Saturday, January 31, 2009

Got A Favorite Quote From Archbishop Chaput?

I don't know if you're reading (or have read) the book Render Unto Caesar by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver. If so, you probably have a few favorite quotes of your own. My favorites are stacking up - and so I think I'll get one out there so that I don't burst from trying to keep it all in.

More to come, but here's one of my favorites:

"People who take God seriously will not remain silent about their faith. They will often disagree about doctrine or policy, but they won't be quiet. They can't be....Christian faith is always personal but never private....As a friend once said, it's like asking a married man to act single in public. He can certainly do that - but he won't stay married for long" (10).

What's your favorite quote?

P.S. Page 66 quotes Emperor Maurice in the year 590 A.D. Interesting, he refers to Our Lady as "the immaculate" (even that early in Church History). Anybody have an earlier reference to the Immaculate Conception? Would love to hear from you, too.

The Roulette Table

A man stood at a roulette table. Another man behind the table waited to take his bet.

The first man scanned the numbers. "What do I get if it lands on a three." The man behind the table said a lifetime of lust. The gambler thought a moment and asked, "What about number ten?" "A life filled with pride," was the reply. Then the gambler asked to see a menu of options, because he just couldn’t make up his mind.

The man behind the table passed the first gambler a laminated card with a menu describing in detail every number and its reward.

A second gambler stepped to the table and he, too, received a menu of options. "What’s this about number seven? I don’t understand what it says."

The man behind the table smiled and said, "Oh, that one stands alone. You see, you can pick any of the numbers – all of the numbers if you like – but that one stands alone."

"What is the prize," the second gambler asked.

"Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, self-control. . . holiness, righteousness, goodness, justice. . . whatsoever is pure. . ."

The first gambler snorted out a laugh, interrupting the man's explanation. "That doesn’t sound very fun. But you’re telling me I can choose all the rest?" The man behind the table nodded. "Okay, then, I want all of it. All of the number but that number seven."

"And you, sir?" The man behind the table asked gambler number two.

"Well, I don’t care much what other people think, so I don’t want that one. But I want money, lots of money. Give me that number. And I don’t like to be proven wrong, ever, so give me pride. And I like my women, so give me that number. I guess that should do it."

"You’re an idiot, mister," said the first gambler. "Why don’t you take all of them, except that number seven? Since you can, I mean. Why limit yourself so much?"

By then, a third gambler had stopped by the table for a quick look around. "What about you," the man behind the table said. "Oh, I don’t play the game, sir."

"Everybody plays the game, whether they make the bet here or somewhere else." The third gambler looked around at all the other tables. They all looked the same. "Pick a table, mister, the rules at every table are the same."

"Well, then, I might as well make my bet here as anywhere." He studied the laminated card for a minute, a look of disgust registering on his face. "Seven. Put it all on seven." Then he walked away from the table, as though he didn't even care how the game would turn out.

The man behind the table took the bet and turned to the roulette wheel. He gave it a spin. The two remaining gamblers watched with great interest, the first gambler as giddy as he could be, as though he had already won the game. The second gambler only showed interest when his pet numbers came around.

Finally, the wheel slowed for its final run. It passed each number. . . pride, lust, fear, gossip, greed, gluttony, fame, fortune, good opinion of others, anger, bitterness, revenge, disregard for others, success. . . and the wheel moved slower and slower as it closed in on the final number.

Horror registered on the two gamblers’ faces. "Seven, seven wins all," the man behind the table said. He looked up at the two men as he cleared the wheel of all earlier bets. "You had to know how it would end. It always ends the same."

"What about the guy who won? Where’s he?"

"Already off to collect the reward, sir. He knew how the game would end. Didn’t need to watch the wheel go around. He already knew."


Friday, January 30, 2009

Fr. Thomas Dubay's Book - A Must-Read Book

I read the book in a day and a half.

As a former Evangelical, I am impressed by anyone who can quote chapter and verse to support a theological position. Fr. Thomas Dubay wins the prize. He doesn't build a case on one verse; he builds a case on the entire Gospel message.

It is troubling (again as a former Evangelical) to think that my little prayer of repentence as a new believer doesn't mean that I'm a sure recipient of eternal life. Passages like, whatever you have done for the least of these. . . whatever you have not done for the least of these. . . are very troubling indeed. Being a sheep doesn't happen because I said a little prayer at the age of eight. Being a goat doesn't happen because I didn't say the little prayer.

I've been Catholic four years. And the Gospel message of giving to the poor and needy was just beginning to sink in.

And then I read this book.

"Nowhere in Scripture are we asked for much or most or quite a bit. Always it is everything. The God of revelation is never a God of fractions. It is not enough to love him with 95 percent of our heart, not enough to be detached from major obstacles, not enough to be merely cordial and helpful in community, not enough to be regular in prayer" (42).

If we have two coats, we must give one away.

We must give out of our need, not out of abundance.

Our neighbor is our brother. If he is in need, we must fly to help him as quickly and generously as we would our biological brother.

What we have is not given to us, it is demanded of us - for others.

The question comes to mind: who can stand on that day? And just when you begin to wonder, Fr. Dubay lays it out for the reader. Saint by saint, from age to age, they gave all. And they were happy. And they shall be called The Sheep.

Happy Are You Poor by Fr. Thomas Dubay - excellent and totally grounded in the Gospel of Jesus Christ


While on my journey from Protestantism to Catholicism, I read a passage in the Catechism that struck a chord with me. “For Christians a special gratitude is due to those from whom they have received the gift of faith . . . “ (2220).

This call to gratefulness made me reflect on the lives of many people. I thought about my maternal grandmother – how she could not separate her faithful witness from her life as a mother and grandmother – how she was always teaching and instructing her grandchildren in the faith whether she was pruning roses in her garden or squeezing lemons for fresh lemonade. I remembered the dog-eared children’s book that she read to her grandchildren occasionally, the stories of little David and angry King Saul or Ruth and Naomi or Queen Esther. I thought of the one hundred dollars my grandmother sent when I was absolutely broke and trying to raise three children by myself. I remembered how she spoke of glorious visions while on her deathbed.

My mind went to my father, a Protestant pastor who had loved the Lord with every fiber of his being. I remembered his unconditional love when I was far from loveable, his wise counsel when I was confused or distraught, and his extraordinary intelligence and gift for philosophy and theology that held me spellbound even as a teen. I remembered the lessons on suffering and death, gained only through watching him suffer and die and how his one desire was to go wherever the Lord leads – even into the shadow of death if that was God’s will.

I thought about my mother and how she led me in the Protestant prayer of repentance when I was eight years old and the wonderful form of worship she had in the simple act of playing a well-loved hymn on the living room piano before church on Sunday morning – and how she could turn a Bible story into something so interesting that even the very young would beg her to keep going when the story ended.

I thought about my new friend, Catholic writer and apologist Mary Beth Kremski, and how Our Blessed Mother brought her to me at just the right moment in my faith journey. I went to the bookshelf and touched the binding of all the books I would never have read without her suggestion. I couldn’t count the number of times she prayed for me or shared a needed piece of wisdom.

I thought about my RCIA leader, Shawn Mueller, how he has helped me work through many theological questions, even though I didn’t make it easy for him. Sometimes, I e-mailed him questions on his day off, and he sent me replies with links to helpful websites the very same day. His dedication and concern for those entrusted to him was exceptional.

And I realized that there is a special gratitude within me for all of these people.

Finally, I thought of my parish priest, Father Stoltz. I remembered the words of absolution that came after my first confession – and how forty years of sin and shame washed away instantly. I thought about the Mass, when he raised the consecrated host and proclaimed, “Body of Christ” before placing it on my tongue. And I remembered the peace that comes in that most holy moment. The verse came to mind, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, and I thought how true that is!

St. Francis de Sales in his great work Introduction to the Devout Life encourages believers to find a “faithful friend who by advice and counsel guides our actions and thus protects us from the snares and deceits of the wicked one” (46).

I am blessed to have had these people in my life. I pray that I can be all that Jesus Christ wants of me – and somehow touch the lives of others for the Kingdom of God – even as I have been touched by so many.
(Ruth and Naomi image, by C.F. Vos.)


Thursday, January 29, 2009

God's Poetry

“So much depends upon a red wheelbarrow, glazed with rainwater, beside the white chickens.” American poet William Carlos Williams wrote the poem. I happen to like it, but my husband just laughs and says, “That’s not a poem; it’s a sentence.”

John is right, of course; it is a sentence. I am right, too; it is definitely poetry. I guess I just like the simplicity. In my mind, I can see the wheelbarrow as it rests against the chicken coop and the rain bathes the wheelbarrow like an agrarian version of blessed holy water.

