. As a private citizen I have every right to express these views.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Crucified Rabbi

Jesus told His disciples that He had come not to abolish the Law and the Prophets but to fulfill them [Mt 5:17]. And during His encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob's Well, He told her explicitly that "...salvation is from the Jews" [Jn 4:22]. It's important that we do not forget this.

Indeed, I'm always saddened when I encounter Christians who seem not to know or accept the distinctly Jewish roots of Christianity. Not only was Jesus Himself a Jew, but so were all of the apostles, the men we Catholics consider the Church's first bishops, the source of the apostolic succession that transmitted the teachings and doctrine and authority of the apostles down through the ages. And first among these first bishops was Simon Bar Jonah, who was renamed "Peter" by Jesus. Peter, as the first vicar of Christ, the first Bishop of Rome, the first pope, was given the Keys to the Kingdom [Mt 16:17-19]. 

Much of the Mass that we celebrate today has its roots in Jewish liturgy. Prayers. psalms, blessings, Old Testament readings, the Passover (Seder) meal...so much that makes up the Mass is essentially of Jewish origin.

And remember that glorious day when the Holy Spirit descended on those gathered in that locked upper room in Jerusalem? On that first Pentecost, Peter and the others, filled with the Spirit, went out into the streets of the city praising God and preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ to all they met. Because it was the Jewish feast of Pentecost, the city was filled with Jewish pilgrims (who were probably joined by a good number of righteous Gentiles) from throughout the Roman Empire. On that day the Apostles baptized 3,000 new Christians who would return to their cities taking their new faith and the Good News with them [Acts 2:41]. Following Jesus' command the Church began the work of making "disciples of all nations, baptizing them...teaching them..." [Mt 28:19-20] As Pope Benedict XVI has made clear, it wasn't just the local Church of Jerusalem that was born that day. It was the universal Church, the worldwide Church, the Catholic Church. And it got its start thanks to the Jews.

If you want to learn more about the ancient Jewish roots of our faith, read Taylor Marshall's wonderful book:The Crucified Rabbi: Judaism and the Origins of Catholic Christianity. Here's a video that provides an overview:



Major Achaeological Find

You might have heard that five years ago there was a significant archaeological find in a cave in a remote area of Jordan. Like the 1947 discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, this most recent find just might lead to some major insights into first-century Judaism and early Christianity.

The find consists of 70 very small "books", each about the size of a credit card and made of metal. Scientists estimate that they date to the time of Christ. The evidence seem to indicate that they are Christian in origin. They were found in an area to which first-century Christian refugees fled after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., and the book-like format was commonly used by Christians of that era. Examination of some of the metal plates also seems to show images relating to the Messiah, as well as the Crucifixion and Resurrection. At the moment these ancient metal plates are in the possession of an individual, a Bedouin in Israel, who apparently smuggled them illegally across the Jordanian border. The Jordanian authorities want them back so they can be safeguarded and studied. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.

Here's a video of a related news story:


To read more on this story, click here: Major Archaeological Find in Jordan

Monday, March 28, 2011

World Youth Day Rosary Campaign

Have you been thinking about praying the Rosary daily during Lent, but just haven't got started? Maybe you need a little encouragement? If so, the organizers of the upcoming World Youth Day 2011, which will take place in Madrid this August, might have just the thing to give a lift to your spiritual life and at the same time help the youth of the world recognize and accept what God is calling them to do.

The organizers have proposed a "Universal Rosary" effort, hoping that millions of Catholics will begin praying the Rosary daily with the prayer intention that young people will accept their vocations. They are also asking people to send in videos of themselves or others praying the Rosary. They're looking for MP4 videos of people from all over the world praying one Our Father, one Hail Mary, and one Glory Be.

It sounds like a pretty good way to add some prayer to your life during the remaining weeks of Lent. Here's a link for more information: Universal Rosary

Japan, Tragedy, and the Sacred Heart

Back in my Navy days, I visited Japan on a number of occasions and spent a total of perhaps 40 days in the country. During these visits I did many of the touristy things that most visitors do. I took advantage of some of the tours offered by the Navy and saw the sights in Osaka, Kamakura, Yokosuka, Tokyo, Sasebo, and Nagasaki. I also visited castles and museums and absorbed a bit of the nation's long and varied history. When I wasn't on a tour I spent much of my free time simply wandering around whatever area in which I happened to find myself. I took lots of pictures, strolled through marketplaces and shops, bravely sampled some (only some) of the food, enjoyed the regional beers and an occasional cup of sake, and tried to engage the locals in conversation. Despite my constant use of a handy Japanese phrase book and a form of sign language developed on the fly, the language barrier prevented all but the most basic communication. I was surprised, though, at the general willingness of the people I encountered to try to communicate with this lone American. As in most countries, I found the folks in Japan's rural areas to be friendlier and more hospitable than the city people. There were, however, exceptions.

On one visit, back in the mid-70s, I spent almost two weeks in Sasebo while our ship was having some work done at the naval base. Sasebo is a mid-sized city in southwest corner of the country surrounded by some of Japan's most scenic countryside. It's only about 50 miles south of Nagasaki where the second atomic bomb was dropped back in 1945.

Early one Sunday morning I left the ship and went in search of a Catholic church. I could have attended the scheduled Sunday Mass at the naval base chapel, but thought it might be interesting to experience Mass in a Japanese church. Although there are less than a million Catholics in Japan, many of them live in the Nagasaki Prefecture in which Sasebo is located. I had been told that there were several churches in the area and had received some vague directions which I hoped would take me to one of the churches in time for Mass. After a half-hour of more or less aimless wandering, I finally decided it might be wise to ask for directions.

There weren't too many people walking the streets early on a Sunday morning, but I eventually overtook a well-dressed older man, bowed, and, using my phrase book, tried to ask for directions. He returned my bow and smiled one of those I-didn't-understand-a-word-you-said smiles. And so I stuffed the phrase book in my pocket and tried my sign language. Describing a Catholic church in Japan using only hand signs isn't as easy as you might think. Finally, as a result of divine inspiration, I simply made the Sign of the Cross and placed my hands together as if in prayer. He smiled and said, "Hai! Hai!", and then motioned me to accompany him.

It didn't take long to see that I'd been walking in the wrong direction. For the next 15 minutes the two of us walked alongside each other at a brisk pace as my companion led me through the streets of Sasebo. While we walked he provided a non-stop commentary in Japanese, pointing out various buildings and other presumably interesting things along the way. Of course, I didn't understand anything and simply nodded and smiled because it seemed the polite thing to do.

