Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Prepare the Way of the Lord

I continue to be delinquent in my posts on this blog. I am currently working hard to keep another blog up to date. That one is www.HeedingTheCall.blogspot.com. It is a blog for the Vocation Office for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and I try to put something up at least once per week, something related to priestly discernment and vocation.

But for this blog, I offer a little meditation for this Sunday's Gospel. We are progressing through the Season of Advent, the season in which we are mindful of the Love of God, because He gave us His Son for the sake of our salvation. We are constantly in a time of preparation and waiting, but the Season of Advent reminds us to be extra vigilant.

The Gospel of Mark immediately goes back to the prophet Isaiah, when the Evangelist says "Make ready the way of the Lord, clear him a straight path." When we hear this passage, we can take it perhaps two different ways. The first is a literal way, sanctifying one's surroundings as a way to prepare for the Lord. One may, in one's home, put a little Nativity Scene to remind us to prepare the way of the Lord. We may light candles, and maybe even burn incense.

The second way if a spiritual way. Instead of lighting candles in your home, God lights our hearts with the fire of His love. In this way of preparing for the Lord, we look to an interior cleansing as a way to grow closer in love of God. Advent is a special time to be mindful of growing in love of God, with graces given to us by God. So what are things we can do to dispose ourselved to these graces in this time or preparation? Prayer is the first order of business. By partaking in daily prayer, we are setting aside time every day to strengthen our relationship with God. I always say that in order to strengthen any relationship, there must be communication, and when there isn't communication, the relationship stalls.

The same is true of God. We must continually talk to him, and when we don't, our subjective relationship with him stalls. We must distinguish between an objective relationship and a subjective one. The objective will remain the same: A baptized man or woman will always remain an adopted child of God, for example. Nothing you do can change that, but the subjective flows from that, and makes us ask, how can we, from graces received at Baptism, continue to strengthen our relationship? And the answer is communication. Jesus speaks to us as well, but most of the time, unless we are Saint Paul, we must dispose ourselves to hear what he is saying. That involves quiet in a loud world. Sometimes that silent prayer is a sacrifice. There is always something else to do, but to take 10-15 minutes to pray can sometimes seem impossible to fit into a schedule. It involves sacrifice, and discipline.

So there are many simple things you can do to sanctify your day, preparing for yourself to prepare the way of the Lord. Many churches at this time of year have little meditation books in the back of Church that you can use for your meditation. They usually take 10 minutes at most. One of my Advent goals is to go through one such meditation book, and every day, praying through that meditation. Another way to prepare for the coming of Christ at Christmas is to pray the Rosary every day. Now, sometimes, we can say: "But doesn't it take like 30 minutes to pray?" I offer you this: First, it take at most 25 minutes if you pray it reverently, 20 if you move at a faster pace. But no matter how fast or slow you may pray the Rosary, you can always pray it in the car on the way to and from work. I typically pray a Rosary on the way into work every day, and sometimes I pray it going home. I think of it as a sacrifice when I could be listening to Christmas music. There is also daily Mass; one can benefit greatly from abundant graces recieved at Holy Mass, so I would really recommend this one if you want to get the most out of the Season.

Many people do not realize that like the Season of Lent, Advent is a penetential season. Unlike Lent, Advent isn't a good time to give up your favorite food, since there are a number of parties during the season. I would hate to give up chocolate and go to three or four parties with big chocolate fountains. It would drive me nuts. There are other things to either give up, or to take up. Prayer is a great thing to take up, and it might be good to give up something like talking on the cell phone in the car when driving. First, it will free you up to offer prayer instead of chatter, and second, you will be a safer driver.

Preparing the way of the Lord is an important theme in Advent; it is the Season of Waiting, and so we await the coming of Christmas, that special day in which we remember the birthday of Jesus, who came into the world for the salvation of mankind. In the midst of all the parties, all the shopping, Christmas cards, and caroling, we must set aside some time to remember the real reason for all of those things. May you continue to have a safe and holy Advent, and may you strive to have the faith of a child, for Christ has taught us what it means to be a child by His birth at Christmas. Take care, and God bless you all.

St. Nicholas, pray for us.
St. Francis Xavier, pray for us.
Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, pray for us.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

It's Amazing

When I look at the way that God works in my life, it is always amazing. The people he puts in my life, the situations, the circumstances; everything happens for a reason, a plan. That is God's divine plan. And I humbly approach it with joy. I have joy in my life. When I have a bad day at work, you are always there to give me a boost. And for that I am grateful. I have trouble not thinking of you during the day. I hope that I can love in the imitation and shadow of our Lord's Cross, which is the ultimate symbol of love, that of sacrifice. I desire to sacrifice myself for that one out there with whom I am supposed to be. I have so many thoughts in my heart right now that I can't express in words; all I can hope to do is to bask in the love of God, the love I feel in my heart. Love isn't merely affection, it is sacrifice. We are all called to love, and we are all called to sacrifice. What have I sacrificed today? Am I willing to sacrifice? I pray that I am.

Monday, October 6, 2008

On Embryonic Stem Cell Research

This is a paper I wrote over the Summer after the USCCB's statement on Embryonic Stem Cell Research came out in June at their meetings. It was something I wanted to do as a way to keep up on the moral implications of stem cell research. We must remember that there is a difference between embryonic and adult stem cells.

It should be noted that this paper was edited by Father Tad Pacholczyk, the leading Catholic Bio-Ethicist on Embryonic Stem Cell Research. Father Tad is currently the Director of Education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia. His website is: http://www.ncbcenter.org/makingsense.asp

Concerning Embryonic Stem Cell Research: An Analysis on the recent statement by the USCCB "On Embryonic Stem Cell Research"
www.militia-immaculata.blogspot.com

June 23, 2008

The statement regarding embryonic stem cell research, put forth by the USCCB on June 13, 2008, uses an important maxim: "The Catholic Church 'appreciates and encourages the progress of the biomedical sciences which open up unprecedented therapeutic prospects' (Pope Benedict XVI, Address of January 31, 2008). At the same time, it affirms that true service to humanity begins with respect for each and every human life."[1] In this statement, the USCCB is putting forth two positions that the Church holds regarding scientific progress and inquiry; the first, that the Church does not stifle, but rather encourages every form of ethical research in biomedicine; the second, that scientific inquiry's root ethical criterion be a respect for each and every human life. Scientific inquiry that fails this criterion does not serve humanity.

The beginning of the document discusses what exactly stem cell research is. According to the document, "Stem cells are relatively unspecified cells that, when they divide, can replicate themselves and also produce a variety of more specialized cells."[2] There is much promise for stem cells, not only today, but in the future. Stem cells may one day provide cures to many of the leading causes of death in the world, including heart disease and cancer. There are adult stem cells, which can be obtained from adult tissues in various parts of the body, and there are embryonic stem cells. While the adult stem cells involve no moral qualms about their retrieval, there is much ethical concern over the obtaining and use of embryonic stem cells in the biomedical field. This document by the USCCB discusses many of the ethical problems regarding embryonic stem cell research. It also sheds light on the promises of adult stem cell research.

The document "On Embryonic Stem Cell Research" not only states the objective consequences regarding embryonic stem cell research, but also offers a compelling explanation of those arguments against the practice of embryonic stem cell research. The ethical problem surrounding embryonic stem cell research is that in order to obtain the stem cells from the embryo, there is the necessary killing of the embryo, something the statement calls to mind: "Harvesting these "embryonic stem cells" involves the deliberate killing of innocent human beings, a gravely immoral act."[3]

However, the statement calls to mind that there are some in the medical community and in the public sector who find such harvesting of stem cells a morally licit act. The statement puts forth three arguments which need to be evaluated. The first is that "any harm done in this case [harvesting embryonic stem cells] is outweighed by the potential benefits."[4] This is the typical utilitarian argument, that any action, done for a good end, is then itself necessarily a good action. Applying this to the case of harvesting embryonic stem cells for research and medical advances, a proponent of embryonic stem cell research would argue that so much good can come from the harvesting of such stem cells, that these good things necessarily outweigh any putatively morally bad factors. Thus, the good results of embryonic stem cells outweigh the evil of destroying embryonic humans. The statement says: "No commitment to a hoped-for 'greater good' can erase or diminish the wrong of directly taking innocent human lives here and now."[5] The greater good mentality tries to erase moral qualms regarding actions we commit now, looking for the future to justify those acts. Much of the evil we experienced in the 20th century was a direct result of this type of thinking; one such example was inhumane and cruel experiments conducted on prisoners of Nazi concentration camps for the sake of "advancing science." The USCCB statement calls to mind that in this ethical system, the patient we help today can be sacrificed tomorrow if that patient "is viewed as disadvantaging other human beings considered more deserving or productive."[6] In this flawed ethical system, a patient with Alzheimer's disease can easily be disposed of if he inhibits the productive living of someone else. Both actions are the killing of a human being (in different stages of life), and both are viewed as good for the future of a particular group of people. So the person we may help today through the destruction of a an embryo can be disposed of tomorrow for the same reason we destroyed that embryonic human.

