St Francis Q&A

Friday, March 31, 2006

Suffering leads to Glory

A Sunday school teacher asked her class, "What was Jesus' mother's name?"
One child answered, "Mary."
The teacher then asked, "Who knows what Jesus' father's name was?"
A little kid said, "Verge."
Confused, the teacher asked, "Where did you get that?"
The kid said, "Well, you know they are always talking about Verge n' Mary.''
We've been blogging quite a bit during Lent about the meaning of suffering, and it has been a fruitful time of reflection. The Christian meaning of suffering, as we have been discussing, is centered on the Cross of Christ which is the greatest sign of love in the world. Suffering for the sake of love, then, is the "greatest love" (Jn 15:13); Christ has shown us the way, and told us to follow Him. "If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me" (Lk 9:23).

There is great comfort in this life for those who unite themselves with Christ in their suffering; we have said that that is the greatest way to imitate Christ. Some of us struggle to accept this, for one reason or another. But, while there is great value in living the Way of the Cross, the Christian understanding of suffering does not end at the Cross. The Cross is not the end; Calvary leads us to an end which is good beyond human understanding. Calvary leads us to Paradise; suffering leads to Glory.

The fact that Christian suffering (sacrificial love) leads to glory is found throughout Sacred Scripture. "All that we suffer in the present time is nothing in comparison with the glory which is destined to be disclosed for us" (Rom 8:18). How is it that suffering will lead us to glory? St Paul writes that it's because we are "molded to the pattern of (God's) Son" (30), called by the Father to be united with the Cross of Christ. "Those he called, he justified, and those that he has justified he has brought into glory" (30).

We see practical examples every day of how suffering leads to glory. Athletes, as St Paul points out, "deny themselves all sorts of things. They do this to win a crown..." (1 Cor 9:24-25). Scientists and doctors endure much mental strain for the prize of a new discovery in technology or medicine. Many students labor through their homework each day and night to make the Honor Roll. And while these are all worthwhile and valuable endeavors, "they do this to win a crown of leaves that withers, but we a crown that is imperishable" (1 Cor 9:24-25).

So, what is this imperishable crown which suffering wins us? Eternal life. "The temporary, light burden of our hardships is earning us for ever an utterly, incomparable, eternal weight of glory" (2 Cor 4:17). Christ himself was glorified forever in his Death and Resurrection. Anyone who, like St Peter, is a "witness to the sufferings of Christ" will "have a share in the glory that is to be revealed" (1 Pet 5:1).

"In all truth I tell you, you will be weeping and wailing whie the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy" (Jn 16:20).

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Prayers of praise and thanksgiving

Someone recently made a great suggestion that there be prayers of thanksgiving on this site. Great idea, thanks! So, below is a prayer of praise from our patron saint, and then below that is a prayer of thanksgiving of mine. Please feel free to leave your own prayers (thanksgiving, praise, intentions, etc.) under "comments".
"You are holy, Lord, the only God, and your deeds are wonderful. You are strong. You are great. You are the Most High, You are almighty. You, holy Father, are King of heaven and earth. You are Three and One, Lord God, all good. You are Good, all Good, supreme Good, Lord God, living and true.

You are love, You are wisdom. You are humility, You are endurance. You are rest, You are peace. You are joy and gladness. You are justice and moderation. You are all our riches, And you suffice for us.

You are beauty. You are gentleness. You are our protector, You are our guardian and defender. You are courage. You are our haven and our hope. You are our faith, Our great consolation. You are our eternal life, Great and wonderful Lord, God almighty, Merciful Savior".

St. Francis of Assisi
A typical prayer of thanksgiving I make each day after Mass: "Lord Jesus, thank you for all that you have given me, especially the incredible gift of the Eucharist. Thank you for your sacrifice on the Cross. Heavenly Father, Holy Spirit, Lord Jesus, thank you for the gift of this Bread from Heaven...the Bread of Life. I thank you, Lord, I thank you. Please let me serve you this day in doing the Will of the Father.
Other prayers??

