Thursday, May 31, 2012
“The door of faith (Acts 14:27) is always open for us.” That is how Pope Benedict announced a Year of Faith, slated to begin Oct. 11, 2012, and end Nov. 24, 2013.
Now faith is two things: It is a relationship with God (trust in God and abandonment to God’s will) and it is accepting the truth about God (belief in the truths God has revealed). … Sunday we proclaim the Creed, which is a very brief summary of the core elements of our faith. … And to agree on something means we need to understand it (as best we can) and accept it. Pope Benedict highly recommends that everyone make use of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is an excellent summary of the contents of our faith. … I encourage you to develop some study groups with your neighbors or friends to review the Catechism or some shorter version of it.
-- Bishop Earl Boyea in Faith Magazine, June 2012
Well. I couldn’t have said it better myself --- although I once did.
When the new catechism first came out in 1992, I saw it as a basis for clearing up questions people I knew had about the Catholic faith. Just what does it teach, and more importantly, why? So I sought to start a small Q&A class, questions we all had about the faith or faith matters, which we would research together using the new catechism and or other documents, such as approved study guides or encyclicals, to answer our questions. The reaction to my proposal at my local parish, however, was far from what I expected.
The pastor, although he had not read the catechism, declared it was for the use of bishops, priests, and teachers of the faith only. Words in the dedication at the front of the catechism which read “to all the People of God” mattered not to him, nor JPII’s words that “It is also offered to all the faithful who wish to deepen their knowledge of the unfathomable riches of salvation.” He would not attend nor sanction the parish Q&A class I proposed, nor advertise it in the parish bulletin. An appearance at one of the parish commissions (to get people to see my side) turned into an even greater sideshow of misinformation and confusion. “You can’t propose to answer questions of the faith unless you have a degree in theology,” one said.
Well, this was twenty years ago and I was as stubborn then as I am today. Like the blog I write today, I did not want to convert anyone with my teaching, but only wanted to look at things as God presented them to me, and to try and grow in faith and understanding of Him. So we did form a Q&A class and met for about a year, myself and a handful of others, researching our questions, largely in the catechism. And based on the underlines I see in my copy yet today, we learned much. And so it is with some delight that I see my efforts of twenty years ago are now being vindicated by Bishop Boyea (above). And it makes me want to start again, since there was much I did not read.
With all the many books I read and time I spend with God, (praise Him that I am blessed with such freedom), I have learned much of my faith and grown in my relationship with Him. It all seems to come together, and He seems to put more and more things in front of me which re-enforce things I had learned and meditated upon. My recent thoughts on the importance of the Gospel of John (btw the most-referenced scriptural document in the catechism), the thought processes of liberals vs conservatives, and the meanings of freedom and truth, have made my life, and how to live it, much clearer to me. And yet I yearn to learn and understand more. Perhaps this urging of the pope, Bishop Boyea, the call to evangelize and the Year of Faith are coming together in an urging to read and study the catechism. And so I shall.
The catechism is about 700 pages long, and is subdivided into about 85 major sections, of about six to ten pages each. For a weekly study group, that would not be much of a task to read and discuss. And learn --- a self-evangelization so that in knowing our faith we can effectively live it. The call the Church makes to us to evangelize does not mean we should stand on the street corner preaching --- although there are some who may be called to do so. For most of us evangelizing our faith means to know it, understand it, and live it. If we do those things in our daily lives, we will be preaching by our actions, and we will be evangelizing. The catechism’s four main sections deal with the Creed (275 pages), the mass and sacraments (150 pages), Life in Christ --- morality, sin, social justice and the commandments (200 pages), and prayer (75 pages). For my non-Catholic friends, it appears to be more of a study of Christianity than unique Catholic beliefs.
I plan to invite friends to my house one night a week for a couple of hours. My agenda would be to devote an hour to prayer, and then one hour to the catechism readings of the week --- although I would be open to adjusting that agenda after discussions with the friends. I’m sure there are a number of catechism study courses available, but I would propose to keep this simple (and cheap) and avoid the canned studies. And to make sure we got something out of our efforts, I would propose we all answer these 4 questions (also subject to change) each week about the catechism reading:
1. What do you think are the key points made in the text?
2. What did you learn? What was new to you?
3. How does this impact your relationship with God?
4. What’s next: Will this change how you act? Should we study this further (research)?
In addition to my small group, I will propose that my local parishes begin some organized classes in reading the catechism. I’ll propose a replacement of bible study groups in the parish for one year with catechism study groups. I’ll propose a weekly talk on the Sunday scripture readings be replaced for one year with a weekly talk on the catechism.
