Prayer, Rest and Recreation…nice

Rest and RecreationHow many times have we said to ourselves that we just need to get away from all?  And yet, at the same time, how many times have we said that we need a vacation after our vacation?

Indeed, we often feel tired when we go on vacation and we feel tired when we come back.  Sometimes we also feel sad that our vacation is over and we don’t have the motivation to really get back into it.

What’s happening here?  I propose to you the possibility that we need two things: rest and recreation.

Isn’t that what a vacation is?  Not necessarily.  A vacation is where we go somewhere else.  We vacate our places at work or home and go somewhere else.  Yet, a vacation does not necessarily help us rest and recreate.

To rest means to stop using or slow down the use of those parts of us that we are constantly utilizing in our labors.  This can be our minds, our hands, our ears and our mouths.  To recreate means to RE-CREATE what has been destroyed or exhausted as a result of our extended labors.

I submit to you that out of the many ways that we can rest and recreate, there is one that guarantees us true rest and recreation: prayer.

You and I have many opportunities to enjoy this form of rest and recreation.  We constantly do the work of the Lord.  We should also spend time with the Lord of the work!  Daily prayer, Sunday Mass, and an annual retreat are great ways to rest and recreate.  In fact, when we go on vacation, we can spend a few hours in silent prayer by going to a park, fishing, hunting, or sitting at the beach.

This is especially important as the holidays approach.  In the midst of the excitement of Thanksgiving and Christmas, we can prepare, in advance, time for spiritual rest and recreation during our vacation.

The Glory and the Cross

Christ on the CrossWhen we think of the glory of God, certainly we can imagine the angels and saints in radiant splendor, offering up to God praise and thanksgiving.  We can imagine a majestic house of worship bedecked with fine jewels and a towering throne upon which sits the Son of the Most High.

This is a fitting image for the glory of Christ our King when he returns again.

At the same time, we know that the glory of the Lord means the Lord shows himself for who he really is.  We might be surprised what happens in John 13.  As Jesus sat with his disciples to share his last supper with them, and he gave himself at that moment in the Eucharist, Judas left to commit his act of  betrayal against him.

Then immediately after that, Jesus says, “now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him.”

How is he glorified?  How is he showing to the world who God really is?

At that moment, he did not refuse obedience to God the Father.  He gave of himself even to the point of experiencing betrayal from those closest to him.  Indeed, the hour of his great glory took place on the cross.

Stretched out in a horrifying way, Jesus bears witness to his glorifying love, and that of the Father for his children.  He loved us and loved us to the end.

Is it any wonder then, that we celebrate the Exultation of the Cross this Sunday?

Do You Have the Right to Judge?

In my experience, when someone says to another that they did something morally wrong, the other sometimes responds, “who are you to judge?”  Indeed, who is anyone to judge?

I remember when I was at Texas A&M in College Station, I was part of a group of students who would work pro-actively for an increase in respect for all human life from conception to natural death.

Planned Parenthood imposed a powerful presence that stood against that respect because of the abortions that were performed at their facility in Bryan, Texas.  See the figure below if this is news to you.  Abortion kills a child and ruins the life of the woman as well as the family and friends involved.

Planned-ParenthoodOur pro-life group heard rumors that those in charge of Planned Parenthood were gathering for a meeting to discuss plans for expanding their operation.  We decided to act in defense of innocent children, who have no voice, by standing by the public roadway that led to the building in which they were meeting.

We did not yell.  We did not spit.  We did not cast slurs.  We prayed the rosary and held up signs that expressed clearly and charitably the beauty of life and the evil of abortion.

As we did this, a woman, ostensibly a member of the Planned Parenthood gathering, walked up to each one of us and handed us a sliver of paper.  On it I read the words: Judge not, that ye be not judged (Mat. 7).

I felt a bit angry.  First, I thought that she was judging me.  How would she know what I thought about her?  How could she interpret that I was judging her if she did not hear me say that she was going to hell?

Second, this was, and still is, a common response given by some defending abortion.  They say we should not judge, instead of really addressing the issue.  Isn’t abortion killing a child?  Doesn’t it really lead many women to depression, child abuse, and suicide?  Shouldn’t the life of the unborn child be protected under the law as it is for every other person.

