Thursday, August 30, 2012

It is my money, and I want it now

“It is my money, and I want it now.” I always have hated that commercial; it sounded so greedy. Perhaps I have hated it because it might have a ring of truth about me. I was listening to St. Augustine’s confessions, and he was referring to his not being content with God although God was Creator and all belonged to Him, that he yearned more for created things than the Creator Himself. It was then that that commercial came to mind. Just as St. Augustine was, so goes I. Am I content with God, or do I yearn more for the temporal than I do the spiritual, the eternal?

My mind turns to the prodigal son. The son was in the father’s house, was with him always. What was the father’s also was the son’s. It was his inheritance, but he wanted it now. He was not content with the father; he wanted his money, and he wanted it now. We know the rest of the story, how he left for a far country, squandered his inheritance with wild living, winding up feeding the pigs, and thereafter returning to his father. How often it occurs that I desire the “new thing” on the market and, after a very short period of time, the newness wears off and I desire something else. This comes with not being contented with the Father and attempting to satisfy my yearnings with the created. I know beforehand that the created will not satisfy; therefore, why do I so often fall into the same trap? In Christ and His Church, and in the Sacraments, will I find contentment. Only in loving God and neighbor will I find joy and peace.

I had always thought the prodigal son was he who did not know Christ. The prodigal son is he who knows the Father, resides in His house, yet is not content with Him, desiring the creature more than the Creator. Not only am I the prodigal son many times, but I will wear the other hat also: the hat of the older brother. This occurs when I desire someone not be forgiven for what he has done, desiring he be judged to the utmost, wanting something bad to happen to him. It is those times when I don’t pray for someone or don’t want to pray for him. How can I say I love God, who I cannot see, when I can’t love the brother who I can see? God loved, and does love, those who hate Him, desiring that they repent; hence, we—being in Christ and becoming more like Him--must love those whom He loves. May Christ pour out His mercy upon us, causing us to love the Creator more than the created things. In Christ, we have all things; in the created, we only have a minute portion. In Christ, we have fulfillment, contentment; in the created, we will never be satisfied.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Jesus and Othniel

Many times I hear in homilies, "Come Judgment Day, if Jesus asks you..." If Jesus asks me anything, I must hang my head, speechless. I have wondered why the Book of Judges was given its name. Why wasn't it called something else, e.g. Book of Leaders, or something. Why "Judges"? This brought to mind that Christ is the true Judge. What if He being Judge is something that causes rejoicing instead of fearing? Therefore, I thought I would do some studying of the judges.

“From there they went against the inhabitants of De'bir. The name of Debir was formerly Kir'iath-se'pher. And Caleb said, ‘He who attacks Kir'iath-se'pher and takes it, I will give him Ach'sah my daughter as wife.’ And Oth'ni-el the son of Ke'naz, Caleb’s younger brother, took it; and he gave him Ach'sah his daughter as wife. When she came to him, she urged him to ask her father for a field; and she alighted from her donkey, and Caleb said to her, ‘What do you wish?’ She said to him, Give me a present; since you have set me in the land of the Neg'eb, give me also springs of water.’ And Caleb gave her the upper springs and the lower springs.” (Judges 1:11-15).

This brings to mind Isaiah 6, where the Lord asks, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Here, we have Othniel (lion of God) answering, “Here am I; send me.” He conquers the “city of letters or books,” which is worldly wisdom. For his success, Othniel, the lion of God, is given Achsah, Caleb’s daughter, as his wife. As a reward for His work on the cross, Jesus was also given a bride, the Church. “Achsah” means “anklet or adorned.” The Catholic Church is the adornment of Christ. Those baptized into the Church no longer are in the city of worldly wisdom, but are now “Debir,” the sanctuary, the temple of God.

Now, when Achsah came unto Othniel to be his wife, she urged him to ask her father for a field. The Church asks of its Father a field, the world. Ascah alights from her ass, and asks her father to also give her springs due to the land being dry. This brings to remembrance the wedding feast at Cana when the Mother of the Church goes to Jesus, saying, “They have no wine.” The real wine Jesus gives is His blood, on Calvary, upon the cross. The “upper springs” is His blood pouring from His side when His side is pierced, pouring into the chalice, the “nether springs.”

“And the sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, forgetting the LORD their God, and serving the Ba'als and the Ashe'roth. Therefore the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of Cu'shan-rishatha'im king of Mesopota'mia; and the sons of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years. But when the sons of Israel cried to the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer for the sons of Israel, who delivered them, Oth'ni-el the son of Ke'naz, Caleb’s younger brother. The Spirit of the LORD came upon him, and he judged Israel; he went out to war, and the LORD gave Cu'shan-rishatha'im king of Mesopota'mia into his hand; and his hand prevailed over Cushan-rishathaim. So the land had rest forty years.” (Judges 3:7-10). In the Sacraments of Baptism, Penance, and the Eucharist, God has raised up Jesus to deliver us. Especially in the Eucharist, we see Jesus going to war on the cross, on the altar. We see His victory in His resurrection, when the priest takes Christ’s body and mingling it with the wine, His blood. The Body and Blood are together again, proving Life. So, the land, the Church rests “forty years.”  --TT

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

God's Paradoxical Living

The bible sure can seem confusing sometimes or at least full of paradox. When it seems so, perhaps it is helpful to recall what the Catholic Church teaches concerning the truth of the bible.