And if no one agrees with my proposals or my offer to meet weekly at my home, I’ll begin alone.
Certainly some things such as Scripture greatly aided by study guides to understand them most fully, but the catechism was intended to not leave any confusion about what was being said in it. Heavily cross-referenced to source documents, it “aims at presenting an organic synthesis of the essential and fundamental contents of Catholic doctrine, as regards both faith and morals, in the light of the Second Vatican Council and the whole of the Church’s Tradition. … It is intended to serve as a point of reference …” It is intended to teach definitively.
Perhaps now more than ever, and certainly in sheer numbers, many of the members of the Catholic Church (and Christians in general) do not understand their faith, and that’s why some can even stand in front of Congress and the nation and make statements totally contrary to the faith, and not believe they are mistaken in their words. And many people who hear them, believe them. As the Pope proposes, we need to evangelize Catholics and Christians in the truth, starting with ourselves.
This seems like a good year to do it. I’ve laid out my plan. What’s yours?
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
He struck out on his own after college, a job offer taking him to a new city. Confident, like most young men, he felt he had learned all his father at home had to offer, and now there was much more for him to learn --- and earn --- on his own, and a new home to find. And as he grew in maturity he found that the learnings from his father served him well, and he found a measure of joy in his life.
But he gradually became aware of something he had never experienced before; it was something he had never been taught: failure. He found that the lessons of his father did not always yield success, or happiness. He thought he had learned all there was to know, or at least all that was important, but he found in failure some things he did not understand. Friends told him how blessed with success he was, and all the riches he had, but he thought them blind: “If this mire is success, then I want none.” They didn’t understand, and so they could not help him. What his father himself had learned (and subsequently taught the son) had brought the father success and happiness, but the son needed to learn more, unique lessons for his unique life, and these lessons he could not learn on his own. And that, in itself, was a new learning.
The son tried so hard; he followed the teachings that had yielded happiness in the past for his father. Why didn’t they always work for him? Like the Prodigal Son, he learned much in life, but for some of the hardest lessons he didn’t know that he needed another teacher, the One who had always loved and desired to teach him everything. He always knew of this Teacher, but never really sought Him. The son thought his youthful knowledge was wisdom, but wisdom only comes gradually with age and spiritual growth. Unlike the Prodigal Son, he never thought to return to his original earthly home, but he didn’t seek his heavenly one either. Proud and independent, he sank deeper in the mire of the pigsty of his life, and despite all his knowledge he couldn’t see a way out. He tried to find happiness, but unknown to him he was like the man in the wayside ditch, who had been beaten and robbed and lay dying, waiting for the Good Samaritan to help him.
Fortunately the son’s story didn’t end there. Now the earthly father was aware of what his son was doing, and likely wanted to come to the son and tell him: “It’s going to be okay. You can come home with me and I’ll help you fix things,” but he didn’t. Perhaps that was good. I’m not sure how the son would have taken that offer. Pride might have led him to decline – he was so much older, but still stubborn like a teenager. He never did return for his father’s counsels, but sought to find on his own a new start on the path of his life. But he really didn’t know in which direction to look.
Meanwhile his heavenly Father watched all this from afar, and was wise and knew of the pride of this son, and so like the earthly father He didn’t intervene. Instead He sent the heavenly mother.
When she first came, the son recognized her, and his initial reaction was one of embarrassment. “She sees how dirty I am, and what a failure,” he thought, and he didn’t understand why she suddenly was there with him in his mind. “Hi,” was all he could say. And she said even less. But he felt her smile and how she walked through the mud of his life and stood next to him, and held out her hand. And then he took it and stood. And she hugged him. And both cried. Then she helped him begin the long journey to the Father’s house, and along the way he was to be given a measure of the Wisdom he sorely lacked.
He never strayed far from the path to his heavenly Father’s house after that, although he still stumbled from time to time along the way. And when difficult times came again, as they always would, he talked about them to his eternal Father, and his eternal mother. And he never felt so lost and dirty again, never such a failure. And never alone.
