Catholic Exchange Articles

Syndicate content
Catholic News, Catholic Articles, Catholic Apologetics, Catholic Content, Catholic Information
Updated: 59 min 2 sec ago

The Gospel reading today reminds us,

Mon, 10/23/2017 - 22:00

The Gospel reading today reminds us, God’s servants, to always be ready for the return and the accounting of God. It also tells us we do not know the day and the hour of his coming. It also assures us that the faithful servants are generously rewarded.

What does it mean to be “ready” for the return of the master? What does it mean to be “awake” and “dressed for service, with lamps lit,” “like people waiting

for their master to return from the wedding”?

It means to live our lives well according to God’s commandments, all the time. It means to do God’s work in our lives, loving God and neighbor, and especially serving God in our neighbor.

“Lord, help us to be more aware of our daily encounters with you. Help us to be able to discern your calling and coming. Help us, especially when you come at the end of our lives, to be ready to open the door and welcome you. We pray that we would be servants of yours always ready and awake when you come. And give us your welcome in your kingdom of joy.”

St. Anthony Mary Claret

Mon, 10/23/2017 - 22:00

Weaver, archbishop, and writer

St. Anthony Claret (bishop and missionary) was born in 1807. He was a Spanish missionary priest and bishop who became known as the “Spiritual Father of Cuba.” His father was a weaver, and Anthony initially followed in his father’s footsteps. However, while working in the textile mills of Barcelona, he studied Latin in preparation for the priesthood. Anthony was ordained at the age of twenty-eight.

Ill health prevented Anthony from undergoing the formation needed to become a Jesuit or a Carthusian, so he devoted himself to giving missions and retreats throughout Spain. During his missions, he emphasized the importance of Jesus’ Presence in the Eucharist and the beauty of devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Anthony and five other priests founded a religious order, the Claretians, in order to continue their ministry in Spain.

In 1849 Anthony, through the influence of Queen Isabella II, was appointed archbishop of the archdiocese of Santiago in Cuba. Anthony responded vigorously to the spiritual needs of his flock, giving attention to special causes such as religious instruction for blacks, stamping out concubinage, and promoting efforts to diversify the island’s agriculture.

Wealthy slaveholders and plantation owners reacted violently to Anthony’s social justice endeavors, and there were fourteen attempts on the bishop’s life.  One attempt on his life — by a man who slashed Anthony’s face and wrist — resulted in the death sentence for the perpetrator, but Anthony arranged for the man’s sentence to be commuted to a term in prison.

In 1857, to the saint’s great reluctance, Queen Isabella recalled Anthony and made him her court chaplain. However, the new appointment did allow him the opportunity to promote the Catholic press in Spain — and he himself wrote over 200 books and pamphlets.

When the royal family went into exile in 1868, Anthony accompanied the queen to France. From there he went to the First Vatican Council in Rome, where he won the admiration of his fellow bishops. Anthony died soon afterward, in 1870, and was canonized in 1950.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Raphael the Archangel, Patron of happy meetings, travel, marriage, healing, the blind and youth

The Formation of Apostles

Mon, 10/23/2017 - 02:35
The Formation of Apostles

Presence of God – Jesus, divine Teacher, deign to accept me in Your school, so that, under Your direction, I may prepare myself for the apostolate.

MEDITATION

No special preparation is necessary before giving oneself to the interior apostolate, for, if a soul dedicates itself to prayer and sacrifice, not only will it help others, but at the same time it will draw great profit for its own sanctification. In fact, the practice of the interior apostolate coincides perfectly with the fundamental exercises of the spiritual life. However, the same cannot be said of the external apostolate which, by its very nature, involves cares and occupations beyond those required for one’s personal progress. One who is just setting out in the spiritual life is not capable of attending to his own sanctification and the sanctification of others simultaneously; he should first have time to concentrate all his powers on his own spiritual formation. Furthermore, since the effectiveness of the apostolate corresponds to the degree of love and union with God which the apostle has attained, it is evident that a beginner will not be capable of exercising a very fruitful apostolate. Hence, if he engages in the active apostolate prematurely, he will dissipate his energy uselessly, with consequent harm to his own interior life and to the fruitfulness of his apostolate.

Jesus Himself spent thirty years in prayer and retirement although, being God, He had no need to do so. It was as if He wanted to show us that before we plunge into the work of the exterior apostolate, we must have reached a certain spiritual maturity by the exercise of the interior life. He treated the Apostles in a similar way: the three years they spent with Jesus were years of true formation for them. Our Lord instructed and admonished them, taught them how to pray and to practice virtue. Only occasionally, and then with precaution, did He entrust some mission to them, in order to give them experience. Finally, before He sent them out to conquer the world, He wished to strengthen their spirit by nourishing them with His Body, calling them to witness His Passion, and reuniting them in the Cenacle to await the coming of the Holy Spirit. Thus true Catholic tradition demands that, before apostles go out into the field of battle, they must prepare themselves by the practice of an intense interior life, which will make them qualified, fruitful instruments for the good of souls.

COLLOQUY

“O Lord, my whole yearning is that, as You have so many enemies and so few friends, these last should be trusty ones. Therefore I am determined to do the little that is in me: namely, to follow the evangelical counsels as perfectly as I can, and … to pray for those who are defenders of the Church, and for the preachers and learned men who defend her. O Lord, since I am not strong enough to defend Your Church myself, I want to strive to live in such a way that my prayers may be of avail to help these servants of Yours, who, at the cost of so much toil, have armed themselves with learning and virtue and have labored to defend your Name.

“O my God, I wish to try to live in such a way as to be worthy to obtain two things from You: first, that there may be many of these very learned and religious men who have the qualifications for their task, and that You may prepare those who are not completely prepared already; for a single one who is perfect will do more than many who are not. Secondly, that, after they have entered upon this struggle, You may have them in Your hand so that they may be delivered from all the dangers that are in the world, and, while sailing on this perilous sea, may shut their ears to the song of the sirens. If I can prevail with You, my God, in the smallest degree about this, I shall be fighting Your battle even while living a cloistered life.

“I beseech Your Majesty to hear me in this; miserable creature that I am, I shall never cease to beg You for this, since it is for Your glory and the good of Your Church, and on these my desires are set. The day that my prayers, desires, disciplines and fasts are not performed for the intentions of which I have spoken, I shall not have fulfilled the object for which You, O Lord, called me to the contemplative life” (cf. Teresa of Jesus, Way 1-3).

+

Note from Dan: This post on the formation of apostles is provided courtesy of Baronius Press and contains one of two meditations for the day. If you would like to get the full meditation from one of the best daily meditation works ever compiled, you can learn more here: Divine Intimacy. Please honor those who support us by purchasing and promoting their products.

Art for this post on the formation of apostles: St. Teresa of Avila, in the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament in the Cathedral of Caxias do Sul, Brazil, Pietro Stangherlin (1842-1912), photographed by Ricardo André Frantz, 2007, CCA-SA 3.0 Unported, Wikimedia Commons. Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, mirror from open source material.

About Dan Burke

Dan is the President of the Avila Foundation, the parent organization of SpiritualDirection.com, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, Divine Intimacy Radio and Divine Intimacy Radio – Resources Edition, Into the Deep Parish Programs, the Apostoli Viae (Apostles of the Way) Community, the High Calling Seminary Preparation Program, and the FireLight Student Leadership Formation Program, author of the award-winning book, Navigating the Interior Life – Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, Finding God Through Meditation-St. Peter of Alcantara, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Into the Deep, Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux, and his newest book The Contemplative Rosary with St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Avila. Beyond his “contagious” love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN’s National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN’s Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.

 

|

|

 

This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction.

Robert Frost’s “The Death of the Hired Man”

Mon, 10/23/2017 - 01:00

Robert Frost’s classic poem captures the essence of the home as a place of belonging and hospitality where a person experiences love, welcome, care, worth, and dignity and where he comes to know the value of both justice and mercy which the home instills in its unique combination of love’s gentleness and firmness and blend of mercy and justice. Silas, the hired man, returns like a prodigal son to the place he regards as home even though it is not his family. No matter how wayward his life or irresponsible his behavior, Silas never fails to appreciate the home as the center of life and the source of life’s greatest bonds of affection. Not every person is a hired man who strays from his work on a farm and then returns unexpectedly, but every person has the same universal human needs that Silas communicates when he returns home to die—the only place where he matters, where he is remembered, and where he is cherished, not for his accomplishments, talents, or virtue but for who he is—a person who needs the love of a family and the virtues of the heart that only homes instill.

Silas, the undependable hired man, has once again returned to Warren and Mary’s farm where he has been employed many years ditching the meadow and building a load of hay. However, Silas has earned the reputation of an unreliable farm hand that leaves when most needed in the busiest season. Warren has given his ultimatum: “I told him so last haying, didn’t I? /If he left then, I said, that ended it.” But—despite Warren’s stern words—Silas once again returns to the farm and claims he comes to do the usual chores as if Warren did not expel him. However, this time it is a different occasion. Mary, Warren’s wife, senses the real reason for Silas’s sudden reappearance: “‘Warren, he has come home to die: / You needn’t be afraid he’ll leave you this time.’” Because the farm is not Silas’ real home and Warren and Mary are not related to him as family members, Warren is startled to hear his wife say “Home.” Warren then offers his definition of home using the language of justice, duty, and obligation: “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, /They have to take you in.” However, when Mary insists “Be kind,” Warren forgets his ultimatum and receives Silas with welcoming hospitality, realizing the truth of Mary’s definition of home: “I should have called it something you somehow haven’t to deserve.” A home is not a reward for work or a privilege that follows the fulfillment of requirements but a grace or gift that does not depend on merit.

