Monday, March 30, 2009

Weeds and Wheat Together

As faithful Catholic Christians we find ourselves mingling with others who are not observant of the teachings of Jesus Christ and his Church. We may judge this or that individual is not the best example of Christian living. He or she may be legalistic, hypocritical, possibly habitually sinful. As my Facebook friend put it: “I think every one who has been in church has encountered "religious" people, who follow religious traditions instead of the word and Spirit of God."

How is one to respond to situations like this in our families and in our church communities? What did Jesus have to say about such matters? We can find one answer in the Gospel of Matthew 13: 24-30. Here we find the Parable of the Weeds and the Wheat. Jesus explains the meaning of this parable in verses 38-39.

Thomas H. Green, S.J., who died this month in the Philippines, wrote a wonderful book entitled, Weeds Among the Wheat. In chapter 8 he addresses this dilemma in an interesting and unique way. The following is from page 144:
"In its primary meaning, then, the parable is presented as refering to the coexistence in this life of good and evil men and women, of those "planted" by Jesus himself and those planted by the devil. Why does God allow evil men to exist and to corrupt the field which is this world of ours? By any normal human standards, this 'fifth column' of the devil should be rooted out if the kingdom is to prosper and come to full fruition. Yet, the parable tells us, it is not so in the mystery of the kingdom of heaven. Here the weeds must be allowed to coexist with the wheat until the harvest, lest in uprooting the weeds 'you might pull up the wheat with them.' Apparently the weeds and the wheat are so entangled in the field of this world that one could not be uprooted without endangering the other."
Green continues his explanation on p. 145, by extending the meaning of the parable to include not only, the "field of this world," but also, the field of the individual Christian soul. He says,
"...I believe we can extend the parable even further without doing violence to the meaning intended by Jesus himself. That is, as St. Paul indicates in Romans 7 in discussing the two 'laws' at work within himself, we may also take the 'field' to be the soul of the individual believer. Here too both good and evil seed is sown, the former by the Son of Man and the latter by the evil one. Both weeds and wheat sprout and grow in this personal field; and the mysterious fact is that it seems we must allow the weeds to grow until the harvest, lest 'when you pull out the weeds you might pull up the wheat with them.'"
So what is the point here? Green refers to St. Paul's 2nd letter to the Corinthians 12:9-10. We know with our understanding that life is complicated both without and within ourselves and others. Some of our weaknesses will be with us for a lifetime. The same is true of others. St. Paul seemed to think these weaknesses within ourselves and others are meant for our spiritual growth and purification. We can, and must, do our best with the help of God, to overcomes our weaknesses. Yet, when our efforts don't yield the results we want, we live in hope and trust. Perhaps, we even "glory in our infirmities." And as for others, they too are struggling. Our response is to, as Thomas Green says, "exercise the patience of God...." A tall order, indeed!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Lenten Update: What I Saw and Heard in Church This Morning

Today is the Fifth Sunday in Lent. Our pastor, Fr. John Cantwell, wore purple vestments, symbolic of penitence.

This week he focused his homily on Jeremiah 31:31-34, but especially on this part, “…I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.” As he often does, Father emphasized the mercy of Jesus and the forgiveness of personal sins. Who can ever tire of hearing about mercy?

According to a commentary I frequently read, this passage from Jeremiah is very significant. This is so because Jeremiah, a Prophet within the Old Covenant, has a lucid understanding of the New Covenant and the mission of Jesus.

“The covenant to come will be internal (v.33), not written on stone tablets but on their heart (Heb: leb), the seat of intelligence and volition, not affection. In other words, it will be an observance of the law marked by conviction and personal appropriation. The stress on the Yahweh-people relationship v33b), a recurring Jeremian theme (7:23; 24:7), underscores the continuity between the two covenants.

“This future pact will also be characterized by a direct experiential knowledge of God (v34). It will emerge particularly in the realization of forgiveness. .... The heart will learn from and respond to God directly, .... Conformity will not depend on external sanctions but will spring from a conviction surrounding the truth.”
This was also an opportunity for Fr. Cantwell to encourage us to participate in the parish communal Penance Service on Wednesday, April 1st, at 7:30 p.m. This will include time for individual confessions. One of the precepts of the Catholic Church is to confess our serious sins at least once a year, although more often is greatly encouraged.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Is It So Terrible to Go to Church on Sunday Out of a Sense of Obligation?

