Sunday, July 30, 2017

Book Review: "Why We're Catholic" by Trent Horn

Trent Horn's latest, Why We're Catholic, reinforces my opinion that he is one of today's most gifted Catholic writers and speakers. Last summer I had the pleasure of reviewing his Hard Sayings. I've also read his Persuasive Pro-Life. Each showcases his ability to use humor, analogy, and iron-clad logic to communicate his message.

Why We're Catholic: Our Reasons for Faith, Hope, and Love is an ideal introduction to the Faith. At 219 pages, it lacks the intimidation factor of a theological tome. Horn structures the book around twenty-five judiciously chosen statements, beginning with the foundational "Why we believe in truth," and ending with "Why we hope for heaven." In between is a tour de force addressing everything from the divinity of Christ and theology of the Eucharist to the Catholic rejection of contraception. It harnesses reason and natural law to address readers coming to Christianity from the outside, and copious amounts of Scripture and Church history to explain Catholicism to our separated brethren.

Horn has an encyclopedic grasp of the scriptural, historical, and logical reasons for holding the Catholic Faith; but what really sets his work apart in my mind is his use of analogy. It's such a powerful tool; we can understand why Jesus made such frequent use of it in His own teaching. Let me throw out a few examples from Why We're Catholic:
Hypocrisy, violence, and "long lists of rules" aren't good reasons to reject organized religion, or any organized activity. Imagine someone who said, "I don't believe in organized sports. Sports leagues are filled with cheaters and the fans are obvious jerks. Some of them even cause violence when they riot after games. And there are so many pointless rules! I can be athletic on my own without playing or even watching organized sports." (p. 44) 
Leaving the Church because a priest or layperson committed a serious sin would be like swearing off hospitals because a doctor committed malpractice. What the doctor did was wrong, but that doesn't change the fact that the hospital is still the best place to go if you're sick. Similarly, Christ gave his Church the means to free us from sin, so we do ourselves no favors if we reject that remedy because some Catholics who fell into scandal refused to take it. (p.135) 
Denying babies God's grace through baptism so that they can choose it later as an adult would be like denying a baby medicine so that he can choose to take it "for himself" when he gets older." (p.124)
Analogies like these cut through the fog of relativism and the errors that bedevil "Bible-only" theologies. Horn's creativity really impressed me. Thrilled to say that the book also generated a couple of really neat discussions with my teenager!

Why We're Catholic: yet another winner from Catholic Answers Press.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Sign of Peace... in the Gospels?

Earlier this week I was reading Jesus' instructions to the Twelve prior to sending them out to the villages he planned to visit. I found myself wondering about this particular verse, "And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it, and stay with him until you depart. As you enter the house, salute it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you" (Mt. 10:11-13). What exactly did the Lord mean, "let your peace come upon it...but if it is not worthy let your peace return to you?" I'm not sure, nor can I find a satisfying answer in the commentaries I have consulted. Perhaps peace, in this context, simply means fellowship, friendship; when we extend charity to others, and it is not reciprocated, our souls are not depleted in any way. I still feel like there is something more to be learned here.

Regardless, this verse returned to my mind at today's Mass during the Sign of Peace. At Mass we unite ourselves to the prayer and offering of the Lord Jesus. We turn to each other as members, cells, of our Lord's Body and, in His name, say "Peace be with you." We are like the Apostles in the gospel, speaking peace upon the house that the Lord will enter in Holy Communion. And just after the sign of peace we petition the Lamb of God to send us His mercy and peace, finally kneeling and confessing, "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof; but only say the word and my soul shall be healed."

The question then becomes, "Will I allow the Lord's peace, His friendship, to remain upon this house - upon me? Or will I squander this gift He has made to me of Himself?" There seem to be so many ways to do so - sins of speech, neglecting Him in my thoughts, etc. I just offered a prayer for all who read this, a prayer that you cooperate with His grace and continue to live in His peace. I would be grateful if you did the same for me! 

And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.   Ephesians 2:17-22

Monday, July 3, 2017

If Your Mind Wanders During the Divine Mercy Chaplet...
I was recently talking about prayer with a group of young adults, when a young woman asked me what I focused upon mentally while praying the decades of the Divine Mercy Chaplet. When praying the ten Hail Marys of the Rosary we have the mysteries to meditate upon, but what specifically do we meditate upon during the Chaplet?