Warren and Mary wonder why Silas in his final days returns to their farm rather than goes to his affluent brother’s home: “Why doesn’t he go there? His brother’s rich, /A somebody—director in the bank.” Mary’s explanation indicates that Silas does not feel a sense of belonging or welcome because he is “just the kind that kinsfolk can’t abide,” and “He won’t be made ashamed to please his brother.” Though a vagabond who comes and goes with no settled life or constant work, Silas needs the validation of human dignity and worth that only Warren and Mary’s home offers. Silas has chosen the farm as his home and has come there to die because Warren and Mary have provided Silas the blessings of a home that satisfy all a person’s most human needs. First, Mary, sensitive to the sufferings of the body, cares for his physical state when she sees him asleep by the barn door, “A miserable sight, and frightening, too—.” Feeling pity for the old man, Mary offers hospitality, offering Silas tea, encouraging conversation, and preparing a bed for him.

Second, Mary intuits Silas’ emotional needs of acceptance, the desire to be among people who treat him with affection and esteem and who appreciate his skill as an experienced hired man. Despite recognizing Silas’s desperate plight as a dying man, Mary patiently hears the ostensible reason for his return—to ditch the meadow—while she understands the real motive: “Surely you wouldn’t grudge the poor old /humble way to save his self-respect.” Even though Warren discharged Silas for his negligence, Silas knew he received his just deserts and does not desire false pity. Just as Mary treated Silas with mercy, kindness, and unconditional maternal love (“something you somehow haven’t to deserve”), Warren treated Silas with justice, integrity, duty, and conditional paternal love (“when you have to there, / They have to take you in”). The home provides the most personal and sensitive of touches and senses a person’s needs without explanation.

Silas goes home to die because no person wants to end his life alone, rejected, or forgotten. On the farm Silas proved his worth and received the praise and appreciation he deserved for his talents, whether it was his gift for finding water with a hazel prong or building a load of hay: “He bundles every forkful in its place,/And tags and numbers it for future reference.” Silas returns to the farm he identifies as home because he was accepted for who he was, not as a great success by worldly standards or special accomplishments: “He never did a thing so very bad./He don’t know why he isn’t quite as good/ As anybody.” At Warren and Mary’s home Silas received the kind, forgiving heart of Mary’s caring maternal love and the honorable, manly justice of Warren’s plain dealing. Just as Mary provided food, shelter, and comfort when she welcomed him in his destitute condition, Warren always dealt with Silas by straightforward, manly directness. Silas receives both love and discipline, mercy and justice, unconditional and conditional love. All of his human needs are met as he is welcomed, appreciated, and forgiven, and he receives affirmation and compliments for the good work he produces. Silas returns home weak, dependent, and helpless: “how much he’s broken. / His working days are done. I’m sure of it,” Mary notices as she urges her husband to comfort him in his dying hours. As much a baby needs a loving home at the moment of birth, a dying person needs the same tenderness, care, and special attention in his last moments.

At the moment just before Silas’s death when Warren announces he has passed away, Mary notices a natural event in the sky she relates to the episode at the farm. She wonders if “that sailing cloud will hit or miss the moon.” When the cloud hits the moon, a direct line unites the objects in the sky to the observer: “Then there were three there, making a dim row, / The moon, the little silver cloud and she.” This trinity of moon, cloud, and woman provides the natural image of the family in which love always multiplies as two become three or more in the love that is given and received both as “something you somehow haven’t to deserve” as well as “the place where, when you have to go there,/ They have to take you in.”

These greatest of human needs and these greatest longings of the heart go unfulfilled in the culture of no-fault divorce, fatherless families, and neglected children who also need the sense of security, identity, and importance that Warren and Mary provide for Silas with their acts of kindness that offer stability, forgiveness, purpose, and bonds of affection that affirm the oneness of the family and the inestimable value of each person’s humanity.

Editor’s note: Pictured above is “Haymaking,” painted by American artist Dwight William Tryon (1849–1925). 

This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at Crisis Magazine.

Seven Ways that the Catholic Church is Catholic

Sun, 10/22/2017 - 22:07

Catholic is a term borrowed from an ancient Greek word meaning universal. This universality is one of the four marks of the true Church as expressed in the creed. But just how is the Catholic Church universal?

One immediately thinks of the authority of the popes and ecumenical councils, which are global, whether recognized or not. The many rites of the Church, including the extent to which Eastern rites have been welcomed, also come to mind. Then there is the sheer global scope of Catholicism.

But Catholicism, while it has always been the universal Church, has not always been global in fact. Yet it was still the Catholic Church when it was confined to Western Europe during most of the Middle Ages. Likewise, the number of rites has waxed and waned over time but the catholicity of the Church has remained constant. And yes, the pope has universal authority but this is to beg the question: why is his authority absolute in this way?

Here are seven ways the Catholic Church is truly catholic.

1. Participation in the fullness of God

Through the Eucharist, which is the substance of God-made-man, the Church becomes the visible manifestation of God’s enduring presence on earth. St. Paul promised this in Ephesians 1:23, describing the Church as the body of Christ—“the fullness of the One who fills all things in every way.”

Elsewhere, the term fullness refers to Christ’s own divinity. For example in Colossians 2:9, he states, “For in him dwells the whole fullness of the deity bodily.” Through Christ, the fullness of God has now filled the Church. In the Church, we encounter the God who is the creator of all things, omnipotent, omniscient, eternal, and infinite. By virtue of its participation in the universal being of God, the Church is universal.

2. Participation in the fullness of Christ’s humanity

By going all the way to the cross, descending to hell, and rising again, Christ encompassed the whole of human experience, both its joys and sorrows, its deepest darkness and brightest light. Christ was not just fully human but also the exemplar of what it means to be human. Genesis declares that we are the image of God. But it is Christ who was the image from which all other images were copied. As Paul puts in in Colossians 1:15, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.”

By revealing to us our original calling and final destiny, our nature as images of God, Christ also reveals us to ourselves, to paraphrase Gaudium et Spes. The fullness of this revelation is contained in the Catholic Church where the Real Presence of Christ lives in the Eucharist.

This fullness of humanity is well-reflected in the visible Church. Ours is a Church of catacombs and cathedrals. It is a Church of nuns and monks who take vows of poverty and popes who live in palaces and wear red slippers. Knights of faith and victim souls, mystics and kings, saints and sinners are all alike at home in it.

Again: the Church engages us at every level, both body and soul, both our sense of smell and taste as well as our intellect and will. The Church leads the faithful to pray in every possible way—from short one-line exclamations to nine-day novenas. It offers us icons, small statues, rosary beads, and Scripture itself all as aids to devotion. It calls some to heal the sick and comfort the poor and others to pray for the conversion of people they will never meet. It speaks as eloquently and urgently to the illiterate peasant as it does to the most learned of minds.

3. The universal sacrament of salvation

The Church is the means through which God offers salvation to all of humanity. As Lumen Gentium states,

Christ, having been lifted up from the earth has drawn all to Himself. Rising from the dead, He sent His life-giving Spirit upon His disciples and through Him has established His Body which is the Church as the universal sacrament of salvation.

There is one baptism, one Eucharist, one cross, one Christ, and one Church.

4. Universal in history

Because it can trace its origins back to St. Peter, the Catholic Church is also universal in terms of historical time. In fact, we could say it goes back even further than this. To the extent that the Church is the new Israel, we could say that the Old Testament is a sort of a prehistory of the Church. But the Church’s roots run even deeper than this.

Remember that in Christ all things are recapitulated—Christ is the new Adam, Mary is the new Eve, and the cross is the new tree, both the tree of life and the cursed tree of the Garden of Eden. The Church has its ultimate origin in the very beginning of all human history. Hence, the reason that Catholic historian Warren Carroll begins his sweeping history of Christendom with the Genesis account of Adam and Eve.

5. Cosmic in scope

The Catholic Church is not just universal in a temporal earthly sense. It is truly cosmic in scope. This is what is meant by the traditional triad of the Church Triumphant, the Church Suffering, and the Church Militant—referring to its members in heaven, purgatory, and on earth. It is also implied in the ancient credal affirmation of the communion of saints. Sts. Catherine of Siena and Therese of Lisieux did not stop being Catholic when they entered heaven.

6. Universal in knowledge

The Church’s capacity to assimilate all areas of knowledge testifies in a special way to its universality. Both Platonism and Aristotelianism—the latter by way of a Muslim scholar—have found a home in the Catholic mind, as did existentialism and phenomenology in the twentieth century. In a way, this is what Cardinal John Henry Newman meant when he spoke of the Church’s ‘power of assimilation.’

7. Universal in love

First, there are the numerous corporal and spiritual works of mercy which are practiced by individual Catholics and by various religious orders. Then there is the Church’s advocacy for the life and well-being of those far beyond its visible boundaries, whether it’s the most downtrodden of the poor, an unborn fetus, a criminal offender facing unjust punishment, or even our enemies, with whom the Church urges us to fight justly, even we must fight them at all. Some twentieth century popes have made a point of addressing their encyclicals to all of humanity. One thinks particularly of John XXIII’s Pacem in Terris, John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae, and Pope Francis’ Laudato Si. Love by its very nature is universal and absolute. It is through the Catholic Church that Christ’s love shines on all of humanity.

 image: Salamanca Cathedral pulpit by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Of Pericopes, Susanna, and the Long Form of Our Lives

Sun, 10/22/2017 - 22:05

Last Sunday’s Gospel is punchy and short – a mere seven verses. It’s Matthew’s version of the Pharisees’ attempt to “entrap Jesus in speech” with a set-up question about the census tax. There’s a beginning, a middle, and a memorable gotcha at the end: “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” The brief passage is neat and tidy, and it lends itself well to exegetical musings. It’s a made-to-order liturgical “pericope” – a fancy word for any chunk of text that is considered in isolation from a larger work.