Today I read a short story by Megan Cherkezian, in Guideposts, that began like this: "How does my big Armenian family celebrate Easter? We get together---four generations---for church, then a festive meal afterward."

Wow! I thought how wonderful that this family of four generations is able to coordinate such an event, where all attend church to celebrate spiritually together. They live in New Jersey, and perhaps the family members have not dispersed too far away from their roots. Or maybe they just arrive from long distances a day or two early so they can preserve that ritual. The remainder of the story does not say.

Easter always falls on Sunday, the first Sunday, after the first full moon, after the vernal equinox, to be exact. Make a note of that piece of trivia in case you ever get to appear on Jeopardy or Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? :-)

I got to thinking about the many old family photos I have scanned, many of which I posted on Facebook. A lot of them were taken on Easter Sunday. Men and boys are dressed up in white shirts with ties and dress pants with sport coats or suits. The ladies and girls have on new Easter dresses with "bonnets." Hats were a must back in those days, because women wore them in church without exception. And men didn't wear hats in church, without exception! At our church there were gadgets screwed to all the pews where men could clip and hang their hats during Mass. They were fun for kids to play with too.

Although the photos don't show it, in all likelihood everyone in those photos attended Mass on Easter morning. And that meant for those old enough to receive communion there was no munching on your Easter basket candy or eggs until after Mass. Why? Because we had to observe a fast from midnight until after communion. No wonder early morning Masses were so popular!

In general, Easter or not, churches were full, I mean brimming full on Sundays. Why? I think that people felt a strong sense of obligation to attend Mass. Why? Well, I think there were a few reasons. First, there was more piety in the practice of the faith. Secularism? Never heard of it. So, people took the third commandment of the Decalogue quite to heart. Second, there were the precepts or laws of the Church, which still exist, by the way. These are the minimal behaviors expected of members of the Church. The number one precept: "To assist at Mass on all Sunday and holydays of obligation." And, third, a Catholic who missed Mass on Sunday through their own fault committed a mortal sin. No one wanted to do that!

There are Catholics today who are unaware of the seriousness of missing Sunday Mass (or Saturday Vigil as an alternative). Ask a Catholic if he or she knows the Precepts. There are six of them last time I checked. If you want to know all of them, try Google.

Some Catholic don't like that idea of being obligated to go to church, so they don't for various reasons. One, I've heard is that, "I don't get anything out of it. It's boring." I know I have felt that way at times. In fact I can point to a period of 17 years when I felt that way. I toyed with the idea of skipping my Sunday obligation and going to Lake Michigan to pray and be close to God. It was a strong temptation. But, in the end I stayed faithful to my obligation. Why? I always had this thought, "God wants me here." And who was I to snub God?

One final thought. I have heard people say, and this includes people who regularly go to church, that this idea of going to Mass out of a sense of obligation is terrible, and that "you should go because you want to go." All I can say is that's great, but if I had followed that precept, instead of the church precept, I would have missed around 900 Masses and all the graces that I derived from making that sacrifice.

What do you think?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Conversing about True Religion, Who Is Responsible for Christ's Crucifixion, Jesus: Religious or Not?

This post addresses a variety of related topics, and is motivated by a note I read on Facebook. So bear with me as I cover a lot of territory!

My friend recently stated in a FB note that her “current hate” is “religion and legalism in the church. It was the ‘religious’ people that crucified Jesus…”

To this I responded that I’d like to debate her about this. By that I meant I want to respectfully disagree. Actually, rather than debate I would really prefer to converse about these ideas.

She followed up with some clarifying comments as follows:

“Yes, He did and Praise God, He did!!!

“What I'm talking about are people who put emphasis on the letter of the "Law" over the Spirit, neglecting to show mercy and an ignorance of the grace of God. The Pharisees were "religious". Governed by law. Jesus himself was not religious. He did not follow all of the laws of the religion. He healed on the Sabbath and was condemned by the religious leaders.

“I think every one who has been in church has encountered "religious" people, who follow religious traditions instead of the word and Spirit of God. In Matthew 23:13-15 Jesus makes it very clear how he feels about religion. Working at a church I have encountered many people who are very religious, but fail to love. They follow the basic rules of religion but bear no fruit.”
My first point in this conversation is about the noun religion as it is used in this context. The word itself derives from the Latin and means “respect for the sacred” or “reverence for the gods.” In our era it means “the set of practices and beliefs followed by persons who believe in and worship God.” (See: Glossary of Theological Terms by John T. Ford, CSC) So what sort of church would not have religion in this sense? Churches exist to render honor and worship, and they generally do this by following a Creed and by doing practices that stem from the beliefs.

