“The land you are to enter and possess is not like the land of Egypt from which you have come…” – Deuteronomy 11:10
I am reading The Seven Storey Mountain, the autobiography of Thomas Merton, a broken and sinful young man who grew up between the World Wars, converted to Catholicism in his 20s, and ultimately became a Trappist monk and priest. Merton is complicated, and his later writings indicate a potentially dangerous attraction to Buddhism. But externally, at least, he never left the priesthood or his order, and his conversion story is a profound and thought-provoking read.
Merton regrets that he did not have the sense to embrace the life of grace the Lord was providing on the day he joined the Catholic Church. Following his baptism and first Holy Communion, he returned to the life he led before—as an aspiring intellectual and writer—except with a few spiritual practices added to the mix: He attended Mass on the weekends and sometimes during the week, went to Confession more than once a month, and engaged in spiritual reading on a fairly regular basis.
To my eyes, that list reads like the makings of a strong disciple. Merton saw it differently: “A man who has just come out of the hospital, having nearly died there, and having been cut to pieces on the operating table, cannot immediately begin to lead the life of the ordinary working man. And after the spiritual mangle I have gone through, it will never be possible for me to do without the sacraments daily, and without much prayer and penance and meditation and mortification.” Continue reading
Blogger’s Note: Awhile back I offered to Father to speak to the parish on the purpose of the Open Adoration events we have been hosting, and instead, he asked me if I would share a stewardship witness—a conversion story of sorts—on the Eucharist and Adoration. This short talk was delivered after all the Masses the weekend of October 26-27, 2019.
Brothers and sisters: I’d like you to ask yourself the following question: At this moment, who is the most important person in the room? Does everyone have someone in mind? OK, on the count of three, point to that person: 1…2…3…
Several years ago, I was helping to get our faith formation program going, and the director, Carol Freeman, asked a favor of me. During LIFT we were going to spend time in Adoration—silent prayer in front of the Holy Eucharist—and she asked if I would lead a closing prayer at the end.
I said I would—then spent the rest of the session trying to figure out why she asked me, of all people. I was on the Faith Formation Committee, but beyond that, I was nobody important in the parish. I looked around the church and thought, I’m not even the most important person in the room. Father’s here; he’s more important. Carol’s the director; she’s more important. Continue reading
Blogger’s Note: This was my short final paper for the third semester of the Catechetical Institute, “The Moral Life: Fulfillment in Beatitude.”
The third pillar of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), Life In Christ, pertains to the moral life, as summarized in the Ten Commandments and perfected in the Beatitudes (CCC 1965 and following). This initial point is not a small one: Many of us grow up with the commandments as the foundation for our moral life and do not mature past that point. I have seen two impacts of this in my own life. The first is a simplistic notion of sin and my own so-called goodness (“Well, I haven’t killed anyone…”). The second is a legalistic approach to practicing Catholicism, as though if I just learn the rules well enough and follow them closely enough, I can get to heaven.
But the further one reads beyond those first stone tablets, the more rules one finds, and it seems impossible to achieve holiness on our own steam. By contrast, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives us a positive (both in the emotional and legal sense) restatement of God’s laws, which both challenge and inspire us to do good instead of simply avoid evil. God’s beatitude—His kingdom, His vision, His joy and His rest (CCC 1720)—gives each of us and the Church as a whole our purpose (CCC 1719), and “confronts us with decisive moral choices”:
It invites us to purify our hearts of bad instincts and to seek the love of God above all else. It teaches us that true happiness is not found in riches or well-being, in human fame or power, or in any human achievement…but in God alone, the source of every good and all love (CCC 1723).
Ever found yourself so preoccupied with the task in front of you that, when you found you need help, you bellow for your next of kin, only to realize they are right next to you?
Yeah, me neither.
Yesterday I was blessed with a Holy Hour in the middle of my work day. I made my way to the chapel at noon, knelt before the Blessed Sacrament, closed my eyes, and almost immediately, the weight of countless worries settled on my shoulders, and my heart began to ache for consolation, peace and rest. In silence, I began calling out to the Lord, asking Him to come, to hurry, to reassure me.
Then I stopped and blinked my eyes open to gaze upon the Eucharist in the monstrance before me—Jesus, waiting patiently.
I resolved to begin again, recalling the advice of our Demontreville retreat leader on beginning prayer and reflection: “Look at Him looking at me, and recognize, It’s good for us to be here.” In silence I greeted the Lord, and in silence He flooded my heart with peace.
A question arose: Why had I been so distraught? I hadn’t felt that way as I walked to the chapel. Only when I knelt to pray did I feel as though God was far from me.
Then, an answer: The distance was mine.
The cry of my heart as I knelt was not the result of God’s absence, but of my inattention to Him. It was not silence on His part, but deafness on mine. I was so preoccupied with countless cares and concerns I cried out to Him—not realizing He was right beside me.
You have asked to have your child baptized. In doing so you are accepting the responsibility of training him/her in the practice of the faith. It will be your duty to bring him/her up to keep God’s commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbor. Do you [parents] clearly understand what you are undertaking? – Catholic Rite of Baptism
Although we held our first classes and Confirmation retreat two Wednesdays ago, our Opening Mass and Kickoff event for the Faith Formation year was just last week. It was a beautiful Mass, with a solid turnout of families, teachers and volunteers, and even a few Confirmation sponsors, all praying together, worshiping God, and preparing to receive Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. For the most part, it was a beautiful family event.
I say for the most part, because the next day I heard multiple reports of a small group of middle-school girls who appeared to have been dropped off at the Mass and who sat in the back of the church on their smart phones, talking, laughing and swearing while the family in front of them tried to pray. In the Gathering Area, meanwhile, two upper-elementary or middle-school boys who were “going to the bathroom” made no pretext of even entering the bathroom, but talked and goofed around noisily in the corridor outside Meetings Rooms 1 and 2, where a weekly Bible study was going on.
The point in bringing this up is actually not the disciplinary issue, though we should be able to get through a 30-minute weekday Mass without patrolling the back pews and hallways for misbehaving teens and tweens. The point is that the Church, the Mass, and our Faith Formation programs exist for one reason—the salvation of souls—and we cannot achieve our mission without active and engaged parents. Continue reading