Yet, I am happy that it was a good moment for me because I still did not yell or respond in kind, although I could have done so.  I believe God’s grace had taken over.

At that time I simply said, “we are not judging you.  We are simply telling you the truth.”

Who am I to judge the soul and the conscience of anyone?  I am not the one to judge.  In the words of St. Paul, I can’t even judge myself.

At the same time, the Just Judge commands us in Matthew 18: if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.

He even says that if one were not to listen to you, take him to another person and try to resolve it.  If that doesn’t work, bring him before the whole community.

This seems harsh and judgmental, doesn’t it?  Well, it certainly is not judgmental if we understand what it means to be judgmental: to presume to know the heart and thoughts of another person and judge them as worthy or unworthy of heaven.  That’s it.  We are obligated to judge in other ways.  To live a moral life we must judge between right and wrong, vice and virtue, sin and grace.

And Jesus makes us responsible to judge those same objects in the actions of others.  This is definitely one of the more uncomfortable teachings of Jesus.  At the same time, it can be the most beautiful.

How so?  If we are not judging the consciences of each other, than we are not condemning each other.  Instead, we are loving each other.  This love motivates us to want what us good for ourselves and the community.  It makes us willing to judge the actions of others and respond with loving correction.

In this context, correcting another person for their faults should be very unpleasant business.  It reminds me of when we see a friend walking down the hallway with their pants’ zipper open.  We are embarrassed to say something and when we say it, the other is embarrassed as well.  But in the end, everybody is better off and your friend would hopefully be grateful and not defensive.

No judgment.  No condemnation.  Just a simple statement of fact: your fly is open.

Correcting each other, if done with love, is a merciful act (it’s one of the spiritual works of mercy).  It involves an act of cleaning each other of the sin that sometimes we cannot see or want to see on ourselves.

In my experience, my closest friends are those who are willing to endure the awkwardness of correcting me.

Do you have the right to judge a person’s conscience?  No.  Do you have the right to correct your brother with love?  No, you have the duty.

John the Baptist and Iraq

The beheading of JBapIt appears that in some places not much has changed.  Herod beheaded John the Baptist because of his witness to the truth of his unlawful and incestuous marriage.

Today, especially in Iraq and Syria, IS literally beheads Christians because of their witness to the truth of Jesus Christ.

Unfortunately, news outlets in the United States speak little of this horrendous persecution.  What Christians are going through in that region dwarf the persecutions under Emperors Diocletian and Marcus Aurelius in ancient Rome.

There are a few lessons to be learned here.  First, religion was not, is not, and will not ever be a private matter.  This is especially true of the biblical religions such as Islam, Christianity and Judaism.  They believe in a God of history, a God who is intimately involved in the lives of human individuals, communities, and entire civilizations.  Part of his involvement includes divine law which guides how we are to live together.

Because of this, biblical religions, if they remain faithful to the public aspect of their faith, will always influence everyone around them even if they claim that religion is strictly private.

This leads to a potential for great and transformational good as well as great and destructive evil.  Jesus Christ calls his disciples the light of the world and a leaven of the Kingdom of God.  This means that Christians are to influence the world by bringing the light of Christ to bear on all.  This takes place through gentle charity and mercy in both words and deeds.  It includes a civil aspect in that Christians must engage in the public sphere of politics and institutions in order to be that transformational leaven.

Because of that, the history of the world shows how Christianity forever shaped and molded the entire world.  It also shows how the influence of Christianity threatened the existence and power of those who wished to impose other kinds of orders.  These powers include the governments of Ancient Rome (initially), Nazi Germany, and Communist Russia.  Christianity diametrically opposed, by it’s very existence and mission, the worldviews and influence of these powers.  This is especially true in the case of the Catholic Church, which exists as a tangible and global institution.

In these cases, this diametric opposition motivated these powers to deal with Christianity in a most brutal matter–oppression, forced conversion, and murder.  Since much has been said about Christians doing the same in it’s own history, I need not do more than to mention it.  I propose only to concentrate on the topic of Christian persecution because of current events, which are under-reported.

In Iraq and Syria, non-Muslims, especially Christians, are slaughtered by the thousands and driven out of their homes by the 10′s of thousands.

children-iraqThat this takes place in the modern world shows the need for constant vigilance in maintaining a culture of friendship and religious tolerance based on the dignity of the human person and the recognition of religion’s place in the public sphere.  It also necessitates strong opposition to all forms of religious persecution by the media, the public, and governments.  Such opposition should include the possibility of the use of force in the form of sanctions, blocking of resources, and diplomatic pressure.

