Lenten Reflection on the 7 Last Words of Christ: “Into thy Hands.”

comend

Our Lord in his last saying “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” speaks of the focal point of marriage. The vows made in marriage are the complete giving over of oneself to the other in complete trust and faithfulness. Without free consent there is no marriage. Marriage requires the free giving of the spouses to each other in the way they are; the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Christ himself, hanging on the cross, battered and beaten gives His entire self-up to the Father. A marriage is not truly a marriage if the couples do not give completely of themselves to each other. This complete gift of self, including one’s faults and weaknesses, can certainly be scary. However, only when a spouse gives himself totally over to his spouse can the two truly be united as one. If one has accepted and integrated the previous teachings of Christ from the cross concerning marriage this total self-gift to the spouse will follow naturally.

Lenten Reflection on the 7 Last Words of Christ: “I am Thristy.”

thirst

The Lord continues His teaching on marriage with His saying “I am thirsty.” On a physical level a natural satiation is fulfilled in marriage. A purely natural sexual desire is consecrated through marriage and raised to the level of a sacred act. Out of this sacred act Christ blesses the couple by allowing them to bring life into the world. Just as Christ thirsts on the cross for souls to bring them to eternal life so to a husband and wife thirst for each other to bring about life. Married couples not only bring new life into this world but also have the responsibility to lead that child to Christ and through Him to the Father. Just as Christ through His actions on the cross leads people to salvation, married couples must thirst for the salvation of each other and their children.

The Battle Plan of the Devil: Knowing the Devil’s Tactics & How to Defend Oneself: A Lenten Reflection

This was a Lenten Reflection Adapted from Spiritual Theology By Jordan Auman O.P.

     As we walk the path of Calvary through praying the devotion of the Stations of the Cross, I cannot help but stop and remind myself that it was not only the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden that sentenced our Lord to death, but also the sins of my life. When confronted with the cross I have no other option than to humbly admit that I am a sinner. Yet it is not enough to admit my sin, seek reconciliation and claim to be justified. No I must cooperate with God’s grace and actively work to avoid sin.

     As we continue through this Lent and continue to turn from sin and strive to amend our lives and turn back to the Lord, sin should be properly in the forefront of our minds. Certainly our fasting and mortifications are a great aid in helping us turn from sin but to truly flee from sin we need a deeper understanding of how the Devil is able to lead us to sin.

     All of us are sinners and some would say it is enough to stop simply at that admission, but I think the late Dominican spiritual theologian Fr. Jordan Auman’s distinction of four classes of sinners is helpful for us going forward. The first class of sinners, sadly many of the Catholics in our Country are the under formed. These sinners, while wanting to live a good life, sin because they are ignorant, don’t know better. For these sinners it is important that they complete their faith formation and are encouraged to live a moral life. Most of us, however, probably fit into the second class, the class of the weak. I would venture to say most of us here, know our faith, and desire to live according to the Truth but fall into sin out of human weakness. For those of us in this state the sacrament of Penance, following through with disciplined penances and actively fighting against temptation are essential for turning from sin. I hope and pray no one falls into the third category of sinner, the biggest category in our society, those who are indifferent. These sinners don’t necessarily hate the Truth, but would rather simply enjoy the pleasures of this life and not worry about their faith or the life to come. If you fall into this category, I pray you make a spiritual exercise such as a retreat, or continue with this series of Good Friday devotions and reflections to jar you from your complacency and assist you on your journey to sanctity. I pray and can’t imagine anyone here falls into the fourth category, those who are hardened sinners. While I pray no one here is a hardened sinner we must not forget to pray for these souls, for while they may not turn from their ways, the only recourse for these sinners is our fasting and prayer, especially recourse to the Blessed Virgin.

     As sinners of the weak class, desiring to flee from sin, yet failing due to our weakness, this Lenten season, with its prayer, fasting and almsgiving, is extremely important. It is one thing to make a resolution to avoid sin, but it is all together another thing to enter into reality where simply living a fairy tale only leads to failure. We must enter into the battle and fight to avoid sin. We must heed the words of Pope John Paul II “Christian holiness does not mean being sinless, but rather it means struggling not to give in and always getting up after every fall.”[1] Like any battle we must first resolve never to give up the fight. Next, to gain the upper hand, we must figure out what the enemy is doing. Only after seeing the enemy’s tactics are we able to set up defenses and go on the offense.