To me, it is the ideal of poetry, which should contemplate life, human interaction, and the complexities of our existence, like a pale imitation of faith and the spiritual journey.

As a Christian, I am that red wheelbarrow, overused at times, underused at times, and sometimes used for fun and frolic. Many times, I feel like I am overworked by the Master. I want to cry out, “Can’t I just go back over there by the chicken coop and rest a bit? Lord, aren’t you driving me a bit too hard?”

Then, I sometimes feel abandoned. Like the wheelbarrow, I am propped up beside a chicken coop and left to wait and wait, as the rainwater drizzles down and the chickens peck at the ground. The dog days of summer or the harsh cold days of winter stretch out before me, and I long for Jesus to take me for a joyride, letting some small child climb aboard, feet dangling as she throws back her head in laughter and the Master takes us both for a spin around the farm. I am happy to be used in this way. And the opportunities seem all too rare.

That is how it has been for me since my conversion. At times I am at rest – so much time to sit and reflect, time to contemplate God, my faith, and my purpose. But in those moments, I’ve often felt forgotten and even wondered if I would ever be used again for His service.

Other times, like now, I enter seasons in which I feel overworked – rushed about and pushed to the brink of my ability. I look back to the seasons of quiet contemplation, and I remember those days of rest with longing.

When I am most exhausted by seasons of active labor or feel forgotten in seasons of quiet contemplation, I am surprised and delighted when the Master decides that work and rest can wait. I can almost see the Master as He gently calls to me and says let’s do something else for awhile. Let’s have a little fun. I smile as He lifts a small child up and places her in my care, and we go for a joyride.

I hear the child’s laughter, and I am glad that so much depends upon a red wheelbarrow. So much depends on letting God use me in the way and in the timing of His great design. And that is the poetry of belonging to Him and submitting to His perfect will. That is the way my little life is transformed into God’s poetry.


Blessed Feast of St. Genevieve

In 1987, the book was everywhere. Americans anxious to prove their level of cultural literacy bought the book and studied it like a textbook. E.D. Hirsch, Jr. had hit a nerve with his book Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know.

To be honest, I bought the book Ten Dates Every Catholic Should Know for the very same reason. As a new convert, I wanted to know everything Diane Moczar could tell me about Catholic history, not because I like history. I don’t. In fact, it’s one of my least favorite subjects. But I had come to realize, at least at some level, that John Henry Newman was right. “To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.” And I wanted as much information as I could get in order to be ready in season and out of season with my defense of the faith. (II Timothy 4:2)

Unfortunately, I have a terrible memory for dates, but when I saw St. Genevieve on the Church Calendar today, I remembered that she was in the book. I pulled the book from the shelf, along with a few other sources, and read her story once again.

She was born around 422 A.D. near Paris. She called the city of Paris to prayer twice in an effort to save the city from destruction. The first time, Attila II was headed for Paris, but at the last minute, he led his men around the city instead, for no apparent reason.

The second time came more than forty years later, when Clovis set his sights on the city. This head of the Frankish forces was known for pillaging churches and destroying everything in his path. St. Genevieve, like Judith of old, was not intimidated when Clovis laid siege to the city. She prayed earnestly for the conversion of the young, impetuous leader. What could soften the heart of such a hardened soul?

Clovis fell in love with a young woman named Clotilda, a devout Catholic, and they were married. Eventually, his wife’s faith changed Clovis, and he asked to be baptized, along with all of his men. The event set the stage for a Catholic France. It seemed that God had heard St. Genevieve’s prayers once more. This leader didn’t bypass Paris. Genevieve herself welcomed the young couple into the city once Clovis was baptized and led her new friends through the city gates. She “was their supporter and counselor” from that day forward.

I probably won’t remember this incredible story for more than a few days. That’s how my mind is with dates and historical events. But one thing will stay with me. St. Genevieve was a woman of prayer – and God listened when she prayed.

Let us commit to praying for our cities and dioceses and like this saint, believe that God will hear our prayers.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Mass - a multi-sensory worship experience

One of my favorite channels is the Food Network. I’m fascinated by the array of details that goes into entertaining. My first encounter with a meticulously orchestrated meal came many years ago when we were living in Marietta, Georgia. (Back then, I was married to the associate pastor of a United Methodist congregation, and we had three elementary-aged children.)

Becky Greene was the senior pastor’s wife. She invited my family over for dinner so that our husbands could "talk shop". As Iowa transplants, we were used to simple food and no-nonsense entertaining. As long as the table was piled high with a variety of dishes, we thought the night was a success. Becky Greene changed that with one dinner invitation.

The first difference was the way her house smelled. I’d never known someone to take the time to infuse boiling water with potpourri, but the appeal to our sense of smell made a lasting impression.

The next difference was a visual one. Becky had called in a decorator and the formal dining room was exquisitely decorated. I had never heard the term “tablescape” but Becky certainly had. The napkin rings, the chargers, the centerpiece, the china, the linen napkins – every little detail was perfectly arranged.

And then there was the menu. Growing up, we always had meals that incorporated all food groups. Becky had taken this to a new level. A vegetable wasn’t just a vegetable. It was an event. The meat wasn’t just a pork chop on a plate. The meat was plated and sauced with style. Even the beverages had pizzazz.

I say all of this to point out one simple truth. We were created to be multi-sensory creatures. God made us that way. And our worship should incorporate all of it.

I did not grow up in a high church atmosphere. The atmosphere inside the church was simple. There were no statues, no incense, and no high regalia of pastoral attire. And we thought that was good enough. We thought we had our attention focused in the right direction. And so we did. But we are multi-sensory creatures. And this act of worship, this most important moment in the human experience, this holy event should enlist all of our senses.

Just as the attention to detail did not detract from the fellowship we enjoyed with Becky and Stuart. The attention to detail actually enhanced the evening. Indeed, it took an experience that could be quite forgettable and made it extraordinarily memorable.

Moreover, this life is not the main event. What we do in ordinary life is a pale foreshadowing of what we do and who we are in the Kingdom of God. All that we do - this eating, breathing, hearing, seeing, and tasting – all of it is for one end and purpose. To glorify God. We do not leave our senses behind when our soul magnifies the Lord. We eat it, breathe it, hear it, see it, taste it.

It is right and good that we should bring all of our senses with us when we enter into the Mass. Everything that God has made – including our senses – should have its ultimate purpose in Christ.

And so it does.


My top five St. Thomas Aquinas quotes:

  • How can we live in harmony? First we need to know we are all madly in love with the same God.
  • There is but one Church in which men find salvation, just as outside the ark of Noah it was not possible for anyone to be saved.
  • Beware the man of one book.
  • Hold firmly that our faith is identical with that of the ancients. Deny this, and you dissolve the unity of the Church.
  • Nor has the Church failed before the assaults of demons: for she is like a tower of refuge to all who fight against the Devil.

Blessed Feast Day of St. Thomas Aquinas! What's your favorite quote?


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Appointments Confirmed. . .

It is one of my favorite titles. At baptism, I was appointed to this position. Years later, I went through the confirmation process. What is my title?

I am an ambassador for Christ.

Doesn't that sound fantastic? And there's a job description that goes with this title. St. Paul says that we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. . . . we implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God (II Corinthians 5:20).

As ambassadors, our number one mission is to call one another to reconciliation. You don't need a president to appoint you. You don't need elected officials to confirm you. God has already appointed you and confirmed you to this position. How cool is that?

You are an ambassador for Christ.

Blessed Feast of St. Angela Merici

St. Angela Merici would agree with my spiritual advisor. When someone asks you to do a good work and you know it isn’t the work to which you were called, just say “That’s a very good work; it’s just not my good work.”

Pope Clement VII asked St. Angela Merici to become the head of a religious order. One problem with this great honor – the order was a nursing order. And Angela knew that God had called her to something else.

It is very appropriate to celebrate the Feast of St. Angela Merici during Catholic Schools Week, for this great saint was the first woman to teach girls outside of the walls of the cloister. She went into the community and gathered together girls from families who could not afford to send their daughters to the cloister for an education. By doing this, she changed the entire schema of Catholic education and opened the doors of literacy to impoverished girls. She didn’t merely say no to a good work. She said yes to the right work.

Go and do likewise.

(Eventually, she became the foundress of the Ursulines.)

Monday, January 26, 2009

Lent is Less Than a Month Away - Some Reading Options

One of the best ways to journey through each season of the Church Calendar is by choosing a good book as a travel companion. Liguori Publications has a great line of books specifically geared for Lent and Easter. Last year, I read Wisdom from Thomas Merton, and Wisdom from G.K. Chesterton, and Wisdom from Henri J.M. Nouwen. The series includes collections by other great theologians, so there is something for everyone.

