A Seed Planted

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I see her standing there almost every week. She’s alone except for her little brown dog, on the same corner each time, across the street from the hospital. When I turn next to where she stands, she looks at me. Not with a glance, but with a solid, almost searching look, like she really sees me and not just another driver in what must be hundreds of cars that pass her by. At first, that eye contact was a little creepy. I thought, surely she can’t look so hard at every driver—so why me? But now, after many months of seeing here there, alone and persistent, I seek out her eyes as I drive past. We look at one another. I slow down, I smile. She smiles. And then I’m past her, until the next week.

This woman on that corner of that busy sidewalk, across from the hospital, has a ministry. Her part of the Lord’s vineyard is in the full hot sun of summer and the cold, biting winds of winter. He’s called her to be a silent witness to the horrors of abortion, and she’s faithfully answered that call. She holds a simple, homemade sign that reads, “Abortion is Murder: Repent.” And each day that she stands there, she reminds people of the reality of what abortion really is. Not a choice, but a murder of an innocent life. I don’t know her name, but I know what she’s done for me.

She’s convicted me. I can say that I’m “pro-life” but seeing her standing there, week after week, month after month, in all kinds of weather, makes me know—deep in my heart—that I need to do more. When I first saw here there on the corner, that’s what was creepy. It was as if when she looked at me, she could see that I wasn’t doing enough. Her ministry, her witness, is bearing fruit in my heart. And that’s a good thing.

So what does “doing more” really mean? I can refuse to be silent when those around me discuss abortion “rights.” I can be a greater voice in defense of unborn children. Speaking up can be uncomfortable if this means being at odds with your family and friends. But I have to do this. Doing more means actively opposing euthanasia and embryonic stem cell research, too. I can’t be pro-life and at the same time, support actions that cause innocent deaths. Doing more means supporting elected officials who protect and defend human life. I know many Catholics for whom this is not a deciding factor when they go to the polls to vote. For this Catholic, it certainly IS a deciding factor.

Doing more means using social media to support and defend the dignity of human life. What I post on Facebook and tweet on Twitter reflects what’s important to me and mirrors my faith and my belief about the gift of life. What I write here does the same thing. What could be more important than standing up for the defenseless? Maybe I’ll get unfriended by some on Facebook or unfollowed by folks on Twitter—it’s a very small price to pay.

Doing more means praying more and giving more financial support to those agencies and ministries who provide prenatal and delivery care to moms who need it. I can reach out to women and men who have suffered abortion and make them welcome in my parish. I can participate in pro-life work in my diocese including the “Forty Days for Life” events and rosary prayer chains. Doing more, in the end, means being less concerned about what others think and being more committed to the truth of my Church and my Savior. I can be a greater voice for the unborn child and for those whose voices are weak and hard to hear due to age or frailty, imprisonment or fear. The lady on the corner with her homemade sign is doing her part in building the Kingdom of God. Is God calling me to stand with her? I don’t know yet. Maybe. Maybe not. But she’s done her part by planting that seed. I trust in the Holy Spirit to help it grow in me and I pray for the courage to do HIs will.

“Evil is powerless if the good are unafraid.”
—–Ronald Reagan

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Catholics and The Bible

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Want A Requiem Mass

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The late Joan Rivers had written in one of her books that she wanted a splashy “Hollywood” funeral when she died. Although it seems that her actual services may have been much more low-key, lots of celebrities were in attendance for them. I hope that pleased her. Like Joan, I have some pretty firm ideas of the kind of funeral I’d like to have and it’s very far from her Hollywood vision. I hope my family is reading this.

I want a Requiem Mass. This is the traditional Catholic Mass for the dead. It’s not a “celebration of life” service into which many funerals (sadly, even Catholic ones) have devolved. In a Requiem Mass, I am not eulogized or praised—I am prayed for. The focus is not on warm, fuzzy memories of days gone by, but on storming the gates of heaven with prayers for my immortal soul. There are no video montages, no funny stories, no heartwarming remembrances. This is a Mass for a sinner in need of the mercy of God. That would be me.

Yes, I do hope and pray to die in a state of grace, close to God in every way. For me as a Catholic, this means clinging to Jesus in the Sacraments of His Church, especially Holy Communion and frequent sacramental Confession. I pray that, before my death, I’m able to receive the Anointing of the Sick, which we sometimes call “the last rites.” In this Sacrament, the priest will anoint me with blessed oils and will pray for my soul and my body. He will hear my last confession and give me absolution of my sins. He will share with me the Body and Blood of my Savior in the Holy Eucharist. He will encourage me to go with faith to the house of my Father (Luke 15:18) like the prodigal child that I am. And, please God, He will welcome me into His presence.

A Requiem Mass is my Church’s liturgy for a baptized Catholic following their death. My body, anointed in the last rites will be in my casket which will be placed near the altar of my parish church. This liturgy is, first and foremost, a Mass. It is NOT a time to praise me. It is the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. The prayers of this Mass will be offered for the benefit of my soul. The Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) will be sung, which is a beautiful prayer pleading for God’s mercy and forgiveness of my sins. It should be in every funeral Mass. Sadly, many Catholics have lost the sense of praying for the souls of the departed. We prefer to think of everyone heading straight to heaven. But we must not do this, if we love them. We must pray. Other prayers in the Mass will ask that God limit my punishment in purgatory.

