Tag Archives: sacrament

Remain in Me

Before meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul was “breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord,” and yet today we remember him as a great evangelizer and prolific New Testament writer. What happened? Nothing less than an inbreaking of divine grace.

For the powers of humanity, there are a great many situations that are beyond hope: souls that have been irrevocably corrupted, systems that are beyond repair. But for God, no one is beyond hope. No matter how hardened a person, God can break through any barriers to offer them mercy and an opportunity for transformation. He stopped Paul right in his murderous path, turned him away from Damascus and out into all the world a changed man. He channeled Paul’s zeal toward its natural, rightly ordered purpose: building up the Kingdom of God. In the same way, our own human purpose can only be understood through an encounter with the divine.

Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood remains in me and I in him (John 6:56).
Jesus has given Himself to us in the Eucharist as an opportunity for encounter with Him, that we too might be transformed by His grace. He instituted this sacrament so that we might share a radical intimacy with Him. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati understood this deeply—he received Communion daily, meeting Jesus every morning and carrying Him throughout the rest of the day. This is the key to his sanctity: not Pier Giorgio’s own goodness, but his openness to divine grace, to deep intimacy with and vulnerability before God.

“I urge you with all the strength of my soul to approach the Eucharist Table as often as possible. Feed on this Bread of the Angels from which you will draw the strength to fight inner struggles.”
—Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

Conversione_di_san_Paolo_September_2015-1aThe great things that Paul achieved after his conversion stemmed from this intense closeness with God and awareness of God’s perfect love. This is what opened Paul’s heart to allow God to work through him rather than imposing his own will. When the scales fell from his eyes and he saw his life with sudden clarity, he fell to his knees in humility before God. Throughout the rest of his life, as he wrote and preached and converted a great many souls, he was ever aware that it was all due to God working in him: It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me (Galatians 2:20). Paul knew all too well the cold, cruel man he would be without God, and thus he was able to recognize that any good fruits that flowed from his work were not due to his own power or talent or goodness, but from Jesus Christ working through him.


1. Domenico Morelli, Conversion of Saint Paul / PD-US
2. Caravaggio, The Conversion of Saint Paul / PD-US

Originally posted at Frassati Reflections.

The Sanctifying Cross of Marriage

Mark 10:1-12

In this Gospel passage, Jesus talks about Divorce.

Growing up I never thought much about the sacredness of married life. My family was pretty much dysfunctional (this MIGHT be an understatement) and I never thought much about the importance of family — in fact I detested it.

I (shamefully) remember asking my mom one birthday — it was my 7th — for her to divorce my dad as my birthday gift. I did not think it would be a problem — after all, when someone is aggressive to you daily, you leave him… right?

To that she gave a response I’ll never forget for the rest of my life: “This is a cross I must carry.”
Honestly, I thought she was mad for wanting to endure this hardship.

On hindsight, that was her living out her vows of marriage and that planted in me a seed of perseverance and faithfulness to God. It was the wisest thing anyone ever said to me.

The Pharisees quoted the mosaic law and questioned why Moses allowed for divorce. But Jesus explained that God’s intention for our state in life — whether married or single — was to be saints.

“Marriage of Mary and Joseph.” From an early 1900s Marriage Certificate.

Being a saint entails that we rely on the power of God to overcome hardship before we rely on the power of man.
Moses had only permitted divorce because of the hardness of their hearts.
Male and female are indissolubly united in one flesh in marriage — a sacred and binding union — until death.

Marriage vows are so sacred, and such exemplars of what it means to love truly — you vow to love unconditionally every single moment of every single day, you vow to give yourself totally for the good of the other person. THAT is true love.

After all, from a Theology of the Body (TOB) lens, our entire faith is based on the idea of God wanting to marry us! He — in the person of Jesus Christ — is the groom and we the Church are His bride; the cross the “nuptial bed”. Just like how Jesus was humble to death  on the cross, couples must learn to adjust in humility for the marriage to grow and experience success. Many failures in marriages are due to:
– lack of humility
– stubbornness
– lack of prayer life

Back to my mom: she may not be educated in theology or the doctrines of the Church. But she is (sure as sure can be) in possession of the Truth and I believe that she is the epitome of what it means to take up your cross and follow Jesus.

Prayers for all my married friends, that you realize that God has called you to be saints in your vocation as married people, and may God grant you the graces to be faithful to the end.

___

Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.

The Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

By guest writer Victor R. Claveau, MJ.

Let me tell you a story that will illustrate one of the many reasons why the Catholic Church teaches that Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

Not long ago, I was invited to address the Bible and Philosophy students at a Protestant High School. The teacher and I were to meet a few days before I was to speak to the students, to get to know one another and to discuss the schedule. We met on a Sunday evening at 5:30 pm.

A few minutes after I arrived at his home, the doorbell rang, and four other people entered. As it turned out, these people were the teacher’s pastor, the pastor’s wife, and two other teachers. I was a little taken aback by the circumstances as the teacher did not tell me that he had invited other guests.

After brief introductions, our host invited his friends to ask me questions about the Catholic religion.

As I began to answer their questions, one of the teachers interjected time and again trying to explain the Protestant position. After two or three interruptions, I finally said, ‘Everyone here, including me, knows what you believe, now is your chance to find out what the Catholic Church really teaches and the foundations for those beliefs. I did not come here to argue but am willing to explain and possibly build a bridge between us.’

From then on, we had a worthwhile dialogue.

I had been answering their questions for almost three hours when the Pastor’s wife posed the question: ‘Why do you believe that you are really eating Jesus when you have communion in your church?’

Thank you for the question,” I said. “Let me try to explain by asking you a few questions.

