In Humility & Adoration

When we hear “The Star-Spangled Banner” at a baseball game, we stand up.  We may remove our ballcap and place our hand over our heart. You can’t always count on this at football games nowadays, though. Likewise, when we meet an important person, we stand up to shake their hand.  Our British cousins may bow in the presence of their Queen.  We use the posture of our bodies to show respect and loyalty.  In effect, what we do with our bodies gives evidence to others of what we believe in our hearts.  This is why Catholics kneel during Mass.  We kneel because we are in the presence of Christ.

There are many dozens of instances of kneeling described in both the Old and the New Testaments.  Sometimes, kneeling is an act of supplication, of asking for something from God in a humble way.  “And at the evening sacrifice, I rose from my fasting, with my garments and my mantle rent, and fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands to the Lord” (Ezra 9:5).  In other examples, kneeling is an act of worship, of reverence and humility to God.  “O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker”(Psalm 95:6).  In the New Testament, many people would kneel before Jesus, some asking Him for healing. “…and behold, a leper came to Him and knelt before Him saying, ‘Lord, if You will, You can make me clean’ “(Matthew 8:2).  Jesus Himself often knelt in prayer to His heavenly Father.  “And He withdrew from them (His disciples) about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed”(Luke 22:41).

Kneeling is the ultimate posture of submission and surrender and is the exterior sign of our interior posture before Christ.  It humbles us before God and reminds us that Jesus must increase and I must decrease.  Kneeling takes us out of our usual postures of sitting or standing and radically changes our world view.  We are vulnerable and a bit uncomfortable.  We are saying to the world: “I am not in control anymore.”  Kneeling makes us look up, both physically and spiritually, to the One Who is in control.

When we worship together, all our gestures and postures are meaningful.  As Catholics, the Bishops of the Church instruct us regarding our posture during Mass.  In this way, we worship together as a unified family, both in our words and in our actions.  Our unity is affirmed when we stand together, bow together, and kneel together.  Catholics kneel during the Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass, when the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ.  Kneeling at this moment is also kneeling at the foot of His Cross, on that Friday at Calvary.  Kneeling together is a sign of our unity as Catholics.  We kneel together in reverence and adoration, as a family, in the presence of our Lord and Saviour in the Blessed Sacrament.

How beautiful it was to see the late Pope St. John Paul II, aged and racked by Parkinson’s disease, slowly and painfully kneeling in prayer.  Towards the end of his public life, he could only kneel with the help of other people.  This “Servant of the Servants of God” showing humility, reverence, and obedient love to the God he had served so faithfully throughout his life.  Like him, our posture reveals our soul.  When we kneel beside the bedside of a dying person or stand up for the dignity of an unborn child, or genuflect before Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, we say what we believe louder than with any words we could speak.  Our posture tells others what we are willing to live or die for.

If we are called to imitate Christ, then are also called to kneel in prayer.  In the garden of Gethsemane, on His knees, He prayed “Father, if You are willing, take this cup away from me; still not My will but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42).  Kneeling is not mere piety.  It is a fundamental act of faith in Christ.  Kneeling is a strong expression of Who stands at the center of your life and Who stands at the center of all creation.  There is nothing passive about kneeling in humility and love.  When knees bend in response to a heart that loves Christ, there is unleashed a force so great and so strong that it can change the face of the earth.  We call this force “grace.”

In the fourth century, a Catholic priest named Abba Apollo described the devil as having no knees at all.  He cannot kneel, cannot adore, cannot pray.  He can only look down his nose in contempt.  St. Paul, in his letter to the Phillipians, believed otherwise.  In his beautiful hymn to Christ, he tells that “at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Phil 2:6-11).  When we kneel at Jesus’ name, we imitate the Magi who knelt at His birth.  Instead of gold and fragrant spices, we offer Him our humble hearts.  When we bow down to serve others, we imitate Christ as He washed the feet of His disciples,  We give Him our hands to do His will.  When we kneel in adoration of Christ, we imitate all the angels and saints kneeling at this very moment around His throne in heaven.

“Kneeling does not come from any culture, it comes from the Bible.”

—Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, later to become Pope Benedict XVI

The Love Of Christ

Sometimes God just asks too much of us.  I mean it’s one thing to be kind and nice to nice people.  If someones smiles and waves to me I’ll let them over in traffic.  No problem.  And if a little old lady is struggling with her grocery bags, I’ll be the first one to help her. Don’t even have to be asked.  Doing those kinds of things gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling deep inside.  It makes me feel g-o-o-d about being a Christian.  I imagine Jesus looking at me and smiling while chubby little cherubs fly around His head playing harps.  Christianity is easy.And then I read the Gospel of St. Luke.  Just after His sermon on the plain, Christ teaches us to love our enemies and “do good to those who hates you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you”( Luke 6:27-28). 

What?? Love my enemies?  And pray for the people who mistreats me?  What does God want me to do? Be a doormat?  He’s just finished telling us how all our sufferings and hardships will be rewarded if we follow Him.  All those promises of His famous sermon to the multitudes.  They sound great!  If we mourn, we’ll be comforted. If we are poor, we’ll be given the kingdom of heaven.  It all sounds very good and sort of in line with a kind of faith “justice” — if you

follow Christ, you’ll be rewarded.  Then He turns everything on its

head by telling us to do the unthinkable and love our enemies.  More than unthinkable, it’s un-doable.  Hearing Jesus speak these words must have made many people in the crowd scratch their heads and wonder if maybe He wasn’t crazy.

And I think He is.  Crazy in love with us. Loving an enemy is only possible in and through the love of Christ.

Our human hearts and minds just can’t find a way to return love for

hate.  It goes against everything that comes naturally to our self-preservation.  But when you invite Christ to control your life, it isn’t about self anymore.  It’s about Jesus.  When Christ lives His

life through us, we can do the impossible.  As St. Paul wrote:  “I

have been crucified with Christ, yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:19-20).  That crucifixion Paul talks about is our Baptism.  In the Sacrament, we receive the grace Jesus won on the Cross.  His life in us continues to grow through Holy Communion, prayer, and a deepening personal relationship with Him.  We decrease and He increases.  Crazy. For me, learning to forgive people who have hurt me comes through frequent sacramental Confession.  It’s in Confession that we most profoundy experience the mercy and forgiveness of God.  In

confession, we encounter Love and Love welcomes us home to Himself.

Frequent confession disposes us to forgiveness and allows that grace

to transform our relationships with other people, especially those

whom we may find hard to love and difficult to forgive.  When we are

forgiven by the Lord we find it easier to forgive others.  God’s design is perfect like that.  Mercy flows from Christ and His life in us forgives those we call our enemies.  We can live out that forgiveness by praying for those who have hurt us.  God knows their

needs and their brokenness.  We can ask for a Mass to be celebrated

for their intentions.  What better way to forgive someone than to lay

their needs at the Lord’s altar.  And what joy that gives Jesus.  Pray

a Rosary for them and ask our Blessed Mother to draw them closer to herself and the Sacred Heart of her Son.  These acts of mercy exercise the muscles of our faith.  Christ’s love lives through us and we

participate with Him in building up the Kingdom of God.  The kingdom

Christ promises us in His sermon begins in the dark, foul rooms of our

hearts where Love now makes His home.  All are welcome here.  And all

are forgiven!

“Forgiveness is the remission of sins.  For it is by this that what

has been lost, and was found, is saved from being lost again.”

—St. Augustine


 I love the Saints of the Church. I love that they inspire me, and challenge me, and draw me closer to Christ. Sure, I have my favorites but I also love discovering new ones. I have a few on my heavenly committee that I turn to almost every day, year after year. When I read St. Augustine, it’s as if he’s writing directly to me, not to folks in the 4th century. The words of St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Maximilian Kolbe pierce my heart with their deep love of God. I struggle to be a follower of Jesus and the Saints struggled, too. That’s a great comfort to me. They lived lives of heroic faith and that’s what I want, as well. Heroic faith.

In the little Baptist church of my childhood, the only people we ever learned about who weren’t in the Bible were Lottie Moon and Corrie ten Boom. The first was a missionary in China and the second helped Jews escape the horror of the Holocaust. But I never heard any mention of the Saints of the early Church like St. Justin Martyr, or St. Ambrose, or St. Jerome. There didn’t seem to be any great examples of the Christian life between St. Paul and Lottie Moon. Even my squishy young mind knew that couldn’t be right. Reading about the early Church and those Saints who emerged in the times of persecution and martyrdom really opened my eyes. I came to realize that there was a whole huge family of fellow Christians I’d never met. So I set about getting to know them. And I’m still on that journey. Like St. John Henry Newman (an Anglican priest who became Catholic) said: “To be deep in history is to cease to be a protestant…”. The Saints feed me with their words and the stories of their lives. They aid me with their prayers and I feel them kneeling with me at the Lord’s altar.  

