Tuesday, February 28, 2006

A saint at the Olympics

Rebecca Dussault, a devout Catholic, wife, and mother from Colorado, is an eight-time U.S. National Cross Country Ski Champion and Top Ranked U.S. Women's Nordic Skier. She is an inspiring woman who has a special devotion to and friendship with a saint, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati (1901-1925). Before the Olympics, she named Frassati her “patron on the Journey to the Olympics.” When she competed, she had Frassati's name written on her skis, along with the Sign of the Cross with which she always marks them.

Pier Giorgio, who lived in Turin, Italy, and is known as the "saint of the beatitudes", would have enjoyed having the Olympics in his home town. He was an avid sportsman; a skier himself, PG also enjoyed hiking, rock climbing, soccer, swimming, skating, cycling -- you name it! His witness became a model of Christian living to Rebecca who enjoys many of the same recreations. Other connections found in the friendship of Rebecca and Pier Giorgio include: love for all things Catholic, special devotion to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and to His Mother Mary, and a zest for living life to the full in the presence of the Lord.

One might ask, how is it possible that this young lady can fulfill all these roles? Rebecca simply says, “It is all a matter of God's graces helping me…accomplish all of my goals.” Or, as PG once wrote: “The faith given to me in Baptism suggests to me surely: by yourself you will do nothing, but IF you have God as the center of all your action, then you will reach the goal.”

In his young adult life, Pier Giorgio formed a society of friends. The main rule of this group was to pray for each other. He once said such prayers “are the best possible sign of friendship." Frassati continues to pray for his friends from Heaven, especially Rebecca and other Olympic athletes. Rebecca's favorite quote from her heavenly friend is: “To live without faith, without a patrimony to defend, without a steady struggle for truth, that is not living, but existing.”

Pope John Paul II, who called Blessed Frassati “a saint for the youth of the Third Millennium”, noted in a homily addressed to young athletes in 1984: “Pier Giorgio Frassati, who was a modern young man open to the values of sport - he was a skillful mountaineer and able skier - but at the same time he bore a courageous witness of generosity in Christian faith and charity towards others, especially the very poor and the suffering. The Lord called him to Himself … but he is still very much alive among us with his smile and his goodness, inviting his contemporaries to the love of Christ and a virtuous life.”

- Most of the above are excerpts from a recent article written by Fr. William J Kuchinsky, " I HAVE A FRIEND IN THE OLYMPICS!"

Friday, February 24, 2006

"What are you looking for?"

This weekend I will be helping out with the SFA RCIA retreat in Buckeystown, MD. I'll lead the group in morning prayer, evening prayer, and night prayer (the Liturgy of the Hours). Also, I've been asked to give a couple talks. The first talk is called, "What are you looking for?". It will focus on Christ in their lives through the Church.

In John 1:35-42, we see John and Andrew follow Jesus. As soon as they follow him, Christ asks them, "what are you looking for?". It's a question I will pose to the RCIA candidates and catechumens (those coming into full union with the Church). It's a question for each one of us, and can apply to our past, present, and future. Whether we're aware of it or not, the answer for all of us in all of these times is: Christ.

Ultimately, in everything we do, we are looking for God. We all want to be happy...all day and every day. We have chosen or are following those things or people which we think will bring us happiness (spouse, job, home, hobbies, etc.). We think that they will be good for us...they will make us happy. We avoid things (or at least do our best to avoid them) that we know are bad and won't make us happy.

If a person or thing is truly good and makes us truly happy, it is from God and leads us to God. We experience some sense of infinite Goodness and infinite Happiness in this finite world through them. It goes beyond temporary pleasure (which is the most that the things of this world can provide)...it is a taste of Heaven, a taste of true joy. Heaven is what we are all seeking, in this life and in the next.

In Christ, we have Heaven on Earth. He is the "Kingdom of God", the "Kingdom of Heaven" on earth. He is God made man. God in the flesh. Happiness in the flesh. Goodness in the flesh ... Light ... Peace ... Joy ... Truth ... We can put a face and a name to all that we are looking for: Jesus Christ. Like the disciples, we follow him, want to be with him. We will go wherever he is.
Questions for the retreatants and us to consider (feel free to leave comments):

1. "where are you staying?" is what the disciples ask our Lord.
Where does Christ stay on Earth? Where is his dwelling place? Where does he call home?

