Changes

It’s officially autumn, even though here in the South it doesn’t feel like it. We like to hang on to the heat and humidity just as long as we can. But no matter what we do, the subtle signs of autumn are creeping in each day. The heat fades fast once the sun sets and the mornings are cool. Our gardens, which were lush and flourishing just weeks ago, are dried and barren, their summertime bounty long gone. Acorns and nuts have fallen to the ground and drawn the squirrels out of the trees to collect a winter’s groceries. Apples are ripening in the orchards. It won’t be long until the dogwoods turn red and the air will be spiced with the smoke of burning leaves. Fall isn’t here just yet, but we can feel it coming.

There’s something melancholy about autumn. It’s a season of endings. Vacations are over. Long, lazy days are done. All our summer dreams have faded. Fall means getting back on a schedule, buckling down to business, and getting serious about things. The world around us is preparing for the cold winds of winter, Things are slowing down, conserving energy, taking their time.  

Falls reminds us that everything in life and in time must come to an end. From the moment we were conceived, our life has been unwinding and eventually all our earthly hours will be spent. Autumn brings us this message every year. In the flaming gold of the poplar or the blazing red of the maple, there’s decay and death lurking beneath those glorious colors. In fact, it’s in their dying that the beautiful colors burst forth.

People often complain that “life isn’t fair.” And it isn’t in many ways. Good people suffer while bad people prosper. Relationships break down. Families fall apart. But in one profound and universal way, life is indeed quite fair and equitable to every one of us. We’re all going to die. Death is that one inevitable event that each of us has to confront and experience. It’s the most level of all the playing fields. And no matter how hard we try to distract ourselves from thinking about it, it’s coming for us all.  

It’s a good season for reflecting on endings. And it’s a good season for repenting and making things right with the Lord. For Christians, death is the end of our earthly lives and the opening of the door to eternity with Jesus Christ. If you’ve been away from the Sacraments, now is the best time to return, to experience God’s mercy in confession and His nourishment in Holy Communion. In these shortening days, when the sun slips more quickly over the horizon, we’re drawn ever more to the One True Light Who dispels all darkness. And we’ll soon gather for feasts and celebrations with our family and friends, let’s be reminded to prepare for the coming of that Star in the east that will show us all the only way out of death.

“…It’s a long, long while from May to December,

But the days grow short when you reach

September.

When the autumn weather turns the leaves to 

flame,

One hasn’t got time for the waiting game.”

          —Maxwell Anderson

“September Song”

The Saint of Everyday Life

Most everyone knows St.Teresa of Calcutta and her work with the poorest of the poor. But unless you’re Catholic, you might not know of another modern day saint named Josemaria Escriva. He was a Spanish priest who died in 1975 and he was recognized as a saint in 2002. He is called “the Saint of ordinary life.” He wrote extensively about living each moment in service and in holiness. He believed that every vocation in life was a path to sainthood and his writings are a challenge to each one of us to live our faith to the fullest. Because he lived in our time, he’s easy to read. One of his most famous quotes challenges me every day.  

“Don’t say: That person gets on my nerves. Think: That person sanctifies me.” Ouch. That really hit homes for me. It makes me look too closely at my own heart and my own sins. And it feels so much like something Jesus would have said. Of course, that’s how saints work. They think so little of themselves that our Lord can speak through them. This quote gets to the core of our relationship with other people and reminds me of something the Alabama nun, Mother Angelica once said: “If it wasn’t for people, we’d all be saints.” That one always makes me laugh, but it also reveals a great truth about our faith and our struggle to live it each day. Christianity exists in relationships. The Holy Trinity itself is a relationship. Our salvation is a relationship. We live out the Kingdom of God in our relationships with family, friends, and neighbors. Reading the Gospels, we see how much of Jesus’ time and teaching was spent in healing broken relationships.. How we accept and love other people is the fruit of our faith journey.  

And that’s why that quote from St. Josemaria really speaks to me. “Don’t say: That person gets on my nerves. Think: That person sanctifies me.” Rather than just getting annoyed by that tedious coworker or the teenager who never listens to you—we can use those moments as opportunities to grow in grace. Ask God to show you what part of yourself needs working on, as if the other person is a spotlight on your faults, pointing them out to us. How can I grow in humility? How can I let go of the times that person has hurt me? How can I use this moment to become more patient? Like we hear in Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Our relationships with other people are opportunities to grow in grace and to become more like Christ. But like every other aspect of life, we have to invite Jesus in to show us the way and to reveal to us how He wants us to grow.  