I prefer to read the original works in their entirety rather than limit myself to books with editor-selected passages, but in our fast-paced society, most people do not have the luxury of reading the exhaustive works of great Catholic writers. For those who long to sit with the masters but simply do not have the time to do so, I highly recommend these pithy collections that combine wisdom with daily meditation, prayer and action.

Begin your search for a Lenten companion. And if you have a favorite title, post it in the comment box! We're always looking for a great Catholic read.

Elizabeth Bayley Seton - One Dynamic Convert

Yes, the answer to yesterday's question is St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. Born to a physician and a pastor's daughter, this young lady would grow up to impact the educational system in our country dramatically - by providing an educational alternative for parents and their children. She is the Mother of the American Catholic School System.

Today, Catholic education is the first choice of many parents. It gives young people a spiritual and educational foundation that exceeds all other educational venues. It has set a standard of excellence that continues to challenge public schools (and other private institutions) and call them to reform, to improve, or to be rendered inviable.

It is amazing to think that this young widow (of 29 years) had the fortitude to raise five children on her own, give serious and sincere consideration to a faith which none of her family embraced, and willingly give up family and friends to claim the Catholic faith as her own. She would found the Sisters of Charity and and set a course for education in our country that would rival that of the nations of the world.

And many of her friends and family would eventually convert as well.

Her favorite prayer:

May the most just, the most high
and the most amiable will of God
Be in all things fulfilled, praised
and exalted above all forever.


Sunday, January 25, 2009

Name That Saint

She was the first American saint born on American soil. She was a convert to the faith and the daughter of a doctor. Her mother's father was an Anglican minister.

And she is responsible for establishing Catholic education in our country.

Can you name this saint?

It's Catholic Schools Week. God Bless our young people and the men and women who teach them!

One Bread, One Body, One Lord of All

I taught Spanish in a Catholic school a decade and a half before I entered the Church. It was my first significant exposure to the Mass. During those two years at Beckman High School in Dyersville, Iowa, I frequently attended the school-wide Masses and sat with my students. I picked up little pieces of the back-and-forth liturgy that transpired between the priest, the student body and God, but I always remained seated as the students went forward to receive Holy Communion. I didn’t quite understand why I wasn’t permitted to receive. I felt the sting of this separation most acutely when the Communion song was ’”One Bread, One Body.” I longed to be with my students as they went forward.

When we returned to the classroom, students would sometimes ask me why I didn’t go forward to receive the Eucharist, and I would simply say, “I’m not Catholic.” That seemed to be reason enough for them.

Years later, I finally entered the Church. Today, my favorite Communion song is “One Bread, One Body.” I pause and listen to the voices around me. Then I stand to my feet and make my way to the aisle, joyfully letting the words soak in. Memories from those school-wide Masses fill my mind as I make my way forward to receive Our Eucharistic Lord, and I am amazed that, some fifteen years later, I am more in unity with the students I met all those years ago than I was as their teacher.

When the priest says, “Happy are those who are called to this table,” my spirit always says, “Indeed.”

When the priest holds the Eucharist before me and proclaims, “The Body of Christ,” I blink back tears and choke out my “Amen.”

It isn’t just sentimentalism because I no longer feel like an outsider. It is so much more than an emotional attachment to past memories. Today, I receive Holy Communion in the Catholic Church because I really am in union with Christ. My “Amen” is a yes to what the Church teaches and who the Church is. My Amen is a yes to the truth of the Real Presence. My Amen is a commitment to accept my place in the Body of Christ and a yes to whatever that reality might demand of me.

There is more.

Sometimes, I get a glimpse of just how deep the mystery of our unity really goes, and I realize it is doctrinal unity, physical unity, and it is also a mystical, spiritual unity.

Recently, my husband took a business trip to Seattle. He came home and pulled out a couple of little presents for our daughter, and then he said he had something for me. A co-worker had given him a gift bag and told him to give it to his wife. I do not know this woman. She wouldn’t know me if we met on the street.

The woman’s note to me explained that I had come to her mind while she was in prayer and again while reading her own copy of the book she was giving to me.

Inside, I found an inspirational book of daily readings. Immediately, I turned to the entry for the date mentioned in the note. With divine precision, the reading went directly to a problem I was facing.

How can someone in Seattle know what someone in St. Louis needs to hear? What makes a Catholic woman on the other side of the country act on the quiet voice of the Spirit rather than dismiss it as a silly thought of her own making?

There is no other explanation except to say we really are one in this One Body. During the month of January, we pray for unity. It is a tradition that began in 1908 as an octave created to begin on January 18 (the Protestant Feast of the Confession of Peter – similar to the Catholic Feast of the Chair of St. Peter) and to end on January 25 (the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul).

In this Year of St. Paul, let us be particularly faithful in praying for unity in the Body of Christ, “That the world may know that the Father has sent the Son” (the words of Our Lord in the Gospel of John 17).
Lord, hear our prayer.


Blessed Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul

There are a lot of us, and our stories fascinate you. Sometimes, the stories are so compelling that we almost achieve celebrity status. But we are not celebrities. Being a convert to the Catholic Church simply means we said yes to grace. A few of us had St. Paul-style conversions, the kind that knock you over and render you blind for a bit. The rest of us just came around to the truth slowly and methodically, and we found ourselves in a Rite of Christian Initiation (RCIA) class without being sure how it all began.

In this Year of St. Paul, we must remember that it wasn’t St. Paul’s conversion story that turned the world upside down, though it certainly surprised those he had persecuted and outraged old friends. St. Paul was more concerned with living the faith, keeping the faith, and dying in the faith. With great humility, this servant of the Lord writes, It is not that I have already taken hold of it or have already attained perfect maturity, but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it . . . forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead (Philippians 3:12-13).

St. Paul understood that conversion was only the beginning. To him, it was a sobering reality that he must continue to run the race with a focus on what lies ahead and not behind. What does forward-focused Christianity look like and how does a new convert move beyond the joy of that initial conversion to lay hold of what lies ahead?

The answer is found in St. Paul’s writings.

It was not enough to be converted. It was not enough to be beaten and imprisoned and stoned. It was not enough to be shipwrecked or tossed out of one city gate after another. St. Paul knew that he must not only run the race well. He must finish the race well.

In the early 1990s, I lived north of Atlanta, Georgia. One evening, our family visited the home of a parishioner who had worked as an executive producer at Turner Broadcasting System. Ira gave us a tour of his beautiful house. I was surprised to see a number of Oscars lined up on one shelf in his office and asked him if they were real. He nodded, and I told him that I was impressed. He said, “Don’t be.” And then he explained that, in his business, one was always working on the next thing, not looking back. I was intrigued by his humility and impressed by his tenacity.

If one can be tenacious for the things of this world, why not be consumed with the work of the Kingdom of God. That’s what St. Paul would say. Fight the good fight. Run the race. And win the prize.

The Church needs lectors, cantors, cleaners, quilters and intercessors. She needs people who visit the sick and volunteer at the women’s shelter and coach the parish athletic teams. She needs artists and writers, speakers and architects. She needs those who have great intelligence, great creativity, and great hospitality. There is a job description that fits your talents perfectly.
I am blessed to be a part of this network of Gospel living. Sure, conversion stories are great. They inspire cradle Catholics who find it exciting that God is still calling people to conversion. But there is more.

Without a doubt, the best conversion story is the one that keeps going and growing long after the first conversion. And I’ll be honest with you. The work that comes after that first conversion is more exhausting and demanding, because few see it, even fewer affirm it, and almost nobody applauds. Even so, let us run the race as St. Paul did. Moreover, let us finish the race as St. Paul did!

For the grace to finish the race well, St. Paul, pray for us!


Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Inheritance

I used to have a recurring dream. I don’t have it anymore, but it was uniquely interesting and it reminds me of a change in my understanding the role of the Saints.

I dreamed I entered a beautiful Victorian house. With great attention to detail, this house had been preserved and furnished, but I realized there was a second floor to the house that had been forgotten and overlooked, permitted to enter into a state of disrepair. With a sense of adventure and discovery, I climbed the stairs to the second floor, only to discover the bodies of those who had lived in the house. Their bodies lay on beds in rooms long forgotten. My attention was drawn to items in the room, precious gems and priceless possession they had left behind, all mine for the taking. With a sense of wonder, I analyzed each thing, delighted in each gift, and realized that this was now my inheritance.

I had that same excitement when I began to read the lives of the saints. While the Catholic Church had gone to great lengths to preserve the lives of the saints, I realized that my Protestant heritage had let the “house of the saints” enter a state of disrepair. With a sense of adventure and discovery, I pored over the gems they had left behind, truth that was mine for the taking. With a sense of wonder, I let the saints take me by the hand and show me things I had never seen. With a grateful heart, I embraced their wisdom and witness and realized that these things had become my inheritance.

