Pray Without Ceasing

There are few things I need more than I need silence.  I think it’s because I’m not good at being quiet on the inside if there’s activity and noise going on around me.  Without that interior silence, my prayer life suffers.  When I was younger, I’d notice how hard it was to pray at times, but I didn’t really connect my struggles with a lack of silence.  When you’re young you tend to push through things, or at least I did.  My favorite problem-solving technique was full-speed ahead until I moved past obstacles by brute force.  As I grew in age and maturity, I realized this probably wasn’t always the best method to employ.  Especially in matters of faith, it helps to slow down, to listen, and to invite reflection.

But finding silence and time is a difficult thing to do.  Sometimes I’d feel like I was chasing a dry leaf across the grass as it’s blown and tumbled by the wind, always just out of my grasping hands.  Grasping.  And that’s what it feels like, trying to grab some time and some quiet as it tumbles away from me.  But silence is like happiness: the harder you run after it, the more it slips away from you.  You have to make a home for silence.  Only when you stop trying to grasp a few minutes of peace and quiet and instead actively create it in you day, will you find it.

My prayer life was transformed when I began to pray the Liturgy of the Hours.  This is the ancient prayer of the Church which marks the hours of each day.  Mainly consisting of Psalms, hymns, Scripture, and other holy writings, the Hours (along with the Mass) compose the public prayer of the Church.  Priests and deacons pray the LOTH as part of their vocation, but lay people are also encouraged to incorporate it into their daily prayers, too.

I pray them because it helps me to sanctify my time to the Lord.  I’m not going to say that I always pray each one of the seven groups of prayers through the day and night.  I don’t.  But I try to.  It teaches me to humbly put myself in adoration of God.  The LOTH connects me to the rest of the Church as we all pray the same words, around the world.  It’s been described as “the voice of the Bride to the Bridegroom” and I think that’s both an accurate and a beautiful description.  It helps me to pray at a deeper level than I’d pray “on my own.”  Sometimes my spontaneous prayers focus too much on my feelings and while feelings are important, they don’t define my relationship with God.  I pray with my intellect and my will, as well—praying when I don’t feel like it, when I can’t find the words to pray, and when I don’t think I need to pray at all.  These prayers draw me out of myself and into a place where I can forget my own words and begin to hear the voice of God.  Praying the Psalms does this especially well for me.

Jesus would have prayed the Psalms several times a day, as a Jew.  The earliest Christians, many of whom were converts from Judaism, would have also followed this practice.  So the LOTH help me follow this ancient practice of “praying without ceasing”( I Thessalonians 5:16).  When I pray the Hours, I feel a strong connection to the disciples and to Jesus Himself.  In my mouth are the same words He used when talking with the Father.  I’m reminded that my prayer life isn’t all about me, after all.  I need that reminder.

Praying the Liturgy of the Hours guarantees that I’ll include times of silence and reflection in my day.  Rather than just hoping I’ll squeeze in a few moments of prayer in the morning and at bedtime, the Hours carve out little invitations throughout the day and night.  I use an app on my mobile phone which means I won’t forget and all the readings for each day are conveniently gathered in one place for me.  I need the discipline that the Hours give me in deepening and increasing my prayer life.  I need to step off the hamster wheel a few times each day and silently pray and listen.  If this sounds like you, take a moment and explore the Liturgy of the Hours.  These are prayed by believers from many Christian traditions and may be just what you need to grow in your spiritual life.

“Our greatest need is to be silent before this great God…”

—-St. John of the Cross.

It’s Personal

You can never be good enough. You can never be kind enough. You can try as hard as you can, but you’ll never be humble enough or generous enough or merciful enough. You can strive every day to be patient and long-suffering, but it won’t work. You’ll never make it, no matter how virtuous and “good” you are and how hard and tirelessly you try.

You see, there’s nothing you can do to make God love you more.

Unlike all other religions, from Islam to Buddhism to animism, Christianity teaches its followers that God loves them totally and completely, just as they are. His love for you and for me is dependent on NOTHING that we can ever do or say. His love is His Nature and is contingent on nothing else.

