Monday, April 30, 2012

Astounding Power of the Mass

I was on retreat this past weekend, so didn't have a chance to write a blog. However I added a page: an article I wrote some time ago: "Grudging Obligation or Golden Opportunity?" (See tab above, just below blog title.)

Below are some related quotes:

“No human tongue can describe the immense favors and blessings which we receive from the Mass.” —St. Lawrence Justinian

“If we really understood the Mass, we would die of joy.” 
St. John Vianney (the Curé of Ars)

“One merits more by devoutly assisting at Holy Mass than by distributing all of his goods to the poor and traveling all over the world on pilgrimage.”

St. Bernard

“Every liturgical celebration … is a sacred action surpassing all others; no other action of the Church can equal its efficacy by the same title and to the same degree.”

Vatican Council II, Sacrosanctum Concilium

“The celebration of Holy Mass is as valuable as the death of Jesus on the cross.” –St. Thomas Aquinas

“The Mass is the most perfect form of prayer!”

Pope Paul VI

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Everything Is a Gift

You gasp. Surely I can't mean that—everything is a gift? Hah!
     But I do mean it.
     Not only do I mean that every thing is a gift but also that every circumstance and situation is, on one level at least, a gift.
     Yeah, right. Tell that to those in the hospital or who are unemployed or...
     Yes, I could (delicately) share that view with someone in a hospital or who's unemployed. I tried to remind myself of that reality when I was in the hospital and when I was laid off.
     Granted, not every gift appears to be a gift. Not every gift brings joy to the recipient upon its arrival.
     Some gifts are obvious. Beauty, wealth, health, friendship, love, success, admiration, intelligence, talent, material things—house, car, food (in no particular order). These are the kinds of gifts that we desire to have, recognize easily as gifts, and (one hopes) are thankful to have.
     The word gift implies a Giver, something we sometimes forget. Nor do we ponder why we were given this or that particular gift. We take it for granted that we deserve these things or at least that God is like Santa Claus—He likes to give out of the goodness of His heart; He gives to His children as a good father should.
     Beauty draws people's attention and admiration. It can give a certain weight to the beautiful person's words and actions. Most beautiful people use their gift simply to soak up attention and admiration for themselves. Once in a while someone uses it for God. 
     Archbishop Fulton Sheen once (actually twice) saw a beautiful stewardess in his travels. The first time they met, he told her, "You are a very beautiful girl. Did you know that of all the gifts that God gives, the one that he gets back last and least of all, is the gift of beauty? He gives money; owners use it for the poor. He gives the gift of song, and people sing for his glory. But too often, when God gives beauty, he gets back nothing but a pile of old bones. So, inasmuch as you are so exceptionally endowed, why don't you give your beauty to people who have never seen anything beautiful?"
     Two years later he saw her again, and though he didn't remember the encounter, she remembered every word. She told him she was ready to "do anything". So he sent her to serve at a leper colony in Vietnam. And she went.
     I know a young lady who is not only as beautiful as a model, but also has a lovely singing voice and a charming innocence coupled with a deep love for God. If she can hold onto those spiritual gifts and her goal to bring others to Christ, I have no doubt that her gifts will powerfully help build His Kingdom.
     But beauty has its drawbacks too. Sometimes it draws unsavory people and unwelcome conversations and situations. Sometimes, people don't take a beautiful person seriously: either they are so enthralled with the person's looks that they can't hear what he or she is saying, or they assume beauty and brains don't go together. So plainness can be a gift as well.
     In The Hiding Place, two sisters are sent to a Nazi concentration camp where, among the other difficulties, they find all the beds are infested with fleas. Betsy, obeying St. Paul, gives thanks for even the fleas. Corrie can't go that far. The sisters, having smuggled in a Bible, share God's word with the other female prisoners, drawing many of them to their bunk for Bible studies every night. Later, they discover that they were able to get away this because of the fleas: the guards didn't come into the barracks to avoid the fleas. In that sense, the fleas were a gift.
     I've heard that in some languages the word for crisis is the same word for opportunity. When we don't have an obvious or tangible gift like prosperity or health, we usually don't recognize its lack or its opposite as a gift. How is poverty or illness a gift?
     It is the gift of opportunity. The opportunity to grow in trust in God. The opportunity to exercise patience. The opportunity to offer up suffering as reparation for sin and/or a prayer for someone else. (See my earlier blogs on penance.) The opportunity to grow in charity. The opportunity to ponder the mysteries of human existence.The opportunity to be served.
     That last one could be misunderstood. What I mean is this: Each Christian is called to be Christ to others. Most of the time, being Christ means serving and loving others as Christ would if He were in my shoes. We are also called to see Christ in others: in the sick, in prisoners, in the hungry, etc. And when we reach out to them, Christ views our service to them as done to Him as well ("Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto Me.") But sometimes He calls us to be the least ones. (A very humbling experience.) How can people serve Christ in their brothers and sisters if none of them are in need? Sometimes being Christ means being Christ in need; sometimes I must accept being the needy one. My need is a gift of opportunity for someone else.
     God is very generous. But He doesn't give us gifts merely for our own pleasure. He wants us to use them and share them with our brothers and sisters. That's the point: to imitate and share His generosity, His love.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Mercy me!