I am so glad Mary called me home, and led me to the right path.
Today is May 30, the 70th year after my sister’s earthly birth, and nearly six years after her heavenly one. She was with me when I first heard Mary’s call, and from then on although we traveled our separate paths, we knew we were going home together. Sis has gotten there first, but then again, I strayed so much further from my path than she did hers. I’ve got a lot of catching up to do. Or perhaps God just wishes me to do a few more things along the way; and that’s okay.
We traveled different paths, but after our encounter with Mary, we felt we were on the same journey, Prodigal Children going home. And we always sought to encourage each other. We still do.
Happy birthday, sis.
Monday, May 28, 2012
It seems to me that a crucial lesson to be learned in our life, part of our growing in holiness, can be viewed as the changing of our parents, from the ones who gave earthly birth to us to even better parents, the ones that give us heavenly birth.
Now our earthly parents are doing us a great favor if they set us off on this parental transition with confidence, kind of a “we must grow less, as they grow more” attitude. Earthly parents who give us the gift of faith are truly a blessing, but many lives are not blessed in this way. This changing of parents, which was intended from the beginning of creation to be a smooth transition, often is anything but that --- largely because people are involved, and people have free will, and people make mistakes. And then life, like a football game, is full of surprises.
A fumbled handoff in life is not always recovered by the ones that fumbled or the intended receiver of the ball, sometimes the opposition can recover and take over. And often that IS a surprise. We’re born; we get faith; things are going smoothly, and ---- whoops, what happened? Suddenly we’re grabbed and we’re moving in the other direction. And our parents, and us, didn’t expect this. We had this smooth offense planned, to move us down the field of life, and it started out so well that we never planned to play defense, we never thought bad things would happen. But when a fumble occurs and the opposition takes hold of our life, the offensive team must be prepared to play defense --- or it will lose. And it must have a defensive mindset: recover and get moving on offense again; the enemy has temporary possession of the ball, not permanent possession.
Life, fortunately, is not exactly like a game of football, and we are not like a football. Our parents can start quarterbacking us down the field and attempt a smooth handoff to our spiritual parents to move us forward in holiness, but if the handoff is fumbled and we fall to the ground, temporarily in the possession of neither, we, unlike a football, can choose to bounce toward either one --- not the “lucky bounce” of a football, but truly a “like the ball had eyes” play. We can “lose a few yards” and bounce back to our parents to rely upon them again, to help get us moving forward. Or, we can bounce in the direction of God, trusting He will catch us and this will be a good thing --- we will gain from trusting God. We can, with our freedom, choose the direction we wish to go. Or not.
Sometimes, when we suddenly find ourselves on the ground of life, we can choose to just lie there in the mud, making no progress, trusting no one, thinking we are alone. Unfortunately, this is the choice of many people. It’s a bad choice.
I’d like to believe that the people who just can’t seem to get up when their life is fumbled don’t understand the gift of freedom they have. Or maybe their parents never told them what the goal of life is, and so they never felt the joy of making progress in holiness. Or maybe they never learned about God, and how He could be trusted to love them, and take them to a safe home. I’d like to believe these things, to make an excuse for the ones who can’t get up off the ground, or even for the ones who don’t try to avoid getting picked up by the enemy, Satan, and get carried away the other way: “Maybe they just didn’t know, Lord. Maybe they were never taught. Have pity on them please?”
But our God is a God who can read our hearts, and although love is a gift He freely gives us, it is not one he forces us in freedom to accept, or to give to others. It’s where our choice comes in. His oft-stated command in the Gospel of John is “Love one another.” It is a key message of life: we must choose to love. Our choosing to bounce in the right direction when life gives us a fumble is our choice to love. Our earthly parents give us love and make us want it; our heavenly parents give us love and make us want to give it. By choosing not to love, to just lay on the ground like a fumbled stupid football, apathetic to who picks us up or where we go in life, we are choosing not to be who we were created and taught to be, not imitating our parents, not going where we were meant to go in this game of life.
The game of life was set up so that the team first in possession of the ball, us in the hands of our parents, has an advantage. It can start us moving in the right direction. It is up to us then, with our freedom, to choose to continue in that direction, and accept their handoff to the care of our future eternal parents, and score a victory with our life. And while they have crucial roles in our life, parents being with us and leading us forward throughout our life, we have a critical part also. Our desire to go forward in life, to go with spiritual growth, is to choose to love.