The Miura Catholic Church (Sasebo)
Finally, he pointed ahead and said something that sounded a bit like, "Jesus", but not quite. And that's when I saw this beautiful Catholic Church on top of a hill with steps leading up from the street. The church had been painted black during Word War II to make it less of a bombing target. In recent years it has been repainted in its original colors. (See photo at left.) 

My guide seemed genuinely thrilled that he had been able to take me to the church, and so I thanked him profusely using one of the few Japanese phrases I actually knew. After exchanging another bow with him, I reached into my back pocket and pulled out my wallet. I suppose he thought I planned to pay him for his help, because he shook his head rather violently, apparently insulted. But I just continued to smile and pulled a laminated card out of my wallet. The card depicted the Sacred Heart of Jesus and included an attached medal. (A Navy chaplain in Hawaii had given it to me a few months earlier.) I thanked my Japanese guide once again and held the card out to him, hoping he would accept it. He did. He turned it over in his hands, looked intently at the picture of Jesus, and fingered the medal as if it were a holy relic. Once again, resorting to my sign language, I asked if he, too, were Catholic. (I simply made the Sign of the Cross and pointed to him.) It took a moment but he finally understood what I was asking and shook his head. 

And so we said our Sayonaras and I began the long climb up the steps to the church. When I reached the top I turned around and glanced back at the street far below. My new-found friend was still standing there, holding the holy card in his hand. He waved. I waved. And I entered the church just five minutes before Mass began.
The Miura Catholic Church in Sasebo as it appeared at the end of WW2, before the construction of neighboring buildings. Note the wartime black coloring.
I've always wondered about that man and the holy card I gave him. I'm guessing he was in his 50s at the time, and might well have been a veteran of World War II. Some of the older Japanese I encountered back then, those who had lived through the war, were not always friendly toward Americans, especially American servicemen. I could certainly understand their feelings. After all, they were not personally responsible for the war and had suffered much during those years. And so, when I came across such people, I usually just smiled and moved on. But this man in Sasebo had actually gone out of his way to help me. Perhaps he was simply talking his Sunday morning walk, and so it mattered little to him which way he went. But he had shown me a true kindness nevertheless. As a result, whenever I think of the Catholics of Japan, I think of him, who was not a Catholic. And given the tragedy that struck his country this month, he's  crossed my mind on several occasions during the past few weeks.

Of course, Catholics are a rarity in Japan. Religiously, the country is unique. Although most Japanese are vaguely connected to various forms of  Buddhism and Shinto, the vast majority claim no actual religious belief. According to many recent studies, most Japanese do not even believe in God (or Buddha), even though a slightly smaller majority practice Shinto. From our Western perspective, then, the religion of most Japanese is a confusing mixture of Shinto's mythological nature worship, combined with some Buddhism and atheism. They are, however,  a religiously tolerant people and allow religious freedom. And surprisingly, in the past 100 years or so, Japan has had three Catholic prime ministers.

Although the number of Christians has been growing in Japan since World War II, they still represent only a tiny percentage of the population. Despite this, I've long thought the Japanese, who seem to be even more materialistic than Americans and Europeans, are ripe for Christian evangelization. I base this belief on two things: my 35-year-old sample of one Japanese man who seemed enthralled by a holy card depicting the Sacred Heart; and the fact that materialism never satisfies and always leads to a search for that which does.

The combined tragedy of earthquake and tsunami and possible nuclear catastrophe is not something one wishes on any people. But one thing it makes clear is how powerless we humans really are. Just when we begin to believe our technology can control what God has created, we are taught a hard lesson in humility. I don't know enough about the Japanese people and their culture to make any hard and fast predictions, but I hope and pray they will come to know and accept the love and mercy of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Just maybe they will see their salvation in the face of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ.

Oh, yes, the Mass I attended in the Sasebo church was wonderful. Although everything was in Japanese, I could follow the liturgy using the the Sunday Missal I had brought with me. The only thing I couldn't follow was the homily, which was actually quite long by our standards. I've included a photo of the church's interior below. It was taken recently and shows a somewhat different interior than the one I remember. I suspect the church has undergone a renovation or two since my visit.

The Miura Catholic Church interior as it is today
Let me close with a prayer for Japan and its people that I came across this morning on the website, Pray Tell:
We approach the Father in confidence and pray...
that all the lives that have been lost may find their eternal rest in You

that those grieving the loss of loved ones, especially their children, and the loss of entire families and communities, may find glimpses of hope and life

that those injured and those fighting for their lives may find solace, hope, and healing

that a nuclear catastrophe may be averted

that those searching for loved ones may be sustained in their turmoil and struggle

that those waiting for water, food, and the basic necessities of life may be able to strengthen each other and share meager resources

that those who are especially vulnerable – the children, the elderly, the women waiting to give birth, the sick – may find others to care for them

for all aid workers, that they may discover within themselves deep reservoirs of strength, generosity, and compassion

for the rising up of human beings who know how to heal, to restore, to rebuild, and to birth anew life and hope

for ourselves, that our lives may be strengthened in their witness to God’s holy and ever-healing presence
Amen.



Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Obama/Clinton State Department & the U.N. -- Liars All

Now that's a headline to grab your attention...but it's true. There's just something about abortion and so-called gay rights that causes the activists behind these issues to say and do anything to accomplish their goals. And because the perceived number-one enemy of these activists is the Catholic Church, the Church is their primary target.

The most recent example is an intentional lie told by the Obama-Clinton State Department. A U.S. representative told the U.N. delegations of several Latin American countries that the Vatican agreed with and supported an agreement calling for the inclusion of "sexual orientation and gender identity" as categories that would be protected from discrimination under international law. Apparently, the delegates of some of these countries believed the lie and went on to sign the joint agreement. As you might expect, the Vatican had actually strongly and actively opposed the agreement. This lie by our government is not an anomaly; rather it is just another in a series of lies designed to undermine the Holy See on moral issues.

If you want the whole story -- and it's certainly worth your time to read it -- see Austin Ruse's article on The Catholic Thing: State Department Lies About the Holy See. Mr. Ruse is President of C-FAM, the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute. C-FAM describes itself as a "non-partisan, non-profit research institute dedicated to reestablishing a proper understanding of international law, protecting national sovereignty and the dignity of the human person." It is heavily engaged in the challenging task of monitoring United Nations activity in the area of social policy. (Catholic Online has also covered this story which I expect will be a non-story in the mainstream media: US Falsely States Vatican Position.)