Who created the universe?” I asked.

“God”, she answered.

“And how did God create?” I asked further.

“He spoke,” she answered.

“Right,” I said, “now let’s look at the Book of Genesis, Chapter 1:1-30 and follow along with me as I read.” Then I read the following passages.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light”, (Genesis 1:1-4)

“What happened when God said, ‘Let there be light’,” I asked.

“There was light”, she answered.

“Yes,” I said, “in verse 4 it says that ‘there was light.’ God spoke and there was light”.

And God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” And God made the firmament and separated the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament. And it was so (Genesis 1:6-7).

And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so (Genesis 1:9).

And God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, upon the earth.” And it was so (Genesis 1:11).

And God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years and let them be lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so (Genesis 1:14-15)

And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so (Genesis 1:24).

And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so (Genesis 1-29-30).

In each of these creation accounts,” I said, “God declared something to be and ‘It was so.’”

Let’s go to the Book of Isaiah.” ‘So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it’ (Isaiah 55:11).

“Doesn’t this passage indicate that whenever God declares something to be, then it becomes a reality at that instant?” I asked.

“Yes,” she agreed.

I went on.

“In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus said to the fig tree ‘May no fruit ever come from you again!’ And the fig tree withered at once (21:19). Isn’t that correct?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“When the hemorrhaging women reached out through the crowd and touched Jesus’ cloak, she was healed by her faith. ‘And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone forth from him, immediately turned about in the crowd, and said, ‘Who touched my garments?’ (Mark 5:30). Jesus had the power to heal.

“When Jesus said to the adulterous woman that her sins were forgiven, were they in fact forgiven?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“Jesus withered the fig tree, healed the hemorrhaging woman, and forgave the adulterous woman. How could he do this?” I asked.

And the Pastor’s wife answered, “Because Jesus is God.”

“Yes, of course,’ I said, “we all believe that Jesus is God and as God He has no limitations.”

Then I went on to further explain:

“And Jesus (God) said, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51).

“And Jesus (God) said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever” (John 6:53-58).

“And Jesus (God) said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many” (Mark 14:22-24).

During the Last Supper, Jesus held bread in His sacred hands and declared that the bread was in fact His Body.

“Who. Not what, was Jesus holding in his hands at that moment?” I asked.

There was a pregnant silence for a few seconds, before the pastor’s wife said, “Himself”.

I pressed on and asked, “Who. Not what, was Jesus holding in His hands when He declared the contents of the cup to be His Blood?”

“Himself” She answered.

“Yes,” I said, “He actually gave His Body and Blood to the Apostles to eat and drink. Certainly, this is a mystery, one of the greatest mysteries in the history of the world. These elements still looked and tasted like bread and wine, but in fact they had become in reality Jesus’ Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, simply because, as God, He declared them to be so.

“‘Christ held Himself in His hands when He gave His body to His disciples.”

I felt as though I was on a roll, so I said, “Let me explain further”.

“Jesus went on to say, ‘Do this in memory of me’. What did He mean by the word ‘this’?

“He had just changed bread and wine into His Body and Blood, and He commanded His Apostles to do the same. At that moment Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Priesthood, and during the Mass, when a duly ordained priest says the same words Jesus spoke, the Holy Spirit changes bread and wine into the reality of Jesus’ Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.

“The faith of the Apostolic and early Church in the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Eucharist is attested by the words of Saint Paul and the Fathers; by the discipline of the Secret: the symbols and illustrations found in the catacombs. The fact that the Church from the very beginning believed in the Real Presence proves that the doctrine must have been delivered to her by her Founder.

___

Victor R. Claveau, MJ has been a full-time Catholic evangelist since 1989 and is a graduate of the Diocese of Melbourne School of Evangelization. As the Director of Catholic Footsteps “The Evangelization Station” in Angels Camp, California, he has lectured on Catholic belief and evangelization both nationally and internationally.

God, The Father of Mercies

Have you ever had that experience of walking away from the Sacrament of Reconciliation with an almost overwhelming sense of guilt? A sense of, “Do I really deserve to be forgiven?” Considering we are taught that those who believe in Christ commit a greater crime than those who wanted him crucified when we sin (CCC 598), this free flowing sense of guilt is almost to be expected. But such a feeling is misplaced and could only exist alongside an incomplete understanding of this great sacrament.

In order to understand this particular gift of reconciliation, we must first try to understand the effects of sin. In its most basic form, sin separates us from God, both physically and spiritually. In the case of mortal sin, “it results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace … it causes exclusion from Christ’s Kingdom and the eternal death of hell” (CCC 1861). You only need to interact with the world on a superficial level to see that sin “ makes men accomplices of one another and causes concupiscence, violence and injustice to reign among them.” Arguably the gravest consequences of sin lay in its proliferation: “Sin creates a proclivity to sin … [it] corrupts the concrete judgement of good and evil.” (CCC 1865). An often overlooked facet of sin, however, lies in the effect it has on the Body Of Christ: The Church.

