Friday, June 29, 2012

Let us Pray for our Nation.

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Wis 1:13-15, 23-24/ 2Cor 8:7, 9, 13-15/ Mk 5:21-43

As we prepare to celebrate the birthday of our nation on July 4th, it is fitting to reflect on the brave men and women who laid the foundation for the United States of America, a country built on freedom under God. When I was young I read every biography I could on those who sacrificed for this dream--legends such as Nathan Hale, Deborah Samson, John and Abigail Adams, Betsy Ross, Patrick Henry, Paul Revere, George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and so many others.

I also loved to study the lives of those who fought for dream that all are created equal--working to give dignity to each and every person who called this country home. Susan B. Anthony, Jane Addams, Lucretia Mott, Alice Hamilton, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Abraham Lincoln, Helen Keller, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and oh, so many others. I was inspired by their lives--their struggles of growing up in turbulent times--yet somehow a spark was lit in them propelling them into action as a voice for those who could not speak. Our country has a long line of heroes who took a stand and boldly worked to better the world.

Our Church also celebrates such heroes--we call them saints. These reformers and brave souls throughout time, standing up amid times of great turmoil, as a voice for truth. Saints such as Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Edith Stein, Maximilian Kolbe, Francis of Assisi, Catherine of Siena, and so many more. Many suffered the death of a martyr for being beacons of light in times of darkness.

What is the difference between those who stand in the shadows and those who boldly step forth and act? For those with faith, it is the assurance that Christ is always with them--for we know we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. The Gospel illustrates such faith--both in the hemorrhaging woman and in Jarius. It also illustrates the compassion of Christ towards those who are often considered society's outcasts.

It is a lesson for us to reflect on as we approach the Fourth of July. The Declaration of Independence reminds us that:

We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

As a society it may seem that we have lost our way. Abortion, loss of family values, domestic violence, pornography, poverty, violence, substance abuse, representatives who are more interested in special interest groups than their constituents, and other ills of our day are indicators that somehow, we have lost vision of a land where Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness--or blessedness--is key.

As citizens, it is our responsibility to uphold the virtues and vision of the framers of nation. We cannot be silent as our rights are being eroded and our values are being thrashed. The Declaration also notes:

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,--that whenever any form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Our nation is a beacon of hope to others throughout the world. We have opened our arms to tired, weary, and poor throughout our history. Many of our ancestors came from such circumstances desiring to start a new life, who through the sweat of their brow and creative imaginations continue to build on the dream of our forefathers.

In honor of those who have gone before us, who fought valiantly to build and sustain our great nation, let us fly our flags and offer prayers of thanks. Let us also pray the leaders of our country and all her citizens remember we were founded as one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all--and continue to work to see that this dream is secured for generations to come.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Reality of the Fight

Running from June 21 through July 4, Bishops across the nation have called Catholics to pray and fast for our nation as part of the Fortnight for Freedom. In speaking to a group of Catholic School teachers and Catechists recently, I was shocked to realize that over 2/3 of those in attendance had not heard of the Fortnight and were unaware of the threat to our religious liberties that the US Government's Human Health and Services (HHS) Mandate imposes. Even sadder was the lack of alarm or flat out care. This air of apathy is not unique to the particular group gathered, but plays out across parishes and communities as the Bishops sound the clarion regarding this threat to our Constitutional right of freedom of religion.

Blessed John Paul II in his document on Religious Freedom (Dignitatis Humanae) writes:

The protection and promotion of the inviolable rights of man ranks among the essential duties of government. Therefore government is to assume the safeguard of the religious freedom of all its citizens, in an effective manner, by just laws and by other appropriate means (DH, 6).

Some may feel the Church has no rights in this fight--after all, what about the separation of Church and State? George Washington, Father of our Country wrote that: "It is impossible to rightly govern a nation without God and the Bible."

The writers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution felt so strongly about our right to freely practice our faith that they included a Bill of Rights to accompany the Constitution--of which the First Amendment guarantees:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The proposed HHS Mandate, as it stands, forces religious institutions to pay for health insurance covering items which go against the very teachings and fiber of the faith. This is a direct conflict of the First Amendment--we cannot freely practice our faith if we are going to be fined or penalized if we do not comply with laws that are cause for sin.

The Bishops have taken a stance. As leaders and shepherds of the faithful, we should  look to them for guidance and leadership. Instead, what I am finding, are Catholics who are so poorly formed in their faith that their 'opinions' are the foundation of their beliefs--the Truth of the Jesus Christ as proclaimed by the Church is no of importance. Society lives by the mantra, "As long as I am happy, it must be okay"--and many Catholics buy into that hook, line, and sinker.

