Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Election-year reminders for Catholics

Here are some timely reminders as we proceed with the state primaries (Maryland's primary is Feb. 12) and elections this year. The first is a statement by then-Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) in 2004:

"Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia."

Next is an excerpt from the forthcoming book on American Catholics and public life, "Render Unto Caesar", by Archbishop Chaput of Denver:

10 points for Catholic citizens to remember

Personal witness is always the best proof of what we claim to believe. And this year, like every other year, with or without an election, we need to apply the idea of Catholic witness in a special way to our public life as citizens. We might find it useful to remember 10 simple points as we move toward November.

1. George Orwell said that one of the biggest dangers for modern democratic life is dishonest political language. Dishonest language leads to dishonest politics — which then leads to bad public policy and bad law. So we need to speak and act in a spirit of truth.

2. “Catholic” is a word that has real meaning. We don’t control or invent that meaning as individuals. We inherit it from the Gospel and the experience of the Church over the centuries. We can choose to be something else, but if we choose to call ourselves Catholic, than that word has consequences for what we believe and how we act. We can’t truthfully claim to be Catholic and then act like we’re not.

3. Being a Catholic is a bit like being married. We have a relationship with the Church and with Jesus Christ that’s very similar to being a spouse. And that has consequences. If a man says he loves his wife, his wife will want to see the evidence in his love and fidelity. The same applies to our relationship with God. If we say we’re Catholic, we need to show that by our love for the Church and our fidelity to what she teaches and believes. Otherwise we’re just fooling ourselves, because God certainly won’t be fooled.

4. The Church is not a political organism. She has no interest in partisanship because getting power or running governments is not what she’s about, and the more closely she identifies herself with any single party, the fewer people she can effectively reach.

5. However, Scripture and Catholic teaching do have public consequences because they guide us in how we should act in relation to one another. Loving God requires that we also love the people He created, which means we need to treat them with justice, charity and mercy. Being a Catholic involves solidarity with other people. The Catholic faith has social justice implications — and that means it also has cultural, economic and political implications. The Catholic faith is never primarily about politics; but Catholic social action — including political action — is a natural byproduct of the Church’s moral message. We can’t call ourselves Catholic, and then simply stand by while immigrants get mistreated, or the poor get robbed, or unborn children get killed. The Catholic faith is always personal, but never private. If our faith is real, then it will bear fruit in our public decisions and behaviors, including our political choices.

6. Each of us needs to follow his or her own properly formed conscience. But conscience doesn’t emerge from a vacuum. It’s not a matter of personal opinion or preference. If our conscience has the habit of telling us what we want to hear on difficult issues, then it’s probably badly formed. A healthy conscience is the voice of God’s truth in our hearts, and it should usually make us uncomfortable, because none of us is yet a saint. The way we get a healthy conscience is by submitting it and shaping it to the will of God; and the way we find God’s will is by opening our hearts to the counsel and guidance of the Church that Jesus left us. If we find ourselves disagreeing as Catholics with the Catholic teaching of our Church on a serious matter, it’s probably not the Church that’s wrong. The problem is much more likely with us.

7. But how do we make good political choices when so many different issues are so important and complex? The first principle of Christian social thought is: Don’t deliberately kill the innocent, and don’t collude in allowing somebody else to do it. The right to life is the foundation of every other human right. The reason the abortion issue is so foundational is not because Catholics love little babies — although we certainly do — but because revoking the personhood of unborn children makes every other definition of personhood and human rights politically contingent.

8. So can a Catholic in good conscience support a “pro-choice” candidate? The answer is: I can’t and I won’t. But I do know some serious Catholics — people whom I admire — who will. I think their reasoning is mistaken. But at the very least they do sincerely struggle with the abortion issue, and it causes them real pain. And even more importantly: They don’t keep quiet about it; they don’t give up their efforts to end permissive abortion; they keep lobbying their party and their elected representatives to change their pro-abortion views and protect the unborn. Catholics can support “pro-choice” candidates if they support them despite — not because of — their “pro-choice” views. But they also need a compelling proportionate reason to justify it.

9. What is a “proportionate” reason when it comes to the abortion issue? It’s the kind of reason we will be able to explain, with a clean heart, to the victims of abortion when we meet them face to face in the next life — which we most certainly will. If we’re confident that these victims will accept our motives as something more than an alibi, then we can proceed.