Sin wounds the unity of the Body of Christ (CCC 817) and through our own individual actions we have the capability to directly wound The Church (CCC 1422). Have you ever considered that your sins could wound the entire Church? It’s one thing to acknowledge your actions have a direct effect on those near to you, but we are taught that our actions have a direct effect on the entire Body of Christ. Confessing your sins to a priest may seem the obvious way to reconcile yourself to God, and to remove the gulf of separation that prevents communion with God, but how could you possibly go about reconciling yourself to the entire Body of Christ? Is it even possible to heal a wound that you inflict on an organic entity consisting of millions of individual believers? The answer lies in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

“Reconciliation with the Church is inseparable from reconciliation with God.” (CCC 1445). Take a few moments to read this quotation again. When we are reconciled with God (through the Sacrament of Reconciliation), we are at that moment reconciled with the Church. Not just with our parish or with our local church community, but with the entire body of believers. A single individual is so intrinsically woven into the fabric of the Body of Christ, that when one approaches the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the entire Church prays for the sinner and does penance with him (CCC 1448). If this wasn’t enough (it should be), we as individuals, and the entire Church, actually walk away from the Sacrament in an inherently better state: reconciliation. We are spiritually made stronger by exchange of spiritual goods among all the living members of the Body Of Christ (CCC 1469).

We are brought back into communion with God and with the entire body of believers. All wounds are healed, and both the individual and the entire Church are made stronger as a result. We are “reconciled with all creation.” (CCC 1469). St Paul epitomized the above in his seemingly paradoxical statement to the Corinthians: “For whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

How could we ever walk away from this wondrous sacrament and feel anything other than “pardon and peace”? The Sacrament of Reconciliation is nothing other than a perfect expression of unadulterated love, and I pray that each one of us leaves our next confession with a desire to share this love with others.

Book Review: The Curious Little Catholic Series

When I first heard of the new Curious Little Catholic series I jumped for joy. As the mother of a two year old and a 14 month old, I am always looking for ways to enrich their faith lives and especially look for Catholic items and toys to bring to Mass (I’d let my kids sprinkle Lourdes holy water everywhere during Mass before I’d let them bring in a Ninja Turtle or My Little Pony figurine). What Annemarie Thimons and her mother, illustrator Nancy Rosato-Nuzzo, have created is nothing short of pure, majestic, simple beauty.

Currently the series contains two titles – What is the Eucharist? and What is a Sacrament? – with a third title to be released this summer. Honest to goodness, I got the chills just gazing upon the book covers. In each book, Annemarie weaves simple explanations of these fundamentals of our faith, with the aid of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, to paint a complete understanding that the tiniest Catholics will comprehend. She also includes a relevant Scripture verse on each page, short enough for small children to memorize with ease.

CLC Eucharist

Nancy’s illustrations are flawless. Her depictions of simple, familiar scenes with complex details had me gazing in wonder and awe with every page turn. The layered beauty in her illustrations serves to continually reveal the depths of our faith and of God to the youngest and oldest readers alike.

I positively could not find a single flaw with either of these books. They are the perfect blend of orthodoxy, simplicity, familiarity, and relatability. The most moving moment for me came near the beginning of What is the Eucharist?. Annemarie explains the Eucharist as the hidden Jesus and compares it to a baby hidden in his mother’s womb. In one illustration, Nancy depicts the bread and grapes in the forefront of a shadow of the Cross and in the next depicts the baby hidden in his mother’s womb. It was at this moment I began crying with joy and gratefulness. In these two pages alone Annemarie and Nancy shout the dignity of life at every stage and in every circumstance, affirm the immense majesty of the gift of Jesus Christ’s Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, and showcase the Eucharist as truly the source and summit of the Christian life.

In Eucharist, Annemarie further explains what the Eucharist is, when we receive it, and even explains the beauty and purpose of adoration. In Sacrament, she explains what a sacrament is and then what each individual one is, means, and what graces they confer on us or help us to prepare for.

In all, this series is not to be missed. If you have small children, you do not just need these books for your collection, you need these as a centerpiece of your children’s faith formation. If you don’t have kids or don’t have young kids, buy these books anyway – I guarantee that they will enrich your faith life. The age recommendation for the series is three and up (preschool), but my two year old, who sees the Cross in the stitching on our couch and cries, “Jesus!”, adores these books. A favorite moment while we were reading was when she pointed to an illustration of the crucifix and said, “Jesus on cross” and then pointed to an illustration of the Eucharist and said, “Jesus look like bread!” Yes, I have found the perfect addition to our “Mass bag” and to our daily reading and prayer times.

The books can be purchased from their website: www.curiouslittlecatholic.com. I absolutely cannot wait for Annemarie and Nancy to create new titles in the series!

*I received copies of each book for the purpose of writing a review.*

Do Not Fear Gay Marriage

There has been a lot of turmoil over the religious freedom law recently passed in Indiana. Religious freedom activists across the board are celebrating this “step towards religious freedom” while gay “marriage” proponents are in the throes of proclaiming this the end of the world.

It’s the same old run-around that always happens when such a bill is proposed, backed, voted on, or passed. This time, for some reason, it struck me as odd that Catholics seem so surprised by this step.

Perhaps we should be surprised. The law was established by a worldly government, which is (I admit) rather shocking.

However, I don’t think Catholics should be surprised when traditional marriage “wins” a battle. The fact is, the truth will always prevail. What’s more, the traditional marriage debate is not new ground for the Catholic Church. In fact, this is old squat as far as the Church is concerned.

Don’t believe me?

Let’s take a quick tour through Church history:Saint-valentine-history-lovers-2

St. Valentine. St. Valentine died defending the Catholic view of marriage. In fact, Valentine was sentenced to a three-part execution consisting of beating, stoning, and finally decapitation because of his stand for Catholic marriage. That was in AD 269.

St. Augustine. In AD 410, Augustine wrote a work entitled Of the Good of Marriage in which he defends the Catholic understanding of marriage. He states: “it is observed, that there be no lying with other man or woman, out of the bond of wedlock.” Want to know why St. Augustine wrote this work? Because there was an attack on the good of traditional, Catholic marriage. Now, this attack came in the form of a monk claiming that there was no difference in merit between celibate marriages and conjugal marriages, so a bit different to what we’re facing today. This point serves to prove, however, that the Church is not only used to defending and fighting for marriage — it has done so in multiple fashions, against various onslaughts, and has always won.

