Saturday, July 30, 2016

How Humility is Antithetical to Pride

I just finished a course through Notre Dame University's STEP (Satellite Theological Education Program), and although this was my fourth class through Notre Dame, it was a epiphany and lesson in humility.
Before the course, I decided that being a catechist in my parish was a way I could give back to the community. But through learning and discovery in this course, and other recent experiences, I have uncovered that doctrine is not something I should teach nor is it something into which I should delve more deeply. I have spent several years now studying, marking up text, and reflecting on intricacies of Catholic doctrine, and although I have gained much insight, it has distracted me from the true meaning of the Gospel: Love your neighbor as yourself. Studying doctrine has brought to the surface too many debatable, strife-causing issues for me, and I do not want to debate with Christ or His Body. I just want to love with the heart of Jesus and be an honest man of Christian faith. Being a catechist is clearly not what I am called to do. It is ironic, however, being that my profession is in education.
I do feel called to get involved in social justice and service ministries, though. I feel that serving the broken, embracing the needy, and offering myself in the everyday moments of being a dad, husband, and neighbor are more my speed. I want to give myself away in the small moments of my day and not become enveloped in the stress and spiritually-detracting intellectual debates. Like St. Francis of Assisi, living the Gospel is about preaching with our lives. After all, isn't that what Christ did (still does)?
I ask everyone who reads this to please pray that in my brokenness, in my moments of blindness, God will send His Spirit to strengthen me with the wisdom to accept the things I cannot change and to change the things I can.  

Thank you.

Monday, July 25, 2016

How we can Choose the Path of Love

Galatians 5:13-15 (MSG): Acting as Agents of Love

It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom. If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then?

Spiritual freedom is a gift God grants through faith and without cost; it cannot be earned. Although we are given this freedom, it is how we employ it in our lives that makes a difference.

Our freedom came when Christ died for each of us on the cross. We were free the moment God, the creator of the universe, took on the flesh of humanity and then offered it up as an act of love for each of us. Paul, in effect, reminds the Galatians that they are free through their faith in Jesus. No works, offerings, or observances of the law can earn one’s righteousness with God.  Jesus satisfied this on the cross for each of us. And it is through our faith in him that we are made free.

Paul’s letter applies to us, too. We are given great freedom through our faith to live any way we choose. But as Paul warns, we should not take this freedom for granted, doing whatever we please to whomever we choose. We are called as Christians to love each other, and neighborly love, as Paul reminds us, is the essence of living in Christ: “For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself.” Our freedom in Christ, then, is a choice to act in love. We can choose to either love our neighbor as ourselves or backbite, persecute, slander, and destroy God’s image and likeness. Through temptation, the latter comes easy; the former happens through our commitment to God who is love (1 John 4:8).

My son asked me the other day, “Dad, why is it that all we see on Twitter and Instagram is about people killing and hating on each other?” I thought hard about it.  My answer came from some commentary I read. When we see an evil act as the center of attention, we need to widen our view and look to the margins. There we will see the helpers, people offering themselves as a refuge to protect, rescue, and console the afflicted. It is our job to love even when evil is at the center.

I pray that we all choose to live as agents of love, especially on the margins of life.

May the peace and love of Christ be with you all.


Saturday, July 23, 2016

Why Judgmental Catholic Christians should Love Everyone

Many faithful Catholic Christians, although innocently, don’t acknowledge the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. For many Catholics, choosing to explore theology or the deep teachings in the Catechism is not important to their faith life, and I don't blame them. They go to Mass, tithe, and even claim their Catholicity among their friends, families, and acquaintances. They, for the most part, don’t care about or concern themselves with the theological/moral teachings of the Church, at least beyond the basics. The Eucharist is communion with Christ for them, and maybe they learned about the real presence in their Baltimore Catechism or the experiential teachings of the 70’s -90’s, but they are not concerned so much with that. They are faithful and live the best they can in the Catholic tradition. It is not really their fault. These are wonderful, loving people who lead busy lives and do all they can to embrace their faith.

