Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Domestic Church - Make Sure You Read the Bible

Our children can be wonderful evangelists to us, their parents. Since I've been thinking about how to inculcate a daily Catholic culture at home, I need to remember that evangelization, at its best, is a reciprocal activity. Last week, my seven-year-old daughter left me a to-do list. It was simple and profound, as children are wont to do. They have a way of cutting to the chase.
Here is her list:
  1. take good cari of Lizzy (Take good care of Lizzy) - Lizzy was the name she gave to a plastic necklace that she was pretending was a lizard.
  2. take cari of your sellfs (Take care of your selves) - This was directed toward me and my son.
  3. Dad make sher you read the Bible (Dad, make sure you read the Bible) - Apparently my son was not obligated to do this.

This was completely unprompted. And it was such a blessing in so many ways.

Little did my daughter know that she was reinforcing the message of the Second Vatican Council in Dei Verbum, which strongly urges us all to read Sacred Scripture:

The sacred synod also earnestly and especially urges all the Christian faithful, especially Religious, to learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures the "excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 3:8). "For ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ."(5) Therefore, they should gladly put themselves in touch with the sacred text itself, whether it be through the liturgy, rich in the divine word, or through devotional reading, or through instructions suitable for the purpose and other aids which, in our time, with approval and active support of the shepherds of the Church, are commendably spread everywhere.

My daughter did not make this list for me because she sees me reading the Bible constantly. Where this urging on her part came from, I don't know, but I suspect it was the Holy Spirit working in her to guide me. Who could resist such a team as the Holy Spirit and my daughter?

There is a wonderful group of faith-filled couples with whom my wife and I have been associated for the past year. Last year we met monthly to read Fr. Walter J. Schu's, The Splendor of Love: John Paul II's Vision for Marriage and Family. It was a very good book and sparked a good deal of thought-provoking conversation. This year, we are having a monthly Bible study based on the Acts of the Apostles, and we are using the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible edition. I have never been part of a Bible study group. Better late than never.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Children, Priests, and Prophets of Nonsense

Canada's National Post has had an interesting series of articles on the value of children. Some of the tones taken on both sides of the issue have been less than charitable. However, my interest in the discussion is focused on Corinne Maier and Fr. Raymond J. de Souza. Maier is a French author of a book called, "No Kids: 40 Good Reasons Not To Have Children." Her article in the National Post, excerpted from her book, can be found here. An article on Maier by British writer Emma Tucker in the London Times Online can be found here. Maier's focus is on France but she expands to include all of the Western countries. Her comments range from innocuous to outrageous. The latter, includes such things as this (quoted by Tucker):

“It’s not that there are too many people,” she writes, “but too many rich people. No one needs our children, because we and they are the spoilt kids of a planet that is on a collision course. To have a child in Europe or America is immoral – more scarce resources wasted on a way of life that is ever more voracious, capricious, hungry for fuel and destructive of the environment.”

The idea that it is "immoral" to have a child in Europe or America is silly on its face, and it would be laughable if only so many people did not actually believe it. Maier herself has children, so she does not really believe what she says. Tucker goes on to report:

So would Maier tell a “childfree” friend who was contemplating motherhood to resist? “No, I wouldn’t as it’s not my place to interfere in other people’s business,” she says.

So why write her book? Maier wants to have her cake and eat it, too. (And smash it in your face.)

Maier takes issue with what is apparently a campaign by the French government to increase the nation's birth rate by promoting having more children. Tucker says, "So yes, France has a high birth rate...." Tucker's idea of "a high birth rate" is a bit distorted. According to the CIA's statistics, France's birth rate is 12.57 births per 1,000 (2009 estimate), making France #162 in the world for birth rate. Apparently Tucker thinks that France has a high birth rate by comparison to the United Kingdom, which has 10.65 births per 1,000, ranking as #182 in the world. The United States is a little ahead of France, but not by much, with 13.82 births per 1,000 (#153). Canada, home of the National Post, has a birth rate below the United Kingdom at 10.28 births per 1,000 at #192. Even India, which has a substantially higher birth rate (21.76 births per 1,000) is only #87 in the world. Italy has a birth rate of 8.18 births per 1,000 and ranks #222.

