Service − The Fourth Pillar of Parish Stewardship

Msgr. P. James Costigan

In the fifth and final  installment in my series on The Pillars of Parish Stewardship — the 2004 document published by the stewardship office of the Diocese of Wichita — we take an in-depth look at the fourth pillar: service.

Throughout Sacred Scripture, there are numerous references to service. There is the parable of the vigilant and faithful servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, “ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks” (Lk 12: 35-40). There is the story of the good Samaritan who was moved with compassion to help the victim of a violent robbery (Lk 10: 25-37). And there are several examples of Christ serving those around Him: feeding the multitudes, healing the sick, and even turning water into wine at a wedding banquet.

Why is service a running theme throughout the gospels? Because service is at the root of living in imitation of Christ. Christ served others throughout His life on Earth, and His death on the cross was the ultimate act of service to mankind. And when we serve others, we are not only following in Christ’s footsteps, we are also serving Christ Himself: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:40).

At any stewardship parish, service must be at the heart of everything we do. The parish community is the bastion of service within the Catholic Church, as we serve one another and are also served by our brothers and sisters in Christ. As the Diocese of Wichita’s document, The Pillars of Parish Stewardship, states, “Like a blood family, the parish family stands ready and eager collectively to wrap their arms around their brothers and sisters when they suffer in trial and/or celebrate special events in their lives.”

It is good to recognize the parish community as a place where service is appreciated and can be utilized for the good of the Church. However, it is not enough for us to simply serve other members of our parish family. As disciples of Christ, it is our obligation to serve people in need everywhere they exist — in our families, our greater community, our country, and throughout the world. This can be a challenging concept, as it is often much more comfortable and convenient to serve those who are close to us than it is to reach out to “outsiders.” But, as The Pillars of Parish Stewardship eloquently points out, “Failure to have this understanding leads to a selfish parochialism, which is life draining to a parish stewardship way of life.”

Think of ways that you can serve others around you, both within your own parish family and in the greater community. Parish ministries offer a great place to begin offering your time and talents, but the opportunities for service don’t end there. There are many civic and non-profit organizations that do an immense amount to serve others across the globe and are always looking for volunteers.

Once you serve, you will find that you will reap numerous rewards in return, much like the faithful servants who doubled the talents their master had entrusted to them: “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy” (Mt 25:21).

Formation — Transformed Through Christ

Msgr. P. James Costigan

“Jesus not only calls people to him but also forms them and sends them out in his service.” — From Stewardship: A Disciple’s ResponseFor my latest in this series on The Pillars of Parish Stewardship, we take a closer look at the second pillar: formation. Formation is the process of studying Christ’s teachings and incorporating them deeply into our lives. It is a lifelong effort by which we “put on Christ” (Rom 13:14) and are “transformed by the renewal of our minds” (Rom 12:2).

Above all, our formation should include studying Scripture and Church teaching. It should also include discussion with other Catholics and honest self-assessment. Its goal is to “discern the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect” (Rom 12:2).

Because formation helps us understand God’s will, it therefore leads naturally to good stewardship. When our minds are transformed through Christ, we become like him; as Christ gave His life for us, so we give our lives to others.

Formation is not just an individual task. Rather, it is a communal responsibility that, when applied, will further help your parish to grow as a stewardship parish. Each one of us has an inherent need to give; to move from “selfishness to selflessness,” as the Diocese of Wichita’s document The Pillars of Parish Stewardship aptly states. Formation is a process of spiritual growth, and it leads to a deeper understanding of loving others as God loves us.

Naturally, then, our Catholic formation should not end upon celebrating the Sacrament of Confirmation, or turning 18 years old. Formation is a formidable task that we as Catholics should participate in for the duration of our lives. It involves “education of the mind and conversion of the heart” (The Pillars of Parish Stewardship), and helps us to lead the stewardship way of life rather than just understand it.

Looking to take another step forward in your quest to embrace stewardship as a way of life? Your own formation is a great way to start. You can begin by reading 10 minutes of Sacred Scripture a day, or by studying a chapter of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on a daily basis. Read a biography of your favorite saint for an example of an individual who lived as a disciple of Christ, and use this person as a role model when tending to your daily tasks. Keep an eye on our weekly parish bulletin for faith formation opportunities at the parish. Before long, your commitment to formation will lead you to naturally live the Catholic Faith and understand stewardship in ways that you never imagined before.

Come to Know the Lord Through Prayer

Msgr. P. James Costigan

In the fourth installment in my series on The Pillars of Parish Stewardship — the 2004 document published by the stewardship office of the Diocese of Wichita — we take an in-depth look at the third pillar: prayer.

Along with the Four Pillars of Stewardship, we also make constant reference to the three Ts of stewardship, recognizing that to truly live as a stewardship people we must give God the first fruits of our Time, our Talent, and our Treasure. It is easy for us to see the concrete reality of the latter two. To give God our Talents, we must first recognize with what talents He has blessed us, and then use those talents for His greater glory. On the same token, our money is something concrete, and when we recognize it as a gift from God, we are to give a certain amount back to Him. For many of us, it is easy to understand what it means to give God our talent and our treasure. But what does it mean to give God a portion of our time? This idea is much harder to grasp, and, yet, giving to God the first fruits of our time is just as important as the other two. In fact, if we understand and implement it properly, our stewardship of time will serve as the very foundation from which our stewardship of talent and stewardship of treasure bear fruit.

When we talk about stewardship of time, we are referring to prayer time. Prayer is of the utmost importance in the life of a disciple. Does this mean that in order to be true disciples we should say the Our Father three times a day or pray a daily Rosary? Not particularly. We must not discount the merit of praying such prayers. The Church in her wondrous wisdom has given us certain prayers to help guide our prayer lives. However, a deep life of prayer that is vital for every disciple involves even more.

St. John Chrysostom explains, “You should not think of prayer as being a matter of words. It is a desire for God, an indescribable devotion … the gift of God’s grace.”  In other words, if we look at prayer as a mere regimen that we must follow everyday, then we do not see to the heart of it. The reality is that prayer will take on different forms for every one of us. One person may have a deep devotion to the Rosary, and in praying it, he is closely united to the Lord, while another person feels deeply connected to Him through constant conversation—in the car on the way to work, before bed at night, or at other hours throughout the day. Meanwhile, for another person, a daily or weekly hour of silence before the Lord in Eucharistic Adoration is the best place for him to offer the Lord his heart. No matter how, exactly, we choose to pray, we must get to the root of it all. To truly give God our time, it must be a gift of ourselves. It must come from the heart and not take the form of mere word repetition. If we offer an Our Father without meditating on the words, it can become simple recitation.

The point of prayer is to get to know the Lord. If we are committed to living as His disciples, we must be on personal terms with Him. The first disciples didn’t know what it meant to pray the Rosary, and until the Lord taught them the Our Father, they couldn’t pray that either. But they were definitely true stewards of their time. They walked with Jesus, talked with Jesus, ate meals with Him, and so on. In effect, He was their best friend, and the more they got to know Him, the more they longed to serve Him.

The same holds true for us today. We can walk with Him, talk with Him, and sit with Him just as they did. And He wants us to. In the mind of St. John Chrysostom, there is nothing more worthwhile. “For prayer unites us to God as His companions.”  How can we serve Him if we don’t know Him? Before we can truly be a servant people, we must talk to Him who we wish to serve. Get to know Him, and then, most assuredly we will fall in love with Him, and, undoubtedly, then we will desire nothing more than to serve Him.

Recognize Jesus as your best friend and spend time with Him as such. He who is the Lord, the Creator of the Universe, without whom we would cease to exist, is also our Father, our Brother, and our Friend. Bring Him your cares and concerns, your excitement, your worry, your fears, and your frustrations, and allow Him to comfort you. He is there, and He wants to speak with you.

Hospitality — The Cornerstone of Stewardship

Msgr. P. James Costigan

The dictionary defines “hospitality” as: “the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.”

From the standpoint of a Christian worldview, hospitality can be referred to as Christian kindness.

In terms of stewardship, hospitality is an immensely important concept. Remember the “three Ts” of stewardship: time, talent and treasure? Well, there are also “four Ps,” the four pillars of stewardship – hospitality, prayer, formation and service. Interestingly enough, hospitality is mentioned first. Why? Because without hospitality, none of the other pillars will ever take hold.

Hospitality is the cornerstone of stewardship, because it opens the door to a person’s heart and allows them to receive joy, grace and love.

We see the effects of hospitality (and the lack thereof) time and time again throughout the Bible. Christ speaks of hospitality in Matthew’s Gospel when He says, “When I was a stranger, you welcomed me” (25:35). In the Old Testament, the Israelites wander the desert for 40 years in search of hospitable environs. Even the Holy Family spent ample time searching for shelter before the birth of Our Lord.

It is safe to say hospitality is, and most likely has always been, a big deal to people everywhere. Modern-day hotels and hostels often use the image of a pineapple to advertise their special brand of hospitality. There’s no doubt that in ancient times, the distant lights of an inn or tavern struck a chord of hope within weary travelers’ hearts.

Over the years, decades and millenniums, the meaning of the word “hospitality” hasn’t diminished.

For Christians, the presence of hospitality can mean the difference between calling others “guests” and “strangers.” Guests are welcomed with open arms and warm smiles. Strangers aren’t. Guests feel the genuine love present in a hearty “Welcome!” Strangers don’t. Guests often return for second or third visits. Strangers don’t.

At our own parishes, do we find ourselves surrounded by guests, or burdened by strangers?

In many senses, hospitality is a mindset. The same person may be treated as guest at the church down the road, and as a stranger here.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Christ reveals a profound truth about hospitality. “When I was a stranger, you welcomed me…” In other words, “I used to be a stranger, but you fixed that when you welcomed me.” It’s a classic example of before and after. And all it took was a change of heart.

For stewardship to truly take hold within a parish, hospitality must become second nature. When a stranger visits our parish, welcome them as a guest. Who knows, maybe one day they’ll pay us a second visit.

The Four Pillars of Parish Stewardship

Msgr. P. James Costigan

You’ve heard about the three Ts of stewardship – Time, Talent and Treasure. But what about the four Ps?

The three Ts describe the personal gifts we offer to the Church. The four Ps are the “four pillars” of parish stewardship described by the man often referred to as the Father of Catholic Stewardship, Msgr. Thomas McGread. Msgr. McGread is the stewardship director emeritus for the Diocese of Wichita. In 2004, the diocesan stewardship office published an important document called, The Pillars of Parish Stewardship. These pillars are the hallmark of a stewardship parish:  hospitality, prayer, formation, and service. This is something that is near and dear to my own heart and is the theme for this year at my parish, St. Peter the Apostle in Savannah, Ga.  Over the next few months, I will be touching on each of the four pillars with the goal of helping other pastors and lay leaders to implement these important stewardship principles in their own parishes. To get us started on learning more about the Four Pillars, here is a brief overview of each of them with some basic ideas on how we as Disciples of Christ can improve in each area.

Hospitality – Christian Kindness

“When I was a stranger, you welcomed me” (Matthew 25:35). The Gospel teaches that whenever we welcome the least of our brothers or sisters, we welcome Christ himself. That is why the first mark of a stewardship parish is hospitality. Being friendly is one of the first ways we can be Christ-like toward others.

Modern Catholic parishes are often so large and have so many Masses that many parishioners don’t know one another. To create a sense of community, be sure to smile and greet others as you enter and exit the Church. Let’s try harder than ever to be a welcoming community.

Prayer – A Heart-to-Heart with God

“Do not become so involved in the work of the Lord that you forget the Lord of the work,” a seminary professor once taught. In other words, don’t get so caught up with parish projects and outreach efforts that you forget to draw aside to spend time with God in prayer. Every great saint has taught that prayer is the most essential component in the life of the Christian. Through prayer, we nurture our most important relationship — the one that will last for all eternity.

A healthy prayer life should include communal prayer such as Mass, as well as personal prayer and family prayer. The two biggest obstacles to prayer are lack of time and lack of understanding of how to pray. We have to schedule time for prayer just as we would for an important appointment. And we have to learn how to pray from other people. Many saints have written spiritual books that describe different methods of prayer.

Formation – Continuous Conversion

Pope John Paul II always emphasized ongoing conversion. From childhood through adulthood, our whole life must be a process of drawing closer to God. He never stops calling us forward to learn more and to examine ourselves more deeply.

Very often our society values material things more than interior virtues. But as personal experience shows, when we finally acquire the car or house or “toy” that we wanted so badly, it doesn’t really satisfy. On the other hand, we don’t tend to desire spiritual virtues with the same kind of longing, but when we actually have them, we find them far more rewarding than material things.

Service – Love in Action

“Amen I say to you, whatever you did to the least of my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). This scripture was one of Mother Teresa’s favorites. Each time she picked up a poor and hungry child, she knew she was ministering to Christ. While we may not view ourselves as saints, we too are called to such heroic service right within our own community. As Mother Teresa said, “To be a saint is not the privilege of a few, but the duty of everyone.”

We have many service opportunities right here within our own parish. If you have the willingness to serve and take the initiative to find where you are needed, you’ll find that there is no end to the families and individuals who truly need help. How can you reach out to them in love?

Hospitality Is Biblical – and It's Not Optional

Emily J. Cook

It’s not a coincidence that Jesus did most of his teaching while at table over a meal. Learning at the table would have been natural to him. As a boy, he probably first learned many of the traditions and history of the Jewish people through mealtime prayers and from the celebratory rituals that preceded feasts. Jewish prayers are filled with history and are often mini-catechisms.

Once Jesus began his public ministry, he was often on the road and had to depend on the hospitality of strangers for meals and a place to rest. Not only did he use those meals as an opportunity to teach, but he also used the language of hospitality to describe God and his kingdom.

That hospitality was an important virtue would have been an old idea even in Jesus’ time. The theme of the necessary, yet precarious, relationship between guest and host was a familiar one to the ancient Hebrews as well as to other ancient cultures (see "My Big Fat Greek Welcome"). Hospitality in the ancient world was much more than politeness or friendliness. In an age when inns were few and far between, travelers had to rely upon the hospitality of strangers to aid them in their journeys. Hospitality was also a way to survive in a culture where political boundaries were in constant flux. A traveler might find himself in unfriendly territory all too quickly.

