Be Like John

We all know the story of St. John the Baptist.  Born to Zechariah and Elizabeth in their old age, he was Jesus’ cousin.  When Mary visited Elizabeth to share the good news of the coming birth of Christ, the infant John “leapt with joy” in his mother’s womb.  He’s remembered as the last of the prophets whom God empowered to foretell the coming of the Messiah.  John preached repentance (Matthew 3:2-8).  He began his ministry in the desert, the wild man of God living on grasshoppers and honey and dressed in camel skins.  He must have been an amazing sight to the fastidious Jews.  But like them, John felt the oppression of the Roman Empire and longed for God to send His chosen family a Messiah that would give the Jews an earthly kingdom.  John was a powerful and gifted preacher and he gained many followers.  He’s probably known best as the one who baptized Jesus in the Jordan River.  He looked up and saw Jesus approaching and proclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”  We hear the priest echo John’s words at each Mass when we gaze upon the Body of Christ in the Eucharist.

John’s life and ministry always pointed the way to Christ.  He never sought power or glory for himself.  When his followers reported to him that Jesus was baptizing and that many people were now following Him, John’s beautiful response remains an inspiration to us: “…this joy of mine has been made complete.  He must increase; I must decrease”(John 3:30). What’s true for John is true for us as well.  For God’s mighty work to be accomplished in us, we have to get out of His way.  God asked John to spend his life preaching repentance and preparation for Christ’s coming.  John was God’s prophet and at our baptism, each one of us claims a share in Christ’s divine offices of “priest, prophet, and king (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 897-913).  Looking at your own life, how well are you living up to St. John the Baptist’s example?  Does your life point others the way to Jesus?  We might think it’s intimidating to compare ourselves to a prophet like John.  But in many ways we’re living in times very much like John’s own.

He was imprisoned for speaking truth to power.  In his case, he defended the sanctity of marriage and the king threw him in jail and later had him beheaded in order to impress a woman.  John preached the freedom of God’s heavenly peace, yet he was thrown into prison.  Locked in darkness, John came to bear witness to the Light of Christ.  John baptized our Redeemer in water, but received for himself the martyr’s baptism of blood.  Yet John let nothing stand in the way of his message and his mission.  We’re each called by God to a unique mission which only we can fulfill.  God doesn’t expect you to be another John the Baptist or Mother Teresa or Fulton Sheen.  He wants you to We all know the story of St. John the Baptist.  Born to Zechariah and Elizabeth in their old age, he was Jesus’ cousin.  When Mary visited Elizabeth to share the good news of the coming birth of Christ, the infant John “leapt with joy” in his mother’s womb.  He’s remembered as the last of the prophets whom God empowered to foretell the coming of the Messiah.  John preached repentance (Matthew 3:2-8).  He began his ministry in the desert, the wild man of God living on grasshoppers and honey and dressed in camel skins.  He must have been an amazing sight to the fastidious Jews.  But like them, John felt the oppression of the Roman Empire and longed for God to send His chosen family a Messiah that would give the Jews an earthly kingdom.  John was a powerful and gifted preacher and he gained many followers.  He’s probably known best as the one who baptized Jesus in the Jordan River.  He looked up and saw Jesus approaching and proclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”  We hear the priest echo John’s words at each Mass when we gaze upon the Body of Christ in the Eucharist.

John’s life and ministry always pointed the way to Christ.  He never sought power or glory for himself.  When his followers reported to him that Jesus was baptizing and that many people were now following Him, John’s beautiful response remains an inspiration to us: “…this joy of mine has been made complete.  He must increase; I must decrease”(John 3:30). What’s true for John is true for us as well.  For God’s mighty work to be accomplished in us, we have to get out of His way.  God asked John to spend his life preaching repentance and preparation for Christ’s coming.  John was God’s prophet and at our baptism, each one of us claims a share in Christ’s divine offices of “priest, prophet, and king (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 897-913).  Looking at your own life, how well are you living up to St. John the Baptist’s example?  Does your life point others the way to Jesus?  We might think it’s intimidating to compare ourselves to a prophet like John.  But in many ways we’re living in times very much like John’s own.