The second common argument that the statement cites is that "what is destroyed is not a human life, or at least not a human being with fundamental human rights."[7] The USCCB initially discusses the first position, that a human life is not destroyed. Stating biological fact, the "new living organism has the full complement of human genes and is actively expressing those genes to live and develop."[8] The embryo is a member of the species Homo sapiens. The statement reminds us that each of us was once an embryo, and embryonic development is but a natural progression of human development, like any other stage in life. We can ask what a human life looks like before she is born, and we can point to a human embryo. Some still claim that while the embryo may be a human life, "life at this stage is too weak or underdeveloped, too lacking in physical or mental abilities, to have full human worth or human rights."[9] The Bishop’s statement argues that we have human rights based simply on the fact that we are members of the human family. If we rely on things that can change, appear, disappear, or vary among different humans in order to determine fundamental rights, then what we really have is a lack of inherent human rights not only for embryos, but for every person. What we end up with is a system where whoever has power has privileges, while the rest are disposable. The USCCB statement reminds us that in 1776, the signers of the Declaration of Independence took for granted basic human rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In the name of that right to life articulated even 232 years ago, the document encourages us to acknowledge how embryonic stem cell research directly violates that right.

The third argument that the statement puts forth is that "dissecting human embryos for their cells should not be seen as involving a loss of human life."[10] This position begins by arguing that embryos that are spare or unwanted should be donated to science. Because these embryos are going to die anyway, it is irrelevant how we treat them. But the document responds that everybody is going to eventually die. Clearly, though, because we are going to die eventually does not suggest that people have a right to kill us for the sake of medical advancement. The statement reminds us that "our society does not permit lethal experiments on terminally ill patients or condemned prisoners on the pretext that they will soon die anyway."[11] Although this argument does not state it, the counterargument presupposes inherent human rights and dignity, as defended in the second argument.

Once the practice of embryonic stem cell research becomes a regular practice in biomedical labs, we must look at the necessary consequence, the creation of human embryos via “nuclear transfer” for the sake of such research. This practice is commonly called cloning, something our society has seen in the past 12 years, beginning with the cloning of Dolly the sheep in 1996. The USCCB warns sternly against the practice of human cloning for embryonic stem cell research: "Human cloning is intrinsically evil because it reduces human procreation to a mere manufacturing process, producing new human beings in the laboratory to predetermined specifications as though they were commodities."[12] In this act of generating life, cloning shows grave disrespect for human life. It reduces human procreation to a mere utility for the sake of ulterior research purposes.

The USCCB statement references a better way to practice stem cell research. They refer to stem cells from adults, which are "more versatile that once thought."[13] These stem cells also do not raising the moral qualms which embryonic stem cells raise. Stem cells can be found in adult tissue, including adult tissues, and umbilical cord blood. These stem cells have been successful in treatments for heart disease, cancer, and even paralysis. Scientists have even learned to develop "new non-destructive methods for producing cells with the properties of embryonic stem cells- for example, by 'reprogramming' adult cells."[14] This refers to morph regular cells into pluripotent stem cells. The USCCB statement says that "Catholic foundations and medical centers have been, and will continue to be, among the leading supporters of ethically responsible advances in the medical use of adult stem cells."[15].

In conclusion, the USCCB posits a question, "how are we to use science in the future?" Will we ignore the grave ethical responsibilities that are ours and use the most vulnerable of our society as mere guinea pigs for scientific progress, or will we stand up and take responsibility for the lives that are in our care, to ensure that human life does not become a mere commodity for the sake of scientific advancement? In the end, we must promote "ethically responsible ways that respect the dignity of each human being."[16]

[1] On Embryonic Stem Cell Research. USCCB. 2008. Page One.
[2] Ibid. Page One.
[3]On Embryonic Stem Cell Research. USCCB. 2008. Page One
[4] Ibid. Page Two.
[5] Ibid. Page Two.
[6]On Embryonic Stem Cell Research. USCCB. 2008. Page Two.
[7] Ibid. page Two.
[8] Ibid. Page Three.
[9] Ibid. Page Three.
[10] On Embryonic Stem Cell Research. USCCB. 2008. Page Two.
[11] Ibid. Page Four.
[12]On Embryonic Stem Cell Research. USCCB. 2008. page Five.
[13] Ibid. Page Six.
[14] Ibid. Page Six.
[15] Ibid. Page Six.
[16]On Embryonic Stem Cell Research. USCCB. 2008. Page Seven.

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Sunday, October 5, 2008

God is Good

Have you ever looked back at a certain time in your life and realized that God was completely at work?  I left seminary in Mary with a couple of job prospects, and they all fell through.  There was a time over the Summer where I felt that I had made a mistake by leaving, but I knew that I didn't make a mistake.  I knew that if I just persevere, God will help me through.  

This post I am writing isn't intensely theological, but it is more of my own reflection.  It's funny, but God said no to me regarding at least three jobs, if not more, over the summer.  I thought I would have done well as a Boy Scout professional, or as a DRE, or as many of the things I applied for over the summer, but looking back, there would have been something lacking in every job.  This realization makes me realize that God was having me wait for something else.  He wanted me to go to Philadelphia, to live with a bunch of Catholic guys, and to work at St. Charles Seminary.  He wanted me to live here for some reason, and over the course of the last month and a half I have started to figure that out.

The job I have is wonderful, and it was really God who planted me into that job.  I work full time for priestly vocations, and nothing can make me happier than doing that.  But still, being inundated at work by this great work, I really don't feel called myself to actually become a priest.  There is a distinct difference.  I am perfectly content to just stay behind the scenes and do great works from there.  I am perfectly happy and even joyful about the fact that at the end of the work day, I can leave seminary, while the seminarians have to stay.  I am not a seminarian, nor do I feel like a seminarian, nor do I aspire to become one.  

I do feel strongly called to marriage.  I hope that as a layman in the Church I can continue to work for vocations, even if not on a professional level, as a non-professional hobby of mine.  I feel like my gift to the world is that I am called to marriage and I pray that my marriage will be an example for others to live up to.  This is my gift which I hope to give the world, especially when the world devalues the importance of the sacredness of marriage.  Marriage is an intimate union between a man and woman, which requires in every sexual act unity and openness to children.  Contraception is intrinsically evil because it separates these two things.  When contraception is used, a couple is actively taking actions to say that they are not open to children, which is one of the fruits of the marital act of love making.  As a result of the contracepting act, there is also disunity.  

My gift to the world is to live Christ like in my marriage.  I want to totally give myself to and for my future wife.  It is, within my vocation, my ultimate gift of sacrifice.  A man and woman, in matrimony, self-empty themselves for the sake of the other.  The desire I have for the married life is a strong pull in my life, and I look for a woman who I can give myself totally to, and I look for a woman who totally gives herself to me.  It is a reciprocal relationship that is essential for the survival of the marriage.

Now, marriage is also hard.  It is one's vocation, and each one is called to put up with the other, through thick or thin.  In sickness and in health.  For richer or poorer.  It is here that the self emptying is most important.  You must be 100% committed, or else when tough times happen, one party or the other would be tempted to walk away, or even run away.  But true love means a total commitment, even in the hard times.  It is in the hard times that love is even more important.  

Never go to bed angry with your wife or husband.  Guys, always kiss them before you leave for work.  Tell her that her cooking was good one night.  Tell them that they look pretty.  Be ready to apologize, and that goes for both parties.  And be ready to accept that apology, and that also goes for both parties.  Learn from mistakes, and when you make them again, learn from them again.  Above all, put family first, except your belief in God and your worship of Him.  And really, that is a family thing, not an either/or.  

This has gotten sort of poetic, and I don't know to whom I am writing this.  But, for some reason, I felt compelled to write, and this is what came out.  And for that I am glad.  

Take care everyone.  

