Monday, September 29, 2014

Online Education Opportunities

Regular readers of this blog have probably figured out by now that I'm a life-long learner. I simply love to learn new things, use my mind in creative and diverse ways, delve into interesting subject matter, and generally enjoy all that the intellectual world has to offer. Luckily for me and others like me, there are now countless online education opportunities, both paid and free, that satisfy the desire to learn and grow in nearly every imaginable subject area. Below are just a few online learning possibilities:

1. The Knights of Columbus offer two free online courses and a free correspondence course in the Catholic faith. Course booklets are also available online at no cost.

2. John Paul the Great Catholic University provides a free online course entitled “Pillars of Catholicism” taught by Dr. Michael Barber, Dr. Christine Wood, and Fr. Andy Younan.

3. The St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology offers several free online Bible study courses in text and audio forms, including “Covenant Love: Introducing the Biblical Worldview”; “Genesis to Jesus”; and in-depth courses on several books of the New Testament. This site also contains an excellent resource library.

4. The Catholic Home Study Service provides free classes about Catholic faith, life, and prayer. 

5. If you don't mind paying a bit for a class, Catholic Distance University has some excellent options for courses and seminars; the University of Notre Dame's STEP program offers the opportunity to earn certificates in various areas of theological studies; Catholic Courses through TAN books is always adding new classes for reasonable rates; International Catholic University also provides quality classes for reasonable prices, and of course, Franciscan University of Steubenville has a top-notch distance learning program with MA degree and non-credit options.

6. Coursera teams up with colleges and universities to offer courses in a wide variety of subjects. There's something for everyone here. Classes are free, but certificate options are also available for reasonable prices.

7. Like Coursera, edX offers college level classes in nearly ever subject area. Classes are free, but certificate options are also available for reasonable prices.

8. The Open Culture website lists over 1,000 free courses, some on iTunes, some on websites, and some on both, from colleges and universities like Stanford, Berkeley, Yale, Harvard, and many more. The site also offers links to free online language lessons and free online textbooks.

9. The Annenberg Learner site hosts plenty of fascinating video series for learners of all ages.

10. Don't forget iTunes U for a whole bunch of interesting, free classes.

11. Check out the open courseware pages at colleges and universities like MIT, Yale, Notre Dame, Harvard and others for a wide range of options.

12. For lovers of fantasy literature, don't miss the Mythgard Institute. Mythgard offers paid options to audit classes or earn credits toward an MA degree in Literature and Language, but its Academy section provides several free online courses, focusing especially on the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien. The Tolkien Professor offers further Tolkien classes and information.

I'm merely scratching the surface with this list, but there is enough learning material here to last a lifetime. A word of caution, however... Some of the college, universities, and classes on some of the sites mentioned here are secular in nature and contain ideas that are incompatible with Catholic belief. Be on your guard as you learn. Nevertheless, enjoy your classes and never, ever stop learning!

Monday, September 22, 2014


In his Modern Catholic Dictionary, Fr. John Hardon defines reverence as “The virtue that inclines a person to show honor and respect for persons who possess some dignity.” He identifies four types of reverence: 1. toward parents; 2. toward civil authorities; 3. toward the Pope, bishops, priests, and others who serve the Church; and 4. toward “any person, place, or object related to God.” The highest reverence, of course, that goes beyond all others is the reverence we owe to God Himself.

In this reflection, I'd like to concentration on Fr. Hardon's forth type of reverence, that religious reverence toward “any person, place, or object related to God,” as well as on the reverence we owe to God Himself. I've been noticing something lately that disturbs me very much. Many Catholics seem to have lost their reverence or at the very least have severely diminished it, and they are developing the tendency to treat the Church's sanctuary as just any old place and the Mass as just any old gathering. 

I apologize ahead of time if this reflection turns into a bit of a rant, but Catholics need to regain their reverence for God and for the things of God, and that includes the sanctuary, the Mass, and especially the Eucharist. 

