Thursday, August 12, 2010

"Blessed are you among women"

Your faith-filled crew at is taking a one week break from producing your Sunday homiletics email magazine this week. We apologize for any inconvenience but we promise to be back in full force and fully energized next week with your usual full edition of Catholic Living Today. In the meantime, allow us to share with you a series of reflections on the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary which we celebrated yesterday, August 15.

Feast of the Assumption

Of all the women who have ever lived, the mother of Jesus Christ is the most renowned, celebrated, venerated, and honored. Millions of newborn babies have been given the name of Mary, along with countless churches, shrines, and holy places.

But while the dogma of the Assumption is a relatively new declaration by the Church, made by Pope Pius XXII in 1950, the belief in the Assumption is one of the oldest and first beliefs in the Church regarding Mary. It is celebrated each year on August 15. Dr. Marcellino d'Ambrosio explains this feast and why the Catholic Church observes it as a holy day of obligation.

Until about 500 years ago, the Church was unified in its belief and devotion to the Blessed Mother. And believe it or not, even the founders of the Protestant Reformation movement held deep devotions to the Virgin Mary before they decided to take her away from many Christians. And so today, the mere mention our Blessed Mother to our Protestant brothers and sister brings about what Mark Shea refers to as Mariaphobic Response Syndrome. He offers some solid suggestions on how to deal with the deep fears Evangelicals still have today about the Blessed Virgin Mary.

"Blessed are you among women"

Mary is a unique creature, the highest of all creatures. This is not just because she was born without the handicap of original sin. Eve and Adam were born free of sin as well, but it did not stop them from sinning as soon as they had the chance. Mary instead chose, with the help of God’s grace, to preserve her God-given purity throughout the whole of her life.

Father Cusick explains that this gift of God - her glorious Assumption into heaven - is the fulfillment of His grace in her. She goes before us to intercede with her Son that we may join her in praising Him, the Father and the Holy Spirit forever in heaven. The Assumption therefore is not a mythical statement of fancy. It salutes God's trust and openness in Mary. Her assumption into heaven, Fr. John Foley, S. J. points out, is an acknowledgment of how close the Blessed Mother had been to Jesus all life long, and especially in his death.

Mary has thus been given the highest place among all of creation. And it is she, a woman, who ranks highest in the most important hierarchy: the hierarchy of holiness. This feast is therefore a day of joy. God has won. Fr. Orlando Sapuay, M.S. says it is proof that love has won. It has won life. Love has shown that it is stronger than death, that God possesses the true strength and that his strength is goodness and love. It is important because it provides us with an opportunity to reaffirm our faith in God's promises. Fr. Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B. reminds us that it is proof that God really does intend to "lift up the lowly" and to "fill the hungry with good things."

In Mary, Humanity and Divinity Are at Home

Throughout Christian history it has become quite clear that those who seek Mary’s love and care find something that only a Holy Mother can give. Try as the worldly may, they cannot rid us of Mary’s holy presence, a presence that always, truly, and surely, gives us the presence of God and the sanctity of human life that comes to us in her Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

So is Marian devotion necessary in Christian life? What is true devotion to Mary according to the fathers of the Second Vatican Council? It's not sentimental piety or gullible preoccupation with every rumored apparition, according to Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio. But rather, it's the imitation of her virtues, particularly her faith. And for this reason, Fr. Phil Bloom confesses his love for this beautiful woman - the Blessed Virgin Mary - not as a projection of the qualities of women he has admired. No, he says he loves her as a real person, someone who walked this earth and knows the kind of struggles real people face.

So, does our Church's dogma of the Assumption have meaning for you and for me? You bet your life it does, exclaims Fr. Charles Irvin! The Assumption of Mary, is a consoling sign of our hope. In looking to her, Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB says we are carried up amid the rejoicing of angels, human life is opened to the perspective of eternal happiness. Our own death is not the end but rather the entrance into life that knows no death.
So we pray to our Mother in Heaven. Fr. Joseph Pellegrino explains that we don’t worship Mary. But we do pray to her. We say the Rosary meditating on the mysteries of her Son and we ask Mary to pray for us sinners. We recognize that it is Jesus’s life and power that saves us, but we also recognize that Mary was given to us at the foot of the cross as our mother. We call upon her to pray to her son, Jesus, to extend the various manifestations of His Love to us.