Mr. Bennett—though witty and charming—admittedly was not the best of fathers. No, he did nothing terrible or even ghastly. His deficiencies lay rather in inaction: his fault was that of benign neglect. Though he saw the silliness of his daughters, he did nothing more to correct them than to tease them, and nothing at all to restrain them.
      However, when his youngest daughter, Lydia, ran off, bringing ruin upon herself and shame on the whole family, Mr. Bennett was man enough to recognize his own guilt in the situation. When his daughter Elizabeth tried to comfort him, urging him not to be “too severe” upon himself, he replied, “No, Lizzy, let me once in my life feel how much I have been to blame. I am not afraid of being overpowered by the impression. It will pass away soon enough.”
      Mr. Bennett may be a creation of Jane Austen's imagination, living in the fictional Pride and Prejudice, yet he expresses a truth that applies to many of us, though we may not be as honest as he in admitting it.
      Our culture doesn't foster guilt feelings, but rather encourages us to excuse our failings with the reminder that no one is perfect; or to blame our parents, our hormones, anything but ourselves; or better yet not to acknowledge that there was anything remiss in our behavior at all. Sin is an old-fashioned notion, not one of the enlightened present.
      Today is Divine Mercy Sunday, a recent addition to the Church calendar. Inspired in part by the visions of St. Faustina, it is a day to recall and be grateful for God's infinite mercy.
      But to fully appreciate His mercy, we need first to realize how much we need it and how little we deserve it. Like Mr. Bennett, too often we don't feel how much we are to blame, and when we do, it passes away soon enough.
      Today is a good day to reflect on these matters and to ask for and be grateful for God's mercy.
     It's a good day because the emphasis of Divine Mercy Sunday is His infinite mercy. We can all too easily take a pendulum ride from one extreme to another: once we recognize our guilt we can get stuck there and begin to wallow in it.

     The simple, yet profound Lamb of God prayer from Mass can help. The words “Lamb of God” reflect the fact that at last, in Christ who alone is worthy and precious enough, we have a sacrifice that can truly take away sin.
     The next part encourages us to believe that, shameful as they are, our sins are not too great to be forgiven: the Lamb of God can take away the sins of the whole world; surely then He can handle my sins too. (St. Thérèse wrote that compared to the blazing furnace of God's love our sins are like drops of water: they sizzle for a second and then are gone.) The next part of the prayer—”have mercy on us”—is our personal request to be included in that.
     There's something special about the number three. Most importantly, we have the Trinity. And throughout the Bible, three is a significant number. It also crops up in literature, especially for the young—there are three brothers or three bears or something happens three times. So too in the Lamb of God: three times the opening words are repeated. And how right that feels when one is convicted of one's sin; saying it once is not enough.
      Yet—as often happens in fairy tales or jokes—the third time ends differently. The Spirit who no doubt inspired the prayer doesn't want us to get stuck in guilt, but to come to resolution, so the third and final petition ends with “grant us peace”.
      And that's the point of Divine Mercy Sunday: the point of feeling, like Mr. Bennett, "how much I have been to blame" is not to be "overpowered by it" but to seek God's mercy and experience His peace.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

God Is Dead?

I remember some years ago seeing a book about the death of God, and (I think) the problem posed by his gigantic body decaying on earth. Too ridiculous, I thought.

Nietzsche famously wrote “God is dead,” a nonsensical notion that gained some popularity some decades ago. If God is God—almighty, eternal, the source of all being—how could He die? If He could, He wouldn't be God.

And yet, many people take for granted the really astonishing thing that Christians profess: namely, that God WAS dead.

That is really amazing, if you think about it.

No, God, as a Divine Being, could not die. Not, until, that is, He had taken up life as a man. Even then, no one could kill Him—remember those who tried to throw Him off a cliff?—unless He let them.

But the real death of God did not cause an ecological disaster. It did cause an more than an earthquake—more like a cosmos-quake.

It meant that death was changed. Death was no longer a dead-end. Once the All-Powerful dropped into the abyss of death but didn't remain there, it became a passageway to eternal life.

The sin of Adam and Eve and had locked the gates of heaven from the outside, but they and their descendants were incapable of opening them again. Only God could do it. So he came out and broke the lock of sin, and used a cross to do it.

God did die—and it's a wondrous thing.

And now He is risen—Alleluia!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A Helluva Concept

To avoid suffering is a pretty basic instinct in our nature. Who wants to suffer? Some people go to great lengths not to only escape suffering themselves but also any uncomfortable reminders that others are suffering.
      After experiencing something traumatic, it might be necessary to pamper oneself a bit and not reawaken the trauma with untimely reminders or associations.
      But it’s not a good idea to live that way.
      After my own hospital ordeal this past week (with postpartum preeclampsia), my view of suffering has undergone a weird transformation. Going from attempts to get through this calmly and offer things up to a near phobia of certain things is a disappointing, but I suppose not really surprising, development.
       It was reflecting on St. Teresa’s words, “All things pass,” however, that led to some unexpected results in me. Her words are an important reminder when one is suffering, because it’s so easy to feel like the suffering will go on and on.
       My ordeal seemed long at the time, but really wasn’t. Many people suffer a lot longer here on earth. And many of the souls in Purgatory suffer for a very long time. Thinking of them made me want to make good use of any little lingering sufferings.
       Then I started thinking of those whose suffering will never end. I have a very hard time getting my mind around the awful fact that hell lasts forever. I don’t understand it, but I accept it as true, based on both the Church’s teaching and Scripture.
       I gained a new understanding of the children of Fatima. They were given a vision of hell, after which they (at such a young age too!—Jacinta was only six or seven) took on many challenging penances and became powerhouses of prayer for souls at risk of going to hell. Jacinta even underwent surgery without anesthesia, offering it up for the conversion of sinners, until she passed out.
       And what did God do? Does He care? Remember the cross—that’s how much He wanted to save people from hell. That’s how much He invested in the cause.
       For some mysterious reason, He wants us all to be a part of that cause. We are members of His Body, though, so it makes sense that we should participate in His work, in His saving action. “A disciple is not greater than his teacher nor a servant greater than his master,” He pointed out. So expect to get the same treatment. And elsewhere, “Take up your cross and follow me.” And as mentioned in an earlier blog post (Dec. 4, 2011), Paul says, “In my flesh, I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (Col 1:24). Christ left room for us to share in His work of salvation, and that includes suffering with Him.
       The last week of Lent is here. We might feel weary; we might feel discouraged over failures to live up to our intended penances. But rather than giving up, we can renew our efforts, thinking of what Jesus did for us on the cross.
       Think too of why He did it. He underwent His Passion to save us from our sins and the eternal punishment for them. This week is an opportunity to show Him gratitude. To remember and reflect on what He did. And we can join in His Passionthat loving crusade for which He gave His life and shed His blood: we can pray, fast—do anything—to help souls be saved.