Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Contemplate with Deacon Nate: Top 10 Reasons to Go to Mass

Many Catholics who have left the Church have done so because they never fully understood the Church's teaching on the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Many Catholics who complain that they aren't/weren't being "fed" do not realize that the Bread from Heaven is available at every Mass, and that the Mass is nothing less than miraculous. At every Mass, ordinary bread and wine becomes the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ. Jesus wants to feed us with his very self so that we might divinize us, that is, allow us to share in his divinity! This is utterly Good News. 

The following is a Top 10 list I created; it is not an official Top 10 list from the Vatican (or from Letterman for that manner, although I'd love to see him use it on his show!). I pray it inspires you and increases your love for the Mass and for our Lord present in the Eucharist. Ever since his Ascension, he is not limited to time and space anymore. He is present simultaneously at the right hand of the Father AND in every tabernacle in the world! He is made present, under the appearances of bread and wine, at every Mass, because he loves us and wants to fill us with his divine life. 

Top 10 Reasons to Go to Mass

10. Pray with Power! 
St. Bernard says, "One merits more by devoutly assisting at a Holy Mass than by distributing all of his goods to the poor and traveling all over the world on pilgrimage." St. Peter Julian Eymard says, "Know, O Christian, that the Mass is the holiest act of Religion. You cannot do anything to glorify God more nor profit your soul more than devoutly assisting at It, and assisting as often as possible."

9. Become a Witness! 
Would you consider yourself a 'witness of hope’? Pope John Paul II says that the Eucharist "...enables us to become, for everyone, witnesses of hope (Ecclesia de Eucharistia).” When we receive Holy Communion, we also receive the Holy Spirit who empowers us to be witnesses to the gospel. Saint Ephrem says, “He called the bread his living body and he filled it with himself and his Spirit... He who eats it with faith, eats Fire and Spirit" (quoted by John Paul II inEcclesia de Eucharistia, #17). 

8. Save the World! 
“Through the liturgy Christ, our redeemer and high priest, continues the work of our redemption in, with, and through His Church" (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1069). Focus on the word 'through' here. By attending Mass, we help to redeem the world! Scott Hahn says, "God wills that you and I should play an indispensable role in salvation history" (The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth, p. 138). We can help to end every form of evil in the world, including the abortion holocaust, by offering our Holy Communions for concerns that the Lord puts on our heart, and by making visits to Jesus in the tabernacle for these concerns! We should be sure to offer each Holy Communion we receive for a specific intention.

7. Visit Heaven on Earth! 
Mass is a preview, or foretaste, of Heaven. John Paul II says that the Mass is "heaven on earth," and that, "the liturgy we celebrate on earth is a mysterious participation in the heavenly liturgy" (Angelus Address, Nov. 3, 1996). 

6. Love Better! 
“As bodily nourishment restores lost strength, so the Eucharist strengthens our charity, which tends to be weakened in daily life; and this living charity wipes away venial sins" (CCC #1394). Look to the Saints. They went to Mass often, and were empowered by Jesus in the Eucharist to love others with heroic love!

5. Be Freed from That Sin Habit! 
“Holy Communion separates us from sin…the Eucharist cannot unite us to Christ without at the same time cleansing us from past sins and preserving us from future sins" (CCC #1392). The Eucharist is the ultimate antidote to the deadly temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Make it a one-two punch by regular Confession also, another incredible gift God offers us to free us from sinful habits. For serious sins (aka "mortal sins"), we need to go to Confession before we can receive Holy Communion.

4. Help the Holy Souls in Purgatory! 
St. Bonaventure says, “Oh Christian souls, do you wish to prove your true love towards your dead? Do you wish to send them the most precious help and golden key to Heaven? Receive Holy Communion often for the repose of their souls.” 

3. Prove Your Love! 
We prove our love for someone by spending time with them. “Because Christ himself is present in the sacrament of the altar, he is to be honored with the worship of adoration. ‘To visit the Blessed Sacrament is . . . a proof of gratitude, an expression of love, and a duty of adoration toward Christ our Lord’" (Pope Paul VI, MF 66) (CCC #1418). Pope John Paul II says, "Jesus waits for us in this sacrament of love!" Receiving Jesus in the Eucharist at Mass and making a visit (short or long) to the tabernacle outside of Mass are great ways to prove our love for the one who loves to prove his love for us. Also, we prove our love for him by following the precepts of his Church, including participation in Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of obligation.

2. Be Filled with Divine Life! 
“The Lord addresses an invitation to us, urging us to receive him in the sacrament of the Eucharist: 'Truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you'" (CCC #1384). We feed or bodies daily, should we not feed our souls often as well? We imitate Mary when we invite Jesus into our hearts by receiving Holy Communion.

