Tuesday, April 30, 2013

FBI Files on Catholic Leaders

Our government has been keeping track of Catholic leaders for decades. One of the leaders it closely tracked was Archbishop Fulton Sheen.

For those of you who are too young to know who he was, Archbishop Sheen was the face of Catholicism for decades years in the USA. He had wildly popular weekly TV and radio shows that he hosted for a national audience for almost 40 years. He was also an author, columnist and considered one of the best preachers of the 20th Century.

This meant that the FBI kept detailed notes on him. Many of these files have been made public (with many redactions) for several years. Interesting to note that Sheen had an ongoing correspondence with J. Edgar Hoover, the Director of the FBI. A few of the files are about allegations Sheen had sympathies for the Fascists. He did not and I don't think the FBI bought those either.

Some other correspondence was because the Communists didn't like him, because he was very vocal about opposing them. So, Hoover and others supported his opposition and there was internal dialogue about it.

A quick search also found files on other Catholics, including:
What can we take away from this?

The FBI is still keeping files on Catholic leaders, but may consider Catholic leaders with more suspicion than they previously did (at least not as friendly toward the government as they were once). This is because the Bishops, and other Catholic leaders, are more outspoken against abortion, the death penalty, immigration, the HHS mandate, etc. I am sure that many leaders, both lay and clerics, have thick files on them.

We might remember this warning from Sheen:
"Totalitarians are fond of saying that Christianity is the enemy of the State-a euphemistic way of saying an enemy of themselves." -Archbishop Fulton Sheen
I don't think we are to that point of suspicion about the US government yet, but it isn't out of the realm of possibility for our future.
Pray for our country and our leaders.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Why Do Priests Wear Black?

Q - Why do priests wear black and not some other color? 

A - Thanks for the question. There are several good reasons why priests wear black.

Reason #1 - "Clerics" are a kind of uniform for clergy.  As in certain secular professions a uniform can help easily identify someone.  Priests want to be easily identified as clergy, not so they stand out in a crowd and gather attention for their own sake, but because they should be a sign of Jesus to the world.

In the early Church there was no specific clothing for the ordained clergy.  But, by
the 500s many clergy began to wear long tunics that reached from neck to feet for two reasons - first it was warm, second it was a sign of modesty, because it was simple, not ornate, clothing.  This is the beginning of the tradition of the cassock - seen on the right.

By the middle ages, canon law proscribed clerical garb to be worn and started to regulate it.  It even had penalties for those who did not.  There are no longer any penalties associated with not wearing clerical garb.

Thus, clerical clothing has developed down through the ages to today.  Canon law presently states:
Clerics are to wear suitable ecclesiastical garb according to the norms issued by the conference of bishops and according to legitimate local customs - Canon 284.
Here is what the USCCB says in a "complimentary legislation" on Canon Law about it:
In liturgical rites, clerics shall wear the vesture prescribed in the proper liturgical books. Outside liturgical functions, a black suit and Roman collar are the usual attire for priests. The use of the cassock is at the discretion of the cleric.

In the case of religious clerics, the determinations of their proper institutes or societies are to be observed with regard to wearing the religious habit.
So, in ordinary situations, a priest should wear clerics.  But, it is not required at all times.

Reason #2 - Clerics symbolizes something, as do most practices in our Church.

The black represents a priest dying to self as well as simplicity/poverty.  Every time he puts on his clerics, he should remember that he does not belong to himself, but his bride, the Church.  It also symbolizes simplicity and giving up the comforts, honors, and privileges of the world.

The white Roman collar you see priests wearing symbolizes obedience to God and the Church.  This comes from the tradition of a slave having a ring put around their necks and priests choose to give their lives to Christ as his "slaves".  It also represents the marriage "ring" of being we to the Church.  The white also symbolizes the resurrection of Christ.

In other countries, especially in hot/tropical ones, you will find that the colors might be reversed and white might be the color of preference.  It makes sense in hot climates not to make someone wear black all the time.  Also, other colors for Monsignors, Bishops, Archbishops, Cardinals, and the Pope help others recognize their positions in the Church.  They also each have a meaning behind them.

I hope this helps.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

"I'm Not A Bum. I'm A Human Being"

The Catechism of the Catholic Church:
2443 God blesses those who come to the aid of the poor and rebukes those who turn away from them: "Give to him who begs from you, do not refuse him who would borrow from you"; "you received without pay, give without pay." It is by what they have done for the poor that Jesus Christ will recognize his chosen ones. When "the poor have the good news preached to them," it is the sign of Christ's presence.
His name is Ronald Davis:

More from the Catechism:
2448 "In its various forms - material deprivation, unjust oppression, physical and psychological illness and death - human misery is the obvious sign of the inherited condition of frailty and need for salvation in which man finds himself as a consequence of original sin. This misery elicited the compassion of Christ the Savior, who willingly took it upon himself and identified himself with the least of his brethren. Hence, those who are oppressed by poverty are the object of a preferential love on the part of the Church which, since her origin and in spite of the failings of many of her members, has not ceased to work for their relief, defense, and liberation through numerous works of charity which remain indispensable always and everywhere."

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Invasion of Grace

"There are all kinds of questions we face - about our finances, about our families, about our careers - and there all important. But, they are nothing compared to THAT question - about when grace breaks in, what do I do? Do I say "yes" to it - do I cooperate with it or do I reject it?"
Fr. Robert Barron

Catholics and Superstition

Q - I would be interested to see what you think about the Texas A&M tradition of leaving pennies at the statue of Sully, as good luck on tests. 

A - Thanks for the question. Before giving an answer, I will give some background on this situation for our non-Aggie readers.

