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My personal relationship with “Him”

March 11, 2014

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It's possible to have a personal-sized Jesus. Do Catholics have a personal relationship with him?

It’s possible to have a personal-sized Jesus statue but do Catholics have a personal relationship with him? How is it different from other relationships in our lives?

I’ve never had so many relationships. Friendly corporations and nonprofits want to get to know me and reward me for liking them back. I have digital friendships with social media contacts I’ve never seen except for their profile picture. And I have close working relationships with the digital devices in my life.

In the movie “Her,” set in the not-so-hard-to-imagine future, a man falls deeply in love with his phone’s operating system. We think it’s a little weird but understandable.

It seems to me that we’ve expanded the definition of relationship for the digital age. But no one would ever say a digital friendship is the same as a personal relationship.

Before they tell you a lot about themselves or even where they go to church, some Protestants reveal that they have a personal relationship with Christ and they want to know if you have one, too.

Catholic personal relationship?

I think Catholics sometimes hesitate at this question because it’s not how we’re used to talking about our faith. Do you wonder if these Protestant friends have something you don’t?

As a practicing Catholic, I know I have a personal relationship with Christ because the Bible and the Church assure me that I do.

The word “relationship” doesn’t appear in my Bible concordance, so I looked up “friendship.” Jesus tells us we are his friends in John 15:15:
“…I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.”

The Catechism makes it clear that a friendship or a personal relationship is what we’re called to:

The universe, created in and by the eternal Word, “the image of the invisible God” is destined for and addressed to man, himself created in the “image of God” and called to a personal relationship with God. (CCC299)

Called to relationship

The Lord is calling us to have a personal relationship with him that’s more than emotional. We know Him through prayer but we also come to know him profoundly through the gifts He’s given us in the sacraments. The Catechism states:

Christ is always present in his Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations. He is present in the Sacrifice of the Mass not only in the person of his minister, ‘the same now offering, through the ministry of priests, who formerly offered himself on the cross,’ but especially in the Eucharistic species. By his power he is present in the sacraments so that when anybody baptizes, it is really Christ himself who baptizes. He is present in his word since it is he himself who speaks when the holy Scriptures are read in the Church. Lastly, he is present when the Church prays and sings, for he has promised ‘where two or three are gathered together in my name there am I in the midst of them.” (CCC1088)

There’s nothing virtual about a personal relationship with Christ. The Lord is personally present in the sacraments and in his Word. According to Father Dwight Longenecker our relationship with him is really more like a marriage—we have to work at it.  “That relationship is made solid and real and substantial by day by day commitment to prayer, the sacraments and the works of mercy.”

I like my phone but we will never have that kind of friendship. As I continue to get to know the person of Jesus Christ, I look forward to going deeper our personal relationship.

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Stuck confessing the same sins over and over?

January 30, 2014

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Better to ask for "the usual" here than in confession, where it's not such a good thing to come in with the same list of sins time after time. A good place to get "the usual." Photo/Seattle Municipal Archives.   Licensed under Creative Commons

Better to ask for “the usual” here than in confession, where it’s not such a good thing to come in with the same list of sins time after time. Photo/Seattle Municipal Archives. Licensed under Creative Commons

If a regular customer sits down in a diner and says “the usual”, an experienced waitress will bring their eggs exactly to order without any more questions.

I feel like if I said “the usual” to my confessor he’d know my list of sins as well as the diner waitress knows her regular customers’ orders. When I go to confession it sometimes seems a lot like the time before.

I commit the same sins over and over. It’s some consolation that I’m mostly not out inventing new sins but sometimes when I kneel in the confessional I don’t feel like I’m making much headway.

I guess what I should ask myself  is, do I really want to get these sins off my list and what am I doing to make that happen?

Conversion

What it takes is interior repentance, according to the Catechism. “a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed.

“At the same time it entails the desire and resolution to change one’s life, with hope in God’s mercy and trust in the help of his grace. This conversion of heart is accompanied by a salutary pain and sadness which the Fathers called animi cruciatus (affliction of spirit) and compunctio cordis (repentance of heart). “(CCC 1431)

According to one priest, the way to overcome sin is to “look at the causes of it in ourselves, address them, and avoid what leads us into temptation.” He suggests making an examination of conscience at the end of the day to look at each sin in context, ask for God’s mercy and grace and make a resolution to avoid those sins the next day.