Every time someone “gets on your nerves,” it’s the whisper of the Holy Spirit inviting us to grow in our faith. Rather than an emotional knee-jerk reaction to being irritated or angry, recognize the moment as a chance to practice a virtue that you need to grow. You can’t do this without the help of the Holy Spirit. So pray that the eyes of your heart will be opened to see that part of you that’s being “sharpened” by the other person. This prayer by Thomas Merton is one of my favorites:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen.

The Priest’s Collar

Whenever I see priest wearing a Roman collar it reminds me of Jesus Christ. Not because I think the priest is perfect and sinless but because, in his vocation, the priests always points to Jesus Christ. That collar is a beacon of light for me. And it makes me sad that so many priests choose not to wear one “except when they’re on duty.”  To begin with, the priesthood is a vocation and not a 9-5 job. There is never a moment that the priest is not a priest, both in this life and the next one. It’s like biological fatherhood: it defines you forever. You really DON’T get a day off. Sure, there are those times when wearing your collar might not be appropriate. Like when you’re sleeping. Or scuba-diving. Or getting a hip replacement. But if you’re making a run to Target for cat food and toilet paper then wear your collar. You never know who might see you and think of Jesus. Maybe for the first time in a very long time.

When I see a priest wearing a collar it reminds me to be thankful for all those men over all those centuries who have answered the call of God and dedicated their lives to the service of His people. I’m reminded of all the sacrifices they made: of material wealth, of the comfort and love of a biological family, of independence. I think of the martyrs of our Catholic faith who were killed because they were deacons or priests or bishops. Without priests there would be no sacraments. Without priests, we could not receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. I’m grateful to every faithful priest for bringing Jesus to His Church at every mass.

When I see a priest wearing a collar it reminds me to be joyful. Yes, I’ve known my share of crabby old (and not so old) priests. After all, priests are as happy or as crabby as the rest of us. But the joy of our Christian journey comes from sharing in the good news of the Gospel. Christ died to save us. Christ rose again to conquer death. God is love and mercy. And the joy that flows from that good news calls us to give our lives back to the One Who made us. Priests do that in a remarkable way in their vocation of service and love. That circular collar they wear, like the circle of a wedding band, embodies the endless love and commitment of a life’s vocation. Their collar is at once the yoke of Christ and the true freedom that comes from saying “yes” to God’s will for his life. And in that is joy.

I know that in and of itself, the collar is just a symbol. The priest is just as much a priest in his civvies as he is in his clerical clothes. But symbols are important!  Think of the bishop’s ring, the vestments worn at mass, the chair in the cathedral, a holy card, a medal, a lighted candle or any of the other images or reminders of our faith. They MATTER. Some may think that wearing a collar is some kind of barrier that sets the priest apart from the people in the pews. Father is so much “cooler” in jeans, etc. I disagree completely. That collar is, for me, a wonderful connection within the Church, binding us all together in a world that is forever seeking to tear the Church apart. That collar says: “Be at peace. I’m your priest and we’ll get through this together.”  That collar makes the priest somehow bigger than himself. Not in a powerful way, but in a way that invites a hurting world to approach God’s mercy seat. That collar can be a doorway to repentance and reconciliation for someone who may have been away from the Church for many years. What a privilege for the priest who wears it.

Yes, I know black clothes are hot in the summertime. And that collar only makes things worse. I know that some of you have been called names and been made to feel uncomfortable and perhaps even ashamed when you wear your collar in the world. Since the abuse scandals, being a priest has had added crosses to bear. But the last I checked they aren’t executing priests in America. Surely the burden of wearing a collar is worth it anyway. You see, Father, we need you to be there for us. We’re fighting a battle here in this life and when we look around on the battlefield we need to be able to identify our officers. We can’t ask you for confession if you’re in your golf shirts and khaki pants. But in your collar, you’re an occasion of grace for me. When I see you in your collar I feel a little less alone, a little more joyful, a bit more grateful and a lot more likely to examine my own relationship with Jesus. When you put on your collar in the morning and walk out into the world, you say: “God matters more than I do. I choose to do His will for my life. I’m here to serve the people of God. Won’t you join me?”  Amen, Father. And thank you.