The Catholic position is: the bible is without error in all it intends to teach. So when Jeremiah says God intentionally "duped" him, he is simply expressing how he feels. The bible is not trying to teach us a trickster god intentionally makes fools out of us; however, if we enter into a loving God's seemingly paradoxical teachings, we experience being duped in a beautiful way. That is what the bible is intending to teach us.

For example, when Jesus says in the Gospel we must take up our cross and we must lose our lives, He is speaking to us about the crosses and losses of daily living.  (Matt. 16:24,25; Mark 8:34,35; Luke 9:23,24)

When we live our lives for Him who gave His life for us it may seem at first that we are losing out on what our culture tells us are the goals of life, that is, you can not be happy unless you are getting, getting, getting.

The paradox is we will not be happy unless we are giving considerably more than we are getting. Perhaps you too have experienced that paradox: The more I give of myself, my time, my talent, my treasure, the more I receive. This type of giving is a beautiful way of "losing" our lives in Jesus and living in Him and for Him.

I have always wanted to be the kind of person who gives more than I take. What about you?

Instead of living that trinity of getting, getting, getting, why not live God's Trinity of giving, giving, giving like the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit live. They literally pour their lives out for us. If we too can do that, pour out a trinity of giving, we will experience the loving wonder of God's paradoxical living. --DGH

Am I Seeking God, or Do I Just Think I Am Seeking God

“Come, let us seek God with all our hearts.” How do we seek God? Do we seek God? What does “with all our hearts” mean? Do we seek God with all our heart? These are the questions that came to my mind when I read the quote.

First, how do we seek God? First impulse would be to say “pray” and “read Scripture,” and that would not be incorrect. Nevertheless, it would be incorrect to say that is all it consisted of.

Children are to love their parents, but it is not sufficient that children just know who their parents are and to make requests of them. Loving one’s parents entails a continuous seeking to obey. Just because a child obeyed his parents yesterday does not negate the fact that he must obey them today. Because the child obeyed his parents today in one matter does not preclude him from obeying them in all matters. A child can “say” he loves his parents although he disagrees with them and walks in disobedience of them. He can “say” he loves them, but does he love them? What parent is thee who will tell his child, “I know you love me; therefore, you do not have to obey me, for I know you are not perfect”? The parents “laws” are not to enslave the child, but are for his instruction and protection. They are instructions to aid him and to “free” him from doing wrong and from developing bad habits, to protect him from evil people and instruct on what type of people to avoid friendships with and the type to make friendships with.

When we seek God, yes, we must pray and read Scripture. We know that He is our Creator and that He is thrice holy. We should know that to love Him is to obey Him. We cannot have love without obedience; hence, to seek Him is to seek to know Him better and to be more obedient.

How often have we heard the adage, “God knows my heart,” believing that, at heart, we are good people. God does know our hearts; hence, He says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is desperately sick: who can know it?” Because our hearts are deceitful and desperately sick, He tells us, “Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your heart.” In order to do this, He has given us the Sacrament of Baptism, which washes away original sin and cleanses us, placing us in Jesus. “O Jerusalem,

wash thine heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved. How long shall thine evil thoughts lodge within thee?” (Jer 4:14)

We cannot stop at Baptism. Only a dead child does not grow. If we do not grow after Baptism, we are dead. We must be fed and nourished. For this purpose Christ has given us the Church and the Sacraments. “But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked in their own counsels and in the stubbornness of their evil heart, and went backward and not forward” (Jer 7:24). Jesus Christ has given us the Mass. It is so vitally important that He presides over every Mass--from the cross. It was for this reason the priests, prior to Vatican II, faced away from congregation. Jesus gives us His Word; He gives us the Sacrament of Confirmation, giving us the Holy Spirit to strengthen us, guide us, and to empower us. “But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked everyone in the stubbornness of their evil heart” (Jer 11:8). They inclined their ear to the “wisdom” of the world and their own “wisdom,” disagreeing with the Wisdom and Truth of Jesus Christ and His Body, the Catholic Church--as if Jesus the Christ, the Head, would deceive His Body. Nevertheless, God is not desirous that we should perish; therefore, He gives us the Sacrament of Penance/Reconciliation. He continues to feed us His Word and the Eucharist--His body, blood, soul, and divinity.

Seeing our own sinfulness, we confess our sins, and receive absolution and we pray, imploring Christ to pour His grace into our hearts. To whom else can we turn? He is Eternal Life. Reading holy Scripture, we meditate upon. As per our Blessed Mother, we take these things and meditate upon them.

