Archive | April, 2012

XLT

29 Apr


No, it’s not a magic word. It won’t summon Harry Potter to come zipping along on his broom.

But the word signifies power – a great and good power. XLT is an abbreviation for “exalt.”

XLT is a celebration of faith in song, praise, scripture, reflection and Eucharistic adoration. It’s like a week-long retreat compressed into 90 minutes because it is centered on worship and praise of God, not on what God can do for me or us. It is seeing God’s love and goodness in our own lives and in all creation.

Last evening in our own St. Mary Magdalen Parish we experienced XLT.

At the end of the event (does XLT ever end … can gratitude to God ever end), people of all ages gradually left the church – gradually, because they didn’t want to leave. They were hugging, laughing and still high on God’s love and his glory and majesty. Outside, members of Life Teen (our vibrant youth ministry) served lemonade and the celebration continued. Folks just didn’t want to leave.

Now what? That’s the question that looms in the minds of people who organize, who want to have follow-up to this or that experience. Indeed, now what?

I can only share what I experienced.

During the silence of Eucharistic adoration, I really listened to the Lord. If you know me personally or through my writings, you know that I am a workaholic and a control freak – and I have more than a tendency toward impatience and anger. You know that I have an almost anxious concern for people who do not yet believe in God and his love, for our nation in these trying times and for our Church which needs waking up.

While our Lord was reigning on our parish altar, I followed the reflection available at the door of the church, “Prayer Before the Blessed Sacrament.” This prayerful reflection helps you to listen to God. It was then that I did indeed, according to this prayer, ask the Lord to heal a dear friend with a serious disease, to grant salvation to our children and all our descendants, to reveal to me what his will was for me.

But here’s a wonderful thing: Because I had been, with everyone else, in a spirit of praise, my petitions to the Lord were confident, open, willing to hear him and accept his will. It was not demanding; nor was it filled with anxiety or doubt.

This morning at prayer, I reflected on our XLT experience, on what the Lord had revealed to me in prayer, namely, that I have to surrender to him,finally and totally, and let him work in my life. The result is this prayer:

Lord, it’s just me. I am at your disposal.

(But Lord, how long will this last?)

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Pray the Psalms

26 Apr

The Word of God is like a lighthouse when you are troubled or sorrowful. The Psalms are perfect prayers. Read them … no, pray them and come to know the great goodness of God.

 

Ah, the weight of sin, the wonder of salvation! The psalms say it so well – that agony of separation from God and the joy of mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation. 

 I kept it secret and my frame was wasted.

 I groaned all day long, for night and day

         your hand was heavy upon me.

         Indeed, my strength was dried up

         as by the summer’s heat.

 

   But now I have acknowledged my sins;

         my guilt I did not hide.

         I said, “I will confess my offense to the Lord.” 

         And you, Lord, have forgiven the guilt of my sin. (Psalm 32:3-5) 

God loves you so very much. No matter what you do, no matter how many times you turn away from him, he welcomes you back, heals you and again sanctifies you. 

How respond to such love? Only by loving him in return. And how love him in a way that does honor to his immense holiness, his love? 

It’s so simple.  

You just give yourself to him, as you are, every minute and moment of you life. In your every “NOW,” for that’s all you control of your life – NOW, give yourself to him. 

Even – no, especially – if you are in sin, give yourself to him. He wants to save you, to hold you close in his divine love and mercy. It is for your sin that he died on the cross. So go to him, the Crucified One, when you have failed him. 

If you do that, you will know his love quite intimately and with St. Peter you can rejoice: 

Although you have never seen him, you love him, and without seeing you now believe in him, and rejoice with inexpressible joy touched with glory because you are achieving faith’s goal, your salvation. (1 Peter 1-9)

 

Completed Catholic?

23 Apr

This is where I work. Some would say this is where I live. Whatever, here is where I struggle to discern what I should and should not blog about. Here is where I most often pray and get ideas (inspiration?) to send along to you, my dear family and friends.

You have probably heard the term “Completed Jew” which refers, from the Christian perspective, to a Jewish person who has accepted Christ as the Messiah, Son of God and Savior.