As for legalism, my friend clarified that she was talking about a sort of strict adherence to the letter of the law, rather than to the Spirit behind the law. Here, by law, I infer she is referring to the Mosaic Law of the Scripture---like the Decalogue or the Ten Commandments, as well as to the teachings of Jesus and of particular religious denominations. Such persons neglect “to show mercy” and furthermore, they seem to be ignorant “of the grace of God.”

I agree completely that in churches and other religious settings we do find such people. But I would not describe them as religious in the true sense. Going through the motions, saying the correct things, putting on a false front, etc., is hypocrisy. This is a form of deception, a pretense at virtue and piety. It is not religious. It is a sin---that is, if the person is doing this deliberately. And if the individual is unaware, then he or she needs to be counseled about the problem with the hope that change will result. Hypocrites give the truly religious a bad name.

My FB friend went on to say in her comment that “in Matthew 23: 13-15 Jesus makes it very clear how he feels about religion.” So I went to my Bible and read the passage. This citation comes in the context of Jesus’ denunciation of the Scribes and Pharisees. Beginning in verse 13 there is a series of woes directed at both the Scribes and the Pharisees, two Jewish sects of the time. But I don’t see this as a condemnation of all religion by Jesus. What Jesus is doing here is condemning the corruption of true religion as practiced in this instance by these two sects. Jesus is pointing out the sins of these people. He is also saying they are a bad example to others because of their perversion of the truth, which he had expounded on earlier. (See Matthew 22: 34-40; also, Deuteronomy 6: 4-7 and Leviticus 19: 18).
Another point I want to make, with regard the second assertion about who crucified Jesus, is that Jesus was crucified by all of us sinners, not “religious” people---sinners. The reason Jesus died on the cross was to save all human beings from their sins. (See Matthew 9: 13 and Luke 5: 32.) He, himself, also said, concerning those who were instrumental in bringing about his crucifixion, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) In another place Jesus asserted that no one takes his life from him; rather he lays down his life willingly. (See John 10: 18).

So, we Christians must be careful not to lay blame for Christ’s death on the cross on any particular group of people. This type of thinking has led to anti-Semitism throughout Christian history. I hope that anti-Semitism is an attitude of the past. It should be. As a Catholic, I know that my Church has apologized for any culpability it has had in this sin and has repented. Yet there are still remnants of that old way of thinking among some of us. Unfortunately some of them are vocal.
Still another point I’d like to make concerns the comment that Jesus was not religious. I say Jesus was truly religious. There are so many Biblical passages that support this.

• His parents took him to Jerusalem for the Passover when he was twelve.
• He began his adult ministry by fasting and praying in the desert.
• He read the Scripture in the synagogue.
• He preached the Good News.
• He prayed often.
• He did the will of God.
• He sympathized with the poor and with sinners.
• He forgave sins.
• He healed the sick.
• He even said he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. (See Matthew 5:17 and Luke 24:44 )
• He spent his final days in Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish Passover.

So there you have it, my two or three cents worth of opinions. In a separate post I will address the issue of saints and sinners living together in the Church and in the world.

Your comments are most welcome.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Today We Celebrate the Solemnity of the Annunciation

An angel told Mary that she had been chosen to be the mother of God. Would she be willing to accept that invitation? Scripture confirms that she said yes.

I often have wondered how many women the Archangel Gabriel visited before one of them said yes. Was Mary the first and only, or had God asked others? Had I been asked, how would I have answered?

The Catholic faith teaches us that at that very moment, when Mary consented, “the Word became flesh….” We call it the Incarnation. Jesus, the Son of God, the third Person of the Trinity, the Divine One, took on a human nature.

This reminds me of my father’s effort to explain what this means when I was a child. He told me to try to imagine a human being becoming a lowly earthworm. Ugh! Earthworms scared me at the time. To become an earthworm would mean having to live by slithering around in the dirt, eating dirt, avoiding fishing hooks, etc. This grossed me out! Dad added that for God to become human was a much greater condescension than for a human to become an earthworm. I got the message.

