God doesn’t want you skipping Mass just because you aren’t picture-perfect.
There’s a tension between giving our best to God on Sundays, and the divine expectation that we’ll turn out (if we are in fact able) even when we haven’t got a best to give. Why?
The Holy Eucharist is the food for our souls. There is a particular grace, supernatural life, to be received by devoting a day a week – Sunday, the day of the Resurrection – to rest and to the worship of God in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
How important is this weekly nourishment? So important that without it our very soul is in danger. We would never say, “Do I really have to eat today? Can’t people live for days or even weeks without food?” In the same way that our parents made sure they put something on the table, and admonished us to eat healthy foods, the Church admonishes us to get the holy nourishment we need from God.
It is so important that God tells us: Build your life around this. Don’t let this divine gift be the thing you grab in passing if you’ve got a minute to stop. Don’t let it be an afterthought.
Put as much effort into getting to Mass on Sundays as you would into any other necessity of life. I might put off grocery-shopping because I’m too sick to get to the store, but I wouldn’t let my fridge go empty for days if I could possibly do otherwise. Sure, I’d like to have a list made and even look half-decent when I turn out at the store, but if all I can do is slink in and grab the essentials, I’m going to do it.
In the same way, if you’ve made the Holy Mass the most important part of your week, there are going to be times when it’s all you can do to just show up. When it takes everything you have to drag your rear end into a pew before the opening hymn is finished. After all, there’s a line between, “I truly cannot go today,” and “Well, yes, if I work it just right I can get there.” Just over the hairy edge into “Yes I can” isn’t very pretty.
But our Lord says, “Come anyway!” You can always try again next week for the red carpet appearance; this week just turn out and pray as best you can.
It's tough to understand, once you've come to believe in the Real Presence, how a faithful Catholic would purposely miss taking in Christ as often as possible and minimally on a weekly basis. It is for me anyway.
Think on this a moment.
We are all seekers of God, whether we know it or not. The faithful are constantly in pursuit of Him. And for Catholics, that pursuit ends by the taking in of Christ in the Eucharist. In that moment, we come face to face with God and in fact, we take Him into ourselves where in the end, His cells intermingle with our own. It's unfathomable on the one hand and yet so very real for those who believe.
I've not missed a Sunday obligation since my return to the Church in March of 2011 but once, and that only because I happened to have been on a cruise ship. I'm not trumpeting my piousness by any stretch in revealing this because the fact is I'm far from pious. What I am communicating however is my need for God and my belief that this need is met in a tangible way for me everytime I take Holy Communion. And it's become something I simply won't miss.
Meeting this obligation weekly has made a tremendous difference in my life not because of anything I'm doing but because of what He's doing in me in that weekly meet up.
The Real Presence is the real reason why I am, and will always be, Catholic.
A few days ago someone confided that they were stressing about something, a something that would cause anyone stress. Heck, I'm stressing over this same something myself.
They were anxious and unsettled and I wanted to in some way help. This same someone had talked of potentially becoming a Catholic so I thought, hey, perhaps you should drive down to the nearby Catholic Church (there's one less than 2 miles from their house) and participate in Eucharistic Adoration. Spending quiet time in prayer before the Real Presence of Christ would do anyone wonders. I volunteered to sit with her because I knew it would do me some real good as well.
She's not yet taken me up on the offer but I hold out hope.
What I did do is send her links to that which explains Eucharistic Adoration. One of them was this very well done video:
You can learn more about the Real Presence at this link.
And I've posted about this subject before and a couple of my favorites can be found here and here.
On Facebook yesterday, someone I'm friends with put up a status declaring her discomfort with Popes becoming saints and the fact that Catholics would pray to them. She thought for sure it was a violation of the first commandment preventing the worship of idols.
It's a common problem non-Catholic Christians have with Catholicism and it's not terribly surprising to see this objection raised time and again by those who have little knowledge of the faith. Hell, I used to have a serious problem with it myself not that long ago.
We’ve all seen those “reality” shows that follow the celebrity-of-the-minute in their daily lives. Most of them have one or more personal assistants. These are the people that do all the real work around the place. They organize and schedule, they burp the babies and clean the house, thus allowing the celebrity to get their hair and makeup done (also by someone else), have an overly-dramatic love life and generally lounge about eating organic, free-range, calorie-free bon-bons.