Lawrence Sullivan Ross (aka - Sully) was a former president of Texas A&M University in the 1890s. It is said that he helped save the University from being closed down. Aggie tradition states when he was president of the University he would tutor students and ask a "penny for their thoughts". There is now a statue of him in the main plaza of the University where students put loose change at his feet to ask for "luck" on their exams.

Many current students probably don't know that this is a very new tradition at A&M. We never did it in my days in school, from 91-95, and it is still not listed on the Universities website as an "official" tradition.

Now, as to whether this practice is wrong. I would propose it could be superstitious, depending on the person's intent. The question could be generalized - should Catholics participate in any actions that are superstitious? This way we get away from the particularities of the situations at hand.

This is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:
2111 Superstition is the deviation of religious feeling and of the practices this feeling imposes. It can even affect the worship we offer the true God, e.g., when one attributes an importance in some way magical to certain practices otherwise lawful or necessary. To attribute the efficacy of prayers or of sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand, is to fall into superstition.
I think it all depends on intent. Many people say "good luck" to others. They aren't being superstitious in doing so, but rather, they are just in the habit of doing so. It is a colloquial expression used commonly, with no superstition attached to it.

So, I would say that if someone ever ascribes any kind of power outside of God to a superstitious practice - or does it habitually - then it could become superstitious and be wrong. But, if it is done knowing that no power could come from it, then it is most likely not a bad thing to do (as long as the practice isn't inherently immoral).

For instance carrying a crystal in the pocket for "luck" would be superstitious. Carrying a crystal in your pocket you found while rock-hunting with grandpa to remember him by is a good practice.

Furthermore, some might think it is "lucky" when we get rain after a dry period. To go even further, why pray for rain if we can't change God's mind about it? What is the point? Prayer may not change God or the weather, but it reminds us of our total dependence on God's providence. So, it CAN change us. These kind of prayers don't have anything to do with "luck".

So, putting a penny at the statue of Sully for luck is bad. Doing it because you think it is a fun tradition at A&M is not.

Still, we should be cautious about any action that could lead to superstitious practices and not take them too lightly.

I hope this helps.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Equal AND All The Same = A Lie

Modern culture has placed a litmus test upon people and the way in which they relate to one another: this test is basically one of function. The secularistic criteria of functionality has become commonplace in the way our society thinks of people and consequently of their equality. We must confront the secularistic notion of functionality as the standard of equality and work to let a true notion of equality again takes its rightful place.

According to a function-based definition of equality, to truly gain equality we must all be able to do the same things. But, this denies a basic fact - we are all different and made unique!

Function-based equality is a refusal to accept the individuality we each have and a it becomes a rejection of God's gift we are to the world.

Being made in God's image and likeness teaches us even more:
  • We all share in a magnificent gift of God - our creation.
  • We each have an equal dignity (worth) given by God.
  • Our equality with one another is based on this dignity.
  • Being different from one another does not affect our equality or dignity.
  • We are not God.
  • Our individual uniqueness has meaning and goodness.
  • Our uniqueness tells us something about God.
  • Our differences should compliment one another.
  • Our differences are gifts from God and are part of God's plan for creation. 
Remember this - God is 3 persons in 1 Divine nature - a Trinity of persons. Thus, he is a family and community of persons. The three persons do not differ in action or nature, but by relationship with one another. Therefore, when we were created, we were made with a share in God's image and likeness in 2 ways:
  1. Each individual human reflects God's image in likeness - just as God has a divine intellect (knows things) and a divine will (freedom to make choices) so each individual human has a human intellect and will.
  2. We are also made in the image and likeness of God as a community of persons. Just as there is a Divine Father and Son + the love between them, so we are called to image God by being in communion with others, especially our families.
The Catechism says this:
"1704 The human person participates in the light and power of the divine Spirit. By his reason, he is capable of understanding the order of things established by the Creator. By free will, he is capable of directing himself toward his true good. He finds his perfection "in seeking and loving what is true and good."
1702 "The divine image is present in every man. It shines forth in the communion of persons, in the likeness of the unity of the divine persons among themselves In the communion of persons we live out the image of God not only through our own individual gift of humanity, but also through the communion with others."
Thus, we are called to see how God is reflected in our own selves as well as in others, even though they are different. Each of us reveals, in a mysterious way, a truth about the nature of God, which was given to us in our creation. Part of our purpose in life is to find God's presence within. Our humanity is connected to our individual giftedness and in the differences we each live out the image and likeness of the Trinity in a different way.

What we need to avoid is the idea that equality = "sameness". This is wrong.

We can never be truly equal if this is true, because there is no way to achieve "sameness", due to our innate differences.

We must ask how our differences complement each other, and how we are tied to one another and to God. If we side with the view of sameness and the world-view that humanity is defined by what we do, then (for example) the unborn child has no rights since it cannot "do" anything (nor is it the "same" as a fully developed human). But if we side with nature, then our dignity is tied to the fulfilment of our beings as found in each other and in the relationships God created between us.

True equality acknowledges our differences and then finds that which transcends them and is shared by all - our human dignity.

Thus, we are "different but equal" while still being made in God's image and likeness.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Catholics and Islam

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says the following about Islam:
"841 The Church's relationship with the Muslims. The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day."
Islam is one of the great monotheistic religions (along with Judaism and Christianity). So, there is a respect due Muslims, because if there is only one God, then logically we all worship Him, even if our understanding of Him (Trinity, incarnation, etc) is very different than Muslims. Yet, even so, Christians understand a belief in one God is not enough, because God is Trinitarian. Thus, Islam also has a faulty understanding of God as well. Furthermore, as with any religious system, beliefs can be distorted into violence.

All of us should speak out against the radical Muslims who wish to promote terror, violence, and hatred. But, we should also speak out against those who want the same thing and call themselves Christian or any other name. It does seem there is a much bigger tendency in Islam for violence, but we cannot indict all of Islam for the violence of some.

