The Clumsy Wife

He was always careful that the bruises wouldn’t show.  He’d learned that over the years with her.  Once, early on, he’d been careless and he noticed her sister staring at the purplish fingerprints he’d left on her upper arm.  A joke about her clumsiness and his having to catch her before she fell and the sister forgot what she’d seen.  By now, her “clumsiness” was well-known to their family and friends and it came in handy when he’d needed it to.  But he was careful now.  When they’d first met, she’d been so sweet and always did what she could to please him and make him happy.  She was quiet and respectful.  She didn’t talk back to him or question his authority as her husband.  If he wanted a meal, she stopped what she was doing and cooked for him.  If he needed a backrub, she gave him one.  Nothing that he wanted was too small for her total attention.  And that’s the way he wanted it, the way he wanted her.  She started causing problems when he lost his job.  His stupid boss never understood him, and one day he just couldn’t take it anymore.  He stormed out of the mill in a rage and never looked back.  She told him not to worry, that she could get a job and help pay the bills until he was back on his feet.  “Back on his feet?”  Did she think it was his fault he’d lost his job?  She didn’t understand anything at all.  But he let her take that job at the dry cleaners, while he looked around for something worthy of his talents.  That job of hers was the biggest problem of all, thinking back.  She loved it more than she loved him. Always going in early, staying late, volunteering to work on her day off.  He knew what was really going on, though. It was her and that boss of hers.  Of course, she denied it, but he knew.  He could tell.  So he had to keep her in line.  She made him so mad.  It was really her fault that he hit her.  Any husband would do the same thing.  Right?

Eighty-five percent of the victims of domestic violence are women.  A woman’s greatest risk of violence comes from someone she loves–either her husband or her boyfriend.  Over 50% of men who abuse their wives also beat their children.  Children who grow up in violent homes are more likely to abuse alcohol and drugs later in life, and to become abusers themselves.  In that sense, being an abuser is “inherited” by the next generation, and the cycle of abuse continues.  Domestic violence is learned behavior.  Men who batter or abuse women physically, sexually, verbally, or economically have learned how to mistreat them from watching other men do it.  They believe they have a right to use criticism, intimidation, control, fear, and violence.  Abusive men come from all economic classes, races, religions and occupations.  They may be a “good provider” and a respected member of their church and community.  Typically, they are described as jealous, possessive, and easily-angered.  They fly into rages over small things.  Many try to isolate their partners by limiting their contact with family and friends.
In 1996, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a lengthy statement condemning violence against another person as never being justified.  “Violence in any form–physical, sexual, psychological or verbal–is sinful and often a crime.”  The Catholic Church teaches that violence against someone else fails to treat the other person as a child of God, as someone worthy of love.  Violence or intimidation uses the other person as an object and goes against the love and mercy of Christ.  The Bishops emphasized that “no person is expected to stay in an abusive marriage.”  If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline to find help in your area.  Call 1-800-799-SAFE or email them at:
“Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church.  He gave Himself up for her.”   
             St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, Chapter 5, Verse 25.