Most interesting to me was a wonderful article written in the National Post in response to Maier's article. This article was written by a priest, Fr. Raymond J. de Souza. The article, "Why Priests Don't Have Kids," is a beautiful explanation of the rational behind priestly celibacy in the Latin rite of the Catholic Church. Here is Fr. de Souza's article in its entirety:

Childlessness advocates tell us, in sum, that children require a lot of sacrifices. That's not news. What may be new is that people now feel confident enough to argue publicly that those sacrifices are too great -- in short, that the child is not worth it. I say "may be" new because while the technology has changed over the millennia, the human heart has not. No doubt in every age there were a few who thought children not worth the bother.

The book excerpted in these pages [Maier's No Kids: 40 Good Reasons Not to Have Children] this week makes the argument that life would be more convenient, and therefore happier, without children. That does not really follow. Many things, including most things that give meaning to life, are inconvenient on one level or another. A life of great ease and convenience and even wealth is not necessarily a happy one. Surely the mother at home with toddlers is more constrained than the jet-setting sybarite, but if you know people in both categories, you know that the latter is not necessarily happier than the former.

But any father or mother could tell you that. I, as you would correctly intuit, have no children. Catholic priests of the Latin rite are celibate (the Catholic eastern rites have married clergy).

Understanding the celibacy of the priest requires an understanding of what marriage and children are all about. If they were bad things, or wicked things, or merely things constraining human flourishing, then celibacy would simply be required for everybody. Only if they are good things, very good things, does it make sense to sacrifice them for something greater. So if children are such a good thing, why does the Catholic priest remain celibate?

The first answer is that is how Jesus lived. He chose not to marry and have children, contrary to the norms of his time--and our time too. In the Catholic sacramental world, the priest acts not merely as a representative of Christ, but in the person of Christ Himself. What a priest does no merely human power can do--baptize, forgive sins, consecrate the holy Eucharist. So when the priest acts in the sacraments, it is Christ who acts. The priest then is meant to be an icon of Christ. That is understood, incidentally, even by those who are not Catholic, which is why priestly wickedness occasions so much attention and legitimate opprobrium.

The identification of the priest with Jesus Christ is deeply rooted in the apostolic tradition. Though the apostles were certainly drawn from married men, the biblical witness indicates that they left married life behind, or never married, in response to their vocation. The apostolic tradition has roots even farther back, in the priests of the Jewish covenant, who refrained from conjugal life when engaged in their sacred duties.

There is another dimension at work -- what we call the eschatological dimension. The priest lives now as we all hope to live one day, in the blessedness of heaven. In heaven, there is no marrying or giving in marriage, as Jesus teaches. Marriage and family are for this world. To be sure, it is precisely through marriage and family that most learn the virtues that prepare them for blessedness in heaven. But it remains a preparation.

The priest, and others in consecrated celibacy, lives now as a sign of the world to come, with his life fixed upon the promise of the eternal fulfillment God provides. In freely renouncing the great good of married life and children, the priest points to the world to come. Indeed, without the world to come, the celibacy of the priest would make little sense.

The childless by choice are aiming to maximize some of this world's goods -- education, professional advancement, travel, wealth and, to be blunt, consequence-free sex. For this they are willing to sacrifice their most enduring stake in this world: The only enduring thing we leave in this world is our children. The priest's motivation could hardly be more different. He sacrifices his enduring stake in this world not for more of this world's transitory goods, but for those things that are more enduring than this world itself.

The child by his very nature points to the future. The childless advocates reject the future in favour of the present. The celibate priest points to the future beyond the future even children promise-- eternity.