As I have stated before, for those drowning in the ideological swamp of abortion and homosexual rights, these issues trump virtually everything else, including such basic concepts as truth and honestly. We can expect the lies to continue.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Another Indian Catholic Murdered

I have several Hindu acquaintances, and all are good people who try to live lives that we Christians would probably say are reflective of Gospel values. They are kind and charitable and honest. Of course, they all live here in the United States, in a largely secular society where they are a distinct minority. I suspect being a Hindu in India is a vastly different experience. And so it's hard for me to understand that in India Hindu extremists -- or as they are sometimes labeled, radical Hindu fundamentalists -- have been waging a kind of religious war against Christians who make up only a tiny minority of India's huge population. This persecution, which has been going on for years now, seems to be directed particularly at Indian Catholics and has been especially harsh in the Indian state of Orissa, a poor state located on the Bay of Bengal, south of Calcutta.
Orissa Christian Refugees

Interestingly, while attention has occasionally been focused on persecution of Christians in Muslim countries, there seems to be little media interest in what has been taking place in the nation often called, "the world's largest democracy." Just to give you an idea of the harshness of the persecution, in one six-month period in 2008 six Orissa Catholics were killed, 5,000 were left homeless, and 70 churches, 600 homes, six convents, and three seminaries were destroyed. In other parts of India nuns have been attacked by mobs accusing them of forcing conversions and hundreds of other acts of aggression and anti-Christian persecution have been aimed at Christians. The parliament of the state of Rajasthan passed an anti-conversion law that calls for a five-year prison term and a 50,000 rupee fine (over $1,000) for anyone who converts others "by force, coercion, or fraud." Like similar laws in six other states, it is, of course, aimed at Christians.

This persecution by Hindus has continued virtually unchecked by local governments that too often look the other way or fail to investigate thoroughly. The latest instance involves the disappearance and suspected murder of Angad Digal, a Catholic in Orissa who local authorities say was murdered on March 10th when traveling in the company of two Hindu acquaintances. His family and others have been searching for his body without success. Although one of the two men suspected in Digal's death has been arrested, a local Catholic priest has accused the police of dragging their feet.

It's all very sad and says a lot about the true state of Indian democracy. It should also awaken the majority of Hindus who respect the religious rights of others and their freedom to worship. When are they going to call on their government to put a stop to this often savage persecution?

Pray for our brothers and sisters in faith who continue to respond courageously and charitably while living under such persecution.

For more information, click here: Christian Persecution in India and Catholic Online

Friday, March 25, 2011

Annunciation and Incarnation

Happy Day, humanity! This is the glorious day the Lord has made, the day of His Incarnation, the day He lowered Himself, beyond all comprehension, and became one of us, His creatures.

It is the day that truly boggles the mind, the day the Creator of all and everything asked the permission of a teenage girl in an obscure corner of the world to become man through her. And she said, "Yes!" -- and set into motion the remarkable act of redemption that saved humanity from its sinfulness.

From today's  Office of Readings -- a Letter by St. Leo the Great (c 400-461 A.D.):
"Lowliness is assured by majesty, weakness by power, mortality by eternity. To pay the debt of our sinful state, a nature that is incapable of suffering was joined to one that could suffer. Thus, in keeping with the healing that we needed, one and the same mediator between God and man, the man Jesus Christ, was able to die in one nature and unable to die in another.,,One nature is resplendent with miracles, the other falls victim to injuries...One and the same person -- this must be said over and over again -- is truly the Son of God and truly the son of man. He is God in virtue of the fact that in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. His man in virtue of the fact that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us."
...and from the Gospel of Luke, Mary's magnificent Magnificat, prayed every day at Evening Prayer:
"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 to 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."
Spend today thanking God for His glorious act of divine love, for the salvation He has brought to His people. And thank Mary, His Mother and our Mother, for saying, "Yes."


Praise God!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Vatican Inititative: Courtyard of the Gentiles

In keeping with the Vatican's continued emphasis on evangelization, it has initiated a most interesting effort aimed at increasing the quality of the dialog between the Church and both atheists and agnostics. The effort, in the form of a new foundation set up by the Pontifical Council for Culture, is called the "Courtyard of the Gentiles."

Model of the Courtyard of the Gentiles at the Temple in Jerusalem (destroyed by Rome in 70 A.D.)
The name of the foundation is derived from the outer courtyard of the Temple at Jerusalem, the place on the Temple grounds where Gentiles were welcome to come and pray. Providing the impetus to this new effort, Pope Benedict stated that Jesus viewed the courtyard as a place “cleared of extraneous affairs so that it could be a free space for the Gentiles who wished to pray there to the one God, even if they could not take part in the mystery for whose service the inner part of the Temple was reserved...I think that today, too, the Church should open a sort of ‘court of the Gentiles’ in which people might in some way latch on to God, without knowing him and before gaining access to his mystery, at whose service the inner life of the Church stands.” The pope went on to say, "To the dialogue with other religions we must add dialogue with those for whom religion is something unknown, for whom God is unknown and who nevertheless don't want to remain without God but want to get closer to him at least as an unknown." [Address to members of the Roman Curia, 12/21/09]

The foundation, which was introduced by the Vatican last year, is now operative and will involve open discussions with a wide range of people, including diplomats, academics and other intellectuals. Its aim is the search for truth and thereby to help atheists come to an understanding of theological thought and to accept its seriousness.  The first of these meetings will take place on March 24 to 25 in Paris at UNESCO headquarters, at the Sorbonne, and at the French Institute.

Even though it is not specifically evangelistic -- the Vatican has stated that its purpose is not to convert atheists, but rather to increase open dialog on such fundamental issues as life, death, good, evil, etc. -- the Courtyard of the Gentiles can only help nonbelievers appreciate the depth of theological thought and decrease the tensions that so often mark the relationship between the Church and the secular world.


Ongoing Persecution of Christians

I have written frequently on this blog about the continued persecution of Christians, particularly in the Muslim-majority nations of the Middle East and southern Asia. It seems to be one of those subjects that the mainstream media simply ignores, unless an act of persecution is so horrific that it is squeezed into a 15-second clip on the evening news right before a commercial. Much of the news today is focused on the draconian measures being taken by the regimes of such nations as Libya, Syria, Bahrain, Yemen, and others as they respond violently to the protests of their citizens who seek democratic reforms. In many instances, however, this same kind of violence has been perpetrated for years against the Christian citizens of these countries whose only crime is the desire to worship God freely.

