Sunday, September 24, 2017

You Will Have Power

There's a lot I could be writing about after the Saint Paul Street Evangelization conference I attended last week in Detroit. Since I'm a beginner in the spiritual life and a noobie evangelist, I was there to listen, learn, and take it all in. All the talks were excellent, and the connections I made invaluable.  But it's been a lot of driving, a lot of coffee, and not a lot of sleep, so I'm going to keep it short and focus on two teaching in particular.

The first teaching I would like to focus on was from the fourth conference on the spiritual life, delivered by Fr. Ignatius Manfredonia, F.I. This talk hammered home to me how much of a beginner I am in the spiritual life, how imperfect is my love of God and neighbor, and how long and arduous is the narrow path that leads to life and how much divine help is needed in the cooperation with grace.

The soul disposed of toward God relies not on it's subjective nature of "I want to do this" or "I like that", but is simple and objective in its character. It depends on God's grace, as well as our participation. Giving up on prayer leads to spiritual disaster.

Fr. Ignatius laid out a fairly common outline of the stages of ascent in the life of prayer and communion with God used by many of the saints to describe what to expect as a slave of Jesus Christ:

Purgative (Beginner)
1st-FAITHFUL SOULS
2nd-GOOD SOULS
3rd-PIOUS SOULS

Illuminative (Proficient)
[Night of the Senses]
4th-FERVENT SOULS
5th-RELATIVELY PERFECT

Unitive (Perfect)
[Night of the Spirit]
6th-HEROIC SOULS
7th-GREAT SAINTS


As I studied the path laid out from my table, feeling like the mountain was too lofty, too out of reach, I remembered the words of St. Therese of Lisieux:

"I leave to great souls and lofty minds the beautiful books I cannot understand, much less put into practice and I rejoice that I am little because children alone and those who resemble them will be admitted to the heavenly banquet. I am glad that there are many mansions in the Kingdom of God, because if there were only those whose description and whose road seem to me incomprehensible, I could never enter there."[70]

I needed help if there were any hope for me. That is when Fr. Ignatius mentioned the spirituality of St. Louis de Montfort and St. Maximilian Kolbe, and the tender devotion of those who are fervent souls, to Mary as a way to Jesus. "Write Mary a blank check," he said, "by totally consecrating yourself to her, and she will lead you to Jesus."

Now this is a tough sell for many people, even devout Catholics, and total blasphemy to Protestants. But I was open to listening. I knew there is no human who was closer to Jesus than His very mother, his first disciple, flesh of his flesh. To give her liberty, to turn my life over to her, to write her a blank check was indeed a daunting prospect because, of course, it meant my life was not really my own anymore. Was she trustworthy? Yes, I had faith in that. So what was holding me back?

It became clear that attachment to my sin and "loving my live" (Jn 12:25) was a hindrance. It was scary too, since Fr. Ignatius made clear that "the blessings our Lady sends....are crosses." What would become of my life, the life of my family, should we consecrate ourselves to the mother of the Lord, totally dispose ourselves to her aid, to lead us to Jesus? Would we lose it all? Would we suffer?

It was as if I had been playing pretend Christian all these years, keeping one foot in the door and one foot out. A blank check. Do you know what Jesus writes in the 'Amount' line when you give him a blank check?

"EVERYTHING"

All of it. Empties the account. Net zero. Doesn't leave a cent.


Which leads me to the second teaching--You Will Receive Power: Ministry for Healing given by Fr. Mathias Thelen, Diocese of Lansing.

Fr. Mathias opened his talk by warning us to be careful. "This is not for the feint of heart," he told us, "You have to be radically dependent on the Holy Spirit" to engage in this kind of ministry, "since you only have power BY the Holy Spirit." Fr. Mathias encouraged us to pay for boldness to preach the word, "That you may never be silent," as it is written, "It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:20).

He noted that all throughout the New Testament, signs and the Church's mission to preach the Gospel go hand in hand. That is, healings are signs that point us to Heaven. It is for the benefit of belief that God heals, not just physical relief from suffering. "It is an exciting time to be Catholic," he noted, since Jesus makes this power available by the Holy Spirit not just two thousand years ago, not just in the book of Acts, but now, today. And the need is greater than ever.

Fr. Mathias laid out three models for healing.

The first is Petition. "Please heal this person,"

The second is Command. "Jesus did not say pray for the sick, he said heal the sick," Fr. Matthias noted. And Jesus gave us the authority in His Name to do just that. This can manifest itself in commanding a body part to do what it is not doing (sickness, such a liver not functioning properly)

The third is Prophetic Word. That is, asking the Holy Spirit to reveal what He is doing.


