Saturday, November 14, 2015

What Do I Want Out of Life?

What do you want out of life? I think we have all heart that. Sometimes we are referring to what we desire to become in our lifetime; but, I think, mostly, what we refer to is our “dream,” what we desire to happen to us, how we desire other people to view us, to treat us, what we desire to possess, etc. We are told that the heavens and earth will pass away, in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and 2 Peter. Therefore, we are asking, what do we want out of a dying world, a world that is passing away? What the world believes to be good, to be right, is passing away. Is that what we want to be part of? Is it our desire to be partakers of death? Entertainment is enjoying that which is passing away, death. The world holds up dying things, death, and tells us these are good and will make us happy. Dying can only give us death. Death can only give us death. There can be no true happiness in dying and death.

Life is not death; life is not dying. Life is life. We cannot live without the sun; nevertheless, the sun cannot keep us alive. We cannot live without oxygen; nevertheless, oxygen cannot keep us alive. We cannot live without food; however, food cannot keep us alive. You can go on and on with this. Only Life can give life; therefore, if we desire life, we must look to Life—God.

When man was created, he was given life. He was not dying; he was made to live forever. Adam and Eve had life because they were united to God, Who is Life. As long as they had communion, were united, with God they had life. This communion, this unity, is kept through obedience. Disobedience is a rebelling, a break, from communion, unity. Therefore, when Adam sinned through disobedience—it was Adam’s sin, not Eve’s, that caused the Fall of mankind, because he was the head of the human race by being the “first born”—humanity severed itself from life. What is the effect when someone is cut off from life? Death. Because mankind had cut himself off from Life, he no longer had the resource to reach out to Life. God, because of His love for mankind, reaches out to us, giving us enough grace to reach out to Him.

The reason there is a necessity for atheists to be present in the world is in order to show mankind how far it has fallen, how extreme its separation from God is. God is informing us through the atheist that if it was not for God Himself, by His grace, not one single human being would believe in Him. It is by His grace that we actually see His existence in creation. Through agnostics, deists, and the myriad of denominations, we see that God’s “normal” way of working humanity: He reveals Himself to us by His grace, causing us to come to believe in Him—if we do not reject this grace. The more we cooperate with what grace we are given, the more we seek the Truth of Him, the more He reveals of Himself. If we stop seeking, He stops revealing, and we begin dying once more. All of mankind have access to God. If they earnestly seek Him, He reveals Himself to them. If an individual has no desire to learn of God, he can ask for the desire to learn of Him. The question remains: What do I want out of Life?
--Tommy Turner

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

Friday, November 13, 2015

None of Us Lives to Himself

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:1–10 RSVCE)

There has to be three interpretations to these parables. Because of the pronoun “them” in Verse 3, who is Jesus speaking to: 1) the tax collectors and sinners, 2) the Pharisees and the scribes, or 3) all of them? There is a lesson to be learned if we say that all of the above is correct. Before we get to the parables, let’s begin with the first two verses.

St. Ambrose tells us: “You had learnt by what went before (previously in Chapter 14) not to prefer transitory things to eternal. But because the frailty of man cannot keep a firm step in so slippery a world, the good Physician has shown you a remedy even after falling; the merciful Judge has not denied the hope of pardon; hence it is added, The drew near to him all the [tax collectors and sinners].” Veneral Theophylact reminds us: “For this was His [habit] whereof He had taken upon Him the flesh, to receive sinners as the physician those that are sick.” We should also pay attention to the words “were all drawing near.” The tax collectors and sinners drew near to Jesus. These are people in sin, in need of repentance. Today, many people want to “draw near” to Jesus in their minds. They want to be the Judge that they are drawing near, but they are not the Judge. Just because we “think” something or “believe” something does not make it necessarily true. When we are in sin and need of repentance, the only certain way to know that we are drawing near to Jesus is in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The priest sits in the Office of Christ; therefore, we are approaching Jesus, not a man.

The Pharisees. I do not like to attack the Pharisees because many times I see myself doing and thinking exactly as they do. I do not believe that Jesus is putting them down but, in love, is trying to lift them up, trying to get them to repent. This is the “tough love” we see that Jesus was referring to when He was saying that His disciples must “hate” their fathers, mothers, wives, etc. St. Gregory makes a good point: “…True justice feels compassion; false justice, scorn—although the just [should be in the practice] rightly to repel sinners. But there is one act proceeding from the swelling of pride, another from the zeal for discipline. For the just, though [outside] they spare not rebukes for the sake of discipline, within [they] cherish sweetness from charity. In their own minds, [they set those they correct above themselves], whereby they keep both them under by discipline, and themselves by humility.” This is what Jesus is doing. The saint continues: “But, on the contrary, they who from false justice are [accustomed] to pride themselves, despise all others, and never in mercy condescend to the weak; and thinking themselves not to be sinners, are so much the worse sinners. Of such were the Pharisees…” And, frankly, this applies to me oftentimes, which is one reason why I say I am like the Pharisees. Now, we turn to the parables.

Let me go back first, and answer the question: Why would Jesus be only speaking to the tax collectors and sinners, or why would He only be speaking to the Pharisees when the tax collectors and sinners were, perhaps, closer to Him? If by “drawing near” the evangelist is referring to proximity, it is possible that the Pharisees and scribes were in a group separate from them but were listening in, listening to what Jesus had to say, in order to persecute Him. It is possible then that Jesus was speaking only to the tax collectors and sinners. On the other hand, Jesus could be rebuking the Pharisees, while the rebuke would be a warning to the others to be watchful and not become like the Pharisees. Each scenario that we discuss will be beneficial to us.

Sts. Gregory and Cyril tell us that one hundred is a perfect number, referring to the sum of angels and men, the rational creatures, and that, “out of these, one has wandered, namely, the race of man which inhabits earth” (St. Cyril). In this scenario, Jesus leaves the ninety-nine that are already in the Kingdom and goes to rescue the one that is lost. St. Gregory says: “He placed the sheep upon His shoulders, for taking man’s nature up Him, He bore our sins. But having found the sheep, He returns home; for our Shepherd having restored man, returns to His heavenly kingdom. In this scenario, Jesus could be speaking to both groups, that they all be brought to repentance; or He could just be speaking to the tax collectors and sinners, knowing the hardness of the unrepentant hearts of the Pharisees and scribes.

