Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Little Something Extra...Fourth Sunday of Easter

God's Children

In today's Second Reading from the First Letter of St. John, we hear that we are God's children. If we spend some time meditating on these two verses, line by line, we can begin to understand a bit about what that means.


St. John calls his readers “Beloved.” We are his brothers and sisters, fellow children of God, and as such, he loves us with a special kind of love.

See what love the Father has bestowed on us
that we may be called the children of God.
Yet so we are.

What is this love? The Greek word for this kind of love is agapē, which was coined by the New Testament writers. It was not used by secular authors nor by Greek-speaking Jewish scholars. Agapē refers to love in its fullest sense, an unconditional, self-giving, and compassionate devotion that God pours out upon us and that He expects us to pour out upon others. Agapē, then, is love that comes directly from God, love that He spreads freely, love that makes us His children.

The reason the world does not know us
is that it did not know Him.

Being God's children is not always easy. The world does not understand the kind of love God's children receive from their Father and give to each other. The world does not understand self-sacrifice or compassion. The world sees weakness instead and scoffs. It persecutes God's children and tries to take advantage of their love. But God's children keep loving anyway, for God keeps on loving the whole world.

Beloved, we are God's children now;

St. John emphasizes our status once again. Even if the world mocks and scorns us, we are God's children. We always have God's love to enjoy and to share.

what we shall be has not yet been revealed.
We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like Him,
for we shall see Him as He is.

We have something to look forward to. We don't understand it completely yet. We don't know exactly what we will be like at the end of time when Jesus comes back again. But we do know that we will be like Him. The agapē that we have as children of God, which here on earth is so often frail and incomplete, will be perfect as His love is perfect, for we shall see God, and seeing Him, we shall know Him in the overwhelming fullness of His fatherly love and respond as never before with a depth and intimacy of love for the One Who so loves us.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Documents of Vatican II – Gravissimum Educationis

According to the Vatican II Fathers, all people have the right to an education so that they may reach their potential for development as individuals and as a society. Further, all Christians have the right to a Christian education in order to truly understand the gifts they have received and to grow ever closer to God in faith, hope, and love. In Gravissimum Educationis, or Declaration on Christian Education, the Vatican II Fathers discussed the various purposes and forms of education in the modern world.

Here's a sampling of the topics and ideas you'll find in Gravissimum Educationis.

* Education is of “paramount importance” in the modern world, for it allows human beings to understand “their own dignity and responsibility”; participate in the social, political, and economic spheres; and discover the riches of technology, science, communication, and culture.

* While education has made progress in recent years in terms of recognition of rights, expansion of schools, and development of methods, deficiencies still exist that must be remedied.

* The Church, which promotes “the welfare of the whole life of man,” uses education to fulfill her goal of bringing Christ to the world.

* All people have a right to education, “which should be suitable to the particular destiny of the individuals, adapted to their ability, sex, national and cultural traditions,” and promote peace and unity. The goals of education are the “formation of the human person in view of his final end” and the good of society.

* Education develops people's “physical, moral and intellectual qualities” and instills in therm responsibility, liberty, courage, social and technical skills, and devotion to the common good.

* Christians have a right to Christian education, which helps them grow in faith, reach maturity in Christian living, form their consciences, make strong moral decisions, appreciate the gift of salvation, worship more deeply, understand the truths of the faith, discover and accept their vocations, and witness to Christianity.

* Parents are the primary educators of their children. They have a duty to “create a family atmosphere inspired by love and devotion to God and their fellow-men which will promote an integrated, personal and social education for their children.” The family, then, is the first and principal school in which children learn to worship and love God and love their neighbor.

* Society helps to educate young people in order to promote the common good and provide assistance to parents.

* The Catholic Church plays a key role in education, for she has the duty of proclaiming salvation and helping every person reach his or her full potential. The Church aids parents and society in providing education through Catholic schools, catechetical programs, educational media, and organizations.

* Schools are essential to education. Schools develop intellectual faculties, sound judgment, values, skills, and culture. They also provide centers for the entire community.