Compare that to last week’s Gospel pericope from Matthew which was twice as long, but only if you “include the bracketed text for the long form.” You’ll recall that it featured Jesus comparing the kingdom of heaven to a king’s wedding feast. The invited guests begged off, so the king sent out his servants to round up the rabble to fill his table. The optional ending was about one of those substitute guests, inappropriately attired, who was booted out. The last line was cryptic: “Many are invited, but few are chosen.”

Lots of meaty sermon material in both the long and curtailed forms of that Gospel, but why are there two versions to begin with? We’re talking about a difference of a mere seven verses, so it’s not really a time-saver to cut the reading short. Is it mainly a matter of homiletic preference?

It seems so. According to the General Instruction on the Roman Missal, “a pastoral criterion should be kept in mind” when given a choice of reading length. The GIRM continues: “On such an occasion, attention should be paid to the capacity of the faithful to listen with fruit to a reading of greater or lesser length, and to their capacity to hear a more complete text, which is then explained in the Homily” (§360).

That makes sense, I suppose, but I can’t help thinking about so many other, much lengthier lectionary entries that don’t offer truncated alternatives. There must be some reason that they aren’t subjected to liturgical dismemberment whereas others were.

And then there’s the mother of all liturgical readings which comes around every Lent: The story of Susanna and the Elders. Susanna, a pious Jewish resident in Babylon, goes to bathe in her garden. Two lecherous elders, united in their lust for the woman, break in on Susanna’s solitude and demand that she lay with them. When she refuses and calls out for help, the two men accuse her of impure acts with a stranger of their invention. The elders’ lofty status gives their claim credibility over Susanna’s denial, and the innocent woman is condemned to death. Eventually, the young prophet Daniel comes to her defense, interrogates the “witnesses,” and the truth comes out. Susanna’s virtue is vindicated, and the two lying lechers are executed instead.

The full version of this tale weighs in at 51 (!) verses, and even the shortened form is on the longish side, at least for a weekday Mass. True, it’s not a Gospel, so we get to sit for it, but either version represents a marathon – especially for the reader.

And why? Couldn’t the Church have chosen to break it up into smaller pericopes over a couple days – maybe even three? No, and I’m guessing it’s because there’s no way to further trim down the narrative without destroying its edifying impact. In order to appreciate the moral of the story – that “faithfulness triumphs over adversity,” in the words of Toni Craven – we have to have to know the setting, the characters, both good and bad, and the drama of Daniel’s detective work. In other words, we need to have the big picture. We need the beginning, middle, and end.

The same holds true for our own lives and the lives of all those we encounter. The pericopes of our personal histories – individual acts and choices, particular events and seasons in the course of a lifetime – can never sum up who we are. Instead, we’re each a complicated mess of virtue and vice, aspiration and despair, and it’s impossible to fully understand ourselves from the inside out, let alone our neighbors.

But God knows our big pictures. He knows the grand sweep of our ups and down, and sees us all as works in progress, saints in the making, heirs to the promise of salvation no matter how many times we turn aside and seek after something less. And we do well to adopt that divine vision as much as possible – both of ourselves and those around us. “We can’t hope to know others as we should like to,” writes Hubert van Zeller, “but we should make it our business to know them as well as we can.”

Which is why I always hope to hear the long form of Susanna’s story every Lent. It’s a fine reminder of how God discerns our own complicated stories, and an implicit exhortation to seek the big picture of those around us – bracketed text included.

Should We Worship Jesus?

Sun, 10/22/2017 - 22:02

The divinity of Jesus is arguably the defining belief of Christianity; it’s what makes us Christian rather than, say, Muslim or Jewish. Because of this, most people are surprised to find out that the New Testament does not explicitly teach this doctrine all that often. Sure, there a handful of passages that apply the title “God” to Jesus (such as John 1:1), but they’re few and far between. Instead, the New Testament authors chose to express their belief in Jesus’ divinity in other ways.

For instance, they sometimes wrote about worshipping Jesus. They told stories about people worshipping him, and they said that we should worship him, too. These kinds of passages are important evidence that the early Christians really did consider him to be God, but the issue is not quite as cut and dry as it may seem at first. The Greek verb that these passages use for “worship” is proskuneo, and it has a wide range of meaning. It can refer to the adoration due to God alone (for example, as in 1 Corinthians 14:25), but it can also refer simply to bowing down in reverence to another created being (for example, as in Matthew 18:26).

As a result, we cannot just point to passages that use the Greek verb proskuneo as evidence of Jesus’ divinity. Rather, we have to look at these texts more closely and see how the authors used that word. We need to find evidence that they were referring to the adoration due to God alone rather than merely bowing down in reverence. While we can’t definitively prove that to be the case every time the New Testament speaks of people worshipping Jesus, there are two passages where it’s quite clear.

Worship in Luke

At the end of Luke’s Gospel, right after Jesus ascends into heaven, we read:

“And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” (Luke 24:52)

While this verse doesn’t tell us much about the kind of worship/reverence that Jesus’ disciples gave him, the larger context of the entire Gospel of Luke sheds some light on it. Specifically, Luke used this word only one other time in his entire Gospel:

“’If you, then, will worship me, it shall all be yours.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘It is written,
You shall worship the Lord your God,
and him only shall you serve.’” (Luke 4:7-8)

In this passage, the verb proskuneo (used twice and translated both times as “worship”) clearly refers to the adoration due to God alone. The devil is tempting Jesus in the wilderness, and he wants Jesus to worship him. In response, Jesus quotes a text from the Old Testament that tells us to worship God alone. As a result, when we go back to the end of the Gospel, there’s a good chance that the verb has this same meaning there too. However, this is not decisive, so let’s turn to the Acts of the Apostles, also written by Luke and intended to be the sequel to his Gospel, and see how he uses the verb there.

Worship in Acts

Just like in Luke’s Gospel, all the instances of the verb proskuneo in Acts also refer to the adoration due to God alone (Acts 7:43, 8:27, 10:25, 24:11). For the most part, these four verses are pretty unremarkable, but there is one exception:

“When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, ‘Stand up; I too am a man.’” (Acts 10:25-26)

In this passage, we see something very similar to what we read about in Satan’s temptation of Jesus. Again, someone is tempted to worship a creature, and again, Luke tells us (through the mouth of one of the characters in the story) that we should not do this.

At this point, we see a clear pattern. Not only does every other instance of this Greek word in Luke-Acts (the name scholars give to this two-volume work) refer to the adoration due to God alone, but Luke also tells us in both volumes that we are not to worship (proskuneo) any created beings. As a result, it’s clear that for him, the word refers to the adoration due to God alone, not to the kind of reverence we can legitimately give to a mere creature.

Consequently, when we turn back to the end of Luke’s Gospel and see Jesus’ disciples offering him this exact kind of worship, the implication is impossible to miss: Jesus is in fact God. The disciples gave him the adoration due to God alone, and they were not rebuked for this (unlike Satan and Cornelius). We have no other choice but to conclude that they believed him to be God, and Luke agreed.

The Worship of Angels

Let’s turn now to the Letter to the Hebrews, which begins by contrasting Jesus with the angels to prove his superiority. Throughout the entire first chapter, the author quotes Old Testament texts about Jesus and the angels to make this point again and again, and one Old Testament quote in particular is very revealing:

“And again, when he brings the first-born into the world, he says,
‘Let all God’s angels worship him.’” (Hebrews 1:6)

Again, the Greek word translated here as “worship” is proskuneo, so we need to examine this verse closely to see whether it refers to genuine adoration or to mere reverence. To do this, we first need to find its source; we need to see where in the Old Testament this comes from.

When we do that, we find something interesting: the author doesn’t seem to be quoting any single verse. Rather, it looks like he is drawing on two verses, Deuteronomy 32:43 and Psalm 97:7. Both of these passages have phrases that express this same general meaning, and the precise wording of the quote in Hebrews looks like a mix of both of them. While it may not be entirely clear in all English translations, in the original Greek some elements are taken from Deuteronomy 32:43, and some are from Psalm 97:7.

Another interesting piece of this puzzle is that if you look up Deuteronomy 32:43 in your Bible, you probably won’t find the phrase in question. It’s not there in the Hebrew manuscripts of Deuteronomy that most English translations today are based on; rather, it comes from the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament used by Greek-speaking Jews and Christians in the first century.

When we look at both of these passages in their original contexts, the object of this worship is clear as day. It’s God. In both Deuteronomy 32:43 and Psalm 97:7, the authors are talking about God, so they are obviously referring to the adoration due to him alone. Consequently, when we turn back to Hebrews, the kind of worship the author had in mind becomes clear as well. By quoting two verses about the worship due to God alone and applying them to Jesus, he was unmistakably teaching that Jesus is to be worshiped as God.

We Should Worship Jesus

From all this, the answer to the question posed in the title of this article should be obvious: yes, we should worship Jesus. He is more than just a creature, so we should not give him the reverence due to other created beings. Rather, according to the New Testament, we should worship him just like we worship God, which leads us to one inevitable conclusion: Jesus is God.