Accepting this fact is life-changing. This is pure, unconditional love and most of us find it a radically-new experience. Only the love of parents can mirror in a human way the perfect love of God for His children. Far too many of us believe that we’re not worthy of this kind of overwhelming love. Somewhere deep inside of us is a list of stuff we think we have to do in order to MAKE God love us. I have to read the Bible more often. I have to tithe. I have to volunteer for more ministry work. Nope. To repeat: there’s nothing you can do to make God love you more. He already loves you perfectly. All you have to do is to accept that love.

There’s more good news, too. God is not impressed when you think you aren’t worthy of His love. In fact, there’s NOTHING you can do that will make God love you any less. Think about that for a minute. Probably you’ve always believed that when you do bad things, what we call “sin,” it makes God love you less. But it doesn’t. God IS love—–it’s His very Nature. He can’t not love you, no matter what you do or what you think of yourself.

Does your sin disappoint the Lord? Sure it does. It offends Him and it distances you from Him when you choose to sin. If it’s a serious sin, it can cut you off from a relationship with Him and endanger your immortal soul. It’s serious. But even in the middle of your worst possible sin—–God loves you just the same. One of my favorite Scripture verses promises us this: “…while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”(Romans 5:8). Before we even knew Him, He suffered and died for us on the Cross. That’s incredible love. It’s beyond our human imagination. And I think that’s part of why we can’t consider ourselves worthy of His love.

We please God when we take Him up on that love. When we turn away from our sin (repent) we find Him already there, already and always there, waiting to welcome us into His friendship. He’s never been anywhere else.

His love calls us into loving each other. This means loving even most the unlovable among us. That means loving sinners. Just like you and me. And it means forgiving people who have wronged us, even if they don’t apologize and even if we’re still angry or hurting. Forgiving others is being like Jesus, and when we love and forgive one another, it pleases Him.

Sometimes it’s tempting to make our faith really complicated. But the heart of it is pretty simple: to love and forgive others as Christ loves and forgives us. He wants to have an intimate relationship with us. We believe that Jesus rose from the grave on Easter morning. He wants to raise you from the dead, too. He wants you to know that you ARE good enough and kind enough—that none of your sins have changed how much He loves you. He wants you to know that you belong to Him, and you always will.

“God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.”

—-St. Augustine (354-430 AD)

The Question

There’s a story in the Gospel that I seem to always come back to in my readings and study. I wouldn’t exactly call it a favorite of mine because, in a way, it makes me a bit uncomfortable. But over the years I’ve found that if something in Sacred Scripture makes you uncomfortable, you need to pay attention. Sometimes those passages that trouble or confound us are exactly the ones that God most wants us to hear and understand. In my case, one of these troublesome passages is the story of Bartimaeus which St. Mark describes in the tenth chapter of his Gospel. We see Jesus and the Apostles on the journey to Jerusalem, with a large crowd following them. Christ makes it clear that He is going there to be jailed and killed and that He will rise again on the third day. James and John are intrigued and they ask Jesus to let them sit beside Him in heaven. He explains to them that His will for them all is that they serve one another, rather than seek personal authority or power. As they are leaving the city of Jericho, they pass by Bartimaeus, a blind beggar sitting at the side of the road. When Bartimaeus hears that Jesus is nearby, he cries out to Him: “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me” (Mark 10:42). Many in the crowd rebuke him, telling him to be quiet, but he keeps calling to Jesus. Christ tells the crowd to let Bartimaeus come to Him, which he does. When he gets to Jesus, the Lord asks him: “What do you want Me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51).

And that’s the question from my Savior that never fails to astound me.  Because I know Jesus is asking me the same question.  “Judy, what do you want me to do for you?” The Creator of the universe is stopping by to see me, in the midst of all my sin to ask me if He can be my servant.  He wants to stop everything and listen to my pleading voice.  And what do I say to Him?  What do I want from Jesus? This is one of the most radical and countercultural truths of our Christian faith:  God wants us to tell Him what we want from Him.  On the way to His Passion, He wants us to ask even more of Him.  Within sight of His death on a Cross, for our sins, He stops to ask, “What do you want Me to do for you?” What love!  What absolute Love He has for us!  To be loved by Love Himself.  God comes to us to ask to be our servant and to offer Himself for our needs.  His love is all-consuming and is most ultimately consumated on His Holy Cross, where He gives everything for you and for me.