But when are Christians complete? How are they completed? More specifically, are you a Completed Catholic?

I asked a brother deacon to define a “Completed Catholic.” He, a committed evangelist, said that a completed Catholic would be one who has fully accepted Jesus Christ.

Ah, yes, with emphasis on fully accepted!

Pope John Paul II urged us to begin a “new evangelization” by helping all those Catholics in the pew to become fully converted, so in tune with Christ that they will want to tell others about their peace, joy and strength in the Lord.

As I am not yet quite complete, I have been able to recognize, in every parish in which I have preached, a large number of Catholics who are not complete. They are just done. They are done with first communion and confirmation, done with baptismal prep, done with marriage preparation — and done, too often, with regular worship at Mass.

So, what to do? In a word, refocus.

I don’t want to gore any sacred cows, but we Catholics have to broaden our understanding of Catholic Evangelization. It embodies the basic focus of Protestant and Evangelical evangelization.

 But we do have a bit more to talk about, explain and celebrate:

  • Our faith is rooted in the Resurrection of Christ, in the first Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper or Last Supper; it is rooted in the foundation of the Church on the Apostles and the succession of mission and authority through the laying on of hands.
  • We have authority in our Church — Pope and Bishops who carry on the work of the apostles, the mission of Christ.
  • We have the Sacraments — through which we are initiated into the Church and nourished and strengthened all life long. The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is foundational to our faith. Through the Mass, we hear God speaking to us in real-time; we stand beneath the Cross of Christ, witness his death and our salvation. Through the Mass, we also witness his resurrection and ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
  • We have Tradition — from which we have Scripture, the very Word of God. We have, as the Body of Christ, an intimate experience of God spanning more than 20 centuries.
  • We have a close relationship with the saints — all saints, canonized and otherwise. We believe in the “communion of saints.” We share God’s life, light and love now —  though imperfectly. In heaven, it will all be perfect.

I wonder  how much we adhere to our faith and how often we thank God for the gift of our Church.

Am I, are you, a Completed Catholic? In what ways are we merely “done?”

The Search for Truth

20 Apr

Protect us, Lord, as we stay awake; watch over us as we sleep, that awake we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep, rest in his peace. Alleluia.

This is an antiphon which, in the Liturgy of the Hours, closes night prayer.

I’ve prayed that antiphon for more than 40 years. But one night, I decided to pray it slowly as though for the first time. And this one phrase caught my attention:

              “… that awake we may keep watch with Christ …”

Over what, dear Lord, are we to watch with you? What do you see? What do you want us to see? Is seeing enough?

Perhaps these are things the Lord would have us “watch” and to which we should respond:

Habitual sin – for which we find ways of excusing ourselves instead of repenting and changing our hearts and ways – pride, anger, greed, lust, spiritual laziness, gluttony and envy. 

Identifying the ramifications of sin both personally and socially: How does my habitual sin affect me, my family, its victims and our community and nation? 

Who are the people that turn me off, get me angry or bore me to death? Why do they affect me that way? What in me permits me to react in this way? 

You search for truth, for light. You look longingly on persons whose lives exude joy and peace. Does your “longing” become a barrier because the source of their joy seems narrow, a bit dark and misty? If they have found peace and joy by going through the narrow passageway, through the dark and mist, why are you so afraid? Is it the probability of rocky barriers in the future? 

What is it you do not want to give up? What are you willing to sacrifice, and must sacrifice, for a life of great peace and joy?

 Sometimes we read Scripture rather than prayerfully reflect on what God is saying to us in that particular moment. If we really believe that God loves us, that Jesus is indeed the Way, Truth and Life, we cannot and will not lose hope. We can’t lose, period. Please take the Lord at his word:

Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light (Mt 12:28-30).

Orthodox and Relevant

14 Apr

 Our Catholic Faith, is built on the Rock, the Lord Jesus Christ. It is he from whom we learn how to live, how to love, and how to bring the joy of faith to others.