It is much better to take small passages and ponder upon them than to read vast amounts and forget what we have read. If we hear Scripture read during the Mass and forget what we have heard by the time we are dismissed, of what benefit was it? Rather, it would behoove us to a small portion of the Scripture passages being read and take a small portion of the homily and meditate on them than to not recall any of what was read of Scripture and stated in the homily. We must treasure them, “chew the cud,” and then we will live by them. It is then that the love of God will begin to be expressed in our words and deeds. It is then that we begin to walk in obedience because of the love of God for us.

As long as we disagree with the Church and its teachings, we continue to walk according to our own “wisdom” and in disobedience to Jesus Christ and His teachings. It is then that we are going backwards, not forward. We must not, cannot, separate Jesus Christ from the Catholic Church. To attempt to do so is to attempt to decapitate the Head from the Body. Just look at the fact that the Catholic Church has the Eucharist: Jesus Christ--body, blood, soul, and divinity--crucified and risen. (I will leave it to others to discourse on the differences between Catholics and Orthodox.)

When we ponder Scripture and the teachings of the Church, treasure them, and walk in harmony, in accord with them, we then “seek with all our heart.” We cannot say we seek God when we seek to justify our walking in disagreement with the Church, walking in discord.

Wikipedia states regarding Gregory Peck, “Peck was a practicing Roman Catholic, although he disagreed with the Church’s positions on abortion and the ordination of women. If this is true, he was not a “practicing” Roman Catholic. A practicing Roman Catholic “practices” the doctrines of the Church, walking in agreement with them. If the Catholic Church is wrong with regard to "anything" it teaches concerning faith and morals, then "everything" it teaches must be questioned. The individual who disagrees with the Church is essentially saying he is god, that he himself has more wisdom than the Body of Christ, of which Jesus is the Head. Therefore, he is not seeking God. We seek God through the Catholic Church and its teachings, the Word, and Sacraments.  --TT

Friday, August 10, 2012

The King and the Pauper

“Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him…” (Mat 14:31).

It is common to our nature to aspire. We want to be somebody, somebody important. We want stature, desiring that people look up to us. We sometimes feel that it is then that we can help others. We no longer teach our sons morals, how to be good husbands and fathers; we want them to be somebody. We no longer teach our daughters how to be good wives and mothers; we encourage them to “be somebody,” as if being a wife and mother is “low-life.” We are more concerned about who and what they will become in this lifetime.

Jesus was reared a carpenter’s son. The people desired to make him a king, but He would not be the king they desired Him to be. Nevertheless, He was King. Peter was a fisherman, a nobody. Matthew was a tax collector, a nobody. Jesus, the King, reached down and caught the pauper, who was sinking into the sea (Magnificat, August 2012, pg 99). The sea symbolizes this life and the instability of the visible world; the storm that was going on points to every kind of trial or difficulty that oppresses human beings.1 Although Peter was a nobody, no matter that he had little faith, no matter that he was hardhearted, c.f. Mark 6:52, the King reached down to save them.

Our Lord is like a strong man traveling with companions. When they have to climb higher than they can reach, He climbs up and then reaches down to help the others up. If they have to cross over places to far for them to jump, He helps them across. Peter, regardless of the fact that he could swim, called out to Jesus to save him. We must call out also.

We read holy Scripture, and we find nothing that would lead us to even think that Jesus elevated Himself above the lowest person. He always reaches down to “lift up” others. St. Paul tells us, “Let nothing be done through contention, neither by vain glory; but in humility, let each esteem others better than themselves; each one not considering the things that are his own, but those that are other men's; For let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Php 2:3-5 DRB).

We are not Jesus Christ, but we can do as St. Paul tells us. Husbands can esteem their wives as higher than themselves, thinking of their wives before themselves. Wives can esteem their husbands as higher than themselves, thinking of their husbands before themselves. This creates equality out of love. We, often, are afraid to do that for we fear the other will not reciprocate in kind and we lose out. Jesus knew we would reciprocate in kind, yet He reached down to us regardless.

Jesus reaches down to us in the Sacrament of Baptism to save us from drowning in the “sea.” This is not enough for Him: He reaches down in the Sacrament of Confirmation to give us the Holy Spirit that we might be strengthened and encouraged. He reaches down with the Sacraments of Holy Orders and Marriage that we may more express His love for mankind and that we may express our love for our neighbor, loving husband/wife, children, and others as ourselves. Realizing that we fall often into temptation, He reaches down in the Sacrament of Penance in order that He may absolve us of our sins. The apex of it all, He gives us Himself in the Sacrament of the Altar, the Eucharist—body, blood, soul, and divinity. He gives us Himself that we may continually grow more like He, more in holiness. Then He gives us the Sacrament of the Sick that we do not lose faith when we are ready to depart this life. He has given us everything that we need, e.g. the Catholic Church and the Sacraments. But we do not receive the Sacraments that we may live unto ourselves; we receive the Sacraments that we may live for others, reaching down to lift them up. --TT

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Providence and Love of God

"For thus says the LORD: Incurable is your wound, grievous your bruise. There is none to plead your cause, no remedy for your running sore, no healing for you. All your lovers have forgotten you, they do not seek you. I struck you as an enemy would strike, punished you cruelly; why cry out over your wound? Your pain is without relief. Because of your great guilt, your numerous sins, I have done this to you" (Jer 30).