Let us pray for the end of all religious persecution, a growing friendship among Christians and Muslims, and peace among nations.

The Cross vs Satan

What would you say is the hardest thing about being a Christian?

I would say that the hardest thing about being a Christian is that it is so hard!  Sometimes we are slow to admit or quick to forget the cost of following Jesus Christ.

We are in good company.  Jesus called Peter “Satan.”  Which in the Greek text translates into something like, “stumbling block.”  Peter stood in the way of the Messiah’s mission by denying the most powerful part of it: his suffering for our sake.

Also, denying the place of suffering in the Messiah’s mission denies the place of suffering of those who follow the Messiah.  For this reason Jesus makes it very clear that “whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (MAT. 16).

Temptation of ChristSatan stands in the way of the cross–both Satan the devil and the spirit of Satan in the minds of Christ’s disciples.  Indeed, the devil tempted Jesus three times to deny the way of suffering as Jesus fasted in the desert (MAT. 4).  The devil entered into Judas Iscariot when Judas exchanged his own cross for 30 pieces of silver (LK. 22).  However, in the end we know that the cross of Christ triumphed over Satan through the Resurrection.  The apostles embraced the cross and followed Jesus all the way to martyrdom!

Thankfully, we have the help of Christ and his apostles in accepting the cross.  We know of the Resurrection.  We know of the power of the Holy Spirit.  We know of the great joy of the apostles and the saints.  From their writings and examples we know of the great gifts that we receive through faithfully embracing the cross of discipleship in our life.

For example, we read in John 19 that Mary and John stood at the foot of the cross.  Mary accepted the cross even before the Resurrection.  We see now that she who was closest to Jesus at the cross is now the closest to him in heaven.  For that reason we can always call upon the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary for help (especially by praying the Rosary).

Like Mary, when we embrace the cross, Jesus helps us bear our sufferings and we help Jesus bear his.  Like John, when we accept the cross we enjoy friendship with Jesus and Mary.  We experience their suffering at the cross so that we may experience their joy.

We can do this everyday.  First, we can pray before a cross everyday that we may embrace our own crosses.  This also prepares us mentally for the suffering we will experience that day.

Helping NeedySecond, we can ask the Lord that we may share in his suffering by sharing in others.  This goes directly against Satan.  The devil rules hell and hell is a place of suffering in isolation.  Yet, you and I can be heaven for those who suffer from sickness, loneliness, poverty, and marginalization.  We can ask the Lord today to help us seek out those who suffer and to be with them, listen to them, love them and help them.

In these ways the cross of Christ defeats Satan and brings us the victory of life and joy!

 

Prophecy Causes Indigestion?

JeremiahI say to myself, I will not mention him,
I will speak in his name no more.
But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart,
imprisoned in my bones;
I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it (JER. 20).

Jeremiah struggles to speak in the Lord’s name because of what it costs him.  Many mock him because of his message and perhaps because of the way that he delivers it.  He must “cry out.”

Indeed, serving as a prophet of the Lord can cause us great difficulty.  Perhaps the example of parents with their children illustrates this.  I visited one family where a mother of many struggled to remind her teenage children of their obligations to serve in the community.  This particular family took responsibility for cleaning the streets in their area.

For some reason, perhaps because of the characteristic foolishness of youth, they preferred to walk the streets like gangsters rather than clean the streets like Christians.

Yet, she spoke with so much force and passion, that they would ultimately obey, even as they complained while they did it.  I personally believe that they also listened to their own consciences and acted on their natural ability to do good.

Many times, the people to whom the Lord sends a crying prophet do not listen and do not obey the Lord.  What is a prophet to do?  If one is truly dedicated and open to the power of the Holy Spirit, nothing can stop such a one from speaking on the Lord’s behalf…not even themselves.  Like Jeremiah, to be silent when they are prompted by the Lord to speak can be painful, like fire in the heart.

I like to call this “holy indigestion.”  May we all be filled with such power so that we can prophecy the Lord’s message of love, mercy, repentance, and service!