Fr. de Souza's comment about "childless by choice" needs further clarification and qualification. I would not want to impute to couples who did not choose to have children that they did so for maximizing the world's goods. However, Fr. de Souza is right to challenge all of us--with children or not--to look inward at how we aim to maximize the goods of this world at the expense of sacrifice and service.

Fr. de Souza's article sparked many, many comments. Some were supportive, others were critical. Some were thoughtful, some were combative. Some were just plain nasty. Many did not understand (because not addressed in the article) that celibacy is a discipline, not a doctrine. On the positive side, a secular newspaper actually published a priest's article, and it began a conversation. It does show that the message of Catholicism is one that meets a great deal of resistance in the secular world, and we should be prepared to face that resistence.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Prayers for Senator Edward Kennedy

As everyone who has any link to any media knows, Senator Edward Kennedy died today. He sincerely sought to improve the lives of the poor, workers, and racial and ethnic minorities, among other legislative areas. For his efforts in these area, we should be grateful. We should also use it as an opportunity to reflect on how much we ourselves do to help those who need our help. I know that I do not do enough in the area of social justice as the Church has reiterated through her social teaching, as the Old and New Testaments direct us.

We should also bear in mind the areas where he significantly strayed from Church teaching, such as the sanctity of life. His relentless public support of abortion, as well as his support for embryonic stem cell research, was, sadly, very successful in undermining the culture of life. He led the way in trying to legitimize Catholic politicians taking positions on fundamental moral issues contrary to the teachings of the Church. Perhaps, he let his partisan loyalty darken his vision and faith.

May God have mercy on his soul, as we would hope that God will have mercy on ours. For the good that he did, despite the evil he did, we pray for his repose and salvation.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Prayers for Bishop Carl Moeddel

I just found out that the former auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Carl Moeddel, died. He retired in 2007 and had been ill for some time. We pray for the repose of his soul. He had a gentle voice and a compassionate heart.

Information about Bishop Moeddel's passing can be found below:

Cincinnati Enquirer

Archdiocese of Cincinnati

Cincinnati Telegraph

Creating a Catholic Culture at Home

In my post, "Can we keep our children Catholic?" I mentioned Pat McDonough's article which refers to the importance of creating a Catholic culture at home for our children's faith formation. There I mentioned that Pope Benedict XVI recounts being a child and the parental blessing he received when leaving home. In his wonderful book, The Spirit of the Liturgy, here is what Benedict says:

Through the Cross, we can become sources of blessing for one another. I shall never forget the devotion and heartfelt care with which my father and mother made the sign of the Cross on the forehead, mouth, and breast of us children when we went away from home, especially when the parting was a long one. This blessing was like an escort that we knew would guide us on our way. It made visible the prayer of our parents, which went with us, and it gave us the assurance that this prayer was supported by the blessing of the Savior. The blessing was also a challenge to us not to go outside the sphere of this blessing. Blessing is a priestly gesture, and so in this sign of the Cross we felt the priesthood of parents, its special dignity and power. I believe that this blessing, which is a perfect expression of the common priesthood of the baptized, should come back in a much stronger way into our daily life and permeate it with the power of the love that comes from the Lord (p. 184).

There is so much in this brief passage. "Through the Cross, we can become sources of blessing for one another." Although the sign of the Cross is usually used in blessing, we don't usually think of the Cross itself as a source of how we can bless each other. As baptized Christians, we have a share in the priesthood of Christ, something else we don't much think about. But as parents we are called to be a blessing to our children. And I was very moved by the Holy Father's urging that parental blessings "should come back in a much stronger way into our daily life and permeate it with the power of the love that comes from the Lord." I was so moved that my wife and I now bless our children at night with the sign of the Cross before they go to bed, and we say a family blessing in the morning when one or all of us leave the house. We need to find more ways to permeate our daily life with visible signs of our Catholic faith.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Can We Keep Our Children Catholic?

Today's mass readings for the Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time got me thinking about choices and faith.