2. "What are you looking for?"

Past - what have you been looking for? How did you try to find it?
Present- what are you looking for? How are you trying to find it?
Future - what will you look for? How will you try to find it?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Thank you, Jesus

A wife invited some people to dinner. At the table, she turned to their six-year-old daughter and said, "Would you like to say the blessing?"

"I wouldn't know what to say," the girl replied.

"Just say what you hear Mommy say," the wife answered.

The daughter bowed her head and said, "Lord, why on earth did I invite all these people to dinner?"
To continue the previous post, it was around the age of 21 when I learned for the first time, really, that the Eucharist is Jesus' Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. I started to go to Mass during the week to hear the words that I had heard so many times..."This is my body...this is my blood...it will be shed for you and for all so that sins might be forgiven".

Not only did the words of the priest sink in as being real, but they spoke to me. Christ spoke to me through his priest. In a way, I was back at the Last Supper, hearing Him celebrate the Eucharist for the first time. But, deeper than that, I was picturing him on Mount Calvary, giving his life for me and for the forgiveness of my sins.

At that time, I had some pretty serious sins; I was still hitting the party scene, being a junior in college and working in a bar. I felt as if Christ saw all of my sins, the current ones and also the past ones (wow, I've been a great sinner), and said, "this is my body, given up for you". The consecration at Mass became a deeply personal moment, then, for me and the Lord. Some days, tears rolled down my eyes during Mass, thinking of all that Jesus endured on the Cross for me. He saw all of this awful stuff that I would do in my life, stretched out his arms on the Cross, and still said, "this is how much I love you".

In addition to daily Mass, I started to go to Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. This is where the Eucharist is brought out of the tabernacle and exposed on an altar in a chapel. I used to drive from Bethesda to Hyattsville every Thursday morning and spend from 6-7 am with Jesus in the Eucharist (the Hyattsville parish had Perpetual Adoration then, and needed someone there at every hour of the day). I really didn't know what I was doing at first...I just said something to the effect of:

"Jesus, I'm sorry, I didn't know that is really you in the Eucharist...all of those times I received you in Communion when I shouldn't have*...I didn't know...I just want to say thank you, Jesus...thank you for giving your life for me...thank you for dying on a cross for me... thank you for your sacrifice...thank you, Jesus**...help me to give you my life as you gave me your life...I love you, Lord"
* Don't worry, I confessed this to a priest
** The word Eucharist is Greek, and means "thanksgiving"

Saturday, February 18, 2006

"This is my body"

One of our SFA bloggers wrote this comment earlier in the week (btw, the Real Presence refers to Jesus' Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity under the signs of bread and wine):

"On an on-line forum once, the question was asked, 'What would you do if Jesus walked into the room, right here and now?' It was in thinking of my own answer to this question that helped me to realize the truth of the Real Presence. Wow! That was a mighty revelation that steered me out of cafeteria catholicism."

How many of us Catholics truly believe that the Eucharist is really Jesus' body, blood, soul, and divinity? If we pay attention to statistics, the numbers are not good: about 70% of Catholics* believe the Eucharist is only a symbol of Jesus' body and blood. Whatever the percentage, there is a problem here. I think it's because Catholics, by and large, don't really know the Church's teaching about the Real Presence. I didn't know it the first twenty years of my life.

When I was 21, I remember sitting in the office of a priest who was a good friend of mine. We hung out together, played golf, went on trips, etc. We would talk about everything under the sun - sports, religion, poilitics, whatever. On this day, we started talking about the Eucharist. I said, "well, you know, Father, the Eucharist is just a symbol". He said, "what?", with his jaw halfway to the floor.

"It's a...symbol??", I said, very shakily. He replied firmly and plainly, "'This is my body', Greg, means THIS IS MY BODY."