How do we answer Christ’s heart-stopping question?  For we know that in our answer we’ll reveal the truth of our relationship with Him.  Like John and James, do we desire honor and glory?  Do we want a bigger house, a better job, more influence, more recognition?  Do we desire forgiveness?  Like Bartimaeus, do we seek to be set free from darkness?  Or do we fear God so much that we can’t imagine asking Him for anything?  Will our answer to His question be to ask something for someone else?  Will we reveal love in our hearts in our unselfish plea?  What is our deepest desire, our most heartfelt yearning:?  A cure?  A vision?  A favor?

We can find an answer in Bartimaeus himself.  He casts himself on Christ’s great mercy and cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.”  He asks to be set free, “I want to see.”  Christ assures him that his faith has saved him.  And then we read, “Immediately he received his sight and followed Him on the way”(Mark 10:52).  Isn’t this what happens when we approach the mercy of God in the Sacrament of Confession?  We cast ourselves on Jesus’ mercy and ask Him to set us free from our sins, from our blindness.  And God never fails.  Our faith saves us, we get up, and we follow Him.  Like Bartimaeus, we’ve been set free by our Servant Savior.  Never doubt God’s great love for you and His desire to set you free from your sin, whatever it might be.  Get up and follow Him.

Confession heals, confession justifies, confession grants pardon of sin, all hope consists in confession; in confession there is a chance for mercy.

St. Isidore of Seville

The Mercy of God

“…and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”(Matthew 6:12). The mercy of God is freely given to all who follow Christ and the words of this prayer which He taught us. God forgives us as we forgive others. We pray this at every Sunday Mass, letting the familiar words form in our mouths as we have done since childhood. We are confident in them. They have become a pillar of faith. And like the pillars that support the church, we often ignore them, or peer around them to see other, more interesting things. 

We sometimes forget that God’s mercy depends on our mercy to the people who have wronged us. We sing songs about His amazing grace, but rarely include themes of our own mercy in our hymns. Our forgiveness hinges on our willingness to forgive other people. If we hold onto grudges and slights, we condemn ourselves. Mercy is an exchange of God’s grace, like living water that flows into and out of a sacred pool. The Dead Sea collects all the water from a great and flourishing area of land, but it has no outlet. And because of that, it is lifeless and saline. We’re like that, too. If all we do is accept God’s mercy without sharing it with others, then our own spiritual life begins to die. Oh, but forgiving others is so hard. Yes, it’s hard. In fact, it’s impossible. Which is why we can’t do it without the Holy Spirit. Only God can help us to love like He does and to forgive like He forgives. We have to grow in humility so that our pride doesn’t interfere with His grace.  

Jesus teaches us about this when He says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”(Matthew 5:3). We have to know our own sinfulness and spiritual poverty in order to have a heart that is open to grace. You’ve got to know how very much you need the love of Christ and that, without Him, you’re lost. That realization can be hard for some folks. It goes against our modern ideas of self-sufficiency and pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps. Spiritual growth isn’t like that at all. Becoming more like Jesus means becoming less self-reliant and more dependent on Him. It goes against the wisdom of the world.  

Forgiving others isn’t an emotion, it’s an act of the will; a decision that you make. You don’t have to “feel” forgiving to forgive. And it’s not forgetting what was done to you—that’s denial. You don’t become a doormat. Forgiving is letting go of your right to be right. It means letting go of your right to revenge. God is in charge of justice—not you. And forgiving doesn’t mean that the other person has to admit they’re wrong. You forgive, no matter how they act towards you. This is about your relationship with God. Jesus forgave people who hadn’t repented and maybe never would. And we have to do the same. Every time you think of that person who has wronged you, say, “I forgive you”—whether you mean it or not at that moment. And then pray the Jesus prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Pairing these two together reminds us how very much we need God’s forgiveness and how entwined that mercy is with our forgiveness of others. Our Lord never intended for us to live our faith in isolation. He lived His life in a family and a Church and He left us a Church in which we may journey together, forgive together, and learn to love together. And every Sunday Mass we stand together and pray,”…forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Amen.