The Gospel reading today exemplifies

Sun, 10/22/2017 - 22:00

The Gospel reading today exemplifies selfishness of so many. To the rich man so obsessed and successful in amassing great wealth God says: “You fool! This very night your life will be taken from you; tell me who shall get all you have put aside?” This is the lot of the one who stores up riches instead of amassing for God.

Why is there so much greed among people? Why are there so many workaholics and hoarders, misers and Scrooges, thieves and plunderers? Because for them money and wealth are happiness and power.

As the Gospel reading tells us we cannot carry our wealth with us when we die. What for have we labored for and amassed so much? Instead why have we not amassed wealth “for God”? How ready have we been to share what we have, our wealth with those in need? How generous have we been with what we have?

In the first reading we hear of Abraham who trusted in God, who amassed wealth for God and who was then rewarded by God.

St. John of Capistrano

Sun, 10/22/2017 - 22:00

San John Capistrano

The Italian priest St. John of Capistrano (1386-1456) was a well-educated lawyer; when only twenty-six, he became governor of the region of Perugia.

Captured in a local war several years after this, John decided to change his life; he entered the Franciscan Order at the age of thirty, and was ordained a priest four years later.

The Church at that time was experiencing a schism (a division between two different groups), and many people had grown lukewarm in the faith. The Franciscans themselves were divided over whether or not to remain true to the original ideals of St. Francis of Assisi.

John and a dozen other Franciscans sought to renew the Church by their preaching and religious practices. They conducted missions throughout Europe; John himself preached with great success in many parts of Italy. Their efforts contributed to a spiritual renewal in the Church, and John’s influence and legal background eventually led to the Franciscans’ return to the ideals of their founder.

Several popes chose John for various religious and diplomatic missions. He managed to achieve a reunion of the Greek and Armenian churches with Rome — though unfortunately, this proved to be temporary — and he preached a crusade against the Turks, who had captured Constantinople in 1453.

John’s presence on the battlefield encouraged the Hungarian general Hunyadi and his troops, and they won a great victory near the city of Belgrade. John soon afterward contracted the plague, and died in 1456.

From Johnnette Benkovic’s Graceful Living: Meditations to Help You Grow Closer to God Day by Day

Click the image above to purchase your own copy of “Graceful Living.”

Those who are called to the table of the Lord must glow with the brightness that comes from the good example of a praiseworthy and blameless life.

— St. John of Capistrano, “Mirror of the Clergy”

Who are the holy priests who have ministered to me in my life? In what one way have they or did they glow with the brightness of a praiseworthy life? I will pray for them and in gratitude to God for their vocation.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Anthony Mary Claret (1870), Bishop of Cuba, Founder of the Claretians

St. Mary Salome

Sat, 10/21/2017 - 22:00

Saint Mary Salome was the wife of Zebedee and the mother of the apostles John and James the Greater. Known as the “Sons of Thunder”, these two great men were among the first to be chosen by Jesus to follow Him. Mary Salome, their mother, would be one of the “three Marys” to follow Jesus and minister to Him and His disciples. Thought to be the financial source for their travels, Mary Salome, along with Mary Magdalene and others, would give all they had to further the works of Jesus and His followers.

Mary Salome was a witness to the crucifixion, entombment and was mentioned by St Mark as one of the women who went to anoint the Lord’s body, finding Him to be resurrected. In the Gospel, Mary Salome asks what place her sons will have in the Kingdom. Jesus tells her that it is the Father who decides and that they will have to follow His example and earn their place in paradise. Legend says that after Pentecost, Mary Salome would travel to Veroli, Italy where she would preach the Gospel for the rest of her life. She would become the patron saint of this historic city.

An Exorcist and a Journalist Explore Eastern Meditation and Mindfulness

Sat, 10/21/2017 - 02:30
Should a Catholic Practice Mindfulness?

Eastern meditation techniques are a growing fad to relax and alleviate stress and anxiety.  Some of it has even slipped into corners of the Church presented as something that can co-exist with Catholic spirituality. But according to an exorcist and an author on A Catholic Guide to Mindfulness, such meditations are contrary to the Catholic faith and neither healthy nor even harmless.

Father Patrick (not his real name) is a parish priest who has also been a diocesan exorcist for 7 years after he apprenticed for 6 years under an experienced exorcist. According to Fr. Patrick, Eastern meditation is a pathway of diversion away from a relationship with the true God, Father Son, and Holy Spirit. “Most people don’t know that the ultimate goal is to be without the need of God,” he noted.

“Instead of directing people to God, the focus becomes ‘self’ which gets in the way of uniting with God,” Father Patrick said. “As a Catholic matures in his faith, one is expected to progress beyond the more self-centered reasons for prayer that may have motivated him at the beginning of his spiritual life. One must eventually learn how to come to prayer for God’s sake, and not just his own.”

Can Eastern Meditation be Mixed with Catholic Spirituality?

Attempting to join the two disciplines—Eastern with Christian—does not work, Father Patrick explained, because their focus is different. “To focus on self alone, as Eastern meditation does, is not trusting in God,” he said. “Instead of dialoguing with your own feelings and emotions, you should always look at what God is showing you and asking: What does God want me to do?”

Meditation that turns inward rather than towards God ends up in emptiness, according to Father Patrick. “It might give you a little bit of comfort for a short while, but it’s definitely not a pathway to God,” he said.  Even if it is neutral, Father Patrick explained that it is actually taking you away from God, because it is not taking you closer. “If there is no dialogue with God, then God is not a part of it and you are not honing a relationship with him,” Father Patrick said. “Honing a relationship with self, that is pretty empty without real answers—

Eastern Meditation – Mindfulness – and Trust in Divine Providence

Sometimes Eastern meditations purport to trust in divine providence. However, the way to truly trust in the divine providence of God is to include him as part of the equation, Father Patrick said. “When we pray, we gain a sense of what will fulfill us from God,” he said. “God created us, he knows what is best for us. That is standard theology. We should be asking God: What do you have to say; what do you want me to do or to understand?”

Authentic Catholic Spirituality vs Eastern and New Age Practices

In true Catholic spirituality, Father Patrick said that God speaks to us in the depths of our heart, the deepest layer. He explained that the three layers of the heart are first, the outside layer, which is simply living the physical life; the second layer where our psychological and emotional experiences and understanding take place; and the third and deepest layer. “This is where we interact with God and we ask him for the answers to ultimately important questions,” Father Patrick said.

“There is an error when pagan practices and religions are attributed to Jesus,” he said.  “For example, when people say that ‘Jesus is another Reiki master,’ they are saying that Jesus practiced Reiki so Jesus is no longer God to them.”   For New Age practitioners, Father Patrick said that everyone can be God except for Jesus. “When you say that you don’t need Jesus, that always opens up doors to other spiritual forces militating against God and causes problems,” he said.

A Catholic Guide to Mindfulness

In an interview, Susan Brinkmann author of the new book, A Catholic Guide to Mindfulness, elaborated on the points made by Father Patrick.  She explained that Eastern meditation fails to get at the core problem because it does not bring our woundedness to God.

Her book looks specifically at Mindfulness, which is rooted in Buddhism from 500 BC and “is a state of active, open attention on the present by which one observes their thoughts and feelings as if from a distance, without judging them to be good or bad.”  Although promoted as a non-spiritual practice used as a means of vanquishing stress and anxiety, for the most part, it is practiced through one of several forms of meditation such as Breathing Space Meditation, Body Scan Meditation, and Expanding Awareness Meditation. Connecting with God is not the goal of any of these types of meditations.

According to Brinkmann, Mindfulness has no place in Christian prayer or spiritual practice, either as a prelude, component, or adjunct. If there is a problem causing stress and anxiety, researchers have found that many people are using mindfulness as a way to escape rather than confront their problems “True Catholic spirituality and meditation is a way to root out the attachments that block our relationship with God and interfere with a healthy spiritual life with him,” Brinkmann said.

Christians that are not adequately instructed in the fundamentals of the spiritual life, according to her, are often drawn into the self-gratifying Eastern or New Age practices and either cease praying altogether or try to incorporate incompatible Eastern techniques into their practice of prayer.  Even though we are taught that we can adopt what is good from other religions, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger clearly states in “Some Aspects of Christian Meditation” that this is not permissible if it obscures the purpose of Christian prayer – which is to dialogue with God.  Because the aim of Eastern meditation techniques is to achieve a “higher” or “altered” state of consciousness, such as in the Mindfulness practice known as Expanding Awareness Meditation technique described in her book, these practices are not compatible with the goals of Christian prayer.

In addition, when we put aside all thoughts, including those that are distressing, Brinkmann explained that we enter into an altered state of consciousness detached from our problems and even ourselves to experience a temporary bliss. “The Pontifical document, Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life, warns that these states create an atmosphere of psychic weakness and vulnerability,” she said.

We do not need Mindfulness, Brinkmann stated. “We already have our own kind of ‘mindfulness’ known as the Sacrament of the Present Moment, which calls upon us to live in the here and now, in the Presence of God,” she said. “When we live in the Present Moment, we are in the Presence of God who can do something about the causes of stress and has the power to deal with it.”

As a staff writer with Women of Grace, Brinkmann said many people were asking about Mindfulness on their New Age Q & A blog. Once she began seeing reports from scientists discrediting the studies that claim benefits, and raising the alarm on potential harm from mindfulness, she decided to write a book about it. “Catholics should open their eyes to the glory of the Catholic mystical tradition,” Brinkmann said.  “When it comes to controlling the mind, and directing our focus, Jesus Christ is the only sure guide.”

