Be Catholic to Save the World by Grace! Some Words of Encouragement from the Early Church

blog.8.26There are some who would have the Church step back to avoid persecution or giving offense. Perhaps there are assets like buildings and land to protect. And maybe some rapprochement with the world will attract more members. Or so the thinking goes.

But a study of earlier periods of persecution reveals a different plan for the way forward: confidence, courage, boldness, and love—even for our enemies. Let’s look at some texts.

St. John Chrysostom knew all about exile and persecution. At a difficult time for him and his flock, he preached from the following text of St. Paul’s:

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Cor 1:18-25).

Of this passage, St. John Chrysostom said,

How the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and his weakness stronger than men! In what way is it stronger? It made its way throughout the world and overcame all men; countless men sought to eradicate the very name of the Crucified, but that name flourished and grew ever mightier. Its enemies lost out and perished; the living who waged a war on a dead man proved helpless.

Therefore, when a Greek tells me I am dead, he shows only that he is foolish indeed, for I, whom he thinks a fool, turn out to be wiser than those reputed wise. So too, in calling me weak, he but shows that he is weaker still. For the good deeds which tax-collectors and fishermen were able to accomplish by God’s grace, the philosophers, the rulers, the countless multitudes cannot even imagine (from a homily by St. John Chrysostom, bishop, on the First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians (Hom. 4, 3. 4: PG 61, 34-36)).

Such words ought to encourage us as well, for many today gleefully report the decline of faith and of the influence of the Church. 2000 years of history bears witness to the fact that those forecasting the doom of the Church will be long gone, and the Church will still be preaching the gospel.

Indeed, to paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, the Church has read the funeral rights over everyone who has predicated her demise. Where is Nero? Where is Domitian? Where is Napoleon? Where is Mao? Where is the Soviet Socialist Republic? Indeed, the largest statue of Christ in the world is reportedly being built in Russia right now. Where are so many heresiarchs? What happened to the erroneous philosophies and destructive trends that have been proposed? These things have come and gone; empires and nations have risen and fallen. But the Church is still here. Often persecuted, sometimes growing and sometimes struggling, but here, still here, always here. Twelve fishermen and other commoners with Jesus have established a stronghold in the world.

Scripture says,

Some trust in Chariots or Horses,
But we in the name of the Lord.
They will collapse and fall,
But we shall hold and stand firm
(Psalm 20:8).

But of course this will happen only to the extent that, by God’s grace, we DO hold and stand firm. It will not happen by adopting the world’s ways or fearfully caving in to its demands.

There is a powerful description in Scripture of the time when Peter and John were arrested for causing a commotion in the Temple area (by healing the lame beggar and proclaiming Jesus at the Beautiful Gate).

Now when [the Jewish leaders] saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13).

Note that the Jewish leaders recognized that “they had been with Jesus.” Would anyone recognize this about you, or your parish, or your fellow parishioners, or even us clergy? This is our main goal in times like these: that others recognize that we have been with Jesus! In times like these, the Church must be the Church.

And notice this prayer in the Acts of the Apostles, of the early Church under persecution. It takes place just after the arrest of Peter and John, after they had been warned not to mention Jesus again.

“And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness (Acts 4:29-31).

In her work on Acts, Dr. Mary Healy notes that they do not pray for safety or for their enemies to be vanquished; they pray to be able to continue to speak with boldness, to bring healing, and to announce Jesus and draw others to Him.

And this should be our prayer: Lord, keep us strong. Keep us bold and filled with love for our enemies and for all those who are troubled and in need of healing. Never allow us to hide or to be concerned for our own safety, but rather concerned only that your glorious and Holy Name bring healing and grace, conviction for our sins, repentance, and therefore mercy. Help us, Lord, to stay faithful, courageous, and bold no matter the threats, the hardships, the persecution, and even the ruthless attempts at suppression. May no one who looks at us conclude anything less than that we “have been with Jesus.”

Courage and holy boldness, fellow Catholics! The only way we will change the world (by grace) is to be Catholic through and through. The world does not know it, but Christ and His Body, the Church, are the only hope. Be authentically Catholic, and by that grace, save the world!