Abraham Lincoln, in reflecting on the state of the nation as the threat of Civil War loomed, said "Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves." I pray his words do not come true. Our government leaders, despite how they are trying to sugar-coat it, are denying Catholics and others of faith who cannot, by reason of faith, support contraception, abortion, and other morally offensive items in the HHS Mandate, their rights to freely practice their religion.

Edith Stein (St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross) called out to the women of pre-World War II Germany saying, "The nations doesn't simply need what we have. It needs what we are." These words ring true for us today. The nation and the Church needs Catholics who will stand for Truth; who will stand for freedom. Will we stand among the silent ones as our freedoms are slowly eroded away, or will we stand up and be a voice for all those who have shed their blood over the decades so that others may be free?

I want to close with one of my favorite quotes from Teddy Roosevelt as he spoke in 1910 at the Sorbonne in Paris on Citizenship in a Republic. Let these words inspire us as we pray about how we can be a voice to protect the freedoms for which our forefathers so bravely fought:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

St. Michael the Archangel, pray for us!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Christ within Us

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ez 17:22-24/1Cor 5:6-10/Mk 4:26-43

On Friday the Church celebrated the Feast of the Sacred Heart (June 15). I have two Holy Cards on my desk next to my phone. One is of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the other is of Our Lady of Sorrows. Whenever I get one of 'those' phone calls--you know--the ones that really get to you--I gaze at these two cards and remember the great love Our Blessed Mother and Our Lord have for me. They were willing to suffer all, to offer up all, for me. Each call us to a life of love and holiness, reminding us that the path to heaven is not paved with gold or a life of ease, but one of passion, compassion, and humility--a life lived for others. This gives me the strength to carry on, reminding me to find Christ in others so that they may see Christ in me.

The readings this Sunday speak to the faith that we are called to have. We do not all start out as saints--but we are all called to be saints. Mark's Gospel notes that "faith is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade." Holiness is attractive. We are drawn to those who lead lives of faith. Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Blessed John Paul II are but two modern day examples of such lives.

I remember when the doctor placed each of our children in my arms as new born babes. Fresh from the womb, I was in awe of the miracle God had given my husband and me. So innocent and totally dependent on us, as parents we planted the seeds of faith in each. First, by having them baptized and then by taking them to Mass, teaching them their prayers, celebrating the traditions of our faith, participating in the Sacramental life of the Church, educating them, teaching them discipline and the moral life, and most importantly, by sharing our own faith through word and example. Each with their own personality--the seeds of faith were nurtured with great love so that they too, would know the God who loves them so.

Our children are now grown. It is amazing to see how each has blossomed. It is also comforting to know that God is still at work in each one of them as well as within my husband and me. Through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we are drawn into life in Christ which brings the greatest joy, happiness, and freedom that one can know. It is this happiness and yearning for more that draws us onward, searching ever more intensely for the One who loves us so. Ultimately our greatest desire will be quenched when we at last enter into eternal beatitude and happiness with Him forever in heaven. That is why it is so important to me that my children have faith.

Just like a tree that plants its roots deep into the ground so that it may grow tall, the roots of faith must grow deep within so that we can rise above the din and noise of the world, standing strong but also to allow Christ's light to shine brightly from us as a beacon for others who are in search of true happiness and peace.

Keeping with the imagery of a tree, I want to leave with a quote from St. Teresa of Avila, who reminds us how important it is to stay near Christ as we maneuver through this world, so that we may be blessed abundantly:

"The tree that is beside the running water is fresher and gives more fruit."

Let us go forth and bear great fruit, all for the glory and praise of God!

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Source and Summit of Christian Life

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches the Eucharist is the "Source and summit of the Christian life (CCC, #1324). As Catholics, we are drawn to the altar, to be fed on the Word and the Eucharist, empowered through the Holy Spirit go out and proclaim the Good News to all who have ears.

 The Lord is clear in Scripture:

Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink (John 6:53-55).

And then at the Last Supper:

Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins (Mt 26:26-28).

I find it hard to interpret the text for anything other than what it states: the Eucharist we receive at Mass is radically changed through transubstantiation into Divine Food (the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ). The Eucharist feeds us, and empowered by the Spirit, allows us to go forth to live as Christ's witnesses in the world. Add to the fact that Jesus began His statement with the phrase, "Amen, amen" which, loosely translates to "Listen up!"--there is no doubt that this is foundational to our faith.

When I meditate on the words of Scripture and think about what I receive in the Eucharist, I am brought to tears. I have a degree in chemistry--so looking at this at a molecular level I realize how profound a gift is the Eucharist.

