Thursday, June 21, 2007

St. Aloysius Gonzaga

Memorial - St. Aloysius Gonzaga
Patron of Youth

If you've ever wondered where Gonzaga University gets its name from - here he is. St. Aloysius was a Jesuit living in the late 16th century. He was well connected, as far as saints go. His cousin was Saint Rudolph Acquaviva. He received first Communion from Saint Charles Borromeo. He was a student of Saint Robert Bellarmine, one of the great saints of the reformation.

This brings up something I have long wanted to point out: scratch a saint, and you will find other saints. If you look through the list of saints, the vast majority of them knew at least one other saint, often times very well. In fact, I don't personally know of a saint who did not know any other saints, though I am sure there were at least a few. There is a tremendous lesson in this. If you want to be a saint - if you want to get to Heaven - hang around saintly people. God makes saints, after all, and the way God works in our lives is through other people. If you find yourself around someone who is very open to God, someone who God seems to work a lot through, well you're in a whole lot better of a position to have God make a saint out of you.

For some of us, this might not be easy. For one thing, we may not know anyone we would think of as saintly. Even if we do, chances are we may have a hard time hanging around them; saintly people do have a tendancy to make others uncomfortable at times. Holiness is, after all, a little tough to stomach for those of us who are attached to sin (i.e., most of us). That being said, try to spend even a little time with them if you know any such people. The more you do, the more you'll find yourself less attached to sin and more attracted to holiness. And if you do desire holiness but just can't seem to get there, well that's the best time to hang around with some saints. Their presence - thanks to the way God works through them - will do wonders for the soul who wants to grow but just doesn't know how or has a hard time. And if you don't know any saints, ask God to send you one. He'll see what He can do!

St. Aloysius - pray for us!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Why did Christ set up the Church?

The Church is set up in the way it is for a very specific reason. Did you ever wonder why we have Sacraments and all that? I mean, in some ways, the Protestant system actually makes more sense. As Catholics we believe in a God who essentially has invited us to become His children; we believe in a God who wants Love, not adherence to some checklist like a strict boss or professor. Even though the Scriptures never use the terminology, we agree with the Protestants that what God desires is a personal relationship with us. He wants us to know Him and Love Him. So if what God wants is Love and Faith - a relationship - well then Sacraments seem to be completely unnecessary.

Our conception of the Church as an authority to speak on matters of truth would still be important; having a personal relationship with someone requires that one know the truth about them. Imagine trying to have a relationship with your earthly father without any certainty concerning the facts about him. Do you get him golf clubs for his birthday, or a violin? Does he like it when you make lawyer jokes, or should you refrain. Is he a lawyer? In fact, when is his birthday, anyways? It wouldn't work. The situation is even more difficult with our Heavenly Father, whom is present not only when we are in the same room as Him but always. Is X a sin - does it offend Him - or not? When the Scripture says we should fast in one place but says we shouldn't in another, what does God really want? When half the Christians interpret a verse one way and the other half another, what's correct? What did God really intend to say?

But not Sacraments. For a God who simply wants a relationship they don't seem to fit. Once we know the truth about Him, what is the purpose of having to go through these rituals? Going back to fathers, if I offend my earthly father, the way to repair that relationship is to ask Him for forgiveness - not to go to someone else, like mom, and ask her to offer his forgiveness, as Catholics do in confession. So the Sacraments seem sortof, well, superfluous at best.

But the reality is that by Christ's own choice He set it up that way. The Sacraments aren't some superfluous thing that the Church came up with for some reason - Christ Himself instituted them Himself. Why? Why, if what He really wants is a relationship?

The reason is that Christ is compassionate. God loves us even if we don't always love Him. He wants those who aren't going to have a relationship with Him to have a chance. He wants as few people as possible to reject Him. He wants us in Heaven, so He didn't simply give us some authority to tell us what is true and then leave us to, if we can get ourselves to, have a relationship on our own. Different Christian groups, and even different schools among Catholics, have many different ideas of how Grace works exactly, so it's impossible to give some blanket statement about the technicalities of it, but suffice it to say that basic human experience shows that however Grace works, the vast majority of people in the world don't seem motivated to have a relationship with God even with the help and promptings of Grace. The truth is that left to out own, most people simply don't take advantage of the Grace God has for them and have a relationship with Him. Few Christians from any group ever really do. So Christ gave us Sacraments - things that work ex opera operandi, as that Latin calls it: "in and of themselves."