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Wedding Feast at Cana


The Luminous Mysteries, which our late great Pope John Paul II instituted in his 2002 Apostolic Letter "Rosarium Virginis Mariam", is intended to allow for the meditation on the life of Christ in between Jesus being lost in the temple when He was twelve, up to Holy Thursday, the night before his Passion and death. Now of course, there are many events between these specific events that the Holy Father could have picked as appropriate mysteries on which to meditate. But the ones he picked could be the home runs of events, or the touchdowns, or whatever sports analogy you want to use.


The five mysteries are: Jesus's baptism, the Wedding Feast at Cana, Proclamation of the Kingdom and Call to Repentence, Transfiguration, and the Institution of the Eucharist. There is, when you look at the list, a real focus on the sacraments. In fact, four of the five relate directly with four different sacraments. Of course you have baptism, matrimony (as is evident in Cana), and the Instutition of the Eucharist which explicitly refer to three sacraments that Catholics profess, and three that most take part in (priests aren't conferred upon them matrimony, but rather Holy Orders).


But what about the fourth? You have the Proclamation of the Kingdom and the Call to Repentence. So it is a call and reponse. Jesus does the calling, and the people who hear his word responds appropriately. Jesus proclaims the kingdom of heaven, which is then revealed again at the Transfiguration, and our response is repentence of our sins, which one can point to as reconciliation with God, which takes place in an intimate way in the sacrament of confession. It is this third mystery that links the sacramental with the Kingdom.


But this is just an introduction to what I would like to write about today. The Wedding Feast of Cana is a beautiful passage that shows Jesus' approval of such a life, the married life. It also shows the relationship that Jesus has with his mother, Mary, and how we can use this as a model for how Mary intercedes for us.


So Jesus, Mary, and Jesus' disciples are at a wedding in Cana. Weddings around this time period were quite big events. Unlike today's weddings which usually last a day, the weddings of this time period lasted for a whole week, and it was a giant celebration. It starts off by saying "On the third day there was a wedding". This could mean it was three days after Jesus' encounter with Nathanael, or it could mean it was the third day of the wedding. Anyway, they ran out of wine, and Mary tells Jesus this. Many people speculate that Jesus' response was rude and unflattering to Mary, "Woman, how does your concern affect me?" He calls her woman. Our non-Catholic brethren out there may use this as an example and an opportunity to say: "You see, Mary wasn't special, she was just another woman because of the way Jesus addresses her." But the Church gives us a different understanding. Mary is often considered the new Eve, as her radical Fiat, her radical yes, undid the sin of Eve. Eve opened herself up the sin, Mary opened herself up to the savior of the world, Jesus, "he who takes away the sins of the world". And in the story of Genesis, before she was named Eve, she was merely called "Woman." And you can also notice that she did not receive the name of Eve until after the fall (Gen 3:20). So by calling her woman, Jesus is referring to the pre-fall condition of the Woman, that of a sinless being created by God, free of sin. And these are important considerations for Mary's Assumption, as according to some Church fathers, Assumption into heaven was what death was like before the Fall. But because of original sin, Assumption doesn't happen. But because Mary is freed from original sin (because Mary is full of grace), Assumption takes place. So really, when Jesus calls Mary "Woman", he is pointing to the reality of Mary, that of a sinless woman created by God to be the mother of all the living, like the Woman in Genesis was before the Fall.


There is another thing happening when Mary tells Jesus that they have no wine. It is a mirror into the relationship they have now. Mary interceded for the wedding guests so their party could continue. This is precedent that Mary does intercede for us as well. It didn't just end at Cana, but rather she still intercedes for us with things that we may need. This is why we pray to Mary, not because we consider her divine, but rather she is still interceding for us. We ask Mary for favors, which she then turns to Jesus and says "please grant this prayer of mine for this person." That is why in the Hail Mary, we say "pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death."


The third point I would like to make is regarding John 2:5, "Do whatever He tells you." This is what Mary says to servers at the wedding. And Mary has it right. It all comes down to the Christocentric reality that Jesus is the one. Mary doesn't say "Do whatever I tell you". In eastern icons we always see Mary pointing to Jesus. You can say that Mary's telos, or end, is Jesus Himself, as is our end. We are constantly seeking Jesus, at least implicitly. We learn from Mary's humble obedience a great way of following Jesus, by being completely obedient. In the west there is the Latin saying "Ad Jesum Per Mariam", to Jesus through Mary. We learn what it takes to be a complete disciple of the Christ by following in the footsteps of His mother. Her call to "Do whatever He tells you" is a reflection of her radical Fiat, when the angel Gabriel tells her that she would be the mother of the Most High, and it is then that she says "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to your word." We are called to be handmaids, and to be completely obedient to God through the example of Mary, and all the saints who have gone before us. Saints are proof that living a Christ centered life is possible. And so in discernment about something, the response you should have is to do whatever He tells you. It is there that you will find complete joy and happiness with what you do.
May God bless you, and may you always remain close to the Sacred Heart of Jesus through the example of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. O Mary, Conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Update

Yes, I have been delinquent with the updating of this blog. I have been very busy looking for a full time job, and that in itself has been a full time job. But, there is good news in the front.

I am starting a new job on September 2nd in Philadelphia, doing full time event planning for the office of vocations in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. It looks to be an exciting job with a lot of potential. Some of my hobbies outside of work will include doing youth ministry in a parish (to be determined), picking up a Rosetta Stone language to learn (I am thinking Latin first, and then French) and writing more consistently on this blog on matters of Marian Devotion and Eucharistic Devotion, and seminary living. The last blog topic, seminary living, is most appropriate, since my office is in a seminary in Philadelphia. But, in retrospect, all three are appropriate, since Eucharistic and Marian Devotion thrive in seminary life. It is the Eucharist, a sign of the self giving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, who nourishes our souls, and conforms ourselves to be more and more like Jesus Himself. For the seminarian, who is preparing to be in persona Christi, it is especially important to nourish himself with the food from heaven, Jesus in the Eucharist Himself. To be ordained a priest of Jesus Christ is to be conformed to Christ, to be an alter Christus. If we are conforming ourselves to Christ, what better way than to receive Him in the Eucharist?

But it isn't just the seminarian who is conforming himself to Christ. Every person who receives the Eucharist is conforming himself to Christ, whether he knows it or not. Jesus enters into us literally in the Eucharist. Now, I can continue on for a while. In fact, I had not intended to really get into an actual post. My basic point of this post was to let people know when to start expecting new posts. But really, the basic point of this post is to give the reader a bit of the Gospel, an important bit: The Eucharist and the reality of His saving power. Let us pray for individuals who see the Eucharist as merely a sign. We must remember that faith is always a gift from God, we can't merit it on our own, but only through God's grace. Let us pray for the grace of God to strengthen our own faith in the Eucharist, and let us also pray for an individual we may know in our life who doesn't yet believe in the Eucharist and the total Truth behind it. Let us pray that individuals we know may come to know the truth and the power of the Eucharist, and its sign of love and salvation given to us through Jesus' death on the cross.

Our Lady of the Assumption, Pray for us.

PS- Please pray for me in this transition to Philadelphia. I don't know the city at all, I don't know anybody there, and I am starting to get anxious.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Tempus Fugit, Momento Mori

Today I went to the beach with some family members. I was pretty excited about going today, since the wave forecast was high due to Hurricane Bertha being in the Atlantic. I was ready to go out and get some pretty big waves.

When we got there, we got just that, big waves. They were some of the biggest I have seen at Rehoboth Beach. After a little while, the group of us decided to go in the water. We were floating out there for a while, far enough out that we were still able to go over the big waves without a problem. But then the problem came.

We looked out and we saw a pretty massive wave, probably approaching ten feet high, cresting really early. Where I was, there was no chance that I would get over it, and the chances were slim I was going to be able to dive under it. It crashed down in front of me. The strategy I came up with was to go under the water before the wave water came over me. I dived down. I felt above me the water rushing past me. Then I felt something that I tried to avoid: the rushing water taking me and battering me around. I was gasping for air. I couldn't even find the air, so I stuck my hand out to see if I could touch the air. The first time I couldn't. The second outreach I was able to find the air, and I finally gasped for a breath.

I wiped the water from my eyes just in time to see a second wave, even bigger than before, cresting in front of me. Again, there was no chance for me to get around it. Still struggling to gain air from the previous battle, I went under again, hoping to avoid the foam of the wave. To no avail, I again went through what I went through with the first wave. This time it took a bit longer to find the air.