In today's essay published by TheCatholicThing.org, George J. Marlin offers a brief but comprehensive overview of the plight of Christians throughout the Middle East. Marlin, who is chairman of the papal-sponsored charity, Aid to the Church in Need, USA, knows of what he speaks since the organization he heads must deal daily with the effects of this persecution.

Egyptian Christians touch a blood-splattered mural at the Coptic church in Alexandria, where at least 21 people were killed in a new year terrorist bombing
Historians of religion tell us there were more Christian martyrs in the 20th century than in all nineteen previous centuries combined. Judging by what's happening in the world today, the 21st century might be even worse. Pray for these courageous Christians who suffer so much in our chaotic world. And, of course, we don't despair because of persecution. On the contrary, we walk by faith, knowing that God's plan for humanity will be brought to the conclusion He desires. Perhaps, too, we can take solace in recalling Tertullian's comment back in the early third century that "The blood of Christians is the seed of the Church."

To read Marlin's essay, click here: Persecuted Christians in the Middle East. It's well worth a few minutes of your time.

By the way, if you're looking for a good charity to support, I can't recommend Aid to the Church in Need more highly. They do excellent and necessary work. As Marlin states when addressing the persecution of Christians in his essay, "Despite all these crimes, there is hardly a peep from the Western powers. These victims would be completely forgotten if not for the Holy Father." ...and if not for George Marlin and organizations like his.

God's peace...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

How to Love Like Mother Teresa

The brief video I've included below is worth the three minutes it will take to watch it. It offers some good spiritual guidance on living the kind of life -- a life of love -- that Mother Teresa lived.

The End Is Near...3rd Century Version

The other day I wrote about folks today who seem so certain that the end of days are just around the corner. Well, things haven't changed much. Today I came across a comment by St. Cyprian of Carthage, a third-century bishop and martyr, who was apparently convinced that he and his contemporaries were facing the end. His view seems to be colored significantly by his observations of nature and the growing decadence already evident in the Roman Empire. Here's what he had to say in a letter to one Demetrius:
"The world itself now bears witness to its approaching end by the evidence of its failing powers. There is not so much rain in winter for fertilizing the seeds, nor in summer is there so much warmth for ripening them. The springtime is no longer so mild, nor the autumn so rich in fruit. Less marble is quarried from the exhausted mountains, and the dwindling supplies of gold and silver show that the mines are worked out and the impoverished veins of metal diminish from day to day. The peasant is failing and disappearing from the fields, the sailor at sea, the soldier in the camp, uprightness in the forum, justice in the court, concern in friendships, skill in the arts, discipline in morals. Can anything that is old preserve the same powers that it had in the prime and vigor of its youth? It is inevitable that whatever is tending downwards to decay and approaches its end must decrease in strength, like the setting sun and the waning moon, and the dying tree and the failing stream. This is the sentence passed on the world; this is God's law: that all that has risen should fall and that all that has grown should wax old, and that strong things should become weak and great things should become small, and that when they have been weakened and diminished they should come to an end." [St. Cyprian, Ad Demetrianum, c. iii]
St. Cyprian might have been wrong about the imminent collapse of the natural world, but he was correct in recognizing the signs of societal decay. The Roman Empire had already begun its downward spiral, even though its end was still far in the future. For as Christopher Dawson wrote:
"...the third century witnessed a social and constitutional revolution of the most far-reaching kind. The great break in the history of the ancient world -- the end of the old society and the inauguration of a new order -- took place not in the age of St. Augustine, when the barbarians conquered the western provinces and the unity of the Empire was destroyed, but more than a century earlier, in the age of military anarchy, which followed the fall of the house of Severus." [St. Augustine: His Age, Life and Thought, p. 27]
Of course, being a saint doesn't make one infallible, but at least St. Cyprian didn't try to pick out the day and the hour of the end, as do today's false prophets.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The End Is Near...Or Is It?

A lot of people just flat-out don't like what the Church teaches. A few weeks ago, as I was pushing my grocery cart down the frozen food aisle of the local supermarket, a man, apparently recognizing me from church, approached and asked why deacons were allowed to preach. When I explained that we, too, were clergy and had been lawfully given faculties to preach by our bishop, he expressed amazement. "You can't be clergy," he insisted. "You're married and have jobs just like the rest of us." And so I took a moment to explain the diaconate as briefly as possible, ending with a comment like "...and that's what the Church teaches." He just looked at me and muttered, "Well, it's stupid," and walked away. Interactions like this make one want to avoid the grocery store.

Of course, such attitudes aren't restricted to just one end of the theological (or ideological) spectrum. Just a few days ago an acquaintance informed me, "I have prayed extensively about this, and realize now that the Holy Spirit wants me to fight the Church actively on these issues [women's ordination, homosexual marriage, celibacy, et al.]." It would seem that she believes the Holy Spirit works in her but not in the Church...except perhaps through her.

Such events seem to be occurring more frequently; that is, these encounters with people who just can't tolerate the fact that the Church doesn't reflect their personal beliefs on one issue or another...and then get quite upset about it. Instead of praying that the Holy Spirit will lead them to come to an understanding and acceptance of what the Church teaches in truth, they seem to believe they are actually holier than the Church. It's all very interesting...and more than a little sad. Perhaps we should remind them of how Paul described the Church: "the Church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth." (1 Tim 3:15)

Similarly, I have recently encountered more than a few Catholics who apparently accept millenarianism and such concepts as the rapture. Some, influenced by popular fiction addressing the end times, are truly shocked when I tell them that the Church has consistently condemned these doctrines as false. Others learned about these doctrines while attending non-denominational bible study programs where such beliefs are not uncommon. I always encourage them to come and join our parish's Scripture study, so they will learn what the Church teaches.