 

What Are Your Five Loaves and Two Fishes? A Homily for the 17th Sunday of the Year

We have in this Sunday’s Gospel the very familiar miracle of the loaves and the fishes. One is tempted to say, “Oh, that one …” and then tune out, but it contains a personal appeal directly from the Lord’s lips to our ears: “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?”

Immediately, objections begin to pop up in our minds, but let’s be still and allow the Lord to instruct us by applying this gospel in three stages. I would like to apply it in such a way as to illustrate our need to evangelize the culture in which we live. It is an immense task, one that can easily overwhelm us, but the Lord still bids us to get busy and join Him in feeding the multitudes.

I. THE IMAGE THAT IS EXTOLLED – The text says, Jesus went up on the mountain and there he sat down with his disciples. The Jewish feast of Passover was near. Jesus raised his eyes and saw that a large crowd was coming to him.

The text says that Jesus saw a large crowd. Do we? Often when we think of the Church, declining numbers come to mind. This is because we tend to think in terms of the number of members. Jesus, however, thinks in terms of those who need to be reached. As we know that is a staggering number today. While it seems clear that the gospel is currently “out of season,” we must never forget that everyone is precious to the Lord; He wants to reach all and feed them with His grace, mercy, truth, and love.

So, the image that is extolled is that of need, not of believers and non-believers. Is this how we see the world? Jesus sees it as a vineyard, a mission field. He sees all as hungry, even if they insist they are not. Unfortunately, many reject the food that we in the Church offer. Many deny that they are hungry, but they are hungry, and Jesus is about to ask our help in feeding them. While we may see such people as opponents to the faith, this text presents an image that is rooted in the universal human problem of hunger, physical and spiritual.

II. THE INSUFFICIENCY THAT IS EXPRESSED – The text says, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” Jesus said this to test Philip, because he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fishes; but what good are these for so many?”

It is easy for us to feel overwhelmed. This is understandable, as the task of evangelizing and feeding the world is a daunting one to say the least.

Note that in this gospel, the apostles are not without any resources at all with which to feed the crowd. What they have may seem insufficient, but it is not nothing.

Similarly, we today may feel overwhelmed by the cultural meltdown taking place before our very eyes. It seems that every number we want to go down is going up, and every number we want to go up is going down. The cultural war is occurring on multiple fronts: family, marriage, sexuality, life issues, religious freedom, schools, church attendance, the rise of secularism and atheism, and the lack of personal responsibility and self-control. The list could go on and on. It is not difficult to see the disrepair in our culture. The task of evangelizing our culture may seem far more difficult than coming up with two hundred days’ wages.

Notice that Jesus says, “Where can we” get enough (food in this case) to solve the problem. It is not only up to us mere mortals to resolve the grave issues of the day. The Lord asks us to work with Him. With Him we have a fighting chance!

III. THE IMMENSITY THAT IS EXPERIENCED – The text says, Jesus said, “Have the people recline.” Now there was a great deal of grass in that place. So the men reclined, about five thousand in number. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted. When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples,” Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.” So they collected them, and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves.

By now this story is so familiar that we are not shocked by the outcome, but no matter how many times we hear it, it’s still hard to accept its astonishing truth. These Scripture passages also speak to that truth:

  • I can do all things in God who strengthens me (Phil 4:13).
  • All things are possible to him who believes (Mk 9:23).
  • For man it is impossible, but not with God, for all things are possible with God (Mk 10:27).
  • Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness (2 Cor 9:10).

We all know that this world is in an increasingly bad state and the problems feel overwhelming. In addition, the resources we have seem so limited to be able turn back the tide. What will we ever do with only five loaves and two fishes?

Jesus says, “Bring them to me.”