This is a hand-painted Byzantine icon that I purchased a few years ago when I was studying in Rome.

My favorite depiction of the Annunciation is that of Fra Angelico.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Lenten Update: What I Saw and Heard in Church This Morning

Today, the Fourth Sunday in Lent, is the mid-point of Lent, the liturgical season of preparation for Easter. Our pastor wore rose-colored vestments, which he explained represent joy in the fact that Easter is closer. This Sunday is also known as Laetare Sunday.

Focusing on John 3:16, in the homily, Father chose to emphasize the Divinity and the Humanity of Christ, saying we know God exists, because Jesus existed, and by the time of his death people recognized He is God. In particular this assertion touched me, because in recent months I have become more aware of the new atheism which has been so hostile to religion. Of course one would expect to hear that "God exists" from a priest in church. But most of the time it is assumed. It's affirming to hear it expressed.

Father also talked about Jesus' forgiveness of our personal sins. Jesus died on the cross so we could be saved. Saved from what? Saved from the consequences of our sins. This was timely for me, because yesterday I went to confession. This theme of forgiveness is one that our pastor touches on often. Today he gave it a twist.

Some people, he said, go to church to hear something new or to get something out of it. This, he suggested, is not a good reason to be in church. Rather, we come to give thanks for what God has done for us. Then he related the storyline in the movie Saving Private Ryan, which he saw three times.

Private Ryan, a WWII veteran, visited Normandy 50 years later, to pay homage to Captain Miller, who died trying to save him during the war. Captain Miller, with his last breath, grabbed Private Ryan's shirt and pleaded with him, “Earn this. Earn it.” Those final words were never forgotten by James Ryan.

At the end of the movie James Ryan is in the military cemetery with his wife, children, and grandchildren. Finding Captain Miller's grave he breaks down in tears. Turning to his wife, he says "Tell me I've been a good man." He wants to hear confirmation that he lived a life worthy of the Captain's sacrifice.

This was a beautiful analogy for Jesus Christ's sacrifice on the Cross. We show our gratitude by the lives we live.

Top 100 Films of All Time

I recently participated in an online survey of top 100 films of all time. It was conducted by Britain's Leading Catholic Newpaper, The Catholic Herald. Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ came in as numero uno. Sound of Music was 4th. One very excellent film, Into Great Silence, was 16th. It is an amazing documentary film about life in a Carthusian monastery. The Searcher with John Wayne made the list and many more. Did your favorite make the list? If so, which one was it? If not, what is your favorite?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Are You on the Road to Indifferentism Concerning Religious Practice?

Are you a "none?" That is, do you claim NO religious affiliation? Fr. Robert Barron responds to the American Religious Identification Survey Results that say 15% of Americans no longer practice a religion. This doesn't mean they are atheist. They may belong to those who say, "I'm spiritual, but not religious." This is interesting.

Fr. Barron's U-Tube Video:

Some major points of Fr. Barron's talk:

  • Most unchurched regions of country: New England States & Pacific Northwest
  • New center of gravity for Catholicism: Southwest U.S.
  • Category that increased the most were the "nones": those with no religious affiliation.
  • Catholics and Evangelical numbers have been relatively stable, but mainline Protestants have significantly declined.
  • Cause of the decline of mainline Protestantism: liberalized theology by abandoning/softening classical doctrines; e.g., Trinity, Creation, Incarnation; and embraced social programs of secular-political liberalism
  • Catholics who are weak in their practices are also on the road to indifferentism: without practice one loses one's capacity.
  • Catholics need to be aware of how the culture in which we live can swallow us up.
As the title of my Blog implies, I claim to be an "observant" Roman Catholic. All I mean by that is that I practice my faith with care. This is not to say that I am unthinking in my practice. But once thought out, I commit myself to my beliefs through practice.

One point that Fr. Barron did not make, but which I think is important, is that the American Catholic Church has been able to maintain its actual numbers due to immigration. Many third and fourth generation Catholics have left the Catholic Church for Protestant and Evangelical Churches. Why? I think there are a multiplicity of answers to that question. What do you think?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Today We Catholics Celebrate and Honor Saint Joseph, Husband of Mary

As I prayed today’s Divine Office of Readings and Morning Prayer, I came across the many statements about Saint Joseph. Most of these were interspersed throughout in the antiphons, which are Biblical texts that are chanted or recited before and after each of the Psalms or Canticles. Taken alone, they give a beautiful insight into the kind of man he was. Certainly he was just in the sight of God.