Catholics believe that when we sin we can be forgiven by God in the sacrament of confession, but even then we will continue to be wounded by the effects of our sins. Think of sin as a nail driven into a piece of wood. Confession and absolution remove the sin (the nail) but the hole it leaves is still there. That hole is healed by our suffering, either in this life or in purgatory. That’s why we continue to pray for our loved ones after they’ve died. And that’s a wonderful reason for a Requiem Mass. I need those prayers, for sure.

A Catholic funeral is for the soul of the deceased person. We don’t automatically believe that the person who has died is already in heaven. Our prayers for them are for that end. Our hymns at the funeral are for that end. I I pray that my Requiem Mass will pull no punches in begging our generous and loving Lord to forgive me and heal me and welcome me home. If you want to tell funny stories about me and reminisce about the good times and eulogize me into the wee hours, please do—at my wake, but not at my funeral. As a matter of fact, what I truly want upon my death is a Requiem Mass in Latin with a schola, but I’ll save all that for another day. Just remember this: I need your prayers now AND when I die. I need (and desire) the beautiful Requiem Mass of my holy Catholic faith. Heaven is my goal, not Hollywood. Sorry, Joan.

“May the Angels lead you into paradise, may the Martyrs come to welcome you….”
—-from the Requiem Mass

Islam Loves Our Lady

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You might not know it from all the non-coverage the major networks are giving us, but there’s a Christian holocaust going on today in Iraq and Syria. Christians are being persecuted in other ares of the world too, but not on the scale and severity that ISIS is perpetrating. Men and women and babies are being crucified, beheaded and set on fire, often while family members are forced to watch. Radical Muslim terrorists want to purge their cities of all Christians. Most of these are Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox Christians, among others. Thousands have died, including two American journalists whose beheadings finally managed to bring some media focus to the violence there, at least for a few days. Make no mistake, this is a genocide of Christians.

Our president has told us that he has no strategy to deal with ISIS and their threats. Others, like Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) have a very definite idea of how to handle them: “We ought to bomb them back to the Stone Age.” We can disagree on what we should do, but we must do SOMETHING. We can’t sit quietly by as our brothers and sisters in Christ are driven from their homes and killed for one reason—their faith in Jesus. Doing nothing is not an option. By doing nothing we are saying to the terrorists: “I see what you are doing and I can’t be bothered. Your victims are not my family or my friends and their lives have no value to me.”

But they are our family. Their baptism binds us with them in the love of Christ. Believe this also, that the terrorists who are killing them would kill you or me for the same reason if they could get to us. Yet, for the most part, our country’s leaders have tolerated more and more of these murders, including Americans. Pope Francis recently urged that the violence against Christians must be stopped when he said, “In these cases where there is an unjust aggression, I can only say that it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor”(August 19, 2014). Cardinal Donald Wuerl echoed the Pope’s concerns at a recent Mass which celebrated the opening of the academic year at the Catholic University of America. He said, “Atrocities happen for two reasons. There are people prepared to commit them and there are those who remain silent.” He calls us out of our inaction, saying that “we are not free to ignore” this genocide.

What does this mean for us as Christians in America? To begin with, let’s look at history. Christians have faced the threat of radical Islam before. In 1571, Europe faced invasion by the Ottoman Empire. A naval battle ensued, won by a coalition of Catholic maritime states at Lepanto. The victors credited their good fortune to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to whom they had prayed before the battle began. She was their secret weapon. If not for their victory, the entire history of Europe would have unfolded much differently. Mary has a deep connection to Islam. She is mentioned by name in the Koran more than she is in the New Testament. In fact, she’s the only woman mentioned by name in the whole Koran. Muslims revere her. Mohammad’s daughter was named Fatima. Catholics recognize Fatima as the town in Portugal where the Virgin Mary appeared to three children in 1917. God chose Fatima for a reason. The events there centered on Mary’s urging us all to pray the Rosary for peace and for the conversion of the world to Christianity.

So that’s the strategy I’m proposing, even if our president doesn’t have one yet. For the sake of our Christian family in the Middle East, we ask for the Blessed Virgin Mary to intercede. Mary always points to her Son. As His mother, she brought Jesus to our broken and hurting world. In a way, she was the bridge between heaven’s love and our desperate need for God’s salvation. At Fatima, she proclaimed His unending desire that every soul be brought to Him and that our own faithfulness and prayers can help. No one, not even the most hardened of hearts, is beyond the love and mercy of God. So while our political leaders search for a strategy to stop the violence, we can invoke the intercession of Our Lady of Fatima: surely a name and a title that has meaning for the people of Islam. We pray for the peace of God to end the bloodshed which plagues the Middle East. We pray for peace in the hearts of all who are far from God and we ask for His mother to, as always, point the way to her Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ.

“And remember when the angels said, ‘O, Mary! God has chosen you, purified you and chosen you above the women of the world.”
—Koran 3:42