Series – Faith in America

TRUTH, FREEDOM, TRADITION, FRONTIERS:

THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN AMERICA

Saturdays, February 23 – May 4

From 1 to 2 in the church annex

               

     

Fr. Horkan will give talks on the heroes and heroines, the growth and the struggles, the past and future of the Catholic Church in America from the colonial days to the present.  

Feb. 23:     The Faith Comes to a New Land: The Church in Colonial America

March 2:    The Faith and Revolution: The Church and the Early Days of the United States

March 9:    The Faith in a Young Republic: The Church in Early 19th Century America

March 16:  The Faith as a Nation Grows: The Church in the Mid-19th Century America

March 23:  The Faith, War, Liberty and Industry: The Civil War and the Late 19th Century

March 30:  The Faith and Rising Powers: The Church in Early 20th Century America

April 6:      The Faith and Rapid Change: The Church in America during the 1920s and 30s

April 13:    The Faith in War and Peace: World War II and the Early Cold War

April 27:   The Faith Renewed and Challenged: Vatican II and the 1960s and 70s

May 4:      The Faith, Crisis and Initiative: The Church in America at the New Millennium

Lent and the flourishing of faith

On March 6, we will celebrate Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season. The term “Lent” comes from the old English word lenchen, which means springtime. The most obvious basis for this term is that Spring always begins during the Lenten season. But there is also a deeper connection. As the fields and lawns begin flourishing during springtime, so Lent is meant to bring about a flourishing of our faith. Following both Jewish and Christian traditions, the Catechism especially recommends acts of prayer, sacrifice and generosity towards others in order to bring about this springtime of faith. See Catechism 1434; Tobit 12:8; Matthew 6:1- 18.

To draw an analogy from agriculture, we need for a harvest the rain and sun from the sky, the plowing and preparing of the fields on the earth, and the planting of seeds in these fields. Likewise, in prayer we open our hearts and minds to the grace and light of heaven. In acts of sacrifice and penance, we prepare our souls, minds and bodies as fields of the Lord. And, in works of goodness, generosity and charity, we plant the seeds of faith in our homes and communities to bring forth a rich harvest of grace for the world.

And so, as Lent approaches, it is important to make definite resolutions about how we will be prayerful, self-sacrificing, and generous. Regarding prayer, one could make such resolutions as: (1) setting aside a certain amount of time each day with the Bible, devotions or simply informal prayer; (2) praying with the family or friends on a regular basis; (3) reading the Biblical passages for Mass ahead of time; (4) learning more about the saints and praying with them; or (5) praying for the dead, for family and friends and for people who are struggling.

Regarding sacrifice, disciplining of our desires prepares the way for the Lord. In our lives examples could include: (1) cutting back on television or the internet; (2) getting to bed and up in the morning a bit earlier; (3) giving up a favorite food for a time; (4) not insisting on temperature setting being exactly what one likes; or (5) taking regular time in silence to reflect upon one’s life, goals and relationship with God and others. Such sacrifices in turn enable us to make resolutions regarding generosity with others such as: (1) listening to others more; (2) thanking others for their efforts; (3) writing encouragingletters or emails, or calling those who would appreciate the attention; (4) giving extra time or resources to a worthy cause; or (5) simply performing one’s duties with more cheerfulness.

These ideas are but a few ways in which we can make this Lenten season a springtime of faith for us, the Church and all the world.

Good Works and the Flourishing of Faith

This article concludes this five part discussion of how to build, in a steady and consistent way, our friendship with God through His Son Jesus Christ. In particular, this article will focus on good works as the flourishing of faith.

We must of course remember that our call to this friendship and finally to glory in heaven is a free gift, which no amount of good works can earn. Our status as sons and daughters of God not only begins by divine grace, but is carried out and completed through this power of God. However, we must choose to continue to accept this gift through our faith, hope and love of God; and if these virtues are real, they will include good works. For, as St. James wrote, “Faith, by itself if it has no works, is dead.” James 2:17.