I again wiped the water from my eyes and gasped for air before another, a third giant wave slammed into me. This time, the sunglasses that were pretty well fitted to my face were thrown off my face, which I never did find. Again I churned, trying to grasp my breath. The saving grace with the third wave was that it literally threw me into the shelf going up to the sand, and I was able to escape. However, these three waves were the biggest waves we saw that day, and they were probably the biggest waves I have ever personally seen. When I saw the waves crashing down on me, I had the sense that they were about the same size as surf waves I often see in pictures in Hawaii. I shared that with someone after who was on the land, and they agreed.

This was probably the scariest minute or so of my life. Even breaking my femur or being an innocent bystander in the middle of a police shootout doesn't compare with this event. I have been an avid beach goer, and when I am there, I spend most of the time in the water. Reality and mortality hit me today, and I kind of wonder if I developed a little phobia to the water; I don't know.

The reason I write this post on this site was after reflecting on this scary situation I find myself in, I realize that during this entire time, I didn't cry out to God, or say a quick prayer to Mary, or even ask God for mercy. My religious sense vanished at a moment of complete desperation for help. And I am not the type of guy to forget about religion or God. I think about it every day. I pray every day. So why, at this moment of need, did I seem to completely forget the one thing that saved me out there: God?

Now, I know that there were obviously other things to think about, such as staying alive and getting air, things that are important for basic survival. But prayer is also important for basic survival. If we want to get out of life alive, then we must have faith in God for Him to raise us up after we die. My faith didn't fail me out there, but I did forget about it. This event is just a realization for me that to grow in holiness involves daily prayer and important charitable works and a whole bunch of other things. But it also involves us crying out to God when all hope seems lost, when we are hanging on by a thread, when we are ready to go under, not being sure if you were going to get another grasp of air. Holiness is really tested in these situations. Now, that being said, I know God helped me, as the third wave did throw me on the sand, where it could have sucked me out for more fun. And I would have asked for help, if I had remembered God in my moment of need.

There is an old saying that the Knights of Columbus are familiar with. It is tempus fugit, momento mori. It is Latin for "Time flies, remember death." It has been in my mind today, and so one thing I learned is in all situations, we must cry out for help, and try not to forget God in our moment of need. In the end, it isn't the near death experience that I am troubled by; I pray every day God would have mercy on me, and I pray that he would answer that prayer when I do die. I am actually more troubled by the fact that I forgot the one thing I depend on, my religion, which helps me get through everything else. But that escaped me today. I must do better to remember God in everything I do, so that in a big test, I don't forget him. This isn't something I am beating myself up over, but it is a realization that I must stay strong in prayer.

Our Lady, Help of Christians, pray for us.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Year of St. Paul


Hello everyone. I spent the last three days doing the Maryland river tour. I started inner tubing on the Patapsco River near Baltimore on Sunday afternoon. On Monday I visited St. Mary's County, where I saw the Patuxent River, as well as the very southern tip of the county which overlooks a very big Chesapeake River. On Tuesday I saw the splendor of historic St. Mary's City overlooking St. Mary's River. After that I went to Solomon's Island and saw the Patuxent again. It was a wonderful three days. I love Chesapeake and river life.

It was a great way to start what the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed as the year of St. Paul, as a way to mark the 2,000 anniversary of his birth. St. Paul was from Tarsus, which is in modern day Turkey, if I am not mistaken. Everybody knows the famous story from the Acts of the Apostles about his conversion in Acts 9. Saul was his name before this, and he persecuted the early Christians, and he consented to the death of Steven, the protomartyr of the Christian faith. He went on to become one of the greatest Christian evangelists. He preached to the Greek speaking people, really evangelizing what would later become the Christian Church in Rome, which would be heavily persecuted.

There were many theological contributions Paul brought to the early Church. One of the biggest ones is the circumcision of non-Jews. He held that for non-Jews, circumcision was not necessary because of the freedom given to us by Christ; Christ fulfills the Law. This was brought to a head in the Council of Jerusalem, which one can read about in Acts 15. This was considered the first ecumenical council because it involved the whole early Church in an important theological matter, something which distinguished councils in the Church (councils are called to address a sort of heresy or theological problem, for the most part).

Paul's letter to the different churches were so important that his letters were put into the New Testament Canon of the Bible. These letters are to the Romans, the Corinthians, the Galatians, The Philippians, the Ephesians, the Colossians, and the Thessalonians. He also wrote pastoral letters to various people, and it is debated whether he is the author of the letter to the Hebrews. As you can see, Pauline letters make up a large section of the New Testament, so they tell us a great many things about Revelation as given to us through the Bible, interpreted by the Tradition we hold. Second Thessalonians, written at least in the school of Paul, says

"Therefore brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours" (2 Thes 2:15).

There are many resources of Paul on the internet. The one I recommend for further study is the website for St. Paul Outside the Walls Basilica in Rome. It has many things on there for further study of Paul. Here is the link for that. The Catholic News Agency also has a website that has the documents that announced the year, and other sources of information, including Pauline catechesis. Click here for that site. There is also a website for the general program as put forth by the Holy See. This is the link for that one.

I do help that these above links help one to learn about St. Paul during this Pauline Year marking the 2,000 anniversary of his birth. May we also be heralds of the Gospel to those who have not yet heard it. Let this year be our excuse to learn more about this saint. St. Paul, pray for us.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Solemnity of St. John the Baptist

Today, June 24, the Universal Church celebrates the Solemnity of St. John the Baptist. It is amazing when we think of feast days in the Church; most saints we celebrate the day they die and passed into eternal life. But St. John the Baptist is one of two saints that we celebrate the day they were born. The other is the Blessed Mother herself. Why do we do this? Because we recognize the important of John the Baptist being the herald of Christ. He is the one who went before the Lord to prepare His way. He is also often referred to as the one who served as a bridge between the Old and New Testaments. John baptized Jesus in the Jordan, and John reminded his followers that he is not the Messiah, but "there is one coming who I am not worthy to remove his sandals." He was also not one to mince words. He was eventually beheaded because he condemned the marriage of King Herod, and that angered his wife.

John, being born of a woman who was considered barren and years past childbearing age, grew up to be a wild ass of a man, living in the desert and eating locusts and honey. He was not the Messiah, but he was a type of Elijah, an Old Testament figure who was also a wild ass of a man.
What can we learn from this great saint? First, we can learn that sound teaching will sway the people. As was stated earlier, he was not one to mince words. He taught it how it really was, and he didn't change his teaching when the authorities didn't like it. He remained true to his teaching. John can be an authority figure to those in public ministry as a priest, deacon, or bishop. He shows that when a man in ordained ministry stands up and teaches the Truth of the Faith, he will sway the people. In this day and age, we need strong men, men that will challenge us to the teachings of the gospel. John is a great figure for us to learn from in this respect, himself taking after the divine teacher Himself, Jesus.

For those who are not in ordained ministry, we can still participate in a unique way in the teaching office of Christ. We are on what many priests consider as the front line of evangelization. There are many places a priest or deacon just can't get to on an everyday basis to provide an effective witness to the gospel. But our offices, work places, and even Starbucks before work can be an arena for effective witness. Even when we are out in a public restaurant, how many times do we forget to say grace before meals? Grace before meals can be very effective as a witness, especially when you do the Sign of the Cross with it. Even at Mass, our demeanor and attitude can say a lot to someone who is non-Catholic, or someone visiting or whoever. John the Baptist teaches us many things; one thing I hope you learn from him is that wherever you are in life, you can be an effective witness to Christ for others to learn from, like John the Baptist was.

St. John the Baptist, pray for us. Mary, Queen of Saints, pray for us. All you holy angels and saints, pray for us.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Embryonic Stem Cell Research

I haven't had time to read the new statement the USCCB (The US Council of Catholic Bishops) put out on Embryonic Stem Cell Research, but I thought I would provide the link for those interested: On Embryonic Stem Cell Research.
When I have some time, I will do some writing on this document. But I do encourage you read the original text. Until next time.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Rosary, part I

Many of the posts that I put on this site will revolve around the Holy Rosary, a great source of joy in my life, and something that I always fall back on when I need to pray. How great is the mystery of the Holy Rosary. But, of course, the first objection one might think of is that we are praying to Mary. For more thoughts on this, I invite the reader to read the post from earlier this June entitles "Do We Worship Mary?" This will help the reader to get an idea of the intercessory role of Mary in our spiritual lives. I also should let the reader know that this post is called "The Rosary, part I". I will be putting many posts in the future on the Rosary, and they will not be chronological. For example, the next post might be talking about something totally different. Part II will come later, as will part III and so on.