The first reading comes from the Book of Joshua:

Joshua gathered together all the tribes of Israel at Shechem,
summoning their elders, their leaders,
their judges, and their officers.
When they stood in ranks before God,
Joshua addressed all the people:
“If it does not please you to serve the LORD,
decide today whom you will serve,
the gods your fathers served beyond the River
or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are now dwelling.
As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

But the people answered,
“Far be it from us to forsake the LORD
for the service of other gods.
For it was the LORD, our God,
who brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt,
out of a state of slavery.
He performed those great miracles before our very eyes
and protected us along our entire journey
and among the peoples through whom we passed.
Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God.”
(Joshua 24:1-2a, 15-17,18b)

I have on my refrigerator, "As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord." But for how long can we parents speak for our household? Most of us have families or come from families that experienced children reaching adulthood and leaving the Church.

The Gospel reading reminds us that in the long run we cannot speak for the faith of anyone but ourselves:

Many of Jesus’disciples who were listening said,
“This saying is hard; who can accept it?”
Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this,
he said to them, “Does this shock you?
What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending
to where he was before?
It is the spirit that gives life,
while the flesh is of no avail.
The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life.
But there are some of you who do not believe.”
Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe
and the one who would betray him.
And he said,
“For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me
unless it is granted him by my Father.”

As a result of this,
many of his disciples returned to their former way of life
and no longer accompanied him.
Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life.
We have come to believe
and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:60-69)

That confession of faith is not something that we can give on behalf of another; it must come from that person's heart. But many, sometimes ourselves, have been among the crowd who find the sayings of Jesus hard and leave Him. I was among those once.

God gave us free will so that we may love, for without the ability to freely love we cannot call it love. But that freedom also gives us the opportunity to reject love. The Second Vatican Council in Dignitatis Humanae (Declaration on Religious Liberty), tells us the relationship between conscience and freedom, declaring that we are obliged to follow the truth when we recognize it, but we can neither be compelled to follow that truth nor compelled to recognize it:

The sacred council likewise proclaims that these obligations bind people's consciences. Truth can impose itself on the human mind by the force of its own truth, which wins over the mind with both gentleness and power. So, while the religious freedom which human beings demand in fulfilling their obligation to worship God has to do with freedom from coercion in civil society, it leaves intact the traditional catholic teaching on the moral obligation of individuals and societies towards the true religion and the one church of Christ." (Section 1)

God calls people to serve him in spirit and in truth. Consequently, they are bound to him in conscience, but not coerced. God has regard for the dignity of the human person which he himself created; human persons are to be guided by their own judgement and to enjoy freedom. (Section 11).

Given all of this, are there things we can do to help increase the chances of keeping our children Catholic?

At one time there were Six Precepts of the Church; the sixth was "Not to marry persons who are not Catholics...." Today there are five; the sixth has been left off. It is good that the the sixth has been removed, because the precepts are required, but we must remember that they are minimum requirements. We should do much more. (Just as the the Ten Commandments are minimum requirements; we need to do much more than not kill someone.) While the former sixth precept is no longer required, it should nevertheless be our goal if we are called to the vocation of marriage. Interfaith marriages can be very strong, very faithful, very faith-filled marriages, and as such it is good that they are not prevented. Marrying a Catholic does not guarantee a solid marriage; a Catholic couple are invariably at different stages of spiritual development, different stages of orthodoxy, different stages of religious comprehension. Marrying a nominal or merely cultural Catholic could in fact be more detrimental to one's Catholic faith than marrying a devout person of a different faith. But we must strongly advise our children to take seriously the nature of the faith journey of a potential spouse. Faith matters. If one marries someone of no faith or of nominal faith, or of a faith that rejects or denigrates the Catholic faith, such a marriage may weary and possibly extinguish the Catholic partner's faith.