On the other hand, there are some who are zealous to learn and embrace the doctrines of their faith. They love to delve into the catechetical teachings of the Church and contemplate the tenets of faith and Tradition. Through this experience, they get to mull over the theological/moral positions of the Church. This can be both constructive and deconstructive, in a sense. Many equipped with this grace of knowledge use it to love God and neighbor more; it draws them closer to Christ and equips them to better love the person in front of them. Some, conversely, use the teachings of the Church and their knowledge to ostracize sinners. The Eucharist, given to us by Christ as the great thanksgiving, is something the traditionally-minded and catechetically astute sometimes use as a tool of exclusivity, denying people who are most hurt and in need of mending access to the medicinal repair of Christ’s flesh and spirit.

There are many in the apologetic, orthodox circles of the Church who believe they can cast judgment on those who can and cannot or should and should not receive the Eucharist. And this false judgment reduces to nothing more than pharisaic finger pointing. All the faithful (myself included) would do well to remember the words of Jesus to the Pharisees in Matthew’s gospel: “So Jesus said to them, 'I tell you: the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the Kingdom of God ahead of you'” (Matthew 21:31).

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

How Christ's Gift of Freedom from Sin is a Choice

But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.
~ Romans 6: 17-18 (ESV)

Paul talks about surrendering ourselves to obedience and holiness. Christ has delivered us from sin, but we must choose to live in him and be obedient to Christ’s way of love, abandoning our old sinful selves. It is a choice, however, and Paul urges his audience to remember that Christ frees them, frees us, from sin and that we should choose a life of self abandonment, an eternal life in union with Christ.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Why Living the Golden Rule is a Challenge

Matthew 7:12: The Challenge of the Golden Rule

“In everything, do unto others as you would have them do to you.”

The Golden Rule is an easy one to understand but a challenging one to follow. Our human nature regularly gets in the way. We are drawn to seek revenge, gossip, and be negative toward others. But when we invite Christ into our hearts, something significant changes in us. We are made a new creation in him, and our hearts take on Jesus’ love.

Although with flaws, I have witnessed this phenomenon in my own life. There are many moments throughout each day that I am tempted to speak ill of someone, to roll my eyes at the drama of others, to detest those who advocate an opposing view, or to wish for solitude so I can have “my” personal time. On the surface, these examples seem benign, normal, and easily dismissed. But underneath, they are a stealthy pathway into the self and away from Jesus. Gossip, uncharitable actions and thoughts toward others, and a desire to be consumed by the self all oppose Christ’s commandment to love our neighbor as ourself. The antidote, however, is grace. And God’s grace is ample and free for the taking.  Through Scripture, prayer, community, and self-giving, we open the door of our hearts to Christ, and he dwells in us through his Spirit. This is what wondrously transforms us so that we can choose to live the Golden Rule.  John Stott, an Anglican priest, scholar, and prolific speaker and writer, outlines this transformation in his book Basic Christianity:

The cause of our sins, therefore, is our sin, our inherited nature, which is polluted and self-centred. As Jesus put it, our sins come from within, out of our ‘heart’. This is why an improvement in behaviour depends on a change of nature. ‘Make the tree good,’ said Jesus, ‘and its fruit will be good.’ But can human nature be changed? Is it possible to make a sour person sweet, a proud person humble, or a selfish person unselfish? The Bible declares emphatically that these miracles can take place. It is part of the wonder of the gospel. Jesus Christ offers to change not only our standing before God, but our very nature …

In some respects, the way Paul puts it is even more dramatic. He blurts out a sentence which, in its original Greek, has no verbs: ‘If anyone in Christ – new creation!’

This, then, is the possibility of which the New Testament speaks - a new heart, a new nature, a new birth, a new creation. This amazing inner change is the work of the Holy Spirit. The new birth is a birth ‘from above’. To be born again is to be ‘born of the Spirit’. (121)

We cannot follow the Golden Rule on our own; it is impossible. When we invite Jesus into our hearts and allow him to dwell in us, we are made a new creation in him. As a result, we are able to imitate, although imperfectly, God’s love to the rest of the world.  

I pray that we all do our best to live out the Golden Rule in the small moments of our day, reciprocating God’s love and mercy to all we encounter.

May the peace and love of Christ be with you all.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

How the Eucharist is Medicine for the Broken, not a Prize for the Pious

The most pressing issue regarding the Eucharist is not so much convincing the faithful what it is, the real presence of Christ, but convincing people that it is not a prize for only the just.

Pope Francis states in his exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) the following: “The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak” (47). We are all sinners, and none of us is truly worthy of receiving Jesus.  However, you will meet many traditionally-minded bishops, priests, deacons,  religious, and laity who try to convince us otherwise. If we commit this sin or that sin, fail to follow this dogma or this doctrine, we cannot receive the Eucharist. Who, however, can truly judge each person and their individual conscience and situation? Only God can. And if the faithful, even though others or canon law say they should not receive, receives the Eucharist, “discerning the body” (1 Corinthians 11:29) and knowing it is Jesus who gives life and heals, then so be it.

We are not to be the judge of others, and the Eucharist is not a prize to be won through piety.  It is Christ who gives life, heals, and lifts us from the death of sin. The Eucharist is Jesus giving himself to the broken, the needy, the woman caught in adultery, the tax collector, the blind man, the leper, and all of us.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Why We Should Proclaim God in our Everyday Living

23 After they had set a day to meet with him, they came to him at his lodgings in great numbers. From morning until evening he explained the matter to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the law of Moses and from the prophets.24 Some were convinced by what he had said, while others refused to believe …
30 He lived there two whole years at his own expense and welcomed all who came to him, 31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance. (Acts 28:23-24, 30-31 NRSV)

At the end of Acts of the Apostles, Paul survives a shipwreck and arrives at Rome.  Here, Luke carefully details Paul’s reception by the Roman Jews and their willingness to hear Paul explain “this sect” (Acts 28:22) of Christianity. Paul meets with them and proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Not all are convinced, and thus many reject the Gospel: “Some were convinced by what [Paul] had said, while others refused to believe” (24). Paul perseveres in his mission as an evangelist for Christ, however, making his living as a tentmaker for two years in Rome. Paul remains loyal to his mission in Christ, boldly and without hindrance. Since the sacred writer uses the words “without hindrance,” we can assume that Paul had to deal with much opposition and persecution throughout his time in Rome. But Paul does not give up. He suffers, and he does it exemplifying the love of God and neighbor.  
It is not an easy task to be an evangelist for the Gospel in our everyday living. Evangelism does not mean that we have to stand on the street handing out tracts, although that works for some.  We must evangelize with our lives, living out Christ’s commission to love God above all and our neighbor as ourselves. Just the other day, for instance, my family and I were out eating at a diner. I thought to myself, Why don’t we say grace before eating this gift which comes from God? The short answer is because we fear what others may think. I thanked God in the quiet of my mind and commenced eating, failing to make a small witness to the love of God in public.
Our lives are full of moments when we can encourage others by our loving witness. Although my intentions are good, I readily fail, often praying later for the grace to become a better witness to Christ’s love. Paul lived out this witness. He fought, worked hard to support himself, and preached lovingly to those who listened. Paul was not perfect, however, as Romans 7:15 points out, and neither are we. God offers us the same grace he offered Paul. The boldness and lack of hindrance of Paul, and many saints like him, is something that takes time, prayer, listening to God’s word, and patience on our part. Let us all live to be Christ’s witnesses in the small corners of our lives.
May the peace and love of Christ be with you all.