10. Lastly, the heart of truly “faithful” citizenship is this: We’re better citizens when we’re more faithful Catholics. The more authentically Catholic we are in our lives, choices, actions and convictions, the more truly we will contribute to the moral and political life of our nation.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

3rd Sunday - Office of Readings

The following is a beautiful exposition on the liturgy from today’s Office of Readings:

From the constitution on the sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council (Sacrosanctum Concilium)

Christ is always present to his Church, especially in the actions of the liturgy. He is present in the sacrifice of the Mass, in the person of the minister (it is the same Christ who formerly offered himself on the cross that now offers by the ministry of priests) and most of all under the Eucharistic species. He is present in the sacraments by his power, in such a way that when someone baptizes, Christ himself baptizes. He is present in his word, for it is he himself who speaks when the holy Scriptures are read in the Church. Finally, he is present when the Church prays and sings, for he himself promised: Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there in their midst.

Indeed, in this great work which gives perfect glory to God and brings holiness to men, Christ is always joining in partnership with himself his beloved Bride, the Church, which calls upon its Lord and through him gives worship to the eternal Father.

It is therefore right to see the liturgy as an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ, in which through signs addressed to the senses man’s sanctification is signified and, in a way proper to each of these signs, made effective, and in which public worship is celebrated in its fullness by the mystical body of Jesus Christ, that is, by the head and by his members.

Accordingly, every liturgical celebration, as an activity of Christ the priest and of his body, which is the Church, is a sacred action of a preeminent kind. No other action of the Church equals its title to power or its degree of effectiveness.

In the liturgy on earth we are given a foretaste and share in the liturgy of heaven, celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem, the goal of our pilgrimage, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God, as minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle. With the whole company of heaven we sing a hymn of praise to the Lord; as we reverence the memory of the saints, we hope to have some part with them, and to share in their fellowship; we wait for the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, until he, who is our life, appears, and we appear with him in glory.

By an apostolic tradition taking its origin from the very day of Christ’s resurrection, the Church celebrates the paschal mystery every eighth day, the day that is rightly called the Lord’s day. On Sunday the Christian faithful ought to gather together, so that by listening to the word of God, and sharing in the Eucharist they may recall the passion, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus and give thanks to God who has given them a new birth with a lively hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The Lord’s day is therefore the first and greatest festival, one to be set before the loving devotion of the faithful and impressed upon it, so that it may be also a day of joy and of freedom from work. Other celebrations must not take precedence over it, unless they are truly of the greatest importance, since it is the foundation and the kernel of the whole liturgical year.

Friday, January 25, 2008

DC 'Hood @ Verizon Center!!

Eucharistic Adoration, 7-8 pm, SAA Church. All who wish to adore Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament are invited!
In five weeks, “DC ‘Hood” will be playing its second annual basketball game at Verizon Center. This year we are taking on “Men in Black”, a team of priests and seminarians from the Archdiocese of Baltimore. The game is scheduled for Sunday, March 2 @ 1:30 p.m. Those who attend our game have to purchase a ticket to the Wizards game (6:00 p.m.), but don’t need to stay around for the Wizards game. At the halftime of our game, we will show a powerful and inspiring video on the priesthood, “Fishers of Men”.

As you know, this event is intended to promote vocations and raise funds for CYO/OYM. We are helping CYO to sell tickets to the Wizards game; they receive a generous portion of the proceeds. Last year, you very generously contributed to our effort which resulted in about 600 sold tickets which was one of the largest group sales the Wizards have ever made. I am hoping that we can sell even more tickets this year!

Tickets are $25 (Upper Level B), $30 (Upper Level A, and $80 (Lower Level). Buying two $25 tickets, for example, would help greatly!! Even if you’re not able or interested in going, can you make a donation to our cause? The more tickets we sell; the more we promote the priesthood and raise funds for our youth.

You can order tickets online by clicking on the title of this post, or for donations only, mail a check to me directly at: Fr. Greg Shaffer, St. Andrew Apostle parish, 11600 Kemp Mill Rd., Silver Spring, MD 20902. (I will give your tickets to kids in the school or parish.)

If you are able to send a donation, please include your prayer intentions so that I can take them to our Lord when I offer Mass or make a Holy Hour in His Presence. Thank you very much and may God continue to bless you abundantly.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Choose life

As I said at Mass this weekend, if you are unable to march for life today, please say a prayer for life or offer a fast for life at some point today.

Following are excerpts from the homily Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl delivered January 22, 2007 at a Mass for Penance and Prayer, held at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, DC. …

The proclamation of the message of Jesus Christ is the proclamation of the gospel of life. When we ask, why does the Church struggle so hard to defend human life, the answer will be found, I believe, in what will be history’s reproach of this age that condones the single greatest moral plight in our nation since the days of slavery.