About Patti Maguire Armstrong

Patti Maguire Armstrong and her husband have ten children. She is an award-winning author and was managing editor and co-author of Ascension Press’s Amazing Grace Series. Her newest books are: Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories from Everyday Families, a collection of stories to inspire family love, and Dear God, I Don’t Get It and the sequel, Dear God, You Can’t Be Serious, children’s fiction that feeds the soul through a fun and exciting story. Patti’s Blog http://www.pattimaguirearmstrong.com. Facebook. Twitter.

 

|

|

 

This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction.

St. Ursula

Fri, 10/20/2017 - 22:00

Maiden Martyr

Several legends are circulated regarding the life, journeys, and death of St. Ursula and her companions.

Ursula was the daughter of a Christian British king. The stories of her life are based primarily on the inscriptions by Clamatius, an early senator, which were carved into a stone document that hangs in the church of St. Ursula in Cologne, Germany. There are also a few small details about her found in ancient liturgical documents. She became popular after her death and her veneration as a saint grew rapidly.

Legend has it that Ursula, born into nobility, was given 10 maidens as companions when she was a young girl. The 11 of them traveled on 11 ships, each accompanied by 1000 companions. They sailed for three years. Ursula had requested a three-year stay of marriage to the son of a pagan king because she wanted to preserve her virginity. At the end of their journey the 11,000 virgins went to Rome, then returned to Cologne; there they became martyrs, tortured and killed by the Huns for their faith.

A possible twist to this legend is the belief that the 11,000 number resulted from a misreading of the term “11M” in the stone inscription. This may have indicated 11 Martyrs — Ursula and her original companions — rather than the Roman numeral “M,” which represents 1000. But ancient manuscripts do refer to the martyrdom of thousands of maidens, and exact history is unclear.

Devotion to the martyrs grew quickly. The Order of Ursulines, founded in 1535 by St. Angela de Merici, took St. Ursula as their namesake. The Order is especially devoted to the education of Catholic girls.

St. Ursula is the patron saint of Catholic education, holy death, students and teachers.

St. Ursula and her companions have been represented in art several times throughout history. Her representation is usually as a maiden shot with arrows, often accompanied by a large number of companions who are suffering martyrdom in various ways.

Lesson

St. Ursula and her companions bravely faced martyrdom in the face of the wrath of pagans. They defended the Faith, and died courageously.

We may not be required to offer our very blood for the Faith, but we all need courage as we face daily persecution when we stand up for the truths the Church teaches — such as defense of human life and living a virtuous life.

May we turn to God in prayer, asking Him to be our Strength in our weakness.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Hilarion (371), Abbott

St. Cilinia (Celine) (458), mother of St. Remi

Bl. James of Strepar (1409), Bishop

Christ, Loneliness, and Redemptive Suffering

Thu, 10/19/2017 - 22:07

Although God has made us to share eternal happiness with Him in heaven, the path to heaven for us wayfarers here on earth is often strewn with serious troubles that can lead to true suffering. As Christians who trust in God’s plan for us, we can rest assured, as St. James told us, that such trials and tribulations can serve a real purpose for our greater good in the end, helping to perfect us. Still, if it was easy to “count it all joy” (James 1:2) when faced with the trials and tribulations that arise from loneliness, there would be little need for books like this one!

Nonetheless, our Catholic approach to loneliness can provide us succor from its sufferings that secular approaches cannot. In the wise words of philosopher Peter Kreeft:

You see, the Christian views suffering, as he views everything, in a totally different way, a totally different context, than the unbeliever. He sees it and everything else as a between, as existing between God and himself, as a gift from God, an invitation from God, a challenge from God, something between God and himself. Everything is relativized. I do not relate to an object and keep God in the background somewhere; God is the object that I relate to. Everything is between us and God. . . . My very I is his image, not my own but on loan. What then is suffering to the Christian? It is Christ’s invitation to us to follow him. Christ goes to the cross, and we are invited to follow to the same cross. Not because it is the cross, but because it is his.

This ability to see suffering on earth as part of our relationship with God and something willingly taken on and endured by Christ Himself for our sake can revolutionize our understanding of our own suffering and of the suffering of others. It gives us a greater power to endure our suffering and to see the inviolable worth of every other human person’s life, also enmeshed in intimate relationship with God. It has far-reaching implications for our lives and the lives of our neighbors. It helps us to see that the person who suffers near the end of life is still always worthy of life until its natural end, that the person in the womb who might be likely to suffer from some genetic malady or from poverty is still always worthy of a chance to experience his or her own gift of life from God. It can help us bear our own loneliness and strive to lighten the burden of the loneliness of our neighbor.

This article is from “The Catholic Guide to Loneliness.” Click image to preview or order.

The source of this ability to bear our own cross is the gift of grace of God through the action of the Holy Spirit stirring in our souls. The ultimate model for us of how all manner of crosses are born is, of course, Jesus Christ Himself. Christ’s actions and words as recorded in the Gospels teach us not only how to cope with suffering but also how to tap into its redemptive power, by “offering up” our sufferings, joining them with Christ’s Passion, for the remission of sins and for spiritual benefits for ourselves and for others.

Let us turn now to the loneliness of Jesus Christ on the Cross and on His journey there, so that we can learn His lessons and experience the kind of emotional and spiritual connection with God that can give our own loneliness meaning as we wait for the joys yet to come.

The Profundity and Power of Christ’s Loneliness

We can profit by imagining Christ’s loneliness on the Cross, as we’ll do in our next section, but Christ’s loneliness was not limited to those few hours of agony. What loneliness He must have felt beforehand, to know that His execution loomed near, that He would die an early death by the explicit will of His own countrymen (even through the actions of a close friend), that His family and friends could do nothing about it, that they would suffer immensely through the cruelty of His death and from the loss of His companionship on earth! Through the grace of God, we have been given some sublime insights into Christ’s loneliness as He awaited His execution. These reflections were provided to us by a great Christian saint and lover of Christ as he faced, in some sense, a similar fate of his own.

I speak of St. Thomas More (1478–1535), the learned, accomplished lawyer who rose to the office of chancellor of England, second in power only to his friend King Henry VIII (1491–1547). From his prison cell in the Tower of London Thomas famously declared exactly where his loyalties resided: “I die the king’s faithful servant, but God’s first.” His crimes included his steadfast refusal, despite desperate entreaties from family and friends, to sign King Henry’s declaration that Henry was the Supreme Head of the Church of England. Thomas knew well, after all, that Peter was the rock on whom Christ built His Church (Matt. 16:18) and the popes are Peter’s successors. To remain true to Christ and His Church, St. Thomas was willing to forgo his freedom and, in about fifteen months, his life, as he suffered execution. He was sentenced by the court to be hanged, drawn, and quartered, the punishment for treason committed by non-nobles, but his friend King Henry commuted it to beheading.

The relevance of St. Thomas More for us is a book that he wrote in that tower. It is known as The Sadness of Christ but was originally entitled The Sadness, the Weariness, the Fear, and the Prayer of Christ before He Was Taken Prisoner. St. Thomas’s own sufferings gave him insights into the sufferings of Christ — including His loneliness — that might help us join our suf­ferings to Christ’s. In the paragraphs that follow, I draw mostly from St. Thomas’s insights but include here and there a few of my own elaborations pertaining to the themes of loneliness and friendship.

St. Thomas dwells at greatest length on Christ’s agonizing night of prayer in the garden of Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives that ended in his betrayal and capture (Matt. 26:36–56; Mark 14:32–52; Luke 22:39–54; John 18:1–12). Jesus, fully man as well as God, was profoundly sad, weary, and fearful that night. He was so distressed as He prayed to His Father that He experienced what physicians call hematohidrosis, sweating blood, when the capillaries that fed His sweat glands burst under His immense mental and physical duress. Christ was not only sad, fatigued, and fearful in the face of His upcoming torments but was also profoundly lonely, although his friends Peter, James, and John were close by, but “a stone’s throw” away (Luke 22:41).

Jesus had told His disciples earlier that they would fall away from Him that very night as had been prophesied: “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered” (Matt. 26:31; cf. Zech. 13:7). Peter boldly declared that although the others might all fall away from Him, he himself would follow Jesus even unto death. Jesus knew this was not the case and told Peter to his dismay that he would deny Him three times that same night before the cock would crow. Yet Peter, James, and John would fall away from Christ a full three times in yet another sense before that cock would crow.

When Jesus arrives at the garden of Gethsemane, He asks the three to sit and watch with Him while He goes off a short distance to pray. He had revealed to his friends that His soul was “very sorrowful, even to death” (Matt. 26:38; Mark 14:34) before He asked them to remain vigilant. When Jesus moves a short distance away, He does not sit, or even kneel, but falls flat on the ground and beseeches His Father to remove the cup of suffering and death before Him, if possible, adding, “not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matt. 26:39; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42).

Jesus then returns to His disciples and finds all three not vigilant and watching, as He had asked them to be during His time of great need, but already fast asleep. He rouses them, asks Peter if he cannot stay awake even for an hour to watch, and asks them to watch and pray so that they will not “enter into temptation” (Matt. 26:41). Again he prays to his Father, asking if the cup might pass if it is the Father’s will, and again He returns to find His friends asleep. He goes off by Himself a third time to repeat the same prayer only to find them again still asleep upon His return. He rouses them and tells them that His hour is at hand, now that His betrayer had arrived.

