Friday, August 22, 2014

Random Musings of Faith - August 22, 2014

Thoughts on a day-off ...

I was recently talking with someone about the whole profound nature of having a "personal relationship with Christ." It's one of those phrases that our evangelical brothers and sisters tend to use a lot more than us Catholics. It's often part of a question, "Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior." It sounds a little odd to me, almost liking having a personal chef or a personal work-out guru, somebody who you choose, for your benefit. I know it means more than that, of course, but the act of "choosing" to accept the Lord and make him "my" Savior has always struck me as somewhat Pelagian. I guess I'm a bit of a Jansenist at heart, needing to rely more on God's grace in the midst of my broken human nature to get by. Still, I have to choose to and desire to cooperate with the divine offer of grace but I like to think I need to rely on God a lot more than myself.

And that is where the difference between the evangelical understanding of a relationship with Jesus Christ and the Catholic understanding differ because it's never my choosing that sets me free and calls me toward Christ and His salvation. It is always God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in and through His Church who first chooses me and seeks out me and helps me. I then choose to say "yes" to that divine offer of love. It is played out not in a "me and Jesus" way but in a "me in the midst of the Body of Christ," in others who believe and in the Church.  As a Catholic, my relationship with Christ does not call me to isolation but to Communion in His Church and in community.

I guess that's one of my first responses to those who say, "I am spiritual but not religious ..."

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Random Musings of Faith - August 10, 2014

Friday, August 15, is a holy day of obligation here in the U.S., the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary.  There is a tradition among some Irish, especially around the Northeast U.S., that one is supposed to go and wade in the ocean waters on that day and so gain a blessing for one's feet, as there is "a cure in the water."

It may be connected with the title of our Lady, Star of the Sea ("Stella Maris"). It may be that in parts of Ireland the fishing boats were blessed on this feast day.  Whatever, the reason, the tradition continues.  Here, however is something I found on line to add a little flavor to the tradition.

This is a poem written by Fr. John Duffy, C.Ss.R.. Considering his last name was Duffy and his mother's name was Bridie, the connection to the Irish seems to hold. It just doesn't say why they believed the waters were more blessed on this feast day.

Feast of the Assumption, 1924

You shamed that naked goddess of the seas,
0 Bridie, barefoot in Our Lady's tide
The day you begged a miracle to ease
The swollen feet that life had crucified.

Clothed to the knees in black, you stood and prayed.
Your little son, I watched, appalled. I knew
What you were praying for and was afraid
Of God - and miracles - and even you....

I'd carve you in great marble if I could,
My Bridie of Our Lady of the Sea,
To show the sorrow of it, how you stood
Praying in vain for what was not to be.

Long dead, my dear... but when at last we meet--
O changed forever! The Eternal's bride,
Robed all in white down to the little feet
Shining like His who once was crucified!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Random Musings of Faith - August 6, 2014

(Thoughts while pondering the fact that the Bengals gave Andy Dalton! a $115 million dollar contract extension.)

In the pre-1969 liturgical calendar (or if one participates in the EF liturgy), yesterday's feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. Mary Major was known as "Dedication of the Basilica of St Mary of the Snows" (In Dedicatione basilicae S. Mariae ad Nives) based on the legend of the miraculous August snowfall connected with the founding of the basilica on its present site.  While this story is probably without any historic foundation, it is still commemorated in the basilica with a fall of white rose petals from the dome of the Chapel of Our Lady inside the basilica and an artificial "snowfall" outside the basilica in the square at sunset. "Passare il limoncello così questa neve non vada sprecato, prego."

It's stuff like this that makes me love being Catholic (aside from salvation and all that, of course).

Monday, August 4, 2014

Random Musings of Faith - August 4, 2014

Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the death of novelist and Catholic Flannery O'Conner. In honor of the date I posted two quotes from her writings on my FaceBook page, both of which attracted quite a bit of attention. My favorite was this one, "All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and change is painful." This is not a new insight but it is one of which we often need to be reminded. St. Augustine in his Confessions famously wrote, "As a youth I prayed, "Give me chastity and continence but not yet."" I was recently reading a book entitled, Young Catholic America: Emerging Adults in, Out of, and Gone from the Church. At one point, the author was interviewing one of the young people, Jae, who had grown up in a very, very, Catholic family. Now 21 and in law school, Jae has left the Church.  Among his reasons, in his own words:

"If I went back to church, I would have to change so much about myself. I just don’t want to get into that now. I feel like there’s a lot of effort in following a religion, and with all that’s going on in my life right now, I don’t want to get into that.... There are several reasons —it’s just easier not to follow a religion, is what it comes down to. It’s easier for me and I don’t see any reason why I should."

As the authors of the book further comment, "At the very least, Jae seems to have some notion of the commitment involved in rightly practicing the faith in which he was raised."

[Smith, Christian; Longest, Kyle; Hill, Jonathan; Christoffersen, Kari (2014-01-17). Young Catholic America: Emerging Adults In, Out of, and Gone from the Church (p. 93). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.]

Sherry Weddell in her book Forming Intentional Disciples talks about the various stages that a person goes through in coming to that deep personal relationship with Jesus Christ in Him and His Church. One of the hardest is the willingness to change. To truly accepts the offer of grace that He makes to us, we have to be open to conversion. "Go and sell all that you have ... Go, and from now on, avoid this sin.... You are saying you have no husband for you have had five husbands .... Come and follow me and I will make you fishers of men!"

Grace still changes us. Grace still makes its demands on me to change even though it is painful. But it is a change for the better.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Random Musings of Faith, August 2, 2014

On keeping the Lord's Day ...

When I was a pastor of a suburban parish just outside of Boston, Sundays were busy. There were three Masses, two in the morning, one in the evening. One of our religious education sessions was scheduled in between the two morning Masses. There were baptisms in the afternoon.  Two Sundays a month we had an afternoon Confirmation session which started at 3:00 PM and ended at 8:00 PM (Mass included). Oftentimes there were all kinds of pre-Mass and post-Mass activities. There was the collection to be deposited and folks to meet who just asked "for a minute of your time." So, it wasn't, at least for the busy pastoral staff, what one could call a "day of rest." Yet ...

I made it a point to try and do nothing else: no extra meetings, no extra work, no food shopping or other shopping, no menial labor (in as much as that actually happened to me), nothing that couldn't be done on another day. I even avoided cooking. Most Sunday evenings after things were over, I would join a couple of the other priests in the area down at one of the local restaurants for what we always called "a burger and a brew."

In the parish, I always encouraged families to try and keep the Lord's Day as His day and as a family day. For many, it was easier said than done, especially if the kids were involved in sports, but for some of the families that tried, they managed to keep the day separate from errands and work and things that could just "wait for another day." When the Sunday morning Masses became too crowded and I added the 6:00 PM Mass, I suggested that if families were looking for a Mass to attend together, the 6:00 PM might work for them as normally sports and other activities were usually over by then. I began to see a lot of families coming together to the 6:00 PM and then going out for a pizza or picking up some take-out so everyone got a break. My suggestion to parents was to begin to say to their kids, "Remember it's Sunday, a day to rest in the Lord and in re-Creation's fullness. Turn off the distractions to tune into the Lord."

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Random Musings of Faith, July 31 2014

One of those changeable days on the beach: heavy fog early on, then it burns off, clear sunshine, then a brisk sea breeze and now a rain storm. As they say, "If you don't like the weather in New England, just wait an hour."

Much has been written and said by many more eloquent than I about today's saint, Ignatius of Loyola. One thing about his life that I find most challenging for me is how at age 30, like Francis of Assisi, he turned his life around from one of dissolution to one of Christ and became the founder of one of the greatest religious orders of the Church.  In both cases, there was a radical shift, a radical conversion. Their conversion experience became the fulcrum that impelled them to greatness. What happens when one does not have that fulcrum, a point in life where you say, "That was who I was. This is who I am now, thanks be to God?" In that case, I think it takes a daily act of the will to ask for conversion more deeply into Christ as one whose life is series of smaller moments of death to sin but alive in Christ.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Random Musings of Faith - July 30, 2014

"Just do it."

I'm trying to take two walks a day on the beach. Unless I'm with somebody else, I listen to something on my iPhone. Right now, I'm in the middle of one of those free courses one can get on iTunesU, "A History of Modern Philosophy." It's always good to go back to basics ...

Yesterday and today, the professor has been presenting on Pascal's Christianity and Spinoza's Deism. At one point, the prof was discussing Pascal's "Pensées" and his famous "Wager." Pascal concludes that to act as if one believed in God and his commandments, even if one did not believe, was a logical choice - a good wager - because it was ultimately in one's eternal best interest to do so. But he doesn't just leave it there. He goes on to further say that the very act of choosing to believe in God and follow the teaching of Christ - to act in that way ethically and morally - will ultimately lead to belief. Just as one can smile at times even though one does not feel like smiling, if you smile enough you will eventually become happy. To act is to become ....

While there is a lot of room for debate here, there is also a lot of truth. How do I come to know and love God? - by serving him. In my own efforts to know and love Jesus in a personal way, there is prayer, there is Scripture, there is the teaching of the Church, the Fathers, the saints, good authors, great art and poetry.  Yet, there are also the corporal works of mercy by which I serve my brothers and sisters in need. I come to know Christ and love Him in them. To act is to become ....

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