On the other hand, we have the Pharisees and scribes murmuring, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” This murmuring is within the hearing of Jesus and the tax collectors and sinners; therefore, Jesus is going to rebuke them, desiring that this also be a lesson to the tax collectors and sinners. In this scenario, the one hundred sheep refers specifically to the Jews but also to the entirety of the human race. The ninety-nine are the self-righteous and presumptuous who believe they are already in the kingdom or have no need of salvation; the one that is lost is the one who recognizes that he is a sinner and is in need of salvation and reconciliation. Because He leaves the ninety-nine means that He was with them but, because of their hardness of heart He leaves them. You can also see the ninety-nine as the nation of Israel and the Gentiles as the one that is lost. Therefore, Jesus is rebuking the Pharisees and scribes and is warning the tax collectors and sinners that, if they become self-righteous and presumptuous, He will leave them also.

The second parable of the woman and the coins can be a repeat of the first teaching, just using a different example to, perhaps, make it more clear to those who really didn’t understand what He was explaining in the first parable. However, when I read the word “woman,” I try to see if it fits the Virgin Mary and the Catholic Church. The “woman” is Mary/Catholic Church. The ten coins represent the baptized because they have an image upon them, the image of Christ. In Baptism, all our sins are washed away, and we are the perfect image of Jesus, who is the perfect image of the Father. Thereafter, we trip and fall, getting “lost.” Some of us remain in ignorance; some, presumptuous; some, self-righteous, some, for other reasons. Because her Son, her Lord and our Lord, has entrusted to her all that belong to Him in Baptism, our Blessed Mother, through the Catholic Church, searches diligently for those who have strayed outside the Church. This is evidenced by how diligent the Catholic Church is in trying to get fallen-away Catholics to return to the Church.

I think our epistle reading supports all scenarios we have covered. None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” So each of us shall give account of himself to God. (Ro 14:7-12, RSVCE)

Our Responsorial Psalm is the prayer of thanksgiving and plea for perseverance of the one who has been found, has been made the image of our Savior: The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple. I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; yea, wait for the Lord! (Ps 27:1, 4, 13-14, RSVCE).

As we have learned from the early Church fathers, let us not look at “one” being an individual, but a group, a unity. I fear that too many are so concerned about the individual self that they lose sight of the fact that we are a body. They want to think, “I want a personal relationship with Jesus,” instead of, “I want us to have a personal relationship with Jesus.” “None of us lives to himself.” We do not make it alone. We can go to hell as individuals, but those that are baptized do not live to themselves, nor do they die to themselves. We are a body, the Body of Christ.
--Tommy Turner
This theological reflection courtesy of  the parishioners of St Paul Catholic Church in Pensacola, Florida:

Thursday, November 12, 2015

For Whose Sake Are We Being Saved?

It is good that Psalm 98 beings with the sentence, “O sing to the LORD a new song.” It causes us to ask, “Why?” “For He has done marvelous things!” “What marvelous things?” “His right hand and His holy arm have gotten Him victory!” (I mostly read from the RV and the RSVCE.) “Huh?” Right. That is where we must stop. If we don’t understand this, there can be no singing of a new song.

I think just a cursorily reading of the psalm leads us to understand that the psalmist is referring to the salvation of mankind. I believe we understand the tremendous importance of salvation, but let’s be truthful: We are thankful for the salvation Jesus has procured for us; I believe that we are extremely thankful; but it is not: “WOW!!! JESUS HAS SAVED US!!! OH! LET US SING A NEW, JOYFUL SONG!!!!!” Although the NAB puts it so clearly, “His right hand has won victory for him, his holy arm,” making it clear that His right hand has won victory for His holy arm, I was interpreting: He got the victory for us, for me. However, that is not what is being said. Let’s let St. Augustine explain it to us.

“The Lord hath done marvelous things.” What marvelous things? Hear: “His own right hand, and His holy arm, hath healed for Him.” What is the Lord’s holy Arm? Our Lord Jesus Christ. Hear Isaiah: “Who hath believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?” His holy arm then, and His own right hand, is Himself. Our Lord Jesus Christ is therefore the arm of God, and the right hand of God: for this reason is it said, “hath He healed for Him.” (St. Augustine’s version of the Bible reads, I’m assuming, “His own right hand, and His holy arm, hath healed for Him,” instead of the renderings in the NAB and the RSVCE; however, it is the same: The victory is salvation, and salvation is the healing of sinful man.) It is not said only, “His right hand hath healed the world,” but “hath healed for Him.” For many are healed for themselves, not for Him. Behold how many long for that bodily health, and receive it from Him: they are healed by Him, but not for Him. How are they healed by Him, and not for Him? When they have received health, they become wanton: they who when sick were chaste, when cured become adulterers: they who when in illness injured no man, on the recovery of their strength attack and crush the innocent: they are healed, but not unto Him. Who is he who is healed unto Him? He who is healed inwardly. Who is he that is healed inwardly? He who trusteth in Him, that when he shall have been healed inwardly, reformed into a new man, afterwards this mortal flesh too, which doth languish for a time, may in the end itself even recover its most perfect health. Let us therefore be healed for Him. But that we may be healed for Him, let us believe in His right hand. You see, God has not saved us for ourselves. He has not saved us for our sakes, but His. God makes it so emphatically clear in Isaiah 43:25 when He says, “I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake”… The NAB renders it, “It is I, I, who wipe out, for my own sake, your offenses”… (emphasis added).