Another suggestion is to journal about it and then go back to find patterns that could lead to a trigger or circumstance causing the sin. That can give clues about how to deal with those circumstances to respond differently the next time.

Desire to overcome sin

We have trouble doing  what we know is right because the enemy convinces us to give up the desire in our hearts to be good. If we don’t have the energy to please God, we won’t try very hard.

The solution is to ask the Holy Spirit to heal us and give us back the desire to please God.  A good goal is to ask God to help us eliminate one sin each year.

It is harder to work at avoiding sin than it is to say “the usual”  in confession partly because we’re kind of comfortable with those sins. They’re always there unless we decide we want to get rid of them. But change happens, if we want it.

A clean heart create for me, God;
renew in me a steadfast spirit. 

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When Eucharistic Adoration feels like the library, try more Fear of the Lord

January 6, 2014

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The Holy Spirit gives us the gift of fear of the Lord which enables us to approach Him with awe and reverence. Photo/ElectricDisk Licensed under Creative Commons

The Holy Spirit gives us the gift of fear of the Lord which enables us to approach Him with awe and reverence. Photo/ElectricDisk. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Vitamin D is harder to come by naturally during this cold, dark season. My spirit’s also been lacking another nutrient lately: Fear of the Lord.

I walk into the Perpetual Adoration chapel, kneel before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and sit down without giving Him much more thought sometimes than if I were walking into the library and he were the librarian.

Sadly, some of my Holy Hours can seem like a trip to the library. I get busy with prayer, reading and writing not thinking too much about the Lord in front of me until it’s time to “check out.” At times seeing Him doesn’t move me into rapturous prayer or even hold my attention very long.

More than the season

Winter blahs? Maybe but it goes beyond the season. Our faith isn’t based on feelings but without them life can start to resemble the winter tundra.

Saying I lack fear of the Lord doesn’t mean I feel more bold and brave before Him. It doesn’t mean we’re supposed to live in terror of God, either. As I see it, I’m  missing the awe and reverence I might feel before any king or even Pope Francis.

Fear of the Lord is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit that are increased in us at confirmation. (CCC1303)

As Mark Shea writes,  ”We who have received his Divine life in baptism and confirmation are to walk in that same spirit of filial, not servile, fear and to likewise offer ourselves in love and not in self-contempt.”

Having some real fear of God mixed in with awe and reverence isn’t a bad thing. After all, even though Christ is with us so humbly in the form of a small disc of bread, He is King of the Universe.

Respect for God

According to the Catechism, “Respect for his name is an expression of the respect owed to the mystery of God himself and to the whole sacred reality it evokes. The sense of the sacred is part of the virtue of religion.

It goes on to quote Bl. Cardinal John Henry Newman:

Are these feelings of fear and awe Christian feelings or not?… I say this, then, which I think no one can reasonably dispute. They are the class of feelings we should have — yes, have to an intense degree — if we literally had the sight of Almighty God; therefore they are the class of feelings which we shall have, if we realize His presence. In proportion as we believe that He is present, we shall have them; and not to have them, is not to realized, not to believe that He is present. (CCC2144)

I think the only cure for my deficiency is to pray that I may believe and become more aware that the Lord is present. Controlling feelings may not always be in our power but it is possible to make an act of the will.

A prayer

I will pray that I don’t take the Lord for granted, as I do the quiet presence of the librarian. Someone suggested saying a prayer modeled after the one priests say before Mass:

Enter this Holy Hour as though it were your first Hour, your last Hour, your only Hour. 

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The forgotten Christmas carol verses

December 23, 2013

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carolers 6647481663_c03702f643

Christmas carols make the season joyful. They also help us reflect on our faith.
Photo/di_the_huntress. Licensed under Creative Commons.

If you think you know Christmas carols by heart, try singing all the verses.

It seems like many Christmas carols and hymns have been distilled into short tunes that are strung together to form instrumental “carol medleys.”

I hear them on the radio, in doctor’s offices and in stores. Even at Mass we rarely sing more than a couple verses of any carol.

It’s too bad because there’s a lot more to many of these carols than we often hear at Christmas. Sing all the verses and there is sometimes a real story connecting the incarnation with Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection, or a story of someone’s struggle.

“We Three Kings of Orient Are” is a familiar carol–until we go past the first verse and chorus. The next verses describe each of the kings’ gifts. Have you ever heard this verse on the radio?

Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gath’ring gloom;
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
Sealed in the stone cold tomb.

That’s pretty heavy for a Christmas carol but it was Christ’s life. The carol does have a happier ending:

Glorious now behold him rise,
King and God and sacrifice;
Heav’n sing “Hallelujah!”
“Hallelujah!” earth replies.

The final verse of “O Holy Night” tells of Jesus’ mission and of his victory:

Truly he taught us to love one another;
His law is love, and his gospel is peace;
Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother,
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise his holy name.
Christ is the Lord, oh, praise his name forever!
His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim!
His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim!

When we sing  ”O Little Town of Bethlehem”  we’re probably thinking about “the silent stars going by” not our redemption. We don’t often get to the fourth verse:

O holy Child of Bethlehem!
descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in,
be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
our Lord Emmanuel.

Probably the most personal story I’ve heard in a Christmas carol is in “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” The lyrics of this carol are taken from a poem by American poet  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow written in 1863.

The opening verse is familiar:

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

But the fifth and  following verses are not so Christmasy. Longfellow wrote the poem after his wife died and his son left to join the Union army during the Civil War:

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

I waited to see if Longfellow would regain his hope. Thankfully he did:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Besides offering the joy of the season, Christmas carols tell a real story. They help us reflect on Christ’s birth and life. If you want to know more about the forgotten verses, check out this large collection of lyrics and recordings of Christmas carols and hymns.

Have a Blessed Christmas!

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St. Nicholas and the worldly spirit of Christmas

December 6, 2013

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Like a big, friendly dog that wants to rough house in the living room, the worldly spirit of Christmas jumps all over our quiet Advent.

All the music, shopping,  parties and expectation steal our attention so it’s hard to focus on purple candles, prayer and waiting for Jesus’ coming.

Today’s saint knew that Christ was the true joy of Christmas, so now he probably shakes his head at how his red-suited “descendant,” Santa Claus, has made his Christian charity in gift-giving so secular and commercial.

No doubt he prays for us especially during this season, as we try to keep the worldliness of  Christmas at bay so we can prepare our hearts through prayer and little acts of charity.

Nicholas is famous for giving gifts but he did a lot more than that. He was probably born in about 280 AD of wealthy Christian parents in Patara (now Demre, Turkey). He received an inheritance which he gave to the needy.

A source of our Santa tradition is the story of how Nicholas secretly delivered three bags of gold to a destitute father’s home so he could give his daughters dowries. It’s believed the bags landed in shoes or stockings drying by the fire. Despite his attempts at secrecy, Nicholas, by then a priest, was elected bishop of Myra.

During the persecution of Diocletian, some accounts say Nicholas was imprisoned and tortured. It is believed that he participated in the Council of Nicaea in 325 and strongly denounced the Arian heresy, which asserted that Jesus is not truly divine but a created being.

According to another legend, when the governor had been bribed to execute three innocent men, Nicholas intervened and won their release. After three officers who had witnessed the men’s release were themselves falsely accused and condemned to death, they remembered Nicholas and prayed for his intercession. That night, Nicholas appeared to the Emperor Constantine in a dream, asking for the officers’ release. When the emperor questioned the officers and learned of their prayer for Nicholas’ intercession, he freed them.

After a life of service to the Lord, Nicholas died around 343 and was buried in Myra.

Before Santa was even imagined, Nicholas was long venerated in the Church, especially by the Orthodox. Many churches are dedicated to the saint. In 1087, merchants from Bari, Italy, took Nicholas’ relics to their city, where they are still located.

Every year the’ relics are exumed and they exude a clear liquid called manna which is believed to have healing properties. It’s a pretty amazing story about this amazing saint which you can read at a website all about St. Nicholas.

St. Nicholas, prepare our hearts for Christ’s coming and show us the true Spirit of Christmas.

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Tired of leftovers? Try this banquet of joy

November 30, 2013

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laughing girl

Photo/Cristiano Betta Licensed under Creative Commons

The end of one Church year and the beginning of another shouldn’t pass without a celebration. A feast even.

I know we’re still finishing up the Thanksgiving leftovers. I’m talking about a feast of joy, not food.

Before we get too far into the new Church year and into the penitential season of Advent, take a few minutes to sample some great verses and quotes about joy. There are no calories and absolutely no guilt!

Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.
–Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Let us therefore both praise and sing; that is, let us praise with cheerfulness and joy.
–St. Augustine

…for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.
–Neh. 8:10

Dream that the more you struggle, the more you prove the love that you bear your God, and the more you will rejoice one day with your Beloved, in a happiness and rapture that can never end.
–St. Teresa of Avila

Prayer is nothing else than union with God. When our heart is pure and united to God, we feel within ourselves a joy, a sweetness that inebriates, a light that dazzles us. In this intimate union God and the soul are like two pieces of wax melted together; they cannot be separated. This union of God with His little creature is a most beautiful thing. It is a happiness that we cannot understand. . . God, in His goodness, has permitted us to speak to Him. Our prayer is an incense which He receives with extreme pleasure.
–St. Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney, the Cure of Ars

There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth, and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.
 –G.K. Chesterton

Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again… I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy is never in our power and Pleasure often is.
–C.S. Lewis

Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad, for Him Who is of heaven and then of earth. Christ in the flesh, rejoice with trembling and with joy; with trembling because of your sins, with joy because of your hope.
–St. Gregory Nanzianzen

These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
–John 15:11

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Recovering from my broken leg with St. Ignatius of Loyola

November 22, 2013

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broken leg

Recommended reading whether or not you have a broken leg: the life of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Photo/koishikawagirl Licensed under Creative Commons

One morning in October as I was walking across a street near my home, a man in a truck didn’t see me as he crossed the intersection and hit me in the crosswalk.  The truck’s bumper broke my right femur like a karate block.

A week later, when my head cleared from the hospital, surgery and pain meds, I wanted to read about St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. I knew that he broke his leg and had a faith conversion during his recovery.

I’m convinced that when saints come to mind it’s because God’s already dispatched them to help us.

It turns out that St. Ignatius also broke his right leg–the shin bone–almost 500 years ago. After reading about the horrifically bungled medical treatment he received, I didn’t feel so bad about the titanium rod in my leg that now stabilizes the healing leg bone. I also couldn’t help noticing that St. Ignatius bore his pain very stoically. I compared that to all my inner and outward groaning.

Just as I read about his life during my recovery, St. Ignatius read the lives of saints during his.  Reading his story just inspired me but when he read about the saints he thought about outdoing them in works of penance. Since he hurt his leg while fighting as a knight, I guess he was still thinking competitively at that time.

Before his leg was healed, St. Ignatius had a deep conversion that resulted in a complete change of heart and a new direction for life.

That’s not to say that from then on he practiced only heroic virtue. One account states that he nearly died from his injury. Then he spent time in a cave battling his scruples and stubbornly refusing to eat until God granted him peace. (His confessor made him stop.) Later he wandered around asking himself what he was supposed to do next.

But beyond those times of weakness, St. Ignatius led an extraordinary life. I was amazed by his continual perseverance in seeking and following God’s will, his great courage in founding the Society of Jesus despite innumerable obstacles, and his faith in writing his Spiritual Exercises, which have helped many grow in faith.

St. Ignatius was pursued and accused a number of times during the Spanish Inquisition. He made a long, terrible journey to the Holy Land only to be ordered right back onto the ship to Spain once he got there. He was beaten, thrown in prison and almost always harassed for his efforts but he kept going.

St. Ignatius inspired me but in reading about his life I thought that the only thing we have in common is that we both broke our legs. He seemed too big to imitate.

Then St. Therese of Lisieux, also a patron of the missions, came to mind. I think she would tell me that there’s plenty of opportunity to practice heroic virtue right where I am in the ordinary challenges and inspirations of daily life.

Good things that have come from my injury include meeting up with this great founder of the Jesuits who broke his leg and also remembering the insights of another great saint, the Little Flower, who reminds me that my own path to holiness begins right here.

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Going up? St. Thérèse was confident in her elevator to heaven

October 1, 2013

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Elevators aren't always reliable but St. Therese had great confidence in hers--the arms of the Lord lifting her to heaven. Photo/kio. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Elevators aren’t always reliable but St. Thérèse had great confidence in hers–the arms of the Lord lifting her to heaven. Photo/kio. Licensed under Creative Commons.

I’m not as eager to take an elevator as I was before I got stuck in one with five other people on a hot July night. We waited only 40 minutes before the power was restored but it seemed like a lot longer as we called for help on the elevator phone, wondered if rescuers were coming and worried about whether the elevator had an air vent.

One saint who had more confidence in her elevator was St. Thérèse of Lisieux, whose feast day we celebrate on October 1. Elevators must have been more novel in the late 19th century. I’m not sure how many St. Thérèse actually rode on or if she had any experiences like mine.

The Little Flower’s elevator wasn’t designed to take her from floor to floor in a building; it was meant to take her to heaven—on God’s power, not her own. The “button” she pushed to call the elevator was her confidence in the Lord, especially in light of her littleness and weakness. It was this confidence in God that would be a centerpiece of her much loved and imitated spiritual work, the Little Way. She wrote in her autobiography:

We are living now in an age of inventions, and we no longer have to take the trouble of climbing stairs … I wanted to find an elevator which would raise me to Jesus, for I am too small to climb the rough stairway of perfection. … The elevator which must raise me to heaven is Your arms, O Jesus! And for this I had no need to grow up, but rather I had to remain little and become this more and more.

The foundation of St. Thérèse’s confidence, as her autobiography states, was recognizing her own nothingness and expecting everything from God as a small child expects everything from its father.

Our misery attracts God’s mercy, St. Thérèse believed. “She regarded her faults as “reminders of her weakness and of her essential need for Our Lord’s constant support; they caused her to turn more completely to Him that He might alone be her sanctification. … her confidence, now unhindered, carried her swiftly towards perfection.” (Spiritual Childhood by Vernon Johnson, p. 103)

St. Thérèse became so confident in the Lord through the assistance of the indwelling Trinity, according to Johnson, who states, “Confidence is a gift of the Holy Spirit, refused to none and granted in proportion to our faith.”

This confidence is the key to Jesus’ Heart and He opens His arms, but it doesn’t disregard our shortcomings. The Lord continues that work of purification. (I Believe in Love by Père Jean du Coeur de Jésus D’Elbée)

In order to purify and sanctify us, Jesus needs only our humility and confidence, D’Elbée writes.

And your confidence will be in proportion to your humility because it is to the extent that we realize our need of Jesus that we have recourse to Him, and we sense this need to the extent that we justly realize our unworthiness.

We need this confidence when receiving the sacraments, including confession, according to D’Elbée.

We think about examining ourselves, yet we do not think, before the examination, during the examination, and after the examination, to plunge ourselves, with all our miseries, in the consuming and transforming furnace of his Heart, which is open to us through a single humble act of confidence.

St. Thérèse’s faith in the Lord’s love for her gave her complete confidence. At the same time she didn’t forget that He was doing the good in her.

When someone told St. Thérèse near the end of her life that she was a saint, she pointed to the tops of the trees in the garden, which looked golden in the setting sun.

“My soul appears to you to be all brilliant and golden because it is exposed to the rays of Love.  If the Divine Sun stopped sending me His fire, I would immediately become dark and full of shadows.”

(Autobiography, D’Elbée)

Our elevator eventually brought us to our destination and of course, St. Thérèse’s brought her to heaven. During her elevator ride through life, her autobiography reveals that she also had to wait sometimes. Even so, St. Thérèse never lost confidence in the One running the elevator.

St. Thérèse, help me to have complete confidence in God’s care for me today.

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Women’s roles change, not inherent worth and dignity

September 24, 2013

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For many women changing roles means changing outfits. But the feminine genius about who women are as well as what they do. Photo/Steve A Johnson. Licensed under Creative Commons.

If changing clothes is part of changing roles, I think women wear a lot of hats—and outfits–in a day. From mom-in-sweats to workplace wear to work out to soccer match casual.  I’m not a mom but I’m used to changing clothes often for different roles in life.

Beyond the roles women find themselves in, there is much to be said about their inherent importance and dignity.

In the much publicized interview released last week in America magazine, Pope Francis again brought up the issue of women’s role in the Church and called for a new theology of women.

The pope said that deep questions need to be answered. But he distinguished between women’s importance as persons and their roles when he talked about the Blessed Mother:

Mary, a woman, is more important than the bishops. I say this because we must not confuse the function with the dignity.

He echoed Bl. Pope John Paul II’s 25-year-old apostolic letter, Mulieris Dignitatem in which Bl. John Paul writes that women represent a particular value because they’re human persons and at the same time, that they’re particular persons because of their femininity. This he calls the “feminine genius”, notwithstanding capabilities, accomplishments—or roles:

“…The Church gives thanks for each and every woman: for mothers, for sisters, for wives; for women consecrated to God in virginity; for women dedicated to the many human beings who await the gratuitous love of another person; for women who watch over the human persons in the family, which is the fundamental sign of the human community; for women who work professionally, and who at times are burdened by a great social responsibility; for “perfect” women and for “weak” women…for all women as they have come forth from the heart of God in all the beauty and richness of their femininity; as they have been embraced by his eternal love…”

As strong and beautiful as the feminine genius is, it reaches its fullness together with the masculine genius, as the two are complementary, John Paul II writes.

 …together with men, they are pilgrims on this earth, which is the temporal “homeland” of all people and is transformed sometimes into a “valley of tears”; as they assume, together with men, a common responsibility for the destiny of humanity according to daily necessities and according to that definitive destiny which the human family has in God himself, in the bosom of the ineffable Trinity.

Whatever women are doing, they offer their being to help the Church and the world, according to Deborah Savage, theology and philosophy professor at St. Paul Seminary who spoke recently in St. Paul on Mulieris Dignitatem at an event sponsored by the Siena Symposium, an interdisciplinary faculty group at the University of St. Thomas dedicated to rebuilding families and culture through scholarship and insights of the Catholic faith.

Are we, you and I, at the center of the salvific work that could be and should be taking place in our homes, our workplaces, our culture? Are we reflections of the supernatural reality that is the full expression of the feminine genius?

Even in this era of androgyny, not all outfits fit everyone, and some roles are suited for feminine or masculine genius. But there are many roles and the Church needs women’s unique gifts for this salvific work. According to Pope Francis:

 “The church cannot be herself without the woman and her role. The woman is essential for the church. …We must therefore investigate further the role of women in the church. We have to work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman. Only by making this step will it be possible to better reflect on their function within the church. The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions. The challenge today is this: to think about the specific place of women also in those places where the authority of the church is exercised for various areas of the church.”

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U.S. air strikes and Church teaching on war, peace

September 13, 2013

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 St. Joan of Arc followed God's direction as she entered battle. Photo/dbking. Licensed under Creative Commons

Whether or not she studied just war theory, St. Joan of Arc followed God’s direction as she entered battle. Photo/dbking. Licensed under Creative Commons

God only knows if the U.S. will launch a military strike against Syria, but it looks like the threat has been averted for now.

As negotiations aimed at convincing Syria to surrender its chemical weapons continue, Catholics may be asking what the Church teaches about an attack. Would it be justified?

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has spoken quite a bit on the subject of war. At last week’s prayer vigil for peace in Syria, he said:

  …look upon your brother’s sorrow, and do not add to it, stay your hand, rebuild the harmony that has been shattered; and all this not by conflict but by encounter! May the noise of weapons cease! War always marks the failure of peace, it is always a defeat for humanity. Let the words of Pope Paul VI resound again: ‘No more one against the other, no more, never! … war never again, never again war!’

‘Never again war’ probably would be most people’s desire, but are there times when an armed conflict is morally permissible such as in the case of self-defense or to avoid a greater evil?

Conditions for Just War

The Church holds that there are strict conditions requiring rigorous consideration for legitimate defense by military force. The Catechism states, “the gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy.” (CCC 2309)

The conditions are laid out in the Catechism as part of just war theory, developed by St. Augustine and later by St. Thomas Aquinas. According to this theory about acts of war, at one and the same time:

  • the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of        nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
  • all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be          impractical or ineffective;
  • there must be serious prospects of success;
  • the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modem means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition. (CCC 2309)

According to the Catechism, those with responsibility for the common good in their “prudential judgment” are to evaluate these conditions.

Resolve conflicts together

Since the US government’s potential action would not be for its own defense and because it could act together with other nations, the Church says that such international or regional organizations “should be in a position to work together to resolve conflicts and promote peace, re-establishing relationships of mutual trust that make recourse to war unthinkable,” according to the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. 

The best outcome of this crisis would be for our leaders to continue their current talks and reach a peaceful solution. If they exhaust that possibility, hopefully they will follow the tenets of just war theory in making any decision on the matter.

At Vatican II the Church Fathers left no doubt about their hopes regarding war:

 Insofar as men are sinners, the threat of war hangs over them and will so continue until the coming of Christ; but insofar as they can vanquish sin by coming together in charity, violence itself will be vanquished and they will make these words come true: “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Gaudium et Spes 78)

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