Wednesday Witness: Confirmation Pep Talk

Note: Last Saturday evening we had an informational meeting for Confirmation students and parents. Not everyone was able to attend, so I am attempting to recreate the brief Confirmation pep talk I gave, in writing, for those who missed out.

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I want to start with a question: Why are we here? Does anyone know? Is it just because I called a meeting?

I’m wearing one of my favorite shirts today: It has a drawing on it of two hands knitting what looks like a DNA strand, and if you look closely at the helix, you’ll see the word HANDMADE. At the bottom is a reference to Psalm 139:

You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are your works! My very self you know. My bones are not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, fashioned in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw me unformed; in your book all are written down; my days were shaped, before one came to be. – Psalm 139:13-16

What does this tell us about why we are here? It tells us that God created each of us individually, with a specific purpose in mind, that He knows us intimately and loves us completely. Genesis tells us we are made in God’s image, and the Gospel of John tells us God is Love. We are made by Love, from love, to give and receive love. This is our whole purpose: to learn to love as God loves and ultimately find our way back to Him. The meaning of life is no more complicated than that. Continue reading

Liturgy and Sacraments: The Spirit at Work in the World

Blogger’s Note: This was my final short reflection paper for Module II of the Catechetical Institute, on liturgy and the sacraments. I continue to be drawn toward the person and activity of the Holy Spirit, which I’ve been slow to comprehend in the past.

The Spirit is the fuel of the Church, the energy and life force of the Body of Christ. And we can’t get him through heroic effort. We can only get him by asking for him. That’s why, for the past two thousand years, the Church has begged for this power from on high. Jesus told us that the Father would never refuse someone who asked for the Holy Spirit. So ask! And ask again! Realize that every liturgy is a begging for the Holy Spirit. (Bishop Barron, Daily Gospel Reflection 5/8/18).

The second pillar of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), “The Celebration of the Christian Mystery,” pertains to liturgy and the sacraments. The opening paragraphs (CCC 1066-2068) connect back to the first pillar, “The Profession of Faith,” by re-asserting God’s plan outlined in the Creed:

“For it was from the side of Christ as he slept the sleep of death upon the cross that there came forth ‘the wondrous sacrament of the whole Church.’” For this reason, the Church celebrates in the liturgy above all the Paschal mystery by which Christ accomplished the work of our salvation (CCC 1067).

The liturgy in its various forms celebrates the great mystery of Jesus’ saving mission. It is the “public work” (leitourgos) of the Church: the “participation of the People of God in ‘the work of God’” (CCC 1069), which manifests her as a visible sign of communion between God and man (CCC 1071).  The Church is born on Pentecost, the new Body of Christ on earth following the ascension of the resurrected One, and Jesus acts “in and with” this body through the sacramental economy (CCC 1076). The fruits of this mystery are shared liturgically, especially through the sacraments, “efficacious signs” (CCC 1131) instituted by Jesus and entrusted to the Church to give us the grace we need to live lives of holiness. Continue reading

He Thinks, Therefore I Am

Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? — 1 Corinthians 3:16

Yesterday morning I read St. Matthew’s account of the baptism of the Lord. Two things struck me. The first was that, in the Ignatius (Revised Standard Version) Bible I was reading, the translation is somewhat different from the New American version we hear at Mass (linked to above). The New American translation says, “[H]e saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove [and] coming upon him.” The Revised Standard translation says, “[H]e saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him.”

The difference is small, but struck me as important, because alighting suggests the Holy Spirit came to rest on Jesus and remained with Him. This is reinforced by the first line of the next chapter, which begins just one verse later: “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”

See that? The Spirit is still with Him, leading Him.

