Sunday, July 27, 2014
When the Holy Mass is properly celebrated there are moments in which the voices of the clergy and faithful become silent. Father continues to officiate, Deacon continues to model the postures and gestures proper to the liturgy, and the congregation follows in watchful, prayerful participation. What do these periods of quiet signify? What does stillness really imply?
Stillness implies above all that we stop talking and let silence be allowed to prevail. That no other sounds – sounds of movement, of turning pages, of coughing and throat-clearing be audible. We are living beings and we move. But stillness is still, and it is a choice that we make. Stillness is more than the absence of noise and movement, it is the conscious decision to be present to the Holy Spirit.
People often say, “But I can’t help coughing” or “I can’t kneel quietly”; but when we’re stirred by a concert or engrossed in a movie we forget all about coughing and fidgeting. A congregation must truly desire stillness for it to know what it is. But once true stillness is encountered many begin to wonder how they ever lived without it.
Sadly, we live in noisy times. It is hard to find a place that the distractions of the world don’t surround us. Most people become uncomfortable within a few brief seconds when things are still; and when they become uncomfortable many feel the need to whisper to their neighbor or clear their throat just to fill the void.
Stillness is the outward sign of a tranquil inner life. It is us, collected, present, receptive, alert, and ready to be in the presence of God. Without stillness our prayer and worship remains an unfulfilled task.
The teachings of the Church tell us that when the presider says, “Let us pray,” he and the community are still for a moment. During this time of stillness we all reflect upon our own needs, our hopes, and our prayers, and present them to the Lord. The presider then collects our prayers and offers them as a gift to God.
As we’re told in Psalm 40, “Be still,” says the Lord, “and know that I am God.”
Sunday, July 20, 2014
Both the Old and New Testaments tell compelling stories of refugees forced to flee because of oppression. Exodus tells the story of the Chosen People, Israel, who were victims of slavery in Egypt. They were helpless by themselves, but with God's powerful intervention they were able to escape and eventually settle in a land that they could call home.
The Israelites' experience of living as homeless aliens was so painful and frightening that God ordered his people for all time to have special care for the alien: "You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you" (Leviticus 19:33).
Jesus reiterates the Old Testament command to love and care for the stranger, a criterion by which we shall be judged: "For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me" (Matthew 25:35). In Christ, the human race is one before God, equal in dignity and rights.
When there is a massive movement of people such as during a war, natural disaster, or famine, the lands that receive these displaced people may be threatened. Even in wealthy countries, such as in the United States, citizens and residents of the land may fear that newcomers will take jobs, land, and resources, impoverishing the people already present.
The first principle of Catholic social teaching regarding immigrants is that people have the right to migrate to sustain their lives and the lives of their families.
Pope Francis wrote earlier this month, “A change of attitude towards migrants and refugees is needed on the part of everyone, moving away from attitudes of defensiveness and fear, indifference and marginalization – all typical of a throwaway culture – towards attitudes based on a more just and fraternal world.”
The Holy Father goes on to say, “I would also like to draw attention to the tens of thousands of children who migrate alone, unaccompanied, to escape poverty and violence: This is a category of migrants from Central America and Mexico itself who cross the border with the United States under extreme conditions and in pursuit of a hope that in most cases turns out to be vain. This humanitarian emergency requires, as a first urgent measure, these children be welcomed and protected.”
We recognize the need to correct the problems in Central America that are forcing families to send their children to our borders. But we cannot abandon these children while we await changes to governments and systems.
Today’s second collection will help provide for the basic needs of the children we are called to welcome.
Sunday, July 13, 2014
The late Saint John Paul II once addressed the avenues available to us for personal holiness. He said we have confession, spiritual direction and therapy. He taught that all three of these are good and we need them at different times on life’s journey. But he went on to say that we should not confuse them.
Confession is the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This is to be used when grave sin is present. It is the teaching of the Church to make a confession at least annually when grave sin is not present.
Spiritual direction involves more time than does confession. Spiritual direction is for sorting out something personal that troubles, confuses, or stalls our trek toward holiness. Spiritual directors can be priests, deacons, or lay people, and many are specially trained for this. Usually when the confession line stops, it is because someone has confused confession with spiritual direction. Most spiritual direction sessions are lengthy and, if with a priest, may include with confession – but the two are separate and distinct in themselves.
Therapy can be wonderful when faced with life’s bigger challenges. Therapy is about recognizing and changing behaviors that hurt us or our loved ones, or hinder our journey toward holiness. A number of lengthy sessions may be needed to help us work on and through our issues.
Therapy is not Spiritual Direction. Spiritual Direction is not Confession. Confession is not Therapy.
In sorting out the distinctions between confession, spiritual direction and therapy, it is also good for us to distinguish how we tick. We often confuse the differences between desire, temptation and sin. Desires are part of being human. Actually to lose our desires, or not have any, would mean we are dead. Desires can usher us right into temptation but, we have to remember that temptation is not a sin. Jesus was tempted and never sinned. Because temptations can be so strong, some interpret them as personal failure. If we are not tempted, chances are the devil probably has us right where he wants us. To be tempted means we are fully engaged in spiritual warfare. Jesus has already won the battle, but we are engaged in our struggles with our earthly distractions and attractions.
The hallmark of the Second Vatican Council is that holiness is not just for a few but for all. We are all called to sainthood and holiness by our baptism. We have many tools at our disposal to assist us on our journey of faith, we just have to remember that we are not alone.
Monday, July 7, 2014
This weekend we celebrate the great American feast of Independence. Whether you call it Independence Day or the Fourth of July, it is a patriotic feast. Jesus told us that His followers were in the world but not of the world (cf. John 17:16-18). Can we who are faithful to the teachings of Christ be patriotic as well as Catholic?
The simple answer is yes. Of course we can. But it is important that we examine what we mean by patriotic. Many use the word patriotic when they mean nationalistic. Patriotism is the love of one’s native or adopted place, simply for what it is—not because it is “the best in the world,” not because it is the “richest,” not because it is the “most powerful.” All such considerations are irrelevant to patriotism. Someone living in a third-world country that is poor and that has no power beyond its own borders can be every bit as patriotic as we can.
Patriotism, being a kind of love, is a good thing. It needs to be contrasted with nationalism, which arises not out of love but out of pride. We know that pride is a sin—the chief of the Seven Deadly Sins. The pride that underlies nationalism make us think that our country is “the best,” that we are “the best,” that our politics and culture should be the norm everywhere. Nationalism allows no room for foreigners to be different because their countries and their people are not “the best.” Whether we think they are inferior in history or constitution or military power or table manners.
Our faith is one without borders. The worship in the wealthiest nation on earth is not superior to the worship in the poorest. We recognize that being Catholic is about being one Church, in solidarity with all. Being Catholic means our citizenship extends beyond borders or geographic regions.
The Catholic experience in the United States is one of struggle and triumph. We are black and white, Hispanic, Asian, rich and poor. Collectively we are the heart and moral compass, representing all that is good in the United States. And we are patriotic.
But we are not nationalistic. We recognize, as our Lord teaches, that the best place to be is heaven, and our true citizenship lies there.