What is Truly Important

In today’s Prayer after Communion we offer to God, a request for continued help so that we can, in return, please him.

Complete within us, O Lord, we pray,
the healing work of your mercy
and graciously perfect and sustain us,
so that in all things we may please you.

Since the days of Adam and Eve God has desired us to be within His love.  And since the fall we have tried to regain this intimacy of communion.  But as our history has shown, we fall short again and again and again.  In today’s Gospel we hear Jesus relate both the promise and disappointment.  One line in particular strikes me:

‘We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.’ Then he will say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!’

Is this what we think makes us known to God, listening to Him teach, taking nourishment with Him?  Party with Him? Is this all that is needed?  No wonder He replies as He does. So how do we go about attaining what we prayed for in the Prayer after Communion.

Today is the Memorial of St. Louis, or would be if it wasn’t suppressed by Sunday.  The second reading of Matins for his feast day is a beautiful example of how to attain what we prayed for – how to please God in all things.  Please listen to the spiritual testament of St. Louis to his son:

“My dearest son, my first instruction is that you should love the Lord your God with all of your heart and all of your strength. Without this there is no salvation. Keep yourself, my son, from everything that you know displeases God, that is to say, from every mortal sin. You should permit yourself to be tormented by every kind of martyrdom before you allow yourself to commit a mortal sin.
If the Lord has permitted you to have some trial, bear it willingly and with gratitude, considering that it has happened for your good and that perhaps you well deserved it. If the Lord bestows upon you any kind of prosperity, thank him humbly and see that you become no worse for it, either through vain pride or anything else, because you ought not to oppose God or offend him in the matter of his gifts.

Listen to the divine office with pleasure and devotion. As long as you are in church, be careful not to let your eyes wander and not to speak empty words but pray to the Lord devoutly, either aloud or with the interior prayer of the heart.

Be kindhearted to the poor, the unfortunate and the afflicted. Give them as much help and consolation as you can. Thank God for all the benefits he has bestowed upon you, that you may be worthy to receive greater. Be just to your subjects, swaying neither to right nor left, but holding the line of justice. Always side with the poor rather than with the rich, until you are certain of the truth. See that all of your subjects live in justice and peace, but especially those who have ecclesiastical rank and who belong to religious orders.

Be devout and obedient to our mother the Church of Rome and the Supreme Pontiff as your spiritual father. Work to remove all sin from your land, particularly blasphemies and heresies.

In conclusion, dearest son, I give you every blessing that a loving father can give a son. May the three Persons of the Holy Trinity and all the saints protect you from every evil. And may the Lord give you the grace to do his will so that he may be served and honored through you, that in the next life we may together come to see him, love him and praise him unceasingly.”

Here is how we please God in all things.

A king of France, who is involved in the power politics of leading a country in 12th and 13th centuries, and all that entails – the political intrigue, the gamesmanship of medieval Europe – who has as more power than anyone in his day and what did he pass on to his son? How to please God!

When we achieve this then we will see the prayer after communion answered.

Catholicism is a verb!

During the transition to the new translation a lot was made about the change in the Institution Narrative, the words of consecration.  Where, in the old translation the priest said: “Take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me.” Now, in our current translation it says: “Take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for many so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me.

Some told me that this new translation isn’t charitable; they had a problem with the change of the word ‘all’ to ‘many’. Christ didn’t die for a certain few, he died for all!  How can we condemn part of mankind? This isn’t the first time that one word caused a stir in the church, indeed about 1000 years ago the church ruptured over just one Greek letter, iota.

The truth of the matter is that the old translation was just not accurate to the Latin version, which is the official language even to this day.  It didn’t relate what the church has been proclaiming for millennia.  Though not totally wrong it was definitely not accurate. Today’s Gospel brought this issue back to mind because the Gospel reading helps to explain why this current translation is more accurate.