The LORD has made known His victory (salvation); He has revealed His vindication (triumph) in the sight of the nations. St. Augustine: “’The Lord hath made known His salvation. This very right hand, this very arm, this very salvation, is our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom it is said, ‘And all flesh shall see the salvation of God;’ of whom also that Simeon who embraced the Infant in his arms, spoke, ‘Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace; for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.’ ‘The Lord hath made known His salvation.’ To whom did He make it known? To a part, or to the whole? Not to any part specially. Let no man betray, no man deceive, no man say, ‘Lo, here is Christ, or there:’ the man who saith, Lo, He is here, or there, pointeth to some particular spots. To whom ‘hath the Lord declared His salvation’? Hear what followeth: ‘His righteousness hath He openly showed in the sight of the heathen.’ Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is the right hand of God, the arm of God, the salvation of God, and the righteousness of God.”[1]

If God saved us for His sake, for whom should we be seeking to please? It surpasses, “I saved you; therefore, please love me.” That is saving us for our sakes, not His. He saved us for His sake, conforming us to the One who took upon Himself corrupt human nature, a nature that really does not care whether it is saved or not. We see this is true in those who do not care. If we do care, it is not of us, but God, God drawing us, calling us. If God saves us for His sake, who are we to live for? God. When we go to purchase something in order to “possess” it, let us ask ourselves, “Do I want to possess this, or do I want to possess the One who possesses it?” We cannot “possess” both; it is one or the other. St. Paul tells us, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2.10) “They profess to know God, but they deny Him by their deeds…” (Titus 1:16). I desire you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to apply themselves to good deeds…” (Titus 3:8). To paraphrase, St. Augustine: If we believe we are being saved for God’s sake, we will do the works of God; if we believe we are being saved for our sakes, we will live to please ourselves, doing detestable works. Is God our Father, or is the devil? When we truly understand the love behind God's salvation, saving us for His sake instead of ours, we will have a new song to sing.

[1] Augustine of Hippo. (1888). Expositions on the Book of Psalms. In P. Schaff (Ed.), A. C. Coxe (Trans.), Saint Augustin: Expositions on the Book of Psalms (Vol. 8, pp. 480–481). New York: Christian Literature Company.
--Tommy Turner

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

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

What Does It Mean to Have a Personal Relationship with Christ?

We hear all the time about having a personal relationship with Christ. What does this really mean? As a protestant, we also used that phrase. However, when you really think about it, how do you have a “personal” relationship with someone you cannot see and cannot hear? As a protestant, we were referring to reading the Bible and prayer, but is that really a “personal” relationship? The root of “personal,” of course, is “person,” which means “a human being regarded as an individual.” In Christian theology, it is: “each of the three modes of being of God, namely, the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit, who together constitute the Trinity.

As a protestant, I also heard that prayer was a two-way street. This is necessary because, otherwise, how could it be a “personal” relationship? One preacher said, “You ask God a question, and the first thing that comes to mind is God’s answer. That sounds great, but it can lead to some very, very serious problems. More often, what we meant by prayer being a two-way street is that God would speak to you through the Scriptures. However, this also leads to tremendous problems. We see the effects of this in the myriad of denominations that are in the world. It leads to private interpretations. It is true that God can speak, has spoken, and does speak to people directly, but this is not the normal way of communication by God. A common result that occurs when a person thinks God speaks directly to them is that they become prideful and will not listen to other Christians. I have had people tell me that they only listen to God, not men. They hold themselves higher than others, instead of making others more important than themselves.

Do we have a personal relationship with Christ? Yes, absolutely. How do we know that we have a personal relationship with Christ? Because, let’s face it, how do you know with certainty that you have a “personal” relationship with God, whom you cannot see? We know this with certainty because of the Catholic Church. Jesus Christ is present body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Eucharist. He is present in His Office, the priesthood. He is present in every Catholic who is not in a state of mortal sin.

Many times, people want a “personal” relationship outside of the community of the Body of Christ, the Catholic Church. This relegates the Church into just a meeting place or an organization. This should not be, because the Catholic Church is an organism, not an organization. We are members of the one Church, the Body of Christ. Everything should be for the Body.

Does that mean we should not have private prayer? Of course not, but our prayers should be to benefit the entire Body. Does that mean we should not pray for healing? Of course not. Jesus has given us the Sacrament of Healing. However, when we do pray for something “personal,” we should be praying sincerely that it has an effect upon the entire Body. When we consecrate ourselves to Jesus through Mary, it is our desire that this is for the benefit of the Church, not for personal gain. We have a personal relationship with Christ inasmuch as the Catholic Church has a personal relationship with Christ because Jesus is her Head. In the Creed we say, “I believe.” We are all saying the same thing, believing the same thing, making us a unity. In this way, we are having a personal relationship with Christ.
--Tommy Turner

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

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Pope's Four Favorite Americans

The Pope's remarks on his favorite Americans may not have been readily obvious to Catholics watching the Pope's ground-breaking address to both houses of Congress during his recent visit to our country. He made the names of his four favorite Americans perfectly obvious, not once, but twice, in sentences nearly back-to-back in what was a section of his speech on the dignity of the United States among the nations of the world. So, who are (were) these Americans that the Pope named and praised? They are (1) Abraham Lincoln; (2) Martin Luther King; (3) Thomas Merton; and (4) Dorothy Day. It is doubtful that very many members of Congress had ever heard of Numbers (3) and (4).  But why did the Pope mention personages (1) through (4) anyway? He did it because he wanted to exemplify, by inserting these people into a section of his speech on the greatness of America, to underscore our nation's humanitarian and charitable assistance to millions of people both within America and in the world throughout history. And he chose the four people he did because he was making a powerful point. He wanted Congress to know that the nobility of the four was based not on their politics but on their Christian calling in the world.

Let's consider a brief biographical statement on Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day:

Thomas Merton (1915 - 1968)

Merton was a Trappist monk at Gethsemane Abbey, Kentucky. He was also a prolific writer, who had studied and taught English at Columbia University. He converted to Catholicism and joined the Trappist order in 1941. His best-selling autobiography, The Seven-Storey Mountain (1946), prompted many men to become monks, and brought him international fame. His other works ranged from personal journals and poetry to social criticism. His growing interest in Eastern spirituality led him to speak at a conference in Bangkok, where he was accidentally electrocuted by an ungrounded electric cord in his room.

Dorothy Day (1897 - 1980)

Day was a writer and and radical social reformer. A life-long socialist, she worked in the New York City slums as a probationary nurse. Converted to Catholicism in 1927, she co-founded the monthly Catholic Worker newspaper in 1933, which she sold for a penny. Under the influence of a French itinerant priest, Peter Maurin (1877 - 1949), she founded the Catholic Worker movement, which established "houses of hospitality" and farm communities for people hit by the Depression. A pacifist and a fervent supporter of farm-worker unionization in the 1960's, she helped turn her Church's attention to peace and justice issues. When Vatican II began she went to Rome, rented an apartment near the locale of the bishops' discussions in the Vatican, and prayed for six months before heading back to New York and her Catholic Worker movement work.

