Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Passion and Christ the King

The Gospel for this Sunday, the feast of Christ the King, is taken from John's Passion narrative: Jesus before Pontius Pilate.  Jesus' kingdom is not of this world; he is not a king in political terms. "The Passion is conceived in the fourth Gospel as a kind of epiphany of Christ the King." *

 Unlike the Synoptic Gospels, John does not talk about the kingdom of God--until the Passion narrative. Then, he presents Jesus and his kingdom for what it really is: "The kingdom is to be the earthly continuation and representation of Jesus after he has gone," (Ibid.)  that is, the kingdom on earth is the Church.

The Pierced Heart of Christ

The second reading from Revelation says: "Look, he is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all peoples on earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen!" (Rev 1:7).

In reading this we can't help but think of that other scene in John's Gospel, when after Jesus died "one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and blood and water came out" (Jn 19:34).

The prophet Zechariah had written, "I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of mercy and supplication, so that when they look on him whom they have thrust through, they will mourn for him as over a firstborn. . .  "On that day a fountain will be opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to purify from sin and uncleanness." (Zech 12:10, 13:1).

This fountain is the blood and water that poured out from the heart of Christ the King as he hung on the cross. The blood and water is the fountain of sacramental life in the Church, representing all the sacraments but Baptism and the Eucharist in particular.

The kingdom that Christ came to establish, the Church, freely offers this new life of grace to all who desire it. The only condition is faith and repentance, to believe and to begin through grace to walk in the newness of life.

Since after his death and resurrection the mission of Christ on earth was accomplished, he left us the Church as the place wherein we receive his life of grace.  This kingdom would be holy, despite the flaws and sins of its members. It would be a united kingdom, symbolized at Calvary by the seamless garment of Christ which in 19:23 ff, John emphasizes could not be torn apart. The biblical background here is found in 1 Kings 11:29-31. The prophet Ahijah took the garment Jeroboam was wearing and tore it into twelve pieces, symbolizing the division of his kingdom, in contrast.

The fountain of blood and water that flowed from Christ's heart is at the center of the divine mercy devotion that Jesus gave to us through St Faustina. He promised her that through that image he would grant many graces to the world. The Year of Mercy is going to start in a couple weeks. Today's feast of Christ the King can help us to reflect on his great love and mercy, and to prepare for the coming time of mercy when surely the floodgates of heaven's graces will be open for us, if we are willing to ask for them.

*Andre Feuillet, Johannine Studies (New York: Alba House, 1964, p. 21).

Sunday, November 08, 2015

The Incarnate Word, q. 1, a. 2 (first of two posts)

Question 1: The fittingness of the Incarnation
Article 2:     Was the Incarnation necessary to restore the human race from sin?

Quick answer: It depends on how you understand "necessary" (Thomas always distinguishes)

Why?      Thomas says that a thing can be called necessary in two ways. The first is when it is absolutely essential, otherwise the goal can't be reached. In this sense, the Incarnation was not absolutely necessary because God could have devised other ways to save us.

Yet something can be necessary even when it is not absolutely required, but makes it easier to reach a goal. He gives the example of using a horse on a journey. (Thomas traveled a lot through Europe, mostly on foot. We can imagine he probably often wished he had a horse!)
The Incarnation is necessary in this second way. It helps us in two ways: first by making it easier for us to attain good, and second by making it easier for us to avoid evil. In this post I'll only speak about the first way, since this is a longer article than usual.

Thomas gives five reasons why the Incarnation helps us to attain good more easily. He quotes Augustine for each of them, which shows how much he looked to Augustine in formulating his own thought.

1) Our faith is more certain because we have it on the authority of God himself speaking to us in Jesus Christ. "In order that we might journey more trustfully toward the truth, the Truth itself, the Son of God, having assumed human nature,  established and founded faith."

2) Our hope is more certain because it is greatly strengthened, as Augustine says, "Nothing was so necessary for raising our hope as to show us how deeply God loved us. And what could afford us a stronger proof of this than that the Son of God should become a partner with us of human  nature?"

3) Our love is increased because of the Incarnation since as Augustine says, "What greater cause is there of the Lord's coming than to show God's love for us?" And he  adds: "If we have been slow to love, at least let us hasten to love in return."

4) Jesus gave us a model for right living: "God was made man, that He Who might be seen by us, and Whom we might follow, might be shown to us."

5)  Through the humanity of Christ we are enabled to participate in God's own life through grace: "God became a human being, that human beings might become God."