Remember that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The conversion of the whole world begins with each one of us. As we look at the huge problems before us, each of us must assess our “loaves and fishes”:

  • I can work on my own conversion. A holier world must start with me. If I get holier, the world gets holier.
  • I can serve the poor, perhaps with money, maybe by using my talents to instruct or counsel, perhaps just by giving of my time to listen.
  • I can pick up the phone and call a family member who I know is hurting.
  • I can love my spouse and my children.
  • I can spend time raising my children to know the Lord and to seek His kingdom.
  • I can exhort the weak in my own family. With love, I can rebuke sin and encourage righteousness.
  • If I am a priest or religious, I can faithfully live my vocation and heroically call others to Christ by teaching and proclaiming the gospel without compromise.
  • If I am young, I can prepare myself devoutly for a vocation to marriage, the priesthood, or religious life.
  • If I am older, I can seek to manifest wisdom and to provide a good example to the young.
  • If I am elderly, I can prepare myself for death devoutly and display the desire for Heaven.
  • I can pray for this world and attend Mass faithfully, begging God’s mercy on this sin-soaked world.

It is too easy to lament the condition of the world and, like the apostles, feel overwhelmed. Jesus says tells us that we should just bring Him what we have so that we can get started together. The conversion of the whole world will begin with each of us, with our own meager loaves and fishes.

Jesus will surely multiply them; He will not fail. Already there is renewal evident in the Church through a faithful remnant who are willing to bring their “loaves and fishes.” They are bringing them to Jesus and He is multiplying them. Renewal is happening; signs of spring are evident in the Church.

It’s been said that it’s easier to put on slippers than to carpet the whole world. Indeed it is! If it’s a converted world that you want, start with yourself. Bring your loaves and fishes to Jesus; bring your slippers and let’s get started. It begins with each one of us.

The Two Worlds, as Seen in a Commercial

The commercial below contrasts two worlds. The first is the loud, chaotic world, of which Satan is prince—and he wants all your attention. The second is the quieter, more serene, more beautiful world of the Kingdom, of which Christ is King and Mary is Queen Mother. Choose for yourself.

St Anselm writes:

Insignificant man, escape from your everyday business for a short while, hide for a moment from your restless thoughts. Break off from your cares and troubles and be less concerned about your tasks and labors. Make a little time for God and rest a while in him. Enter into your mind’s inner chamber. Shut out everything but God and whatever helps you to seek him. And when you have shut the door, look for him, speak to God … (Proslogion, Chapter 1).

Things Are Often Not as They Seem – A Lesson from the Life of Moses

moses-0715We are currently reading the story of Moses in daily Mass. The story reminds us that not all things are as they appear, and that God’s ways are not our ways.

Moses’ early years are marked with clear signs that he is gifted and chosen. Drawn from the water by Pharaoh’s own daughter, Moses’ very own mother is chosen to be his caretaker and is paid for that privilege by getting to live in Pharaoh’s palace. Pharaoh pays for Moses’ diapers, his food, and his education. And he is unwittingly preparing and equipping his nemesis. God can be very sly!

But at age forty, Moses gets ahead of God (never a good idea). He grows angry at an Egyptian who is oppressing a Hebrew and ends up killing the Egyptian. Moses has to flee.

Now why has God let this happen? From our perspective, Moses was in the prime of his life. At forty, he has experience but has not lost his youth. He is educated, gifted, and has access to power and lots of connections in Pharaoh’s own palace. Moses is in a perfect position to lead the people out of slavery! Or so we think. Except for one problem: God doesn’t think so.

But why not? In a word, pride. Moses, in getting out ahead of God and trying to take things in his own hands, is exhibiting pride. God says, in effect, “You’re too proud. I can’t use you in this condition. It’s time for some lessons in humility.”

And so Moses learns humility. He is forced to flee (humiliating). He must live out in the desert (humbling). And he marries and has children (quite humbling indeed! J).

Ok, so a few years’ worth of humility lessons and then Moses gets started. No, not a few, forty years’ worth!

Now Moses is eighty. He’s feeble, leaning on a staff, and he stutters when he talks. And God comes and tells Moses that it’s time to lead the people out. Moses says, in effect, “Are you crazy? I’m old, I can’t speak, I’m feeble … I can’t do it.” And that’s just the attitude that God needs from Moses: that he can’t do it. And he couldn’t do it at forty, either; he just didn’t know it. God has to do it and Moses will be His instrument. But now this instrument will be docile in the hands of the artist, now Moses can be useful to God.