“The world looks to the priest because it looks to Jesus!  No one can see Christ; but everyone sees the priest, and through him they will catch a glimpse of the Lord.”

—St. John Paul

A Spiritual Diet

Diet. It’s a four-letter word. Most people hate having to give up the foods that they love in order to lose weight. But we do it—at least for a while. We know that in order to meet our goal we have to take in fewer calories than we expend. When we’re able to do that consistently, we starve those nasty fat cells and we lose weight.

There’s a similar principle at work in our spiritual lives, too. When we identify something that is getting in the way of our journey with Christ, we need to starve it. These obstacles used to be called “sins” and the strategy to overcome them was called “virtues.” We need to use those terms more often. For every sin, there’s a corresponding virtue to be practiced. We know how this works because the Catholic Church has been teaching it since the earliest days of Christianity. We know that the great Saints dutifully practiced some kind of spiritual diet as they progressed in holiness. St. John the Baptist said it best when describing his relationship with Jesus. “He must increase, but I must decrease”(John 3:30). So how do we do that?

We pray that the Lord will reveal our sins to us and we pray for the humility to accept what He shows to us. I can almost guarantee that your number one stumbling block is pride. We know that this is true because Scripture reveals it to us in so many circumstances. It was pride that brought about the fall of the Lucifer and his fellow disobedient angels. Pride fed the original sin of our first parents in the Garden. Pride says, “I know better than God. I can do this on my own. I don’t need any help.” Pride truly is the root of most, if not all, of our sins.

Starving pride means feeding humility. Talk less. And when you do speak, let it be less of your concerns, your wants, your accomplishments. Don’t seek out praise or sympathy from others. Always put others before yourself. Let yourself be last in all things. Practice mercy. Deny yourself little things that give your pleasure and after a while you can do without more and more. Every denial of self is a step closer to a humble soul. Fast, not only from food, but from gossip, judgement, prejudice, impatience, and envy. Pray constantly the prayer that never fails: “Thy will be done.”

Starving anger means feeding forgiveness. Whether it’s getting cut off in traffic or responding to more serious betrayals, anger is a natural human response. But it doesn’t have to become sinful if we combat it, with God’s help. “…Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We pray these words from the Our Father, but do we put them into action every day? Are we as quick to forgive others as we are to become angry? Do you hope that the other person offending you “gets what they deserve,” or do you offer them the mercy that you hope to receive?

Starving greed means feeding charity. Do you have to have the latest gadget, the fastest car, the biggest house, or the most impressive wardrobe? Does it make you feel bad to see others with these possessions? Greed and envy eat away at the muscle of our charity. These sins hold onto things, instead of people. And we can only give to others with open hands. Overcoming greed, like pride, means thinking less of ourselves and thinking more of others. When we realize that everything we have is a gift from God, it’s much easier to share these gifts with others. We’re called to take care of one another, to help the needy, to feed the hungry, to shelter the homeless and to be Christ to everyone we encounter. Putting yourself on a spiritual diet is only successful if you humbly pray for God’s assistance and strength. Like any diet, it’s harder at the beginning. After time, and daily practice, you’ll develop spiritual practices that help you in walking more closely with Christ. Frequent confession and Holy Communion give you the graces needed to continue growing in your relationship with Jesus. The process of becoming like Him is what St. John meant when he said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Life is learning to die to self and to live in Christ. As St. Paul writes, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here! (II Corinthians 5:17).

“The more a man dies to himself, the more he begins to live unto God.”

—-Thomas a Kempis

The Rosary

One of the prayer practices most associated with us Catholics is praying the Rosary. It was in the news recently when someone who doesn’t know anything about it called it “extremist.” Even if you don’t know anything else about Catholicism, you’re familiar with folks, especially old ladies, fingering that rope of beads as they mumble some prayers. That’s about all I knew about rosaries when I became Catholic in 1977. I was going to a Catholic college back then and as soon as I was baptized I ran out and bought one. My favorite professor was an old Dominican priest and he blessed it for me. I learned the prayers so I could say them from memory. The problem was, I very rarely did. I liked the idea of the Rosary but actually praying it kind of left me frustrated and a bit confused. Here’s what I mean.