On October 16, 2002, Pope John Paul II published an Apostolic Letter entitled "Rosarium Virginis Mariae", or the "Rosary of the Virgin Mary." I first came across it in March of 2008, when I read it for a class on Christian Spirituality. I was so taken back by it that I decided to present on it for my final oral exam in the class. Click here for the text of the Letter.
In number one of the letter, Pope John Paul II quotes Marialis Cultus, an earlier work by Pope Paul VI, which he writes:

"The Rosary, though clearly Marian in character, is at heart a Christocentric prayer. In the sobriety of its elements, it has all the depth of the Gospel message in its entirety, of which it can be said to be a compendium"

This is what I want this post to discuss for a little bit. How is it a Christocentric prayer? Well, we can get an idea of this by meditating on what exactly the mysteries of the Rosary are. There are 20 mysteries of the Rosary. Let's just take the Joyful for right now. You have the Annunciation, that momentous occasion, where Mary's radical yes and assent to God's plan allowed Jesus to enter into the world. Then you have the Visitation, which I discussed in an earlier post about the first journey of Christ and the first people to be evangelized after Mary. Then you have the birth of Christ, that beautiful scene of the King of Glory, humbled enough to come as a child. Then there is the Presentation, Jesus being circumcised according to Jewish custom. And finally, the last Joyful mystery is the Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple, which is the only story we have of the childhood of Christ, which gives us an important insight into those hidden years of Christ. When we meditate on the Annunciation, we are meditating with Mary the life of Christ. When we pray the Rosary, we are meditating Christ the way Christ's mother meditates on her son. So, when we pray the Rosary, we are praying with Mary to Christ. We are also meditating with her on Christ.

When Jesus was on this earth 2,000 years ago, there was no other person closer to Him than Mary. And this is how it typically happens even in our own relationships. Most of the time, it is your mother who knows you the best. It is her who cared for you when you were sick, lonely, upset, crying, hungry, and hurt. It was her who rejoiced when you were happy, joyful, and successful. Mothers are supposed to be all she can be for her children; this is why it is upsetting when there are emotionally distant mothers, or absent mothers. Mary is the best example of motherhood because God gave her the graces to be born without sin, thus there was nothing in the way between her and Jesus. Because of this intimate relationship that they shared, Mary was able to meditate on Christ as best a person could. This is why we meditate with her when we meditate and contemplate Christ. Mary was and is still human; she is not a divine being. It is because of her humanity that we can imitate her at all. This is why the humanity of Christ is so important; it allows us to imitate Christ. The Rosary is a Christocentric Prayer, and we imitate Mary praying the Rosary. Think of Mary as perpetually praying the Rosary, as she is always contemplating Christ and His will. We are invited to contemplate on the same things, and praying with Mary gives us an edge to get closer to Christ.

Now, you may say, what about those mysteries which are about Mary? It is true that there are mysteries that directly involve Mary and don't seem to involve Jesus. Let's take the Assumption of Mary and her Coronation as Queen of Heaven and Earth, the fourth and fifth Glorious mysteries. She was assumed into heaven and made Queen of Heaven and Earth because of the incredible love of God that was bestowed upon Mary. When we say that Mary was immaculately conceived, we are saying that God granted graces to her in anticipation of the Crucifixion to be born without sin. Because she didn't have the stain of sin on her, she was granted something that no other person can experience because of sin, the assumption into heaven. For her, the soul and body never separated. The Church hasn't said whether she died, or whether she was assumed straight to heaven. But if she did die, it was an immediate raising up of her body. This event may have been a post taste of what the original plan for humanity was, that everyone was assumed into heaven. However, because of the stain of sin, it didn't happen that way, and Mary, being the Mother of God, was given those graces from the Crucifixion to be born without sin. As a result of that, she was allowed to come up body and soul into heaven immediately at the end of her life. So, the Assumption shows you the Christocentric end (telos) of His crucifixion: the ability for eternal life instead of death the way it was supposed to happen. The Coronation of Mary shows the incredible love of God in bestowing upon His humble servant the vastness of the spiritual riches of heaven and earth, the reward to docility to the divine plan of the Father.

We too can receive great spiritual riches, here and after we die. Mary teaches us docility to the will of God by her radical fiat (fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum, or "let it be done to me according to your word"). That radical yes allowed for God to become incarnate into this world. By being docile by following the example of Mary, we are also saying yes to God and following His will for us in our lives. Docility is learned by being Christocentric, as Mary was. One of the great spiritual riches God grants us through the Rosary is docility to His will, because we are learning about Him when we pray it, precisely because of its Christocentricity.

May God bless you in all that you do, and may your eyes forever be fixed upon the merciful eyes of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Joe Karcz

This is a follow up to a post from last week regarding deaths Mount St. Mary's University has experienced. I have to report today yet another one, a young man by the name of Joe Karcz. He was a rising sophomore from Clifton, NJ, majoring in Political Science. He passed away during the night. We can only pray that his passing was peaceful and that he is now in the presence of the Lord Jesus. The only clue from what I can gather was that he was involved in a serious car accident last week, so maybe something just manifested itself now. It is a tough thing for a college so small to go through so many deaths in a short amount of time. There has been an above average amount that we all have experienced. But this can't console the family.

To the family of Joe Karcz, please know of my prayers for you and for the repose of Joe's soul at this difficult time. I pray to Mary, Help of Christians, to aid you during this difficult time, that you may turn to the Lord Christ in this time of need.

Eternal rest, grant onto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May the souls, and the souls of all the faithful departed, rest in peace. St. Joseph, pray for him. All you holy angels and saints, pray for him. Amen.

Jesus, the Bread of Life

When I talk to non-Catholics about the Eucharist, they always seem to be caught off guard by John, chapter 6, which is commonly referred to as the Bread of Life Discourse. I was recently talking to a friend of mine, and I spoke about the Eucharist. He responded about how that is just an opinion of what happens. I said, "It isn't. It is the real thing, especially when you consider John 6." And he was surprised to have heard about it. There are even some Protestant biblical commentaries who seem just to put John 6 in a footnote. So, my attempt in this post will be to explain what the Catholic Church believes about the Eucharist through the lens of the Bread of Life Discourse.

For those who want to follow along, this is John 6:22-71.

There was a crowd there, at the beginning of this passage. This is the same crowd who ate the bread Jesus multiplied at the beginning of John 6. They asked Jesus when he got there. Jesus responded, "I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saws signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled" (John 6:26). Jesus suggests to the crowd, then, that the only reason they are coming around again is because they see the Christ as the source of free food. Did they really take anything away from the Multiplication of the Loaves? Jesus may be skeptical. In verse 30, the people ask Jesus , "What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do" (John 6:30)? But wait a minute, did not Jesus just perform a sign at the beginning of chapter 6? He did. The Jews in this time were always interested in seeing signs, but the message of them seemed to get lost. Isn't that us in this modern age, always wanting to see something awesome, but failing to really grasp the awesomeness?

The people then refer to the Old Testament, with Moses in the desert. This is the story of manna falling from heaven. "He gave them bread from heaven to eat" (John 6:31, cf. Ex. 16:4). Jesus says something very important here. He says, "it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world" (John 6:32-33). We must also remember that their "ancestors are the manna in the desert, but they died" (John 6:49). Jesus is then to contrast the manna with the Bread of Life which he we are about to get into.

The people say again, "Sir, give us this bread always" (John 6:34). Jesus responds, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst" (John 6:35). What Jesus is saying here is that when their ancestors ate manna, they died, but Jesus is that bread of life which won't make you go hungry again. He says later, "this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world" (John 6:50-51). There are some important things to consider. Many people can consider the term "eat" to be merely figurative. They would say, of course you don't physically eat the body of Jesus. That would be cannibalism. So "eat" must be purely figurative. However, one who says this may not know what the Greek actually says.

In the Greek, there is a participle when it reads "whoever eats", literally "Ό τρώγών", which is a present active participle, in the masculine, singular, and in the nominative case. The "O" in the front literally is "the one who", and τρώγών is literally "eats". However, this is from the verb infinitive "τργειν", which is "to eat." This specific verb, according to many Greek scholars, suggests a literal, crunching "eat", not a figurative one. It suggests gnawing, chewing, and crunching, none of which are figurative interpretations of the word "eat". So when Jesus says "whoever eats this bread will live forever," Jesus is talking about a specific, literal action. And when He says that He is this Bread of Life, we must conclude then, that Jesus is telling us: Whoever eats Me will live forever.

And Jesus continues, "unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink' (John 6:53-55). Jesus is talking about himself as the Eucharist. It isn't figurative. Do you really think Jesus is being figurative? He calls his flesh true food, and his blood true drink. This is the essence of the Last Supper, as told in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. So, when Jesus says "This is my body, which will be given up for you" in the Synoptic Gospel's account of the Last Supper, that bread no longer is bread. It is a literal changing from bread to the Body of Christ. The Eucharist is the Bread of Life, Jesus. This is what Mass is all about: the turning of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ by a man ordained to be in the person of Christ (in persona Christi).

Let's also not forget the eschatological purpose of the Eucharist, when Jesus says "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day" (John 6:54). One of the purposes for the Eucharist is for the salvation of all who partake in it. Participating in the Eucharist is the way of salvation! We are literally receiving Christ into ourselves. How great is that. You know, Protestants and those who don't believe in the Eucharist can argue all they want about what they think the Scriptures say. I would rather cooperate with God's grace given to me in the Eucharist than waste time arguing. I pray for Protestants every day that they may come to believe in the Eucharist and its salvific power. How wonderful a gift from God is the Eucharist, and how little people appreciate it.

Under appreciation isn't just from Protestants. In fact, even within the Catholic Churches, there is a general misunderstanding of what the Eucharist is all about. I have seen firsthand the Eucharist treated with very ill reverence. I have seen people try to take the Eucharist and hide it in their hands as they leave the church. I have caught many, but I think I may have been tricked by one who pretended to put it in her mouth. And it still worries me what she did with it. After Pope John Paul II died, a consecrated host from St. Peter's square ended up on Ebay! Can you really believe that? Just 100 years ago people rarely took the Eucharist because of the sacredness of it, and when they did, they were kneeling, and receiving on the tongue. Now, it is being auctioned off online, and being taken out of church after Mass! One of the biggest things the reader of this blog can do is next time when you go to Mass, make sure you understand what the Eucharist really is. The Eucharist is truly the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is no longer bread and wine, although it still looks like it. But, as a regular Mass goer, and one who has been interiorly transformed by the power of the Eucharist, let me tell you that it is no longer bread and wine. Please, I beg you, when you receive the Eucharist next time, make sure you do it reverently, free of sin, and humbled by that awesome gift of God to humanity for the sake of our salvation.

For meditations on the Eucharist, Jesus the Bread of Life, I would ask you to meditate on John 6:22-71, Matthew 26:26039, Mark 14:22-26, and Luke 22:14-20. Countless saints and spiritual writers have also written on the Eucharist. Two I would recommend are Book Four of the "Imitation of Christ" by Thomas a Kempis, and God is Near Us by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI. Many posts in the future will be covering aspects of the Eucharist, as Lumen Gentium 11 calls the Eucharist the "Source and Summit of the Christian Faith."

I will close with the prayer the Church says immediately before communion: Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.

May God bless you in all that you do. Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, Pray for Us. O Mary, Conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee. St. Maximilian Kolbe, Pray for us.

O Sacrament most holy, o Sacrament divine, all praise and all thanksgiving, be every moment thine.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Priest According to the Order of Melchizedek

One of the reasons I started this blog is that there is a general misunderstanding of what the Catholic priesthood represents. As a result, I want to use this site as a way to clear up some of these misunderstandings. Now, of course, I can't do this all in one post. The role of the priesthood in modern Catholic life is the same role as it was after Jesus commissioned the twelve in the upper room to "Do this in memory of me". It may look different, but the common thread between the priesthood Jesus left and the priesthood we have now is that the priest brings Jesus Christ to people in a very profound way, in the Eucharist at Holy Mass. I am always reminded this when I go to an ordination of a man who is ordained a priest.

I was at such an ordination on Saturday, where my good friend Tony Killian became Father Tony Killian, ordained to be an alter Christus, or, another Christ. Now, this blog will go on forever if I decide to talk about every aspect of ordination and the priestly character, so I want to focus on one aspect: The Old Testament priesthood as it relates to the New Testament priesthood of Jesus Christ as it is carried on by the Roman Catholic priesthood today. The priesthood will be the focus on many future posts on this site though.

Through the Mosaic Covenant, Aaron, Moses' brother, became high priest and the first of the Levitical priesthood, which will carry on even to modern times. Their main role was to offer sacrifice in the Temple, and before the Temple was built, in a giant tent. There would be stone slabs where the priest would offer certain sacrifices. Some would be for him. Some would be for people. People would come and give the priest their sacrifice, say turtle doves, or a goat. The Levitical priest would sacrifice it. This is a rough description of the Levitical priesthood. Some Jewish feast days are much different and prescribe different types of sacrifices. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, has a very interesting prescription for sacrifice, part of which includes putting all the sins of the people on a goat and sending it off into the desert to atone for the sins of the people. This is actually a prefigurement of Christ when He goes off into the wilderness to atone for the sins of the people.

Over the centuries, the Levitical Priesthood started to slip and not hold up to the standards imposed on them by Mosaic Law. What soon developed was a split, with the Pharisees in charge of the Temple, focusing very much on Levitical Law and a strict interpretation of the Mosaic Covenant, so much that mercy was not a factor in decisions that they made. This is why the Pharisees are always upset when Jesus cures on the Sabbath.

This gives you an overview of what the Levitical Priesthood was about in a nutshell. However, Jesus was not of the Levitical Priesthood. He fulfilled the Old Testament figure of Melchizedek, the king of Salem (Jerusalem) around the time of Abraham. Abram was blessed by Melchizedek:

"Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine, and being a priest of God Most High, he blessed Abram with these words: 'Blessed be Abram by God Most High, the creator of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who delivered your foes into your hand'" (Gen 14:18-20).

Some important things to consider out of this passage is that first, Melchizedek is priest and king of Jerusalem. The Levitical priesthood started by Aaron centuries after Melchizedek were just priests; they were ordinarily not considered king. So, just as Melchizedek is high priesthood and king, so is Christ high priest and high king. It is also not a coincidence that Christ offered his sacrifice of bread and wine (which would be fulfilled in His death) in the same city Melchizedek did, in Jerusalem. And finally, the very idea that Christ offers bread and wine, the same substances as Melchizedek, shows that Melchizedek is an Old Testament prefigurement of Christ and His sacrifice. Levitical priests offered bulls, rams, and birds. Melchizedek and Christ offered bread and wine. The closest thing the Levitical priests offered for certain things were cereal offerings. But Melchizedek is the one that Christ is following as a way to fulfill the Old Testament. These important similarities are not coincidences; Melchizedek is really the Old Testament figure of Christ in his position as king, and more importantly, as his role as high priest of Jerusalem, offering bread and wine, the same things Christ would offer the night before His sorrowful death.

Now, the things I am pointing out are not my original thoughts. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews, many attributing to St. Paul, says the following, referring to Christ:

"Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, declared by God high priest according to the order of Melchizedek" (Hebrews 5:8-10).

Christ is the high priest according to the order of Melchizedek. The ordination on Saturday chose chose Psalm 110 for the responsory. The response read: "Priest forever like Melchizedek of old, the Lord Christ offered bread and wine." This response from the liturgy is yet again making the connection between Melchizedek and Christ. In the Liturgy of the Hours, which all priests are canonically obligated to pray and laity are encouraged to pray, the first Psalm every Sunday evening prayer II is Psalm 110, part of which reads: "The Lord has sworn an oath He will not change: You are a priest forever, a priest like Melchizedek of old." These are all echoes of Psalm 110 which solidifies the importance of Melchizedek and an Old Testament prefiguring of Christ.

To conclude this post, we must realize then that when a man is ordained a priest of Jesus Christ, he is being ordained a priest not according to the Levitical Priesthood, but rather to the order of Melchizedek. So a man is ordained a priest of Jesus Christ not according to Aaron, but according to Melchizedek. The priest offers bread and wine as a way to be "in persona Christi," in the person of Christ, because that is what He offered for the acceptable sacrifice. This sacrifice was made complete by the Passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ.

For meditation purposes, I would suggest you read Hebrews 5:1-10, and Psalm 110, and meditate on Christ the high priest, He who takes away the sin of the world by the acceptable sacrifice He makes for the remission of our sin. May God bless you all in all that you do, and may you stay close to the heart of Christ through the intercession of His mother, Mary. O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.
St. Maximilian Kolbe, pray for us.
Amen.

Monday, June 9, 2008

In God Alone is my Soul at Rest

I am going to take sort of a break from the subjects of this blog, but in the end it will be relevant. As an alumnus of Mount St. Mary's University in Emmitsburg MD, and having been a seminarian there for an additional three years, I can say that the university is pretty tight-knit. We have less than 2,000 students, and when I started that number was even lower. We don't have a lot of tragedies hit our campus; we haven't had riots in a long time, we haven't had guys with guns trying to shoot people. And when someone dies who is either a student or a faculty member, they are usually far and few between. My first five years here there was one death every two years. This year, that number changed drastically. We had four this year.

First there was Sr. Joan Gormely, a Scripture professor at the seminary who taught seminarians for almost 20 years. She died after a long struggle with cancer. And even though the seminarians knew the eventuality of her death, it was still very sad to actually see it happen, and no amount of preparation that we can spiritually and emotionally make could have prepared us for her passing. I had her for a class called "Prayer according to Scripture", and it was a hard class. She was a lion in the classroom, but as gentle as a lamb elsewhere. She will be missed.

Then we had Dr. Emilio Rodriguez, a popular and eccentric political science professor on campus. I always knew he was around when I sensed the smell of a cigar. His wife works in the seminary as an assistant to the academic dean, and she is indispensable. They have such a great family. Their son is in the military and just got married. His death came expectantly. His death was announced by the rector one morning at Mass, and I was completely in shock over it.

Then there was Dustin, a fun loving senior who was to graduate this past May. He fell over a balcony and there was irreparable brain damage. He died a short time later. He was a popular kid; he ran track, a lot of people liked him. I never once even saw the kid until after the accident, and I didn't know him. When someone I don't know, but a lot of other people do, dies, I get a sense that I wish I did know him. I had the same sense with Dariusz two years ago, a seminarian who died. It was my first semester, and I hardly knew him, but I wish I had.

I really have that feeling today, when I learned of another death in the Mount family, a member of the class of 2009 name Nicole. I didn't recognize the name, but I looked her up on Facebook, and I definitely knew the face. She was taking classes over the Summer, and she was somehow involved in a car accident. I saw her a lot on campus. She is Catholic, and I probably would have seen her at Sunday Mass, and maybe at other Catholic events, had I gone to those things (I went at different times). I don't know if she went to daily Mass, but just from my impression of her, she seemed the type to go. She seemed devoted and determined in what she did. She lived her life Catholic, something that is nothing short of heroic in this day and age.

Why do people die so young? Why did this sort of thing happen? This morning when I read the news about her, I couldn't help but think of my younger cousin, Kevin Stavely, who died almost a year ago in a car accident. I remember the emotions that people had; she and Kevin were both very popular, and had good friends. Good friends are a great blessing. Good family is a great blessing. It is so much easier to go through life with good family and friends.

I don't have the answer as to why this girl died, or why Kevin died, or why my cousin Mickey died two years ago. But there has to be a reason. Life isn't random. Things happen for a reason. Death is one of those unfortunate results of what is called Original Sin. As a result of it, we die, and in a lot of cases, that death is rather violent: a car accident, a bombing, suicide, homicide etc. What I always fall back on when there is a death of a loved one or someone close to me, is that God loves us, and sometimes, what we think is the best, is sometimes not the best. I am sure the reader can think of an instance where they wanted one thing and they got another, and it turned out better than they expected. I am not suggesting that this will turn out better than expected. God doesn't create this evil that kills people in car accidents. He allows evil to occur so that good things may happen as a result. If he didn't allow this evil, then he would be interfering with our free will, which is one of the greatest gifts God has given us. When Kevin died, there was a great evil that took him from this world. But a lot of good followed it. His mother became very devoted to her Catholic faith, the kid sentenced for vehicular manslaughter converted to the Catholic Faith, and there are other good things that came from it.

Now, despite these good things, I know I wish Kevin was still alive, and this girl's family will wish she is still alive. In the end, I can't explain why she died. At times like this, it is so important not to get mad at God; that doesn't help, believe me. It is specifically at times like this that we should cling to God even tighter. This is the time for religious awakening in our lives, the time where we look at ourselves and ask, "If I die in a car accident today, am I ready to greet God? Am I contrite?" We know that Christ has overcome death by His own death; we can be saved, not by what we do, but by God alone, who has overcome death.

Please know of my prayers for the family and for all those who mourn the loss of a great friend. She is a great gift to all who knew her, and she continues to be a great gift. Ask her to pray for you, and pray for her. And know that she is still with you, just in a different way.

Eternal rest grant onto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May her, and the souls of all the faithful departed, rest in peace. Amen.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Do We Worship Mary?

There are a lot of misconceptions about the role of Mary in salvation history, and especially, within the liturgical and prayer life of the Roman Catholic Church. Catholics are often perceived as "Mary worshipers", claiming that we worship Mary instead of worshiping Christ. Just recently, I came out of the Papal Mass in Washington D.C. when Pope Benedict XVI was in the United States, and I was met by a group of protesters who had very anti-Catholic leanings. One of the claims they made was that we worship Mary. And the reason why they may think this is that at one time or another, they probably heard a Catholic say, "I am going to pray to Mary for ...". And understandably, many people may hear this and think that we are somehow elevating Mary to the point that she is divine, because many times we say "we need to pray to Jesus". Notice that they are the same sentence, except we are praying to different people.

Ok, so this is something that needs to be resolved, so I am going to attempt to explain the difference between these two statements. Linguistically, the two sentences are the same. They use the same words and the sentence structure is the same. The only thing different from the two is that one has the name "Mary" and the other "Jesus". Going back to something I learned in grade school, the sentences denote the same thing; we, in both instances, are praying to something.

However, the two statements connote two totally different things. We must look at the meanings behind the words in order to get a sensus plenior (a fuller sense) of the meaning. When we pray to Jesus, we are praying for Jesus to answer our prayer. For example, in the prayer "Lord Jesus, help my son follow you more closely in everything that he does", this mother is asking Jesus to answer her prayer for a son who follows Christ. In the prayer "Blessed Mother Mary, we ask you to intercede on our behalf for the gift of Wisdom", notice that it isn't Mary who grants wisdom, but rather we are asking her to intercede for us for that gift of Wisdom. There is a difference. Mary intercedes for us. This is what we are really asking when we pray "I am going to pray to Mary for ...(say Wisdom)". This prayer is intercessory, while prayer to Jesus and the Holy Trinity is a prayer that has an element of worship to it. That element of worship is not there in prayer to Mary, because there is no worship being given her.

Now, there might be an element of praise given to Mary, and rightly so. There is a difference between praise and worship. Do we ever praise our children or our friends for doing something right, or for doing something good? Of course we do. When we praise someone, we are recognizing the role they play, and we praise them when they do a good job. When we praise Mary, we are praising the fact that she is the Mother of God, and that she intercedes for us to God. We are also praising Mary for her role of bringing Christ into the world, by saying, "I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done unto me according to thy word," as we read in the Gospel of Luke. There is a great element of praise that should be given to Mary, but let it not confuse people to make them think that we are actually worshiping Mary. That is a notion that is incorrect.

Now, this analysis begs the following question: "If we aren't worshiping Mary but rather asking for her intercession, can't we just go straight to Jesus to ask Him?" Well, the answer is yes. But there are a couple of additions I would like to make to that. The first is an example. When we were kids in the classroom, and one kid spoke up, asking if the class could go outside, the teacher would usually say no. But my experience as a student showed me that when the entire class asked to the point that the teacher would have to sit down and take an Aspirin, the teacher would more times than not give in and let us go out for a few minutes. Well, the same thing can be said for prayer. We can go straight to Jesus, but at the same time, you may want to have another person asking Jesus for what you want or need. And what better person is there than His own mother? What son would not do what His mother asks? Look at his upbringing, his early life. When Jesus was lost in the temple, Jesus was thereafter "obedient to them" (Luke 2:51), his parents. He listened to them, and He is still listening.

Now, maybe this is instinctual, even for those out there who may not think so. Let me ask the reader a question: When you have a great need, say, you need to find a new job, or you really want to have a baby, but something isn't going right, do we keep it to ourselves, ashamed of our need or want? No. You ask your friend, or brother, or mother, or neighbor to pray for you so that your prayer may be answered. Once again, prayer is powerful in numbers. Those people you ask, when they pray, are interceding for you. This is a similar thing to asking Mary or the saints to pray for you (we ask the saints to pray for us in an intercessory way as well). And I certainly encourage you to ask your friends to pray for you. It is important for others to know your struggles and to spiritually help you get through them. You ask your closest friends and relatives for help. Mary is your friend. Mary is your spiritual Mother (Pope Paul VI declared Mary as Mother of the Church during the Second Vatican Council), so we can look to Mary as our Mother as well. She is so close to Jesus, why not ask her for help?

For Scripture passages to reflect on the intercessory role of Mary, consider reading the Gospel of John 2:1-10. This is the Wedding Feast at Cana. It is a great example of the intercessory power of Mary when she intercedes on behalf of the wedding guests.

Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us. Our Lady of the Rosary, Pray for us.

Icon under the Patronage of Mary, Mother of the Church. Icons are used to present theology, and they are found in Eastern liturgy. They are predominant in the Eastern Churches.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

May 31- The Feast of The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today, May 31st, in the western Church, we celebrate the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. On this day, we celebrate the visit of the Virgin Mary to Elizabeth, her cousin. Elizabeth is with child at this point as well with John, who is to become the Baptist who baptizes Jesus in the Jordon. This feast is celebrated on May 31, but this is a recent date to celebrate it on. In the Tridentine Calendar, the feast is celebrated on July 2.
The history of this feast day began with the Franciscans when in 1263 they started recognizing this feast upon suggestion by St. Bonaventure, a famous Franciscan theologian who lived about a generation after St. Francis. It was universally adopted in 1389 by Pope Urban VI. According to one source I read, he instituted the feast with the hope that Christ and His Mother "would visit the Church and put an end to the great schism which rent the seamless garment of Christ" (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15480a.htm). Maybe a greater devotion to Our Lady of the Visitation could help alleviate divisions we have now, not only between Catholics who may disagree on things, but also between Catholics and non-Catholic Protestants. May we always seek and strive after unity, as that seamless garment of Christ.

The following are the liturgical readings of the day, so that one may read and meditate upon them.

Reading 1
Zep 3:14-18a

Shout for joy, O daughter Zion!
Sing joyfully, O Israel!
Be glad and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
The LORD has removed the judgment against you,
he has turned away your enemies;
The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst,
you have no further misfortune to fear.
On that day, it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged!
The LORD, your God, is in your midst,
a mighty savior;
He will rejoice over you with gladness,
and renew you in his love,
He will sing joyfully because of you,
as one sings at festivals.

or

Rom 12:9-16

Brothers and sisters:
Let love be sincere;
hate what is evil,
hold on to what is good;
love one another with mutual affection;
anticipate one another in showing honor.
Do not grow slack in zeal,
be fervent in spirit,
serve the Lord.
Rejoice in hope,
endure in affliction,
persevere in prayer.
Contribute to the needs of the holy ones,
exercise hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you,
bless and do not curse them.
Rejoice with those who rejoice,
weep with those who weep.
Have the same regard for one another;
do not be haughty but associate with the lowly;
do not be wise in your own estimation.

Responsorial Psalm
Isaiah 12:2-3, 4bcd, 5-6

R. (6) Among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.
God indeed is my savior;
I am confident and unafraid.
My strength and my courage is the LORD,
and he has been my savior.
With joy you will draw water
at the fountain of salvation.
R. Among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.
Give thanks to the LORD, acclaim his name;
among the nations make known his deeds,
proclaim how exalted is his name.
R. Among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.
Sing praise to the LORD for his glorious achievement;
let this be known throughout all the earth.
Shout with exultation, O city of Zion,
for great in your midst
is the Holy One of Israel!
R. Among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.

Gospel
Lk 1:39-56

Mary set out
and traveled to the hill country in haste
to a town of Judah,
where she entered the house of Zechariah
and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting,
the infant leaped in her womb,
and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit,
cried out in a loud voice and said,
“Most blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And how does this happen to me,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears,
the infant in my womb leaped for joy.
Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord
would be fulfilled.”

And Mary said:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever.”

Mary remained with her about three months
and then returned to her home.

The Magnificat proclaimed above by Mary (beginning with "My Soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord") will be the topic of future posts.
There is a lot of artwork attributed to this feast. It is one of the major scenes of the life of Mary that artists throughout the centuries have tried to capture. I provide you here with a sampling of artistic renditions.







These are just a few samples of the artwork done throughout the history of Christianity that have captured the Visitation.

Meditation
Over the years of meditating on this scene from the Bible on the life of Mary, there are some things that stand out on this passage. In the Catholic Church, there is a deep tradition of Eucharistic processions. The Eucharist is placed in a monstrance and is processed around. It is a devotion of piety. When I participate in a procession like this, I am always looking forward to that time when the Eucharist is right in front of me. It is an intense moment of intimate prayer, and we are reawakened to the mystery and truth of the Eucharist. What is the truth of the Eucharist? It is the truth professed in John 6, "I am the bread of life." The Eucharist is Jesus' body and blood. It is a true sign; it isn't just a symbol.

Mary, in the Gospel account, is in a way the very first monstrance, and Elizabeth and John who encounter her are reawakened to a deep faith. For it says in the Gospel account that John leapt in Elizabeth's womb when they came near. The Feast of the Visitation is really an account of the very first Eucharistic procession.

This is why the priest humbly submits himself to the will of God, to be able to carry out the task of bringing Jesus into the world at Holy Mass. The priest should constantly say "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done unto me according to thy Word." It was Mary's radical yes that allowed the Son of God to enter into the world in the first place, and the Eucharist is the priest remembering that Incarnation, by literally bringing Jesus into the world again. So as the priest is constantly imitating Christ by being "in persona Christi", he is also in a special way imitating Mary, by submitting himself to allow Jesus to enter into the world (The Annunciation), and by bringing the Eucharist to the whole world, like Mary herself did in the Visitation. What I write here can only touch upon this great mystery of the priest and Mary, and what we learn from the Visitation. Many of my reflections will involve this biblical passage because of the amount of information we learn as a result of it.

What I recommend today is to pray the Joyful mysteries of the Holy Rosary. The second Joyful Mystery is the Visitation, and I invite you to prayerfully contemplate this great Feast. It can open up many meditative subjects. How can I imitate Mary and bring Christ to the world? How do I respond to the Gospel message of salvation offered through Christ? How can we better imitate Elizabeth, that great woman of faith who was barren until late in life, and still had faith in God, and whose son would eventually become the herald of Christ? These are things that we may need to think about. I would consider it.

God bless. Our Lady of the Visitation, pray for us. St. Elizabeth, pray for us. All you holy angels and saints, pray for us.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Greetings

Well, this is my first post to my very first blog (at least in the past three years). I formerly used a Xanga site, but for different reasons, I stopped using that. I want to do two things in this post: tell you a little about myself, and tell you why I am creating this blog.

My name is Bobby. I grew up near Washington D.C. I am currently planning to move back there, to around the Northern Virginia area for work. I will spare you all the autobiographical stuff that isn't really that important for why I am creating this blog. I went to a small liberal arts Catholic college in northern Maryland called Mount St. Mary's College, and I graduated in 2005. I have a BA in history, and I also minored in theology. Despite me solely minoring in theology during my undergrad, this is where a passion of mine resides. I will relate my vocation story a little later in a different blog post, but to keep it short, I felt the call to become a Catholic priest, so I went into seminary right after college. I was sent back to the Mount, and I was there for three years. In another post, I will tell you why I left the seminary; what I will tell you now is that I love my Catholic faith even more with my time in seminary, and I recognize the priesthood as a true gift from God in every respect. This is where I am at now.

To the second point: Why am I starting this blog? I was in seminary for three years, and I have an insider's view as to what seminary is. There may be a lot of misconceptions out there about what a seminary is, and what the men in the seminary are like. I would like to use this blog to paint a picture for you readers as to what really goes on in the seminary. I also am using this as a way to encourage and spread devotion to the Virgin Mary, and to dispel misconceptions people may have about the teachings of the Catholic Church. I pray that this blog will prove useful to someone out there. Even if it only helps one person, this blog will not be futile.

I look forward to future blogs. I hope to post a new blog once a week or so. Please pray that this works.