Pedro de Corpa, Blas Rodríguez, Miguel de Añon, Antonio de Badajóz, and Francisco de Veráscola. These Spanish missionaries were martyred in September of 1597 by the natives in Florida who, as polygamists, could not accept the Catholic teaching of a life-long union between 1 man and 1 woman.

Or, look at scripture. Why was John the Baptist killed? Because he stood for traditional marriage, calling out Herod for an adulterous relationship.

There are other examples, but I think I’ve made my point. We’re seasoned veterans at this. Defending traditional marriage is nothing new for the Church. Every time the world thinks it has found a new course to take, a new argument to make, it hasn’t. The Church has been there before, done it in the past, fought this fight, and will continue to do so with more experience and grace than the “other side” will ever have to offer.

So, we as Catholics, need to have greater faith and trust in the institution Christ left us.

Pope Benedict XVI issued a year of faith two years ago. We were not called to renew or strengthen our faith for just that one year. Rather, it was a call to radically transform our faith into something that does not fear in the face of evil, and does not falter when faced with challenges. We may very well be martyred for our defense of traditional marriage, but the “blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church,” and our sacrifice will only serve to strengthen the teachings of the Church and the faith of its faithful. We can trust that our sacrifice will not be for nothing; the righteous position will prevail because it always has and always will.

This battle is just that: a battle in the war of Good against Evil. This battle is not the war itself. We already know how the war ends. Christ won it. He overcame the culture of death in the very act we are in the midst of celebrating this week. In His cross and resurrection, He defeated death and sin and all of the cultural manifestations that come with it. His Church will always stand through trials because she is the bride of Christ, Son of the Father, Lord of the Universe.

Pope Saint John Paul II once said, “we are the Easter people and ‘alleluia’ is our song!” We must proclaim this to ourselves: we are the Easter people. Our entire faith is based on the belief that we will rise above sin and death, as individuals and as a faithful community. Our entire life should be one of celebration, hope, and joy in the resurrection of Christ: the defeat of sin and evil and its clutches on humanity by the Lord who loves His people enough to die on a cross for them.

Our Lord will not abandon His people. If we have faith in that, we can have hope in the eternal happiness He has ordained for us. If we have hope, we will have the love for our neighbor necessary to witness to the truth, bring about conversion, and ultimately, uphold the Church that for 2000 years has stood fast against the culture of death we fear so much.

This is not to say that worldly law does not have a place. Nor do I think we should cease at incremental legislation that will protect our faith and motivate authentic justice. Simply put, we ought to distinguish between Caesar’s law and the deposit of Truth that is the Catholic Church. Just because laws do or do not uphold a specific teaching does not mean that the Church is no longer the receptacle of Truth that will prevail in winning over the culture. This means that when a law is passed, whatever the outcome, we should not fear or become despondent, but remain calm and joyful in the presence of our Lord who has already won the war.

Gay “marriage” will threaten, snarl, huff and puff, but we should not fear. For, upon this rock Christ built His Church. It will not fall simply because evil huffs and puffs a little louder.

Our Lord is with us, and if He is with us, who could possibly stand against us? Let us abide by Pope Saint John Paul II’s famous words: Be not afraid!

Six Reasons It’s Totally Fine to Never Get Married, a Response to Huffington Post

The Huffington Post recently released an article titled “10 Reasons It’s Totally Fine to Never Get Married.”  The reasons are as bad as you might be thinking. Reasons like:

– “For men, being married could be connected to being overweight.”
– “Most people aren’t in a hurry to get married anymore.”
– “Marriage can present a slew of financial problems.”
– “Getting married can put your friendships at risk.”
– “Marriage can lead to the risky habit of relying on one individual for every emotional need.”
– “These days, a happy marriage requires a serious commitment of time and energy that can be hard to maintain”
– “And, as dim as it sounds, plenty of marriages in this country end up in a divorce anyway.”
– “Plus, there’s a good alternative to marriage. It’s called a civil union or a domestic partnership.”

In other words:

– You might gain weight.
– Make decisions based on data and the status quo.
– You have to spend money on someone besides yourself.
– You might actually spend time with the person you married, and less time with the people you didn’t.
– Who likes relying on people? That’s risky!
– Commitment is boring and requires effort, which is lame.
– Other people give up, you could too.
– Marriage requires legal commitment, and that’s a lot to think about. Instead of commiting your whole person to someone else, just use this half-hearted alternative that gives you some legal benefits.

This is what we are up against. Are the reasons here something that couples should consider? Sure, of course. Marriage does require commitment and energy, and you do have to weigh every decision for two (or more if you have little ones) people including eating habits, finances, and how much time you want to spend with your friends. But these aren’t reasons that make it “totally fine” to never get married.

Our self-asorbed society is an embarrassment, and not only that, but it blunders one of the greatest institutions of mankind: the complete, selfless, and unequivocal giving of oneself to another. Yes, marriage is difficult at times, but it is worth so much more than these asinine reasons. The level of reward received from marriage triumphs over these selfish and childish reasons.

The problem with the list they have created is that it missed the entire point of marriage: the other person. When you get married, you say in a number of words or deeds, “I will do whatever it takes to make you happy.” Didn’t they watch Frozen?

oLAF

The bass-ackwards philosophy of our culture, though, tells us we have to make decisions that only benefit us. Where is the honor in that? If that is the way people are making decisions, then yes, please do not get married!