Sexuality, Creativity and Theology of the Body

Mary’s question to the Angel, Gabriel, at the time of the Annunciation, is more than a simple query in biology: “How can this be since I am a virgin?” Fr. Ron Rolheiser points out that her question is indeed a good one, a deep one: “From what source can this life spring, given the limited way that I am living out my sexuality?”

And ultimately everyone asks Mary’s question: “How can I truly bring forth new life, given that I can’t sleep with the whole world?” How should we live so that our sexuality properly fuels our creativity? Fr. Ron Rolheiser suspects that the answer will involve three things: a certain grieving, a certain mysticism, and a certain trust. To complement this discussion, Cardinal Rigali at a 2010 convention in on Theology of the Body affirmed the importance of John Paul II's teaching on human sexuality. Why all the hype? He explains what it means.

Prayer, Gestures of Worship & More

Fr. John Bartunek, LC anwers a practical question from a housewife who finds herself too busy juggling both home and career. It's a question we all have asked ourselves at one time or another: Can a Busy Life Be Prayerful? The good father offers some really sound advice. And Marcellino D'Ambrosio, Ph.D. offers another reflection on "Why Humility Opens Doors." He says that in order to understand why the humble get ahead and why the meek shall inherit the earth, we need to be sure that we understand what humility and meekness really are.

Helen Hull Hitchcock laments how the vocabulary of ritual gestures Catholics make during worship is by now, quite clearly, endangered — as has happened with other unwritten languages. As there are relatively few explicit rules (and even these are often not followed), little uniformity of practice, and considerable confusion, she says it seems worthwhile to compile a sort of “dictionary” of ritual gestures, their meaning and grammar, in order to relearn our historic language of ritual worship. Check out her well-documented piece: Gestures of Worship, Re-learning Our Ritual Language.

And here's "8 Tips for Catholic Men" by Randy Hain. In a conversation with other Catholic men, he confirmed that we all struggle to break out of repetitive sinful behaviors and avoid self-created obstacles to drawing closer to Christ. So where do we slip up? Why do we fall short? He offers some useful insight which will help Catholic men (and women) take the necessary steps to overcome these self-created challenges.

Stoplights, a Botched robbery & Living Longer

A woman was in the news a few years for stopping a robbery by preaching about Jesus. She decided to preach faith in Jesus Christ as a better way for the would-be robber and she succeeded (or should we say God succeeded) in preventing a robbery. Check out this story.

Here's one we've all seen before: those lone, scruffy figures at intersections and freeway underpasses holding bent cardboard signs, asking for a handout. Their faces are as cracked and blistered as the sidewalk. In "What I Learned at the Stoplight," Marion Fernandez-Cueto talks about how opening your hands can open your heart.

Finally, here's a list of six daily habits for living longer. Whatever your daily habits are, there’s no denying that they impact your health. Even though the things we do as part of our daily routines might seem small, over time the small things can add up. So, by keeping your daily habits healthy, you can literally add years to your life. Great simple tips for us all.

Another eventful week in our Catholic world. Have a great and blessed new week.

Keep the Faith. Peace.

Wally Arida
Publisher & Editor in chief

BURNING QUESTION: Do Catholics "worship" the Virgin Mary?
FEATURED BLOG: Relearning Our Catholic Ritual Language
PASTORAL HISPANA: El triunfo de Maria es el nuestro tambien

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Thursday, August 5, 2010

"You also must be prepared"

Most people in the US say they “believe in” God. Our Sunday Readings for August 8, 2010 invite us to get a better handle on the true nature of Christian faith, which entails much more than just believing that God exists. Our Discussion Questions will guide your Sunday Bible Study sessions with your family, friends and church groups.

What is Faith?