He was imprisoned for speaking truth to power.  In his case, he defended the sanctity of marriage and the king threw him in jail and later had him beheaded in order to impress a woman.  John preached the freedom of God’s heavenly peace, yet he was thrown into prison.  Locked in darkness, John came to bear witness to the Light of Christ.  John baptized our Redeemer in water, but received for himself the martyr’s baptism of blood.  Yet John let nothing stand in the way of his message and his mission.  We’re each called by God to a unique mission which only we can fulfill.  God doesn’t expect you to be another John the Baptist or Mother Teresa or Fulton Sheen.  He wants you to fulfill your calling and your mission.  These days, the truth of Christ is under assault on every front.  Catholics find themselves in a Church where even Cardinals and Bishops are being confronted with their own fidelity (or lack of fidelity) to the mission of the Church and the truth of Christ’s teaching.

This is a painful time for the Church. But if we’re to be true to our Savior, we have to stand up for His Truth, which is unchanging.  Like John the Baptist, we must constantly point to Christ, no matter the consequences.  John wasn’t afraid to tell the king the truth about marriage.  Catholics must also defend marriage as a Holy Sacrament between one man and one woman.  We are called to defend life and that puts us at odds with those who support abortion, euthanasia, human cloning and embryonic stem cell research.  Like John we have to raise the cry of outrage when anyone or any institution threatens God’s gift of life.  We do this through the life-affirming example of how we life.  We support the Church and the affiliated organizations which defend life and the free practice of our faith.  We pray.  We peacefully protest.  And we vote in support of those candidates who also support life and freedom of faith.  The Catholic Church proclaims at every Mass, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”  Our lives must echo those words as well.  He must increase and we must decrease.  Our mission is to be Christ to one another and to live joyfully, despite the culture, and despite the government.  And while actual martyrdom may not be something we share with St. John, we may very well experience the loss of friends or family who reject our faithful commitment to Christ and His Church.  Like John, we must keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and invite the Lord to lead us through whatever may come.  John challenged the king and lost his head.  But if he hadn’t challenged him, he might have lost his soul.  Our cultural wilderness is starving for the love and charity of Christ.  Will you decrease so that He may increase?

“Behold, I will send my messenger and he shall prepare the way before Me.”                                                                                                                                                                                                     Malachi 3:11fulfill your calling and your mission.  These days, the truth of Christ is under assault on every front.  Catholics find themselves in a Church where even Cardinals and Bishops are being confronted with their own fidelity (or lack of fidelity) to the mission of the Church and the truth of Christ’s teaching.

This is a painful time for the Church. But if we’re to be true to our Savior, we have to stand up for His Truth, which is unchanging.  Like John the Baptist, we must constantly point to Christ, no matter the consequences.  John wasn’t afraid to tell the king the truth about marriage.  Catholics must also defend marriage as a Holy Sacrament between one man and one woman.  We are called to defend life and that puts us at odds with those who support abortion, euthanasia, human cloning and embryonic stem cell research.  Like John we have to raise the cry of outrage when anyone or any institution threatens God’s gift of life.  We do this through the life-affirming example of how we life.  We support the Church and the affiliated organizations which defend life and the free practice of our faith.  We pray.  We peacefully protest.  And we vote in support of those candidates who also support life and freedom of faith.  The Catholic Church proclaims at every Mass, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”  Our lives must echo those words as well.  He must increase and we must decrease.  Our mission is to be Christ to one another and to live joyfully, despite the culture, and despite the government.  And while actual martyrdom may not be something we share with St. John, we may very well experience the loss of friends or family who reject our faithful commitment to Christ and His Church.  Like John, we must keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and invite the Lord to lead us through whatever may come.  John challenged the king and lost his head.  But if he hadn’t challenged him, he might have lost his soul.  Our cultural wilderness is starving for the love and charity of Christ.  Will you decrease so that He may increase?

“Behold, I will send my messenger and he shall prepare the way before Me.”                                                                                                                                                                                                     Malachi 3:11

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The Parenthood Industry

There’s a concrete block building in Anand, India that squats in the dirt and swarms with people. At 9 am it’s already packed and the temperature is a sweltering 107 degrees. Women gather here every morning at the Akansha Fertility Clinic to meet with doctors and families. On the walls inside the doorway are newspaper clippings about the clinic and what goes on inside it. The most telling of these headlines proclaims simply: “The Cradle of the World.” You see, the Akansha Clinic makes babies. The doctors there recruit women interested in donating their eggs or in serving as surrogate mothers. They buy eggs and rent wombs, to put it in the most basic terms.

