Violent Sins 

  
George was born less than 4 months before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. The America of his birth was a traditional one whose family values were strong. His dad was a doctor and his parents raised him in a religious and politically-conservative Midwestern home. He lacked neither for love nor for material possessions. Growing up in the ’50’s, he was a child of the Eisenhower era, of the Cold War, of doing the right thing. It was all God and country at George’s house and he was a straight arrow. A good student, he graduated from high school in 1959 and went on to the state university the next year where he majored in zoology. In 1963, he entered medical school, following in his father’s footsteps and becoming a doctor. After earning his degree, George served in the U.S. Navy for 3 years, completing a medical internship. George’s life was going just according to plan. That is, until 1970.

On a vacation trip to Yellowstone National Park, the small plane carrying his parents, his sister and his brother-in-law crashed. Everyone on board was killed. In a single afternoon, George lost every member of his immediate family. Except for one. His baby nephew had been left behind with relatives. And so George, being alone now, adopted this little orphaned child and made him his son. A few years later, George married and he and his wife added three more children to their family. His medical practice thrived and after decades of hard work, he was a wealthy man. Respected in his community, George was active in his church and local political life. He enjoyed golf, gardening, and Star Trek, often quoting lines from the television show to family and friends. He was known as a happy person, with a big, boisterous and heartfelt laugh. For George and his family, life was good. He had achieved the American dream.

On Sunday, May 10, 2009, George was at church with his wife, Jeanne. As she sang in the choir, George was ushering people to their seats. While he was standing near the church doors, a man came in carrying a gun. He shot George once in the head at point-blank range, then calmly walked outside, got in his car, and drove away. George Tiller, M.D. was one of the few doctors in this country who performed late-term abortions. In fact, George’s entire medical practice and wealth were built on the abortion trade. By his own count, he had performed more than 60,000 abortions in his career. Many of them involved babies that were from 6 to 9 months in gestation: babies who probably could have survived on their own had he not killed them using the most violent and painful ways you can imagine while they were still in their mother’s womb. George Tiller did his part to support the legalized sin of abortion in this country in which 1.3 million babies are killed each year. According to the Centers for Disease Control, only 6.1% of these abortions are for medical reasons. Many experts think that even 6% is an over-estimate. The rest are killed for reasons of convenience. Dr. Tiller believed that every woman has the right to abort her child even up to and including the moments just before the baby’s natural birth. His career and his outspoken support for abortion had made him a target for some militant anti-abortion groups. His murderer probably knew that George wore a bulletproof vest each day under his clothes and so chose to shoot Dr. Tiller in the head. On Mother’s Day. In church. As Catholic Christians, we believe that abortion is murder. Every life is created by God for His purpose. Each human soul reflects the divinity of his Creator and Savior. Just as did George Tiller’s soul. And so now, one of America’s most prolific abortionists is gone. We may think we know what Dr. Tiller deserves. But would any one of us want to receive from God what we truly deserve? No. We hope in God’s mercy as we stand before Him at the end of our lives. We pray for that same mercy for Dr. Tiller. May his soul rest in the peace of Christ, surrounded by at least 60,000 souls he sent there. And may we end abortion through a change in our hearts and our laws. Amen.

“Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what it wants.”

—Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta 

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Oh, Mary….

  
Mary is the Mother of God.

Why would such a simple statement cause some Christians apprehension? The title “Mother of God” has been applied to Mary since the earliest days of the Church. “The Virgin Mary, being obedient to His word, received from an angel the glad tidings that she would bear God.” (St. Irenaeus, 189 A.D.) All of Christ’s followers believe that Mary gave birth to Jesus Christ and that Jesus Christ is God. It would follow logically that Mary is the Mother of God. Sacred Scripture affirms that Mary is the Mother of God when her relative Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit proclaimed: “And why is it granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43)

Being the Mother of God does not mean that Mary is somehow “older” than God, or that she created God, or originated Christ’s divinity, or that she is herself, divine. Mary is a person made by God whose faith in Him allowed the Incarnation of our Savior. The Council of Ephesus was held by the Church in 431 A.D. and one of the outcomes of this Council was to declare the doctrine of Mary as the Mother of God. In Greek, the title is “Theotokos” or “God-bearer.” At the time, there were some in the Church who were teaching that Mary gave birth to Christ, but not God. Taught by Nestor, the bishop of Constantinople, this heresy held that Christ was a human person who was joined to the Second Person of the Trinity. Nestor believed that the human Jesus died on the Cross, but not the divine Jesus. These teaching were found to be heresy because they deny both the Incarnation and our redemption through Christ’s death and resurrection.