For those of you who might not know, the Rosary is a series of prayers centered on the Our Father and the Hail Mary. There are five groups of small beads (the Hail Marys) that are separated by larger beads (the Our Fathers). Depending on the day of the week, you meditate on 5 different events in Jesus’ life while you pray the 5 decades of the Hail Marys. These are called “mysteries” and include things like the birth of Jesus, His crowning with thorns, and the Resurrection. To me, the combination of the Hail Marys and the life of Christ is like looking at Jesus through His mother’s eyes. It’s a beautiful way to meditate on everything that Christ has done for us. The Rosary is like giving Jesus and Mary a bouquet of beautiful prayers–roses from my heart–which is where it got its name. What a beautiful way to pray. But I couldn’t do it. I felt guilty because I just couldn’t make myself pray the “most Catholic” of all prayers. I love Jesus and I love His mother but the Rosary was always a chore. I was easily distracted. I couldn’t keep my mind and heart centered on the mysteries while I was also saying the prayers. My mind wandered. I fell asleep. I looked for excuses not to pray it. Eventually I just quit altogether. I was more comfortable reading Scripture and letting the Lord open my heart to inspire my prayers. Mostly I just learned how to talk with God. My prayer life was okay–not great–but okay. Years might go by before I’d try another Rosary and realize again that it just wasn’t for me.

God was patient and helped me to grow in faith. Over the years He led me to understand something most Christians know early on: prayer isn’t about warm fuzzy feelings. Prayer has very little to do with how I feel or how I’d like to feel. Prayer is how God molds our hearts so that we can love like He loves and forgive like He forgives. Prayer works on us like the potter works the clay. In some mysterious way prayer makes us more and more like Jesus. Do I understand how this happens? No. Was I created to understand this? Maybe in heaven but not now. And I’m perfectly okay with that. I’m no theologian. I’m just a little soul trying to follow Jesus. When I realized that, the Rosary suddenly opened up to me. Now when I pray it, I let Jesus do all the work and I just follow Him, holding His mother’s hand. I quit struggling and started cooperating and the graces I began to receive increased. And the greatest of these graces is humility.

When I pray the Rosary I let Jesus show me His life while His mother gently reminds me that I’m completely dependent on her Son for everything. I need this every day. And in ways I don’t understand, the Rosary works on my soul like no other prayer or devotion. I don’t know how God does it but then I don’t know how He made the moon and the stars, or parted the Red Sea, or transformed water into wine. I don’t understand how He can bring love out of hate or good out of evil. And I don’t have to understand my redemption to know that God loves me enough to send His only Son to die for me and save me from my sins. The Rosary is just another facet of the mystery of His love. When I pray the Rosary I’m participating in the redemption mystery. It’s simple and it’s beautiful and I have no idea what I’m doing. But I know the One Who does.

“The greatest method of praying is to pray the Rosary.”

–St. Francis de Sales

The Life of God

Grace. It’s something we hear about a lot. In songs and books and sermons. But what is grace? Could you explain it to someone who isn’t a Christian? Or, for that matter, to a fellow believer? In my experience, most folks have a pretty fuzzy notion of what grace really is. Unfortunately, lots of people use grace to describe a feeling that they experience in certain situations. Grace means feeling close to God, or experiencing consolation in prayer or feeling uplifted in worship. 

In fact, grace isn’t a feeling or emotion at all. It’s the love and mercy of God, given freely and undeservedly to a believer. Grace is so fundamental to Christianity that St. Paul wrote that our relationship with Christ is “the gospel of the grace of God”(Acts 22:24). This grace is given to us first in Baptism, and then through the other Sacraments which Jesus instituted. There is actual grace and sanctifying grace, both of which justify and save us. “Grace is a participation in the life of God”(Catechism #1997). Grace is also that tugging of your heart to become more like Jesus. To love more, to forgive more, to seek forgiveness of your sins and to conform your heart to the Lord’s heart. It is supernatural because no one can do this without the grace of God.  

We share the grace of God with others when we give His love away, just as freely and undeservedly as He loves us. When we are living in the grace of God, we can’t help but share it with others. It can’t be contained. Many years ago, I knew a priest whose presence was joyful, kind, forgiving, and powerful. I watched people blossom and grow in faith around him, like flowers nourished by the rain and the sun. I was one of them. I used to think that he chose people to befriend because he saw something special in us, but now I know I had things backwards. We began to feel and behave differently because he treated us as if we were special. We were transformed by how he saw us. That’s how grace works among us.  

We are transformed by how Christ sees us. To Him, we’re His beautiful child. No matter how broken we feel, no matter what our sins might be, no matter how many times we’ve tried before and failed—in His eyes, we’re more precious than gold. Under His gaze, our wounds are healed, our sins forgiven, our hope restored. Grace isn’t some magical pixie dust. Like the Catechism says, it’s participating in the very life of God. It’s undeserved intimacy in the life of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Grace is what gives us supernatural life. Without it any hope for heaven is lost. When we confess our sins and receive Holy Communion, the grace that we receive is the life of God pulling us to His heart and giving us the strength and the will to lead others to Him as well. Like the priest I knew, a grace-filled life radiates love and encouragement, joy and acceptance. People will want what you have and will want to know how your life was transformed. Grace leads people to know God. What better way to spend your days here on earth than bringing other souls along on the road to heaven?

“Have you seen with the eyes of your soul how He looks at you with love?”

—-St. Teresa of Calcutta.

Eternity

The first thing you notice is the smell. Like wet leaves on a forest floor. It’s damp and cool and the only light comes from the string of weak electric bulbs strung along the passageway. Because we had arranged a private tour, we were able to linger here in the catacombs beneath the streets of Rome. Our tour guide, a young nun, led us into tunnels and rooms not often seen by the public. She pointed out frescoes showing Jesus, the Apostles, and some of the earliest Saints of the Church. I especially liked the graffiti left by these hidden Christians who used the catacombs as both burial tombs and worship spaces. Most of the scratched words are prayers for a loved one who has died. Some were just names or single words. A few frescoes showed people in prayer and receiving Holy Communion. Here in this musty and dark place, hidden from pagan eyes, our ancestors in faith celebrated Mass, went to confession, were baptized and married, anointed and laid to rest. For many of them, their Christian faith was a death sentence and so these dark, quiet tunnels were a safe place to proclaim Christ, to come together as a family of faith. It’s a sacred place.  

Sitting there I remembered where we’d been just the week before. That place, too was heavy with history and memory. Ten miles outside Munich is Dachau, the first of the Nazi death camps. Low brick buildings, gravel walkways and that hateful iron sign at the entrance, “Arbeit Macht Frei”(Work make you free). The work of Dachau was hate and the freedom found there came on April 29, 1945 when American troops arrived and liberated the prisoners who were still alive there. Almost 32,000 died at Dachau in the 12 years it existed. Most were Jews, but many others were political prisoners, Catholic priests, immigrants, gays and the disabled. The Nazis carried out horrible “experiments” on prisoners here. It’s like walking through an abandoned corner of hell. But here, too are glimpses of the souls who had lived here. A small Star of David scratched into a barracks wall. A tiny brown shoe in a pile of hundreds of adult shoes. The name “Helga” in the collar of a prison shift. So much loss. The quiet here cries out for justice. This place, too, is sacred. 

Places like these peel away everything that isn’t eternal. They aren’t easy places to experience, but “easy” and “eternal” are rarely the same thing. Like the catacombs, a death camp forces you to answer the big questions: What do you believe? What is true? What are you willing to die for? These timeless questions require silence in order to be heard. You can’t hear eternity in a world full of noise. Jesus knew that. He retreated to quiet places in order to pray and hear the voice of the Father. Our daily lives are crammed with noise and distraction. We become starved for spiritual nourishment. Even many of our own worship experiences are filled with noise and light shows. We can’t tolerate silence. Yet God speaks to us in our quietude, not the in the earthquake, nor the fire, nor the mighty wind, but in a gentle whisper (I Kings 19:2). A whisper that speaks to us of the faith of our ancestors in the catacombs who risked their lives for their love of Christ. A whisper that speaks to us of justice and our calling to love and serve others in a world broken by sin and hate.  

These days in the streets of Rome and Munich, Calais and Paris, thousands of people have come seeking a better life. They have left their homes and loved ones and risked everything out of hope. What will be our response to them? We ourselves know what persecution and hate can do. We’ve seen that already in our history. Before we protest, before we build fences and pass laws, let’s go to a quiet place and listen for that whisper of God. Our hearts will never find peace in the noise of politics and rhetoric, of CNN and Fox News, or in partisan debates. As Christians, we follow the One Who is before all things and in Whom all things hold together (Colossians 1:17). He and He alone can lead us to the answer, if we only sit quietly and ask Him.

“Silence makes us whole if we let it. Silence helps draw together the scattered and dissipated energies of a fragmented existence.” —–Thomas Merton

The Hope of His Church

It’s been a rough few years to be an American Catholic. If by “rough” you mean what’s been covered in the media. We’ve endured the sexual abuse scandals and we’re still healing from them. Parishes and Catholic schools, especially in the north, have been forced to close or consolidate. Our own federal government is attempting to force our Church to pay for abortions and artificial birth control—both of which violate our teachings and beliefs. Some women want to be ordained as priests. The LGBT community, is outspoken (and sometimes violent) in their protests against our beliefs on family life. Many high-profile American Catholics (think Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi or Madonna) are strong supporters of abortion even though that goes against centuries of Church teaching. There’s a growing division in our country between liberal Catholics and conservative Catholics, much like the red state/blue state division in our political lives.

Thankfully there’s so much more to the Catholic Church than what’s reported in the mainstream media. And our Church is much, much larger than just the United States. Despite the media’s consistent doom-and-gloom drumbeat reporting on the declining state of the Church, reality proves She’s alive and well. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who reads and believes Holy Scripture: “…the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). The number of Catholics in the world continues to grow. In Africa the growth rate is amazing: an increase of 6000% in the last century. The number of seminaries and priests in Africa has blossomed to keep up. In Asia, the number of Catholics has doubled in the last century. While the number of priests worldwide declined from 1970 to 2000, that number is now steadily on the rise. If there’s a real vocations story in the Catholic Church it’s not a story of decline, but of recovery. Here in the Archdiocese of Atlanta we have 34 men studying for the priesthood in our part of north Georgia. Religious communities and convents are also experiencing greater numbers of interested men and women. Here in the South, most Catholics have heard of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia or as they’re better known, “the Nashville Dominicans.”  These women teach in parochial schools and wear traditional habits. There are now more than 300 of them with 27 women joining just last year. Their average age is 36, which is quite young. So what’s going on in the developing world and in places like Atlanta and Nashville? What’s attracting more and more people to fully live their Catholic faith with such joy and commitment?

Some people attribute it to the lasting effects of the papacy of St. John Paul II—his charisma, his travels, and the establishment of World Youth Day gatherings like the one we just witnessed in Brazil. His legacy has certainly played a part in attracting and keeping young people excited about their faith. But there’s more to it. Decades of poor or non-existent catchesis are beginning to be replaced with programs geared towards parish youth, like LifeTeen and the Steubenville conferences and retreats. Some parishes have developed their own unique programs as well, but all these have some common threads which draw new people to the Church and keep people active in their Catholic faith:

1) Parish life is centered on the Sacraments and Adoration. You don’t need fancy multi-media Masses and rock music. You DO need liturgies celebrated with reverence and dignity. You need Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. You need pastors and catechists willing to teach the truth of our faith without compromise. If our young people know the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist they’ll be joyful, lifelong Catholics.

2) Confession is offered before Mass and at several other times during the week, not just on Saturday afternoons. Penance is the love, mercy and forgiveness of God and needs to be available when folks can come and not just at a time which may be convenient for the priest. We love our priests, but we need more of them to think “inside the box” in this case.

3) Priests live their vocations joyfully and are great examples of answering God’s call of love and service. They talk to young people about their vocations and invite them to consider a religious vocation.

4) Our Christian calling extends beyond the walls of our parish church. Look at your parish ministries. How many of them exist mainly to serve the parish? How many of them reach out to serve your community? The poor, the immigrant, the imprisoned, the families struggling to make ends meet, the unwed expectant mom who might be thinking about an abortion: these are our neighbors whom Jesus calls us to love and to serve.

If we center our parish life on the Sacraments, on service, and on sacrifice, we won’t be able to build enough new schools, new churches and new seminaries fast enough to keep up. What a wonderful set of “problems” to have!

“…resplendent in faith, hope, and charity [we] manifest Christ to others.”

—-St. John Paul II

Church Facts

I recently read a list of complaints about the church which was written by a young man. It touched on the variety of factors which the author felt has led to young people feeling disengaged, disillusioned, disappointed, and just “dissed” by the church. He cited his list of issues as being central to understanding why so many millennials no longer attend church. The facts are that fewer people of ALL age groups attend church now and while young people often view their issues as unique, they’re not. 

The truth is, at one time or another, we’ve all felt (and may continue to feel) as though our church wasn’t listening to us. That isn’t something unique to churches either. You’re going to feel ignored at work, at home, and among your friends. The church is made up of flawed and sinful people—like you and me. My advice to you is: get over it. If you feel ignored, speak up. Volunteer. You don’t need an invitation to give your time and money to a ministry or project. Just do it. Most churches are chronically in need of more helping hands. You won’t be ignored for long if you’re showing up to help. 

The author despairs that the church isn’t doing enough to help the poor. This might be true for his particular church, but churches do an enormous amount of charitable work. They feed, clothe, educate, and provide medical care to millions of people around the world every single day. If you are in a church that isn’t doing enough for the poor, then start doing it yourself. Open a food bank. Start a soup kitchen. Organize a clothes closet. The poor are always with us and we can always do more to help them.  

He bemoans that his church is not welcoming to newcomers. Does he make it a point to introduce himself to those he doesn’t know? Has he ever invited a visitor for coffee after church? Does he stand at the door and shake hands, hand out bulletins, offer directions or answer questions before church begins?  

The author says that young people want to feel valued. Who doesn’t? We all want to feel that we matter and that we’re contributing members of something greater than ourselves. But this doesn’t happen automatically. Your church can’t value or appreciate someone they don’t know. Are you attending church services? Have you volunteered for ministry service? Have you ever attended a Bible study, a church picnic, or a planning meeting? We have to be willing to sacrifice ourselves for our church, just as Jesus sacrificed everything for her.  

The article goes on to list all the things “the church” could do to improve and to change. The truth is the church is you, it’s me, it’s all of us. If the church has problems, it’s because I have problems. If the church needs help, it’s because I need help. It’s easy to say that you’re not getting anything out of church. The real issue is: what am I bringing to the church? Do I lay myself and my life at His altar and pray that He will use me to enrich His church?

“We are forbidden to neglect the assembling of ourselves together. Christianity is already institutional in the earliest of its documents. The Church is the Bride of Christ. We are members of one another.”

—–C.S. Lewis

A Difficult Prayer

Vatican City is a tiny country located within the city of Rome. It has its own police, its own court system, its own post office. The government of the Vatican has many departments that are responsible for its administration. It even has a Secretary of State. One of the most famous men who have held this post was Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val who served Pope Pius X. He was born in London in 1865 and his father was the Spanish ambassador. He received an excellent education, spoke several languages and, as a priest, rose quickly through the ranks of Church power and influence. Pope Pius X named him Cardinal in 1903, when Rafael was only 38 years old. But aside from all his many talents and diplomatic skills, the young Cardinal was known for his faith and his holiness. In fact, most Catholics might not know that one of their favorite prayers was written by him. It’s called the “Litany of Humility” and it’s one of the most beautiful and most difficult prayers I’ve ever prayed.

It’s difficult because humility is a call to martyrdom. It means dying to self and that’s the hardest thing in the world to do. It’s impossible without the Holy Spirit. To begin with, being humble doesn’t mean being timid or insecure or spineless. Humility isn’t low self-esteem or feelings of inferiority. It doesn’t mean withdrawing from the challenges of life or being a pushover. Humility is seeing yourself honestly and realizing that you are not God. We know that everything we have is a gift from God and apart from Him, we are nothing. Humility makes us grateful. We give thanks to The Lord for everything, including our suffering. Humility knows that God is in control of everything, at every moment, and our surrender to His will gives Him glory.

When we put the needs and wants of other people before our own, it pleases God. When love is how we live, humility is in our hearts. Humility is serving others, obedience to our Maker and contentment in God’s plan for my life. He loves me completely and I belong completely to Him. I don’t have to “do” anything to impress Him. Humility goes against the ways of the world. This prayer, written by a Secretary of State, calls me to live in humility and to experience the peace of Christ in my heart. I hope it will do the same for you.

The Litany of Humility
—by Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val

“O Jesus, meek and humble of heart, hear me.

From the desire of being esteemed, deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being loved, deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being extolled, deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being praised, deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being preferred to others, deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being consulted, deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being approved, deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of being humiliated, deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of being despised, deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of suffering rebukes, deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of being caluminiated, deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of being forgotten, deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of being ridiculed, deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of being wronged, deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of being suspected, deliver me, Jesus.

That others may be loved more than I, Jesus grant me the grace to desire it.

That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be chosen and I, set aside, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be praised and I, unnoticed, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be preferred to me in everything, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

Amen.”

“The three greatest virtues of Christianity: humility, humility, humility.”
—St. Augustine

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