Have you ever wondered how the great atrocities of history came to be? How is it that there were concentration camps dedicated to the extermination of people? How could it be that slavery – the reduction of human beings to the status of property – was protected by law? How is it possible that the wholesale destruction of human life can be accepted by society? When we look at the magnitude of the evil we are dealing with, one wonders how such activities could be accepted by any people anywhere at any time.

Silence is the ally of atrocity. Sometimes the silence of individuals is compounded by the means of social communication. The full horror of what is taking place can be presented in a way that most people remain ignorant of what is really happening. Silence and ignorance are twin allies of atrocities.

Today we are confronted with the evil of abortion on demand. It is almost inconceivable that in a society which calls itself civilized it would be legal under the heading of “abortion” to kill a perfectly healthy, almost full-term child. That is what a partial-birth abortion is. In like manner, we should be appalled at how easily unborn human life is killed throughout this nation.

When all of the arguments surrounding the abortion issue are viewed rationally, honestly and calmly, they do not justify the final and drastic decision to take the life of an unborn child. In varying degrees there can be vexing, painful and pressing circumstances that call for a great deal of assistance, understanding, compassion and support, but they never justify the taking of the innocent life of the baby in the womb…

Why does the Church speak so strongly, consistently and persistently in defense of human life? Why are you – we – here this morning? We are present in order that unborn children, in the millions around this world, have someone to hold onto, someone to cling to, someone who will speak for and protect them.

As we observe the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion on demand and removed the political consensus that sought to regulate this destructive human action, we must not lose sight of the fact that more that 1.5 million unborn children are killed each year in the United States alone.

What adds to the harm afflicted on our society by abortion is the concerted effort to make such violence acceptable. Through laws and public policy that justify the taking of human life solely because it is inconvenient to someone, we engender in the hearts of our people especially our young, the next generation, the idea that death is a solution to a problem. The lesson has been too well learned. Violence does beget violence.

As a society we are witnessing the fruits of the abortion mentality. The generation of people now entering their thirties has grown up hearing over and over again - in school, from teachers, politicians, courts, the media, movies, music, television and various personalities – that it is all right to kill if the life you take is still in the womb. Too many of our young people have accepted this message. Is it any wonder that we have created a culture of violence?...

The Book of Genesis teaches us that human beings are created in the image and likeness of God (Gn 1:26). Who cannot believe that when you look on a newly born infant and realize his or her gifts, potential and future. We are challenged as Moses did so with the chosen people: Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live…” (Dt 30:19).

The Gospel of Jesus confirms the dignity of human life and its extraordinary destiny: I have come that you might have life and have it to the full” (Jn 10:10)…

Sunday, January 20, 2008

2nd Sunday, Ordinary time - commentary

The following is a commentary on today's Gospel by Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap, as found on Zenit.org:

In the Gospel we hear John the Baptist who, presenting Jesus to the world, exclaims: "Behold the lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world!" The lamb, in the Bible, as in other cultures, is the symbol of being innocent; it cannot do evil to anyone but only suffer it. Following this symbolism, the first letter of Peter calls Christ "the lamb unspotted" (1:19) who, "reviled, did not revile; when he suffered, he threatened not" (2:23). Jesus, in other words, is par excellence the innocent one who suffers.

It has been written that the suffering of the innocent "is the rock of atheism." After Auschwitz, the problem was posed in a still more acute way. There are countless books and dramas that have been written about this theme. It feels like being at a trial and hearing the voice of the judge ordering the defendant to stand up. The defendant in this case is God.

What does the faith have to say about all this? First of all, it is necessary that we all, believers and nonbelievers, adopt an attitude of humility, because if faith is not able to "explain" the suffering, much less is reason. The suffering of the innocent is something too pure and mysterious to try to close it up in one of our poor "explanations." Jesus -- who, as far as explanations go, certainly had more than us -- faced with the suffering of the widow of Naim and the sisters of Lazarus, knew nothing better to do than to be moved and weep.

The Christian response to the problem of innocent suffering is wrapped up in one name: Jesus Christ! Jesus did not come to give us expert explanations about suffering, he came rather silently to take it upon himself. Taking it upon himself, however, he changed it entirely: from a sign of malediction, he made it an instrument of redemption. Even more: he made it the supreme value, the highest order of greatness in this world. After sin, the true greatness of the human creature is measured by the fact of bearing the least amount of guilt possible and the maximum amount of punishment possible. It is not so much in the one or the other taken separately -- that is, in innocence or in suffering -- as it is in the co-presence of the two in the same person. This is a type of suffering that brings us closer to God. Only God, in fact, if he suffers, suffers as innocent in an absolute sense.