But I’ve got those reality stars beat. And by a long shot. You see I have an entire group of people working for me. All of them pull 24-hour shifts with no vacations or sick leave. They never complain, never dawdle, and each one of them is faithful, funny, filled with joy and completely unique. They’re my “heavenly committee” of the saints that I love. Just as you ask your friends and family to pray for you, I ask my committee to take my prayers with them to Jesus. After all, these are the folks who love Jesus with their whole hearts and whose earthly lives showed us how to walk with Christ each and every day, through every trial and sorrow and every grace and blessing. Each one of them reveals His mercy and love in different ways to me and they teach me humility and patience and surrender. I can’t imagine my life without their friendship and assistance.
God created us for relationships. He never meant for us to go it alone. God IS relationship, after all, in the mystery of the Holy Trinity. Jesus sent His disciples out in pairs. He founded a Church made up of believers coming together for prayer and worship. We’re bound to one another in the love of the Holy Spirit, both in this life and our lives-to-come with Him in heaven. Since about the year 100 A.D., the practice of asking those in heaven to pray for us had become a common one. St. John wrote about it in Revelation 5:8 when he says that the saints in heaven offer our prayer to God “as golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” Since saints in glory are in complete communion with The Lord, those prayers have to be for us. When we ask them to pray for our needs, God hears them and it pleases Him. Just like He hears the prayers of our family and friends on earth. Do you have prayer partners or prayer chains or teams in your church? They are doing exactly what the saints are doing—offering prayers for you to God. Jesus told us to pray for one another (Matthew 5:44) as did St. Paul (I Timothy 2:1-4). It’s good for us to do this. It’s an act of love.
Catholics don’t worship the saints. Asking them to pray for us is as “natural” as asking a friend to pray for us. The statues and paintings and stained glass images of the saints you see in our churches are reminders to us of their lives and examples. It’s like the photos you carry in your wallet to remind you of your family and friends. You don’t worship the photos, you just like being reminded of your love for the people in them. Saints aren’t divine. They’re not angels. They’re people like you and me who are alive in heaven—just like we hope to be someday. After all, each of us is called to sainthood.
Even if you don’t come from a Christian tradition like Catholicism or the Eastern Orthodox Church, why wouldn’t you want the saints in heaven to be praying for you and your family? These are the members of our faith who got it right, who ran the good race and who live now in the very presence of God for all eternity. I’d like to invite everyone reading these words to learn about a saint whose life interests them. Allow Jesus to introduce you to His closest family. You can start with “my committee” if you’d like.
I have my own list and they include a couple Tiberjudy names but I also pray to a few others. For example, I ask for St. Monica's prayers for my children and their significant others to come to the faith, praying that her persistence and my own will someday pay off. I pray to my confirmation saint Justin that I might never tire of seeking the truth. I pray to St. Michael to defend me and my family in our daily spiritual battles.
And of course, I pray the Rosary, seeking the intercession of Mother Mary daily, particularly for my family and friends and those I know to need mercy, grace and healing.
Am I worshipping idols? No. Hell no. I'm being quite biblical in asking those close to God to help me become close to Him too.
No more. No less.
So what are your thoughts on praying to the saints?
Christ went down into the depths of death so that "the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live."485 Jesus, "the Author of life", by dying destroyed "him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and [delivered] all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage."486 Henceforth the risen Christ holds "the keys of Death and Hades", so that "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth."487
Today a great silence reigns on earth, a great silence and a great stillness. A great silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. . . He has gone to search for Adam, our first father, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow Adam in his bonds and Eve, captive with him - He who is both their God and the son of Eve. . . "I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. . . I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead."488
On this day of silence and stillness, I remember loved ones who have passed. My maternal and paternal grandparents, my aunt Pepa, my cousin Rick, my aunt Betty, my uncle Clarence, my cousin's wife Diane, my son's friend David, my friend Don, my wife's uncle Lacy. I remember those lost who've meant a great deal to people I love. People like Rick. Like Felix. Like PapaJohn.
I remember them all with a sadness certainly, but also with a hope born from faith for a reunion.
Tonight the wife and I went to our Church to partake of a soup supper... and then watch one of the most moving and beautiful reenactments of the Stations of the Cross I've ever seen. The music, the portrayals, the staging, the creative sets, all were done with great care and effect.
I found myself surprisingly emotional at times. And thought, interestingly enough, about my boys, the ladies they love and my soon to be born granddaughter, Amelia.
I thought about how I looked forward to a time, hopefully in the not too distant future, when we might all together see something as beautiful and inspirational.
It'll be an opportunity I hope we'll all one day take, as a family.
Which brings me to an opportunity coming up this weekend.
The film itself generated enormous controversy, of course, hitting all kinds of cultural and aesthetic buttons. Some of this was due to the sheer violence of the film, some of it was due to the (I think unfair) charge of anti-semitism against it. And a lot of it was due to the fact that many people simply had no background for seeing the very clear theology inherent in it. In many ways, it was Mel Gibson's meditation on the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary and the Stations of the Cross. It was marinated in imagery that, to a Catholic, was as clear and beautiful as (to a non-Catholic) it was opaque and mysterious.
For instance, I remember reading one critic remarking the Gibson had apparently randomly inserted peaceful moments from earlier in the life of Christ into the narrative, simply to give the viewer a reprieve from the violence. But in fact, every frame of that film is there for a theological and artistic reason. So, for instance, as Jesus arrives at Golgotha, we suddenly cut to the Last Supper and Jesus unwrapping the cloth holding the bread he will consecrate as the first Eucharist. The scene then cuts back to Jesus being stripped of his clothes. He is nailed to the cross--and as he is lifted up on it the scene cuts back to Jesus at the Last Supper elevating the bread, giving thanks, and saying "This is my body". In short, Gibson is using a cinematic vocabulary, here and throughout the film, to say what Catholics say in every Mass. For the same reason, he shows Mary--Jesus' greatest disciple--kiss the bloody feet of Jesus and come away with the Precious Blood on her lips: it's the filmic way of saying "This is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant."
The gospels have been described by one 19th century German theologian as "passion narratives with long introductions". The good news that Christians had to tell--indeed the only news they had to tell--was not that that Jesus was a moralist, or a miracle worker, or prolife, or told some nifty stories. It was that he was God incarnate who had suffered and died for our sins and then been raised to life on the third day, now to rule and reign over the universe till the last enemy, death, was put under his feet and he returned on the Last Day to judge the living and the dead. All the stories, saying, parables, and miracles in the gospels are just commentary on and preparation for that. Everything the Church has ever done since then has looked back to that 72 hour period in the life of its Hero. Gibson's daring choice (in a culture as theologically illiterate as ours) was to confront modernity with the Passion Narrative with no introduction and as little supporting material from the rest of the gospels as he could. To let the shocking story of Christ Jesus scourged, crowned with thorns, crucified and risen speak for itself with the enormous crushing power it still retains.
There are times that I really worry about what lies ahead, times that seem more frequent since finding out that I'll soon become a grandfather. What will the world be like for little Amelia? What will she and those of her age face?
You read the headlines, you watch the news, you hear what's happening to loved ones, to coworkers, to friends and it can become a source for some serious anxiety.
Where does one go to find a balm? Where can one flee to find relief and hope? What do you do to face this fear?
In the Gospel Jesus continuously repeats: Be not afraid, be not afraid. Why does He repeat that so often? Because He knows that fear is “normal”. We are afraid of life, of challenges. We also know fears before God. Everyone is afraid. Everyone. So you don’t have to worry. You should ask yourself why you are afraid, before God, before yourself. You should learn to delineate your fear, because there is good and bad fear. Good fear is like prudence, a careful attitude. Bad fear is fear that limits you. It makes you small. It paralyses you, prevents you from doing things. You must lose that fear.
I've been able to overcome my bad fears but I find that they return so I don't think you can come to me for complete answers on this.
What you'll hear from me though is that my anxiety, my bad fears and worries, lessen the more I put myself in the presence of God.
How do I do that?
Seeking and finding God in the Eucharist. Praying the rosary. Trying hard (and failing admittedly more times than not) to see Christ in others. Serving Him. Listening to the faithful. Reading inspiring words of conversion. Going to confession. Blogging about all of these things.
My bad fears do indeed seem to melt away when I'm actively attempting to embrace my Catholicism.
In essence, relief comes by practicing my religion, by exercising my faith.
It's probably counterintuitive to say and some in the faith may find it problematic but for me, the bad fear and anxiety I face too often are guard rails forcing me back on to the road of faith, reminding me of my need for God.
What, if you're still reading, triggered these thoughts?
Same-sex marriage is contrary to Christianity’s traditional understanding of gender and sexuality. Ok. I support the right of religious employers to fire employees for any reason, but as we all know (right?) supporting a right to something is not the same thing as condoning that thing. Ok.
Let me ask you something: how many adulterers work for Christian institutions? The answer has to be: more than you think. How many ordained who have broken their vows of chastity? How many employees who have had abortions? How many Southern Baptists have garish McMansions? At what point did we decide that working alongside sinners was a no-no? Where in the heck did we get that idea from the Gospel?
