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 him 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.  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.

And 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!

 

Mary, the Spouse of the Holy Spirit

maryhsOne time as I was asking our school children about how the Virgin Mary helps us, one student said, “she sends us the Holy Spirit.”  This struck me as profound (out of the mouths of babes).  I have reflected over those words and found them to ring true in the following ways.

First, Mary is called the spouse of the Holy Spirit.  The first chapter of Matthew says that “the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.”  When we pray the Angelus we say, “and she conceived of the Holy Spirit.”  We also repeat these words every Sunday during the profession of faith.  The conception of the Christ-child within the womb of the Virgin Mary took place through the power of the Holy Spirit.  In this way, she is the spouse of the Holy Spirit.

Second, Mary gave birth to the one through whom the Spirit is sent.  The Son of Mary said to his disciples: “Behold, I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate [...]” (Jn 14).

Finally, at Pentecost, upon the Apostles and the Blessed Virgin Mary the Holy Spirit descended to prepare them for their mission.

Someone as close to the Holy Spirit as Mary cannot help but bring also the Holy Spirit with her.  If we want to have a closer relationship to the Holy Spirit, we can ask help from His espoused: Mary.

Mammon, Money, and Man

When Jesus says you cannot love both God and mammon, he means that you cannot love God and money at the same time.  He means love in the truest sense.  He also says that you either love one and hate the other.So, if you love money, you can only despise God.

Yet, this seems strange.  Why can’t I love both?

This reminds me of a few lines from Fiddler on the Roof.

Perchik says, “money is the world’s curse.”

Tevye responds, “may the Lord smite me with it!  And may I never recover!”

We can be quite humorous when it comes to the constant draw of money.  Even the best of us can feel its seductive power at times.  I use the word ‘seductive’ on purpose.  Money, even though it is inanimate, seems to seduce us as a mistress.

Of course, money in itself is neutral.  It is no more evil or seductive than gold, grain, and grass.  In our own hearts lie the seduction where we put money in place of God.  We can treat money as if it is our security for the future.  It makes us forget our dependence and vulnerability.  God reminds us of our dependence and vulnerability.

For this reason, a lover of money can only hate the one who reminds him that his money won’t save him.

Jesus gives us the remedy for this by saying three words, “do not worry.”

He tells us to not worry about tomorrow, what we will eat, where we will sleep, and how we will find clothes.  He does not tell us to abandon these things or to behave foolishly by not taking care of ourselves.

This teaching does not concern so much the use of money as our attitude towards it.  Attitude towards money makes all the difference.

Our current economic system is broken in much deeper ways than joblessness, high gas prices, and a just wage.  It is broken in its attitude, specifically, its lack of ethics.  Without going into the intricacies of economics and moral philosophy, it is enough to summarize the broken system with one word: avarice.

Avarice, one of the seven deadly sins, means the insatiable desire for wealth.  It is the desire for wealth for its own sake.  Money becomes the end and ceases to be the means.  This attitude is reflected in our society when businesses consider the “bottom line” as the final determining factor for its decisions.

The social justice teachings of the Church have emphasized that such an attitude of avarice opposes the dignity of the human person.

The economy exists for man, not man for the economy.

In a system that treats human beings like a financial liability, the labor offered by workers becomes in itself a commodity for sale.  In this sense, a human being can be bought, sold, or exchanged for cash.  We see this happen when businesses lay off large amounts of people in order to gain the necessary cash for the bottom line.

To be clear, this article is not an exercise of blame.  Indeed, all of us are at fault in some way because we are all part of this system.

When we shop, do we not buy the least expensive product with the highest quality?  In our system, low prices are often maintained by lower labor costs.

What are you and I to do then?  First things first, as Jesus said, “do not worry.”  The second step, “seek first the kingdom of God.”  The third step, inaugurate the Kingdom of God here on earth to prepare ourselves for the Kingdom of God to come.

We inaugurate the Kingdom of God here by striving to establish social justice wherever and whenever possible.  We will never finish this work until Christ comes again.  But he will provide all things necessary to continue it.

We do this by our votes, our common influence, and by establishing this same justice in our own workplaces, especially if we are employers.