The Israelites were hospitable out of a sense of communal responsibility, out of obedience to the Mosaic law, and because of their desire to please God. Proverbs says even enemies must be given the necessities of survival, because generosity is a reproof to those who lack that virtue: "If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; for you will heap coals of fire on his head, and the Lord will reward you" (Prov. 25:21–22).

In the Beginning
The biblical lessons of hospitality begin in Genesis, at the beginning of salvation history. The stories of Abraham and others illustrate the way a guest should be treated. When three strangers approached his tent, he ran out to greet them and prepared a lavish meal for them. He later learned that they were God’s messengers sent to reveal that his formerly barren wife would bear a son.

Hosts had a sacred obligation to provide food and drink, water to wash their feet, and a place to rest. The guest had an obligation to accept what was offered. The refusal on either part was a serious breach of honor.

The obligations of hospitality also included protecting the guest from harm. The seriousness of this obligation is shown in the story of Lot, who offered his daughters to an angry mob rather than allow guests who "have come under the shelter of my roof" (Gen. 19:8) to be harmed. (Those guests turned out to be messengers from God.) In return, the guest had a solemn obligation not to harm the host. In the ancient world—and still today in some cultures—the sharing of food constituted a covenant of friendship, and one of the most despicable acts would be to eat with someone and then betray him. Knowing that adds another dimension to Judas’s betrayal.

Other stories that illustrate the power and importance of hospitality abound in the Old Testament. For example, Abraham’s servant is so generously received by Rebecca at the well that he recognizes her as the perfect wife for Isaac (Gen. 24). And in the second book of Kings, the prophets Elijah and Elisha repay their hosts by curing their sons. In a gesture of gratitude prefiguring the Eucharist, Elijah blesses his hostess’s grain so that it never runs out (2 Kgs. 4).

The Mosaic law explicated the necessity of hospitality. Having known from their years in slavery in Egypt what it was like to be a foreigner at the mercy of their hosts, the Israelites had a special kinship with strangers, which the laws of Moses reiterated: "You shall not oppress a stranger . . . for you were strangers in the land of Egypt" (Ex. 23:9). In Leviticus, Christ’s golden rule is prefigured: "When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt" (Lev. 19:33–34).

The repetition of the refrain "for you were strangers" reminded the Hebrews to be hospitable out of sympathy and charity, in addition to obedience to the law of God handed down through Moses. They were dependent on God’s assistance when they were in the desert; now they must respond with generosity when others are in trouble.

Other Mosaic laws instructed the community on how strangers who stayed for a length of time should fit into the society. They were to participate in sacrifices and allowed to celebrate feasts. They were welcome to glean the fields. In return, guests were expected to follow the laws of Israel as long as they abided there (cf. Lev. 17:12–13; 18:26; 19:10; Num. 15:16).

Strangers, like the poor, widows, and orphans, should be shown special generosity: God "executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing" (Deut. 10:18). Yet despite these laws requiring generosity toward strangers, there was still a distance to be kept. Marrying a foreigner was frowned upon if not forbidden, and outsiders were not to eat "holy things" (Lev. 22:10, 12).

In the Fullness of Time
That distance was bridged by Christ. In the New Testament, when Paul calls on the early Christians to show hospitality to strangers, he links hospitality to Christ’s commandment to love, which is the New Law. Paul, perhaps thinking of Abraham, writes, "Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares" (Heb. 13:1–2). Paul’s encouragement of brotherly love implies that the distance between the foreigner and host can be bridged. For the Christian, the stranger is also a brother or a neighbor who represents Christ and who also may be a messenger from God. In the story of the Good Samaritan, Christ broadens the concept of "neighbor" to define it more by actions than by proximity.

This New Law, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church points out, fulfills and perfects the Old Law. It does not add to or abolish the Old Law but "proceeds to reform the heart, the root of human acts, where man chooses between the pure and the impure, where faith, hope, and charity are formed and with them the other virtues. The gospel thus brings the law to its fullness through imitation of the perfection of the heavenly Father, through forgiveness of enemies and prayer for persecutors, in emulation of the divine generosity" (CCC 1968).

Christ’s commandment to love one another as he loves deepens the understanding of neighborly love with which the Jews were familiar. Jesus not only says, "Love your neighbor as yourself" but invites us to love as he loves: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:12–13). Christ includes even enemies when he says, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 5:44–45).

Christ as Guest and Host
The idea that love of neighbor is an act of sacrificial love adds a new dimension to the virtue of hospitality. Hospitality becomes a means to serve others and Christ in them. Christ lives this humble service by becoming a traveler himself, dependent on the hospitality of both Pharisees and tax collectors alike. He journeys from town to town preaching about true charity, himself a stranger who must be welcomed: "The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head" (Matt. 8:20).

Christ shares much of his wisdom while dining with others. The lesson that he repeats at the table of Zacchaeus is that he has come to heal the afflicted, to eat with the sinners, and to call those who have strayed from God: "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick" (Matt. 9:12). He thus reminds us that an essential part of hospitality is ministering to the needs of guests.

Jesus also ties hospitality into his description of who will inherit heaven: "Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me . . .Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Matt. 25:34–36, 40).

These passages make it clear that in order to be welcomed into heaven, we must welcome and serve others. Time and again, even at the Last Supper, Jesus reminded his disciples that to love means to put others first: "Whoever would be first among you must be slave of all" (Mark 10:44). Many potential followers of Christ turn away because this call to active service requires detachment from material goods, family connections, and physical comforts. We see this in the story of the rich young man (Mark 10:17–22). If we are to follow Christ, we must be willing to put all we have at the service of others. In other words, we must practice hospitality not just out of courtesy or duty—it has to cost us something. As John Paul II said, "Welcoming Christ in our needy brothers and sisters is the condition of being able to meet him face to face and perfectly at the end of our earthly journey" (Homily for the Jubilee of Migrants and Itinerant Workers, June 2, 2000).

Heaven Is a Banquet
Not surprisingly, Jesus describes heaven in terms of hospitality. He says to Peter, "In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also" (John 14:2–4).

And when Jesus says, "Come and follow me" (Matt. 11:28), he is inviting us all to a feast—both the eternal heavenly banquet and the eucharistic feast. In his parables, Jesus describes the heavenly banquet as a marriage feast. The invited guests decline because they are too busy with material cares. In their place, the host has his servants invite the poor, the lame, and the afflicted—those who will appreciate it and be grateful. It is these whom God will invite to the heavenly banquet. "For many are called, but few are chosen" (Matt. 22:14). And yet, God is a forgiving host: "Ask and it will be given you; seek and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you" (Luke 11:9).

Jesus elaborates on the forgiving nature of God’s hospitality in the story of the prodigal son. Just as the father welcomes home with open arms the profligate son and sets to rejoicing, God will welcome into heaven those who sin but ask forgiveness. Meanwhile, most of us sympathize with the older son who grumbles over his brother’s reception. We, too, lack gratitude and envy the feast laid for others instead of being humble like the wayward son, aware of his need, and grateful for what little he might receive.

Hospitality and the Eucharist

Ultimately, all of these teachings on hospitality come together in the Eucharist, in which we welcome Christ into our hearts, offering all that we are to him. Like the centurion whose words we echo at every Mass, we do not feel worthy to receive Christ (literally, to have him under our roof), but we need his love and redemption to heal us. Christ invites us to his feast and offers himself as our bread and our home: "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him" (John 6:56).

The early Christians understood the connection between receiving Christ in the Eucharist and sharing hospitality with others. In Acts, we read that "they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. . . . Day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts" (Acts 2:42, 46). Their homes truly were domestic churches with doors open to receive others.

Similarly, we must receive Christ in the Eucharist with "glad and generous hearts." The Eucharist is a celebration, and like all good feasts, it requires guests. As in the parable of the marriage feast, Christ prefers the neediest guests. When we offer our needs and shortcomings at his table, Christ the Host offers forgiveness, like the generous master of his parables, and renews grace in our hearts. Mary and Martha of Bethany knew that time spent welcoming Christ allows us to serve others more generously.

Living Christian Hospitality
Our challenge is to share with others the message that Christ’s love cures all ills. Using the example of Christ meeting his disciples on the road to Emmaus, John Paul II links our reception of Christ in the Eucharist with a call to serve others: "Like the disciples of Emmaus, believers, supported by the living presence of the risen Christ, become in turn the traveling companions of their brothers and sisters in trouble, offering them the word that rekindles hospitality in their hearts. With them they break the bread of friendship, brotherhood, and mutual help" (Homily, June 2, 2000). Our response to receiving Christ in the Eucharist is to welcome others in his name.

The early Christians relied on the older Jewish and Gentile conventions of hospitality to find food and lodging while teaching about Christ’s words of welcome. Made pilgrims by their desire to share the gospel and in political exile because of their faith in Christ, the early Christians probably thought often of the Israelites in the desert. The life of a wayfarer would not have been easy. Peter urges the followers of Jesus to behave well so that their actions will evangelize the Gentiles: "Maintain good conduct among the Gentiles, so that in case they speak against you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation" (1 Pet. 2:12). Later, he urges them to remember that love requires serving others: "Above all hold unfailing your love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins. Practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another" (1 Pet. 4:8–9).

Like the early Christians, we must also rely on and offer hospitality as a means of sharing the gospel. By creating a welcoming home, we make the Christian life attractive. With further insight, John Paul II writes, "Welcoming our brothers and sisters with care and willingness must not be limited to extraordinary occasions but must become for all believers a habit of service in their daily lives" (Address to volunteer workers, March 8, 1997).

As believers, we are sustained by the Eucharist to welcome not only strangers but also neighbors and family. Being hospitable means being vulnerable and potentially suffering the pains of living closely with those who most clearly see our faults. In marriage, being hospitable spills into how open we are to life and children. Christian hospitality requires the humility of loving service toward each member of the family, including those with whom it might be difficult to get along. But the rough spots of family life offer the most opportunity for growing in charity and holiness.

Mary Is Our Model
We can also look to Mary for a perfect example of this understanding of hospitality as a call to loving service. After she welcomes Christ in conception, Mary rushes to serve Elizabeth, who receives Mary with open arms, recognizing her holy guest. One can only imagine the companionship and comfort the two provided each other, both of whom had become hostesses in the most intimate way to the infants in their wombs.

Later in Bethlehem, Mary continued to welcome strangers and to share the gift of her child. Although she and Joseph found no lodging for themselves in Bethlehem, Mary received the shepherds and wise men who wanted to welcome Jesus without fussing about her surroundings or fretting about what food to serve. When she and her family had to flee to Egypt, she relied on the generosity of others to shelter her family from Herod’s deadly reach.

The miracle at the wedding feast in Cana further demonstrates Mary’s generous and hospitable heart. She takes pity on the wedding host and asks Jesus to help him. Her sensitivity to the need to continue the wedding feast reflects the importance of communion and feast in the presence of the Bridegroom. And Jesus’ response shows not only his respect for his Mother but also his understanding of the sacred nature of hospitality. When he takes plain water and makes fine wine, he shows us how much he can do even with the little we offer.

Come on In! 
Fortunately, the idea that hospitality is a virtue is being revived. The continuing success of World Youth Day has taught many people about the graces received by welcoming strangers and receiving hospitality. In honor of World Youth Day, private homes, parishes, religious communities, and civil organizations open their doors to pilgrims and strangers in the tradition of ancient cultures welcoming foreign travelers without question. As Pope Benedict XVI remarked in Cologne, "It is a fine thing that on such occasions the virtue of hospitality, which has almost disappeared and is one of man’s original virtues, should be renewed and enable people of all states of life to meet."

So how to be a good host? Jeffrey Tucker offers terrific advice in his article "Catholics Give the Best Parties" in the July-August 2001 issue of Crisis, available at https://www.crisismagazine.com/2001/catholics-give-the-best-parties-3.

We should also keep in mind what John Paul II said: "Only those who have opened their hearts to Christ can offer a hospitality that is never formal or superficial but identified by ‘gentleness’ and ‘reverence’ (cf. 1 Pet. 3:15)."

Our homes and our churches should be places where everyone feels at home. Guests should never feel that they are causing undue extra labor. In short, all that is really needed to be an excellent host is a loving heart, an open ear, and eyes that see Christ in each person who crosses the threshold.

Bishop Vincke: Why I Said Yes

By Most Reverend Gerald L. Vincke 
Bishop, Diocese of Salina

The Church needs to be open, honest and transparent.

On September 13, 2018, I received a phone call from His Eminence, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. After brief pleasantries, he got right to the point. He asked for my permission for Archbishop Theodore McCarrick to reside at the St. Fidelis Capuchin Friary in Victoria, Kansas, to live a life of prayer and penance. Archbishop McCarrick is 88 years old. Cardinal Wuerl already received permission for this arrangement from Father Christopher Popravek, the provincial of the Capuchin Friary in Denver. I said, “yes.”

I realize this decision will be offensive and hurtful to many people. Archbishop McCarrick is, in many ways, at the forefront of the recent firestorm in the Church. Many of us are confused and angry by what Archbishop McCarrick is alleged to have done several decades ago. The Holy See stated on July 28 that Pope Francis “accepted his resignation from the cardinalate and has ordered his suspension from the exercise of any public ministry, together with the obligation to remain in a house yet to be indicated to him, for a life of prayer and penance until the accusations made against him are examined in a regular canonical trial.” Please know that I agreed to this arrangement with the understanding that Archbishop McCarrick is excluded from any public appearances and ministry. Our diocese is not incurring any cost in this arrangement.

I believe in justice. Recently, the administrative committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops stated their support of a full investigation into the allegations surrounding Archbishop McCarrick. The committee has recommended that the investigation be done by lay experts in relevant fields, including law enforcement and social services. Currently, a timeline for that investigation is unknown.

I also believe in mercy. In saying “yes,” I had to reconcile my own feelings of disappointment, anger and even resentment toward Archbishop McCarrick. I had to turn to Christ for guidance. Jesus is rich in mercy. He did not come to give us permission to sin, he came to forgive our sins. We know that Christ has compassion and mercy for all who repent of their sins. The cross is a place of love and mercy. It is not a place of retribution. If our actions do not have mercy, then how can it be of the Church?