Friday, March 24, 2006

A sixth grader's question about abortion

This is my response to a question on abortion from one of the sixth graders in our Religious Ed program (please see his question under "comments" for this post). Pretty amazing question and writing from a 6th grader!
Hey, buddy, thanks very much for your great questions! Wow, did you write these yourself? You think and write much more maturely than a sixth grader...I am impressed! So, because you have such sophisticated questions, I will have to get a little sophisticated, but will try to keep it as simple as I can.

First of all, a baby can never be aborted, no matter what the circumstances are. If it's going to die after birth, then the best thing would be to give birth to the child, and have a priest or deacon baptize him/her right away. That couldn't happen if the baby is aborted. Not only do you give the baby every chance to live, but you give the baby eternal life (through Baptism).

You then talk about if the baby's birth is going to kill the mother, and shouldn't we save one life instead of losing two. Well, this situation is very, very rare. In almost all cases like this, there is another reason (for example, she has a cancerous tumor) that the woman might die if she gives birth. I don't know if I've ever heard of a woman dying just from giving birth, and no other reason.

So, let's say a pregnant mother has cancer. The doctors try to remove her cancerous tumor, and in the process of removing it and saving the life of the mother, they unintentionally kill the fragile baby in the womb. If their intention and the intention of the parents is to save the mother's life and don't intend on killing the baby, this is not a grave sin. The Church says they should do everything they can to save the life of the mother and the baby, but sometimes (and this is extremely rare) the baby dies in the process. This is called an indirect abortion. Abortion is not directly intended; it is the result of saving the life of the mother.

The Church is against any and all direct abortions: "direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law" (# 2271, Catechism of the Catholic Church). That means it is always a grave sin to directly abort a baby, in all circumstances. If people intend to kill the baby in the womb (even if it's to save the mother's life), it is a direct abortion and always evil. If they are doing a procedure that is mainly to save the mother's life, and during the procedure, the baby dies, it is an indirect abortion and not an evil act. It's all about what people intend to do.

Keep in mind that over 95% of all abortions in the United States occur because people don't want a baby, so they choose to kill it. Less than 1% of all abortions occur in the example I gave, as a result of saving the life of the mother. This can get very complicated, but the main point is that it is always a serious sin to kill a baby or anyone...God has said "thou shall not kill".

Finally, there are a few examples of some women who chose to go through with their pregnancy, even though they knew it would kill them. St Gianna Beretta Molla lived in Italy about 70 years ago. When she was pregnant with her fourth child, doctors told her that she had cancer and that she should abort her child. She chose to give birth, and the baby was born healthy, and is now a beautiful woman. Gianna died within a year of giving birth. She chose to die so that her baby might live; she is a true hero. She was canonized a saint by Pope John Paul II in 2004, and is now the Patron Saint of the Pro-Life movement.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Christ and the Church are one

It is really great that we have so many bloggers here at St Francis. I truly appreciate all of your comments and questions. There is a wide range of views and experiences here, and it is very helpful for people to grow in their faith by reading the comments of others. Everyone's view is welcome here, Catholic or not. We have some Catholic comments, and some non-Catholic comments. Let me take just a sec to point out the difference.

When I say 'Catholic comments', I mean those comments or questions that are in union with the mind and heart of the Church. The word "catholic" means universal (literally, one word). When we talk about the mind and heart of the Church, we mean that we are of one mind and heart (really, in the one mind and heart of Christ). This all started with the Apostles, who, filled with the Holy Spirit, were "with one heart" (Acts 2:46) which led to all the faithful early Christians being "one in heart" (Acts 5:12). We say in the Creed every Sunday that we believe in "one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church".

When we are in union with the mind and heart of the Church - body, mind, spirit - we are in union with the Truth, who is Christ (see Jn 14:6). Christ and the Church are one: "Christ is the head, the Church is the body" (Col 1:18). How do we know that the Catholic Church is the Church referred to in Sacred Scripture? Well, that would be for another post, but one will find that answer by studying early Church history. Basically, the teachings and practices of the early Church that Christ founded upon Peter and the Apostles and guided by the Holy Spirit are the same teachings and practices of the Catholic Church in 2006. Many Protestant scholars have realized that, and have come into full union with the Church because of their study of the Bible and the early Church.

The first thing I think when I'm reading someone's comment or listening to their position is, 'on what authority do they base their statement / teaching?' Here on this site, I present the teachings of the Catholic Church. The authority on which the Catholic Church bases her teachings is Jesus Christ. That means that it comes from the Truth, and is the Truth. "Anyone who listens to you listens to me" (Lk 10:16). Christ gives Peter and the Apostles the authority to speak the Truth in Mt 16:19 and Mt 18:18, and to go out to "all nations...and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you" (Mt 28:19-20). The teaching authority of the Church is the teaching authority of Christ. Guided by the Holy Spirit, the Church cannot be in error when teaching about faith and morals. She teaches the Truth.

So, a comment that is "non-Catholic" would be one that is not one with the Truth (mainly regarding religious or philosophical comments). An example would be the comment someone made here that our current Church was created by men. On what authority is this based? Is it in Scripture? Is it the Tradition of the Church? The Catholic comment to that would be similar to what I've written above. My authority for saying that the Catholic Church was founded by Jesus Christ and has been guided by the Holy Spirit is Sacred Scripture (mainly, the Acts of the Apostles) and Sacred Tradition (the 2000 year old written and oral tradition of the Church).

We have to be very careful what we say about the Church, the Bride of Christ. What we say about Her, we say about Him. Christ and the Church are one. If the authority on which we base our comments is the Truth, then our comments are objectively true (and truly Catholic). If not, then our comments are merely our own opinions (i.e., "subjectively true" for each one of us).

Friday, March 17, 2006

A question about domestic violence

Recently, a SFA blogger described the tragic situation of her sister who has painfully stayed with her husband after years and years of domestic violence. Her sister, a devout Catholic, has heroically "raised four children with this man, after she knew he was abusive and she and her husband raised them in an atmosphere of degradation, violence and intimidation". She and the four kids still suffer tremendously, both physically and mentally, each day now as adults.

"She could have left this man at any time and saved herself and her children, one of whom is an emotional cripple, all that suffering. God did not send her that suffering, she brought it upon herself and her children because she believes her husband is her cross to bear on Earth. The Church says divorce is bad, but is divorce worse than inflicting a lifetime of suffering on innocent children?"
First of all, I am deeply sorry for this woman's sister and her children. Domestic violence is one scary thing, and I cannot imagine what it must be like to live in that kind of Hell. Not only do you have to endure physical suffering from someone with whom you live, it is inflicted on you by the one person you trusted more than anyone ... someone with whom you were in love. A terrible, terrible cross for any woman to bear. But, as one blogger correctly put it, it's not a cross that God asks her to bear, if she physically can get out of that awful situation.

And, that gets to the question. The Church doesn't expect this great woman of faith to stay in this dreadful and dangerous situation. In fact, the Church says she should get her and the children out. They are in grave danger; she has a responsibility to herself and to her children to protect their safety, first and foremost. She should contact her bishop, who will give her permission to separate, or if she feels it's necessary, should leave before receiving his permission.

The following is Canon 1153 of the Code of Canon Law (1983) that speaks to this question: "If either of the spouses causes grave mental or physical danger to the other spouse or to the offspring or otherwise renders common life too difficult, that spouse gives the other a legitimate cause for leaving, either by decree of the local ordinary or even on his or her own authority if there is danger in delay".

Now, to the anonymous blogger who wrote that "the Church has turned their heads the other way when it comes to the needs of women". In what ways do you mean, and can you give specific examples? Until you do, this is an irresponsible, unsubstantiated statement. I will write it here, and then in one of my next posts, that the Catholic Church is the greatest defender of the dignity of women in the world.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Why God allows suffering

When God created the world, it was a natural paradise. Everything he made was good and beautiful. There was no suffering or pain. There was no death. The creatures, plants, and trees were full of life; "it was good" (Gen 1:4). When God created man (male and female), He saw that "it was very good". God created man to be like Himself - good, beautiful, intelligent, etc. - in His own image. God Himself is free, so he created man to be free.

The free will that God has given man means that man is truly free. God gave him free will so that he would choose to love God and be in friendship with Him. This was His Plan for man...that he would be with God in this life and for all eternity, and He gave him much help to choose good. But, like any good parent or friend, God couldn't force man to love Him. God knew that man could reject Him, and thus do evil.

When man rejected God for the first time and committed Original Sin (Adam and Eve), suffering and death entered the world. Suffering is a natural result of sin, whether through individual sin or another's sin. It is in and of itself not good; it is a natural evil. God never wills suffering, death or evil: "God did not make death, he takes no pleasure in destroying the living" (Wis 1:13).

Rather, God allows suffering; it's part of His permissive will. God allows suffering because He allows us to choose to reject Him. He has given us free will, and truly respects our freedom. He is no less God and doesn't lose any of omnipotence if we choose evil. He is, always has been, and always will be an all-powerful God. He has created us so that we will choose Him, but knows that we can abuse the freedom He has given us.

On a natural level, then, suffering is not good because it is not from God. God most likely feels the way the prophet Jeremiah did when He sees His people suffer: “my eyes stream with tears… over the great destruction which overwhelms… my people…" (Jer 14: 17-18). Because of His great love for us, however, God will bring a supernatural component to suffering that will bring good out of evil. He will win victory over suffering, death, and evil through his Son, Jesus Christ. As we will see in an upcoming post, the suffering of Christ and anyone who follows Him leads to glory...(to be continued)
Here's a question that is still debated among theologians:
If man didn't commit Original Sin, would Christ still have become one of us?

Friday, March 10, 2006

A parishioner's blog

Check out this comment that Linda, a SFA parishioner, wrote earlier this week. It is one of the most inspiring and powerful comments I've read on a blog site:

"...I was so moved by so many of (your past discussion topics) and wanted to comment on each of them but decided to pick one that moved me the most and I have to admit it was regarding the Eucharist. Thank-you for your honesty and for sharing your very personal experiences. I wish more priests would share their own personal experiences, from the altar, about how they came to be enlightened over different matters. It helps us simple folk see that yes even our Priests had to start somewhere on their spiritual journey. And it is usually in the same place that so many of us are.... deep in sin.

As a Cradle Catholic, I too didn't realize what we truly believe to be receiving at communion. I learned this as a 35 year old going through the RCIA program to be confirmed. All adult catholics should have to go through the RCIA progam. To relearn, and many times start to learn, just what we truly believe. When I learned of the True Presence, I was stunned... WE BELIEVE THAT ??? And too asked the question how can that be? But deep down inside I wanted very much to believe that. Really, who wouldn't want to believe that every time we receive the Eucharist we are physically taking Christ into our very self. I NEED THAT. I NEED HIM IN ME TO HELP ME TO BE MORE LIKE HIM IN THIS WORLD. Of course I don't understand it. I can't explain how it happens.

But Christ said outright what it is we are receiving... and I believe. I will not be one of the many people who heard him say this and walked away because they didn't understand or it just sounded too horrible a thing. He didn't go after them and say...Wait, Wait don't go. I was just meaning that as a symbol. He let them walk away because they wouldn't believe his actual meaning. AND SO I BELIEVE IT BECOMES HIS TRUE BODY AND BLOOD, AND HE PHYSICALLY BECOMES JOINED WITH MY BODY EVERY TIME I RECEIVE. WOW !!!!! THANK-YOU JESUS FOR SOMETHING SO SIMPLE.

And yet after having just reaffirmed what I (and we as Catholics) believe, why don't I figure out how to get to Mass every single day of the week !!! I am caught up in the daily struggles of balancing work and family life. Oh how I wish I could start my days with receiving Christ but time committments just don't allow right now, and I hate to admit that. I am embarrassed to admit that. But for now I will try to get to Wednesday night mass and Sunday.

I am afraid there are many many cradle Catholics like ourselves (Ty Roach & myself) who also don't really understand what we are receiving at Communion. I am thankful to God that he enlightened me early enough in life (if you can say 35 is early)to maybe try to help share it with others and my kids.

I hope I haven't overstepped my blogging boundaries here.....please let me know if I have. It is just refreshing to hear others' stories. It reminds me of my own".

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

'Why did God allow this to happen?"

Lenten Holy Hour: You are invited to the chapel in the SFA rectory at 7 pm on Thursdays during Lent. We will have Exposition and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, music, spiritual reflections, and Benediction. Please join us!
Last week, a beautiful, twelve year old, Catholic girl was in the hospital because her appendix burst. When she returned home after her painful ordeal, she asked me, "why did God allow this to happen?" Whenever I hear people ask this question, I point them to a crucifix, and say, "why did God allow that to happen?" The Father has infinite and unending love for His own son, and yet, He let him suffer tremendously while on Earth.

When I was in Calcutta years ago, the sister who succeeded Mother Teresa as the head of the Missionaries of Charity said to me, "the greatest way to imitate Christ is to suffer. Those who are closest to Jesus on earth are those who suffer the most". The 12 year old girl is a great friend of Jesus Christ! Already in her young life she has had the opportunity to carry a part of Jesus' cross. The Father trusts this little girl in a big way. He'll never give any of us a cross that's too big for us to carry.

Normally, our suffering involves crosses that we don't choose. We accept them as Christ freely accepted his. He was an innocent victim who suffered for our sake: "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends" (Jn 15). Any of us who lay down our lives in any way and suffer for the sake of love are in intimate friendship with Christ. We do choose to make small sacrifices in Lent in order to become closer to Him, body and soul.

Who, then, are the greatest friends of Jesus Christ? Who see concrete signs in their lives of being loved and trusted by their heavenly Father? Those who are in physical, psychological, personal, or spiritual pain...those who hunger and thirst... those who are rejected and lonely... persecuted...outcasts... are laughed at... homeless... victims of violence...victims of disasters... etc. Those who carry their daily crosses are Jesus' closest friends.

Christian suffering, then, has great meaning. Our whole faith is centered on the suffering of our Savior. Suffering leads to love, and as I will write in an upcoming post, and it leads to glory. This seems like foolishness to the world, but as St Paul writes, "it is the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor 1). Ultimately, then, suffering is a sign of God's love. Anyone who imitates the Son in suffering for the sake of love receives the infinite and unending love of the Father.
Any other friends of Christ that I missed? Any stories of people who have taken up serious crosses? Anyone for whom we can pray?

Friday, March 03, 2006

Something special for God this Lent

Lenten Holy Hour: You are invited to the chapel in the SFA rectory at 7 pm on Thursdays during Lent. We will have Exposition and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, music, spiritual reflections, and Benediction. Please join us!
Yesterday, a SFA blogger asked, "Is there anything special we can do to make a good lent?" This is a very open-ended question with a million answers. I am tempted to just answer, "yes". But, I'll say a bit more than that, as usual! The Church wants us to focus on prayer, fasting, and almsgiving during these holy 40 days, as Christ himself exhorted us to do (Mt 6). Let me use those as headings.

Prayer: Something special for God this Lent would be to attend daily Mass, in additon to Sunday. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the greatest form of prayer. In Mass, we not only hear God's Word and encounter Him in the Eucharist, but we actually receive His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. Making a frequent Communion with Christ is the best thing you can do this Lent, or any time. The next best thing you can do is spend time with Jesus in Adoration. Whether it's 15 minutes or a full Holy Hour that you can spend in His Presence, your soul will be grateful!

Fasting: Something special for God this Lent would be to offer a physical (but healthy) sacrifice to Him. We fast during Lent, especially, to be in union with Christ who fasted for 40 days in the desert. Whatever it is from which we fast (food, drink, television, etc.), it should be to draw our souls closer to God. The more we can detach from things of the world, the more we can attach ourselves to Him. If our fasting is merely external and doesn't draw us closer to loving Him and others, God himself has said that it's pointless.

Almsgiving: Something special to do for God this Lent would be to make a generous contribution to the Cardinal's Appeal. Like prayer and fasting, almsgiving should be part of our normal Christian living. But, in the season of Lent, maybe we can do more. Can I share more of my time and talent with those less fortunate? If not, I should give more of my treasure, so that those who do serve the poor will be better equipped. It is, after all, God's treasure; in almsgiving, we give back to Him what he has given us.

Whatever we decide to do this Lent, even if it's the smallest thing, if it's for the love of Jesus, it pleases him immensely. "If but a pin is given in homage, and given with a good heart, it will be enough for Jesus, who loves only the good will" (St Louis de Montfort).
Any other suggestions that SFA bloggers have??

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