Anglicans Joining Catholics

We live in a very significant time in which the Catholic Church has made it easier for Anglicans to enter the Church and live in a space that is a bit more familiar to them.

This space is called the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter.  What is that?  It is a Church entity that is within and part of the Catholic Church which allows for Catholics who were formally Anglican to continue to enjoy their theological, pastoral, and liturgical life that was uniquely Anglican but not at all opposed to the life of Catholicism.  Indeed, this ordinariate enriches the Catholic Church.

You probably have a million questions about this.  But I think the best place to start is with the ordinariate’s website:

http://www.usordinariate.org/index.cfm?load=page&page=160

Also, as an example of why Anglicans are moving so quickly into the Catholic Church, watch this video from EWTN featuring Fr. Steve Sellers, a priest of this ordinariate (who is also one of the teachers at Resurrection Catholic School in Houston, Texas):

Let’s continue to pray for the unity among all Christians!

The Pope, The Pillars, and the People

Jesus, in his great generosity has given to you and I the Pope.  That’s how he works.  He always sends to us an individual through whom he rules us, teaches us, sanctifies us, and unites us.  In Exodus, we hear the story of how God gave Moses to the Hebrews.  We also hear this in Isaiah 22 when God gave Eliakim to Israel.

In both of these examples, these chosen men worked tirelessly to govern, to teach according to the law of the covenant, to sanctify through the liturgical rites, and to unite by representing God to the people and the people to God.

How wonderful it is that Jesus Christ does the same!

Jesus Sends the DisciplesNow there is one thing we must understand about Jesus.  He could have stayed on earth in his glorified form after his Resurrection.  Indeed, he was the chosen one sent by the Father.  Yet, he who was sent also sends: “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you” (Jn. 20).

Who does he send?  One of the ones he sends is Simon-son-of-Jonah.  Upon Simon’s proclamation of faith, Jesus gives him a new name…a name that signifies the nature of his mission.  He was to be the Rock of the Church.  What does this mean?  It means that the members of the Church, you and I, will always have assurance from Christ that the gates of hell shall never prevail against us.

The means by which Christ assures this is the rock.  Peter, and his successors, the popes, each serve as the rock.  They serve as the rock, like Eliakim in the book of Isaiah, who was “like a peg in a sure spot” for Israel.  The popes are given the keys to the Kingdom of God and the vocation to bind and loose.  This hearkens back to Eliakim, who was given the keys to the “House of David,” so that “when he opens, no one shall shut, when he shuts, no one shall open” (Is. 22).

Our wonderful Lord, in a way that is surprising yet not uncharacteristic, gives us the Pope to govern, teach, sanctify, and unite his Church.Peter and the Keys

Yet, it does not stop there.  The structure of the Church does not end at the rock.  The apostles are the pillars and the people are the living stones.  All of this structure is built around Christ, the cornerstone!

The Holy Spirit fills this structure with life, light and love.

Then this whole structure is offered to God the Father.  In no other place is done more powerfully than in the Eucharist.  And in no other place is this structure repaired more effectively than in the sacrament of Confession.

So, that’s it then.  The Pope has the keys and all the authority and no one else does, right?  Wrong.

You see, the pope also represents the entire apostolic life of the Church.  The apostles and their successors, the bishops, also share in the work of binding and loosing.  For that reason, our own bishop can bind and loose.  He is the chief teacher in his diocese.  He is the ultimate spiritual and juridical authority in his diocese.  He can lay down rules and make exemptions, impose and lift excommunications, forgive and not forgive sins (in the case of the unrepentant), and perform exorcisms.  All of the presbyters (commonly called “priests”) assist him in this mission for all the people in his diocese.

Pope w PeopleSo, it stops there, right?  Wrong.  This apostolic authority flows to the people of God as well.  Parents serve in this task in their own households for their children by teaching them in word and example.  They create a household of forgiveness and devotion to our Lord.  Lay leaders in the Church, such as catechists, teachers and professors, do the same.  They, and many other members of the Church, grant access to our Lord Jesus Christ, in communion with the rock and the pillars.

Our Lord Jesus Christ does this so that we can all be united in a union symbolized by the pope.

All of us are connected to the capstone, Jesus Christ.  And all of us, together, proclaim with Peter that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

 

 

The Weakness of Simon, The Strength of Peter

Pope FrancisJesus would call one of his apostles by name, including Simon, son of Jonah.