Sometimes with the freedom we have we get confused, and we think we are in total control of our life. We don’t know about any handoff between our parents, and we think we grow up and are on our own --- to win or lose the game of life is our responsibility alone. But we are not as free as we might think, because in some ways we ARE like that football and in a game. A football doesn’t get to measure progress, and it doesn’t determine the rules. It doesn’t get to say if something is “fair,” and doesn’t complain about a “bad spot,” nor that a foul wasn’t called. And a football doesn’t get to keep score. It does, however, get crushed, kicked, fallen upon, and sometimes spiked. No one cheers the football. And while the football is designed to do many wonderful things, it can make no progress alone. In these ways, we are like a football.
But on the other hand, our life is NOT like a football in that we can choose to move forward, and we can do that by choosing to love. Love makes us yearn to move forward. Pentecost gave us love, and a visible example of it in action. Love one another; love knows no language.
We are meant to be victorious in the game of life; all life was created with a bias to desire victory, to yearn for God. A bias toward God, so that in some ways all we have to do is go with the flow and victory can be assured. But our parents are there to help, so that we can then do our part. Oh, and there is one thing more to remember: although the game of life may be very rough and tumble at times, there is a GRRREEAAATT victory celebration planned at the end. Never forget the reason for the game, nor the celebration at the end.
And plan on attending.
Life is a rough and tumble game, with lots of grunting and lots of pain, but there is a reason for it. And there are huge stands of people in the skies cheering us on. Don’t give up. Do not be anxious, even if you are losing at some point. The game isn’t over until it’s over.
(And even if you look over and it seems no one is cheering you; they’re eating hot dogs in the stands; they’re still thinking about you. Even cheerleaders need to get re-energized some times, and enjoy the friends around them. I like to think of my family in heaven that way, cheering me on, until I get too old to play anymore. Then taking me home, to be with them again. And we’ll re-tell the story of my game endlessly! )
Saturday, May 26, 2012
This year my parish is doing something different; it is broadcasting its Pentecost vigil mass on the web. The mass will run about 3 hours and begins at 7PM (EDT) tonight, and instructions for viewing it can be seen here: www.ctkcc.net.
He gave up this life so that the Spirit could come.
So can we.
I couldn’t begin to estimate the number of books I’ve read on the importance of prayer. For the scientist and followers of the scientific method --- prove it and then I’ll believe it --- prayer is the link, the personal link, to the spirit world, and the antithesis of the material world. You can’t prove via the scientific method that you are talking to God or, even if there is a “god,” that he hears you. For the scientific method all truth is in the material world and is provable; but our faith in Jesus believes Him when He said: When the Spirit of truth comes he will guide you into all the truth. Pentecost was a visible proof of the existence of God, of His Spirit, and of His truth. Many saw; many heard, and what seemed to be the words of drunkards --- they were so amazing --- were shown to be truth. And many believed the truth.
Only a fool would refuse to believe things proven by science, even if he himself cannot do the proofs nor understand them. Electricity, gravity, and light exist, even if I do not understand them. Truth, beauty and love exist, even if I do not understand them.
One of the ways the Spirit comes to us is in prayer; we can invite him into our hearts. A key point of the invitation, however, is our acceptance that perhaps, just perhaps, he will tell us the truth. That simple openness in prayer is enough of an invite for God to begin to show us, guide us, into all truth.
Jesus showed us so much by way of example of how we are to live this life and, as we’ve heard over and over again in the Gospels of John, He also TOLD us how to live this life: Love one another. But just copying that example, just hearing those words and living the example of Jesus’ life is not enough. Anyone can ‘look’ like a good man, so that others can see him. But God has told us that He reads our hearts, and we must not just ‘look’ like we follow Jesus, we must believe what He did and spoke. We need the Holy Spirit, so that the “proofs” of this life can be exceeded by the “proofs” of God. Jesus told us that is so.
He gave up this life so that the Spirit could come. So must we.
If we want to know the real truth about the important things of this life, prayer is the start.