Talking about the end times is, of course, interesting to most Christians, and always leads to a lot of discussion. In our parish Bible Study we've spent months making our way slowly through the Gospel of Matthew. I actually facilitate two sessions each Wednesday, one in the morning and a second in the evening. They're not quite in sync, with my morning session running a few chapters behind the evening session. Considering the fact that we've been studying Scripture together for at least five years now, and keeping in mind that each group has a very distinct personality and approach to Scripture, I'm amazed that the two sessions are both studying the same book.
Anyway, last Wednesday the evening group began Matthew 24 in which Jesus gives His disciples some glimpses into His Second Coming and the events that will precede it. Among many Christians there seems to be an overwhelming  need to predict or, at the very least, to know exactly when all these things will come to pass. I have never understood why so many are determined to slap a date and time on these eschatological events. It's a fascination that escapes me, especially since Jesus was so clear about telling us He will come at a time we can neither know nor expect. As Matthew relates Jesus' words:
"But of that day and hour mo one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone." (Mt 24:36)
...and later, after telling the disciples to be prepared always, He said:
"So, too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come." (Mt 24:44)
...and again, as He summarized the Parable of the Ten Virgins, He said:
"Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour." (Mt 25:13)
And yet, despite Jesus words, some Christians simply can't resist predicting the end. The latest to do so is radio evangelist Harold Camping, who has declared that the beginning of the end will take place on May 21, 2011. That's only two months away, folks, and a good year sooner than the 2012 date supposedly predicted by the ancient Mayans. Camping isn't new to this end-of-the-world prediction business. Almost twenty years ago, he called for the end on September 6, 1994. Apparently he was wrong, the result, Camping believes, of a mathematical error on his part. But this time, based on his 70 years of studying the Bible, Camping claims that his calculations are spot on. It would seem he believes the so-called "rapture" will take place on May 21 and the end of the world on October 21.

Camping may have been studying Scripture for 70 years, but the Catholic Church has been studying it for nearly 2,000 years, and the Church is pretty certain we are not in the final stages of the end times, those days immediately preceding the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. And as I stated above, the Church has also condemned those doctrines -- various forms of millenarianism -- popular among some Protestants that declare the coming of Jesus, followed by a thousand-year reign, and His departure. Jesus, the Church teaches, will come again in one definitive, triumphant and everlasting reign. It will not be limited in either time or extent. Oh, yes, and the Church also teaches that there will be no "rapture" as it is popularly depicted today.

Of course Camping is not alone. There have been hundreds of similar predictions over the years. I recall one author -- Michael Drosnin, who wrote an odd book, The Bible Code -- and who predicted that a global nuclear war would kick off the end times in either 2000 or 2006. And then there were all those people caught up in biblical numerology who divided 2000 by 3 and got the ominous Satanic result of 666.666666..... This was obviously a sign that the end would begin with the Y2K crisis. Oh, there have been more, many more, but probably my favorite was a bizarre story going around back in the 90s that Pope John XXIII had predicted in 1962 that we would be visited by aliens arriving in chariots of fire. They would eliminate all disease and help us live to be 200 -- a prediction obviously buried someplace among those documents of Vatican II. How weird.
Although all these end-times predictions can be humorous, some of these false prophets are very charismatic individuals who attract quite a following. And all too often they seem to develop a form of egomania that leads to tragic results. Jim Jones, David Koresh and Marshall Applewhite are some recent examples that come to mind. Yes, it's all very sad, which is why I don't encourage people to spend a lot of time reading all those popular books -- many of them written by Catholics -- that focus on the end times in a sensationalist sort of way. It would be much better if we spent our limited time on earth preparing for our own end of the world, the day we stand before Jesus in judgment. I have a hunch -- certainly not a prediction -- that for all of us alive today, that day will come before the day the world ends.

Pax et bonum...


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Conversions & Evangelization

I came across a couple of interesting news stories yesterday. The first told of a record number of people in England who will be received into the Church this Easter. According to the Catholic Herald, a Catholic newspaper in the U.K., over 4,700 people took part in the Rite of Election last weekend in England and Wales. Many of these people, both lay and clergy, are Anglicans who are taking advantage of the personal ordinariate announced by the Vatican last year. Bishop Kieran Conry, who oversees the Bishops’ Department for Evangelization and Catechesis, stated:

“The witness of so many people taking this life-changing step is so very encouraging. Each year people freely choose to come forward from all walks of life, bringing with them unique experiences and talents. The Catholic community welcomes them with love and the assurance of prayer. If you’re considering taking a similar step or are not sure yet, come and see. Give your local Catholic church a ring or ask a Catholic friend for help."
To read the entire article, click here: Record Number to Be Received

The other story, from the Catholic News Service, addresses the upcoming World Youth Day scheduled to be held in Madrid this August. The organizers now estimate it will draw well over one million participants from around the world. What a wonderful sign of hope this is! (Click here to read the full story: One Million Expected at WYD)


Youth in Procession - Montserrat
Over the past decade, Diane and I have noticed obvious sings of spritiual interest and growth among our youth, the teens and twenty-somethings who will lead the Church in the near future. On our several visits to Rome since the Holy Year of 2000, we adults and seniors attending papal audiences seemed always to be outnumbered by the young people. And their enthusiasm was over-the-top and contagious.

On our recent stay in Barcelona, perhaps the most secular city in Europe, we couldn't help but notice the large numbers of young people we encountered during our visit to the monastery and shrine at nearby Montserrat. These young folks weren't simply tourists; they were pilgrims. One Catholic youth group, leaving the basilica in the company of a couple of young, enthusiastic priests, joined together in a typically unorganized procession, carried the cross, sang hymns, and danced the sardana, the traditional national dance of Catalunya. It was a marvelous sight.

Young musicians tune up - Montserrat

I have included a video I took below. Unfortunately I didn't video their procession as they left the Church, but I did take a few still photos (above).


Pray for our young people, that the Holy Spirit continue to work within them. Unlike the generation of their parents and grandparents, they will be the evangelizers in this wounded world, the future of the Church in these challenging times. How blessed we are to have them.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Homily: Wednesday 1st Week of Lent

Readings: Jonah 3:1-10; Psalm 51; Luke 11:29-32

When I was growing up, my dad had a boat. It was a powerboat, a 26-foot cabin cruiser, and every summer our family spent many weekends cruising Long Island Sound. Occasionally we’d take longer, week-long trips along the coast of southern New England.

On the first of these extended trips – I think I was about eight years old – we ran into some very heavy weather. The rough seas and high winds tossed our little boat around like a cork, and my dad, worried we might be swept overboard, sent my brother and me down below into the cabin. Well, it was pretty boring down there, so I just stretched out on one of the bunks and within minutes had fallen asleep. And for three hours, as the boat rolled and pitched, I slept like a rock, and only awoke as we tied up at the marina in Mystic, Connecticut.