Jesus, however, did not only give a meaning to innocent suffering, he also conferred a new power on it, a mysterious fruitfulness. Look at what flowed from the suffering of Christ: the resurrection and hope for the whole human race. But look also at what happens around us. How much energy and heroism is often brought out in a couple in the acceptance of a handicapped child, bedridden for years! How much unsuspected solidarity surrounds them! How much otherwise unknown capacity to love!

The most important thing, however, when we speak of innocent suffering, is not to explain it; it is not to increase it with our actions and our omissions. But neither is it enough not to increase innocent suffering; we must also try to relieve the innocent suffering that exists! Faced with a little girl frozen by the cold, who cries because of hunger pains, a man cried out in his heart one day to God: "Oh, God, where are you? Why don't you do something for that innocent girl?" And God answered him: "I certainly have done something for her: I made you!"

Friday, January 18, 2008

Teens will be (happy) teens??

Eucharistic Adoration, tonight, 7-8 pm, SAA Church. All who wish to spend time with and adore Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament are invited!!
Fran wrote the following: “With The Annual March for Life coming up in a few weeks, and the fact that abstinence has been a point of discussion in previous posts, I offer the following: On December 28th, a letter which I wrote to the editor of the Washington Post, was printed. It was titled "The Wisdom of Abstinence." ( A title which the editors gave to the letter.) Today, January 3rd, a rebuttal was printed. It was titled, "Teens Will Be Teens." I would encourage any teen (or parent) who reads this blog to respond to today's letter of rebuttal with his/ her opinion.”

On the same topic, Anon made this comment: “I was listening to a debate about teaching teens about abstinence. There was a group of women who were adamant about NOT teaching abstinence. The conversation evolved past the point of ‘abstinence only’ being taught to not talking about abstinence at all (in the schools). Their point- sex is a medical topic and should be taught from that perspective only, and the choice to abstain was a moral one and shouldn’t be discussed; it had no bearing on the subject matter. If we think it’s appropriate that the teaching, implementation and/or mere mention of morality should be completely absent from our schools, I’d say the devil is very much alive and well.”

Great last line, Anon! It is really sad to hear people reduce the beautiful and sacred gift of sex to merely a “medical topic”. To use the language of the judge who scolded O.J. the other day, either they are arrogant or ignorant or both. If they or others are teaching their kids that sex is a medical topic only, then they shouldn’t be surprised if their kids use members of the opposite sex “for medical purposes only”. In addition, are they really naïve enough to think that sex is being taught amorally in our classrooms? There are many school districts, unfortunately, which are going out of their way to teach kids about sex in immoral ways (condoms, birth control, etc.). They don’t approach it as a medical topic only.

The rebuttal to Fran’s editorial was heavy with cynicism, not to mention the jab that teaching abstinence is a form of proselytizing. You begin to see through the arguments from the other side pretty quickly as being driven by an agenda that has little to do with our teens. It is an agenda that promotes a contraceptive culture. Like the devil, it doesn’t want to have its presence known so it diverts attention from the subject matter by using terms like ‘proselytizing’ and ‘moralizing’. Our agenda is focused on the subject matter; it is providing what’s best for people, in this instance abstinence (in its fullness it’s chastity) for our teens. The agenda from the other side is dangerous, disrespectful, and degrading to teens and can easily send the message that it’s ok to have “safe sex” (btw, condoms aren’t 100% safe…they have a 12% failure rate).

It’s interesting that neither side is satisfied with abstinence-only programs; the Church would add the practice of chastity and our opponents would add the use of condoms. Some abstinence-only programs have helped teens and some haven’t. The ones that have been successful are the ones that offer continual education and that the parents get involved. The Church would say that the most successful (and maybe difficult!) education about sex that teens can get is from their parents.

If parents are living chastity and teaching it to their teens, then they are doing what’s best for them (and themselves). They are giving them the knowledge (and power) of how to live freely regarding sex. They are giving them the knowledge of how to find happiness at their young age. Of the teens I know who are living chastely, I don’t know any who aren’t happy. Of the teens I know who are living unchastely, I don’t know any who are happy. Are we helping teens to just be teens, or are we helping teens to be happy teens?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Romans 8:38

Anon wrote the following: “I think this whole topic (of “evil is all around us”) begs the question about the origins of evil- where does it come from? As all good originates from God, does all evil originate from Satan? If we have free will and choose sin, where does Satan factor in to the equation? One topic I’ve never addressed, and never really wanted to learn about before, is the concept of Satan among us. Maybe it’s juvenile, but it freaks me out. I knew a priest a while ago (he’s since died), who was thought to have had “battles” with Satan. I was at dinner with him one night, and one of the hosts asked a question about the rumors of sounds coming from his room at the rectory, and I promptly excused myself before he could answer. The idea that there is evil in the world, and even the idea that I have perpetuated some of it is something I can deal with. The idea that Satan may have been at work when I did any of those things really disturbs me. The idea of Satan as a real physical manifestation in anyway bothers me beyond words.”