Let's look at a few examples. Many Catholics have developed the bad habit of entering the sanctuary before Mass, praying for a few moments, and then sitting back and entering into conversation with their neighbors. This behavior shows a decided lack of reverence for a holy space, the sanctuary, and a lack of respect for other people. 

When we enter the sanctuary, we are coming into the Eucharistic presence of Jesus Christ. Jesus is present in the tabernacle Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. Therefore, our time in the sanctuary before Mass is to be used in quiet, reverent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. It is not a time to catch up on the latest news or plan activities for later. Anyone who wants to chat instead of pray should leave the sanctuary and go out into the narthex to avoid disturbing those who do wish to pray quietly. 

Along with sitting in prayerful quiet before Mass, Catholics can show their reverence for the Eucharistic Jesus by greeting Him as they enter the sanctuary. This greeting can take the form of a mindful sign of the cross with holy water upon coming in and a pause to genuflect or bow upon entering the pew. We Catholics need to remember why we do these things. They shouldn't be merely unthinking routine. We make the sign of the cross with holy water to remember our baptism and to recall that we are saved by and united with Jesus Christ Who died for us on the cross. We genuflect as a sign of our belief in and reverence for Jesus, present in the Eucharist. 

When Mass begins, everyone present should strive to be fully attentive and to fully participate. Yes, distractions creep in for all of us. That's very human and very unavoidable, but we must do the best we can to stay focused on the Mass and to pray and worship with our minds and our hearts. Mass should be the high point of the whole week because in the Mass, we offer God the highest possible worship and praise and, what's more, we receive Jesus, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, in the Eucharist. 

When we receive Communion, therefore, we must recognize Whom we are receiving and do so with the greatest possible reverence. We bow in worship before receiving Jesus, and we say a firm “Amen.” The key here is mindfulness. We are not consuming just little piece of bread or a little drink of wine. We are consuming the King of the Universe Who has stooped down to make Himself our food and drink that we may enter into the most intimate relationship with Him this side of Heaven. This is not something we do lightly and without thinking. 

After receiving Jesus, we should return to our pews for a time of thanksgiving and prayer. Jesus is present within our very bodies at this moment. Now is the time to speak with Him in a special way.

I'd also like to made a note here about proper, reverent attire for Mass. Many Catholics, especially in the summer, show up to Mass looking like they are going to the beach or camping or to a sporting event and often showing far too much skin. Clothing for Mass doesn't have to be fancy or expensive, but it should be neat, clean, and modest. The key word here is modest. Women should pay attention to hemlines and necklines. Short skirts, short shorts, ripped jeans, tank tops, low cut blouses, and anything that is too tight or that reveals too much on the top, in the middle, or on the bottom does not belong at Mass. Men, too, need to consider their appearance and avoid unsuitable clothing that reveals too much. We are at Mass to worship the King of Kings not attract attention to ourselves.

I began this reflection by commenting that many Catholics seem to have lost their reverence or at the very least have severely diminished it and that they are developing the tendency to treat the Church's sanctuary as just any old place and the Mass as just any old gathering. Now is the time to reverse that trend. We all fall into bad habits at times, so we must make an effort to look closely at our behavior in the sanctuary before and during Mass, make changes as necessary, and present ourselves to our Lord and King with as much reverence as humanly possible.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Little Something Extra...The Feast of the Exultation of the Holy Cross

The Saints Speak about the Cross

“Let us be afraid of being deprived of sufferings more than a miser is of his treasure. Sufferings are the jewels of Jesus Crucified...The more painful the cross, the greater our advantage. The more contradictory creatures are with us, the dearer we will be to our Creator. A single moment of tribulation assures an immense weight of glory. Never to suffer would be the greatest danger for us.” - St. Paul of the Cross 

