Works without faith

file0002002610567In the March issue of Catholic Insight Magazine, a letter to the editor opined that Holy Mass is only a “start” to following our Lord’s teachings. The letter writer stated that while many Catholics “tend to treat” Holy Mass as the “principal and only action required of them” he thinks that “Our Lord is more concerned with what we do outside the edifice.” He sees Holy Mass as a “community service” and that lengthy services are “superfluous.”

Obviously, I don’t agree with the letter writer so I wrote a response to the letter on my blog at Catholic Insight. Here’s the link to my blog post.

Copyright – free photo courtesy of MorgueFile.com

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“Keep Watch”

Garden of Gethsemane(from The Faith: Reflections on the truths of the Apostles’ Creed from the teaching of Pope Benedict XVI)

Having the left the upper room, [Jesus] withdrew to pray, alone before the Father [in the Garden of Gethsemane]. At that moment of deep communion the Gospels recount that Jesus experienced great anguish, such acute suffering that it made Him sweat blood (see Mt 26:38)

In the knowledge of His imminent death on the Cross, He felt immense anguish at the closeness of death. In this situation an element appeared that was of great importance to the whole Church. Jesus said to his followers, “Stay here and keep watch.”

This appeal for vigilance concerns precisely this moment of anguish, of threats, in which the traitor was to arrive, but it also concerns the whole history of the Church. It is a permanent message for every era because the disciples’ drowsiness was not just a problem at that moment, but is a problem for the whole of history.

The question is this: In what does this apathy consist? What would the watchfulness to which the Lord invites us consist of?

I would say that the disciples’ sleepiness in the course of history is a certain insensitiveness of the soul with regard to the power of evil, an insensibility to all the evil in the world. We do not wish to be unduly disturbed by these things; we prefer to forget them. We think that perhaps, after all, it will not be so serious, and we forget.

Moreover, it is not only insensibility to evil, when we should be watchful in order to do good, to fight for the force of goodness. Rather it is an insensibility to God: This is our true sleepiness, this insensibility to God’s presence that also makes us insensible to evil. We are not aware of God – He would disturb us – hence we are naturally not aware of the force of evil and continue on the path of our own convenience.

General Audience, April, 2011

Source:Pope Benedict XVI, compiled by Thigpen, P. (2013) The Faith: Reflections on the truths of the  Apostles’ Creed from the teaching of Pope Benedict XVI. Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor

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Contemplating Christ Crucified

the-Crucifixion1(from: The Joy of Knowing Christ: Meditations on the Gospel by Pope Benedict XVI)

A verse of John’s gospel … refers to a messianic prophecy of Zechariah: “They shall look on him whom they have pierced” (John 19:37). The beloved disciple, present at Calvary together with Mary, the mother of Jesus, and some other women, was an eyewitness to the thrust of the lance that passed through Christ’s side, causing blood and water to flow forth (19:31-34). That gesture by an anonymous Roman soldier, destined to be lost in oblivion, remained impressed on the eyes and heart of the apostle, who takes it up in his gospel. How many conversions have come about down the centuries thanks to the eloquent message of love that the one who looks upon Jesus crucified receives?

In the encyclical letter Deus Caritas Est, I wished to emphasize that only by looking at Jesus dead on the cross for us can this fundamental truth be known and contemplated: “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). “In this contemplation,” I wrote, “the Christian discovers the path along which his life and love must move” (12).

Contemplating the crucified One with the eyes of faith, we can understand in depth what sin is, how tragic is its gravity, and at the same time, how immense is the Lord’s power of forgiveness and mercy.

… Let us not distance our hearts from this mystery of profound humanity and lofty spirituality. Looking at Christ, we feel at the same time looked at by him. He whom we have pierced with our faults never tires of pouring out upon the world an inexhaustible torrent of merciful love.

May humankind understand that only from this font is it possible to draw the indispensable spiritual energy to build that peace and happiness which every human being continually seeks.

Let us ask the Virgin Mary, pierced in spirit next to the cross of her Son, to obtain for us a solid faith…. May she help us to leave all that distances us from listening to Christ and his saving Word.