* The vocation of teaching is of high importance, and students are to be encouraged to pursue that vocation as appropriate.

* Parents have the right to choose schools for their children.

* The state must “ensure that all its citizens have access to adequate education” that prepares students for their civic duties and rights, but the state should not set up a monopoly of schools that takes away the parents' right to choose how to educate their children.

* Catholic faithful contribute greatly to the development of education in their communities, both intellectually and morally.

* The Church reaches out to Catholic students in non-Catholic schools in order to make sure they receive a proper Christian education.

* Parents are responsible for making sure their children receive “a balanced progress in their Christian formation and their preparation for life in the world.”

* If at all possible, parents should sent their children to Catholic schools, which help children grow in the new life they received at Baptism, orient “the whole of human culture to the message of salvation,” illuminate knowledge with the light of faith, and bring the kingdom of God to the world.

* The Church has the right to establish schools in order to protect the liberty of conscience, promote parents' rights, and advance culture.

* Catholic school teachers ought to be well-trained, charitable, and faith-filled.

* Catholic higher education promotes an academic spirit and a healthy balance of faith and reason in order to help students discover the truth and witness the Catholic faith to the world. Catholic universities and colleges must conform to high standards and care for the spiritual lives of their students.

* The Church should set up centers at non-Catholic universities to assist Catholic students in their spiritual, moral, and intellectual development.

* Catholic Theology faculties have “the very grave responsibility” for preparing students for the priesthood but also for the intellectual apostolate of research and teaching that promotes deep study of Divine Revelation, greater appreciation of the “Christian wisdom handed down by former generations,” dialogue with other Christians and non-Christians, and careful analysis of modern questions.

* Catholic schools at all levels cooperate to preserve and advance Catholic education that the Church may be renewed and the world inspired with faith and truth.

The full text of Gravissimum Educationis is available online at the Vatican website.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Little Something Extra...Third Sunday of Easter

Facing the Truth with Hope

In today's First Reading (Acts 3:13-15, 17-19), Peter is speaking to a crowd of Jews that had gathered in Solomon's Portico. Peter and John had just healed a crippled beggar by saying to him, “ the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, rise and walk.” The man not only rose and walked; he jumped and leaped and praised God. And he attracted a lot of attention.

Now the crowd is surrounding Peter and John, trying to figure out what has happened. Peter recognizes the opportunity to preach the Gospel to these people and to invite them to claim their share in the Kingdom of Heaven.

But first they have to face a harsh truth. Peter lays it out clearly without sugar-coating anything. Listen again to what he tells the crowd:

[God] has glorified His servant Jesus,
Whom you handed over and denied in Pilate's presence
when He had decided to release Him.
You denied the Holy and Righteous One
and asked that a murderer be released to you.
The Author of life you put to death,
but God raised Him from the dead; of this we are witnesses. 

These are strong words, words that make people flinch, words that make consciences squirm. By the time Peter finishes these three sentences, his listeners are probably very uncomfortable, for Peter has held up their sins before them and forced them to look at what they have done and acknowledge the way they turned their back on God. Peter has make them face the truth. 

But he doesn't stop there. Now that the people understand the significance of what they have done, Peter goes on to give them hope. He assures them that he knows they acted out of ignorance and that God has brought great good out of the evil of Jesus' death. The Scriptures have been fulfilled. Jesus is risen and glorified. There is hope, even for those who put to death the Author of life.

Peter tells the crowd what they must do next: Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away.

Peter promises God's forgiveness. God does not want to hold His children's sins against them. He wants to heal them and love them and poor His blessings out upon them. All they need to do is repent and change their hearts, turning back to God and embracing Him with love. Then God will wipe away their sins and give them refreshment and relief in His presence (see Acts 3:20).

We all need to face the truth of our sins. We must look at what we have done in all its ugliness and understand the pain it has brought to God and those around us. But we must also have hope, for when we repent and turn back to God, He hurries to meet us with forgiveness and love that we might bask in the glow of His radiant face.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Documents of Vatican II – Optatam Totius

Priests are necessary to the Catholic Church. Without them, Catholics would not have access to many of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, Confession, and the Anointing of the Sick. The Vatican II Fathers, recognizing the great significance of priests, composed Optatam Totius, or Decree on the Training of Priests, in order to lay out the principles and general regulations for priestly formation.

