Waste Your Heart On Jesus

treasure of goldRecently I attended a wedding in a grand old cathedral.  Even without the lush flowers and glowing candles put in place for the wedding, the setting was magnificent.  High arches, richly-colored marble floors and stunning stained glass windows were breathtakingly beautiful.  The altar was huge, also of marble, and elaborately decorated with gold embellishments.  Everywhere I looked there was beauty.  The effect of all that beauty was to raise my thoughts and my heart to the Lord, Who is the source of all beauty.  Later over dinner at the wedding reception, the conversation turned to the lavish Cathedral environment.  Several people commented on the beauty of the place and how amazing it must be to worship in a space like that each week.  One man, though, seemed almost angry at what he called “the huge waste of money” invested in marble and gold.  He wasn’t Catholic, so he didn’t know what the tabernacle was for, and pointed out “that big gold box” near the altar and wondered “if they keep their money locked up in it.”  I didn’t tell him that, indeed, our greatest Treasure was inside the tabernacle, since I knew he wasn’t open to hearing about the Eucharist just then.  Most of the folks at the table laughed at his commentary and the conversation quickly moved on to other, lighter topics.
As Catholics, most of us have heard these kinds of comments before.  After all, some of the world’s grandest and most lushly-appointed Christian churches in the world belong to us (I won’t point out the golden, bejeweled temples of many of the world’s other religions).  I’ve talked with people who truly believe that the Chair of Peter in St. Peter’s basilica is really made of solid gold.  Actually, the visible chair, made of bronze and not gold, holds the relic of an oaken chair used by St. Peter.  Still, our Church is often criticized for what many people consider “hoarding” treasure of gold, art, and jewels rather than selling it to help the poor.  Facts are, most of the artwork is held in trust by the Church and not owned outright by it.  Each diocese around the world owns the buildings, etc. in it, not the Vatican anyway.  Aside from the legal facts, there’s a bigger issue involved here.
From the beginnings of the Church, believers have been called to make art as a way of giving glory to God.  In the Jewish tradition, temples and priestly vestments and utensils were made of precious materials as God instructed them to be ( 2 Chronicles).  God knows that the beauty of the world works on our human senses because He created beauty AND our senses.  We’re drawn to the beautiful because it reflects His beauty.  Over the centuries, the Church has given much of Her treasure (and continues to do so today) to help the poor in many ways.  No one can dispute that more people have been educated, given health care, housing and food by the Catholic Church than by any other charitable institution in the world. I think many people struggle with the Church’s wealth because they struggle with this in their own hearts and lives.
We remember the rich young man’s encounter with Jesus (Matthew 19:16-26) and the accusations of waste by the dinner guests when Mary anoints Christ with her costly perfume (John 12:1-8).  In both moments, Christ calls to us to love (and to give) without counting the cost.  Does He mean we should all give away everything we own?  Of course not.  Most of us have families to provide for and obligations to be met, so we need to balance our charity with our vocation in life.  Prudence is the key.  It’s okay to have “things” so long as your things don’t have you.  Giving to the Lord of our time, our talents, and our treasure, not only expresses gratitude to God for His gifts to us, but giving reminds us that the things of the world don’t own us.  God doesn’t need our money, but we need to give it away. 
When we’re in love with Christ, we want to give Him everything.  And the BEST of everything.  So we build Him grand Cathedrals and we will them with the world’s most beautiful paintings and statues and mosaics and frescoes.  Our greatest composers dedicate their music to Him.  Like Mary, we give Him our best and we give it lavishly.  No price of silver or gold can ever match the price that God has paid for each one of us.  Heaven celebrates whenever one of us gives ourselves away to Him.  So go ahead, waste all you have, waste all that you are, on Jesus.  
“Take, O Lord, and receive my entire liberty, my memory, and understanding,and my whole will.  All that I am and all that I possess You have given me.  I surrender it all to You to be disposed of according to Your will.  Give me only Your love and Your grace; and with these I will be rich enough, and will desire nothing more.”
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    –                                 –St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits

Two Prayers You Should Be Praying Every Day

praying_handsThere’s a rhythm to life.  God created the universe in such a way that day follows night, summer follows spring and the sting of death is softened a bit by a newborn baby’s cry.  Every morning that dawns for us is an undeserved gift from God.  None of us is promised tomorrow.  So when we awake to a new day, our first thoughts should be gratitude to the Lord.  In the Catholic prayer tradition we call this the “morning offering,”  In thanksgiving for His many gifts to us, we offer Him back the gift of this new day.  We’re called on to make our lives “a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God”(Romans 12:1).  When we begin each day by giving our lives again to Christ, His grace renews us for our work and the challenges we each will face. 
Morning prayers to God have their roots in the Jewish tradition and Christians have followed this practice for centuries.  But the most familiar morning offering is one composed a French Jesuit priest named Fr. Francois Xavier Gautrelet in 1844.  He was interested in teaching young priests the importance of offering all the moments of their day for God’s greater glory.  This is a cornerstone of Jesuit spirituality and is beautifully expressed in Fr. Francois’ prayer:
“O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer you my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world.  I offer them for all the intentions of Your Sacred Heart, the salvation of souls,the reparation for sin, and the reunion of all Christians. I offer them for the intentions of our bishops and of all Apostles of Prayer, and in particular for those recommended by our Holy Father this month.”  This simple prayer offers God everything we are and all that we do and reminds us of the need to pray for others and the entire family of God.  Start your day in His presence with this lovely offering.
Then, at the end of the day, we all need to examine how we used our time.  Was it for God and neighbor?  Did we give God glory?  Did we sin?  How and why?  Another Jesuit prayer practice is the “daily examen.”  We begin by becoming aware of the presence of the Lord.  We ask the Holy Spirit to help us review the events of the day just ended.  We remember the day with gratitude to God and we pay attention to what God is trying to tell us through the details and emotions of every hour.  We ask God to help us know His will and how we did or didn’t follow Him.  Be patient and allow God to reveal Himself.  Then look to the next day and pray for His grace to meet the challenges you’ll face.  Pray for hope.  A favorite prayer to end the day with is this one:  “I adore You, my God, and I love You with all my heart.  I thank yo for having created me, for having made me a Christian, and for having preserved me this day.  Pardon me for the evil I have done today.  If I have done anything good, be pleased to accept it.  Protect me while I take my rest and deliver me from all dangers.  May Your grace be always with me.  Amen.” 
A rich prayer life begins and ends with our rising and our resting.  These two prayers, or others of your choosing, help us to focus on what is important in life:  our relationship with Christ.  By beginning and ending our days with prayer, we respond to St. Paul’s instruction to “put on the full armor of God”(Ephesians 6:11).  We ask for His help and forgiveness.  We are grateful for His many blessings.  We become aware of our sins and shortcomings and beg God’s mercy and guidance.  Praying before our day begins opens our hearts and minds to Christ’s will for us.  Praying before sleep invites God to help us follow Him more closely tomorrow.  We get into a rhythm of prayer if we do this.  We put ourselves into His loving hands as He leads us along life’s journey.
You don’t know how to pray?  Put yourself in the presence of God and as soon as you have said, ‘Lord, I don’t know how to pray!’ you can be sure you’ve already begun.”          –St. Josemaria Escriva (1902-1975)

Free Education brought to you by The Catholic Church

blackboardIf you can read this, thank the Catholic Church.  What?  You’re thinking:  “I didn’t go to a Catholic school.  I went to public school.  What’s that got to do with the Catholic Church?”  In a word:  everything.  We Americans tend to have a pretty short view of history.  For us, anything over a few hundred years old is ancient.  The truth about education, especially in Europe, is that it was always for the powerful, the wealthy and the titled.  Average people, and by “average” I mean peasants and slaves (i.e. you and me) had no access to education at all.  In Jesus’ world, only temple priests and rabbis had access to learning how to read and write and do mathematics and geometry.  Roman families of wealth and power often used tutors (usually slaves from the Middle East and north Africa) to teach their sons.  Oh yes, it was only for their sons.  But your average shepherd or farmer would have been on his own.  Illiterate.  Occasionally a favorite slave might be given enough education to help out with his master’s business, but that was the rare exception.  For the most part, all the “regular Joes” (and every woman, even the titled or wealthy, were unschooled.  It was the world of the oral tradition, where everything you needed or wanted to know was passed on by word of mouth.  That’s how you learned history and poetry and religion–from listening to your elders and then passing on what you heard to your kids, etc.  Education as we know it simply didn’t exist.
Enter the Catholic Church.  From about the year 180 AD, free elementary, high school and college-level instructional schools were flourishing under the guidance of local Bishops.  Despite the persecutions by various Roman emperors, the Church knew that education the key to teaching and preserving the Christian message.  Heresies were constantly popping up and reading and writing were critical skills in combating them.  These earliest schools taught and trained future priests and clerics.  But if you were a farmer’s son or a shepherd’s son, a priestly vocation came with an education.  For the first time, you didn’t have to be royalty to be educated.  Over the next centuries, the educated priests would open parish schools to teach Holy Scripture and the laws of God (Council of Vaison in 529 AD). 
The Church began to welcome laymen (not just priests) scholars into their established schools.  In the Middle Ages, monastery schools were the center of all public education in Europe.  The Irish monasteries welcomed the children of the poor as well as the rich and they had such a fine reputation as centers of scholarship that laymen from England and all over the Continent went there to study.  Convents opened their schools to teach girls and young women, too.  The children of Europe learned reading, writing, grammar, rhetoric, debating, arithmetic, geometry and music.  The so-called “Dark Ages” were bright with the light of education.  By the time of the Third Council of Lateran, in 1179, the Catholic Church made free public education a part of Church law.  “Every Cathedral Church shall have a teacher who is to teach poor scholars and others, and that no one receive a fee for permission to teach.” 
So thank all your teachers, including your parents, who taught you your ABC’s and 123’s.  And remember that free public education goes back a lot further than our United States. It goes all the way back to the very beginning of Christianity.  The Church knew how important it was to educate the people of God.  Today, the Catholic Church continues to operate the largest non-governmental school system in the world.  The rich history of public education has its roots in the Catholic Church and we’re all the better for it.
“Go, therefore, and teach all nations…”        —Matthew 28-19