Angelus, February 25, 2007

Source: Pope Benedict XVI. (2009). The Joy of Knowing Christ: Meditations on the Gospels. Maryland: The Word Among Us Press

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What it Means to Follow Christ

(from: Lent with Pope Benedict XVI: Meditations for Every Day)

pick up your cross and follow ChristThe expression “following of Christ” is a description of the whole of Christian existence. In what does it consist? What does “to follow Christ” actually mean? At the outset, with the first disciples, its meaning was very simple and immediate: It meant that to go with Jesus, these people decided to give up their profession, their affairs, their whole life. It meant undertaking a new profession: discipleship. The fundamental content of this profession was accompanying the Teacher and total entrustment to his guidance. The “following” was therefore something external but, at the same time very internal. The exterior aspect was walking behind Jesus on his journeys through Palestine. The interior aspect was the new existential orientation whose reference points were no longer in events, in work as a source of income, or in the personal will, but in total abandonment to the will of Another. Being at his disposal, henceforth, became the raison d’etre of life.

In certain Gospel scenes, we can recognize quite clearly that this means the renouncement of one’s possessions and detachment from oneself. But with this, it is also clear what “following” means for us and what its true essence is for us: It is an interior change of life. It requires me to be no longer withdrawn into myself, considering my own fulfillment the main reason for my life. It requires me to give myself freely to Another – for truth, for love, for God who, in Jesus Christ, goes before me and shows me the way.

It is a question of the fundamental decision to no longer consider usefulness and gain, my career and success, as the ultimate goals of my life, but instead to recognize truth and love as authentic criteria. It is a question of choosing between living only for myself or giving myself for what is greater. And let us understand properly that truth and love are not abstract values; in Jesus Christ they have become a Person. By following him I enter into the service of truth and love. By losing myself I find myself.

Kun, J. (Ed.). (2012). Lent with Pope Benedict XVI: Meditations for Every Day. Maryland: The Word Among Us Press.

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The Cross Shows the Father’s Love

The Faith Pope Benedict XVI(from The Faith: Reflections on the truths of the Apostles’ Creed from the teaching of Pope Benedict XVI)

At the heart of the prayer of blessing [in Eph. 1:3ff), the apostle illustrates the way in which the Father’s plan of salvation is brought about in Christ, in His beloved Son. He writes: “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph 1:7).

The sacrifice of the cross of Christ is the one and unrepeatable event in which the Father showed His love for us in a luminous way, not only in words but in practice. God is so real and His love is so real that He enters in tho history, He becomes a Man to feel what it is, how it is to live in this created world’ and He accepts the path of suffering of the Passion and even suffers death. God’s love is so real that He participates not only in our being but also in our suffering and our dying.

crucifix.0The sacrifice of the Cross ensures that we become “God’s property,” because the blood of Christ has redeemed us from sin, cleanses us from evil, removes us from the slavery of sin and death. St. Paul invites us to consider the depths of God’s love that transforms history, that transformed his very life from being a persecutor of Christians to being an unflagging apostle of the Gospel. Here once again the reassuring words of the Letter to the Romans resound:

“If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, will He not also give us all things with Him?… For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of god in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:31-32, 38-39).

We must integrate this certainty – God is for us, and no creature can separate us from Him because His love is stronger – in our being, in our awareness as Christians.

General Audience, June 20, 2012

Source:Pope Benedict XVI, compiled by Thigpen, P. (2013) The Faith: Reflections on the truths of the  Apostles’ Creed from the teaching of Pope Benedict XVI. Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor

 

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Feast of the Holy Face of Jesus

220px-Claude_Mellan_-_Face_of_Christ_-_WGA14764When Pope Pius XII granted that the Feast of the Holy Face of Jesus be observed on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, he fulfilled the desire of Our Lord that His sorrowful Holy Face be contemplated in reparation for our sins. The history and tradition of venerating His Holy Face began on the day of His crucifixion and continues through the centuries with the help of holy men and women chosen by  Our Lord and Our Blessed Mother to propagate this devotion.

Over at Catholic Insight, I have written an article on this important devotion. I invite you to read it here.

 

Painting: Veronica’s Veil by Claude Mellan (c. 1649) Wikipedia.org

 

 

 

 

 

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A dignified life; a dignified death

Posted at Catholic Insight

flowers-marguerites-withered-2009-824x550I lost someone very special recently, someone who demonstrated for me what a dignified death looks like. In the eyes of the world, he had been dealt a lousy hand, sentenced to life in a wheelchair as his immune system ate away at the protective sheath that covered his nerves. But even as the disease continued to ravage his too young body, he let loose with his dry sense of humour, in turn causing those around him to roll their eyes in feigned exasperation or laugh a deep belly aching laugh. He flirted good-naturedly  with the visiting nurse (me) and the other caregivers who often subjected him to procedures and care that most men would find embarrassing. His caregivers were some of his favourite people and in allowing us to care for him, he confirmed that loving one’s neighbour brings out the best in the humanity of the giver as well as the recipient.

