Thursday, August 30, 2012

"Be doers of the word and not hearers only"

After our series of reflections on the 6th Chapter of John’s gospel, this Sunday, Sep. 2, 2012, we now go back to the gospel of Mark. Jesus rightly castigates the Pharisees for concentrating on trivial elements of the law because by doing this they miss the bigger picture. Our Discussion Questions will guide your Sunday Bible Study with family, friends and church groups.

The Pharisees and Role of Law

The traditions of the Pharisees were quite a different matter. Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio explains that they were not of themselves evil. They were pious customs of human origin passed down to support the living out of the law. Unfortunately, however, the Pharisees used these pious customs as loopholes to help them get around the difficult demands of the Torah.

Jesus tells the scribes and pharisees that they are hypocrites when they are more concerned about the law than the reason for the law. The letter of the law without compassion is dehumanizing. He did not belittle the “tradition of the elders” nor indicate that it has no value. He does not dismiss the law but condemns its misuse.

Rather, Fr. Alex McAllister, SDS explains, our Lord rejects the Pharisees' and the scribes' notion of sin. For according to Jesus, Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB points out, sin is the human spirit gone wrong, not a failure to distinguish between types of food. And so no matter how much we do in God’s service, regardless of how active we are in our churches, Fr. Orly Sapuay, MS rightly reminds us that God will not overlook a sinful heart. Thus the invitation of this Sunday, Fr. Phil Bloom explains, is to follow Jesus, to learn His teaching, to follow His moral law and to receive His sacraments.

Conversion of the Heart

Father Cusick notes that today more Americans go to church services each week than go to sports events in an entire year. But he also notes that such reverence is empty while mere human precepts are taught as dogmas and the eternal laws of God are spurned and ignored.

Jesus does not condemn ritual observance, which today would mean frequenting the sacraments and devotion to prayer. What He does condemn, Fr. Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B. points out, is religious observance that does not include conversion of one's heart from pride and self-centeredness. Granted, Jesus does warn about staying within the bounds of proper belief (monotheism and all that this implies) and proper morals (the commandments, love of our enemies, forgiveness). But, Fr. Ron Rolheiser adds, our Lord stresses too that we can miss the real demands of discipleship by not going far enough in letting ourselves be stretched by His teachings.

True Religion

So who’s a real Christian and who’s not? Who’s faithful to the teaching of Christ and who’s selective in following him? Fr. Ron Rolheiser asks, did Jesus have a litmus test? What is Jesus telling us then? Fr. John Foley, S. J. says Jesus is telling us to have the right heart within and law will be your friend. True religion is this, Fr. Joseph Pellegrino explains. It is looking after widows and orphans in their distress and keeping oneself unspotted from the world.

And here is where we have the beauty of our Catholic faith life, our Catholic morality. Our Catholic faith is profoundly realistic. Fr. Joseph Pellegrino says it recognizes that we are human beings tempted to make bad as well as good choices. When we call out, Fr. Phil Bloom reminds us, the Holy Spirit gives us help. We are in continual need of having our course to the Lord refined and even restored. He's not through with any of us and will not be through until the time for our making free choices is over.

Social Issues, Politics & Catholics

Lori Hadorn Disselkamp reports that today only 22% of American Catholics attend Church once a week. Where are the other 78%? Why have they fallen away from Church attendance yet they are still proud to call themselves Catholic? But there is hope, according to Jennifer Fulwiler. She believes the Internet offers specific characteristics that make it particularly powerful for the Church. And she honestly believes this instrument of truth will lead to mass conversions to Christianity.

And the Truth is the Truth; there is no compromise, says Benedict XVI. The Pope made this observation thsi week as he reflected on the feast of the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist. John "did not keep silent about the truth, and thus he died for Christ who is the Truth. For love of the truth, he did not give in to compromises with those who were powerful, nor was he afraid to address strong words to the one who lost his way to God," he said.