In The Army

It’s been said that in order to win any war, you have to know three things: that you ARE at war, who your enemies are, and what weapons or strategies can defeat them. If you’re a Christian, then you’re at war. St. Paul wrote a lot about the war we’re in: the war of faith. Personally, each of us is called to “fight the good fight of the faith” (I Timothy 6:12). It’s our daily struggle to live our life in submission to the will of God. We struggle against the inclinations of our own natures which were broken by original sin. We also fight against sinister spiritual forces whose purpose is our downfall (Ephesians 6:12). And on a larger scale, we are members of the Church Militant, the members of God’s own family struggling to reach our heavenly home.

But some of us aren’t being very good soldiers. The old joke tells of the pastor standing at the church doors, shaking hands with the people as they leave after Mass. As Joe tries to pass by, the priest grabs him by the hand and pulls him aside. “Joe,” says the pastor, “you need to join the army of God!” Joe replies, “I’m already in the army of God, Father.” “Then how come I only see you here at Christmas and Easter?,” the priest asks. And Joe whispers back, “Sssshhhh….I’m in the Secret Service.”

Unfortunately for Joe, the fight we are in doesn’t have light duty or rear guard positions. We’re all on the front lines every day. If you aren’t fully prepared and personally engaged in the battle, you’re headed for defeat. So how do we “fight the good fight?” We submit ourselves to the will of God. We obey His commandments–all ten of them–and we cultivate our relationship with God and our neighbor. St. Paul tells Timothy (and us) to “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness” (I Timothy 6:11). By keeping the “new” commandment of loving God and our neighbor, we wage war against our selfish natures, the lure of the world, and the workings of Satan.

Some Christians believe that the battle was won when Christ conquered sin and death once and for all on the Cross. And He did win the victory, but the number of casualties is still to be determined. As long as so many of us believe there is no battle, that we’re guaranteed heaven no matter what we do, then the casualties will mount. Satan delights when the children of Christ deny his existence and allow him to gain a foothold in the body of Christ. If the battle was over, St. Paul wouldn’t tell us to “put on the armor of God”(Ephesians 6:11). You don’t need armor if you aren’t headed into battle. We must wear truth as our belt, justice as our breastplate, zeal for the Gospel as our shoes, faith as our shield, salvation as our helmet and the word of God as our sword. In other words, we must immerse ourselves in the Church that God gave to us as the pillar of truth (I Timothy 3:15). The Church gives us the Sacraments founded by Jesus as the source of His grace. In them, we are joined to Christ in baptism, strengthened in confirmation, forgiven in confession, and nourished by His Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist. Only by living each day as loving members of His Church can we encourage and support one another in the journey towards the battle’s final, forever victory.

“Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather the sword!” — Luke 12:51

Christ On The Battlefield

This past Memorial Day we remembered the men and women of our armed services who have given their lives for our country. We are blessed to enjoy our freedoms which were purchased through their great sacrifice. Among the thousands of stories of bravery and selflessness are those of the many chaplains who serve God and His flock in the battlefields of war. America has had chaplains of all faiths since the time of the Revolutionary War. There are currently about 2900 chaplains on active duty. They provide care and comfort in all kinds of situations and settings. And in the course of their service, 406 chaplains have lost their lives. In World War II alone, 182 chaplains were killed and 158 chaplains were lost in the Civil War. All of their lives and sacrifices are noteworthy but a few are extraordinary examples of unselfish love and devotion.