When I help with baptism prep at our parish, I hand out to the parents an article by Pat McDonough. McDonough is a wonderful syndicated Catholic writer. The article I hand out is "Will our kids be Catholic?" While watching a baptism, she wonders, "how many of these infants would embrace the faith that was embracing them over the baptismal font." Her advice on how to try to keep our children Catholic is to foster a visible, deep faith at home that permeates daily life. Read to our children Bible stories. Develop religious rituals in the family. (I use in baptism prep a moving story from Pope Benedict XVI about how his parents would bless the children before leaving home and the impact that had on him.) Bring children to mass and foster love of the Eucharist. And faith must not strictly be intellectual but emotional as well: "If an emotional connection is not formed between kids and their church while the window of opportunity is still open, chances are the doors to that church will not beckon them inside later in life."

And sometimes none of this is enough. I think of St. Monica, and her wayward son, Augustine. But her prayers, her penance, and God's grace and persistence, brought Augustine back to the faith, to becoming a formative voice in the Church, and to Heaven.

So let us work and pray so that our children, as adults, will come to see no other viable alternative than to declare: "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Charity and Truth

Cokie Roberts, a television and radio journalist and a Catholic, is reported to have said that Pope Benedict XVI was "really lacking in the theological virtue of charity." (I have not been able to find an original source for this quotation.) Whether or not she said this, it is a sentiment held by some, including some Catholics. However, such a viewpoint represents a profound lack of understanding of the Holy Father and of charity.

Pope Benedict's first encyclical was Deus Caritas Est (God is Love). He wrote a post-synodal apostolic exhortation called Sacramentum Caritatis (Sacrament of Charity). His third encyclical was the recent Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth). If anything, Pope Benedict is in fact obsessed with the theological virtue of charity. It appears that the mission of his pontificate is to further develop the theology of charity and live that theology out.

Benedict's encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, is in part indebted to his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, who reminded us that true charity is rooted in truth. In his encyclical, Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth), Pope John Paul tells us that those who criticize the Church for a lack of charity do not understand that charity without truth is not charitable. If we truly love others, we will share the truth with them, because the truth will lead them to goodness and happiness:

The Church's teaching, and in particular her firmness in defending the universal and permanent validity of the precepts prohibiting intrinsically evil acts, is not infrequently seen as the sign of an intolerable intransigence, particularly with regard to the enormously complex and conflict-filled situations present in the moral life of individuals and of society today; this intransigence is said to be in contrast with the Church's motherhood. The Church, one hears, is lacking in understanding and compassion. But the Church's motherhood can never in fact be separated from her teaching mission, which she must always carry out as the faithful Bride of Christ, who is the Truth in person. "As Teacher, she never tires of proclaiming the moral norm... The Church is in no way the author or the arbiter of this norm. In obedience to the truth which is Christ, whose image is reflected in the nature and dignity of the human person, the Church interprets the moral norm and proposes it to all people of good will, without concealing its demands of radicalness and perfection".

In fact, genuine understanding and compassion must mean love for the person, for his true good, for his authentic freedom. And this does not result, certainly, from concealing or weakening moral truth, but rather from proposing it in its most profound meaning as an outpouring of God's eternal Wisdom, which we have received in Christ, and as a service to man, to the growth of his freedom and to the attainment of his happiness. (section 95)

These words of John Paul II have only become more important since he wrote them in 1993. As our culture is plunging ever more deeply into ethical relativism, let us remember that the struggle for truth matters, especially if we are truly concerned with charity and love.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Visible Catholicism

The Booklady has written three postings at her blog on mental prayer on 8/10/09, 8/12/09, and 8/13/09 that I found very informative. I struggle with my prayer life, as I suppose do most who draw breath in this life. The Booklady reminds us of the importance of nurturing our interior life. By doing that, we will give expression to that spiritual life in our daily physical living out of that interior faith. In fact, the deeper our hidden interior life, the more visible will be our exterior faith life. We need to consciously foster that exterior faith life, too. We need to make visible our Catholic faith.