     The devil’s tactics are no secret. A close reading of the account of the sin of Adam and Eve in the book of Genesis shows us exactly how the devil works. It is my prayer that by meditating on the tactics of the devil as seen in the fall of Adam and Eve we can come to see how the Evil One works in our own lives and begin to set up our defenses and go on the offense driving the devil from our life.

     In the third chapter of Genesis we see the fall of Adam and Eve. The evil one begins his temptation with a general idea. He begins by saying to Eve “Why hath God commanded you, that you should not eat of every tree of paradise?” (Gen 3:1) Notice that the devil has not yet tempted Eve but has simply put a thought into her mind. The devil begins by leading our mind to explore a sin; he gets us to ask ourselves if this sin is really a sin, to question why it’s bad etc. The proper response is to flee, to recognize the temptation of the devil and turn away as fast as is possible. The easiest way to flee is to occupy our minds with holy thoughts, such as a quick prayer, or a recollection of the cross or a quick reflection on the horrors of sin. Our minds have no business entering into idle chatter; it will only lead to defeat.

     Eve makers her first mistake, she enters into a dialogue with the devil when she said “Of the fruit of the trees that are in paradise we do eat but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of paradise, God hath commanded us that we should not eat; and that we should not touch it, lest we die.” (Gen 3:2-3) Notice in the response of Eve we see that the soul does not want to disobey God, and the soul even recognizes that the devil’s temptation is wrong, yet the soul is wasting its time trying to reason with evil. Brothers and sisters, evil is a privation of the good, it is a privation of everything that is true and thus it is impossible to reason with evil, we shouldn’t even try. While Eve should be commended for desiring to stand for the good she is just wasting her time and leading herself closer to sin by dialoguing with evil. Just as it would be futile to debate with a person who is not interested in truth, so too it is futile to enter into a debate with the devil who is the master of lies.

     In entering into a dialogue with the devil the soul has already ceded ground and then the Devil capitalizes on this by making the sin appear desirable. The devil said to Eve “No, you shall not die the death. For God doth know that in what day so ever you shall eat thereof, your eyes shall be opened: and you shall be as God’s knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3:4-5) The devil plays to our desire for pleasure and will even appeal to God’s mercy, making the sin seem very appealing. The tempter may remind us of past pleasures or even try to convince us that the sin will not offend God that much, or worse that God would want us to commit the sin. Again at this point the best defense is to flee. If someone you knew to be evil was standing next to you, telling you repeatedly to commit a grave sin, or trying to convince you something was not a sin that you knew was a sin, wouldn’t you eventually just walk away? Why should it be any different with the devil? At this point there is still time to get away, but if we remain in this dialogue the soul will continue to vacillate and the sin will become more appealing. The sin will seem like the better option and the longer we remain in dialogue the harder it will be not to fall.

     If the soul does not flee and is not strong enough it will eventually fall as Eve did “and the woman saw that the tree was good to eat, and fair to the eyes, and delightful to behold: and she took of the fruit therof, and did eat, and gave to her husband, who did eat.” (Gen 3:6) By this point the soul has succumbed to the temptation and sinned. Worse than sinning by oneself, often because of scandal and the participation of others, the soul will lead others into sin as Eve did with Adam. If we do not flee, the devil will wear us down and turn us to freely commit a sin that only a short time earlier we were disgusted by. Having had multiple options to flee and get away from the Devil, our persistence to engage him in dialogue will lead us into sin.

     As soon as one who was previously in a state of grace has committed the sin they will realize the error they have made. “And the eyes of them both were opened: and when they perceived themselves to be naked, they sewed together fig leaves and made themselves aprons.” (Gen 3:7) The soul realizes that it has lost everything and stands bitter and naked before the devil who declares victory.

     Having realized it has lost everything, the soul hears the cry of the Father “And when they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in paradise at the afternoon air, Adam and his wife hid themselves from the face of the Lord God, amidst the trees of paradise.” (Gen 3:8) At this point the only option for the soul is to immediately frequent the sacrament of Penance and repent of the wrong he has committed and use the sad experience as a lesson to keep from falling prey to the tempter in the future.

     It is clear by witnessing the fall of Adam and Eve that we must constantly be vigilant against the temptations of the devil. If at any point we find ourselves in a battle with the devil, we must immediately flee by calling to mind holy thoughts, uttering a quick prayer, reminding ourselves of the cross or the horrors of sin. Beyond vigilance, we must frequently pray for the grace to overcome temptation.

     Yet simply because we defeat the devil once does not mean that he will not return again. In fact as we continue in this wayfaring state we can be sure the devil will constantly try to tempt us. In the face of repeat temptations we must keep vigilant and continue to resist but also remain confident that the frequent temptations come only because the devil has been previously defeated. As one defeats the devil, the soul gets stronger and continues to have the strength needed to fight the devil until he eventually realizes that he cannot be victorious and leaves the soul alone.

     As we continue this Lenten Season, let us continue our resolve to turn away from sin. Let us continue in our practices of fasting and mortification and continue to be vigilant for the temptations of the evil one, always being prepared to recognize and flee from his temptations.

[1] Wojtyla, Karol. The Meaning of Vocation. (New York: Scepter Publishers), 1997. 10.

A Papal View of Priestly Identity Explored Through 1 Peter 5: 1-4 and Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis

     In an era where many priests have left the priesthood, either by their own choice or as a result of grave misconduct, many in the Church are left searching for a true priestly identity. As seminaries continue to see an increase in enrollment more and more emphasis is rightly being placed on the proper formation of priests. This short reflection aims to go back to the beginning to look at the first pope’s vision of the priesthood and using the words of Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis and the humble insights of a man only a year away from beginning priestly ministry. This reflection aims to set the beginnings of a foundation for priestly identity in the hopes that this return to the beginning will encourage others to consider how to properly form priests after St. Peter’s vision of the priesthood.

     The first Pope, St. Peter, lays out a very clear blueprint of priestly identity in the fifth chapter of his first letter.[1] At the beginning of his last chapter, verses 1-4, St. Peter addresses the seniores.[2] While some translations translate seniores as elders it is clear from the text that seniors should be properly translated as presbyteros, priest.[3]In only four short verses the Prince of the Apostles directly lays out the foundations of a priestly identity.

     St. Peter begins his letter referring to himself as a fellow priest, “So I exhort the presbyters among you, as a fellow presbyter,”[4]setting himself as a model for how priesthood should be lived. Just as St. Peter was a “witness to the sufferings of Christ”[5] the priest is called to be a witness of the suffering of Christ and with St. Peter “share in the glory to be revealed.”[6]St. Peter’s vision of the role of the priest is best summarized by Pope John Paul II who said “the world looks to the priest because it looks to Jesus. No one can see Jesus but everyone sees the priest and through him they wish to catch a glimpse of the Lord.”[7]The priest is an Alter Christus, another Christ. By sharing in His passion, death and glorious resurrection and through his witness of life, the priest draws people to Christ. A priest must himself have witnessed Christ’s passion, death and resurrection in his priestly formation and strive to witness it to all people.

     St. Peter specifies the first obligation of being an Alter Christus, in the second verse, by calling his brothers to “tend the flock of God in your midst,”[8]to be a shepherd. The word used for shepherd, pascite, literally translates to feed which implies a care that is compassionate to the needs of the flock. The priest is to care for the flock “of God”, the flock that belongs to Christ which is simply entrusted into the priest’s care. Just as Christ commissioned St. Peter to shepherd His flock,[9] so now Peter reminds the priests that they too have been commissioned to shepherd Christ’s flock. Just as Peter professed his love of Christ before receiving his commission to shepherd each priest must recall that the priesthood is “the love of the heart of Jesus.”[10] Each priest, beginning in his priestly formation and continuing every day of his life must grow in love of Christ and his flock.

     Rather than continue by listing a set of particulars about how one should shepherd, St. Peter, is more concerned with the manner and the motivation of the individual priest.[11] Since it is clear from the text that priests must be chosen, for if they were not chosen it would not be possible for them to accept by constraint. St. Peter is clear, the priesthood is a vocation. One becomes a priest not by his own initiative but by respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. The priest, in living out his priestly vocation, journeys this earthly pilgrimage participating in his salvation through his vocation, through his priestly ministry.

     In commanding the priest to provide oversight “not by constraint but willingly, as God would have it, not for shameful profit but eagerly,” St. Peter lists three important qualities of pastoral leadership.[12]Firstly the priest must accept the call from Christ to serve as a  shepherd willingly. A priest must freely accept his vocation as a gift from God and not see his vocation as a burden which he must endure on this earth. The priesthood is the response to a call and to a call of love. I hear something within me which moves me and I answer “yes”. It is in prayer that the Lord makes us understand this love, but it is also through so many signs that we can read in our life, in the many people he sets on our path. And the joy of the encounter with him and with his call does not lead to shutting oneself in but to opening oneself; it leads to service in the Church.[13]

     Christ calls men to the priesthood and that free response will lead the priest to an interior joy and freedom. Secondly the priest should accept the call for the service of God’s flock, for the good of others. The priest lays down his life for others and completely gives up himself for the good of others. The priest in surrendering himself for others becomes like Christ and shares in His victimhood. The priest’s true identity is one of victim, the priest “is truly himself when he is for others.”[14]Thirdly the priest should be eager or ready to serve others and not himself. The prince of the apostles reminds priests that they “must never think that you are alone in deciding your future and second when deciding your future you must not decide for yourself alone.”[15] The calling to the priesthood is a call of service and each priest must realize he is called to lay down his life in service to the flock.

     St. Peter exhorts his brother priests to imitate Christ’s example and not abuse the power they possess. Since the flock belongs, not to them, but to the Lord, priests must not rule as a dictator but rather as a shepherd, after the manner of the Good Shepherd. While priests, in virtue of their office have power, they must us that power to serve their flock with all humility, imitating the great High Priest himself, Jesus Christ. When a priest lives a Christ centered life, he will exercise power in a Christ like way and the people will flock to him and thus to Christ. “When the faithful know that their pastor is a man who prays and who dedicates his life to serving them, they resound with warmth and affection which nourishes and sustains the life of the whole community.”[16] The priest, by living a true priestly life after the Heart of Christ will lead his sheep to Christ without needing to wield dictatorial power over them.

     St. Peter concludes his short direct address to priests with a reminder of the eschaton. He reminds the priests that the chief Shepherd will be revealed and when he does the priest will be accountable for how he shepherded the flock entrusted to him. Faithful leadership by the priest, ministering after the Sacred Heart, will be rewarded at the end of times with “an unfading crown of glory.” By remaining faithful to his true vocation, the priest will be welcomed into eternal life. St. Peter concludes his exhortation to priests with a simple reminder “the principle concern of every priest must be fidelity and loyalty to his own vocation.”[17]

     St. Peter makes it clear that the priesthood is a vocation; it is who the man is. Each man called by Christ to the sacred priesthood is called to be an Alter Christus. In living out his vocation as a shepherd after the Heart of the Good Shepherd the priest is faithful to his call of joyful service and will receive the crown of glory at the end of times.

[1]While the authorship of the First Letter of Peter has recently been called into question, I still hold with the tradition that St. Peter is the author. For a strong argument for the authorship and authority of First Peter please see Daniel Keating, First and Second Peter, Jude, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011), 18-19.

[2]Biblia sacra Vulgata, ed. Bonifatio Fischer O.S.B., Iohanne Gribomont O.S.B. et al., 3rd ed. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1969). 1869.

[3]For a demonstration that Peter is addressing the letter to priests and not simply elders please see Donald P. Senior, C.P., 1 Peter, Sacra Pagina Series Vol. 15 (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 2003), 137.

[4]1 Peter 5:1 NAB

[5]1 Peter 5:1 NAB

[6]1 Peter 5:1 NAB

[7]Karol Wojtyla, The Meaning of Vocation. United States: Scepter Publishers, 1997. 30-31.

[8]1 Peter 5:1 NAB

[9]Jn 21:15-19 (NAB)

[10]“Le Sacerdoce, c’estl’amour du cœur de Jésus” (in Le curéd’Ars.Sapensée – Son cœur. Présentésparl’Abbé Bernard Nodet, éd. Xavier Mappus, FoiVivante, 1966, p. 98). As cited by Pope Benedict XVI in his Letter Proclaiming the Year for Priests. http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/letters/2009/documents/hf_ben-xvi_let_20090616_anno-sacerdotale_en.html#_ftn2

[11]M. Eugene Boring1 Peter, Abingdon New Testament Commentaries (Nashville: Abingdom Press, 1999), 170.

[12]Senior, 1 Peter, 139.

[13]Pope Francis, Meeting with Seminarians and Novices (6 July 2013), at The Holy See, http://www.vatican.va.

[14]Pope John Paul II, Letters to my Brother Priests (Princeton: Scepter Publishers, 2000), 157.

[15]Wojtyla, The Meaning of Vocation, 10.

[16]Benedict XVI, Celebration of Vespers and Meeting with the Bishops of the United States of America (16 April 2008), Origins 37, no. 46 (2008), 734.

[17]Wojtyla, The Meaning of Vocation, 25.

Lenten Reflection on the 7 Last Words of Christ: “My God, My God”

my God

This joining of two into one flesh in the sacrament of marriage requires a giving up of things for the harmony of the marriage. Our Lord expresses this in His saying “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” A fruitful marriage requires the forsaking of things for the union of the two fleshes. This sacrifice on the part of couples is a form of purification from worldly things. Couples voluntarily give up worldly things to give themselves wholly to the sanctity of marriage. This is not a onetime giving up as any married couple knows but rather a lifelong process. It is this lifelong sacrifice that invites married couples to turn from worldly things and to purify their hearts turning towards the spouse and through their spouse to the Lord.

Let’s Be Skeptical About Medjugorje

medjugorje-07

     In recent months I have seen an increased interest in the supposed Marian apparitions at Medjugorje. I have shied away from these apparitions on the advice of a prelate who recommended that out of prudence I should develop devotions to approved Marian apparitions and wait to see about Medjugorje.

     Marian apparitions are reports of the Blessed Virgin appearing to one or several people in order to give a supernatural message from God. The Church investigates these apparitions and has judged many like Fatima and Lourdes to be authentic. Even when the Church approves an apparition faithful Catholics are not obliged to believe them. Catholics are only bound to believe in public revelation that comes to us from Jesus handed on through Sacred Scriptures and Sacred Tradition preserved by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. Since Marian apparitions are made in private they are not public revelations and Catholics are not bound to believe them.

     While a belief in Marian apparitions is not required many people have come to a deeper love of Christ through Mary because of them. The purpose of Marian apparitions is to enliven faith, to bring about conversion and to give a message to God’s people. The Church judges the authenticity of these apparitions by looking at the messages and circumstances of the apparitions. In short the Church judges these apparitions with criteria set out by the bible; “‘Beware of false prophets who come to you disguised as sheep but underneath are ravenous wolves. You will be able to tell them by their fruits.”[1]

     The Visionaries of Medjugorje claim our Lady has been appearing to six children since June 24th 1981. Today one visionary claims to receive a vision on the second of every month and another on the 25th of each month. In the spring of 2010 the Vatican, through the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, opened a formal commission to look into the authenticity of the vision. While I am anxious to hear the commission’s findings I find it hard to believe they will be favorable.

     While I could go on for pages describing problems I have with the vision, I am most troubled by the questionable teachings that are revealed. On October 2nd 1981 the virgin said “all religions are equal before God.”[2] This statement is heretical. The Church clearly teaches, “The sole Church of Christ [is that] which our Savior, after his Resurrection, entrusted to Peter’s pastoral care, commissioning him and the other apostles to extend and rule it. . . . This Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in (subsistit in) the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him.”[3] While other religions do contain certain elements of the truth only the Catholic Church contains the fullness of truth and thus all religions are not equal.

     The simplest argument I have to hold the apparitions at Medjugorje to be suspicious at best, is the fact that it seems to contradict teachings of the Church. While I certainly have no right to say the apparitions are fake this one fact alone is enough to make me want to suspend judgment and continue to foster devotions to other approved Marian devotions and wait for the Church to speak on the authenticity of Medjugorje before fostering a devotion to this apparition.

[1] Mt 7:15-15

[2] Rene Laurentine and Juan Gonzales, Messages and Teachings of Mart at Medjugorje: Chronological Corpus of the Messages. (Garland: Riehle Foundation, 1988), 317.

[3] Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium (21 November 1964), 8.2 at The Holy See, http://www.vatican.va.

Lenten Reflection on the 7 Last Words of Christ: “Today You Will Be With Me In Paradise.”

good theif

We hear in the second of the last 7 words of Jesus “I promise thee, this day thou shalt be with me in Paradise.” In marriage the two become one flesh uniting themselves to aid each other towards entrance into eternal life. When husband and wife unite themselves as one in the sacrament of marriage they offer themselves as one to the Lord. God, through grace, works to bring husbands and wives to heaven together. Just as Christ will bring Dismas, the good thief, to heaven husbands and wives must work to bring each other to heaven. Uniting themselves together with the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary the two journey together towards eternal life. A quick check on a marriage is to honestly ask oneself how am I leading my spouse to God.