1. Abide in Jesus! 
“The principal fruit of receiving the Eucharist in Holy Communion is an intimate union with Christ Jesus" (CCC #1391). Jesus says, "I am the living bread that came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever; . . . he who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life and . . . abides in Me, and I in him (John 6:51, 54, 56).”

Please see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and John chapter 6, for more faith-building info about this most amazing treasure of our faith, the Holy Mass. The Mass doesn't have to be boring; a little self-education can make our experience much richer!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Contemplate with Deacon Nate: The Family: A School of Holiness

Throughout the world today, the family is in crisis. Because the family is the fundamental building block of society, society is likewise in crisis. Anything that harms the family, harms society. On the flip side, John Paul II (JP2) says that everything that supports the family will positively affect society (Familiaris Consortio (FC), 75). How goes the family, so goes the world. What is the solution to this crisis? In a word, the Gospel. Who is the solution? Jesus Christ, whom John Paul II calls “the answer to the question that is every human life.”[1]
John Paul II was a champion of the family. In his prophetic writings, he repeatedly emphasizes that evangelization of and by the family is essential for the future of the Church and of the world. He exhorts the family to “become what you are…a community of life and love” (FC, 17). His words are sobering: “[t]he future of humanity passes by way of the family. It is therefore indispensable and urgent that every person of good will should endeavor to save and foster the values and requirements of the family” (FC, 86). Finally, he says, “the role of the family in building a culture of life is decisive and irreplaceable” (Evangelium Vitae, 92). This is why families must live a spirituality that fosters holiness and evangelization!

Vatican II teaches that “all the faithful, whatever their condition or state, are called” to holiness (Lumen Gentium, 11). What is holiness? It is the perfection of charity; it is becoming like God, who is love. JP2 declares that the family is the means of realizing the call to holiness (Ecclesia in America, 46)! The family is meant to be a school of holiness, love, and virtue. Everyday family life gives us PLENTY of opportunities to grow in holiness! We just have to be alert to them. To answer this call to holiness, the family must practice a genuine Christian spirituality. The term “spirituality” is derived from the New Testament and from the Holy Spirit. JP2 defines it as “‘life in Christ’ and ‘in the Spirit’, which is accepted in faith, expressed in love and inspired by hope.” Certain results flow from genuine spirituality, namely, the Holy Spirit makes us experience God and his revelation as real, leads us to surrender our lives to God, and reproduces in us the life of Christ.

Unfortunately, few models of family spirituality can be found in Christian tradition. In the past there have been perceived obstacles to holiness for the family, including the busyness of family life as well as spousal sexual relations. Are these truly obstacles? NO! On the contrary, Vatican II and JP2 teach that the married state is a “privileged place” for Christians to become holy! In his “Theology of the Body”, JP2 reveals that marital relations are meant to share in and reflect the love of the Trinity, by being free, total, faithful, and fruitful.

One model of family spirituality focuses on the roles assigned to us in baptism. In baptism, each family member shares in Christ’s priesthood, prophethood, and kingship, and has the privilege of and obligation to actively live out these roles. A family spirituality focused on these roles enables family members to overcome in themselves what JP2 calls the “separation of the Gospel from life” (Christifideles Laici, 34). This separation is spiritually dangerous (and is so much less exciting than a Gospel-soaked life!)

A priest’s role is to sanctify. Family members are called to share in Christ’s priesthood by sanctifying themselves and others. John Grabowski gives some ideas for this, including private prayer, prayer as a family, family attendance at Mass, and the offering of daily life to God.[2] Christian parents have the responsibility of educating their children in prayer (FC, 60). Paul VI challenges parents in this regard, saying, “Mothers, do you teach your children the Christian prayers? … And you, fathers, do you pray with your children… In this way you bring peace to your homes.”[3] Spontaneous prayer between spouses fosters intimacy, healing and forgiveness. Vatican II encourages families to pray the Liturgy of the Hours together. Various popes have strongly encouraged the Rosary, for Mary is “in a special way the Mother of Christian families” (FC, 61). The MOST important route to holiness is participation in the Eucharist and the other sacraments. Family visits to Jesus in the tabernacle are a powerful way to build family peace. Jesus instituted the sacrament of Penance (Confession) for the entire family, so that we might regularly hear him speak, through the priest, those peace-giving and joy-giving words “I absolve you”!

I am forever grateful that my parents actively shared in Christ’s priesthood. When I was growing up, after I climbed into bed each night, one of my parents would lay a hand on my head and pray a short blessing. This ancient Jewish practice did wonders for my faith by giving me a strong sense of God’s love. Sunday Rosary growing up was a bonding time in my family. Speaking of bonding, seasonal traditions such as the Advent Wreath Ceremony, the Jesse Tree, the weekly Lord’s Day Ceremony, and the Christian Seder Meal helped us all to encounter Jesus and grow in love for the Church and for one another.