Here are some of the topics and ideas you'll find in Optatam Totius.


* A priesthood “animated by the spirit of Christ” is necessary for the renewal of the Catholic Church. Priests must be trained according to sound principles that harmonize traditional practices with updates according to the condition of the modern world. Priestly formation is required for all prospective priests.

Priestly Training in Different Countries

* Episcopal conferences in each country or rite will drawn up a Program of Priestly Training, submit it to the Holy See for approval, and revise it as necessary. The Program ought to adapt to the conditions of the time and place.

More Intensive Fostering of Priestly Vocations

* The entire Christian community must work together to foster vocations to the priesthood through prayer, penance, education, and moral Christian living.

* Parents, teachers, parishes, priests, and bishops all have special responsibilities to encourage young men who may be called to the priesthood.

* The Church's hierarchy reserves the right to judge candidates for the priesthood and call and consecrate those it finds worthy.

* Minor seminaries are designed to nurture the seeds of a vocation through “special religious formation” and “spiritual direction.” They should adapt the guidelines for major seminaries according to the needs of their pupils.

Major Seminaries

* The purpose of major seminaries is to create priests who are “true shepherds of souls after the example of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

* These seminaries train pupils in the ministry of the Word, the “ministry of worship and sanctification,” and the “ministry of the shepherd” who represents Christ to humanity.

* Seminary education as a whole must have a pastoral goal.

* Seminaries should employ the most competent teachers, who are sound in doctrine, have pastoral experience, and are trained in pedagogy and spirituality. These teachers, along with their superiors, form a united family with their students in “the closest harmony of spirit and action.”

* Candidates for the priesthood must be carefully screened to make sure that they are fit for the great responsibility they intend to undertake. If necessary, candidates should be guided into vocations better suited to them.

Greater Attention to Spiritual Training

* All candidates for the priesthood must receive spiritual formation in order to “learn to live in intimate and unceasing union with God the Father through His Son Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit.” They must cultivate a friendship with God in “every detail of their lives.”

* Students grow in spirituality by meditating on the Scriptures; actively participating in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist; praying frequently and deeply; and learning to see Christ in those around them, in those they must obey, and in those they serve.

* As part of their spiritual formation, pupils are trained in the moral life, virtues, prayer, missionary zeal, participation in the life of the Church, service to their fellow human beings, and self-denial.

* Candidates for the priesthood learn to embrace and appreciate the gift of celibacy with gratitude. This renunciation of marriage “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” helps them practice undivided love, surrender completely to God, acquire self-mastery, and “bear witness to the resurrection.”

* Priestly formation instills in candidates maturity, stability and strength of character, decision-making skills, sound judgment, self-control, discipline, obedience, and good qualities like sincerity, justice, faithfulness, modesty, and charity.

* Candidates should receive practical experience in pastoral work.

The Revision of Ecclesiastical Studies

* Candidates for the priesthood study a variety of academic subjects to prepare them intellectually for their vocation.

* Languages are key to seminary studies. Students will study Latin and other “languages of holy Scripture and Tradition” as well as the liturgical languages of their region and rite.

* Philosophy and theology are coordinated that they might work together to reveal “to the minds of the students with ever increasing clarity the Mystery of Christ.”

* The introductory course to the formation program communicates the Mystery of Christ, helps students understand the program of studies they are undertaking, and strengthens them to accept their vocation with joy and dedication.

* Philosophy classes develop in students “a solid and consistent knowledge of man, the world and God” and help pupils learn how to dialogue with the modern world.

* Students should learn to use their reason in “rigorous investigation, observation and demonstration of the truth,” but they must also recognize “the limits of human knowledge” and the necessity of faith.

* Seminary theology classes help students “draw pure Catholic teaching from divine revelation,” grasp the deep meanings of their faith, and express and defend the faith clearly.

* Theology courses focusing on Scripture teach students to do exegesis but also help students learn the main themes of the Bible and find “inspiration and nourishment in daily reading and meditation upon the sacred books.”

* Dogmatic theology classes should examine 1. biblical themes; 2. the Fathers of the Church; 3. the history of dogma; and 4. St. Thomas Aquinas.

* Students must learn about liturgy and sacraments, moral law, salvation history, canon law, Church history, ecclesiology, and ecumenism, all with a Christocentric emphasis.

* Priestly formation focuses on training the entire person to live his vocation in a genuine and profound way.

Attention to Strictly Pastoral Training

* Pastoral concerns “characterize every feature of the students' training.”

* Students receive practical training for pastoral work by learning how to administer the sacraments, teach, preach, offer spiritual direction, serve, promote the apostolate among the laity, and enter into dialogue with non-Catholics and non-Christians.

* Practical training initiates candidates into pastoral work.

Later Studies

* Priests should receiving continuing education through pastoral institutes, meetings, projects, and other opportunities that they might grow in their knowledge and spirituality.


* Those pursuing a vocation to the priesthood must “develop a keen awareness that the hopes of the church and the salvation of souls are being committed to them.” They should accept their formation and vocation joyfully.

The full text of Optatam Totius is available online at the Vatican website.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Little Something Extra...Divine Mercy Sunday

Purgatory and Indulgences

Even though Catholics usually don't associate Divine Mercy Sunday with the Church's teaching on Purgatory and indulgences, today is actually a good time to reexamine these doctrines in the light of God's great and merciful love for His children.

Let's use an analogy to help us understand these sometimes confusing realities. A little boy all dressed up in his Sunday clothes decides, right before Mass, that he wants to play in the mud. His mother comes out of the house to find him covered head to toe in brown goop. She's shocked and angry, for she had specifically told him to be careful to keep his clothes clean. The little boy is sorry almost immediately. He starts to cry, knowing that he had disobeyed his mother, and he runs to her to apologize. The mother looks down at her muddy little son and loves him. She can't help it. He's just so loveable, even when he is disobedient and covered in mud. She forgives him at once. But she doesn't hug him...not yet. He is, after all, filthy. So she takes her son inside, throws his muddy clothing in the laundry, and plunks him in the bathtub to clean him up.

We're a lot like that muddy little boy. God gives us rules for our own good. We are disobedient and sin. We get our souls filthy dirty, and God is displeased. But God loves us so much that when we repent, He forgives us. He can't help it. We're loveable to Him. He wants us with Him forever. But our sins, even after they are forgiven, leave us covered in spiritual mud that gets in the way of our intimacy with God. We need to be cleaned up.

Here's where the Catholic doctrines of indulgences and Purgatory come in. Indulgences are like spiritual soap and water that help scrub off the spiritual mud left over even after God has forgiven us for our sins. When we recite prayers and perform pious acts that have been enriched by indulgences, we're cooperating with God in getting cleaned up. If we happen to die before all the spiritual mud has been removed, we need to continue the clean-up after death. This is Purgatory. At this point, other people can help us by gaining indulgences for us through their prayers and pious acts.

In recent years, the Church has simplified the system of indulgences, so today we only designate whether an indulgence is partial or plenary without referring to any specific time values as the Church did in the past.

Partial indulgences get rid of part of the spiritual mud our sins have slathered all over us. Plenary indulgences, on the other hand, remove all the spiritual mud from our souls (and, with it, all the time we or our loved ones spend in Purgatory). Plenary indulgences may be gained under certain conditions. Along with the prayer or pious act, the faithful must go to Confession, receive Holy Communion, say prayers for the intentions of the Pope, and be free from any attachment to sin. The last condition is certainly the most difficult. Very few of us are free from attachment to sin, but this should not stop us from trying to gain plenary indulgences. Even if attachment to sin is still lurking in the corners of our hearts, we will at least gain a partial indulgence when we pray or perform pious acts.

This little explanation is quite simplified and doesn't even touch on important concepts like “merit” and “temporal punishment,” but it does offer us at least a bit of insight into the important Catholic doctrines of indulgences and Purgatory. It also provides some insight into the mercy of God, the God Who, like a loving parent, cleans off the mud of our sin so that He can draw us closely into His loving arms.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Documents of Vatican II – Perfectae Caritatis

In Perfectae Caritatis or Decree on the Up-to-Date Renewal of Religious Life, the Vatican II Fathers addressed the men and women who have chosen to imitate Christ by following the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience in religious communities and secular institutes. Although the Fathers emphasized the need for communities to update some of their disciplines and expressions in order to better interact with the modern world, they also told religious men and women to hold fast to their spiritual heritage and grow ever closer to Christ by faithfully living out their vocations.

Here's a sample of the ideas and topics you'll find in Perfectae Caritatis.

* Religious men and women seek to imitate Jesus more closely and to attain perfect charity by following the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

* Jesus is the founder of the evangelical counsels, which have developed in the Church over the centuries and are practiced by a “wonderful variety of religious communities” that build up the Body of Christ, perform a variety of good works, and adorn the Church with the “manifold gifts” of God.

* Those who profess the evangelical counsels bind themselves to Jesus and give their whole lives to God and to the Church.

* Religious communities ought to initiate an “up-to-date renewal of the religious life” that returns to the community's sources but also adapts to the modern world. The renewal must rely on the guidance of the Holy Spirit and follow five general principles: 1. religious communities must follow Christ above all; 2. the spirit and traditions of the communities' founders must be “faithfully accepted and retained”; 3. all communities should share fully in the life of the Church; 4. members of communities must understand the conditions of the modern world in order to help people more effectively; and 5. spiritual renewal must take first place.

* The life, prayer, and work of religious communities should be “in harmony” with the requirements of their members and with cultural, social, and economic circumstances as well as with the precepts of Vatican II.

* While authorities within the communities are in charge of the renewal, they must work closely with every member so that each has a share in the process.

* All religious dedicate their lives to God in a “special consecration” that deepens their baptismal consecration and expresses it more fully. Religious live for Christ first and seek God in contemplation apostolic love.

* Through prayer, Scripture, spirituality, and liturgy, religious “foster a life hidden with Christ in God,” which flows out into love for their neighbors. The Holy Eucharist especially nourishes the spiritual lives of religious.

* Contemplatives “give themselves over to God alone in solitude and silence,” “offer to God an exceptional sacrifice of praise,” and adorn the Church with heavenly graces.

* Religious who pursue apostolic work must look to Christ as the source of their activity.

* Monastic life is especially important to the Church, and religious who live in monasteries must hold onto their traditions and rules and at the same time adapt to modern-day needs.

* Secular institutes help lay people live out the evangelical counsels in the world as they seek to “give themselves to God totally in perfect charity.” They must be “truly leaven in the world” through their apostolic activities and ought to be carefully formed in “matters divine and human.”

* The evangelical counsel of chastity frees one to become more fervent in loving God and man. It is also a symbol of heaven and “an exceptional gift of grace.” Those taking a vow of chastity must rely on God's help to fulfill their vow even as they “practice mortification and custody of the senses.”

* Poverty helps religious imitate Christ, Who was poor. Religious should strive to be poor in spirit “having their treasures in heaven,” and to “trust in the providence of the heavenly Father.” Religious must always share whatever resources they have with the Church and the poor.

* Through obedience, “religious offer the full dedication of their own wills as a sacrifice of themselves to God.” They must obey their superiors and use their gifts and talents to build up the Body of Christ. Superiors, in turn, should exercise their authority “in the spirit of service,” love, respect, and cooperation.

* Religious lead a common life of prayer and work. Communities are true families that must strive to live in love and unity.

* Religious habits should be “simple and modest, at once poor and becoming.” They may be updated to fit the requirements of the community.

* All religious should receive instruction about modern society that they may better serve the people around them and help meet the needs of the Church in the modern world.

* Religious communities may form federations, associations, unions, conferences, and councils in order to cooperate and support each other in their renewal and apostolate.

* Religious communities can and must foster vocations, but they must also carefully screen candidates. The best commendation religious can give for their communities is “the example of their own lives” of love and imitation of Christ.

The full text of Perfectae Caritatis is available online at the Vatican website.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

A Little Something Extra...The Resurrection of the Lord

He is Risen!

Mary Magdalene came to Jesus' tomb early in the morning and found the stone rolled away.

He is Risen!

It was still dark, but the true Light, the risen Light, the Light that enlightens the whole world, could not be held by death.

He is Risen!

Mary did not understand. She ran to Peter and John and told them that Jesus was gone. “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don't know where they put Him.” She did not understand.

He is Risen!

Peter and John ran as fast as they could. They wanted to know what was going on. How could their Lord be gone?

He is Risen!

John got to the tomb first and looked inside. He saw something that amazed him. The burial cloths were lying there on the floor. The cloth that had covered Jesus' head was rolled up in a separate place. He did not understand. Why would anyone take a body but leave the burial cloths?

He is Risen!

Peter entered the tomb and examined it. He saw exactly what John had seen.

He is Risen!

John entered the tomb. He saw and believed.

He is Risen!

Peter and John didn't understand yet. They couldn't completely grasp the significance of what they were seeing. The picture was still fuzzy. The Scriptures still didn't make sense.

He is Risen!

We rejoice this Easter day. Jesus has risen from the dead. He has conquered death and is alive that He might bring us to everlasting life with Him in Heaven.

He is Risen! Alleluia!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Mini Meditation – Holy Thursday

"Do you realize what I have done for you?”

Jesus asked His disciples this question in John 13:12. He has just washed their feet. The Son of God has knelt before His followers and cleaned the dirt from their feet. The second Person of the Blessed Trinity got down on the floor in a humble gesture of loving service.

"Do you realize what I have done for you?”

On the same night, Jesus took bread, broke and blessed it, and gave it to His disciples, saying “This is My Body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.” Then He took a cup of wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant in My Blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”

"Do you realize what I have done for you?”

At that first Eucharist, Jesus gave Himself to His disciples. He continues to give Himself to us every time we receive Holy Communion, for He is really present in the Eucharist, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.

"Do you realize what I have done for you?”

Take some time today to meditate on what Jesus has done for you.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A Little Something Extra...Palm Sunday


Kenosis is one of those big, scary theology words, but it also describes something very important about Jesus and what He has done for us.

Take another look at Philippians 2:7, which is part of today's Second Reading.

Rather, He emptied Himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness..

The Greek verb for “emptied” here is ekenōsen, which gives us the English word “kenosis.”

Kenosis literally means to empty one's self. When applied to Jesus, this refers to His Incarnation when the divine Son of God assumed human nature. When Jesus became man, He voluntarily accepted the lowliness and weakness of human nature in everything except sin. St. Leo the Great explains beautifully:

“He took the nature of a servant without stain of sin, enlarging our humanity without diminishing His divinity. He emptied Himself; though invisible He made Himself visible, though Creator and Lord of all things He chose to be one of us mortal men. Yet this was the condescension of compassion, not the loss of omnipotence. So He who in the nature of God had created man, became in the nature of a servant, man himself.”

Jesus' kenosis reaches its climax in His Passion and death, which we heard proclaimed today from St. Mark's Gospel. Jesus, even though He was and is God, took on our human suffering and extended His self-emptying, His kenosis, all the way to the cross. Take some time today to meditate on Jesus' self-emptying as it is expressed in the Gospel. Here are a few points to consider:

* Jesus feels great pain and sorrow when His own disciple betrays Him.

* Jesus gives us His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist. He comes to us under the appearance of bread and wine as our food.

* In the Garden, Jesus becomes “troubled and distressed” and tells Peter, James, and John, “My soul is sorrowful even to death.”

* Jesus is violently abused by the Jews and the Romans, but He does not resist.

* Jesus is crucified. He suffers and dies on the cross for love of us.

Remember, too, that the idea of kenosis can and must apply to us. We are called to follow Jesus' example of self-emptying love, to pour ourselves out for God and for others. Spend a few minutes reflecting on your life. How is God calling you to imitate Jesus' kenosis?