Ode to a Mother

I am a convert to Catholicism; born and baptized in the Methodist Church but lived a life as a suburban secularist – God just wasn’t important. But, as I was trying to understand better why the Catholic church was an anathema to the human race I began to realize the great lie of secularists.  The only way that God wasn’t important is if you ignored Him.  He was and is there, He was and is in love with me.  He was and is who always makes me more human. This process of coming to terms with, and growing in the real truth was my road home to Catholicism.

That road was paved with great people and great words.  I owe my understanding of the faith to, primarily, the writings of Pope St. John Paul the great, Dr. Peter Kreeft, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger among others.  The authors of my conversion were the great points of clarity.  But as great as they were (and are) they are points in time.  I step back from life to read and understand.  But as Peter, James and John had to come down from Mt. Tabor I needed to put the books and papers down and go back into my life. This connection, this taking the truths and using them in my life was helped by another – a little nun in Northern Alabama.  Mother Angelica’s EWTN was the connection between these great writers and leaders and living a life in society.  Her enthusiasm for our God radiated through her television station and deep into my soul.  Through her and the programming of EWTN, I found that life could be lived within the faith joyfully. I came to know that my life lived in Christ didn’t mean a life of repression and boredom but a life of true freedom and vigor. The great truths of our faith didn’t hinder me but gave me fullness.  And of course, her ministry showed me that entertainment could be more than mind numbing titillation that left you empty and hungry, it could be life altering and empowering.

Thank you Lord for the gift of Mother Angelica from the very first years of my conversion and for her EWTN legacy.  May I, in some small way, pass forward what she and her community gave to this former ‘suburban secularist’ – a life in Christ.

Requiescat in pace Mother Angelica

Art of Love

As I opened my Breviary this morning I realized that this was a sort of special Good Friday (as if Good Friday wasn’t special enough). Today, is March 25th, and if it wasn’t Holy Week we would be celebrating the Solemnity of the Annunciation, the feast of the incarnation of our Lord. As I reflected on the import of the symbolism that the day of His death is being celebrated on the day of His conception it brought me back to the early representations of the manger scene.  In those paintings and other artworks[1] you could see Jesus in the swaddling bands that also were used in death.

Here is a powerful lesson in just what our Lord came to do.  He had a mission and that mission is each of us. But I fear that this understanding and appreciation of what God did for us and what we mean to Him has been faded in the past 100 years.  Does our Lord’s passion impact us as it should? And when I say ‘us’ I mean ‘me’ first and foremost.

I pray that this year I can open myself up to the greatest act of love ever. I pray that this year I can allow the grief of what I did to our God to bring the sting it should; and the overwhelming wave of unworthiness and joy explode in my heart for His 33 year act of love for me.

I wish the same for each of us.

Adoramus te, Christe, et benedicimus tibi.
Quia per sanctam crucem tuam redemisti mundum.

————————————————————————–

[1] Such as:
The Nativity with the Prophets Isaiah and Ezekial, 1308-11 by Duccio
Nativity by Jacopo Torriti
Nativity Scene Fresco (1310) by Giotto Di Bondone
Stained Glass at St. Denis Basilica in Paris (ca 1100s)
Madonna and Child (1319) by Ambrogio Lorenzetti

What Path?

In 2005 Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was chief celebrant and homilist at the Mass prior to the start of the conclave to elect the predecessor of Pope St. John Paul the Great.  In his homily Cardinal Ratzinger spoke words that rang throughout the media: ‘We are building a dictatorship of relativism[1] . His homily was as profound as it was challenging; one priest, a so-called ‘catholic expert’ for a major Washington DC newspaper wrote ‘I think this homily shows he realizes he’s not going to be elected.[2]

As a sound-byte goes, the Cardinal’s comment was good; but what made this sound-byte profound and challenging was the whole sentence that it came from.  ‘We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.[3]

Solely of one’s own ego and desires[4] His message is as relevant today as in 2005, maybe more so; both in its universal dimension and, most importantly, in its personal dimension. It is essential that we habitually pause for a moment and interiorize his observation and reflect on how our faith-life measures up to his statement; because how we live our faith affects how the universal church acts and thus how she influences the world.

Our faith, our response to God’s revelation, is one of acceptance of Jesus, the way, the truth, and the life (cf. John 14:16).  As Catholics we accept that it is only through our Lord:

  • that we can find our way home;
  • that we understand there are absolute truths and they are imperative;
  • and, that we can gain eternal life with God Himself.

We accept this and we submit to living a life in pursuit and adherence to these realities; we submit to a loving obedience to He who can give these – indeed are these. At least that is what we should be doing; but, because of the effects of original sin, this is never easy to live out – we get in our own way.

Brothers and sisters, during this Lenten season let’s ask ourselves if we are actively trying to live the life that brings us to these truths; or are we allowing our own ego and desires to color our faith life?  Or, in the words of Pope Francis: ‘Am I on the path of life or on the path of lies?[5] One path builds a stronger church and thus a healthier world – the other path leads to a cacophony of disappointments and emptiness.

————————————————————-

[1] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger 4/18/2005 Homily Misso pro eligendo Romano Pontifice.
[2] Fr. Richard McBrien The Washington Post 4/19/05
[3] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger 4/18/2005 Homily Misso pro eligendo Romano Pontifice.
[4] ibid
[5] Pope Francis Homily 2/25/2016

Will and Testament

A little over a month ago Ron was called home to our Father’s house and we lost a valuable friend and knight.  I was not surprised by the participation that occurred during his visitation and funeral.  His life was filled with works for the church; and his giving of his time and talent to help others help others was a tremendous blessing to all who knew him. Ron’s life was centered around our Lord. Ron’s life was dedicated to serving God who loved him.

It got me thinking about what he has left us; which then got me thinking about what is the most important thing in our lives.

When each of us follow Ron and hopefully go to the Father’s house, we will leave a will and testament to our family and/or friends.  Some of us, those who write an actual will, leave two of them. The testament I am referring to here however is a testament, a gift, of the most important thing in our lives. Hopefully, it is the same for each of us – our faith.  Pope Francis in a February 4th homily spoke of this when he said. ‘When a testament is made people dispense: ’I leave this to him, I leave that to another’ but the most beautiful legacy that a man or a women can leave to their children is faith[1] He finishes the homily by telling us to ask of God two things. The first is not to fear our final passage and the second is ‘that, with our lives, we may all leave faith as the greatest legacy: faith in this faithful God, this God who is always at our side, this God who is Father and never disappoints.[2] I think it is important to note that this homily was given the day of Ron’s wake.

As men the most important thing for us to accomplish is passing to our children and friends a witness of faith – true and strong faith. Our lives should be remembered so that those thinking of us can’t think of us and our faith separately – we are one and the same. Our faith shouldn’t be something that we turn on and turn off – it should be constant. Our faith should be what drives our hearts and minds – so that what we say and do, at all times, is an outpouring of our relationship with God.  St. John the Baptist said: ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.’[3] That statement is the result of someone who lives his faith.

I would like to share with you part of a spiritual testament written in 1270 (746 years ago) by French king Louis IX to his son. It is a great example of how we should live our lives; and, of course, what we need to pass on to our children.

My dearest son, my first instruction is that you should love the Lord your God with all your heart and all 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 would 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 that with the rich, until you are certain of the truth. See that all 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. Amen.[4]

Brothers, let’s not waste the passing of Ron with just fond memories and wishes. Let’s embrace the faith that he lived his life in and make it our own.  Let’s use this sad moment as a time to reevaluate our own faith life, especially our inner most relationship with Christ and move forward with a better one. Let’s build a life with God in the center so that by our lives we can do as St. Louis did for his son. We don’t need to write this testament out St. Louis did – we just need to live it; our children and friends will understand.

St. Paul wrote to the Galatians, and to us: ‘it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.[5] Can we say the same? Can we pass on a legacy like St. Paul’s?

————————————————————————-

[1] Pope Francis – Homily from February 4 2016 L’Osservatore Romano English edition 2/12/16
[2] ibid
[3] John 3:30 (RSV)
[4] Liturgy of the Hours, Office of Readings, 2nd reading for August 25, from a spiritual testament to his son by Saint Louis.
[5] Galatians 2:20 (RSV)