George Weigel discusses the Church and Unions. He says the right of workers to organize is a settled matter in Catholic social doctrine. No one will begrudge a union the right to defend its own; that’s why it exists. But when unions defend only their own, to the detriment of the rest of society (and, in a prime American case, the detriment of poor, inner-city children), something is wrong.

That is why these elections are so important. Rachell Zoll says forget the Mormon moment. The religious group that seems to be figuring most prominently in the presidential election right now is the Roman Catholic Church. With Mitt Romney's recent choice of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as running mate, this campaign is the first in which Catholics are on both major party tickets. Vice President Joe Biden and Ryan are lifelong Catholics who attend Mass regularly and credit the church with shaping their views.

And what is characteristic of the United States, explains Sandro Magister, is that this lively debate is taking place in the light of the sun, with public statements of position on the content of the issues. Politically, bishops and faithful are divided. No one is asking that Catholics make a united front, much less form a party. No one is calling for the organized involvement of Catholics in politics. In the political field, Catholics in the United States are simply present as far as they are able. The public sphere belongs to them also, as it does to all. Their power is that of persuading, not of imposing.

Divorce, Rape & Prayer

Recently an otherwise good politician incompetently waded into the politically explosive area and lit a match. A rape is often the most physically and emotionally devastating event in a victim’s life. And this is why the case against the rape exception is among the hardest for pro-lifers to articulate and for others to understand. It happens to be the position of most mainstream pro-life groups and, indeed, the teaching of the Catholic Church that killing an innocent child can never be justified, even if that life began as a result of rape.

Meanwhile, Matthew AIchbold talks about an old friend he met in the parking lot after Mass. The friend said that he'd just rented an apartment nearby because he was getting a divorce. Their conversation prompted Matthew to talk about divorce and the myth of quality time. From New York City, Cardinal Dolan talks about one of those rare-but-dramatic moments of divine illumination. The experience happened after he had just celebrating the Sacrament of Confirmation for about two-dozen of our special needs children. And it revolves around one of the confirmandis, a young man with Down Syndrome the cardinal calls "God’s Work of Art."

Last year, while attending the diaconate convocation for the Archdiocese of Detroit, Kathy Schiffer wrote about how she and her husband were privileged to pray before a first-class relic of St. Teresa of Avila. But what,exactly, is a relic? First, let’s clear up what it’s not. Catholics do not, under any circumstances, “worship” relics. She explains more. While Martha Fernández-Sardina talks about the keynote address she gave at the "Proclaim" conference held earlier this month in Sydney, Australia's first national conference on the new evangelization. She talked about "Personal Conversion: An Indispensable Key in Personal and Parish Evangelization."

Does God really speak to us? Anthony Lilles says there are many who believe that God does not speak to us and that prayer is nothing more than an imaginary conversation with ourselves that makes us feel better about things. But such explanations of prayer, as sophisticated as they appear, do not adequately account for what both great saints and repentant sinners discover in the silence of their hearts.

This may be the very same experience gained by then Mormon professor Richard Sherlock when while attending mass as a non-Catholic, Archbishop Raymond Burke placed his hand on his head in a blessing at the Communion line. And the extraordinary presence of Jesus Christ moved his soul to tears. He has since converted to Catholicism.

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: "What is the Worst Sin?"
FEATURED BLOG: The Church and the unions
PASTORAL HISPANA: Los mandamientos y actitudes religiosas

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Thursday, August 23, 2012

"Do you also want to leave?"

We are now in the final section of the 6th chapter of John’s gospel, John 6:60-69. The Sunday Gospel for Aug. 26, 2012 concludes with the challenge of the Lord to his disciples – “Do you also want to leave?” – after many walked away, unable to accept his teaching. The apostles, however, remained; for they believed in him whose words are “spirit and life.” Our Discussion Questions will guide your Sunday Bible Study with family, friends and church groups.

A Hard Saying

Up until the end, people continued to question the teaching on the Bread of Life. The Lord Himself recognized this difficulty. But, instead of backing off, He reinforced His point: “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” For some of the disciples, this was too hard to accept. Fr. Joseph Pellegrino say these disciples left the island of trust. They were convinced that the spiritual would not make such outlandish demands on their senses. They left Jesus and returned to their previous lives.