If it has been awhile since you let one of the saints come into the parlor of your heart, I encourage you to visit your local bookstore or parish library and select a biography. The inheritance is yours for the taking.


Blessed Feast of St. Francis de Sales

Hansel and Gretel left bread crumbs so their father could find them. The saints leave quotes and a legacy of holy living so that we can find The Father. Here are a few great quotes from today's saint:

"It is the part of an unprofitable soul to amuse itself with examining the lives of other people."

". . . offer up all your grief, pain, and weakness as a service to our Lord and beseech him to join them to the torments he suffered for you."

". . . have particular love and reverence both for the guardian angel of the diocese where you live and those of the persons with whom you live, and especially for your own guardian angel."

"Confide in him with a daughter's respect for her father; respect him with a son's confidence in his mother."

"A faithful friend, Holy Scripture says, is a strong defence, and he who has found one has found a treasure. . . have this faithful friend who by advice and counsel guides our actions and thus protects us from the snares and deceits of the wicked one."

St. Francis de Sales was a brilliant preacher of the Gospel. He was driven by love more than the desire to win an argument. Within four years, his love and zealous preaching were responsible for bringing most of the Calvinists back to the Church. Let us look to St. Francis de Sales in this month of Christian unity and do our part to bring unity to the Body of Christ.

(All quotes taken from Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales.)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Abortion and Tax Dollars

According to Donald E. Wildmon, Founder and Chairman of the American Family Association, President Obama has lifted a ban on the use of tax dollars to pay for abortions around the world.

"President Obama lifted a ban on federal funding for international groups that promote or perform abortions, reversing a policy of his predecessor, George W. Bush. Obama's actions mean that hundreds of millions of your tax dollars will go to help groups like Planned Parenthood perform abortions around the world. His actions came one day after the 36th anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion in all 50 states."

A Common Dictionary

Even when we speak the same language, we sometimes have difficultly communicating with one another. You don’t have to travel to England to experience this. There are regional anomalies right here in the United States.

It happened to me while walking out of a grocery store in Atlanta a number of years ago. A lady entered Winn Dixie and asked me, “Are you finished with that buggy?” I stared blankly for a moment and realized she was referring to my grocery cart.

“Oh, yes. Sorry. It’s all yours,” I mumbled, as I quickly added another definition to the word buggy. From henceforth, it could refer to a piece of baby equipment, a prop for an old west movie, or (in Atlanta) a grocery cart.

Likewise, one of the more frustrating aspects of sharing the Gospel with others is that we do not always share the same dictionary. In 2007, a woman on the reality show Survivor proved the point. The host asked her about being religious. She bristled and explained that she is not religious but has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Catholic viewers scratch their heads and think, she sure sounds religious to us. The problem is that Evangelicals and Catholics mean different things when they use certain words or phrases.
Take the word religious. To the Catholic, it means to be counted among the faithful. One who is devout. Baptismal vows shape how they live, and they are fully engaged in this journey to God.
To Evangelicals, the word religious means almost the opposite. They believe a religious person concentrates on rituals and formulas at the expense of a meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ.

That is why Evangelicals will not ask a stranger if he is religious. Rather, they will ask him if he has a personal relationship with the Lord. And it’s a valid question. To answer it appropriately, though, we need to consider what the person really wants to know. Like the woman who asked if I was finished with the buggy, you may not be able to answer the question if you do not know what the question is really asking.

In short, how real is Jesus to you? To what extent has He impacted your life? Do you invite Him to go with you into your week? Do you talk to Him before you fall asleep? Is He the first one you speak to when you wake in the morning? Do you see Him in the face of the homeless? The poor? Your aging parents?

When things go really well, is He the first one you tell? When things are spinning out of control, do you reach out for His hand, like Peter walking on the water to Jesus?

Being religious does not mean (or should not mean) that we cling to external rituals that are void of meaning. On the contrary, it should mean that our faith impacts everything that we do. It redefines our calendar, it gives framework to the way we worship God, it instills reverence and a proper fear of the Lord, and it brings order, balance, depth, fullness and unwavering faithfulness to our walk with God. This kind of faith is very personal.

Moreover, every Catholic who receives the Most Blessed Sacrament receives Jesus Christ in the most intimate way possible. You can’t get more personal than having Jesus Christ on your tongue. His Real Presence meeting you at the cellular level. Overwhelming you. Changing you. Think about it, when you went forward to receive Our Eucharistic Lord at Mass last time, you experienced the most personal touch we can experience on this earth. The One who created you, the One who flung the stars into space and formed every valley and mountain, the One who holds all things in His Hands – He became so small and humble that you have been given the opportunity to rise from your knees, walk the aisle, bow, and put out your hands and take Jesus into your own body!

It is too miraculous, too mysterious to comprehend. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t true. And it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to contemplate such profound love. Spend the distance from your seat at Mass to the raised Eucharist contemplating with awe and wonder who it is that comes to you – so intimately, so personally.

How is it possible that He should come inside me, and I not cease to breathe, to think, to exist? Such love, it is almost too much to grasp. And yet, we do grasp it enough to say, “Amen” when we come face to face with God the Son. The next time someone asks you if you know Jesus personally, the answer must be one resounding yes.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Littlest Flowers of God

The poem is a mere six lines long. At a glance, it seems like a silly little thing. A poem that might be as easily overlooked as the little flower that inspired the poem.

Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies,
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower-but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.

It's Tennyson at is his finest. At least that's what I think. Scholars might not agree. But I believe the poem expresses an important truth - several truths really. There is a God. He created all that we see, and all that we cannot see. We are seeking and sometimes finding.

But it is in the tiniest of life that we see the Hand of God most clearly - if we are willing to look closely. Consider the baby in the womb. This child is a clue. That God exists. That He creates. That there is great wonder and mystery in all life, because all life is God-breathed.

But if we "pluck" that life "out of the crannies" and toss it into a trash can, we will not see. We will not understand. We will not have the epiphany that the poet has had. We will never know the truth of "God and Man" and we might even continue to think that the whole question is "above our pay grade" when really, even poets like Tennyson know that it isn't above their pay grade to ponder the Hand of God in the creation of even a little flower. It is, perhaps, the most important question we ask ourselves. Who made me? When does life begin? Where does it come from? These are the questions we must ask. These are the questions that God will answer. If we really take a close look at that little life.

St. Therese, Little Flower of God, pray for us - and for the most vulnerable among us.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Dear Mr. President:

The following article ran in a number of diocesan papers and is reprinted here, to mark this week, as our country celebrates a Presidential Inauguration and remembers the unborn through the annual March for Life. In an ironic turn of events, a dear friend sent me the link at the bottom of the post. It fits in so well with the article's message that I have included it here for your viewing.

A few weeks ago, my ten-year-old daughter sat at the kitchen table and nibbled on a snack. She thumbed through a Christmas catalog and asked me to get her a typewriter for Christmas. She pointed to a picture on the page in front of her. It was a cheap plastic replica of an old typewriter. I told her she didn’t need it. She could use my computer any time she wanted. She explained that a typewriter captures the words immediately and puts them on paper. No printer needed, she said, and emphatically added that she had an important letter to write.

Now I was curious.

I asked her who she needed to write. In a matter-of-fact tone, she replied, “The President – about the abortion thing.” She whispered the last part, almost like she was sharing some profanity that she had overheard and found distasteful to repeat.

It made me want to buy her that plastic typewriter on the spot. It also made me reflect on the twists and turns of the past couple of months.

We’ve had an interesting year in the Bossert household. Even though we are a pro-life family, the subject of abortion rarely came up in our home before 2008, but then my older daughter moved back home. She took a job at a shelter for pregnant women. Our Lady’s Inn not only helps women choose life over abortion, they give the women a place to live for up to two years. They help them complete school, learn a trade, and find employment.

We’re a pro-life Catholic family. We were thrilled when our older daughter started working at Our Lady’s Inn. But then something happened to make us really pro-life, right down to our DNA.
The twenty-one-year-old daughter became pregnant. She isn’t married. She hasn’t completed college – not even one full year of college. She doesn’t own her own car. She doesn’t have her own place. And now, she doesn’t have a job because she is in almost the same situation as the clients at the women’s shelter. No longer the house monitor, she is now the unmarried mother-to-be. The only thing that separates her from the clients that live in the shelter is that she has familial support. Still, by President Obama’s standard, she is a prime candidate for an abortion. If she wanted to terminate the pregnancy, he would think she’d made a difficult, but wise decision.