This is not the way we think. We equate ability and leadership with vigor, power, money, access, talent, etc. For us, the prime of life is in our thirties, forties, and fifties. But God’s ways are not our ways; His thoughts are not our thoughts. Moses at eighty is what God needs. Moses at forty was not of use.

What are some conclusions we can draw?

First, be careful how you assess your own life. In typical earthly fashion most of us consider our prime as being those years when we were most in command of our gifts, when we were working, “making a difference,” earning an income. We measure human life in its prime in terms of money, power, access, physical strength, stamina, etc.

But has it occurred to us that our most powerful moments might be on our deathbed? For there we have many sufferings to offer and our prayers will pierce the clouds as never before. The Lord hears the cry of the poor, the suffering, and the repentant.

I often counsel the bedridden, and the dying in this way: I tell them that we are depending on their prayers as never before because their prayers are more important than ever before. And even if they have a hard time, because of age and discomfort, formulating prayers, just one word on our behalf, “Help!” may change the history of the world. St. Augustine said, More is accomplished in prayer by sighs and tears, than by many words (Letter to Proba).

Yes, be very careful how you assess your life’s worth. Our math is not God’s math; our thoughts are not His. God sizes us up quite differently.

Second, be careful how you assess the lives of others. Here, too, we tend to value those people who are powerful, have money, strength, beauty, talents, and “obvious” gifts. But the Lord warns us in many places that we should esteem the poor, the disabled, and the suffering. He says, Many who are last shall be first (Matt 19:30).

God also counsels that we ought to make friends among the needy and poor by our use of worldly wealth, so that when worldly wealth fails us (and it will), the poor and needy, those who benefitted from our generosity, will welcome us to eternal dwellings (See Lk 16:9).

Yes, befriend the needy, the disabled, and the poor. In this world they need us, but in the next world, we are going to need them! Those who have suffered and those who were poor due to injustice, if they have been faithful, are going to be in high places in Heaven. We’re going to have to get an appointment to see them! Things are not always as they appear. The poor, the disabled, and the suffering are quite often among the real powerhouses of this world.

So pay attention to what the story of Moses tells us. Not as man sees does God see (1 Sam 16:7). We are vainglorious and we look to worldly power and its categories. God is not impressed with our sandcastles, our big brains, and our bulging muscles. He bids us in stories like these to say, with St. Paul, Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor 12:10).

Things are often not as they appear to us. Put on your “God glasses” and by God’s grace see more as He sees.

Four Teachings on Personal Prayer – A Homily for the 16th Sunday of the Year

The Gospel this Sunday speaks to us of the priority of personal prayer. In last week’s Gospel, Jesus sent the apostles out two by two to proclaim the Kingdom. Now they return, eager to report their progress and the graces they encountered.

As Jesus listens, He urges them (perhaps because they are so overjoyed) to come away and rest awhile, for they have labored long. In so doing, Jesus also teaches us about prayer. Let’s consider four teachings on prayer that are evident in today’s Gospel.

I. The Practice of Praise-Filled Prayer – As the text opens, the apostles are with Jesus, joyfully recounting all they experienced on their missionary journey. In a similar text in Luke (10:17), the apostles return rejoicing, saying that even demons are subject to them (through Jesus’ name). Thus, their first instinct is joyful gratitude before the Lord.

Is your prayer filled with praise and thanksgiving? Are you grateful to God for all He has done? Do you tell God what is happening in your life and give Him thanks for all He has enabled you to do?

Too many people think of prayer only in relation to petition, but praise is also an essential component. When Jesus began His instruction on prayer, He said, When you pray, say, ‘Our Father, who art in heaven hallowed be thy name’ (Mat 6:9). In other words, “Father, your name is holy. You are a great God, a wonderful God. You can do all things and I praise you! Thank you, Father; your name is holy, and you are holy.”