Today, Jesus tells those around him, including us: “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” And this phrase seems to reinforce the idea of exclusivity.  Who won’t make it? Who isn’t strong enough and why? Why won’t a supposedly loving God desire all to make it and why doesn’t He help them?

But then we hear Christ say: “And people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God. For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.

Christ is actually telling us that the door is open wider than we think; it is open to everyone, to all of humanity.  But, as His Holiness Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said in 2007 ‘it is narrow, demanding because it requires commitment, self-denial and the mortification of one’s selfishness.

In other words, we aren’t guaranteed access to heaven just because we are a member of the Church; we don’t get privileges because we are a favored child; and we can’t say that those who aren’t members of Holy Mother Church are denied Heaven. Rather, it is by our lives, how we live them, in accordance with God’s plan, that we will be judged worthy or not.  I heard a great description of this ‘just because you have been given a ticket to the movie, doesn’t mean that you saw it.’ Action on our part is essential for our accepting the gift of salvation.

This understanding of salvation is pervasive throughout Holy Scripture; in Matthew (23:37) Christ laments: ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her young under her wings, but you were unwilling!’ Christ was willing – mankind wasn’t.

In the Gospel of St. John (3:16-17) Christ tells Nicodemus: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. Might not perish, might be saved – it is up to us.

From just these two passages we see the underlying truth that God did indeed come to us to save us – but that many of us, through our inaction have pushed away His gift. Many of us have not sought to journey the path that Jesus did, the path of faith which is not easy, the path that we heard Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI describe earlier.  Like it or not, we all look at this journey with some trepidation – the path is hard.

My brothers and sisters, our faith is not one of understanding only, not one of learning some abstract truth.  It is one of action, one of relationship, one of discipleship. Catholicism is not so much a noun as it is a verb!  We ‘do’ – ‘do’ for each other by ‘doing’ for God.  Today’s readings are a reminder for each us.  So, when we look at the change in the Institution Narrative we now understand that though Christ died for all, for everybody; His blood was shed to save those who accept this gift, who take the ticket and actually go to see the movie. Though we have been given the fullness of faith in the Catholic Church; through the sacraments we have the helps needed to strengthen us and heal us, it is no guarantee that this alone will secure us heaven, it won’t – you need to use a key to unlock a door.

Can we tell who is in which category? I would suggest that is a waste of our time and energy – only God judges and we should be concerned with everyone out of love. In discussing this topic, Bishop Fulton Sheen on his TV show told the audience: ‘I am only certain there will be three surprises in Heaven. First of all, I will see some people whom I never expected to see. Second, there will be a number whom I expect who will not be there. And – even relying on God’s mercy – the biggest surprise of all may be that I will be there.

Now, in case we start to worry, it is never too late to change.  In the 2nd letter to Timothy we hear very reassuring words: ‘This saying is trustworthy: If we have died with him we shall also live with him; if we persevere we shall also reign with him. But if we deny him he will deny us. If we are unfaithful he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.

He cannot deny Himself; love can never not be love, the only question is will we accept it.

Beautiful Words to Live By

Yesterday amid the celebration of the Sacrament of Holy Orders to the Diaconate I heard yet again those amazing words: “Believe what you read; teach what you believe; practice what you teach.”  A very beautiful part of the ceremony as they touch the book of the Gospel, listen to those words and then respond. For most there it was just another part of the ordination rite for those 17 men.  But for some who are there, those who are within the ceremony participating in it prayerfully it means more. These words are words that every follower of Christ should live by, not just the ordained – though they impose upon those ordained into Holy Orders a grave responsibility.

