Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Prairie Catholic Article: through the Cross

Lent is a season to reflect and ponder the Cross and Resurrection of Christ. The liturgical destination of our Lenten journey is the Sacred Triduum, when we celebrate the giving of the Eucharist, the Cross, and the Resurrection. It is tempting to ignore Good Friday, to view it as something simply ‘gotten’ through or around. Easter Sunday is easy to celebrate with joy. The gift of love that Christ leaves in the Eucharist as well as the model of charity in the washing of feet is happy. But it is Good Friday that ties these days and themes together and gives them their power to change our lives. Good Friday is difficult because we do not like the Cross or always understand what it truly means. We try to avoid it because it symbolizes suffering, sacrifice, and pain. Ultimately, Lent is about remembering that there can be no resurrection without the Cross.

It is the Cross that marks our lives on this earth. We are marked with the Cross at our baptisms; and this is renewed with each Sign of the Cross. Jesus instructs us to take up our cross daily. This is not an optional activity for a few followers, nor one that is a one-time deal, or when convenient, or on a limited schedule. Every disciple has cross, and it is part and parcel with following Jesus.

The cross is not light, in discussing or in fact. Crucifixion was cruel, slow, and methodical. People could be dying on the cross in excruciating (literally from the cross) pain for days. As one of our Eucharistic Prefaces (Preface III of Ordinary time) states, the Father “fashioned the remedy out of mortality itself”. When Jesus embraces and dies on the cross, He takes upon Himself the entire burden of the world’s sins. By His innocence and obedience, He puts sin and death to death. The Church Fathers and countless saints spoke of the cross and resurrection in terms of the re-creation story. Adam and Eve, by their disobediently taking of the fruit of the tree of Knowledge, cause sin to enter the world. In the Crucifixion, Jesus stretches out His hands not to take but to give. He is revealed as the New Adam, the Blessed Mother Mary as the New Eve who stands beside her Son. This makes the Cross the Tree of Life. How Jesus dies is not just incidental, a matter of convenience, simply chosen because crucifixion was the current tool of capital punishment by the Roman government. It was God the Father’s plan, His ultimate choice, from before all time. He intended that the wood of the Cross be the means of our salvation.

Jesus willingly gave His life, so that we could see how ugly our sins are to the Father by our looking at Jesus on the Cross. In the cross, he fulfills the promise of the Eucharist, the most blessed fruit of Tree of Life, which brings us eternal life in the Resurrection. But we must ponder our sins and allow them to be put to death, along with our own. We cannot go around the cross – we must go through it.

Instead of avoiding the Cross this Lent, we are to take up our cross and follow. He will put our sins to death. We submit ourselves in obedience to Him, and are to receive often and well of the fruit of Tree of Life: Jesus, the Eucharist. By doing so, we return to the Garden for which we were created, where we will walk with the Lord for the rest of eternity.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

