Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Has the Year of St. Paul brought any conversions of heart?

And so marks the end of the Year of St. Paul. I was in Italy last year just prior to the beginning of the year dedicated to St. Paul and since then I have come to know a bit more about the man Paul. I participated in a bible study on St. Paul and I attended a lecture given by Dr. Chris Baglow about the life of St. Paul that focused on the Temple of the Holy Spirit and how our lives reflect this about us, we as temples of the Holy Spirit. Paul gave us such incredible teaching as to our being the 'body of Christ' by our participation in the Eucharist. As Catholics I still wonder how many people realize the implication of this teaching. That by taking in Jesus Christ into our bodies we become like Christ, we are temples of the Holy Eucharist. For the Israelites, the Temple in Jerusalem was the most holy place on earth because it held the Ark of the Covenant, the Word of God. The significance of what Paul was teaching was probably incredibly difficult for some Jewish people to hear, much less comprehend. There are times I want to shake some people out of their reverie for the implications of what this means for our lives.
When teaching the children about St. Paul, they can all tell me that his name was Saul and he was knocked off his horse by a blinding light and was cured and became a follower of Jesus. Sounds so simple. We have to realize that Saul was blind for three days before he experienced his "resurrection" and then truly saw the "light". I wonder what hell he descended to for those three days, what did he truly "see" before his resurrection? This is not so simple. When we experience a conversion, a metanoia or a change of heart, many of us will experience this gradually but for some it will be that God knocks us on our behinds to get our attention. When this happens do we see God working in our lives? God reveals many things to us we don't want to acknowledge. For our sakes He wants us to see our sinfulness, the ugliness in our lives before we can freely turn to God and be the person He created us to be. This conversion is truly a blessing, a miracle happening in our lives. Like St. Paul do we recognize the miracle happening in our lives? Do we recognize ourselves as 'Temples'? Sin and ugliness can be extremely painful especially when it's our own sin and pain. For God it's the struggles of our lives that make them worth living, living in Christ.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Are we prepared for our own life after death?

Yesterday when I heard about Ms. Fawcett's and Mr. Jackson's deaths I thought of a delightful and quite imaginative book written by Dr. Peter Kreeft called Between Heaven and Hell. It is written in dialogue prose and focuses on a conversation taking place between President John F. Kennedy, C.S. Lewis, and Aldous Huxley, who die within hours of each other in November of 1963. I wondered if Ms. Fawcett and Mr. Jackson were engaging in a similar conversation. The dialogue is philosophical in nature regarding the truth of heaven, hell and purgatory. It is quite thought provoking to say the least.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that "Death is the end of man's earthly pilgrimage, of the time of grace and mercy which God offers him so as to work out his earthly life in keeping with the divine plan and to decide his ultimate destiny" (CCC 1013). The Church encourages us to live our life in Christ and to prepare for our death to this earthly life and to live in the fullness of life with Christ in heaven. The question then becomes how do we prepare and are we prepared to let go of this earthly life and live in Heaven? Christ came to show us how to prepare. He was the perfect man exemplar for us. The teachings of the Church remind us of our obligation and responsibilty to live our baptismal call. It is through Baptism that sacramentally we have already "died with Christ" in order to live a new life, (CCC 1010).

There are people who believe that Faith alone will get them to heaven. Jesus taught us the corporal works of mercy and gave us the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes give us attitudes to adopt in living our vocation characteristic of the Christian life with the promise of sharing in the Kingdom of God, our just reward. This is about action, the workings of Christ, not just faith alone. Christ was all about faith and actions.

The Church teaches that heaven is the state of supreme and definitive happiness, the goal of the deepest longings of humanity (CCC 1023). Human beings are all about happiness and the perfect happiness can be found resting in the presence of the Face of God, the Beatific Vision. Whereas hell is a state of self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed. This self-exclusion is a free choice to refuse to believe and be converted from sin (CCC1033). It comes down to our choice and the choices we make in living our life here on earth. It begins here and now. Purgatory, the Church teaches, is a final purification after death for those in friendship with God, a final cleansing of human imperfection before being able to enter the perfection of heaven, (CCC 1031). I have been taught that one must walk through fire so to speak for this cleansing to take place, sounds painful to say the least.

So, what's it going to be, heaven, hell, or purgatory? God is our Judge, but the choice is up to us?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Why do priests need their own year?

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Pope Benedict XVI has declared this the "Year for Priests", note: not the year of the priest. Now one might ask, why do priests need a special year set aside for them? Believe me they do! I get a lot of questions about priests and the priesthood, the most common of course being why can't priest get married?, and why can't girls be priests? Questions that will be addressed at another time when I've got more time to devote the space to a proper answer worthy of the Sacrament.

