Tag Archives: Eucharist

The Scholarship

Imagine a young orphan, living in destitute poverty.  This infant is taken in, loved with great tenderness and when old enough, is enrolled into an elite  boarding school.  This school is home to the brightest minds in the known world, most of whom are also extremely kind and wise.  Every opportunity is provided this child, completely free of charge. 

At first the child loves the school, reveling in learning the ABC’s and soon fascinated by his own ability to read words, and then sentences.  He loves the lessons on nature and science, math and music.  As he grows older, however, the child becomes a teenager, then a young adult.  In this process of high school and college, the young man develops some boredom with the school which soon develops into complete apathy.  Perhaps there were some difficulties with lessons for which he did not seek adequate help.  Perhaps he resented having to sit in the classroom on a nice day.  Maybe he grew weary of the effort good education exacted from him.  Whatever the reason, he begins to routinely skip class. When he does occupy the chair, has not done his homework, and therefore cannot participate or contribute to the discussion.  This feeds his indifference and contempt. 

Slowly he has convinced himself that the school is not all he thought it was as a naive child, and part of the way through college, he drops out completely.  Since he has rejected the education offered him, he returns to the kind of depraved existence he was rescued from as a baby.  He still considers himself an alumni of the school, but often refers to it with sarcasm.  The school which offered him every opportunity has become the butt of his most vicious jokes.

A sad story to be sure.  Not only for the young man, but for the benefactor who paid his tuition all those years.  Even if you figure on the low side of $10,000 per year for 12 years, you are looking at a $120,000 pricetag.  That is a lot of money spend gratuititously by a stranger, rejected and scorned.

In this parable, the young man is all of us, in varying degrees.  And the school is the Church.  Let me explain.

The Church is the means by which Jesus desires to save all men.  It is not an add-on, a place to come “do” Christianity or a set of artificial beaurocracy set in place by white-bearded old celebates.  She is a living, growing organism.  So much so that we call her the Body of Christ.  This is a metaphor in a certain sense, but is more literal than we give it credit for.  We are all part of Jesus himself when we are in the Church.  That whole thing Jesus told Peter about the gates of Hell not prevailing against the Church and sin being bound and loosed? As Catholics, we believe it.  The Church is a gratuititously free gift from Jesus to us, an ark which brings us aboard out of our sin and depravity through our Baptism. 

So, like the young man, we are saved through Baptism, snatched from poverty and nurtured with Sanctifying grace.  But she does not stop there.  The Church is the meeting place, over two millenia, of the best and brightest minds of civilization.  The saints nurture us in our understanding of Truth, and through their holiness invite us to delve deeper into the mysteries of God.  It must not be forgotten that all these brilliant folk are not moved on their own power, but by the Holy Spirit who guides and  inspires their thought and virtue.  Perhaps most importantly, what they teach us is not primarily academic.  They teach us about what it means to be human, how to live in right relationships and most importantly, what is our final end.  They lived the drama of human existence with heroic virtue and offer to tangibly help us along our own path.

These same saints paid for this education of ours with their suffering.  “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”.  This is not exactly the same reality as would be seen by a country’s military, however.  We owe our existence as a free nation Washington’s men, and our continued unity to Lincoln’s, and our freedom from Nazi’s to the brave men of World War II.  Christian martyrs, on the other hand conquered only themselves.  They do not seem to be doing anything, really.  The Romans were not immediately overthrown from the grace released by the Christians they burned as torches to light the outskirts of the city.  Evil appeared to have triumphed.  And so it is in every day and age that the workings of Christian martyrdom, bloody and unbloody, costs so much but pays out invisibly.  This is precisely because it is offered in communion with the hidden sacrifice on Calvary. 

This is the saddest part of our analogy.  It could perhaps be conceivable to reject gifts and treasures of many faceless thousands of people (how easy is it to take advantage of the “government” or a “big corporation”?).  But the primary donor that we reject when we treat the Church with contempt or indifference is Jesus Christ.  A totally free gift, of tremendous magnitude, for our own salvation rejected, scorned, or perhaps just taken for granted.

