Sunday, March 1, 2015

Second Sunday or Lent: Adoration

The Narrative of the transfiguration is read every Second Sunday of Lent. Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up Mount Tabor. The landscape is not just a nice description or mere historical fact. Mountains are places of encounter, symbolically due to their closeness with the Heavens, one was expected to encounter GOd. There, Jesus reveals Himself to the apostles,giving them a glimpse of His divinity. They are transfixed by the vision. The evangelists struggle with find the words to describe the encounter with the Lord, probably because the three witnesses struggled. Moses, the one through whom the Lord gave the Law, and Elijah, the Prophet, are speaking with Him - these two began what Jesus was going to accomplish - calling the people back to the Lord our God. The apostles were caught up in praise of the sight, and though they struggled to understand, they knew that it was good. St. Peter proclaims it, along with stating his desire to remain there. This encounter with the Transfigured Lord is one that so moved them that St. Peter writes about it years latter as giving a proof of the Gospel in his second letter (2 Peter 1;16-18): "For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.” They had already encountered Him day after day, understanding Him to be human, but when He reveals His divinity, it changes them. They we in true adoration of the Lord - they were praising Him for who He truly is. That is another aspect of our prayer. Like complimenting a friend on some quality, we too need to ‘compliment’ God in who He is. It is adoration and praise. God does not need our praise, but we need to give it, because when we do, we submit ourselves in love to the our loving, all-powerful God who is three Persons in one divine being. We need to remember that just as we are loved sinners (contrition), that we are invited into a loving relationship with the Holy Trinity, and that when we truly adore the Lord, we stand humbly in His presence not by our own merits, but by the grace of God.
Added to this aspect, we have another ‘adoration’. We are so removed from the Transfiguration. We do not have the privilege of walking with Jesus in the flesh, but we know that Jesus is the Son of God because of the witness of the Apostles. Just as we know that Jesus is God, we, too, need to place our trust in the apostles in other areas - especially of the teaching on the Eucharist. We too easily see the bread and wine, but do we see the Flesh and Blood of Jesus Christ? Are we just as caught up in adoration when we are in the presence of Christ in the Eucharist? When we take time in front of the Blessed Sacrament, especially when He is exposed in the monstrance for our adoration, we are in the presence of the same Lord who was present on Mount Tabor. He invites us to adore Him, to praise Him for what He has done. Indeed, when we adore the Blessed Sacrament, we are drawn in to praise of God, and should declare “Look what Love has done!” by becoming food and drink for us, that we may be saved through Him!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

First Sunday of Lent: Contrition

This weekend, as we do every first Sunday of Lent, we hear of Jesus’s temptation in the desert and Jesus’s beginning ministry and proclamation. This year, we hear Mark's account, and it is noticeable brief. In his account, we do not hear of the nature of the temptations, but rather that he was ministered to by angels and was accompanied by wild animals. This may be a small and odd description, but it is a motif of tranquility - that Jesus is among wild animals, but there is peace and harmony - it is a return to the Garden of Eden. He is ministered to by angels, demonstrating that just as Elijah was feed by the ravens, Jesus is supported by spiritual entities. Jesus enters the desert after His baptism, but there is strengthened for His beginning ministry.
He begins with a bold proclamation - the time has come - repent and believe in the Gospel. It is the message that marks His whole ministry - the time is now, and it is an invitation to return to the Lord, much as the prophet Joel proclaimed. Jesus' invitation to us remains - we are to repent and believe in the Gospel. Repent… The word is a command, not an option. In Greek, it literally means “Change your mind!” It is the task to take on the mind of Christ, to change our hearts and minds so in conformity with God’s that we live differently. It is a call to conversion, to recognizing that we are weak and fallen human beings in need of a savior. We are sinners, and too often are ‘small-minded’ in that we chose sin over the life of grace. When we turn to the Gospel, that God loves us and desires us, we open ourselves to His will. This means that we are constant need of conversion, and when we are aware of sin, we need contrition. This is the aspect of prayer we ought to start. Contrition is to admit we are sinners, but that we are asking for the mercy and forgiveness of God.
Even as we begin this Lent with Contrition, we might be aware of the need of the Sacrament of Confession. I encourage this great sacrament! When we focus on our sins, we might lose sight of the mercy of God, or we might rationalize our sins away. In the Sacrament, however, we are showered with mercy as we come before the Lord, and and we admit that we have sinned. Let mercy lead us to true contrition!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Catas - An invitation to prayer

In the weeks of Lent, I will be writing a paragraph or two of the core of my Sunday homily. I plan on giving a series on types of prayer that will take me through to Easter.
The sundays of lent will focus on 5 types, and I have arranged them as an anagram to spell out Catas - which is Spanish for "you taste" or "you experience", when we use all five types of prayer, we will experience a great intimacy with the Lord and taste and see that He is good.