This is the love of God. He is telling them: “Your wound is incurable, your bruise grievous. There is no one to plead your cause; there is no remedy for your running sore, no healing for you. Your gods have forgotten you; they do not seek you. I struck you as an enemy would strike, punished you cruelly; they did not come to your aid. Because of your great and numerous sins, I have done this to you. You see, I am seeking you. I have done this to get you to repent. Repent, and I will restore you. I do not seek to destroy you, but to heal you.” It remains true today. Through the hardships, the trials and difficulties, God is working providentially to get us to repent and to sanctify us. They are for our good. “Divine providence works … through the actions of creatures. To human beings God grants the ability to cooperate freely with his plans. The fact that God permits physical and even moral evil is a mystery that God illuminates by his Son Jesus Christ who died and rose to vanquish evil. Faith gives us the certainty that God would not permit an evil if he did not cause a good to come from that very evil, by ways that we shall fully know only in eternal life” (Par 323-324, CCC). We see this ultimately in our Lord’s passion and death. Through the evil done to our Lord, mankind was redeemed. Paragraph 2554 of our Catechism tells us, “The baptized person combats envy through good-will, humility, and abandonment to the providence of God.” Just as King David, when he was on the run from his son, Absalom, look upon it as the providence of God when Shemei cursed him and cast stones at him. Instead of having his men kill Shemei, he stated, “Let him alone, and let him curse; for the LORD hath bidden him. It may be that the LORD will look on the wrong done unto me, and that the LORD will requite me good for his cursing of me this day” (2 Sam 16). Let us look upon our tribulations in similar fashion.

Let us look at our gospel reading from Matthew 14:22-36. Jesus “made” his disciples get into the boat, knowing what was going to occur. He went upon the mountain to pray, knowing his disciples would be terrified, being tossed about by the waves. This is not a large ship, but a relatively small boat. They were miles from shore; it was evening. The evening turned into night. The night became pitch black. They can’t see their hand in front of their face. They have been on the lake for hours. They have no idea where they are now. It is now the fourth watch of the night, the darkest hour before dawn, and Jesus came toward them, walking on the sea. It is pitch dark; they can’t see each other, but they see a figure walking on the water. No wonder they thought it was a ghost.

When I was a Protestant, I heard many sermons about Peter walking to Jesus on the water. They would talk about Peter “getting out of his comfort zone.” I do not think St. Peter was very comfortable in that boat. He was terrified. I think that, when Jesus said, “Take courage; it is I,” St. Peter knew that, if it was indeed Jesus, he would be safer on the water with Jesus than in the boat. I think that is more in the character of St. Peter at the time.

With this passage, many different homilies could be drawn out. In the meditation of the day in the Magnificat, it said the boat represents the Church, built by Christ and steered by the apostles. I will also agree with that. Jesus, knowing what was going to happen, sent his disciples out nevertheless. It was not for their harm, but for their good. Regardless of what was going on around them, they were safe in the boat. Jesus put them in the boat; they were safe. Jesus puts us in the Catholic Church; we are safe. It is when we leave the Church and focus on the world that we begin to sink. For this reason, Jesus gave us the Sacrament of Penance. In this Sacrament, Jesus stretches out His hand and catches us up. He puts us back in the boat, the Catholic Church, and the wind dies down.

In this we see clearly the providence of God and some of the ways He work. What He did to the apostles, He does to the Catholic Church and each of us. When “bad” things happen, let us try not to lash out in anger, but in humility look to God as King David did. Let us remember that God put us in the situation; therefore, He will not forsake us. Even if we blow it severely, just as Israel and Judah did in Jeremiah’s day, the penalty which occurs is not for our destruction, but to bring us back to repentance. Though our sins make us scarlet, He will make us white as snow. He does not desire that any of us should perish but that we return to Him. TT

Act of Hope

From faith flows hope. Faith is the conduit through which all graces flow. Without faith, it is impossible to please God. Unbelief clogs up the conduit of faith. The more we become enhanced with the world, its treasures, its pleasures, the more the conduit of faith becomes clogged, the more we lose hope, the more we drift away from Christ. The more we disagree with the Church, the more we fall into unbelief.

“My Lord and God! Because Thou art almighty, infinitely good and merciful, I hope that by the merits of the passion and death of Jesus Christ, our Saviour, Thou wilt grant me eternal life, which Thou hast promised to all who shall do the works of a good Christian, as I purpose to do by Thy help” (General Catholic Devotions, Bonaventure Hammer).