Christ the True Priest

Mary and Joseph presented Jesus in the temple to consecrate him to the Lord, according to the law as handed down by Moses (Exodus 13).

“Consecrate” means to “set aside.”  The first born was set aside to the Lord as an act of thanksgiving and also a remembrance of how the Lord spared the first born of the Hebrews when he delivered them from Egypt.

So, in this act of consecration we see two things.  The first born is a sign of blessing from the Lord.  The first born is a memorial of salvation from the Lord.

Do we not see these two things in the presentation of the Christ-child in the temple?

It should not surprise us, then, that two prophets appear to proclaim this significance.  Especially when Simeon exclaims:

I have seen your salvation,which you have prepared for all people.  He is a light to reveal God to the nations,and he is the glory of your people Israel!” (Luke 2).

A special note we can make that Mary and Joseph were obedient to the precepts of the Jewish Law.  God rewarded this obedience with the prophecy of Simeon.

We can reflect on our own commitment to obedience to the Father, especially in following the precepts of the Church, namely: Attending Mass every Sunday; marrying in the Catholic Church.

Throwing Away the Unwanted and Unplanned

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Many have criticized Pope Francis for not speaking enough in defense of the unborn.  Particularly, he has not spoken much about abortion specifically.  Yet, there is another way to look at it.

He intuitively grasps a sense of evangelization that must begin with the larger context of love, forgiveness, and the dignity of human life.

Recently, he has used that context as a backdrop to speak in a powerful and vivid way about abortion.  A Catholic News Service article shares the following:

“[...] Pope Francis spoke out strongly on abortion for the first time since his election, denouncing it as a product of a “widespread mentality of profit, the ‘throwaway culture,’ which has today enslaved the hearts and minds of so many,” and stating that “every unborn child, though unjustly condemned to be aborted, has the face of the Lord.”  To read the article in its entirety, click here.

He locates the problem of abortion in the wider context of the mentality of profit.  This mentality perceives the value of things in terms of material gain or loss.  The material at stake could be money, food, cost of living, future plans, emotional needs, and security.

These are legitimate, and sometimes extremely important concerns.

Yet, addressing a crisis pregnancy often begins with evaluating the material resources available for the child, the goals and dreams of those involved in the pregnancy, and the suffering that the child might undergo if she were to be born.

Little emphasis, if any, focuses on the dignity of the unborn child and her right to live.

The life of the unborn child is weighed against material factors.  A kind of cost-benefit analyses serves to determine whether or not to kill the unborn child.

Can one imagine performing this same line of thought for a newborn child?

Sadly, even though newborn children have equal protection under the law, unlike the unborn who suffer the gravest discrimination, they often still suffer neglect from malnutrition or lack of health care.

As we approach the 41st anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, we would do well to reflect on the truth that the life of a human being must never be factored into a cost-benefit analysis.

Once a child is conceived, her life carries the value of Christ himself.  And her life is priceless.

January – Poverty Awareness

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This month the Catholic Church in the United States, led by our bishops, intensifies its focus on the poor.  We do this in connection with the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

We also do this following the prompting of Pope Francis to live in solidarity with the poor.

Go to povertyusa.org to learn more about social justice, advocacy, and charity for those who are the least among us.

This is a good time to learn, to pray, and to take action for the poor.

Some further reflection: it seems that the term “social justice” carries a negative connotation in the minds of some.  Our intensely charged political environment includes hijacking certain terms and using them to convey a meaning not aligned with or completely alien to it.

To go back to the term “social justice,” many equate it to communism, socialism, or the order of a totalitarian federal government.

However, the Church’s teaching on social justice must not be confused with these other ideologies.

Catholic teaching on social justice can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1928):

Society ensures social justice when it provides the conditions that allow associations or individuals to obtain what is their due, according to their nature and their vocation.  Social justice is linked to the common good and the exercise of authority.

We are responsible to each other and we must always work for the common good in charity and justice.

Jesus proclaimed that the prophecy of Isaiah was being fulfilled in his reading it.