Ash Wednesday

Lent is a blessed time in the Church year. The season was first experienced by the Catechumens (those who were to be baptized at the Easter Vigil) as that they entered 40 days of intense spiritual preparation before their sacramental entrance into the Church. The time-frame of forty days was not haphazardly chosen, but because of Jesus’ own 40 days in the desert, the 40 years of the Hebrews being purified in the desert through their wandering, and Elijah’s fast of 40 days on Mount Horeb. It was a means of remembering that they were uniting with the Lord and of being purified for their encounter with Him in the sacraments. Eventually, the preparation of 40 days in the season of Lent was offered to the Church in general as a means of recommitment, association with the catechumens and a preparation of their own hearts to celebrate the joy of the resurrection.

When we truly enter the spirit of the season, we follow the Lord’s command to pray, fast, and give alms and three practical means of Lenten preparation. These are things that go against our fallen nature. We too often remain in broken relationship with our loving Father, and like Adam hid from Him in our shame. Prayer seeks to stand before Him, as venerable and spiritual naked and impoverished as we are. When we fast, we avoid the comforts that the world offers and reminds us of our reliance on the Lord. Our almsgiving is a means of seeking to become generous and to connect with those who have so little, that we can share in their poverty.

This season of Lent is for us who follow Christ to grow in faith, to empty ourselves of all that is not Christ so that we can be ready to receive Him who died and rose again for us, to give us eternal life. This season is not one of self-directed improvement, but of allowing the Lord to grasp us, grace us, and guide us to Himself. May these days of Lent be days of intense preparation for us!

Monday, September 15, 2014

End of Life Decisions

Some have recently asked about living wills. health care directives, and moral issues around end of life. The Minnesota Catholic Conference has assembled resources to aid in the process, including a sample Health Care Directive Form. Filling this out prior to need helps family to make wise decisions in consultation with doctors and medical staff regarding care.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Who Is Jesus Christ?

In the Gospels, Jesus asks a seemingly easy question: “Who do you say that I am?” (Mt. 16:15, Mk. 8:29, Lk. 8:20). It is not that Jesus is having either a moment of amnesia or an existential crisis. His reason to ask seems to be more of a PR question – do people understand who He is? St. Peter answers that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. His answer is correct, but Peter’s understanding of the answer is flawed, as he later reprimands Jesus on His prediction of His death and resurrection.
The question remains for us to answer, too. Who do we say that He is? If the claims of the Gospel are correct, we are commanded to answer. Jesus makes some bold statements! He claims to be the only way to God, that He is the Bread of Life that gives life to the entire world, that He and the Father are one. How can we understand Jesus’ proclamations? CS Lewis gives a wager, of sorts, that we can use to help answer both questions of who we say Him to be and who He is. If what He taught is not true, but Jesus believes it to be, Jesus is crazy, proclaiming false truths. If, on the other hand, Jesus knowingly is teaching what He knows not to be true, He is telling lies. But, if Jesus is telling the truth, He really is who He says he is. In short, Jesus is either a lunatic, a liar, or truly the Lord. He cannot be just a wise man, or a good teacher, or a sort of guru… He is either Lord or nothing at all.
So my answer to the question, “Who is Jesus?” He is Lord. He is the Savior of the world, and He is the Father’s loving offer of eternity. He is the one who offers Himself to the Father for us and is ever present to us. He is the Son of God made flesh. When we encounter Him, we encounter God, and Jesus reveals the Holy Trinity (the eternal union of the three Persons – Father, Son, and Spirit – in the one God). If this is true, how can we go about our lives unchanged, failing to see everything through the eyes of faith.
As CS Lewis also wrote, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” It is a bold claim! We must allow Him to be God, and allow Him and that faith inform our decisions and activity.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Meditation on Gospel of Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary time