“If God gives you an abundant harvest of trials, it is a sign of great holiness which He desires you to attain. Do you want to become a great saint? Ask God to send you many sufferings. The flame of Divine Love never rises higher than when fed with the wood of the Cross, which the infinite charity of the Savior used to finish His sacrifice. All the pleasures of the world are nothing compared with the sweetness found in the gall and vinegar offered to Jesus Christ. That is, hard and painful things endured for Jesus Christ and with Jesus Christ.” - St. Ignatius of Loyola 

“The road is narrow. He who wishes to travel it more easily must cast off all things and use the cross as his cane. In other words, he must be truly resolved to suffer willingly for the love of God in all things.” - St. John of the Cross 

“It is You Jesus, stretched out on the cross, who gives me strength and are always close to the suffering soul. Creatures will abandon a person in his suffering, but You, O Lord, are faithful...” - St. Faustina 

“If you seek patience, you will find no better example than the cross. Great patience occurs in two ways: either when one patiently suffers much, or when one suffers things which one is able to avoid and yet does not avoid. Christ endured much on the cross, and did so patiently, because when He suffered He did not threaten; He was led like a sheep to the slaughter and He did not open his mouth.” - St. Thomas Aquinas 

“I see crosses at every turn. My flesh shudders over it, but my heart adores them. Yes, I hail you, crosses little and great, I hail you, and kiss your feet, unworthy of the honor of your shadow.” - St. Francis de Sales

“The Gates of Paradise are not closed to those who carry the standard of the Cross.” - St. Alphonsus Ligouri 

“All the greatest pains become sweet for whoever looks at Jesus Christ on the Cross.” - St. Mary Magdalen of Pazzi 

“It is loving the Cross that one finds one heart, for Divine Love cannot live without suffering.” - St. Bernadette 

“On the Way of the Cross, you see, my children, only the first step is painful. Our greatest cross is the fear of crosses...We have not the courage to carry our cross, and we are very much mistaken; for, whatever we do, the cross holds us tight -- we cannot escape from it. What, then, have we to lose? Why not love our crosses, and make use of them to take us to heaven?” - St. Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney 

“All those who belong to Jesus Christ are fastened with Him to the cross.” - St. Augustine 

“Even if Jesus lays on us some part of the Cross, He is there to help us bear it with self, sacrifice and love.” - St. John XXIII 

“Whoever does not seek the cross of Christ doesn't seek the glory of Christ.” - St. John of the Cross 

“I wonder what the world would be like if there were not innocent people making reparation for us all? Today the Passion of Christ is being relived in the lives of those who suffer. To accept that suffering is a gift of God. Suffering is not a punishment. Jesus does not punish. Suffering is a sign--a sign that we have come so close to Jesus on the cross that He can kiss us, show us that He is in love with us by giving us an opportunity to share in His Passion. Suffering is not a punishment, nor a fruit of sin; it is a gift of God. He allows us to share in his suffering and to make up for the sins of the world.” - Blessed Mother Teresa 

"Apart from the cross, there is no other ladder by which we may get to heaven." - St. Rose of Lima

Sunday, September 7, 2014

A Little Something Extra...Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Speaking Out

It seems these days that nearly every attempt at asserting a moral truth or pointing out a moral evil is met with such comments as, “If you're a Christian, you aren't supposed to judge because Jesus said not to.” and “Love means never judging.” 

I don't usually write things like this on my blog, but that is a bunch of baloney!

First off, when Jesus said not to judge lest we be judged, He wasn't talking about asserting moral truths and pointing out moral evils. He was talking about making a decision about whether or not a particular person is eternally saved or not. We cannot and should not make that kind of judgment because we do not know the state of anyone's heart. Only God does. He alone knows all the extenuating circumstances of sin. He alone knows a person's culpability. That's why we can't look at someone who has committed suicide (objectively a mortal sin) and make the judgment that that person is going straight to hell. How do we know what was truly going on in that person's mind? How do we know what happened during that last few moments of that person's life? We don't. But God does. That's why we leave this kind of judgment up to Him.