The Sacrament of Reconcilliation really does reconcile usto God. If someone is an absolutely miserable Christian and the very most they can muster is being sorry because they are afraid of hell, then the Sacrament will save them from it and - even as what may be a completely unintended side effect from their perspective - reunite them to God.

Christ made the Church in the exact way He did specifically so that poor Christians can make it to Heaven. He gave us last rights so that even the greatest sinner can, on his deathbed, at least say he's afraid of Hell and make it to Heaven, even if that person can't bring Himself to actually Love God or to be sorry for His sins in any real way. He wants us there, and so He gave us a Church with Sacraments exactly as He did so that those with the bare minimum can make it. He'll Give us Love when we get to Him.

Of course, He wants so much more, and so we have the fantastic saints who actually gave all they possibly could, and then people like you and me who hopefully do our best even if we're not quite ready for canonization. But He wants those folks who are just sitting in the pews each week and that's really all they're doing in Heaven, too. And that's at least one of the reasons that He did it they way He did.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


One of the greatest things I've ever seen, and I'm not exaggerating in the slightest.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Thoughts on The Feeding of the 5,000

All just personal speculation.

From Mark:

"6:39Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. 41And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. 42And they all ate and were satisfied."

First, the people are seperated into groups - but pretty big groups, not small ones. This is much like how we are seperated into different churches, or as it has been called since the 4th century, parishes. Then, they hand out the 5 loaves and 2 fishes. Now I have for a little while understood this to refer to the 5 'regular' Sacraments and the 2 Sacraments of Service, Matrimony and Orders.

But I noticed something new: Jesus has the apostles hand out the bread, but He *Himself* hands out the fishes, which Mark says He divided amongst the people. Now this is interesting. The bishops of the Church (through the priests) distribute the 5 Sacraments to the people rather indiscriminantly. They don't have to know anything about you, you just go to your parish (or, in the Gospel here, group) and they give you the Sacraments to everyone there. On the other hand, they don't just hand out Marriage and Orders. These are callings from God, which He Himself divides up amongst the people and gives to them, just as here Jesus divides up the two fishes and gives them to the people.

I thought this was very interesting, so I started thinking about the differences between bread and fish. Bread is more or less - especially when speaking of the time of Jesus - standard fare. It's what keeps you alive. It's what you can't go without. There's nothing all that special about it - it's the minimum you need day in and day out to survive. Fish, on the other hand, is special. It has protein, and it gives you the strength to do your work. It has a special flavor to it, and you savor it. Also, some people like one kind of fish, others like others; some like haddock, some like salmon. Now I don't know if Jesus had different kinds of fish, you get the point I'm making. Fish is special, we enjoy it's savor, and what's more we enjoy one type of fish over another. Fish, unlike bread, has to be prepared. You hand out bread to someone and he eats it. He doesn't need to do anything all that special to eat it, except perhaps that if he's sick he needs to be well before he can keep it down. Fish, on the other hand, you have to scale, take out the bones, and cook. It takes a bit of preparation.

In the same way, the 5 Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Pennance, and Annointing are really the standard fare. Obviously they are very special, but in a certain sense they are nothing special, because they are just the regular 'bread' we need day in and day out to survive. Sure, we enjoy them, but in a relatively common way. In other words, everyone has these things in common, and they bring happiness, but when we add our particular vocation to this 'daily bread,' it brings a fullness to the us that wasn't there with these alone, so the way we enjoy the 5 Sacraments is very different from how we enjoy our marriages or our ordination (or consecration). These we enjoy in a very particular way - they add a fullness to our lives, a fullness particular to us, that is not found in the other 5 Sacraments. Now the 'regular' 5 don't require any preperation, other than being in a right relationship with God, just as bread really requires no preparation other than the healing of an inllness. Marriage and Ordination, however, do require special preparation. Just as a man must remove the scales of a fish to eat it, so we must remove the barriers we put between ourselves and others before we can wed or enter a consecrated life. Just as a man must remove the bones from inside a fish before he can eat it, so must we remove many of the undesirable things within ourselves before we can be given to others, for just as a man may choke on the bones of a fish he is given if they are not removed, so will those we seek to serve in life choke on the bones of our own inner sins if we do not remove them as best we can. Just as a man must cook a fish to purify it of disease and to bring it to warmth and readiness to be eaten, so too must we go through a process of gaining warmth for others and readiness to serve them.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Memorial - St. Boniface