In the Chaplet we petition the Father, through Christ's Passion, to have mercy upon us and the world. We can focus our petitions for mercy upon specific people and intentions, as our Lord taught St. Faustina to do in the Novena to Divine Mercy. I will sometimes picture a different person's face for each of the fifty times I pray, "For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy upon us and on the whole world" - family members, friends, clergy, government leaders. 

The majority of the time, however, I try to focus my mind upon what calls forth the Father's mercy, our Lord's Passion. I will focus each decade upon a different one of our Lord's wounds - His back, crown of thorns, hands, feet, side. I sometimes meditate upon the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary. I don't use images very often in my prayer, but one of the young adults I spoke with shared how she will gaze at a crucifix while praying the Chaplet.

There really are a variety of ways to maintain our mental focus while praying the Chaplet. The next time our minds wander during its five decades let's resolve to implement one or more of these methods.

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Sacred Heart - Source of Our Prayer

When we speak of Jesus’s prayer, it is legitimate to put “prayer” within quotation marks. (Benedict XVI did this in Volume I of his Jesus of Nazareth). It is done when we want to highlight the uniqueness of Jesus’ prayer. It was, after all, the human prayer of the Second Person of the Trinity. But even on the purely human level, the personal union of God and man in Christ allowed his prayer to be something impossible since humanity’s fall from grace – the loving conversation of a child with his Father, as opposed to simply a creature petitioning and offering homage to his or her Creator.

I think there is also a truth to be highlighted by coming at prayer from the opposite direction too – to say that Jesus prayed, and you and I “pray” to the degree that we unite ourselves to His prayer. It is in Jesus, after all, that every human action  –  prayer included – reaches perfection. Only He can show us what it means to be fully human, and only He can teach us what it really means to pray.  And because prayer is an activity of the heart (CCC 2562), meditation upon Jesus’ Sacred Heart will open our eyes to the startling reality of what it means to pray as a Christian.

From eternity, God the Father and God the Son have been communicating Themselves to Each Other in the Person of the Holy Spirit. In a never ending, perfect rush of Love, Father and Son pour Themselves out to One Another. When the Son became a human being he continued to pour himself out to the Father, but that gift began to be “channeled” through a human heart – Jesus’ Sacred Heart. God the Son expressed His love and dependence upon the Father in human thoughts, displays of emotion, words, and actions.

Jesus assured the apostles that, “no one comes to the Father but by me.” We do not have independent relationships with God the Father; we participate in Jesus’ relationship with the Father! We believe that Jesus wants to perfect our words and actions in this world by making them extensions of His own (we are saved by grace), and that extends to our prayer lives.

Jesus desires to raise our prayer up into His own, and He does this through the Holy Spirit. What I am talking about is a Mystery of the first order. Listen to St. Paul:
… the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, for the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Rom. 8:26-27)
That’s right – the Divine communication that takes place in eternity, the Divine communication that was channeled through the human heart of God the Son, is now (because of our union with Christ) occurring inside of you and me! The YOUCAT says it about as clearly and as beautifully as possible:
Basically prayer means that from the depths of my heart, God speaks to God. The Holy Spirit helps our spirit to pray. Hence we should say again and again, “Come, Holy Spirit, come and help me to pray.” (YOUCAT 496)
Yes Holy Spirit, flow from the Sacred Heart of our Savior to ours (Jn. 7:38), and fill us with his prayer to the Father.  