A sad scene, and puzzling too. But why is Jesus saying such things to his followers, Fr. John Foley, S. J. asks, and how are we supposed to understand them? The truth, Fr. Ron Rolheiser explains, is that God is ineffable. What that means is that God cannot be captured in our thoughts or pictured inside our imaginations.

And so the Twelve told Jesus what was happening. Perhaps they were implying that Jesus tone down His teaching some. Maybe they were just pointing out that the Lord was losing followers. Whatever. The fact is that Jesus was not going to take back a single word. Fr. Phil Bloom says Jesus is drawing a line in the sand - and inviting us to cross it, to come with him. And this brings us to the fifth and final instruction. To receive Communion we cross a line - make a commitment to stand with Jesus, no matter what.

“Your words are spirit and life.”

Faith is a gift from God. And true biblical faith, Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio explains, entails faithfulness or a lifelong commitment, come what may. Difficult as it was, Peter spoke on behalf of the apostles. They were committed to stay with Him. Even though they, too, might not have fully grasped his very difficult teaching, their faith in His person came first; even before what He taught. Fr. Orly Sapuay, MS details how the quality time the apostles have spent together with Jesus has disposed their hearts and minds to develop trust in Him and to be open to the Truth.

Yes, there are times that it is difficult to follow Christ. This Gospel passage alerts us to the fact that faith is not primarily assent to a creed about God but a personal covenant with God. His followers of weak faith did leave him. Fr. Campion P. Gavaler, OSB points out that Judas betrayed Jesus and Peter denied that he had ever known Him.

Following Christ means taking up the cross. Fr. Joseph Pellegrino says it means denying ourselves the passing joys of immorality for the eternal joy of living in His Presence forever. The story of Judas and Peter is both a warning and a source of hope. Like Judas, we too can finally choose to place ultimate, suicidal trust in something other than God. Like Peter, we too may grievously sin; yet trust that if we return, the Lord will welcome us with the joy of steadfast love.

Our Church is A Community of Faith

Fr. Omer Prieto tells us that it is our faith in the Lord that enables us to believe and accept His words. Such belief is not easy. Many times we are confronted by the same challenge to remain faithful to the teachings of our faith, even when we find them hard. Many find this stupendous reality a "stumbling block" and so reject the King of Kings who John salutes correctly in Sunday's Gospel as "the Holy One of God." But at some point our procrastinating and the rationalizing have to end. Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI reminds us that we have to choose, accept the painful renunciations inside that choice, and will the one-thing, God and faithful service of others, because ultimately our sadness comes from the fact that we are not yet saints.

The Church is a community of faith. The Catholic Faith is the faith of the Apostles. We look to them as the first group of Christians trained by the Lord himself and mandated by him to be the authentic interpreters of His teaching. And, Alex McAllister SDS adds, we believe that our Bishops are their direct successors and are also so mandated by Christ. We say in the creed that we believe in the one, true, catholic, and apostolic church.

This truth can never change. The Mass is the apex of the entire Christian life. Father Cusick emphasizes that the Eucharist is indeed the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. And blessed are those called to the Supper of the Lamb. In the "Guidelines for Reception of Communion," the bishops underscore this commitment. Communion they say involves "oneness of faith, life and worship." In other words, Communion involves our total being, our entire lives. Thus, explains Bishop Philip Boyce, each celebration of the Mass should be an experience of God and of faith, and a prayer.

Spreading the Good News

While some are called to be missionaries in foreign lands, for most of us, evangelization of inactive or non-Catholics begins in our own homes and communities. Some of these are the ones you might hear complain that the “Mass is boring”, “the priest is difficult to understand” or “the priest didn’t wow us with an exciting homily.” The list of complaints is likely much longer, but I think you get the picture. We must realize this is not healthy behavior. How do we change? Randy Haim offers key points he summarized into “Six Steps to Cure Catholic Boredom.”