My dad thought it remarkable that I could sleep through all that rough weather, and recalling how Jonah had done pretty much the same thing during his storm at sea, took to calling me Jonah whenever we were aboard the boat. He also remarked that “when the going gets rough, the tough go to sleep.” From a very early age, then, I felt this personal connection with Jonah, the hero of today’s first reading.

The Book of Jonah is really a very amusing book, a droll telling of a splendid little story about the judgment and mercy of God. And in reading it, we find it populated with this wonderful cast of characters. They’re all remarkably likable – well, perhaps Jonah himself is a bit fussy, but even in his grumpiness we can sympathize with him. After all, haven’t we all, at one time or another, argued with God about the events in our lives or the lives of those we love? In truth I think we see ourselves in Jonah, a man motivated as much by his selfishness, his bigotries and fears, as he is by his faith. And the rest of the cast -- the pagan sailors, the king, the Ninevites, even the city’s animals – they all come across as straightforward folks, as guileless, likable characters.

But more importantly, this short Old Testament book is really a prelude to the Gospels, for in it we witness God’s plan of salvation, a plan extending beyond the chosen people to all of humanity. We also witness God’s mercy in the presence of sincere repentance.

In today’s Gospel passage Jesus warns the religious leaders of His day. Always asking for signs, they’re unable to see the sign right before their eyes, Jesus Himself. They’ve already rejected the message of John the Baptist, and now they’re rejecting the very one they’ve been waiting for, the Messiah Himself.

The Ninevites heard and accepted the word of God spoken by Jonah, and they repented. Jonah was God's sign and his message was the message of a merciful and forgiving God. But Jonah was more than a sign; he also foreshadowed Jesus Himself. Jonah spent those three days in the belly of the fish before being released onto the land – a prefiguring of the greatest sign of all, Jesus’ three days in the tomb before His glorious Resurrection.

This is the sign that Jesus gives that evil generation, a generation no more evil than our own. He gives the sign of His death and Resurrection: the sign of His overwhelming love, and a sign of hope, that His power knows no limits. There is no greater sign than this.

And, like Jonah, but infinitely greater, Jesus is also a sign of conversion, a sign that calls to us especially during this season of Lent. He too preaches repentance and conversion to a generation that seems always to be looking for signs.

Do we really need miracles to believe? I hope not, at least nothing more than the miracle of the Eucharist, the miracle of Emmanuel, of “God with us” every day until the end of time. I know the love of God is more than enough for me.

And we too are called to be signs. The best sign you and I can give to the world is our reformed lives and our genuine love for each other. Jesus began His public ministry by calling us to do just that. In His words: “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” This is what we should focus on during this Lent: accepting Jesus’ invitation to turn back to God, and discover the mystery of joy and freedom in that turning. This is what we should desire. This is what we should pray for this Lent.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Three of my four grandparents were born in Ireland, and the fourth, the McCarthy, although he was born in Canada while his parents were visiting relatives who lived in Quebec, came from all-Irish stock. And so I am not only 100% Irish, but I even chose Patrick as my confirmation name. I suppose that qualifies me to wear the green today and wish you all a happy St. Patrick's Day.

At the Wildwood Soup Kitchen today we celebrated my patron saint's feast day by serving a dish that was as close as we could come to corned beef, cabbage and potatoes. We were actually unable to serve corned beef -- buying enough for 250 meals would tax our limited soup kitchen budget -- so as a substitute we added some donated Italian sausage to the cabbage, potatoes and carrots. That may seem a sacrilege to Irish purists, but we must remember that Patrick was the son of Calphurnius, a member of a high-ranking Roman family. It is only fitting, therefore, that the feast on his feast day should include something of Italian origin. In any event, our guests enjoyed the meal and many returned for seconds, so I believe we can call it a success. I trust you all enjoyed the day as well.

And when you pray today, pray for the people of Japan who are suffering so horribly from the effects of the recent earthquake and tsunami. I suggest asking both St. Patrick and St. Francis Xavier to intercede for them. Patrick, after all, is the patron of another island nation that has also suffered much over the centuries. And Francis was the first Jesuit missionary to Japan back in the 16th century.
St. Francis Xavier in Japan
And, finally, from St. Patrick's Breastplate...

Christ be with me
Christ before me
Christ behind me
Christ in me
Christ beneath me
Christ above me
Christ on my right
Christ on my left
Christ where I lie
Christ where I sit
Christ where I arise
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me
Christ in every eye that sees me
Christ in every ear that hears me
Salvation is of the Lord.
Amen...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Spiritual Reading for Lent

A few days ago I promised to share my Lenten reading list with you, but in the busyness of this past week, I quite honestly forgot. And then, this afternoon, as I sat down to begin one of the books on my list, I suddenly remembered my promise, so here goes...

What Jesus Saw from the Cross, by A. G. Sertillanges. This first book on my list is one I read every couple of years, always during Lent. First published in France in 1930, it's become a spiritual classic, and is now available in an English translation from Sophia Institute Press. It is an intense, Gospel-based account of Jesus' last hours and places you there in the midst of the crowd, alongside Jesus' accusers, and with the disciples as Our Lord dies on the Cross for love of us. It's a book all of us should read as we make our spiritual journey during these weeks of Lent.

Death on a Friday Afternoon, by Richard John Neuhaus. This book by the late Fr. Neuhaus offers a series of meditations on the mystery and wonder of the events of Good Friday, the day at the very center of all human history. It is a wonderful book that will make you pray and think.

The Journey Toward God, by Benedict J. Groeschel, CFR and Kevin Perrotta. This is a marvelous book, a different book, and in a real sense, an ecumenical book. It offers the reader an anthology of selections from the great spiritual writers of Christianity -- Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant -- arranged as the various stages of our spiritual journey toward God. I look forward to reading it again in the weeks to come.

The Joy of Knowing Christ, by Pope Benedict XVI. This little book of meditations on the Gospel explores the God who knows and loves us and who wants us to know and love Him. It is a book of Good News in which the Holy Father introduces us to the truth of the Gospel and its invitation to live its fullness on our journey to eternal happiness. Each of the book's 55 meditations is only a few pages in length, so it's the kind of book you can carry with you and read whenever you have a few minutes.

In addition to the Bible, these then are the books I intend to read this year during Lent. I find it best to set aside a specific hour each day for Lenten spiritual reading; otherwise the time just slips away almost unnoticed, and suddenly it's time for bed and I'm too tired to read. My favorite time is early in the morning, right after Morning Prayer, but then I'm pretty much a morning person.

Have a blessed and spiritually productive Lent...