That last quotation from Augustine was a favorite one of the Fathers of the Church, and goes back as far as Irenaeus (d. 202).

Spiritual takeaway:  Each of the five reasons and the quotes from Augustine would make a fruitful meditation. I can't add anything to that!

Saturday, November 07, 2015

The Incarnate Word Q. 1, a. 1 (part three)

In blogging through the Summa, I'm going to start with the third part because:

1) it's about Jesus Christ and the sacraments, so it deals with material we're more familiar with
2) it's less heavily philosophical than the first part. To start at the beginning could lead to discouragement rather quickly!
3) while all of the Summa is profitable for spiritual growth, the third part is especially fruitful in that regard.

Question 1: The fittingness of the Incarnation
Article 1:     Was it fitting for God to become incarnate?

Quick answer:  Yes

Why?   Thomas says that God's very nature is goodness. As Dionysius shows, goodness implies self-communication. So because of God's goodness, he has communicated himself to us in such a way that the second Person of the Trinity became a man. Thus, the Incarnation was completely fitting. God communicates himself out of sheer goodness, not driven by any necessity.

Thomas' sources: Note that in this article, Thomas quotes three of his most important theological sources.

1) St John of Damascus, who is very influential on Thomas' Christology. John lived in the 8th century (died in 749), the last of the Greek Fathers and known especially for his work On the Orthodox Faith.

2) St Augustine, who was also a huge influence on Thomas

3) Dionysius the Areopagite, also known as Pseudo-Dionysius. He wrote on the angelic hierarchy and on God, especially in The Divine Names. Because in the Middle Ages he was incorrectly thought to be the Dionysius converted by Paul at Athens, his work  became very authoritative. He actually lived in the 6th century and was an unknown author who probably lived in Syria.

Thomas also quotes Scripture often. In fact, he equates theology with the study of the sacred page, the Bible, in the very first question of the whole Summa.

Spiritual takeaway:
In his theology of the body, St John Paul II took up the principle that goodness communicates itself.  He used it in explaining one of his key ideas: that as human beings we find happiness and fulfillment in making a gift of ourselves to others in love. This "freedom of the gift" was at work in the Incarnation. The more closely we are configured to Christ, the more we will live this and find happiness.

Blogging through the Summa: brief overview

Today I'm starting a new endeavor, to blog through the Summa. I know it's a daunting task, and I don't know how far I'll get. But at least I can start and see how it goes.
This post is a brief overview of the structure of the Summa (that is, the Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas). Thomas wrote it as a textbook for beginners in theology -- yes, beginners!--to present the teachings of the Catholic faith in an organized way.

It has three parts, the second of which is subdivided into two parts:

Part I treats of the nature of theology, God, the Trinity, creation, the angels, human beings, and the world order

Part II
        First Part (I-II): treats of general principles of the moral life, starting with happiness. He looks at human acts, principles of morality, the emotions, virtues, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, sin, law, the Old Law and the Gospel of Grace.

       Second Part (II-II): treats of the virtues in great detail. Thomas focuses on virtue, not on sin. He mentions sin when it comes up in relation to the various virtues. He has a very positive approach.

Part III
        This part is on Jesus Christ, the Incarnation, his passion, death, and resurrection, and four of the sacraments: baptism, confirmation, the Holy Eucharist, and Penance.  Thomas died before the could complete the Summa. After his death, other Dominicans put together the Supplement, completing the material Thomas had intended to write about. They used other writings he had done earlier in his career, mostly from his commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard. Thomas had commented on these when he was a "bachelor of the Sentences"  at the University of Paris from 1252-1256, before he became a Master of theology.

Each part of the Summa is divided into questions, which have several articles. My plan is to do one blog post for each of the articles.

How to read the Summa: Each article begins with a question, followed by several objections. Then there is a sed contra, which is usually the response Thomas will give (but sometimes the sed contra contains another objection.) Then Thomas gives his response and full explanation, followed by his replies to each objection.
I've found the easiest way is to read the question, then the sed contra so you know what Thomas is saying, then his fuller response. Then I go back to the objections and try to figure out how to answer them before reading Thomas' own response.