A season for unity

The season of Lent is one of intense preparation for the celebration of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The season has its roots in the ancient Church as adults preparing to be baptized and received into the Church entered the season as a sort of 40-day retreat, following the example of Jesus himself as he fasted in the desert. It is marked by three spiritual practices in the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, as well as some Protestant Churches: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving as encouraged by Jesus (Matthew 6). What was good for those newly entering the Church was then seen as supremely good for all members, newly baptized and those whose baptism may be a distant memory. Fasting from food, and perhaps even certain foods such as meat, forces our wills to submit our bodies to a higher good as we are reminded that God is the giver of all sustenance, and body and soul experienced greater union. Prayer unites our souls and spirits and raises them to the Heavenly Father. Almsgiving, giving of money or acts of charity to the less fortunate, unite us to one another. Instead of isolating us, Lent is really about uniting us: us to ourselves, to each other, and to God. It makes sense, too. Christ’s Resurrection is the salvation of humanity from sin and death. It is the re-creation of the entire universe through His obedient self-sacrifice on the Cross. It undoes the ‘Fall’ of creation. As we read in the Creation account, sin entered the world because of the disobedience of Adam and Eve, and because of their sin, the rest of humanity is born into original sin where we are separated from the God who lovingly created us. The serpent lied when he said they would not die. Certainly physical death was not immediate, but death is more than physical (the separation of body and soul) – it is any separation. Man and woman were no longer comfortable in their own bodies, but were ashamed of their nakedness. Man and woman blamed each other and the serpent for their moral failures. They desired to hide from God. These Lenten practices seek to undo them. While it is through the sacrament of Baptism that we put to death this original sin, we still deal with its effects. The Lord desires to give us the grace to live united. Lent is about seeking greater union with Holy Trinity of the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving help us to live in such a way that we bring unity to the world that has been divided by sin and death. May we live this Lent well, and come to greater union with Christ, one another, and even our own selves this Easter.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Happy Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine’s day. From the appearance of many stores, though, it seems like we have been celebrating it since a few days after Christmas. Sadly, that is only symbolic of what many might understand of Valentine’s day - a secular and commercialized ‘filler’ for the period in between Christmas and Easter, between the toys and the candies. But, as a Catholic, I recall that it is really more, though it is true that we do not commemorate it as such any longer. Instead we celebrate the memorial of Ss. Cyril and Methodius, the two brothers credited with sharing the faith with the Slavic nations. St. Cyril is the designer of the Cyrillic alphabet which bears his name as a result. Part of the reason that the Church no longer commemorates St. Valentine is that there is a confusion about which saint of at least two is really commemorated, and that so many legends have come to surround these Ss. Valentines. According to most, the one honored was a Catholic priest of Rome who was imprisoned for the radical action of teaching about the natural and sacramental nature of marriage. The emperor claimed for himself the right to the first ‘encounter' with the soon-to-be married women of Rome, and St. Valentine clandestinely witnessed the marriage of many young couples to protect their virginity and chastity. It is said that even in prison, he continued his bold defense of marriage as the intimate union of man and woman, in a free, full, faithful and monogamous relationship. He saw that marriage in the Christian sense was a direct result of the teaching of Christ, but that the practice of the emperor having his way with would-be wives was against even the natural order. For this bold proclamation, he gave his life. The love of his life was Christ, a chaste, but nonetheless intense, love. The love he defended by his death was a marital love between man and woman. How far detached, therefore, we have become in our secularized celebrating of this man of faith. It is separate from the love of Christ, often marked with a thinly veiled lust, and is no longer referencing lifelong, marital relationships. Maybe this is because we have lost an understanding of marriage and love itself. Perhaps, it is as many recently are saying, that the real vocational crisis in the Church is the vocation of marriage. These next days between now and St. Valentine’s day, instead of focussing solely on all the hearts and cards, chocolates and roses, we can examine our loves. Would St. Valentine recognize it as from Christ? Would it please the Lord? Perhaps, too, instead of all the stuff, we focus and truly prepare to give our hearts to the beloved, whether it be to a significant other, especially one’s spouse, or the Beloved of every heart, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas letter

Christmastime is Here. But I always get That Christmas Feeling reminding me that Christmas is so much more than a Sleigh Ride Over the River and Through the Woods. It involves more than Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, and Jolly Old Saint Nicholas. We Deck the Halls with The Holly and the Ivy, Mistletoe and Holly, Pine Cones and Holly Berries, but we prepare our hearts for more. Do You Hear What I Hear? Ding Dong! Merrily On High, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, but they were more than Silver Bells, Silver and Gold Jingle Bells. No, the Carol of the Bells declares much more. As we celebrate Christmas, we are taken back to The First Noel, when, It Came Upon A Midnight Clear on that Silent Night. Away in a Manger, in a Little Town of Bethlehem, In royal David’s City, the world first celebrated the Birthday of a King. Oh Holy Night, When A Child Is Born, willingly saying “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come.” A Savior is Born! Mary’s Boy Child! Sweet Little Jesus Boy! But What Child is This, that While Shepherds Watched, Angels, From the Realms of Glory come to earth to witness this event. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, declaring In excelsis Gloria. Still, Still, Still. It was A Baby Like You and me, only the Son of God, Eternal Savior. Christ is Born in Bethlehem, who is the Greatest Gift of All. The Shepherds Went Their Hasty Way, they declared to Mary, Dear Mother of Jesus, “Angels We Have Heard on High.” The Friendly Beasts, the Little Drummer Boy, and, eventually following the Star of the East, Three Kings of Orient Are all that are present to see this sight. One has to ask of the rest of the world, Do they Know It’s Christmas? Oh Come, All Ye Faithful, O Come Little Children, let us like Good King Wenceslas come Rejoice, The Lord is King. Rejoice, Rejoice All Believers, not just Angels and Shepherds! Joy to the World, Christ is born. Rejoice and be Glad, Rejoice and be Merry. Christmas day is The Most Wonderful Day Of The Year, but it is so much more than a day – it is The Holiday Season that lasts the full The 12 Days of Christmas and all year through. So, We Wish You a Merry Christmas, and ask you to remember that when we sing The Christmas Song, we Sing of God, the Greatest Good. Sing We Noel this Christmas. So Go, Tell It on the Mountain, Up On the Rooftop and everywhere else. Sing the Carol, Raise Your Voices! Come On, Ring Those Bells, ring them until the Jingle Bell Rock. Ring Merrily! Bells will be ringing, and yes, I’ll Be Home for Christmas, too, With Bells On. So God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and women. Sleep Well, Little Children. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, Rocking Around the Christmas Tree. And Let There Be Peace On Earth, peace made possible by Jesus. This is What Christmas Means To Me. (Hidden among these rambling thoughts are the titles of at least 80 Christmas carols and tunes. Have a Merry Christmas.)