What these words proclaim is that if this calling that we acknowledge, the calling of the Royal Priesthood for all believers, is to be lived in its truth, in its fullness – it can’t be equivocated – it must be lived totally. There is no relativism associated with the calling of discipleship.  We belong to our Heavenly Father through our relationship with Christ His Son.  By virtue of this gift of belonging we must live within the Triune God, within love.  Our very being is one with God.  Contained in this beautiful sentence “Believe what you read; teach what you believe; practice what you teach.”, at least to me is that as Christians:

  • We accept His revelation about Himself. We trust in this loving God who comes to us and shows us Himself. We accept His mystical body, Holy Mother Church, as Himself.  We have strength of family with His Church and we have sureness of truth being proclaimed through her because of His promise to us that she would not fail.
  • We have a need to let those around us know about this peace and hope we have been given by God.  It can’t be helped, it is in our being to introduce our most beloved Lord to everyone, and to witness to His glorious plan. In a very real way we should feel the urge to proclaim as a primal drive within us.
  • And we can find no other way to live, than by His code, His laws and teachings – they bring us contentment and fullness.

This final exhortation “practice what you teach” is what struck me yesterday and today the most.  It the result of the first two but in a way it is also the structure in which the first two are nurtured.  Not only is our living His words as an outward proof of our belief, and the best method of evangelization (as St. Francis reminds us); but it is gauge for how we are as disciples, how we are truly living our lives. Of course, as we all know, we fall wide of this goal during our journey (maybe even much of the time); and when we do, we feel a discontent and uneasiness within us – it is the irritation of us pulling away from the path of God. As water finds the easiest path in which to flow, so we are wired to find the right and easiest path in our journey; and as creations of God, made in His image, this path is through His plan. We can feel when we are flowing where we should, the internal peace that radiates us from us is undeniable. Though our outward dynamic might chaotic and in turmoil, God’s peace stands within us to keep us steady.  When we have that strength our actions are consistent, our witness of action is in line with our teaching and both point to the Word, Jesus Christ.

My prayer for each of us is to take these words: “Believe what you read; teach what you believe; practice what you teach.” Make them a daily maxim for our lives; and by doing so create within us a healthy live in Christ – which in turn will be noticed and emulated by those around us.

Giving Space to Grow

In his remarks at the welcoming ceremony to Brazil a few weeks ago our Holy Father said something that on the surface sounded like everyone could agree with; but in its core was a radical challenge for governments around the world, especially the so-called first world countries – and not only the governments, it is a radical challenge for the citizens as well! He stated: “Our generation will show that it can rise to the promise found in each young person when we know how to give them space.” This means creating “… the material and spiritual conditions for their full development.” (L’osservatore Romano -English edition #30 7/24/2013 pg. 1)

How do we, society – the individuals, organizations and governing bodies create these conditions?  How do individuals create an environment that nurtures full development?  At the core there is a not too veiled difference of opinion between government and the Catholic faith.

It is a common perception that liberal ideology is contra to faith – especially when they both come into contact with each other in society.  Which means there is always a conflict because as disciples we are called to go out a spread the gospel by ministering to Christ’s children – and governments view this as their mandate, their sphere of influence.  But truth be told this conflict is really inherent in the whole of government, parties not-with-standing.  The nature of government is to grow and control, it doesn’t matter which political affiliation you have – if you are in the ‘business of government’ you are of that nature.

Christianity in general, and especially the Catholic Church, has always stood for social justice and charity – we might not be perfect but we try.  We have always tried to take to heart Christ’s words: ‘whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.(Matthew 25:31-46) and go out and feed His sheep (John 21:17). We have espoused the social/governmental principal of subsidiarity (what needs to be done should be done at the level closest to the need) if family can help then let the family help, then social groups, then local government, and on up the line.

This is a mindset contrary to governmental thinking.   We see it every day, at every level of government. The HHS Mandate is a current example; but another striking example is something that happened in North Carolina last year. Last year an award was given to an employee in the federal government SNAP program (food stamps) who ‘broke through the hindering cultural ideology’ of the mountain region in North Carolina.  This region, which is really all of Appalachia (not just North Carolina), is an area of strong willed, independent people, who for centuries have relied on themselves and each other to live.  If they don’t have something, they do without.  If someone is in need they rally and help them.  Government is there to protect them, to help them with those things that they can’t get, and that is not a lot.  These are, contrary to the prevailing SNAP mindset, a generally happy people.