We can make our Catholicism visible in little and big ways. On both our cars is a bumper sticker that says, "You can't be Catholic and pro-abortion." My family and I say grace before meals in restaurants. I cross myself when I go by a Catholic Church, even if I am in a car with someone else. On Ash Wednesday, I try to go to mass in the morning so I will wear the ashes all through my work day. Eucharistic processions are a public act of faith and adoration in the Real Presence. I have an image of the Sacred Heart on my key chain, and sometimes a co-worker will need to borrow my keys because I have a master key to certain rooms. I don't eat meat on Fridays throughout the year, and when someone asks me if I'm a vegetarian, it gives me an opportunity to say why I'm not eating meat.

These are all ways (and there are so many others) that give us an opportunity to show the distinctiveness of our Catholicism. We are a consecrated people, a people set apart. We are in the world, but not of the world. As Catholics, we should appear different; our faith should be different from what the world offers. Let us strive to make visible our Catholicism so that others (and ourselves!) may see it, wonder about it, and be changed by it.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Lessons from St. Clement and St. Lawrence

St. Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150-216), wrote in his work, The Instructor of Children (Paidagogos) (written some time before 202):

The greatest of all lessons, so it would seem, is to know oneself. For whoever knows himself will know God; and knowing God, he will become like God, not by wearing gold ornaments and robes which reach to the feet, but by doing good and by requiring as few things as possible. (William Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. I, #411, p. 180)

As St. Clement points out, we can know about God by knowing ourselves. The concept of natural law explains how this works. That is perhaps one of the conscious or unconscious reasons why many people nowadays try to dismiss natural law; it is an attempt to rid their (and everyone else's) worldview of God. St. Clement then makes an important point: by knowing God, we will become like God. Adam and Eve falsely believed that by trying to usurp God's authority, they could become like God. However, had they instead focused on knowing God, then they could have become like God. Rather, they revealed that they did not know God at all, for, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, Man "let his trust in his Creator die in his heart" and that "[a]ll subsequent sin" would be a "lack of trust in his [God's] goodness" (section 397). Since God is goodness itself, to not trust God's goodness is to not know God.

St. Paul reminds us that even Christ, who is God, did not seek equality of His human nature with his divine nature:

Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6)

As St. Clement notes, to be like God is not to lord it over others, not to have ostentatious wealth, but "by doing good and requiring as few things as possible." All we need to do is look at a crucifix; there we see the greatest good being done (our salvation) on that "Good" Friday, and we see Christ stripped of everything, requiring no things but His body and blood.

And that brings us to St. Lawrence, whose feast day is today. St. Lawrence suffered martyrdom in 258. In 405, Aurelius Prudentius Clemens wrote an account of Lawrence's death:

The prefect of Rome driven by a greed for gold summoned Lawrence to his court and questioned him about the treasures of the Church. Lawrence, as if ready to cooperate, gave his reply.

'Our church is very rich,' he said.
'I must confess that it has wealth;
Our treasuries are filled with gold
Not found elsewhere in all the world.

Lawrence agreed to surrender the treasure and requested a short delay so that he could gather all the goods and estimate their total worth. The prefect's heart swelled with joy and he readily granted Lawrence three days. He dismissed Lawrence from the court and the latter went forth to carry out his task.

He hastens through the city streets,
And in three days he gathers up
The poor and sick, a mighty throng
Of all in need of kindly alms.
He sought in every public square
The needy who were wont to be
Fed from the stores of Mother Church,
And he as steward knew them well.

When the appointed time had come, Lawrence assembled those whom he had gathered before the temple gate. He then invited the prefect to accompany him to view the "wondrous riches of our God."

The prefect deigns to follow him;
The sacred portal soon they reach,
Where stands a ghastly multitude
Of poor drawn up in grim array.

The air is rent with cries for alms;
The prefect shudders in dismay,
And turns on Lawrence glaring eyes,
With threats of dreadful punishment.

Lawrence, undaunted, faced the prefect's rage at the unwelcome spectacle.
He admonished him and urged him to consider a more sublime reality.