In Every Christian, There’s a Hobbit

He lives alone and likes it that way.  He enjoys cooking elaborate meals for himself from the the food in his well-stocked pantry.  Nothing gives him more happiness than a roaring fire in his cozy den, a good book to read and a pipe full of his favorite tobacco.  He entertains rarely but when he does, he’s an excellent and thoughtful host to his friends and family.  He leads a very quiet and a very ordinary life.  He was sure that’s how his life would always be.  But he was wrong.  He was about to be called to play a role in a great story — one that would involve risking his life for his friends and fighting against all odds for the triumph of good over evil.
Bilbo Baggins of Bag End, Hobbiton, The Shire, is very much like you and me.  Content, happy and in so many ways unaware of his gifts and his calling.  He’s middle-aged, prosperous, and content.  But his creator, J.R.R. Tolkien, has made him for greater things.  Our creator has made us for greater things, too.  He calls us to enter into a life with Him and to leave the things and the ways of our comfortable lives behind us.  Like Bilbo, our adventure is one that challenges us to abandon what we’ve known and to enter into a new life, for His purpose.  There’s a lot of researched scholarship which is devoted to understanding Tolkien’s Catholic imagining of Middle Earth and all the creatures that fill it.  But literary criticism isn’t my strength.  Like Bilbo, I’m just your average, home-loving hobbit — minus the hairy feet.  Like Bilbo, though I’ve been called to a great journey that is still unfolding and I think, in many ways, his story is my story, too.  And maybe it’s yours as well.
Bilbo found his calling when he left his cozy hobbit-hole and stepped out into the wide world with his band of friends.  But merely leaving the Shire and its comforts behind him didn’t transfigure Bilbo into his truest self.  It was the journey, with all its discomforts and dangers that revealed to him his purpose.  And this revelation wasn’t instantaneous and it didn’t immediately transform him from hobbit to hero.  He had setbacks and failings — many of them — and often longed for nothing else but the comfort and larder of his den back home.  But Bilbo persevered.  He kept going.  He drew strength from his circle of friends, in all their gifts and weaknesses.  He learned what he could do and what he needed help with.  And Bilbo wasn’t afraid to ask for help.  He relied on dwarves and elves and men and eagles in equal measure.  And he relied on Gandalf, always there in a pinch to keep him on the road.  The road itself is a main character in Tolkien’s story. He shows us how our lives are most-fully revealed when we step outside our comfort zones and follow a greater purpose.
We learn from Bilbo that there is good that is worth fighting for, no matter how evil the world around us may seem at times. We see the allure of evil and how it can both entice and enslave us.  Even his friends the dwarves became victims of their own greed for the dragon’s spoils.  Possessing all that gold and silver becomes the end in itself for them.  They fight and bicker and turn away from Bilbo.  This is how evil can divide us one from the other, by its worldly attractiveness and temporary beauty, or prestige or power..  It would be easy to see Bilbo as a kind of “everyman saint” and Gandalf as the Christ-figure, leading him to redemption.  I’ll stop short of that here.  What I will suggest is that in a culture of Twilight and The Hunger Games, Tolkien’s writings can offer your ‘tweens (and yourself) an imaginative and exciting world rich in Christian values and symbolism.  They’ll see friends working and sacrificing together for a common good.  They’ll find acts of charity and valor and moral courage.  In Tolkien’s world there is objective truth and absolute evil with no moral relativism.  Suffering is never wanton or useless, but is always embraced by heroes as a way of working out their salvation which, in turn, brings about a right ordering of their larger world.  In Bilbo, we can see ourselves on our own Christian journey, only better.  And with hairy feet.
“There is a lot more in him than you guess, and a deal more than he has any idea of himself.”
                                             —Gandalf describing Bilbo, The Hobbit, Chapter 1

The Church is ONE

In the middle of this political season we seem to be continually confronted with messages labeled either “liberal” or “conservative.” It’s red state versus blue state, small government versus big government, cutting spending versus raising taxes, ad infinitum.  And this kind of polarization goes beyond politics into our larger lives as well.  We’re either Apple or PC, Coke or Pepsi, paper or plastic. After a while it all seems a bit futile.  Whatever truth may lie in the message of one group or another tends to get lost in the back and forth of competing talking points.  Discourse becomes mere noise. When that happens, all but the most committed partisans tend to tune things out.  At least I do.

Unfortunately today this same kind of polarizing rhetoric occurs
within the Church as well.  It used to be that Catholics were either
“practicing” or “fallen away.”  You either went to Mass every Sunday
and received the Sacraments or you didn’t.  If you were “in” it meant
that you accepted the teaching authority of the Pope and the bishops
and tried, with God’s grace, to live out the teachings of the Church
as best you could.  You were either all in and a committed believer or
you were out of the fold.  Today, things are much more complicated and
nuanced.  Following the various reforms of Vatican II, parish life has
changed in form and practice more than once.  Many times these changes happened as a result of a particular pastor’s liturgical interests or style.  In many dioceses, clear pastoral leadership on the
implementation of the Council reforms took years to coalesce into
solid, practical norms.  In some cases, this is still a work in
progress.  Over the decades, our differences have followed the secular
trends of liberal/conservative, progressive/traditional, or however
else you choose to characterize us.

For outsiders looking in, like the vast majority of mainstream media
types, these differences are hard to understand.  The world finds it
very puzzling to imagine a Church that would include so many disparate
groups.  They stare at us and point and write their opinions of what’s
“wrong” with the Catholic Church.  But mostly they want to tell us
what we need to do to “fix” it.  What this means really is that they
want us to become a Catholic Church they can be comfortable with.
Recently, a group took out an ad in the New York Times urging
“liberal” Catholics to leave the Church.  It’s a rather odd obsession
if you think about it since, as we say here in the South:  they don’t
have a dog in this fight.