Pope Benedict XVI said, we need to seek "sincere and respectful dialogue" with Muslims. Why? Because:
"The inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue between Christians and Muslims is, in effect, a vital necessity, on which a large part of our future depends."
If we don't, the violence of misunderstanding and hate will grow.

Here is a great dialogue on the problems of violence in Islam and how we ought to react to them:

Friday, April 19, 2013

What Fear Of The Lord Means

The Scriptures speak of fearing God in several places and many are confused by this concept. The word "fear" has a lot of baggage associated with it in modern Western culture. This was not so much the case in biblical times, so we must understand the concept of fear in several different ways, to understand what fear of God is all about.

Type of Fear #1- Reverential Fear of the Creator:
"I sought the LORD, who answered me, delivered me from all my fears. Look to God that you may be radiant with joy and your faces may not blush for shame. In my misfortune I called, the LORD heard and saved me from all distress. The angel of the LORD, who encamps with them, delivers all who fear God. Learn to savor how good the LORD is; happy are those who take refuge in him. Fear the LORD, you holy ones; nothing is lacking to those who fear him. The powerful grow poor and hungry, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing. Come, children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD." - Psalm 34 5-12
This verse sounds almost contradictory - we are told that God delivers us from our fears, gives us joy, and saves us. But, then we are told to fear Him. This kind of fear is reverential - meaning we are in awe of the might of God.

Have you ever had a moment of awe in God's creation? Think for a moment that God made it all - and we are in utter awe, and reverential fear, of how amazingly mighty God is. This is a humble attitude that reminds us that God is God and we are not. In humility we must acknowledge that God is all-powerful and we are very limited.

Type of Fear #2 - Fear of Judgment:
"Announce this to the house of Jacob, proclaim it in Judah: Pay attention to this, foolish and senseless people Who have eyes and see not, who have ears and hear not. Should you not fear me, says the LORD, should you not tremble before me? I made the sandy shore the sea's limit, which by eternal decree it may not overstep. Toss though it may, it is to no avail; though its billows roar, they cannot pass. But this people's heart is stubborn and rebellious; they turn and go away, And say not in their hearts, "Let us fear the LORD, our God, Who gives us rain early and late, in its time; Who watches for us over the appointed weeks of harvest." Your crimes have prevented these things, your sins have turned back these blessings from you." -Jeremiah 5: 20-25
It almost sounds as if God is asking his prophet, Jeremiah, to scare others. But, in a certain sense, every sinner should fear God's punishment because he is perfectly good and we are sinners. We are guilty, God is innocent. Because of our guilt we deserve punishment and judgment. Instead, God is merciful and offers us His mercy and salvation, but we are capable of rejecting His gift by our sin. Even in the traditional act of contrition, this kind of fear is shown (and is enough for God to forgive us, even if it isn't as good as the higher act of love) - "I detest all of my sins, because of thy just punishment".

Though the fear of judgment is real, it should not be a goal of our spiritual life.

Type of Fear #3 - Fear of God's Perfection and Holiness
"Great and wonderful are your works, Lord God almighty. Just and true are your ways, O king of the nations. Who will not fear you, Lord, or glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All the nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed." -Revelation 15:3-4
Perfect holiness and sin are incompatible, this is why God alone is holy (in fact holiness is THE trait of divinity) and in whatever small way His creatures share in that holiness, we are said to be "holy". Even before we enter heaven we must be purified from our sinfulness in order to see God face-to-face (Rev 21:27 says "nothing unclean shall enter into it" when describing heaven). God's holiness purifies us and removes our sin - but this process is painful, because we have to be "re-shaped" into the being we are supposed to be. Thus, we fear this harsh process.

Type of Fear #4 - Filial Fear - The Fear of Disappointing Our Father
One of the 7 Gifts of the Holy Spirit is "Fear of the Lord". This kind of fear is a gift given, because it perfects in us the virtue of Love of God. This is done out of a respect for God - not a fear of punishment.

Servile fear is the fear of being punished, and is not a form of true love. But filial fear is a fear of letting God down and disappointing Him. This grows out of a sincere love for God and His goodness and love of us.

Think of when you were a child. Many times you would not disobey your parents, because you feared punishment. But, when you mature, you do not do disobey our of love and respect for them. This is what is meant by filial fear, and is the reason why "fear of the Lord" is held in such high esteem in the Bible:
"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" -Proverbs 9:10
Even Mary rejoices in Fear of God:
"The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him." -Luke 1 49-50
Paul tells us we should work toward holiness out of fear of God:
"Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of flesh and spirit, making holiness perfect in the fear of God." - 1 Cor 7:1
The last example of filial fear in the Bible I will give is Peter in Acts:
"Then Peter proceeded to speak and said, "In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him." -Acts 10:34-35
It seems there is a natural progression of faith through each of these four fears:
  • First, we know that God is God and creator of all.
  • Second, we know God is all-powerful and will judge us.
  • Third, we know that God is perfect and holy.
  • Fourth, we know God is Father of each of us and we don't want to let Him down.
Our goal should therefore be filial fear.
We will let Pope Benedict XVI have the last word:
This attitude of faith leads man to recognize the power of God operating in history, and thus to open himself to fear of the name of the Lord. In biblical language, in fact, this "fear" does not coincide with dread, but is the recognition of the mystery of the divine transcendence. Because of this, it is the basis of faith and is joined with love: "the Lord your God requires of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul" (cf. Deuteronomy 10:12).
Fear the Lord and have no fear don't contradict one another, they go hand-in-hand with one another.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Bishop Vásquez and Pope Francis Respond to Tragedy In West, TX

A response to the West tragedy from the Pope and the Diocese of Austin:
Pope, Diocese respond to West tragedy
AUSTIN – On Wednesday evening, April 17, there was a massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Plant in West, which is in the Catholic Diocese of Austin.