Praise the Lord. Thank Him for what He is doing and tell Him everything that you are experiencing. Scripture says that we were made for the praise of his glory (Eph. 1:16). So, praise the Lord in your prayer. How? Take a psalm of praise. Pray or sing the Gloria from Mass. Sing or recite a hymn. No matter how you do it, praise Him!

II. The Peace of Personal Prayer – Jesus invites the apostles to come away by themselves to a quiet place and rest for a while. Most people don’t think of their personal prayer as a privileged invitation from the Lord, nor do they think of it as rest.

Yet, consider that the Lord invites us to come aside and spend personal and private time with Him. Most people would relish personal attention from a famous person. Why not from the Lord? An old song says, “What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.”

Note the description of this time as “rest.” Most people think of prayer more as a task than as a time of rest. Yet to pray is to rest, to withdraw from this world for a brief time and enjoy the Lord’s presence. Scripture says, For thus the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, has said, “In repentance and rest you will be saved. In quietness and trust is your strength” (Is 30:15).

An old hymn says,

Sweet hour of prayer! Sweet hour of prayer!
That calls me from a world of care,
And bids me at my Father’s throne
Make all my wants and wishes known.
In seasons of distress and grief,
My soul has often found relief,
And oft escaped the tempter’s snare,
By thy return, sweet hour of prayer!

Learn to think of prayer as quiet time, as rest with the Lord, when He soothes, strengthens, refreshes, and blesses us.

III. The Primacy of Prioritized Prayer – The text says that people were coming in great numbers seeking the attention of the Lord and the apostles; they could not even get a moment to eat!

There is no doubt that the people had critical needs. They needed to be taught, healed, fed, and cared for in many ways. Yet despite this Jesus said, in effect, “We have to get away from all this for a while.” He directed the apostles to go off in the boat to a deserted place.

Indeed, one of the few places they could “get away” was out on the water. There, the crowds could not follow them, and they could be alone and quiet for a short time.

Jesus made prayer a priority. Scripture says of Him, But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed (Luke 5:16). Scripture also speaks of Him rising early to pray (Mark 1:35), praying late into the night (Matt 14:23), praying all night long (Luke 6:12), and praying in the mountains (Matt 14:23) and other deserted places.

Understanding prayer as rest helps us to understand why prayer must be a priority in our lives. If we are going to engage in the work to which God has called us, we need to be replenished and refreshed daily by spending time with Him.

If we were to engage in physical work without ever stopping to rest, we would collapse. The spiritual life has a similar law. Resting with God in prayer fills us with His presence, grace, and strength so that we can be equipped, empowered, and enabled unto the tasks that He has given us.

No one can give or share what he does not have, so if we aren’t praying and experiencing God’s presence, how can we share it? To share grace, we must first receive it. To speak the Word, we must first receive it. To witness to the Lord, we must first know Him.

Jesus often had to hide in order to pray. Sometimes the only quiet place He could find was out on the lake, but He did make time for prayer. He invites the apostles and us to do the same, not only despite the busyness of life, but because of it.

A Brief Story –

A priest friend of mine told me that back in the 1970s he once gave spiritual direction to a religious sister. At that time, it was common for people to say, “My work is my prayer.” When this priest inquired about the good sister’s prayer life she answered, “Oh, I’m too busy to pray, but that’s OK because my work is my prayer; that’s my spirituality.” He replied, “Sister, if you’re not praying, you don’t have a spirituality.” He got her to start praying for one hour a day. Some years later, he ran into her at the airport. By now, she had moved on to become a major superior in her order. “How are you doing, Mother?” he asked. “Oh,” she replied, “I am very busy!” He cringed, but then she added, “I’m so busy these days that I have to spend two hours a day praying!”

Now there’s a smart woman! When we’re being foolish we say, “I’m too busy to pray.” When we’re smart we say, “I’m so busy that I need to pray more.”

Jesus made prayer a priority. Prayer is the rest that strengthens us for the task; it is the refreshment that gives us new vigor and zeal.

IV. The Power of Pious Prayer – The text says that after Jesus spent this time alone with the apostles on the boat, they reached the other shore. Sure enough, the crowd was there waiting for them, but Jesus and the apostles had been refreshed and were now well-rested. Jesus, renewed and refreshed, saw the vast crowd and began to teach them at great length.

Prayer has that effect. In drawing close to God, who is love, we are better equipped to love others. Jesus, though He never lacked love for them, models this renewal for us. The text says that upon seeing the crowd, His heart was moved with pity for them. The Greek word translated as “pity” is σπλαγχνίζομαι (splagchnizomai), which means “to be moved with compassion.” The word “pity” often carries with it a condescending tone, but what happens here is that Jesus sees them, loves them, and has compassion for their state. The religious leaders in Jerusalem have largely abandoned them, considering them “the great unwashed,” but Jesus loves them and teaches them at great length.

It often takes many years and a lot of prayer to equip our hearts in this way. One of the signs that grace and prayer are having their effect is that our love for others, even for the multitudes, grows deeper, more compassionate, more patient, and more merciful. This takes great prayer and long hours of sitting at the Lord’s feet learning from Him.

Here is the power that prayer bestows: we are more fully equipped for our mission, more zealous, and more loving. The rest afforded by prayer rejuvenates our better nature and helps it to grow.

So, here are four teachings on prayer. Jesus found time to pray; He made it a priority. How about you?

How the Liturgy is Healing Medicine for Strident Times

One of the most concise and cogent descriptions of these often strident times came from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger in 1986. It is contained in, of all places, his treatise on the theology of sacred music in a book called The Feast of Faith (Ignatius Press, 1986). His comments have been republished in a larger compendium of his works, Collected Works: Theology of the Liturgy (Ignatius Press, 2014, Vol 11).

It is hard to describe our times as anything but contentious. Loud, strident protests often predominate over reasoned discourse and thoughtful argumentation.

To be sure, every era has had, and has needed, protest and public opposition to injustice. There is a time and a place for loud protest and the use of memorable sound bites.

However, it is the predominance of loud protest and civil disobedience that stands out today. Sound bites, slogans, and simplistic “war cries” have to a large extent replaced thoughtful, reasoned discourse. Volume, power, and visually flashy techniques are prized; they are being used more and more. Such approaches too frequently produce more heat than light.

Consider, then, this remarkable analysis by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, written back before the Internet and social media had turned up the volume even more. Ratzinger paraphrased an insight of Gandhi’s, applied it to his analysis of our current times, and then proposed a healing remedy to restore balance:

I would like to note a beautiful saying of Mahatma Gandhi … Gandhi refers to the three habitats of the cosmos and how each of these provides its own mode of being. The fish live in the sea, and they are silent. The animals of the earth scream and shout; but the birds, whose habitat is the heavens, sing. Silence is proper to the sea, shouting to the earth and singing to the heavens. Man has a share in all three of them. He carries the depths of the sea, the burden of the earth, and the heights of the heavens in himself. And for this reason, all three properties also belong to him: silence, shouting, and singing.

Today – I would like to add – we see only the shouting is left for the man without transcendence, since he only wants to be of the earth.

The right liturgy, the liturgy of the Communion of the Saints, restores totality to man. It teaches him silence and singing again by opening him to the depths of the sea and teaching him to fly, the angels’ mode of being. It brings the song buried in him to sound once more by lifting up his heart. . . .

Right liturgy … liberates us from ordinary, everyday activity and returns to us once more the depths and the heights, silence and song … Right liturgy … sings with the angels … is silent with the expectant depths of the universe, and that is how it redeems the earth (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Collected Works, Vol 11, Theology of the Liturgy, Ignatius Press, p. 460).

This is a remarkable analysis and an insightful application of liturgy and cosmology to the issues and imbalances of our day! It is in the vein of “Save the liturgy, save the world.” For indeed, only in the worship of God do we find our true selves. Only in the liturgy is our true personality formed. The human person in his glory unites the material and spiritual orders. We are capable of pregnant, expectant silence; of the joyful shout of praise and the Gospel going forth; and of the song of Heaven.