There are four steps to healing ministry that Fr. Mathias laid out.

1) Interview
Ask the person in need of healing how long have they had this malady; on a scale of 1 to 10, what pain level are you; get a history and more information. Look for trauma, unforgiveness, a lack of repentance. "Jesus healed people before they followed," he told us. Prepare the person for the prayer. Encourage them to have faith, but that it isn't dependent on them, but on the power of God. Explain what might happen (tingling, warmth, shaking). Encourage them to just put themselves in a disposition to receive. There is no pressure. God is at work. "There is no harm in praying for someone," Fr. Mathias said, "even if they aren't healed; that is up to God. STEP OUT in faith, and be BOLD."

2) The Prayer Itself
Ask the Holy Spirit to come. Then you WAIT. "Whatever you do, keep it short," he said. And he drove home that EVERYTHING IS DONE IN THE NAME OF JESUS. Ask what is happening to the person.

Sometimes there are demons present. Don't freak out; you have authority, in the name of Jesus. "Once you spot them, you got them." He mentioned that one person being healed was resisting. He received a prophetic word. "Name yourself," Fr. Mathias commanded, in the name of Jesus. REIKI, said the person. They had been practicing reiki and had incurred a demon as a result.

3) Reinterview
Ask doctor of confirm. It is critical to step out in faith, you have to 'activate' their faith.

4) If nothing happens...
Accept it, but gently ask if there is unforgiveness, or sin that needs to be confessed.

Finally, encourage them to thank God for what He has done and is doing. "If you loved them," Fr. Mathias told us, "you were successful."

Signs are not magic. It is simply the power of God, activated by faith. It happened in Jesus time at the hands of the apostles and other disciples, and it happens today.

In fact, while we were all present, Fr. Mathias called out "I am getting a word...does anyone have a hand with pain?" Sounds very Pentecostal, doesn't it? I probably wouldn't have believed it if I didn't see it: a man approached him later, and I caught the healing out of the corner of my eye. I saw his hand shaking, and he was healed. Steve, a layman who had been trained in healing by Fr. Mathias, also received a word that there was someone in the crowd with pain in the foot, and hand. A woman with a cyst in her left hand came forward, and was healed--it simply disappeared. The woman with the pain in her left foot was also healed.

These people had no reason to "fake it." They were all in their right mind as well, and Fr. Mathias was hardly a charlatan. Sometimes the Holy Spirit just works in ordinary but powerful and everyday ways, and this was a testament to His work.


There is much more I can write, but it is late and I need to go to sleep. I am reminded, though, of the end of John's Gospel is written, "Now Jesus did many other sings in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name" (Jn 20: 30-31).

As our healing priest noted at the end of his teaching: "It's an exciting time to be Catholic."

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Why I Am Not A Socialist...Christian or Otherwise

My five year old son David has a piggy bank. We started incentivizing some chores around the house monetarily, though I was initially resistant to the idea, believing that kids should help because of their duty as family members. Honestly, I don't really know what the right thing to do is (maybe a little of both), but we thought it might be a good opportunity to teach the kids about work, money, and that all things are a gift from God. I tried to teach him that with his own money, he should handle it in three parts: save some, spend some, and share some with the poor and those in need. He seems to be getting it, and he takes pride in what he has accumulated as his "wages."

I remember about a year ago this time I was driving home from western PA for work. I was somewhere between Pittsburgh and State College when I tuned into the radio and heard an interview with Senator Bernie Sanders. I distinctly remember it because I was surprised by how viscerally I reacted to his idea of "democratic socialism" and this Senator's unabashed embrace of the term. I don't know where it came from, since I'm actually kind of sympathetic to the ideals of distributism and am not a hard-core unfettered free-market capitalist apologist. It just seemed...wrong.

That being said, political theory and economics are somewhat shaky ground for me, and I'm probably on par with your average Joe when it comes to the subject. My reaction was similar, I think, to that of many Americans when Sanders made his way onto the scene leading up to the election--something akin to revulsion, and a vague feeling that something about this is not right and contrary to the entrepreneurial spirit inherent in our identity as Americans. Sander's call for a "political revolution" was unsettling, and the socialism (democratic or otherwise) he called for was deeply unsettling to me that day in the car.

But Sanders' political ideology goes deeper than just a well-intentioned desire to make our country "more equitable" via redistribution of wealth. I couldn't put my finger on it until I started looking into the role of private property as it relates to the Church and the inalienable natural rights of man.

I had a conversation with a friend recently who asked my views on being both a Christian and a Buddhist. Ten years ago I might have responded with some theological acrobats about shared commonalities and spiritual reconciliation or complementarity. But when I responded to him last week I said simply; They are incompatible. You simply cannot be both a Christian and a Buddhist. You cannot follow two masters. I stand by that.

Likewise, when it comes to conflating Christianity and Socialism, Pope Pius XI wrote in no uncertain terms:

“Religious socialism, Christian socialism, are contradictory terms; no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true Socialist.” (Encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, May 15, 1931. n. 120)

Dr. Taylor Marshall had a great post the other day on why one cannot be both a Christian and a Socialist, and that the two are in fact mutually exclusive. He cites various encyclicals of popes through the centuries, including Pope Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum, which condemns Socialism as a an economic error and contrary to natural law and social justice.

Natural Law has fallen out of favor in the era of post-modernity, but to ignore it is to attempt to undermine everything about what it means to be human. It can be intimidating to explain or extrapolate on in Thomistic terms, but my friend Leila Miller has a simple and easy to understand article on Natural Law at Catholic Answers. Here's an excerpt:

"Natural law (not to be confused with the laws of nature) is simply another term for the universal moral law, which is inscribed on the heart of every human. Natural law applies to all people and in all eras without exception. In other words, the natural law is not merely “morality for Catholics” or a “religious thing”—it is universal. The Catechism puts it like this: “The natural law expresses the original moral sense which enables man to discern by reason the good and the evil, the truth and the lie” (1954).  
Unlike truths we know through divine revelation (such as the nature of the Trinity or the sacraments), natural law can be accessed by the light of human reason alone. That is why atheists and believers alike can understand that things like murder, rape, stealing, lying, disrespecting one’s parents, and even cutting someone in line are unjust or immoral acts.
Now, that doesn’t ensure that individual humans will actually obey the moral law, nor that sin or bad formation will not obscure it, but natural law is knowable nonetheless. Pope Leo XIII describes the natural law:  
"The natural law is written and engraved in the soul of each and every man, because it is human reason ordaining him to do good and forbidding him to sin. . . . But this command of human reason would not have the force of law if it were not the voice and interpreter of a higher reason to which our spirit and our freedom must be submitted" (Libertas Praestantissimum).

St. Paul makes reference to this universal moral law in his letter to the Romans:

"For when the Gentiles who do not have the law by nature observe the prescriptions of the law, they are a law for themselves even though they do not have the law. They show that the demands of the law are written in their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even defend them on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge people's hidden works through Christ Jesus." (Rom 2:14-16)

With regards to private property, the teaching of the Church is that:

"The appropriation of property is legitimate for guaranteeing the freedom and dignity of persons and for helping each of them to meet his basic needs and the needs of those in his charge. It should allow for a natural solidarity to develop between men. The right to private property, acquired or received in a just way, does not do away with the original gift of the earth to the whole of mankind. The universal destination of goods remains primordial, even if the promotion of the common good requires respect for the right to private property and its exercise." (CCC 2402, 2403)

That is why theft (the 7th Commandment) is a matter of justice, while balancing with the reality that all things ultimately belong to God, that we are merely stewards of what is given to us:

"In his use of things man should regard the external goods he legitimately owns not merely as exclusive to himself but common to others also, in the sense that they can benefit others as well as himself." The ownership of any property makes its holder a steward of Providence, with the task of making it fruitful and communicating its benefits to others, first of all his family." (CCC 2404)

My dad used to say, "too much of anything is no good." While private ownership of material goods is in line with the law of Christ, with regards to money and private property,  knowing my own weakness and sinfulness, I like to keep in mind the wise words of King Solomon:

"Put falsehood and lying far from me, 
give me neither poverty nor riches; 
provide me only with the food I need; 
Lest, being full, I deny you, saying "Who is the LORD?" 
Or, being in want, I steal, 
and profane the name of my God." 
(Prov 30:9)

I think like support for gay marriage, there is a feel-good but misguided sympathy that goes with the idea of supporting a more extreme systematic government-led redistribution of wealth as Senator Sanders envisions, especially among the young. It is no accident that the Senator targeted his message to Millennials, since he would need the help of the people with the "political revolution."

I get it, but I think there is more at stake than just dollars and cents, or "love is love", since such things undermine the Natural Law and erode liberty as it is understood with respect to the common good of man. We were endowed with the Natural Law for a reason; you cannot work against it and expect human beings to flourish any more than one could expect to travel fifty miles filling the car's gas tank with apple juice.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Instructing the Ignorant

When I lived in Philly I attended St. Vincent de Paul in Germantown, which had a rep in the city for being the social justice church. Older white people and gay and lesbian couples would come from the burbs to experience community and be welcomed and break bread together. Just a year or two out from my stint at the St. Martin de Porres Catholic Worker in Harrisburg, this was my scene--concern for and service to the poor, working for justice, etc etc.

I had maybe been Catholic for five years or so at this point. Having grown up occasionally attending the Divine Liturgy (in Ukrainian) with my dad, I knew what a traditional liturgy was--the incense, the chanting, the vestments, the reverence--but had no attraction to it whatsoever. In my youthful pride, it was all pharisaical pomp to me, off-putting with a misplaced focus on externals--the very things that the real Jesus came to preach against. I was like the Judas that protested the expensive jar of perfume Mary broke to anoint Jesus' feet and how many poor people could eat for the cost of such a waste.

It is only in looking back now fifteen years later that I recall the extent of the liturgical abuses that were ripe at St. Vincent's. The congregation would join the priest during the consecration, joining hands and encircling the altar. The host itself was not those stale boring wafers, but thick leavened loves of honey wheat bread hand baked by volunteers. We would pass the bread, the cup, amongst each other.  The sign of peace was the source and summit of the Mass, and it would go on for at least ten minutes, people getting out of their pews and welcoming welcoming welcoming everyone, no person left behind. I may have even witnessed a liturgical dance or two during my tenure there, an experience no one should ever be subjected to.

I'd like to say I didn't know any better as a new Catholic (and I really didn't) that this was a complete affront to how the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass should be offered. But there was no one to tell me otherwise that this was abuse--I was simply ignorant. The WELCOME mat that was rolled out each Sunday morning covered a multitude of liturgical sins. To abuse the liturgy is sacrilege at its finest.

I don't know when I stopped receiving Communion in the hand, and started receiving it on the tongue, but it wasn't that long ago. On the surface, it doesn't seem like that big a deal. But how we receive the Lord in the Eucharist is a manifestation of our spiritual orientation; when we receive sloppily, callously, thoughtlessly, unrepentant or living as a manifest sinner (same sex married; co-habitating/forncating; divorced and remarried without an annulment; mob boss; pro-abortion politician; etc), or simply because we don't want to be left alone in a pew "excluded" from anything, we eat and drink condemnation on ourselves (1 Cor 11:29).

The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life (CCC 1324). As such, there are guidelines for proper reception of the Sacrament. From Catholic Answers:


The Church sets out specific guidelines regarding how we should prepare ourselves to receive the Lord’s body and blood in Communion. To receive Communion worthily, you must be in a state of grace, have made a good confession since your last mortal sin, believe in transubstantiation, observe the Eucharistic fast, and, finally, not be under an ecclesiastical censure such as excommunication.

First, you must be in a state of grace. "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup" (1 Cor. 11:27–28). This is an absolute requirement which can never be dispensed. To receive the Eucharist without sanctifying grace in your soul profanes the Eucharist in the most grievous manner.  
A mortal sin is any sin whose matter is grave and which has been committed willfully and with knowledge of its seriousness. Grave matter includes, but is not limited to, murder, receiving or participating in an abortion, homosexual acts, having sexual intercourse outside of marriage or in an invalid marriage, and deliberately engaging in impure thoughts (Matt. 5:28–29). Scripture contains lists of mortal sins (for example, 1 Cor. 6:9–10 and Gal. 5:19–21). For further information on what constitutes a mortal sin, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church. 
Out of habit and out of fear of what those around them will think if they do not receive Communion, some Catholics, in a state of mortal sin, choose to go forward and offend God rather than stay in the pew while others receive the Eucharist. The Church’s ancient teaching on this particular matter is expressed in the Didache, an early Christian document written around A.D. 70, which states: "Whosoever is holy [i.e., in a state of sanctifying grace], let him approach. Whosoever is not, let him repent" (Didache 10).  
Second, you must have been to confession since your last mortal sin. The Didache witnesses to this practice of the early Church. "But first make confession of your faults, so that your sacrifice may be a pure one" (Didache 14). 
The 1983 Code of Canon Law indicates that the same requirement applies today. "A person who is conscious of a grave sin is not to . . . receive the body of the Lord without prior sacramental confession unless a grave reason is present and there is no opportunity of confessing; in this case the person is to be mindful of the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition, including the intention of confessing as soon as possible" (CIC 916).  
The requirement for sacramental confession can be dispensed if four conditions are fulfilled: (1) there must be a grave reason to receive Communion (for example, danger of death), (2) it must be physically or morally impossible to go to confession first, (3) the person must already be in a state of grace through perfect contrition, and (4) he must resolve to go to confession as soon as possible.

Third, you must believe in the doctrine of transubstantiation. "For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself" (1 Cor. 11:29). Transubstantiation means more than the Real Presence. According to transubstantiation, the bread and wine are actually transformed into the actual body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ, with only the appearances of bread and wine remaining. This is why, at the Last Supper, Jesus held what appeared to be bread and wine, yet said: "This is my body. . . . This is my blood" (Mark 14:22-24, cf. Luke 22:14-20). If Christ were merely present along side bread and wine, he would have said "This contains my body. . . . This contains my blood," which he did not say.  
Fourth, you must observe the Eucharistic fast. Canon law states, "One who is to receive the most Holy Eucharist is to abstain from any food or drink, with the exception only of water and medicine, for at least the period of one hour before Holy Communion" (CIC 919 §1). Elderly people, those who are ill, and their caretakers are excused from the Eucharistic fast (CIC 191 §3). Priests and deacons may not dispense one obligated by the Eucharistic fast unless the bishop has expressly granted such power to them (cf. CIC 89).  
Finally, one must not be under an ecclesiastical censure. Canon law mandates, "Those who are excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion" (CIC 915). 
Provided they are in a state of grace and have met the above requirements, Catholics should receive the Eucharist frequently (cic 898).

Orthodoxy means right belief, and it is important. It is not stodgy or rigid to insist on it, for what is a hollowed-out religion devoid of right belief good for anyway? It is devoid of power, a mere worthless shell. It's worse than salt that has lost its saltiness, not even good for the dung heap (Mt 5:13). Better to be a pagan than a Christian that doesn't really believe in the Faith. Thomas A Kempis wrote about the miserableness of the religious person who is not devout, for he

"who is negligent and slothful has trouble upon trouble and suffers great anguish and pain on every side, for he lacks true inward comfort, and is prohibited to seek outward comfort" (71).

What strikes me the most looking back at my complicitness in attending a church with such ripe liturgical abuse is this: no one told me that what was going on was not right. I didn't know, because no one told me.

How many of our fellow Catholics are in the same boat today? How many do not believe that Jesus is truly present--body, blood, soul, and divinity--in the Eucharist? How many do not know they should not receive him just because everyone else is if they are not in a state of grace or have not confessed their sins or do not believe?

It is a hard but very necessary duty to live out the works of mercy; corporal yes, but also spiritual: Counsel the doubtful. Instruct the ignorant. Admonish the sinner. Comfort the sorrowful. Forgive injuries. Bear wrongs patiently. Pray for the living and the dead. If someone would have told me years ago of what I was a part of at St. Vincent's and given me an orthodox alternative, I may or may not have listened, but at least I wouldn't have been ignorant. And I could have gone to my grave having never witnessed a liturgical dance (O Happy Death).

It can seem an insurmountable task to bring so many into right belief. So start with one. If someone opens the door a crack, gently push it in to start a conversation. If you don't know what you believe, read the Catechism, cover to cover. Be respectful but firm and clear. When you know someone is putting their soul in danger, love and care enough to let them know and not let them off the hook due to your not wanting things to be awkward. When you encounter friends who are discouraged and unsure why they should keep on living, pull up a chair. When you meet your fellow Catholics who don't know what transubstantiation is, teach them. Mourn with those who mourn. Let go. Endure. And in all things, pray.

If we don't as believing Christians...who will?

Sunday, September 3, 2017

That Some Might Be Saved

In my field of work as a recruiter, I go to a lot of events that appear to be a waste of time. You might set up a table at a university or a career or grad fair and talk to two or three people, so you question whether its worth being there are at all. But if one of those students takes an interest in your school and ends up matriculating, it pays for itself a hundred times over.

You never know, either, what kind of outcome might come from your presence. In one instance a few years ago I was chatting with a prospective student in Venezuala from my kitchen table at 4am as part of an international virtual graduate fair. I didn't think anything of it until the student showed up at our office one day and I had a chat with him. He ended up attending our university, maintaining a 4.0 GPA, and went on for a second masters degree after his first was completed.

Even though some events seem like a total waste of time, what is the alternative? Not showing up and getting your name out there? If you show up you may or may not recruit potential students. But if you don't show up, you're guaranteed not to recruit anyone.

I'm getting ready to attend an evangelization conference in Detroit in a few weeks. I'm hoping it will give me some fire and tools to get our local team going; it is very very slowly coming together in our area, but we have yet to go out yet due to a number of factors. I struggle with sometimes become defeated before I even start, or having to ensure x, y, and z is in place before anything can more forward. Like anyone, I am susceptible to the fears of looking stupid, failing, and becoming dejected. But I have no right to any of these feelings until I actually fail first. You can't fail until you go out and take a risk first.

I'm not naive though. I know what we are up against in this culture. Deacon John Beagan had a sober assessment and perspective on the New Evangelization at Crisis in a recent essay.  Unless people are led to repentance and given clear teaching, evangelization efforts will be in vain. We are hemoraging people from the pews. For every one person that becomes Catholic, six are leaving the Church. This does not bode well for our future as a Church, our country, or Western Civilization as a whole.

I was chatting with a friend a few weeks ago, a lapsed Catholic, who felt that as long as he was a good father and family man and a "good person" that that was enough, and that religion wasn't that important. Not long after that I asked my father why he didn't go to Mass every Sunday (since it is a mortal sin to skip Mass), or at least go to Confession regularly, and it was similar excuses. I could think of a hundred more examples of people with similar attitudes.

Most of the world is marching blithely to Hell and have no idea. Very few have woken up to the life-and-death imperative of the Gospel. You write quietly and try to be respectful; you yell and you scream and you exhaust yourself trying to turn back the tide. But what's the use? It seems inevitable that most will be lost.

I don't think this is unbiblical either. Most will not be saved, in this generation or the next. Jesus exhorts his followers to choose the narrow path, which "few find" rather than the wide road that leads to destruction--the gate that "many choose to enter through" (Mt 7:13). All have the potential to believe and repent, for it is God's desire that all might be saved (1 Tim 2:4). In our own lives, Deb and I, when we abandoned certain sins and committed to living in a state of grace, going to Confession regularly and making use of the Sacraments and sacramentals, and trusted in God's will for our lives, God was able to work. For years we were not in a state of grace because of our use of contraception in our marriage; for me, personally prior to that, the use of pornography and masturbation rendered my spiritual life bereft of grace as well. But being in a state of grace makes all the difference for God to be able to work. It is essential to spiritual maturity.

When I went out to San Francisco to accompany my friend Joseph Sciambra and help him in his effort to help "save some" from the LGBT lifestyle at San Francisco's Pride event, it was with this hope--that even one might come to repentance and metanoia and reconsider their trajectory and come home. Joseph is great because he doesn't wait to go into the fray, he doesn't take it to some parish council and have a meeting about it--he just does it, in a soft-spoken but prophetic kind of way that is rooted in right (orthodox) belief. He knows what he has been saved from; he has stared into the abyss. There is nothing like a man who has been at death's door and seen what a life of debauchery has to offer to tell someone what to be careful of.

St. Paul writes that "I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some" (1 Cor 9:22). This is my hope. If I die fifty years from now and have only reached one person with the Gospel who repents and believes and is saved, I will consider my life a success. But even that I wonder about. Is it time to change strategy?

John the Baptist is one of my favorite saints, but I am not like him. I admire him from afar. A part of me secretly sympathizes with his having no time to "dialogue" or "share perspectives" about the Gospel, or have Convocations on Evangelization or form a parish committee. It's more like:

You

Need

To

Repent

NOW


But I will be honest--I get very very dejected. I feel like a complete failure. I fear for my parents and family and for my friends because time is running out. I pray for myself too, that I might not undergo the test (Mt 26:41). 

So, I hope a few will be saved. I will do everything I can, keep planting seeds, keep writing, keep praying, keep forming my family, keep talking, keep hoping.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Do I Know You?

I've noticed an interesting thing when we are taking a long drive on a family trip, or I am on the road for work--when faced with two options for gas, food, and bathroom break and it is between a big-name place (Wawa, for those of us here in eastern PA), and Joe Local's Service Station, I'll always choose the big name guy. My wife also feels weird using the bathroom in a ramshackle place. In theory I'm a 'buy local' guy, but in practice the psychology of comfort chips always fall on what's corporate and impersonal. Why?

I used to shop occasionally at a local food exchange store in Delaware, the kind of place where you bring your own bottle to fill up olive oil and where you can buy barley in bulk if you wanted it. I had gotten to know the lady who ran it and she was cool, nice, and very community-minded. She ran workshops on making kombucha and soap and the like. She was on a first name basis with many of her customers. For people looking for the local-experience, this woman was doing her darndest to bring it back and provide it. 

I stopped going after a while though, because honestly sometimes I just wanted to get my shopping done and not have to make a special trip, or maybe I was tired of paying a premium for the experience. Like I said, I'm a supporter of the local economy in theory, but in practice I'm not up to par and am probably contributing to the breakdown of the fabric of our society by where I spend my dollars. If I'm honest, I think I'm just a lot like many other people of my generation that are suckers for marketing. 

When I see a big Wawa sign, I get brain signals of "comfort" "familiarity" "home." When I pull up to a Joe's Service Station, I get signals of "danger" "unknown" "too intimate." Why? I think it stems from a kind of comfortable impersonalism that is becoming commonplace in our interactions, our schools, and our churches. I can run in and get a coffee and be out in 30 seconds. I can accidentally clog the toilet and not be completely mortified that I will run into the owner in town somewhere. Etc.

I read an article recently that Millennials today engage more with their smartphones than actual human beings. They are having sex with each other less, don't know how to date, and as I see on campus, they may be sitting right next to one another in the lounge and text-exchanging instead of talking or interacting face-to-face. I'm young enough to be somewhat text-savy, but old-school enough that I still like to pick up the phone and call someone (a no-no for millennials) and get to know people in person (preferably over coffee). Most of us now, though, are bowling alone.

Where this impersonalism gets me is in church. Catholics have a kind of Wawa-mentality when it comes to our Sunday obligation, I think--most want to "get in, get out", anonymously if possible, and not engage too much. Churches used to be the hubs of the local community. You identified with which parish you went to, you met people you might eventually marry there, and you know where to go for help when you or someone you know needed it. I have tried on occasion smiling and saying, "hi, my name is Rob" to people at church after Mass, but it's usually seen as kind of weird and intrusive. 

So, I'm both part of the problem in my big-box consumer mentality that is so easy to fall into, and also recognizing that the kind of impersonalism that is comfortable for us is not always healthy for a society or the church as a whole. We need connection, and connections happen when people let down their guard and get to know one another, even when it means being vulnerable (at the appropriate time). Families are so isolated today, it makes our lives raising children harder when we are so disconnected from other support networks. 

What do you think? Is there a solution?

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Young Evangelizers

I got my shipment from Saint Paul Street Evangelization a few weeks ago--a sandwich board, 250 rosaries, and 100 miraculous medals. I haven't found a date that worked to hit the streets yet, so they have just been sitting for now. I was working in the garage on a project when I saw the box and got an idea.

Now, for those who may or may not know, as a family we have received many graces and blessings from the wearing of the miraculous medal. We don't treat it as a charm or superstition, but a sacramental (something set apart or blessed by the Church to excite good thoughts and to increase devotion, and through these movements of the heart to remit venial sin). We all wear one--Deb and I, and the kids (well, when they aren't losing them).

We were on our way to Mass and I grabbed a handful of miraculous medals on chains, and fished out two and gave each kid one. I encouraged each kid to pray and ask the Holy Spirit to ask them to reveal someone at church to give the medal to, someone who may really need it or someone who God really felt could benefit from having one. "You guys have a mission," I told them on the winding road approaching the church, "you are young evangelizers and God has a job for you."

They held their medals in the pockets, and I kept encouraging them to pray about who God wanted them to give it to. When it came to time for the sign of peace, Monica turned to the woman behind us and extended her hand with the medal, which the woman took. She looked at me and I nodded "it's for you," just as someone had left a medal for us, maybe unknowingly, when we found it sitting in a pew at mass down at the beach.

David waited a little longer, til after the final blessing, when we were walking out. There is a man with Down's syndrome who collects the hymnals from people as they leave the church. David looked up to him and handed him the medal, saying "this is for you." The man took it and said thank you.

You know, Catholics have the world's best kept secret--the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Sacraments, and invitation to Eternal Life through baptism and being a member of His Holy Church. Someone gave them a priceless pearl and it is sitting in the garage or the attic somewhere in a box filled with junk, just waiting to be discovered. This is the Gospel seed. Seeds can last for hundreds of years if stored properly. But until they are planted, they are just seeds--not plants, or vines, or trees yielding fruit.

What if through our actions, taking seriously our baptismal commission, we were able to encourage someone to take that seed out of the box in the attic, out of the seed pack, and plant it outside. Maybe they don't do anything to it right away, but maybe taking it out of storage is the first step. Eventually by grace they are moved by the miracle of an unfurling of a tiny plant pushing its way through the soil from the seed kernel. They decide to water it, and as it grows, add fertilizer. Before they know it, it has matured and brought forth that first fruit that never would have been tasted had it remained just a seed. Eventually, when enough trees are planted, you get something like this:



Both of our children, like all of the baptized, were charged with a commission today; they were given a single seed to plant somewhere. Only God knows if it would bring forth fruit. But they were good and faithful servants, and I hope this little experiment is helping to foster a spirit of evangelization among our family.

We have to be intentional, in our own lives of course, but also with how we pass on the faith to our children, and how they pass it on to others. It takes grace, work, prayer, and living by example. Children approach the commission innocently, with a healthy amount of trepidation but without all the baggage that many of us carry. Our future as a church, and as a human race, depends on God. All he is asking us to do is take the seeds out of the seed pack, and plant them, and encourage others to do the same. He does the rest. As St. Mother Teresa said, we are not called to be successful, only faithful. Unless we start, we cannot hope to finish the race (2 Tim 4:7).

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Seconds

Every fall I drive out towards Lancaster county to visit the orchards. There is one particular farm I go to to pick up bushels of "seconds"--slightly imperfect tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, pears, apples, peaches that I get at a significant discount because they are not show-worthy. But I end up using them to make stews and jams and stuff anyway, so looks and bruises aren't that big a deal to me.

I have to be careful that this acceptance of "second-fruits" doesn't spill into my relationship with the Lord.  Seconds are okay for me and my purposes, but as I read through Scripture, it seems apparent that we should not adopt such a disposition towards God. God doesn't want leftovers or seconds--whether with our time, talent, or treasure--nor should we make it our practice to offer God such things. These are just a few passages from the Old and New Testament that came to mind as I reflected on giving God the best:


Without Blemish

Exodus 12:5: "The lamb shall be an unblemished male a year old; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats."


Choicest Cut

Genesis 4:4: "In the course of time Cain brought an offering to the LORD from the fruit of the ground, while Abel, for his part, brought the fatty portion of the firstlings of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor."


First Fruits

Deuteronomy 26:1-2: "When you have come into the land which the LORD, your God, is giving you as a heritage, and have taken possession and settled in it, you shall take some first fruits of the various products of the soil which you harvest from the land the LORD, your God, is giving you; put them in a basket and go to the place which the LORD, your God, will choose as the dwelling place for his name."


Clean and New

Matthew 27:59: "Taking the body, Joseph wrapped it in clean linen and laid it in his new tomb that he had hewn in the rock."


Costly Extravagance

Matthew 26:6-9: "Now when Jesus was in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster jar of costly perfumed oil, and poured it on his head while he was reclining at table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant and said, "Why this waste? It could have been sold for much, and the money given to the poor."



I'll admit God's economy is not natural for me. I was raised to eschew risk; money was to be carefully cultivated, controlled, and used wisely and prudently. When my mom cooked, it was always "just enough" for the five of us, and some leftovers. My dad would say, "too much of anything is no good," which was wise in many ways, but also belied a kind of measured control. Generosity towards others was, unfortunately, not something we grew up with either.

But God seems reckless by comparison. He doesn't give "just enough"--He fills our cup to overflowing (Ps 23:5) and just keeps pouring. He doesn't meet out blessings and graces like a stingy penny-pincher. He wants us to have life, and life abundant (Jn 10:10). He commends a woman who breaks an alabaster jar full of costly perfume to anoint him. The disciples are thinking practically (sell it and give the proceeds to the poor, that would be better!). Joseph of Arimathea did not use a burial linen picked up from Good Will to wrap Jesus' body or a leftover family tomb--everything was new and reserved for him. God's people are called not to offer leftover scraps from the fields, but first-fruits, first-cuts, unblemished animals for the sacrifice. God deserves the best, because He did not spare what was of most value to Him for us--His only begotten Son.

God is not stingy with us. Let's remember not to be stingy with God.