But the Catholic Church is a mother who loves and embraces all her
children.  We are, after all, the church of the Big Tent.  As the
Irish writer James Joyce penned about us:  “Here comes everybody!”
Benedictines, Jesuits, Carmelites, Opus Dei and everybody in-between.
We enjoy Mass in Latin and we celebrate charismatic healing Masses,
too.  We chant.  We dance.  We pray in silence.  We pray in tongues.
The truth of our faith can have many different expressions.  Yet at
the Eucharistic table of our Lord, all of us gather in worship and
adoration as one Body of Christ.  This oneness is the strength of our
Church and is something every Catholic must defend and protect.  When
we let the world define us, we become more like the world and less
like the spotless Bride of Christ.  We need to be telling our own
story, not allowing the world to tell it for us.  Pope Benedict XVI
knows this well and his teaching on media and evangelization leads us
to embrace and exploit the resources of the digital age as the means
of our storytelling.  When we are the ones telling our story, we
reflect the various threads and patterns of our faith that are woven
together by Christ into the living tapestry of the Catholic Church.
The vigorous and courageous pastoral leadership of our Bishops is a
critical part of this storytelling and many are emerging to lead us
through this next chapter of the Catholic Church in America.  None of
us can afford to stand on the sidelines at this critical time in our
long history.  Our religious freedom is much more important than the
labels we apply to one another.  So if someone asks you if you’re a
“liberal” Catholic or a “conservative” Catholic, there can be only one
response:  “I am a Roman Catholic.”

“The Bishops speak for the Catholic and Apostolic faith, and those who
hold that faith gather around them.”

                                  —Francis Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago

Spiritual Deserts

She went to Mass every day.  She listened to the Word of God proclaimed and heard the priest’s homily — words meant to enlighten and inspire.  She received the Eucharist in Holy Communion.  At home, she prayed.  Her family watched her go to work and watched her come home again.  She cooked and cleaned and cared for her children and her husband.  She was active in her ministry work at church and as a volunteer at the local hospital.  And always, she prayed.  On the outside, nothing had changed.  But on the inside, everything was darkness.  Her spiritual life, once the source of her joy and peace, was now a wasteland.  Prayer brought her no comfort.  Her pleas to God went unanswered.  She felt totally cut-off from Christ, from the sweet Savior Who had always felt so close to her.  She felt alone.  She felt lost.
There are times in life when God seems very close to us.  The sun of His love shines brightly.  Our hearts exult in the joy of His presence.  Every Mass is a foretaste of heaven and Holy Communion is almost unbearable intimacy with Christ.  When we read Holy Scripture, He speaks to us directly and reveals His heart fully to us. Our prayer life is rich, satisfying and exciting.  We feel as if we are always in the presence of our Lord.  And then it seems, for no reason, we wake one day to find ourselves cast away from Him, no longer in His presence at all but in a kind of spiritual desert.  Anyone who follows Christ will someday experience this dryness and spiritual loneliness.  In the Catholic tradition, many great Saints have written of their own experiences of feeling isolated from Christ.  St. John of the Cross’ most famous work is The Dark Night of the Soul.  St. Therese of Lisieux wrote:  “For me it is always night; dark black night…but since my Beloved wishes to sleep, I shall not prevent Him.”  More recently, the private letters of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta have revealed that this loving and heroic woman lived for many years in the lonely darkness of a spiritual void.  And yet she persevered in her work with the poor.  To the outside world, her faith seemed as vibrant and alive as ever.
The truth is:  it was.  It’s a mistake for us to think that our “feelings” define our faith lives.  Faith is more than just warm and fuzzy feelings.  The gift of faith requires a conscious decision to follow Jesus Christ.  Feelings fade, but true faith persists in the desert.  It can even thrive there.  Remember in St. Matthew’s Gospel, that it wasn’t the devil that led Christ into the desert:  it was the Spirit of God.  Whether we like it or not, all of us will be led into that desert at one time or another.  In that blistering, lonely wilderness we can, like Christ, be cleansed and purged for God’s great purpose.  What did Christ do in the desert?  He fasted and prayed and waited on God.
This is what we also can do when our interior faith life becomes dry, dusty, and silent.  Pray, even when you don’t feel like it.  Go to Mass as often as you can.  Go to Confession every week.  Do something for someone else.  Fast. Read the Gospels every day.  Be quiet.  This last one may be the most difficult of all.  Spend some time each day quietly and prayerfully opening your heart to God’s presence.  This “desert time” can be a wonderful gift, because it is a time just for you and for God to be together.  In the wilderness, He teaches us to rely on Him more completely, to depend on Him for all our needs.  Alone with Him, we learn that He is using this desert to teach us how to love Him as He already loves us.  Completely.
“I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved Me and followed Me through the desert, through a land not sown.” 
                                                                                                            –Jeremiah 2:2