Friday, December 23, 2016

Christmas is a season

Merry Christmas! I hope that this season is one of peace and joy for all. Christmas is a season - it only begins on December 25. The Twelve days of Christmas, of carol fame, begins - not ends - on Christmas day. Indeed, the twelve days ends on the feast of the Epiphany, we we remember three events in which Christ is revealed to the world (the arrival of the Magi, the Baptism of Christ, and the first miracle at the wedding at Cana). Different cultures have different endings of the season culturally, for example marks is through February 2 (the feast of the Presentation), while others end with the official end of the liturgical season on the Baptism of the Lord, this year January 9. There is something profoundly human (and humane) about this. We prepare for Christmas with another season, Advent, to prepare our hearts to celebrate His birth, but also for His glorious return in the Second Coming. In the Church, we need that time to prepare. While not as intense as Lent, it is a season in the Catholic and Orthodox churches marked by prayer and penance (and even fasting by some). But after such preparations, we also need to to celebrate, and do so for more than one day! Why all this preparation and celebration? Because Christmas is so much more than celebrate a birthday, thought true it is that in part. The Church recalls that Christ was born, but also that He will come again, and when better than when we celebrate His first birth. For a deeper understanding of the meaning of His birth, we need look no further that to some of the carols that we sing during this season. Hark the Herald Angels Sing tells us "God and sinners reconciled”. Silent Night proclaims “the dawn of redeeming grace.” The First Noel reminds us that with His [Christ’s] blood mankind hath bought.” Indeed every Christmas hymn (the religious ones, anyway) tell us the story of the Birth and the reason behind it. Clearly, this is no mere child, but is a Divine Being with a heavenly purpose. Being the Second Person of the Holy Trinity (the persons of the the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit in the one Being of God), Jesus took flesh (the Incarnation) in the womb of Mary, and He was born in a humble stable. While some might quibble about the date, the fact is that He was born, and we celebrate that fact. God became Man, became one of us, so that He would lead us to Himself. He was born that He might offer His life to the Father to redeem us. This is the core of the Christian faith, which begins with Christ’s Incarnation and Birth. He came to die on the Cross to bring the Father’s grace and loving presence to us. With that noble purpose, we need much more than one day. So sing long and well those glorious songs of Christmas and share the joy of our salvation with all.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day

This week, we have a Holy Day of Obligation - All Saints Day. We attend Mass to glorify God for what He did through the Saints, and we gather to honor those who have responded as disciples of the Lord. The saint we honor are both the canonized and uncanonized. In reality, we cannot celebrate and honor all the saints with an individual day, so we set this one date for all of them. There is something good in this, after all, we, too are invited to be saints, and remembering all the saints remind us that there is only one common factor in the lives of the saints - their love of God and desire to serve Him. This is done by the poor and rich, young and old, powerful or lowly, male or female. Sanctity transcends cultures, political leanings, and languages. Leon Bloy once wrote, "The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint." How true, because God has made us for Himself, as St. Augustine writes, and anything less than union with Him is to fail to be ourselves!
On Wednesday, we commemorate All Souls' Day, remembering all who have died. It would be most appropriate to visit a cemetery if possible, to offer a prayer for our dearly departed, and to pray for them. We do not have certainty of their current state - heaven united with God, condemnation because of their rejection of Him, or in the state of purification (Purgatory) where they are purged from the attachments to sin, having been forgive of them already. Because of this, this day offers us the reminder to pray for them.
But these days are also a gentle reminder to us to remember and prepare for our own death. As an epitaph on a grave stone puts it, "Remember me as you pass by, As you are now, so once was I, As I am now, so you must be, Prepare for death and follow me." Put more succinctly: Remember death - Momento mori.
All s


Sunday, September 18, 2016

Catholic Watchmen

Monday evening was our first Catholic Watchmen night. It was filled with great conversation and faith-sharing, food and prayer! There were about 40 men in attendance, and there is plenty room for more. This first night, Tony Grack presented a little about the Catholic Man Crisis. Too often, the media portrays men in a negative light (think Al Bundy or Homer Simpson). Too often, men are displayed as idiots or dolts, or over domineering. A few more ‘positive’ portrayals include James Bond who has no really family bonds (as Bishop Olmsted in his document Into the Breach points out). We can point to more misbehaviors than strong models of masculinity. Much of society’s ills can be traced to the lack of true men - from the BLM movement to single mothers to abortion. But there is another way, one that is not portrayed well in the media - the family man, sure, strong, consistent, and humble. These are the men that fill our parishes, and these are the men we hope to reach, encourage, and develop. There are men willing to give of themselves, to sacrifice for wife and family. There are men who are modeling their lives after Jesus Christ and being disciples and invite others to follow Christ. With this in mind, hopefully we can all see that the Catholic Watchmen is not in competition to the KCs, mens groups, etc, that are already in place but a means to help them. The Midnight Watch and the events themselves, while they take the men away from their families for those times, actually allow them to return stronger and better!

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?