Jesus reminds us to “be merciful, just as our Father is merciful.” Many years ago, I received a relic of Saint Maria Goretti, who was canonized in 1950. When Maria was almost 12 years old, she was attacked by a 19-year-old man named Allesandro Serenilli. After she rebuffed his sexual advances, Allessandro stabbed her 14 times. On her deathbed, Maria’s last words were, “I forgive Alessandro Serenelli … and I want him with me in heaven forever.” She forgave her assailant. Yet, there was also justice. Allesandro spent a number of years in prison. During this time, he had a deep conversion and spent the rest of his life in a monastery. I have the relic of Saint Maria Goretti beside the tabernacle in my chapel with a prayer that I say often. The

opening line is “Dear Saint Maria Goretti, your heart was so full of mercy that you gladly forgave your assassin and prayed that he might be saved.” I think Saint Maria Goretti is a saint today because she forgave Allesandro.

Sometimes, it can take a long time to forgive.

At this time, I would like to take the opportunity to say how deeply sorry I am to all the victims of abuse. My heart aches for you and your families. I am unable to comprehend the extent of your suffering. Sadly, many times the victims did not receive an adequate response from the Church regarding the abuse they endured and the life-long pain and suffering that accompanies such evil. As a Church, we are extremely sorry and ask for forgiveness. Because of the courage and perseverance of the victims who came forward, they have become the source of much needed change in our Church and our culture. I pray that this may bring about greater purification and healing for our world.

This is a difficult time for the Church. This purification of the Church by God is painful, but much needed. We need the eyes of faith as we suffer through this. “Faith is not a light which scatters all our darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey (Lumen Fidei #57).” Jesus is with us as light in the midst of darkness.

We trust that God will bring good out of this situation. Please join me in praying for Archbishop McCarrick as he now leads a life of prayer and penance. Most of all, let us pray for all victims of abuse so they may experience the healing presence of Jesus and the tenderness and compassion of our Blessed Mother. 

 

Archangels and Guardian Angels

Fr. William Saunders

Last week, we began our discussion of angels, examining their role in sacred Scripture and even investigating the nine choirs of angels. This week, we focus our attention on the archangels and the guardian angels. Sacred Scripture identifies by name three angels, who are the great messengers of God — Sts. Michael, Raphael and Gabriel.

They are called archangels because of their important roles in God’s plan. St. Michael, whose name means, “one who is like God,” led the army of angels who cast Satan and the rebellious angels into Hell; at the end of time, he will wield the sword of justice to separate the righteous from the evil (cf. Rv 12:7-10). St. Gabriel, whose name means “strength of God,” announced to Mary that she had been chosen as the Mother of the Savior (cf. Lk 1:26-38). St. Raphael, whose name means “remedy of God,” cured the blind man Tobit (cf. Tb 5).

The angels are also our guardians. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “From infancy to death human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession” (No. 336). St. Basil (d. 379) asserted, “Beside each believer stands an angel protector and shepherd leading him to life” (Adversus Eunomium, III, 1). Most of us at an early age learned the little prayer to our guardian angel:

Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God’s love commits me here. Ever this day be at my side, to light, to guard, to rule and to guide.

Some of the saints were able to see angels, as St. Peter did (Acts 12:1-19), or to see their guardian angel, as St. Pio (Padre Pio) and St. Elizabeth of Hungary did.

Moreover, as Catholics, we remember the important role of St. Michael in defending us against Satan and the powers of evil. Toward the end of the 19th century, Pope Leo XIII (d. 1903) had a prophetic vision of the coming century of sorrow and war. In this vision, God gave Satan the choice of one century in which to do his worst work. The devil chose the 20th century. So moved was the Holy Father from this vision that he composed the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel:

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle! Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust into Hell Satan and all the other evil spirits who roam about the world seeking the ruin of souls.

For many years, this prayer was recited at the end of Mass to bring about the fall of communism. All of the faithful should again invoke the aid of St. Michael to combat the great evils we see present in our world — abortion, euthanasia, terrorism, genocide, same-sex marriage and the like.

As members of the Church, we are conscious of the angels in our liturgical practices. At Mass, in the Preface before the Eucharistic Prayer, we join with all of the angels and saints to sing the hymn of praise, “Holy, holy, holy…” In the Eucharistic Prayer I, the priest prays, “Almighty God, we pray that your angel may take this sacrifice to your altar in Heaven.” In the Final Commendation of the Funeral Liturgy, the priest prays, “May the angels lead you into paradise; may the martyrs come to welcome you and take you to the holy city, the new and eternal Jerusalem.” Moreover, we celebrate in our liturgical calendar the Feasts of the Archangels (September 29) and Guardian Angels (October 2).

In our daily prayers and activities, we should be mindful of these servants of God who by His love keep our lives safe from harm and guide us on the path of salvation.

Choirs of Angels

Fr. William Saunders

Q: With all of the talk about angels, the multitude of pictures and books about them, and even the television shows with angels, why don’t we ever hear more about them? Some of these shows make angels seem like fantasy spirits. Too many people have a superficial view of angels. Do we still believe in them?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly affirms, “The existence of the spiritual, non-corporeal beings that sacred Scripture usually calls ‘angels’ is a truth of faith. The witness of Scripture is as clear as the unanimity of Tradition” (no. 328). Given that we do believe in angels, we define them as pure spirits and personal beings with intelligence and free will. They are immortal beings. As the Bible attests, they appear to humans as apparitions with a human form.

Since the fourth century, nine choirs or types of angels are identified in the Bible and have been elaborated upon by various theologians: The first three choirs see and adore God directly. The seraphim, which means “the burning ones,” have the most intense “flaming” love for God and comprehend Him with the greatest clarity. (Interestingly, Lucifer, which means “light bearer,” was one of the seraphim whose beautiful light was changed into darkness.) The cherubim, which means “fullness of wisdom,” contemplate God’s divine providence and plan for His creatures. Lastly, the thrones, symbolizing divine justice and judicial power, contemplate God’s power and justice.

The next three choirs fulfill God’s providential plan for the universe: The dominations or dominions, whose name evokes authority, govern the lesser choirs of angels. The virtues, whose name originally suggested power or strength, implement the orders from the dominations and govern the heavenly bodies. Lastly, the powers confront and fight against any evil forces opposed to God’s providential plan. 

The last three choirs are directly involved in human affairs: The principalities care for earthly principalities, such as nations or cities. The archangels deliver God’s most important messages to mankind, while each angel serves as a guardian for each of us. Although not official dogma, this schema became popular in the Middle Ages in the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, Dante, Hildegard of Bingen and John Scotus Erigina.

Nevertheless, we believe that Almighty God created the angels before the rest of creation. At some point, some angels, led by Lucifer, rebelled against God. These angels made a free choice, radically and irrevocably rejecting God and His rule. Therefore, they were cast into Hell. This event is mentioned, albeit briefly, in several passages of the New Testament: St. Peter wrote, “Did God spare even the angels who sinned? He did not! He held them captive in Tartarus [Hell] — consigned them to pits of darkness, to be guarded until judgment” (1 Pt 2:3). In the Letter of St. Jude we read, “There were angels, too, who did not keep to their own domain, who deserted their dwelling place. These the Lord has kept in perpetual bondage, shrouded in murky darkness against the judgment of the great day. Sodom, Gomorrah and the towns thereabouts indulged in lust, just as those angels did; they practiced unnatural vice. They are set before us to dissuade us, as they undergo a punishment of eternal fire” (Jude 6-7). When Jesus spoke of the Last Judgment and the need to serve the least of our brethren, He said to the unrighteous, “Out of my sight, you condemned, into that everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt 25:41). Always remember that these fallen angels — the devil and demons — had been created good, but by their own free will chose to sin and turn away from God.

A key to understanding angels is by looking at what they do. First, angels see, praise and worship God in His divine presence. Jesus said, “See that you never despise one of these little ones. I assure you, their angels in Heaven constantly behold my heavenly Father’s face” (Mt 18:10), a passage which also indicates that each of us has a guardian angel. The Book of Revelation described how the angels surround the throne of God and sing praises (cf Rv 5:11ff, 7:11ff). Moreover, they rejoice over the saved soul of the repentant sinner (Lk 15:10).

Second, “angel” comes from the Greek “angelos” which means “messenger,” which describes their role in interacting with this world. St. Augustine stated that angels were “the mighty ones who do His word, hearkening to the voice of His word.” Throughout sacred Scripture, the angels served as messengers of God, whether delivering an actual message of God’s plan of salvation, rendering justice, or providing strength and comfort. Here are a few examples of their role as messengers in the Old Testament: After the Fall of Adam and Eve and their expulsion, the cherubim guarded the entrance to the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:24). Angels protected Lot and his family in Sodom and Gomorrah (Gn 19). The angel stopped Abraham as he was about to offer Isaac in sacrifice (Gn 22). An angel guarded the people on the way to the Promised Land (Ex 23:20). In the New Testament, an angel appeared to the centurion Cornelius and prompted his conversion (Acts 10:1ff); and an angel freed St. Peter from prison (Acts 12:1ff). In all, Hebrews 1:14 captured their role well: “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent to serve those who are to inherit salvation?”

October: The Month of the Rosary

Pope Francis has asked all Catholics to pray the rosary daily during the month of October, asking Mary and St. Michael the Archangel to intercede for the protection of the Church in a moment of “spiritual turbulence.”

A Sept. 29 statement from the Vatican said that Pope Francis had recently affirmed that prayer “is the weapon against the Great Accuser who ‘goes around the world seeking to accuse.’ Only prayer can defeat him.”

“The Russian mystics and the great saints of all the traditions advised, in moments of spiritual turbulence, to shelter beneath the mantle of the Holy Mother of God,” the statement added.

The pope said that recitation of the rosary would invoke Mary's intercession, placing the Church under her "protective mantle."

The statement also encouraged the prayer of Sub Tuum Praesidium: “We fly to Thy protection, O Holy Mother of God. Do not despise our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us always from all dangers, O Glorious and Blessed Virgin.”

The pope did not specify the "spiritual turbulence" to which he referred, but did say that prayer could help the Church to become "more aware of the faults, the errors and the abuses committed in the present and in the past, and committed to combating without any hesitation, so that evil may not prevail.”

Pope Francis also encouraged that Catholics end the rosary with the recitation of the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel, composed by Pope Leo XII: “Saint Michael Archangel, defend us in battle, be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil; may God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl through the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.”

Hear God Speaking to You

FR. KILLIAN J. HEALY

Many people never listen to God because they are not aware that He speaks to them. Yet, God does speak. One way to live in His presence is to acquire the habit of recognizing His voice when He speaks. If we do not know that God wishes to communicate with us, or the ways He has chosen, then our passage through life will be devoid of the most perfect of guides.

When does God speak to us? He speaks at all times, especially in prayer. Prayer is a conversation with God. But it is not a monologue. When we pray, then, we should also listen, because a good conversationalist is also a good listener. We do not pray well when we recite ready-made formulas quickly and distractedly. We act as if God has only to listen to us, and that we have no need to listen to the thoughts and desires that He wishes to communicate to us. He has promised, “If thou wilt hear the voice of the Lord thy God, and do what is right before Him, and obey His commandments, and keep all His precepts, none of the evils that I laid upon Egypt will I bring upon thee.”

Unfortunately, many of us have never trained ourselves to listen to His voice. But, if we are to know God’s will, we must listen to Him and obey Him when we recognize His commandments.

But how does God speak to us? God is a pure spirit. Unlike man, He has no voice. If He wishes to speak to us, He must use some means outside of Himself, adapted to our nature, by which He can communicate ideas. He may use things we can see and hear in order to stir our imagination, or He may enter directly into our thoughts.

God speaks to you personally
Does God, then, speak to man? How can we ever doubt it? How foolish it is to read all types of books and neglect the word of God! The Scriptures were not meant only for particular groups of people; they were meant for all men at all times. God is eternal; His words are eternal. Although He speaks to all men, He speaks to us personally.

This does not mean that every person should take the Bible and interpret it according to his own fancy. No, the Church alone isthe divinely appointed authority to guide us in the correct interpretation  of the Bible. The Church encourages us to read it, because she knows that the word of God can enter into our minds and that God, in His own mysterious way, can teach the true way of life, the way of love and intimate union with Him.

St. Ignatius of Loyola felt that God was speaking directly to him, when, on his sick bed, he read the words:

“For what shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his soul?”

But, we ask, is this prayer? It is at least the beginning of prayer. We listen to these words of Christ; we ponder over them; they awaken thoughts and desires within us. We begin to believe, to hope, to love. Our will becomes inspired, and we break forth in ardent affections, calling on Christ to help us, begging forgiveness, expressing gratitude, performing little acts of adoration — and surely this is prayer.

We often read of visions, apparitions, and revelations in which God spoke to the saints. St. Paul on the road to Damascus is a classic example. And we read in the life of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque that, while she was engaged in prayer, Jesus often spoke to her of the devotion to His Sacred Heart.

Such conversations with God are not rare in the lives of the canonized. But must we in our conversation with God await the appearance of Jesus, of some heavenly voice or extraordinary apparition, some heavenly manifestation from God? Absolutely not. It is true that God does single out some chosen souls to whom He speaks directly and who actually experience the divine power working in them, but these are very few; it is not the way that God ordinarily uses. We should not even desire that God speak to us in this extraordinary manner. We should not expect it. Visions and revelations are not necessary for us to grow in deep love for God. We may fall deeply in love with Him and practice faithfully the presence of God, yet never receive any extraordinary manifestations from Him. These are special gifts, and God gives them to whom He wills, and when He wills.

God speaks to your mind and to your heart
Nevertheless, God does speak to all of us without exception in a more direct way than we have yet mentioned. It is a hidden way, by which He enters directly into our thoughts and desires. Our most hidden secrets are not secrets to Him. He comes right into our mind. Our thoughts are not only our thoughts; our desires are not only our desires — they may also be God’s thoughts and desires. We know we can do nothing without God. Even such ordinary things as eating, breathing, and walking cannot be done without the ordinary help that God gives us. But, in this instance, we are presupposing this natural help of God and are referring to a greater and more noble assistance from Him.

Does God help us in a special way to think good thoughts and to desire holy things? He most assuredly does. For we are living in a supernatural order and destined to a supernatural end, the Beatific Vision. To attain this end, God not only gives us the principle of supernatural life, sanctifying grace, but He also gives us actual graces that help us to perform supernatural actions and thus to grow in the grace of God. These actual graces are, especially, the holy thoughts and desires that God creates in us.

God does not have to use external words and signs to attract our attention  and convey ideas to us. He enters our minds directly. He speaks secretly, noiselessly, as befits the Divinity. It is only by faith that we know He is working in us. For example, God once spoke in a special, hidden way to St. Peter, who then confessed Jesus to be the Son of God. “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona,” said our Lord. “For flesh and blood hath not revealed this to thee, but my Father in Heaven.”

St. John tells us that we will know all things from the Holy Spirit: “But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things.”St. Paul says that God enters our very thoughts: “Not that we are sufficient to think anything of ourselves, as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God.”

God also enters our hearts and inspires us to holy desires. “And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God, was listening; and the Lord touched her heart to give heed to what was being said by Paul.”

Thus, the Scriptures and the Church tell us that God speaks to us in the silence of our minds and hearts. He speaks to all men, but all men do not hear Him. God speaks to our mind and heart when we kneel to meditate or to adore Him in the Blessed Sacrament. He enters our mind when the passing things of time excite our thoughts. It is He who gives us holy thoughts to conquer our temptations. It is He who stirs up within us the desire to persevere against all adversaries.

Perhaps we have never realized that God is illuminating our intellect and inspiring our will. Yet He does just that. That is why we are told not to do all the talking in prayer. For, if we continually recite vocal prayers without pausing now and then to think, we will stifle the thoughts and desires that God wishes to excite in us.

St. Thérèse of Lisieux tells us how she listened to the voice of God. “I know and have experienced that ‘the Kingdom of God is within us,’ that our Master has no need of books or teacher to instruct a soul. The Teacher of teachers instructs without sound of words, and though I have never heard Him speak, yet I know He is within me, always guiding and inspiring me; and just when I need them, lights, hitherto unseen, break in upon me. As a rule, it is not during prayer that this happens, but in the midst of my daily duties.”

But we are not only to listen; it would be folly to remain in a state of mental blankness, waiting for God to speak. No, prayer is a loving conversation, and, when the Holy Spirit moves us, it is time to begin our part of the colloquy.

One way, then, to practice the exercise of the presence of God is to listen to God, to be aware that He speaks to us, to be ever conscious that God can use all things to communicate with us.

This article is an excerpt from Fr. Healy’s Awakening Your Soul to Presence of God, which is available from Sophia Institute Press. 

The Holy Eucharist and Holy Matrimony

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

We do not normally associate the Holy Eucharist with the sacrament of matrimony. But we should. Without the Eucharist, there would not be a livable sacrament of matrimony.

What are we saying? We are saying that Christ intended these two sacraments to be related as condition and consequence. The Eucharist is the condition, and matrimony is the supernatural consequence.

Surely this calls for an explanation, and a clear explanation.

Needless to say, this is a most important subject. It is so important that the survival of Christian marriage and the Catholic family depend on it. Am I serious? Yes. The Holy Eucharist is indispensable for living out the supernatural, and therefore humanly impossible, demands that Christ places on those who enter marriage in His name.

My plan is to cover the following areas of this fundamental issue.

  • Christian marriage is a life-long commitment to selfless love.

  • This selfless love is impossible without superhuman strength from God.

  • The principal source of this superhuman strength is the Holy Eucharist.

  • Christian spouses are a living witness to Christ's power to work moral miracles in the world today.

  • The single most important need for Christian marriage is a renewed faith in the Holy Eucharist.

 

Christian Marriage and Selfless Love

Christ instituted the sacrament of marriage in order to restore marriage to its monogamous position before the fall of our first parents.

When some Pharisees came to test Jesus by asking Him: “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for any reason,” Jesus answered and said to them, “Have you not read that the Creator from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ Therefore now they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder” (Matthew 19:3-6).

But Christ did not stop there. He not only told His followers that marriage is a lifelong commitment that no human authority can dissolve. He further commanded those who call themselves Christians to love one another with such selfless charity as to be willing to die for one another after the example of His own selfless love of dying for us on the Cross.

This is Christian marriage as elevated by Him into the sacrament of Matrimony. It is a lifetime covenant between husband and wife, to remain faithful to each other until death. It is also a lifelong promise, made to God under oath, to love one another with selfless charity, enduring patience, and whole-hearted generosity. Even more, it is a solemn vow to accept the children that God wants to send them and educate their children for eternal life in heaven with God.

Since the time of Christ, there have been many breaks in Christian unity. There have been many departures from the Catholic Church. There have arisen numerous churches, calling themselves Christian. Why the departures? Why? The main single reason has been the unwillingness to accept Christ's teaching on the indissolubility and fruitfulness of Christian marriage, founded on selfless charity.

 

Need for Superhuman Strength

It takes no great intelligence to see that a faithful and fruitful marriage requires superhuman strength. Change the word "superhuman" to ''supernatural" and we begin to see what we are talking about.

Catholic Christianity is unique among the religions of the world, whether ancient as among the Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks and Romans before Christ, or among the living religions of the human race.

Catholic Christianity is unique in making demands on the morality of its believers that are beyond human nature by itself to live up to. The two hardest demands are the practice of Christian chastity and Christian charity. Combine these two virtues in marriage, and we begin to see why Christian matrimony requires, indeed demands superhuman power from God to remain faithful to for a lifetime.

This is what Christianity is all about: living a superhuman life by means of superhuman grace provided by Christ to those who believe that He is God who became man to enable us to witness to His Name.

That is why Christ elevated marriage to the dignity of a sacrament. He had to, otherwise what He commanded His married followers to do would be an idle dream.

There are certain things that human nature, by itself cannot, and the word is "cannot" do. Like what? Like living for a lifetime in loving married partnership, without being seduced by the selfish sex perversion that surrounds us like the atmosphere we breathe.

 

The Eucharist Provides Superhuman Strength

Entering marriage for believing Catholics is one thing. Living in Christian marriage for a lifetime is something else. That is why Christ instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist. The moment we say, "Sacrament of the Eucharist," we mean a triple sacrament:

  • The Sacrifice-Sacrament of the Mass.

  • The Communion-Sacrament of Holy Communion, and

  • The Presence-Sacrament of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

Jesus Christ instituted the Holy Eucharist to give those who believe in Him the power they need to remain alive in His grace. For married Catholics this means the light and strength they must constantly receive if they are to live out the sublime directives of the Holy Spirit for Christian believers who received the sacrament of matrimony.

They have no choice. The world in which they live is:

  • an adulterous world

  • a contraceptive world

  • a masturbating world

  • a homosexual world

  • a fornicating world

  • an abortive world that murders unborn children in their mothers' wombs.

Not to be deceived by this world, whose prince, Christ tells us, is the devil, Catholic husbands and wives need the light that only Christ can give. He is available with this grace through the Holy Eucharist.

Not to be seduced by this world, master-minded by Satan, Catholic spouses and parents need the courage that only Christ can give. He tells us not to be afraid. Why not? Because, as He says, “Have confidence, I have overcome the world”.

What is He telling married people? He is assuring them that He is still on earth in the Blessed Sacrament; that He is still offering Himself daily on our altars in the Sacrifice of the Mass; that He is literally, physically giving Himself to them in Holy Communion. Why? In order to enable them to do what is humanly beyond their natural intelligence to comprehend and beyond their natural willpower to perform.

Married Catholics have no choice. The psychological pressure from the world, the flesh and the devil is too strong to cope with by themselves.

The Holy Eucharist must remain, if it already is, or become, if it is not, the mainstay of their married lives. This is no option. It is a law of spiritual survival for Catholic marriages and families in every age, and with thunderous emphasis, in our day.

At the turn of the century, Pope St. Pius X identified the first meaning of the section of the Lord's Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread”. The primary meaning of this petition refers to the Eucharist. We are asking God in the Our Father to open the minds and hearts of believers to their need for daily Mass, daily Holy Communion, and some daily praying before the Blessed Sacrament. Why? To provide us with the daily sustenance that our life of grace requires.

I am speaking to proposed Catholics. I am speaking about Catholic marriage. I am speaking to those whose marriage in Christ must be preserved by Christ, nourished by Christ, grow in loving chastity and charity as prescribed by Christ.

Nineteen plus centuries of Catholic-Christianity proves that the Holy Eucharist is absolutely necessary for married Christians to remain faithful to each other, and selfless in their mutual love.

 

Witness to Christ's Power to Work Miracles

If there is one thing that stands out in Christ's visible life in Palestine it is His power to work miracles.

In one chapter after another of the Gospels, Christ performed signs and wonders that testified to His claims to being one with the Father and that, without Him, we can do nothing to reach our eternal destiny.

  • Christ changed water into wine at Cana in Galilee.

  • Christ restored sight to the blind, and speech to the mute.

  • Christ cured paralytics so they could use their limbs.

  • Christ calmed the storm at sea by a single word.

  • Christ even raised Lazarus from the grave. When He told the dead man to “Come forth,” what had been a decaying corpse came out of the tomb as a living human being.

But Christ's greatest miracles were not His power over the physical loss of nature. They were His power to change unbelieving minds to become believers in His word, and unbelieving hearts to become men and women of heroic virtue.

The pagans of the first three centuries A.D. were converted to Christ when they saw Christians practicing chastity and charity.

It was especially the faithful and fruitful love of married Christians that changed pagans into believing Christians and in the process, changed the history of the human race.

Where did the early Christian spouses receive the incredible strength they needed to live in holy, and I mean holy matrimony? Remember, to become a Christian in those times meant to expect martyrdom. Where did married Christians receive the superhuman power to live such superhuman lives? Where? From the Holy Eucharist.

It is not commonly known but should become known that in the early Church Christians heard Mass and received Holy Communion every day. The Holy Eucharist was brought to them in person as they were awaiting martyrdom by fire or the sword, or by being devoured by wild beasts.

We turn to our own day. What Christ did during His visible stay on earth in first century Asia Minor, He has continued doing down the ages by the exercise of His almighty power available in His invisible presence in the Holy Eucharist.

It is the same:

  • Physically same,

  • Historically same,

  • Geographically same,

  • Really same Jesus Christ who worked miracles at the dawn of Christianity, Who is now present in the Blessed Sacrament, offering Himself in the Mass, and received by us in the Holy Eucharist.

What do we conclude from this? Obviously, that married Catholics be witnesses in our day to Christ's power in their lives, as were the Christians who were mangled by lions in the Roman Colosseum, or, like St. Thomas More, were beheaded by order of a lecherous king who discarded his wife in sixteenth century England.

 

The Greatest Need for Married Christians

This brings us to our final reflection. I make bold to say that the single most important need for Christian marriage is a renewed faith in the Holy Eucharist.

There is an outstanding statement in the Gospels about Christ performing miracles. The evangelists tell us that Jesus could not work miracles among some people because of their lack of faith.

Notice what we are saying. We are saying that the Almighty Master of heaven and earth, the Creator of the sun, moon and stars, when He became Man was unable to exercise His omnipotence because of some people's lack of faith. Of course, this means that He could not, because He would not, work miracles where the people refused to submit their minds in humble belief to His Divinity.

Now we turn to our own time and place. Would anyone doubt that in our nation in the last decade of the twentieth century, we need an avalanche of moral miracles to preserve marriage and the family from disintegration by the devious forces let loose in our country today?

Only God can work a miracle, and we need to change the figure, an ocean of miracles in America, as in Canada as in England, and France and Germany and Scandinavia, to mention just a few materially wealthy countries that are in desperate need of Divine Grace where so many are walking in darkness and the shadow of eternal death.

Jesus Christ is the Infinite God who became man. He became man not only to die for us on Calvary. He became man to live with us in the Holy Eucharist.

Catholics living in holy matrimony have a grave responsibility. They are to stir up their faith in this continued presence of Jesus, now on earth, in our cities, in our day.

They are to obtain for themselves and for their contemporaries the power to live their married lives according to the teaching of Jesus Christ. He instituted the sacrament of matrimony to be a constant witness-in an unbelieving world to what only God-become-man can achieve.

This divine power is accessible in the Holy Eucharist to those who have the humility to believe.

 

Prayer

“Lord Jesus, at the Last Supper You gave us Your own commandment to love one another as You have loved us.”

“At the Last Supper, You instituted the Holy Eucharist, in order to give us the grace we need to put this difficult commandment into practice in our lives.”

“Those whom You have joined in Holy Matrimony are to practice this selfless charity day after day, and year after year, until you call them into eternity.”

“They need, how they need, the patience and courage and heroic fortitude to remain faithful to You and to one another in today's Age of Martyrs.”

“Give them, we pray, the light to see that You are with them in the Holy Eucharist, near them by Your Real Presence, and within them in Holy Communion.”

“Inspire them to become Apostles of Charity and Chastity to the married.”

“Eucharistic Lord Jesus, without You we can do nothing. But with You we can restore a broken world to unity in the human family here on earth, as a prelude to our union with You in heaven, in the company of the Divine Family of the Holy Trinity. Amen”.

How to Defend Christ's Presence in the Eucharist


Jason Evert

1. During the Last Supper, Jesus was speaking metaphorically when he said, "This is my body." 

Objections to Christ’s presence in the Eucharist can usually be divided into three categories: scriptural, philosophical, and historical. Whenever discussing the scriptural objections, keep in mind how many different interpretations are out there. William Whalen’s book Separated Brethren was published in the 1950s, and it recorded that there were over three hundred different interpretations of the phrase, "This is my body."

Two Christians with differing views could debate the matter for hours and not make any progress. That being the case, the issue of authority should always be brought up first. If there are at least three hundred interpretations of those four words, how is a sincere Christian to know what Christ meant by them? Whose authority should be trusted when it comes to interpreting the Bible?

If your friend is not favorable to the idea of accepting the Catholic Church as that authority, perhaps he is willing to concede that the first two or three centuries of Christian writings are worth examining. After all, if anyone knew what Christ meant at the Last Supper it would be the apostles and their disciples. The web address www.catholic.com/answers/tracts/_real_pr.htm is an ideal place to find the first Christian exegesis of the words "This is my body."

In addition to the historical evidence, it is useful to examine the language that Christ would have used at the Last Supper. In Aramaic, there are over three dozen words that mean represent or symbolize, but Jesus used none of them in his statement, "This is my body." In fact, a literal translation in the Aramaic is simply, "This my body."

If this phrase were metaphorical, a serious difficulty arises in 1 Corinthians 11:27, where Paul says that if one eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner he will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. In a Semitic culture, to be guilty of another’s body and blood is to be guilty of murder. Yet how could one be guilty of murder if the bread is merely a symbol of Christ? Paul goes on to say that some are dying because of this.

2. But the bread of life discourse in John 6 shouldn’t be taken literally. Elsewhere, Jesus said that he was the door, the gate, the vine, et cetera. Here he is saying that he is the bread, since he gives us spiritual nourishment. 

When questions of biblical interpretation are raised, it is beneficial to read in context the entire passage that is in dispute. The bread of life discourse begins in John 6:22, and the first point to address is the discussion of the heavenly bread. Jesus makes the point that as the Father sent manna from heaven for the physical nourishment of the Israelites, he has sent Jesus for the spiritual nourishment of the world. When Jesus announced this (6:41), the Jews murmured because he said that he had come down from heaven, not because he said that he was like bread. They understood his symbolic statement regarding the origin of the manna, and were scandalized by what it implied: "Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven?’" (6:42).

Beginning in verse 43, Jesus replies to these objections. At the completion of his answer (6:51), he speaks of a bread that he is yet to give. The Jews’ understand that he is now speaking in a literal sense, and so they object, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" So the Jews first objected because of what Jesus’ initial words meant symbolically, and now they object to what his second statement means literally. Had Jesus been speaking in a metaphorical sense here, this would be the perfect point to clarify his intentions.

Matthew 16:5–12 is one such example where Jesus’ listeners thought that he was speaking in a literal sense, and he had to correct them. In this passage, Christ was warning the disciples of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. The disciples concluded that he was speaking of the bread they had forgotten to bring for their journey. In seeing their confusion, Jesus had to reiterate that he was not speaking literally of bread.

Keeping this in mind, look how Jesus answers the Jews’ objections in John 6:53–58: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. . . . For my flesh is food indeed, and my flesh is drink indeed." These words would hardly quell the Jew’s fear that Jesus spoke literally. Following this, many of his disciples said, "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?"(6:60). At this point, we witness the only place in Scripture where anyone leaves Jesus for a doctrinal reason. Had Jesus been speaking metaphorically, what would have been so hard for the disciples to accept?

One last passage worth considering is John 10:9, where Jesus says, "I am the door." Some say that this is the sense in which Jesus’ words in John 6 should be taken. However, no one understood Jesus to be speaking literally when he said that he was a door. The narrative does not continue, "And his disciples murmured about this, saying, ‘How can he be a door? Where are his hinges? We do not see a doorknob.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Amen, Amen, I say to you, I am a door, and my chest is real wood, and my hips are real hinges.’" This is absurd, but it illustrates how shocking Jesus’ words were when he said that his flesh was real food and his blood real drink.

3. If Jesus was speaking literally, then why did he say, "It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail," and "The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life" (John 6:63)? 

The fundamental misunderstanding here springs from the implication that the word spirit is symbolic. Never in Scripture is this the case. We are told that God is spirit and that the devil is spirit, but no one would conclude from this that they are merely symbolic beings. What Jesus is driving at is that the carnal understanding of fallen human flesh is incapable of grasping spiritual realities—such as the Eucharist. 

If one concludes from the above verses that Jesus was speaking metaphorically of his flesh and blood, a major difficulty arises. The Bible teaches that blood is essentially the seat of life within living things, and thus it is sacred. Every time the Bible speaks of symbolically eating another's flesh and drinking their blood, this is the idiomatic phrase that meant to persecute, betray, and murder (see Micah 3:3; Psalm 27:2; Isaiah 9:20, 49:26). Now read John 6 in light of those that understood Jesus to speak symbolically. "I solemnly assure you that unless you persecute and betray me, you have no life within you. He who does violence to me has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." This is senseless, but it is what his words would have meant if they were symbolic.

4. If a miracle occurs when the priest says, "This is my body," then why doesn’t the bread change? 

This objection is more of a philosophical one, and so you need to shift apologetic gears a bit to address it. What we perceive with our senses is not always a good indicator of spiritual realities.

In the Old Testament, there are several occasions where angels take on human appearances in order to carry out the work of God. Now, is the angel an angelic being or a human being? It would not look angelic. Through touch, smell, sight, et cetera it would appear to be fully human. But it is an angel. If an angel can take on human form, God is infinitely able to humble himself under the appearance of bread in order that we might receive him. In the words the Eucharistic hymn Tantum Ergo, "What our senses fail to fathom let us g.asp through faith’s consent."

5. If we took Jesus’ words literally, wouldn’t that imply cannibalism? 

Cannibalism is when one individual physically eats the human flesh off of another’s body. Catholic or not, the words in John 6 do sound cannibalistic. Even a Fundamentalist would have to say that he eats the flesh of Christ and drinks his blood in a symbolic manner so as to concur with the passage. By the same allowance, Catholics eat the flesh of Christ and drink his blood in a sacramental way. Neither the Protestant nor the Catholic appears to be doing anything cannibalistic, though.

It would have been cannibalism is if a disciple two thousand years ago had tried literally to eat Jesus by sinking his teeth into his arm. Now that our Lord is in heaven with a glorified body and made present under the appearance of bread in the Eucharist, cannibalism is not possible.

6. Besides, the doctrine of transubstantiation wasn’t invented until the thirteenth century. 

Fundamentalists often use this argument in the same way that a Jehovah’s Witness would say that the Trinity was invented in the fourth century at the Council of Nicea. Neither argument is sound because the truth of a particular term should be established by what it means, not by when it was first used.

Transubstantiation was taught by the Church Fathers long before anyone had ever heard of the term (see "The Fathers Know Best," page 34). See, for example, the citation from Justin Martyr’s First Apology (A.D. 151): "The food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus."

The evidence in favor of the Real Presence in the writings of the Church Fathers is compelling and unanimous. In fact, it was not until Berengarius of Tours in the eleventh century that the teaching was denied.

Before, during, and after your discussions on the Eucharist, make sure to pray for the person you are speaking to. While Catholics realize that the Eucharist is of great importance, they often overlook how belief in it leads to the fullness of faith. If a person believes in the Real Presence, then he must accept the priesthood, apostolic succession, and in turn the divine institution of the Catholic Church. These truths are inseparably linked to the Holy Eucharist.

The Assumption of Mary

Tim Staples

There are two texts of Scripture most commonly used to “disprove” the Assumption of Mary.

1. John 3:13:

No one has ascended up to heaven, but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man. 

If “no man” has ascended into heaven, wouldn’t that include the Blessed Virgin Mary?

2. I Cor. 15:22-23:

For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.

 

If no one except Christ will be resurrected bodily before the Second Coming of Christ, would that not eliminate the possibility of Mary having been bodily assumed into heaven?

The Catholic response

John 3:13 does not eliminate the possibility of the Assumption of Mary for four reasons.

1. St. John was quoting the actual words our Lord spoke when he wrote, “No one has ascended into heaven, but . . . the Son of man.” Jesus was merely saying that no one had ascended into heaven by the time he made that statement. That was long before the Assumption of Mary.

2. Jesus cannot be saying that no one else will ever be taken to heaven. If that is the case, then what is all this Christianity stuff about? You know, heaven and all.

3. If one interprets John 3:13 as speaking about Christ uniquely ascending to heaven, that would be acceptable. We would then have to ask the question: what is it about Jesus’ ascension that is unique? Well, the fact that he ascended is unique. Mary did not ascend to heaven. She was assumed. There is a big difference. Jesus ascended by his own divine power as he prophesied he would in John 2:19-21: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up . . . he spoke of the temple of his body.” Mary was powerless to raise herself to heaven; she had to be assumed. The same could be said of all Christians. Jesus raised himself from the dead. Christians will be entirely passive when it comes to their collective “resurrection.”

4. St. John is demonstrating the divinity of Christ in John 3:13. Historically, we know St. John was writing against his archenemy, the heretic Cerinthus, who denied the divinity of Christ. St. John quotes these words from Jesus to demonstrate that the Savior “descended” from heaven and was both in heaven and on Earth as the “only begotten Son” (cf. 3:16) sharing his Father’s nature (cf. 5:17-18). Thus, he was truly God. St. John also emphasizes that even while "the Son of Man" walked the Earth with his disciples in Galilee, he possessed the beatific vision in his human nature. In that sense, his human nature (Son of Man) had already "ascended" into heaven inasmuch as it possessed the beatific vision, which is at the core of what heaven is. That is John’s theme in the text, not whether someone years after Christ could be assumed into heaven or not.

I Cor. 15:22-23:

1. We must remember that there are sometimes exceptions to general theological norms in Scripture. For example, consider Matt. 3:5-6: “Then went out to [St. John the Baptist] Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan, and they were baptized by him.” We know that "all" here does not mean "all" in a strict sense because we know, at least, Herod, Herodias, and her daughter, were exceptions to this verse (See Matt. 14:1-11). They conspired to put St. John to death. Not the best candidates for baptism! The bottom line: There are exceptions to Matt. 3:5-6. St. John the Baptist did not baptize everyone in “Jerusalem, Judea and the region around Jordan.” So Mary could be (and is, as we will see below) an exception to I Cor. 15:22-23.

2. There are exceptions to other general norms specifically laid out as true for “all” in Scripture. Hebrews 9:27 declares, “It is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment.” Yet we see exceptions to this norm many places in Scripture by way of resurrections from the dead. Not only do we have Elijah, Elisha, Jesus, St. Peter and St. Paul raising the dead in Scripture, but after Jesus’ Resurrection, “the tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and [came] out of the tombs” (Matt. 27:52-53). These folks obviously did not “die once.” They died at least twice!      

3. We have examples of other “assumptions” in Scripture. Both Enoch (cf. Gen. 5:24) and Elijah were taken up “into heaven” (II Kings 2:11) in a manner quite out of the ordinary. And so are the "two witnesses" of Revelation 11:3-13. Why couldn’t God do this with Mary?

4. We know that Mary is an exception to the “norm” of I Cor. 15:22-23 because she is depicted as having been assumed into heaven in Rev. 12. “And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun . . . she was with child . . . and . . . brought forth a male child [Jesus], one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron” (12:1-5). Who was the woman who gave birth to Jesus? Mary! And there she is in heaven!

Is the woman of Revelation 12 Mary?

Many will object at this point and deny “the woman” of Revelation 12 is Mary. They will claim it is either the Church, or, as do dispensationalists, they will claim it is the Israel of old.

The Church acknowledges Scripture to have a polyvalent nature. In other words, there can be many levels of meaning to the various texts of Scripture. So, are there many levels of meaning to Rev. 12? Absolutely! Israel is often depicted as the Lord’s bride in the Old Testament (cf. Song of Solomon, Jer. 3:1, etc.). So there is precedent to refer to Israel as “the woman.” And Jesus was born out of Israel. 

Moreover, the Book of Revelation depicts the New Covenant Church as “the bride of Christ” and “the New Jerusalem” (cf. Rev. 21:2). “The woman” of Revelation 12 is also depicted as continuing to beget children to this day and these children are revealed to be all “who keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (vs. 17). The Church certainly fits this description.

In fact, we argue as Catholics “the woman” to represent the people of God down through the centuries, whether Old Covenant Israel or the New Covenant Church, “the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16).

The first and literal sense

All we have said about “the woman” of Revelation 12 representing the people of God down through the millennia of time does not diminish in any way the first and literal sense of the text as representing Mary. In fact, there are at least four reasons why one cannot escape including Mary when exegeting Revelation 12 and specifically the identity of “the woman.”

1. “The woman” in Rev. 12 “brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with an iron rod: and her son was taken up to God, and to his throne.” This child is obviously Jesus. If we begin on the literal level, there is no doubt that Mary is the one who “brought forth” Jesus.

2. Though we could discover many spiritual levels of meaning for the flight of “the woman” in 12:6, 14, Mary and the Holy Family literally fled into Egypt in Matt. 2:13-15 with divine assistance.

3. Mary is referred to prophetically as “woman” in Gen. 3:15, Jer. 31:22, and by Jesus as the same in John 2:4 and 19:26. Especially considering the same apostle, John, wrote the Gospel of John and the book of Revelation, it is no stretch to say St. John would have had Mary in mind when he used the familiar term “the woman” as the descriptor of the Lady of the Apocalypse.

4. There are four main characters in the chapter: “the woman,” the devil, Jesus, and the Archangel Michael. No one denies that the other three mentioned are real persons. It fits the context exegetically to interpret “the woman” as a person (Mary) as well.

How do we know Mary is bodily in heaven?

Some may concede Mary to be the woman of Revelation 12, but the next logical question is: “How does this mean she is in heaven bodily? There are lots of souls in heaven, but they don’t have their bodies."

It seems clear that “the woman” is depicted as having “the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown” (vs. 1). Elsewhere in Rev. and in other parts of Scripture, saints in heaven are referred to as the “souls of those who had been slain” (Rev. 6:9) or “the spirits of just men made perfect” (Heb. 12:23). Why? Because they do not have bodies! They are disembodied “souls” or “spirits.” But the "woman" of Rev. 12 is portrayed as having a body with a head and feet.

But perhaps even more important than this is the fact that “the Ark of the Covenant” is revealed as being in heaven in Rev. 11:19. This is just one verse prior to the unveiling of “the woman” of Rev. 12:1.

Some may respond at this point: “Who cares if the ‘Ark of the Covenant’ is said to be in heaven?"

This is crucial, because Hebrews 9:4 tells us what was contained within the ark: a portion of manna, the miraculous “bread from heaven” of Old Testament fame, Aaron’s staff, and the Ten Commandments. In fact, it was precisely because of these sacred contents that the ark was so holy, and that is precisely why it is here depicted as having been taken up to heaven.

The question is: Is the Ark of the Covenant depicted as being in heaven a “what” (an Old Testament box made of acacia wood overlain with gold in Exodus 25), or a “who?” I argue it not only to be a “who” but to be the Blessed Virgin Mary for these reasons:

Let’s first take a look at the text of Rev. 11:19:

Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within in his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, loud noises, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.

In order to appreciate the identity of “the ark,” let’s first take a look at the identity of “the temple” that St. John sees as housing the ark. John 2:19-21 and Rev. 21:22 tell us quite plainly that the temple St. John speaks of is not a temple made of brick and mortar.

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”. . .  But he spoke of the temple of his body (Jn. 2:21).

I saw no temple [in heaven], for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the lamb (Rev. 21:22).

When St. John views the temple in heaven, he is not viewing the Old Testament temple. He is viewing the true temple, which is Christ’s body. In the same way, St. John is not seeing the Old Covenant ark. He sees the new and true Ark of the Covenant. And remember: this would not just be talking about Mary but Mary’s body! It was Mary’s body that housed the Son of God, the fulfillment of the various types of Christ that were contained in the Old Covenant ark.

The conclusion is inescapable. Where is Mary’s body? In heaven, according to the Book of Revelation!

A final objection

Some may argue at this point our energy was wasted in asserting Mary to be identified with “the woman” of Revelation 12 because this “woman” is depicted as “travailing” with the pangs of labor in verse 2. Thus, this cannot be the “Catholic” Mary.

Two points in response:

1. No matter which interpretation you choose—Israel, the Church, Mary, or all of the above—all interpretations agree: the labor pains of Rev. 12:2 are not literal pains from a child passing through the birth canal. This really should not be a problem at all. 

2. From the very beginning of Mary's calling to be the Mother of the Messiah, she would have most likely known her Son was called to be the "suffering servant" of Isaiah 53, Psalm 22, and Wisdom 2.

Mary’s “labor pains” began at the Annunciation and would continue from the cradle to the cross, where she suffered with her Son as prophesied in Luke 2:34-35 and as painfully fulfilled in John 19. Mary’s deep love for and knowledge of her divine Son brought with it pains far deeper than any physical hurt could ever cause. A body can go numb and cease to feel pain. But you can’t deaden a heart that loves, as long as that heart continues to love. Mary clearly chose to love. She was uniquely present for our Lord, from the Incarnation of Luke 1:37-38, to the birthing of his ministry in John 2, to the cross in John 19, and into eternity in Revelation 12.

Immaculate Conception and Assumption

 

Catholic Answers

The Marian doctrines are, for Fundamentalists, among the most bothersome of the Catholic Church’s teachings. In this tract we’ll examine briefly two Marian doctrines that Fundamentalist writers frequently object to—the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption. 

The Immaculate Conception

It’s important to understand what the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is and what it is not. Some people think the term refers to Christ’s conception in Mary’s womb without the intervention of a human father; but that is the Virgin Birth. Others think the Immaculate Conception means Mary was conceived "by the power of the Holy Spirit," in the way Jesus was, but that, too, is incorrect. The Immaculate Conception means that Mary, whose conception was brought about the normal way, was conceived without original sin or its stain—that’s what "immaculate" means: without stain. The essence of original sin consists in the deprivation of sanctifying grace, and its stain is a corrupt nature. Mary was preserved from these defects by God’s grace; from the first instant of her existence she was in the state of sanctifying grace and was free from the corrupt nature original sin brings. 

When discussing the Immaculate Conception, an implicit reference may be found in the angel’s greeting to Mary. The angel Gabriel said, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you" (Luke 1:28). The phrase "full of grace" is a translation of the Greek word kecharitomene. It therefore expresses a characteristic quality of Mary. 

The traditional translation, "full of grace," is better than the one found in many recent versions of the New Testament, which give something along the lines of "highly favored daughter." Mary was indeed a highly favored daughter of God, but the Greek implies more than that (and it never mentions the word for "daughter"). The grace given to Mary is at once permanent and of a unique kind.Kecharitomene is a perfect passive participle of charitoo, meaning "to fill or endow with grace." Since this term is in the perfect tense, it indicates that Mary was graced in the past but with continuing effects in the present. So, the grace Mary enjoyed was not a result of the angel’s visit. In fact, Catholics hold, it extended over the whole of her life, from conception onward. She was in a state of sanctifying grace from the first moment of her existence. 

Fundamentalists’ Objections

Fundamentalists’ chief reason for objecting to the Immaculate Conception and Mary’s consequent sinlessness is that we are told that "all have sinned" (Rom. 3:23). Besides, they say, Mary said her "spirit rejoices in God my Savior" (Luke 1:47), and only a sinner needs a Savior. 

Let’s take the second citation first. Mary, too, required a Savior. Like all other descendants of Adam, she was subject to the necessity of contracting original sin. But by a special intervention of God, undertaken at the instant she was conceived, she was preserved from the stain of original sin and its consequences. She was therefore redeemed by the grace of Christ, but in a special way—by anticipation. 

Consider an analogy: Suppose a man falls into a deep pit, and someone reaches down to pull him out. The man has been "saved" from the pit. Now imagine a woman walking along, and she too is about to topple into the pit, but at the very moment that she is to fall in, someone holds her back and prevents her. She too has been saved from the pit, but in an even better way: She was not simply taken out of the pit, she was prevented from getting stained by the mud in the first place. This is the illustration Christians have used for a thousand years to explain how Mary was saved by Christ. By receiving Christ’s grace at her conception, she had his grace applied to her before she was able to become mired in original sin and its stain. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that she was "redeemed in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son" (CCC 492). She has more reason to call God her Savior than we do, because he saved her in an even more glorious manner! 

But what about Romans 3:23, "all have sinned"? Have all people committed actual sins? Consider a child below the age of reason. By definition he can’t sin, since sinning requires the ability to reason and the ability to intend to sin. This is indicated by Paul later in the letter to the Romans when he speaks of the time when Jacob and Esau were unborn babies as a time when they "had done nothing either good or bad" (Rom. 9:11). 

We also know of another very prominent exception to the rule: Jesus (Heb. 4:15). So if Paul’s statement in Romans 3 includes an exception for the New Adam (Jesus), one may argue that an exception for the New Eve (Mary) can also be made. 

Paul’s comment seems to have one of two meanings. It might be that it refers not to absolutely everyone, but just to the mass of mankind (which means young children and other special cases, like Jesus and Mary, would be excluded without having to be singled out). If not that, then it would mean that everyone, without exception, is subject to original sin, which is true for a young child, for the unborn, even for Mary—but she, though due to be subject to it, was preserved by God from it and its stain. 

The objection is also raised that if Mary were without sin, she would be equal to God. In the beginning, God created Adam, Eve, and the angels without sin, but none were equal to God. Most of the angels never sinned, and all souls in heaven are without sin. This does not detract from the glory of God, but manifests it by the work he has done in sanctifying his creation. Sinning does not make one human. On the contrary, it is when man is without sin that he is most fully what God intends him to be. 

The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was officially defined by Pope Pius IX in 1854. When Fundamentalists claim that the doctrine was "invented" at this time, they misunderstand both the history of dogmas and what prompts the Church to issue, from time to time, definitive pronouncements regarding faith or morals. They are under the impression that no doctrine is believed until the pope or an ecumenical council issues a formal statement about it. 

Actually, doctrines are defined formally only when there is a controversy that needs to be cleared up or when the magisterium (the Church in its office as teacher; cf. Matt. 28:18–20; 1 Tim. 3:15, 4:11) thinks the faithful can be helped by particular emphasis being drawn to some already-existing belief. The definition of the Immaculate Conception was prompted by the latter motive; it did not come about because there were widespread doubts about the doctrine. In fact, the Vatican was deluged with requests from people desiring the doctrine to be officially proclaimed. Pope Pius IX, who was highly devoted to the Blessed Virgin, hoped the definition would inspire others in their devotion to her. 

The Assumption

The doctrine of the Assumption says that at the end of her life on earth Mary was assumed, body and soul, into heaven, just as Enoch, Elijah, and perhaps others had been before her. It’s also necessary to keep in mind what the Assumption is not. Some people think Catholics believe Mary "ascended" into heaven. That’s not correct. Christ, by his own power, ascended into heaven. Mary was assumed or taken up into heaven by God. She didn’t do it under her own power. 

The Church has never formally defined whether she died or not, and the integrity of the doctrine of the Assumption would not be impaired if she did not in fact die, but the almost universal consensus is that she did die. Pope Pius XII, in Munificentissimus Deus (1950), defined that Mary, "after the completion of her earthly life" (note the silence regarding her death), "was assumed body and soul into the glory of heaven." 

The possibility of a bodily assumption before the Second Coming is suggested by Matthew 27:52–53: "[T]he tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many." Did all these Old Testament saints die and have to be buried all over again? There is no record of that, but it is recorded by early Church writers that they were assumed into heaven, or at least into that temporary state of rest and happiness often called "paradise," where the righteous people from the Old Testament era waited until Christ’s resurrection (cf. Luke 16:22, 23:43; Heb. 11:1–40; 1 Pet. 4:6), after which they were brought into the eternal bliss of heaven. 

No Remains

There is also what might be called the negative historical proof for Mary’s Assumption. It is easy to document that, from the first, Christians gave homage to saints, including many about whom we now know little or nothing. Cities vied for the title of the last resting place of the most famous saints. Rome, for example, houses the tombs of Peter and Paul, Peter’s tomb being under the high altar of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. In the early Christian centuries relics of saints were zealously guarded and highly prized. The bones of those martyred in the Coliseum, for instance, were quickly gathered up and preserved—there are many accounts of this in the biographies of those who gave their lives for the faith. 

It is agreed upon that Mary ended her life in Jerusalem, or perhaps in Ephesus. However, neither those cities nor any other claimed her remains, though there are claims about possessing her (temporary) tomb. And why did no city claim the bones of Mary? Apparently because there weren’t any bones to claim, and people knew it. Here was Mary, certainly the most privileged of all the saints, certainly the most saintly, but we have no record of her bodily remains being venerated anywhere. 

Complement to the Immaculate Conception

Over the centuries, the Fathers and the Doctors of the Church spoke often about the fittingness of the privilege of Mary’s Assumption. The speculative grounds considered include Mary’s freedom from sin, her Motherhood of God, her perpetual virginity, and—the key—her union with the salvific work of Christ. 

The dogma is especially fitting when one examines the honor that was given to the ark of the covenant. It contained the manna (bread from heaven), stone tablets of the ten commandments (the word of God), and the staff of Aaron (a symbol of Israel’s high priesthood). Because of its contents, it was made of incorruptible wood, and Psalm 132:8 said, "Arise, O Lord, and go to thy resting place, thou and the ark of thy might." If this vessel was given such honor, how much more should Mary be kept from corruption, since she is the new ark—who carried the real bread from heaven, the Word of God, and the high priest of the New Covenant, Jesus Christ. 

Some argue that the new ark is not Mary, but the body of Jesus. Even if this were the case, it is worth noting that 1 Chronicles 15:14 records that the persons who bore the ark were to be sanctified. There would be no sense in sanctifying men who carried a box, and not sanctifying the womb who carried God himself! After all, wisdom will not dwell "in a body under debt of sin" (Wis. 1:4 NAB). 

But there is more than just fittingness. After all, if Mary is immaculately conceived, then it would follow that she would not suffer the corruption in the grave, which is a consequence of sin [Gen. 3:17, 19]. 

Mary’s Cooperation

Mary freely and actively cooperated in a unique way with God’s plan of salvation (Luke 1:38; Gal. 4:4). Like any mother, she was never separated from the suffering of her Son (Luke 2:35), and Scripture promises that those who share in the sufferings of Christ will share in his glory (Rom. 8:17). Since she suffered a unique interior martyrdom, it is appropriate that Jesus would honor her with a unique glory. 

All Christians believe that one day we will all be raised in a glorious form and then caught up and rendered immaculate to be with Jesus forever (1 Thess. 4:17; Rev. 21:27). As the first person to say "yes" to the good news of Jesus (Luke 1:38), Mary is in a sense the prototypical Christian, and received early the blessings we will all one day be given.  

The Bible Only?

Since the Immaculate Conception and Assumption are not explicit in Scripture, Fundamentalists conclude that the doctrines are false. Here, of course, we get into an entirely separate matter, the question of sola scriptura, or the Protestant "Bible only" theory. There is no room in this tract to consider that idea. Let it just be said that if the position of the Catholic Church is true, then the notion of sola scriptura is false. There is then no problem with the Church officially defining a doctrine which is not explicitly in Scripture, so long as it is not in contradiction to Scripture. 

The Catholic Church was commissioned by Christ to teach all nations and to teach them infallibly—guided, as he promised, by the Holy Spirit until the end of the world (John 14:26, 16:13). The mere fact that the Church teaches that something is definitely true is a guarantee that it is true (cf. Matt. 28:18-20, Luke 10:16, 1 Tim. 3:15). 

Why Men Matter

WHY MEN MATTER

+Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.

Salina men’s conference, 8.11.18

 

I spent the 1960s studying to be a priest, so I was exempt from the military draft. I never served in Vietnam.  I can’t and don’t claim to know what combat is like.  But I have friends who did serve, and no one in my generation could really avoid the war because it dominated our country’s life for more than a decade.  The Vietnam War intersected with a sexual revolution and a wave of social turmoil here at home that, in some ways, remain with us today.  And yet, along with the war’s bitterness and suffering, there were moments that are frozen in time because they had an impossible beauty.  They can move the heart even now.  I want to focus on one of them.

In your conference booklets, you’ll find a photograph with the title “Reaching Out.”  I want you to study it.  October 1966 saw a series of heavy firefights between American Marines and North Vietnamese regulars in the jungles and hills just south of the DMZ.  This photo was snapped on Hill 484, moments after a hand-to-hand battle for the hill had ended.  The man with the head wound is a gunnery sergeant, or “gunny,” the senior enlisted man in a Marine company. 

Two things are obvious.  The Marines around the gunny are trying to get him to a medic.  And the gunny is doing the opposite – ignoring his own pain to help a wounded young Marine bleeding in the dirt.  What’s not obvious is something outside the frame.  The same Marines had just dragged the sergeant away from the body of their dead company commander, who had called down friendly artillery fire on his own position to keep his men from being overrun.  The beauty in this photograph – what the poet William Butler Yeats called “a terrible beauty” – is the love among men in the shadow of death; men in the extremes of pressure and suffering.  Not a romantic love.  And certainly not an erotic love.  But the loyalty-love of men made brothers by the tasks and burdens they share. 

Men don’t often talk about this love, but it’s real.  It’s the love that enables a man to sacrifice his own life in service to someone or something more important than himself.  It’s the love that takes the male of our species and remakes him into a man.  And that leads us to our theme this afternoon: why men matter. 

It’s an odd question to ask, isn’t it.  Why do men matter?  In a healthy time and culture, we wouldn’t need to ask, because the answer is obvious.  The role of good men is to provide, to protect, to build, to lead, and to teach, both by our words and by the example of our lives.  None of these things is exclusive to men, of course.  Women can do all of these things in their own way, with their own particular genius.  But men have the special responsibility to create a secure and just society where new life can grow and thrive to ensure the human future. 

The trouble is, we don’t live in a healthy time and culture.  We live in an on-going civil war in this country over the meaning of sex, gender, family, marriage, human nature and whether our lives have any higher purpose at all.  And that makes the sound of any sane voice all the more precious.    

Abigail Shrier is a writer based in Los Angeles.  Last month, for the issue of July 21-22, she wrote a remarkable piece in the Wall Street Journal with the title “Masculine dads raise confident daughters.”  If you want some homework from our time together today, find it.  Read it.  And take it to heart.  It’s a better debunking of today’s attacks on masculinity than a man could ever write.  To borrow from just a couple of passages, Shrier notes that 

“My father never hid that he had high expectations of me . . . He admired smarts less than grit, found surface beauty less enchanting than charm.  The woman he admired most was our mother, not for her intelligence or accomplishments, though she had plenty of both, but because of a strength that took his breath away and on which he often relied . . .

“My father’s own unapologetic masculinity made us feel secure . . . [He] never let me get away with self-pity.  Never allowed me to win an argument with tears.  He regarded unbridled emotion in place of reason as vaguely pathetic . . . And when young men didn’t like me or were poised to treat me badly, it was my father’s regard that I found myself consulting and relying upon.  When a man tries to mistreat a woman . . . he is unlikely to get very far with [someone] whose father has made her feel that’s she’s worth a whole lot . . .  [So] Dads, whatever you’re doing for your daughters, double it.” 

The point of Ms. Shrier’s article is the shocking claim – shocking to some people, anyway -- that men and women are different.  They need each other’s distinct and particular gifts to flourish.  In other words, an agenda of demeaning men, effeminizing boys, and trashing chivalrous behavior, which seems to be the goal of at least some of today’s “progressive” politics, does nothing to advance women.  It does exactly the opposite.  It cripples them.

Shrier isn’t alone in her thinking.  Plenty of data exist showing that strong, involved, masculine fathers produce confident, successful, feminine daughters.  And likewise, fathers play a crucial role in forming boys and young men in habits of mature self-discipline and excellence.  Masculinity is learned; and the right kind of masculinity is learned from fathers with deep moral character and other adult men of virtue.  The presence of a loving father radically improves the environment of a family.  It results in lower rates of poverty, less crime, better psychological health, and higher rates of education and career achievement for children of both sexes.  None of these realities is a surprise or a news flash.  All of them are simple matters of social science fact.  Another simple fact is that the absence of a father hits the lower social classes especially hard.  It makes the cycle of poverty and crime even more difficult for single mothers and their children to escape. 

The irony is that, despite all these facts, the leadership elites in many of today’s Western countries have never seemed more skeptical of natural gender roles and never been more hostile to what they describe as “toxic” masculinity.  Examples are legion, and we have limited time, but I do want to share just one of them.  Rudyard Kipling’s classic poem of boyhood, “If—,” was recently stripped from a mural at Britain’s University of Manchester by the self-described “Liberation and Access Officer” of the school’s Student Union.  The reason she gave is that “Kipling stands for the opposite of liberation, empowerment, and human rights -- the things that we, as [a Student Union], stand for.” 

For those of you who don’t know how dangerously regressive and masculine Kipling’s poem “If—,” can be, here’s a couple of stanzas:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise . . . 

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue
Or walk with Kings nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the earth and everything in it,
And -- which is more – you’ll be a man my son.

One of the strangest results of my own generation’s – the Boomer generation’s – thirst for sexual liberation is that we now have a regime of sexual Stalinism to enforce it.  Almost any imaginable sexual behavior is allowed and even approved for public consumption -- -- unless men want to be men, and women want to be women, and they want to behave accordingly in a traditional moral sense.  That kind of deviance is suspect.  Sexual freedom turns out to be a grim and exacting business. 

Whining about things doesn’t achieve much, though.  So how do we live right now with some hope and meaning as Christian men?  Sometimes looking to the past makes the way forward easier to see.  So let’s do that.  History is a good teacher.

Medieval knighthood began as a profession of heavily armed male thugs, men obsessed with vanity, violence, and rape.  It took Europe’s warrior class – guided and influenced by the Church – several centuries to limit and channel its dark side.  Chivalry became the code that made this transformation possible.  Chivalry gave knighthood its dignity and meaning.  The true chevalier, or knight, was duty bound by oath to be a man of courage, loyalty, generosity, and nobility of spirit; a man committed to respecting and defending the honor of women, and protecting the weak. 

This same spirit animated the new crusading religious orders like the Knights Templar, which sought to build a new order of new Christian men, skilled at arms, living as brothers, committed to prayer, austerity, and chastity, and devoting themselves radically to serving the Church and her people, especially the weak. 

Of course, the ideals of chivalry and knighthood were often ignored or betrayed.  Then as now, human beings are inventive and experienced sinners – every one of us.  The author Karl Marlantes – who fought as a young Marine officer on exactly the same Hill 484 in Vietnam, two years after the photo in our booklets was taken – says that there’s a reason we humans are at the top of our planet’s food chain.  Our species has an instinctive appetite for aggression that every civilization, and the Christian religion in particular, struggle to tame and redirect.  In that light, the astounding thing is how often and how fruitfully the ideals of chivalry were actually embraced, pursued and lived by medieval men at arms, rather than abused.

My point is this.  C.S. Lewis described Christianity as a “fighting religion.”  He meant that living the Gospel involves a very real kind of spiritual warfare; a struggle against the evil in ourselves and in the world around us.  Our first weapons should always be generosity, patience, mercy, forgiveness, an eagerness to listen to and understand others, a strong personal witness of faith, and speaking the truth unambiguously with love.  For the Christian, violence is always a last and unwelcome resort.  It’s to be used only in self-defense or in defending others.  But at the same time, justice and courage are also key Christian virtues.  And they have a special meaning in the life of the Christian man. 

Men need a challenge.  Men need to test and prove their worth.  Men feel most alive when they’re giving themselves to some purpose higher than their own comfort.  This is why young men join the Marines or Rangers or SEALs.  They do it not despite it being hard, but exactly because it’s hard; because it hurts; because they want to be the best and earn a place among brothers who are also the very best.  Men joined the early Capuchins and Jesuits not to escape the world but to transform it; to convert the world by demanding everything a man had – every drop of his energy, love, talent and intelligence -- in service to a mission bigger and more important than any individual ego or appetite.

This is why the ideal of knighthood still has such a strong hold on the hearts and imaginations of men.  Again, as men, we’re hardwired by nature and confirmed by the Word of God to provide, to protect, and to lead – not for our own sake, not for our own empty vanities and appetites, but in service to others.

 We men – all of us, both clergy and lay -- bear a special responsibility because the Gospel tasks us as leaders.  That doesn’t make us better than anyone else.  It takes nothing away from the equality of women and men.  But human beings are not identical units.  We’re not interchangeable pieces of social machinery.  Christian equality is based not in political ideology but in the reality of the differences and mutual dependencies of real men and women.  As creatures we’re designed toneed each other, not replicate each other.

Men are meant to lead in a uniquely masculine way.  This is why bishops who fail to live up to that standard are so profoundly damaging.  There was nothing effeminate or devious or ethereal or bent about Jesus Christ, or the men who followed him.  The Son of God called men – real men -- to be his apostles, the first bishops.  And the great saint of the early Eastern Church, John Chrysostom, described every human father as the bishop of his family.  All of you fathers here today are bishops.  And every father shapes the soul of the next generation with his love, his self-mastery and his courage, or the lack of them.

In the end, protecting and building up the Gospel in our age is the work of God.  But he works through us.  The privilege and challenge of that work belong to us.  So we need to ask ourselves:  What do I want my life to mean?  If I claim to be a believing Catholic man, can I prove it with the patterns of my life?    When do I pray?  How often do I seek out the Sacrament of Penance?  What am I doing for the poor?  How am I serving the needy?  Do I treat the women in my life with the honor, love, and fidelity they deserve?  Do I really know Jesus Christ?  Who am I leading to the Church?  How many young people have I asked to consider a vocation?  How much time do I spend sharing about God with my wife, my children and my friends?  How well and how often do I listen for God’s presence in my own life?

The Church has lots of good reasons why people should believe in God, and in Jesus Christ, and in the beauty and urgency of her own mission.  But she has only one irrefutable argument for the truth of what she teaches: the personal example of her saints.

So what does that mean?  It means the world needs faithful Catholic men, men with a hunger to be saints.  The role of a Catholic husband and father -- a man who sacrifices his own desires, out of love, to serve the needs of his wife and children – is the living cornerstone of a Christian home.  The Church in this country will face a very hard road in the next 20 years, and her sons need to step up and lead by the witness of their daily lives.  We need the friendship of real brothers in the Lord to be the disciples and leaders God intends us to be.  And there’s no better place to pursue that friendship and renew our vocation as Christian men than right here, today, in the time we spend together as brothers.

I want to end these thoughts by going back for just a moment to that photograph of Hill 484 in our booklets.  Today it’s recognized as one of the great modern portraits of men at war.  But at the time it was ignored and forgotten.  In fact, it wasn’t even published until 1971, after the photographer had been killed in Laos.  You’ll notice that the sergeant with the head wound is black.  The young Marine who’s lying in the dirt is white. 

Those of you who are my age will remember the 1960s.  They were a time of intense racial hatreds and violence – riots in dozens of cities; police water hoses and attack dogs; the Black Panthers and the Ku Klux Klan; and the murder of Martin Luther King.  Racial poison penetrated nearly every aspect of our nation’s life, including the military in Vietnam. 

The sergeant in our photo was named Jeremiah Purdie.  He had a tough young life.  His mother died just a few weeks after he was born.  He grew up poor and the wrong color in a segregated South.  He entered the Marine Corps to better himself and fight for his country; a country that treated him as a second class citizen.  Because he was black, he was barred from a combat unit.  Instead, he was sent to food services school and put on kitchen duty -- more or less as a paid servant.  But he never let the bigotry that he endured infect him.  He never became bitter.  He simply did his job, and did his best.  When segregation ended in the Corps, he transferred to a combat unit, and worked his way steadily up the ranks. 

He’s an old man in our 1966 photo – a man in his mid-30s leading 18 and 19 year olds after a ferocious firefight, most of them frightened, some of them dying.  And all the while he has a piece of shrapnel in his head, and he’s bleeding down his neck.  But his heart and his focus are entirely fixed on someone else -- one of his young Marines, a white kid, wounded in the mud.

Why do men matter?  I study that photo, and I know that at our best, we matter as men because when a man gives himself completely to the needs of others, even to the point of laying down his life for a brother or friend or wife and family, God shows us a particular face of his own love.  And that love draws the world a little closer to the beauty that God intended for us all. 

Jeremiah Purdie won the Bronze Star and left the Marines in 1968, after two decades of service.  But he was never an “ex-Marine.”  There are no ex-Marines.  There are only Marines and former Marines.  He was never forgotten.  Many of the young men he led, both black and white, stayed in touch with Purdie until his death in 2005.  And it will surprise no one in this room that the central passion of his life, from the time he was a young boy, through all of his military service, on Hill 484, and until the day he died, was his Christian faith.  Jesus Christ was the Lord and anchor of his life, not just on that day in 1966, but on every other day before and after.

The lesson today, brothers, is very simple.  Photographs fade.  The legacy of a good man is forever.  We remember the best among us for the excellence of their lives.  But we’re each called, no matter where God places us, to that same kind of witness.  So may God grant all of us, as men, the courage, the grace and the integrity to be remembered in the same way.

 

What Catholics Believe about John 6

Tim Staples

For millions of non-Catholic Christians, Jesus was using pure symbolism in John 6:53 when he declared to his followers, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” The reasons non-Catholics give can usually be boiled down to these: First, a literal interpretation would make Christians into cannibals. Second, Jesus claims to be a “door” in John 10:9 and a “vine” in John 15:5. Do Catholics believe they must pluck a leaf from Jesus the vine or oil the hinges on Jesus the door to get into heaven? So the non-Catholic claims Jesus is using metaphor in John 6, just as he does elsewhere in the Gospels.

Catholic Cannibals?

The charge of cannibalism does not hold water for at least three reasons. First, Catholics do not receive our Lord in a cannibalistic form. Catholics receive him in the form of bread and wine. The cannibal kills his victim; Jesus does not die when he is consumed in Communion. Indeed, he is not changed in the slightest; the communicant is the only person who is changed. The cannibal eats part of his victim, whereas in Communion the entire Christ is consumed—body, blood, soul, and divinity. The cannibal sheds the blood of his victim; in Communion our Lord gives himself to us in a non-bloody way.   

Second, if it were truly immoral in any sense for Christ to give us his flesh and blood to eat, it would be contrary to his holiness to command anyone to eat his body and blood—even symbolically. Symbolically performing an immoral act would be of its natureimmoral.

Moreover, the expressions to eat flesh and to drink blood already carried symbolic meaning both in the Hebrew Old Testament and in the Greek New Testament, which was heavily influenced by Hebrew. In Psalm 27:1-2, Isaiah 9:18-20, Isaiah 49:26, Micah 3:3, and Revelation 17:6-16, we find these words (eating flesh and drinking blood) understood as symbolic for persecuting or assaulting someone. Jesus’ Jewish audience would never have thought he was saying, “Unless you persecute and assault me, you shall not have life in you.” Jesus never encouraged sin. This may well be another reason why the Jews took Christ at his word.

Not Metaphorically Speaking

If Jesus was speaking in purely symbolic terms, his competence as a teacher would have to be called into question. No one listening to him understood him to be speaking metaphorically. Contrast his listeners’ reaction when Jesus said he was a “door” or a “vine.” Nowhere do we find anyone asking, “How can this man be a door made out of wood?” Or, “How can this man claim to be a plant?” When Jesus spoke in metaphor, his audience seems to have been fully aware of it.

When we examine the surrounding context of John 6:53, Jesus’ words could hardly have been clearer. In verse 51, he plainly claims to be “the living bread” that his followers must eat. And he says in no uncertain terms that “the bread which I shall give . . . is my flesh.” Then, when the Jews were found “disput[ing] among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’” in verse 52, he reiterates even more emphatically, “Truly, truly, I say unto you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”

Compare this with other examples in Scripture when followers of the Lord are confused about his teaching. In John 4:32, Jesus says: “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” The disciples thought Jesus was speaking about physical food. Our Lord quickly clears up the point using concise, unmistakable language in verse 34: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work” (see also Matthew 16:5-12).   

Moreover, when we consider the language used by John, a literal interpretation—however disturbing—becomes even more obvious. In John 6:50-53 we encounter various forms of the Greek verb phago, “eating.” However, after the Jews begin to express incredulity at the idea of eating Christ’s flesh, the language begins to intensify. In verse 54, John begins to use trogo instead of phago. Trogo is a decidedly more graphic term, meaning “to chew on” or to “gnaw on”—as when an animal is ripping apart its prey.Then, in verse 61, it is no longer the Jewish multitudes, but the disciples themselves who are having difficulty with these radical statements of our Lord. Surely, if he were speaking symbolically, he would clear up the difficulty now among his disciples. Instead, what does Jesus do? He reiterates the fact that he meant just what he said: “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before?” (61-62). Would anyone think him to have meant, “What if you were to see me symbolically ascend?” Hardly! The apostles, in fact, did see Jesus literally ascend to where he was before (see Acts 1:9-10).Finally, our Lord turns to the twelve. What he does not say to them is perhaps more important than what he does say. He doesn’t say, “Hey guys, I was misleading the Jewish multitudes, the disciples, and everyone else, but now I am going to tell you alone the simple truth: I was speaking symbolically.” Rather, he says to them, “Will you also go away?” (v. 67). This most profound question from our Lord echoes down through the centuries, calling all followers of Christ in a similar fashion. With St. Peter, those who hear the voice of the Shepherd respond: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (v. 68).   

Spirit vs. Flesh

John 6:63 is the one verse singled out by Protestant apologists to counter much of what we have asserted thus far. After seeing the Jews and the disciples struggling with the radical nature of his words, our Lord says to the disciples and to us all: “It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” Protestants claim Jesus here lets us know he was speaking symbolically or “spiritually” when he said “the spirit gives life, the flesh is of no avail.” See? He is not giving us his flesh to eat because he says “the flesh is of no avail.” How do we respond? We can in several ways.

1) If Jesus was clearing up the point, he would have to be considered a poor teacher: Many of the disciples left him immediately thereafter because they still believed the words of our Lord to mean what they said.

2) Most importantly, Jesus did not say, “My flesh is of no avail.” He said, “The flesh is of no avail.” There is a rather large difference between the two. No one, it is safe to say, would have believed he meant my flesh avails nothing because he just spent a good portion of this same discourse telling us that his flesh would be “given for the life of the world” (Jn 6:51, cf. 50-58). So to what was he referring? The flesh is a New Testament term often used to describe human nature apart from God’s grace.

For example, Christ said to the apostles in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mk 14:38). According to Paul, if we are in “the flesh,” we are “hostile to God” and “cannot please God” (cf. Rom 8:1-14). In First Corinthians 2:14, he tells us, “The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” In First Corinthians 3:1, Paul goes on, “But I, brethren, could not address you as spiritual men, but as men of the flesh, as babes in Christ.” It requires supernatural grace in the life of the believer to believe the radical declaration of Christ concerning the Eucharist. As Jesus himself said both before and after this “hard saying”: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (Jn 6:44, cf. 6:65). Belief in the Eucharist is a gift of grace. The natural mind—or the one who is in “the flesh”—will never be able to understand this great Christian truth.

3) On another level very closely related to our last point, Christ said, “It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail,” because he wills to eliminate any possibility of a sort of crass literalism that would reduce his words to a cannibalistic understanding. It is the Holy Spirit that will accomplish the miracle of Christ being able to ascend into heaven bodily while being able simultaneously to distribute his body and blood in the Eucharist for the life of the world. A human body, even a perfect one, apart from the power of the Spirit could not accomplish this.

4) That which is spiritual does not necessarily equate to that which has no material substance. It often means that which is dominated or controlled by the Spirit.

One thing we do not want to do as Christians is to fall into the trap of believing that because Christ says his words are “spirit and life,” or “spiritual,” they cannot involve the material. When speaking of the resurrection of the body, Paul wrote: “It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Cor 15:44). Does this mean we will not have a physical body in the resurrection? Of course not. In Luke 24:39, Jesus made that clear after his own Resurrection: “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.”

The resurrected body is spiritual, and indeed we can be called spiritual as Christians inasmuch as we are controlled by the Spirit of God. Spiritual in no way means void of the material. That interpretation is more gnostic than Christian. The confusion here is most often based upon confusion between spirit—a noun—and the adjective spiritual. When spirit is used, e.g., “God is spirit” in John 4:24, it is then referring to that which is not material. However, the adjective spiritual is not necessarily referring to the absence of the material; rather, it is referring to the material controlled by the Spirit.

Thus, we could conclude that Jesus’ words, “It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail” have essentially a twofold meaning. Only the Spirit can accomplish the miracle of the Eucharist, and only the Spirit can empower us to believe the miracle.

The Beauty of Married Love

Bishop James Conley

Diocese of Lincoln

Marriage is a beautiful witness, but it is always hard.  Family life is hard.  The family is a school of love, and love is hard—it has to be, because love is a share in the self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  Marriage is a commitment to work for the holiness of another—for another’s salvation—and parenting is an even deeper experience of that commitment. 

Marriage is beautiful because it is a commitment to lay down personal preference, and desire, and vanity, in favor of service to another in imitation of Jesus Christ.

Last week, Pope Francis prayed that the Church would help families to “discover the beauty… not only moments of joy, but also those of pain and weakness.”

The moments of pain and of weakness are beautiful because they can draw us into deeper sacrificial communion with Jesus Christ.  And that is the mission of marriage.

Before he was married, the famous British convert of the last century and prolific author, G.K. Chesterton wrote to his fiancée, Frances Blogg.  He shared with her his hope that their home would be a place of Christian formation—that their family would be a witness to the power of God’s love.  And he wrote especially to express his regard for the beauty of the mundane and the difficult challenges of family life.

“There are,” he wrote, “aesthetic pattering prigs who can look on a saucepan without one tear of joy or sadness: mongrel decadents that can see no dignity in the honorable scars of a kettle.”

Today, the world rarely sees dignity in the “honorable scars of the kettle.” 

Pope Francis pointed out last week that we’ve lost the notion that a difficult and painful marriage can be beautiful.  We’ve forgotten that marriage, and indeed all love, is a kind of commitment to martyrdom.  We’ve accepted a false, vain, and romantic notion of marriage: the idea that marriage is only worthwhile if it leads to constant and immediate gratification, to personal contentment.

The Holy Father said that “nowadays marriage tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will. Unfortunately this vision also influences the mentality of Christians, promoting a tendency towards divorce or separation.”

Marriage is beautiful because it is a noble vocation, oriented towards the salvation of spouse and children.  If we forget that, and see “only a form of emotional satisfaction,” marriage will sooner or later fail to supply that emotional fix.   

The vocation of married men and women is to witness to the beauty in their own family life.  This week, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops celebrates National Marriage Week.  Our Church’s leaders will preach about marriage, and advocate for the protection of marriage, and offer resources to married people.  All of this is important.  But there is no greater argument for the importance of marriage than the beautiful witness of married families.

The witness of sacrificial love shocks the world.  When parents joyfully sacrifice for their children, or husbands put their wives before themselves, the world notices.  When families celebrate their joy, and share their sorrow, and see Jesus Christ in the midst of their lives, the world sees Jesus Christ too.

We need the witness of beautiful families now more than ever before. The family is under attack.  Marriage is under attack. And we face the real risk in our culture of forgetting the true and time tested understanding and meaning of marriage itself. The idea that children don’t need mothers and fathers is dangerous.  The idea that men and women don’t need each other is sad.  But nothing will overcome the disruptive ugliness of secularity like the beauty of self-sacrificing, faithful and enduring married love. 

I am grateful for witness of marriage in the Diocese of Lincoln.  Your marriages, and your families, have transformed my heart.  I pray that you will continue to be witnesses.  I pray that the beauty of your marriages will transform the world.

Archbishop Chaput: the truth of Humanae Vitae makes us free

Dennis Sadowski

The Catholic Herald

The Catholic Church’s teaching on marriage, abortion, human sexuality and contraception is rooted in the same respect for human dignity that guides its work for social justice and care for poor people, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput told a Catholic University of America audience.

It is imperative that the church make known why it upholds its teaching, as reiterated in Blessed Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical “Humanae Vitae” (“Of Human Life”), so that Catholics and the world understand God’s plan for humanity, the archbishop said during the April 4 opening session of a symposium marking the 50th anniversary of the papal teaching.

The encyclical is notably known for upholding church renouncement of contraception. It followed by eight years the 1960 U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval of the first birth control pill.

Blessed Paul convened a commission to examine whether the historic Christian rejection of contraceptives would apply to the new technology. Most commission members advised the pope that it would not, but Blessed Paul eventually disagreed, saying in the encyclical that the new technology was prohibited birth control.

Blessed Paul’s decision has been widely criticized, Archbishop Chaput acknowledged, with some Catholic clergy, theologians and laypeople refusing to accept it. “That resistance continues in our own day,” said the archbishop, who chairs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth. He made the comments in a 35-minute presentation to about 200 people.

“‘Humanae Vitae’ revealed deep wounds in the church about our understanding of the human person, the nature of sexuality and marriage as God created it,” he explained. “We still seek the cure for those wounds. But thanks to the witness of St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict, Pope Francis and many other faithful shepherds, the church has continued to preach the truth of Jesus Christ about who we are and what God desires for us.

“People willing to open their eyes and their hearts to the truth will see the hope that Catholic teaching represents and the power that comes when that truth makes us free,” he said.

The archbishop challenged widespread denunciation of the teaching on contraception by those who say church leaders spend too much time on “pelvic issues,” thus obscuring, they argue, the Gospel message of caring for poor people.

“As a bishop for 30 years in the dioceses where I served, that’s three of them, the church has put far more money, time and personnel into the care and education of the underprivileged than into programs related to sex,” he said.

“And it’s not that the critics don’t know this. Many don’t want to know it because facts interfere with their story line of a sexually repressed, body-denying institution locked in the past.”

Church teaching on contraception can be traced to the early days of Christianity, particularly in ancient Rome, where Christians emphasized upholding human dignity, he said.

Citing the work of Kyle Harper, provost at the University of Oklahoma and an expert in Roman history, the archbishop said the Romans “presumed that sex was just sex, one instinctual need among others” and that prostitutes and slaves were “safety valves” to satisfy such needs. But it was the early Christians who “welcomed all new life as something holy and a blessing,” teaching that each person was created in the image and likeness of God, he explained.

Christians also preached that God gave all people free will to act in accordance with God’s commands or against them, he said, continuing to cite Harper.

“Christianity embedded that notion of free will in human culture for the first time. Christian sexual morality was a key part of this understanding of free will. The body was a ‘consecrated space’ in which we could choose or reject God,” he said.

As a result, Christians began demanding “care for vulnerable bodies,” speaking out against slavery and supporting the needs of poor people, and that concern included opposition to contraception, he said.

Archbishop Chaput noted that Christian opposition to contraception continued until the 1930 Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops, which determined that while the preferred method of avoiding birth should be sexual abstinence, other methods may be used to prevent pregnancy as long as they fell in line with Christian principles.

“Their minor tweak gradually turned into a full reversal on the issue of contraception. Other Christian leaders followed suit,” he said.

“Today this leaves the Catholic Church almost alone as a body of Christian believers whose leaders still maintain the historic Christian teaching on contraception,” he continued. “The church can thus look stubborn and out of touch for not adjusting her beliefs to the prevailing culture. But she’s simply remaining true to the faith she received from the apostles and can’t barter away.”

Since then, Archbishop Chaput said, “developed society has moved sharply away from Christian faith and morals, without shedding them completely.”

He echoed author G.K. Chesterton, who asserted that society is surrounded by “fragments of Christian ideas removed from their original framework and used in strange new ways. Human dignity and rights are still popular concepts, just don’t ask what their foundation is or whether human rights have any solid content beyond sentiment or personal preference.”

“Our culture isn’t reverting to the paganism of the past. It’s creating a new religion to replace Christianity. It’s that we understand that today’s new sexual mores are part of this larger change.”

The moral conflicts society faces, such as broken families, social unraveling and “gender confusion” stems “from our disordered attitudes toward creation and our appetite to master, reshape and even deform nature to our wills. We want the freedom to decide what reality is. And we insist on the power to make it so,” he said.

Such thinking is manifest in efforts to master the limitations of the human body and “attack the heart of our humanity,” the archbishop added.

Blessed Paul explains that “marriage is not just a social convention we’ve inherited, but the design of God himself. Christian couples are called to welcome the sacrifices that God’s design requires so they can enter into the joy it offers. This means that while husbands and wives may take advantage of periods of natural infertility to regulate the birth of their children, they can’t actively intervene to stamp out the fertility that’s natural to sexual love,” he said.

Because the church’s teaching often was not being followed prior to the encyclical, Archbishop Chaput said Blessed Paul offered four predictions if that trend continued: widespread infidelity and the general lowering of morality; loss of respect for women as they become viewed as instruments of selfish enjoyment rather than as beloved companions; public policies that advocate and implement birth control as a form of population policy; and humans thinking they had unlimited dominion over their own bodies, turning the person into the object of his or her own intrusive power.

“Half a century after ‘Humanae Vitae’ the church in the United States is at a very difficult but also very promising moment,” the archbishop said. “Difficult because the language of Catholic moral wisdom is alien to many young people, who often leave the church without every really encountering her. Promising because the most awake of those same young people want something better and more enduring than the emptiness and noise they now have.

“Our mission now, as always, is not to surrender to the world as it is, but to feed an ennoble the deepest yearnings of the world and thereby to lead it to Jesus Christ and his true freedom and joy.”