(“Oh, but this is different! This causes scandal!” Does it? First of all, I think our habitual understanding of “scandal” needs a serious rethink. And second of all, how is this more of a cause of scandal than the other things I’ve name-checked?)
This is where we invoke the certain Gospel passages, that Jesus recruited sinners, and ate with sinners, and came for sinners, and rescued the woman taken in adultery. This has become so habitual that the other side is primed to ignore it by reflex, and the first side merely uses it as an excuse for meta-pharisaism.
“Jesus tells the woman taken in adultery to ‘Go and sin no more’!” Ok. But wait, the Gospel doesn’t tell us if she actually repents or not. Imagine she doesn’t. Jesus, being the Son of God and all, knows it. Do we think he would’ve seen the men lining up to stone that poor woman and would’ve thought “Good. She had it coming.”
“C’mon! Refusing to hire same-sex ‘married’ people isn’t the same thing as stoning a woman!” In that society it was! It was the normal, legal response. Today we have different legal and cultural means of using social coercion to punish sin, and Jesus clearly indicts them all (see: Girard’s scapegoat mechanism). Only God can judge. And your social punishments for sin are just excuses for you to set yourselves up as idols, as little gods who get to separate the sheep from the goats.
I mean, let’s be a little Kantian here. Imagine every business is a “Christian” business (and that’s the end goal, isn’t it?) and has this policy. So when you’re in a committed same-sex relationship, the outcome is that you…don’t…work? Anywhere? Never mind the cruelty, how is this supposed to get anyone to repent of anything?
My thoughts on this are evolving. I guess I should "blame" Pope Francis and his "softer" approach to evangelization but really, I think the "blame" lies with the Church and her teachings, teachings I think Mr. Gobry is articulating with clarity, teachings I'm embracing more each day though some days more eagerly than others.
When I think of Christ today, I think of God with open arms. I think of mercy. I think of forgiveness. I think of grace.
I can imagine that doesn't square with the notion that many have of Catholicism. What with all the rituals and rules, all that bureaucracy and hierarchical authority. Yes, it's something paradoxical and mysterious but frankly, quite Catholic.
The bottom line for me on the point of this post boils down to whether I'm going to believe in the dignity of every created being. This is where I am trying hard not so much to draw the line myself but to respect the line drawn by the Church.
Do I have issues with gay marriage, with militant homosexuality, with the fascist tendencies of the so called gay lobby? Yes. Hell yes.
But if I'm embracing the noble and true goal of attempting to draw people to a God whose arms are open, to a God of mercy, forgiveness and grace, how successful will that attempt be if all I do is oppose, resist, disapprove and fight?
If I had the power, I'd draw the line more than likely in places where they don't need drawing. For me, the Church has drawn the line and Mr. Gobry is shining a light on it.
Not too long ago, I had a conversation, albeit brief, with my youngest son.
I can't remember all the specifics but what I do remember is his stating that had he been born to a Muslim family, he'd likely be Muslim... if a Jewish family, he'd probably be Jewish.
The gist was... faith is less intellectually assented to but more a by-product of one's environment.
Certainly some truth to that, and I don't think he meant this to be an end-all to the faith tradition people choose to align themselves with but... it does I think beg the question... comparatively speaking, which faith tradition is closest to the truth.
It’s common to meet the claims of tradition with an invocation of the game of “Telephone”, in which a message is passed from person to person in such a way that it becomes hopelessly garbled. But messages of importance are not passed in this way. As an example, there’s an African people, the Lemba, whose oral tradition claim;s Jewish ancestry. They look no different than the peoples around them; but their culture is clearly based Judaism. To have a minyan, a quorum for worship, you must have what in modern America is called a “Cohen”: a descendant of the cohanim, the priests. Genetic studies have showed that the vast majority of the Cohens in America do share a genetic marker; and those considered leaders among the Lemba have been shown to carry it as well. Now here’s the thing: according to Lemba tradition, the Jews came to them about 2,500 years ago.
What is considered important can be preserved.
Last week, I talked about how I personally came to believe in Christ. This week, I want to talk about some of the reasons why I think, upon reflection, that Christianity is the truth. My path to belief was based on the authority of my parents and teachers in the faith, and my personal experience. But I’m an adult now; why does Christianity commend itself to my intellect?
G.K. Chesterton remarked once that the study of comparative religion makes it appear that all religious are basically the same, especially Christianity; and that this similarity is almost wholly misleading. Christianity, and Judaism before it, are entirely unlike the faiths that went before.
Please do read the rest. Though brief, it cogently defends the veracity of the Christian faith. Here's hoping my youngest will read it. And you dear reader.