I commented on this in my homily on the first Sunday of Lent last year and have included excerpts from it below. I spoke about a priest who did battles with the Devil in the 19th century in France as well as the origins of evil. For me, it would probably be scary to have a confrontation with the Devil but I would be internally psyched! If the Devil ever attacks me outwardly, it would mean that he is threatened by my ministry. It sounds scary about the priest that you mentioned, Anon, but it’s a great statement about how powerful a priest he was, by the Grace of God. And, please keep in mind what St. Paul says in Romans 8:38: “neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities…nor any power…will be able to come between us and the love of God known to us in Christ Jesus our Lord”.

“In a rare outward appearance, the Devil tried to disrupt St. John Vianney’s ministry of healing. Many nights, he would attack Fr. Vianney; people heard loud and strange noises coming from the rectory. One night, they saw fire coming from Fr. Vianney’s bedroom: the Devil had lit Father’s bed on fire! At first, Fr. Vianney was afraid, but then he got used to the attacks. He finally figured out the timing of it all: every night the Devil came to attack him, a big sinner would come to Confession the next day – someone who hadn’t been to Confession in 20 or 30 or more years. With the help of Christ, St. John Vianney withstood the attacks of Satan, and won victory over him.

The Devil makes another rare appearance in today’s Gospel: he tempts Jesus in the desert three times. Usually, Satan works in invisible and very subtle ways. His main objective is to take people away from God without them even knowing of his presence. The Devil is not an evil God; he is not on the same level as God. He is an angel, a fallen angel. He used to be known as Lucifer which means “light-bearer”. He was the top and brightest angel. Like all angels, he was given a free choice to either serve God forever or reject Him forever. He and about 1/3 of the angels in Heaven chose to reject God because they were filled with pride.

The Book of Revelation, chapter 12, verse 7, says that a battle ensued between St. Michael and the good angels and Satan and the fallen angels. The good guys won! They crushed the demons, and cast them down to earth. Satan and his legion of demons now wage spiritual warfare on earth. He has made his presence known a few times – the Garden of Eden, to Christ in the desert, and to a few people like St. John Vianney. It’s very important for us to know that the Devil can never force us to do anything against our will. He tempts us in brilliant ways; he is much smarter than any of us. On our own, we can’t defeat him; but, with the help of God, we will be safe and win victory over our Enemy.”

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Baptism of the Lord - homily

I would like to make two announcements to start. The first is that there is an insert in your bulletin which is a letter on marriage from the Maryland Catholic Bishops. The bishops are encouraging us to get involved with some important legislation that the Maryland General Assembly is considering which would allow same-sex marriage or civil unions in this state. The legislation would not protect the sacred institution of marriage; rather, it would radically change it. The bishops have given a website (www.mdcathcon.org) at the end of the letter. We should all come to the defense of marriage which is the oldest and most important institution in the world.

The second announcement is that there will be a retreat for men who are in their twenties, thirties, and forties and considering a call to the priesthood from February 1-3. If you or someone you know might be interested in this retreat, please see me after Mass or email me. This week is National Vocations Awareness Week; please continue to pray for vocations, especially from St. Andrew’s.

We have an awesome scene in today’s Gospel with the Baptism of the Lord. Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan. Many people ask why Jesus was baptized; he didn’t need to be cleansed in any way. His baptism is not for him but for us; it’s an example for us. Moreover, the baptism of the Lord is different from all the Jewish baptism before his. We see and hear things from this scene that show us that his baptism and all Christian baptisms are new; everything is new in Christ, and Christ makes all things new.

First, the Spirit descended upon Jesus “like a dove”. This is new. Jesus was anointed with the Spirit, as the second reading from Acts tells us. It is the Spirit that is present at major points in Jesus’ life, leading Him. Second, “the heavens were opened”. This is the first time the heavens were opened since they were closed at the Fall of Man with Adam and Eve. The third new thing we hear about is “a voice came from the heavens, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son’”. This is the first time a voice came from heaven saying, ‘this is my Son”. God has a son and his name is Jesus! His baptism is new; all Christian baptisms are new and have the same elements as his baptism. At our baptisms, it was like there was a voice coming from Heaven saying, “this is my beloved son…this is my beloved daughter”.