Memorial - St. Boniface
Patron of Germany, Martyr

St. Boniface was one of those great middle of the first millenium saints that made their mark converting pagans left and right (St. Patrick was another).

St. Boniface, you gained eternal glory by dying to preach the Gospel to those who were trapped in the bondage of idolatry, worshipping that which was not God rather than their Creator. Today, millions turn from God for the worship of money, sex, technology, and any number of other idols. Pray for us that we might be willing to die, both to self and in that martyrdom of the body, so that our modern world might find eternal joy in the home of God their Father. We ask this through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

St. Boniface, pray for us!

Friday, June 01, 2007

Memorial - St. Justin Martyr

Memorial - Justin Martyr
Patron Saint of Apologists

The saints were seized and brought before the prefect of Rome, whose name was Rusticus. As they stood before the judgement seat, Rusticus the prefect said to Justin: “Above all, have faith in the gods and obey the emperors”. Justin said: “We cannot be accused or condemned for obeying the commands of our Saviour, Jesus Christ”.Rusticus said: “What system of teaching do you profess?” Justin said: “I have tried to learn about every system, but I have accepted the true doctrines of the Christians, though these are not approved by those who are held fast by error”.

The prefect Rusticus said: “Are those doctrines approved by you, wretch that you are?” Justin said: “Yes, for I follow them with their correct teaching”.

The prefect Rusticus said: “What sort of teaching is that?” Justin said: “Worship the God of the Christians. We hold him to be from the beginning the one creator and maker of the whole creation, of things seen and things unseen. We worship also the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He was foretold by the prophets as the future herald of salvation for the human race and the teacher of distinguished disciples. For myself, since I am a human being, I consider that
what I say is insignificant in comparison with his infinite godhead. I acknowledge the existence of a prophetic power, for the one I have just spoken of as the Son of God was the subject of prophecy. I know that the prophets were inspired from above when they spoke of his coming among men”.

Rusticus said: “You are a Christian, then?” Justin said: “Yes, I am a Christian”.

The prefect said to Justin: “You are called a learned man and think that you know what is true teaching. Listen: if you were scourged and beheaded, are you convinced that you would go up to heaven?” Justin said: “I hope that I shall enter God’s house if I suffer that way. For I know that God’s favour is stored up until the end of the whole world for all who have lived good lives”.

The prefect Rusticus said: “Do you have an idea that you will go up to heaven to receive some suitable rewards?” Justin said: “It is not an idea that I have; it is something I know well and hold to be most certain”.

The prefect Rusticus said: “Now let us come to the point at issue, which is necessary and urgent. Gather round then and with one accord offer sacrifice to the gods”. Justin said: “No one who is right thinking stoops from true worship to false worship”.

The prefect Rusticus said: “If you do not do as you are commanded you will be tortured without mercy”. Justin said: “We hope to suffer torment for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, and so be saved. For this will bring us salvation and confidence as we stand before the more terrible and universal judgement-seat of our Lord and Saviour”.In the same way the other martyrs also said: “Do what you will. We are Christians; we do not offer sacrifice to idols”.

The prefect Rusticus pronounced sentence, saying: “Let those who have refused to sacrifice to the gods and to obey the command of the emperor be scourged and led away to suffer capital punishment according to the ruling of the laws”. Glorifying God, the holy martyrs went out to the accustomed place. They were beheaded, and so fulfilled their witness of martyrdom in confessing their faith in their Saviour."

From the Acts of Saint Justin