An Heroic Life

  • For all things work together for good  
  • unto them that love God  and are called
  • according to His purpose
  • (Rom 8:28 )

Every now and then we hear of the concept of a “life not worth living.” Some people seem to have so many challenges. Sometimes these are known before birth. Maybe it’s Down Syndrome, maybe limbs are missing, perhaps other defects are evident in the sonograms. In such cases some people start to think of abortion. Later in life if tragedy strikes some think of  euthanasia, and suicide.

But it is an amazing truth that often God raises up before us those who are severely challenged but still love their life. Here is the story of a man who lives heroically, despite having no limbs. How is it possible you might say? Well, behold the Man:

History Reverses Itself! On Religious Liberty Redivivus

The Following is a Press Release from “Historic St. Mary’s City”  that details an interesting reversal of History:

 In 1704, Maryland Governor Seymour ordered the sheriff to lock the Roman Catholic brick chapel at St. Mary’s City and see that it was never again used for worship.  With that action, the colony’s experiment in religious freedom ended.   

On Sunday, September 20, 305 years after the original chapel was sealed, St. Mary’s County Sheriff Timothy Cameron will unlock the massive oak and pine doors of the reconstructed chapel.  The reconstruction stands as a symbol of liberty of conscience and separation of church and state, which were practiced in 17th-century Maryland far in advance of the laws and practices in other New World colonies.

The reconstructed chapel, which was rebuilt on its original foundation, is architecturally complete but not yet furnished.  It will be open to the public during museum hours as finishing allows.  An interpretive pavilion will be open to the public in summer 2010. 

The public is invited to attend a brief unlocking ceremony and explore the chapel on Sunday, September 20 at 5 p.m.  Researchers and builders will be available to answer questions about the project.  Artifacts from the chapel excavations will be on display and light refreshments will be served.  There is no charge for this event.

Travel to St. Mary’s City and follow signs for parking.  Participants will gather at the Mackall Barn for a procession to the chapel.  For more information about this event or Historic St. Mary’s City visit stmaryscity.org or call 240-895-4990 or 800-SMC-1634.

All of this is very good news. Allow me to quibble with only one point. The expression “separation of Church and state” is not a Constitutional phrase. This expression is found nowhere in the US Constitution. Rather I prefer the expression “religious liberty.” The First Amendment to the US Constitution says this:  Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.  Hence,  is true that the the State is not to establish a particular religious faith as the official State religion. But the fundamental point of the First Ammendment is that  it is religious liberty that is protected, NOT the State. It is the State that is prohibited from abridging religious liberty. It is not the Church that is prohibited from attempting to influence the thoughts of men, even if they be Statesmen. We who are religious are free to attempt influence, it is the State who is prohibited from canceling that right. Today, the interpretation of this rule is usually backward. Too many seek to limit the influence of religious thought. This is not enshrined in our Constitution as many claim but rather, the opposite.

With my little diatribe out of the way, enjoy this video that tells you more of  St, Mary’s City, once the largest and most thriving port, the “New York City” of its day, now a hidden ruin for archaeologists, a “what might have been” for historians. This video also gives more information of the rebuilding of the Roman Catholic Brick Chapel on its ancient foundation. I hope to be able to celebrate a Latin Mass there soon!

Jesus is Real to Me

I wonder if you have the heart of an Evangelizer? We Catholics haven’t been too good with evangelization and to some extent many of us have never been evangelized. One diagnosis common today is that many Catholics are “sacramentalized but unevangelized.” What this means is that many Catholics have received sacraments and many even go to Church regularly but they have never really met Jesus Christ. They have heard about him, read about him, be told of him, but never really met him. Many in fact do not expect to meet him but are content to live their faith by inference. In other words they are content to have their faith based merely on the fact that someone they trust has told them. “Jesus is Lord because my pastor told me or my mother told me…” and so forth. Now this is a very good start, faith DOES come by hearing. But at some point we have to personally know for ourselves that Jesus is Lord and that he is risen and is at the Father right hand and is ministering to me. At some point the Good News has to become powerfully personal and evident to us. At some point he have to meet Jesus Christ.

Have you? Once we have really met Jesus it is pretty hard to stay quiet about him. Have you ever experienced really good news?  You couldn’t wait to tell some one could you? Well, have you ever felt this way about the Lord Jesus? Have you ever expected to feel this way about the Lord? If not why not?

And that brings us back to evangelization. Once you’ve been evangelized (i.e. met Christ) you’re ready to be an evangelizer because now you can say,

Let me tell you what the Lord has done for me! I’ve met the Lord and he’s changing my life. There are sins I used to commit that I don’t commit any more. I used to be so much more resentful, angry, lustful, greedy, self-centered and unloving. But little by little I’m more serene, joyful, able to love, more generous and so on. If you’ve met Christ you’ve got a testimony.