It is not only that authentic faith manifests itself in a better life and that good works make the faith attractive to others, as important as those facts are. It is also the case that, if we act in a manner called for by God and His Church, our relationship with Him, and with the communion of saints, will grow and become more joy-filled. By contrast, if we act in a fashion contrary to the callings of God and His Church, such faith, hope and charity will decline and eventually vanish, as Jesus illustrates in the parable of the houses built upon rock and upon sand. See Matt. 5:24-27. In living this life both worthy of God and leading to greater relationship with Him, it is important to begin by keeping the commandments, especially the Ten Commandments.

For, as Jesus told the rich young man, “If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” Matt. 19:17. But, as He also made clear to that man, we are called to go further than simply keeping the commandments; we are called to a life of heroic virtue, each in our own way. And, in discerning how to act with generosity, courage and divine love, we should set our sights high. Thus, for example, it is a good idea for all people regularly to read the Sermon on the Mount, which sets forth the overall principles of a Christian life, and consider how we are fulfilling those sacred words. Likewise, learning about the saints and praying with them should inspire us to live in a manner worthy of their company, now and for all time.

And, of course, we should always ask how we would act if we actually saw Jesus, Mary and the angels and saints with us. For they are with us now; and we strive one day to see them, and be welcomed by them, in eternal glory.

The Universal Call to Holiness

Fr. Paul Murray, a professor in Rome, often recounts an event that occurred when he was a Dominican novice. One of the older Dominicans was well known for his prayerfulness, charity, kindness, and holiness of life. And so some of the novices asked him, “What is you secret to holiness?” He responded, “Don’t tell the Jesuits this, but this is the secret: there is no secret. Our secret is the Gospels.”

He was making a point that the Church has made many times when refuting Gnosticism, a heresy that among other things maintains that one must be initiated into secrets to be truly holy. The Vatican II Council, following the Bible, instead says that all people are called to the heights of sanctity. See Lumen Gentium (1965) 40; Catechism 2103. Likewise, Saint Paul describes the whole Christian community as the “holy ones” or those “called to be holy.” See, e.g., Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:2; Eph. 1:1; Col. 1:1.

And what is holiness? According to St. Thomas Aquinas, holiness means purity of the soul and a consistent dedication to God; to be holy means being more and more free from sin constant, unflinching friends of God. See Summa Theologica II-II, question 81, article 8. In achieving such holiness, some common sense is very helpful. First, it is important to be regularly working on goals that free us from sin and bring us union with God.

Taking from prayer a definite resolution each day and each week (e.g., speaking well of others, kindness to a co-worker, listening without interrupting, working on project that one has been putting off) gradually builds a life of holiness as a mansion is built one brick or stone at a time. Second, it is important to be careful about the images one is putting into the mind through such things as entertainment, social media and the news.

There is a saying among the Cherokees. Within every man there is a wolf of kindness, bravery and love and a wolf of greed, cowardice and hatred; the one who wins is the one you feed. Third, it is important to keep good company and friends, both on earth and with the communion of saints. We have to deal with people in the world, good, bad and indifferent.

But we should be wise in choosing those we trust and spend time with, and those whom we are influenced by. Fourth, we should both delight in the good things that God has given us and recognize that sacrifices are needed to join in the ministry of Christ, who sacrificed Himself to us. In that way, both joy and sorrow, like the sun and the rain, will make our lives fruitful in prayer and good works here and bring us to the new heavens and new earth.

Prayer and The Journey to God

Last week’s article introduced the topic of advancing in prayer, holiness, intellect and good deeds and emphasized the importance of prayer. This article will summarize some advice from the Catechism and spiritual masters on developing a steady, joyful and courageous life of prayer.

To begin with, we should recognize the many different types of prayer and ask how best to build upon Sunday Mass and regular Confession. To begin with, the Church has a rich liturgical tradition, including Mass (offered here daily) and the Divine Office, a series of prayers that priests and religious brothers and sisters offer daily; the Book of Christian Prayer has a simpler version of The Divine Office.