That being said, however, Christians do have the right to look at a particular deed and judge whether or not it is in tune with God's moral law. In fact, we have to do that. It's part of our job as Christians. We have the responsibility to know God's law, follow it, and recognize when it is being broken. What's more, we have the obligation to speak out, both to promote the moral truth of God's law and to point out the moral evil of acts that break God's law.

Today's readings make this very clear. In the First Reading from Ezekiel, God tells the prophet that he is a watchman for the house of Israel. Ezekiel has the responsibility of warning his fellow Israelites when they are breaking God's law, and when he does this, he is warning them as a representative of God. What's more, if he fails in his task and doesn't speak out against moral evil, the prophet is actually, at least partly, responsible for the death that will come to the wicked.

By now you might be think, “Well, that's just Ezekiel, though. He was a prophet, so he's different.” We, too, are prophets. When we are baptized, we receive a share in the priesthood, kingship, and prophetic office of Jesus Christ. Part of our responsibility is to recognize moral evil for what it is and speak out against it. Please note that our task here requires prudence and prayer. We have to know when and how to speak out, and we discover that through prayer as we bring our questions and difficulties to God, Who will provide us with the opportunities, means, and courage to do as He requires.

Furthermore, we don't have to speak out alone, at least not all the time. Jesus makes that clear in today's Gospel. The question seems to have risen among the disciples about what they are supposed to do if someone sins against them. (Note that sin affects the whole community and is never private. It is always a sin against another person even if the other person isn't directly involved. Everyone feels the effects of sin.) Jesus doesn't hesitate to answer. If someone sins, His disciple is to go to that person and tell him his fault in private. Notice that He doesn't say, “Just love the person, and the sin won't matter.” or “Don't judge anyone!” No. Jesus says to go and point out the sin, to speak out against moral evil. 

Jesus is also well aware that sometimes, maybe even often, this kind of individual conversation doesn't work. The person sinning might (and probably will) resist, perhaps saying a variation of the phrases that occur so often in our modern day world. In that case, Jesus continues, the person confronting the sinner must go and get two or three others to help. Together they must speak to the sinner again. If this second attempt still doesn't work, the Church must be alerted of the situation, and its leaders must confront the sinner. 

What happens if the person in sin refuses to listen even to the Church? Jesus says that, in such a case, the person must be treated like a Gentile or a tax collector. The people of Jesus' day would have understood “Gentile” and “tax collector” as “outsider.” In other words, the person who stubbornly remains in sin will no longer be treated as a full member of the community. In modern terms, that person must not receive the Eucharist because he or she is in direct disobedience to the Church and is willfully remaining in sin despite being told numerous times of the truth of the moral law and his or her failing to follow that law. 

In other words, sin has consequences. The person who gravely sins cuts himself or herself off from the community of the Church. 

Now what about love? Many people would say that cutting someone off doesn't seem very loving. The biggest problem with that opinion is that many people today don't understand the true meaning of love. They tend to think of it in terms of nice, cozy feelings and being accepting all the time. Actually, true love has far more to do with the will than with the emotions. True love means willing the absolute best for the loved one in every circumstance, and that absolute best definitely does not include sin, which shatters relationships with God and other people. True love, therefore, means making every possible effort to draw a loved one away from sin, and that means asserting moral truth and pointing out moral evil. True love doesn't want a loved one to throw away his or her life, in this world and especially in eternity, because of sin. True love means speaking out even if the loved one doesn't appreciate it.

We'll conclude with one more observation about asserting moral truth and pointing out moral evil. It must start with oneself. Jesus tells us to remove the beams from our own eyes so that we can see clearly to remove the specks from others' eyes. We have to recognize and deal with our own sin so we can effectively help others.

As Christians, then, we are called to speak out, proclaiming what is morally right and combating what is morally wrong. We do so out of love and with love, but we must do so nonetheless.