'These poor of ours are sick and lame,
But beautiful and whole within.
They bear with them a spirit fair
And free from taint and misery
'These humble paupers you despise
And look upon as vile outcasts,
Their ulcerous limbs will lay aside
And put on bodies incorrupt,

'When freed at last from tainted flesh
Their souls, from chains of earth released,
Will shine resplendent with new life
In their celestial fatherland.

'Not foul and shabby, or infirm,
As now they seem to scornful eyes,
But fair, in radiant vesture clad,
With crowns of gold upon their heads.

The prefect was neither amused nor edified. He accused Lawrence of making him a laughingstock, of mocking him, and of staging a farce. He promised that Lawrence would pay for it with a slow and lingering death. The prefect then prepared a bed of coals and ordered Lawrence to ascend the pyre and lie on the bed he deserved.

Thus spoke the prefect. At his nod
Forthwith the executioner
Stripped off the holy martyr's robes
And laid him bound upon the pyre.

Prudentius wrote that the "martyr's face was luminous" and that "round it shone a glorious light" but noted that this phenomenon was only visible to the baptized. Similarly, he wrote that, "the very odor given forth by holy Lawrence's burning flesh was noxious to the unredeemed and to the faithful nectar sweet." The poet then presents the final moments in the life of Lawrence in a paean that has resounded through the centuries.

When slow, consuming heat had seared
The flesh of Lawrence for a space,
He calmly from his gridiron made
This terse proposal to the judge:

'Pray turn my body, on one side
Already broiled sufficiently,
And see how well your Vulcan's fire
Has wrought its cruel punishment.'

The prefect bade him to be turned.
Then Lawrence spoke: 'I am well baked,
And whether better cooked or raw,
Make trial by a taste of me.'

He said these words in way of jest;
Then rising shining eyes to heaven
And sighing deeply, thus he prayed
With pity for unholy Rome.

Thus ended Lawrence's fervent prayer,
Thus ended, too, his earthly life:
With these last words his eager soul
Escaped with joy from carnal chains.

Some noble Romans, who were led
By his amazing fortitude
To faith in Christ, then bore away
The hero's body from the scene.

The prefect's "greed for gold" is like what St. Clement described as "wearing gold ornaments and robes which reach to the feet." But St. Lawrence knew that by emptying ourselves like Christ, we become like Christ, that by serving, we will be saved. If we can learn the lessons which these two great saints are teaching us, then we will become like God.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Devotion to the Sacred Heart

On the Feast of the Sacred Heart, I decided that I would adjust my schedule to attend mass on the first Friday of each month. I was off from work on the first Friday in July. Today I modified my work schedule so I could go to mass first and then go into work later. I don't know what has drawn me to this devotion, and I have much to learn about this devotion. However, I am very glad to be doing this.

St. John Vianney has a wonderful quotation about the Sacred Heart that I find very moving:

Let us open the door of the Sacred Heart, and shut ourselves in for a moment amidst its divine flames; we shall then realize what God's love means.... (Thoughts of the Curé d'Ars, p. 39)

St. John's reflection reminds me of the story in the Book of Daniel of Hananiah (Shadrach), Mishael (Meshach), and Azariah (Abednego), where the Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar has the three Israelites thrown into a fiery furnace for not worshipping the Babylonian gods (Chapter 3). Instead of being consumed, "they walked about in the midst of the flames, singing hymns to God, and blessing the Lord" (Daniel 3:1, following Daniel 3:23). Azariah goes on to say: "And now with all our heart we follow thee, we fear thee and seek thy face" (Daniel 3:18). Then a song of praise is given by the three youths:

Bless the Lord, Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael, sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever; for he has rescued us from Hades and saved us from the hand of death, and delivered us from the midst of the burning fiery furnace; from the midst of the fire he has delivered us. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endures for ever. (Daniel 3:66-67)