The family actively shares in Christ’s prophethood, says Grabowski, by fidelity between members, hearing and sharing God’s Word with one another, catechesis by parents, mutual correction, forgiveness, the witness of a non-materialistic lifestyle, and evangelization. (FC, 52). JP2 states that the family “needs to be constantly and intensely evangelized” (FC, 51) and that it becomes an evangelizing community to the degree that it is evangelized (52). So, the prophetic role of the family concerns evangelization of, within, and by the family.

The parents’ mission of evangelizing and catechizing their kids is IRREPLACEABLE (FC, 36)! It should not be left up to the church, school, etc.; a great deal of evangelization and catechesis should happen within the family, the “domestic church.” To evangelize their kids, parents must highlight God’s presence in daily life and build an atmosphere of faith at home. Parents (and godparents) must model and teach the faith. They must model it, i.e., show what it means to have a relationship with Jesus, to be in love with God. This includes praying with children, as already discussed. They must teach it, i.e. talk about their faith and catechize with tools such as religious films, games, and books. The most important book, of course, is the Good Book. St. John Chrysostom says, “concern for spiritual things will unite the family …. Don’t think that it isn’t necessary for a child to listen to the Scriptures …. It is necessary for everyone to know Scriptural teachings, and this is especially true for children.”[4] They must never go it alone, but “collaborate responsibly with all the other evangelizing and catechetical activities present and at work in the ecclesial community at the diocesan and parochial levels” (FC, 53). Evangelization by parents is crucial for the fostering of healthy vocations to marriage, priesthood, and consecrated life.

Parents aren’t the only ones called to evangelize! Paul VI says that parents and children proclaim the Gospel to one another, and that “such a family becomes the evangelizer of many other families, and of the neighborhood of which it forms part” (EN, 71). By their joy and love for each other, family members witness to other family members that don’t have faith or don’t regularly practice (FC, 54). By fulfilling its vocation to love, the family “[manifests] to all people the Savior’s living presence in the world” (FC, 51). Other prophetic practices families can do together include inviting neighbors, friends, and relatives to meals, parties, holiday gatherings, parish events, Christmas caroling, etc., and praying at abortion clinics together.

In the Christian view, power and authority is not an opportunity to control or dominate, but to serve! Jesus says, “I came not to be served, but to serve.” Each family member is called to actively share in Christ’s kingship by big and small acts of self-sacrificing service within the family and society. They are called to discover the image of God and the face of Christ in every person, especially the suffering, the poor, and the weak (FC, 64). Parents should see the most mundane (and perhaps tedious) duties of parenthood, such as changing diapers, as participation in Christ’s kingship! They should serve their kids as they would serve Christ himself! There are many ways families can live their kingly role. Parents can bring their families to soup kitchens; this was a powerful way to serve Christ in the poor for me and my family. They can lovingly encourage kids to serve in the parish (e.g. volunteering at VBS) and to get involved in work camps (e.g. the Group camps) or mission trips. Vatican II says that a special kind of kingly service is leading others to the King and to his Kingdom!

If families strive to live a spirituality based on living Christ’s priesthood, prophethood, and kingship, they will answer the call to holiness and become an “intimate community of life and love” wherein “all the members evangelize and are evangelized” (FC, 17; 52). May the Holy Family intercede for all Christian families, and may the Holy Spirit draw us all into loving communion with the greatest of all families, the Holy Trinity.

[1] John Paul II, “New Evangelization Should Inspire All Your Teaching and Catechesis,” http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=324 (accessed April 16, 2010).

[2] John S. Grabowski, “Called to Holiness: Spirituality for Families in Light of Ecclesia in America.” Logos 5:4 (Fall 2002): 75-95.
[3] Paul VI, General Audience Address, Aug. 11, 1976: INSEGNAMENTI DI PAOLO VI, XIV (1976), 640.
[4] St. John Chrysostom, “Homily 21,” On Marriage and Family Life, trans. Catharine P. Roth and David Anderson (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1986), 67.

Contemplate with Deacon Nate: Crossroads Pro-life Walk

Many people, including many Christians, don’t realize that at nearby abortion clinics, children are being killed and parents are being wounded. Many are unaware that millions of people are missing from their neighborhoods, churches, schools, etc., and that tens of thousands are legally killed daily throughout the world. The estimated number of induced abortions worldwide was 41.6 million for the year 2003 (an average of 113, 972.6 abortions per day) according to Planned Parenthood’s research organization (www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_IAW.html).