“Because Thou are almighty…” “God is the Father Almighty, whose fatherhood and power shed light on one another: God reveals his fatherly omnipotence by the way he takes care of our needs; by the filial adoption that he gives us (‘I will be a father to you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty’): finally by his infinite mercy, for he displays his power at its height by freely forgiving sins” (Par 270, CCC). “God shows forth his almighty power by converting us from our sins and restoring us to his friendship by grace. ‘God, you show your almighty power above all in your mercy and forgiveness…’ (Roman Missal, 26th Sunday, Opening Prayer)” (Par 277, CCC).

“…infinitely good…” Holy Writ tells us that God is love. “Infinitely good” tells us that God is love without bounds, overflowing love. There are many who believe that, because of Jesus’ passion and death, He will save us regardless. This cannot be. Love knows no evil. If sin is to be “winked” at, there can be no love, there can be no justice, no good. Because God is “infinitely good,” He desired that His creation be redeemed. Because He is “infinitely good,” He condescended to mankind, to allow His only begotten Son to be born of woman, to become Man, to bear the sins of His creation, to die, in order to reconcile us to Himself. “‘We know that in everything God works for good for those who love him.’ The constant witness of the saints confirms this truth: St. Catherine of Siena said to ‘those who are scandalized and rebel against what happens to them:’ ‘Everything comes from love, all is ordained for the salvation of man, God does nothing without this goal in mind.’ St. Thomas More, shortly before his martyrdom, consoled his daughter: ‘Nothing can come but that that God wills. And I make me very sure that whatsoever that be, seem it never so bad in sight, it shall indeed be the best.’ Dame Julian of Norwich: ‘Here I was taught by the grace of God that I should steadfastly keep me in the faith... and that at the same time I should take my stand on and earnestly believe in what our Lord shewed in this time - that 'all manner [of] thing shall be well'" (Par 313, CCC). "We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him… For those whom he fore knew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified" (Par 2012, CCC).

“…and merciful…” All of Scripture and Tradition attests to this. To doubt this is to deny this, to deny Scripture, deny Christ, to deny God.

“…I hope…” Hope is not wishful thinking. Hope is something solid, concrete, although it has not yet arrived. Loss of hope and loss of faith run together. If you lose one, you lose the other. “Hope is the theological virtue by which 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 grace of the Holy Spirit. ‘Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.’ ‘The Holy Spirit…he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.’ The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man; it takes up the hopes that inspire men's activities and purifies them so as to order them to the Kingdom of heaven; it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity” (Par 1817-1818, CCC). “Christian hope unfolds from the beginning of Jesus' preaching in the proclamation of the beatitudes. The beatitudes raise our hope toward heaven as the new Promised Land; they trace the path that leads through the trials that await the disciples of Jesus. But through the merits of Jesus Christ and of his Passion, God keeps us in the ‘hope that does not disappoint.’ Hope is the ‘sure and steadfast anchor of the soul…that enters… where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf.’ Hope is also a weapon that protects us in the struggle of salvation: ‘Let us…put on the breastplate of faith and charity, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.’ It affords us joy even under trial: ‘Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation.’ Hope is expressed and nourished in prayer, especially in the Our Father, the summary of everything that hope leads us to desire” (Par 1820, CCC).

“…that by the merits of the passion and death of Jesus Christ, our Saviour, Thou wilt grant me eternal life, which Thou hast promised to all who shall do the works of a good Christian, as I purpose to do by Thy help.” This can only be done by God’s grace. He knows my fragility. St. Peter denied Christ, but Christ had prayed from him, and St. Peter repented. Jesus also prayed for me. Our Blessed Mother intercedes for me; all the saints intercede for me. Christ instituted the Mass not because we are strong but because we are weak. Because of our weakness, He gave us the Sacraments. They are not given that I might continue in that same weakness, but to strengthen me. I think of the Eucharist, the very body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus. Can I continue to eat the body of Christ and not be strengthened, not grow? Although I will not attain perfection in this lifetime, I must continue in steady growth. I must now allow myself to think, “I do not have to try to do anything; He will make me grow.” This would be presumptuousness, causing death, causing me to perish. We are told to take up our crosses, that we would face persecution. The desert is full of perils, but I am protected—as long as I do not lose hope. I must retain in my mind that whatever occurs to me is by the providence of God. It is not for my evil, but for my good. It is either to bring me to repentance or to increase my faith—or both. TT

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Thoughts on the Transfiguration