All things are made new in Christ. We have a new covenant with God in Christ. Christ is the new covenant. As the first reading from Isaiah tells us, God’s servant will be the “covenant of the people”. Christ is that servant. God has given us seven ways – the seven sacraments - to live in the new covenant. Whenever we receive any of the seven sacraments, we participate in the new covenant with God. Baptism in Christ is entry into the new covenant. The baptized person is literally a “new creation”. This newness is most especially true with Baptism, but it is also true that whenever we participate in the sacrament of Reconciliation, we are made “new creations”, new persons. To live out the new covenant in Christ is to be continually renewed.

We come to drink the blood of the new covenant with the Eucharist. We come to be renewed by this sacrament. And, we have the same Trinitarian formula as with the scene of the Baptism of the Lord. The Eucharist is an offering to the Father, in the Son, and through the Spirit. May each one of us live a Trinitarian life centered on the Eucharist. May our lives be offerings to the Father, in the Son, and through the Spirit.

Friday, January 11, 2008

"Lord, teach us to pray"

Eucharistic Adoration, tonight, 7-8 pm, SAA Church. All those who wish to adore Jesus in the Eucharist are invited!!
Recently, Anon asked the following in response to my post, “Prayer: Putting on the Mind of Christ” (11/13/07): “How did you make the transition from praying only occasionally when you needed something to what you call real prayer that involves a relationship with God? I think the former type of prayer is typical of many many people -- people who believe, go to Mass, etc. How does one move beyond it?”

In one of my Christmas homilies, I said that it was back when I didn’t really know Christ that I would only pray when I needed something. I said that there was no real friendship there. I encouraged all to examine where they are in their friendship with Christ and said that it’s all about friendship with Him. The inference was that if there are people who pray now like I used to, then they don’t really know Christ or have a real friendship with Him. I will answer your question in the same way by saying that one moves beyond merely asking God for stuff by growing in friendship with Him. So, how do we actually do that?

This reminds me of a talk I had this week with 2nd grade boys who are in my nephew’s Cub Scouts den. I asked them if they pray every day and just about every one of them (18) said they did. Great! So, I asked them how they pray. They said that they get on their knees, they make the sign of the Cross, they close their eyes, etc. Now, of course, they were answering my question, but these weren’t the responses I was necessarily looking for. So, I asked them a follow-up question: how do you talk to your best friend? They responded by saying that they talk about what’s going on in school or other stuff, they listen to their friend, they laugh with their friend, etc.

I found it very interesting that their answers about how they pray were much more of a formal nature. They immediately thought of the style of their prayer rather than its substance. I assured them that the gestures they make are very important; these gestures (kneeling, sign of the cross) show that prayer is not exactly like talking to a good friend because it is an encounter with the Almighty. But, if we are in friendship with Christ, then prayer is from our heart. When we describe how we pray, it should be along the lines of: talking with Him about what’s going on in our lives, listening to Him speak to our hearts (the hardest part), laughing with Him, crying with Him, thanking Him, etc.

How did I move beyond self-centered prayer? I began to spend time with Christ. I began to go out of my way to be with Him, mainly in Eucharistic Adoration. I began to center my prayer on Him. I didn’t know how to pray when I first started (still have a long way to go!), but I knew I just wanted to be there with Him. I knew that I needed to be there with Him. The most important thing about prayer is to be there. Just be there. If we are there with Him (if not physically in the Real Presence, then spiritually in our hearts) with open hearts, then He shows us how to pray. “Lord, teach us to pray” (Lk 11:1).

I remember what a retreat master in the seminary said about prayer which summarizes much of what I’m writing. He said that we often go to our Lord to tell Him the kind of day we have had and dump all of our problems on Him. But, how often do we say, “Hi, Lord, how was your day?” The best way for us to move beyond self-centered prayer is to center our prayer on Jesus. The best way for us to do that is to see Him - in the Eucharist. We will see Him tonight from 7-8 pm. If we come with open hearts, He will show us how to pray.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Interesting but complex questions!

Here are two questions from anonymous bloggers:

1) “We've noted many times here that many people do not believe that Jesus was God, some of whom have never given it any thought. What does the Church believe about some people's failure to consider Christ or believe in Him? Does God reveal Himself to some and not others, or is it due to some failure on the part of a person who does not believe?”

This is actually a timely question as we have just celebrated the feast of the Epiphany which has a special focus on the manifestation of Christ to all nations, and not just Israel. So, God reveals himself to all. It is the mission of the Church to reveal God fully in Jesus Christ, and to offer all the opportunity for happiness in this life and in the next. The following paragraph (#1260) from the Catechism reminds us that happiness and salvation are offered to all. It also comments on those who haven’t received the fullness of God’s revelation through no fault of their own:

“’Since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery (Gaudium et Spes, Vatican II).’ Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.”