Working For The Kingdom

At a construction site, three men were pouring a mixture of sand, water, and lime into a trough.  A passerby asked them what they were doing.  The first man said, “I’m making mortar.”  The second one said, “I’m laying bricks.”  But the third man said, “I’m building a cathedral.”  They were all doing the same work.  It was their attitudes that were different—and what a difference they made!  Each one of us can probably identify with this story in our own lives.  We all know people who take the short view of life.  They do just enough to get by, whether at their jobs or in their families or in their relationship with God.  They come to Mass at Christmas and Easter and drop their $5 in the collection basket when it comes by.  They bring their children to be baptized and bring their parents for a Catholic funeral.  They are the ones making mortar.
Surely, we know some of the second type as well.  These are the people we work with every day.  They show up, do a good job and take pride in being a good employee.  They love their families and their children.  They’re next to us in the pew at Mass every Sunday.  They know the words to most of the hymns and they usually give some of their treasure to help pay the bills.  They do all that’s asked of them.  They are the ones laying bricks.
If we’re blessed, we know a few of the last ones as well.  They are the people who do their jobs with joy and gladly help other to do their jobs, too.  They don’t ask for credit or recognition and just being around them makes you feel good.  They volunteer for the PTA and the carpool when they aren’t coaching Little League or teaching Sunday School.  They come to daily Mass.  They take Holy Communion to the nursing home and do what needs to be done around the church without even being asked.  They tithe ten percent of their income to the Church and are often those “anonymous donors” who contribute generously to keep the parish going when times are tough.  They are not only building a cathedral, they’re building the Body of Christ.
I don’t know about you, but I want to be one of these last people.  I want to serve God and His Church joyfully and gladly and I know that I can best serve Him by serving others.  “Just getting by” isn’t enough.  My faith is too important to me to spend my time on earth just making mortar.  I need God always at the center of my life and I need the strength and courage that He gives me in His Sacraments.  I need the love and support of my parish family.  This is what stewardship is all about—because the more we need, the more we need to give.  We need to offer serious time for prayer, Adoration, and Mass.  We need to give our time to help the poor and the needy.  We need to share our talents, whatever they may be.  We need to put ourselves at the service of the One Who gives us everything.  We understand that it takes a lot of money for the Church to function, so we give sacrificially so our parish can carry out its ministry work.  In helping to build the Body of Christ, I’m laying up treasure in heaven.  This is the joy of stewardship:  in knowing that my humble gifts laid at His altar for His purpose never belonged to me anyway.  They were always the mortar and the bricks in the Cathedral of His Kingdom.
“Persevere in the exact fulfillment of the obligations of the moment. That work – humble, monotonous, small – is prayer expressed in action that prepares you to receive the grace of the other work – great and wide and deep – of which you dream.”
                                 –St. Jose Maria Escriva,The Way, 825