Let us quote here from the Pope's speech, where he inserts the names of the four Americans not once but twice, and in the context of a broader purpose:

"Each son or daughter of a given country has a mission, a personal and social responsibility. Your own responsibility as members of Congress is to enable this country, by your legislative activity, to grow as a nation. You are the face of its people, their representatives. You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics. A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk. Legislative activity is always based on care for the people.  To this you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you.

Yours is a work which makes me reflect in two ways on the figure of Moses. On the one hand, the patriarch and lawgiver of the people of Israel symbolizes the need of peoples to keep alive their sense of unity by means of just legislation. On the other, the figure of Moses leads us directly to God and thus to the transcendent dignity of the human being. Moses provides us with a good synthesis of your work: you are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face.

Today I would like not only to address you, but through you the entire people of the United States. Here, together with their representatives, I would like to take this opportunity to dialogue with the many thousands of men and women who strive each day to do an honest day's work, to bring home their daily bread, to save money and --one step at a time -- to build a better life for their families. These are men and women who are not concerned simply with paying their taxes, but in their own quiet way sustain the life of society. They generate solidarity by their actions, and they create organizations which offer a helping hand to those most in need.

I would also like to enter into dialogue with the many elderly persons who are a storehouse of wisdom forged by experience, and who seek in many ways, especially through volunteer work, to share their stories and their insights. I know that many of them are retired, but still active; they keep working to build up this land.

I also want to dialogue with all those young people who are working to realize their great and noble aspirations, who are not led astray by facile proposals, and who face difficult situations, often as a result of immaturity on the part of many adults. I wish to dialogue with all of you, and I would like to do so through the historical memory of your people. My visit takes place at a time when men and women of good will are marking the anniversaries of several great Americans. The complexities of history and the reality of human weakness notwithstanding, these men and women, for all their many differences and limitations, were able by hard work and self-sacrifice -- some at the cost of their lives -- to build a better future. They shaped fundamental values which will endure forever in the spirit of the American people.

A people with this spirit can live through many crises, tensions and conflicts, while always finding the resources to move forward, and to do so with dignity. These men and women offer us a way of seeing and interpreting reality. In honoring their memory, we are inspired, even amid conflicts, and in the here and now of each day, to draw upon our deepest cultural reserves. I would like to mention four of these Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.

This year marks the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, the guardian of liberty, who labored tirelessly that "this nation, under God, [might] have a new birth of freedom". Building a future of freedom requires love of the common good and cooperation in a spirit of subsidiarity and solidarity. All of us are quite aware of, and deeply worried by, the disturbing social and political situation of the world today. Our world is increasingly a place of violent conflict, hatred and brutal atrocities, committed even in the name of God and of religion. We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism.

This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind. A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms. But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps. We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place.

That is something which you, as a people, reject. Our response must instead be one of hope and healing, of peace and justice. We are asked to summon the courage and the intelligence to resolve today's many geopolitical and economic crises. Even in the developed world, the effects of unjust structures and actions are all too apparent. Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments, and thus promoting the well-being of individuals and of peoples. We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good. The challenges facing us today call for a renewal of that spirit of cooperation, which has accomplished so much good throughout the history of the United States. The complexity, the gravity and the urgency of these challenges demand that we pool our resources and talents, and resolve to support one another, with respect for our differences and our convictions of conscience.

In this land, the various religious denominations have greatly contributed to building and strengthening society. It is important that today, as in the past, the voice of faith continue to be heard, for it is a voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society. Such cooperation is a powerful resource in the battle to eliminate new global forms of slavery, born of grave injustices which can be overcome only through new policies and new forms of social consensus. Here I think of the political history of the United States, where democracy is deeply rooted in the mind of the American people.

All political activity must serve and promote the good of the human person and be based on respect for his or her dignity. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" (Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1776). If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance. Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life. I do not underestimate the difficulty that this involves, but I encourage you in this effort.

Here too I think of the march which Martin Luther King led from Selma to Montgomery fifty years ago as part of the campaign to fulfill his "dream" of full civil and political rights for African Americans. That dream continues to inspire us all. I am happy that America continues to be, for many, a land of "dreams". Dreams which lead to action, to participation, to commitment. Dreams which awaken what is deepest and truest in the life of a people.In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom. We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants.

Tragically, the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected. For those peoples and their nations, from the heart of American democracy, I wish to reaffirm my highest esteem and appreciation. Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present. Nonetheless, when the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past. We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our "neighbors" and everything around us. Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do that.

Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" (Mt 7:12).

This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us. The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development. This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty. I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes. Recently my brother bishops here in the United States renewed their call for the abolition of the death penalty. Not only do I support them, but I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.

In these times when social concerns are so important, I cannot fail to mention the Servant of God Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker Movement. Her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints.How much progress has been made in this area in so many parts of the world! How much has been done in these first years of the third millennium to raise people out of extreme poverty! I know that you share my conviction that much more still needs to be done, and that in times of crisis and economic hardship a spirit of global solidarity must not be lost. At the same time I would encourage you to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty. They too need to be given hope. The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes. I know that many Americans today, as in the past, are working to deal with this problem.

It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth. The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable. "Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good" (Laudato Si', 129). This common good also includes the earth, a central theme of the encyclical which I recently wrote in order to "enter into dialogue with all people about our common home" (ibid., 3). "We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all" (ibid., 14).

In Laudato Si', I call for a courageous and responsible effort to "redirect our steps" (ibid., 61), and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States -- and this Congress -- have an important role to play. Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a "culture of care" (ibid., 231) and "an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature" (ibid., 139). "We have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology" (ibid., 112); "to devise intelligent ways of... developing and limiting our power" (ibid., 78); and to put technology "at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral" (ibid., 112). In this regard, I am confident that America's outstanding academic and research institutions can make a vital contribution in the years ahead.