But the government saw it differently, they saw a region where the demographics were below what they thought was impoverished; but try as they might they couldn’t convince these people to take food stamps.  The people didn’t want them – they took care of themselves.  So what did this employee get her reward for?  Changing the program to include seed, so the farmers could get their crop seed free.  But even more, the rationale was that once this succeeded they could then convince the people to use these food stamps for more ‘traditional’ goods.  Now, don’t get me wrong, SNAP is a valuable resource for those who need it and ask for it. This example shows that the federal government program saw an area they were not influential with and targeted it to bring them their brand of ‘good news’.  Which, and time will tell, will probably erode the proud heritage of these people and create another government-dependent group.  The idea of subsidiarity, in this and most cases, was not acceptable.  It seems that the old adage ‘ give a man a fish and he can eat for day, teach a man to fish and he can eat for ever’ has been appended with ‘but don’t worry we will give you a fish every day so you don’t have to worry, or work, or have the feeling of self-worth.’  Government, again regardless of political or ideological affiliation, doesn’t like to see an area they have no influence over, even if it has historical and cultural roots and value.  How does this give the space that our Holy Father talked about?  This is just an example from our country!

But, to be honest about it, it isn’t totally the Federal Government’s fault.  This is where the Pope’s comments are a radical challenge to the citizens, especially those who follow Christ.  I ask each of you, if the principal of subsidiarity is so central to the Catholic faith, what are we doing about it?  Do we take it and run with it by going out and helping? Do we find a need among our family, our friends, our parish, town or state and witness to Christ by helping, by doing ‘to the least of these’? Or do we sit back and wait for the government to help them?  Do we take the final words of today’s gospel, which are directed at each of us, as a challenge we accept for the love of God, or do we cringe when we hear them? ‘Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.

We have been given much, we have been given the knowledge of God’s love for us, we have been given the light of faith and with it hope.  We understand, hopefully, that we shouldn’t put stock in the material goods of this life, but the spiritual goods of eternity.  We have been given much, and so much is asked; we need to radiate this good-news by words but as important, if not more, by actions of love.  Actions of love, another definition of Subsidiarity, is what we spread the good news with.  And it doesn’t need a stamp to deliver it!

Ourselves and Him

In his first encyclical, Lumen Fidei, Pope Francis states ‘Once man has lost the fundamental orientation that unifies his existence, he breaks down in to the multiplicity of his desires…’ (p13) In explaining this idea Fr. James Schall, S.J. says:  ‘We cannot explain ourselves by ourselves to ourselves.

This is strikingly shown in the parable in today’s Gospel. The rich man in musing about a problem he has says: ‘“What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?’ And he said, ‘This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!”

This rich man’s whole point of view is based on his successes.  He probably looks at his good fortune as a sign from God that he is good, he has found favor with his creator.  In short, his center of his life is himself – God revolves around him.

But as we grow older we come to understand that this point of view gets stretched thin, it starts to have many holes.  It isn’t a consistent theory.  Fortunes come and go, we ride the waves of good times and bad times and ultimately we fail physically.  Our journey, when viewed from a self-centered vantage point is one of ultimate futility.

But the good news is just that; the good news, the Gospel.  Through our loving creator we have been given the gift of faith, we have been given the key to right-reason, we have in our grasp the truth of love.  We know that we aren’t the center of existence; that we have as the center God – who was, is, and always will be.  That come what may for us, we are always within God’s loving embrace; even more He has given us the means to judge what is important and desire what is truly meaningful.  To Him we look, not to our possessions.  It is His loving plan that we use to gauge what is truly important and how well we are doing.  In short (and modifying Fr. Schall’s quote), we can explain ourselves by Him to ourselves.  And maybe, most importantly, to others so they too can find the true gauge of existence, and find true joy, hope and peace.