Our Choices and Our Callings

They knew one another well.  They had lived together, studied together, traveled together, and prayed together.  They knew each other’s families.  They read the same texts and they debated together over what they meant.  They passionately loved their God and they dedicated their lives to His glory and service.  They were a band of brothers who changed the world.  And they died for their beliefs.
These men were the Twelve Apostles of Christ.
These men were the nineteen hijackers of 9/11.
What are you willing to die for?
Cyrus the Great was the Emperor of Persia in the 5th century B.C. and was constantly at war with Cagular, a powerful tribal chieftain who lived along his southern border.  Finally exasperated after years of war, Cyrus sent his entire Persian army to capture Cagular and his family and to bring them to his palace for judgment.  Cyrus was impressed by their dignity and bearing under the circumstances.  Thoughtfully, the Emperor asked Cagular what he would do if his life was spared.  Cagular replied, “Your majesty, if you spared my life, I would return to my home and remain your obedient servant as long as I live.”  “What would you do if I spared the lives of your children?” asked Cyrus.  Cagular answered, “Your majesty, if you spared the lives of my children, I would gather them all under your banner and lead them to victory for you on every battlefield.”  Then Cyrus asked, “What would you do if I spared the life of your wife?”  Cagular answered, “Your majesty, if you spared the life of my wife, I would die for you.”  The Emperor was so moved by Cagular’s responses that he freed them all, returned them to their home and made Cagular the governor of that province.  When they were safely home and alone, Cagular reflected on the experience to his wife.  He had been awed by the marble of the palace, the rich tapestries, the Emperor’s golden throne.  His wife didn’t recall any of those things.  “Well,” Cagular said in surprise, “What did you see as we stood before the Emperor on the day of judgment?”  She replied, “I saw only the face of the man who said he would die for me.”
When you know what you’d be willing to die for, you’ve discovered what you should live for.  As Christians, we know that Jesus Christ loved us so much that He gave His life to save us from sin.  His love for us is our salvation.  And Christ calls us to be that same love for one another, as we are all members of His Body.  Throughout the history of His Church, God has raised up for us examples of holy men and women whose lives have mirrored the love of Christ.  From the twelve Apostles, to St. Benedict, St. Francis of Assissi, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Teresa of Avila, and so many others, we see the love of Christ in action.  In our own time, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Pope John Paul II both opened their hearts to God and allowed the life, teachings, and person of Jesus Christ to transform their lives. 
Each of our lives is the sum of the choices we make each day.  It’s as if every day is one tiny piece of mosaic we’re creating and the picture we’re working on can only be seen and recognized at the end, from the perspective of a life fully-lived, finally realized.  But God isn’t calling you to be another St. Francis or another Mother Teresa.  The Church doesn’t need another St. Benedict.  The Church needs you, with all your unique gifts and graces.  There’s certainly very little in common with Christ’s Apostles and the 9/11 hijackers.  And yet, it was their individual and shared choices that led both groups to their ultimate end.  The Apostles, living in Christ, spread the Good News of His Gospel to the world and were martyred for their faith.  The hijackers murdered thousands of innocent victims in order to further a political cause. 
And so we return to our opening question and reflect on these words of Venerable John Cardinal Newman (1801-1890): “God  has created me to do Him some definite service.  He has commited some work to me which He has not commited to another.  I have my mission.  I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the end.” 
What (or Who) are you willing to live for? 
“I am not afraid…….I was born to do this.”           
                                                                   —St. Joan of Arc (1412 – 1431)

The Mission Fields

On Sunday, July 20, 1969 at 3:17 EST, two men first set foot on the surface of the moon.  Neil Armstrong famously took that “giant leap
for mankind,” followed shortly by his partner, Buzz Aldrin.  The third member of their crew, Michael Collins, orbited above them in the
command module.  After landing, Aldrin opened a tiny package he’d brought with him from his church back home and consumed what wasinside.  He read the Scripture, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me will bring forth much fruit” (John 15:5).  The package he’d brought with him had contained a tiny silver chalice, a vial of wine, and a communion wafer.  As Aldrin later wrote, “In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine slowly curled and gracefully came up the side of the cup…the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the very first food eaten there were the communion elements.”  While Aldrin’s bread and wine weren’t the Catholic communion of Christ’s Body and Blood, his faith in God’s word and his reverence for the idea of communion with God in that historic moment reflect our human need to connect with our Creator.  In his own way, Buzz Aldrin was bringing a sense of the Church to the new world of the moon.

But the Lord’s Church exists in community.  Jesus taught us to “love
one another” as He loves us (John 13:34-35).  He wants us to bring the
Good News of the Gospel to the ends of the earth.  In St. Matthew’s
Gospel, Jesus spoke to His disciples about this very thing:
“Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in
the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and
teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you”(Matthew
28:19-20).  This is called “The Great Commission.”  From the days of
the Apostles, the Catholic Church has sent out missionaries to every
corner of the world.  Many of Christ’s Twelve were martyred for their
faith in foreign lands including India, Russia, and Armenia.  In the
centuries that followed, the Church and Her religious orders ventured
to wherever there were people.  St. Augustine of Canterbury took the
Gospel to England and St. Patrick traveled to Ireland.  St. Francis
Xavier preached and taught throughout Asia and Fr. Matteo Ricci took
Catholicism to 16th century China.  In our own country, Blessed
Junipero Serra established the churches along California’s famous
“mission trail.”  From Her beginning, the work of the Church has been
to pour out the love of Christ to a lost and hurting world. In that
pouring out, we make connections with one another and create
relationships.  Love exists in relationship, not in a vacuum.
Sometimes our missionaries met a martyr’s death.  Even today, being
Catholic in many of the world’s countries can bring about repression,
persecution and death.  Despite the dangers, the “Great Commission” of
Christ goes on.