The Joy of Christ

Cardinal Timothy DolanI’m really bad at New Year’s resolutions.  I’m good at making them and lousy at keeping them.  Maybe you can identify.  This year I’m trying something different.  This year I’m not making a resolution.  I know how weak and sinful I am, so instead of resolving to do or not do something, I’m praying.  Praying that God will use me in whatever way He wants to so that someone can be lead to His son, Jesus Christ.  I’ve never really specifically prayed for this before.  So it’s like embarking on a new journey.  I may never know how it all works out in this life.  But it’s already giving me a greater sense of joy.
Joy is something that I think many of us have forgotten how to “do” these days.  When we try to be joyful, it falls flat.  It’s like trying to surprise ourselves.  Joy is something you can’t force and you can’t fake.  Joy is a gift from God.  It’s one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit like peace and kindness and patience, that grow within us when God’s grace takes root in our soul.  If you’re living in a state of grace, you’re going to know joy, because you the Source of joy.  But if you’re not, no amount of trying will make it so.  Sadly, I think many Catholics don’t radiate the joy which is the birthright of children of God.  Unfortunately, we’ve had a pretty hard few years as His Church.  The priest sex-abuse scandal is a horrible wound.  Our Church is ridiculed for our defense of marriage as a sacrament between one man and one woman.  Our opposition to abortion and artificial birth control is seen by some as being “behind the times.”  And let’s not forget that we don’t ordain women.  These beliefs and others can be seen as burdensome or antiquated.  But that comes from a poor understanding of what it means to be truly free.
Fr. Robert Barron has a wonderful exposition on freedom in his groundbreaking book and video series “Catholicism.”  If you’re interested in learning about the history of Christianity, this is a great starting place.  In it, he contrasts what most people think freedom means (doing what I want to do) with the true freedom which only Christ can give.  Christian freedom comes from surrendering yourself completely to Christ, which frees us to become all that the Lord created us to be.  Being joyful is what we were made for.  So far from being a bunch of burdensome rules and regulations, the Catholic faith, like a good  mother, leads us into a greater conformity to Christ.  We become Who we worship.  The joy of Christ comes the source of all that is good:  God.  True joy comes from fully serving Him.  The more we share the joy of Christ’s love for us, the more love He gives us and so we become a conduit of joy and love (and peace and kindness, charity, etc.) for others.  Fr. Barron reminds us that our best example in all things is Christ crucified.  He teaches “love what Christ loved on the Cross and despise what Christ despised on the Cross.”  Christ loved doing His Father’s will, forgiving those who wronged Him, pouring out His life for others…and His momma.  What He despised was any claim of power by sin or death.
Someone who radiates that joy to me is Cardinal Dolan of New York.  Since becoming the Archbishop in 2009, he has in many ways also become the face of American Catholicism.  He seems to always be smiling or laughing.  And yet the Cardinal is engaged in a legal battle with the Obama administration over the HHS mandate that requires employers, even Catholic ones, to provide abortion and contraceptive services to their employees.  New York has faced the closures of many local parishes and Catholic schools.  Few men are entering the seminary to become priests.  The emotional and financial destruction left by the abuse scandal and the Church’s handling of it will take many years of healing yet.  But Cardinal Dolan exudes the joy of Christ.  He believes joy is the blessing of the Christian life.  He writes:  “Being Catholic is not a heavy burden, snuffing the joy out of life; rather our faith in Jesus and His Church gives meaning, purpose and joy to life.”  Meaning.  Purpose.  Joy.  Isn’t that what we all want? Isn’t that what we all long for and pray for?  It’s what our hearts and souls were created for.  Jesus Christ, Who made us for Himself has given us a living Church to guide and to nourish us on the way to Him (Matthew 16:18).  When we cleave to the Sacraments He established, we find that meaning, purpose and joy that we desire.  And it’s our joy that will draw others to know Jesus, the Source of all joy.  This is what I pray for in this New Year:  Dear Lord, may the joy of Your life in me lead souls to know Your Sacred Heart.  Amen.”
“My motto:  Be happily and uncomplicatedly Catholic.” 

                                                      –Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan of Santa Fe