Last week, I had a fascinating conversation with a Jewish man who married a Catholic woman with whom I’m friends. They have two kids who are in their early teens and have been raised Catholic. It was very intriguing to hear him speak about the Catholic faith because he has read and discussed much about it. I said to him a few times that he knows more than most Catholics! He knows the teachings and seems open to believing, but is more skeptical and doubtful about it all right now.
During our brief chat, he raised questions about the Mass – why do we confess sin in the beginning of Mass, why do we bring money up to the altar in the middle of Mass, and how can transubstantiation actually occur. I didn’t give too many answers because we were at a party and it was more of a casual setting. And, I was simply marveling at his questions!
A question with a question
You could say that I attempted to answer his last question with a question. I asked him about his kids, and if they believe in transubstantiation (i.e., the bread and wine change substances into the Body and Blood of Christ at the Consecration during Holy Mass) because they are both so learned about the Catholic faith and discuss it regularly. He said that his son believes wholeheartedly, probably because of his devout Catholic grandparents. His daughter, however, is more skeptical, probably taking after her father. I thought to myself that that is fine – if the teaching on the Eucharist has reached the ears of these teens (and their Jewish father), then the seed has been planted and it will ultimately bear fruit. The problem usually is that people don’t hear the teaching. “Whoever hears the truth, hears my voice” (Jn 18:37).
I walked away from the conversation realizing, yet again, that faith is a gift. In today’s Gospel, the Apostles say to the Lord, “Increase our faith” (Lk 17:5). They recognize that He is the source of faith in each of them. He is the source of faith in each of us. Just like He is the giver of life, He is the giver of faith. We did nothing to earn the gift of life; so, too, we did nothing to earn the gift of faith at Baptism. And, I truly believe that just as God offers life to every human being, He offers the gift of faith to every human being. The question is, will each person use the gift? Will each of us ask the Lord in our own way – whether in word like the Apostles or in deed like receiving the Eucharist at Mass – to increase our faith.
Our faith at Baptism is like the size of the mustard seed which is mentioned by the Lord in this Gospel as well. God’s Grace helps the tiny faith of the baptized person to grow mainly through the sacraments, much like the Lord mentions in Mark 4: “it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches” (v.32).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that faith is a gift and a human act:
When St. Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus declared to him that this revelation did not come “from flesh and blood,’ but from “my Father who is in heaven.”
Faith is a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by him.
…believing is an authentically human act…In faith, the human intellect and will cooperate with divine grace: “Believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth by command of the will moved by God through grace.” (Paragraphs 153-155).
I will pray that God will infuse the gift of Christian faith in my Jewish friend, and that he will cooperate with grace by assenting to the truth. I will keep praying that this continues to happen with all of us, and that the Lord will increase our faith.
May you know the peace of Christ,
We’re less than two months away from Election Day in the U.S. As Catholics, we vote according to our conscience, not according to political party or candidate. God gives us our consciences (His voice within us) and the Church helps to form them. So, on behalf of the Church, I’ll be presenting the best materials and information that I can find to form and inform your consciences for the current election. Here is a general article from a Catholic perspective to get us started.
May you know the peace of Christ,
Seeing Trump vs Clinton Through Catholic Eyes
by John L. Allen, Jr., cruxnow.com
September 12, 2016
While there’s plenty of time for things to change between now and Nov. 8, most polls at the moment seem to suggest that Hillary Clinton has a less complicated path to the presidency than Donald Trump, especially in terms of the Electoral College map.
In a political season in which the formerly inconceivable has become the new normal, however, predictions of any sort probably ought to be taken with a grain of salt…
Seen through Catholic eyes, each seems to suggest serious challenges, but also that the Church in America has a fairly unique potential to make a difference.
Divisions run deep
It’s hardly new that there are deep divisions in America, but a striking aspect of the 2016 campaign is that it suggests just how profound the estrangement has become.
On one side, many conservative Americans will side reluctantly with Trump on the basis that they find voting for Clinton and what they perceive her to represent utterly inconceivable. The same, of course, will be true of many Clinton voters vis-à-vis Trump.
In other words, the election probably will be decided less by what people are voting for, than by what they’re against.
In such a polarized culture, the remarkable thing about the Catholic Church is that it’s one of the few national institutions that contain large populations of people on all sides, and whose senior leadership reflects widely differing temperaments and options.
Conservatives, for instance, see figures such as Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput as heroes, while liberals have been cheered by the rise of Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich. Centrists, to the extent such an animal still exists in American life, have Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington as a point of reference.
In other words, the Church has an interlocutor for pretty much everyone, which positions it to be one of the lone venues in which a post-election conversation about how to move forward could occur.
Rage against the machine has been perhaps the single dominant storyline about America in 2016, from the spate of police shootings over the summer of African-Americans fomenting perceptions of bias, to working-class white resentment over jobs and cultural shifts that often form the basis of Trump’s appeal.