While Peter, James, and John slept, another friend of Jesus has been wide awake, that friend being his betrayer, Judas Iscariot. He arrives in the garden with a great armed crowd and identifies Jesus with the sign of a kiss. Jesus’ first words to Judas, knowing his intentions, were, most poignantly, “Friend, why are you here?” (Matt. 26:50). Jesus still called his betrayer “friend.”

We can but imagine Jesus’ profound loneliness at this time. Three of His closest friends slept during His time of greatest need, while another friend actively plotted against Him. Judas had been, or at least had postured to be, a virtuous, spiritual friend, seeking holiness with Christ and the other apostles, and yet he debased their friendship, turning it into the most heinous of false and worldly friendships, seeking his own monetary gain even at the cost of the life of his friend.

Jesus’ sad and lonely night was not over yet, however. Before the cock crowed to announce the morning, His friend and “Rock” Peter would indeed deny three times that he even knew Him.

This scene opens us to all kinds of personal reflection. Have you ever felt sad and lonely when a friend or perhaps even a spouse let you down in your time of need, or worse yet, outright betrayed you? Have you ever been the friend who let your spouse or another friend down or betrayed him or her by your actions? Our lesson here from Christ is that His love still goes out to those who let Him down or even betray Him, provided we are willing to ask for forgiveness. Judas, of course, later realized that he had sinned against innocent blood, and he repented of his act and returned his ill-gotten thirty pieces of silver to the priests and elders — before he hanged himself, dying, in fact, before the death of the friend he had betrayed. Centuries later, in the Dia­logues of St. Catherine of Siena, God revealed to her in a mystical ecstasy that Judas’s greatest sin was not that he betrayed Jesus, but that he despaired of God’s mercy and willingness to forgive him. We should bear that in mind if we ever feel we might have committed some unpardonable sin against God or against a dear friend here on earth.

St. Thomas More reaps all kinds of spiritual lessons from this scene in the garden, and one more of them certainly merits our attention for the hope with which it can provide the lonely. Thomas considers that some Christian martyrs are known for how they bravely faced death and seemed almost to provoke it or at least to welcome it with open arms. Christ Himself, of course, did eventually go to His Crucifixion for us with literally open arms, and yet the God-Man Himself experienced such anguish and anxiety that He sweat blood (Luke 22:44). Thomas’s own profound words about what Christ might have put into words on the matter certainly bear repeating:

Let the brave man have his high-spirited martyrs, let him rejoice in imitating a thousand of them. But you, my timo­rous and feeble little sheep, be content to have me alone as your shepherd, follow my leadership; if you do not trust yourself, place your trust in me. See, I am walking ahead of you along this fearful road. Take hold of the border of my garment and you will feel going out from it a power which will stay your heart’s blood from issuing vain tears and will make your heart more cheerful, especially when you remember that you are following closely in my footsteps (and I am to be trusted and will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bear, but I will give together with the temptation a way out that you may be able to endure it).

Christ is always there to comfort, console, and strengthen us through all manner of trials, including those of loneliness. We need merely to stay awake and ask Him through prayer, following in His footsteps as He prayed through the night in Gethsemane, grasping His garment, and feeling His power. The Father did not remove His cup but gave Him all the strength He needed to drink from it fully in His Passion. Indeed, even during His prayer in the garden, “there appeared to him an angel of heaven, strengthening him” (Luke 22:43). God and the angels are always there for us too, if we would call upon them.

Editor’s note: This article is an excerpt from The Catholic Guide to Loneliness: How Science and Faith Can Help Us Understand It, Grow from It, and Conquer ItIt is available from Sophia Institute Press

image: By Photo: Andreas Praefcke (Own work (own photograph)) [CC BY 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

Render unto Caesar?

Thu, 10/19/2017 - 22:05

Despite their flattering words, they were trying to trap him, to force him into a no-win situation.

Consider the circumstances.  They are living under the iron boot of a brutal empire which filled the earth with its idolatry.  Patriotic Jews longed to throw off the tyrants’ yoke.  They prayed for an anointed king who would free them from the Romans as David had freed them from the Philistines. Anyone advocating collaboration with the invaders could not possibly be the hoped-for Messiah.  No, he would appear as a traitor.  But on the other hand, anyone preaching resistance to Rome would be branded an enemy of the Empire and would wind up suspended from a cross.

So the Pharisees decided to put Jesus on the spot in front of the crowd.  They asked him a question bound to get him into trouble one way or the other. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the Emperor or not?”

First of all, Jesus teaches us how to deal with a bogus theological question.  He unmasks it for what it is, an effort to trip him up rather than an inquiry proceeding from a sincere desire to know the truth.  And then, rather than letting himself be manipulated, he takes charge of the conversation and puts the Pharisees on the spot.  He answers a question with a question.  “Whose head is on that coin that you have in your pocket, the coin that you are using to pay for the temporal necessities of life?”  “Caesar’s.”  Next Jesus says something that makes them think, much like he did with the men eager to stone the woman caught in adultery (John 8).  “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but give to God what is God’s.”  (Mat 22:15-21)

Jesus wins the battle.  He transforms an attempt to make him look bad into a teaching moment recorded for all time, providing people of every era with some very important food for thought.

Government is a fact of life.  Rulers, laws, police, taxes.  What should a worshipper of God make of it?

One thing Jesus points out to the Pharisees is that they participate in this societal infrastructure.  They don’t live on a deserted island but are dependent upon the imperial system for everything from the food in the marketplace to protection from thieves.  One rural community in the US recently celebrated their independence after seceding from the nearby township and its taxes.  A few days later, they were unpleasantly surprised when the town trash trucks failed to show up.

Jesus says we can’t have it both ways–if we benefit from secular society, we need to support the infrastructure of society.  This can take the form of taxes, military service, jury duty, and informed, conscientious voting.

On the other hand, Jesus says that we need to give to God what is God’s.  This is the real punch line of the story.  For God has given us everything.  In fact, it is he who raises up kings and nations and through them provides for us.  The Lord used the Babylonians to punish the stubborn disobedience of the kingdom of Judah.  But when the time of exile was completed, God used the pagan Persian king, Cyrus, to break the stranglehold of Babylon and allow the Chosen People to return home.  The prophet Isaiah even calls this unbeliever the messiah or anointed one! (Is 45:1-6)

But there are also times when political rulers overstep their authority.  Sometimes, they demand to be worshiped, like Caesar did.  Other times they attack human dignity, violating natural law which demands that innocent human life be respected and that liberty be protected.  These are times when Christians have a duty to insist that while Caesar is owed his due, we won’t stand by and silently watch him step on God’s toes. 

This was originally offered as a reflection upon the readings for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, liturgical cycle A (Isaiah 45:1, 4-6), Psalm 96, I Thessalonians 1:1-5; Matthew 22:15-21).  It appears here with the permission of the author.

Scripture Speaks: What Belongs to God

Thu, 10/19/2017 - 22:02

Jesus’ enemies try to set a trap for Him.  A coin buys Him freedom from it.

Gospel (Read Mt 22:15-21)

For the last several weeks, our Gospel readings have shown us that Jesus used parables to help the religious elites of Jerusalem hear a call to believe in Him as their Messiah.  They fell on deaf ears.  We find today that “the Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech.”  They were unable to recognize themselves in the many stories Jesus told them.  Instead, they sent “their disciples” to put a question to Him that they were sure would force Him into trouble.  A measure of their “malice” is that “the Herodians” went with them.  The Pharisees and Herodians were as different from and as opposed to each other as Republicans and Democrats are today.  The Pharisees believed that the Jews needed to live as separately as possible from Gentiles in order to preserve their religious identity and power.  The Herodians were Jews who believed that their nation was best served (and their own positions of influence best protected) by cooperating with their Roman governors.  Theirs was a policy of assimilation, not separation.  Why did the Pharisees want the Herodians to go along to the confrontation with Jesus, temporarily setting aside their radical differences?  As much as they despised the Herodians, they were even more threatened by Jesus.  They were ready to do anything to silence Him.

Reading through the extravagant and insincere flattery from this little entourage is uncomfortable, isn’t it?  “Teacher, we know that You are a truthful man and that You teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.”  They didn’t believe this, of course, but they wanted to sound respectful, perhaps out of fear of angering those gathered around Jesus who did believe it.  Then they pop their trick question:  “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?”  If Jesus said the tax should be paid, the Pharisees could have discredited Him in the eyes of the people, who resented Rome’s control.  If He said it was unlawful, the Herodians would have been able to denounce Him to the Roman authorities.

Jesus saw through this sham:  “Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites?”  Why was Jesus so harsh with them?  If their question had been an honest inquiry from people who truly cared about His opinion, surely His response would have been quite different.  Wherever we see insincere religion in the Gospels, we see this anger in Jesus.

Then Jesus asks for a coin, and He turns the questioning back on His interrogators:  “Whose image is this and whose inscription?”  By His question, He requires them to identify the coin as Caesar’s.  They could not possibly have imagined the trap would be sprung for them instead of Him!  Once they identify the coin as belonging to Caesar, it was easy for Jesus to give them a reasonable, satisfying answer:  “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.”  Where’s the controversy?  Where’s the “gotcha” line?  No one can question Caesar’s right to receive back what is actually his. Paying the government’s tax represents paying back what the government has, in fact, paid out in the way of services. It is a fair exchange and does not present a conflict for religious people.

However, Jesus then presses on, getting to the heart of what His questioners should actually be concerned about:  “Repay…to God what belongs to God.”  A coin stamped with its maker’s image clearly belongs to him; a human being, made in the image and likeness of God (see Gn 1:26), likewise belongs to God.  The men who sought to trap Jesus out of malice, trying to hide it with insincere pious talk, had a much bigger debt to pay than their tax bills!