As awful and wrong as the writers often are at Huffington Post, the issue is not that they said people shouldn’t get married. There are people who shouldn’t be married. The issue is that they start from the wrong material end, ergo their reasons are half-hearted.

There are also good reasons people who can marry, should wait.  Here are the real reasons why you might want to wait, or never get married at all.

– You’re a priest.
– You’re already married!
– You aren’t open to having children.
– You’re not ready to commit entirely.
– You’re not ready to share a legal and financial life with someone else.
– You are currently discerning a call to the consecrated life, be it hermit, priest, nun, etc.
– You’re “unequally yoked”, in other words, you have a mixed marriage. Though the Church grants these, the Catechism says much on the topic and of its discernment, “difficulties of mixed marriages must not be underestimated” (CCC 1633).

I’m sure there are more. Again, the problem is not that the original author suggested someone shouldn’t get married, the problem is in their social philosophy. To the author, marriage better benefit the user, or else, what’s the point?

The point of marriage is not to be loved, but to love. Love though, has a way of reciprocating itself, so that the more you love your spouse, the more you will be loved in return.

In Defense of “Marriage is Work”

Simcha Fisher responded to my article.

Simcha Fisher.

I was thrilled to hear that I’d gotten the attention of Mrs. Fisher and that she had not only read my piece, but had decided that it was good enough – or bad enough – to merit a response on her part.

After reading her response and the responses of others in the comments, I reread my original post and decided that a couple of things needed to happen on my end.

I need to rectify, clarify, and apologize for a couple of things, in the hope that the meaning and intention of my words might not be forever lost in the web of the internet.

First, I must admit, that when I wrote my article I did so with the humble intention of sharing a reflection I had. I never once meant it to be a prideful suggestion that I and my fiancé are perfect. Yet, rereading it, I can see where a certain amount of hubris came across. I was – and am – definitely mortified at the idea that the vast world wide web read my piece with any ere of pride or conceit. I ask your apology if it came off that way, and I thank you, wonderful readers, commenters, Simcha Fisher, for bringing to light the idea that I may have come off as prideful of my own abilities and those of my soon-to-be husband.

Thank you.

However, with the suggested – though wholly unintended – hubris aside, I have to address an issue which has arisen from my previous post. Most, if not all, of the critiques were in the form of “you can’t know that your husband will never cheat.”

My mom tells a story of a conversation she once had with my uncle as my sister and I were approaching our teenage and high school years. My uncle, meaning well, and having gone through this before my mom, told my mom to expect that my sister and I would somehow become involved in drinking, drugs, or promiscuity. It would happen. It just does. That’s what happens in the teenage years. My mother responded that her daughters would never have those issues.

My uncle replied that my mom could not know that, she didn’t know what trials we would face in the future, and that she ought to be prepared. She could hope that wouldn’t be our problem, but she couldn’t know it. My mother disagreed. She knew her daughters. She knew how they’d been raised. She knew our relationship and our family and she knew that those problems were not coming our way.

Oh, doubtless other problems would come our way, and they did. But not those problems. We struggled with depression, loneliness, anger, disobedience, and disrespect. But my sister and I never became entangled in the web of promiscuity, drinking, and drugs which my uncle seemed to believe were so unavoidable for teenagers. My mom knew that ahead of time and she knew it in the deepest recesses of her soul where reason doesn’t touch, but isn’t needed. And she was right.

Likewise, I have no doubt that my husband and I will have plenty of problems. We will hurt one another, abuse one another, sin against one another, and of this I have no doubt. We will face trials, we won’t like each other very much at times, we won’t always get along, and occasionally I will flat out wish he lived in a different state. I understand this. We’ve already let each other down, hurt, and sinned against one another too many times to count. How many confessions have I gone to and cried over the hurt I’ve inflicted on him and in his life?

Of course one cannot know the future, in the sense of having 100 percent certainty. I suppose there is even some infinitesimal chance that the sun will not rise tomorrow, and it is certainly much more dicey to predict human behavior.  However, sometimes there are things that people can know, in the sense of having tremendous confidence in others. We express such confidence when we say, for example, “I would trust him with my life.” People can know things about their life, spouse, children, careers, friends, and family without a crystal ball. Sometimes people know themselves, they know their family, and they know God well enough to trust in complete confidence when something is or is not coming their way. Sometimes Christ can plant firmly in our souls knowledge or understanding of the character of another person that can give you such confidence.  Is it naïve for me to have this faith – this knowledge – in my future husband? No. Naïve to share it in the way that I did? Yes. That is probably knowledge that is better left between God, my husband, and me and should only come up when someone prompts it or asks. My apologies that I was rash in sharing it, but I am not rash in believing it.

I would like to address the original purpose of my article, which I fear was lost. My original purpose was to share a reflection and a deeper understanding I came to, which was prompted by my co-workers’ conversation. I wanted to grapple with and disprove the cultural notion that marriage is a sort of lottery. As Catholics, we believe that marriage is a sacrament. If it is a sacrament, then there must be some sort of promise or guarantee in it, for Christ makes promises to the world through the sacraments and we know that our God always keeps His promises. We also know that marriage is a vocation, one of three ways that people are meant to make it to Heaven. This means that humans can be called to it as a lifestyle in a unique way.

My point in bringing up the idea that marriage is an institution of work and prayer was the idea that it is in the exercise of these two faculties that we attain the promise of Christ in the sacrament. If God calls you to marriage, then He will not abandon you in your effort to live a joy-filled, love-filled, faith-filled marriage. This is what He wants for you. Thus, if we ascribe to the teachings of the Church, if we practice the sacrament and allow the grace of it to permeate our lives, then we can rest in confidence that God will not abandon us in our undertaking. That is what I meant when I said that we have a “faith that can make these promises.” The love of spouses was gifted to them by God at their baptism, and when acted out faithfully and continually, it is meant to bring a fullness of Christ’s love into the world. It was instilled at baptism, and man has a duty to nurture this love every day so that it can reflect Christ’s love fully.