The facilities of St. Mary, Church of the Assumption Parish were not damaged.  The parish hall is being used as a command center for EMS. The parish and school are about 1 mile away from the fertilizer plant.

Earlier this morning, Pope Francis, through Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, sent a message to Bishop Joe S. Vásquez:

Saddened by the news of the destruction caused by the explosion in West, the Holy Father asks you kindly to convey his heartfelt condolences to the civil authorities and the afflicted families. He prays for the eternal rest of the victims and implores God’s blessings on consolation and peace upon those who mourn and all who generously aid in the continuing work of relief.

Also this morning through his Twitter handle @Pontifex, Pope Francis tweeted, “Please join me in praying for the victims of the explosion in Texas and their families.”

Bishop Vásquez asks, too, that all people pray for the people of West.

On Thursday, Bishop Vásquez sent a note of thanks to Pope Francis for his prayers and messages.

The parish in West was founded in 1892, making it 120 years old. The community of West is predominantly Czech; with most people tracing their ancestry to Moravian or German migrants in the 1870s. The community is mostly Catholic with a population of 2,900. The parish has 1,275 registered families. Father Ed Karasek has been pastor of the church since 1989. The parish is also home to a school, pre-K through eighth grade, with 136 students and 17 faculty members.

The Diocese of Austin, and its parishes and faith communities, is responding in a number of ways to this tragedy:


The Diocese of Austin is communicating with the media and public through official news releases, e-mail, social media and the diocesan website, www.austindiocese.org.

·         Priests of the Diocese of Austin came to area hospitals to administer sacraments and attend to the spiritual needs of the injured and their families, shortly after the explosion.
·         Pope Francis and Bishop Vásquez ask everyone to pray for the people of West.
·         The Thursday Masses at St. Mary Cathedral in Austin and the diocesan Pastoral Center were celebrated for the people of West.
·         Bishop Vásquez will celebrate a Mass at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, April 21, at St. Mary, Church of the Assumption in West.
·         Bishop Vásquez will visit West on Friday.
·         Bishop Vásquez has approved the use of a special weekday Mass for the people of West.
·         Bishop Vásquez has also sent a Universal Prayer for parishes to use this weekend at all Masses.


·         The Diocese of Austin will respond to the needs to those affected by the explosion with long-term case management. The American Red Cross provides disaster relief during the first 30 days. Beginning from the 31st day, Catholic Charities of Central Texas and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul will take on cases referred by the American Red Cross, in addition to new cases. Long-term case management includes the distribution of furniture and household goods.

·         There is a need for blood for victims of the explosion. Donate blood wherever you can.

·         Monetary donations should be given to Catholic Charities of Central Texas, www.ccctx.org/disaster or The Society of St. Vincent de Paul, www.ssvdp.org.

·         The Society of St. Vincent de Paul will accept donations of furniture and household goods, excluding clothes and mattresses, at two locations: 818 Yaeger Lane, Austin, Texas, 78753 and 1327 South Congress Avenue, Austin, Texas 78704. Donations are only accepted from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

·         All Catholic parishes are asked to take up a special collection this weekend or on another date that will be distributed through Catholic Charities of Central Texas.


The diocesan Office of Family Counseling and Family Life is visiting West today to evaluate needs for licensed counselors in the area. Once the evaluation is complete, the appropriate resources will be assigned.


The Roman Catholic Diocese of Austin includes 127 parishes, or faith communities, in 25 counties in Central Texas. The diocese stretches over 21,000 square miles from West, Texas, (just north of Waco) in the north to San Marcos in the south to the Bryan/College Station area in the east to Mason in the west. Its largest metropolitan areas are Austin, Bryan/College Station, the Killeen/Temple/Belton area and Waco. More than 109,000 Catholic families live in the diocese, approximately 509,000 Catholics. There are 227 priests, 168 deacons, 46 brothers and 102 sisters serving in the diocese. 

11 Ways To Study And Pray With The Bible

I am commonly asked how a Catholic might start studying or praying with Sacred Scripture. Therefore, I decided to introduce you to a range of different ways to read, study, and pray with the Bible. I hope you find it helpful.

These methods are not the only ways to study and pray with Scripture, but merely some of the most popular ways.


1 - Read and pray with the Lectionary.
Many Catholics, including my family, like to read the Scriptures they will hear in the Liturgy of The Word before and/or after they attend Mass.

Some subscribe to periodicals that make it easier for them to have the readings and may also include mediations on the readings. These include, The MagnificatThe Word Among Us, and Living Faith.

2 - Big Picture Study
There are some very nice resources that will help you get the "big picture" of the story of salvation. One of the best resources, though it is very expensive, is The Great Adventure series by Jeff Cavins. We do have this series here at St. Mary's, but do not keep it in the library, due to the expense of having to replace it if it isn't returned. Other resources include some nice courses from St. Paul's Center for Biblical Theology.

3 - In-Depth Study With Commentaries
There are many good commentaries that can help you study one book of The Bible at a time. Maybe you have an interest in the Psalms, Revelation, or Romans. While this can be a more expensive way to study the Bible, but you can find most of my recommendations below in St. Mary's Library. With this kind of study you can get in-depth study into language, cross-references, culture, etc. Some of my favorite series of in-depth studies include the Navarre BibleThe Ignatius Catholic Study Bible (only New Testament has been released so far), and the Sacra Pagina series.

4 - Thematic Study
Thematic studies will focus on a certain theme (e.g. Men's Bible study, social justice Bible study, Bible study on patience, Marian Bible study) and bring together the different passages that focus on that issue. Many Catholic publishers have various kinds of thematic studies. We have a wide-variety in our library.