I was born after 1973, so my mom could have legally killed me anytime before I was born. Aware of this fact, and aware of my duty to defend “the least of my brothers and sisters”, (Mt. 25:40-46) I joined the Crossroads Pro-life Walk (Crossroadswalk.org) and walked from Chicago to Washington, D.C. in 2005 to promote the Gospel of Life in America’s culture of death.

Young people today need something to live for: a purpose, a holy cause to fight for, to sweat, bleed, and die for. More importantly, they need someBODY to live for: Jesus Christ. Crossroads Pro-life Walk was started in 1995 by a group of Franciscan University students who live for Jesus. They decided to take literally the words of John Paul II at World Youth Day in Denver in 1993, when he challenged the youth “to go out into the streets and into public places, like the first Apostles” and to build a culture of life.  So, these zealous students decided to walk from San Francisco to Washington D.C.! Along the way offered prayers and sacrifices for an end to the culture of death. They spread the Gospel of Life to everyone they met. When they encountered post-abortive women, they prayed for them and directed them to places of healing. Unbeknownst to them, they were beginning a glorious tradition that would save the lives and change the hearts of countless Americans in future years.

Because of work I couldn’t join the northern route (Seattle to D.C.) until they were in Chicago. We had a day shift and a night shift, and each of those shifts had two shifts. For example, day shift would be about six people, and three would walk five miles while the other three rested in the support van. When the first three reached the van, the other three would walk, while the first three would drive up five miles to rest and wait. Each individual would walk 15-20 miles per day; the entire team, day shift plus night shift, would cover 70-80 miles per day. We wore T-shirts with “PRO-LIFE” in big letters. Most of the time, people driving by would give us positive affirmation, such as a thumbs-up’s; we were persecuted only rarely. Because of the shirts, our mere presence was a powerful witness in countless businesses, stores, gas stations, restaurants, etc., at which the Holy Spirit inspired many to talk to us. For every five miles, we would pray one Rosary (the “weapon” against Satan according to St. Padre Pio). In the morning, we’d all gather for Mass, breakfast, and plenty of laughter at the crazy things that often happened.

Instead of walking on weekends, we’d split up into Mass groups of two to three people and visit as many parishes as possible, to speak to congregations after Mass and ask for three things: prayer, participation in the pro-life struggle, and donations. Sometimes we’d pray and counsel women in front of local abortion clinics. Host families, rectories, religious communities, and our sweltering RV provided sleeping quarters. We relied totally on God’s providence through his people for food, gas, and shelter and he came through big time, of course! We were given so many random gifts, such as gas money, by many beautiful people.

Part of the “redemptive suffering” was foot issues, especially blisters. The “miracle box” provided all we needed to repair, bind, disinfect, wrap, tourniquet, or amputate our feet (OK, I’m exaggerating). But infinitely more important than the “miracle box” was the “miracle food” of Jesus in the Eucharist that we received every day at Mass. Thanks to God’s providence, including the fantastic Masstimes.org, we missed Mass only three-ish times in 11 weeks!

In Chicago, my group attended a Mass offered by an enthusiastic Spanish-speaking polish priest named Fr. Stephen. Although I couldn’t understand all the Spanish, the message was obvious: Jesus is ALIVE on earth! He began his homily by saying that “la remedia” for life’s loneliness, pain, etc, is not in drugs, booze, video games, etc; it’s in Jesus, present personally, though invisibly, in the tabernacle! He called the children up by the altar and had them repeat after him: “When I’m tired, lonely, sad, (etc) I’ll talk to Jesus.”  Next, the children lined up and eagerly kissed the tabernacle!

We drank in much beauty on our walk, including millions of fireflies at night, flashing like cameras in a packed stadium. We enjoyed a variety of terrain, such as swamps, forest, bean fields, houses, small towns, etc. At night, crickets and frogs cheered us on. Praying the Rosary and divine mercy chaplet in the peace of the night was glorious.

We met so many wonderful people. Highlights include Archbishop (now Cardinal) Sean O’Malley in Boston, Archbishop John Myers in Newark, and Fr. Charles Connor (host of an EWTN show) in Scranton, all of whom offered Mass for our group. On Staten Island, we met Fr. Frank Pavone at his office, who told us, “To be pro-choice is to be anti-choice, because many women who abort feel they have no other choice.” This zealous priest often says we’re working FROM victory, not FOR victory, since Christ won the victory over death. We must claim it!