Saturday, May 19, 2012
Do you notice that some people sit in the same place in church, week after week? I myself am one of them; I feel comfortable near the back, near the statue of Mary. Some days I am the only one seated in that section of the church, and I guess that is somewhat contrary to the community purpose of the liturgy, but still, for a reason I can’t easily define, that place feels comfortable for me. And looking around, I see that others have found a comfortable spot also, week after week. In some way, I guess they feel they belong in “their” spot, a tiny bit of ownership or control over their lives.
And, of course, in every church on every Sunday there are the members of the “accounting class”. They are the LIFO members, the last-in, first-out members. They always sit near the exits. They account their duty done if they show up on Sunday, and they check off the box that says they are good people of faith. I don’t wish to judge them, but I wonder if they are much different than the good people who don’t go to church every Sunday. And there are many of those. But all these people, and me, have one thing in common: they are looking for a place to belong. Belonging, fitting in somewhere, being a member--- being wanted--- is a natural human longing. Belonging gives us stability in our life, something to hang onto when everything else seems to be rushing by all around us. Things are rapidly changing and we can’t seem to keep up with the latest trends, the movements of our culture, our families, even our friends. Nothing seems to be stable, except the Church, and so we grab on there, in part just to feel a level of comfort.
Change is a difficult thing to accept, and constant change almost impossible to accept. Fear of change is partly why the battered wife stays with her husband, why the abused employee stays with the unappreciative employer, and why people hang onto old clothes, old cars, and old friends. What is known may be bad, but what is unknown may be worse. In one of Bill Cosby’s old comic routines he had a line: “Never challenge worse. Never say: ‘Things can’t get any worse.’” Although it is a comic line, all of us can relate to the truth of it. Today in this country we have an election coming, and I suspect that some people’s vote will be made considering those words, and the fear of the unknown.
And that, in part, is why our Catholic faith is such a challenge. It says we are to grow in holiness, over our whole life. It says that we were not born to be secure or safe, to belong to this family or this group of friends or job or city, or even this particular parish. All of these things are subject to change, as we change, as we grow in holiness. As we change --- there’s the rub: we are expected to change. The thing we fear, we are expected to do. The security we want in belonging, is to be traded to be a nomad in this life. We don’t belong here, anywhere in this world. This is only a temporary place for us; no matter how comfortable a place we find here, we can’t stay. So looking for that comfortable spot to stay, to belong, is a futile exercise. Although it feels good, this road we are journeying on, and there are many pleasant places along the way, we must put our eyes on the destination, and find a happiness, even now, in our expectation of getting to the end, our eternal destination. Seeing the whole map, the picture of the entire journey, with our sights on the destination, will also give us strength to bear the problems along the way, the flat tires, the noisy kids in the car, the getting lost, and perhaps even getting robbed along the way. At times, every long journey will seem tiresome (read what the Jews said and did in the desert), and we may want to quit. We must never quit, and we must fight being anxious.
To find a level of contentment with this journey, we do need to understand it. We talk of evangelizing others to understand our faith, but we need to firmly understand it ourselves. We need to be comfortable with our faith, deep inside of us comfortable, and not just with a certain comfortable place at church to sit in each Sunday. Evangelization starts with ourselves: reading the catechism, praying. We need to understand our faith and the purpose of our life, the reason we journey and the destination we are going to. We are journeying to home. Home is not here, not anywhere on this earth.
You aren’t where I am, rivers separate us which you must cross, jungles of confusing paths which you must navigate, to come home to Me.
Holy Communion often takes me to a different place, as does time in an adoration chapel. Time slips away in those places. I cry at the beauty I see and feel there. A communion prayer I pray says: “Stay with me, Lord,” yet in the same prayer I tell my heavenly Father: “Faith tells me I am with Him … I share in His life.” We aren’t home yet, but that doesn’t mean we are alone for the journey. We have a guide close at hand, if we want Him, if we would listen for Him and to Him. We journey to be with Him, home forever, but we can be with Him even now, if we would look for Him in our lives.
It used to be that I felt compelled to plan things, now I am often content to be shown things --- and they do not always lead me in directions I had planned. My thoughts are now directed to what He would teach me, not what I am seeking to learn. He knows better what I need; it was a major lesson for me to accept that. It was a major learning to KNOW in my heart where I really belong.
And our hearts are restless, until we rest in Thee. – St. Augustine.