I'll link to the online version here.
St. Thomas Aquinas, pray for us! Pray for the wisdom we need to understand more deeply the things of God.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Saints John de Brebeuf, Isaac Jogues and companions

Saint John de Brébeuf (1593-1649), Isaac Jogues (1607-1646), and Companions

Feast: October 19 (United States), September 26 (Canada)

Patrons: missionaries, evangelizers, United States, Canada

This group of six Jesuit priests (John de Brébeuf, Isaac Jogues, Noel Chabanel, Anthony Daniel, Charles Garnier, Gabriel Lalemant) and two lay assistants (René Goupil and Jean de la Lande) were zealous missionary martyrs in Canada and upstate New York. The Jesuit Relations record in great detail their work and sufferings as they evangelized the native peoples. Isaac Jogues was captured, tortured, and held as a prisoner in the Mohawk village of Ossernenon for over a year. With help from the Dutch he escaped and returned to France. But in his zeal he asked to be sent back to the missions, not fearing martyrdom.
John de Brébeuf was outstanding for his courage, missionary zeal, and efforts to understand the native peoples. He learned the Huron language and adapted himself to their culture, living among the people. He and Gabriel Lalemant were martyred together after extreme torture on March 16, 1649. Brébeuf had reached such a high point in his spiritual life that he desired martyrdom as a way of giving the ultimate witness to Jesus Christ. The martyrs’ shrines at Midland, Ontario, and Auriesville, New York, recall their dedication and heroism.


For me, the most moving part of the Auriesville shrine is the ravine. There a grief-stricken Isaac Jogues, praying the psalms for the dead, sought in vain for the body of René Goupil. Rustic signposts along a silent, tree-shrouded path near a brook lead the pilgrim through that sorrowful journey. He relates, “Finally on the fourth trip I found René's head and some half gnawed bones. These I buried. Reverently did I kiss them as the bones of a martyr of Jesus Christ . . . ”


Holy martyrs, we stand in awe of your courage in the face of extreme suffering. Your love for Jesus moved you to sacrifice everything for his sake. Pray for us that we may have courage to profess our faith even in the midst of an unbelieving world.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

What does the Holy Spirit have to do with the Assumption of Mary?

The other day I was reading Romans and this line jumped out: "If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you" (Rom 8:11).
Paul is underlining that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead through the power of the Holy Spirit. Since Jesus' resurrection is the source of the future resurrection of our bodies, we too will be raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit (at the end of time when Christ comes again in glory.)

But the Church teaches that God anticipated this for Mary. Right after she died, she was taken up into heaven, both body and soul. This is what we celebrate on the Assumption.

Based on Romans, we can say that the Holy Spirit was active in this. And we know from other texts in the New Testament that Mary was filled with the Holy Spirit. When the angel Gabriel asked her consent to become the Mother of God, he said, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you." (Lk 1:35)  Years later, Mary was present at Pentecost and received the Holy Spirit in an even fuller measure: "They were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, along with Mary, the mother of Jesus" (Acts 1:14).

Mary had a special relationship with the Holy Spirit. She was full of grace, and one effect of grace is the indwelling of the Spirit. So it was extremely fitting that at the close of her earthly life, the Spirit who dwelt in her with such fullness would take her body to heaven as well. Mary received the first fruits of the resurrection of Jesus.
Why is this important to note? Because it shows that the dogma of the Assumption, which Pope Pius XII proclaimed in the Marian year of 1950, has a Scriptural basis. More on that later.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Saint Clare of Assisi (1194-1253)

On Palm Sunday night in the year 1212, a young woman ran away from home. Clare Offreduccio wanted to follow Jesus Christ in his total poverty. Her desire to live a radically evangelical life was inflamed by the preaching of a charismatic young man of Assisi named Francis Bernardone. Over her family’s objections, she took a giant step of faith and joined Francis in establishing a new religious order for women, which came to be known as the Poor Clares. Despite her family’s almost violent attempts to get her to come back home, she stood firm. She didn’t know what the future held, where she would live or how she would support herself. But she trusted in God and pledged to follow Jesus Christ in a life of total poverty. Her sister Catherine soon joined her, and little by little more women came. They established poor convents and slowly began to spread outside of Assisi and even outside of Italy. Clare’s reputation for holiness grew. People came to the convent with requests for prayers, and Clare always interceded for them. The idea of a group of nuns living in complete poverty without a source of income was met with resistance by Church authorities. But Clare always insisted on this, and after great opposition obtained what the called the “privilege of poverty.” She received papal approval of her Rule when she was on her deathbed.