5 - Cover-to-Cover Study
I don't necessarily recommend this method of reading The Bible, especially for those that aren't very familiar with Sacred Scriptures. This is because many people get bogged down in some of the Old Testament books that have difficult passages or less interesting parts. There are a number of resources that can give you a 1, 2, or 3 year plan to read the entire Bible. One good one is from the Coming Home Network which give Catechism passages as well.

6 - Use The Four Senses and Three Criteria for Interpretation Given By The Church
These can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
The four senses are:
  1. Literal sense - is to understand what the human author intended to teach and what his audience understood. Does NOT mean “word-for-word” interpretation. We consider - language / culture / type of literature / human authors understanding of world, relationships, etc.

    Three layers to the Spiritual sense:
  2. Allegorical sense -Some call this Typology. The New Testament is the fulfillment of the Old Testament, which looks toward the New and should be read in light of it.
  3. Moral sense - Personal - we have to apply the text to our lives. Thus, what does this passage mean for my life? How should I live in light of this truth?
  4. Anagogical sense - Also personal, but a more spiritual sense, not active – but contemplative. Points us to heaven.
The Three Criteria for Interpretation are (CCC 111-114):
  1. Be especially attentive "to the content and unity of the whole Scripture."
  2. Read the Scripture within "the living Tradition of the whole Church."
  3. Be attentive to the analogy of faith. – See with eyes of faith

1 - The Liturgy Of The Hours
Also known as "The Divine Office" the liturgy of the hours is the official public prayer of the Catholic Church, along with Mass. All clergy and religious take a vow to pray it daily. The Liturgy of the Hours has many different prayers within it, but the majority are taken from Scripture (e.g., the Psalms) and others are based on the Bible. If you want to try it, I recommend the free app - iBreviary.

2 - Lectio Divina
Lectio Divina means "Divine (or holy) reading". There are several different methodologies to Lectio Divina, but the basics include reading the Scripture passage slowly several times, quiet meditation, response in prayer, and quiet reflection and rest in God's presence. More can be found here.

3 - Imagination / Understanding / Love
First, use your imagination to place yourself in the scene described in the passage you are reading. Then try to understand how this passage applies to you. Then move your heart to love God more.

4 - Pray / Read / Reflect / Resolve
Following this simple formula we start to try and conform our lives to Sacred Scripture. We start with a prayer inviting the Holy Spirit to inspire us. Next, there should be slow reading of the passage. We then spend a good time reflecting on the passage and finally we make a resolution to draw closer to God in whatever way we are drawn to.

5 - Praying / Singing The Psalms
The Psalms were once memorized by the Israelites as a devotion to Yahweh. We also can pray the Psalms by singing them or praying with them through recitation and meditation on them.

Other Links of interest:
**Good Catholic Bible Studies
**Best Bible Translations
**The Dos and Don'ts of Reading the Bible
**100 Catholic Ways to Pray

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Can a Non-Catholic Go To Confession?

Q - Why do you have to be Catholic to be absolved from sin in confession?

A -
Thanks for the question. There are only two Sacraments of the Catholic Church that, under normal circumstances, are validly received by non-Catholics.

The first is Baptism - anyone can validly baptize another person as long as it is with water and the Trinitarian formula of Baptism, as long as they believe in what they are doing.

The second is Matrimony - two baptized Christians confer the Sacrament upon one another. If one or both of the spouses is not baptized, then the marriage is still valid, but not a Sacrament.

Now, you have to be a baptized Catholic (with a few rare exceptions I talk about below) to be able to receive absolution in Confession. This is because Confession isn't just about an individual and God. It is also about our relationship with the rest of the Body of Christ - the Church. Thus, when we sin, we wound others as well. Confession (also called Reconciliation and Penance) is the ordinary way in which God forgives mortal sins AND heals the wounds caused to the Body of Christ - the Church. Thus, when we go to Reconciliation, we are healing our relationship with every other Christian, living and dead, as well as with God!

Furthermore, one must be able to say that they believe that a Catholic priest has the power to forgive sins.
If they do, then they must believe the priest was validly ordained.
If they do, then they must believe in the apostolic nature of the Bishops and in apostolic succession.
If they do, then they must believe in the power of the Sacraments, esp. the Eucharist.
If they do, then they need to be Catholic.

Therefore, only Catholics can go to Confession. But, it is for everyone, because everyone is called to join the Church.

This is why Confession is reserved for Catholics alone, except in rare circumstances, including the following outlined in the Catechism:
“When, in the Ordinary's judgment, a grave necessity arises, Catholic ministers may give the sacraments of Eucharist, Penance, and Anointing of the Sick to other Christians not in full communion with the Catholic Church, who ask for them of their own will, provided they give evidence of holding the Catholic faith regarding these sacraments and possess the required dispositions.” -CCC 1401
Then there is also an exception given to baptized non-Catholics who are in RCIA and about to enter the Church. This is allowed in order to prepare the person spiritually before they receive Confirmation and the Eucharist.

I hope this helps.

Related Posts:
**Is Confession To a Catholic Priest Necessary or Can You Go Straight To God?
**What Does Being Contrite Mean?
**How Often Should I Go To Confession + Other Questions.
**A Guide To Confession.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Never. Ever. Doubt. YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL!

There is a part of each of us that questions ourselves. It questions whether we are worthy of love, especially true unconditional love. Raising up from this doubt is another - are really beautiful?

The truth is, we are made by love - out of love - for love - to love - and to be loved.

But, our woundedness questions how any of this could be real.

It asks, "how could we be worthy of such a love?"
It lies and says, "I am not beautiful. I am not lovable."

  • Yet, true love isn't given because of what we do. We could never earn such a love. It isn't something we purchase with our deeds.
  • It isn't because of knowing the right things. We can't know enough truth to earn such a love.
  • It isn't because we are "good people". That isn't enough.
  • Our true beauty isn't determined by a subjective opinion of culture or individuals.