Possible response:  Lord Jesus, I know You can see through insincere pious talk.  Please keep my lips from speaking it.

First Reading (Read Isa 45:1, 4-6)

Our reading from Isaiah helps us understand better why Jesus saw no inherent contradiction between the Roman government and the national life of God’s people, the Jews.  Isaiah, writing in about the 6th century B.C., foretells of Cyrus, the LORD’s “anointed.”  Cyrus was the Gentile king of Persia who conquered Babylon, where the Jews had been held captive for seventy years.  As we can see from the prophecy, Cyrus was allowed by God to become king and ruler over Babylon “for the sake of Jacob, my servant, of Israel, My chosen one.”  We see that Cyrus, although he did not know the LORD, nevertheless did the LORD’s work.  He was the one who allowed the Jews to return to the Promised Land.  He even helped to fund the re-building of their beloved Temple in Jerusalem.  This prophecy reveals the reality that kept Jesus from falling into the Pharisees’ trap.  God is much greater than all earthly powers.  In fact, He can use them to do His bidding, even though they know Him not.  St. Paul wrote about this in his letter to the Romans:  “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Rom 13:1).

This truth explains why Jesus did not feel beholden to Pilate when He was being interrogated by him.  When Jesus refused to answer Pilate’s question, he said to Him, “’You will not speak to me?  Do You not know that I have power to release You, and power to crucify You?’  Jesus answered him, ‘You would have no power over Me unless it had been given you from above’” (Jn 19:10-11a).  The rulers of this world exercise only delegated authority.  Because Jesus knew this, the Pharisees’ trap was doomed to fail before it ever began.

Possible Response:  Heavenly Father, help me remember that You are greater than any power on earth; none can thwart Your plan of love and goodness for us.

Psalm (Read Ps 96:1, 3-5, 7-10)

When Jesus told the Pharisees and Herodians to “repay…to God what belongs to God,” He was urging them to do what the psalmist does here:  “Give the LORD glory and honor.”  The psalmist proclaims God’s exalted place of honor and authority “among all the nations, among all the peoples.”  Here, not only are nations and their rulers subservient to Him, but He makes “all the gods of the nations…things of nought.”  There are kings who rule by God’s favor, but all should know that “The LORD is king; He governs the people with equity.”  To embrace this truth is to protect ourselves from anxiety that can threaten us when we look around the world today and see the abuse of earthly power.  Our rejoinder to that temporal fear is to sing with the psalmist:  “Great is the LORD and highly to be praised; awesome is He, beyond all gods.”

Possible response:  The psalm is, itself, a response to our other readings.  Read it again prayerfully to make it your own.

Second Reading (Read 1 Thess 1:1-5b)

When Jesus says in the Gospel, “repay…to God what belongs to God,” what is He asking of us?  St. Paul answers this question in this epistle to the church of the Thessalonians.  He had preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ there, and people had responded in their “work of faith and labor of love and endurance in hope.”  Our works of faith, hope, and love are our repayment to God for all He has done for us.  In a concrete way, this helps us to make the right response to Him, to give Him what He is due.  Yes, we pay taxes to the government, but to God we give ourselves.

Possible response:  Lord Jesus, please help me today to offer simple works of faith, hope, and love to the Father, to Whom these are surely due.

image: Anthony van Dyck [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In the first reading St. Paul reminds

Thu, 10/19/2017 - 22:00

In the first reading St. Paul reminds us that we are all sinners, but, because of God’s love and mercy and through the redeeming suffering and death of his Son Jesus Christ, God has forgiven us and made us righteous. Every time we approach God for forgiveness through the ministry of the Church in the sacrament of reconciliation, we cannot but be overwhelmed by his forgiving love and mercy which forgive us our offenses and make us righteous before him and the Church.

If God is so forgiving to me, can I do less to those who have wronged me? Pope Francis has said, “If I cannot forgive, I cannot ask for forgiveness. Jesus teaches us to pray like this to the Father: ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”‘

In the Gospel reading we hear very strong condemnation of our Lord for the religious leaders of the Jews for their hypocrisy and lack of care and concern for those committed to their care and leadership.

General Audience

Thu, 10/19/2017 - 22:00

Dear Brothers and Sisters: this morning I wish to reflect on Christian hope and the reality of death, a reality which our modern world so often leaves us unprepared to face.  Past civilizations had the courage to face death, and older generations taught the younger to see that inescapable event as a call to live for something enduring, greater than themselves.  For our days, no matter how many they are, pass like a breath.  It is Jesus, however, that ultimately helps us to confront this mystery.  He shows us that it is natural to mourn the loss of a loved one.  For he too wept at Lazarus’ death.  But he did not only mourn; he also prayed to the Father and called Lazarus from the tomb.  Here is our Christian hope: Jesus has come to heal us, to save us from death. He says: “I am the resurrection and the life” (Jn 11:25); if we believe in him, even if we die, we will live.  In the face of our sorrow, Jesus invites us to faith in him.  This is our hope: when we mourn, we know that Christ remains always close to us.  And one day, when we too face death, we will hear Jesus’s voice: “I say to you, arise” (Mk 5:41).

St. Paul of the Cross

Thu, 10/19/2017 - 22:00

Passionate Preacher

St. Paul of the Cross (Priest and Founder) was born in 1694 to a large middle-class family which was very devout. He was the second of their sixteen children and worked for a time to help support his younger brothers and sisters. He joined the army of Venice at age twenty.

In 1720, Paul entered the seminary, convinced due to a spiritual experience that God desired him to found a missionary order that would focus on the Passion and Cross of Christ. Paul and one of his brothers received the sacrament of Holy Orders in Rome in 1727; they then established the Passionist Order.

As founder of the Passionist Order, Paul had a difficult first ten years. But his fervent preaching attracted others, and gradually the order grew.

In order to bring inactive Catholics to a deeper commitment to Christ, Paul developed the concept of parish missions, which involved public processions, street preaching, vigils, and penitential works.

Known as a mystic, Paul’s powerful sermons moved even the hardest hearts. One soldier told him, “Father, I have been in great battles without even flinching at the cannon’s roar, but when I listen to you I tremble from head to foot.” He preached with arms outstretched and a crucifix held in his hand.

Though Paul’s preaching was often challenging, he dealt in a gentle manner with penitents in the confessional, urging them to bear their crosses in life in whatever way possible. St. Paul died in Rome in 1775.

From Johnnette Benkovic’s Graceful Living: Meditations to Help You Grow Closer to God Day by Day

Click the image above to purchase your own copy of “Graceful Living.”

It is very good and holy to consider the passion of our Lord and to meditate on it, for by this sacred path we reach union with God.

— From a letter of St. Paul of the Cross

As I consider the passion of Our Lord, what one aspect of it speaks most deeply to my heart? Today, I will meditate on it. What is the Lord saying to me through it? What is my response back to Him?

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. John of Kanty (John Cantius) (1473), Priest

St. Irene (653), Virgin, Martyr

Blessed Adeline (1125), Abbess

St. Joseph and a Lesson in Obedience

Thu, 10/19/2017 - 08:04

There is something about our fallen nature that compels us to disobedience. Sometimes it’s full-blown, blatant disobedience. Other times it’s more subtle like our mom encouraging us to read a book that we just can’t find the time to read. We are all guilty of it…except one: St. Joseph (I’m not counting Mary because she was free from original sin). There is so much we can learn from what scripture says about him, his actions, and more importantly, his silence. Let’s look at one story in particular from scripture that leads us to a greater appreciation for his perfect obedience to the will of the Father.

The Flight into Egypt

Matthew 2:13 says, “Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him’”. Let’s break this down a bit and really dig into what Joseph is facing in this moment.

A Death Threat

Someone wants to kill Jesus, the son of God. We often overlook the subtleties because we know the whole story, but Joseph didn’t! All he knew was someone wanted Jesus dead. Why did the Lord have to flee anyways? He’s God. Theophylact of Ochrid makes a very strong point when he says, “Even the Lord flees, to confirm that He was truly man. For if He had fallen into the hands of Herod and had not been slain, it would have seemed that He had been made flush only in appearance.”

What this tells us about Joseph is that it wasn’t an act. Maybe it was part of the Divine plan, but it wasn’t on Joseph’s agenda. Joseph is scared, but there’s no time for that. He doesn’t ask the angel any clarifying questions which probably would have been cool considering the circumstances. Like, “Sure thing God. What am I supposed to do about work though? I don’t have a work visa in Egypt and I also don’t speak the language…Oh, and I doubt I’ll be able to fit all my tools on the donkey considering we need to eat….” Not a word.

A Long Journey

Egypt is far away. Really far. 430 miles far. That’s Chicago to Pittsburgh which, by car, is still 7 hours. The road wasn’t one of those paved nature trails with cool shade during the day and a lighted path at night. Also, there weren’t many Holiday Inn Express hotels back then. If they traveled 15 miles a day which is pushing it considering a child under the age of 2, and the strong likelihood they had only 1 donkey, that’s a journey of almost 30 days. You still have the unbearable desert heat, and the strong possibility of bandits and other miscreants.

Suffice it to say, this was a dangerous journey. Not to mention they were traveling with a young child. Unlike our culture today where you move wherever work takes you, people didn’t move…ever. I’m not just talking husband and wife, I mean generations didn’t move. So there’s Joseph, in the middle of the night being told by an angel to pack up and travel 430 miles to a foreign land, a land he’s never been to, and the same land where his people were persecuted for 215 years. This isn’t exactly the first place I’d think to go if my family in danger. Again, Joseph didn’t ask how he was supposed to do this, he didn’t ask for directions. He just went.

A One-Way Ticket

The last thing I want to point out is that Joseph didn’t get a timeline. It wasn’t, “Go to Egypt for 6 months,” it was, “…remain there until I tell you.” Can you imagine the conversation with your wife, “Hey honey, an angel just told me we need to move to Fargo…tonight. I don’t have a job lined up yet and we’re gonna stay for a while…ish. Oh, and we probably shouldn’t wait until tomorrow because the police want to murder our son.” Joseph was a carpenter, this was a pretty lowly job back then. It’s unlikely he had a nest egg just waiting for retirement. They lived job to job. If you can’t work, you can’t feed your family. There was no emergency fund laying around to cover 3 months of living expenses. This was a total and complete act of faith and obedience to the will of the Father.

St. Joseph was a true man. He did exactly what the Lord asked of him every time and without delay. He lived the fourth commandment to the letter. He is a model of obedience that we should all aspire to follow more closely.

Here’s my challenge to you: reflect on this story of St. Joseph. Imagine yourself in his shoes. Now think about your own life and where you are being called to obedience. Remember that obedience extends beyond just our parents. According to the Catechism (2199), “This commandment includes and presupposes the duties of parents, instructors, teachers, leaders, magistrates, those who govern, all who exercise authority over others or over a community of persons.” Pick something you’ve been ignoring, delaying, or flat out rejecting and do it. Do it for St. Joseph. I think you’ll be surprised by the blessings.

St. Joseph, Patron of Workers, pray for us.

Jonathan Conrad is founder of The Catholic Woodworker where he crafts heirloom-quality Catholic goods and uses woodworking to evangelize.

The post St. Joseph and a Lesson in Obedience appeared first on The Catholic Gentleman.

This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at The Catholic Gentleman.

Why Catholicism? Because It Offers True Forgiveness

Wed, 10/18/2017 - 22:07

Like many people growing up, I believed in God but didn’t have a strong personal faith. I didn’t pray much outside of church, except before mealtimes and in special emergencies. I never read the Bible on my own. I didn’t know it was possible to have a relationship with God. For me, God was a loving, wise, but distant being—a sort of cosmic grandfather who was there when I needed him but otherwise remote.

Though I didn’t know it at the time, I had embraced what sociologists call “moralistic therapeutic deism.” It’s today’s most popular view of God. This view holds that God is concerned with two basic things: making sure we behave the right way (moralistic) and helping us feel better about ourselves (therapeutic). The last term (deism) adds that God does not personally interact with the world but only pops in on rare occasions, otherwise content with letting the universe run on its own.

In college, as I studied and learned more about God, I discovered two glaring problems with that view. First, it doesn’t demand anything of us, and second, it offers nothing significant. For the moralistic therapeutic deist, God is just there, without consequence or reaction. And that sort of God didn’t compel me at all.

People don’t want mediocrity. All of us—you, me, everyone—we want greatness; we want excellence. For evidence, ask yourself this question: are you happy with where you are, or do you wish were a better person? Are there virtues you wish you had, or vices you wish you didn’t? When we’re serious with ourselves, we know, deep down, the answer is yes. As G. K. Chesterton put it, “We men and women are all in the same boat, upon a stormy sea.” Catholics have a word for this seasickness: sin. It’s a spiritual disease and we’re all infected.

Catholicism isn’t the only religion that promises a cure. But Christianity offers a radically different answer. It says that the only way to become free of sin is not by doing something but by accepting God’s forgiveness, which was achieved through Jesus’ death on the Cross. Jesus died to heal us of our sickness.

But how do we receive that forgiveness? Christians have different answers to this question. For most Protestant Christians, the answer is to pray to Jesus, privately with a sincere heart, and then he’ll forgive you. It’s quick, easy, and painless to receive forgiveness.

But there are a couple problems with this solution. I recognized one of them while Protestant myself, namely, that it’s easy to fool yourself into thinking you aren’t really forgiven (when you actually are) or that you are forgiven (when you actually aren’t).

That leads to the second problem—a problem that Catholicism solves: it’s not what Jesus prescribed. Jesus never suggested that people could accept his forgiveness through private prayers. Instead, he turned to his disciples, giving them authority to forgive sins in his name. Obviously this would require people verbalizing their sins to the apostles or their emissaries.

To me, this all made sense. Through this practice we could know with objective certainty when we were forgiven because, after confessing our sins and expressing remorse, the apostle, who has God-given authority to forgive sins, could verify that the sin had indeed been forgiven—no feelings, no guessing, and no waffling back and forth. The sin was objectively gone.

As it turns out, Jesus’ way of forgiving sins is far better than the private prayer method I wrestled with as a Protestant. It brings objectivity to the equation and an assurance that you really are forgiven.

The Font of Forgiveness

I remember the first time I went to confession. It was during my last semester in college, at the end of my long study of Catholicism. I felt drawn toward confession, even while it confused me. A few friends told me how refreshing they felt after sharing their sins with the priest, which struck me as odd.

So one afternoon, I summoned the courage and headed to a nearby parish. There was a line of people waiting inside, inching forward. When it was my turn, I still hadn’t decided what to do. I knew a few sins for which I needed forgiveness, but I wasn’t sure about others. Still, when it was my turn, I opened the confessional door and walked in.

The priest nicely welcomed me. I explained that it was my first time going to confession, but he said that wasn’t a problem and that I shouldn’t worry—he would walk me through everything. He first asked me to confess my sins, all that came to mind. At first this was hard and unnatural. But as each sin rolled from my mind to my tongue, I felt strangely lightened. The priest never displayed shock or repulsion. In fact, the whole time he kept his eyes shut and his head bowed down, deep in concentration. I never once felt as if he was judging me for my sins or measuring me up. I had the real sense that he was on my side, that as God’s representative, he was praying alongside me for my forgiveness.

When I had finished my litany, he nodded his head and offered me a few words of counsel, including an act of penance (typically, this will be a prayer or some charitable work meant to counteract the sins just confessed). Finally, he invited me to offer an act of contrition. I didn’t know what that meant, but he explained it was an expression of my sorrow for committing those sins and an intention, with God’s help, not to commit them again. The act of contrition ensures that in order to be truly forgiven, you have to both be genuinely sorry for your sins and have a firm resolution not to commit them again. If you lack one or the other conviction, the sins remain unforgiven.

I awkwardly gave my own act of contrition and then the priest extended his hands over my head and spoke these words:

“God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son, has reconciled the world to himself, and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins. Through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

It’s hard to express how liberating that felt.

God gave his priests the remarkable authority to forgive sins in his name, offering penitents an objective way to know his forgiveness. Sometimes that experience is amplified by good feelings, as it was at my first confession. Other times it’s not, as I later learned. Feelings of freedom and weightlessness can become dulled over time. Nevertheless, there’s almost nothing that can match the comfort of knowing, objectively, that when you go to confession in good faith and hear the words of absolution from a priest, you’re assured that your sins are wiped clean.

Extreme Demand, Extreme Mercy

This is what warmed me up to the Church’s admittedly strong moral demands. The Church’s standards are high. Catholicism isn’t out to just create good people, those who are morally mediocre. It aims to accomplish Jesus’ own goal: for us to “be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).

The Church wants perfection for us. No, the Church demands we strive for the moral ideal, whether we attain it in this life or the next.

That may sound harsh and impossible, but that’s precisely why confession is so needed. Coupled with these extreme moral demands is the Church’s equally extreme mercy.  No matter how many times we miss the mark, or come up short, the Church is ready to offer God’s forgiveness and pick us up so we can try again.

Stop for a moment and consider your own life. Have you done something bad, maybe years ago, that you still drag along? Something that still haunts you and makes you feel guilty? Maybe you betrayed a friend or spouse, or hurt someone in serious ways. Perhaps you’ve lived selfishly or used people for your own gain. Whatever the case, the Church wants to free you from that guilt. It’s the only place to find true and complete healing.

You might also try to just lower your moral standards and pretend the wrong things you’ve done weren’t really so bad, that in the end, you’re basically a pretty good person. But this doesn’t work in the long run either. What you need is to stop playing those games. You need the one real antidote to sin, the one way to vanquish your guilt, and the one chance to make amends and receive real and lasting forgiveness. You need the extreme mercy found in confession. In the years since becoming Catholic, I’ve had the joy of seeing many people who stayed away from confession for decades return to the sacrament. One man hadn’t been in over seventy years! Yet when they return, ask forgiveness for their sins, and hear the priest speak those words of mercy—”I absolve you of all your sins”—they leave walking on clouds and often in tears. Their lives are never the same. Whether you’re not Catholic and have never been to confession, or perhaps a former Catholic who hasn’t been in years, stop searching for false solutions, and find the objective relief that only this encounter can provide.

The Church is not an evil force out to condemn the world. It’s a beacon of mercy, offering pardon and peace even to the worst failures among us. If that’s not good, I don’t know what is.

This excerpt of Why I Am Catholic (and You Should Be Too) is reprinted with permission of Ave Maria Press.

The mission of St. Mary’s Parish is to proclaim and celebrate our salvation through Jesus Christ,our pilgrimage to the Father’s Kingdom enlivened by the Holy Spirit. Our Catholic faith community is nourished by our sacramental life, especially the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist. With Mother Mary as our model, we demonstrate our faith through worship, education, vocations and service.