Even our ten-year-old knows how wrong that would be. She knows that she will be an aunt sometime in June. She knows the new baby will make her daddy and me grandparents for the first time. She knows that will make her sister a mother, even though she isn’t married. And she knows that there is a baby growing inside her big sister, not a blob, not tissue, not a potential baby. It is a baby. And she prays for that baby every night.

For that ten-year-old, “the abortion thing” is a very big deal. She cannot imagine why any president would support pro-choice laws. And she’s innocent enough to believe her little letter might make a difference.

I can almost imagine what she would write.

Dear Mr. President,
I know you think abortion is okay, but maybe there are a few things you haven’t thought about in awhile. I’d like to tell you what I’ve decided now that my sister is going to have a baby. Even when it doesn’t seem like the right time for a baby to come into our lives, babies are always a gift from God. They are always a blessing. I’m sure you would understand if you could just live here a little while. You might see something familiar in our family. You might see yourself in the baby’s face. Maybe then you will want to change things so that all babies have a chance to live, no matter what. In your deepest part, you have to know that this is only fair. So, about that abortion thing – maybe God protected you all those years ago from just such a tragedy for a moment in time such as this. Please do whatever you can to protect babies. It’s okay to change your mind on the subject. Change is often a good thing. I’m praying that you will have the strength to make the right changes.

During this month when our country has both a Presidential Inauguration and a March for Life, let us continue to believe that our little letters and prayers do make a difference. Let us keep our new President in our prayers, and may God protect the most defenseless among us!

Are You a New Convert? Check Out the Reading List

Are you a new convert? Are you looking for a list of titles that other converts have read and found helpful? Check out the list at the right. Scroll down and find the list of 73 books that I read while on the first three years of my journey into the Catholic Church.

It's the list that started the whole journey. . .

From one avid reader to another - Grace and Peace!

English Assignment for the Secondary Home School Student

Book review – Dove Descending

Premise of book – the author mines the treasures buried in T. S. Eliot’s poetry and presents a Catholic reading of Four Quartets.

DOVE DESCENDING, By Thomas Howard, Ignatius Press, 2006. 160 pages.

In his book Dove Descending, Thomas Howard offers readers a wonderful footnote to T.S. Eliot’s book of poetry entitled Four Quartets. Howard explores the intersection of scholarship and faith, while preserving a truly Catholic understanding of Eliot’s work. The book is for those who find Eliot’s poetry theologically intriguing, but at times elusive. It is for the priest who writes countless homilies and delights in a fresh source of quotable lines. It is not for those who expect poetry to resemble a Mother Goose rhyme.

Perhaps the most unique potential reader is the secondary-level home school student and parents who want their student to be exposed to spiritually trustworthy material with a strong literary component. This book will challenge the young adult reader (15-18) and prepare him or her for college-level literature courses. It is designed to be a companion book to Eliot’s Four Quartets and give the student a joyride through theology and philosophy without compromising the faith. I recommend that the student cover a page or two each day in Howard’s book and read the corresponding lines of poetry in Eliot’s book. Ideally, the student would be given ample opportunity to reflect on the readings and explore his own thoughts in a personal journal. Reading the books in tandem is like having a front-row seat in the finest literature class. It is like having a personal tutor who happens to be a literary genius.

Like many Catholic scholars before him, Thomas Howard gives God, the Church and the literary world his very best.

* * *

Howard was a professor of English and literature for over thirty years. He is the author of numerous popular books including, Chance or the Dance, Evangelical is Not Enough, Lead Kindly Light, and On Being Catholic.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Unity in the Call to Come and Reason Together

Okay, it is time for a reality check. By now, you must be saying I have deliberately overlooked some scandalous times in Catholic Church history. You may even be thinking of a few Catholics that you know and feel quite certain that they are the last Christians you want to emulate.

And guess what? You are right.

On March 12, 2000, Pope John Paul II stunned the world when he asked for forgiveness for the errors and sin of some Catholics throughout history. With great humility, he reached out to people of every faith and culture and said I’m sorry, please forgive us. Is it any wonder that so many paid their respects when he passed away? Indeed, the whole world mourned.

The truth is, all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Catholics included.
But the Truth is, Our Lord promised that the Church would survive and that the gates of hell would not prevail against it. Look at the Saints of the Ages and judge the Church – if you must. But be careful; do not judge Her based on some who call themselves Catholic. The wheat and the weeds will grow up together (Matthew 13:24-30). And so they have.

When I was young, my mom had a record that was very special to her. She came from a very musical family, and one of her cousins had produced and directed the album. Mom’s favorite song was a translation of Isaiah 1:18 - Come let us reason together.

I have been thinking about that a lot these past few months and doing a fair bit of reasoning with the Lord. If the prayer of Our Lord is ever to be actualized and if we are ever to be One as He and the Heavenly Father are One, then we must seriously pause and consider the state of Christendom. Can any other denomination or Christian organization forge a path to complete Christian unity? Imagine the impact the Church could have (even beyond what I’ve described) if we were One – truly and completely One – all Christians everywhere. The world would stand up and take notice – and realize that Jesus is the Son, sent by the Father to redeem a lost world. Think it’s a pipe dream? Well, it was Our Lord’s dream (and prayer) first. So that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me - John 17:20-23.

Come, let us reason together. There is much to forgive on both sides. And yet, there is much to be gained if we come together once again. Perhaps the greatest gain is the fulfillment of what Our Lord prayed for when He was headed to Calvary. Father, make them One as We are One.


Unity in the Family

Becoming Catholic feels a bit like being adopted into a family after being in a number of foster homes. Foster homes are wonderful places. My family fostered a number of children over the years – and we were blessed to have them share a piece of their lives with us. Even so, every child wants the stability of a family – complete with mom and dad and siblings, a bed, and a permanent seat at the table. And that is how it is when one becomes Catholic.

I’ve been in the Wesleyan foster home, the Presbyterian foster home, the United Methodist foster home, and the Southern Baptist foster home. They were each beautiful spiritual homes with beautiful people on the membership roster, but I didn’t have the full sense of our universal family until I became Catholic.

The first thing I discovered was a few things about family dynamics. First, there’s the Heavenly Father. That was easy enough – familiar territory to me. Most Protestants embrace the teaching on the Trinity.

Then there are the sisters and brothers. Again, not so difficult. Some of the churches in my youth used “sister” and “brother” as titles when addressing fellow members. It was a term of endearment. So I could imagine fellow Catholics as brothers and sister in the faith journey.
In the Catholic Church, some of the brothers and sisters are called the Church Militant, and they are here with us in this world, battling with us in the trenches of life. And some are called the Church Triumphant, and they are on the other side of the eternal veil. They make up the great cloud of witnesses, the glorious communion of saints.

That’s where I ran into trouble. To me, it sounded a little like communing with the dead – a definite no-no.

But then I thought about it and realized that the saints are probably more alive than I am. I remembered something Dwight L. Moody said before he died. He told his family not to be sad, because he believed that he would be more alive than he had ever been when he reached eternal realm. If those in the Church Triumphant are truly alive (and like D. L. Moody, I believed they were), then they could be called upon to pray for those in the family who remained part of the Church Militant on earth. I decided that wasn’t so hard to understand.

The most difficult teaching on spiritual siblings was not the Communion of Saints (Church Triumphant). It was the teaching on the Church Suffering. Purgatory. My Protestant sensibilities couldn’t accept it. But then I remembered the days and weeks that followed my father’s death. My heart cried out for him. I physically ached to have him with me again. Out of that anguish and love, I began to pray. Heavenly Father, I do not know what Dad is experiencing right now, but whatever you have for him, make it even better. Look on the way he served You, and make his reward even better than it is.

I learned two things in the school of grief. First, it is the most natural thing to pray for those we love, especially after they have died. It is right to pray that their reward will be made perfect and complete. Second, it is agony when we do not have full communion with the one we love. If that is so, then the space between this world and the eternal world is, by definition, the Church Suffering. They yearn for complete communion with the One they love – the Creator of their souls. Because Purgatory is outside of time, it doesn’t fit into our schema very well. As time-and-space creatures, we’re not capable of full understanding. The closest we come to grasping it is to call it the something that changes us and makes us ready to see God. Not a period of time. Not a matter of space. A season, perhaps. Even if the mind does not want to recognize the reality of Purgatory, the soul recognizes the need for it. C.S. Lewis said it best when he wrote:
From Letters to Malcom by C.S. Lewis

Our souls demand Purgatory, don’t they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us, “Is it true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy”? Should we not reply, “With submission, Sir, and if there is no objection, I’d rather be cleaned first.” “It may hurt, you know.” – “Even so, Sir.”

I assume that the process of purification will normally involve suffering. Partly from tradition; partly because most real good that has been done in this life has involved it.

So I had brothers and sisters now. Lots of them. Here, there, and beyond.