Another source of prayer is with the Scriptures, which one can read each day. One can either read a large portion of Scripture at once or engage in what is often called lectio divina, a prayerful reading of a small portion of the Bible at a time, such as one Psalm or event in the Gospels. The insights of great spiritual masters, such as St. Augustine, St. Francis de Sales, St. Theresa of Avila, or St. Therese of Lisieux can be a springboard to prayer as well, as can other books and periodicals, including Magnificat, which provides the Mass readings and other prayers for each day.

In another direction, devotions, such as the rosary, Divine Mercy Chaplet, Stations of the Cross, or prayers associated with saints unite our efforts together. Such devotions employ the same prayers numerous times, not merely for repetition, but rather as bridges that enable the mind to enter deeply into contemplation of a subject, such as the mysteries of the Rosary, the image of Divine Mercy, or the presence of the saints. Also helpful is informal prayer, in which we simply describe to God our hopes, fears, requests, thanksgiving, repentance, and good intentions. And we listen to Him speaking to us in the depth of our hearts with inspirations, ideas, encouragement, and resolution that can be expressed in words, but are often beyond them. As the Catechism points out, prayer is sometimes delightful and easy, and sometimes a battle. See Catechism 2728 – 2733.

When we receive clear joy and inspiration from God, we should thank Him for it and seek to share this joy with others. When prayer in more difficult, we should recognize that God is calling us away from what is easy to a humble, courageous path that involves trust that He will ever guide us, as He guided the Apostles in the boat in Galilee, through wind and storms to the shores of truth, grace and divine light. See Matthew 14:22-27; Mark 6:45-52; John 6:16-21.

Ordinary Time and Steady Growth

This week, we began the first part of what is called Ordinary Time in the Church’s liturgical year. Ordinary Time is thirty-three or thirty-four weeks of the year that are not in the Advent, Christmas, Lent, or Easter seasons. The term ordinary here does not mean commonplace or uneventful, but is rather based upon Latin terms ordo and ordinalis, which imply regular, steady, ordered growth. That is one reason why the color for ordinary time is green, the color of things such as trees, bushes and many crops that grow in an orderly way over the course of time. The idea is that we are meant to focus on how our spiritual lives of prayer, virtue, charity, and evangelization are growing in a regular and steady fashion. This and the next four articles will focus on this regular, steady growth in prayer, in holiness of life, in intellect and in good deeds.

To begin with, we should have a regular, consistent life of prayer. The two continual requirements of prayer for Catholics are:

(1) attendance at Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation; and (2) the regular receipt of the sacrament of Reconciliation.

These universal requirements are meant to be the foundation of a regular life of prayer that can in turn be lived out in many different ways. As the Catechism says, Christian “prayer is the living relationship of the children of God with their Father who is good beyond all measure, with His Son Jesus Christ and with the Holy Spirit.” And as such, “prayer and the Christian life are inseparable.” Catechism 2565, 2745.

Part IV of the Catechism gives much advice on prayer and then gives an extensive commentary on the Lord’s Prayer that in turn describes our relationship with God and the many things that we should pray for. Reading this part of the Catechism, which is about 75 pages in the most common translation, will help one understand what prayer is, know better the more the many sources, motives and ways of prayer, and fully appreciate the effort needed for this most noble quest.

Other guides to prayer, such as Fr. Thomas Dubay’s very accessible 2002 book Prayer Primer or St. Francis de Sales’ 17th century classic Introduction to the Devout Life, can also be very helpful. These and other sources of wisdom from the Church and her saints can help us worthily and joyfully set aside daily space for prayer and so progress steadily as sons and daughters of God.

Next week’s article will discuss some ways of prayer and advice from the Catechism and the great spiritual masters to advance in this path of God.