One of the things impressed on me as I studied the sacraments was the commitment it takes to one's calling in life. This is especially evident in the Sacrament of Holy Orders and Matrimony. The children will ask me if a man who is a priest decides he doesn't want to do it anymore can he quit? They ask if the Pope decides he doesn't want to be Pope anymore can he quit? It is difficult to find the words to explain to them the commitment these men have made to the Church and that this is a lifelong commitment. So many of the children come from "broken" homes and don't see commitment in their lives, they have difficulty grasping this concept. I try to impress on the children I teach that these men pray a long time about this "calling" from God and is this the right thing for them. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that to be a priest is a vocation, a calling, not a "right" (CCC 1578). A man doesn't wake up one day and decide "I think I'll go apply for a job as a priest, I might like to do that". A man commits himself to service for the Lord and the Church.

Now once this decision by a man has been made to follow the Lord's call to the priesthood, Heaven help him! He is pegged. At a time when he should be supported and prayed for, lauded and celebrated, he is attacked. Much of this attack comes from the devil and well-meaning friends and family who have no earthly idea why he would want to do such a thing. So yes there needs to be set aside a year for priests because once a man does become ordained into the priesthood the attacks just keep on coming. Some attacks can be very violent and malicious, but some a quite subtle but stinging just the same.

Priests need prayers to stay committed to the sacrifice they have made. I was reminded this past weekend with the gospel story of the calming of the storm, how priests have their own storms that need calming, they are human and experience anxiety and fears just like everyone else. We need to be mindful of the commitment the priest has made to set aside time in prayer, amd his dedication to the Sacrament of the Most Holy Eucharist. We als0 must remember he is praying for our salvation, he is committed to seeing us into heaven and he is our father and we must be obedient to him and to listen to him as we listen to our own fathers. It is difficult at times to hear the truth but our priests want only that for us, to know the truth about God and to learn the truth about what our Church has to teach us.

Please stop frequently and offer up a prayer of thanksgiving for our priests. We are blessed for the priests who have served us and for those who will come after us.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Can we love with a sacred heart?

Today marks the celebration of the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It has also been designated the "beginning of a "Year for Priests" in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the "dies natalis" of John Mary Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests worldwide" to quote our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI.

I recently took a catechesis class where the instructor made an effort to impress that we as catechists need to focus once again on the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, "He has loved us all with a human heart. For this reason, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, pierced by our sins and for our salvation, 'is quite rightly considered the chief sign and symbol for that... love with which the Redeemer continually loves the eternal Father and all human beings' without exception" (CCC478).

Ask any little child where Jesus is and he will tell you in his heart. Jesus poured out his divine love from the pierced human heart of his very human body. The heart has long been the symbol of love. In this instance Jesus shows his love not only for the Father but the love He has for all mankind. From this heart of Jesus poured forth the life giving sacraments of Baptism and the Precious Blood of the Eucharist. From his side came his Bride, the Church. He gave us life, our hearts beat because his most Sacred Heart made it so. Who wouldn't want to spend time in devotion to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus? Would this devotion lead us to love with the kind of love Jesus shared, with a sacred heart? To focus on the Sacred Heart of Jesus might move us to be more forgiving, to show more kindness, to help us when we need patience with whatever task or "cross" that God brings to us.

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on me

Most Sacrd Heart of Jesus, have mercy on me

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on me

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Do we realize the Mass is heaven on earth?

I recently read Scott Hahn's The Lamb's Supper and I was fascinated with the comparisons he made between the Mass and that which was revealed to John in the Book of Revelation. Now I had been made aware of this in my liturgy class at Our Lady of Holy Cross and this peaked my interest enough to read the book, Dr. Hahn's not John's. Of course after reading Dr. Hahn's I felt compelled to read Revelation again. Which leads me to the question, how many of us enter the Mass with the notion we are in heaven? When I was a child I went with my friend to her Mass, not being Catholic, I was in awe of the beauty and glory of the liturgy. My protestant service was dull in comparison, there were no candles, incense, beautiful vestments, our meeting room was just that, a meeting room. Many years later I returned to a Mass and I was surprised to find some of the glory and beauty a little faded, so to speak. No longer did I see any incense or hear any bells ringing. The words were now in English and the people now seemed bored. They were dressed differently as well. As a child we went to that Mass in our dresses and I had to wear a veil on my head, I felt like a princess or a bride(ummm!). This time there were no veils, the girls had on shorts and jeans, no men in suits. Later I asked my friend what had happened and he said things had relaxed a little since the second Vatican Council. Well at the time I had no idea what that meant and didn't concern myself since I was not Catholic, yet.
I have come to understand many things since that time so long ago. I have come to understand that not all Masses are as lifeless as the one attended when I was older. I have attended many Masses that do seem to be heaven on earth with all the beauty and glory that was written about in Revelation. What I understand is the fact that no matter when and where a Mass is being celebrated it is Heaven on earth. The invisible reality is that there is a heavenly liturgy taking place at the moment the visible signs of the Mass on earth are taking place. The reality for us as Christians is that the moment we walk through those doors we have entered heaven. We bring our sacrifice, ourself, to the altar to offer to Christ the true and living sacrifice all our cares and woes. Now I ask you, if you are in heaven standing before the Lord what will your attitude and posture be? I wonder if people think about what the Mass re-presents and the meaning of all the words, symbols and signs(for an explanation of the incense see previous blog). People say they believe that Jesus is truly in the Sacrament at the words of consecration, but do they stop and think about the ritual that leads up to that consecration?
If you are someone thinking about this or wondering, I recommend Dr Hahn's book and then maybe you should read John's as well. Fascinating!