Sometimes in confession the priest will say, "Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good," to which the penitent responds, "His mercy endures forever." I heard that in confession for the first time on Monday. I like that very much. The story of Daniel makes me think of Jesus' Sacred Heart in the sense of being in the fire without being consumed (also reminding me of the Burning Bush), of being protected by God, of being loved despite our sinfulness (much of the prayer of Azariah and the song of the three youths is about Israel's sinfulness and God's mercy). I want to reflect more on St. John's words as I try to enter into the mystery of God's love through the devotion to Jesus' Sacred Heart.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Sacrament of Love and the Feast of St. John Vianney

I did something this week that I have never done in my 46 years on this earth. Yesterday, I went to confession one week after I had my last confession. I hope to make a habit of weekly confession. For a while I thought, "What will I have to confess after only one week?" (Self-awareness is sometimes not my strong suit.) As I was conducting my examination of conscience, I had trouble remembering my sins from just a couple of days ago; how pathetic were my powers of recall for confessions that were 6 weeks or 6 months apart?

This happened to be a particularly moving confession. It is important for me to remember that how confession feels is not an indication necessarily of its effectiveness, but certainly when it does feel good, that certainly is motivating.

I continue to be very nervous about going to confession. When I was a boy, I used to read Charles Schulz's Peanuts before confession to try to calm my nerves. As an adult, when I get ready to confess, I sometimes think about not going. Yesterday when I went to confession, I had that feeling, but then I thought, "Satan would like nothing better than for me to walk out of here right now without going to confession." That idea helped.

After confession, I went to the Blessed Sacrament to say my penance. The words "Sacrament of Love" came to me. Pope Benedict has called the Eucharist the "Sacrament of Charity" (Sacramentum Caritatis). However, there he discusses the "intrinsic relationship" between the sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation (Chapter II, sections 20-21). The Sacrament of Reconciliation is also a sacrament of love, as God shows His love for us through the gift of His mercy, a wonderful complement to the gift of His sacrifice in the Eucharist. And then I thought about how all the sacraments are signs of God's love for us, giving us the grace to to love Him as we ought. Pope Benedict talks about the relationship between the Eucharist and the other sacraments (sections 16-29).

In this Year of the Priest and its patron, St. John Vianney, whose feast day is today, we pray that our priests and deacons will catechize the laity on the importance of frequent confession. We also pray that those laity who do go to confession will encourage their fellow Catholics on the need to go to confession. Two of my friends go to confession weekly, and because they spoke openly about it to me, their example inspired me to try to do the same. I was in the stands at a parish football practice with one of those friends, talking about confession while our sons were on the field; hopefully our conversation was overheard by others and got them thinking about going to confession more (or at all). "Encourage each other daily while it is still today" (Hebrews 3:13, which we say in the Liturgy of the Hours in the Invitatory prior to reciting Psalm 95).

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Food Which Endures

Today's Gospel reading for the Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time is the passage that contains the title of this blog (my title comes from the Revised Standard Version rather than the New American Bible):

When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there,
they themselves got into boats
and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus.
And when they found him across the sea they said to him,
“Rabbi, when did you get here?”
Jesus answered them and said,
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
you are looking for me not because you saw signs
but because you ate the loaves and were filled.
Do not work for food that perishes
but for the food that endures for eternal life,
which the Son of Man will give you.
For on him the Father, God, has set his seal.”
So they said to him,
“What can we do to accomplish the works of God?”
Jesus answered and said to them,
“This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.”
So they said to him,
“What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?
What can you do?
Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written:
He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”
So Jesus said to them,
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven;
my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.
For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven
and gives life to the world.”

So they said to him,
“Sir, give us this bread always.”
Jesus said to them,
“I am the bread of life;
whoever comes to me will never hunger,
and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” (John 6:24-35)

Our days are so caught up in working for the food that perishes, in making a living or making dinner. These are not unimportant things. We need food to maintain the health of our bodies, and we should be very concerned for the hungry. We need to support our families and do the things necessary to take care of them. But we need to remember the example of Martha and Mary. When it comes to daily service versus religious devotion, we don’t neglect the one for the other. There is a time for one, and a time for the other. We can even integrate the two. But, as St. Benedict reminds us, “Let us do now that which will profit us for all eternity.”