Rather - we are lovable and beautiful because we are. We exist. We have a purpose. We ARE beautiful, because God created us to be.

God loves you, not because of what you do, what you know, how you act. He loves you despite these things, not because of them.
He loves you. For you. He loves you right where you are and there is NOTHING that could make His love for you stop or lessen.

He also finds you the most beautiful part of all of His creation.
In fact, there is nothing more beautiful than YOU!

God loves you so much He would die for you - and He did.
God loves you so much He built a purpose into your being:

  • To be with God forever is your purpose.
  • To be the best you that you can be is your purpose.
  • To love Him back is your purpose.

This kind of love is doubted because of our human failures in loving one another. When we don't experience a selfless, unending, and unconditional love from other people, we may not ever know what it is like to be loved and may close ourselves off from God's love. Then we doubt our beauty.

This is why the video below breaks my heart - because there is so much raw truth in it. Too many don't know what love is and don't see their own beauty...

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Story You SHOULD Be Reading About - But the Press Has Blacked It Out

Here are some stories that made the news today (from different news sites):
What is missing? Maybe the most gruesome and horrific abortion story ever. It is happening during a murder trial for an abortionist - Dr. Kermit Gosnell.

Even The Atlantic gets it (WARNING - There is no way to make this not be horrific):
The grand jury report in the case of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, 72, is among the most horrifying I've read. "This case is about a doctor who killed babies and endangered women. What we mean is that he regularly and illegally delivered live, viable babies in the third trimester of pregnancy - and then murdered these newborns by severing their spinal cords with scissors," it states. "The medical practice by which he carried out this business was a filthy fraud in which he overdosed his patients with dangerous drugs, spread venereal disease among them with infected instruments, perforated their wombs and bowels - and, on at least two occasions, caused their deaths."

Charged with seven counts of first-degree murder, Dr. Gosnell is now standing trial in a Philadelphia courtroom. An NBC affiliate's coverage includes testimony as grisly as you'd expect. "An unlicensed medical school graduate delivered graphic testimony about the chaos at a Philadelphia clinic where he helped perform late-term abortions," the channel reports. "Stephen Massof described how he snipped the spinal cords of babies, calling it, 'literally a beheading. It is separating the brain from the body.' He testified that at times, when women were given medicine to speed up their deliveries, 'it would rain fetuses. Fetuses and blood all over the place.'"

One former employee described hearing a baby screaming after it was delivered during an abortion procedure. "I can't describe it. It sounded like a little alien," she testified. Said the Philadelphia Inquirer in its coverage, "Prosecutors have cited the dozens of jars of severed baby feet as an example of Gosnell's idiosyncratic and illegal practice of providing abortions for cash to poor women pregnant longer than the 24-week cutoff for legal abortions in Pennsylvania."
So, why isn't this getting more coverage again?
Probably because it doesn't fit the narrative of abortion being safe and good for women.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

12 Tips For Overcoming Difficulties in Prayer

I once asked a class of college students to rate their spiritual lives on a scale of 1 to 10. Most were very hard on themselves and gave themselves a 5 or less. I then asked "how would you describe your relationship with God?" and again, most were not very positive. These were devout and good Catholics.

Most of the comments from the class were about difficulties in prayer. Why do we have such difficulties? 
Simple - we are human. But, before I spell out some tips on how to overcome difficulties, we ought to talk about why we pray.

St. Paul writes:
"With all prayer and supplication, pray at every opportunity in the Spirit." - Ephesians 6:18
Paul doesn't just suggest, but commands us, to pray "in the Spirit" at "every opportunity". If we are to follow this command, it is done out of love, not out of mere obedience. But, how are we to meet this high call? 
He writes in another letter:
"The Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit Itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings." - Romans 8: 26-27
We can't do it alone. The Holy Spirit does, for us, what we can't do in our prayer. This is vital, because prayer is essential for success. But, by success, I mean success in the eyes of God, which is much different than success by the world's standards. The world says success is money, fame, power, possessions, pleasure, etc. But, God's idea of success is holiness - being the person God intends you to be.  In other words, success = fulfilling the vision for your life that God has for you. Prayer is indisposable in attaining this process.

In the Gospel of Luke, Luke writes:
"he told them a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary." -Luke 18:1
We must make prayer the center of our lives. It isn't a choice for us as Christians. But, it requires perseverance and faith to achieve such a prayer life. So, with this in mind, you might ask - why would any Christian let their prayer life slip and what can we do about it?