Monday, March 14, 2011

We Are All Missionaries

I'm always a bit dismayed by the attitude of many Catholics, both laypeople and clergy, when it comes to the call to evangelize. They hear Jesus' Great Commission proclaimed in the Gospel and somehow think it doesn't apply to them. Here it is again, the last words of our risen Jesus in Matthew's Gospel:
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age." (Mt 28:16-20)
It sure seems like a pretty straightforward command to me. First Jesus tells the apostles that He has complete authority over all of creation. Then He instructs them to go everywhere making disciples, and to do it through baptism and the teaching of His commands. And to give them hope, to ensure they don't hesitate because of fear, He assures them He will always be with them. As I say, pretty straightforward. And yet some Christians apparently don't accept it.

A few years ago Diane and I took a leisurely road trip out West. One Sunday we attended Mass in a fairly large parish church in northern California. I especially remember the fact that there were no kneelers anywhere in the Church, even in their side chapel where I was told they occasionally celebrated Benediction. And so I was prepared for an interesting homily and the pastor didn't disappoint me. In the course of his remarks he mentioned that he had been asked by someone whether Catholics should actively proselytize among the Muslim community in response to Jesus' call to "make disciples of all nations." His answer was a loud, resounding, "No!" In effect he told his parishioners that Muslims were just fine as they were, that there was no need to turn them into Catholics. The same was true, he said, when it came to Jews, or Seventh Day Adventists, or Buddhists, or Zoroastrians. Devout people, regardless of their religious beliefs, are all doing God's work in the world, and we should not try to change them. As for that so-called Great Commission, well, it really only applied to the apostles and the early Church. It was, in this pastor's words, Jesus' way of "jump-starting the Church" among all those pagans, but it certainly didn't apply to us sophisticated moderns.

Yes, it was quite a homily, filled with all sorts of little off-the-wall snippets, but also, thankfully, no overly long. I won't even discuss what the liturgy was like.

And then today, while searching for something else on the Vatican's website, I came across Pope Benedict's message delivered on the occasion of Word Mission Sunday (January 6). In his message the pope seemed to be speaking directly to folks like that pastor in California when he said:
"...an increasing number of people, although they have received the Gospel proclamation, have forgotten or abandoned it and no longer recognize that they belong to the Church; and in many contemporary contexts, even in traditionally Christian societies, people are averse to opening themselves to the word of faith. A cultural change nourished by globalization, by currents of thought and by the prevalent relativism, is taking place. This change is leading to a mindset and lifestyle that ignore the Gospel Message, as though God did not exist, and exalt the quest for well-being, easy earnings, a career and success as life’s purpose, even to the detriment of moral values."
The Holy Father then goes on to explain the universality of the call to evangelize:
"The universal mission involves all, all things and always. The Gospel is not an exclusive possession of whoever has received it but a gift to share, good news to communicate. And this gift-commitment is not only entrusted to a few but on the contrary to all the baptized, who are 'a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people' (1 Pt 2:9), so that they may declare his wonderful deeds...It is important that both individual baptized people and ecclesial communities be involved in the mission, not sporadically or occasionally but in a constant manner, as a form of Christian life."
Good words for an examination of conscience this Lent, as we ask ourselves how faithful we have been to Jesus' commands.

If you'd like to read Pope Benedict's entire message, click here: World Mission Sunday, 2011

No Big Surprise: Abortion Increases With Contraceptive Use

For years (decades?) supporters of abortion have been telling us that as contraceptive use increases the abortion rate will certainly decrease dramatically. The pro-life community, however, has consistently disagreed with this speculative theory, knowing that increased contraceptive use will lead to increased promiscuity and an increase in abortions when contraceptives fail. Recent data from Spain shows that the pro-lifers have been correct all along.

A Spanish medical journal that focuses on contraception recently published the results of a study that followed a group of women of child-bearing age for over a decade. The results? Although contraceptive use increased from 50% to 80%, the abortion rate doubled. In the minds of many women, therefore, abortion has become just another method of contraception. Similar results have been observed in every country where abortion has been made legal, including the United States. Oh, yes, as you might expect, the folks who conducted the study are completely befuddled by the results. They have decided it will require more study.

Abortion is a tragedy whenever and wherever is occurs, but it's particularly sad to hear about these results in formerly Catholic Spain. Let's pray that the Holy Father's visit to Spain this August for World Youth Day will have a positive impact and bring Spain back to the faith.

For more information on the study mentioned above, click here: Abortions Double in Spain

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Word for Meditation

From today's Liturgy of the Hours, from the 2nd reading of the Office of Readings [St. Irenaeus' Against Heresies]:
This is the glory of man: to persevere and remain in the service of God. For this reason the Lord told His disciples: You did not choose me, but I chose you. He meant that His disciples did not glorify Him by following Him, but in following the Son of God they were glorified by Him. As he said: I wish that where I am they also may be, that they may see my glory.
...and from the Prayer of today's Morning Prayer:
Father, look upon our weakness and reach out to help us with your loving power.

Homily: First Sunday of Lent


Click here to listen to this Homily

Readings: Gen 2:7-9, 3:1-7; Ps 51; Rom 5:12-19; Mt 4:1-11

Years ago I read a fascinating book about the First Battle of Bull Run, or Manassas, as our Southern neighbors call it. This first major battle of the Civil War took place in Northern Virginia not far from our nation’s capital. Of course at that time, very early in the war, neither army was experienced or battle hardened, and that inexperience was evident throughout the battle.

But Union sympathizers in Washington were so convinced their Army would prevail that they crossed the Potomac by the hundreds – men, women, congressmen, governors – all excited about witnessing this first victory by the North. Of course, it didn’t turn out quite as expected, and with the arrival of Rebel reinforcements, the tide of the battle turned and became a rout. And in the midst of all the confusion the spectators found themselves surrounded by retreating Union soldiers and being shot at by the pursuing Confederates. Although most made it back safely to Washington, some of these tourists were killed, some were wounded, and others, including a US Congressman from New York, were taken prisoner.

What a surprise it must have been for these civilians, these would-be spectators, who suddenly found themselves on the battlefield, no different from the soldiers. I suppose it was an easy mistake to make. After all, they were civilians, not soldiers. They weren’t involved. Why would anyone want to shoot at them? They actually thought war was a spectator sport.

And, you know, you and I can make the same mistake when we listen to today’s Gospel passage from Matthew. It’s easy to watch Jesus from the supposed safety of our modern-day sidelines as He battles evil in the desert 2,000 years ago.

But it really doesn’t affect us, does it? We’re just spectators, looking back in time at something that’s really not all that relevant today. Yes, let’s you and I just watch and let Jesus handle that battle. After all, He did so well, and He sent that old, nasty Satan packing.

Now, anyone who thinks that way about this passage is making a very big mistake…because just like those spectators at Bull Run, you and I have been caught up in the battle, whether we like it or not. And most of us don’t even know it…just like our first parents in today’s reading from Genesis. Confronted in the Garden by evil personified they crumbled, defenseless, overcome by his temptations. From pride came disobedience and rebellion, and a fall so great we still suffer its effects.

And yet despite this original sinfulness and all that followed, God’s plan includes the promise of salvation, a promise He renews and expands throughout salvation history in anticipation of the Incarnation of the very Word of God among us. Adam and Eve were confronted in the garden, in an earthly paradise created just for them by God; but Jesus, on the other hand, is confronted in the burnt wasteland of the desert.

You see, it matters little where we are, for Satan plies his trade everywhere. And he never stops waging his war against God. Of course, he’s destined to lose that war, but in the meantime he strikes at the weakest link…and that’s us. So, you see, Sister Mary Andrew back in seventh grade was absolutely right: you are a soldier of Christ. And so if we’re going to be wrapped up in this battle, let’s see what Jesus can teach us.

First of all, for Jesus, His time in the desert was both a divine and a human act. As Son of God He allowed the Holy Spirit to lead Him into a time of prayerful communion with the Father – it was a holy time, a Holy Trinity time.

But it was also a time for Jesus the man, a time of formation, a time to prepare Himself for His ministry, and ultimately for His passion and death. In many respects it was the defining turning point in His life, a sharp dividing line between His hidden private life and His public ministry.

But why the desert? What’s so special about the desert? Have you ever been in the desert? Now, I don’t mean driving across Death Valley in an air-conditioned SUV or motor home – I mean in the desert, on the ground, up close and personal.

I was, only once. It was a desert survival course, compliments of the US Navy. And I didn’t like it at all. It was oppressively hot in the daytime and freezing cold at night. There was little to eat or drink, so I was always hungry and thirsty, and we kept encountering these very disagreeable and dangerous creatures that our instructors insist we kill and eat. No, it was by no means a pleasant experience.

You see, the desert is a place of abject poverty, a place where only a saint or a demon (or a well-trained naval officer) can survive. It was a place that caused me to focus on my priorities, to sort them out, to realize how small a step it is from civilization to barbarity, from order to disorder, from life to death.

A Hassidic rabbi, Moshe Loeb, once said, “How easy it is for a poor man to trust in God! In what else is he to trust? And how difficult it is for a rich man to trust in God! All his possessions are crying out to him: ‘Trust in me!’” It’s in the poverty of the desert where one can learn to trust in God.

Did Jesus have to go into the desert? Did He have to perform such a radical sacrificial act? Did He have to subject Himself to the direct and personal temptations of Satan? No, of course not! His Divinity guaranteed the outcome. Then why did He go?

He went for us! Jesus always offers Himself to us as a model. Jesus Christ, true God and true man, made Himself like us in everything but sin, and voluntarily submitted Himself to temptation.

God has given us a Redeemer whose love for us is boundless. No matter what sufferings, pains or temptations we experience, we have our God leading us, telling us to have confidence in His mercy, since He too has experienced it all.

This Gospel passage isn’t there to entertain us. We’re not just spectators when it comes to the Gospel. Jesus wants us to realize that just as He had to battle with evil, so too must we – that we, too, are warriors, not tourists.

In giving us these 40 days of Lent, the Church calls us to follow Jesus’ example, it calls us to follow the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert. The Church calls us to confront Satan in our own very personal deserts, those inhospitable places that expose the barrenness of our lives, those deserts we’d rather avoid than confront.

Has your relationship with God become a desert? Has your prayer life become arid, something you struggle through mechanically only here at Mass once a week? Or maybe you’re like the person who claims friendship only when he needs another’s help? Is your prayer reserved for times of need?

St. Paul instructs us to "pray constantly." What does this mean? Only that God wants you to place everything, all your plans, your burdens, your worries, your pains, your joys, everything at His feet. He will pick them up and bear them for you. Those deserts of our lives may be places where evil dwells, impoverished places, but they’re also places where we can come to know God intimately and taste His goodness.

Learn to forgive as the Father forgives, and love as the Father loves. Come together as a family in daily prayer and watch as God unfolds a miracle in your lives.

Do you ignore the hungers of those around you, concentrating instead on your own desires? People hunger for more than bread. They hunger for a kind word, for someone who will listen, for a reassuring touch. And most of all they hunger for God’s love in their lives. Will you be the one who brings it to them?

Do you suffer in the desert of habitual sin? Put it behind you. Taste the forgiveness and mercy of God this Lent in the sacrament of reconciliation. The temptations to which Jesus refused to submit all ultimately merge into one: the temptation to pride. To trust in one’s own power. To trust in the power of evil. To trust in the power of the world. They all amount to the same thing. This is the great temptation down through the ages: to imagine that we can achieve through our own efforts what only God can give.

Remember how they taunted Jesus on the cross: “He trusted in God; let God deliver him if he loves him.” No angels came to Jesus on the cross, but God’s plan was not suspended. Jesus seemed abandoned on this side of the tomb, but His trust in God never wavered.

Nothing separates Jesus from the Father, not even the desert. Jesus sets His heart on the Father, believes in Him, trusts in Him. And the Father vindicates the Son when and where He chooses. But He does vindicate Him. And it is through His resurrection that Jesus assures us that victory is ours if only we desire it and persevere in faith and trust. That’s why the Church calls Lent "a joyous season."

Yes, Jesus calls us to repentance, but He doesn't stop there. "Repent and believe in the Gospel," the Good News. And, brothers and sisters, the Good News is life, the life God wants to share with us. Believe in life! Christ's life and your life, life here and eternal, life now and forever.

And one thing we know for sure: life is definitely not a spectator sport.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Word for Meditation

From today's Liturgy of the Hours, the Reading for Evening Prayer:
"Submit to God; resist the devil and he will take flight. Draw close to God, and He will draw close to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, you backsliders. Be humbled in the sight of the Lord and He will raise you on high." [James 4:7-8, 10]
...good words for Lent. Maybe we should take these words and read them a few times each day.