The Holy Spirit doesn’t leave us, either. We talk sometimes about the indelible mark left on our souls by certain of the sacraments, which might leave us with the mistaken notion that God makes an impression on us but doesn’t stick around. But clearly the Spirit did not leave Jesus—in fact, in paragraph 695 of the Catechism, we learn that the Holy Spirit represents the very anointing that signifies Jesus as the Christ, or messiah: the anointed one of God. And He is covered completely by this anointing, as close as oil on skin: “The humanity the Son assumed was entirely anointed by the Holy Spirit” (CCC 695). Continue reading

Able-Bodied

good-friday-2264164_1920Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it. – 1 Corinthians 12:27

Over the past three years I’ve been blessed to serve as faith formation director for our parish and to write a monthly column in our church bulletin. I’ve tried in that time to urge us all to discipleship: to cultivate a personal relationship with Jesus every day, listening and responding to what He asks of us, seeking the lost and leading them to heaven.

It’s a big job, to be sure, but we are not alone. We are one body, with Christ as our head. Through the Apostles, the bishops, our priests, and our baptism, His mission of saving souls has been given to each of us. Individually we are ill-suited to the task of redeeming the world, but together?

Together we are unstoppable. Continue reading

O’Connor, or Three Things to Love About The Violent Bear It Away

Blogger’s Note: Several years ago, I agreed to my friend Jacqui’s challenge to read 15 Classics in 15 Weeks. Though 15 weeks is long past, this, at last, is 15 of 15!

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“From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away.” 
— Matthew 11:12 (Douay-Rheims Bible); epigraph of Flannery O’Connor’s The Violent Bear It Away

I am somewhat embarrassed to say that this was my first venture into Flannery O’Connor’s fiction, and what an introduction. It is a dark, hard, unflinching work, awful and mesmerizing, like a wreck along the highway–and yet strangely hopeful even as it descends. 

The book tells the story of Francis Marion Tarwater, an orphan boy in the mid-20th century deep South, raised with backwoods, biblical faith by his great uncle who believes himself to be a prophet and the boy to be his successor. When the uncle dies (at the very beginning of the story, so not a spoiler), the boy begins a very real spiritual struggle to discover the truth of this calling and the fate of his soul. The book builds a sense of dread even as the reader clings to threads of hopefulness, and erupts in violence both in present tense and in flashbacks–calling to mind a number of interpretations for the title and scripture verse it references.

I hesitate to say much more, for two reasons: first, this is a novel to be experienced, not spoiled or “set up,” and second, I honestly am not entirely sure what to make of it. I decided to wait a day or so before writing Three Things to Love, in order to reflect on the book–and I purposely didn’t read any commentaries. This morning, however, I read a couple of reflections on it by other people, and it appears I am not alone. O’Connor reportedly agonized over it, and readers for years have struggled with its deeper meanings and implications. On the surface, it is about the persistent pull on our hearts of both God and the world, and each person’s struggle to find freedom: will they take up the Lord’s yoke and find that it is light, or cast off the shackles of belief and live this life, for this world? It can be read (and enjoyed, after a fashion) at this level, but I am convinced there is deeper meaning here and will read it again someday.

So with that preamble, Three Things to Love about The Violent Bear It Away:
  • The Descriptions. Unlike several of the other books I read for this challenge (Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Melville), this is a short book but still ripe with detail and description. O’Connor uses sparse, poetic language; metaphor; and simile to sculpt with words; the results a real, living people unalterably carved in stone.
  • Unflinching Honesty. O’Connor does not shy away from the darkness in humanity, and shares the thoughts and actions of her characters with relentless, sometimes shocking, honesty. At the same time, she does not succumb to the modern tendency to dwell on violence with pornographic detail–her matter-of-fact simplicity makes the book that much more compelling.
  • Eternal Themes. Faith and reason. Freedom and destiny. The nature of love. The spiritual combat. Here they are again: themes that arise in so much of great literature through the ages appearing again in 1960, set in the south of the United States. 
I feel as though I am sharing very little about this book, so maybe some comparisons would help. It reminds me in ways of two other books I enjoyed: Steinbeck’s East of Eden (one of my all-time favorite novels) and a more recent novel, Tobit’s Dog. If you like, check out those reviews to gauge whether The Violent Bear It Away might work for you.