Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Are we tolerant or truthful?

The Church celebrated the birthday of St. John the Baptist on June 24th and on August 29th it honors the anniversary of his martyrdom.  Besides our Lord and our Lady, St. John the Baptist is the only one whose birth and death are celebrated.   Mark chapter 6, verses 17 to 29, relates the circumstances of his execution.  John had the courage to blame Herod to his face for the scandal of his illegal union with his sister-in-law Herodias, whose husband was still alive.  Herodias contrived to make Herod imprison John and took advantage of an unexpected opportunity through her daughter Salome to have the saint beheaded.

August 29th marks "the second finding of his most venerable head." The body of the saint was buried in Samaria.  In the year 362, pagans desecrated the grave and burned his remains.  Only a small portion of his relics were able to be saved by monks and sent to St. Athanasius at Alexandria.

Blessed John suffered imprisonment and chains as a witness to our Redeemer, whose forerunner he was, and gave his life for him. His persecutor had demanded not that he should deny Christ, but only that he should keep silent about the truth.  Nevertheless, he died for Christ.  Does Christ not say: "I am the truth"?  So, because John shed his blood for the truth, he surely died for Christ.  Through his birth, preaching and baptizing, he bore witness to the coming birth, preaching and baptism of Christ, and by his own suffering he showed that Christ also would suffer.

John was a strong man who accepted the end of his life by being beheaded after a long imprisonment.  He preached the freedom of heavenly peace, yet was thrown into irons by ungodly men. He was locked away in the darkness of prison, though he came bearing witness to the Light of life and deserved to be called a bright and shining lamp by Christ.

St John the Baptist died because he told Herod that his union with his sister-in-law Herodias was illegal.  John was asked to ignore this illegal union of King Herod with his sister-in –law.  Herod even liked John and considered him to be a righteous and holy man.  But Herod could not accept it when John condemned his sin. 

Today, sometimes we witness behavior which we know to be sinful.  If we condemn the behavior, we are likely to lose a friend or to be criticized for our lack of tolerance.  If we keep quiet, we may keep the friend but will lose the opportunity to possibly save their soul and maybe even ours.  

As we celebrate the martyrdom of St John the Baptist, let us resolve to proclaim the truth whether convenient or inconvenient.  I doubt that any of us will have to die for the truth but we may have to die to ourselves and to accept humiliation and possibly even the anger of a friend.  Whatever this burden for us may be, it is truly a light one compared to the glory of eternal life in heaven.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Are you wise or foolish?

Today’s Gospel reminds me of our dependence upon propane to heat our house during the winter.  Several times in the last few years we have been very low on propane during the middle of winter.  Of course, we called our supplier and asked them to deliver propane.  But, they are always very busy at that time of the year.  So, we turned the temperature down in the house and prayed that they would come before we ran out. 

Now, my concern about being low on propane and maybe having to live in a cold house isn’t nearly as much of a problem as being a virgin at the wedding feast without any oil.  These virgins are locked out of the wedding feast for all eternity.   And, as Jesus says at the end of the parable, we don’t know either the day or the hour.  So we must be ever vigilant with our lamps always full. 

It’s interesting to me that there are five foolish virgins and five wise virgins.  So, five of these virgins, the wise ones, are taken into heaven and the other five, the foolish ones, are thrown into hell.  Does this mean that about half of the believers will make the cut and eventually reach heaven, while the other half will be condemned to hell?  I cannot answer this question.  All of us can only pray and work out our salvation with fear and trembling.

And then we look at the first reading from the letter of St Paul to the Thessalonians which tells us: “This is the will of God, your holiness: that you refrain from immorality”.  Then St Paul continues: “for the Lord is an avenger in all these things as we told you before and solemnly affirmed.”  

The Navarre bible commentary for this reading tells us that in St Paul’s time the word immorality had come to refer to any kind of sexual practice outside marriage or not in accordance with the aims of marriage.  Using this definition for immorality, there seems to be an excess of immorality in our culture today and a shortage of holiness. 