But what about all that Catholic stuff? All those statues and holy cards and icons? I realized that Catholics can’t carry the pictures of spiritual family members in their wallets; so they have these things to remind them of their loved ones. Besides, new things always seem strange at first.
Adopted children know that all too well. The trash can isn’t in a corner anymore; it’s under the sink. The clean laundry smells like a different detergent. These people don’t use Crest. They use Aim, of all things. And then, after some time, it all seems normal.

And of course, there’s Mother Church. And the Holy Father. The Church had always seemed like a loving mother to me as She gently guided her little ones along life’s journey. As for the Holy Father, I had already worked through my issues with Apostolic Succession and the “new” Family Tree; so that wasn’t so hard. I didn’t even have trouble with papal infallibility. Really, how could I let something like that bother me when I’d heard countless independent preachers claim that the Lord had told them something, and the congregation accepted their claim without a second thought. Personally, I thought there should be just one shepherd rather than lots of people claiming to have received divine revelation. It made sense to me that there should be one shepherd, one Vicar of Christ on earth. It just made sense.

But then there was Mary. I simply couldn’t get used to the idea of Mary being my mother. She didn’t feel anything like a mother to me. I was willing to admit that Reformed traditions had let the pendulum swing too far in the other direction, relegating the Virgin to a small part in the Christmas story, but Mary as the Mother of all believers? That was too much.

Then I began to think about what adopted children experience when they finally come home. At first they don’t really know how to think about their parents, especially this new woman named mother. She wants so much to be part of their lives, but it just doesn’t feel right to the frightened little child. It’s so unfamiliar. They have such a lack of trust. Such skepticism when it comes to maternal expressions of love. There’s a need on the part of the adopted one to have the new parent take it slowly.

I remember telling a priest that I didn’t think I could ever worship Mary. He told me I wouldn’t be asked to. “We don’t worship Mary,” he said.

But you sing songs about Mary.

Yes, and Elton John sings songs about Princess Diana and Marilyn Monroe, too. It doesn’t mean he’s worshipping them. It’s a way to honor someone.

But you kneel before Mary. You pray to her.

You’re right, we do bow before her. Do you know what the woman in the Old Testament did when Elisha raised her son from the dead? She immediately bowed before him. What did the blind and the lame do when the Apostles came near? They humbly fell at the Apostles’ feet and begged for a healing touch. If a woman can bow before Elisha and the blind and lame can beg for a miracle at the feet of the Apostles, then it is right and good to bow before Our Blessed Mother and ask her to make requests of her Son on our behalf. In short, have her add our petitions to her prayer list.

Newly adopted children learn to trust this one called mother. At first they don’t fully understand what the word means. So they test her a bit, to see if she’s up to the task of parenting.

And that’s what I did.

How can I know that what the Catholic Church says about Mary is true? How can I be sure that she loves me, or that she even knows me? How does one find trust for such teachings when there is still so much doubt?

I asked Mary to show me.

I made a petition to her, a simple, honest, heart-felt request. She answered it to the letter within twenty-four hours!

Protestants who make this journey understand what I am about to say: When the answer to that first sincere petition finally comes, there is a flood of emotion and usually tears – because the one who was motherless, now knows the loving arms of a Mother. The one who never knew a mother’s protection realizes that he will never be motherless again.

The one who had no understanding of a mother’s love has now begun to fall in love.

It takes awhile; older adoptees will tell you that sometimes it takes quite awhile. But when you finally know the fullness of having a spiritual Mother, when you sense that you finally have a family and a home, you know how blessed you are.

And all of this is ours because God became Flesh and dwelt among us. Every good and perfect gift comes to us, even this gift of our spiritual family, because of Jesus Christ. He calls us to unity - and there is unity in the family!


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Our Letters Matter!

Please consider sending the following letter to President Obama. You may amend it as you see fit. Please PRINT and MAIL this letter with your signature between January 17 and January 18!
Thank you for helping to fight for a better America!
President Barack H. Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Obama:
I am writing to ask you and members of Congress not to approve the bill S.1173 Freedom of Choice Act. My opposition to this bill is based on the following points:
• In Sec. 2. Findings, the bill informs its readers that before Roe v. Wade thousands of women died annually in the United States from illegal abortions. This claim wildly exaggerates the facts, which may easily be found online;
•The bill seems to call for taxpayer support of abortion;
•The bill disallows or outlaws the rights of parents in terms of notification and consent regarding abortions for underage teenagers;
•Sec. 4. Interference with Reproductive Health Prohibited states that "a government may not deny or interfere with a woman's right to choose," a position which denies the regulatory rights of a state in our federal system;
•Sec. 4 also allows the termination of a pregnancy after "viability where termination is necessary to protect the life or health of the woman." This point clearly reestablishes the practice of partial-birth abortions;
•FOCA will require hospitals, including those founded and funded by organizations opposed to abortions, to practice abortion;
•FOCA eliminates strict regulation of abortion clinics and may subject women to abortion by non-physicians.With all due respect, I ask you to keep this bill from becoming law.


Unity in the Witness to the World

The image I have in my head of the funeral Mass for Pope John Paul II epitomizes the degree to which the Catholic Church has touched the World for Christ. Representatives from many faiths and cultures were there to honor the beautiful witness of this man. They recognized in him the lovely expression of what the Church is meant to be.

John Paul II had answered the call that was first given to Peter. If you love me, feed my sheep. Care for the hungry, naked, sick, imprisoned, oppressed, and broken-hearted. And that is what the Church has done throughout history. In every country and in every culture, the Church has become a witness to the faith by becoming the hands and feet of Our Lord.

Wherever there is suffering, the Church is there. Wherever there is injustice, the Church is there. Wherever there is poverty, the Church is there.

While it is true that other Christian communities have faithfully answered this call, none have done it so thoroughly as the Catholic Church. None so diligently. None so comprehensively. And certainly, none other can boast of a tradition of service that spans more than two millennia.

In 2003, U.S. Catholic Charities provided food to nearly four and a half million people across the nation. They provided other basic living needs for 1.1 million people and disaster relief to over thirty thousand people. Catholic Relief Services takes the Lord’s hands and feet to 99 countries worldwide, to feed the poor, to provide emergency response in areas devastated by natural and man-made disasters, and to care for the sick.

It doesn’t end there. In fact, the scope of Catholic outreach is so comprehensive, we would have to study every religious order and lay apostolate in order to understand the depth and breadth of Catholic love. I wouldn’t know where to begin to cover it all. There are thousands of Catholics involved in hundreds of religious orders and lay apostolates. I suppose, only Our Lord knows the degree to which the Catholic Church ministers to the people of the world.

If you love me, feed my sheep. And the Catholic Church answers, yes Lord, send us. When Jesus says, go ye therefore into all nations, she goes. When Jesus says, feed my sheep, she feeds them. When Jesus says, you must be the servant of all, she becomes a servant to all. When Jesus says, no greater love has any man than to lay his life down, she lays down her life, again and again.

She is a witness to the world – and has been for more than two thousand years.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Unity in the Eucharist and the Mass

There is a moment during every Mass when heaven touches down to earth. The Church Triumphant and all the holy angels pierce the veil that separates time from eternity. In that moment, we kneel as one before the Lamb. In that moment, we have one heartbeat.

And in that moment, Jesus Christ is lifted high. A piece of bread and chalice of wine no longer exist.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells His disciples that they must eat his body and drink his blood. He repeats it again and again throughout chapter six. Jesus warns them, if you do not eat my flesh or drink my blood, there is no life in you (6:53).

We can imagine the complaints our Lord’s words generated because they are the same complaints many Christians voice today (6:52). That can’t be what you mean, Lord. You’re speaking metaphorically, right?

No, Jesus tells them, my flesh is real food. My blood is real drink (6:55). They are stunned and many of His followers leave Him that day. But twelve remain (6:67-68). A year later, Jesus institutes the Sacrament of Holy Communion at the Last Supper, again using the words this is my body, this is my blood. They eat and they drink (Matthew 26:26-18; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20).

And they have life. From that life, a Church grows and covers the earth.

Read the early writings of Church Fathers. They all believed in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. For centuries, nobody wanted to leave the Catholic Church because that was where Jesus Christ could be found – literally. For you see, the Eucharist has been the center of Christian unity from the very beginning because the Eucharist is Jesus Christ.

I remember a conversation I had with a priest when I was considering the Catholic Church. Father Larry Brunette told me that everything comes down to what I believe about Holy Communion. If I could accept Jesus Christ at His Word, I would continue this faith journey. If I could not believe in the Real Presence, the journey would come to an end right there. Basically, the Protestants who are able to connect the Jesus they already adore with the Jesus present in Holy Communion are never content until they come home to the Catholic Church. (Then the priest suggested a little book called The Lamb’s Supper by a former Presbyterian minister by the name of Dr. Scott Hahn, which I highly recommend - see also YouTube clip below).