We are all called to be examples of Christ to the people in our lives.  God doesn’t lead most of us to the foreign mission fields, but rather
to the neighborhoods and communities in which we live and work.
Living our faith in our own country today can be difficult.  If we
stand up for our beliefs as Catholic Christians we can experience the
“little martyrdoms” of losing face and losing friends.  It takes
courage in our culture to say:  “I believe in the Real Presence of
Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist.  I believe in celibacy for single
people and in chastity for all people.  I believe that marriage is a
sacrament of God and that it is created by Him to join one man and one
woman together in a lifelong commitment of love and mutual respect.  I
believe in the sanctity of human life from conception until natural
death.  I believe abortion is murder.  I believe that artificial
contraception is inherently evil.”  These beliefs are counter-cultural
in the same way that Jesus is counter-cultural.  We see our Catholic
faith being attacked, ridiculed and marginalized in the media every
day.  The world just doesn’t “get” Catholicism.  And I think this
means we’re doing something right.

So when you’re feeling discouraged by all the attacks on Christianity,
get into your fighting stance:  in a pew, on your knees, before our
Lord and Savior.  Pray that you’ll have the heart and courage to be a
worthy servant in today’s mission fields of work and community and
social media.  Pray also that our Bishops will have the courage of the
Apostles to fearlessly proclaim the Gospel of Christ and to shepherd
His flock as He would have them do.  And love.  Love one another and
care for one another:  the poor, the immigrants, the sick, the widow
and orphan, the imprisoned, the unborn and the lonely.  When we love
as Christ loves, we unleash the power of God’s grace which can soften
the hardest of hearts.  Every lost soul is a mission field.

“In this world, you will have trouble.  But take courage, I have
conquered the world.”  —(John 16:33)

The Hidden Lies of the “New” Age

The spa is beautiful and inviting.  It’s a relaxing atmosphere with flickering candles and the warm scent of aromatherapy oils.  Your private treatment room is darkly lit, sweet-smelling and furnished with a comfy lounge chair, padded massage table and several low ottomans with crystals and sage scattered on them.  Everything about the place says, “Welcome.  Come in. Relax. Leave your troubles at the door. There’s good energy here.  Imagine good things and good things will come to you.” 
It used to be called the New Age Movement.  Before that it was Spiritualism, Pantheism and Gnosticism. There’s really nothing new about it, though.  But because most of our post-modern memories are very short (140 characters or less) and sometimes light on historical grounding, it all can seem new and innovative.  The Catholic Church has been unmasking these “spiritual” movements since the first century.  Simon Magus was a sorcerer practicing his tricks in Jerusalem when he was confronted and rebuked by St. Peter (Acts 8:9-24).  Over the centuries, many different strands of mysticism, “hidden” or “secret” knowledge, philosophy, and superstition have combined, devolved, and re-formed themselves under a variety of names. It’s hard to define the New Age because it has no central belief system or doctrine.  New Age beliefs recoil against doctrine and typically espouse the “truth is relative” point of view.  Followers include Edgar Cayce, Carlos Castaneda, Ram Dass, Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra, Eckhart Tolle and…gulp..Oprah Winfrey.  It isn’t hard to know why folks look for meaning in life.
Human beings long for God because He made us for Himself.  St Augustine famously wrote “You have made us…and our hearts are restless until they rest in You” (The Confessions, Book I, Chapter I).  This spiritual seeking leads people down all sorts of paths, including what we call New Age.  But as the saying goes, “There are many paths that lead into the wilderness, but only one way that leads us home.”  For Catholics, that “one way” isn’t a path, but a Person:  Jesus Christ. In our culture today, New Age beliefs and practices have filtered into so many aspects of our daily lives that the movement as a movement has virtually disappeared from our vocabulary.  We have assimilated New Age thought to such a degree that most people, even believing and practicing Christians, would be hard-pressed to identify them.  In the spa described earlier, the setting reveals several New Age accessories including the oils and crystals.  Even the practice of massage and feng shui are often borrowed by New Age practitioners.  This isn’t to suggest that indulging in a “spa day” is inherently anti-Christian.  But it’s prudent for us to be aware of what we welcome into our lives.  Most of the following beliefs and practices are embraced by New Age adherents:

1)  Horoscopes
2)  Tarot cards or other readings by “psychics”
3)  Attempts to contact the dead
4)  Crystals thought to have healing powers
5)  Believing in karma and “luck”
6)  Reincarnation or “transmigration of souls”
7)  Believing that “good thoughts attract good things to you” which is the premise of the book and movie “The Secret” and many others like it
8)  Jesus Christ is one among many other deities, with you being a deity as well
9)  Every religion leads to the same goal
10) There is no objective truth
11) No belief can be condemned
12) No one needs forgiveness since there is no good or evil, only “illumination” and “ignorance”
13) Love is energy, not deeds or actions
14) God is a “higher state of consciousness” not a Person.  God is all and all are God.
15) “Ancient wisdom” from Egypt, Greece, Babylon and the “mother goddess” worship is valuable
16) The universe, life and matter, were not created by God, but are God.
17) It’s better to feel, than to believe.