He knew the type of death that was in store for him because he had watched  a sibling succumb to the same cruel disease. He understood his fate yet I never heard him say he wanted to end his life. He accepted death because dying a natural death, no matter what the circumstance,  is part of living.

When the end came, I was shocked. I knew it was coming but his dignified, positive outlook made me think that death would not arrive for a long, long time. I expected that he would keep telling the same corny jokes, carry on with his harmless flirting, and inspire me to give him the very best nursing care during our regular visits. But his death finally came just as I knew deep down that it would.

He was buried out of a Catholic church; in the end, the lapsed Catholic coming home to the place he never should have left. I think in his heart he didn’t entirely abandon the Faith. I live with the hope that in the care and compassion he received, he experienced God’s mercy and realized his dignity as a beloved son of the Father. For isn’t it true that when we allow others to care for us, it is really God’s healing and compassion we receive?

He always made a point of thanking me for the care I gave him but I never thought to thank him. Until now.

Thank you for understanding that death with dignity doesn’t come from sleep-inducing, breath-retarding, heart-stopping drugs taken at a time and place chosen by you. Thank you for life lived well to the very end. For not wanting to give up. For meeting each day’s challenges head on. For not running away from certain death. For accepting compassion, care, love, friendship. For giving hope that a life of suffering is a life of love. For keeping your dignity to the very end. For showing, by your actions, that you still believed in a merciful God. For proving to us that a dignified death gives hope to those around you, shines with compassion, and is courageous to the very end.

Photo source: gratisography.com Creative Commons Zero license

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The battle for Ontario doctors’ freedom of conscience rights

stethoscopeOn February 6, 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the ban on euthanasia and physician assisted suicide in Canada is unconstitutional. This ruling paves the way for the legalization of euthanasia and physician assisted suicide throughout the entire country.

At the same time in Ontario, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) has put forth a change in policy proposal that will take away the freedom of conscience rights of Ontario’s physicians and surgeons. The CPSO is inviting public discussion before determining its final ruling.

The nightmare of legal euthanasia/physician assisted suicide combined with no conscience protection for doctors is too frightening to think about. The most vulnerable in Canadian society will have no protection.

The Catholic Doctors’ Guild asked Catholic Insight to write an online article informing and asking individuals to register their support for the freedom of conscience rights of doctors. The article is on my blog at Catholic Insight.

If you live in Ontario please read the article (here)  and object to the proposed policy change. Send it to everyone you know who lives in Ontario and ask them to do the same.

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Septuagesima Sundays and the preparation for Lent

Posted at Catholic Insight

Katalanischer_Meister_001Before 1969, Septuagesima Sunday was observed in the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church. According to fisheaters.com, the three Sundays that comprise Septuagesima Sunday are named for their distance to Easter and are as follows:

  1. Septuagesima Sunday which lends its name to the entire short season is approximately seventy days before Easter. Seventy days represents the seventy years that the Jewish people of the ancient kingdom of Judah were held captive in Babylon.
  2. Sexagesima, or the second Sunday of Septuagesima, comes about sixty days before Easter.
  3. The third Sunday, Quinquagesima, is approximately fifty days before Easter.

In the year 2015, the first Sunday of Septuagesima was on February 1. Sexagesima falls on Sunday February 8, and the third Sunday, Quinquagesima, is on February 15.

Since 1969, the Sundays of Septuagesima have been omitted from the Roman Rite although they are still observed in the Traditional Latin Mass. In the Extraordinary Form Mass, neither the Alleluia nor the Gloria are sung as a reminder of the somberness of this season; they will return at the Easter Vigil. The priests wear purple vestments because of the importance of penance during Septuagesima Sundays.

The three Sundays of Septuagesima are an opportunity for sobriety, not in the sense that we abstain from alcohol (although you can choose to do that) but in the sense that we become more serious about the way in which we approach Lent. Long faces are not welcome because Jesus instructed us not to look dismal like the hypocrites when they fast (cf. Matthew 6:16). Although at this time we become more aware of a heightening sense of penance and somberness, we can be joyful and confident that our preparation for Lenten prayer, penance, and sacrifice will be pleasing to the Lord if we observe them with a sincere heart. The Sundays of Septuagesima also help us to grow in temperance,  the virtue that controls our passions and desires for gluttony, lust, and anger.