A century ago, at the beginning of the Great War, which Pope Benedict XV termed a "pointless slaughter", another notable American was born: the Cistercian monk Thomas Merton. He remains a source of spiritual inspiration and a guide for many people. In his autobiography he wrote: "I came into the world. Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born. That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers". Merton was above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church.

He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions. From this perspective of dialogue, I would like to recognize the efforts made in recent months to help overcome historic differences linked to painful episodes of the past. It is my duty to build bridges and to help all men and women, in any way possible, to do the same. When countries which have been at odds resume the path of dialogue -- a dialogue which may have been interrupted for the most legitimate of reasons -- new opportunities open up for all. This has required, and requires, courage and daring, which is not the same as irresponsibility. A good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism. A good political leader always opts to initiate processes rather than possessing spaces (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 222-223).

Being at the service of dialogue and peace also means being truly determined to minimize and, in the long term, to end the many armed conflicts throughout our world. Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.Three sons and a daughter of this land, four individuals and four dreams: Lincoln, liberty; Martin Luther King, liberty in plurality and non-exclusion; Dorothy Day, social justice and the rights of persons; and Thomas Merton, the capacity for dialogue and openness to God. Four representatives of the American people.I will end my visit to your country in Philadelphia, where I will take part in the World Meeting of Families. It is my wish that throughout my visit the family should be a recurrent theme. How essential the family has been to the building of this country! And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement!

Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life. In particular, I would like to call attention to those family members who are the most vulnerable, the young. For many of them, a future filled with countless possibilities beckons, yet so many others seem disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and despair. Their problems are our problems. We cannot avoid them. We need to face them together.

At the risk of oversimplifying, we might say that we live in a culture which pressures young people not to start a family, because they lack possibilities for the future with so many options that they too are dissuaded from starting a family. Yet this same culture presents others to talk about them and to seek effective solutions rather than getting bogged down in discussions. A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to "dream" of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton.

In these remarks I have sought to present some of the richness of your cultural heritage, of the spirit of the American people. It is my desire that this spirit continue to develop and grow, so that as many young people as possible can inherit and dwell in a land which has inspired so many people to dream.

God bless America!

Monday, November 9, 2015

What Are We Praying in the Our Father?

Most of us know the “Our Father” by heart. Therefore, we spew it out many times without thinking of the words that we are saying. This is short in order that, when we pause between the petitions, we may have a quick meditation.

Our Father who art in heaven. We do the works of our father. If we are born again of God through Baptism, we do the works of God. God is Life; therefore, we are born into Life in Baptism, and we do the works of Life. Prior to Baptism we were dying, the product of death; therefore, our father was the devil—for we did the works of our father. Jesus told the Pharisees in John 8:41 and 44, “You do the works of your father…You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. We do the works of our father. If our Father is God, we do good works; if our father is the devil, we do evil works.

Hallowed be Thy name. We are born again into God through Baptism, but still have a tendency to sin, are bent to sin (concupiscence); however, we desire with all our hearts to hallow God’s name. Therefore, we are asking God to hallow His name through us.

Thy Kingdom come. We pray that God causes Christ to reign in us, and that sin may not reign in our mortal body (St. Jerome).

Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. In Thomas Aquinas’ “Catena Aurea – Gospel of Matthew,” this reads Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven. I like this rendering best because “in earth” means “in our earthy bodies. Therefore, we are asking God to cause His will to be done in our earthy bodies as it is in those who are in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread. Although there is more to this petition, we are mainly requesting that Christ enter us in the Eucharist, either actually or spiritually.

And forgive us of our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. If we are not careful, we could be calling a curse down upon ourselves, because we are saying, “If I do not forgive others, do not forgive me.” Because it is our desire to forgive others, we pray as we do, imploring God to cause forgiveness of others in us.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. St. Cyprian says, “Herein it is shewn that the adversary can nothing avail against us, unless God first permit him; so that all our fear and devotion ought to be addressed to God.” St. Augustine writes, “When then we say, ‘Lead us not into temptation,’ what we ask is, that we may not, deserted by His aid, either consent through the subtle snares or yield to the forcible might, or any temptation.” We are asking God to help us avoid falling into the traps of temptation, and to deliver us from Satan.
--Tommy Turner

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

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Musing a week after All Saints' Day

The feast of All Saints Day is not one of my favorite feast days, although it should, because it is a day that the Church attempts to motivate us, encourage us to take steps forward in becoming what we are. As a protestant, the bar, the standard, to becoming a Christian was very low, about ankle-high. You didn’t have to jump; you just stepped over it by saying the “sinner’s prayer” and “accepting Jesus into your heart.” It does often give many a superficial joy; however, I don’t think many really believe it. I recall when I was Baptist and my wife and I were at Books-a-Million, and we met a fellow Baptist. He told me that his spiritual life was going down the proverbial drain. I told him that he must not be saved. He said, “Oh, yes, I am, because you can’t lose your salvation. I said, “Well, the Holy Spirit must not have any power.” I tell this to reinforce what I said about protestants not really believing the standard is that low. If a person is a Christian, there must be a change.

I have a very bad habit of being a “fruit watcher,” trying to see the fruit I bear to assure myself of salvation. I see mostly bad fruit, very little “good” fruit. That was troubling. When the Baptists had no answers to the mounting questions coming to mind, I turned to other churches. Someone had to have the answers. I liked Martin Luther, especially his view on justification: We are like manure, and Christ’s righteousness covered it. That could be an explanation as to why I did not see much good fruit. That was comforting—for a while. Then other questions began to mount—which I will not go into here

As I said, the bar, the standard, for being a Christian, for protestants, was very low—about ankle-high. The standard for Catholics is about head-high. It is extremely easy to become a Christian—through Baptism—however, you are expected to be what you have become: a child of God, who has the divinity of God. Many times in my meditations I feel as though I am hammering the final nails into my own coffin because I feel I am not even living up the things I write. This is true especially today, All Saints Day, because I feel I am so far below sainthood that I would need a twenty-foot ladder to just look a snake in the eye—and I will allow you to contemplate how far a snake is from sainthood. Therefore, my first thought when I saw the words, “All Saints,” was to not write anything—until I read the words, “Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face,” the response to the Responsorial Psalm. How do we seek the face of God, who is spirit?

I think, first, we need to understand what it means to seek God’s face, to see God face-to-face. God is spirit; He has no face. Jesus tells us, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” Of course, He is not saying that the Father has a human face that looks like Jesus’. Jesus is relating that He and the Father are the same in everything except the Incarnation. God the Father did not take on human nature. They think alike, work alike, love alike, hate alike, etc. To seek Gods face, then, is to seek to be the image of God, to be the image of Jesus.

Somewhere in his writings, St. Augustine says, “To see God face-to-face is to no longer live by faith, but by sight” (paraphrasing). This is to be as He is. To seek God means to work towards that end, not merely to want it. We search by working to be like Him and by removing those things that are not like Him. This is what we see the saints have done. If you lose your keys, you will not find them by wishing you had them; you have to physically move things around in order to find them. You have to look on top of things, under things. So, to seek God, we must seek to be as He is, work to that end. Jesus, in our gospel reading, the Sermon on the Mount, is telling us about the Father and Himself and that we will be happy if we are like them.

Repeating what I said at the beginning: As protestants, we were told it was easy to get to heaven, just “accept Jesus into your heart;” however it was difficult to really be holy, which you should try to be, although it wasn’t necessary. Those that tried to be holy, we called “super Christians.” Jesus does not teach that, nor did His saints. Why do we have all the commands in the gospels and the epistles if they were not really necessary. Jesus raises the Law to where it truly is: Impossibility. From our perspective, grace does not make it easy, but it does make it possible. “Pick up your cross and follow Me” does not denote ease; it denotes hardship, suffering.

When we were born, what would have occurred if we did not eat, drink, learn, etc.? Would we have been fruitful to society? How well would we have matured? In Baptism, we are born of God. Being born of God, having the nature of God, it is adamant that we “increase in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man” (Lk 2:52).

The Lord’s are the earth (man) and its fullness (man born of God, the Catholic). For God founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers. When God created the earth, He created it engulfed in the waters. The waters “opened up” (receded), allowing the earth to “burst forth,” it and its fullness. This scenario occurs also in Baptism. If man (earth) is not fruitful (full of the works of God), he is dead, fit for burning because it is not what it was created for. “Who can ascend the mountain of the Lord? Or who may stand in His holy place? One whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean, who desires not what is vain. He shall receive a blessing from the Lord, a reward from God his savior. Such is the race that seeks the face of the God of Jacob.”

Jesus and His Catholic Church are not placing a heavy burden upon us, a burden too heavy to bear. Jesus tells us, “You can do nothing without me.” Hear Jesus and His Church pray in the Collect: “Almighty every-living God…bestow on us, we pray, through the prayers of so many intercessors, an abundance of the reconciliation with you for which we earnestly long…” Oh, the sweetness, the love—God is only trying to make us happy. Since we are born in His image in Baptism, we can only be happy if we remain in His image. “Beloved: See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure, as he is pure (1 Jn 3:1-3).

The Prayer After Communion is a great summation: “As we adore you, O God, who alone are holy and wonderful in all your Saints, we implore your grace, so that, coming to perfect holiness in the fullness of your love, we may pass from this pilgrim table to the banquet of our heavenly homeland. Through Christ our Lord.” Amen.
--Tommy Turner
This theological reflection courtesy of  the parishioners of St Paul Catholic Church in Pensacola, Florida:

Friday, November 6, 2015

This is what I want you to focus on today; this is important

7 He told a parable to those who had been invited, noticing how they were choosing the places of honor at the table. 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not recline at table in the place of honor. A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him, 9 and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then you would proceed with embarrassment to take the lowest place. 10 Rather, when you are invited, go and take the lowest place so that when the host comes to you he may say, ‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’ Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

In the past when I read this passage (Lk 14:7-11), I’d be on cruise control and cruise right on by, putting a check mark in my mind, marking this as being accomplished, nothing to be concerned about. Being Catholic has changed the way I read. I love the Lectionary because it is like bullets: This is Jesus saying, “This is what I want you to focus on today; this is important.” Many times I might be so thick-headed I can’t get much out of it, but sometimes—oh, what a blessing! What is it?

I’ve always interpreted this as the men trying to get a seat closest to the head of the table. That is not in my character makeup; therefore, I would pass this passage by—probably, subconsciously patting myself on the back. However, on second thought, is this still a passage for me and those like me? Absolutely. Verse 10 is the powder keg: “When you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher’.” We are invited through Baptism. The “lowest place” is the place of the slave. We balk at that.

Jesus is the host. Jesus left the place of honor, that at the right hand of the Father, and became man. He came not to be served but to serve, to be a slave to all. Remember when James and John approached Jesus and requested to be seated at His right and left hand? What did He reply? “He who desires to be first must become the [slave] of all.” This slavery is not forced slavery, but it is a slavery of love, where one is attempting to elevate everyone above himself, making himself the least important.

This is an impossibility for sinful man. It can only come about through prayer, asking our Lord—especially through Mary—to make us a slave to all. Many people cannot bring themselves to even pray for this, but this is what our Lord is telling us when He tells us to “go and sit in the lowest place.” Then, when the host, Jesus, comes, He may say to you, “Friend, go up higher.” “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Mt 11:29). He became a slave for all; so should we.
--Tommy Turner

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

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Love God and Hate Your Neighbor???

Now great multitudes accompanied him; and he turned and said to them, “If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build, and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends an embassy and asks terms of peace. So therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. (Lk 14-25-33 RSVCE)

From a quick reading of our gospel, it can appear that our Lord is trying to dissuade the great multitudes that followed Him. Picture this: Great multitudes of people are following a great leader. The man stops, turns, looks at them, and says: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple…Therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” It sounds as if the man was trying to discourage the people from following him. We, of course, know that He is not, because there is salvation in none other and it is His desire that all men be saved. Secondly, it appears that He has done a 180. The great commandment is to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself. So, what is our Lord telling us?

St. Gregory has given me some insight on this when he says, “For then we right hate [ourselves] when we indulge not its carnal desires, when we subdue its appetites, and wrestle against its pleasures.” St. Chrysostom says regarding bearing our crosses, “He means not that we should place a beam of wood on our shoulders, but that we should ever have death before our eyes.” Now that we understand what it means to hate our own lives, I think it gives us better understanding of what our Lord is referring to when He says for us to hate your father, mother, wife, etc. I think that He is referring to those times when they are in sin and we, out of love for God and them, do not consent or tolerate the sin(s) they are committing. The world will see us as being bigoted or intolerant, not understanding that we hate what they are doing and, out of love, we confront them, which they see as “hate.”