If you wish to begin uttering Jesus’ prayer right now, then pray the Our Father, for “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Gal.4:6). As the Catechism teaches:
[This] prayer that comes to us from Jesus is truly unique... On the one hand, in the words of this prayer the only Son gives us the words the Father gave him [Jn.17:7]... On the other, as Word incarnate, he knows in his human heart the needs of his human brothers and sisters and reveals them to us: he is the model of our prayer (CCC 2765).
Jesus discloses and entrusts his Heart to us at Mass. He professes his love to us in the words of consecration and delivers himself – heart, soul, body, blood, soul, and divinity – into the arms of his beloved in Communion. The Mass makes present his sacrifice upon the Cross, “where prayer and the gift of self are but one” (CCC 2605), and it is our participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that identifies us with his Heart – “This is my body…this is my blood…Do this” (CCC 1419).
If you'd like to read more along these lines, you might enjoy Through, With, and In Him: The Prayer Life of Jesus and How to Make It Our Own.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Book Review: "Let There Be No Divisions Among You"

With the subtitle, Why All Christians Should be Catholic, this book is the quintessential unapologetic apologetic! Originally penned in 1887, Let There Be No Divisions Among You, is throwback to the days before political correctness, to a time when people could speak frankly of their differences without fear of ending friendships or being accused of bigotry . It was also a time when people could be troubled to listen to multi-faceted arguments rather soundbites. I loved it. The author, an Irish priest by the name of Fr. John MacLaughlin, appears to have anticipated every possible objection to his points and responds with penetrating logic and whit. Kudos to Sophia Institute for making this available to today's audience.

What can you expect to find between this book's covers? From the Introduction:
When a man has gone so far as to regard religion a a mere matter of opinion, and consequently a matter of choice, he is not likely to choose a difficult one when an easy one will suit his purpose quite as well. Naturally, men are averse to having their intellect bound to definite doctrines and to having their will burdened by difficult obligations....The theory that one religion is as good as another is next neighbor to the theory that there is not much good in any religion at all.
The past century demonstrated the accuracy of Fr. MacLaughlin's analysis. The first section of the book employs reason and Revelation to prove that the specifics of our faith are of great importance to God. Because God is Truth, He cannot be indifferent to whether His people believe one creed or profess its opposite. The God Who gave such minute directives  for the construction of the Ark and Tabernacle under the Old Covenant did not go lax when His Son took flesh to complete that revelation in the New.  Father MacLaughlin demonstrates this point with individual chapters devoted to the Great Commission (Mt. 28:18-20), the conversion of Cornelius (Acts 10:1-48), and the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-35).

The second half of the book is devoted to helping readers identify which, of all the Christian bodies populating the landscape, is the one Church historically founded by Christ. He does so by pointing to two necessary marks of the Church - unity and universality, with chapter-length discussions of each.

My copy of this book has its fair share of highlighting. I have no doubt that every reader will come away with new insights and the sense that he/she is better equipped to converse with and charitably challenge those who champion the "Jesus without religion" mentality. Let There Be No Divisions Among You  (Sophia Institute Press, 2017) is a treasure trove.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Jesus' Prayer for the Church at His Ascension

Luke's Gospel tells us something very interesting about Jesus' ascension into Heaven:   "When He had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, He lifted up His hands and blessed them.  While He was blessing them, He left them and was taken up into heaven" (Lk.24:50-51).  What is the significance?

Each day in the Temple, at the conclusion of the three o'clock tamid - the offering of a lamb, bread, and wine upon the great altar - the Levitical priests gathered on the steps of the Holy Place, stretched their hands out over the crowd of worshipers, and intoned the blessing God had entrusted to Aaron (the first high priest) and his sons, "The LORD bless you and keep you; The LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you: The LORD  lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace” (Numbers 6:23-26).

Jesus blessed the infant Church as He culminated His own offering to the Father - as He ascended the “steps” of the true Holy Place, Heaven (Heb. 9:6-14).  Listen to the blessing at the conclusion of Mass on the Feast of the Ascension - it is Christ's prayer for us:

May almighty God bless you on this day when his only Son
ascended into heaven to prepare a place for you.

R. Amen!

After his resurrection, Christ was seen by His disciples.
When He appears as judge may you be pleasing for ever in His sight.

R. Amen!

You believe that Jesus has taken His seat in majesty at the right hand of the Father. May you have the joy of experiencing that He is also with you to the end of time, according to His promise.
R. Amen!

Happy Feast of the Ascension my friends!

(P.S., If you would like to know more about the way our Lord's human prayer is continued in the Church, you may enjoy Through, With, and In Him.)