So, how are we like the young man? Often as children we are open and excited about our faith.  Perhaps that is what Jesus is getting at when he tells us we should all be like children!  Often, though, when things get harder to understand we do not seek the answers to our doubts and questions as we should.  Or perhaps we get “grass is always greener” syndrome, preferring to be more like our secularized peers who get to sleep in on Sunday mornings.  Maybe we look as what is asked of us as Christians and find it too hard.  Whatever the reason, our indifference begins to feed itself.  If we are not continuing our religious education after Confirmation classes, we will not understand what is going on at Mass or why the Church teaches what she does on tough topics.  Armed with misunderstandings and diminshed actual graces, it gets easier to “tune out” the faith.  Some of us stay in this place, knowing there is good yet in the Church, but frozen against growing in virtue and love for God.  Others will, like the young man, completely check out.

So what to do?  First, we need to take stock, looking at ourselves in light of this story.  What is it that gets you “stuck”?  Sin? Confusion? Boredom? Those are fairly easily remedied through Confession, Eucharist and study.  I can’t speak for everyone in parish ministry, but I know that I would much rather spend all day in dialogue with someone having difficulty with Church teaching than one minute handling registration forms!  Seek out help in your parish if it is your questions that are keeping you away!  Some of us are in the ark, in good standing with the Church, but just need an extra dose of gratitude for the great gift she is.  In my theological study, I have found that every time I delve deeper into the mysteries of our faith, I marvel at it more deeply. 

As we enter the back-to-school season, preparing our new clothes and supply lists and writing seemingly endless numbers of checks, let us step back and remember the great School we were enrolled in from our Baptism, and give thanks for that great gift.

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The Scholarship: A Parable

Imagine a young orphan, living in destitute poverty.  This infant is taken in, loved with great tenderness and when old enough, is enrolled into an elite  boarding school.  This school is home to the brightest minds in the known world, most of whom are also extremely kind and wise.  Every opportunity is provided this child, completely free of charge. 

At first the child loves the school, reveling in learning the ABC’s and soon fascinated by his own ability to read words, and then sentences.  He loves the lessons on nature and science, math and music.  As he grows older, however, the child becomes a teenager, then a young adult.  In this process of high school and college, the young man develops some boredom with the school which soon develops into complete apathy.  Perhaps there were some difficulties with lessons for which he did not seek adequate help.  Perhaps he resented having to sit in the classroom on a nice day.  Maybe he grew weary of the effort good education exacted from him.  Whatever the reason, he begins to routinely skip class. When he does occupy the chair, has not done his homework, and therefore cannot participate or contribute to the discussion.  This feeds his indifference and contempt. 

Slowly he has convinced himself that the school is not all he thought it was as a naive child, and part of the way through college, he drops out completely.  Since he has rejected the education offered him, he returns to the kind of depraved existence he was rescued from as a baby.  He still considers himself an alumni of the school, but often refers to it with sarcasm.  The school which offered him every opportunity has become the butt of his most vicious jokes.

A sad story to be sure.  Not only for the young man, but for the benefactor who paid his tuition all those years.  Even if you figure on the low side of $10,000 per year for 12 years, you are looking at a $120,000 pricetag.  That is a lot of money spend gratuititously by a stranger, rejected and scorned.

In this parable, the young man is all of us, in varying degrees.  And the school is the Church.  Let me explain.

The Church is the means by which Jesus desires to save all men.  It is not an add-on, a place to come “do” Christianity or a set of artificial beaurocracy set in place by white-bearded old celebates.  She is a living, growing organism.  So much so that we call her the Body of Christ.  This is a metaphor in a certain sense, but is more literal than we give it credit for.  We are all part of Jesus himself when we are in the Church.  That whole thing Jesus told Peter about the gates of Hell not prevailing against the Church and sin being bound and loosed? As Catholics, we believe it.  The Church is a gratuititously free gift from Jesus to us, an ark which brings us aboard out of our sin and depravity through our Baptism. 