Jim Graves also recently spoke with five prominent Catholic evangelists. And they offered suggestions to us Catholics on ways we can evangelize those they encounter day-to-day. And for a quick primer, Matthew Warner reports that John Paul the Great Catholic University is offering a FREE online crash course in the Catholic Faith. In the span of just 13 weeks - one session per week - you'll get lessons on different Catholic topics right in the comfort of your home.

Let’s reflect on how we feel right now about the Mass, priests, Church, etc. If we feel bored or critical, let’s follow a sound road map to bring us back from this dangerous territory.

Catholic Social Teaching

Solidarity? The Church is all for it. Subsidiarity? The Church couldn't be more enthusiastic about it. Not one or the other, nor some bland compromise between the two, but both, advocated with equal vigor. Rev. Robert Barron thinks it would be wise for everyone to keep this peculiarly Catholic balance in mind as the debate over Paul Ryan’s policies unfolds.

And meanwhile, an alliance of Catholic Hispanic leaders in the United States released Monday a guide for the 2012 elections, comparing the positions of the presidential candidates to Catholic social teaching. The document from the San Antonio-based Catholic Hispanic Leadership Alliance (CHLA) considers 23 specific questions, centered around the priority issues of the United States Catholic bishops. Immigration reform, same-sex "marriage" and the Affordable Healthcare Act are three of the issues on the list.

Men, Marriage & Men

When Msgr. Charles Pope speaks on marriage or do marriage preparation work, he sometimes get accused of being tough on men. He pleads guilty, with an explanation, or two. His advice to husbands on how to handle a woman? Love her.

Cheryl Dickow, meanwhile, admits that she is a weakling. But she points out that God has given her incredible strength through women who have become friends in the deepest sense of the word. They have surrounded her with love and have moved her forward, past pain and into God’s arms and his grace. She says Christ did not abandon her but strengthened her through these women, these friends. But there is one woman she does not know personally whom sets as the gold standard - Ann Romney. Take away the money thing, Cheryl jokes that she and Mrs. Romney have a lot in common. But she says it is Mrs. Romney's chronic MS condition that sets her on a level playing field with her. Cheryl explains why.

Dental Health and Dementia

Finally be made aware that people who keep their teeth and gums healthy with regular brushing may have a lower risk of developing dementia later in life, according to a U.S. study. Researchers at the University of California who followed nearly 5,500 elderly people over an 18-year-period found that those who reported brushing their teeth less than once a day were up to 65 percent more likely to develop dementia than those who brushed daily.

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: Must we believe the Church 100% to be Catholic?
FEATURED BLOG: John's picture of Jesus
PASTORAL HISPANA: Nuestra respuesta al regalo de la Eucaristia

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Thursday, August 16, 2012

"How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"

This week we come to the climax of John 6. Next week we’ll consider the disciples' suggestion that Jesus “tone down” His teaching. That’s the conclusion. This Sunday, August 19, 2012, though, Jesus confronts us with the necessity of the Eucharist for salvation. Our Discussion Questions will guide your Sunday Bible Study with family, friends and church groups.

As you know, this is the fourth of five Sundays devoted to the Sixth Chapter of John, the discourse on the Bread of Life. This week’s Gospel reading gets right to the heart of its Eucharistic message. Jesus says, “The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world. Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood you will not have life within you.”

His Flesh to Eat?

The Gospel relates that when Jesus taught the crowd that his very flesh is the true bread that has come down from heaven, the Jews argued among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB draws us further into the discussion. Was Jesus advocating pure cannibalism with such vivid imagery and language? Some followers even leave Him because they cannot accept this teaching. To make matters most, Jesus did not offer any explanation when they asked him for one.

Father Cusick says there are many who also murmur today in protest, who quarrel amongst themselves and who dispute against Christ and the truth which he teaches for our salvation. Many live in ignorance of this greatest gift of God to mankind, the fruit of the sacrifice of Calvary. But, Fr. Phil Bloom reminds us that in no uncertain terms, Jesus tells what we must do to have His life in us: To eat of His Sacred Body and to drink of His Precious Blood.

Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio tells us that Jesus did not come to make us decent, law-abiding citizens. He does not want us just to exist. He wants us to live, to be bursting with vitality, even with divine life. And so this Sunday, brothers and sisters, let nothing separate us from Him in the Eucharist. Jesus is the Way, the way is the Truth, and the Truth is Life-giving. As Fr. Orlando Sapuay, MS explains, it is our Lord alone who can lead us through the valley of the shadow of death into the joys of eternal life

The Sacrament of His Real Presence

There are some people who reduce this sacrament to a meal of fellowship. There are some people who equate the sacrament of the Eucharist in the Catholic Church with meals of fellowship in some non Catholic churches. Fr. Joseph Pellegrino says these actions are not the same. For us, the Eucharist is Jesus Christ who gives us ultimate food and drink. Fr. John Foley, S. J. says it is actually the most simple gift of all: bread that is His body and drink that is His blood poured out for us. And, Fr. James Gilhooley adds, it is not He who needs us. It is we who need Him.

We need to calm down and receive peacefully this body and blood of Christ into our own fleshly selves. When we receive communion we enter into the mystical. In fact, the earliest word to explain the action of the Eucharist was the mysterium, the mystery, the mystical. When we receive Communion or come to adoration, we come before the dynamic, powerful Presence who speaks to us through the life He has given us. The marvelous paradox of our Eucharistic relationship with Jesus, Fr. Joseph Pellegrino explains, is that the more we have Him, the hungrier we are for Him. We can’t get enough of Him. We never will until we are fully united to Him in heaven.

Fr. Ron Rolheiser explains that Love is the key to the wisdom that Jesus revealed. And the gospels tell us that we are “inside” or “outside” the true circle of love, depending upon whether or not we grasp this wisdom. Being in the state of grace means making that decision to put God first. For sure one can fall from a state of grace, Fr. Phil Bloom points out. For example, by choosing not to attend Sunday Mass or commiting some other grave sin. In that case we need sacramental confession before we receive Jesus in Communion. In line with this, we ask you to explore our Burning Question for the week: Who can receive Communion?

Our Eternal Union With the Father Through Jesus

Jesus comes for a purpose: our redemption, our eternal union with the Father through Jesus. To attain that union, we must receive Jesus in a physical form. Because He is the Son of God, this bread of life is truly life-giving in the full sense of eternal life. Fr. Omer Prieto explains it is what allows us to enter into that flow of life that courses between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And to the extent that this happens, through our commitment to God's unselfish way of loving, Fr. Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B. says our eternal life will be assured. This is the Eucharist as seen through the eyes of faith.

When we look at the Body of Christ before receiving it in Communion, it is hard for us to see Christ in it. But when other people look at us after we have received the Body of Christ we sometimes act as though we had not received it. We have taken it for granted, Fr. Alex McAllister SDS points out. What we see in the Eucharist, the goodness and joy of life and the pains and shortcomings of that same life, is the same tension that we need to hold up each day within our ordinary lives. The challenge, Fr. Ron Rolheiser points out, is just how do we do that?

The Assumption and Marian Teachings

Wednesday, August 15, 2012 was the feast day of the Assumption of Mary. Msgr. Charles Pope notes that this feast do not simply celebrate something about Mary herself, but also what God, who is mighty, does for her, and how, to a large degree we, will come to share in the blessings she receives. For as Mary is taken up body and soul, so shall we one day be taken up, not in soul only, but in body too.

Catholic convert Brianna Heldt laments that anytime a Protestant friend asks what her primary obstacles were to becoming Catholic, Mary inevitably comes up. Some of the Catholic doctrine on this subject is difficult. And yet what was initially an obstacle to her conversion eventually became a joy for her to embrace.

Eventually we learn to understand that Mary is, of course, not equal to Christ. Jesus, though possessing a complete human nature, is the Eternal Word made flesh. Mary is only a creature. But she is a unique creature.And as Marcellino D'Ambrosio explains, she is 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.