This Sunday’s Readings begins with a wonderful definition of faith by St. Paul in his Letter to the Hebrews: “Faith is the confident assurance concerning what we hope for and the conviction about the things we do not see.” He was not just talking about dogma or definitions of various items in our belief system. He was talking about lifestyle. The lives of people of faith reflect their whole value system, their whole system of life.

But it simply not enough that we believe. We need to have faith. Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio explains that while belief in God is rather widespread - over 90% of Americans “believe in God” - belief and faith are not quite the same thing. Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB chimes in with a recollection of the important words of Cardinal John Henry Newman in one of his homilies on this text from Hebrews: "It is one thing, then, to have faith, another thing to receive the promise through faith. Faith does not involve in itself the receipt of the promise."

With these in mind, we invite you to reflect upon our Burning Question this week: What is Faith? Please share your deepest thoughts with us. Fr. Joseph Pellegrino adds to the discussion with his exhortation that we have to believe. We cannot give up. It is so easy for us to choose actions that do not reflect our faith and then claim that God really is not concerned with what we have done. When we do this we are denying that we have a personal relationship with God. We have to stay faithful even if the entire world gives in to greed and disregard for others. Remember God’s trust in you. Remember love. Give your trust in return. And this, Fr. John Foley, S. J. points out is one of the most difficult problems for many of us today. Can you risk it?

And when God withholds consolations, Fr. Orlando Sapuay, M.S. explains, He is purifying us of the subtle attachment to our feelings, so that our faith can grow and mature. To become mature Christians, therefore, we must learn more and more to “walk by faith, not by sight.”

This was one message that struck close to home for me and my family when tragedy struck in my home city of Moreno Valley, CA last week. Our collective faith was put to the test when one of our own, seventeen year old named Norma Lopez , was abducted and killed while walking home from our local high school. Paul Dion reflects on the tragedy and points out how this incident has brought out our community together and shows how faith and love can triumph over hate and tragedy. Meanwhile St. Louis University student David Haughney tells how he found faith abounding while spending a week with Habitat for Humanity in Georgetown, South Carolina. Through faith and service, he said, we should all try to live up to the expectations of our blessings.

Hour Least Expected

Be prepared. Fr. Phil Bloom tells us that this is the other message we are to take away from the Sunday Readings. Do not be lulled into thinking there is no hurry. The time of reckoning will come when you least expect it.

Fr. Charles Irvin says it also brings out the big questions we face today and in all of the days of our lives. What awaits us when we die? Is what’s in front of us determined by what we did or didn’t do in this life? And Fr. Ron Rolheiser raises even more questions. How do we live so that death does not catch us unaware? What do we do so that we don’t leave this world with too much unfinished business? He says we prepare to die by pushing ourselves to love less narrowly. In that sense, readying ourselves for death is really an ever-widening entry into life.

But, as Father Cusick advises us, we need never live in fear. Delightful and consoling words are communicated to us in the Gospel. Do not live in fear, little flock. The Lord desires that we be preserved from the fear that threatens to separate us from Him and His salvation. We simply need to be vigilant. And that means keeping Jesus and his teaching constantly before our eyes.

While Jesus warned His disciples to "watch and pray" in Gathsemane, Fr. Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B. points out, He could just as easily have said, "Watch, that is, pray." For it is only our prayerful remembrance of God's presence among us and of the promise of the kingdom that will protect us from the fateful distractions that lead us to live by the world's standards and to be found unprepared when the Lord comes for us.

Protestants, Atheists & Catholic Evangelization

Just last week, Benedict XVI underscored the importance of the Eucharist as a "treasure whose value cannot be measured." Illustrating a young third century martyr's dedication to the Body of Christ, he exhorted the tens of thousands of altar servers present at the audience to also give their lives in service to the Lord. It was a true call to evangelization and sainthood. This is complimented by a powerful list shared by Taylor Marshall: Maxims for the Direction of a Soul that Desires to Obtain Perfection in the Love of Jesus Christ by Saint Alphonsus Liguori. Print out these "50 Maxims" and paste them next to your mirror so that you read a few every day.

