Thursday, March 15, 2012

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son"

This Sunday, March 18, 2012, is Laetare Sunday, the joy at one stage of our Lenten journey accomplished and a foretaste of the joy of Easter, which springs from the Cross of Christ. Our Discussion Questions will guide your Sunday Bible Study with family, friends and church groups.

We Rejoice

Every Mass, every Sunday, even in Lent is an experience of the joys and splendor of the new Jerusalem, the Church on earth and the heavenly city. Fr. Charles Irvin explains that we celebrate that today, Laetare Sunday, with the rose colored vestments, the playing of the organ and the flowers on the altar, all signs of the Church's joy, alive with the Resurrection, which cannot be contained even in Lent, though we still refrain from Alleluias and the singing of the Gloria until the magnificence of the Easter Vigil.

Our entrance antiphon sets the tone: "Laetare Jerusalem; Rejoice Jerusalem: and come together all you that love her; rejoice with joy, you that have been in sorrow; that you may exult, and be filled from the breasts of your consolation."

The Wonderful Good News

Jesus gives us the wonderful good news that "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son." We are included in that world, and it should be most comforting to hear that we are loved by the One who is most capable of loving.

This announcement happens in a conversation with Nicodemus, a knowledgeable church elder. Fr. James Gilhooley advises us however that we should not be hard on Nicodemus. Christ enjoyed his company. He relished His talk with the well-read gentleman. The apostles were hardly brain surgeons. Chats of the type described in Sunday's Gospel with them would have been an exercise in futility.

Furthermore, through this gentleman Nicodemus, we receive a splendid outline of the job definition of the Master as He Himself understood it. Jesus tells Nicodemus what is about to happen. Fr. Alex McAllister, SDS says our Lord reveals to this important member of the Jewish hierarchy that God is now going to intervene in a most spectacular way and is going to definitively bring about salvation not merely for the Jewish people but for the whole human race. God has sent his Son who will be raised up so that those who look upon him with faith may have eternal life. Fr. Joseph Pellegrino says the sign of their faith is that they will do their deeds in the light.

Only to the Degree that We Believe

Now it’s clear, Fr. Orlando Sapuay, M.S. explains. By dying on the Cross Jesus paid the price for our sins. By rising from the dead he opened the door to eternal life. Trust in the power of his death and resurrection, and you will experience for yourself the very kingdom of God. Look up to the crucified and risen Christ, and you will be saved.

Sounds simple enough. There’s just one catch: When God saved the people of Israel from the fiery serpents, they held on to the bronze serpent long after all the snakes had slithered away.The people of Judah “added infidelity to infidelity,” the First Reading says, worshipping false gods, polluting the sacred temple, ignoring the real God with vigor. Fr. John Foley, S. J. points out that out of compassion God had sent prophets to warn them, but each received only scorn.

Then He sent His Son. Light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. To put it another way, it’s altogether possible to pay lip service to Jesus, then go on your merry way as if who He is and what He commands you to be is irrelevant to everyday life. The liberating effect of God's divine love will be available to us only to the degree that we believe. So then comes the million dollar question–how could a loving God ever send anyone to hell? The answer is very simple. He doesn’t. Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio says no one is in hell except those who choose it.

It is tempting to think that believing in Christ means simply that we affirm the creed, or that we agree that Jesus existed and worked miracles and died and rose from the dead. The simple fact is that those baptized as infants must "claim" their own baptisms, as it were, as soon as they are old enough to do so, which usually means in early adulthood. The sacrament of Baptism is not magic. And its graces become fully operative in our lives only to the extent that we accept and live the promises made years ago in our names.

Sacrament of Confession

The Church would not truly express the saving love of Christ unless, faithful to his teaching and commandments, she warned us of the reality of our sins. So she teaches that sin is capable of separating us from God forever, yet completely forgiven as soon as we will humbly approach the Lord remembering: "whose sins you forgive they are forgiven them, whose sins you hold bound they are held bound." Father Cusick counsels us all to observe the Church's precept to confess sins at least once a year during the Lenten season.