World War II saw our government enlisting civilian ships to transport troops and supplies across the Atlantic to the war in Europe. One of these transport ships, the USAT Dorchester, was torpedoed by a German submarine off the coast of Newfoundland.  On board were 904 troops including 4 chaplains: a Methodist minister, a rabbi, a Catholic priest, and a minister of the Reformed Church. As the ship floundered, the four men helped others into the lifeboats, even giving up their own life jackets to help others. Witnesses reported seeing the chaplains joining arms and praying together as the ship sank. They say they heard the chaplains praying to God in English, Hebrew, and Latin. Only 230 men survived the attack and surely many of those lives were saved through the heroic actions of “The Four Chaplains” who perished at sea on February 3, 1943.

Father Emil Kapaun was a Catholic priest who served in the Army during the Korean War. As the troops fought their way northward, Fr. Kapaun constantly ministered to the wounded and dying. He baptized and heard confessions and celebrated Mass on the hood of his jeep. Several times his Mass kit and jeep were lost to enemy fire. On October 7, 1950 he was captured by the North Korean army and taken to a prisoner of war camp. During the bitter winter, he did all he could to minister to his fellow prisoners and to improve the conditions and morale of the men. He would steal food to feed the starving and steal medicine to treat the sick. Letting his own health suffer, Fr. Kapaun developed a blood clot in his leg as well as dysentery and pneumonia.  And yet he continued his priestly service as long as he could. On May 23, 1951, Fr. Kapaun died in the prison hospital. On April 11, 2013 President Obama awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously to the chaplain. In 1993, the Catholic Church named Fr. Kapaun a “servant of God” which began his case for possible sainthood. Since that time, the Church has investigated several purported miracles attributed to Fr. Kapaun’s intercession.

Finally, the story of Father Tim Vakoc unfolded on the battlefields of Iraq. To date, Fr. Tim is the only chaplain to have been killed in action in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Fr. Tim was born in Minnesota and after his ordination he served as a pastor before enlisting as an Army chaplain in 1996. In 2003, his unit was deployed to Iraq. He served in Mosul, offering the sacraments to men involved in some of the heaviest fighting of the war. On May 29, 2004, the twelfth anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood, his Humvee was struck by a roadside bomb and he sustained a severe brain injury. He died on June 20, 2009 at a nursing home in Minnesota. He was just 49 years old.

The love of God suffuses the world, leaving no spot without His grace. Even on battlefields and sinking ships. Even in shattered Humvees and dark and cold prison camps. God is close to the brokenhearted, the lame, the suffering, those terrified and facing death. The brave and loving chaplains who answer His call of service bring God to the hearts and souls of the men and women who fight our wars for us. Too often their duties and sacrifices are lost in the fog of battle. But these chaplains serve in the trenches of the heart and their victories have eternal consequences. Remember them in your prayers and thank them when they return home to serve us here. God bless our faithful chaplains.

“The safest place for me to be is in the center of God’s will, and if that is in the line of fire, that is where I will be,”

—Father Tim Vakoc, in a letter to his sister

Read This Book

People are hungry for good books on our Christian faith. Without hesitation, the first one I recommend (after the Bible, of course) is “The Great Divorce” by C.S.Lewis. It’s a small book, just a little over a hundred pages. You can easily read it all in an evening. And you couldn’t spend your time any better, in my opinion. Lewis takes us on a bus ride from hell to heaven and along the way, he explains our faith in words and images we can easily understand. This is good theology for us average folk. We hear the stories of the traveler’s lives and we see ourselves revealed in them. Lewis is one of us, he uses language and references we can understand. And he’s gifted in helping us grasp the great truths of our Christian faith in his “little” stories like this one.

“The Great Divorce” opens in a sad, dark city called “the grey town.” Our narrator encounters others who are there with him and he learns their stories as they travel together on a bus to — who knows where. As they travel, we come to understand more about what heaven is and what hell is. We learn the part that our own choices in life play on our journey to our final home. Much of the despairing imagery of the grey town comes from Lewis’ own experience of wartime London, as the book was published in 1945. I don’t want to give away too much of this story, because I hope you’ll want to experience it for yourself. If you’re like me, you’ll never think of heaven or hell in quite the same way again.