As Ratzinger pointed out, though, we too often are preoccupied with and value only one aspect: the shouting of the earthbound creatures of this world. But the liturgy – good and proper liturgy – trains us in all three and accomplishes the balance that is so often lost today. The liturgy is a training ground, not only for our heavenly destination, but also in what it means to be truly human.

Read and carefully consider Cardinal Ratzinger’s reflection. It will bless your soul; I know it has blessed mine.

Here is a song of the heavens:

Five Fundamental Freedoms for the Christian Evangelizer

One of the biggest reasons why most Christians have difficulty evangelizing effectively is that most lack the requisite freedom and simplicity of life to carry forth the task consistently and coherently. In Sunday’s Gospel, the Lord offers some counsel on what is required for effective evangelization.

As we read a Gospel like this, it is tempting to think that it speaks only of specialists such as missionaries, religious, priests, or deacons, but doing so ignores the fact that everyone is called to evangelize: clergy to people, parents to children, elders to youngsters, siblings to siblings, friends to friends, neighbors to neighbors.

This Gospel is for all of us, and it summons us to a greater freedom that will equip, empower, and enable us to evangelize more effectively. Let’s look at the Lord’s counsels.

I. The Freedom of SUMMONS – The text says, Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits.

It may not be immediately obvious how a summons is freeing but consider that when we know we are called to do something by someone in authority, we are often more courageous and diligent in doing it, even if it is hard. A commanding officer may have to ask his troops to engage in a difficult battle, but because he knows that his own commanders have ordered it and that it is part of a wider strategy, he tries to rally his troops. He speaks not only with his own authority but that of others, and thus he is courageous, and his words have weight. Even if his troops protest or seem unenthusiastic, he remains strong because he understands his duty and knows that he is doing what is right.

Yes, being under a summons is freeing and empowering. If we know that the Lord has summoned us and sent us to evangelize (and he surely has (cf Matt 28:19)) we can go forth with courage to rally God’s people and summon them to the Lord’s team. Even when people react poorly we need not be discouraged, for we know that we are under the orders of God Himself and that what we speak is right.

As a priest, I am often called upon to speak on topics that some do not want to hear. Yet, to the degree that I know I have been called to speak it, I do so with courage. When the Lord and His Church bid me to address something, I speak not only with my own authority but with that of God. Some may grumble that they don’t want to hear me talk about money, abortion, religious liberty, or sexual sin. Yet to the degree that I know that I am called to speak on these things, I still do so and do so with courage. Yes, I am summoned. I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! … for God has given me this sacred trust (1 Cor 9:17).

Do you know that you have been summoned? Have you experienced this call? Do you see it as a mandate, as something you have been summoned to do? Priests and deacons need to recognize our call to preach the Word of God unambiguously. We are under orders from the Lord. As Scripture says, In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction (2 Tim 4:1-2). Can any of you who are parents not see that you are called to do the same for your children? Who of us can say that any but perhaps the youngest are exempt from the summons to preach, to declare the Word of God?

Knowing and experiencing that you have been summoned is freeing!

II. The Freedom of SIMPLICITY – The text says, He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick— no food, no sack, no money in their belts. They were, however, to wear sandals but not a second tunic.

One the fundamental reasons that people do not evangelize is that they have way too much baggage. What kind of baggage? Consider that our lives are

CLUTTERED – We have too much stuff, and stuff needs attention, maintenance, and money; it takes up space and ties us down. We also have the baggage and clutter of too many commitments. We’re overscheduled and overbooked. We have many wrongful priorities such that we spend too much time worrying about things that don’t matter all that much in the end, and what does matter gets put on hold. Read Bible stories to your children? No time for that; we’ve got to get to soccer practice!  Yes, our lives are cluttered with distractions. What is a “dis-traction”? It’s something that gets you off track and makes you lose traction in what really matters.

COMPLEX – Most of our lives are so cluttered and choked with excess baggage that we don’t even know where to begin to simply it. We don’t know how to break the cycle, how to say no. We end up becoming enslaved to the many demands.

COMPROMISED – All of this extra baggage weighs us down and entangles us with the world. In this way, our values are not the values of the gospel. Instead, we are tied down to the world, loyal to it, invested in its thinking and its ways.