In establishing the Poor Clares, Clare collaborated with Francis in a mature way that shows she knew how to develop spiritual friendships. She lived the Franciscan charism and treasured poverty because it led her to a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. Her strength of character shows in her determination to withstand pressure from Church authorities who wanted her to follow a less austere way of life. She also was known for her great love for all the sisters in her community. Her example of a hidden life marked by prayer and penance teaches us that the great works of God must spring from the root of poverty and prayer.

Saint Clare of Assisi, you followed Jesus Christ in complete poverty and love. Today we are surrounded by so many material possessions. Help us not to set our hearts on them, but on Jesus, and to use our goods in a way that will benefit others. Amen.

© 2015 Daughters of Saint Paul

Sunday, July 19, 2015

What Are the Gifts of the Holy Spirit?

The Gifts of the Holy Spirit are one of those things we might remember from catechism classes, but we usually don’t think about them very much. After making my retreat during Pentecost week, I realized I only had a vague idea of what they are exactly and how they relate to each other. Even the Catechism of the Catholic Church doesn’t say very much about them, except for this:

1830 The moral life of Christians is sustained by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. These are permanent dispositions which make man docile in following the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
1831 The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. They belong in their fullness to Christ, Son of David. They complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them. They make the faithful docile in readily obeying divine inspirations.

To learn more about them, I looked up what St Thomas says about them in his Summa. The first thing he asks is this: Are the virtues the same as the Gifts, or are they different? (I-II, q. 68, article 1.)

He answers that they are different, and goes on to explain why. We can be moved in two ways: in one way from within ourselves, and in another way from outside ourselves, that is, from God.

By nature we have the ability to reason, and a free will. The virtues are qualities that enable us to be moved from within, by our own reason and will. (We do need the help of God’s grace to act so as to do good, that is, a meritorious act by grace, but that is a separate issue. For now I’m just focusing on the difference between the virtues and the Gifts.)

A virtue is a good habit. For example, a person might have the good habit of being honest in dealing with others. An upright person recognizes that it is good to tell the truth, not to cheat, etc., and can choose to act that way toward others. That person is practicing the virtue of honesty and integrity. The fundamental virtue underlying that is justice, one of the four cardinal virtues. In terms of a natural virtue, the person is being moved by reason and will to act with integrity—being moved from within.

We can be moved in a second way, however, when we receive inspirations from God. To be moved by divine inspiration, we need to be receptive to the movement of grace. For that, we need something more than virtues—we need the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The purpose of the Gifts is to make us receptive to the inspirations God is sending us. In light of this, St Thomas concludes that the Gifts are not identical with the virtues, but are something over and above them. They make us fine-tuned to be able to pick up the inspirations God sends, and to act on them.

St Thomas goes on to explain more about exactly why we need to be moved by God this way, but I’ll put that in another post.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Scapular and Our Lady of Mt Carmel: A Biblical View

Today’s feast, commonly associated with the scapular, can help us reflect on the Biblical theme concerning garments of salvation. The German word for scapular, Gnadenkleid, literally means “grace-garment.” Many references to garments and clothes are scattered throughout the Bible, beginning in Genesis: “And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them” (Gen 3:21). In their original state of innocence, they had no need for clothes. They were naked but not ashamed—this is what Pope John Paul called “original nakedness.”
But after their sin, our first parents lost their innocence and needed to be clothed. God’s tender action of making clothes for them can perhaps be seen as symbolizing the garments of grace that God would bestow through Jesus Christ.

Pure and clean garments came to symbolize grace and salvation, as the prophet Isaiah sang:
“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” (Isaiah 61:10)

This imagery blends the spousal theme with that of garments of salvation. This text is used in the Liturgy of the Hours for the Common of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Garments signify the gifts of grace that God adorns us with inwardly.

The last book of the Bible, Revelation, picks up the theme of white garments to express the holiness of the saints, of those who have been through great trials and held fast to their faith: “Yet you still have still a few persons in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes; they will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. If you conquer, you will be clothed like them in white robes, and I will not blot your name out of the book of life; I will confess your name before my Father and before his angels” (Rev 3:4–5).
Among the several “blessings” in the book of Revelation, we find this one: “Blessed are those who wash their robes [in the blood of the Lamb] so that they will have the right to the tree of life” (22:14).

Perhaps today the scapular devotion is not as popular as it once was. But Catholicism, as a sacramental religion, uses such material symbols as signs of the deeper underlying inner reality of grace. The scapular is not meant to be something superstitious, like a talisman or a good luck charm. Wearing it expresses in a silent yet eloquent way our love for Mary and our confidence in her intercession and help.