That conversation changed my life. I walked away thinking, 'you mean, that stuff is for real? What happens at Mass is for real? That isn't just bread and wine? It really is Jesus' body and blood? Whoa!!' At that point, God became real for me. Before that time, my approach was that God was way up in Heaven and I was down here on Earth. I realized that He was much closer to me. He was right in front of me, about 20 feet away... (to be continued)

*from studies done within the last 10 years

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Lunch at the White House

Yesterday (2/13), I had lunch at the White House! A buddy of mine works as an assistant to the President, and he invited me and a guest for lunch. So, my Mom (I'm such a good son!) and I met him in the West Wing lobby at noon! As we were walking down to the West Wing restaurant (designed by Mrs. Kennedy to look like a Navy mess hall on a ship), my buddy pointed out the room to the Oval Office, and said, "the President's in there". Too cool!

We had a great meal, and were able to sit near some of the big whigs there - WH Chief of Staff, e.g. I had the West Wing Burger (the sophisticated guy that I am) which was pretty tasty, and then a chocolate cake/cupcake that was amazing. My Mom really enjoyed herself, and loved meeting and eating with my buddy. He then said that he had an extra ticket to the ceremony in the East Room with the President and the Chicago White Sox, and asked if I wanted to go. Uhh, yeah!

So, the next thing I know I'm walking through the halls and corridors of the White House, just like you'd see in the movies- guards and all. We went up to a lobby where there was a small orchestra playing their tunes, and who do I see all over the place, but the Chicago White Sox! I met several of them, and wished them congrats for winning the World Series (I am a big baseball fan, but have to admit I didn't know many of their faces).

Then, we went into the East Room, and were seated next to Illinois senators, congressmen, the Mayor of Chicago, and some Cabinet members. Then, the Prez walked in. He walked right by me, and that seemed a bit surreal because he was so close to me. He gave a cool talk, and even looked right at me (I was in the Roman collar) when saying about one of the White Sox players, "the Lord has blessed you indeed". I gave a huge smile to Bush as he said this. After the ceremony, I was able to chat with some more of the White Sox players and coaches, even some that used to be on the Orioles (life long O's fan, here). Quite a thrill!

The experience for me was a lot of fun, but also pretty telling. Inside those doors, those politicians and ball players were just normal guys whom I could just walk up to and talk with normally. I was very comfortable, and not nervous at all. I guess if you spend much time in the presence of the Almighty, being in the presence of powerful people on earth just doesn't phase you that much.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Going to Christ for healing

Recently, a teenager from the parish was walking around the Church grounds late at night. She finally came to the rectory door, and we talked for a bit. She was very distraught, and having a hard time with the things going on in her life. I felt very badly for her, and offered whatever help I could provide. But, the thing that struck me was that she was coming to God and his Church in her suffering. She was looking for peace and healing. Do the rest of us go to Christ for healing?

This past Sunday, the readings focused on those who have reached out to God in their suffering. In the first reading, we hear Job who is in terrible agony. He is hating life! He's lost everything...family, possessions, everything. He reaches out to Yahweh and eventually finds healing from the Lord.

Then, in the Gospel, an entire town comes to Jesus to be healed. Granted, they were simply looking for a physical healing...but he heals them all nonetheless. We have the same opportunity to go to Christ to be healed. We might think, 'well, no, we don't. It's not like Jesus is just walking around D.C. and we can go to him and be healed.' But, we can. That's why he instituted the priesthood... so that he would be walking among us in the person of his priests.

When we go to Confession, we go to Christ. He is the minister of all the sacraments. In fact, if you've ever been to Church when there is a long line for Confessions, then that is analogous to this Gospel passage where people are waiting in a lone line outside Jesus' door to be healed.

Our major wounds (mortal sins) are healed by Christ in Confession through the words of absolution in much the same way that Christ healed the people's physical wounds. He primarily heals our wounds through Confession, the Eucharist and all the sacraments. He is the Divine Physician who treats our wounds with tenderness and loving care. He gives us a share in his life, love, peace, and joy. It is his grace that heals us!