Now, let’s consider those who have knowledge of Jesus Christ and the Church’s call to live out His Gospel. If they knowingly and freely fail to consider Christ or believe in Him, they fail to consider true love and happiness in this life, first and foremost. In other words, they won’t know love and happiness in their lifetimes on earth. In addition, they put their happiness in the next life in great jeopardy. It’s all about they know: if they know that Jesus is the Christ and fail to believe in Him in their lives, then they sin gravely against the first commandment. If their knowledge is full and choice is free, then they commit mortal sin which is separation from God’s love and friendship. “If it is not redeemed by repentance and God's forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ's kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back” (CCC, # 1861).

2) “I had an interesting question posed to me today. I was asked if I thought trust and faith were the same thing. I was told that perhaps I was confusing the two. Maybe. I was told that trust is based on evidence while faith extends beyond reason. Would that mean that faith is NOT based on evidence? Wouldn't that make faith, at least sometimes, unreasonable? And what human being is totally trustworthy or totally untrustworthy? If we trust based on evidence alone, what human being could we reasonably trust?”

Interesting but complex questions! Webster’s dictionary equates trust with hope. And, we know that while faith and hope are interrelated, they are distinct theological virtues. Per the Catechism, faith is a gift from God and a human act; it is “man’s response to God” (#26) and to the truth that God has revealed. I think it’s safe to say that God gives us “evidence” about Himself and that faith means assenting to it. The Church herself points to the evidence of the Resurrection as “reasons” for believing that it happened. Faith does involve reason; an example of faith without reason is 9/11 (believing that God’s Will was to fly airplanes into buildings).

Hope is centered on our happiness. It stems from the desire in every human heart for happiness. Trust that God is our happiness is inherent to us, then. We trust that the faith we are putting in God will result in our happiness. We trust that what God has revealed and promised will be fulfilled. The Catechism also links hope with trust: “we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the Holy Spirit” (#1817).

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Feast of the Epiphany - homily

You might remember the Washington Post ad from a few years ago, “if you don’t get it, you don’t get it”. That slogan often makes me think about this feast of the Epiphany. The Epiphany is the manifestation of Jesus as the Messiah, and the wise men ‘get it’ about who Jesus is. There is another commercial out now which uses the word ‘epiphany’ but it’s about a mundane product, beer. Some guy has an epiphany about Heineken beer, like the light just goes on for him. We use the term in a sacred context today, referring to our Lord and the realization that the wise men have about him.

They get it about who Jesus is and they come to “do him homage”. It might appear that King Herod and all of Jerusalem get it, too, because they acknowledge a newborn king. But, they really don’t get it because they are “greatly troubled” by Jesus. From the start of his life, Jesus is a polarizing figure; this would continue throughout his life, through his death, through his resurrection, and even today. Either we get it about Christ (or are at least trying to get it about Him) or we don’t. Either we believe in Him and do him homage or we don’t believe in Him and reject Him or don’t care about Him.

The other day at the school Mass I asked our students if they have had an epiphany about who Jesus is. Many of them raised their hands, as you would expect. I then asked them how they’d come to have their epiphany and explained that the wise men had a star which led them to Jesus. The students said that their parents, teachers, priests, friends, etc. had led them to have their epiphany that Jesus is the Messiah.

Have we had our epiphany? Do we get it about Christ? Do we really get it about who He is – that He is our Messiah, that He saved us from our sins, that he died for us and redeemed us? This event changed the lives of the wise men; the key word about their epiphany was that they were “overjoyed” with this event. When we get it about Christ and do him homage, when we give our lives to Him, that’s when we find joy and happiness in living for Him. To believe in Christ and his teachings is a challenge; but if we really get it, we are not “greatly troubled” by Jesus.

Unfortunately, there are many people we know who don’t get it about Christ in general, and especially about the Eucharist. My guess is that half of the registered parishioners at St Andrew’s don’t come to Mass… at all. If they don’t get it, they don’t get it. As we come to the Eucharist to do him homage, let us go from here and live out our faith in Christ this week while praying for those who don’t get it and are greatly troubled by Jesus.