All this, of course, is exacerbated by the explosion of social media and the culture of insta-attack, of demeaning and demonizing people with whom one disagrees, it often seems to foster…
Catholicism, because it speaks the languages of virtually all the various angry parties out there – whether those languages are metaphorical, reflecting different ideologies and socio-economic situations, or actual, such as the distinction between English and Spanish – may have the country’s pastoral corps best positioned to address our rapidly metastasizing rage.
No matter who wins, the dynamics of the 2016 race undeniably illustrate some worrying trends in American life. Yet they also suggest that if Catholicism can deploy its resources wisely, it has a fairly unique chance to be in America that “expert in humanity” Pope Paul VI long ago said it aspires to be for the whole world.
Continuing my theme of the spiritual works of mercy of the last few weeks, here are some more questions that your children and grandchildren might ask you when talking about our Catholic faith. Once again, it’s really just to give you some kind of answer to tough questions. I’m happy to expound on them if you would like.
May you know the peace of Christ,
“My friends say that after the priest sex abuse scandals, I shouldn’t be Catholic any longer”.
Those scandals are horrific indeed, and give us the unfortunate reminder that the Church is made up of sinful human beings. As awful as they are, though, they don’t take away from the truths about God and our Catholic faith. Do the scandals change God as Father, Son, and Spirit? Do they negate the Resurrection? Is the Eucharist no longer the Body and Blood of Christ? Doctrine is the core reason to be Catholic, and the scandals don’t change doctrine. Even if math teachers commit similar crimes, two plus two is still four, and we should still follow the laws of mathematics.
“I don’t know if I believe in God anymore”.
The next time you see a tree, ask yourself, ‘who made that?’
Look at the stars in the sky and ask, ‘who made those?’
Look at the size and the order of the universe. Did everything come into being as a result of a “big bang” and just fell into perfect order? The chances are so small…too small.
By the way, what /who made it go bang?
Keep in mind that everyone has faith. Everyone believes in something. Even atheists believe. They just believe that God does not exist. (By the way, atheists admit that the order of the universe is the best argument for the existence of God.) “I’m not into Confession”
That’s understandable. It’s hard and uncomfortable. I remember when you were younger, you were not into taking showers. You fought against and complained before every shower. But, when you came out and you were clean all over, you were much happier. Confession is like a spiritual shower!
“I don’t agree with everything the church teaches” You probably agree with everything that Jesus taught and said, right? Well, Jesus gave authority to the church to continue His teachings (Mt 16, Mt 18, Lk 10). Also, we hear so much in the Bible that Christ and the Church are one. So, when the Church teaches on faith and morals, it is really Jesus who is still teaching today.
“Do we worship saints?”
No, we worship God alone. We remember the saints and honor them. But they are only human like you and me. Our church honors the saints with statues like our country honors our forefathers and heroes with monuments and memorials. “Can people of other religions go to heaven?”
Yes. Pope Francis once said that even atheists can be saved. The Church’s mission is to proclaim Jesus Christ as the way to heaven and to invite people to experience the fullness of Christ on earth.
God’s timing couldn’t be better with today’s first reading. Zechariah 12:10-11 describes vast and deep mourning of a nation. That is where we are as Americans given the tragedies in Florida last week. We are mourning not only the horrific deaths of 50 people at a nightclub and a 2-year-old boy at Disney World, but also grieving sin and its effects. Mother Angelica used to say that the beatitude “blessed are those who mourn” had nothing to do with funerals. What she meant was that true Christian mourning encompasses all of the effects of sin, not just death. With that understanding in mind, several of you have come to me this week in mourning. You have asked me, “what is going on?” and “what can I do?”. Cardinal Sarah of Guinea presented some cogent answers to both questions when he spoke at last month’s National Prayer Breakfast in DC. It’s a pretty amazing speech! He’s as spot-on and sharp as can be, and not afraid to speak the truth in love. Below are some excerpts. I am available to any of you who have concerns or questions about what is going on in our world. May you know the peace of Christ, Fr Greg
With that understanding in mind, several of you have come to me this week in mourning. You have asked me, “what is going on?” and “what can I do?” Cardinal Sarah of Guinea presented some cogent answers to both questions when he spoke at last month’s National Prayer Breakfast in DC. It’s a pretty amazing speech! He’s as spot-on and sharp as can be, and not afraid to speak the truth in love. Below are some excerpts. I am available to any of you who have concerns or questions about what is going on in our world. May you know the peace of Christ, Fr Greg
May you know the peace of Christ
Today we are witnessing the next stage – and the consummation – of the efforts to build a utopian paradise on earth without God. It is the stage of denying sin and the fall altogether. But the death of God results in the burial of good, beauty, love and truth. Good becomes evil, beauty is ugly, love becomes the satisfaction of sexual primal instincts, and truths are all relative…
Every human being, like the persons of the Trinity, has the capacity to be united with other persons in communion through the vinculum caritatis – the bond of charity – of the Holy Spirit. The family is a natural preparation and anticipation of the communion that is possible when we are united with God. The family, as it were, is a natural praeparatio evangelica – written into our nature.