If you were to ask Catholics, how many people would reach heaven and how many would be condemned to hell, I expect that most would say that only a very few people would be condemned to hell.  They would cite God’s mercy and suggest that a merciful God wouldn’t condemn lots of people to an eternity in hell.  For me, it is interesting that Jesus had five wise and five foolish virgins in this parable.  It makes me think that this may be a toss-up for many of us.  I know it sure makes me want to work harder when I think that the odds may be 50/50 or less.  And by the time we know where our eternal future lies, we cannot do anything about it and we cannot come back here to warn our family and friends.  As Jesus says, we must “stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

Lord, you tell us this parable because you love us.  You want us to know how to enter into your grace now and for all eternity.  Please pour that same love into our hearts, so each of us will be creative and courageous in spreading your good news.  With the love of your heart, Lord, inflame our hearts. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Queenship of Mary celebrates life

Pius XII established the feast of the Queenship of Mary in 1954. The feast is a logical follow-up to the Assumption and is now celebrated on the octave day of that feast. In his encyclical To the Queen of Heaven, Pius XII points out that Mary deserves the title because she is Mother of God, because she is closely associated as the New Eve with Jesus’ redemptive work, because of her preeminent perfection and because of her intercessory power.

Mary brought life, the Son of God, into the world at great cost to her.  Maryprovides a great witness to all mothers today.  Her witness is urgently needed to counteract the confusion about motherhood and families.   
I recently watched a video from the US council of Catholic Bishops titled Made for Life.  The introduction to the viewers’ guide says the following:  “The vocation of marriage is a unique call to an adventure of love and life, where love is life-giving in a matchless way.  Marriage, in its inmost essence as the union of husband and wife, is open to the child.  The love between husband and wife – what we call authentic spousal love – is never self-enclosed but remains open to life.  Married love is different than any other kind of love or bond between two persons.  In an utterly unique way, the bond between a man and a woman as husband and wife is made of life, made for fruitful love, especially for the possibility of receiving the gift of life and becoming stewards of it.”

Marriage is meant to be an adventure of love and life with married love being life-giving.  For Mary, her openness to life resulted in birth of the Messiah, our salvation, and the establishment of the Church.  Imagine what our world might be like if Mary were not open to life.  So, today we celebrate her queenship as the mother of the Messiah.

As married couples, our openness to life is part of our marriage covenant.  During the marriage rite, the priest or deacon asks the couple the question:  “Will you accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?”  The couple’s answer to this question is important not only for their future family, but also for the Church, the nation, and the world.  If we are going to answer that question with a resounding “Yes”, we must believe that children are a gift and are not a burden to the married couple and to society. 

So today, let us reflect upon Mary’s openness to life and the sacrifices which she made for us.  And let us commit to supporting life from conception to natural death by our words and our actions.  And, if we aren’t sure about our position on this most critical issue, let us resolve to study and to embrace the teachings of the Church, especially the writings of Pope John Paul II, on this issue. 

The battle lines have been drawn on the issue of life and we cannot stand on the sidelines.  Let us pray that all Catholics will follow Mary and the inspired teachings of the Church.  It is truly a matter of life and death.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Holy Family as a dysfuncional family

Last week I attended a conference on Marriage and Family.  This conference gave me hope because those attending were proclaiming the truth about God’s plan for marriage and family.  One of the speakers talked about the Holy Family.  He commented that the story of the Holy Family is our story.  Jesus, Mary, and Joseph would be considered a dysfunctional family today.  Mary was fourteen or fifteen when she married Joseph who was a much older man.  Then, she got pregnant, even before they started living together.  It was common in those times for a couple to get married and then to return to the homes of their parents so that the man could prepare a place where he could live with his bride.  That’s why Mary and Joseph were married but not yet living together.  Imagine Joseph’s surprise when he realized that Mary was pregnant.  But he didn’t rant about it but planned, as was the custom at the time, to divorce her quietly.   Then an angel came to Joseph to tell him that Mary was to give birth to the Messiah.  Joseph accepted this shocking news and lived a chaste life with Mary.

Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem for a census and gave birth to Jesus in a cave.  In today’s terms, they were homeless.  After Jesus’ birth, an angel came to Joseph in a dream and told him to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod who was killing the young boys.  So, they were forced to go to a foreign land as immigrants until Herod died and this threat passed.

When Jesus was twelve, they took him to the temple as was the custom at the time.  But, Mary and Joseph both left without Jesus.  Jesus was lost for three days in the temple of the big city of Jerusalem.  Imagine how Mary and Joseph felt in losing not only their son, but the Son of God.

Joseph died sometime after this before Jesus began his public ministry.  So, Mary was a single mother.  She watched as Jesus was tortured and died a brutal death on the cross.  As a mother, she kept all these things in her heart.

August 15th is the feast of the Assumption, when Mary is raised body and soul into heaven.  She is now in heaven as our model, our mother, our inspiration, and our hope.  All of us hope to be in heaven one day with God the Father, as she is.  All of us have experienced some difficulties in our life, especially in our marriages and our families.  But, I’m sure none of us have experienced the same level of difficulties that Mary experienced.  She carried her cross every day as she kept all these things in her heart.  She was obedient and constantly followed God’s will, even when it brought her times of suffering.

So, today, as we celebrate the feast of the Assumption, let us give thanks for the trials in our lives.  Let us take up the cross that God has given us and follow Him as Mary did along the road of Golgotha.  Let us not measure our success based upon dollars, or upon power, or recognition.  Instead, let us measure our successes based upon our willingness to follow God’s plan for our lives.  Let us celebrate our gifts of marriage and family, even the gifts which bring us pain and suffering.  And let us carry and even rejoice in our cross knowing that each step along the path of life with our cross brings us closer to our heavenly destiny when we will be in heaven, body and soul with Mary and our heavenly Father.

Friday, August 12, 2011

A reflection on divorce and Jesus' teachings

In today’s Gospel, some Pharisees ask Jesus if it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife.  Jesus replied that what God has joined together man must not separate.  He also commented that Moses allowed divorce because of the hardness of their hearts. 

This teaching is difficult for many to accept because of the many divorces which we see in our society today.  Clearly, marriage is under attack with many young couples living together before they get married and others deciding not to marry at all.  Sometimes it seems like marriage is becoming obsolete.  And some are even trying to redefine marriage to include same sex relationships.  So, Jesus words to us today are very timely as he says:  “From the beginning, the Creator made them male and female.  For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 

Today, those of us who are married must witness by our words and our actions to our marriage covenant.  Our young people need to know that a marriage which lasts forever is not only possible, but is part of God’s plan for most of us.  If we follow that plan and abide by the teachings of his Church, our  marriages will be an image of Jesus’ love for each one of us.

Last week I attended the National Association of Catholic Family Life Ministers conference.  There were about 400 people at the conference including 4 bishops, 10 priests, and about 30 deacons.  It was an inspiring and an informative conference for me.  There were speakers and vendors at the conference who focused on every aspect of marriage including marriage preparation, making good marriages better, saving troubled marriages, dealing with divorce, and meeting the needs of widows and widowers.  In these times when marriages are under attack, it was great to meet so many talented and holy people who are focusing their efforts in this area.  Everyone that I met reaffirmed the Church’s teaching on marriage and family.  At times, in our confused world, it can seem like all is lost and that the devil has won the war for the hearts and minds of our young families.  But, attending a conference like this one and finding so many people who are proclaiming the truth regarding marriage and family in their parish or their diocese, gives me hope that there are many hearts and minds yet to be won in this battle.

After attending this conference, I have access to lots of resources concerning marriage and family life.  If you or someone you know is struggling in this area, come see me and I’ll try to point you towards someone or something which might be of assistance.

Pope John Paul II tells us that "The family finds in the plan of God the Creator and Redeemer not only its identity, what it is, but also its mission, what it can and should do."   Our mission, as husbands and wives, is, first and foremost, to build our domestic Church, to build the kingdom of God on earth.  As our families go, so goes our nation, our Church, and our world.  Please join me in praying for families and marriages during these confusing times.