The following prayer, called Flower of Carmel, is attributed to St. Simon Stock:

O Beautiful Flower of Carmel, most fruitful vine, splendor of heaven, holy and singular, who brought forth the Son of God, still ever remaining a pure virgin, assist us in our necessity! O Star of the Sea, help and protect us! Show us that you are our Mother! Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, pray for us!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

5 Things the Media Will Not Tell You About Laudato Si'

Today Pope Francis released his second encyclical, Laudato Si'. It is very long, more like a book. Probably most people won't read the whole thing but will get an impression of it from news outlets. Here are five things they will not tell you about it:

1. The encyclical has six references to St. Thomas Aquinas, including this: “Nature is nothing other than a certain kind of art, namely God’s art, impressed upon things, whereby those things are moved to a determinate end.” no. 80

2. The great Catholic theologian Romano Guardini figures prominently in the section on technology. Guardini heavily influenced Pope Benedict’s theological thought. I wonder if Francis talked to Benedict about this topic.

3. The pope criticizes abortion:
120.     Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties? “If personal and social sensitivity toward the acceptance of the new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away.”  (quoting Pope Benedict, Caritas in Veritate, no. 28)

4. The pope also upholds the importance of sexual differences:
Also, valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment. It is not a healthy attitude which would seek “to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it.”[1]

5. He also criticizes advocates of population control:
At times, developing countries face forms of international pressure which make economic assistance contingent on certain policies of “reproductive health.” Yet “while it is true that an unequal distribution of the population and of available resources creates obstacles to development and a sustainable use of the environment, it must nonetheless be recognized that demographic growth is fully compatible with an integral and shared development.” To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues. no. 50

I hope to post more thoughts about it later. In reading it, a lot of questions came up for me. Undoubtedly this encyclical will stir a lot of debate, since Francis clearly believes in climate change. He also has a lot of faith in international organizations like the UN to bring about change, as well as big government. Personally, I have some reservations about those structures, since there are many reasons to doubt their effectiveness. That's an important question to be discussed.

Also, the pope himself says in the encyclical, “On many concrete questions, the Church has no reason to offer a definitive opinion; she knows that honest debate must be encouraged among experts, while respecting divergent views.” (no. 61).

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Why We Need the Holy Spirit

Do you struggle with something that you wish you could be rid of? All of us do. We have our own special forms of behavior that don’t help us but hurt us. The other day I was reading Galatians and this line stopped me cold: “This is what I mean, walk by the Spirit and there is no likelihood of carrying out the craving of the flesh.” (5:16). *

That’s the answer to all our bad behaviors: Walk by the Spirit. St. Paul doesn’t tell us to sign up for a self-improvement course or to develop our own program of action. Those things may help, and by all means go for them if you so desire. But the way we can change and grow spiritually is to walk by the Spirit. If we do, we simply are not going to carry out the craving of the flesh.

In other words, the Holy Spirit is the source of grace and strength. The Spirit acts in us and as St. Paul will soon add, we need to let ourselves be led by the Spirit and to live in the Spirit. Of course this is not to deny our free will or that we need to cooperate with grace. But instead of thinking it’s all up to us, we have the Holy Spirit to help us.

Paul then goes on to contrast the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit. He lists 15 works of the flesh. For Paul, the flesh (sarx in Greek) is unredeemed humanity, that is, humanity without Christ. The “works of the flesh” include sexual immorality but go far beyond that. In fact, Paul only mentions three sexual sins (fornication, immorality, sensuality). Most of the other sins have to do with offenses against the community, like anger, jealousy, hostility, strife, selfish ambitions, etc.

But then he mentions the fruit of the Spirit, manifested in nine ways: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control.

If we focus on those things we can go a long way on our walk in the Spirit. Next Friday (May 15) the novena for Pentecost begins. I hope to post something each day on the nine ways we can show forth the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, along with a prayer. On Pentecost may each one of us receive a more abundant outpouring of grace and the Holy Spirit!

*The translation is from Frank Matera’s commentary on Galatians in the Sacra Pagina  series published by Liturgical Press. It’s a great commentary.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Pope Francis to send out "Missionaries of Mercy"

What are the Missionaries of Mercy of Pope Francis?

In his letter for the Jubilee year of Mercy, the Pope says:

During Lent of this Holy Year, I intend to send out Missionaries of Mercy. They will be a sign of the Church’s maternal solicitude for the People of God, enabling them to enter the profound richness of this mystery so fundamental to the faith. There will be priests to whom I will grant the authority to pardon even those sins reserved to the Holy See, so that the breadth of their mandate as confessors will be even clearer. They will be, above all, living signs of the Father’s readiness to welcome those in search of his pardon. (no. 18).

