As For Me and My House: A Reflection on Staying Catholic

I believe in one, holy, catholic, apostolic Church. I say those words every Sunday and I still believe them, including that the Church is holy. Yes, she is full of the rottenness of men, the stink of sin rising to the very top. But she is still the Church.

In today’s Mass readings (the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 26, 2018), we hear from St. Paul (Eph. 5:21-32) that Christ loved the Church and loves her still, despite her flaws and sin. He doesn’t just love her, He died for her, to sanctify her, to cleanse her. He loves her so as to become one with her, to make her part of His mystical divine body. Just as the Old Testament prophet Hosea stayed faithful to Gomer, his wife who was also a harlot, so much more so will Christ stay faithful to His Church, even as she is unfaithful to Him and stinks to high heaven of sin.

After all, where else can we go? Even as I read last night the riveting and earth-shattering testimony of Archbishop Vigano, who names names and demands that Pope Francis and other high-ranking Vatican officials resign their offices for their failures to protect the Church from predators and underminers like Theodore McCarrick, I wept for my Church. And yet it never entered my mind that I would leave. This morning, my family was there in our parish, sitting in our regular pew, to celebrate Mass. And we heard Jesus challenge His disciples (John 6:60-69), after they have received the hard teaching of the Real Presence in the Eucharist from Him, “Do you also want to leave?”

How does Peter respond? He doesn’t say, “O Lord, I understand what you’re teaching me. I know what you mean when you said we must gnaw upon your flesh to have eternal life. Those other guys just haven’t given it deep enough thought.” No, what Peter says is, “Master, to whom shall we go?” To whom, indeed. Peter is admitting he doesn’t understand and perhaps even that what Jesus just said is troubling, but that he also knows deep down to the roots of his being that Jesus is Who He says He is, that He is the One who has come to seek and save the lost, that He comes from the Father. And that’s good enough for him.

It’s good enough for me. I won’t leave, no matter what priests, bishops, or popes do, because the “words of eternal life” aren’t from them. They are not “the Holy One of God” that Peter proclaims. And, sure, Peter doesn’t quite live up to his promise in that moment, denying Christ at the cross, but he comes back and is forgiven. So, I too, may be shaken by the events to come, the revelations of misdeeds and sin, but I won’t stray far. I will come back to the Way.

Because, as Joshua says in the first reading (Joshua 24:15), “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” My first loyalty is to the Lord, not to men. And we will serve the Lord in whatever way He calls us, in whatever way restores His Church and advances the kingdom. The alternative is to proclaim I will not serve (“non serviam”), but that way is the way of hell, literally.

“Far be it from us to forsake the Lord… therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.” (Joshua 24: 16, 18). Whatever may come, my house will serve the Lord, will stay faithful, will cling to the Sacraments, even as we do what we can to support the housecleaning to come in the Church.

Christ’s Resurrection Shook 200 Billion Galaxies Down to Their Atoms

The boys have been studying astronomy for a Cub Scout achievement and one of the facts that came up was that the Milky Way galaxy has 300 billion stars and that there are 200 billion galaxies in the observable universe. So huge.

And as I sit here contemplating the Resurrection, I think of how on one tiny planet, perhaps alone of all the trillions and trillions of planets around the trillions of stars bearing life made in the image and likeness of God, the Second Person of the Trinity was Resurrected.

That event, that amazing, historic, stupendous event shook the whole Cosmos right down to its foundations. Every atom, every subatomic particle, every string of dark matter, every neutrino was shaken … and CHANGED.

The Resurrection wasn’t just a big event. It was THE event. I can become so blase about it. Yes, God died for me and rose from the dead.

No, wait, listen: God … Died! He … Rose! And changed everything.

Scientists studying the Shroud of Turin say that the image was placed upon the fabric, not by paint or dye, but burned into the top layer of each strand by an unknown form of radiation that emanated not from the surface of the Body it contained, but from every cell of that body at once.

And that radiation carried more energy than that output by our sun in its lifetime. Then the cloth collapsed because the body within had moved elsewhere.

Why? Why would the Resurrection take place in such a spectacular manner, especially no one was in the tomb to witness it? Why not? Why would God create a universe of 200 billion galaxies for a people who would probably never travel beyond orbit of one star? Because it requires no drain of resources on Him, because creation is an act of His Will. And so the Resurrection would carry such power as an act of His Will and as a sign. It’s a sign for us today, 2,000 years later with our scientific understanding to begin to grasp the event.

This awesome spectacular event that shook the foundations of the universe and leaves me in awe. But also in joy.

Thank you, Lord. Praise you, Lord. Christ is Risen. He is Risen, indeed.

Why I Am Catholic (and You Should Be Too): A Book Review

There are lots of books that outline all the reasons one should give up atheism or other religions and become Catholic and with good reason: Because the path to the Catholic faith has its origins in many places and wends its way through a myriad of obstacles, challenges, and objections.

Brandon Vogt—one of the smartest, engaging, and energetic young Catholics out there—has written a new book, “Why I Am Catholic (and You Should Be Too),” that offers his own take on why one should consider the Catholic faith, a take that is aimed directly at the “nones”, the large and growing percentage of mostly young Americans today who tell pollsters that they have no religious preference, and does so in a way that should appeal to a younger audience, characterizing becoming Catholic as a way of “joining the Rebellion”, rather than giving into a massive institution.

I’ll admit it’s a weird decision. It goes against the grain. It’s radical. It is, in a word, rebellious.

In this concise, yet compelling book, Brandon outlines the reasons why anyone seeking the truth should become Catholic, using arguments both old and new. Brandon is an engineer by training and a philosopher by avocation so it’s no surprise that the book and its arguments are laid out in a logical progression, from whether God exists, to the necessity of religion vs. pure spirituality, to the supremacy of Christianity over other religions, to the Catholic Church. Read More and Comment

Ben Franklin Urges Us to Pray

On this date 230 years ago—June 28, 1787—Benjamin Franklin rose to address the Constitutional Convention, which had been fruitlessly wrestling toward a compromise so we could finally form a functioning government to serve the United States of America. For weeks, they had been stuck at an impasse. But Dr. Franklin, now 81 years old, rose at his place with difficulty and addressed the convention with his diagnosis of the problem and his prescription for the cure.

Mr. President:

The small progress we have made after 4 or five weeks close attendance & continual reasonings with each other — our different sentiments on almost every question, several of the last producing as many noes as ays, is methinks a melancholy proof of the imperfection of the Human Understanding. We indeed seem to feel our own wont of political wisdom, since we have been running about in search of it. We have gone back to ancient history for models of government, and examined the different forms of those Republics which having been formed with the seeds of their own dissolution now no longer exist. And we have viewed Modern States all round Europe, but find none of their  Constitutions suitable to our circumstances.

In this situation of this Assembly groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when to us, how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings? In the beginning of the contest with G. Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for the Divine Protection. — Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a Superintending providence in our favor. To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need His assistance.

I have lived, Sir, a long time and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth — that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings that “except the Lord build they labor in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall be become a reproach and a bye word down to future age. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments by Human Wisdom, and leave it to chance, war, and conquest.

I therefore beg leave to move — that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of this City be requested to officiate in that service.

My final note: In 2017, our country is more divided than ever, divided by our partial interests, and threatening to make the Tower of Babel look like a knitting circle. Maybe we’ve forgotten something that our Founding Fathers knew about becoming a United States of America.

Cancelling Mass on Christmas?

At first, I was going to comment on this article, “Why Churches Shouldn’t Cancel Services on Christmas Day,” by pointing his out as an essential difference between Protestants, on one side, and Catholics and Orthodox, on the other.

It seems many Protestant churches, especially of the Evangelical and mega-church variety, won’t have any services on Christmas Day, even though it’s a Sunday. That’s because they don’t usually do Christmas services so people can spend it as a “family day.” Instead, many of them are planning candlelight services on Christmas Eve, but many don’t even do that.

But it’s Sunday! The Lord’s Day, the feast of the Resurrection in which we commemorate the passion, death, and resurrection of the Lord. Remember the first commandment? Keep holy the Sabbath. As a Catholic, I can’t even conceive of not going to Mass on a Sunday. Or can I?

The fact is that we Catholics have started to fall prey to this as well, except in a slightly different way. How many Christmas Eve Masses will there be at your parish this year? Our parish has four. Most parishes around here have similar numbers. I know one parish where the parish tried to reduce from five to four and got an earful from parishioners. Everybody wants to go Christmas Eve so they don’t have to get up and leave the house in the morning, so they can stay in their pajamas amidst the gifts until it’s time to make Christmas dinner.

That’s sounds nice, but it kind of misses the point, doesn’t it? If we’re braving the scrum on Christmas, packing in like sardines, barely able to hear or participate in the Mass, checking off our obligation in order to say it’s been fulfilled so we can have Christmas Day for ourselves, are we really putting Christ in Christmas? Oh, of course, I applaud those who actually make the effort to go to Mass at all. That sets you apart from most, to be sure. But is that really what we should be offering?
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The Heart of St. Padre Pio in Boston

Update: They did make it there!

Thousands of people in the Boston area, some even flying in from other parts of the country, are venerating the heart of Padre Pio this week. It is the first time a major relic of St. Pio has traveled outside of Rome and it is here in Boston at the request of Cardinal Seán, a fellow Capuchin, for the saint’s feast day in the Year of Mercy.

The Boston Globe covers the initial veneration in Lowell and it’s funny to read the outsider’s perspective. We, Catholics, are a peculiar bunch and I can see why others think it’s weird. But human beings are weird and quirky, especially when it comes to those we love who are no longer with us.

You have to see George Martell’s photos of the visit on the Archdiocese’s Flickr page. You can see the full range of experiences and emotions that were present.

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Melanie and the kids are going to the Pastoral Center in Braintree this morning for veneration. They’re bringing a picture of Padre Pio that came to us mysteriously. Several years ago, Melanie took the kids to daily Mass on Sophia’s feast day and as they come out after, a young man approached them with the picture and said that it was for them. Melanie had never seen him before and didn’t recognize him from the parish at all. The picture has been in the girls’ bedroom since then. They hope to touch the picture to the heart of Padre Pio today and make it a third-class relic.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to go. I hope to swing by the Pastoral Center on my way home this afternoon, but my guess is that after the noon Mass until the end at 5pm the place will be crazy with people.

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Those who are not hungry don’t appreciate the Bread

“Those who don’t understand why Christ came in the form of food, have never been poor.”

Belief and understanding in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is an all-time low in our country. At the same time, Americans are the most well-fed people in history. Is it a coincidence?

For most of history, the majority of people have struggled to survive from meal to meal. Even those who were moderately well off were usually only a bad harvest from starvation. Perhaps it takes a real hunger to realize your absolute need and dependence.

“Imagine what it means, that Christ became food for us to share and consume. Imagine the audacity of God, the impossibly lavish gift. We gather at this table, all of us accursed who walk in exile through the valley of the shadow of death. All languages, all cultures are one here. The rich and the poor, the clean and the lepers, those who bear a curse more visibly than others– together we receive the Bread of Heaven which cannot be thrown to the dogs but is freely given to the accursed. God is our celebration, giving of Himself so that we might live. This is pure love poured out, kindness and self-giving like we have never known. This is the Miracle before which all others pale. This is the Bread of Heaven, and blessed is His name.”

Faith through the generations

A nice story of how generous giving was remembered more than 60 years later and a connection of faith was extended through the veil of time.

When Father Timothy Naples sent the tabernacle from St. Theresa Church in Orleans to be refurbished, he was surprised to learn a list of names had been tucked inside its lining. He thought they were the names of people who had given the tabernacle to the church in 1952.

They weren’t; he had come upon a mystery.

Even parishioners did not recognize the names.

I’m going to guess that this happens more often in Europe and covering a longer span of time.

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