I really enjoyed getting to know my fellow walkers as we chatted along the roads. One of the walkers has an incredible story, similar to St. Gianna’s: while his mom was pregnant with him, she could’ve taken the doctor’s advice and aborted him, since she need chemo. But she loved her son more than herself, refused chemo, gave birth, and died. “There is no greater love…”  

Other highlights: while praying with the Friars of the Renewal at one of NY’s busiest abortion clinics, at least three kids’ lives were saved that day, and three mothers’ lives were spared from a lifetime (or perhaps longer) of regret. Meeting the NY Sisters of Life was inspiring. They provide everything a poor, single mother might need to raise her baby. Because of their outreach, women are choosing life, converting from sin, and going to Mass and Eucharistic Adoration! 

The late Fr. John Hardon, S.J. says, “The future of the pro-life movement throughout the world depends on the Roman Catholic Church.” The Church faithfully hands on the revealed truth that human life is sacred because every person is made in God’s image and thus deserving of respect from conception to natural death. The Church’s teaching on contraception is also crucial for the building of a culture of life. Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae made four predictions about what would happen if Church teaching on this matter was ignored, and tragically, every prediction has come to pass. These fulfilled predictions are all aspects of the culture of death. Because the contraceptive mentality leads to the abortive mentality (many “contraceptives” can even cause early abortion), abortion will not end until the contraceptive mentality is replaced with the “openness to life” mentality. How then are couples supposed to exercise responsible parenthood, as the Church teaches they must? The Church has beautiful teachings about this, and many couples have experienced transformation in their marriages and families when they embrace these morally acceptable methods.

Only a superabundance of God’s grace will defeat abortion, so let’s pray for this intention daily. But let’s do more than pray, if we’re able to: let’s ask the Lord what he wants us do to protect “the least of our brothers and sisters.” Whatever we do, we must do it with prudence and love, for “love conquers all”!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Contemplate with Deacon Nate: Praying Constantly

M.C. Hammer has a song with the chorus, "You got to pray, just to make it today!" This statement reminds me of St. Paul's exhortation to "pray constantly" (1 Thes 5:16-18). Does St. Paul mean that we must be reciting prayers every second of every minute of every hour? Not necessarily. He is encouraging us to keep in communication, in holy communion, with God throughout each day.

As an illustration, imagine that your entire life was experienced through facebook (for some this may not be difficult to imagine, sadly). In this case, to "pray constantly" would be to constantly have open chat windows to the Father, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Mother Mary, and any saints that are on your "friends" list! You aren't constantly chatting with them, but the chat windows are open. Just like in facebook, it feels good just to know that these heavenly friends are "online" and ready and eager to listen to you at any time, to listen to your thoughts, feelings, desires, plans, etc., and to respond to you in various, sometimes unexpected, ways.

Sometimes the Lord shows me that certain events or objects can be great reminders to pray; here are some prayer reminders:
-Difficult/obnoxious people: pray for the grace to be charitable to them
-People in uniform: Say a quick prayer for them, e.g. "Jesus, please surround this soldier with angels to protect him physically and spiritually, Amen!"
-Religious statues and images: pray a quick prayer to the person or angel represented, e.g. when you see a statue of St. Michael, pray the St. Michael prayer
-Ambulances and sirens: pray for those who may be injured or in danger
-Clocks/watches: at 3:00pm, the hour of Jesus' death, thank him for his sacrifice. Also, you could close your eyes for 30 seconds and visualize him on the cross for love of you, or pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet, or visit Jesus in the tabernacle, etc. Jesus told St. Faustina that he would grant special graces if we pray during this hour, the "Hour of Mercy"
-"Made in China" stickers: pray for the persecuted Church in China
-The news: "pray the news" when you hear about disasters, etc.; pray especially for those who've died
-The wind: when you notice the wind, say a quick prayer to the Breath of God, e.g "Come Holy Spirit"
-Brushing your teeth: pray prayers posted on your mirror, e.g. a list of people who need prayer
-Experiencing pain: tell Jesus you love him and offer him your pain, e.g. imitate Jesus and pray "Father, let this cup pass me by, but not my will but thine be done"; also you can pray for those who suffer in the same way, e.g. when you get a headache, pray for all who have a headache
-Experiencing beauty: when you notice beauty present in a person, in nature, or in art, thank and praise God
-Waking up: pray the traditional "Morning Offering": "O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer you all my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day, in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass through out the world today, in reparation for my sins, for the intentions of my relatives and friends, and in particular for the intentions of the Holy Father, Amen!"

I find many prayer reminders while driving. When I pass by certain things, I often turn off the radio briefly to say a quick prayer. Here are some prayer reminders while on the road:
-Catholic Churches: as you pass a Church, cross yourself, turn your mind to Jesus in the tabernacle of that Church, and pray, "Jesus, I believe you are present in the tabernacle there; thank You for your presence," or this traditional prayer, "O Sacrament most Holy, O Sacrament Divine, all praise and all thanksgiving, be every moment thine" (if you have time, stop in for a quick visit to the tabernacle!)
-Hospitals: you can ask the Divine Physician to heal and comfort everyone inside, and to prepare the dying to meet him
-Abortion Clinics, Strip Clubs, Adult Bookstores, Hooters Restaurants, etc.: pray the St. Michael Prayer for the conversion of the customers, employees and owners, and be careful not to have a judgmental attitude when you pray
-Graveyards: pray for the repose of the souls, e.g. "May they rest in the peace of Christ"
-People who cut you off in traffic: pray for them (after all, Jesus commands us to pray for our enemies!)

A powerful, ancient way to pray constantly is to recite the "Jesus prayer": "Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner." I pray this sometimes when I'm walking from place to place. It's a great way to connect with Jesus in the down times of the day. Or, pray the rosary or divine mercy chaplet. Or, you can simply repeat the holy names of Jesus and Mary, with love and devotion.

These are a few ideas; if you have any more please email them to me (nateharburg@gmail.com). St. Paul's words to the Thessalonians are God's words to each of us, today: "Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (1 Thes 5:16-18).

"Dear Father, please show us how to pray constantly. Send your Spirit and our guardian angels to remind us to pray throughout each day. Thank you for hearing our prayer and answering it in your perfect way, in Jesus' Mighty name, Amen."

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Contemplate with Deacon Nate: How Suffering Can Be Redemptive

The Christian view of human suffering is absolutely beautiful.

Have you ever had anyone tell you “offer it up” after you complained about something? Maybe you found it annoying, or confusing. “Offer what up? And to who?” you may have wondered. When someone tells you to “offer it up”, they’re encouraging you to give your pain to Jesus, to spiritually unite it to his Cross. When you offer your suffering to Christ, he makes it redemptive! He will cause it to redeem others!!

Suffering is Christ’s invitation to follow him. Pope John Paul II, in his letter on suffering Salvifici Doloris, says, Christ does not explain in the abstract the reasons for suffering, but before all else he says: “Follow me!” Come! Take part through your suffering in this work of saving the world, a salvation achieved through my suffering! Through my Cross. Gradually, as the individual takes up his cross, spiritually uniting himself to the Cross of Christ, the salvific meaning of suffering is revealed before him” (Section 26).

St. Paul tells the Colossians, Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church.” How can he find joy in pain? Is he insane? Is he masochistic? Not at all. John Paul II explains, “A source of joy is found in the overcoming of the sense of the uselessness of suffering This feeling not only consumes the person interiorly, but seems to make him a burden to others. The person feels condemned to receive help and assistance from others, and at the same time seems useless to himself. The discovery of the salvific meaning of suffering in union with Christ transforms this depressing feeling. Faith in sharing in the suffering of Christ brings with it the interior certainty that the suffering person ‘completes what is lacking in Christ's afflictions’; the certainty that in the spiritual dimension of the work of Redemption he is serving, like Christ, the salvation of his brothers and sisters. Therefore he is carrying out an irreplaceable service. … It is suffering, more than anything else, which clears the way for the grace which transforms human souls” (Section 27).

In his conclusion, the Pope John Paul II says, “[T]here should come together in spirit beneath the Cross on Calvary all suffering people who believe in Christ… so that the offering of their sufferings may hasten the fulfilment of the prayer of the Saviour himself that all may be one… [W]e ask all you who suffer to support us. We ask precisely you who are weak to become a source of strength for the Church and humanity. In the terrible battle between the forces of good and evil, revealed to our eyes by our modern world, may your suffering in union with the Cross of Christ be victorious!”

These are wonderful words to chew on. What St. Paul is saying is GOOD NEWS for all who may feel useless to society or a burden on their families because of injury, illness or old age! Such people can perform an “irreplaceable service” to the Church and to the world if they offer their suffering to Christ! This is true even if the suffering is the result of our sin!

Did you know that Christ “needs” our help in saving the world? He chooses to “need” our help in distributing his saving grace to souls! Pope Piux XII says, “In carrying out the work of redemption Christ wishes to be helped by the members of His Body. This is not because He is indigent or weak, but rather because He so willed it for the greater glory of His spotless Spouse. Dying on the Cross, He left to the Church the immense treasury of the Redemption. Towards this she (the Church) contributed nothing. But when those graces come to be distributed, not only does He share this task of sanctification with His Church, but he wants it, in a way, to be due to her action. What a deep mystery . . . that the salvation of many depends on the prayers and voluntary penances which the members of the Mystical Body offer for that intention, and on the assistance of pastors of souls and of the faithful, especially fathers and mothers of families, which they must offer to our divine Savior as though they were His associates."

So what should we do when suffering seems meaningless? The Second Vatican Council says, “Through Christ and in Christ, the riddles of sorrow and death grow meaningful” (Gaudium et Spes, 22). So whenever we wonder about the meaning of our suffering or that of others, we should look to Christ on the Cross. This is one of the reasons the Catholic Church displays crucifixes in her churches, schools, and institutions. Whenever we see a crucifix, we should remember not only that Jesus redeemed us through his suffering, but also that he wants us to help him redeem others by offering our sufferings to him.

Suffering can either drive us towards or away from God. Fr. Paul A. Duffner says, “[Suffering] can make one resentful and bitter - even blaming God for his lot, or it can make one more conscious of God’s providence at work. It can make one turn in on himself in self-pity, or it can help one to open out upon the world in apostolic and redemptive action” (http://www.rosary-center.org/ll49n2.htm). Throughout the day, let’s see our aches, pains, sufferings, discomforts, frustrations, setbacks, irritations, fatigue, delays, sorrow at the loss of a loved one, disappointments, humiliations, being misunderstood, falsely accused, etc. as OPPORTUNITIES: 1) to remember, and 2) to pray.

Suffering is an opportunity to REMEMBER that Jesus is with us, sitting beside us, gazing upon us with unconditional love, suffering with us, crying with us. Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor…those who mourn…are persecuted…insulted…hungry.” Our suffering is blessed because it is Jesus’ suffering and because he is with us! Corrie ten Boom, while in a Nazi death camp, said, “No matter how deep our darkness, he is deeper still.”

Suffering is an opportunity to PRAY, “Jesus I love you, and I offer you this suffering. Please make it redemptive for someone in need.” If we do this with love and faith, our suffering will become meaningful and profitable. Imagine the joy of meeting, when we leave this world, those who got to heaven through the help of our prayers and sufferings offered to our Suffering Savior.

Peter Kreeft's article was one of my sources. I HIGHLY recommend it: http://peterkreeft.com/topics/suffering.htm

Contemplate with Deacon Nate: A Grand Time in Grand Rapids

From Sunday July 11th through Friday July 16th, a group of young people from our parish attended a week long service experience in Grand Rapids; I was a chaperone. Our camp was called “Week of Hope”; here is a description from the website (groupworkcamps.com): “Week of Hope is the affordable one-week camp where your youth will build meaningful relationships with those they serve, those they serve with, and most importantly, a deeper relationship with Jesus... A Week of Hope is a personal, friendly setting of about 100 youth…ideal for getting to know everyone.”

Our camp had youth from various churches, including Family of Faith Ministries in Charlevoix, a Presbyterian Church in Deerfield, IL, a Wesleyan Church in Indiana, and to save the best for last, St. Mike’s! We stayed at Kuyper College, a small Christian college not far from WMU. The dorms had AC, thank the Good Lord!

After we arrived on Sunday our group killed time by playing various games including a hilarious one that left our “smile muscles” sore. Then we had supper and an evening program. I had hesitated to bring my guitar on the trip, and that evening I discovered why the Spirit nudged me to bring it: they needed someone to help lead praise music throughout the week. I had a blast doing this! This was my first “God Sighting” of the week. You see, the camp encouraged us to look for “God Sightings” everyday and share them with our work crews. I saw and heard about too many God Sightings to list here. (If you keep your eyes open, you’ll begin to see them all the time! Sometimes when I see one of these signs of God’s love, I say, “Thank you Lord, I love you too!”)

So, you’d like to know the daily routine? An annoying song would blare from a boombox to wake us up (didn’t always work); breakfast; morning program; head to worksite with crew (4-5 youth from a variety of churches + a chaperone); get instructions from supervisor; work our tails off; lunch and crew devotions (prayer and discussion of the day’s theme, which included “my friends”, “my family”, “my faith”, and “my future”); work some more; return to camp; supper; evening program; free time. One of the days we had a “free day” so instead of supper and devotions at camp, we went to dinner and a movie.

At the morning and evening programs we began with a few praise songs; watched a daily episode of “Meet the Prodigals”, the Prodigal Son story filmed in the style of “The Office”; had prayer; had competitions, etc. These were led by Emily from North Carolina. She and Jenny are college students who have dedicated most of their summer to leading these camps. The only other adult staff person was Barb from our parish; all three gave an inspiring example of dedicated service.

On the first day, two crews, including mine, found their way to the neighborhood where we would spend all week. It’s a peaceful neighborhood of many elderly residents who are known to communicate loudly with one another from their front porches. We met Ms. Sara, our supervisor, who told us interesting stories of the various steps she and others have taken to transform the neighborhood which previously had been much more dangerous and drug-infested. Her faith in the Lord shone through her eyes and her words. Each day we ran into her husband Jerome with his cheerful attitude and contagious laughter.