And here’s the thing: all of us are on that journey to our real life in eternity. We are all undergoing a spiritual transformation, as Lewis says: We are becoming either “immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” That image stops me in my tracks. Created in God’s own likeness, I believe that I’m destined to live forever—the question is, where will that be? We are all given choices to make and these choices (or refusals to choose) shape our souls. When we choose Christ, He makes His home in us (Ephesians 3:16-17). When we deny Christ, we take a different path. But we are in the unfolding process of “becoming.” Lewis says, “There are no ordinary people—only those on their way to becoming devils or glorified creatures like the angels.” Of course, he doesn’t mean that we actually become either devils or angels. We are always human, but oh, the variety of light and dark, of virtue and of sin that we contain.

Our journey has two eventual destinations. Through Christ, we become more heavenly, more in harmony with God, our fellow humans, and ourselves. Or we choose another path and become more hellish—at war with God, our fellow humans, and ourselves. These “becomings” are at the heart of the story Lewis shares in “The Great Divorce.” In our glimpses into the lives of the characters, we’re also confronted with our ideas of both heaven and hell and what they might be like. Lewis’ vision doesn’t include harps and clouds, or lakes of fire. Heaven is a place of infinite realty, where all the beauty we have ever known is a pale imitation of God’s home for us. The closer we get to heaven, the more intense the beauty is and the more there is to experience ahead of us. Each moment is ecstasy. For those who choose a different path, reality becomes smaller, darker, duller, and more self-absorbed. It’s the saddest, most lifeless of realities you could imagine. Lewis is a master storyteller.

Our souls are being formed at every moment, and with every breath. You and I are, at this very instant, becoming either more heavenly or more hellish. We are becoming more and more like Jesus or we are walking down another path. Our ultimate destination isn’t something forced upon us, but is a place and a process we actively choose and embrace. Read this little book. Make your choice.

“While others plan your funeral, decide on a casket, a burial plot, and who the pallbearers shall be, you will be more alive than you’ve ever been.”
—-Erwin Lutzer

Everlasting Hope

A tribal chief lay dying. He summoned three of his people and said, “I must select a successor. Climb our holy mountain and return with the most precious gift you can find.” The first brought back a huge gold nugget. The second brought back a priceless gem. The third returned empty-handed saying, “When I reached the mountaintop, I saw on the other side a beautiful land, where people could go for a better life.” The chief said, “You shall succeed me. You’ve brought back the most precious gift of all: a vision of a better tomorrow.”

The hope of a better future, of a brighter day ahead seems a universal human dream. Every heart yearns for happiness. As Christians, we believe that God has placed this yearning in our hearts because He loves us and wants us to be happy. And we know that the fulfillment of all our human desires lies in our union with God. He created us with a God-sized hole in our hearts that only He can fill. As St. Augustine wrote, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” But it wasn’t always like that. In the Garden, our first parents were created out of intimate union and love with God. His very breath gave them life and their intimacy with Him was perfect and beyond all our imagining. Somewhere deep inside our own DNA we “remember” that bliss and long for it as we long for that shared breath of life with God. It was sin that shattered our relationship with Him and we are all the inheritors of that original wound.

Out of God’s love, Christ redeemed us through His Passion, Death, and Resurrection, healing the rift of our sin and opening the doors of heaven to all who love Him. He came from heaven as a man, as the Good Shepherd and offered our own wounded and broken humanity on His Cross. When He ascended into heaven, the path of our own return to the Father was opened again. Catholics celebrated this wonderful Feast of the Lord’s Ascension just a few weeks ago. We celebrated our own healing hearts and our own return to the God Who made us. We celebrated hope and freedom and love. Not mere words tossed around by everyone from political candidates to talk-show hosts, but real Hope, real Freedom, and real Love found only in Jesus Christ.