As a Catholic you also ought to be able to testify how the Lord has ministered to you in the liturgy and the Sacraments:

I just don’t know where I’d be today if the Lord hadn’t fed me on his Body and Blood, taught me through his scriptures, and healed me in confession. The Lord is the physician of my soul and He’s healed me through the medicine of his Word and the Sacraments.

Can you testify like this? You don’t have to be a finished product. You still have your sins and shortcomings. Just say “I’m not what I want to be but I’m not what I used to be.”

But be an evangelizer. In four steps:

  1.  Get to know Jesus Christ. Get to know that he’s real! How? Ask him!
  2. Reflect on your life story; your testimony. Think back on all the ways the Lord has blessed you and ministered to you in his word and in the sacraments, in your prayer and your your daily life. This is Good News.
  3. Tell someone your good news. Be personal but authentic to Church teaching and scripture.
  4. Invite someone: “Come and go with me to my Father’s house.

Don’t be satisfied with anything less than a Christianity that is real. Merely intellectual won’t do. The intellect is important but at some point you have to personally know and experience that Jesus and all he has taught is real. And you have to be able to testify to what you know as a first hand witness. We Catholics have to rediscover that to know Jesus and experience the Good News of a life that is changing is the heart of evangelization. We cannot merely know at an intellectual level. He have to know in the biblical sense of the word. In the Bible the verb “know” always means more that intellectual knowing. It means to have deep intimate, personal experience of the thing or person known. To know biblically is about experience more than what’s in a book. Do you know Jesus?

Here is a music video I put together. The Soloist is Gwen Miles, the Accompanist is Kenneth Louis. Both are from my parish of Holy Comforter-St.Cyprian here in Washington. They sing a song that reminds us that Jesus is real and that the normal Christian Life is to know, to experience just how real is is.

Love doesn’t die!

images

Last week, I was riding METRO with nothing to read and so I found myself listening in on the conversations around me. One conversation caught my attention immediately. Two young adults were discussing the practice of building shrines in the family home to honor ancestors. One friend asked the other if he would do this in his home and he said “no, because I don’t  believe in any kind of life after death. ” His friend responded,” how can you not believe in life after death, you have to believe that!”

The young man asked, “Do you believe in something like heaven because you think you have to or because you really believe?”

Do you think you have to believe?

This is such a great question. We grow in our faith, we experience deeper conversion when we continue to ask ourselves not only what we believe but why we believe.  My experience in sharing my faith is that people are really interested in knowing why we believe even more than what we believe.  Do we have good answers for the difference what we believe makes in our own lives?  I was stopped in my tracks one night at RCIA when a woman asked me to share from my own experience why I believe the Eucharist is really the body of Christ. She even said “don’t use any of your theological words, just tell me why you believe it is!”

Back to my story

So, the friend, when confronted with the question about why she believes in life after death said, “I think there is life after death because love doesn’t die.” I thought to myself, well, that is exactly what God thinks!

Seeing is NOT Believing

Some people say that if they could see they would believe. But seeing is not believing, seeing is only seeing.

Consider the video just below. It looks like a miracle before your very eyes. Is it a miracle or just some fancy illusion. Most people even upon seeing what looks like it can only be a miracle usually conclude that it is a trick or that there is “some way they do that.”

Now remove these magicians in the video and go with me back in time as Jesus works a miracle. Presume for a moment that you’ve never met Jesus or heard of him. Yet watch him cast out blindness or enable a paralyzed man to walk. Is it a miracle, or is it a clever trick? Should you really beleive his claims to be from God and to be God based on these wonderful works? Has Jesus staged this well or is he really the Son of God? You see? It still takes faith doesn’t it? You just can’t substitute for faith, it is an absolute requirement to accept who Jesus is. Miracles can help but seeing is not believing, it’s only seeing. In the end you have to decide: fancy trick or real miracle? Son of God or just a skilled illusionist?

Watch this video and see what look like real miracles before your very eyes. But pay attention to what your mind does and how quickly you can dismiss the visual evidence. Seeing even fantastic things just isn’t enough. In this case they likely are not miracles, just very well done illusions. But many saw  Jesus work wonders which relly were miracles and it was not enough. You have to have faith. In other words, some people think if only God would work miracles in their life, they could believe. But miracles alone cannot bring faith because seeing is not believing it is only seeing.

Cumulative evidence can bring us to accept God’s existence as a reasonable proposition but only faith can really lead us to believe all that God has said. Pray for faith and you will see miracles, and more!

Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence  of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1)

Why Are You Worrying? Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel?