  1. Discouragement - Sometimes we don't know what to say, how to pray, what to do. Sometimes we are tired, feeling bad, or we just don't have a desire to pray. 
  2. Doubt - Is God really there? Can He hear me? Does He care, even if He exists? Does prayer really even matter?
  3. Impatience - Prayers can seem to go on forever with only silence coming from heaven. When will God answer me?
  4. Temptations - It is easy to pray when you aren't challenged internally through temptation. But, when the temptations enter in, it becomes drudgery. 
  5. Laziness - We sometimes just give up or never establish habits that sustain us in dry times or through the business of modern life.
  6. Dryness - God seems distant and prayer becomes a chore. This can happen at any time.
  7. Physical, Mental, or Emotional Problems - When we suffer, it is hard to pray, because we sometimes feel that a loving God would make it stop.
  1. Frequent the Sacraments - If you can make daily Mass even once a week, you have doubled your access to the greatest gift ever given humanity. Now, go to Confession at least monthly and you are surely going to get a multitude of graces. Put these on a calendar so you don't skip them.
  2. Establish Good Habits - You should be able to rely on your habits to help you, and not hurt you, in your prayer. A good habit takes 66 days (or longer) to establish. So, if you can commit to a routine of prayer for 2 months, you should start to lay the groundwork for healthy prayer habits.
  3. Accountability Counts - You need someone who is more objective than you are to look at your prayer life and see how you are doing and how the Holy Spirit is working. A spiritual director is invaluable in helping. But, if you don't think you are ready, even have a holy friend to talk to can be good.
  4. Try Different Types of Prayer - We all have different tastes in prayer, just like most other things in life. So, try out different types of prayer and see which ones work for you. One caveat - don't give up too soon on a type of prayer. It might take a good long time to discover whether it is good for you or not.
  5. Fast Regularly - There is great power in fasting. We see it in Scripture when Jesus fasts and calls his disciples to do the same. When we have better control over the desires of our bodies, we can pray better.
  6. Overcome Distractions - The simple way to overcome a distraction is to not give into it. Once you realize you are distracted turn your heart and mind back to your prayer, not to examining the distraction. This simple act is the easiest way to defeat distractions.
  7. Don't Over-think Prayer - Too often we tend to complicate something that should come naturally to us. We are made for communion with God. Prayer is merely directing your mind and heart in the direction of God. If we over-complicate it, we get caught up in the externals.
  8. Dryness is Good For Us - Dry prayers are a gift from God. Yes, we all long to have consolations in our prayer, just as a child longs for candy and having those denied is difficult, but healthy for us. It is in dryness that our faith is tested and strengthened.
  9. Pray for Humility - To the extent we are humble is the extent of the power of God's grace changing our lives. Without humble prayer, God is unable to reach us, because we have no interior need for Him.
  10. Work on a Proper Understanding of God and Self - I can not emphasize this one enough. Many of us struggle to understand how a perfect God could love us and want a relationship with us. But, this is due, mainly, to our bad perceptions of our own dignity and the way God loves us unconditionally.
  11. Quiet - Our modern lives are filled with noise. We need to quiet ourselves to hear God - both internally and externally. Find a peaceful and quiet place to pray. Church is helpful in this respect - so if you can stop at a church, even for a short time, I recommend you do so.
  12. Prioritize Prayer. Schedule it. Bump something else. Get up early. Do whatever you have to do, but don't let a day go by without spending time with the most important person in your life.
Pray for me and I will pray for all who read this.

Monday, April 8, 2013

You Are RICH! Seriously.

A few facts, which might help us be thankful today.

Below is a chart of US annual income figures and where that income level rests on the global scale of income.
  • $1,000 - TOP 44.1% richest people in the world!
  • $5,000 - TOP 14.39% richest people in the world!
  • $10,000 - TOP 13.31% richest people in the world! 
  • $20,000 - TOP 11.16% richest people in the world! 
  • $30,000 - TOP 7.16% richest people in the world!
  • $40,000 - TOP 3.17% richest people in the world! 
  • $50,000 - TOP .98% richest people in the world! 
  • $75,000 - TOP .82% richest people in the world! 
  • $100,000 - TOP .66% richest people in the world! 
  • $250,000 (and up) - TOP .001% richest people in the world! 
I frequently hear college students say they are "poor" or that they don't "have any money". Both really bother me. Being in college may not be the high-life of western civilization for most, but it definitely isn't living in a shack, the likes of which can be found a few miles down the road in any city in this country. Even less is the "poverty" the likes of what is in the picture above - found in the Philippines.
But, I digress.

Do college students make some sacrifices. I would say yes. Yet, it is more the lack of sacrifice that most Americans have had to endure, rather than the true lack of money that is what causes the attitude of "poverty". I work for the Catholic Church. I don't make a lot of money compared to the average person in a similar position in the secular world. But, I do not call myself poor, because I am not. I am able to comfortably provide for my family and myself. We live in a nice house, we eat well and we have good clothes. Money is tight sometimes, but I am ashamed when I say things like "I am broke". Because I haven't missed a meal because of a lack of food ever in my life.

So, I thought I would count up some of my blessing and I invite everyone else to do the same.
  • I know Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior, personally.
  • I have the fullness of the grace and truth of Christ offered to me through the Catholic Church. 
  • I have a wonderful family. 
  • I have my health. 
  • I have a great job. 
  • I have had a great education. 
  • I have great friends. 
  • I can read, walk, see, hear, think, etc. 
  • I can worship how I like. 
  • I can post my opinion on the internet unlike others who are restricted by their government. 
  • I can vote. 
  • etc
I am very RICH.
You are rich as well. But, to understand that you are "rich" might take an attitude adjustment and/ or a few changes in lifestyle.

If you are a college student who doesn't have a lot of money - please don't complain about eating Ramen noodles (few do nowadays anyway). Don't complain about not being able to by the newest tech toy. Learn to live without. Learn to be satisfied and content with what you need, not what you desire. Peace can be found in such an attitude.

An attitude change that can help is to foster the attitude of abundance vs. the attitude of poverty.

If you want to develop this kind of attitude, then do a few things.
  • Ask God to give you this grace. 
  • Stop complaining about what you don't have. 
  • Start appreciating more what you do have. 
  • Live off of a budget. 
  • Start tithing something until you can tithe 10% at some point later.
When I talk to college students about budgeting I challenge them to track their expenses and see where they could make one sacrifice to then offer the money to a charity or give to their parish. A few years ago, one student found she was spending a ton of money on coffee at Starbucks. She cut back and started a regular donation to her parish. It is as easy as that.

That is, if you want to realize you are already very rich.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Is Getting A Tattoo Wrong?

Q - Simple question, is getting a tattoo wrong?

A - Thanks for the question. I know that in today's society, tattoos are more popular than ever and many people have questions about this.  I hope that I can help sort it out.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with a tattoo. This means, that in and of itself, a tattoo is not a moral evil.

Now, there are situations when getting a tattoo would be sinful. For instance, a tattoo that causes offense to others, because of the image causes scandal would be wrong, if there is significant damage to the bodily integrity, a minor who gets one without permission from parents, etc.