I considered the priest’s words. Could I really believe that Jesus Christ was present in the Eucharist? Could I take the Lord’s words literally? I wasn’t sure. That was a monumental leap of faith. I realized that Jesus never said, this is like my body or this is like my blood. There was no indication of metaphorical language – unlike the passages in which the Lord says the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed (Matthew 13:31), or like a pearl (13:44-46) or like a king who gave a wedding feast (Matthew 22:2). If it really is Jesus’ body and blood, what else could He have said to make them (or me) believe? Probably nothing. Some people would argue with St. Peter – or Christ Himself.

I began to pray as I sat through Mass. Lord, if that is really you up there, help me to believe. Week after week I would watch intently as the faithful received the Lord, and miraculously, I began to believe. In time, scriptures I had committed to memory came back to me and underscored this Teaching. Even the Old Testament seemed to be a finger pointing in this direction. The Passover Lamb (Exodus 12:6-9, 13). Manna from heaven (Exodus 16:4). Melchizedek, the priest-king, and the gifts of wine and bread (Genesis 14:18 and Psalm 110:4).

I weep tears of joy almost every time I receive Our Lord in the Eucharist. There’s something indescribably wonderful about walking forward to receive my Lord and knowing that Jesus Christ is willing to humble Himself and come inside of me. And then I kneel. A gentle quiet comes, and at first, I think I’m in charge of the quieting in my spirit.

But then there’s peace, and it is the kind of peace that can’t be generated by sheer will and determination. It is divine peace. The Lord of the Ages has found a home inside of me! And there is absolutely no denying that He is there. It is sweet – sweeter than anything on earth. And I realize that I’m crying again, and it doesn’t seem to matter if anyone notices.

I’ve talked to some who have been Catholic for many years, and I’ve asked them if it’s always like that. The answer is no. Sometimes it’s a matter of walking in faith even when there are no spiritual warm fuzzies. But even then, there are hidden graces. For you see, this Most Blessed Sacrament is efficacious. It isn’t always grace-filled tears that come. Sometimes, it’s the grace to be faithful to the call, come hell or high water. Sometimes, it’s the grace to live a quiet, but holy life. Sometimes, it’s the grace not to live, but to die.

In that Most Blessed Moment, we hear Jesus Christ speak, and He says the words once again, Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20).


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Unity in the Expression of Truth and Beauty of the Human Experience

In the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus preaches the Sermon on the Mount and tells the disciples, “You are the salt of the earth.”

Salt brings out the flavors of the ingredients. It is also a preservative. I don’t usually think very much about how salt enhances the flavor of food – until I accidentally pick up a “no salt” can of green beans at the grocery store. The can usually sits on the pantry shelf for two years, where it gets buried behind soup cans and boxes of macaroni and cheese. When I finally pull it from the far recesses of the pantry many months later, I sigh heavily and toss it in the trashcan. Salt is that important.

So the question is this: has the Catholic Church fulfilled the call to be the salt of the earth? In what ways has she flavored human experience and made it better?

The answer to that question is thoroughly covered in a book called How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization by Thomas E. Woods, Jr. There isn’t enough space to cover the entire book here, but we can certainly look at the premise.

Let’s say you are headed off to college. You look at the list of majors, and you decide to study the one that fits your personality and talents. Will it be music, education, agriculture, science, architecture, literature, art, politics, or social studies?

Do you realize that every aspect of the human experience has been influenced by the Church? Look over the list of majors again. Each field of study owes a debt of gratitude to Mother Church.
What is your field of expertise? Ponder a moment how the Church has affected, enhanced, or transformed that realm of the human experience. After all, this is the field you know best. Did the Catholic Church or the Mass birth any great musicians or generate any great musical pieces? When and how did formal education begin? Who were the intellectual giants in centuries past? How did the early Church affect agriculture or science or political structures? How did it affect societal institutions? What are the finest examples of European architecture? What inspired the greatest artists? Name a few great works of art. Imagine the art of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance without the influence of the Catholic Church. What would be left for art majors to study?

And then there’s my major. Literature. One of the first readings assigned to a lit major is The Dream of the Rood (Crucifix). Catholic influence can be seen in such works as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Canterbury Tales and Shakespeare’s plays. Because England was Catholic nine centuries before it was Protestant, even the literature that came after the reign of King Henry VIII contains remnants and imitations of Catholic Tradition. In more recent times, there has been a revival of Catholic influence on writers like Chesterton, Hopkins, Belloc, Tolkien, and Waugh. Another set of writers heavily influenced by Catholic thought are C.S. Lewis and T.S. Eliot.

As we reflect on these fields of study, we have a tendency to think only of examples from British and American culture. If we had the ability to travel to Europe or other holy sites of the early Church, we would stand in awe of the breadth and depth of influence our Church has had on human existence. If we could peek into the rooms of monasteries in centuries past, we would see holy men meticulously copying great spiritual and literary works. We would see holy men and women farming the land, building schools and universities, writing journals and sermons, developing their ideas about theology and philosophy and psychology, commissioning architects and painters, influencing political leaders to seek peace and justice and truth, as well as nursing the sick and feeding the poor and building up every other social structure and institution.
Truly, the Church has been the Salt of the Earth.

If the purpose of salt is to bring out the flavors of the ingredients, then the Catholic Church has fulfilled this calling. All human experience has been touched, enhanced, and preserved through the contributions of the Church.

And every liberal arts graduate knows it.


Monday, January 12, 2009

Ordinary Time

Taking down Christmas decorations has always been one of my least favorite duties. It takes more time than I want to give it. Everything needs to be carefully organized and packed away. It indicates that a season of wonder and expectation has come to an end.

And I'm just not ready to let it go.

As Catholics, we have a beautiful persective on how to pass through those things we'd rather not pass through. We find a similar spiritual condition, identifiy with it, and offer up our struggle for the good of the Church.

This year, I'm thinking about the Holy Family. The days in Bethlehem came to a sudden and difficult end. They had to pack everything and move on. It must have seemed to be the end of a season of wonder and expectation, with only ordinary days of just surviving up ahead.

Today, I'm going to take down Christmas decorations. I'm going to carefully pack away my Nativity and wrap the pieces one at a time. I'm going to carry the boxes to the basement. And I'm going to remember the Holy Family as they fled into Egypt - and all those who, even today, are facing the end of something they have treasured, which now has come to an end.

May the Holy Family give them strength to press on.
(artwork by Giotto di Bondone)


Saturday, January 10, 2009

Unity with Diversity

There is no question about it. We must be united in what we believe as Christians. The faithful, themselves, bring diversity to the Church, but they are unified in what they believe and what they pass on to others. It is why the first Apostles called for the Council of Jerusalem (read The Acts of the Apostles). It is the reason for numerous councils throughout history. It is the reason those councils prayed for answers to the spiritual questions of the day and invited the Holy Spirit to lead them into Truth. They knew the importance of unanimity when it comes to what we believe.

Unity, however, is not sameness. With regard to worship styles and callings, we are diverse. We are One Body with many parts. So, while Christian unity means we are One in what we believe, our unity encourages and provides for diversity. Each of us is gifted by the Holy Spirit for unique work. Each calling has its own thumbprint. Each tongue of praise has its own timbre.
I used to think Protestantism provided for our diversity rather well. After all, there is a place for charismatics (Assembly of God and Church of God and Independents). There is a place for traditionalists (Lutheran, Episcopalian, Presbyterian). Fundamentalists and literalists find a home in the Southern Baptist and Wesleyan denominations. Contemplatives and activist for social justice have a home in the Quaker Church. The young and “on fire” believers find non-denominational, independent churches exciting and uplifting.

But what happens if a husband is a traditionalist and his wife is a charismatic? Do they go to different churches? What if a son or a daughter is drawn to contemporary worship styles and the parents are more comfortable with liturgy and church structure and authority? Do they go to different churches?

The Catholic Church is the only place where diverse worship styles and callings can find common ground. If you are Catholic, you might be charismatic. You might prefer traditional forms of prayer. You might be a quiet contemplative. You might be active in social justice.
If you are Catholic, you might identify with the spiritual practice of St. Benedict (Benedictine) or St. Francis of Assisi (Franciscan) or St. Dominic (Dominican) or St. Francis de Sales (Salesian). Maybe you are a Jesuit and studying for a PhD in microbiology. Or a Carmelite and pray two or three hours every day.