Let’s take another example: We’re watching a movie. There is a cop, trying apprehend a murderer. The murderer grabs the cop’s wife, and puts a gun to her head, saying, “Put your gun down or I will shoot her.” What should the cop do? If he “loves” his wife and puts his gun down, the murderer goes free to murder again; or, if the cop “hates” his wife (from the world view), he kills the murderer, hoping his wife does not get hurt. Which is justice? Is it justice to allow a murderer to continue to kill? You cannot just “hope for the best.”

Now I want to focus on the words, “he turned.” Why are those words there? Why did not the evangelist just write, “Now great multitudes accompanied him, and he said to them…”? He very well could be emphasizing, “You are following Me, but you are not FOLLOWING me; you are not conforming yourselves to Me.” It is as if I was walking with my son and we were talking; then he stops, turns to me, not desiring that I misunderstand, and speaks to me. Because of the words, “he turned,” He is “turning” to us and saying, “You are not FOLLOWING me; you are not conforming to Me.”

We are not the Judge as to whether we are conformed to Him; He is. Therefore, we need to hit our needs, imploring His help. It would be better for us to go through our Blessed Mother, therefore loving her (our neighbor), allowing her to love us by interceding for us, and loving God also. We also can ask for help by going to Confession and asking others to pray for us, and we should be praying for others—even though they are not asking for prayer—because Jesus is speaking to them also—He is speaking to the great multitudes.

Jesus gives the example of building a tower. Is He saying that, if you deem you do not have sufficient means, you should not build the tower? This, then, would not fit what He has just put forth regarding hating your father, mother, wife, etc. The tower must be built, and we must find the means in which to build it. St. Gregory teaches: “Because He had been giving high and lofty precepts, immediately follows the comparison of building a tower, when it is said, For which of you intending to build a tower… For everything that we do should be preceded by anxious consideration. If then we desire to build a tower of humility, we ought first to brace ourselves against the ills of this world.”

The sufficient means is Jesus Christ and His Church. We must utilize these means at all times, because as St. Cyril says: “For we fight against spiritual wickedness in high places, but there presses upon us a multitude also of other enemies: fleshly lust, the law of sin raging in our members, and various passions, that is, a dreadful multitude of enemies.”

Then Jesus gives the example of the two kings. The Venerable Theophylact says regarding this example: “The king is sin reigning in or mortal body, but our understanding also was created king. If then he wishes to fight against sin, let him consider with his whole mind. For the devils are the satellites of sin, which being twenty thousand, seem to surpass in number our ten thousand, because that being spiritual compared to us who are corporeal, they are come to have much greater strength.” The “natural” impulse is to give up and give in to sin because sin is double our strength. For this reason, Jesus is telling us to do the seemingly impossible, which is not impossible because we will be turning to the King and His Church for aid.
--Tommy Turner

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

What Do You Want Me To Do For You?

“What do you want me to do for you?” This is what our Lord asked Sts. James and John when they brought their petition to Him (MK 10:35-45).  Is this not the question, also, that our Lord asks each of us, especially when we approach Him in the Eucharist? “What do you want Me to do for you?

What do we want from Him? Do we temporal things? Do we desire an “easy” life? Do we want healings? What do we want from Jesus? One may say, “Heaven, eternal life.” That would be an outstanding answer. However, are we only concerned about our individual selves? What about our spouses and children?

Look around the parish. What about each one of them? Are you absolutely positive they are going to “make it”? Go to the different Masses in the city. What about each of them? Are we willing to just say, “Well, that is their choice?” All these people are part of the same Body that we are, the Body of Christ. Are we not concerned about the Body? To paraphrase Moses, “Lord, if you don’t save my fellow Israelites, then blot my name out of the book of the living.” That is loving thy neighbor as thyself. Listen to Apostle John: “If you can’t love the one you can see, how can you love the One whom you cannot see?”

There are many things we cannot do, but there is one thing we can do: Pray for each other, especially all the Baptized, because they are in the Body. When we do pray for ourselves individually, let it be in our minds whether it benefits the entire Body.
--Tommy Turner

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

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Free, But A Slave?

Free, but a slave—now, that is a paradox. In the gospels, our Lord offers us freedom, tells us that He will make us free indeed. Last year, our Bishop asked us to consecrate ourselves to Jesus through Mary. This year, it is my desire to renew this Consecration because, frankly, I forgot all about it after I completed it last year. That is not good; therefore, I want to “take another stab at it.” This entails one making himself a slave of Mary. Now, there were some who told me that that did not mean in the sense we think of being a “slave”—the true meaning of “slave.”

Webster defines “slave:” A person who is wholly subject to the will of another; one who has no will of his own, but whose person and services are wholly under the control of another. A slave, therefore, has no possessions except those that he is allowed to possess. The difference between a slave and a servant is: A servant receives pay for services rendered, and a servant can have possessions. Therefore, the question becomes: How can one be a slave yet be free?

In order to answer this question, I had to ask myself other questions. (Do you sense that I like questions?) Is Jesus God? Was, and is, He free? Was He a slave? Was He happy? These were pretty easy questions to answer. Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

Yes, Jesus is God, the Son of God. Yes, Jesus was free; and, yes, He is free. God is free, for He is God. He answers to no one. If anyone would be free, it would have to be God. Jesus was under the Law, but He was still free because the Law was a verbal picture of God. Was He a slave? This question may cause someone to pause, but Jesus made it clear: He came, not to be served, but to serve. The serving He was referring to was to be a slave. One way He proved this was by washing His disciples’ feet. He proved this also by undergoing His passion, crucifixion, and Resurrection. In another way that He was a “slave” is He had no will other than to do the Father’s will. He made His Father’s will His will. And, yes, Jesus was happy.