Thoughts on the Transfiguration
“He did not know what he was saying” Luke 9: 33b
                The movement to write this reflection started in a conversation I had with my pastor just a few days earlier.  We were meeting to discuss a liturgy I had planned and our general conversation flowed out to other areas—one being the subject of Eucharist Adoration.  Both he and I agreed that as a parish family, our commitment to Eucharist adoration could use some work.  Yes, we have it for 24 hours from Thursday morning to Friday morning but that seems to be the heroic bailiwick of a stalwart tiny few and not the prerogative of a large majority for a parish our size.  I mentioned that we could not find 72 adorers to sit with Our Lord for the very first ACTS retreat and that even after having reached parish consensus on moving our former practice of a daily Holy Hour at 12 noon to Wednesday nights at 6PM, that Holy Hour very quickly fell to the wayside and tragically disappeared.  I also mentioned that I felt it was odd that we have a recently emergent community within the parish with Adoration as one of their 4 pillars, and that we still cannot generate enthusiasm within the parish for Eucharistic Adoration.
                We then discussed why this was.  I told my pastor then, and I will stand by it firmly, that it is a matter of catechesis.  Not enough of us know what the Eucharist is and why we as Catholics practice Eucharistic Adoration.  Father rightly claimed that that could not be the case as he does preach on the Eucharist from time to time.  And I pointed out that yes, he did do that—but it was in a homily, and lets face it, how many of us really listen to the homily at Holy Mass?
                We are not alone in our faith story of disciples and apostles who did not really listen to the voice of their Shepherd.  A few days after the meeting, I was preparing a presentation for a Meet and Greet and I decided to preach on the Transfiguration as my jumping off point since the Transfiguration is two days prior to the Feast of St . Dominic—the occasion for which I was preparing the presentation.  I read the Gospel accounts of the Transfiguration and took them to prayer to decide which one I was going to use and I chose Luke’s.  Many useful things percolated out from the Scripture in prayer, but several things kept surfacing repeatedly. 
The greatest of these was “But he did not know what he was saying.”  It stood out to me because it can be read 2 ways.  The first and the most obvious reading is “But he (Peter) did not know what he (Peter himself) was saying.”  And this would not be an incorrect reading of the text because it immediately follows Peter’s blathering on about building 3 tents on the mountain and at the moment, Peter was the only one speaking. 
However, is this the most correct reading of the text?  I would argue “No.”  I think that we can argue that the most correct reading of the text should be, “But he (Peter) did not know what he (Christ) was saying.”  Can we make this argument even though Christ never spoke a word to Peter in the actual Transfiguration account?  Yes, I think we can because the Transfiguration account is very peculiar in that its specific as to the time of its occurrence.  The Transfiguration occurs in Luke 8 days after 3 very important moments in the public ministry of Christ.  The first is Peter’s confession of Christ as the Messiah, which is immediately followed by Christ’s first prediction of His Passion, which is then followed by Christ’s declaration on the cost of discipleship.  The Transfiguration is said to have occurred 8 days after these things were said.  If we move forward in Luke’s Gospel to the events immediately after the Transfiguration, we see the an exorcism being performed where the father of the afflicted boy begs Christ to heal his son because Christ’s disciples could not do it.  Oddly, Christ chastises the lack of faith of the people, and presumably the disciples as well, and he foreshadows His Passion again.  Immediately after the exorcism, Christ makes his second prediction of His Passion, and then in Luke 9:45, we read “But they did not understand this saying; its meaning was hidden from them so that they should not understand it.”    The lack of understanding among the disciples escalates to them arguing about who was greatest, and then culminates with their embarrassment that another exorcist was casting out demons in Jesus Name who was not in their company.  It could not get any worse for Jesus’ disciples!
I would argue that the entire Transfiguration scene “bookended” as it is with the accounts before and after is strikingly similar to the scene of Christ’s Agony in the Garden.   Immediately prior to the Agony in the Garden, Christ gave Himself to us in the Bread and the Wine, and I am sure that “they (the disciples) did not understand” what Christ was saying and doing at the Last Supper in the same way that they did not understand either the first or second predictions of Christ’s Passion.  The disciples in the Garden were also doing what disciples seem best able to do in moments of prayer with the Master—sleep!  Christ in the Garden revealed Himself in the agony of His Incarnate Flesh, unlike the revelation of His Resurrected Glory in the Transfiguration.  And we find Peter, the one who first confessed our Lord as Messiah, shortly denying Him three times after the Agony in the Garden, because unlike the Transfiguration, the Passion was not a good place to be for Peter.  And finally, with Our Lord’s Passion and Death, the true cost of discipleship is fully revealed.
That Peter did not know what Christ was saying is both a valid and licit conclusion when we look at the Scripture for the Transfiguration.  We can also conclude that Peter did not know what he, Peter, was saying when he confessed Our Lord as the Messiah.  He said it through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but he did not know what he was saying because he could not know.  For Peter, as a Jew, the Messiah had to come as a King with the glory of the angels of Heaven—not as some poor carpenter’s son!  Yes there were the miracles, but Peter was one of us and we forget that because like Peter, we do not always know what we are saying and we do not always understand what Christ is saying to us.  Like Peter, we enjoy the comfort of our sleep and not the cost of Christ’s discipleship.  Like the disciples, we always argue amongst ourselves as to who is the greatest and then complain when we can’t do great things in Jesus Name but others can who are not a part of us. 
Like Peter, we also deny the Christ, but very fortunately, even then we do not know what we are saying.  How is it that we deny the Christ?  Our lack of faith in giving Christ Adoration in the Eucharist is probably one of the greatest and saddest ways we deny Our Lord.  As moderns , we can blather on with all the reasons why we do not have the time to find one hour out of 168 hours in every week to sit with the Master.  And yet, we know that true discipleship demands us to pay a  cost.  Is one hour of our time every week too much to pay for the promise of eternal glory from One who bought that promise of glory for us with the Sacrifice of His own Sacred Body and Blood?
And so Father, yes, you are saying the right things when you speak on Eucharistic Adoration in your homilies, but most us do not know what you are saying and we do not understand.  This is not your fault and if anything, you are in good company for trying to help us understand.  Less than 30% of Catholics in the United States do not even believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and yet just about everyone stumbles forward sleepily every Sunday to receive Holy Communion.  As we know the statistic is true, that means that at a Sunday Mass attended by 400 people only 120 people who are receiving Holy Communion know and understand Who it is and what it is that they are being given as free gift!  So it should be no surprise as to why we cannot find 72 adorers for 1 weekend or even sustain 1 Holy Hour one night a week.  Too few of us know, understand, and believe—even though we sleepily stumble into the Greatest Miracle every week--or even every day.  --RD