The Life Baptism Calls Us To

This weekend, we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus, which concludes the Christmas season and begins Ordinary Time. It is a good occasion to reflect upon the continual effect of baptism upon us. For, while we receive baptism only once in our lives, the effects are meant to continue throughout this life and into eternity. Thus, when we bless ourselves with holy water upon entering or leaving a church, we are meant to be reminded of our baptismal calling and receive the strength and grace to carry it out. The Catechism describes five effects of baptism for all Christians and an additional effect for Catholics. See Catechism 1262 – 1271.

First, baptism gives us forgiveness of sins, both original sin and personal sins. In this earthly pilgrimage, we then strive to remain free from sins so that we can live as sons and daughters of God. Gaining this status as sons and daughters of God is the second effect of baptism. And as such, we are in training each day to become princes and princesses of the celestial realms. The third effect of baptism is that we are given the virtues of faith, hope and charity, through which we have a personal relationship with God, in our intellect, plans and desires.

Through prayer and openness to the will of God, we are meant daily to develop this relationship, not merely as an abstract statement of beliefs, but rather a life with God through Jesus Christ. And this treasure of friendship with God is not only for ourselves, but is rather to be shared with other people and in union with the Church. And so the fourth effect of baptism is an openness to the Holy Spirit, through which we bring the kingdom of God to the world, as assuredly as the first Christians did after Pentecost. And we make this light shine on in the world not only by words, but also by our deeds and view of others, which implies the fifth result of baptism, while the moral virtues are available to all people, Christian or non-Christian, baptism also confirms these virtues, which are ways of being an excellent human being, and thus helps the light of Christ shine on more in our lives.

Finally, a Catholic baptism in particular makes a person a member of the Catholic Church and thus a full part of the kingdom of God on earth, united with the faithful throughout time and space. It is important to remember daily each one of these effects and ask how it is that we are living them out in practice on this journey into the love of God.

Epiphany and the Gifts For Jesus

This weekend, we celebrate the Epiphany, when the magi from the East came to honor the Christ child. They were a first promise of the gathering of all nations around Jesus, from His childhood to His public ministry to His death, and finally to Him risen from the dead and with us now in His Church and especially in the Eucharist. And as they presented Him and His family with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, it is helpful to ask what gifts we provide for Jesus here and now.

The gold, frankincense and myrrh were both historical gifts offered long ago, and also symbols of the offerings of all the faithful. Gold was both fitting for a king, and practical for the Holy Family in their travels and establishment of a new home. And likewise, we offer God the honor due to our great King, abiding by His guidance as we welcome His Son. And we offer Him and His people the practical things of our lives, our time, treasure, talents, and good deeds, which make His Church more present on this earth

Frankincense, and incense generally, is a frequent element of worship in many religions. It reflects both our prayers rising up to heaven and the cloud of mystery and aura of holiness surrounding the divine, as with the cloud surrounding Mount Sinai and later Mount Tabor at the Transfiguration. Incense thus represents our prayers and lives of holiness, which unite the heavens and earth together.

All religious include prayers, but in the Christian faith, we know that the Son of God unites our prayers with the prayers of the angels and saints throughout space and time. God really does listen to us and speaks to us in the depths of our hearts. But to enter into this friendship with God, we must travel with His Son through Calvary to the Resurrection. And the gift of myrrh reflects this sacrificial journey.

Myrrh was a strange gift for a child, being an ointment used at burials, both for the scent and preservation of the body. It symbolized Christ’s future redeeming suffering and death, and the call for us to offer our lives in union with Jesus. The good news is that the struggles of this life are not merely burdens, but ways of bringing the power of the Cross to this earth.

And so, with the Magi, with the boy who offered loaves and fishes at the famous miracle, with the widow who offered two coins and the disciples who offered their lives, we are meant to offer God loyalty to His laws and practical help, prayers and lives of holiness, faithful sacrifices and patient struggles. Thus will we honor Christ now on earth and one day be welcome by Him into eternal joy.