It’s easy to see these beliefs unfolding in today’s culture.  Every belief system is valued — except Christianity.  No one is to be condemned for their beliefs or lifestyle — except for Christians.  There’s no such thing as sin or salvation.  Protecting nature and the climate is more important than upholding the dignity of human life.  “Ghosts” can enlighten us — but not the Holy Spirit.  Jesus was a “good guy” but no holier than Buddha or Confucius or anyone else, for that matter.  Right and wrong are outdated concepts.  We are all one and should support one civil government that gives everyone what they need in order to become enlightened and bring about peace.  Sound familiar?  This stuff isn’t new at all, but there is a word that the Catholic Church has used to describe it since the time of Christ:  HERESY.
“God is a feeling experience, not a believing experience.”                               

–Oprah Winfrey

Love In Disguise

There’s an old story that’s told about a king who lived in a far-off, distant land.  He had a rich kingdom, with all his needs and most of his desires met everyday by the royal court that served him.  He was loved and respected by his family and noblemen and was known throughout the land for his wisdom and fairness.  It seemed the king had everything he could have ever wanted.  Except for one very important thing:  he had no heir to whom he could leave his kingdom and all its wealth.  So in his wisdom and he came up with a plan.  He would invite young people from all over his kingdom to come to the castle and be interviewed for the job.  He’d sift through the applicants and find the most-qualified, most well-suited young man to become his prince and heir.  The king sent out the word to his people and then he waited.

Far away in a tiny remote village, a poor young man heard about the king’s plan.Intelligent and hard-working, his heart leapt at the thought of meeting the king and perhaps earning his trust to become his adopted prince.  But the castle was a long way from the young man’s village and he had no supplies at hand for such a hard journey.  So the young man worked and saved day and night to earn enough to buy the food he needed to make the trip and some new clothes to wear for his meeting with the king.  After weeks of work and difficult travel, he finally found himself outside the king’s castle.

Sitting by the castle gate was a filthy beggar dressed in dirty rags, crouched in the dust of the road.  “Have pity on me, my son” the beggar cried out to the young man.  “Help me.” The young man looked down at the beggar and his heart was moved to pity for him.  He gave the beggar the new clothes he’d worked so hard to buy.  And he gave him the money he’d saved for his return trip home.  The beggar was overjoyed and thanked the young man for his generous heart and kindness.  But now his giving heart was fearful as he looked down at the old clothes he’d worn on his travels.  Since he’d given away the only new clothes he had to the beggar, he was going to have to wear his old things to meet the king.  “Oh well,” he thought, “I’ve come too far to let anything stop me now.”  He was escorted into the palace and led down a long hallway to the king’s throne room.  As the huge doors opened before him, the young man stepped into the presence of the king.  There, seated on the throne, was the beggar wearing the clothes the young man had given him.  The king looked at his shocked visitor, threw open his arms and exclaimed, “Welcome, my son!” This old story illustrates Jesus’ teaching that He shares with us in the Gospel:  “Whatever you did for the least brothers of Mine, you did for Me” )Matthew 25:40).

We’ve all heard versions of God’s call for our generosity in countless stories like this one.  We’ve become so accustomed to the theme that we can often anticipate the ending.  I’m sure many of you felt that the old beggar was, in the end, going to be revealed to us as the king in disguise.  But there’s a difference between these old stories and real life.  In our everyday encounters with those in need, we don’t see the “big reveal” at the end.  We only see the poor in their poverty or the sick in their illness.  Blessed Mother Teresa  called what we see with our eyes as “the distressing disguise” that covers Christ.  She was able, with God’s grace, to see beyond that disguise and to see each person whom she encountered as Christ Himself.  What Blessed Teresa did is what we are all called to do — to bring care and compassion to our “least brothers.”  Sharing Christ’s love with others is how we build up the Body of Christ and how we, in our own way, assist Him in making His Kingdom among us.  This “hands-on” Christianity isn’t something reserved for the clergy and religious among us. 