I emphasized the importance of a return to God every day. I understand that people are weak and sinful creatures, but I here failed in communicating this understanding. I tried in my last paragraph when I referenced Pope John Paul II. The idea that we must return to God the gift of love He gave us was meant to be taken as a daily undertaking. The promises of marriage can only be met and fulfilled when we daily turn to God in our weakness and ask for His strength and grace. Christ knows how to nourish your heart better than you do, and if He placed into your heart a love that was meant solely for your spouse, then if you daily return your heart to Him, you will grow closer to your spouse because God will be hands-on nurturing the love you two share.

Finally, it is here that my reflection was prompted by my co-workers’ conversation. Their dialogue honestly made me sad, and I mourned for them that they cannot know the joy that is a faith-filled marriage based in The One who created the world. They do not have this experience with faith, nor do they have the idea of returning their hearts to Christ. Consequently, their marriages were based in the world and not in The One greater and stronger than them who could carry them through the rough times and nurture their love when they didn’t know how to. This honestly burdened me for several days before I wrote my article, and my article was meant, finally, to be a response of praise and thanksgiving to our Lord who gave me this faith, this love, this knowledge. My article was meant to be a challenge to Catholics to embrace the promise Christ gives us in the sacrament of marriage, and to respond whole-heartedly to the calling He has given you and the love He has instilled in you.

Not A Game of Chance: What Marriage is Really All About

“Yeah, I’m getting divorced too,” one of my co-workers replied to my boss the other day. The two ladies then exchanged stories about their horrible husbands and that “awful institution” called “marriage.”

Both of their husbands cheated on them, and both of them dealt with aID-100210227 multitude of other issues with their husbands that only served to add to the pain of their failed marriages. It was awful to hear what they went through, and I don’t blame them for feeling hurt by the whole experience.

“There’s so much of that out there!” my boss exclaimed. “I know one of my girlfriends who is cheating on her husband and I know a couple of other people where both of them are cheating. I guess you’re lucky if it doesn’t happen to you.”

Then my boss looked over at me and, knowing I’m engaged, said “sorry, but I never want to get married again.”

“No,” I wanted to say, “I’m sorry.”

But I didn’t get it out. I was too busy sorting through all of the reactions in my own head. I ended up remaining silent for the entire conversation because somehow I didn’t think that these women would understand.

I didn’t think they’d understand that if I said, “my fiancé and I are never going to have that issue” that my statement would be one of fact and confidence, not one of blind love and young bravado.

I didn’t think they’d understand what I mean if I said “marriage isn’t just a luck of the draw. It doesn’t work like a lottery.” Because, to them, it does, while for me, I know that it doesn’t.

Marriage isn’t a drawing of the straws, where if your spouse cheats on you, well, “sorry, you just drew the short straw. There’s nothing you could have done to prevent it!” It’s not an institution where if you are a strong, happy, and healthy couple you’re just “the lucky ones.” It’s not an institution where the fates decide who “wins” and who “loses.” It’s not a promise you enter into like buying a lottery ticket – someone will win the jackpot while most people just buy empty tickets.

Yet this is how our society has been trained to see marriage. This approach to marriage has so infiltrated our society that people refuse to believe that there should be anything like “marriage prep,” because how do you prep yourself for a game of chance? There’s no way of making yourself any luckier, so why are you bothering to work on it? Our society has abandoned the idea that marriage is something you work on, and even more so, it has forgotten, and thus doesn’t understand, that marriage is a calling.

It is a foreign concept that one would be able to say with complete confidence “my spouse will never cheat on me.” And yet, I can say that. I can say that because I have a faith and a God who stand behind me in that statement. And I can say that because the love my fiancé and I share is not human, it is divine.

We love each other because we love God and we have discovered that in loving one another, we get to love God more fully. Moreover, the love that we have for one another is divine in origin. God gave it to us at our baptism and it had a full 15-20ish years to grow and mature so that when we met, it blossomed.

That makes us blessed, but it does not make us lucky. We both worked hard on ourselves and on making God the center of our world before we even knew the other existed. In doing so, we returned to God the gift He gave us in that first sacrament. We returned to Him our hearts, and with them we returned to the Creator the divine love placed in our hearts for one another.

God knows how to nourish our hearts and souls better than anyone. In nourishing our hearts, He nourished the love that grew in them for each other so that when we met, my soul immediately knew who my fiancé was. (And it only took me a couple of months to catch up with what my soul knew at first sight!)

We have a faith that can make these promises. Promises of faithfulness, love, commitment. Our faith allows us to make these promises because He who gave us love was faithful in His love until the end. He who originated love in our hearts died for us out of that same love. We as Catholics are granted the same strength of faithfulness to the end when we return our love to the one who is love.

When we participate in making our love a sacrament, when we make a way for God’s grace to enter the world every day, when we demonstrate outwardly our inner devotion, we can say with full knowledge and confidence that we are not in a game of luck. We are in an institution of work and prayer, and we can rest assured that our success rests squarely on the shoulders of our prayerful work and the support of a God who made the universe.

Blessed Pope John Paul II is famous for his line: “man finds himself only in true gift of self.” If we only receive what we give away, then we must strive every day to give our hearts and our love back to Christ.

Giving a gift back doesn’t take luck. It takes work.