We often think that worry and anxiety just happen to us. But the fact is that they result from our thoughts. Thoughts are the source of our worry. If we tend to think negatively, or to catastrophize or to focus on negative things we will grow anxious and sometimes angry. But the Bible says we ought to “dedicate ourselves to thankfulness.” (Colossians 3:21). In other words count your blessings and have an attitude of gratitude. We ought to discipline our minds every day and spend some time thanking God for what went right. As Phillipians 4:8 puts it: Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.

What you feed grows. Focus on negative things and sure enough anxiety and anger increase and our sense of the negative grows. Focus on positive things and blessings and guess what, we are less anxious overall and our sense of well being grows.

Try it out for 30 Days. Let me know how it goes. The video below features a classic Spiritual: Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel?  It list the many people God saved of old and then asks, “And why not every man?”  That’s right even you and me. It will be alright.  God may not come when you want him but He’s always right on time.

Conversion Story and What We Can Learn About Evangelization

 Time Magazine  recently featured a story by Amy Sullivan on the Conversion of Newt Gingrich to Catholicism along with references to the conversion of other well-known individuals. I thought I might present excerpts for the article along with my own commentary in RED.  By the way, I am aware that a figure like Newt Gingrich arouses strong feelings from both sides of the political spectrum. The focus in this post is not on politics, but on the path to Catholicism of several prominent individuals and what we can learn from their stories. Here then follows the Time article and my comments.

Visitors to the Basilica of the National Shrine in northeast Washington often do a double take when they see Newt Gingrich and his familiar shock of white hair slip into a pew for the noon Mass on Sundays. The former Speaker of the House is known for many things, but religious zeal is not one of them. In fact, the social conservatives who fueled his Republican revolution in 1994 often complained about Gingrich’s lack of interest in issues like abortion or school prayer. (I remember these concerns well).

This past spring, however, after several decades as a nominal Southern Baptist, Gingrich converted to Catholicism. With the fervor of a convert, he has embraced the role of defending both his new faith and religious liberty. In his 2006 book Rediscovering God in America, Gingrich lambasted what he calls the “secular effort to reject any sense of a spiritual life as mattering.” …

American Catholicism has been losing members at a remarkable rate; an April 2009 Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life report found that for every person who joins the Catholic Church, four others leave. (I do not agree with this characterization of the Pew data. It is true that last year for the first time there were fewer Catholic in this country than the year before. But that is the first year that the number ever went negative. The number of Catholics has actually increased in every year prior to last year. What HAS decreased is the number of Catholics who practice their faith by attending Mass each Sunday. That number has dropped from over 80% in the 1950s to 27% this past year. I read the Pew Study and saw no data that support the statement that 4 Catholics leave the Church for every one who enters it. That seems a great exaggeration and, even if true, would only apply to last year. It is true that there are A LOT of former Catholics in this country but that is because we are so big in the first place (ca 70 million). Thus, even if a small percentage of Catholics leave it still a large number)  

But a steady stream of high-profile political conservatives have bucked this trend by converting in the past decade, including columnist Robert Novak, Kansas Senator Sam Brownback and CNBC host Larry Kudlow.  Unlike Evangelicals, for whom conversion is often an emotional, born-again experience, Catholic converts tend to make more of a considered decision to join a theological and intellectual tradition. “Conservatives are especially receptive to the promise of there being some capital-T truth that one can embed one’s convictions in,” says Damon Linker, a former editor of the Catholic journal First Things.  Gingrich describes the appeal of Catholicism for him in just these terms. “When you have 2,000 years of intellectual depth surrounding you,” he told me on a recent summer morning, “it’s comforting…. (It is true, Catholicism is a thoughtful faith. We have a long and varied intellectual tradition that stretches back right to the time of Jesus himself. Futher, we exist in every part of the world. This combination of space and time have permitted the Church to develop a very sophisticated and thoughtful intellectual tradition. This ALSO presents challenges for the Church however. In an age that favors sound-bytes, quick answers, and simple solutions, the often nuanced and thoughtful Catholic tradition is sometimes hard to proclaim and the modern media age tunes out  quickly. For a faith that makes careful distinctions like ours, it is a special challenge to present simple answers to complex questions in a way that respects our thoughtfulness but does not seem remote and technical. It can be done but it is difficult in the current age of the sound byte).

Catholicism offers Gingrich not just a strong religious tradition and community. It also gives him peace at home. His wife Callista is a lifelong Catholic who sings in the basilica’s professional choir. After the two married in 2000, Gingrich found himself dragged to church whenever they traveled–“she’s adamant that we go to Mass”–and started attending services at the basilica to hear Callista sing. (Pay attention folks. It is usually a connection to the faith via family or friends that brings people to Church. Perhaps the most fruitful field for evangelization is in our own family. With 70% of Catholics having fallen away, we have a bumper crop sitting at our own dinner tables. Further, over 40% of Catholics marry a  non-Catholic. This too provides the basis for a lot of conversions. Are you evangelizing your own family?)