Let us praise Christ the Lord as we celebrate the feast of Saint Joseph.

The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph and said: Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; she will give birth to a son and you will name him Jesus.

When he awoke Joseph did as the angel of the Lord had directed him, and took Mary as his wife.

Joseph left Nazareth and set out for the town of David called Bethlehem to register with Mary.

The shepherds went in haste and found Joseph and Mary, and the infant lying in the manger.

Joseph and Mary, the mother of Jesus, marveled at what was said of their child, and Simeon blessed them.

Joseph rose in the night and took the child and his mother into Egypt. There they stayed until the death of Herod.

Joseph lived in the town of Nazareth to fulfill what the prophets had foretold of Christ: He will be called a Nazarean.
Daytime and Evening Prayer have the following additional antiphons.

The parents of Jesus went each year to Jerusalem for the solemn feast of Passover.

As they were returning home, the child Jesus remained behind without his parents' knowledge.

When they could not find Jesus, his parents returned to Jerusalem to look for him.

His parents found Jesus in the temple sitting in the midst of the doctors, listening to them and asking them questions.

The mother of Jesus said to him: Son, why have you done this to us? See how your father and I have been anxiously searching for you?

Jesus returned with Mary and Joseph to Nazareth; there he lived and was obedient to them.

When Jesus began his ministry, he was about thirty years old, and was thought to be the son of Joseph.

[The icon displayed with this post is painted by Edward Hays.]

Lenten Walks with the Lord

I’m a fair weather walker. Lately the weather has been just right for a lovely Lenten neighborhood saunter. Lent, in fact, means spring. On recent walks I looked for signs of spring and found many. Grass is green. Fruit trees and flower bulbs have blossomed. Leaves are burgeoning. Seasonal streams are running. Rivers are rising. Poppies have popped!

I am reminded of the Robert Browning poem:
The years at the spring;
The day's at the morn;
Morning's at seven;
The hill-side's dew-pearled;
The lark's on the wing;
The snail's on the thorn:
God's in his heaven...
All's right with the world!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

My Lenten Journey---Thus Far

Lent is a journey, right? It has been about two and a half weeks since Lent began. Mine started auspiciously with Ash Wednesday Mass and the reception of ashes on my forehead and the exhortation, "Repent and believe in the Gospel."

That same day, Wednesday, I traveled to L.A. by plane to meet and be with my daughter. Meeting and being with Catherine was the good part. Traveling was the penitential part. There's a reason that the words travel and travail have the same root. Never mind the details. Suffice it to say that since 9/11/01 the travail of traveling has increased exponentially. Enough said.

Refraining from Facebook most days, I was able to get into my Lenten reading, study, and meditation. These are the books and audio CDs with which I am engaged.

This is a nice review of background materials about the Bible presented by one of my theology professors. Michael taught two Bible courses in which I enrolled, Old Testament and Psalms. He is a world class scholar. At Franciscan School of Theology he also teaches semitic languages and Biblical Spirituality.

These CDs cover twelve different topics about the Bible, including "Bible as the Word of God," "Bible Interpretation," and "The Bible and Prayer." What I like is that I listened to these when driving. Each topic is about 25 minutes in length. I almost hated getting to my destination!

I have now completed all 12 sessions and I am reading books related to the topics. I'll have more to say on those another day.

I began reading this book a year ago when I was still working. I got so busy with work that I didn't finish it. Now I have more time and no excuses for not finishing. This is a wonderful book for meditation on Jesus.

Here's an excerpt:
"The great question that will be with us throughout this entire book: What did Jesus actually bring, if not world peace, universal prosperity, and a better world? What has he brought? The answer is very simple: God. He has brought God."
The chapters I've completed in the past are "The Baptism of Jesus," "The Temptations of Jesus," "The Gospel of the Kingdom of God," and "The Sermon on the Mount." Now I have begun a very beautiful chapter, "The Lord's Prayer." I'm reading it slowly and deliberately, sentence after pithy sentence. I will never again be able to pray this prayer in a superficial way.

According to the introductory material, Michael Novak is a scholar who has taught at Harvard, Stanford, Syracuse U., and Notre Dame. Now he hold the Jewett Chair in religion, philosophy and public policy at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. I turned to this book for information and inspiration because I have become more aware of the hostility that some atheists like Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens have and express towards believers, and especially towards the Judeo-Christian religions. I can accept that there are non believers, because there always have been. Faith is a gift and not everyone has it or accepts it. But I wonder why there has to be such antagonism, mockery.