The Act of Faith

The Acts of Faith, Hope, and Charity have long been beautiful Catholic Prayers. Some are longer, some shorter. I do not know how many Catholics still pray them, but they should be prayed daily. They are beautiful prayers, meaningful way to begin a day. They are succinct, and keep us focused upon what we do believe as Catholics. If we do read/recite them, perhaps we get in a hurry and rush through them without meditating upon them. For this reason, it is my desire to treat upon them, beginning with the Act of Faith.

What is “faith”? Paragraph 166 of the Catechism says: “Faith is a personal act - the free response of the human person to the initiative of God who reveals himself. But faith is not an isolated act. No one can believe alone, just as no one can live alone. You have not given yourself faith as you have not given yourself life. The believer has received faith from others and should hand it on to others. Our love for Jesus and for our neighbor impels us to speak to others about our faith. Each believer is thus a link in the great chain of believers. I cannot believe without being carried by the faith of others, and by my faith I help support others in the faith.”

The Act of Faith I am utilizing is from General Catholic Devotions, by Bonaventure Hammer.

"My Lord and God! I most firmly believe all that Thou hast revealed and all that Thy holy Church believes and teaches, because Thou, who art infallible Truth, hast so revealed and commanded."

“My Lord and my God!” Why “Lord” and “God”? Why not one or the other? This brings into remembrance St. Thomas, the apostle--sometimes referred to as “Doubting Thomas”—when Jesus told him to thrust his finger into His wounds to verify that He indeed had risen. “My Lord and God” is also what we say silent when the priest elevates the host during the Eucharist. “Lord and God” is not saying the same thing twice. “Lord” is someone or something having power, authority, or influence. Sarah called her husband, Abraham, “lord” (Ge 18:3). St. Peter tells us, “…Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord”… (1 Pe 4:6). “God” is defined “(in Christianity and other monotheistic religions) the creator and ruler of the universe and source of all moral authority; the supreme being.” [Martin Luther erred in many things, but I think his definition of “God” is good: “A god means that from which we are to expect all good and in which we are to take refuge in all distress. So, to have a God is nothing other than trusting and believing Him with the heart.”] Hence, when we pray “my Lord and God,” we are essentially saying: “You, Lord, have power over me, authority over me; You influence me. You are the Creator and Ruler of the Universe, the Source of all moral authority. You are all that is good. You are Supreme; You are God.”

“I most firmly believe”… “Firm” is an unyieldingly, in a determined and unshakable way, steadiness. When it comes to the word “believe,” we are using it in the same sense as we do in the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed. Paragraph 185 of the Catechism, treating on the Creeds, states: “Whoever says ‘I believe’ says ‘I pledge myself to what we believe.’ Communion in faith needs a common language of faith, normative for all and uniting all in the same confession of faith.”

“…all that Thou hast revealed and all that Thy holy Church believes and teaches, because Thou, who art infallible Truth, has so revealed and commanded.” Here, we are confessing that all the Catholic Church believes and teaches has been revealed God and is absolute truth because Jesus Christ is the Head of the Body, the Head of the Church, and He will not deceive His Body, the Church. If we do not believe this, then we must believe that truth is relative, that whatever we sincerely believe is truth, although we know that that is false because we have all sincerely believed something which later proved to be false. The Catholic Church has to be right; otherwise, we perish for we will not know Truth or where truth lies. This is why there must be One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church. TT

Friday, August 3, 2012

What the Catholic Church Means to me

When I was attending school in my youth, I recall that one of my Health teachers told us that it was unknown what the purpose of the appendix was, that it was an unnecessary part of the body. Perhaps, they have discovered the purpose of the appendix. When it comes to the Church, the Body of Christ, I “feel” that I am an appendix. Now, I know that there are no worthless “parts” in the Church, that God has an extremely important purpose for every single member of the Body. Nevertheless, the “feeling” remains, regardless of the fact that I realize that our feelings are fallen and deceive. Everything I put my mind and hand to, I fall extremely short. I can identify with St. Paul when he said, “That which I desire to do, I do not; that which I desire not to do, I do.” Yet the question always remains: Did I not do what I did because I wanted to? Even if a knife was put to my ribs, would I be forced to do something? Could I not choose death rather than sin against my God? Therefore, do I not do what I do because, at the time, I want to, whether out of fear or not? How does this make me love the Catholic Church?