It’s not surprising that a man of Gingrich’s ambitions would be drawn to the grandeur of worship at the basilica. Incense hangs in the air as the choir’s descant reverberates off the highly polished walls of the Greek-style interior. “Isn’t it just beautiful?” Gingrich asks. “That’s part of what happened to me.” (Her husband, Callista says, is an enthusiastic but limited singer: “He makes a joyful noise.”) (Pay attention again. Beauty is in service of the truth. Our liturgies should inspire faith and reflect its beauty. Liturgy well and enthusiastically celebrated is also a powerful way to evangelize. How are the liturgies in your parish. Do they show forth beauty and faith? This goes a long way to inspire conversion).

Gingrich prepared for his conversion with Monsignor Walter Rossi, the basilica’s rector. Because the institution is not a parish church, Gingrich’s baptism took place at St. Joseph’s on Capitol Hill, where Robert Kennedy attended morning Mass when he served in the Senate. Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl performed the ceremony, with his predecessor Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in attendance.

He may march to the beat of St. Peter these days, but Newt is still Newt. “I don’t think of myself as intensely religious,” he says. Asked about Pope Benedict XVI’s latest encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, the first economic and social statement of his papacy, Gingrich admits he hasn’t yet read the whole thing but opines that the parts he has examined are “largely correct.” And before Mass one July Sunday, Gingrich took a seat near the aisle and bowed his head. But he wasn’t praying. Instead, the famously voracious reader was sneaking in a few pages of a novel until the service began.( 🙂 Well OK, there is still room for improvement! But isn’t that our own story as well. Conversion is not so much an event, it is a process. We make a beginning with the Lord. Through the  sacraments and the liturgy the Lord continues to minister to us and, if we are faithful, little by little we are transformed, we become more intense, more trusting, more faithful, more loving and so forth. An old gospel song says, “I’m not what I want be but I’m not what I used to be!” May God bring to completion the good work he has begun in us! Remember: we never stop evangelizing others and we never stop being evangelized. Keep your hand on the plow – Hold on!)

Rediscovering the Presence of God

The times in which we live are often described as “secular.”  This word comes from the Latin “saecula” meaning “world.” Hence our modern age is quite worldly. We may think it has always been so but such is not the case. To be sure, it IS the human condition to be a little preoccupied with ourselves. But previous times have featured a much more religious focus than our own. The Middle Ages were especially known for way in which faith permeated the culture and daily experience. The Rose window to the right presents a typically Medieval Notion: Christ (the Lamb of God) at the center and everything surrounding Him. In those days the holidays were the HOLYdays and one’s understanding of the calendar and the time of year centered around the Church’s calendar of saints and feasts. It wasn’t Winter it was advent, and then Christmastide. Even the word Christmas was ChristMASS. Halloween was the “Een (evening before) all Hallows (All Saints Day). Three times every day the Church bells rang the “Angelus” calling Catholics to a moment of prayer in honor of the incarnation. The Bells also rang summoning Catholics to Mass and vespers. In a previous article in this blog (By Their Buildings You Will Know Them) it was noted that even the architecture of the Middle Ages placed a large church at the center of every town: Those days were not perfect days but they were more spiritual and the Christians everywhere were constantly reminded of the presence of God by the culture in which they lived. Seldom so today. Many people today almost never hear of God on a day to day basis.  

But the truth is, God is everywhere. He indwells his creation and sustains every aspect of it. The Scriptures say that Jesus hold all creation together in himself (Col 1:17). Most people think of creation as a sort of machine or closed system in which we live. But that is not the case. Creation is a revelation of and experience of God’s love and providence. Not one leaf falls to the ground without God leading it there. Not one hair of our head is unknown and provided for by God. We are enveloped by God, caught up into his presence.

It is especially sad for young people today. Some of us who are a bit older remember a time when God was more recognized. I remember that we prayed every day in my PUBLIC school until I was in 6th grade. I remember my 4th grade teacher often reminding me when I got out of line: “God is Watching!” I remember when Christmas (not “winter holidays”)  in School was actually celebrated and that we sang religious songs even in public school well into my High School years. I remember our public high school choir singing “O Come All Ye Faithful” and many songs with religious subjects. Can you imagine a public school choir singing today “O let us adore Him, Christ the Lord”  ?  Gone are the days.

But we need to teach and help our young people get in touch with God’s presence.  The culture today will seldom help them. Deacon Curtis in the post below has encouraged us to return to “public displays of affection” for God along with other things such as grace at meals. It is essential, as our world becomes even more secular,  to intentionally “put”  God in our day. There is a website  LIFE AFTER SUNDAY that is dedicated to assisting in this very thing. I recommend it to your attention.

Here too is a video for young people reminding them that God is near, not far. It’s a toe-tapper with a message: