Friday, October 30, 2009

#FrFriday: Irish Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty (1898 - 1963)

When I returned to the Catholic Church, I started to notice Catholic films. I'm a big film buff anyway, but didn't realize how many good Catholic stories were made into movies. One was "The Scarlet and the Black." It's the story of Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty who helped save thousands of POW Allies and refugees while in Rome during World War II.

It is an amazing story and I highly recommend it if you've not seen it. Monsignor O'Flaherty is played by Gregory Peck and the bad Nazi guy is played by (surprise!) Christopher Plummer. I say "surprise" because I usually think of Plummer's brave role fighting the Nazi's in "The Sound of Music." It is a story of hope, courage, forgiveness, and redemption. It's also interesting to see how Monsignor O'Flaherty reached out to the Jews in Rome to help them. Although Wikipedia says that in 2003, the Israeli government planted a tree in his honor in Yad Vashem (a memorial to Gentiles who have helped Jewish people, called "Righeous Among the Nations."), I could not find Monsignor's name on the website.

There is a group trying to build a more permanent memorial to Monsignor O'Flaherty. I find it sad that his hometown of Killarney, Ireland barely remembers him. I've always had a soft spot for Ireland. I hope the memorial is built and that many generations will remember the bravery and sacrifices of Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty. May he rest in peace.

Welcome, New Readers!

I've noticed some new faces and wanted to welcome you to my blog. I always love to see comments and try to respond when possible. Life has been a bit hectic lately, but I wanted you to know I appreciate your readership. I can be a little passionate about Catholicism but do try to remind myself it's a huge Body of Christ. We'll all have disagreements from time to time, but when it comes down to it, we all are invited to eat at the same table. :-)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

An Open Letter to the Teenagers in Front of Me at Mass

Have you ever looked at a teenager (who wasn't yours), and wished you could have a "heart-to-heart" with them? It may have been with a group of thirteen-year girls, smoking outside of a mall. It could have been the young man who already looks like he's on his way to a criminal lifestyle. Or maybe it was two fifteen-year old girls at Mass who could not stop whispering, playing "Rock, Scissors, Hand" or checking out everyone else at Mass, especially noticing the cute boys.

It is to the latter that I write this letter.

Dear Teenage Girls,

First, I would like to congratulate you on being at Mass. You were with your parents and I know at your age, there are about a gazillion things you'd rather be doing than hanging out with your parents at church on a Sunday morning. I'm not sure if there is any chance you'd be able to not attend Mass; but you were there, all the same. There is grace in your life, even if you do not recognize it.

I remember being your age and feeling as though the Mass was about as interesting as a lint ball. The same words, the same gestures, the same postures - over and over again. I was deadened to the liturgy, and one reason was because no one really explained the wondrous things that were occurring as I sat, stood, and knelt throughout an hour's time. I won't pretend to be able to express the meaning of the liturgy fully, but do hope to present a few considerations that will perhaps shift your perspective.

You are living in an entertainment-saturated world - much more so than when I was your age. When I was a teen, we had TV and movies in the theater. That was it. No cable. No computers. No YouTube. Not even VCRs (those came a little later). My entertainment was either seen on TV or by heading to the local cinema on a Saturday night. I almost wish it were the same for you.

Having a limited amount of choices for entertainment forced me to find other things that interested me, such as books, bicycle rides, listening to music, and getting together with friends. However, you are faced with a plethora of entertainment options. So many, that it's difficult to focus. If it's not following someone on YouTube, it's your cell phone. If it's not texting someone, it's flipping through the hundreds of channels on cable. If it's not that, it's heading back to the computer to watch a favorite TV episode on Hulu. Your life revolves around the computer, with all of its nano-second changes and updates, somehow making you feel that if you're not hooked into something electronic 16 hours a day - you're missing out.

Where is there time for reflection in your life? Do you have a "pause button" and if so, do you know how to use it?

Treating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as an "event" as though you were attending a high-school play would be misguided and more importantly, rob you of something your soul desperately needs. We live in a consumer-driven society. It is tempting to view Mass as a performance. But the way the world defines performance is in direct opposition to what occurs during Mass. The world sits back and says, "Entertain me." During the Mass, we as the Body of Christ, say "Remember Him." The focus isn't on ourselves, but on our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Mass isn't about us, but about Him. What happens to us when we adore Him, love Him, and dwell upon His sacrifice is a miracle.

There is a transaction of the soul that occurs during Mass. This can only happen if one is intent upon the liturgy. Our Father in heaven beckons us to come to the banquet table. His Son has invited us to partake of a holy event. Yes, I know it's tough to think of it as holy when you're sitting across from a drooling baby or notice your most annoying teacher is sitting in the front pew - but think for a moment. Why do we celebrate Mass? To remember by participating with the priest as he re-presents the most awesome sacrifice the world has ever seen.

This sacrifice is so holy that the devil has tried a million ways to either destroy it, or minimize its importance. There will always be distractions because the last thing the devil wants is for you to focus on what's going on. There is a spiritual battle raging that most likely, you are unaware of. Because the moment you start to focus on what's happening is the moment your soul is touched - the fingerprint of God has been laid upon your soul. And now your world has shifted. As you ponder the great mysteries of our faith, everything else starts to pale in comparison.

The Catholic Church has this lovely little sacrament called Reconciliation. I still call it confession because that's what I knew it as when I was younger. But it offers us the opportunity to come clean, to confess our sins so that when we receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, we're contrite in spirit. We know we messed up but amazingly, God still loves us. As long as we keep going to confession, keeping the sacraments, and attending Mass - our Creator will help us in life.

When we remember, and partake of the Holy Eucharist, our soul is fed. Some mock the Catholic belief of the Real Presence but think about this: we all consume something in life. Either we consume shallow entertainment or deluded philosophies or lies from the devil. (And there are many, for instance: anorexic is beautiful.) Tell me this - do any of those bring life to you? Do any of them free you? Or are you running around in bondage to what others think, whether you have the hippest clothing or coolest social life?

The Mass isn't "cool" because cool depends on other people's opinion of you. The phrase doesn't even come close to being worthy of describing Mass. There are deeper, more profound things than collecting the opinions of others and the Mass breaks it all down. It's just you and God. He is wanting your attention, your participation, your mind, body, and spirit all present and accounted for. He has some amazing things to share with you but only if you can leave the world at the door of your church and block out everything else. Close your eyes if you must to help you focus.

Because if you do, I can promise you that He will give you something far more precious than anything you have ever dreamed about. He will get right to the core of your being, wrap His arms around you, and show you that everything - Nazareth, Cana, Gethsemane, Golgotha - happened so that two thousand years later, you'd know He came for you, too.

Can our busy lives be paused for one hour as a community, once a week to remember and receive? I think so. I hope so. Because this world will never be able to fill our souls the way our souls were created to be filled. Only God can do that and the place He has chosen to do this, is at Mass. Respect the sacred.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Catholicism and Fellowship

I'm not sure if you have a similar background to mine. I spent years attending non-denominational churches and during that time, attended many, many home groups and Bible studies. There were times when I switched churches and one time I actually moved away to another state, causing me to leave one beloved group of people and launching out toward another. It is this last transfer of church membership I'd like to talk about.

This church was an integral part of my life for years. I served on the board of directors and initiated some of the ministries that continued after I left. I say this only to demonstrate that I was close to church leadership, considered church leadership, and gave much of my time to developing relationships.

Then, I moved to another state.

I made sure the decision to move to attend a ministry school in another state was covered with much prayer and counsel from my pastor. I wanted to receive a blessing when I left, already having witnessed several founding members leaving on a bad note. My pastor took these leavings very personally and I certainly didn't want to hurt him. However, I felt at that point that I wanted to attend a more formal school for spiritual growth, and was briefly evaluating Bible colleges and seminaries before deciding to pursue something a little different.

I was accepted to a new ministry school in Charlotte, North Carolina; and although my pastor was sad to see me go, I was sent off with a very nice "going away" party. I cherished that event and knew I'd miss everyone. Still, I expected to keep in touch with everyone.

Well, kinda sorta. My pastor's wife kept in touch with me for the first few months and then stopped writing or calling. The same happened with the music pastor and his wife. It wasn't as though we had a falling out. I just no longer was traveling within their sphere of influence. But it made me sad as I realized this happened over and over again, throughout many of my church experiences with relationship.

We were created for fellowship. God instilled in us a need for belonging and understanding. Within a church community, these needs are abundantly filled. But when someone travels from church to church, sometimes those needs go unfulfilled. Throughout my years in non-denominational churches, I made lots of friends. I was highly involved in "church life," attending Bible study groups, ministry groups, and participating in a variety of church events. But after I moved to another church (or moved to another state), I noticed that my relationships dissolved. It seemed as though "fellowship" could only exist within the framework of a shared church community. I kept thinking that it should extend to the Body of Christ at large.

Then I returned to the Catholic Church and something happened. I realized that as a Catholic, I could attend Mass just about anywhere in the world, and I would feel connected and have a sense of belonging. Perhaps my expectations for fellowship were aimed in the wrong direction. It occurred to me that as a Catholic, if I met another devout Catholic, we would instantly have a shared connection. Voila. Fellowship. This type of fellowship is borne not from a bunch of social events, but by sharing the Body and Blood of our risen Lord, Jesus Christ. It put "fellowship" in a whole new light for me.

I have always felt my "alone-ness" very keenly, and as such, treasure the times of fellowship and relationship with my brothers and sisters in Christ. But interestingly enough, I do not feel as alone when I'm with my Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ. There is something deep that knits us together and I know it is the liturgy and the Sacraments.

This is topic I've pondered quite frequently. What are your thoughts about Catholicism and fellowship?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

What I Love About Catholicism: Holiness, Mystery and Reverence

Lately, I've been thinking about Catholicism in all of its ripe fullness. The Mass, vestments, the Holy Rosary, the Sacraments, Catholic schools, traditions, feast days - and on and on. Catholics are often mocked or criticized for holding such things as important. Compared to the more "modern" celebrations of large non-denominational churches, Catholicism looks like the grandmother who refuses to smile.

But I thought more about who Jesus Christ was this week and how He is viewed through the lens of Catholic tradition. I thought about how completely holy He is, completely pure - and how this causes me to respond with both awe and deep humility. If He were to walk among us today, and if we really focused on who He is, who wouldn't respond with tears of both sorrow and joy? Sorrow, because we know how sinful we are and sin is especially clear to us when faced with pure holiness - and joy because through the love of our heavenly Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit, and the chosen vessel of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ - we have been forgiven.

Those who mock Catholicism are usually misinformed. They think they know what they so quickly dismiss as nothing more than lifeless rituals, but they really don't know because they've never really studied it. Catholicism is demanding on many levels. If you want to understand it, you can't just skate in on a Sunday morning, attend Mass, and then think that's it. And if you want to be fair, you can't simply judge an entire two-plus-millennium's worth of religion just because there were some priests and nuns who unfortunately, got it wrong.

Catholicism requires something of you. It isn't easy but when is finding treasure ever easy? If it was found easily, would it be worth much? Our relationship with our Creator is a multi-faceted one. In order to connect with Him, we need to separate ourselves from the world - which as you know, is no easy task. We are bombarded on a daily basis with unholy images, sinful pursuits, and irreverence. There used to be a modicum of civility within our society but it has been decreasing at an alarming level with each year's passing.

Jesus' disciples were recognized because they had spent time with Him. Not because they were busy with tasks but because they spent time in the presence of Holiness - it affected them, permeated them, and drew those who thirsted for the Living Water. Jesus is our focal point and from there, everything flows.

Within Catholicism, there is an awareness that who we are as His Church depends upon how we approach Him. When you hear someone say, "Other Christian churches are fine but it is the Catholic Church that holds the truth in full measure," it must cause some questions. The most obvious question would be: What is truth in full measure? We live in a world that rejects absolute truth but it really isn't anything new. The world rejected Jesus Christ when He walked upon dirt roads. So rejection continues.

I think about the non-denominational churches I've attended. Where are the Sacraments? Baptism, which some Christians call a "baby dedication," is only one. What about marriage? The receiving of the Holy Eucharist? Understanding the Holy Spirit and His place in our lives? Confession of our sins? Preparing ourselves for death and the joyful reunion in heaven with our Creator? Each one is a pivotal point in our faith. Why should any of them be treated lightly?

However, if you're a veteran of non-Catholic churches as I am, you'll know that quite often, these very sacred and holy milestones are treated lightly. As I've said before, many non-denominational churches don't celebrate Communion - even as a symbolic gesture. Yet Jesus' own disciples finally recognized our risen Lord during the breaking of the bread. (St. Luke 24:35) They were reminded of what He had done at the Last Supper.

Within our Catholic faith, each one of the Sacraments is meant for us to remember whom we belong to. It is to emphasize our identity in Christ. I almost want to say there is a natural progression from the profane to the sacred, but I know it doesn't "feel" natural, at all. It is a battle to pursue holiness. Each day we are faced with the same temptations as Christ but we are not alone. As Catholics, we have divine assistance in both Scripture and Tradition. We hold the Bible dear to our hearts, but we also are protected and guided by the Traditions of the Church and the prayers of the saints. There is reverence as we approach the heavenly throne of grace. And this is how it should be. We have been given the awesome gift of salvation and yes, we should approach it with fear and trembling. (Phil. 2:12)

Many who have observed a resurgent interest in the Traditional Latin Mass have reasoned that there is a hunger for mystery, and that this ancient rite fills it. I would agree. But I also believe that the "New Mass" is also filled with mystery for those who are open to it. Again, it is awareness and an intentional mindset that will allow a person to receive such things. I would argue that a person could attend a Traditional Latin Mass and still not receive if they're mind is wandering and distracted.

What is meaning? I don't mean to sound like I'm debating the politics of "is" but really, "meaning" is defined by our perception, is it not? Or an acceptance of what has been defined as meaningful by another? Since my return to the Catholic Church, I rejoice in meaning, I revel in it, I hunger and pursue it. Perhaps this was why I never felt completely satisfied within a non-denominational church. I wanted, or perhaps more accurately, needed, for things to mean something. Attending a church service that was comprised of twenty minutes of worship time and a sermon typically filled with cultural references would more often than not leave me wanting more. At times I would think as I left a service, "What just happened?" Meaning, was an afterthought.

I believe the Catholic Church is going to experience a revival. Yes, a revival. A term often assigned to Pentecostal churches and the like, but one that I think is going to be redefined soon. Our world is changing at a rapid pace and it's not growing lighter, but darker. People instinctively search for meaning because it was how we were created. Aside from the naysayers, most people want meaning in their lives. And quite frankly, order brings comfort. (Which is a whole other topic but one I've also been thinking about.)

It is within the Catholic Church that we have this in fullness: an awareness of the sacred and holy, a desire to preserve the mystery of our faith, and a reverence for that which we can't wholly comprehend but yet believe is true. It is majestic and glorious, our Catholic faith. And, available to all.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Congratulations, Mother Angelica and EWTN!

IRONDALE, AL, October 5, 2009 ( - Pope Benedict XVI has awarded EWTN foundress, Mother Mary Angelica, and Deacon Bill Steltemeier, Chairman of EWTN's Board of Governors, the Cross of Honor for distinguished service to the Church. The medal, officially known as "Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice" (literally "For the Church and the Pope"), is the highest honor that the Pope can bestow upon laity and religious.

Pope Awards Highest Honor to EWTN Founder Mother Angelica and Chairman

Year ago, my mother told me about Mother Angelica. She got a kick out of her, especially appreciating the nun's Italian feisty spirit. She encouraged me to listen to her, saying I'd love her. At the time, I was away from the Catholic Church, so I demurred and simply said she sounded interesting.

It wasn't until my mother passed away that I had any curiosity regarding EWTN. When I finally saw Mother Angelica on an old broadcast, I understood why my mother loved her. Mother Angelica is a joy and her passion for her Spouse and Church is contagious. I read the book about Mother Angelica's life, marveling over how she overcame many physical distresses to enter into a religious order and eventually conceiving the vision for EWTN. It is a remarkable story, about a remarkable woman who has the tenacity of a bulldog.

It is an awesome award and I am sure both she and Deacon Bill Steltemeier are just thrilled. Good for them. I daresay this is another way His Holiness is affirming the use of the media to spread the gospel. Praise God!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Happy Friday! Good News from California - Praying in the Name of Jesus

I caught this story as I was scanning the Catholic news and thought, "Bravo, California!" It's not too often we have good news from them, but this piece is pretty awesome.

LODI, Calif., Oct. 1 /Christian Newswire/ -- The Lodi City Council voted 5-0 last night to allow pastors to speak the previously forbidden words "in Jesus name" at the end of public prayers.

The victory vote came after months of lobbying, petitioning, protesting, and pro-Jesus rallies, both in Lodi and nationwide, organized by The Pray In Jesus Name Project.

An atheist group from Wisconsin has threatened a lawsuit if the city allows Jesus prayers, but the Mayor and four other councilors found their back-bone, and handed the atheists a resounding defeat.

Victory for Jesus Prayers - Lodi, CA Votes 5-0 To Defeat Atheist Complainers

Good for the Mayor and those councilors! I liked what Chaplain Klingenschmitt said. "Don't cave-in to empty threats of lawsuits by atheist complainers. Christian voters will rally to support you, and Jesus is not an illegal word!"

Some of you may remember what happened to Chaplain Klingenschmitt when he was a Navy chaplain. He was fired in 2005 from the Navy for refusing to omit Jesus' name in prayers. I remember reading this story and being stunned. It was like firing a plumber for using a wrench on the job. Prayer is certainly part of a chaplain's duty and I couldn't believe anyone - let alone our military - would prevent him from performing his duty. But it happened.

This decision must be especially heartening to him after all the grief he endured four years ago. And it is always heartening to me to see atheists served a big "so there." Their whining wore thin on me in a nanosecond. Can't they find something better to do with their time? Evidently not.

However, this time, score one for the Christians!