Sunday, May 25, 2014

A Little Something Extra...Sixth Sunday of Easter

Be Ready

In today's Second Reading, St. Peter tells us to always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks us for a reason for our hope. The Greek word for explanation here is apologia, and it can also mean a reasoned defense or argument that presents evidence and offers proof. 

Can you do that? Can you offer an explanation for your hope in Jesus Christ? Can you make a reasoned defense or argument to support your Catholic faith and its various doctrines and practices? For instance, can you explain the doctrine of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist? Can you summarize the Church's teachings about our Blessed Mother? Can you explain why Catholics have such a strong relationship with the saints? 

If you said no to any of these questions, don't feel too bad. Most Catholics are probably in the same boat. That being said, St. Peter makes it clear that we have a responsibility to know our faith well enough to be able to explain it to others. We all face questions about Catholicism, which tends to be extremely misunderstood and often slandered. We need to be ready to answer when an unbeliever challenges us or when a well-meaning but misinformed fellow Christian offers his or her own opinions.

Learning about our Catholic faith is a life-long process, and if you haven't already done so, it's time to get started. 

1. Read the Bible. The Sacred Scriptures are God's love letter to His children. They have God as their Author, and they tell us a great deal of what we need to know about Who God is and how He has interacted with His people over the centuries. Furthermore, in the Gospels, we get to know Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity and God-made-Man. Read at least a chapter every day if not more.

2. Find a good Catholic Scripture commentary to help you comprehend what you read in the Bible. There are parts of Scripture that are hard to understand, even for people who have been studying for years. I would suggest purchasing a copy of the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, prepared by Dr. Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch. The New Testament commentary is available in one volume, and there are already several booklets on the market for various Old Testament books. Another good option is the Navarre Bible. If you prefer something online, try Agape Catholic Bible Study, which offers studies for Old and New Testament books as well as topical studies.

3. Get a Catechism, read it, and learn how to use it. The 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church offers excellent explanations of nearly all aspects of our Catholic faith. Make it your primary resource. If you don't want to purchase a copy (although I would highly recommend doing so), you can access the Catechism online at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website.

4. Read a few good books about the Catholic faith. You might begin with Dr. Alan Schreck's Catholic and Christian, Dr. Peter Kreeft's Catholic Christianity, and Dr. Scott Hahn's Catholic for a Reason. There are plenty of options from these authors and others for digging even more deeply. Just make sure that any book you choose is faithful in its Catholic teaching.

5. Meet some saints. They lived their faith deeply, and they provide excellent examples of people who are not afraid to offer an explanation for what they believe. Choose a saint or two, read about their lives, dig into their writings, and pray to them for guidance and intercession.

6. Find someone who can answer your questions. You might talk to your parish priest, join a study group at your church, or chat with lay person who has some training in Scripture and theology. Websites like EWTN and RC Spirituality have archives of questions and answers and ask-a-question forms to fill out if you're still stumped.

7. Pray, pray, pray. You will never truly understand your Catholic faith if you don't have a personal, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. Ask Him for wisdom and understanding. Meet Him in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist. Make Him your first priority in everything. Then open your heart, open your mind, and allow Him to teach you your faith so that you can follow St. Peter's command and be ready to offer an explanation to anyone who asks you the reason for your hope.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

A Little Something Extra...Fifth Sunday of Easter

Who Are Christians?

In today's Second Reading, St. Peter answers the following question: Who are Christians? Who are we who call ourselves by that's name? Let's look closely at what he says.

Christians are “a chosen race,” in Greek, genos eklekton. The word eklekton, chosen, tells us that we have been selected by God, picked out to be His favorites. The word genos, translated here as race, can also mean family, nation, or kind. We are God's family, specially chosen by Him to be His beloved children. As such we are a community set apart to live together for God our Father.

Christians are “a royal priesthood,” in Greek, basileion hierateuma. At our baptism, we became priests, prophets, and kings who share in the priesthood, prophetic office, and kingship of Jesus Christ. As kings, we rule over our passions by faith and reason so that we may one day sit on Jesus' throne with Him, just as He promised to those who persevere. We Christians possess a royal (basileion) dignity that comes through our sharing in the life of Christ. Furthermore, even those of us who are not ordained priests share in the universal priesthood (hierateuma) of all believers and are called to offer ourselves, our prayers, and our sacrifices to God in genuine, devout worship. 

Christians are “a holy nation,” in Greek, ethnos hagion. No matter where we come from or where we live or what race or nationality we claim, we are now one people, one nation, one ethnos. God has joined us together as one people, and He has made us holy. Holiness means being set apart for God. We belong exclusively to Him; we are sacred to Him; we are consecrated for His use; and we behave accordingly. We make upright moral choices. We follow God's commands and let His will guide our lives. We strive to remain pure in His sight.

Christians are “a people of His [God's] own,” in Greek, laos eis peripoiēsin. This time the Greek word for people is laos, which suggests that we are gathered together, united in the same faith. We are not just any people; we are God's people. We are His own possession and property, His peripoiēsin. After all, Jesus Christ has purchased us with His own blood. We belong fully to Him now.

Christians are people with a job to do. We are to announce the praises of God, tas aretas exaggeilēte. The Greek words for the praises are tas aretas, which refer to perfection, virtue, excellence, goodness, gracious acts, and uprightness. Indeed, God is all-loving, all-good, all-wise, all-perfect, all-powerful, and all-knowing. He has done and continues to do wonderful things for His people. We, in turn, must recognize Who He is and what He has done. We are to recognize His characteristics, as far as we can with our limited human minds, and then we are to announce them to the world. The Greek verb here is exaggeilēte, which means to proclaim fully and to declare totally. We must not leave anything out but instead celebrate God and show forth His greatness and His wondrous deeds before all people.

Christians have been called “out of darkness” and into God's own marvelous light. Once we walked in the darkness of sin and death. We were apart from God, separated from His perfection by our sin. But God has called us. The Greek verb here is kaleō, which can also mean to invite, summon, or name. God has reached out to us. Making the first move, He has invited us into a relationship with Him, summoning us to communion with Him and to a share in His own divine life. He has given us a new name, the name of Christian. So now we walk in God's own marvelous light. He is the light of the world. He is light itself, and He shines upon us, radiantly, brilliantly. We live bathed in His healing, enlivening, saving rays.

Do we Christians really know who we are? Spend some time this week meditating on St. Peter's answer to that perpetual question, “Who are Christians?”

Monday, May 12, 2014

A Little Something Extra...Fourth Sunday of Easter

Telling It Like It Is

This weekend's First Reading features portions of Peter's Pentecost sermon. The chief of the apostles has just been filled with the Holy Spirit, and now he is preaching before a crowd of Jews from all over the known world. He is no longer the frightened, hesitant fisherman who was so quick to deny Jesus. He now has the power of the Spirit working within him, providing him with compelling words. He is no longer afraid to tell it like it is

And that's exactly what Peter does. He states the plain facts, and he begins by proclaiming exactly Who Jesus is. “Let the whole house of Israel know for certain,” he announces, “that God has made both Lord and Christ, this Jesus Whom you crucified.” Jesus is the Lord. He is divine. He is God Himself, the God-Man. Further, Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed One, the Christ, Whom the Jews had been expecting for centuries. Peter is very clear. There is no doubt about it. What's more, the Jews crucified this Jesus. Peter puts the blame squarely on his audience: “this Jesus Whom you crucified” (emphasis mine). 

Peter is so forceful that his listeners are “cut to the heart.” The Greek verb here is katanussō, and it means to be pricked; to be emotionally agitated, especially by sorrow; to be pierced all the way down to the core; and to be pained in the mind. Peter's simple, straightforward speech has affected his listeners to the depths of their being. They feel their guilt, they are sorry, and they ask Peter and the other disciples what they should do.

Peter doesn't hesitate to tell them. He knows that there is hope even for this crowd. He tells his hearers to repent and be baptized. They need to change their minds and their hearts (Greek metanoeō), to make an internal conversion, and then to be baptized, to receive the sacrament that cleanses them of all their sins and makes them new creatures in Jesus Christ. Then, Peter assures them, they, too, will receive the Holy Spirit. They, too, will know the truth and be able to speak it with confidence and clarity.

Next, Peter reminds his audience, that, as Jews, they are the recipients of God's promise. God has promised to send down the Holy Spirit on His people, on the Jews and their children, and Peter remarks, even on those who are “far off,” perhaps referring to the Gentiles. All they have to do is reach out and grasp God's gift with repentant and obedient hearts. 

Peter ends by exhorting the crowd to “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” They have a prime opportunity right now to turn away from sin and to accept Jesus Christ and God's plan for humanity. They have a perfect chance to experience something life-changing, mind-changing, heart-changing, and eternity-changing if only they embrace Christianity and choose to follow Jesus Christ.

Many of Peter's hearers do just that. Three thousand are baptized that very day. Three thousand people begin a new life in Christ and all because Peter, guided by the Holy Spirit, is not afraid to tell it like it is.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

A Little Something Extra...Third Sunday of Easter

The Direction of Your Spiritual Journey

Today's Gospel story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus has always been one of my favorites. First off, it's just a great tale, complete with down-and-out disciples, a journey, a mysterious man, and even a miracle. Also, though, it invites us to examine the direction of our own spiritual journey. 

Let's begin with the big question. 

Which direction are you headed on your spiritual journey? Are you moving toward Jesus or away from Him?

The two fellows in our Gospel were heading in exactly the wrong direction. They were leaving the fellowship of the other disciples and striking off on their own. Perhaps they were frightened of the Jews. Perhaps they just wanted to get away from the emotional upheaval, but in reality, they were running away, and we all learned in childhood that running away doesn't solve a thing.

What are you running away from? What frightens you? How do you cope with your fear?

The disciples were feeling pretty blue as they trudged along, discussing the recent events. They were depressed and upset.

What is making you depressed and upset? How do you handle your feelings? 

Suddenly a mysterious man approached the two disciples. He asked them what they were talking about.

How does Jesus enter your life in unexpected ways?

The disciples do not recognize Jesus. Apparently Jesus could change the appearance of His resurrected body at will, or maybe the two men were simply blinded by their own emotions.

Have you ever missed seeing Jesus? Do you always recognize Him?

One of the disciples spoke up, saying that they had been talking about what had happened to Jesus of Nazareth. They had hoped, he said, that Jesus would be the one to redeem Israel, but that hope had been shattered. 

Have you ever had your hopes shattered? How did you recover?

The disciple continued, saying that they had been hearing some strange stories about an empty tomb and visions of angels, but they didn't believe them.

Do you believe in miracles? How strong is your faith in Jesus' resurrection? 

When He heard this, Jesus exclaimed, “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?” 

What is your attitude toward suffering? Do you join your sufferings with those of Christ? 

Jesus then opened the Scriptures for the two disciples, interpreting everything that referred to Himself. 

Do you value the Bible? How much time to you spend reading and studying Scripture? When you read the Bible, do you allow Jesus to explain it to you?

Time must have flown by for the disciples because almost before they knew it, they had reached their destination. They begged Jesus to stay with them when He acted like He intended to keep going.

How do you feel and respond to Jesus' presence in your life? Do you ever beg Him to stay with you?

The three sat down to supper, and in the midst of the meal, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to the disciples. At that moment, their eyes opened, and they knew exactly who this mysterious Man was.

Do you believe in the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist? Do you attend Mass regularly and devoutly? Do you appreciate the divine gift made available to us in the Mass? How might you grow in your appreciation and celebration of the Eucharist?

Jesus disappeared right before the disciples' eyes just as they recognized Him, but now everything made sense. They realized that their hearts had been burning within them as they listened to Jesus explaining the Scriptures.

Has your heart ever burned within you out of love for Jesus?

The disciples left Emmaus immediately and headed straight back to Jerusalem. They knew they had to return to the community of disciples and share their experience.

Do you value your Christian community? How do you witness to Jesus?

Let's return to our first set of questions. Perhaps they will be easier to answer now.

Which direction are you headed on your spiritual journey? Are you moving toward Jesus or away from Him? 

Friday, May 2, 2014

Everyday Prayers – The Our Father – Part 5

In this post, we will finish our reflections on the Our Father. Remember, these meditations merely scratch the surface of this prayer, which our Lord Jesus filled with the deepest of meanings. 

As always, we'll begin with prayer.

Our Father, Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.

1. We ask God not to lead us into temptation. This seems a little strange, doesn't it? How could God lead us into temptation? He doesn't tempt us. The world, the flesh, and the devil tempt us, not God. God does, however, allow us to be tempted sometimes in order to test us and to strengthen our faith, which grows only through use.

2. The word for “temptation” in the Greek is peirasmos, which can also mean trial, testing, and proving. With this prayer, we are asking, then, that God does not give us more than we can handle when He allows us to be tested and tried. We are asking Him to prevent us from falling in our weakness.

3. As we ask God not to lead us into temptation, we may also request that He give us the grace and strength to persevere through whatever trials He sends our way.

4. We end the prayer by asking God to deliver us from evil. The Greek word for “deliver” is rhuomai. Along with deliver, it means rescue.

5. We certainly need to be constantly rescued from evil. It surround us on all sides as we make our way through the world. We are threatened spiritually by those who attack our faith. Physically, our bodies face disease and weakness. The enemy is constantly on the prowl, digging into our weak spots, trying to lead us into sin.

6. What is evil really? It's a deprivation, a gap, an absence of truth, beauty, and goodness. God did not create evil. Everything He created was good. Our first parents chose to use their free will to disobey God, and with that first sin, they introduced gaps into the goodness God created. Those gaps are the evils we experience.

7. When we pray this prayer, we are asking God to pull us out of the gaps and to fill up the gaps with His love.

8. We end the prayer with an “Amen,” which is a Hebrew word of firm assent. It is equivalent to saying, “Yes, God!” or “It is true!” We should pronounce it with conviction.

Let's end by praying the Our Father together one more time.

Our Father, Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.