This made me realize I had only a vague idea about sins reserved to the Holy See. (I was never into reading canon law.)  But I did a little research and this is what I found out.

1. The Pope must be referring to the penalties attached to certain sins. Formerly, absolution of certain sins was reserved to the Holy See. But the new Code of Canon Law (1983) changed that. Now, only the penalties must be removed by the Holy See. The guilt of the sin itself can be absolved by priests in confession.

2. Most sins don’t incur any ecclesiastical penalty. To make this more confusing, there are different types of penalties. Most of the penalties can be remitted more easily, but canon law mentions five sins that incur penalties reserved to the Holy See.  They include desecration of the Holy Eucharist, a physical attack on the pope, breaking the seal of confession, to name a few. (See here for full details.) The list does not include abortion. Although it is a serious sin that incurs automatic excommunication, it is not one of the sins reserved to the Holy See. (Also, to incur the excommunication, the person committing the sin has to know about it beforehand. It's likely that most Catholic women who get abortions do not know this. Since abortion is such a big problem today, by having this penalty in canon law the Church is trying to help people understand what a serious matter this is. But the Church also provides that it can be absolved in an ordinary confession, when the priest has received faculties from his bishop for this. Efforts like Project Rachel try to help women to receive God's forgiveness and mercy in a very loving way. When that sin is repented and confessed, the penalty is also lifted.)

3. It puzzled me that the Pope would even bother mentioning these sins reserved to the Holy See, since it is a matter of only a very few, very rare sins. Probably only about .00001 percent of the world's Catholic population would ever be guilty of them. But I suppose that the main point of the missionaries of mercy is not about remitting these rare penalties, though they will be able to do that. Pope Francis probably intends these missionaries to be like preachers who will stir people up to repentance. As things develop, I would expect there would be some clarification and more information about their role.

I think this Year of Mercy will be a great thing. Yesterday on the Feast of Divine Mercy, I received a beautiful sense of God's love and mercy for us all. May it be so.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Mary's Joyful Yes

At the Annunciation, Mary’s “yes” to God was a joyful one. Sometimes it's hard to say yes to God, when it means doing something difficult or distasteful that might involve suffering. For those times, we have the example of the "yes" that Jesus said in Gethsemane. In the agony in the garden, Jesus knew he was entering into a cosmic struggle with Evil. He prayed to the Father to be spared that trial, but with the proviso "not your will but mine be done." It was the Father's will that Jesus go into that struggle, and he did.

But Mary's yes is a joyful one. God was offering her a great gift, and she accepted wholeheartedly. This isn't just a pious thought, but is borne out by the Gospel text itself. The word Luke uses to describe Mary's acceptance is "genoito"--let it be done. It's a form of the verb that's used only rarely in the New Testament--the optative mood. In Greek this verb form expresses a joyful willingness, even an eagerness to do something. It expresses a desire and a strong wish. So Mary said "yes" with all the desire of her heart. May we too have the same openness to accept God's greatest gift--our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Change your habits, change your life

This advice comes from Wayne, a prisoner. I heard it at Mass recently from a priest who is a prison chaplain. 

It’s good advice for Lent. Sometimes we can get bogged down because we take on too much. I’ve done that a lot and you’d think by now I would have learned that lesson. Maybe this Lent will be different! I now realize a few things:

1. I can only change one habit at a time.

2. The new habit has to be ridiculously easy or I won’t keep it up.

3. I need a reminder so I don’t forget to do the new habit.

My new habit is to stop spending time on email first thing in the morning, and to start working right away on my most important project. My reminder is attached to something I always do without fail: walk into my office in the morning.

The ridiculously easy thing I will do is to simply open up the computer file for that project. That’s it. It’s how I trick myself, though, because once I have the file open I’ll start working on it. Just to open the file takes no effort at all. Working on the project does take effort, and sometimes I read email instead because I’m dreading the complications of the project. Yes, the email eventually has to be read, but it can wait until later, after I’ve worked on the project a while and can use a break from it.

Our life is made up of little things. But their accumulated effect has a huge impact. One French fry isn’t going to clog your arteries. But eating an unhealthy diet day after day could eventually lead to a heart attack or a stroke. It’s the same for Lent. Little changes done day after day can get us to where we want to be for Easter, with the grace of God.