I finally had to come to terms with what I was learning about the Saints. The more I read the more I found men and women living the Gospel and bearing amazing fruit. They planted churches all over the world, baptizing thousands. They suffered prison and torture and death for their Savior. They wrote of their struggles and their need for God’s grace. They founded hospitals and universities and monasteries that fed the hungry and cared for the poor and the sick (and still do to this day). If the church of my childhood didn’t offer these Christians to me as examples of heroic faith, then the church had to be wrong. If you failed to share the stories of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Catherine of Siena with your children, then you were failing in your duties. The fruit these Saints, and countless others, have born for Christ and His Church is more precious than gold.  

It’s always easy to find a Saint you can identify with since there are thousands of them, from all kinds of backgrounds. Mothers and fathers, soldiers and doctors and students. If you believe the Bible, then you believe the Saints are alive with God in heaven. And just as we ask our family and friends to pray for us, we also ask the Saints for their prayers. These are folks who lived their lives as Jesus calls us to live. They’ve faced all the trials and struggles and sins that we’ve encountered and they have allowed Christ to transform their hearts and guide their lives—just as we hope to do. I hope you’ll do some reading and learn about these members of our Christian family who are alive in heaven today. I pray that their beautiful and holy lives will draw you ever closer to the Lord.  

“The deepest reason why the Church is weak and the world is dying is that there are not enough Saints. No, that’s not quite honest. The reason is that WE are not Saints.”

—–Dr. Peter Kreeft

This Beautiful World

It’s a beautiful fall day.  The sky is a deep azure blue without even the trace of a cloud. There’s a soft breeze gently shaking the reddish-gold maple leaves on the tree in the backyard.  I can smell the tang of wood smoke from the fireplace a few houses up the street.  Somewhere a dog is barking.  I’m thinking of the dinner that I’ll share tonight with a dear sweet friend.  It’s one of those moments in life when you smile, take a deep breath, and whisper a prayer of thanks to God for all His many blessings.  Having your health and your family, good friends and the beauty of creation all around us IS abundant grace and goodness.  As the sign says, life is good.

Yet this life is just a pale imitation of the joys of our life to come in heaven.  C. S. Lewis describes life here on earth as life in the “shadowlands” as if all the beauty and wonder of creation is a mere hint of what life in heaven will be like.  He doesn’t mean that life on earth is somehow less real or any less amazing or miraculous or heart-stoppingly beautiful.  It IS a wonder, in all its depth and complexity.  From the tiniest butterfly to the full majesty of a Beethoven symphony–we are surrounded by and immersed in indescribable beauty.  But heaven is and will be, immeasurably more beautiful.  How do we know this?  Because heaven is where all the beauty in this world comes from.  God is the source of everything that’s good and true and beautiful.  From Him comes every good thing we know here:  a mother’s loving touch, a bluebird’s song, the soft velvet on a Christmas stocking, fresh apple pie, the love between a husband and a wife.  Everything we hold dear and cherish so deeply and reverently is just a hint of the beauty we’ll know in His presence.

There we’ll know the One Who dreamed of a sunset and made it real; Who breathed upon the waters and made the crashing waves.  We’ll be face-to-face with the source of all Beauty.  We’ll still love everything and everyone that we’ve loved in life, but in a way that will make our five earthly senses seem fuzzy and clouded.  St. Paul says this very thing when he describes the difference between our earthly perceptions and our heavenly ones:  “Now we see through a glass, darkly, but then, face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know even as I am known” (I Corinthians 13:12).  We’ll see with new eyes, hear with new ears and in every way experience life, real life, as we’ve never known it before.  When we speak of heaven, we use the language of faith because we don’t yet have the experience of it, though we hope to.  Love leads us to imagine what it will be like.  Love calls us on an autumn afternoon to close our eyes and thank Him for all this beauty, here and now and all around us.  If this perfect October moment, clothed in splendor, is just a shadowland of our true home in heaven–then how wonderful heaven will be.  And how dearly we must treasure this life and these days we’re given to walk with Him and know Him —and follow Him as He leads us home.

“There is no other day. All days are present now. This moment contains all moments.”

—-C.S. Lewis

Catholics & the Bible

“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