This is why the devil is so intent on destroying the family. If the family is destroyed, we lose our God-given, anthropological foundations and so find it more difficult to welcome the saving Good News of Jesus Christ: self-giving, fruitful love…
Advanced societies, including – I regret – this nation have done and continue to do everything possible to legalize such situations. But this can never be a truthful solution. It is like putting bandages on an infected wound. It will continue to poison the body until antibiotics are taken.
Sadly, the advent of artificial reproductive technologies, surrogacy, so-called homosexual “marriage,” and other evils of gender ideology, will inflict even more wounds in the midst of the generations we live with.
Do we not see signs of this insidious war in this great nation of the United States? In the name of “tolerance,” the Church’s teachings on marriage, sexuality and the human person are dismantled. The legalization of same-sex marriage, the obligation to accept contraception within health care programs, and even “bathroom bills” that allow men to use the women’s restrooms and locker rooms. Should not a biological man use the men’s restroom? How simpler can that concept be?
How low we are sinking for a nation built on a set of moral claims about God, the human person, the meaning of life, and the purpose of society, given by America’s first settlers and founders! God is named in your founding documents as “Creator” and “Supreme Judge” over individuals and government. The human person endowed with God-given and therefore inalienable rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” George Washington wrote that “the establishment of Civil and Religious Liberty was the motive that induced me to the field of battle.”
Today, we find ourselves before the battle of a sickness that has pervaded our world. I repeat: the battle of a sickness. That is what we face. I call this sickness “the liquidation, the eclipse of God.” Pope Francis describes the causes of this “sickness.” I quote:
“Religious liberty is not only that of thought or private worship. It is freedom to live according to ethical principles consequent upon the truth found, be it privately or publicly. This is a great challenge in the globalized world, where weak thought – which is like a sickness – also lowers the general ethical level, and in the name of a false concept of tolerance ends up by persecuting those who defend the truth about man and the ethical consequences.”
What are the remedies to this sickness? What should we do to protect the family, religious freedom, and marriage – as revealed to us by God?
Before such a distinguished gathering, I offer three humble suggestions.
1. Be prophetic… Discern carefully – in your lives, your homes, your workplaces how, in your nation, God is being eroded, eclipsed, liquidated.
2. Be faithful… In the words of Saint Catherine of Siena: “Proclaim the truth and do not be silent through fear.”
3. Pray… Pope Benedict XVI in Deus Caritas Est encourages us : “People who pray are not wasting their time, even though the situation appears desperate and seems to call for action alone.”
This is a historic week in our beloved city of Washington, and particularly for the Archdiocese. If you are not able to be with Pope Francis physically on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, be with him spiritually.
PRAY that God will protect him and keep everyone safe during the events. PRAY that God will inspire his words, and that he will speak the truth in love.
PRAY that all Americans will be open to the Holy Spirit through his words and actions of Pope Francis.
PRAY that our city and country will receive many graces this week!
Below are some excerpts from Cardinal Wuerl’s interview with the Catholic Standard which prepare us well for the Holy Father’s visit.
–Sincerely in Christ, Fr Greg
“While I do not know what Pope Francis will say when he speaks to the President or addresses Congress and the United Nations, I suspect that whatever it is, it will be pastoral in tone, challenging in content and engaging in its delivery. Pope Francis will have an opportunity to speak to the political leaders of our nation and representatives of political leaders around the world. Already this pontificate is marked with the pope’s call for respect for human dignity, our need to care for one another as members of the human family and at the same time our obligations towards the environment, the care of our common home. I would not be surprised to find any or all of these as part of his messages. Just as important as what the Holy Father says – or perhaps even more important – is what we do in response.
“There are many ways to prepare for the visit of Pope Francis, the Successor of Peter who, above all else, brings to us Jesus Christ. Spiritually, I hope we will all take advantage of this moment to renew our own faith conviction, frequent the sacraments, especially Reconciliation and the Eucharist, and at the same time share our own enthusiasm for our Holy Father and our faith in the Church he represents with our neighbors. The Walk with Francis Pledge is also a way of saying to the pope that we recognize his message, embrace it and try to live it. The best way we can prepare is by that interior, spiritual conversion to which we are called every day as Christians…
“(After) the Holy Father leaves the Archdiocese of Washington, I hope part of his legacy will be that afterglow that continues to warm our hearts, challenge our consciences and deepen our faith. Not only will this be a time of grace in which we ourselves are renewed, but this visit van be a leaven in the whole of society. It is an important opportunity to evangelize those who perhaps do not really know what Christ and his Church are all about. Touched by the Gospel love and truth in this way, through Pope Francis and us in communion with him, our city and nation can grow and take just a few steps toward God’s kingdom.”–Cardinal Wuerl
Interesting linksHere are some interesting links for you! Enjoy your stay :)
Fr. Greg Shaffer
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