Beginning the New Year With Mary

On Tuesday, we begin the new year by honoring Mary as the Mother of God. And it is only fitting to begin this and every year by celebrating Mary, the new Eve, who began the new age of grace with her most pure life and complete openness to the will of God. This celebration is a helpful occasion to discuss what we mean by saying Mary is the Mother of God and the implications of this teaching.

In 431, the Council of Ephesus definitively proclaimed that is the Mother of God. Just before that time, the Patriarch Nestorius of Constantinople denied that Mary should be called the Mother of God; rather he said that Mary should only be called the Mother of Jesus the Christ. For he believed that the divine Son of God and the human Jesus Christ were two completely separate people, with the human Jesus fully open to the Son, but not truly united at the core. And so he maintained that the divine Son of God was not truly born upon earth, nor lived and earthy life, nor died upon Calvary nor rose from the dead, nor is with us in the Holy Eucharist. In response, under Pope Celestine I and the Emperor Theodosus II, the Church called a great Council at Ephesus, the city where Mary lived with John the Apostle at the end of her life. Led by the great theologian St. Cyril of Alexandria, the Council declared, with the Pope’s approval, that it is a matter of Catholic faith that one person, the Son of God has both the divine nature of the Trinity in eternity and the human nature of Jesus Christ beginning at the Incarnation. Thus, the divine Son of God, through His human nature, was born, lived, died, rose again, and is with us until the end of time. And thus also the Church affirmed that the divine Son of God truly had and has for all time Mary as His mother.

And because we are, by adoption brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, Mary is also our mother. Likewise, because the Church is the body of Christ, Mary is rightfully called mother of the family of God that is the Church. As with all families, there will be shortcomings, disagreements and struggles. But, as with all families, our mother Mary gathers us together for joyful prayer and good works, especially at the holy Mass. And one day she will gather all the faithful from every time and place to the city of her Son, the heavenly Jerusalem, and we hope on that day to say with Mary forever, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Luke 1:46-47.
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Celebrating the Entire Christmas Season

On Monday night and Tuesday we will begin the joyful celebration of Christmas. And we should remember that Christmas Day is only the beginning, not the end of the Christmas season.

The Church celebrates the Christmas season from Christmas Eve until the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord, which is celebrated this year on Sunday, January 13. And in between these glorious days, there are a number of sacred times that bring out the full splendor and joy of this time. Complementing Christmas Day as high points of the season are three other great occasions: the Solemnities of Epiphany and Mary, the Mother of God and the Feast of the Holy Family. Epiphany is traditionally celebrated on January 6, the twelfth day of Christmas and recalls the veneration of Jesus and the Holy Family by the Magi, a first promise of the gathering of all peoples to Jesus. The Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God fitting begins the new year with the guidance of Mary, who is Jesus’ mother and our mother. And the Feast of the Holy Family occurs on the first Sunday after Christmas, both to honor the first family of the new age of grace and to consecrate every family so that our homes and towns become new Bethlehems and new Nazaraths, welcoming Jesus to this world.

In the four days right after Christmas are also the feasts of: St. John the Apostle the youngest apostle; St. Stephen the first Christian martyr; the Holy Innocents, the first children to be consecrated to Christ through their deaths in Bethlehem; and St. Thomas a Becket who courageously defended the freedom of the Church in the twelfth century. It is ironic that three of these four days involve people who were killed for Christ and His Church. But their inclusion in this time reflects the fact that Christian joy and hope does not lead to mere contentment, but rather leads us, for the sake of the Gospel, to oppose the false joys and cynicism of world. Following these days are the memorials of St. Pope Sylvester I (December 31) and Saints Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen (January 2) who in the fourth century strongly defended the central truth that Jesus Christ is true God and true man. On January 3, the Church then venerates the Most Holy Name of Jesus, the name given by the angel. We then celebrate the memorials of two early American saints Elizabeth Ann Seton and John Neumann (January 4 and 5) and the great early Dominican leader St. Raymond of Penafort (January 7.)

All of these glorious days help us conclude and begin each year with a sense of joyful and courageous renewal as we welcome Jesus into our lives and bring His love to the world.