Ms. Sara assigned us to do various outdoor tasks for elderly neighbors including Ms. Mabel, a sweet 75 year old woman who insisted on helping us, much to the disapproval of Ms. Sara. Part of my crew helped scrape and paint one neighbor’s house. Our crews did yardwork for Ms. Alda, and cemented in her swing set and laid fresh mulch. Weeding, trimming, raking, etc... Ms. Sara kept us busy and God held off the rain! One day a couple kittens showed up and many of us, captivated by cuteness, dropped our tools for a few minutes. Speaking of cuteness, a few kids from the neighborhood helped us with weeding.

While Emily, Jordyn, and I were there, the others from St. Mike’s were at different worksites. Sean helped at Worldwide Thrift Store, Hailey at a Goodwill, Hilary took nursing home residents fishing one day, etc. 

Ms. Sara let us return to camp early on our last workday, which gave me an opportunity to visit Jesus in the Eucharist at the perpetual adoration chapel (meaning it is open 24x7x365) a few miles from Kuyper College. (I kept falling asleep, but I know I’m in good company: St. Therese often struggled to stay awake during her prayer times. Besides, Psalm 127 says, “The Lord pours gifts on his beloved while they slumber.” I know he’s thrilled by the mere fact that we take time to be with him!)

Thursday evening was memorable because of a mischievous plot from the mind of Krystal. On Thursday evening, Barb and I helped Krystal fill up lots of water balloons, and after the evening program, the battle broke out. As the number of casualties climbed, Sean remained dry, with 4 balloons bouncing off him. At the end, he was finally taken down by a sneaky enemy! A great idea for a warm summer evening.

I believe we all had a Grand Time in Grand Rapids serving the Lord by serving others. I asked Sean about how the camp was, and he said, “It was really great meeting new friends and being able to help people out.” Kristen said, “My relationship with God grew a lot that week.” For Emily, and I think for all of us, hanging out as a parish group in the evenings was a highlight of each day. I’m thankful to God, to Fr. TJ and to all of you at St. Mike’s for the opportunity to go!

Contemplate with Deacon Nate: Christ the King- a Religious Vocations "Factory"

Recently I read a book about the history of St. Michael’s parish, and was very impressed by the number of religious vocations that came from here. My home parish, Christ the King in Ann Arbor, has a similar history. Currently, there are 32 men and women who are actively discerning a religious vocation for a variety of religious orders or dioceses. What is the secret? Is it something in the water? Why are so many young people for there willing to discern a religious vocation at the seminary or at the convent?

Three years ago, the National Catholic Register ran a story about this parish entitled “One Parish, 15 Seminarians.” When asked why the parish had such a big number of vocations, the pastor Fr. Ed Fride replied,

“The spirituality of the parish, in which a personal relationship with Jesus is continually stressed, is key,” he said. “We began as, and still are, part of the charismatic renewal, again where a living, active relationship with Jesus is encouraged.

“In addition, since beginning perpetual adoration five years ago when we finished our church building, almost all of the present seminarians, and those to begin this fall, have heard the call to seminary,” said Fr. Fride. According to Fr. Fride, by being close to Jesus in Eucharistic adoration, people are able to hear the call.

Fr. Fride also said,“…we can’t overlook the influence of John Paul the Great. We constantly reference him, his teachings and the example of his life. He was the only pope that these kids knew, and they want to be like him. They want to participate in the New Evangelization, and becoming a priest is a great way to do that…When you preach orthodoxy, the Eucharist and the centrality of Jesus, vocations result. It seems natural to me to have so many young people who love Jesus and want to serve him become priests.”

Sister Mary Ann Foggin, director of vocation services for the Lansing diocese, also believes that Eucharistic adoration has an effect on vocations. She said, “Where they have it, kids are on fire with the Lord, and then they run toward God’s call, which sometimes is a [religious] vocation. If kids are raised having a relationship with Jesus, as is the goal at Christ the King, they will not be afraid to give their life to him, and will trust him when they hear his call, regardless of what it is, because they know he loves them.”

Many leaders in the Church have noticed that Eucharistic Adoration cultivates religious vocations. At one time, Mother Teresa’s order had few vocations. Mother Teresa later said, “It was not until 1973, when we began our daily Holy Hour that our community started to grow and blossom...”

I can testify to this point! Eucharistic adoration has increased my love for Jesus and my awareness of his love for me. It was when I was praying before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament that the Lord communicated to me clearly that he was leading me to seminary. I am so grateful to Fr. Fride for encouraging his parish from the pulpit to spend time in Eucharistic adoration. If it weren’t for my habit of a spending time daily before Jesus in the Eucharist, I may not have heard, or been open to, the call. Have a blessed week!