The truth is that Mary said “yes” to the Lord and gave birth to a person, Jesus Christ, not a nature. Women give birth to babies, not natures; to people, not bodies. Christ is fully God and fully man in a mystery of faith that we can’t comprehend with our limited understanding. The Gospel tells us that the Word did not unite with man, but was made man. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). But Mary wasn’t merely a human incubator. She was called by God to be His Mother in every sense of the word. She nursed Him, cared for Him, comforted Him and raised Him up in a Godly home.

So, if Mary is the mother of Jesus and Jesus is truly God, then Mary is the Mother of God. Calling Mary “the mother of Jesus” but denying her the title of “Mother of God” diminishes Jesus, for it denies that He is truly and fully God. Furthermore, if we believe, as Scripture tells us, that Christ is our Brother, then Mary is our Mother, too.

Some might say that “paying all this attention to Mary distracts us from God.” Mary is the loveliest of God’s creatures, the one He handpicked to bring Salvation into the world. How can any of His creation distract us from the Creator? A beautiful sunset, a waterfall, a fragrant forest — doesn’t creation bring us closer to God? In honoring Mary, God’s masterpiece, we praise the Master, the Divine Artist. Others might say that “I don’t need Mary if I have Jesus.” Why not say “I don’t need the rest of my family if I have my father?” The Church is a single body; the different members inter-relate and rely on one another. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ ” (I Col. 12:21) Jesus is our Savior and Redeemer, the Alpha and the Omega. His loving Mother, Mary, became our Mother as she watched her Son die on the Cross. He gave her to us at that moment, as a gift of His love. (John 19:26-27) Embracing Mary as the Mother of God, as our Mother, draws us ever closer to the Savior.

“The knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by Mary’s obedience: what the virgin Eve bound through her disbelief, Mary loosened by her faith.” (St. Irenaeus, 189 A.D.)

St. Peter & Forgiveness 

  
He’d always been the kind of guy who’d done the right thing. His dad had seen to that. He’d been raised in a strict home, and a religious one. But instead of finding his parent’s morality and church-going ways restrictive or irritating, he flourished in them. He and his brother Andrew were both good kids, the kind of sons parents prayed for. He grew into a large man, with a heart to match his frame. Quiet and unassuming most of the time, he was a man of few words, the kind of guy who let his deeds speak for themselves. Both he and Andrew had joined their dad in the family seafood business. It was hard work but it let them all be together, working shoulder to shoulder each day earning an honest living. Before long, he’d earned and saved enough to buy his own boat. And with that financial security in hand, he felt able to marry his childhood sweetheart and begin a family of his own. He and Andrew remained close though and together with another childhood friend, Phillip, they and their families spent lots of time together in their small hometown. They often talked about their faith in God, which was important to all three men. But the church of their childhood wasn’t always completely fulfilling to them anymore. Something was missing. Andrew especially was a seeker. He often sought out others’ opinions on religious matters. He’d found a new preacher he wanted his brother to hear, and one afternoon they both went to listen to him speak. This preacher, John, was an amazing man, full of love for God and so unlike what they were used to hearing in church. It was exciting for them. But it was the preacher’s cousin who would change both their lives forever.

When John’s cousin, Jesus first met Andrew’s brother, Simon, he told him his name would be Peter (John 35:42). The big fisherman from Capernaum was being called by God to become a fisher of men. And on this rock, this Peter, Christ promised to build His Church (Matthew 16:18). Peter’s big heart allowed God’s gift of faith to confess Christ as his Savior before any of the other Apostles (Matthew 16:17). So wholehearted is his commitment that when Christ later asked the Apostles if any of them wanted to leave Him, Peter can only say, “Lord, to whom shall we go?”(John 6:69). In Jesus, Peter found the Messiah, the Lamb of God. And in Peter, Christ found a heart large enough and strong enough to be the foundation of faith for the whole world. But Peter’s heart, like all our hearts, was a wounded one. We don’t know the source of his pain, but we see and hear his hurts lived out in the Gospels.

For some reason, Peter found it difficult to forgive. Someone must have seriously hurt him. His parents? His wife? Her mother, who shared their home? When he asks Jesus, “Lord how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?” (Matthew 18:18-19). We can hear the hurt in his voice. And haven’t we all felt like Peter felt that day? Wronged by someone we loved and finding it hard to let go of the hurt, we hold onto our anger and resentment until it eats away at us. On some level we can even enjoy the self-righteous feelings of being a victim. Yet, as Christ told Peter, we must always be willing to forgive one another. Forgiveness is a decision we make, a habit that we continually have to practice and strengthen, with God’s help and love. And ultimately, it was this gift of Christ’s love and mercy that transformed Peter from the simple, wounded fisherman into Christ’s first vicar on earth. What Jesus did for St. Peter, He offers to do for you and for me—to lead us out of the darkness of our resentments and anger into the sweet freedom found in His forgiveness. His love transforms our wounded hearts, if we only allow Him in.

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free, and discover the prisoner was you.”    Lewis B. Smedes (1921-2002).

Real Hope & Change

  
A tribal chief lay dying. He summoned three of his people and said, “I must select a successor. Climb our holy mountain and return with the most precious gift you can find.” The first brought back a huge gold nugget. The second brought back a priceless gem. The third returned empty-handed saying, “When I reached the mountaintop, I saw on the other side a beautiful land, where people could go for a better life.” The chief said, “You shall succeed me. You’ve brought back the most precious gift of all: a vision of a better tomorrow.”

The hope of a better future, of a brighter day ahead seems a universal human dream. Every heart yearns for happiness. As Christians, we believe that God has placed this yearning in our hearts because He loves us and wants us to be happy. And we know that the fulfillment of all our human desires lies in our union with God. He created us with a God-sized hole in our hearts that only He can fill. As St. Augustine wrote, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” But it wasn’t always like that. In the Garden, our first parents were created out of intimate union and love with God. His very breath gave them life and their intimacy with Him was perfect and beyond all our imagining. Somewhere deep inside our own DNA we “remember” that bliss and long for it as we long for that shared breath of life with God. It was sin that shattered our relationship with Him and we are all the inheritors of that original wound.

Out of God’s love, Christ redeemed us through His Passion, Death, and Resurrection, healing the rift of our sin and opening the doors of heaven to all who love Him. He came from heaven as a man, as the Good Shepherd and offered our own wounded and broken humanity on His Cross. When He ascended into heaven, the path of our own return to the Father was opened again. Catholics celebrated this wonderful Feast of the Lord’s Ascension just a few weeks ago. We celebrated our own healing hearts and our own return to the God Who made us. We celebrated hope and freedom and love. Not mere words tossed around by everyone from political candidates to talk-show hosts, but real Hope, real Freedom, and real Love found only in Jesus Christ.

In His Ascension, we can also celebrate the hope of our own better tomorrow. For where Christ is, He has promised that we may also be. We too will have glorified bodies, ourselves still, but whole and beautiful and perfected in God’s sight. This is the vision of the life to come that has been given to the Church. When we picture people we love who have gone before us, we can picture all of them this way: whole and beautiful. When we see them again in the fullness of heaven this is what we’ll see. Until then we are the members of His Body, building the Kingdom of God right here among us, through our love and care for one another, especially for the most vulnerable. He calls us to make that vision of a better tomorrow an earthly reality for all His children. We are His hands now.

The Ascension of Christ is the end of the Gospel and the beginning of the mission.” —William Baird