While it is no longer obligatory to observe the three Sundays in the Roman Rite, I was excited to rediscover this time of  pre-Lenten preparation because I am a person who is often unprepared and surprised by the beginning of Lent. How many times has Ash Wednesday arrived and I have felt completely unready? How many times have I not decided what food I will give up, in what ways I will share my material wealth and talents, and have I even considered how I will deepen my prayer life in order to benefit the most from the Lenten season?

If we are serious about observing a good Lent, the season of Septuagesima Sunday is invaluable. We have time to really think about our preparation. Two years ago, I decided to give up my beloved dark chocolate habit for Lent. While I somehow managed to keep my promise, my family suffered as a result of my near-fanatical determination. For the sake of peace in my family, I can’t do that again. Septuagesima Sunday is helping me to be more thoughtful this year as Lent approaches. This  year, before Lent begins,  I will be sure to  check in with my spiritual director to ensure that my observance is realistic, humble, and will not be a hardship for the people I love the most. For those who don’t have a spiritual director, a trusted priest or a regular confessor is a good guide.

The three Septuagesima Sundays are a gift of which we ought to take advantage.  Lent comes quickly after the Christmas season; the Sundays of Septuagesima give us the time we need to prepare.

During this season of Septuagesima, ponder on these words of Pope Benedict XIV who wrote the following in an encyclical dated May 30, 1741:

 “The observance of Lent is the very badge of the Christian warfare. By it we prove ourselves not to be enemies of the Cross of Christ. By it we avert the scourges of divine justice. By it we gain strength against the princes of darkness, for it shields us with heavenly help. Should mankind grow remiss in their observance of Lent, it would be a detriment to God’s glory, a disgrace to the Catholic religion, and a danger to Christian souls. Neither can it be doubted that such negligence would become the source of misery to the world, of public calamity, and of private woe.”

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Candlemas: The Encounter between Chaos and Light

candlemas02(from Seek That Which Is Above by Pope Benedict XVI)

In everyday modern life we are hardly aware that on February 2nd we celebrate an ancient feast, common to the Church of both East and West, one which used to have a great significance in the rural calendar: Candlemas. Tributaries from many historical sources have flowed together into this feast, with the result that it sparkles with many colors. Its immediate reference is to the event when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem forty days after his birth to perform the prescribed sacrifice of purification.

the presentationThe liturgy focuses mainly on one detail of Luke’s portrayal: the meeting between the Child Jesus and the aged Simeon. Thus in the Greek-speaking world the feast was called Hypapanti (the encounter). In this juxtaposition of the Child and the old man, the Church sees the encounter between the passing heathen world and the new beginning in Christ, between the fading age of the Old Covenant and the new era of the Church of all nations.

What this expresses is more than the eternal recurrence of death and becoming; it is more than the consoling thought that the passing of one generation is always succeeded by a new one with new ideas and hopes. If that were all, this Child would not represent a hope for Simeon but only for himself. But it is more: it is hope for everyone, because it is a hope transcending death.

This brings us to a second aspect of this day, which the liturgy illuminates. It takes up the words of Simeon when he calls this Child “a light to enlighten the Gentiles.” Accordingly this day was made into a feast of candles. The warm candlelight is meant to be a tangible reminder of that greater light that, for and beyond all time, radiates from the figure of Jesus. In Rome this candlelit procession supplanted a rowdy, dissolute carnival, the so-called Amburbale, which had survived from paganism right into Christian times. The pagan procession had magical features: it was supposed to effect the purification of the city and the repelling of evil powers. To remind people of this, the Christian procession was originally celebrated in black vestments and then in purple – until the Council’s liturgical reform. Thus the element of encounter, again, was evident in this procession: the pagan world’s cry for purification, liberation, deliverance from dark powers, meets the ‘light to enlighten the Gentiles”, the mild and humble light of Jesus Christ. The failing (and yet still active) aeon of a foul, chaotic, enslaved and enslaving world encounters the purifying power of the Christian message.

It reminds me of something the playwright Eugene Ionesco wrote. As the inventor of the Theatre of the Absurd, he articulated the cry of an absurd world and was increasingly aware that it was a cry for God. “History”, he said recently, “is a process of corruption, it is chaotic, unless it is oriented to the supernatural.” The candle-lit procession in black garments, the symbolic encounter between chaos and light that it represents, should remind us of this truth and give us courage to see the supernatural, not as a waste of time, distracting us from the business of ameliorating the world, but as the only way in which meaning can be brought to bear on the chaotic side of life.

Ratzinger, J. (1986). Seek That Which Is Above. San Francisco: Ignatius Press

 

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