Friday, July 4, 2014

Marriage and the Feast of Corpus Christi or I May be Late to the Party, but at Least I Didn't Miss the Good Wine!

A couple of weeks ago, the church celebrated the Feast of Corpus Christi, the celebration of the body and blood of Christ, present in the Eucharist. It is a feast where we venerate and give thanks to Jesus for offering himself to us in his saving sacrifice and then making himself present for us in bread and wine when we celebrate the Holy Mass.

As Catholics, we believe that once the words of consecration are spoken and the priest puts his hands over the gifts, calling on the Holy Spirit to come upon them “like the dew fall”, the bread and wine of the offering are no longer just bread and wine, but become the real presence of the body, blood, soul and divinity of our savior, Jesus Christ.

This belief, this transubstantiation, is considered a mystery in the Church. That doesn’t mean that we throw our hands up and say, “Oh, we’ll never understand it, it’s a mystery!” It means that we believe in the reality that the bread and wine are mystically transformed by the power of God so that He may be physically present. We believe that the power of the Holy Spirit actually alters the substance of the bread and wine in reality, even though in appearance, they have not changed.

The day before this Feast of Corpus Christi, my wife and I helped to facilitate a class for marriage preparation at a parish in a nearby town. We spent the day watching a series of talks from Christopher West on Saint John Paul II’s teaching, Theology of the Body. One  brief quote in the nearly three to four hours of talks really stood out for me. After reading the catechism’s definition of the word sacrament ( an outward sign, instituted by Christ, to give grace), Christopher West put it more simply and poetically by saying that a sacrament is “when Heaven kisses Earth”.

The two days really dove-tailed quite nicely with each other since the sacrament of the Eucharist and the sacrament of Marriage are so intertwined and so similar. In a sense, the celebrations are almost the same. After all, it’s the bible that tells us that Jesus is the bridegroom and the church is his bride, so it would only make sense that marriage would have the same characteristics as the sacrifice of the Mass. Let’s take a look,shall we?

When Jesus died for us, he did so willingly, handing himself over. God could have let us continue in sin with no path to forgiveness, but He came to us, as one of us, to die for our sins so that we could be forgiven. One of the first questions a couple is asked when they come to the altar for marriage is whether they came freely,and of their own will. As Jesus gave himself willingly to us, we are expected to make sacrifices in our marriages willingly as well. No one should be coerced or pressured into marrying. Only by taking those vows willingly, can they mean anything at all.

Jesus gave himself for us to the last, full measure.. He did not hold back anything. He gave of himself even unto death, all for us, and all while we were still sinners. So, like that, the husband and wife are asked to give of themselves totally, even, in a way, dying to ourselves for our spouse. From that moment on, a husband and wife are no longer supposed to put themselves first. I expect we all fail miserably at this from time to time. And what of Jesus giving himself up for us even knowing we were sinners and we would always be sinners? How many times do we expect our spouse to be perfect and feel like if they’re not it gives us an excuse to be selfish or snippy or even outright mean? This is not the model of love and mercy that Jesus, the bridegroom, taught us. He offers us love and mercy totally, regardless of whether we're having a bad day or lose our patience from time to time. To truly mirror Christ's relationship with the church, we need to cut our spouses some slack from time to time and not hold that moment of imperfection against them.

Jesus told the apostles that he would build His church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it. He would be with her “until the end of the age”. Once Jesus ransomed himself for our salvation, there was no way he was going to just leave us to fend for ourselves. He promised, like any good husband, to be with us forever. Husbands and wives are asked to pledge that same faithfulness during their wedding vows. “In sickness and in health”, “for richer or for poorer”, and “all the days of my life” are our promises to each other that we will not leave our spouse alone, we won’t run if the going gets tough and that only in death will we allow anything to come break us apart.

When Jesus allowed himself to hang on the cross and die for his bride, the church, his sacrifice gave all the members of His church, the gift of a new eternal life in union with Him. All we need to do is accept this gift of new life and it is ours. His sacrifice, celebrated in the Eucharist, is life-giving in the deepest sense of the word. By dying, he killed death, and life sprung forth; life in such abundance that it’s eternal. The couple getting married is also expected to welcome God’s gift of new life. Marriage is the celebration of God’s love so strong that it brings forth new life. Married couples are expected to mirror this by being open to the new life that their union might bring.

The marriage ceremony and the liturgy of the Eucharist are both great examples of that 'Heaven kissing Earth' principle in that they are both supposed to give us a foretaste of Heaven. In the Mass, we are elevated to celebrate the marriage feast of the lamb as written in Revelations. It is the celebration of all the saints and angels where the lamb (Jesus) marries his bride, the church. Likewise, the union we feel with our spouse is a small taste of the beauty we will experience in Heaven when we are all one in spiritual union with God. Both celebrations are literally supposed to be Heaven on Earth. Now, I know what you're thinking. “Not every moment of my marriage is Heaven on Earth. As a matter of fact, I sometimes feel like I was sent to the other place!” Even the beauty of the Eucharistic liturgy can be made less than ethereal by outside distractions. These distractions may be present in the congregation or may be in the form of lingering thoughts and concerns from our daily lives rattling around in our minds. Well, the key to both is that they are sacraments and if you let Christ transform them, he will make them more 'heavenly' (remember, sacraments are instituted by Christ to give grace, but we have to let Him in so he can give it to us). After all, if the people at the wedding feast at Cana hadn't allowed Jesus to transform their water into wine, what would the celebration of their marriage have turned into?

Now when I started this post, I started by talking about transubstantiation and how the sacraments (when Heaven kisses Earth) have the power to transform things. Here again we see the Christ’s sacrifice for the church, mirrored in the sacrament shared between man and wife. For as the Holy Spirit transforms bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, the sacrament of marriage transforms a man and a woman into husband and wife, joined together in a bond that did not exist before they approached the altar that day. It makes their two lives into one life to be lived for each other and the children that may be entrusted to them by God.. Like any of the sacraments, if we really want our marriage to be what it is meant to be, we NEED to let Christ in to transform us. Because God knows as human beings in a fallen world, if we try to go it alone... well, we all know what the statistics are, right?

As I was preparing this, I thought I had found one difference between the Eucharist and Marriage, and that was the ministers of the sacraments. You see, only a priest can minister the consecration of the bread and wine to celebrate the Eucharist, but in a marriage, the bride and the groom minister the sacrament to each other. Essentially, the priest is there as a witness for the church. But even this is similar if you think about it. Obviously, the only one that can give a free, total, faithful and fruitful gift of yourself is you. So it makes sense that the bride and groom ‘minister’ the gift of themselves to each other in marriage. In the sacrifice of the Mass, it works the same way. Consider that during the celebration of the Eucharist, the priest works in ‘persona Christi’, in ‘the person of Christ’, it then makes sense, that only in persona Christi could he offer the sacrifice of the Mass. Where the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ, our savior, come present among us, His bride, the church, and we are all one in communion with Him.

We all need to try to let the bridegroom in when he arrives and knocks at the door. His power is truly miraculous in its ability to transform the regular (bread and wine, man and woman) into the sacred (body, blood, soul and divinity, husband and wife). Let Him in and he will turn the water of your daily life into the sweetest wine you've ever tasted and give you something truly worthy of celebration.

God bless,


Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Devil is a Lazy Tempter or If it Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It!

The old saying goes, "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" and sometimes, that's just because the old tricks work so well. I thought of this as I read the readings for Mass on the first Sunday of Lent. I've written before about how the bible starts with a wedding (Adam and Eve), Jesus's ministry starts at a wedding (Cana) and the bible ends with a wedding (the marriage feast of the lamb). Although today's readings weren't about weddings, they referenced the devil's temptation of Eve and the devil's temptation of Jesus for in the desert before he began his public ministry, I noticed that in all the years between those events, the devil's playbook hadn't changed and that made me realize that he's still using the same tricks now.

And yes, I did just say that the devil is alive and well now. I know that it's not terribly popular to acknowledge that there is a continuing battle between good and evil; God and the devil, but I have no doubt that there is a battle being waged for souls. Do you think that sounds dramatic? A little over the top perhaps? Well, guess what, if I was someone looking to do something malicious to you would I want you to believe in me and be on your guard or would I want you to laugh at those who tried to warn you about me and deny that I existed? The evil one's greatest weapon is that people no longer believe in the struggle for their souls. Some people don't even believe they have souls. How easy is it to hand over something that you don't value, let alone believe exists? He is alive and doing well using the same lies and misdirection he's always used and it's working better than ever because a lot of people don't think he's out there and don't feel the need to protect themselves.

You see, the devil employs three basic strategies in the temptations of Eve and of Jesus. The first, is to misrepresent God's words, the second is to appeal to the human desire for power and the third is to tempt by way of our physical nature. Now I don't mean to say that these are the only tricks he has up his sleeve or the only ways that he gets us to turn away from God. My point is that these particular strategies are still doing us in to this day, and I point it out in the hopes that we can all recognize them more readily before falling into his traps.

1. He said what?

In 'The Merchant of Venice' Shakespeare wrote that "The devil can cite scripture for his purpose" and you know what, he does. Now I realize that God's word hadn't been committed to scripture at the time of creation, but the serpent tempting Eve does twist God's word and commands to plant a seed of doubt in her mind.

“Did God really tell you not to eat
from any of the trees in the garden?”
The woman answered the serpent: 
“We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 
it is only about the fruit of the tree 
in the middle of the garden that God said, 
‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, lest you die.’ -Gen. 3:1-3

Eve corrects him by telling him that it's only the tree of knowledge that they can't eat of or they will die. But by overstating and twisting God's words, the devil plants the seed of doubt which he will build on in his next deception which I'll get to in a moment.

Thousands of years later, the devil is tempting Jesus. During the temptation, he brings Jesus to the parapet of the temple and dares him to throw himself down, quoting scripture to the God who wrote it:

“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.
For it is written:
He will command his angels concerning you
and with their hands they will support you,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.” -Mt. 4:6

Jesus points out to the devil the true nature of God, quoting the scripture that you shall not put God to the test. What is up in the air a bit (pardon the pun); Is Jesus telling the devil that he won't test God or is he warning the devil that at that moment, he (the devil) is testing God?

So that brings us to the modern age. Here we are two thousand years later and the devil is still pulling the same trick. How many times have you heard that Catholics are "only supposed to have sex to have babies"? Or that the teaching on contraception is just so that the church "has more butts in the pews". Every word that Pope Francis speaks gets twisted in support of some agenda or another, and so far he hasn't said anything that the church hasn't taught for centuries. And it's not just Catholic teaching, it's all Christianity. From the misuse of the command to "judge not, lest ye be judged" to groups like the Westboro Baptist Church that would twist God's words into hatred and offensive displays, evil is citing God for its purposes left and right in our world. The only way to fight it is to truly know what God's word says to us and take the time to listen to the 'still small voice' so that we can learn to recognize the song of our shepherd and not be led astray.

2. Show 'em what's behind door number one!

After the devil convinces Eve that the forbidden fruit will not kill them, he then tells her that not only won't it kill them, it will make them as wise and powerful as God, able to judge on their own what is good and evil.

"But the serpent said to the woman:
“You certainly will not die!
No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it
your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods 
who know what is good and what is evil.” -Gen. 3:4-5

The doubt that he planted in Eve's mind could very well have fueled some envy and a desire to be equal with her maker. Perhaps she innocently thought it would be okay. Why wouldn't I want to eat something that will make me as wise as my creator? Why wouldn't I want to eat something that gave me the power to decide what is good and evil? In many ways, it's obvious we are still suffering from this. Moral relativism is the calling card of our generation and if you don't jump in line with it and go along with the idea that everyone has their own 'truth' and their own idea of right and wrong, then you are labeled a fool, or worse.

He tries this technique again when he is tempting Jesus. He brings Jesus to a high mountain and shows him all the kingdoms of the world, saying, if you bow down and worship me, then all of this will be yours.

"Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain,
and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, 
and he said to him, "All these I shall give to you, 
if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” -Mt. 4:8-9

He offers Jesus, quite literally, the world, but Jesus doesn't go for it. I wonder sometimes if this might be a sign that the devil didn't know who he was dealing with. Anyway, this is actually the last ditch effort that the devil employs against Jesus before he is sent away in what I envision as a sad, slumped over, dejected, very much Eeyore-like trudge down the dirt road out of town.

In many ways, we are faced with the same decision today. I am not saying that faith and worldly riches are always mutually exclusive, but in a lot of ways, there are times when we know standing up for God's word could lead to discomfort (financial or otherwise). It is not always easy to integrate our faith into our daily lives without sacrifice, but guess what, it's not supposed to be:

"Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." -Lk. 9:23

 There are families who have made deliberate decisions to orient themselves towards God and give up the two brand new cars, big MacMansion style home and brand name clothes.  They're trying to follow Jesus' example, investing time into preparing their souls for His Kingdom instead of giving in the way that Adam and Eve did, losing paradise, and investing money into the empty promise of false fulfillment.

3. Passion / Pleasure

Once the devil has tempted Eve in the garden, the scripture puts it all together and says how the tree is good for food, desirable to the eye, and for gaining wisdom.

"The woman saw that the tree was good for food, 
pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom.
So she took some of its fruit and ate it;" -Gen. 3:6

Eve then takes and eats the fruit and gives some to her husband. Because the fruit looked good to eat it was easy for the devil to 'sell' them on the idea that it would make them powerful. Could it really have looked that much better than all the other fruit in all the other trees? In the end, they disobeyed God's command and gave up their trust in Him. Their human desires for pleasure and for power got the best of them and they committed the first, the original, sin.

"Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. When they heard the sound of the LORD God walking about in the garden at the breezy time of the day, the man and his wife hid themselves from the LORD God among the trees of the garden." -Gen. 3:7-8

The first temptation that the devil tries with Jesus is when he tells him to turn the rocks into loaves of bread. He, again, is appealing to Jesus' human nature and his hunger after fasting for forty days. Surely Jesus could have created food out of nothing to satisfy his hunger and break his fast, but he resists. This is part of the reason for Lenten fasts. We are offering up some of our earthly pleasures to be closer to Christ and to feel a minuscule portion of the pain he endured for our sins. Again, Jesus is the model of resisting temptation even though he was subject to the same hungers and desires that we have. I'm pretty sure that if I hadn't eaten for forty days and I had the power to make it happen, there would be a lot of rocks turning into double cheeseburgers and ice cream sundaes, but I am, after all, only human.

I mention passions and desire last, because it seems to me that the appeal to bodily pleasures is the 'Achilles heel', if you pardon the expression, for all of us and often leads us to the other two temptations as a way to justify our wants. For example, the evil of abortion is made up of our arrogance in taking God's place to determine what is good and evil and thinking we have the power to decide when life begins. The reason for this (in the vast majority of cases) is that people want the physical pleasure of sexual relationships without the responsibility of the natural outcome of sexual relationships. We enshrine ourselves with the power to decide what's right and wrong and then suit it to our desires. Or maybe we're listening to a tiny whisper... "God doesn't care about that", "it's all a scam so that the church can have more money and power". It's a whisper that disregards God's words or misrepresents them, encouraging us to conform God to our image instead of trying to encourage us to conform ourselves to God's word and His desires for us. We need to remember His promise to us:

"My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.
I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand." 
-Jn. 10:27-28 who would want us to turn away from something as wondrous as that? Could it be? Hmmm.....

We all need to learn the shepherd's voice so that we will recognize when he speaks to us and will not be fooled by those who seek to lead us astray.

God bless,

Monday, January 27, 2014

Why I am Reneging on my Decision to Delete my Facebook Account or If I had a Hammer.....

Recently, I'd been thinking that I waste a lot of time online and that most of the time I waste online, is on Facebook. So I was kind of thinking of 'tuning out' and trying to enrich my life with things like books, documentaries, French and early Russian poetry, Shakespeare and an assortment of other very impressive things that ironically, I eventually would have wanted to brag about on Facebook.

Now along with this, anyone who knows my 'social media' footprint knows that I don't shy away (often) from hot-button issues. I cannot help it if I am impassioned about certain things and I want other people to know that there are things in the world that have me concerned. I have been surprised sometimes at the responses my thoughts have precipitated and the life span of some of the debates. But in the end, I'm the one throwing it out there, so in a way, I guess I get what I deserve. Not everyone wants to hear thoughts on these things and not everyone is going to agree on them.

Now what I noticed recently, and who knows, maybe it's happened before and I was oblivious, was that the comments on my posts were starting to look like the comment section on a CNN article with people twisting others' words, taking things out of context and pulling one bit of semantics from their comments to get that 'gotcha!' moment. What troubled me though, was that instead of anonymous strangers taking swipes at each other, it was family, people who know each other and love each other. Well I felt like that was the last straw. Social media had proven itself negative and totally non productive to me. But you know what, I was wrong.

The truth is that social media is highly effective (duh). And I realize that although mine is a small voice, a drop of water in an ocean really, every voice is important. We need voices, especially considering that those voices singing the praises of our slide into moral relativism are so amplified by our popular culture. When I said I was leaving Facebook, I received a few messages from people giving me their contact information to keep in touch and I got some messages from people who said they would miss my voice, my drop of water trying to swim against the stream. Hmm, maybe there is something to this new fangled inter-web thingamajiggy.

Well if I recall correctly there was a pretty import historical figure who said something about a lamp and a bushel basket. There was another historical figure who said something about having enemies being a sign that you stand up for things. And I remember someone else saying that the only things that 'go with the flow' are things that are dead. While I wouldn't say I'm the Light of the World and I'm definitely not out to make any enemies, I have no intention of 'going with the flow' like a piece of driftwood.

I am not called to be silent. I did not return to a relationship with God to quietly, passively let His word die within me. We are all called to proclaim what we know to be the truth and I won't stop doing that.

We also need to realize that like any powerful tool, social media can be used responsibly and constructively or haphazardly. A hammer is a good thing when you use it to build shelter for someone, but it's a bad thing when you use it to bash someone over the head.

It's a fine line we need to walk. As Christians we need to spread the Gospel in words and deeds, with strength and courage. But we need to remember that the greatest 'weapons' in this battle are love and compassion. Jesus did not condemn the woman caught in adultery, but he didn't forget to tell her to "go, and sin no more."

You know, it sounds like I'm actually starting to learn something from the new Pope! Gratia Papa!

God bless,