In the Beatitudes, the “man” is Jesus and all who are in Him through Baptism. We become “not happy” when our wills take us outside the character of God. Because Jesus is free, we are free in Him; because Jesus is a “slave” because He loves the Father with all His heart, mind, soul, and strength, and loves His neighbor as Himself, so are we “slaves.” Because Jesus is a “slave,” He is free. Because we are “slaves” in Him, we also are free.
--Tommy Turner

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

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Great Banquet

Today’s gospel reading begins at Luke 14:15. Because we’ve had a break from Luke for a few days, let’s refresh our memory on what is happening.

This is occurring on the Sabbath. The Sabbath is the day our Lord “rested” in the tomb, not lying dormant but working: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn 12:24). Because of our Lord’s Passion and “rest,” the result is the Resurrection, and an abundance of fruit is produced. The healing of the man with dropsy is a picture of us being healed in Baptism. Then our Lord relates a parable of a wedding feast, telling us to take the lowest place, the place of the slave. He then tells the man who had invited Him that, when he has a feast, he should invite the lowest, those that cannot repay him. Jesus is the Head, and we are the lowest that cannot repay.

Now we come to today’s passage, which begins: “One of those at table with Jesus said to him…” This is a rendering from the NAB which, from what I understand is a paraphrase. This means, for example, that the name, Jesus, is not in the original manuscript, however the editor’s put “Jesus” in for clarification. What, historically, is occurring: Jesus is illustrating the rejection by Israel to share in the banquet in the Kingdom and the extension of the invitation to the Jews who saw the need of salvation and to the Gentiles. However, his is this going to benefit you and I today. We already believe that Israel rejected Christ and His invitation was offered to the Gentiles. How is this, then, important and beneficial to me?

I go to the RSV, and I read, “When one of those who sat at table with him heard this, he said to him…” Because of the pronouns, “he” and “him,” I change the characters around a little. Let me explain.

When one of those who sat at table with him (Jesus) heard (understood) this—which is me, as a result of Baptism and the Eucharist—he (Jesus) said to him (me), “Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God.” Jesus is telling me that I am blessed because of the Eucharist. The kingdom of God is the Catholic Church. However, Jesus continues, “But…” Now Jesus is warning me to be watchful and pray that I don’t expel myself from the Kingdom, in the way that Israel did.

St. Augustine tells us: “Now there were three excuses, of which it is added, The first said to him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it. The bought piece of ground denotes government”—perhaps, for us, “authority” might be a better word. “Therefore pride is the first vice reproved. For the first man wished to rule, not willing to have a master.” I hear Jesus asking me, “Do you want to be the authority, or do you want Me to be the authority? Do you want to say what I mean, or do you want to listen to Me through My Church?”

St. Gregory says that “by the piece of ground is meant worldly substance; therefore he goes out to see it who thinks only of outward things for the sake of his living.” St. Ambrose cautions: “Thus it is that the worn out soldier is appointed to serve degraded offices, as he who intent upon things below buys for himself earthly possessions cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven. Our Lord says, Sell all that you have, and follow me.” Hence, Jesus cautions, “Do you want to possess things of the world or heavenly things? You cannot possess both.”

Going to the second excuse, St. Augustine says: “The five yoke of oxen are taken to be the five senses of the flesh: in the eyes, sight; in the ears, hearing; in the nostrils, smelling; in the mouth, taste; [and], in all the members, touch. But the yoke is more easily apparent in the three first senses: two eyes, two ears, two nostrils. Here are three yoke. And the mouth is the sense of taste, which is formed to be a kind of double, in that nothing is sensible to the taste which is not touched both by the tongue and palate. The pleasure of the flesh which belongs to the touch is secretly doubled. It is both outward and inward. But they are called yoke of oxen because, through those senses of the flesh, earthly things are pursued.

For the oxen till the ground, but men at a distance from faith, [who are] given up to earthly things, refuse to believe in anything but [that] they arrive at by means of the five-fold senses of the body. ‘I believe nothing but what I see.’ If such were our thoughts, we should be hindered from the supper by those five yoke of oxen. But that you may understand that it is not the delight of the five senses which charms and conveys pleasure but that a certain curiosity is denoted, he says not, I have bought five yoke of oxen and go to feed them, but to go prove them.” I take it that, by “oxen,” St. Augustine is referring to the priests and religious of the Catholic Church.

The third excuse is: “I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.” Saint Gregory admonishes us: “Although marriage is good and appointed by Divine Providence for the propagation of children, some seek therein not fruitfulness of offspring but the lust of pleasure, and so by means of a righteous thing may not unfitly an unrighteous thing be represented.” St. Ambrose says, “Marriage is not blamed, but purity is held up to greater honor since the unmarried woman cares for the things of the Lord that she may be holy in body and spirit but she that is married cares for the things of the world.” I think we see what the saints are referring to: When people marry only based upon outward appearances and emotions, it is based upon lust, and that marriage usually fails. Marriages based upon lust can contribute to keeping us out of the Kingdom.

St. Augustine goes on to teach us: “Now John, which he said all that is in the world is the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, began from the point where the Gospel ended. The lust of the flesh, ‘I have married a wife;’ the lust of the eyes, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen;’ the pride of life, ‘I have bought a farm.’ But proceeding from a part to the whole, the five senses have been spoken of under the eyes alone, which hold the chief place among the five senses. Because though, properly, the sight belongs to the eyes, we are in the habit of ascribing the act of seeing to all the five senses.”

The early Church father, Origen, gives us a mystical interpretation: “They who have bought a piece of ground and reject or refuse the supper are they who have taken other doctrines of divinity but have despised the word which they possessed. But he who has bought five yoke of oxen is he who neglects his intellectual nature and follows the things of sense; therefore, he cannot comprehend a spiritual nature. But he who has married a wife is he who is joined to the flesh, a lover of pleasure rather than of God.”

If we reject the teachings of Christ and His Church, our places will be given to another who is more fitting. We will be fitting if we “see” what St. Paul and the psalmist are telling us:

“So we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; he who teaches, in his teaching; he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who contributes, in liberality; he who gives aid, with zeal; he who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints, practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; never be conceited.” Romans 12:5–16 (RSVCE)

“O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a child quieted at its mother’s breast; like a child that is quieted is my soul. O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and for evermore.” Psalm 131:1–3 (RSVCE)
--Tommy Turner

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