So, like the young man, we are saved through Baptism, snatched from poverty and nurtured with Sanctifying grace.  But she does not stop there.  The Church is the meeting place, over two millenia, of the best and brightest minds of civilization.  The saints nurture us in our understanding of Truth, and through their holiness invite us to delve deeper into the mysteries of God.  It must not be forgotten that all these brilliant folk are not moved on their own power, but by the Holy Spirit who guides and  inspires their thought and virtue.  Perhaps most importantly, what they teach us is not primarily academic.  They teach us about what it means to be human, how to live in right relationships and most importantly, what is our final end.  They lived the drama of human existence with heroic virtue and offer to tangibly help us along our own path.

These same saints paid for this education of ours with their suffering.  “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”.  This is not exactly the same reality as would be seen by a country’s military, however.  We owe our existence as a free nation Washington’s men, and our continued unity to Lincoln’s, and our freedom from Nazi’s to the brave men of World War II.  Christian martyrs, on the other hand conquered only themselves.  They do not seem to be doing anything, really.  The Romans were not immediately overthrown from the grace released by the Christians they burned as torches to light the outskirts of the city.  Evil appeared to have triumphed.  And so it is in every day and age that the workings of Christian martyrdom, bloody and unbloody, costs so much but pays out invisibly.  This is precisely because it is offered in communion with the hidden sacrifice on Calvary. 

This is the saddest part of our analogy.  It could perhaps be conceivable to reject gifts and treasures of many faceless thousands of people (how easy is it to take advantage of the “government” or a “big corporation”?).  But the primary donor that we reject when we treat the Church with contempt or indifference is Jesus Christ.  A totally free gift, of tremendous magnitude, for our own salvation rejected, scorned, or perhaps just taken for granted.

So, how are we like the young man? Often as children we are open and excited about our faith.  Perhaps that is what Jesus is getting at when he tells us we should all be like children!  Often, though, when things get harder to understand we do not seek the answers to our doubts and questions as we should.  Or perhaps we get “grass is always greener” syndrome, preferring to be more like our secularized peers who get to sleep in on Sunday mornings.  Maybe we look as what is asked of us as Christians and find it too hard.  Whatever the reason, our indifference begins to feed itself.  If we are not continuing our religious education after Confirmation classes, we will not understand what is going on at Mass or why the Church teaches what she does on tough topics.  Armed with misunderstandings and diminshed actual graces, it gets easier to “tune out” the faith.  Some of us stay in this place, knowing there is good yet in the Church, but frozen against growing in virtue and love for God.  Others will, like the young man, completely check out.

So what to do?  First, we need to take stock, looking at ourselves in light of this story.  What is it that gets you “stuck”?  Sin? Confusion? Boredom? Those are fairly easily remedied through Confession, Eucharist and study.  I can’t speak for everyone in parish ministry, but I know that I would much rather spend all day in dialogue with someone having difficulty with Church teaching than one minute handling registration forms!  Seek out help in your parish if it is your questions that are keeping you away!  Some of us are in the ark, in good standing with the Church, but just need an extra dose of gratitude for the great gift she is.  In my theological study, I have found that every time I delve deeper into the mysteries of our faith, I marvel at it more deeply. 

As we enter the back-to-school season, preparing our new clothes and supply lists and writing seemingly endless numbers of checks, let us step back and remember the great School we were enrolled in from our Baptism, and give thanks for that great gift.

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God is bigger

“Look, mom! A cowboy is a that place.”

“Why is that lady wearing a scarf?”

My son has begun a great human passtime: people watching.  And at the best of all peoplewatching places: the airport.  As we sat in the terminal on an unexpected Standby adventure, I marvelled with him at the huge array of people trying to get from our airport to their final destination.  There was a nervous mom with her emergency passport in hand trying to get to France to visit her study abroad son in the hospital.  This was her second time flying.  There was a young, smart-looking business man who had recently relocated and had his first child.  There was a group of giddy college girls on their way to Rome.  A British couple who had been trying to get home for three days after visiting family and having gone fishing for the first time in their lives.  (Their grandson also likes Spiderman.)

And then there are the people who leave it to your imagination their backstory.  People who don’t engage in small talk or speak loudly enough on their cell phones for you to learn their struggles.  Is that well dressed woman depressed because she’s been delayed from getting home to her family, or is something in her family causing the deep frown on her face?  Where has that tatooed man been? What is behind each of those fading pictures on his limbs?

Each of us has a lifetime of experiences and habits and decisions we bring with us.  What struck me as I looked at the masses of in-transit folks yesterday was the fact that there is a God who knew each of these people (and every one at every other airport in the world, AND even those who have never seen an airport!) before they were even born.  This God understands each better than they understand themselves, in all their compexities.  He knows each moment they were actually doing great good when they thought they blew it, and each time they thought they had it all together and were actually injuring others.  He sees beyond each action to its eternal consequences.  And He has enough love to fill each individual heart to overflowing.

I don’t know how we got on the subject, but one day Isaac and I got on the subject of God, most likely following the Veggie Tales in which Bob and Larry sing about God being bigger than the Boogeyman.  He would ask, “Is God bigger than that building?”  Yes, he is bigger.  “Than an elephant?” Yep, he’s much bigger.  And so on.  But God is also small enough to fit into a piece of bread and into our hearts.  “How can God be bigger AND smaller?”  A beautiful mystery indeed.

How often we make God so small when we consider him only in relation to our own problems, which keeps us from remembering the importance of our neighbor in God’s eyes.  At the same time we make him too big to ever care about us or to believe he has enough time to fit into lives, and therefore we shut him out of the work he wants to do our in our lives.  Next time we are people watching, let’s take a minute to remember God’s bigness, his smallness and what that means for our spiritual lives.

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What Reality TV and The Eucharist Have in Common

So, Jon and Kate are getting divorced.  On the fateful night of that announcement, a friend’s Facebook status read, “I want to look away from Jon and Kate Plus 8, but I can’t… It’s like watching a train wreck!”  This is pretty much how I have felt about the few sittings of Reality TV I have stomached.  Whether it’s a pop star hopeful about to share their tone deafness with the world, or a family inviting us into their dysfunctional lifestyle, I feel that watching such scenes is a lot like witnessing some person or object about to tumble to the ground… you know a mess is coming, but you just can’t stop it from happening.

Have you ever asked yourself why people subject themselves to such public humiliation? I have. For Jon and Kate perhaps the original motive was to make some extra cash to support their growing family, and maybe there are others who go on these shows for the money as well.  But I think many who participate in Reality TV do so because it is exciting to be on a screen seen by millions, even if for only 22 minutes.  I think there is a huge number of people today wanting to be famous, wanting to be known.   Reality TV capitalizes on this longing.

I read of a study that polled teenaged girls’ dream career prospects.  Would you believe that with all the possibilities open to girls today that being a personal assistant to Brittany Spears trumped doctor, scientist, lawyer, teacher, etc?  Mind you, the girls preferred being a personal assistant to a pop star to actually being something lucrative and personally fulfilling.  There is a good chunk of our young women who would rather pick up a famous person’s dry cleaning than figure out a cure for cancer!  Why? They want to be known.  Even being close to fame is close enough.

Contrast that study with 150 middle-schoolers, kneeling or sitting on hard carpet for an hour and a half, waiting for their 15 second visit from a soft-spoken middle aged man holding a piece of bread.  They are singing, reading, crying, or even more strangely, just sitting quietly.  Is this the newest extreme challenge show? No, it’s Adoration, and it’s these kids’ favorite part of a 5 day camp that includes swimming, boating, sports, music, a dance and games that involve getting completely covered in mud.  The man is our camp priest and the bread, of course, is Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.

It has been my experience that on any good retreat, teens love Adoration best.  Average teens!  Why? For the same reason that someone will eat a roach sandwich on TV. They long to be known.  At the camp I am describing, the priest blessed each and every person with the monstrance, which is a beautiful gift.  But even in huge college auditoriums with thousands of people, that Eucharist reaches every heart from its distant spot on the altar.  In the presence of Jesus, there are no strangers.  With their hearts opened by the other activities of a retreat, the teens encounter Jesus personally.  They are not one of many, but a unique individual known and loved deeply and completely.  The most famous Person in all of history, the One who created time itself and set the world in motion meets each person who comes into His presence, and supplies for each soul’s need.

So, that answers the title question: Reality TV and the Eucharist both speak to the human need to be known.  But of course, we must also contrast these two things.  In the interest of brevity, I will speak to only one main difference.  The fame sought out by those involving themselves in Reality TV is fleeting and empty in the best case scenario, and destructive in the worst.  For all the controversy they stir up today, in 20 years Jon and Kate will be no more than a question in the Entertainment column of the “00’s” Trivial Pursuit game.  The culture will have moved on to something new by then.  In more cases than not, fame consumes the famous, making their downfall a sport for others’ amusement.  At the very least, those who sought to be known through fame will simply be forgotten.

With Jesus, of course, it is the opposite.  Each person who puts themself in the presence of God is connected to the source of their life.  Though God knows us completely even when we do not acknowledge Him, the more time spent with Him leads us to greater absorption of His love.  The more we let Him love us, the better we know ourselves and the closer we get to who we were created to be.

Do you want to be known? Do you want to be the object of affection of the most important Person in the universe? So precious to the King of Ages that He would send His Son to die in your place? You already are.  Go spend some time with Him and He will convince  you that it’s true.  He’s waiting!

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Lessons Learned From Yardwork, pt 2

Okay, so yesterday I talked about my helper in the landscaping rock removal project.  Today I am going to talk about my neighbor.  Those four years when our yard was not in optimal shape, I would look at my retired neighbor’s lawn and cringe.  I started to call it Disneyland, because it was always so nicely manicured.  And I would wade through my own weedbeds and feel like the folks next door were secretly glaring at me through their windows thinking, “I can’t believe we have to look out our windows at that yard.  Maybe we should put up a fence!”

I should clarify right away that the couple next door could be most genuinely kind people that God ever made.  It is clearly my pride that 1.) thought enough of myself to think that the whole neighborhood gave a hoot about my yard, and 2.) didn’t think enough of my neighbors, who probably just thought, “wow, they have a lot going on over there”.  I am getting better.  I am going easier on myself and actually trying to tap into their expertise for advice, which they are always happy to give, but never offer.

Anyway, back to the rock bed.  After my helper abandoned ship, I remembered that my wonderful neighbor had offered to loan us his wheelbarrow if we ever needed it.  Seeing as my Home Depot bucket could only hold about two shovels full of rocks before it got to heavy for me to carry, I jumped when I saw him in his driveway.  We went back to his shed where he not only had a wheelbarrow, but offered me a very solid metal rake and a shovel.  Holy cow, those tools made a HUGE difference!  Earlier, my first attempts at shoveling had proved fruitless because the rocks were so ground in.  But after raking them, they came up easy.  And having the wheelbarrow meant I could actually get a decent amount of rocks loaded before having to dump them on the side of the house.  The project that moments before had seemed eternal now was moving along at a workable pace.

The right tools.  Are you using them in your difficult situation? Of course, for us Christians, the primary one is prayer.  There is a funny correlation in my life between my deepest moments of self pity and my lack of prayer.  How do we expect to keep our eternal perspective, to experience God’s love or the peace that passes all understanding if we are cut off from its source?? And we Catholics have the amazing privilege of the grace of the sacraments.  Reconciliation to free us from the bondage of sin and Eucharist to fortify us in grace.  And don’t forget about Baptism and Confirmation which fill us with the Holy Spirit’s gifts, or the needed vocational grace of Holy Orders or Marriage.  Also, there is study, where we go deeper into our faith so we can come to love God better by knowing him better, and the support of Christian friendships.  Without these tools, at best we plug along patiently picking one handful of rocks at a time, making record-slow progress.  At worst, we simply give up, faced with the impossibility of completing something way beyond our capabilities.

If these tools make our burdens so much lighter, why don’t we always avail ourselves to them? Back to my neighbor situation.  One huge one is pride.  I can do this myself, I don’t need your stinking help.  Another can be a form of pride which is that we assume things about God that aren’t true.  Like me with my yard, we assume God is wagging his head at what a failure we are, and we are afraid that our requests to him will be met with an “I told you so”.  We don’t realize he understands exactly why our yard is such a mess, and is waiting to lend a hand to get it cleaned up.  Or maybe we had just never considered that there was a better way than a pair of gloves and a four-year-old’s dump truck.  Whatever reason, when we recognize that we are off track, we need to equip ourselves.  As I mentioned yesterday, uniformity with God’s will is not just something we “muster up”.  It is a work of grace that comes as a result of using these tools on a regular basis.

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In the Presence of Greatness

Last night I had dinner with the Archbishop. Impressed? Don’t be.  I was kind of along for the ride with one of my young ladies who is open to a vocation to the religious life.  The Vocation Office hosts these dinners at the Archbishop’s residence in order that the young women might hear some sisters’ vocation stories and get some advice on beginning to discern God’s plan for their own lives.  So it wasn’t anything great I did that got me there. But still, it was pretty cool to be served dinner by a successor to the Apostles and to pray with him in his own chapel.  Cool and not a little bit awkward.  I never know what to say to important people, and inevitably end up saying something I instantly think is stupid.  At the end of the night, I thanked the Archbishop for a personal letter that he had sent us when Gianna was sick this summer, and I saw him look at my nametag, trying to remember who I was.  I don’t say this to fault the Archbishop.  He shepherds thousands of souls, and as one who has a part in the lives of only hundreds, I understand well the limits of the human person.  I think we all left impressed by his hospitality and honored that he opened his home and schedule to us.

Earlier in the day, I had a different experience.  I had met with a group of youth ministers about our summer youth camp, and spent over an hour praying for the camp in front of the Blessed Sacrament.  During this prayer time we had a chance to pray over each member of the group. Each person’s experience was so unique, each receiving what he or she needed from the Lord.  How interesting that in this instance, we were in the presence of one much greater than the Archbishop (his boss, in fact!) and instead of awkward fear there was peace.  In the presence of the One to whom “all authority on heaven and earth has been given” we felt deeply known, accepted, loved.

This is a phenomena we Christians should not take for granted.  Jesus calls us not to be slaves, but friends.  What?!? The God of the universe calls us friends? That which makes us feel nervous and out of place in the presence of persons of great power should be so magnified in the presence of God that we cannot get up off our faces.  After all, He could smite us with a blink of the eye.  Instead, this great Deity stoops down and washes our feet, or better yet, sheds every last drop of His blood to win for us the right to call Him friend.  And if Jesus was going to go through that much suffering to establish a relationship, by all means we honor Him by taking Him up on the invitation.  But I think it does us good to remember how truly strange it is to be able to approach with confidence the Throne of Grace, how unique it is that our Creator calls us himself our bridegroom and how profoundly grateful we should be for the privilege.

Something to think about next time we are invited to Jesus’ house for supper…

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