If you profess to love Jesus, it isn’t optional.  Many of us support the work of those who care for the sick and the dying, who bring faith and comfort to the imprisoned, who provide housing and services to the poor and the immigrants among us.  This is a wonderful gift to the Lord’s people.  But it’s not enough.  We’re also called to care for the people we personally encounter in our daily lives.  The stranded motorist.  The mother struggling to find enough grocery money in the checkout line.  The elderly man who seems lost and confused.  The neighbor who lives alone and unvisited.  The ex-prisoner asking for a job.  The relative from whom we’re estranged.  Our response to the “least of our brothers” reveals the truth of our hearts and the depth of our relationship with Christ.  We’re called to eagerly, freely, openly and joyfully serve the people of God, expecting nothing in return.  The young man in our story did this.  And he was welcomed by the king he’d helped.  May we also be welcomed into the presence of our Lord and King, Whom we serve in love.

“Today the poor of our world are looking up at you.  Do you look back at them with compassion?  Do you have compassion for the people who are hungry?  They are hungry not only for bread and rice, they are hungry to be recognized as human beings.  They are hungry for you to know that they have their dignity and they want to be treated as you are treated.  They are hungry for love.”
                                         —Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta (1910-1997)

His Great Mercy

It’s the season of Lent and God is calling us to repent.  He longs for us to turn our hearts away from sin and to receive His tender mercy.  Like any loving parent, our Lord wants to hold us in His arms as we tell Him what we’ve done wrong and ask for His forgiveness.  Yet, so much of the time, we don’t go to Him.  We avoid confession, perhaps out of fear that God won’t forgive us.  But here’s a newsflash:  God isn’t going to fall out of love with you.  EVER.  No matter what your sins might be, no matter how long you’ve been away from Him.  He’s not just loving you until someone better comes along.  Even in our sins, He loves us.  Even in our sins, He died for us.  If our sins are as numerous as the grains of sands on the beach, God’s mercy is the ocean—limitless, deep, and abiding. 
In confession, we encounter that love and mercy.  We are penitents at the feet of our loving Lord.  We’re talking not to a priest, but to God Himself.  The priest is just His instrument.  Only God the Father in heaven can forgive our sins through the saving love of Christ.  Jesus gave His priests the authority to forgive sins when He breathed on His Apostles and said to them:  “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (Matthew 16:19; 18:18; John 20:22-23).  When we come to Christ in the confessional, we’re like the woman at Jacob’s well, face-to-face with Jesus, Who knows “everything I have ever done!” (John 4:29).  We come to Him in true sorrow for all that we’ve done or failed to do as Christians.  Of course, He knows our sins already.  Our confession is the chance to own up to them and say, “I’m sorry, Lord, please forgive me.  I won’t do it again.”  And He meets us there, not as a judge or accuser, but as a loving Father Who has been anxiously awaiting our return to Him.  Every confession is like the homecoming of the prodigal son in Jesus’ parable.  “See, the Father comes out to meet you.”  St. Ambrose wrote, “He will fall on your neck and give you a kiss.”  In fact, Russians call confession “the kiss of Christ.”  A Russian-born writer, Catherine de Hueck wrote that her mother taught her to talk with Jesus in confession as if she were talking with our own earthly father:  “I would tell Him how sorry I was for doing something He didn’t like.  In my imagination, Christ hugged me and said something like, ‘That’s all right.  I know it’s not always easy to do the right thing.’ Then He would kiss me and bless and say: ‘Now, go and play.’ ”  If we could all imagine Christ like this, the line at the confessional would be a mile long!
As Catholics, we believe that there is real grace and life-changing love in the power of this healing Sacrament given to us by Jesus. In confession, Christ raises us up from the death of our sins and unbinds us just as He raised Lazarus and set him free from the bonds of death. Every confession is a rebirth of Grace. The English writer G.K. Chesterton said that confession was one of the reasons he became Catholic.  “The Catholic believes that in that dim corner, in that brief ritual, God has really remade us in His own image (The Way of the Lamb).  The word “Lent” means “springtime.”  It’s a season of new beginnings, when death gives way to life and light overcomes the darkness.  As we prepare for Easter, let’s use this Lent to turn our hearts once more to Jesus’ saving mercy in the Sacrament of Confession.  He’s waiting there to hear us and forgive us.  His arms are open wide in welcome and His mercy is limitless.  If you’re a Catholic who’s been away from the Church, for whatever reason, God is calling you home to Himself.  Come home for Easter.  Come home in confession.
“Your sins are forgiven.”  —-Mark 2:5