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Book Review: "The Marian Option" by Dr. Carrie Gress

I have enjoyed reading Dr. Carrie Gress's articles at the National Catholic Register and had been looking forward to reading this book since I learned it was in production. I was in the middle of another book when the The Marian Option arrived last week; but once I read the first chapter, I couldn't put it down. (Yes, this is a subject particularly dear to my heart, but Dr. Gress is an exceptional writer; you just keep turning the page.)

This title of course brings to mind Rod Dreher's The Benedict Option. Gress is quick to explain that the Marian Option is not offered as a criticism of Dreher's thesis. Rather, what she terms the Marian Option is a fundamental orientation compatible with all schools of authentic Catholic spirituality and all of the so-called "options" for addressing our civilization's crises. Mary is, after all, the icon of the Church - the corporate body as well as each individual soul. What God has done in her and through her, he wishes to do in each of us...and that is how civilization will be renewed. This book is about intimacy with the Trinity, about serving Christ with the heart of His Mother. It is about holiness, and how Jesus entrusted our growth therein to His Mother.

Dr. Gress argues - quite successfully in my opinion - that cultures thrive when the Blessed Mother is venerated. She deftly points out how as western culture's veneration of Mary deepened, so too did its esteem of womanhood - motherhood in particular. Men, instead of regarding women as trophies or objects of gratification, were instead led to ponder the mystery at the heart of every woman and to embrace men's God-given mission of laying down their lives in service to wife and children. Women, in turn, recognize the incredible dignity with which the Creator has endowed them - their unique genius for cooperating with God to bring new life (both individual and cultural) into the world and nurture it to adulthood. When Mary's place in salvation history and our devotional lives is forgotten - or worse yet, rejected - then Christian culture begins a process of deformation: the exaltation of the "I" in place of the "we," marital breakdown, contraception, abortion, moral relativism, militant feminism, same-sex "marriage," gender "confusion," etc. We see the results all around us. The answer? We must accept Jesus' gift from the Cross, Mary, and allow her to mother us into a life of radical discipleship.

Cultural change always begins small - look no further than Mary and Joseph in the cave of the Nativity...or Mary and the small cluster of disciples awaiting Pentecost...or Mary and Juan Diego and the conversion of the Americas...or Mary and Cardinal Wojtyla behind the Iron Curtain.  Mary is always there, waiting to introduce us, as she has countless millions of other disciples, into deeper intimacy with her Son, greater receptivity to the stirrings of the Spirit, and heroic obedience to the Father.

There is a great deal to love about this book but at the top of the list, at least for me, is the way Dr. Gress explains the theology of consecrating oneself to Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary. She pulls together insights from saints such as Bernadine of Siena, Louis Marie de Montfort, Maximilian Kolbe, and John Paul II, as well those of theologians like AndrĂ© Feuillet and Johann Roten. (My "to read" list has grown as a result.) I especially appreciated her discussion of Mary's relationship to each Person of the Trinity; it is extremely well done.

At just over 200 pages, this book is not so thick as to intimidate. As soon as one begins reflecting upon what he or she has read, however, the scope of the discussion and weighty insights give it the feel of a much longer work. The Rosary is a subject woven throughout, but Dr. Gress also discusses Marian apparitions, devotional items like the Miraculous Medal and Brown Scapular, as well as drawing a number of historical connections of which I was unaware. (Fulton J. Sheen fans likely know of the connection between Fatima and Islam, but who knew that the same was true of Lourdes? The Marian Option is filled with these kind of historical gems.)

There is a great deal of buzz about this book and deservedly so. The Marian Option: God's Solution to a Civilization in Crisis is a gorgeous book, both inside and out. (Seriously, online images cannot do the cover justice!) I heartily recommend picking up a copy and allowing the Lord to renew the fire to live your vocation.

June 2 - Visiting "Catholic Answers-LIVE"

Hope you will tune in for the first hour of the show on Friday, June 2nd, when host Cy Kellet and I will zero in on Chapter 5 of The Epistle to the Hebrews, "The Communion of Saints." 

Chapters 11 - 12 of Hebrews are the perfect introduction to this topic, from the veneration of the saints right up to the purifying fires of purgatory. Please feel free to call in with your questions: 1-888-318-7884

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Jesus' Prayer within the Womb of Mary

Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) said something – actually, tens of thousands of things – that it would do us a tremendous amount of good to meditate upon. In his book Behold the Pierced One, he wrote “[P]rayer was the central act of the person of Jesus…this person is constituted by the act of prayer, of unbroken communication with the one he calls ‘Father.’”[1] This was true at every point of our Lord’s human life, including the nine months he spent in the womb of our Blessed Mother. And because our Lord “enables us to live in him all that he himself lived” (CCC 521), Jesus’ embryonic prayer life is able to massively enrich our own – especially when we are at a loss for the words to pray!

Our Lord’s prayer throughout his first 40 weeks on earth was completely wordless. From the nanosecond his soul and body came into existence, our Lord’s entire humanity was oriented toward the Father. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews heard the prayer of Jesus’ heart in Psalm 40:

When Christ came into the world, he said,“Sacrifices and offerings thou hast not desired,but a body hast thou prepared for me;in burnt offerings and sin offerings thou hast taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Lo, I have come to do thy will, O God,’as it is written of me in the roll of the book.”(Heb 10:5-7; Ps 40:6-8)
Simply by being, by existing as a child, Jesus was at prayer. It was the prayer of surrender, entrustment. Words were not needed. In the heights of his soul, Jesus gazed upon the Father with all the clarity of the saints in heaven. He was “not engaged in the adult business of thinking at all.” Rather, “in the earthly paradise of his Mother’s body, he is resting and seeing and loving and praising the Father.”[2] And his prayer is available to us in our moments of need. No, we do not have his direct vision of the God the Father, but we can gaze upon the God-Man in the Eucharist.

At some point each of us finds ourselves at a loss for what to say to God. It is usually at a time of intense trial. The pain of disease, agony of loss, or sting of betrayal leave us overwhelmed. Our sadness and anger are so acute that we feel abandoned, as if God were a universe away. How do we pray in those moments? We look to Jesus, who desires to draw us into his own prayer.

No matter how deep our pain and confusion, nor how distant we may feel from God, when we visit Jesus in the tabernacle we objectively place ourselves in his presence. When the Eucharist, the Lord’s Body, is reserved in a Tabernacle or exposed to our eyes in a monstrance, we are allowed to kneel and gaze upon our brother Jesus … as He gazes upon the Father. There he is – just as he has been from all of eternity – surrendered to the Father in the Holy Spirit, and offering himself completely to us

When you don’t have the words, put yourself in Jesus’ presence and fasten your eyes upon him. Be with him. In baptism he united you to his own conception by the Holy Spirit. Jesus made you a child of the Father. Open your arms to him and let his Spirit, dwelling within you, “intercede with sighs too deep for words” (Rom 8:26). Begin there. In a short time your ability to speak will return and you will be able to make Jesus’ prayer in Gethsamene your own (it’s there in the Our Father). You will be able to open your Bible and pray the psalms he did upon the Cross (Ps 22, 31, and 69), psalms that praise the Father for the resurrection to come, even amidst the pain. But begin like Jesus by gazing upon the Lord and resting in his presence… resting beneath the heart of the Blessed Mother. 

Our Lord's prayer is an infinite source of riches. If you'd like to go a little deeper, I have several articles available here as well as my labor of love, the book Through, With, and In Him.

[1] Joseph Ratzinger, Behold the Pierced One: An Approach to a Spiritual Christology (Ignatius Press: San Francisco, 1986).
[2] Saward, John, Redeemer in the Womb (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993).

Monday, January 2, 2017

New Year's Bible Study?

I bet there are some folks out there who made a resolution to do more Bible study in 2017. Because I'm sure that most of you reading this have Facebook accounts, I wanted to let you know about an online Bible study group beginning this Sunday, January 9th. I was notified about the group a couple of weeks back: A 10-week study making use of my The Epistle to the Hebrews and the Seven Core Beliefs of Catholics to delve into this beautifully written, theologically dense book of the New Testament. You can learn more about the study and join right here. I'm really looking forward to reading participants thoughts and offering my two cents now and then. Hope you will consider joining!