We need to be free to preach the Gospel and to evangelize. The Lord says, simplify! Obsession with money, food, clothes, possessions, and popularity will hinder you.

Think of a runner in a race. He does one thing only and carries nothing extra that would weigh him down. Travelers, too, do not take all their possessions with them, only what is necessary. Remember, in terms of this world, we are just traveling through.

Most of us just have too much stuff. Because of this, we are tied to this world and lack the kind of freedom necessary to witness prophetically to what is beyond it. Ask the Lord to help you gently but persistently simplify your life so that increasingly it becomes centered on the one thing necessary.

III. The Freedom of STABILITY – The text says, He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave.”

Stability is the freedom to accept what is and work with it rather than to be constantly looking for something better. It is the freedom to bloom where you are planted and to use what God has given you rather than waiting for something better.

There’s a real freedom to staying put and developing the deeper relationships that are usually necessary for evangelization to be effective and lasting.

One of the bigger problems with handing on the faith today is that there is very little stability in families, communities, and parishes. When things and people are passing and ephemeral, how can values rooted in lasting things be inculcated?

Preaching the gospel often depends on well-founded relationships, patience, perseverance, and taking the long view of life. Running here and there and living life only on the surface will not cut it. Shallow soil does not sustain taller growth. Only deep roots can do that.

Ask for the freedom to stay put and to be less anxious about the possibility that there may be a better job, a better community, a better deal out there somewhere. There is value in being grateful for what you have and working with that, in setting down deep roots and lasting relationships. This is the deeper and richer soil in which evangelization can happen.

IV. The Freedom of SURETY – The text says, Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them.

Here is one of the greatest freedoms of all: the gift to be free of our obsession with being liked, approved of, and popular. We care too much about what others think of us, at the expense of the truth of the gospel.

Jesus implies here that rejection will surely happen, and He counsels that when it does we should shake it off, let it pass over us. Speak the truth and don’t worry about rejection; expect it! This is a very great freedom.

Too many parents are desperate to have their children like them. They avoid discipline and difficult teachings. It is necessary to be free of this “need.” The Lord can give that to you.

We are not talking here about becoming sociopaths, caring not one whit what others think. This is not an invitation to be impolite or to fail to groom ourselves and be presentable. Rather, it is an invitation to be free of our obsession with popularity so that we can shake off the rejection of the gospel that we will inevitably experience. The Lord can give that to us.

V. The Freedom of SUBSTANCE – The text says, So they went off and preached repentance. The Twelve drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

There is freedom in knowing what to say and what to do. This freedom flows from the substance, for we do not preach ourselves, but Christ crucified. This is freeing, for we cannot be compelled to change or adapt the message that has already been set for us. There is a freedom in sticking to the message proclaimed once and for all. The world demands compromise, insists that certain passages of Scripture be modified. We, who in no way can do this, are free of such compulsion.

Only those who are enslaved to the times and to the mentality of this world can be so compelled. To the degree that we know we are summoned, sent, and given the substance of what to preach, we are free to announce, and free from coercion to compromise.

Substance was “repentance.” The Greek word μετανοῶσιν (metanoosin) means more than simply to clean up one’s behavior. It means “to come to a new mind,” or “to change one’s thinking.” Hence, the evangelizer seeks to appeal to the whole person. It is not only a person’s behavior that is important, but also how he thinks and what is taking place in the deepest part of his soul.

The Lord seeks to heal the whole person from the inside out. Thus, the apostles and those of us free enough to be true evangelizers are not seeking merely to inform but to transform.

Note that the text describes them as driving out demons and curing the sick. Is this merely some exotic ability of the early apostles? No. By this proclamation, we too drive out the demons of sadness, meaninglessness, ignorance, misplaced priorities, atheism, agnosticism, worldliness, materialism, and so forth. We also bring healing and peace to those who accept the power of the Word of God into their lives. These healings are very real. I know them in my own life and have seen them in the lives of others.

Are you free enough to evangelize, to preach the gospel, and to bring healing and peace to others? Are you free enough to be a means of God’s transformative Word??