Saturday, July 9, 2016

Why Every Person of Faith Should Watch 'Spotlight'

“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea." 
~ Matthew 18:6

My head is still reeling; my emotions are still echoing the empathy, anger, and frustration unearthed in the worldwide truth revealed in the movie Spotlight. The film is brilliantly acted and intelligently written. Stand out performances by Mike Ruffalo and Michael Keaton carry this film, but it is the truth that the Spotlight team at the Boston Globe unveils that is earth shattering and life changing.  
Although I was aware of the pedophile priests, the victimization of kids, the bishops and cardinals who hid and reassigned them, and the scandal that this has caused in the Church; I never put a personal face to the suffering or realized the magnitude of blame that the institution of the Roman Catholic Church has in this. In recent history, Pope Benedict XVI resigned, Pope Francis took over, and the Church made serious efforts to root out the sex abuse and protect kids, but the scandal still continues, except now it is smaller in scale and lies carefully tucked away in places like the Vatican and South America.
Here are some current facts that any Googler can unearth:
I stop with two instances because it is enough to illustrate the grave injustice and horror that continues even in the face of Church public relations promoting a “zero tolerance” policy regarding these criminals. In an article in the May 2014 issue of Time magazine regarding the sex abuse crisis in the Church, Pope Francis declares a “zero tolerance” approach to these horrific crimes:

‘‘On this issue we must go forward, forward. Zero tolerance,’’ Francis said to a group of reporters as he returned from his trip to the Holy Land. He called abuse of children an “ugly” crime that betrays God, according to the Associated Press.

But as is evidenced by Googling recent news, however, the policy has been far less than “zero tolerance.” The scandal, too, gets less press than it should. Where is the Church now with its accountability? How are they handling both the high and low profile cases of abuse? Spotlight plainly points us to questions that have been avoided for far too long.

There is a point in Spotlight where Mike Rezendes (played by Mark Ruffalo) finally gains access to the hidden victim complaint files that the Church tries their best to keep sealed and private. These files prove, beyond any doubt, that Cardinal Bernard Law was hiding the child molestations from the public.  Rezendes urgently says to Robbie (played by Michael Keaton) that they have to print this, get this out to the public, stop this horror now, and he breaks down in tears.  At this point in the movie, I cried, too. I cried for every child victim who was not only physically but spiritually raped by men purporting to represent Christ. I cried for the victims who became junkies to self-medicate the pain. I cried for the victims who took their own lives because they could not deal with the pain, rejection, and embarrassment. I cried for the victims who kept the violation of their innocence buried, trying their best to live normal lives. I cried for the heartfelt survivor network leader Phil Saviano and all the victims he represents. And I cried for the parents who were duped into believing the Church, as the voice of Christ, had their best interests in mind and would solve the problem. So the parents kept quiet about the incidents, faithfully hoping and praying for healing.  One mother, for example, wrote that all seven of her children were molested by a priest.

If anyone has an inkling of empathy for the victimized in this world, please watch Spotlight, research the story, and educate yourselves about the truth of the abuse perpetrated not only by the priests but the hierarchy that covered it up, by looking the other way and allowing it to fester for decades, possibly centuries.

I am a faithful Christian father and practicing Roman Catholic.  My relationship with Christ is the center of my life, so I am serious about my faith. I study both Scripture and the teachings of my tradition, so this film has rocked me on a deep level. It has brought to the surface many deep-seeded questions for me. For instance, how could such a powerful institution have ignored such a violation of humanity? I love Jesus Christ and pray that this experience makes me a stronger disciple and witness to Christ in the world and encourages me to advocate for the love and mercy of God as well as to fight against the blatant, systematized evil that often times remains hidden.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Why it is a Struggle to Accept that I can't be an "Authentic" Catholic

  • “Life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort. Indeed, those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others.”
  • When the Church summons Christians to take up the task of evangelization, she is simply pointing to the source of authentic personal fulfilment.
    • “... life is attained and matures in the measure that it is offered up in order to give life to others. This is certainly what mission means”
  • An evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral! Let us recover and deepen our enthusiasm, that “delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing
  • And may the world of our time ... be enabled to receive the good news … from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervour, who have first received the joy of Christ.”
~ Evangelii Gaudium or The Joy of the Gospel by Pope Francis (from #10)

Are my actions in Christ purveying an authentic, joyful witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ? Every thought, word, action, and offering of self should be done for the glory of God. Due to my own radical selfishness, this is not always the case.  There are times, moreover, when I am buffeted by small things in the large scope of love such as doctrinal beliefs. I pose internal questions like: Why can’t I be a “good” Catholic? There are some doctrines and dogmas that I am incapable of accepting, so I do my best and give it to God.  At least this is what I keep saying, but my conscience keeps annoying me. How can I be an authentic Roman Catholic and be at such odds with certain dogma, even after intense reading, study, and prayer?

Let me, instead, focus on the real heart of the matter, being a joyful witness to Christ’s love, salvation, and the free grace that God gives. Let me bloom in the areas the Holy Spirit points me toward, the ecumenical faith and love shared interdenominationally among all my brothers and sisters in Christ.  And let the love of Christ radiate through me to my brothers and sisters in neighborly love and good will -- yes, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and those in the world who seek in their hearts to give away authentic love.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Why we Should Boast as Christians

As for me, however, I will boast only about the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; for by means of his cross the world is dead to me, and I am dead to the world. It does not matter at all whether or not one is circumcised; what does matter is being a new creature. As for those who follow this rule in their lives, may peace and mercy be with them — with them and with all of God's people!
Galatians 6:14-16 (GNT)

Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, is railing against the false teaching in the early church, also known as the Galatian heresy. There were Christian preachers who were Judaizing, teaching that Gentile converts to Christianity must first submit to the Mosaic Law, for instance undergoing circumcision, before being baptized in Christ. Upon hearing this report, Paul writes a letter correcting those in the church of Galatia.  In chapter 6, the conclusion of this letter, Paul writes of a beautiful truth regarding Christ’s love.
Paul’s message not only applies to the early church, it applies to our modern faith and worship as well. Many times we, too, are duped into thinking that we are not good enough for God’s love. This false logic can lead us to a neo-legalistic way of thinking and behaving. Through our pious actions, then, we can get a false sense of being better suited for God’s love. Remember what John says in his first letter: “We love because [God] first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
Paul reminds us to boast only in the love Jesus offered on the cross, not any other worldly offering or way of behaving. What matters, Paul reminds us, is Christ’s recreating us into “a new creature," Jesus conforming us to himself through baptism, faith, and cooperation with his love. Paul states that “it does not matter at all whether or not one is circumcised” (15). Although he is contextually preaching against the false teaching of the Judaizers, Paul is thematically reminding his readers of the importance of God’s freely-given love offered for each of us on the cross. The world and its many offerings mean nothing, Paul says. Jesus’ salvific love, on the other hand, means all.

May the peace and love of Christ be with you all.


Sunday, July 3, 2016

How Humility and the Offering of Self to Others Glorify God: 'The Imitation of Christ'

7. During this present life, then, behave humbly towards all  [people], and do not mind who says this or who orders that, but take great care that whenever anyone asks you for something or makes some suggestion, whether he be your superior, your equal, or one below you, take it all in good part and with unfeigned willingness try to do what they say. Let other [people] have their ambitions in one direction or another, one [person] priding [themselves] on their ability in one field, another in something different, and getting praised for it any number of times; you must take pleasure in none of these things, but only in being slighted and in my good pleasure and honour alone. This is what you must desire: that in you, whether by your life or by your death, God may always be glorified.~ Thomas รก Kempis, The Imitation of Christ (Knox translation), From Book 3, Section 49

Am I allowing, through personal humility and self-giving, God to be glorified in my life? It is a hope I hold in my day-to-day living. But looking back, I see that humility and self-giving are two attributes (among many) that need attention, pruning, and prayer.