Friday, January 04, 2008

A loving God and suffering

1) Adoration tonight, 7-8 pm, SAA Church. All those who wish to spend time with Jesus in the Eucharist are invited!!
2) DC ‘Hood basketball – upcoming games
a. Fri., Feb 1, 7 pm @ Little Flower, Bethesda.
b. Sun, March 2, 2 pm @ Verizon Center
Weeks ago, Fran posted some quotes from an article she came across in the Washington Post. The author posed a question we have addressed, more or less, many times here: “How can a loving God allow so much suffering on Earth?” As I continued reading the Pope’s excellent (and extremely insightful) book, “Jesus of Nazareth” last night, I came to the point where the Holy Father addresses this question in his treatment of the Our Father (p. 160f). I thought of our discussions online here, and thought this might help:

“God gives Satan the freedom to test Job, though within precisely defined boundaries: God does not abandon man, but he does allow him to be tried. This is very subtle, still implicit, yet real real glimpse of the mystery of substitution that takes on a major profile in Isaiah 53: Job’s sufferings serve to justify man. By his faith, proved through suffering, he restores man’s honor. Job’s sufferings are thus by anticipation sufferings in communion with Christ, who restores the honor of us all before God and shows us the way never to lose faith in God even amid the deepest darkness…

Love is always a process involving purifications, renunciations, and painful transformations of ourselves – and that is how it is a journey to maturity. If Francis Xavier was able to pray to God, saying, “I love you, not because you have the power to give heaven or hell, but simply because you are you – my king and my God,” then surely he had needed a long path of inner purifications to reach such ultimate freedom – a path through stages of maturity, a path beset with temptation and the danger of falling, but a necessary path nonetheless.

Now we are in a position to interpret the sixth position of the Our Father in a more practical way. When we pray it, we are saying to God: ‘I know that I need trials so that my nature can be purified. When you decide to send me these trials, when you give evil some room to maneuver, as you did with Job, then please remember that my strength only goes so far. Don’t overestimate my capacity. Don’t set too wide the boundaries within which I may be tempted, and be close to me with your protecting hand when it become too much for me’. It was in this sense that St. Cyprian interpreted the sixth petition, He says that when we pray, “And lead us not into temptation”, we are expressing our awareness ‘that the enemy can do nothing against us unless God has allowed it beforehand, so that our fear, our devotion and our worship may be directed to God – because the Evil One is not permitted to do anything unless he is given authorization’ (De dominica oratione 25; CSEL III, 25, p.285f).

And then, pondering the psychological pattern of temptation, he explains that there can be two different reasons why God grants the Evil One a limited power. It can be as a penance for us, in order to dampen our pride, so that we may reexperience the paltriness of our faith, hope, and love and avoid forming too high an opinion of ourselves….But should it not put us in mind of the fact that God has placed a particularly heavy burden on the shoulders of those individuals who were especially close to him, the great saints, from Anthony in his desert to Therese of Lisieux in the pious world of her Carmelite monastery? They follow in the footsteps of Job, so to speak; they offer an apologia for man that is at the same time a defense of God. Even more, they enjoy a very special communion with Jesus Christ, who suffered our temptations to the bitter end. They are called to withstand the temptations of a particular time in their own skin, as it were, in their own souls. They are called to bear them through to the end for us ordinary souls and to help us persist on our way to the One who took upon himself the burden of us all.”

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Promises of Mary, Mother of God

Happy New Year!! Today is the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. At Mass this morning, I encouraged all to pray the rosary every day. The following are the fifteen promises that Mary has given to Christians who recite the rosary (as found on americancatholic.org):

Whoever shall faithfully serve me by the recitation of the rosary, shall receive signal graces.

I promise my special protection and the greatest graces to all those who shall recite the rosary.

The rosary shall be a powerful armor against hell, it will destroy vice, decrease sin, and defeat heresies.

It will cause virtue and good works to flourish; it will obtain for souls the abundant mercy of God; it will withdraw the heart of men from the love of the world and its vanities, and will lift them to the desire of eternal things. Oh, that souls would sanctify them- selves by this means.

The soul which recommend itself to me by the recitation of the rosary, shall not perish.

Whoever shall recite the rosary devoutly, applying himself to the consideration of its sacred mysteries shall never be conquered by misfortune. God will not chastise him in His justice, he shall not by an unprovided death; if he be just he shall remain in the grace of God, and become worthy of eternal life.

Whoever shall have a true devotion for the rosary shall not die without the sacraments of the Church.

Those who are faithful to recite the rosary shall have during their life and at their death the light of God and the plenitude of His graces; at the moment of death they shall participate in the merits of the saints in paradise.

I shall deliver from purgatory those who have been devoted to the rosary.

The faithful children of the rosary shall merit a high degree of glory in heaven.

You shall obtain all you ask of me by the recitation of the rosary.

All those who propagate the holy rosary shall be aided by me in their necessities.

I have obtained from my Divine Son that all the advocates of the rosary shall have forintercessors the entire celestial court during their life and at the hour of death.

All who recite the rosary are my son, and brothers of my only son Jesus Christ

Devotion of my rosary is a great sign of predestination.