In His Ascension, we can also celebrate the hope of our own better tomorrow. For where Christ is, He has promised that we may also be. We too will have glorified bodies, ourselves still, but whole and beautiful and perfected in God’s sight. This is the vision of the life to come that has been given to the Church. When we picture people we love who have gone before us, we can picture all of them this way: whole and beautiful. When we see them again in the fullness of heaven this is what we’ll see. Until then we are the members of His Body, building the Kingdom of God right here among us, through our love and care for one another, especially for the most vulnerable. He calls us to make that vision of a better tomorrow an earthly reality for all His children. We are His hands now.

“The Ascension of Christ is the end of the Gospel and the beginning of the mission.” —William Baird

Catholics & the Bible

“Catholics don’t believe in the Bible.” This is something I’ve heard many times from Protestants. It’s true that we don’t carry our Bibles with us when we go to Mass. That’s because the Bible is already there waiting for us. Scripture is proclaimed aloud to us at each Mass. We hear an Old Testament reading, a Psalm, a selection from the New Testament letters and a Gospel passage. So though we don’t carry our Bibles into the Church, we hear it read at every Mass. And we listen to the beauty of Holy Scripture as it is read. “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ”(Romans 10:17). In our 3-year cycle of readings, we hear a large percentage of the Bible at Mass, not counting our parish Scripture Studies and the reading we do at home.

At each Mass, the Liturgy of the Word is very important. We gather together as a family of God and then we hear the Word of God. After the Gospel reading, the pastor or deacon preaches to us. Most of the time he preaches on the theme of that day’s Scripture readings. Unlike most Protestant preaching though, the sermon we hear isn’t the focus of our worship. The Holy Eucharist, the very real and literal presence of Jesus Christ, is the source and summit of our faith and is the reason we come together for the Mass.

Where does the Eucharist come from? The Bible (Matthew 26; Mark 14; Luke 22; and John 13). Since the earliest days of Christianity, believers gathered to worship and listen to the Gospel stories before sharing in the Eucharist. The Mass existed for more than 400 years before the Bible did. At the Council of Hippo in 397 AD, the books of the Bible as we know it were fairly well-set. This Council, like the Church Councils before it and after it, were made up of the Pope and the Bishops of the Catholic Church. We reverence the Bible as God’s holy word and we look to His word for our teachings on the Pope, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Saints, the Mass and the Sacraments including Baptism, Confession, and the Eucharist.

But one thing we don’t share with our Protestant brothers and sisters is a belief that the Bible alone is the source of our knowledge of God and of HIs plan for our lives. For one thing, nowhere in the Bible does it say that Scripture alone is the foundation of our faith. Remember that our faith was born many centuries before the Bible existed. Christ did not leave us Scripture, and never commanded anything to be written down. Rather, He left us a Church (Matthew 16:18). St. Paul writes that the Church is “the pillar and foundation of the truth (I Timothy 3:15). He couldn’t have said that the Bible is that pillar and foundation—because when he wrote his letter to Timothy, the New Testament didn’t exist. Moreover, St. Paul knew the Truth: that the Church is the treasury of all of Christianity and from it, was born the Bible. God’s unfolding plan for our salvation through Jesus Christ was that His Church be the instrument through which His word would be revealed to us. Catholics look to the teaching authority of this Church regarding the interpretation and understanding of the Bible. Our Old Testament also differs from the OT used by Protestant churches. Ours has seven books not included in the King James Version of the bible. This is because the Catholic Church adopted the Greek version of the OT used by most Jews at the time of Christ. Martin Luther wanted to remove any evidence of purgatory taught in the OT, so he deleted those same seven books in the Bibles using during the development of protestantism, including the King James Version.

So yes, Catholics uphold the Bible as the sacred revealed word of God to His people. We love it because it tells the story of His great love for us and His plan for our salvation through His son, Jesus Christ. We reverence sacred scripture in each Mass and we stand in respect whenever the Gospel is proclaimed. Scripture informs our worship, inspires our hymns, and illuminates our prayers. Going to Mass is taking a beautiful journey through the Bible. We share the Eucharist, given to us by Jesus at the Last Supper when He said, “This is My Body…this is My Blood” (Matthew 26). When our Savior tells us something in Scripture, we believe Him. The Bible tells us Who the Eucharist is—not a symbol, not a remembrance—but a Person, Jesus the Christ. Our faith is founded on His Sacred Word.