Friday, June 12, 2009

no questions, just news!

Today it was announced that we have a new archbishop. Bishop Gregory Aymond, currently of the diocese of Austin, has been named Archbishop of New Orleans. I encourage all to pray for him and we will welcome him with open arms. Our prayers and well wishes also go out to Archbishop Alfred Hughes who has served our archdiocese through many trials and tribulations. God Bless them both as they continue in the apostolic tradition of serving our Church with their gifts and sacrifices.

Monday, June 8, 2009

What does the love of the family have to do with the Holy Trinity?

As we have celebrated the Holy Trinity Sunday, I recalled this question that was posed to me one day while working on implementing our Catholic value standards. The standard reads "Live a life of loving kindness in family and community which reflects the communion of love in the mystery of the Trinity". The person asked the question how is the family connected to the mystery of the Holy Trinity. At the time I gave a very simple reply about the connection of the three persons and the love they have for one another that should be reflected in the family the same way. I was reflecting on this same issue again as I listened to the homily at Mass. It is indeed difficult for children and adults alike to wrap their heads around the concept of God being three in one. Once again we try so hard to bring God down to our level of comprehension and think we can figure Him out. But the fact is, His love is so perfect and so great He became like us to show us what true love is as the Son. Then once again loved us so great and so perfectly that He sent another perfect person, the Holy Spirit to be with us and guide us until He comes again. Well that is the love a family should be for one another. Pope John Paul II explained it beautifully in Mulieris Dignatatem and A Theology of the Body. When a man takes a wife she is the other "I" of him. They are one body now, a communion of persons. This is why the family is called the "domestic church" or ecclesia domestica. The love they share for one another, as a married couple, spills over in the creation of another person. This is the love that God has for us. He had so much love it spilled over into creation. Out of nothing He created all creatures, and then out of man He created woman, another "I" of the man. This is reflected most beautifully in the dignity of the human person, the only creature God willed for their own sake. Is that wisdom or what? The man and woman build up the Kingdom of God by building one another up in the eyes of God for the kingdom. It should be a perfect love, the love of the Trinity. And that love is shared and spills over into the community. Is this the love you share with your spouse and children? By the grace of God it is.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

What is the "right" age for Confirmation?

As we are celebrating the octave of Pentecost, the question comes up what is the age for Confirmation? My priest and I were having this discussion this morning. He has seen the changes take place with regard to it being done in the 8th grade as opposed to the 11th grade. I am doing preparation for 11th graders and for anyone who has dealt with this age group, it is difficult at best. Actually I can appreciate the arguments for both sides. Are we losing the kids in 11th grade because they are too consumed with the secular world and need the "armor" of the Holy Spirit prior to this age? Or is 8th grade too young for them to fully appreciate what the power of the Holy Spirit has to offer them in fighting the evils of the world? I don't think 8th grade is too young, in fact I think in this day and age we might want to catch these kids at 5th grade. Our archdiocese has a program called "Calling all 5th graders" which is designed to promote vocations to the 5th graders because studies have shown that 5th graders are the most interested in their faith and vocations at this age. Having taught 5th grade religion I can honestly say that at this age the kids are little "sponges" when it comes to information about their faith. I firmly believe we need to "armor" our children with the graces of Confirmation before they experience the evils of the secular world. The graces of the Sacrament combined with those of Reconciliation and then the Sacrament of all sacraments - Holy Eucharist, they will be forces to be reckoned with. Of course this must be combined with the love of the family as well as with the encouragement and support of the parish family, the Body of Christ. What do you think?

Monday, June 1, 2009

Did the flames burn the disciples?

When discussing Pentecost the question always comes up, "did the flames burn the disciples?" My sharp witted response always is "You bet it did!" You have undoubtedly heard the phrase "on fire for the Lord", well there you go.... Fire is a powerful force. We are reminded of the flames of the burning bush, a fire that did not consume the bush but definitely got Moses' attention. The flames of the Holy Spirit were meant to do just that, get the attention of those in the upper room. It filled them with courage and conviction to go out and spread the good news, to not be afraid. We can only hope for some of that fire to burn within us as we reach out to others and spread the gospel message. It's that ignition of fire to burn in the hearts of our Confirmandi in preparation of the Sacrament so they will be just as enthused and "on fire" to go out and live the gospel. What is it that sets us "on fire" for the Lord?

*picture compliments of Fr. Z's blog "what the prayer really says"