From the Vatican, Pope Benedict, reaffirmed this during his Papal address on the Sacrament of Confession, "The new evangelization, thus, also begins in the confessional!" In response to this, Fr. José Antonio Varela Vidal, the Confessor of the Basilica of St. Mary Major offered his own reflection on the pope's message regarding Confession

Freedom of Religion, Marriage and More

The public discourse on freedom of religion brought about by the Obama HHS mandate continues. The U.S. bishops say they are "strongly unified and intensely focused" in opposition to threats against religious freedom, specifically the threat posed by the federal government's plan to mandate abortifacients and sterilizations in health insurance coverage. But sometimes even those on the political Right have their streams crossed. As in the case of Glenn Beck who offerd his thoughts recently about teh Catholic Church. Omar F. A. Gutierrez writes that while Glenn may be pretty good at analyzing cultural data in order to give his opinion on the political horizons, Glenn is the last person Catholics should be listening to with regard to how to be Catholic.

Judith Costello laments how slowly yet steadily things have changed in our society. “Good” has become “bad.” The virtues and standards of our faith, have been twisted by the modern world. Virtue is being mocked, or simply discarded. In the news, in classrooms and in the entertainment industry you can find examples of the mockery.

And the Divorce Dilemma we face is one such topic. Eve Tushnet notes that if America has endured a “divorce revolution” since California passed no-fault divorce in 1969, we’ve now entered the counterrevolutionary phase. Divorce rates have fallen from their peak in the early ’80s, the deep pain often felt by children of divorce is openly acknowledged, and young Americans are determined not to repeat the mistakes of previous generations. But as with most purely reactionary cultural movements, the revolt against divorce has only weakened our marriage culture more. We have all learned to fear divorce. Now we must learn to trust in marriage.

But there is hope. And, Joe Heschmeyer says, it all boils down to the kind of friends you have -- Virtuous Friendships are key. Friends who share a deep love for God, and particularly devoutly Catholic friends, call us to higher level of sanctity and enrich our lives. Even if you know each other only casually, once you start exchanging prayer intentions and going before God together, you walk away with an authentic bond formed. No political affiliation or common interest can parallel this.

Crossing the Tiber

A little over a year ago James Tonkowich, a Presbyterian minister for over twenty years, became a Catholic layman. If you’re a Protestant and especially if you’re a Protestant minister listing Romeward, he offers rules hat may help keep you from following in his soggy footsteps across the Tiber.

On the other hand, if you're already Catholic and struggling with your faith, this one's for you. Jennifer Fulwiler gets asked questions from struggling Catholics fairly frequently. Perhaps it’s because she's an atheist-to-Catholic convert, or because readers of her personal blog know that she's a spiritual spaz and therefore am likely to have been through a variety of rough patches in my relationship with God. In any case she shares her "8 Tips for Catholics With Doubts."

But things are really looking up for the Catholic Church these days. The USCCB reports that local churches nationwide have held their own over the last decade. But Texas is a different story. They report a marked shift from sharing states of consistency or decline to a staggering story of historic growth. Seems everything is really bigger in Texas, even for the Catholic Church.

And here's a story of some kids with a van that's making a difference. Kristen Walker reports that on March 13, in Dallas, TX, an organization you’ve probably never heard of revolutionized the pro-life movement. It starts with a kid from Philly, a bus in New York, and an idea that brought him quite by accident to the city where Roe v. Wade started — the city where he hopes abortion will finally meet its match.

End of an Era

Encyclopaedia Britannica pulls the print plug. It will cease print publication, it announced Tuesday. The 244-year-old publication will continue to publish an online edition and provide educational materials for schools. The media landscape has changed considerably in the Encyclopaedia Britannica's 2-1/2 centuries of publication, but nothing has had as great an effect as Wikipedia. The 11-year-old crowd-sourced encylopedia is online, and it's free. Encyclopaedia Britannica's most recent edition sells for $1,395. The times they are a-changing.

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: Is Jesus God or the Son of God?
FEATURED BLOG: How does Jesus fulfill the Old Covenant?
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