Freedom & the Dignity of Work

Nothing offers a fuller sense of satisfaction than a task well-performed. It doesn’t matter if that task is washing the kitchen floor or guiding a classroom of middle school students towards a lesson’s objective. Inherent in who we are as humans, as Blessed John Paul points out, is the need for a person to contribute to his or her family or neighborhood or culture in a discernable way. Cheryl Dickow says this is what separates us from the animals but also is what gives us dignity. Work is an opportunity to unite with God and give glory and honor to His kingdom.

Denise Bossert is one who celebrates the miracle of going to work. She reports that when her non-sacramental marriage ended, she wanted to go to sleep for about a decade and wake up with a different life. But her Dad quickly dragged her away to get her substitute teaching license. Now she realizes that Work was good therapy. Dad knew it was true. Even the Church knows it’s true. There is a dignity in work. It restores hope, it gets us dreaming again. It helps us to pinpoint our strengths. It can even become a prayer. Thus we hold the unemployed and the underemployed in our hearts as we pray for work security.

And once again, we go back to the topic of religious freedom. Randall Smith wonders aloud why it is that “freedom” for most "tolerant" people is always freedom from Catholicism? As an example, he recalls announcing to his own parents that he was going to become Catholic and how scandalized and upset they were. And this from two people who had always insisted that, “Any way is right if it’s right for you.” Any way was “right,” as it turned out, as long as it wasn’t the Catholic way.

Bible, Prayer and The Body of Christ

Sherry of writes about stumbling across this great quote from Mother Teresa: "Jesus will use you to accomplish great things on the condition that you believe much more in his love than in your weakness. Only then, his hand will be free with you." If this is true, it may be one explanation for the fact that relatively little fruit is manifested in our parishes where only 48% are certain that you can have a relationship with a personal God. That has to be one of the big contributors to our communal tepidness and powerlessness.

Is everything in the Bible historical? What do the teachings of Jesus reveal? Jimmy Akin writes that everything in the Bible is historical in the sense that it was written in historical times. So the biblical books are historical documents in that sense. But what about the content of the biblical books? If you open up the Bible to a random passage, does that mean what you are reading is automatically history? Absolutely not, he explains. Meanwhile Dan Burke explores how we can move from saying our prayers to praying our prayers. And Randy Hain talks about Catholic men and the responsibility they ahve to be strong fathers and husbands, leaders in our parishes, good stewards in the community and humble followers of Christ. He shares his "Seven-Point Checklist for Catholic Dads."

Cheryl Dickow shares how ironic it is that, as a Catholic, the most difficult part of having a chronic health issue isn’t the health issue itself. But rather, it is this big question: Should I pray for healing…or should I carry my cross? She says it is that question that often keeps us spiraling through a journey that is already burdensome and often overwhelming. Related to this, Judith Costello shares the story of a friend who was visiting last week after stopping to see an old friend. She watched in awe as this friend and her husband brought their friend to Church. It took them 20 minutes to get her in and out of Church because the friend is severely handicapped. It was such a sweet action and it made her think, “This is what it means to be a part of the Body of Christ.”

College Success, the "Dark Knight" & the Cinematic Christ

For those who have ears to hear, we share the list of what we deem to be the most essential ways to thrive at college. Incidentally, thisnis presented from a Catholic perspective, so some of these may need to be adjusted according to your own frame of reference.

And finally, Rev. Robert Barron tackles Batman. He says in one way or another, all religions deal with the problem of evil, both how to explain it and how to solve it. He notes that the solution to suffering proposed by the film "The Dark Knight rises" is not a shift in consciousness, not the extinction of desire, not the correct following of the law, and not a direct confrontation with evil. It is, instead, a heroic act of love on the part of a savior willing to take upon himself the dysfunction that he fights. This he says makes Batman, unavoidably, an icon of Christ.

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: Who can receive Communion?
FEATURED BLOG: Seven Point Checklist for Catholic Dads
PASTORAL HISPANA: La Eucaristia es prenda de la gloria futura

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