Pope Francis Has Asked You For a Favor: Will You Do It?

J.M.J.

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Pope Francis – Depending on the crowd referred to, he’s a man liked or disliked for his distinct approaches, his frequent and various public statements, and, in some cases, his attire (public domain image from Papist’s Flickr account).

Inside and outside the Catholic world, Pope Francis has undeniably become (to borrow a somewhat trite phrase from social media) a “trending” figure since March 2013. It seems to me that, since his election, hardly a week has been able to go by before some new article or blog post has been published about him (like this one). His off-the-cuff remarks and airplane interviews are quickly seized by news outlets, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, and quite often are used to paint him as a more-or-less revolutionary figure, one who is finally willing to discuss hot topics that were previously closed-off. Within the Church, to give a hugely oversimplified summary of things as I’ve seen them (one not meant to be exhaustive in any sense), it seems that those on the left see him as either a disappointment (since he hasn’t gone as far as they’d like) or as a long-overdue savior who has helped to rescue the Church from the Middle Ages—a savior from whom promising changes are sure to come. It appears that Catholics on the right see him either as a disappointment (since he has thoroughly maintained and even deepened the “modern status quo”) or, depending on how “far” right one looks, as a genuine danger to the wellbeing of the Church.

There’s also the interestingly-polarizing issue (largely discussed in the Catholic blogosphere, but in secular sources as well if the issue can be used to set up an easy dichotomy between this man and those who have come before him) of the pope’s clothes. Some people treat his wardrobe like a breath of fresh air, seeing in him a genuinely “human” pope whose prompt abandonment of papal trappings and customs is a move well-worth praising. Jesus, after all, lived a humble life from His birth to His death, so why should the pope treat himself like medieval royalty? Others, generally those who would be designated by titles such as “conservative” (or the more stigmatizing “traditionalist”), are unsettled by this same approach, seeing in it a disrespect to the dignity of the Papal office, an attempt to make the pope “just like everyone else,” or a political statement about the “humility” (or lack thereof?) of his predecessors. Still others couldn’t care less what the pope wears.

As for me, I’ve generally avoided sharing any personal opinions concerning our much-talked-about Pontiff. I’ve also avoided talking about the controversial issues that so many of his statements have caused. Those are left to people smarter than I, and besides, although this is certainly not true across the board, I think that, in some cases, no one besides Pope Francis knows clearly what Pope Francis means when he says the latest ambiguous or unsettling comment. I still don’t plan to delve into those areas, really, as I don’t think it’s necessary for me to do that.

But I just remembered something that would do everyone, and most especially Pope Francis himself, a lot of good.

Remember when Pope Francis first stepped out onto the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica two years ago? What did he ask people to do as his pontificate went forward?

“Pray for me.”

Let me ask you this: do you remember to pray for Pope Francis? Whether people like or dislike the man, he needs prayers. He’s human. He may be the Vicar of Christ on Earth, but he has strengths and weaknesses, just like anyone else. I can’t speak for others, but I, for one, get so distracted by the frequent discussions about Pope Francis that I rarely remember to ask God to give His divine aid to the man who leads His Church. On and off the internet, I’ve heard people say they wish the Holy Father would measure his words more carefully, so as not to give way to unorthodox interpretations of his statements. I’ve heard some say they wish he’d not be so quick to hurl names at groups he disagrees with. I’ve heard people say they wish he’d stop giving his own opinions about so many things. Those are all perfectly understandable wishes, especially considering that the pope is a prime target for secular news outlets that are eagerly awaiting for new statements to spin.  But (and again, I can’t speak for others—this is purely food for thought) no amount of frustration over the Latest Papal Comment, however well-founded (and they frequently are well-founded), will have any good effect compared to frequent and genuine prayers on the Holy Father’s behalf. If people want the pope to become a fierce and unambiguous defender of orthodoxy, they ought to frequently and ardently pray that God would move him to be one. To some extent, one might say the goodness of the pope is as good as the number of people who pray for him.

Whether people like or dislike Pope Francis, there is one request of his that everyone can, and indeed must, fulfill: the request to charitably pray for him as he fulfills his Petrine ministry.

As one who has frequently forgotten to do this, I now want to assure the Holy Father that I will do my best to remember to pray for him, frequently and genuinely, from now on.

Would others please do so with me?

Zeal For Our Own Houses: Lent, Purifications, and Keeping Our Souls Upright

J.M.J.

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My dear friends,

Tomorrow, March 8th, we’ll hear one of the more unsettling Gospel readings of the liturgical cycle. St. John relates the happenings for us (Jn. 2:14-17):

Jesus found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money changers seated there. He made a whip out of chords and drove them all out of the temple area, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves He said, ‘Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a market place.’ His disciples recalled the words of Scripture: Zeal for your house will consume me.

Jesus-Picture-Driving-Out-The-Money-Changers-And-Merchants-From-The-Temple

The temple referred to here is, of course, a physical building, and Christ here is attempting to cleanse it of those who would use it improperly. But this reading, coming as it does during Lent, that penitential time of the Church’s calendar, makes me think of a second, and much more important, type of temple: human persons.

 I have such a difficult time remembering that my body and soul, really and truly, constitute a temple of God.  Being in God’s grace does not just mean that one is “without mortal sin,” or that one is “kinda, sorta right with God.” Being in the state of grace means the real, genuine, and personal indwelling of God within the soul. Our Lord said to His disciples, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My words, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make Our dwelling with him” (Jn. 14:23). This wasn’t some kind of nice figure of speech that has no real effect on reality—it’s a genuine assurance, a real sign of God’s love for each person individually. The person who follows God is not just given a ticket to heaven when he dies, but rather, he receives the true indwelling of the Three Divine Persons in his soul.

Not only the soul, but the body, too, constitutes a temple. “Do you not know,” St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, “that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you? You are not your own. You were bought at a price. Therefore, bear and glorify God with your bodies” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).