A Biblical Look at Confession

A friend of mind had just learned of my decision to join the Catholic faith. He was nice about it, that is, he didn’t give me the “whore of babylon” reaction.

He dropped me off after a slice of pizza and said, “You know, there’s just one thing I could never do.”
“Whats that?”
“Confession. I could never confess to a priest.”
“Don’t want to or just don’t understand it?”
“Don’t understand it. It makes no sense.”
“I know what you mean. I didn’t understand it either, but you know where Jesus appears to the Apostles in John 20…” I went on with my elevator speech.
“Well that’s your interpretation, and you guys use a different Bible.”
“Right, but first of all, we both use the Gospel of John. But what did the early Christians use? They didn’t have a Bible.”
“What? Of course they did.”
“No, I assure you, the Scriptures weren’t all written the night of Pentecost.”

I was immediately cut off with, “No, Shaun, stop – please. I don’t want to hear it.” If I learned one thing for sure in Patrick Madrid‘s graduate course in Apologetics with Holy Apostles College and Seminary, it is that any argument between Protestants and Catholics eventually boils down to Sola Scriptura. It’s really a conversation for another day, or lifetime. Here though, let’s talk about how to discuss confession with your objector.

A frequent objection is the need to confess sins to a priest in order to be forgiven. Many objectors will call it an “invention”. I used to object as well, citing the Church’s medieval need of knowing the private lives of each of their adherents. Silly reasons like that were enough for me, but there exist better objections. One is that it doesn’t say anywhere in the Bible that we need to confess to a priest. Let me give praise to this objection for wanting evidence in the Scriptures. To this objection I will give three points to support the Catholic position and also a conclusion.

Objection: Confession is not biblical.

On the contrary:

Need of Confession

First, we need to understand that as human persons we are subject to imminent and sometimes frequent sin. Paul tells us in Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and that implies the need for forgiveness and reconciliation. No Protestant would disagree. So the question is: do we need to confess to God the Father at all? Yes. Jesus, when asked how to pray, includes “forgive us our debts (sins), as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). If that’s not enough, John writes, “If we confess our sins, he [God the Father] is faithful and just, and will forgive our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” which is unmistakable proof that the scriptures require confession of sins (1 John 1:9). The plurality of our sins implies the plurality of confessing.

Jesus’ Authority to Forgive Sins

Indeed one won’t argue the value in confession to God. But we also know from Scripture that Jesus, a separate person of the Trinity, has the authority to forgive sins: “The Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Matthew 9:6). Forgiving sins is a regular part of Jesus’ ministry, on earth. Right after his baptism and temptation, he is immediately doing three things: forgiving sins, healing, and teaching. These highlights of His ministry did not die with him and there must have been some means of continuing His ministry on earth.

Authority given to the Apostles

After His resurrection He appears to the 11 and says:

As the father has sent me, so I am sending you … receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (John 20:21-23).

Was Jesus talking about general forgiveness in social interaction or a real authority? The answer is in the words of Jesus. The word “sent” (Latin, apostello) is translated “to go to a place appointed” and the “sending” (Latin, pempo) is simply “to send”. Therefore, they [ the Apostles] are sent from Jesus as He was sent by God. The objector also has to understand the difference in “like” and “as” where “like” shows likeness (similarity) and “as” shows sameness. “As the father has sent me, so I am sending you” is ‘I am sending you with the authority I was sent with.’ 

Not enough on the “authority” part? Jesus makes it quite clear when He says “Whoever listens to you, listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me” (Luke 10:16). That’s not out of context as Jesus is talking about the unrepentant towns to which the Apostles were sent with His authority. There is a clear link between repentance and the authority of the Apostles!

Conclusion: Ambassadors of Christ

Jesus left earth though, and left us a church to continue His ministry. Remember, His ministry consists of healing and teaching, as well as forgiveness of sin (Matthew 9:35, 9:6, respectively). So as the Church is His body, truly, He must have left a way in which the ministry can continue for ultimate salvation. He had the authority to forgive sins on earth and the Church continues this so long as there is an ongoing need to forgive sins. Paul clearly tells us, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18). Paul then writes, “we are ambassadors of Christ” (20). Ambassadors are delegated officials sent with the authority of their higher official. Paul was indeed saying that He, as an Apostle, was trusted with the authority of the one who sent him.

There is no mistake to be made here, the Church has the authority to forgive sins. First, there is a clear need to confess sins to God in plurality. Second, Jesus had the authority to forgive sins, it was a regular part of His ministry on earth. Third, Jesus left earth but His ministry needed to continue and this authority was given to the Apostles.

The Protestant must answer this question: if each part of Jesus’ ministry was commissioned to the Apostles, why exclude forgiveness of sins? That is, if Jesus gives His Church, His own Bride, His authority to cast out demons (Mark 16:17), heal (18), and preach the Gospel (15), why is the last part of his ministry, forgiveness of sin (John 20:23), excluded? I follow-up with the answer given by Jesus to the same objection when told He was blaspheming for forgiving sin:

Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?” (Matthew 9:5). Further, Matthew writes, “When the crowds saw this they were struck with awe and glorified God who had given such authority to human beings” (9:8).

Remember: this ministry and authority is not due to the goodness of the priest, or the poiousness of the Church. Indeed there are bad people in the Church, but the Church is intimately identified with Jesus (Romans 12:5, 1 Corinthians 12:13, 27, Ephesians 1:22-23, Colossians 1:17) who is blameless and holy (Ephesians 5:27).