“And the Word was made flesh, and made His dwelling among us….”
—John 1:14

The Wounds of Christ

There’s an old saying that goes no matter what we humans have accomplished on this earth, there are only 5 that are eternal. What are they? The 5 wounds of Christ. All of the Savior’s love for you and for me is revealed in those wounds. His pierced hands and feet and the gash in His side made by the Roman soldier’s spear shout out: “I love you and I forgive you!” These wounds that we made with our sins are in heaven today. The angels and the saints are gazing upon them now as Christ sits with His Father in glory on the throne. Of all the wonders of this world, Christ chose His wounds to take back home with Him. They are precious beyond price and we should treasure them for what they are.

Catholics have a long and rich devotion to the Sacred Wounds of our Lord. We love the Crucifix of Christ with Jesus’ Body as a holy reminder of His sacrifice and love. We kneel and pray before the Crucifix just as if we were before Him on that Good Friday noon in Jerusalem. Those hours he spent wounded for us on the Holy Cross are the “high point” of His life on earth. As the Servant, He literally poured out His life to save you and me. In His wounds, Christ is most truly and fully- revealed. “For this reason I came into the world (John 12:23). His wounds are the most intense revelation of His relationship with the Father. In them we see the full unfolding of God’s plan for our redemption, laid before the foundation of the world. The wounds are perfect sacrificial love–agape–which holds nothing back and offer nothing less than everything.

Other Christians sometimes think we Catholics have a kind of morbid fascination with the wounded Christ perpetually hanging in agony on the crucifixes in our churches and on the chains around our necks. They might prefer the bare cross instead. But I think when they do this, they’re missing out. They see the suffering Christ and want to move on to Easter morning, putting Good Friday in the past. But in truth, Christ’s perfect love for us is an ongoing sacrifice—a total and constant giving of the Son to the Father, for our sake. The wounds of Christ are the slaying of the Lamb. He lives in a state of holocaust, not as a mere historical moment in 33 A.D., but as His state of being, inside and outside of time. This is why the Mass is a re-presentation of Christ’s ongoing sacrifice, not merely a symbolic remembrance of a meal shared with His friends. This is why His wounds, and what they are and what they mean, should be ever-present to us.

His wounds are nothing less than life itself for us for from them spilled His Most Precious Blood, our salvation and our hope. In this way, the Sacred Wounds are the “porta caeli”, the doorway to heaven. St. Paul knew this to be true. When he wrote to the church in Corinth, he emphasized the sacrifice, the woundedness of Jesus. “When I came to you, announcing to you the testimony of Christ, I did not bring exalted words or lofty wisdom. For I did not judge myself to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (I Corinthians 2:2). Through His wounds we receive the New Covenant of the Lamb and the graces we need for salvation. From His wounded side flowed the blood and water (the Eucharist and Baptism) and the Church is mystically born in these two Sacraments.

Over the centuries, many saints have venerated the Sacred Wounds, from St. Bernard of Clairvaux to St. Francis of Assissi and his friend, St. Clare. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote extensively about Christ’s wounds. But it’s in “The Imitation of Christ” by Thomas à Kempis where us “struggling” saints can read a valuable lesson. “If you cannot soar up as high as Christ sitting on His throne, behold Him hanging on His Cross.” Thomas encourages us to rest in Christ’s wounds, to abide in them, to hide ourselves in them. I’m not a philosopher and I’m certainly no theologian. But I can behold Christ on His Cross and when I do, I know how much He loves me. I know my sins wounded Him and I know His loving sacrifice is saving me from what I truly deserve. In His wounds I see His glory and His victory over sin and death. And if Jesus did so much for me and loves me so much that He keeps the wounds I gave Him and has them still in His Body at this moment in heaven—can’t I spend a few moments thanking Him prayer?

“…by His wounds we are healed…”

—- Isaiah 53:5

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