But then, almost within the same breath within which he called him by name, he gave him a new name and a new task.

And so I say to you, you are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build my church,
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (MT. 16)

In this new name Jesus gave Simon a responsibility that we cannot possibly imagine.  In a way, Jesus placed great trust in Peter.  With the keys of heaven, Peter must bind and loose.

The interpretation offered by Sacra Pagina says that binding and loosing can refer to the following:

Laying down rules and making exemptions; imposing and lifting excommunications; forgiving and not forgiving sins; even exorcisms.

How could Jesus have given so much responsibility to a single man…a man whom Jesus rebuked and called “Satan” in only a few passages later.

The strength and the gift of being the rock of the church did not come from Peter’s abilities.  Rather, it came from God the Father.  That Peter had received this vocation was confirmed when he proclaimed something that his own mind and body could not have discovered…that Jesus was the Christ!

In fact, if we look at the structure of the passage we can almost make out an artistic flow from Simon, to God the Father, to Peter:

Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah

For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father

And so I say to you, you are Peter

Peter, and all of his successors up to Pope Francis, have served as the rock of the Church of Christ, binding and loosing.  They have done this not by their own power, but by the power of the Father of Jesus, flowing from the greatest declaration ever proclaimed by a sinful weak man: you are the Christ.

Let us give thanks for this great gift to us!

Universal Mission – Universal Mother

AssumptionJesus had one mission: to fulfill the Old Testament prophecies by laying the foundation of the Catholic Church.  This may sound strange because we often do not hear that he came to bring us the Church, but it’s true.  This Church is the concrete, visible way that Jesus saves us.  And it is Catholic–which means, universal.

So he came to save all people through his Church.  He stayed focused on this mission.  He does this by undoing the work of the devil (1 John 3:8)–which brought us into this sinful and fallen state.  But he does this for all.  St. Paul’s first letter to Timothy says that God wants everyone to be saved!

Now, his focus began with the Jews–the chosen people, the children of Israel.  This is what Jesus says to the Canaanite woman, who begged that her daughter, possessed by a demon, be healed.

Yet, the faith of the woman, already a gift from God, was rewarded with the healing of her child.  This shows God’s plan to save all people.  Jesus was sent directly to the Jews before his death.  And he sends his Catholic Church to all the nations after his Resurrection.

This is quite clear in the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  The Church, reflecting on Revelation 11 and Luke 1, has always looked to Mary as the model of the Church.  She embodies who we are and what the Church is in so many ways.

One of those ways is her assumption.  The assumption means that Mary’s son, Jesus, had taken her up into heaven, body and soul.

Jesus did this because of his love for her and in honor of her faithfulness to him and to her mission all her life.  However, he gave her as a gift to us to show us what he wants to do with and for the whole world.

So her assumption was also a gift to the world.

We are to see in Mary’s assumption Christ’s desire to assume all of us into heaven–whether you are a Jew or a Gentile; white black, hispanic, etc.

Out of love for us he wants to take us up, body and soul.  Yet, like Mary, we must respond freely, like her.  We must say with her, “behold, the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done unto me according to your word.”

God wants to draw us up into heaven through many ways.  One of the most important is through inviting us to be partners with his Providence, to take part in this saving mission–just like Mary did and continues to do!

The mature Christian, because he loves Christ and is living the life of grace, accepts this invitation.

It is an invitation to build up God’s Kingdom.  It includes helping others discover and experience the Gospel.  It starts in our homes, with our families, friends and co-workers.  It also includes doing the work of your parish.  Just as important is our work for social justice–particularly there are many without health care and access to education.  I should also mention the alarming presence of human trafficking and prostitution.  Above all, we need to work to end the gravest social injustice in our society today: legalized abortion.

As Christians, this is our most important work.  It is our life-mission.  It is our most important work because our friendship with Christ is our most important relationship.

Unfortunately, because the results of this activity–telling others about Christ, trying to build up the Church and Christianize our culture–are not always immediate, we tend to push this work to the back burner.

Today, Jesus is asking us to bring it to the front and turn up the heat.

Let us pray for the assistance of Mary, Assumed into Heaven, for perseverance in prayer, example, and work, so that we may take part in Christ’s mission: UNIVERSAL SALVATION!

 

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