After Vatican Council II, completed in the mid-1960s, the Church throughout the world experienced dramatic changes: Mass in the language of the people, lay people taking on more parish and diocesan responsibility, new emphasis on the primacy of conscience.

There were indeed tough issues: the Church’s continued teaching against artificial birth control, the struggles to find a charitable solution for the divorced, celibacy of priests and religious, chastity for the single people, an all male clergy, the role of women – and laymen – in the Church in terms of setting directions in parish worship, governance and life.

At the same time in America, abortion became “legal.” There arose a sexual revolution nurtured by an unreal sense of personal independence. People began to ignore authority. Older people’s values were old-fashioned, born of an outdated sense of cultural right and wrong. Political Correctness found a fertile nesting ground.

So, as I recall, we came up with a way to set people’s minds at ease. It was called the “pastoral” approach; you hold to the moral and doctrinal teachings of the Church, but you do so pastorally, taking the situation and the feelings of the people in the pew.  That sounded good and it still does – however, is this not a cop-out? Did this in any way help people face their own personal challenges?

Orthodox Became a Dirty Word

When bishops and priests preached the truth uncompromisingly, they were considered somehow beyond orthodox, unfeeling, pharisaical and ultra conservative.  Of course, some were like that – but in so labeling a few, “orthodox” became, at least subconsciously, a dirty word.

Popular priests and bishops, in some cases,  just ignored the issues of the day and just wanted people to “feel good” – the very thing that attracts certain Catholics to other churches, the notion that feeling was the essence of religious experience. In other words, if it feels good do it.

Orthodox and Relevant

Why not go to the heart of the matter. In so many ways, this “new” post-conciliar Catholicism is the same as the old one.  We are still not addressing the real issue – and the issue is this:

We have failed to make the truth relevant. For example, we still treat human sexuality issues from two extremes: one, the law is the law and that’s it; second, well, it is the moral law, but remember God is merciful. And thank God he is.

But human sexuality is not an add-on as people reach puberty. It is essential to our nature, and we are creatures who, for better or worse, have free will.

It seems to me that to understand any moral or theological issue facing people we need to go all way back to Eden, to contemplate how Adam and Eve were created, how they were before they sinned, how they were as God created them – innocent, in full health, with all their powers properly ordered, a man and woman able to walk with their God in the cool of the evening.

In other words, we need to relearn who we are as people created in God’s image. We need to reflect anew on why God’s will and the Church’s discipline help us recapture the blessing of innocence, an innocence far from passive, an innocence of dynamic love and action.

Unexpected Visitors

10 Apr

 

You never know what you’ll see when you wake up in the morning. On that day, we never expected to see a beautiful whitetail fawn and his mom having brunch  in our back yard.

How Can God Die?

10 Apr

Photo by Ray Hosler

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Photo courtsey of Ray Hosler                     

Well, he can and he can’t.

This is a perpetual puzzlement for people who want to get the mystery of God shoved into a manageable little box. At Men’s Bible Study this past Monday morning the question arose again: How can God suffer and die?

I pass the matter over to St. Anastasius (d. 599).

Only by reflecting upon the meaning of the incarnation can we see how it is possible to say with perfect truth both that Christ suffered and that he was incapable of suffering, and why the Word of God, in himself incapable of suffering, came to suffer. In fact, man could not have been saved in any other way, as Christ alone knew and those to whom he revealed it.

Does that help? Let’s try to reflect on the mystery.

Light on the matter comes from the two natures possessed by the Word of God. The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity assumed to himself a human nature — a totally human nature with body and human soul. Jesus was like us in all things except sin. He had a human personality.

His human nature and divine nature were distinct. He functioned as a man. The Holy Spirit anointed him. However — and it’s a big however — the Person of the Christ was the divine Son of God. The Son owned that human nature — and whatever Jesus did in his humanity was done by a human being whose Person was and is Divine. In that way, the Christ could suffer and could not suffer.

It’s a mystery — and I’ve added little to explain a mystery which is beyond a human’s capacity to understand.

In Bible study, when confronted by such an unanswerable question, we merely point heavenward and suggest that we ask the Lord when we get there.