Novak's book is helping me understand the atheistic point of view. But more important, he presents the case in favor of faith. And he has the ability to find common ground---philosophically. Reading this book stretches me. I wish I knew more philosophy than I do.

For almost five years I've been a Lay Carmelite. We have a rule of life "that defines us and gives each of us our Carmelite identity." The Carmelite Rule has stood the test of time. It is eight centuries old, and many men and women have followed it. This book is a commentary on the Rule. It is very practical.

So I'm moving along on my Lenten journey. I have a long way to go!

Pope Benedict Talked about HIV/AIDS and Condom Distribution

Yesterday's evening news talked about the Holy Father's trip to Africa. The reports seemed to focus only on the comments he made concerning condoms as a means to prevent HIV/AIDS.

From the Vatican Information Service:

Answering a question on the Catholic Church's approach to HIV/AIDS, considered by some as unrealistic and ineffective, the Pope said:

"It is my belief believe that the most effective presence on the front in the battle against HIV/AIDS is in fact the Catholic Church and her institutions. ... The problem of HIV/AIDS cannot be overcome with mere slogans. If the soul is lacking, if Africans do not help one another, the scourge cannot be resolved by distributing condoms; quite the contrary, we risk worsening the problem. The solution can only come through a twofold commitment: firstly, the humanisation of sexuality, in other words a spiritual and human renewal bringing a new way of behaving towards one another; and secondly, true friendship, above all with the suffering, a readiness - even through personal sacrifice - to stand by those who suffer".
Commentary from the N.Y. Times:

"The best way to avoid transmission of the virus is to abstain from sexual intercourse or have a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected person."
From John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter:


Roughly 22 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are infected with HIV, according to the United Nations. In 2007, three-quarters of all AIDS deaths worldwide were in Africa, as well as two-thirds of all people living with HIV.

When these condom debates arise, Vatican officials typically point out that whatever one makes of the church’s position on birth control, it is nonetheless in the front lines of anti-AIDS efforts. An estimated 25 percent of AIDS sufferers worldwide are cared for by Catholic facilities, a share which rises well above 50 percent in many African nations where the Catholic church is the largest private provider of health care.

Shortly after his election to the papacy, Benedict XVI authorized the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Health Care Workers to study the limited question of whether married couples where one spouse is HIV-positive and the other is not could employ condoms as a means of blocking transmission of the disease. Officially that remains an open question, and Vatican sources today said Benedict’s comments on the plane were not intended to settle the issue.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Irish Prayer Attributed to Saint Patrick

The Deer's Cry

This prayer is also known as The Lorica and/or St. Patrick's Breastplate.

I arise to-day
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.

I arise to-day
Through the strength of Christ's birth with His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection with His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of Doom.

I arise to-day
Through the strength of the love of Cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In prayers of patriarchs,
In predictions of prophets,
In preachings of apostles,
In faiths of confessors,
In innocence of holy virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise to-day
Through the strength of heaven:
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendour of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.

I arise to day
Through God's strength to pilot me:
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptations of vices,
From every one who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone and in a multitude.

I summon to-day all these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel merciless power that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of women and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul.

Christ to shield me to-day
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me abundance of reward.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every one who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise to-day
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.

From: Historical Monographs Collection of Cornell University Library

Honoring Saint Patrick

The feast day of St. Patrick - March 17 - is a celebrated holiday in the secular world, but it's especially important to remember that Patrick is a saint. The Irish celebrate that St. Patrick brought the Catholic Christian Faith to Ireland.

On my bedroom wall I have hanging a lovely icon of St. Patrick which is there to remind me that I'm a Catholic Christian because of Patrick's zeal for spreading the faith in the land of many of my ancestors. The icon was painted by Edward Hayes. Below is a copy of the icon.

The following information was supplied by Forest of Peace Publishing.

"This icon shows the saint carrying a Celtic crozier and his Bible case. Draped over his arm is a bell used by Irish saints to summon God. At his right shoulder are the pagan stone of the Druids, whom he converted, and the holy fire the saint lit in defiance of the pagan priests. At his feet to the right are the Wee Folk, with a leprechaun repairing his shoes, worn ourt by all his traveling.

"Patrick is shown after forty days of Lent driving the snakes out of Ireland. From out of his cloak on the left are emerging St. Columbanus, the missionary, St Columba, the patron of poets, carrying his harp, and St. Bridget, carrying a bucket of milk. The three are leading a parade of saints. On the island to the left is the holy hermit St Ciaran, who represents all the Irish hermits. In a small boat to the right St. Brendan is setting sail for the Land of Promise, America. Rising above the saint is a mighty thunderhead cloud, the Judaic-Christian symbol of God's presence in the saint's life."

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Keeping God’s Name Holy

This evening I was praying Evening Prayer I for the Vigil of the Third Sunday in Lent. The following words from Psalm 113 caught my attention:
Praise, O servants to the Lord,
praise the name of the Lord!
May the name of the Lord be blessed
both now and for evermore!
From the rising of the sun to its setting
praised be the name of the Lord!
The words about the honor and reverence due to God’s holy name reminded me of an incident earlier in the morning. I had been shopping for groceries. As I pushed my cart down an aisle, I heard a loud curse uttered from somewhere behind me. I turned in that direction, as did others who had heard the outburst. An elderly woman was struggling at the self-checkout station. A young employee rushed toward her to help.

Satisfied that all seemed well, I continued with my shopping. Another shopper passing by looked at me and asked, “Did I just hear what I think I just heard?” I smiled at her and said, “Yes, you did.” As I meandered further down the aisle I thought, “I hope no small children heard that.”

As I continued praying I noticed many references to God’s holy name.

From Psalm 116

How can I repay the Lord
for his goodness to me?
The cup of salvation I will raise;
I will call on the Lord’s name.

From Philippians 2: 9-11

Because of [Jesus’ humility],
God highly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
above every other name,

So that at Jesus’ name
every knee must bend
in the heavens, on the earth,
and under the earth,
and every tongue proclaim
to the glory of God the Father:

From the Canticle of Mary, Luke 1: 48-49

From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.

From The Lord’s Prayer

Hallowed be Thy Name.

In Pope Benedict’s recent book, Jesus of Nazareth, chapter five, he writes about this first petition and how it is a reminder of the second commandment in the Decalogue.

You shall not take the name of the LORD, your God, in vain.

He goes on to say that the Israelites have such great reverence for the name God uttered to Moses at the burning bush, that they refuse to utter it aloud so as not to demean it. Further on Pope Benedict says that saying a name is a way of establishing a relationship. By revealing His name God created a relationship between Himself and us. He made Himself available. But in making Himself available, He also exposed Himself. “The name of God can now be misused and so God Himself can be sullied.”

So in saying The Lord’s Prayer, we ask God to “take charge of the sanctification of his name, protect the wonderful mystery of his accessibility to us, and constantly assert his true identity as opposed to our distortion of it….”

Then Pope Benedict suggests the following questions as a way to examine our conscience:
  • How do I treat God’s holy name?
  • Do I stand in reverence before the mystery of the burning bush, before his incomprehensible closeness, even to the point of his presence in the Eucharist, where he truly gives himself entirely into our hands?
  • Do I take care that God’s holy companionship with us will draw us up into his purity and sanctity, instead of dragging him down into the filth?

Introduction to My Blog

Writing is something I like to do, and I do it often. However I don’t write professionally. Instead, I write letters, emails, journals, and Facebook notes. And now I’m venturing into Blogging.

I chose the title Observant Roman Catholic, because my Roman Catholic faith is, and pretty much always has been, the hub of my life. So don’t be at all surprised when I write about matters of faith. Equally, don’t be surprised if I write about other things, because I intend to write about my everyday life.

Why “observant”? First, I do make an effort to put my Catholic faith into practice, so I will write about that. Second, I notice and reflect on what happens in everyday life, so I will write my reflections on daily happenings as well.

There are many funny, inspiring, and intellectually stimulating Blogs already being published. I’m doing my Blog for personal enjoyment and the fun of expressing myself. Perhaps it will develop into something more. That remains to be seen.

When I visit other Blogs I enjoy reading the comments. Very seldom do I post comments, though. Still, I welcome your comments about my posted writings. I will monitor the comments that anyone posts. I ask that you post comments that are respectful, courteous, and on-topic. Those that lack those qualities will be removed. I hope I won’t have to, but, if necessary, I will develop more formal comment guidelines.

Welcome to my Blog!

Love, Not Self-Control

December 30th in the science section of the online NYTimes, John Tierney reported the research findings of two University of Miami psychologists. They concluded "religious belief and piety promote self-control." I was intrigued at first, because it seemed that here was something positive being linked to religious practice. So much of what I read in the popular press is either negative or dismissive of religion and of people who are religiously committed---or as the article says, "pious."

By the way, neither the reporter nor the researcher claimed to be particularly religious. I guess this was mentioned as a way of trying to make the conclusions of the research appear to be impartial or unbiased. Or is it another example of belittling religion and religious people?

I pondered the research findings and came up with my own take on this phenomenon, but not from a scientific viewpoint, although I am scientifically literate. Instead I'm writing from both experiential and theological viewpoints. We are all experts when it comes to personal experience and I do have formal training in theology.

Often when I read what outsiders have to say about religion it sounds superficial and occasionally outright silly. As outsiders they are seeing religion from limited personal experience and they are most likely observing externals without understanding the symbolisms. They may delve deeper out of curiosity, to deepen their understanding, or to challenge and for that I give them credit.

When I was coordinating the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), which is the usual way non-Catholic adults enter the Catholic faith, I would paraphrase Flannery O'Connor by saying, "One does not join the Catholic Church as if it is some sort of club. Rather, one becomes a Catholic." The process is a lengthy and what really happens is something called conversion.

Conversion isn't simply changing from atheist to believer or Buddhist, Hindu or Muslim to Christian. It means renouncing one's former way of life; that is, one changes one's old habits and living patterns so as to follow Christ and take on the habits and life patterns of Christ. The Christian Way is a way of love, not a way of self-control. Christians are attempting to live a life in conformity with the Gospel.

Every year at the Easter Vigil RCIA candidates who are ready; that is, converted, are baptized, which completes the initiation process. And those of us who already are Christians renew our baptismal promises. This means rejecting Satan and his empty promises and promising to serve God faithfully.

Nevertheless, those of us who profess our faith and make our promises have a major challenge. We have an inclination toward evil, aka, concupiscence, which makes it difficult to maintain our faithfulness---and our love. This is the area where self-control becomes salient. We need self-control to avoid sin and to remain faithful to our commitment to Christ.

What controls are available? There are many. There is a whole theology of asceticism that addresses self-control and the practice of virtue. For example, the early Church Fathers taught in a very structured way that those who aspire to holiness must control their thoughts about food, sex, things, (afflictions of the body); anger, dejection, (afflictions of the mind); aecidia, vainglory, and pride (afflictions of the soul). Why? To maintain thoughts of God. (See Humility Matters for Practicing the Spiritual Life, by Mary Margaret Funk; also, Evagrius and John Cassian.)

Some spiritual writers liken asceticism to athletic training. Think of the rigorous training that Michael Phelps endured to achieve his goal. So, too, a Christian needs to train like an athlete to achieve spiritual goals.

From experience I have found that asceticism, while necessary can take a Christian only so far. There is another way, a complementary way. I'm talking about prayer, all sorts and types of prayer, but I'm mainly referring to being with God; resting in God, being silent before God, offering one's heart to God, submerging one's soul in God. (See Awakening to Prayer, by Augustine Ichiro Okumura.)

Self-control is needed to do this. In our extremely active modern lifestyles we have to STOP. We have to create within our daily schedules a place for God to enter and to be with us. This is a place of intimacy with the divine. This is a place where the Divine One can do for me what I cannot do for myself. Even the world's greatest ascetic needs to be grounded in prayer.

God is willing to do this. Scripture supports this notion. Here's one example, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, [then] I will enter his house and dine with him and he with me." (Revelation 3:20)

And here’s another, "...I kneel before the Father ... that he may grant you ... to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength...." (Ephesians 3: 14-19)

Through prayer and the indwelling Holy Spirit, God, one gains self-control. This is internal strength that comes from a relationship, not a set of rules that are imposed.

I think this helps explain why, if you read the research, there is a difference between strongly religious people compared with people who have more general spiritual notions; and also between committed believers and others who attend services for extrinsic reasons, like wanting to impress others or make social connections.

My conclusion is that to have this self-control the religious person has to have been converted to Christ and to be in a committed relationship with Christ. The graces of prayer make the self-control possible. It can’t be faked