“You are not your own.”

It’s hard to remember that, isn’t it?

The passage from John’s Gospel quoted above says that “zeal for God’s house” consumed Our Lord as He drove everyone from the temple. If we, too, human persons, are temples, then what is Lent but a time to drive damaging vices, corruptions, and influences from ourselves? Zeal for the physical temple consumed the Lord Jesus, yet any physical temple is destined for decay.  The human soul, however, is a temple which will last forever, either in heaven or hell, depending on whom we have followed in our time on earth. The human body, too, the temple of the Holy Spirit, will be resurrected at the end of time, to add either to our glory and happiness in heaven with God, or our torment in hell apart from Him.

Part of the idea behind the customary Lenten sacrifices that Catholics take on is that they might be an aid in purifying the soul, quelling vices, and bringing one closer to God. But without a zeal for the soul as God’s temple, they can become an arbitrary chore that might as well not be taken on. Are you performing a sacrifice this Lent out of a sense of obligation, or do you truly want to grow closer to God through this offering? Is there some vice you want to eradicate? Perform your sacrifice with the mind of Christ in this Gospel: get a whip, knock over tables, and drive out that which makes your relationship with God a kind of contract, but not a relationship of personal and genuine love.

Let zeal for your house, for your temple, consume you.

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May God bless you all, and have a holy Lent.

Gratefulness, Guardian Angels, and Us: Why We Shouldn’t Forget Our Guardian Angels

J.M.J.

Merry Saturday, everyone. Look at this picture for a moment, if you would.

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What we have here is a painting of a child and his guardian angel.

Wonderful.

Now let me ask you a question: how often do you end up forgetting that your guardian angel is there? I know that this happens to me quite a bit. It may even be tempting for you to think of guardian angels as something little kids have, but as something adults don’t need. If you do think that, I can hardly blame you. The popular prayer to guardian angels (“Angel of God, my guardian dear…”) is child-like in tone, and since guardian angels are almost never talked about among adults, it can be very easy for adults to forget about them. In fact, the words of the Lord Jesus Himself only seem to indicate that “little ones” have guardian angels, since He only mentions children specifically and doesn’t refer to adults (Mt. 18:10).

And yet, adults do have guardian angels, and although this may not be blatantly laid out in Sacred Scripture, it has, nevertheless, been a constant tradition of the Church. St. Thomas Aquinas writes that, “. . . as guardians are appointed for men who have to pass by an unsafe road, so an angel guardian is assigned to each man as long as he is a wayfarer. When, however, he arrives at the end of life, he no longer has a guardian angel; but in the Kingdom he will have an angel to reign with him, in Hell, a demon to punish him” (Summa Theologica, Prima Pars, Q. 113, Art. 4). Pope St. John XXIII said in 1959, “In this earthly life, when children have to make their way along a path beset with obstacles and snares, their fathers take care to call upon the help of those who can look after them and come to their aid in adversity. In the same way our Father in heaven has charged His angels to come to our assistance during our earthly journey which leads us to our blessed fatherland, so that, protected by the angels’ help and care, we may avoid the snares upon our path, subdue our passions and, under this angelic guidance, follow always the straight and sure road which leads to Paradise” (Meditation for the Feast of the Guardian Angels, October 2, 1959). There is also a multitude of quotes from the Church Fathers concerning guardian angels, and, most recently, Pope Francis said that the existence of guardian angels is a “reality”, and that we should actively attempt to form a relationship with ours.

I think it’s a little backwards when we primarily associate guardian angels with children. I would say that adults should be the ones to give their guardian angels more focus, because adults are well past the so-called age of reason, and therefore are going to be held more accountable than children when they sin. One of the best ways to avoid sin is to have your focus continually on what is “above”, since this puts priorities and even temptations into their proper perspective. Being mindful of the presence of your guardian angel can serve to keep temptations at a distance, as it will keep you aware of God and the things of God.

Furthermore, speaking of temptations, guardian angels have power to defend us against the allurements that demons and life’s circumstances give us. They can help us fulfill difficult tasks, they can remind us of things which need to be remembered, they can aid us while we pray (and pray on our behalf), and, if nothing else, they can remind us we’re never going to be alone in life. The point is, you and I should give our guardian angels more focus. They’re given to us to benefit our lives in so many ways, and really, it seems hardly grateful to forget they exist.

 

 

 

“…Then the Son Himself Will Be Subject to Him…” — Explaining 1 Corinthians 15:24-28

J.M.J.

For better or for worse, some passages of Scripture are just confusing. I’m sure you’ve all had times where you’ve mulled over the meaning of some Bible verse, wondering why in the world the Good Lord couldn’t have had the inspired author write more clearly.

One of those passages is 1 Corinthians 15:24, 25, & 28, verses which are frequently employed by those who don’t believe in the Divinity of Christ: “He must reign until He has put all enemies under His feet…then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to [God the Father] … When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself will be subjected to the one who put all things beneath Him, that God may be all in all” (NASB).

Does this not sound like the Son will reign for a time, and then stop reigning, give everything to the Father, and undergo voluntary subjection to the Father? Doesn’t it imply, almost, an inferiority of the Son? Well, it seems to. But there’s a lot to be unpacked here, so let’s take it piece by piece.

We’ll start with the issue of the Son “handing over the kingdom”, then go into the issue of His subjection to the Father, and finally, we’ll address the problem of Him “reigning until” He has subjected all things. In the first respect (that of Christ handing the Kingdom over to Father), it’s helpful to turn to three particular verses from the Gospel of John. Early on in there, John the Baptist says (3:35), “The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand.” Then in John 16:15, Christ Himself says to the Apostles, “All things that the Father has are Mine”; and finally, in His prayer to the Father, He says, “All that is Yours is Mine, and all that is Mine is Yours” (17:10).