This prophesy proclaimed good news to the poor:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”  Luke 4:18-19 (NABRE)

This prophecy was fulfilled in the people hearing Jesus read it.  It continues in our day as we are doing it!

FC

Taxpayers Paying for Abortions – A Proposed Ban!

USCCB

Finally, legislation has been proposed to end all federal funding of abortion and promotion of abortion.  This is long overdue.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has voiced official support.

Read the full text here:  http://www.usccb.org/news/2014/14-005.cfm

This is a good time to reflect.  It is impossible to separate morality from politics.  Indeed, politics is a moral enterprise.

There is a very easy way to understand how anything is moral in nature: look for the words, “should” and “ought.”

Politics is the enterprise of a civilization dealing with the question, “how should we live together?”

For example, if someone says that we should not legislate morality, they are making a political, and therefore moral, claim.

How the federal government spends money reflects its moral compass.  The imposition of a federal income tax rests on the moral claim that the people living and working in the United States should fund the operation and programs of the federal government.

The premise behind this claim is that the federal government exists for the very same people who pay for it.

Federal funding of abortions, then, is a curious issue…an anomaly in our democratic republic.

Indeed, we can ask the question, should the people pay the government to fund the killing of its own children?

How interesting.  How appalling.  How sad.

The Catholic Church, and other religious institutions that recognize this morally grotesque situation, serve this nation as one of the intermediary structures between the people and the State.

They do so by standing up for the unborn in this very public and moral matter.

Spiritual Amnesia

St. John the Baptist

Homily for the Solemnity of the Baptism of Our Lord

What would life be like if you suffered from amnesia?  If you forgot your name, your history, your family, your life story?

The baptism of our Lord answers this question for us.  His baptism represents another revelation of who Jesus really is.  The nativity revealed him as truly human.  The epiphany revealed him as the king of all the nations.  His baptism reveals another aspect of who he is.

Remember that we come to know ourselves by knowing Jesus.  Blessed John Paul II said in his first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis, that Jesus shows man to man’s self.

Sin blinds us to our own identity.  After all, when Adam and Eve ate the apple, God asked the question, “where are you?”  Which is to imply that they had lost a sense of who they were.  Their disobedience traumatized their minds and hearts so much, that they forgot who they were.

They suffered from amnesia.

Their true selves had become hidden under the dark veil of shame.

This dark veil persisted throughout human history.  God continued to reveal himself to us and therefore to reveal ourselves to ourselves.

He always did this through the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit descended upon Moses and the elders in Numbers Ch. 11.  The prophets were guided by the Spirit.

But God’s people continued to fall back into sin, to sink into spiritual amnesia.  For centuries God sent no more prophets.  And the people, perhaps without knowing it, searched for the light of the Spirit, so that they could see once again and remember.

But this amnesia can only be cured in a final way by the sinless one who never forgets who he is and who we are.

This one, the Son of God, allowed John the Baptist to baptize him as an occasion to show who he really is.  Finally, after centuries, the heavens opened up and the Spirit descended on Jesus.  He is revealed for who he is: truly man, truly King, and truly the beloved Son of the Father!

The Father reveals this to us so that we can know who Jesus is, and therefore, who we are.  Baptism is the sacrament where we are joined to Christ and together we receive the Spirit…Jesus receives the Spirit as our savior, we receive the Spirit as the saved.

When we are joined to Christ and receive the Spirit, the amnesia of sin is cured.

And we finally remember who we are: beloved sons and daughters of the Father!

The human race suffers from a sad case of spiritual amnesia.  We remember many little things: to check our email, take out the garbage, send a text to our friends, grab something to eat.

We also remember big things: our 15th birthday, our first job, our first kiss.

And, unfortunately, we remember lies: that we are no good, unimportant, ignored, unloved, unloveable, that we are completely alone, that we have no future, that this life is one damned thing after another, that there is no hope for the poor, that there is no chance for forgiveness and healing in our families…

The evil one helps us to stay in our spiritual amnesia by helping us forget the most important thing and remember everything else.
Today, we resolve to say no more.  I know who Jesus is and I know who I am and we know who we are: beloved daughters and sons of the Father!

FC

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