Or maybe you belong to a lay apostolate and are active in pro-life activities or evangelism or worship or ecumenism. Maybe you have a call to feed the poor and clothe the naked. So you work at the St. Vincent de Paul Center or give to Catholic Charities. Maybe your heart breaks for the victims of hurricanes or tsunamis or earthquakes or wars, and you are drawn to Catholic Relief Services where you can help victims rebuild their lives. Or maybe you are active in your local parish, where you give generously of your time, talent, and treasure.

In the Catholic Church there is an “on fire” youth program for your children. They can go to World Youth Day in another country or to a local diocesan retreat just for them. (see pictures above from WYD 2008)

Marriage enrichment retreats are available for couples. There are homes for unwed mothers. And monasteries that open their doors so that individuals can have a quiet retreat with the Lord.
There is no other church that has so many opportunities to give, so many ways to serve, and so many styles of worship.

There are countless ways the Catholic Church encourages and provides for unity in diversity. I’ve only begun to plumb the depths. While I have much to learn, I do know that I continue to fall deeply in love with this beautifully diverse, yet unified Church.


Friday, January 9, 2009

Unity in the Seat of Peter and Apostolic Succession - Part Two

Every generation has had Peter, this Vicar of Christ on earth. There could be no other way to preserve the Church. Our God is in the details. When they killed St. Peter, they did not kill the Church. Another took the Seat of Peter. And another and another.

And the list remains to this day.

Our Lord knew that the only way the Church could stay the course is if She had someone at the helm. And the only way to preserve Truth is if the Spirit of Truth leads that man. I will send you a Helper. The Holy Spirit, who will lead you into all Truth. Whatever you bind on earth is bound in heaven. Whatever you loose on earth is loosed in heaven. You are Peter, and upon this Rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

So many verses from my childhood came back to me and swirled around in my head, and when the dust settled, an image began to emerge.

Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would lead us into all Truth. How could I explain so many versions of truth, so many people claiming to have been inspired by the same Holy Spirit – but in total disagreement with each other? Either Jesus lied and the Holy Spirit never came – or it happened just as Jesus said it would. And someone was still holding the keys.

The Deposit of Truth is entrusted to the Seat of Peter, and it is preserved through a clear line of Apostolic Succession. The Holy Spirit guarantees it.

I found myself saying, of course it makes sense. It makes perfect sense.


Thursday, January 8, 2009

Unity in the Seat of Peter and Apostolic Succession - Part One

I used to wonder why so many pages of the Old Testament were dedicated to the lineage of the Fathers of Israel. Why was it a good use of space – all those pages dedicated to tracking genealogy, all those lists of how this one begot that one? Even the New Testament starts out that way:

Here it is, folks. Before we tell you about the Messiah, let’s get the record straight. First there was Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and Judah, and Perez, and Hezron and on and on. Then David, that’s right, King David. And Solomon, and on, and on. Fourteen generations from Abraham to David and fourteen from David to the Babylonian Exile, and fourteen more and there He is. Jesus, the Son of the Living God. God keeps His promise to Israel!

Doesn’t it seem like a waste of paper? Why not have a few more uplifting verses in there instead? Why not describe the early years of our Lord’s life instead of giving us the Family Tree?

And then it begins to make sense. The clear line of succession, the evidence of the Plan – all of it – every single human link to Christ matters.

Then Jesus Christ is born in Bethlehem, dies on a cross, rises from the dead, and ascends into heaven. And the rest of history is one great muddle.

Or is it?

For a God who loves the details, shouldn’t there be a continuation of leadership? A new list of Fathers? Shouldn’t there be a new lineage, a clearly defined succession of holy men (and some not-so-holy individuals, too, just like the Old Testament lineage), and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself as the One to connect the Old and the New? If the Old Testament prepares for the Messiah’s birth by preserving the lineage, and the New Testament announces the Messiah’s birth by reviewing the lineage, what would logically come next?

Then, Jesus proclaims, “I say you are Peter and on this Rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” Clearly, Jesus is declaring a new lineage. He’s specifically announcing the beginning of a list of those who will prepare for His return by preserving the message of Jesus Christ and passing it on to each generation.
Maybe you’ve never seen the list of Holy Fathers. If you’re like me, you didn’t know there is one. And if there is one, you’re not so sure you should care. But you should care. It proves that Jesus Christ cares about His Church. He breathed on Her, and carefully placed Her in the hands of Peter, and She grew.
Take a minute and check out the list of Holy Fathers:
Stop by tomorrow and read the second part of today's post.


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Unity in the Magisterium - Part Two

There is sound doctrine, and it is knowable. There is perfect unity, and it is attainable. We have been led by word of mouth and by letter (II Thessalonians 2:15). Our terra firma is the Teaching Magisterium of the Catholic Church. This "word of mouth" speaks about all that the Apostles have taught (I Corinthians 3:12-13). By the power of the Holy Spirit, the Teaching Voice of the Catholic Church has taught us to be One Body with One Faith in every age (Ephesians 4).

There is no other way to have unity. There is no other way to fulfill the prayer of Jesus Christ on the night He was betrayed.

Unity is the net result of having this one Deposit of Faith, but there is a wonderful by-product that occurs when we give up our individual need to argue and debate Scriptural passages. Once we can put that to rest, once we read the Catechism of the Catholic Church and realize that it is completely reasonable and theologically sound, once we know there is a two-thousand-year-old Deposit of Faith and it’s not going to lead us into error, we are free to consider next things.
You, my friend, have a unique calling, one that nobody else can fulfill. That is what you must grapple with and discern. And talk about the abundant life and the joy-filled journey! That is when it all begins. Let us leave childish bickering behind and mature into the spiritual adults God has called us to become. There is one Body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one Hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:4-6).
(article by Denise Bossert first published by One Bread Lay Apostolate


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Unity in the Magisterium - Part One

I must have been around four years old when I was first paraded in front of the church to sing with my sister. The song was “The B-I-B-L-E,” and I belted the words out with all the zeal I could muster. The B-I-B-L-E, yes that’s the book for me; I stand alone on the Word of God, the B-I-B-L-E!

I wasn’t sure what the words meant. Was I proclaiming that I would believe in the Bible even if I was completely alone in doing so? Or did it mean that I would believe only in the Bible and nothing else?

Years later, I realized that the song was proclaiming the second of these two possibilities, a little thing Protestant Reformers called Sola Scriptura. But as a small child, I just liked to sing about Jesus, and I had no idea the problems that existed in the theology of Sola Scriptura.

Then my dad switched denominations (Wesleyan to Presbyterian) and everything changed.

I think that is when I first realized that there are many interpretations of Holy Scripture and that just because it is the inspired Word of God, it doesn’t mean all Christians believe the same way. That is a perplexing thing. The Holy Spirit came at Pentecost to lead the Disciples into all Truth; so why didn’t we all believe the same thing? Truth isn’t just a matter of opinion. But some of the denominations had totally different ideas on when one should be baptized, how one is sanctified and justified before God, and if one can ever lose the gift of grace and mercy once he has it. The questions weren’t simply whether Eve ate an apple or pomegranate. These differences concerned key issues of life, death, and salvation.

To complicate matters further, it was about this same time that my cousins began receiving the charismatic Gifts of the Holy Spirit (they were Assembly of God), and neither the Wesleyans nor the Presbyterians talked about that at all. Obviously, there was a problem with “standing alone on the Word of God” because that’s exactly what everyone seemed to be doing. And nobody could agree on anything.

First and Second Peter talked about following sound doctrine. First John warned about being led astray. The Book of Jude said to beware of those who seek to divide. In First Corinthians, St. Paul reminded us to be perfectly united in mind and thought.

For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how this was possible.

If all Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching as it said in Second Timothy, then we should all be teaching the same thing. And that’s just not what I saw happening. Furthermore, if there is a disagreement in the Body of Christ, the Bible says we are to take some of the elders with us to iron out the disagreement. Fine. But which elders? From which church?

Either Pontius Pilate was right when he said, what is truth? Or Truth is a constant. It can be taught. It can be trusted. It can settle quarrels rather than create them.

There was one more problem with “standing alone on the Word of God.” We live in a changing world. The Bible doesn’t directly address issues like abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage, or human cloning. Where is the teaching voice that we can trust to interpret Scripture and guide us through the cultural changes? Who can help us to stand on the Word of God without having that same Word tear us apart? Who is the benefactress and keeper of Truth? Yes, the Holy Spirit leads us into all Truth, but which voice speaks for the Holy Spirit on issues that divide? Private inspiration had not inspired unity. It had inspired over 30,000 different denominations.
The Church had always been the pillar and foundation of Truth - not the Bible. And those were the words of Holy Scripture (Timothy 3:15-16). The Church, not the Bible alone.

Part Two in tomorrow's blog

(article by Denise Bossert first published by One Bread Lay Apostolate at