We need to bear this principle in mind: all that is the Son’s is the Father’s, and all that is the Father’s is the Son’s. What does this mean with regard to the Son “handing over the Kingdom”? It means that, although the Son gives it to the Father, the Father, having “given all things into Son’s hand” out of love for the Son, does not seize it for Himself, however much He would have a right to do so, but instead gives it back to the Son, due to the infinite and selfless love between the two. Furthermore, because “all things that the Father has” are the Son’s, then even though the Son gives the heavenly Kingdom to the Father, He does not lose it Himself, because as long as the Father has it, the Son has it in equal measure. Either way, the Son does not lose the Kingdom or cease to rule over it by giving it to the Father.

Now, let’s look at the issue of the Son “being subjected”, shall we?

There are several ways to answer this, but for the moment, we’ll stick with the most commonly-used one. Many who comment on difficult Christ-centered passages of Scripture use the following principle to interpret them. Some of you are probably familiar with it already, but it’s good to bear in mind whether you’ve heard it or not. As mentioned by St. Augustine in his work On the Trinity, “[T]he Son of God is both understood to be equal to Father according to the form of God … and less than the Father according to the form of a servant which He took” (Book II, Chapter I). Now, we do want to be careful here, so that we avoid Nestorianism. The Son is not two persons, one divine, one human. He is one divine Person, who has taken to Himself a human nature. Although He is a divine Person, however, He still has, in His human nature, all the “attributes” of humanity (except sin), attributes which include inferiority to God.

With this principle in mind, that the Son is equal to the Father as God, but less than the Father as man, let’s consider it more deeply. St. Paul writes that Christ “became obedient” in His “humbled” nature (Phil. 2:8). So one of the primary arguments you’ll find to explain the Son “subjecting Himself” is that He is subjected as man, and that’s what the passage is getting at. This might seem too simple at first glance, but with further inspection, it actually makes a lot of sense, as we’ll see, and it isn’t just a weak attempt to explain the verse. So how does this work?

St. Paul says in the context of the verse above that Christ humbled Himself and became obedient in that form He took “as a servant” (2:7). Well, we know that Christ kept His human nature, His “servant” and “obedient” nature, even after the Resurrection, and has it even now in Heaven. So  it actually makes perfect sense to say that He would still be obedient and subservient in this form, for as long as He has it (which will be forever). Yes, He is equal to God. Yes, the Father’s kingdom is going to be the Son’s, since the Father gives it to the Son as much as the Son gives it to the Father, as I hopefully demonstrated above. Thus, there should be no question for us about the inferiority of one Divine Person to another, and we shouldn’t think that one Divine Person possesses the Kingdom of Heaven while another is without it. And yet, precisely because He is permanently man, and thus permanently obedient, the Son will always be subservient as man (though not as God), and will always be “subjected” to the Father according to that subservient nature.

St Augustine had somewhat similar explanation for this issue. He said it’s possible that the passage was written this way in order to show that the Son does not give up His “subjected” nature of humanity, that it does not go away at the end of time, but that He is now, forever, man as well as God, inferior as well as equal, to the Heavenly Father (De Trinitate, Book I, Ch. 8).

Finally, there comes the issue of what seems to be the “temporary” nature of the Son’s reign, thanks to the word “until” (“He must reign until He has put all enemies under His feet”). The first thing I’d like to do is point out something that the infallible voice of God the Father says to the Son, according to St. Paul: “But to the Son, God says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; the scepter of Your kingdom is a scepter of justice'” (Hebrews 1:8, emphasis mine). If God Himself says the Son will reign forever, that should give us pause in interpreting any verses that seem to run contrary to this idea. Something to remember here is that, many times in Scripture, the word “until” will be used in such a way that it doesn’t mean “up to a certain point, but not after that”. For example, in Genesis 28:15, God says to Jacob, “I will be with you and protect you wherever you go, and I will bring you into this land, for I will not leave you until I have done as I have said” (emphasis mine). Would anyone say in this case that God is going to depart Jacob after He has done as He promised? Or, from the New Testament, there is the statement concerning Joseph that he did not “know Mary” (i.e., engage in marital relations with her) until she gave birth to Jesus (Matt. 1:25). But this does not by any means imply that Joseph and Mary did anything of the sort after the birth of Christ. Indeed, the stance of the Catholic Church in this regard, as well as that of John Calvin and Martin Luther, has been to interpret the word “until” in such a way that it doesn’t imply that the consummation of their marriage occurred later (you can read Calvin’s commentary here, and many sources from Luther on the matter are quoted here). In any case, the use of the word “until” concerning the reign of the Son does not, by any means, imply that His reign is going to end.

With all this said, I hope I’ve been helpful in some way with regard to this passage. God bless and keep you as we approach Christmas.

 

Getting Down to Basics: What Is the Mass?

J.M.J.

I think it’s not unreasonable to say that many Catholics today, through no fault of their own, don’t really know what the Mass is. The majority of Catholic youth now aren’t formed using the simple, direct memorization format of the question-and-answer Baltimore Catechism, and most of what Catholic kids do learn is often given to them through Sunday school courses that (in my experience, at least) teach some basic elements of the Faith, but don’t clearly pinpoint certain doctrines and fully explain them. Principle among these “not fully explained” doctrines has been, unfortunately, the question of what the Mass is.

I, personally, was homeschooled and grew up with the Baltimore Catechism (the teaching tool of most American Catholics prior to the late 1960s). I’m genuinely grateful, to God and to my mother who taught me, because from early on I’ve known the answer to the question of what the Mass is pretty well. I’m thankful for that not to be an arrogant know-it-all, but simply because it strengthened my faith in those years. But I also had to go through parish CCD and other forms of religious education later, and this was my experience of them:

  • When they got to the point where they talked about the Eucharist, they said, quite correctly, that it was the true Body and Blood of Christ
  • They emphasized that it’s what we Catholics do as a community, following the command of Christ: “Do this in memory of Me.”
  • They pointed out that Protestants believe the Eucharist is merely symbolic, and not actually the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of the Lord
  • But what they did not say was what the Mass is for, what goes on during Mass, and the fact and meaning of the Mass being a sacrifice.

And this last point is incredibly unfortunate, because although it’s necessary to know that the consecrated bread and wine are Our Lord’s Body and Blood, it is equally important and necessary that Catholics be taught about the nature of the Mass. The Mass is the source and summit of the Faith, according to the Second Vatican Council, so its imperative that we know as much as we can about it. What is the Mass? What happens during it? If you, my good reader, are unable to answer those questions, then I hope I can be of service to you in answering them as we go along.

I think the three most prevalent misconceptions about the Mass today are these:

  1. The Mass is above all re-enactment of the Last Supper, and that, also above all else, it’s a communal meal.
  2. The Mass is the community worshipping God as it has traditionally done (I’ve encountered this one a lot: the Mass is just “Catholic worship”, and, to quote from the Fiddler on the Roof: “Where do we get these traditions? I’ll tell you: I don’t know.”)
  3. The Mass is a sacrifice in some sense, but we’re not sure what that sense is.

If those are misconceptions or incomplete notions of the Mass, then let’s ask the question, one last time, whose answer will clarify it all: what is the Mass, if it isn’t just “the way Catholics worship God,” or a re-enactment of the Last Supper, or a sacrifice in some vague sense?

Here is the definition of the Mass, which I’m going to explain further after you’ve read it, to make sure any misconceptions are clarified: the Mass is Christ’s offering of His Body and Blood to the Father, just as He did on the Cross, but this time in a “non-bloody” way, which means that, unlike the Cross, Christ offers Himself in each Mass without dying. 

We can clarify this definition further here in a minute, but given this definition, the Church has always considered that the Cross and the Mass are really the same thing: on the Cross, Christ sacrificed Himself and died; in the Mass, Christ still offers Himself in sacrifice to God, but does not die, since He has died already and cannot die a second time. But it’s the same sacrifice, for the priest is the same, and the victim of the sacrifice is the same, Jesus Christ, offering Himself in eternity now as He did on the Cross in time.

Now, a couple important clarifications…

Clarification 1: the Mass is not the “repetition” of the Cross, as though Our Lord’s death on the Cross wasn’t good enough, and He needs to be offered over and over again. That’s the objection Protestants use against the Mass, and it’s quite simply untrue. Christ is not re-offered in the Mass. Rather, as the Scriptures tell us, He is still offered (Revelation 5:6, for example, says that Christ, the Lamb of God, is in Heaven “standing as though slain”—because He offers Himself in sacrifice even after having died; and Hebrews 7:24-25 say that Christ has a “permanent priesthood, always interceding for us”). Indeed, He died only once, and this single act of dying brought about the Redemption; but He didn’t offer Himself in death and then be done. Instead, even after having risen from the dead and ascended into Heaven, He still offers Himself, immortal and glorified, as the perfect Sacrifice to God the Father. His offering is continual and unceasing, and the Mass “brings it down” from Heaven and makes it present on the altars of our parishes. It’s equally correct to say that the Mass takes the Crucifixion of Our Lord from 33 A.D. and brings it to the altar in our present place and time. Whether we want to think of it as “tapping into” and making present the death of Christ on Calvary, or tapping into and making present the self-offering of the Risen Christ in Heaven, both are correct: it’s all one, continuous, unending Sacrifice, which is offered in the Mass under the appearances of bread and wine, through the instrument of the ordained priest (and, by extension, us the laity; more on that below).

Clarification 2: the Lord offered Himself by Himself on the Cross; in the Mass, He uses the ordained priest, who acts in the Person of Christ and functions as His instrument. It is still Christ who offers Himself in the Sacrifice of the Eucharist, but He does it through the priest. The priest, Father Whoever, acts as Christ’s instrument (rather like a person using a piano to make music: the musician [Christ] plays the music [the offering of the sacrifice], but the piano [the ordained priest] is what allows the music to be played).

Because of all this, we can see that the Mass is really Christ’s action more than it is ours. It can be so tempting to think of the Mass as what we do to or for God; but really, the Mass is what God, the Second Person of the Trinity incarnate, does for us, and anything we do within the context of the Mass is merely a participation in the priesthood of Jesus Christ.

But at the same time, it would be incorrect to assume we do nothing. There is a reason that Malachi 1:11 prophesies that “From the rising of the sun to its going down, in every place, a pure offering will be made to [God’s] name.” For the Sacrifice of the Eucharist is, in addition to being the action of Our Lord, the action of us, too. We, priest and laity alike, are all “priests” in our own way. The ordained priest is the one who can be the direct instrument of Our Lord in the offering of Him, the one who can act in His place and actually do the offering, as it were. He alone has been given authority by God (through his ordination) to stand at the altar and “make it happen.” But we the laity have a priesthood about us as well, and we are able—and required—to offer the Lord to the Father ourselves, doing so, as the concluding doxology of the Canon says, “Through Him, and with Him, and in Him.” In every offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Christ the Lord is the “true” priest, the ordained priest is the instrument priest through which Christ directly offers Himself, and we the laity are all priests, too, called upon to offer the Sacrifice of the Eucharist—the Sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Christ—together with the ordained priest and, in the end, with Jesus Himself.

This has been a great deal of information, and a great deal more could be said still, but I hope it was informative, if you didn’t know these things before. If you did know these things before, I hope this has clarified the nature of the Mass further. As a parting gift, I’d like to leave you with this image. Especially if you had not known clearly about the nature of the Mass before reading this, this picture makes more sense now, doesn’t it?

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The good God bless you, until next time.

Great is Your Faith: Pray Confidently and Constantly.

J.M.J.

My good people,

I’m just going to say it: We need to trust God more. You, I, all of us: whether we pray constantly or never, most of us don’t trust in God enough.

How do you go into prayer if you want something?  Does it run along these lines, like mine often does? “…I ask for this, and I really want it, but it probably won’t be answered…I mean, I’ll ask anyway, but it’s probably not going to happen.”

Or when you think of dying, do you think that you’re pretty certainly going to wind up in Purgatory, and that God doesn’t really expect or want you to go straight to Heaven with no delay? Or when you pray for the conversion of a soul (say, a notorious politician…) do you retain that judgement in the back of your mind, no matter how ardent your prayer, that it “probably won’t happen”?

Let’s turn to Matthew 15, shall we?

Our Lord is stopped by a Canaanite woman, who begs Him to heal her daughter possessed by a demon (Mt. 15:22). Our Lord says no. The disciples even tell Him to make the woman leave. And yet, she continues, kneeling down and pleading. Still, He says no. And still she asks, and finally, commending her faith, Our Divine Lord heals her daughter, who is well from then on.

There’s a good deal we can take from this. First, there’s no lack of humility if you “bother” the Lord for something. If you want something, pray, and pray ardently for it. Should worse come to worst, your prayer simply isn’t answered. But there’s nothing wrong with asking repeatedly—or even incessantly—for the same thing, and you shouldn’t take a lack of answering on God’s part as an indication that your prayer is opposed to His will. Indeed, St. Paul urges us to “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). If your prayer is not answered quickly, keep praying for it, even if you end up praying for ten years.

Of course, there is a caveat: you want to be sure that, in all circumstances, you’re open to the Divine Will. Weighed down by His agony in Gethsemane, Our Lord prays repeatedly that He might not suffer His Passion, and yet, despite His ardent prayer, He ends on the note of resolution to the Father: “Not My will, but Thine be done” (Luke 22:42). This must be the conclusion of all our prayers as well.

Now, there’s other things we can learn from the episode with the Canaanite woman as well. Primarily, we must be humble in the true sense of the word, which is to say, we need to have a healthy recognition of our place before the Supreme Being (basically, we need some sizable doses of piety and fear of the Lord).  God and we are incomparable. God doesn’t need us, despite His infinite love for us, and He doesn’t need to answer our prayers. He will, if we are in accord with His will, because He loves us, but we don’t even have the semblance of a right to answered prayers. Not only that, we’re especially undeserving of having our prayers answered because we constantly sin. We constantly turn away from God who loves us, and it would be entirely reasonable of Him not to answer any of our prayers. So be sure to bear in mind when you pray that it is entirely within God’s right not to answer you, whether you’re wondrously holy or horrendously sinful. The good Lord only answers prayers because of the greatness of His love, not because we somehow deserve what we’re asking for. Thus, the woman kneels down before Our Lord and pleads: a position of humility, piety, and reverence; an acknowledgement of lowliness before Him who wills, despite our constant failings, to hear and grant our prayers.

CanaaniteWoman_Drouais
“O woman, great is thy faith…”

When Our Lord finally grants her request, notice what He tells her: “O woman, great is thy faith…” (Mt. 17:28). Anything truly worth having will be worth pursuing, even in the face of adversity. I am convinced that part of the reason He let her beg and plead was so that she would demonstrate the extent of her faith; so that she would be tested. It was Our Lord’s way of saying, “How much do you really want this? How important is it, really? Will you give up on Me if I don’t give it to you now?” And as we know, the woman didn’t give up. She repeated her prayer, with confidence not only in the ability of Our Lord to answer her prayer, but in His will and desire to grant her request as well. But she had to play her part first, which included a great deal of prayer.

Our Lord says in John 14:14, “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it”; in John 16:23-24, He strengthens this assurance still more: “Amen I say to you, if you ask anything of the Father in My name, He will give it to you . . . ask and you will receive, that your joy may be made full.” Our Blessed Lord says anything asked in His name will be done. Not “might be done”, but will be done. Certainly, sometimes prayers aren’t answered, either because God has other plans or because the prayer is against the Divine Will, but it must be pointed out that Our Lord wouldn’t say something without there being a founded belief in its reliability.

“…it will be given to you…” 

How much do we believe this to be the case? Do you trust that God will give you what you ask, even if it takes years of asking for it? Or do you pray with the repeated idea in the back of your mind that it’s really a futile enterprise?

Don’t pray like that. Follow St. Paul and the Canaanite woman, praying constantly. And if you’re resigned to God’s will, whatever it might be, it’s wholly probably that Our Lord will say to you what He did to that distressed mother: Great is your faith. And all will be well from that hour.

“Heaven Is a Place On Earth”? Indeed It Is!

J.M.J.

I think that maybe the biggest problem with us is that by repeating things, they become routine. This applies to everything: work, school, play, the company we keep, pastimes we enjoy, prayer, worship, and on and on. Allow me to point out a few moments in Scripture before we truly begin:

When the angel visited the Virgin Mary and announced to her Whose mother she would be, she said, “Let it be so” (Lk. 1:38), and at that moment, the Holy Spirit came down and formed, in her virgin womb, the human nature of God’s eternal Son. John the Baptist found such joy in the presence of the incarnate Lord and His Blessed Mother that he leapt for joy in the womb of Elizabeth, while she herself was moved to say, “How does this happen, that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Lk. 1:41, 43). Then, when Our Lord was born, all the angels appeared and acclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest” (Lk. 2:14). When Simeon saw the Child Jesus, he considered his life finished at last and said with complete contentment, “Now you may dismiss your servant” (Lk. 2:29).

Much later in the life of Christ, in the 14th chapter of St. John’s Gospel, Our Lord is speaking to the Apostles about the place He is going to after His resurrection. Philip, in all sincerity, blurts out, “Lord, show us the Father, and it will be enough for us” (Jn. 14:8). There is a certain frustration in Our Lord’s response: “Have I been with you so long, yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father. Do you not know that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me?” (Jn. 14:9-10).

Why do I mention all this? Because of the privilege which we have even today, which can be so often forgotten about due to the routine nature of our lives. When Our Lady said, “Let it be done to me according to your word” and Our Lord was made flesh in her womb, God became tangible. He became something we could see, touch, speak to, and hear, with the senses. In His new nature He became limited also, not losing but voluntarily placing aside the Divine Majesty so as to live like us and, ultimately, redeem us to the Father. The Lord, who until now had been infinitely distant, became intimately close. And this brought immense joy to all those who recognized what had happened: to Elizabeth, to John the Baptist, to Simeon, and to the whole Host of Heaven. Our Lord wanted Philip to recognize that He, Jesus Christ, is truly Emmanuel, “God with us”.

So now comes the important part: Do you, my fellow Catholics, recognize that the very same miracle which occurred in the womb of the Blessed Mother happens at every Consecration in the Mass? When Our Blessed Lady said to the angel, “Let it be done to me”, the Lord was made present there, physically, where He had not been so before, and all of Heaven was “concentrated” into Our Lady’s womb. The same thing happens in the Mass. When the priest repeats the words of Our Lord, “This is My Body . . . this is My Blood”, the Host and the wine are changed into Christ, and so, as at His conception, He is made physically present where He was not before, and all of Heaven is concentrated into what once was bread and wine on the altar.

It can be so difficult to remember this when we go to Mass, Sunday after Sunday, with our off-key choirs and boring homilies and unedifying church buildings and whatever else. But it is the reality of what happens in the Mass. Whether it is a Mass where the red is perfectly and reverentially adhered to and the black is perfectly and reverentially said, or a Mass where the priest makes up half the prayers and tries to be the center of attention, it is still the reality of the Mass (provided the correct words and matter are used, the correct intention had on the part of the priest, and the priest validly ordained, of course): God the Son, and in fact the entire Trinity due to the union of the Divine Nature, comes down to us in our own church and lifts us up to the sphere where, even now, He is “as a Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8). The only difference between Heaven itself and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is that in Heaven, we will see Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as He is, while here we see Him only veiled, and in Heaven there will be no more barrier of sin to separate us from sharing in His life.

Fr. Calvin Goodwin, FSSP, said the following concerning the Mass: “…at the moment of Consecration, it’s not so much that Christ merely comes down, but that He lifts us all to the sphere where He lives in glory, once again beyond time and the limitations of this world, to the very presence of God” (qtd here, “Roman Catholic Mass Explained”). The Mass itself says, before the Sanctus, that we sing of God’s holiness together with the hosts and choirs of Heaven. The Holy Mass is not just the worshipping act of your or my particular parish, it is the act of the entire Church, both in Heaven and on Earth, a unitive act where you might say that Heaven and Earth are temporarily joined together. So in a certain sense those who say Heaven is a place on Earth are correct: they need look no farther than the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

What, Precisely, Makes Your Participation “Full, Conscious, & Active” In The Liturgy?

J.M.J.

Greetings to all of you, my good readers!

I’m going to begin with a dichotomy, one you’ve probably heard quite a bit if you’ve gone to Mass within the past 50 years. Here it is, with its mixture of truth and untruth:

Before Vatican II in the 1960s, Catholics didn’t participate in the Mass. It was in Latin, so they couldn’t even understand it, the priest was up there talking quietly toward the wall, and the people didn’t even get to say anything during Mass.

After Vatican II, the people have a much greater role in the Church’s liturgy: the Mass is in the local language, the people make the responses and read the readings and perform ministries during Mass, the priest was turned around—it’s all much more inclusive now.

Fair enough. It’s a huge oversimplification, but most people can hardly be blamed if that’s their perception, or worse yet, if that was their experience with the Mass in the Church before the Second Vatican Council. Still, an oversimplification it is, which is in desperate need of a deeper look. And so, my friends, take a deeper look we shall.

I’d like to let you all know right now that this post won’t be saying anything about the old or new Mass forms, or any of the specific practices in either one. So you can breathe easily in that respect; the controversy level will be pretty low for liturgy devotees. Instead, I want to help you unpack the meaning of a commonly thrown-around phrase from the Second Vatican Council which declared that the peoples’ participation in the Sacred Liturgy should be “fully conscious and active” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 14). Most people (quite understandably) take this to mean that the people need to make the responses and perform ministries and whatnot, since the phrase was from Vatican II and since the Mass that came out of Vatican II seems to put so much stock into people doing things.

But then we get to the question: is that indeed what full, conscious, and active participation is, or is it something deeper than that?

As with most questions that run like that, you’re probably able to guess that this active participation is indeed more than just external activity. At the risk of surprising some of you, I’m going to go out on a limb and say the following: fully conscious and active participation can be accomplished whether a person makes every response devotedly or whether he never opens his mouth during Mass. In fact, fully conscious participation can be accomplished even when one does not receive Holy Communion! The quiet Irishman sitting in his pew who keeps his eyes shut and hands folded during the entirety of the Mass can technically achieve the same level of participation in Mass as the reader who reads and makes all the responses with attentiveness and devotion.

So what, then, is active participation in the Sacred Liturgy? It is when you crucify yourself along with Our Good Lord and give your life, yourself, to Him in four ways: 1) adoration; 2) contrition; 3) thanksgiving; and 4) supplication.

Those are the four ends of the Mass, the four reasons the priest stands at the altar and offers the Eucharist to God. Our participation in the Mass, therefore, is nothing more than an extension of those four things.

Firstly, Christ offers Himself (through the priest) to the Heavenly Father as an act of adoration. “To adore God is to acknowledge him as God, as the Creator and Savior, the Lord and Master of everything that exists, as infinite and merciful Love” (CCC 2096). We must adore God simply because God is God, because God is the sustainer of all that is, because God has all perfection, because God is the source of good and love, the One Who creates all that is good and lovable.

Secondly, Our Blessed Lord offers Himself to the Father as an act of contrition. Not for Himself, since He is without sin, but for us, that we may obtain forgiveness for our sins. He said on the Cross concerning His killers, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Douay-Rheims Bible, Luke 23:34).

Thirdly, Christ offers Himself to the Father in thanksgiving, because of the greatness of the Father’s love, His mercy shown toward sinners, and for His very self, which can only be loved when known.

And finally, Our Lord offers Himself in supplication, mediating for us to the Father, praying with His human nature for us and our needs, using His Crucified Self as a prism through which the Father looks at creation and grants all its prayers. “Holy Father, keep them in thy name . . . that they may be one, as we also are . . . I pray that thou wouldst keep them from evil and sanctify them in truth” (John 17).

My good readers, this is what you must do in Mass: offer yourself in adoration of God, with all your fears and imperfections and worries. Offer yourself in contrition, repenting of sin and asking for the Divine Mercy; offer yourself as an act of thanksgiving for all God has done for you, in good times and in bad; and offer yourself in supplication, asking the Lord to grant those prayers compatible with His will. And be mindful of that fact that you don’t do this alone, disconnected from others, but rather, you do it with Christ, placing your “little” cross next to His Cross on the altar during and after the Consecration. He said that in the Scriptures that anyone who would be His disciple must take up a cross (Mt. 19:24) and, further, that anything asked of God the Father in His name would be granted (Jn. 16:23). Our participation in the Mass takes up these two passages of Scripture and turns them into reality: we crucify ourselves with Jesus Christ, offering ourselves to God through Him, in His name, in virtue of His status as God, Man, Lord, and Redeemer.

It is not enough merely to say the responses of the Mass carefully or to focus on the text of what’s being said or to perform some special liturgical function, which are all very commendable things. Rather, in the words of Archbishop Fulton Sheen, “In order to take a part in [the Mass], you have to bring little crosses” (Fulton Sheen, “The Meaning of the Mass”). The Baltimore Catechism was very insistent on this point as well, and although I don’t remember the exact words it used, it was speaking about the phrase “assist at Mass” and said something along the lines of, “One never merely attends Mass. One must consciously unite himself with the Sacrifice of Christ, and thus it is said that he assists at Mass”. That has always stuck with me. One never merely attends Mass. It’s not like a lecture where we’re passive spectators, contrary to the perceptions of many in the pre-Vatican II Church, and perhaps more importantly to be driven home is the point that it’s not just about doing things, saying things, or having a role to play. It’s about making a sacrifice of oneself so as to be united with Christ, Our Lord, the Head of His Mystical Body, whose members we are.

At this point I hope it’s evident that one can participate just as well in the pre-Vatican II liturgical form as in the one prevalent now, and that such dichotomies as commonly heard lack a certain degree of substance. Participation in the Holy Mass has always been essentially the same, the offering of the self with the offering of Jesus the Christ.

Now, because the current form of the Mass desires the vocal participation of the faithful, it is good to be an obedient son or daughter of the Church and participate vocally. But it is not essential, and it’s no skin off my back if the person two pews away never opens his mouth. For all I know, he’s more concretely focused on his ultimate liturgical mission than 90% of the congregation present. In the end, disregarding the goodness—or not—of external participation, the thing to be remembered as essential is that liturgical participation is about self-offering with the Crucified Savior. If you have that down, then you’re doing your job correctly.

Since You’ll Need To Suffer In the End—Why Not Begin Now?

J.M.J.

I hate suffering.

I also hate to say that so bluntly, but to put it any other way would be dishonest. I don’t imagine anybody likes suffering, or else it wouldn’t be suffering at all. You and I, we like comfort: we like our warm beds, we like our food to taste good, we find ourselves complaining, inwardly or outwardly, when things don’t go as we want. I would venture to say that this very desire for pleasure is an indication that we are made by and for the Good Lord: it shows that happiness is the goal of life. God made us to be happy, and that’s what we spend most of our time wanting to be.

And yet, the state of happiness we exist for isn’t reached by being happy as we think of the word (i.e., as pleasure). Paradoxical as it may be, we can only make ourselves permanently and truly happy if, throughout our lives, we willingly bear that which makes us unhappy. 

In other words, if we suffer.

Suffering is not the end of our life: happiness, beatitude, is the end of our life. But suffering, allowing ourselves to be unhappy here and now by offering our sufferings for the sake of holiness, is the means to achieving the beatitude for which we live. Think for a moment: Christ Our Lord shows how to live an ideal human life. And as Fulton Sheen so eloquently put it in Life of Christ, “. . . to Christ, death was the goal and fulfillment of His life, the gold that He was seeking. Few of His words or actions are intelligible without reference to His Cross . . . The story of every human life begins with birth and ends with death. In the Person of Christ, however, it was His death that was first and His life that was last” (Life of Christ, Ch. I, pg. 5). If Christ’s life, centered on suffering, is the exemplary life, then should we not view suffering as our own modus operandi?

Our Good Lord said to the Samaritan woman at the well that those who adore the Heavenly Father must do so “in spirit and in truth”, for that is the adoration God desires (John 3:24). Additionally, we’re all familiar with the section of Scripture where Christ said that “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Douay-Rheims Bible, Luke 9:23). In light of these two passages, our participation in the Sacrifice of the Eucharist is gaged not by how lively we are in making responses or by how many roles we perform in the sanctuary, but rather, by how much we manage to unite our personal sacrifices with the sacrifice of Our Lord presented on the altar. The Roman Canon mentions “these holy and unblemished sacrifices“, Latin sacrificia, and there’s a reason for the plural use: the Mass isn’t just the Sacrifice of the Cross, it’s our own sacrifices, too. And if we don’t suffer, we have no sacrifices, and if we have no sacrifices, our assistance at Mass is pointless, our relationship to Christ is more or less severed, and our very lives have their purpose obstructed.

If the Eternal Son of God, perfect, innocent, and infinite, did not begrudge suffering, why should we, who are so much more deserving of suffering than He? If the Blessed Virgin Mary, the one sinless member of this fallen race, needed to suffer with the Lord at Calvary, why should we demand less for ourselves, who sin daily? We have a job to perform, which St. Paul was able to see clearly: we must use our sufferings to complete whatever is lacking in the effectiveness of Our Lord’s death (Col. 1:24). No one will deny that the sacrifice of Christ covers all the sin of the world; no one will deny that it was complete, infinite, and entirely pleasing to the Father. But we humans have free will. We can spurn the grace which Our Lord handed to us on the Cross, and so He has established that, taking up that cross we’ve been given, we work to ensure that people turn to the Cross and the graces it won. Christ opened the floodgates of Heaven and offered the grace to man, but He would never force man to accept it. And so, because those who refuse it won’t use their free will for His purposes, He asks for our free will instead, and uses that to soften the hardened wills of unbelievers.

Thankfully, any suffering fits the bill. You can offer any and all of your sufferings for the well-being of yourself and others. Don’t want to get out of bed in the morning? Offer it in union with the Cross of Christ. Having trouble sleeping? No good food in the refrigerator? Have house cleaning to do? Is an obnoxious sibling pestering you? Do you feel self-conscious, lonely, or bored? Are you stressed about something? All of it can be used for the higher purpose of uniting yourself with God. To borrow from St. Paul again, “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (NIV, Col. 3:17). 

It’s worth pointing out that suffering not only unites us with Our Lord and works for the welfare of souls (our own and those of others), but it also can remove the temporal punishment we receive as a result of our daily venial sins: that is to say, it shortens our time in Purgatory. If we don’t willfully suffer now, we’ll need to spend a greater amount of time in Purgatory, the pain of which, to borrow from St. Augustine, “will be more painful than anything man can suffer in the present life” (Comment on Ps. 37:3. Journel, no. 1476, qtd. here). As I wrote earlier, we human beings are made for God. If we suffer here and now, we will be united with God in Heaven much sooner and might very possibly bypass Purgatory altogether. If we wait until Purgatory to suffer, however, not only will we have to wait longer (possibly a good deal longer!) before we enter Heaven, but the very pain of being absent from God in Purgatory will make the suffering there all the greater!

Like I said, I hate suffering. If we—you, I, and everyone—didn’t hate suffering, it wouldn’t be suffering. Of course it’s tough. But if you ask for the grace to bear your sufferings, not only will they become less difficult, but you’ll even begin to actively appreciate suffering, as an opportunity to unite yourself and others around you more closely with your Creator, Who has purchased you with His own Blood (Acts 20:28). And it’s highly likely that, the more you offer up your sufferings for the cause of holiness, Our Blessed Lord’s words will become reality for you: “My yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light” (New Living Translation, Matt. 11:30). 

Are You Required (These Days) To Confess How Many Times You Committed a Mortal Sin?

Good morning, my good people,

A few years ago I heard a priest (whom I suppose we’ll call “Priest W”, for no reason) give a little presentation about Confession, and thank the Good Lord, almost a whole room of people ended up making use of this Sacrament that evening. Unfortunately, Priest W made a common mistake, which I’m sure you’ve heard: he said that although people used to confess the number of times they committed their given sins, it’s not done like that these days.

And considering that’s what I had heard for years and no one ever mentioned doing it the “old way” to me, I was rather surprised to learn that the old method still holds: according to the 1983 Code of Canon Law, “A member of the Christian faithful is obliged to confess in kind and number all grave sins committed after baptism” which have not already been confessed (Can. 988 §1).

Pope St. John Paul II also wrote the same thing in his 2002 Motu Proprio, “Misericordia Dei”:

3. Since ‘the faithful are obliged to confess, according to kind and number, all grave sins committed after Baptism of which they are conscious after careful examination and which have not yet been directly remitted by the Church’s power of the keys, nor acknowledged in individual confession’ (Can. 988 §1), any practice which restricts confession to a generic accusation of sin or of only one or two sins judged to be more important is to be reproved. Indeed, in view of the fact that all the faithful are called to holiness, it is recommended that they confess venial sins also.

So what does this mean? It means that if you (unfortunately) have a mortal sin to confess, try your best to remember how many times you ended up doing it. If you can’t remember precisely, then make an approximation. If you can’t do that, you should tell the priest you really can’t count how many times it was but you are sincerely sorry anyway.

Now, that’s all well and good, but what if you haven’t confessed your mortal sins in number before? You don’t need to confess them again, do you? Thankfully not. You confessed them previously with invincible ignorance of the actual protocol. They’re gone. You’re good to go. But do bear it in mind for the future. Venial sins are not required to be confessed in number (since they’re not required to be confessed at all). Still, for the sake of getting into the habit of confessing mortal sins properly (if, God forbid, you have any in the future), it wouldn’t be a bad thing to confess even venial sins in number.

As Fr. Z so bluntly put it over here at his blog, “Pay no attention to the liberals who belittle the necessity of confessing in kind and number by stupid phrases like ‘laundry list’.” It’s not about legalism or scrupulosity or OCD. It’s about giving an admission of all your sins so that all your sins can be forgiven and, furthermore, it’s so that you can know they’ve been accounted for.

Who knows? It might even deter you from mortally sinning in the future so you won’t have to go through the added mental process of counting how often the sin was committed!