The clinic provides its services to Indian women and couples, but most of their customers come from Europe and North America, specifically the United States. Couples who have not been able to conceive children come to India looking for a surrogate mother to carry their baby for them. The wife undergoes hormone injections to produce multiple eggs which are then surgically-harvested, fertilized with sperm and implanted into the uterus of a surrogate. The cost for this procedure in India can be around $12,000 which is much less than the $75 – $100,000 cost in the U.S. Typically the surrogate mother receives around $5,000 which is an enormous amount of capital for most families in India. That much can change a family’s life drastically.

We in the West have come to believe that parenthood is a right rather than a gift from God. Anyone at any time and in any life circumstance (single, married, gay, elderly) has the right to parent a child. So when that doesn’t happen, India’s fertility clinics become an affordable option. Eggs are available as well as the hormonally-primed wombs in which to implant them. Clinics like the one in Anand are where the pain of poverty and the despair of childlessness meet.

Fully 75% of all fertilized eggs (=babies) fail to implant. We we create children in a lab knowing that only 25% of them have a chance to be born. Surrogacy agreements, which vary widely and have limited legality and enforceability in many areas, allow for all kinds of abuse. Pregnancy “brokers”, questionable medical practices and murky or non-existent record-keeping can make the entire process a minefield for everyone involved. Especially for the child. Some agreements require that mandatory in-utero testing which reveals any kind of defect in the child result in a forced abortion. At times, the egg or sperm used in conception is found to have come from an unknown donor.. Who are the child’s parents in cases like this? I remember when a former co-host on ABC’s “The View” revealed her involvement in a tragic surrogacy situation. Sherri Shepherd was fired from the show in the middle of a nasty divorce from her husband. The couple had arranged for a surrogate mother. Then Ms. Shepherd decided she no longer wanted the child and would not offer any support for him or her. She claimed no connection to the baby since her eggs were not used in the procedure. Her ex-husband has custody of their son now and Ms. Shepherd was ordered by the courts to pay child support. She has no relationship with this child other than a financial one and only because the courts have ordered her to.

Artificial birth-control separates sex from procreation. Our culture separates sex from marriage and marriage from the foundation of motherhood and fatherhood. Our science has allowed us to make children without parents and has turned them into a commodity that we can make cling to life in a rented womb. Whatever we don’t want or find convenient, we can easily abort. And yet we wonder why there are so many divorces, so many troubled children and unhappy and broken families. We shake our heads and we form task-forces. We look to government and social programs for the answers. We place the blame on the targets we each like best. And while we’re busy pointing fingers here in America, there’s a line of women forming at a squat concrete building halfway around the world. They’re getting their injections and having their scans and waiting to be chosen next.

We must remember that life begins at home and we must also remember that the future of humanity passes through the family.”
—Blessed Mother Teresa

A Rare Word

One of the most beautiful and powerful passages in all of Holy Scripture is proclaimed to us during Easter week.  We hear how some of Jesus’ women friends went to His tomb on Sunday morning and discovered that the stone covering the entrance to the tomb had been rolled away.  As they go inside and can’t find His Body, two angels appear to them and ask them the most remarkable question: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5).  Indeed.  Why would anyone poke around in a mausoleum and expect to find anything or anyone BUT bones and burial cloths?  Of course we know that, in their own way, the angels were telling the women that Jesus had risen from the dead.  But what else can we learn from their intriguing question?

Scripture often equates sin with death.  “The wages of sin is death…”(Romans 6:23). “The sting of death is sin” (I Corinthians 15:56).  The fifth chapter of Galatians lists a bunch of sins that can keep us from eternal life in Christ.  We see another such list in the sixth chapter of I Corinthians.  And let’s not forget the Ten Commandments.  We know that Jesus conquered death through His Passion, Death and Resurrection.  His victory assures our eternal life if we love and obey Him.  Thus, St. Paul can ask, “O death where is your victory?  O death where is your sting?” (I Corinthians 15:55).  For those who reject the love and mercy of the Lord, eternity is the punishment of hell separated from God and a result of their own choosing.  I became a Christian and specifically a Catholic in order to be saved from the punishments I deserve and to share in Christ’s love as part of His family. Being outside the will of God is indeed, to be dead already.  Sin brings with it death as real as the bones and funeral wraps of any cemetery.  To enter into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ through His Church is to choose the life that He purchased for us on the Cross.  But it’s not a free ride.  He told us: “If you love Me obey My commandments”(John 14:15).  This means all of them, even the ones you don’t like.  Even the ones that make you uncomfortable or uneasy.  Even the ones our culture tells us are old-fashioned or outmoded.  The truth of God never changes.  Kingdoms and countries may come and go but God’s truth is constant.  No matter what culture cries out for, the Church must preach the truth of God or she ceases to be His Church.  This is the reason the Catholic Church rejects abortion, artificial contraception, fetal stem-cell research and euthanasia.  Even when sin, like abortion, is legalized and promoted by civil authorities, it’s still sin.  The Church teaches the truth revealed to her by Christ and the Holy Spirit.  Anyone who claims to be a Christian but who teaches against the truth of the Gospel will be held accountable, not by the Church, but by the Lord (II Corinthians 4:2; Ephesians 4:17; Matthew 15:13-14).  This includes any church or religious leader who does not uphold chastity.

Wow.  There’s a word you don’t hear much anymore.  Being chaste is the call of every Christian, whether single or married, straight or gay.  Chastity is faithfulness of mind, heart, a body.  If we’re married, we live out our chastity through our faithfulness to our spouse.  If we’re not married, we live our chastity through remaining celibate.  Single people live in the love and will of God through their celibacy.  Marriage is a Sacrament, not a civil union.  For Catholics, marriage is always between one man and one woman. Single people, straight or gay, live celibate lives.  To live otherwise is to deny God’s truth and to be disobedient to His will.  Some people may find this harsh, but it’s no more harsh than the teaching against murder or theft.  We don’t repeal the law against murdering someone because people are inclined to kill. And we don’t make theft legal when people are attracted to stealing. These truths remain true no matter how folks feel about them. Being born with same-sex attraction is a burden that may be the door through which someone discovers the meaning of their life and their purpose in God’s plan for creating them as He did. We all have these burdens and they’re all different and they’re all incredibly painful. But how we deal with our particular sinfulness is our choice. We can remain in it and let our lives become dead things. Or we can choose life in Christ.

When people say that the Catholic Church is against same-sex “marriage,” they’re right. But when they say the Church is against people who are gay, they’re wrong. Like any good mother, the Church wants her children to do the right thing but she doesn’t stop loving them whatever happens in their lives. The mission of the Church is to win souls for Christ. In that role she has to preach the truth of Christ without fear or compromise.

We are all sinners: single or married or ordained, gay or straight. Sin deadens our hearts and souls. As a Church, we must support one another in love and correct one another in charity. Only through Christ and His Church can we claim the promise of the Cross. Only by being conformed to Christ through the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the Sacraments can we find the peace the world can never give us. When we look to our culture for the answers to eternal questions we need to remember what the angels asked that first Easter morning: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

“The safest road to hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts. “
                                 C.S. Lewis

Heart & Soul

There’s the story about the toddler who received a heart transplant from another little boy. The donor had been born with a club foot. A few months after the surgery the little boy with the new heart started to drag his foot behind him, like he had been born with a club foot, too. Another story involved a young man who wanted to be a songwriter. Just before he died he had written a new song and recorded it on tape. It told the story of a man losing his heart to a woman named “Andi.” When he was killed in a car crash, his heart was given to a woman named Andrea. She began to listen to his taped song and was able to sing along, although of course she’d never heard it before. Coincidences? Maybe. Even, probably. But how about the young girl who received the heart of a murder victim. As she was recovering from the surgery she began having nightmares about how her donor had been killed. She saw the murderer and what he’d been wearing. She dreamed of the attack itself and where the murder weapon had been hidden. When she told the police all she had seen in her dreams, they were able to use the information to make an arrest in the case.

Scientists call this “cellular memory.” It’s the idea that the cells of our body can contain memories of what has happened to us in our lives. Of course we know that our brain cells are where memories are stored. We see memory being lost when someone has a stroke or a brain trauma or suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. But cellular memory theorists believe that other parts of our bodies can also hold memories. Most of the stories of cellular memories involve the heart. As a non-scientist, this isn’t a surprise to me. When I consider who I am and what I’ve experienced, it’s always my heart that seems the most “real.”

Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.” But I don’t believe that’s the whole story. I believe we’re more than just the electrical grid of our nervous systems. I believe that when God created us in His image, He made us more than brains and bodies. He made our hearts and souls to live forever. So while most scientists don’t take cellular memory very seriously, I do. There’s a quote that sometimes attributed (incorrectly) to C.S. Lewis: “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” But this misses the mark, too. Our souls and bodies, our minds and our hearts, are inextricably bound together in this life. And God has revealed His plans for our bodies, as well.

At the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-9) He gives us a glimpse of heaven. On that mountain, we see the glory of the Son revealed to Peter, James and John. He is bathed in the light of heaven and is joined by Moses and Elijah. They are, by God’s grace, enjoying life in heaven even before the Resurrection. In this peek into our next life, we see how intimately our bodies and souls are bound together. Moses and Elijah are recognizable as the men they were in life. Like the risen Jesus, they are alive and radiant and, well, themselves. The bodies they gained in their mother’s wombs are most fully realized in heaven. Like the Blessed Virgin, our heavenly bodies will be glorified and perfected in ways we can’t even imagine. At the end of time, when the bodies of believers are resurrected from the grave, we’ll experience that glory for ourselves.

So the idea of cellular memory seems very possible to me, even likely. God loves the human body so much that He chose to be incarnated. If God loves the cells of our bodies so completely and without reservation, we must as well. We’re called to treat our bodies with respect and dignity and to protect life from its beginning to its natural end. We are a miracle of creation, a reflection of the One Who made us as an act of pure and radiant love. We are more than a collection of cells—we are His children. We belong to Him, body and soul, heart and mind.

Then Christ will make His home in your hearts as you trust in Him…”
—-Ephesians 3:17

The Wounds of Christ

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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

Becoming Catholic Takes Time

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A friend of mine recently told me that at her small Evangelical church the ladies make baskets of homemade cookies each Sunday. These goodies are handed out to any visitor attending their church that day. In exchange, the ladies get the visitor’s name, address, and phone number and arrange a home visit with them the following week. Their cookie ministry is the opening salvo in an orchestrated outreach to welcome people into their church and invite them to become members. My friend shared that she believes it is an important part of her Christian faith to actively welcome new members and to help interested individuals and families to join their church. As for membership, the person has only to publicly state their desire to join and they are accepted as members that same day. There’s not even a baptismal requirement since her church doesn’t teach that baptism is necessary for church membership.

Becoming Catholic is, to say the least, a bit of a different story. We have a process lasting between six or eight months during which persons desiring to become Catholic meet in a group setting for prayer, instruction, and guidance. This is called RCIA or the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults. It’s modeled on the practices of the very early Church and has been more widely-implemented in the last 20 years or so. Back when I joined the Church in 1977 the process was a bit more informal. Okay, it was a LOT more informal. As a college sophomore with a year of Catholic theology and philosophy under my belt, I met three times with my local pastor before receiving the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and first Holy Communion–all on the same day. There was no exhaustive instruction in Church history or dogma, no in- depth discussion of the Sacraments, no time for reflecting on what it meant to journey from my Southern Baptist roots to the Church of Rome. I swam the Tiber in record time and arrived in St. Peter’s Square hardly knowing what I’d done. It was exhilarating and overwhelming. And it was wrong.

Don’t misunderstand me though. I certainly don’t fault the pastor (now deceased) who took me in. At the time, he was doing exactly what most every other Catholic pastor was doing. But my lack of preparation took me years to sort out. To begin with, I thought my becoming Catholic was a private matter between me and The Lord. My understanding of salvation and redemption remained very Protestant. I was confused about the Saints and about Mary. Purgatory had me flummoxed and confession scared me to death. What had drawn me to the Church was the Holy Eucharist and that’s what (Who) I clung to. But my early years as a Catholic were a kind of blur of questions and uncertainty. Thankfully, I was attending a solidly Catholic university surrounded by faithful professors and priests who formed my faith community. And I was able to study in Rome, which never hurts.

Looking back, it’s a wonder I remained Catholic through those early years of my infancy in the faith. For everyone who complains about how hard it is to become a Catholic let me just say: savor your journey through RCIA. Every parish doesn’t have a 5-star program, but allow yourself to be immersed in the process anyway. If you’re being called to the Catholic Church, it’s Christ who is calling you and He’ll be there with you every step along the way. You can enrich your experience by becoming a part of your parish’s faith community even before you’re a full member. Go to Mass every Sunday and make a holy hour of Adoration as often as you can. Read the Catechism and write down your questions. Read some of the Gospels every day and listen to what Jesus might be saying to you in them. Make friends with the parish secretary–she or he knows everyone in the parish and all the programs and ministries that might interest you. The priest’s schedule might be very busy but his secretary can be a great resource for you.

And remember that the journey to becoming Catholic isn’t just about you and God. Catholicism is a family of faith that includes your RCIA group and sponsors, your pastor and lay ministers, the parish and the larger diocese, the worldwide Catholic Church, plus the saints in heaven and the souls in purgatory. We’re all in this together. Be patient with us and with yourself. Remember that most RCIA programs begin in late summer or early fall and usually meet every week until Easter when you’ll receive the sacraments and come into full communion with the Church. Call your local parish and ask about their RCIA schedule. Your months of preparation will lay a fertile groundwork for a lifelong faith.

“About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they are one thing…”
—-St. Joan of Arc

 

Christ Before Everything

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One of the most jarring things Jesus ever said, at least in my opinion, is when He’s speaking in St. Luke’s gospel about the effects His ministry will have on families. He tells us, “They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law”(Luke 12:53). At first blush this seems to go against everything we know about the Gospel. Doesn’t Jesus preach about love and peace and caring for one another? Aren’t we taught to give more than we’re asked for and to forgive seventy-times-seven? Isn’t love and forgiveness what Christ is all about?

Well, yes and no. Obviously it is God’s great love for us that sent His Son to live as one of us and to give Himself up for us as the perfect sacrifice. Living in Christ means living in His love and allowing His love to transform us. In that love we find forgiveness and mercy—and are called to be His hands and feet as we love and serve the people of God. Certainly God’s plan for our lives is a love story. And in human terms, that unfolding love story first begins within the context of our families. This is where we first know love and experience the care and peace that only the intimacy of family life can provide. Jesus chose to enter humanity in a family and was loved and nurtured by Our Lady and St. Joseph in the home they made for Him. So how can all we know about Christ and the Gospel make sense of this passage written for us by St. Luke?

One thing we learn us that there is an order, a hierarchy, of love. Our love of God must come first in all things, even in families. If we allow anything or anyone to come before Him, our lives are disordered. Jesus is illustrating the utterly transformative effect that following Him will have on our lives. He comes first in all things: before our jobs, before our friends, even before our families. Our commitment to Jesus MUST transform every area and aspect and moment of our lives. Being a Christian changes how we choose to make a living, whom we marry (and IF we marry), how we conduct ourselves in business, how we raise our children, how we spend our money, and how we contribute to the community in which we live. If we claim Him as savior then He must be first in our lives. This is what Jesus means in St. Luke’s gospel. Jesus claims us entirely for His Sacred Heart.

That claim can and must radically change us. St. Paul calls us “new creations”(II Corinthians 5:17). That newness of life in Christ sets us apart from the world. We are in the world but not of the world(Romans 12:2). We don’t live like other people. We work and play differently. We have different goals and achieve them in different ways. If we’re just like everyone else, then we’re not doing it right. When Christ comes first in all things, it means everything else is ordered AFTER Him. And that can and does cause problems in some families. We know these problems well. We may have experienced them in our own families: choices made which conflict with faith, marriages unravelled by sin, children ravaged by divorce, and lives wounded through walking a path away from God. Love is a messy journey and we’re all struggling at it. We’re trying to find they way God wants us to be His beloved child. A trusted prayer in times like these is,”Lord, help me to be like Jesus.” Help me to love as Jesus loves, to forgive as Jesus forgives, to be humble and merciful as He is humility and mercy. I fail at this every day. A hundred times a day. St. Paul tells us how to love like Jesus. You know this scripture. “Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged”(I Corinthians 13:4-7). These verses are about true love, sacrificial love: love that costs you something. The kind of love that families share, the kind of love that can see them through the most difficult of times. At the center of that kind of love is the humility of Jesus. Humility that gives without counting the cost, expecting no repayment. How much division in our families and our churches is a result of pride? Of keeping score and wanting to be right? Of putting our own wants and needs first? Probably most of it. Keeping Christ first puts everything and everyone else into their proper places. Especially in our families.

“As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.”
—Blessed Pope John Paul II

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