As Christians, we should also consider why you would ever need a tattoo. The Church teaches us about the sacredness of our bodies. Our bodies were created to image God and he believes they are "good". So, why would they need to be decorated? Furthermore, they are to be the home of the Holy Spirit, which is why St. Paul wrote:
"Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?" - 1 Cor 6:19
Some questions that might guide a person thinking about getting a tattoo:
  • What is the intent behind the desire for a tattoo? 
  • Is the purpose of doing so to spite someone?
  • Will my bodily integrity remain intact or will this mutilate my body?
  • Do you have a bad self-image or are trying to hide a feature we don't like?
  • Is it done to please someone else
  • Is it a part of a tribal ritual? 
  • Is your body being treated as a temple of the Holy Spirit?
  • How will this affect others? 
  • How will my parents, friends, family, employers, etc. react? 
  • Is this good use of my money?
  • What will the tattoo contain? Would it be offensive to others?
  • Is it a good message within the tattoo?
Furthermore, there are some kinds of modern body decoration/piercings that lead to mutilating the body - these would be sinful to participate in, because the bod's integrity is at stake.

So, while it is not intrinsically wrong to get a tattoo, there are circumstances that might make it immoral. If you don't get a tattoo, you need not even ask the questions above.

I hope this helps.

For more on related topics:
**The Catholic Church and Plastic Surgery

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

An Interview With Dr. Peter Kreeft

Peter Kreeft, Ph.D., is a professor of philosophy at Boston College and at the King's College (Empire State Building), in New York City. He is a regular contributor to several Christian publications, is in wide demand as a speaker at conferences, and is the author of over 67 books. His latest book, Jacob's Ladder: 10 Steps to Truth (Ignatius Press), is a step-by-step process of finding truth in a world of relativism and utilitarianism.

My interview with Dr. Kreeft is below:
Marcel LeJeune - "Dr. Kreeft, what do you think are the most fundamental attacks on truth in today’s culture?" 

Dr. Kreeft - "The most fundamental attack on truth is not evil or heresy but indifference. We are so corrupted by pop psychology that we think truth rises and sets in our own lap. "My truth" counts more than truth. "What I can feel comfortable with" is the new absolute. There is no passion. We have skim milk instead of blood in our veins."

Marcel LeJeune - Why do you think relativism, utilitarianism, and other modern (and ancient) philosophies are so attractive to modern people?

Dr. Kreeft - "Utilitarianism and relativism fit this perfectly. To see what these philosophies come to in practice, read BRAVE NEW WORLD, the most prophetic book of modern times."

Marcel LeJeune - What is the most important thing our college students need to know?

Dr. Kreeft - "The most important thing college students need to know is that life is not a puzzle to be solved by knowing the solution but a mystery to be lived honorably and honestly and with wonder."

Marcel LeJeune - Where can we learn more about the search for truth?

Dr. Kreeft - "Your fourth question is rather funny, like "I've just discovered that sex is fun; where can I find a book about it?" Or: "My house is on fire; where can I learn more about the physics of fire?" The most important things in life can be learned only by DOING them."
I highly recommend a reading of Jacob's Ladder. He is such a popular author because his style is easy to read, engaging, and he is honest in his approach to the big questions of life. If you want to see how to help others search for truth or find it yourself then give this book a read.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

10 Reasons The Catholic Church Should NOT Sell Her "Riches" And Give Them To The Poor

There are many who ask - why doesn't the Catholic Church sell all her paintings, buildings, expensive decorations, etc. and give them to the poor (and it is a good question to ask). The answer below.

10 Reasons The Catholic Church Should NOT Sell Her "Riches" And Give Them To The Poor
  1. The Catholic Church is not as "rich" as some might think. Most of her "riches" are tied up in assets that were given as gifts. More on this below. 
  2. What happens after all the money is gone? Then where does that get us? The poor are still poor and now the Church's art, buildings, etc. are in the hands of those that might not appreciate them or steward them as well as the Church. 
  3. The "Church" isn't just the hierarchy, it is all of us. The art, buildings, and even money is controlled by certain people, but belongs to all of us. The Pope and/or Bishops can't just sell everything off because they think it is a good idea. 
  4. The People of God have provided the Church with the riches she has. Therefore the people have a right to be able to have the intent of their donations honored. If I gave the Vatican a priceless work of art to preserve and they sold it to the highest bidder, I would be royally miffed. 
  5. Has anyone asked the poor if they want cash for church assets? If I were poor and gave my widow's mite to build a church and then you went and sold it without asking me I might just go apoplectic. Ask a poor and pious Catholic the next time you get the chance. 
  6. The Catholic Church does more to aid the poor than any other private organization already. This points out that the argument isn't about the poor or what the "riches" of the Catholic Church, but about the heart of men. Remember that many religious brothers, sisters, and priests take a vow of poverty and renounce everything for God. But, not all are called to this.
  7. The issue of poverty isn't about an amount of money (there is plenty to go around), but about personal greed, corruption, injustice, governmental problems, economic systems, etc. 
  8. The greatest need is spiritual poverty - not material poverty. Thus, the Church should use the gifts she has been given to erase this poverty first. 
  9. Worship of God is the first justice issue. We owe God our worship before we owe any other human anything. Thus, if art, buildings, gold vessels, etc. can aid us to worship God, then we are fulfilling the requirements of justice. 
  10. The total Vatican budget is about $365 million. Most large universities have this budget several times over. The Church's wealth wouldn't do much more for the poor. 
As you can probably see, the argument is quite simply answered by the following quote from Jesus:
"The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me." -Matt 26:11 
The purpose of serving the poor is to show your love of both God and man. What better way of showing love to both God and man, but by loving both in the person of Jesus Christ?