Monday, December 31, 2012

Grandma's Spaghetti - It's How I Share the Faith

It is a snowy New Year's Eve Day, so the kids and I are staying home and enjoying Grandma Virginia's spaghetti as we watch the flakes fall.  I have loved her spaghetti since I was a little guy, and have never found its equal.  She passed on the recipe a few months before her death.  

Photo by Alessio Sbarbaro
My dad and I both make it now.  And, I don't mean to brag, but my mom and siblings say that mine is best.  (To be fair, it is the only that I do better than my dad.  He's da man.)  So what is my secret?  Why does mine consistently turn out better than his?  Because FOLLOW  THE  RECIPE.  My dad always tries to "jazz it up" by adding this or that.  But it doesn't need it; it's already perfect.  His changes inevitably change the flavor, and we're disappointed because we all came to the table expecting Grandma's culinary masterpiece.

I was thinking about all of this yesterday as I ran to the store to grab a forgotten ingredient.  I was tempted to substitute with something else I had at home, but decided it wasn't worth taking the chance.  And then it struck me that I am a "Catholic cook."  What I share with others about Jesus and his teachings - I really strive to pass it along in its purity.  The Lord Jesus is the Word of the Father, and the body of Truth that He entrusted to the Apostles contains everything that God wants to say to humanity.  I know that I cannot improve upon it.  If I try to add to it or subtract from it, I am doing those with whom I share a monumental disservice.  I share the Faith in the same manner I prepare Grandma's spaghetti - I follow the recipe.  It's not that I'm a slave to it; I want to enjoy, and I want others to enjoy, the delicious feast that results from following the recipe!

In the presidential debates this past October, one of the participants chided the other that the United States cannot return to the "social policies of the 1950's."  If you consult that participant's website to see which social policies he was referring to in the debate, he spells it out:  any move to stop abortion on demand, prevent employers from being forced to pay for contraception and abortifacients, or to stop American tax dollars from going to Planned Parenthood (which aborts over 300,000 of our children a year.)  This same gentleman expressed his belief that our culture should change its definition of marriage.  And you will meet many people who identify themselves as "Christian" who agree with him.  The problem is, when they do so they are presenting a truncated version of the Faith.  I hear statements such as, "I'm Catholic," or "I'm a Christian, but I don't believe ..."  They're messing with the recipe, leaving out ingredients ... and the end result is moral heresy.

In the face of this kind of cultural shift the Catholic Church, and Catholic individuals such as myself, can do nothing but stand up and continue to articulate as clearly as we can what Jesus and His Church have always said.  It's not my Truth, or the Church's Truth; it is Jesus'.  So many elements are being presented as if they shackle and restrict our freedoms.  But my nearly three decades as a committed Christian confirm the observation made by G.K. Chesterton, "The more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild" (Orthodoxy, 1908).  The "rules," the ingredients, that many people seem intent on discarding from the Faith aren't so much a fence meant to keep the kids from branching out and enjoying themselves as it is a fence meant to keep dangers from intruding into the children's play area.  (Although a fence that keeps the kids' play from spilling over from the yard onto a busy highway is a wonderful tool as well!)

None of this is to say that I am against sharing the Faith in new and exciting ways.  (People tell me that I get pretty animated when I share; and you are, after all, reading this on a blog with links to websites, videos, etc.)  But the methods or terminology we use in sharing the Faith do not modify the content, the ingredients.  They are like an interesting serving bowl or a super effective spoon for getting the spaghetti out of the bowl and onto people's plates faster.

Spaghetti and the delicious, filling New Evangelization.  "Taste and see the goodness of the Lord" (Psalm 34:8).  Happy New Year everyone!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Participating in the Obedience of Jesus

Awhile back, one of my closest friends started reading Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light. My friend, who is Lutheran, soon asked me if I could explain something to her: it seemed very strange that Mother Teresa, who God was clearly speaking to and giving a mission, would have to go and receive permission to undertake the work from her religious superiors. At first her superiors made her delay. Why would Teresa submit to that, when she knew God was speaking to her?

What a fantastic question! Looking back, my response was alright. I talked about how it was a mark of humility, and a safeguard against being deceived, to submit inspirations and private revelations to those God has allowed to assume roles of authority within a religious body. I also shared how, in private revelations to nuns and religious brothers, Jesus often instructs the recipients that they must always submit themselves to their religious superiors, even when it means delaying His requested action. These nuns and brothers took a vow of obedience when they entered their respective orders, and the Lord insists that it be adhered to. But what I failed to point out, the very heart of the matter, was what St. Anthony of Padua saw in the Gospel read a few weeks back on the Feast of the Holy Family. (My thanks to the Daily Gospel apostolate for emailing such quality commentary every day of the year.)

Jesus was twelve years old and stayed behind in Jerusalem following a family trip there, without notifying his parents. After three days of frantic searching Mary and Joseph finally found Him in the Temple:
"Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously." And he said to them, "How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" And they did not understand the saying which he spoke to them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man. (Luke 2:48-52)

St. Anthony's commentary here is just gorgeous:

“He was subject to them.” With these words let all pride dissolve, all rigidness crumble, all disobedience submit. “He was subject to them.” Who? In brief, he who created all things from nothing; he who, as Isaiah says, “has cupped in his hand the waters of the sea and marked off the heavens with a span; who has held in a measure the dust of the earth, weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance” (40,12)...This is he who, great and powerful though he be, was subject. And subject to whom? To a workman and a poor young maid ... So no longer hesitate to obey or be submissive ...
There are people of wisdom within religious orders but it is by means of simple men that God brought them there. God chose the foolish and weak, the lowly and ignorant to bring together those who were wise, powerful and of noble birth through them, "so that no human being might boast in itself" (cf. 1 Cor. 1,26-29) but in him who came down, who came to Nazareth, and who was subject.

Our obedience is a participation in the very obedience of Jesus! The Father's Revelation in Person, made His plans subject to "a workman and a poor young maid." So whenever one of us submits ourselves to the decisions of our bishop or the disciplines (traditions) of the Church as opposed to our own personal "inspirations," it is Jesus' obedience that we are tapping into; and that is life's very goal! We've heard time and again that the Church is the Family of God. In truth, it is the Family of Nazareth thrown open to the entire world. And those God places in leadership may not be the smartest, or the most "charismatic," or the most plugged-in as to what He wants to accomplish in the moment; but they are to be obeyed, because doing so places us firmly in the One Who obeyed "a workman and a poor young maid." May the Lord grant us a holy and profitable Feast of the Holy Family!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Praying Around the Clock - Liturgy of the Hours

I have been at it for a few days now - the Liturgy of the Hours that is.  This is the first time I have really made an attempt to pray it in its entirety throughout a single day, not to mention a series of days.  I have to be honest; I've fallen short and missed at least one hour a day - but my intentions have been good.  I wanted to share what I have learned thus far.
Image from

First, let me give a snapshot of the Liturgy of the Hours. (You will also hear it referred to as the Divine Office.)  These are the periods of prayer, spaced throughout the day, that priests and members of religious communities are required to keep.  (It is also a reflection of the different times of daily prayer practiced by Jesus and all faithful Jews.)  The Liturgy of the Hours is built around the praying of the Psalms, readings from Scripture and commentary by the saints, and interceding for the needs of all members of the Church.  It is the Church's "public prayer," the common prayer of the Church spread throughout the world, prolonging the Liturgy of the Eucharist throughout the entire day.  It consists of an:
  • Invitatory Psalm
  • Office of Readings (attached to one of the following Hours)
  • Morning Prayer
  • Daily Prayer
  • Evening Prayer
  • Night Prayer
A few things have stood out to me already:
  • I cannot imagine a more Scriptural form of prayer.  (The words of the Mass are approximately 85% direct quotations or  paraphrases from Scripture, but I am going to ballpark the Office at over 90%, with more direct quotations.)  We begin the day with a Psalm, and then Morning Prayer alone has three Psalms woven in with readings from Paul's epistles, etc., etc.  We are constantly addressing God in the words He Himself inspired. 
  • God is going to be praised, whether we personally feel like praising Him or not - praise is at the heart of the Liturgy of the Hours.
  • Joining the Church in its "public prayer" calls us out of ourselves to be concerned with not simply our needs and the small circle of brothers and sisters who surround us, but the whole Church. 
  • I have been attending daily Mass at the same time I have been attempting to pray the Office and have been so impressed at the cross-fertilization that occurs between the two.
If you find yourself wanting to learn more about the Liturgy of the Hours, please visit  Not only can you click on and read any Hour of the day, but you can pray along with audio files for each.  Last spring and summer I waded into the Office a bit by praying Night Prayer.  When I climbed into bed at night I simply opened that page on my iPod and prayed along.  It's beautiful too; it always contains Simeon's Canticle, known as the Nunc Dimittis, from Lk. 2:29-32, and the antiphon, "Protect us, Lord, as we stay awake; watch over us as we sleep, that awake, we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep, rest in his peace."  See what I mean? Absolutely beautiful ... well, that's the prayer of the Body, joined to Christ its Head.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Holy Innocents & Unholy Alliances

Today in the Octave (8 Days) of Christmas, we recall the Holy Innocents, the children two-years and younger who were murdered by King Herod in his effort to eliminate the newborn King (Mt. 2:16-18).  The Church honors these children as martyrs - those who lost their lives in this world because of Jesus.

This feast highlights the love and mercy of God - that He invites all to eternal life, with no regard for mental abilities or age! (This was prefigured in the circumcision of Israelites at eight days old, and is witnessed to today in Christianity's practice of baptizing infants.)  Every person is precious to God from the moment they come into existence, and He desires union with them.  That places a pleasurable burden on the shoulders of parents - raising our kids in the practice of the Faith, introducing them into a relationship with God.

Children, loving children as God loves them - that's where my mind is at on today's feast.  I think of the murder of those innocent children at Sandy Hook Elementary.

I of course think of abortion too.  I recently read this quote from Mother Teresa:

"America needs no words from me to see how your decision in Roe v. Wade has deformed a great nation. The so-called right to abortion has pitted mothers against their children and women against men. It has sown violence and discord at the heart of the most intimate human relationships. It has aggravated the derogation of the father's role in an increasingly fatherless society. It has portrayed the greatest of gifts -- a child -- as a competitor, an intrusion, and an inconvenience. It has nominally accorded mothers unfettered dominion over the independent lives of their physically dependent sons and daughters" 

Those words in bold, they remind me of Herod's motivation for wanting to kill Jesus.  Mother Teresa continued:

"And, in granting this unconscionable power, it has exposed many women to unjust and selfish demands from their husbands or other sexual partners. Human rights are not a privilege conferred by government. They are every human being's entitlement by virtue of his humanity. The right to life does not depend, and must not be declared to be contingent, on the pleasure of anyone else, not even a parent or a sovereign."   

The spirit of Herod seems to be flourishing in the United States.  Almost half of the Catholic voters in our nation cast their ballot this past November for a man whose party platform reads "[we] strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay."  That's right - abortions being paid for with our tax dollars.  The White House has an ongoing love affair with Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in our nation.  It is responsible for the deaths of over 300,000 children every year!  Innocents are being slaughtered right under our noses, and the "People of God" ally themselves with them.

A deep, profound change of heart is what today's feast calls for, and toward that end I invite you to join yourselves to the intercessions made in the Liturgy of the Hours this morning.  They are incredibly powerful:
We rejoice in the glory of Jesus Christ, who conquered the enemy not by force of arms but with a white-robed army of children, and we cry out:
The white-robed army of martyrs praise You.
The Holy Innocents gave witness not by words but by their life’s blood,
give us strength to be your witnesses before men, both by words and actions.
The white-robed army of martyrs praise You.
They were not ready for battle but you made them fit to win the palm of victory,
now that we are prepared for victory, do not let us despair.
– The white-robed army of martyrs praise You.
You washed the robes of the Innocents in your blood;
cleanse us from all sin.
– The white-robed army of martyrs praise You.
You rewarded the child martyrs with the first share in your kingdom,
do not let us be cast out from the unending heavenly banquet.
– The white-robed army of martyrs praise You.
You knew persecution and exile as a child,
protect all children whose lives are in danger from famine, war and disasters.
– The white-robed army of martyrs praise You.


Monday, December 24, 2012

Eve and Mary (the New Eve)

"The knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. What the virgin Eve had bound in unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosed through faith."
                  - Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons
                    Against Heresies, Book III (180-199 A.D.)

I have meant to write this post since the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Dec.8th).  The readings at Mass that day contrasted humanity's disobedience in the Garden of Eden with Mary's obedience at the Annunciation.  

In both stories an angel spoke to a woman, a sinless woman fresh from the hands of God.  In the first, it is a fallen angel speaking in his own name, but in the second an archangel speaking in God's.

In the first, Eve gave her husband fruit to eat from the forbidden tree.  Mary offers us fruit as well, the fruit of her womb, Jesus (Lk.2:42), given to us as "real food" in the Eucharist (Jn.6:55).  But we must join her at the tree of the Cross to receive Him.

Eve did not believe God's word, that the fruit of the tree would bring death.  She did not trust in His love for her or her spouse, and was willing to believe that He was keeping them from true fulfillment.  She wished to put herself in the place of God.

In the sharpest contrast imaginable, Mary took God completely at His word - believing that even a virgin could conceive a child.  And Mary placed herself completely at God's service, "I am the handmaid [literally "slave girl"] of the Lord; let it be to me, according to your word.  

Both women became Mothers of the Human Race but in different ways.  Eve became mother of the fallen human race, but Mary the mother of the redeemed human race (Rev.12:17), redeemed by its union with her Son . 

Mary, "blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus!"

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Lonely Around the Holidays? Some Ideas

I am one of those people who needs a good dose of "alone time" each day to recharge my batteries, but I need contact with others as well.  We all do.  That is the way we are made - in the image of God, Who is a Communion of Love.  Some years, when the kids are away for longer than usual and I find myself on a break from work, I have felt the pains of loneliness.  This year I am staring down a week like that between Christmas and New Year, but am hoping for a more positive experience.

What gives me the most hope is that I have just been more aware of God's presence lately.  I will walk down the hall at work and realize how perfect the moment is, "God, You are with me right now.  I have everything I could ever want; You are more than enough."  I have tried to take some moments of silence to simply sit in God's presence too, to just enjoy His nearness.  I think God's nearness is the perfect foundation to overcome loneliness; but I realize that when I am by myself for an extended period, my emotions may try to "shout over" the theological facts.  I had some ideas about other practical things I can do to overcome loneliness and thought they might work for others too:

  • Attend daily Mass on the mornings of vacation
  • Schedule lunch dates with people I haven't seen in awhile, or would like to know better.
  • Get out of the house, even if flying solo, and visit fun public places - the art museum for instance.
  • Bundle up and do some vigorous walking or hiking. 
  • Try to pray all five daily portions of the Liturgy of the Hours, the "public prayer of the Church," next week (click the above link to find it online).

Whatever we decide to do, or wherever we decide to go, lets remember that God goes with us; we celebrate the birth of Emmanuel.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Sacraments - "Today, 2 for 1"

First day of Christmas break and I was free to attend weekday Mass this morning.  Boy, did I pick the right day.  As soon as we began, Father shared that this was the monthly Mass in which he also offered the Anointing of the Sick.  Fantastic!  Like the Liturgy of the Eucharist, this goes right back Jesus and the Apostles:

"And [Jesus] called to him the twelve, and began to send them out two by two ... they went out and preached that men should repent. And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them." (Mk 6:7, 12-13)

"Is any among you sick? Let him call for the presbyters [called "priests" today] of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven."  (James 5:14-15)

What a beautiful sacrament to see celebrated right in the middle of Mass!  I was struck by three prayers prior to the anointing when all of us prayed, "Blessed be God who heals us in Christ."  My mind went back to the Eighteen Benedictions prayed by Jesus and the Apostles.  

And then I was just in awe of the Mass again - the Sacrifice of Jesus made present right there in our parish church.  I am going to get myself to daily Mass every chance I get this break!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Why The World Will Not End on Dec. 21st (without dissing on the Mayan calendar)

For we Christians the "end of the world" coincides with Jesus' return.  The New Testament speaks of certain events that we can expect to see prior to Jesus' second advent.  As interesting as a N.T. "End Times" Scavenger Hunt would be, I realize that you are pressed for time, so I'll point you toward the great summary in the Catechism (click here for paragraphs 673-677, complete with Scriptural citations in the footnotes), and list two things we should expect to see:

1) a large number of Jewish people will recognize Jesus as the Messiah, and
2) a tremendous, final persecution of the Church will break out at the instigation of the antichrist.

We have had a number of Jewish converts over the past several decades, but I don't think it qualifies as the recognition by "all Israel."  And although the Church is persecuted around the world, I don't see how the present state of affairs could be identified as the antichrist's final assault upon the Church. Things may be bad, but I envision the Church's final passion as something much more grueling.  Even if we had witnessed these two events, Jesus still assures us that the exact "day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven" (Mt. 24:36).

None of this is to say that we shouldn't live December 21st as if it was our last day.  As individuals, it might very well be.  The Lord may come tomorrow to take your or me to Himself through death; He may come before this day ends.  How should a Christian spend his or her last day?  I don't think it has to be anything over the top; our usual daily tasks are sufficient in the Lord's eyes. "Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (Col. 3:17).  We should simply focus upon what the Lord has called us to be - sons or daughters, sisters or brothers, husbands or wives, parents, neighbors, workers - and with His grace, live those vocations to the best of our ability.  As Jesus said, "It will be good for that servant whose Master finds him doing so when he returns" (Mt. 24:46).

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Do You Have to Read the Bible to Get to Heaven?

Photo by David Ball
A good friend that I am blessed to share conversations with on many a morning raised an interesting question in connection with yesterday's post, where I challenged readers to put themselves into deeper contact with Jesus by, among other suggestions, reading the four gospels.  My friend had recently heard someone pose the question on talk radio whether it would be better to a) live a virtuous life but never read the gospels, or b) to have read the gospels but go through life acting like a jerk.  

The priest to whom this question was put responded that for Catholics reading Scripture and being virtuous  are not meant to be mutually exclusive.  He continued by saying that Christians were not simply called to be good, but to be godly; and that to be godly you needed to know the God you were called to imitate ... and He speaks to us and we read of how he lived as a man in the pages of Scripture.  Now, let me flesh that out a bit more, because he makes a point that is important but too little understood among Catholics - that we are not called to be good, but supernaturally good.  After that I'd like to bullet some thoughts as to why it is so important for Catholics to read and study Scripture.

The general cultural impression - and due to poor instruction over the past 40 years,  too many Catholics and other Christians share it - is that the way a person enters heaven is for God to simply place the good and bad he or she has done on the scale; and if the good outweighs the bad, then they stroll through the pearly gates.  Common idea, but absolutely not the belief of Christianity.

Heaven means sharing God's own divine life.  That is something completely above human nature, something to which we creatures have no right.  On the natural level, it is impossible to earn, no matter how virtuous our actions might be.  God's life is simply on a completely different plane of being.  He can only stoop down to offer it to us and, if accepted, draw us up into it.  That is what the priest was trying to point on when he said that we were not just called to be good, but godly.

This comes to the heart of the Gospel message. Our first parents were given the gift of divine life in their souls at their creation.  At some point however, they rejected it.  Instead of wanting to live as God's children, learning right and wrong from a heavenly Father, they wanted to determine right and wrong for themselves.  They reverted to the life of creatures - and broken creatures at that.  God the Son entered the human race for the purpose of regenerating it from within.  He lived as a human child of God, filled with the divine life, from cradle to grave.  He is the breakthrough.  And if we will accept His invitation (of Baptism) He fuses us to Himself and raises us up into His own life and relationship with the Father.

The good actions that we perform after that point have a supernatural value because they are the actions of children of God - performed through the power of the only Son.  But we have to cooperate with Jesus' desire to reproduce His life and actions in us. 
Heaven is the name we give to the family life that God and His children will share for eternity.   Again, apart from Him we are merely God's creatures; but united to Jesus we become children.    

I know, now you're asking yourself, "But what about all of the people in the world who are not Christians?  Is there no hope for them?"  Yes, there is.  (But if you want the details you're going to need to click here and check out paragraphs 839-848.  I want people falling in love with not just Scripture, but the Catechism!)

Now, if we Christians are supposed to be living the life of Jesus, a divine life, it stands to reason that we want to be as closely united to Him (present and acting in the Sacraments) and to His mind (manifested to us in the pages of Scripture and the Tradition and teachings of the Church) as absolutely possible.  God became a human being to speak to us and show us what are lives are meant to be.  It is a Divine Revelation!  You wish God would speak to you?  Open the Bible!  Why expect Him to manifest Himself with a booming voice if you won't pay any attention to the 73 whole books He's already written to you?!

Why start reading the Bible?
  • It is "inspired." In Greek, the term literally means "God-breathed."   God Himself produced this work, through the human authors.
  • You are able to study the words and actions of Jesus, Whose life you are supposed to be living.
  • You might discover that the image of God you hold in your mind is just that, your image of God - it does not match the Reality.
  • We discover God's vision of what is right and wrong.  And that's important, because serious sin can drain His divine life from our souls.  "There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death" (Prov.14:12).  Translation - "Be in the know."
  • The Church never grows tired of quoting St. Jerome (from back in the 400's), "Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ," or as I like to paraphrase him, "To whatever degree we do not know Scripture, it is to that same degree that we do not know Christ."
  • We - literate people, with Bibles in our homes - are the envy of almost every century of Christians to have come before us.

Can a person enter Heaven without having ever physically read one of the gospels?  Yes.  But do you have any excuse for not reading the Bible?  An excuse that will hold up with God? "Everyone to whom much is given, of him will much be required" (Lk.12:48).