 

Series on the Sacraments Part 2 – Confirmation

One of the greatest sacraments for perseverance and strength in the spiritual life is Confirmation. By definition in the Baltimore Catechism, “Confirmation is a Sacrament through which we receive the Holy Ghost to make us strong and perfect Christians and soldiers of Jesus Christ.” The Catholic Encyclopedia explains it’s effects and necessities:

“Confirmation imparts:

  • an increase of sanctifying grace which makes the recipient a “perfect Christian”;
  • special sacramental grace consisting in the sevdownloaden gifts of the Holy Ghost and notably in the strength and courage to confess boldly the name of Christ;
  • an indelible character by reason of which the sacrament cannot be received again by the same person.

Necessities:

Regarding the obligation of receiving the sacrament, it is admitted that confirmation is not necessary as an indispensable means of salvation(necessitate medii).

On the other hand, its reception is obligatory (necessitate præcepti) “for all those who are able to understand and fulfill the Commandments of God and of the Church. This is especially true of those who suffer persecution on account of their religion or are exposed to grievous temptations against faith or are in danger of death. The more serious the danger so much greater is the need of protecting oneself”. (Conc. Plen. Balt. II, n. 250.) As to the gravity of the obligation, opinions differ, some theologians holding that an unconfirmed person would commit mortal sin if he refused the sacrament, others that the sin would be at most venial unless the refusal implied contempt for the sacrament. Apart, however, from such controversies the importance of Confirmation as a means of grace is so obvious that no earnest Christian will neglect it, and in particular that Christian parents will not fail to see that their children are confirmed.”

Through Confirmation we are armed with grace, we are shielded with the protection of the Holy Ghost, and we are confirmed in Jesus Christ. This sacrament was given to us in order that we may be perfected in God’s grace and become saints. We are all called to be great saints, so why not receive this sacrament? It’s never too late to receive it, and the benefits are of infinite value. Let us then cherish and love this sacrament, and that God that He has given it to us. God bless you all!

The Beauty of Marriage

I had the priveledge of attending the marriage of Gary (one of my former Canossian volunteers who served 2 years in Malawi) to Hope (a former SOLT volunteer, who served in Central America). The wedding was without great fanfare, or large crowds, but never have I attended one so beautiful.

Why was it beautiful?

On one level, it was an experience that seemed to just fit for this young couple. I found myself watching in awe at the ‘rightness’ as they moved through the ceremony, and, on that level, can only compare it to this:

 

On a deeper level, without special adornment of the Church with flowers, or paid cantor (a school friend sung beautifully), the focus became the Bride and the Bridegroom, celebrating their union within the eternal beauty of the Mass. What I experienced in watching this couple who are obviously in love is best described in the words of Tertullian:

“How can I ever express the happiness of a marriage joined by the Church …? How wonderful the bond between two believers, now one in hope, one in desire, one in discipline, one in the same service, … undivided in spirit and flesh, truly two in one flesh. Where the flesh is one, one also is the spirit.” 

It was this desire to be one, best described in the scripture passages they chose for the occasion. First, that from the Book of Tobit, where on their wedding night, before retiring to bed, Tobias and his new bride Sarah decide to kneel down in prayer together. Tobias blesses God, and then asks:

“Now, not with lust, but with fidelity I take this kinswoman as my wife.
Send down your mercy on me and on her,
and grant that we may grow old together.
Bless us with children.”  (Tobit 8:7)

For the Gospel reading, they chose part of the priestly prayer of Jesus, John 17:20-26, which speaks of the unity of Jesus and the Father, and the longing for all believers:

“that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
that they also may be in us,

that the world may believe that you sent me.”

The homily by Fr. Anthony Blount, SOLT, tied these images together, of the newlyweds praying together by their marriage bed, and that of unity by reminding us of Genesis 2:24, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.”

He went further to help us look at the reality of marriage by way of “the three M’s”:

  • Mass: How the bridegroom symbolizes the Eternal Bridgegroom, Christ, who longs to embrace us – the Church – as His bride. Mass is the ‘new and everlasting covenant (as proclaimed in the Eucharistic Prayer over the cup). If lived well, we encounter heaven. Marriage is a similar covenant, an image often used in the scriptures as an image of the everlasting covenant God makes with His people. Both are binding out of love. If we are attentive at Mass, we become more aware of God’s constant calling us to this perfect covenant made by Him to us.
  • Maturity:  Father used a very interesting image of his own mother – gentle soul by nature – in the kitchen pounding a piece of meat. Almost a violent act, tenderizing. Maturity in the person is a person ‘tenderized’ by God’s love through hard lessons learned in life, and a maturing of the soul takes place to prepare it for what He has in mind. We are sinewy and tough by nature, and need to let God teach us in order to reach a place of maturity, to be workable to the designs of God.
  • Mission: Marriage is a journey of service, of mission. Both Gary and Hope have served in foreign lands for a time, serving the poor by giving of themselves. Marriage, too, is  a mission to serve. It is saying, “My life is for something greater than myself.” It is an act that flows from the maturity of the person. It is also a mission to the Church, by raising up faithful children who long to commit themselves to ‘something greater’ than themselves. It also pointed out, they are beginning their life together on the morning before Mission Sunday, testifying to their willingness to be a part of the Church’s greater mission.

These ‘Three M’s’ are necessary for all vocations.

It just so happens all the elements of Church vocations were present in St Sebastian’s: Parents of the bride and bridegroom; single and married friends of the young couple; the priest; myself as a religious; and even in Gary’s siblings, his brother is a religious brother with the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, and his sister, who could not be present, is preparing for her entrance with Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles. We – together – were expressing the beauty of the Church when each fulfills his or her proper place within her.

All of these things, together, made the celebration memorable and timeless.  In a word, beautiful.