Jesus loves me enough to humble Himself to not only come down as an infant and ultimately die on the Cross for me, but continues to incarnate Himself in the bread and wine of the Eucharist. When I receive His Most Precious Body and Blood, I am receiving Him. When I ingest Him, He becomes part of my very fiber. His Blood mingles with mine. His Flesh becomes enmeshed in mine. In essence, His Being is co-mingled with my being. He becomes bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh. I become, in reality, a Living Tabernacle--a sacred house for Christ. To think of it another way, I become a Living Sacrament--an outward sign, instituted by Christ, of an inward reality that Jesus is alive in the world and acting in and through me.

When you think of the Eucharist in this sense, I think it compels us to live differently, to think differently. Contemplating this more deeply, we see how our love and will can become transformed if we are open to the reality of the Eucharist--the Divine Indwelling--who is dwelling in us!

Let this Feast of Corpus Christi--the Body and Blood of Christ--fill us with awe and wonder as we pray and meditate on how Christ is calling each of us to be His Divine Presence in the world. I want to close with the words of St. Therese of Lisieux, who wrote:

Our Lord does not come down from Heaven every day to lie in a golden ciborium. He comes to find another heaven which is infinitely dearer to him - the heaven of our souls, created in His Image, the living temples of the Adorable Trinity. --Saint Thérèse of Lisieux

Let us always remember who we are, created in His Divine Image acting as His Divine agents in the world!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Are You a Witness for Jesus?

Feast of the Most Holy Trinity
Dt 4:32-34, 39-40/Rom 8:14-17/Mt 28:16-20

This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity. Following the descent of theHoly Spirit at Pentecost, it is fitting we celebrate God the Father, who through the Power of the Holy Spirit and the ‘yes’ of Mary, incarnated the Word of God in Jesus, His Son, who on the Cross breathed His last, sending forth the Spirit to descend on those gathered in the Upper Room at Pentecost. God the Father, Son, andHoly Spirit Holy--the Holy Trinity--are One God.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells those gathered to: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” We become disciples and children of God through Trinitarian baptism. The command, given to those gathered with Jesus prior to His ascension is the command all disciples are given today.

As disciples, we have been commanded to go and make disciples—to baptize and teach, that is to evangelize and catechize. How do we do this? Through our witness of Christ's transforming action in our lives, we have come to know Him profoundly, love Him intimately, and serve Him selflessly. By this we are thus propelled to go and witness this to the world.

The dictionary notes that a witness is one who:

  • Gives a first-hand account of something seen, heard, or experienced
  • Testifies or gives testimony
  • Is present to or has personal knowledge of
  • Furnishes or serves as evidence
  • Testifies to one’s religious beliefs

I read a bumper sticker not too long ago that asked, “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would they have enough to convict you?” Interesting question, isn’t it? How do others know that Christ is central to our lives? Can they tell by our thoughts, words, and actions? Can they tell by our beliefs and conduct?

If we are called to give testimony or personal knowledge of Christ to others, how do we do that? How do we ‘furnish’ as personal ‘evidence’ our knowledge of Christ? Do we know Jesus well enough to know what He preached and taught?

To be a witness is to testify in all truthfulness what we have seen. To ‘see’ Jesus, we must be in personal relationship with Him. To know Him, we must be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit who will lead us to Him. Prayer and worship, receiving the sacraments, and living a virtuous life help us to grow as disciples so we can give witness, through word and action, of Christ alive in our lives. True disciples cannot sit silent, for the love of Christ that fills them compels them to go forth. The mission of Christ for the salvation of all souls becomes our urgent mission as well.

I have been part of many discussions recently over the issue of religious freedom. It is interesting how many love Jesus, but aren’t willing to take a public stand to defend their right to worship Him. It is a mystery to me how many claim to be believers, yet practice lifestyles and choices that are contrary to what Jesus taught, let alone reduce Jesus to nothing more than a definition of love that renders His power useless and impotent. Remember, the Lord told those gathered at the Sermon on the Mount, “I did not come to abolish the Law or the prophets, but rather, to fulfill it” (Mt 5:17). Disciples cannot distort the teachings of Jesus to suit their own wants and needs. Believers cannot recreate the Word of God to conform to today’s culture and society. If we love Jesus, we love all that He preached and taught, as well as the Church He left behind to carry out His mission.

May the love of Christ be with and in you and may the Power of the Holy Spirit give you the strength, courage, and conviction to go forth and make disciples, being witness to the Gospel message as we call all to fullness of life through Christ and His Church.