When life gets hectic, as it so often does, or when the storms of life whip up and attempt to rob me of my peace, I find myself turning to an image from Matthew 14:22-33. It is the scene of Jesus and Peter walking on the water. Jesus had just revealed himself as master over matter as He multiplied bread and fish a thousand-fold (feeding 12,5000-15,000 with what should have only feed 12-15 people). Now, after spending time in prayer, he shows Himself as Master of the elements as He walks on the water, and in the end, calms the wind. The apostles see Him, and are terrified – who can walk on water, and who can blame them for their fear? Jesus calms them, but Peter asks for proof, asking that Jesus command him to walk on water, too. Jesus calls him, and Peter leaves the boat’s safety (as relative as that safety is in the midst of the strong winds). He walks, but it is not long until human logic kicks in and he begins to notice the wind and wave, and begins to sink. He calls to Jesus, who is right there to save him.
Why does this give me comfort? I cannot help but to imagine that Jesus took Peter for a little walk on the water, calling him to deeper faith, telling him to keep his eyes on Jesus constantly. I cannot help but see Jesus and Peter almost dancing on the waves, with the two standing shoulder to shoulder, outer hand clasped to the outer hand. What an image of peace! Dancing on the water amidst the storm!
St. Peter was walking where we cannot humanly walk because he focused on Jesus. In the storms of our lives, do we focus on the wind and the wave, or the Savior who calls us to walk with Him? We think we have it all figured out, that our logic is flawless, that the safest place to be is in the boat, bunkered down. But Jesus calls us into a deeper safety – with Him, even out of the boat. When we learn to trust Him, we will find ourselves able to walk, perhaps even dance, in the midst of the storms of life, keeping our hearts focused on Him and remaining in His peace.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Some thoughts on the Hobby Lobby case

On Monday, June 30, 2014, the Supreme Court handed down a ruling that stated that closely-held for-profit corporations could not be forced to directly pay for insurance coverage for abortifacients against the owners’ beliefs. This is a victory for religious freedom, and not, in anyway, part of a ‘war on women’. Access to birth control is not hindered, rather the responsibility to pay is placed on the user, not the employer or insurance company. Beside this, Hobby Lobby, the chief plaintiff in the case, was willing to insure 16 of the 20 forms of birth control the HHS Mandate required, just not the four (Ella, Plan B, IUD and copper IUD) which are known to prevent implantation of a newly conceived life. As a Catholic, I cannot endorse the use of any of these covered birth control forms, even the 16 forms that Hobby Lobby would pay for, though. Most hormonal forms are carcinogenic, some come with high risk factors, and all interrupt the mutual self-gift of husband and wife in the marital embrace by holding back one’s fertility. The Church’s desire for sexual expression is that it is free, total, faithful, and permanent. As Paul VI prophesied in his Encyclical Humanae Vitae in 1968, the use of contraception would lead to a break down of families and society (divorce, cohabitation, etc), an objectification of women (the sex trade, porn, and ‘using’ of women), and sins against life (abortion and euthanasia).
Those opposed to the ruling seem to be on three issues. First, they see any limit of birth control, even abortifacients and direct abortion, as a limitation on their rights. Complicating this case is the employers' refusal to pay for them as the HHS mandates, a mandate that is illegal according to the Supreme Court as there are other less restrictive means. Access is not hindered, but, as it was before the ACA and HHS Mandate, if it is not covered by insurance, it is the patient's responsibility to pay for it. Note, too, that the ACA does not fully cover all medications, even lifesaving or necessary ones. Why should 'treatments' for optional activities be covered. Yes, it is a different worldview, but pregnancy is not a disease. Those that state that these forms protect against STDs need to look again - most of them do not, and certainly not the four that Hobby Lobby is refusing to cover.
They also claim that corporations are not persons (sad that they also say the unborn are also not persons with rights). Legally, corporations are described as persons, however they are not people. As a legal person, corporations can have views and values. The same people that decry this decision on this ground are boycotting other corporations, to punish them, that do not hold their personal values. Just look up Chik-filla or Mozilla/Firefox - the owners stated something again political correctness, and then held the corporation responsible! They cannot have it both ways!
Those opposed to the ruling suggest that it is none of the boss’s business - I could not agree more! It is not the boss’s business to pay for it. As a commentator put it, I have the right to have a gun - I do not have the right to force an employer to purchase it for me.
What is most disheartening in all of this is that the most effective form of family planning, that takes into account the purpose of sexual expression and the Catholic Faith, is not covered! Natural Family Planning teaches a couple the signs of fertility, and if they are mutually fertile, they can either choose to not be sexually active, or to accept the possibility of conception. It is cheap, reliable, and fully moral! What I love most is that it actually is scientific, and gives women especially knowledge of how their bodies work. It is not simply taking a pill to treat a healthy system as a disease. NFP is not contraception - it does not interrupt the sexual act because there is no sexual act. Can it be used immorally? Perhaps, if the couple is completely opposed to life and have a contraceptive mentality. This, however, does not make NFP immoral. For more information on NFP, see the USSCB'S page, a non-affliated site, the Creighten Model, the Couple-to-Couple League, or even the Health and Human Services information (note that they use the statistic the 1-25 couples practicing NFP may become pregnant, but this may include those that are using NFP to achieve pregnancy!)

All are called by God to love Him.

All are called to serve Him.

Some are called to special lives of service,

to give witness to God's love through being a priest, religious brother, or sister.

Is He calling you?