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.

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.