Joe Carter, a former Protestant, also offers an interesting look the evangelization practices of our Protestant brothers and sisters. He says Evangelism isn’t a form of Multi-Level Marketing and the “Good News” isn’t an Amway product. He finds it odd that so much evangelism appears to be about selling Jesus and hoping that you can convince the unsaved heathen to buy into salvation. Good news doesn’t have to be sold, he asserts. Bad news has to be sold, but not good news. And Fr. Longenecker relates that when a Protestant who is considering the Catholic Church calls him for advice, the conversation handily goes back to some recurring difficulties. So he shares here a list of the commandments he developed for converts. It's quite an interesting list.

From Protestants to Atheists, Fr. John Flynn, LC relates that to many of the new atheists who have vociferously attacked God and religion in the last few years, Religion is not only mad, but also bad, a propagator of division, hate and violence. He points out however that it is the Judeo-Christian tradition that has been the West's most effective curb on the dangerous tendencies in human nature that can propitiate violence.

For the Vacationers and the Job-hunters

Pastors from all religions are some of the most stressed people in the work force. Public health experts caution that there is no simple explanation of why so many members of a profession once associated with rosy-cheeked longevity have become so unhealthy and unhappy. But there is one simple remedy that has long been a touchy subject with many clerics - taking more time off. And in this regard, it seems Catholic priests are ahead of the stress curve. In his reflection, Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan says vacations can be occassions of grace. He recommends that Jesus be part of our vacation, too. Thinking of Him, listening to Him, speaking to Him — all in prayer — would be a great vacation resolution.

And as the relentless squeezing of the middle class persists, any one of us can suddenly find ourselves out of work affecting both ego and spirit. But we can always find recourse and hope in prayer. Prayer has power. When everything is falling apart, prayer holds. If you are looking for work, we ask you to use this prayer tool: A Rosary Reflection for the Job-seeker. Once again, we find that the Mysteries of the Rosary help us to identify with Christ, and join our sufferings to His, that all may be One.

This Friday, August 6, will see the Feast of the Transfiguration celebrated in the Church. August 6 is also an important date in world history: the fateful day on which the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in Japan. But in the midst of this terrible carnage, something quite remarkable happened: the remarkable survival of a small community of priests living well within the radius of total devastation. The story of the Jesuit Fathers in Hiroshima has echoes in the Bible and in the story of Fatima.

One Unbelieving Sheriff, Star Trek Devices & the Best Family Films

Meet Jesse Romero, a Deputy for the Lord. Just over a decade ago, an injury forced him to retire early from his job as a Los Angeles sheriff’s deputy, a career he loved. It freed him up, however, for full-time work as a lay Catholic evangelist, a career in which he has found even greater rewards. While young mother Arwen Mosher talks about how pretty easy it feels for her to be a good mother to baby infants because they have simple needs. They don’t disobey, and you can build the parent-child relationship just by holding them on your lap. Older kids, on the other hand, are complicated. How do you love them as they grow? Will she continue to love her children more and more? Will the top of her head actually fly off one of these days?

And just what are the greatest family film of all time? Respondents polled for a recent Radio Times magazine survey ranked Steven Spielberg’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial as the best, with The Wizard of Oz in the runner-up spot. Blogger Steven D. Greydanus, however took a different approach to picking his list. Rather than quibble about the ranking of films in the Radio times survey, he took issue with the inclusion of movies he thinks doesn’t deserve to be on such a list at all—and talks about movies he would rather see there instead.

Finally, here's one for all you Trekkies out there - it's the Top 10 "Star Trek" technologies that actually came true. The truth is, you can forget about a transporter. No one has been able to realize such a concept. But that doesn't mean some of the ideas that seemed far-fetched when the show debuted in 1966 haven't become a reality. In this article, we feature the top 10 technologies from Star Trek that actually did come to fruition. And some of them may surprise you.

Another eventful week in our Catholic world. Have a great and blessed new week.

Keep the Faith. Peace.

Wally Arida
Publisher & Editor in chief

FEATURED BLOGS: Selling Jesus like a Chevy
PRIEST STORIES: Taking a Break From the Lord’s Work
PASTORAL HISPANA: Los cristianos solo somos peregrinos

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