All my life I was a Protestant. Twenty some years ago, the Truth began to be extremely important to me. I had to know Truth, otherwise I was going to perish. I was, at the time, a Baptist. Questions started coming into my mind. I would go to the pastor with my questions, and his answers would create more questions. Finally, he asked me, “Why can’t you just believe the way you do, and I believe the way I do?” I said, “I can’t; I must know Truth.” I left the Southern Baptist, and went to the Presbyterian PCA. From there, I went to the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS). I began to fear one thing: I knew that truth was not in me; but would I recognize Truth when it came to me? I knew something was not Truth just because I sincerely believed it; hence, how would I know Truth was Truth if it confronted me?

As a Lutheran, I found a Lutheran website called Wittenburg Trail. They would ridicule the Catholic Church, especially the Pope, who we were taught was the Antichrist. This bothered me for I was taught in the LCMS that we were saved through Baptism and the Pope was baptized. If the Pope was saved through Baptism, how could he be the Antichrist? I was told that the Pope as a person was not the Antichrist, but the position. But how do you separate the person from the position? This caused me to wonder what Catholics really believed.

The Catholics I had met in the past did not impress me at all. They did not know why the Catholic Church believed as it did; they had very little knowledge of Scripture. When I was in the military, a Catholic told me that one only had to go to Mass twice a year—Christmas and Easter—that, if you missed either one, you would go to hell. The Catholics I met could not explain to me why they believed as they did. But, because of the attacks on the Catholic Church by those on the Wittenberg Trail, I decided to search out what Catholics believed, why they believed. I came across the Catholic Answers website.

I was impressed that they did not ridicule or attack Protestants. What was also impressive was that the Catholic Church did “not” believe that Protestants were going to hell because we were not members of the Catholic Church, that indeed many would be saved. This encouraged me to delve in further. I learned that, in order for me to become a Catholic, I had to believe that the Catholic Church was The Church, that I had to accept what the Church taught regarding faith and morals was Truth, that I would perish if I left the Catholic Church, after having admitted that the Catholic Church was The Church. This made me very hesitant. Then I learned that the Catholic Church believed that it only had the fullness of Truth. Then they had the audacity to prove it. I began attending an RCIA class to learn more about the Catholic Church. I was still teetering, couldn’t readily accept that the Catholic Church was The Church. I had to be very sure before I became Catholic because I knew there was no turning back if I became a Catholic. While in RCIA, the doctrines regarding the Virgin Mary troubled me so much that I knew I couldn’t go forward; but I also could not let go. I began downloading the Catholic Answers radio programs and listening to them. I knew more and more I was leaning towards Catholicism.

Finally, I came to the conclusion that I would never know Truth from within, that it had to come from without. I knew of no other denomination that stated it had Truth, the fullness of it, and then set about proving it. Then came the comforting words, “We are the Body of Christ, of which Jesus is the Head; and He will not deceive His Body.” The Catholic Church, I realized, was the Ark. Our Bless Mother is the ark of the Covenant, making her the Mother of the Church. There was safety in Noah’s ark; there is safety in the Catholic Church. Just as there was a devil in Noah’s ark—Ham—I could become a cancerous tumor, a devil, in the Catholic Church if I did not trust that Jesus Christ was the Head of the Catholic Church and that He would not let His Body be deceived, be wrong, and therefore what the Catholic Church taught is Truth. It is so comforting to trust that Jesus would give discernment to the Catholic Church, who in turn would teach the members. The Catholic Church is not an organization; it is a Living organism. In the Mass, God gives us His Word, gives us His only Begotten Son dying on Calvary for us, and He rising for our justification. He gives us the Sacrament in order to maintain our holiness. Let us not receive the Sacraments ignorantly, without knowledge, haphazardly; but let us receive them with knowledge, repentance, with growth. The Israelites believed they would be safe if they cling to the altar, e.g. Joab; let us cling to the Catholic Church and its doctrines, teachings. If we do not agree with them, we are theoretically believing that the Catholic Church does not have the fullness of Truth, that the fullness of Truth is what we sincerely believe. It is then we begin drifting away from Jesus Christ. TT

This theological reflection courtesy of the parishioners of St Paul Catholic Church in Pensacola, Florida: