Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Excuse Me, You Have Dirt On Your Forehead

I have burnt palm branch on my forehead right now.  Why, you may ask, would I do such a thing?  Well, I'm a sinner in major need of God's grace and mercy.  I am completely dependent on God for everything, including my very life's breath, and this burnt palm branch reminds me of that. At Mass this afternoon, I was thinking about how I should really wear burnt palm branch on my forehead every day, because every day at some point, usually multiple times, I choose not to love God or my neighbor.  And yet every day God still chooses to love me.  He chooses to love me right where I am even in my sin.  He chooses to love me even though every scar he has on his sacred body is there because I inflicted it.  He chooses to love me even though my actions, thoughts or even inaction often don't correspond to the dignity he has given me by making me in his image and likeness.  He chooses to love me.  So that's why I'm wearing burnt palm branch on my forehead - because God loves me and the ashes are a reminder for me to love him back.

One of my favorite psalms is Psalm 51 - particularly verses 10-12:
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.  Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
This is basically what Lent is all about - a clean heart is one that has cast down its idols having been cleansed by the precious Blood of Christ.  Lent is a time when we are invited to be drawn more deeply into the presence of God and filled with the Holy Spirit, that Easter joy may fill us after forty days of willingly offering ourselves as a living sacrifice in union with the sacrifice of Christ.  This is the intention behind giving up something during Lent - to cast down your idols in order to be filled with the Holy Spirit. 

So when deciding what to give up for Lent the question is not 'what is going to help me lose weight?' or 'what is going to help me save money?'.  The question is 'what needs to be rooted out of my life so that I can be more filled with the Holy Spirit?', 'what idols do I need to be rid of so that my relationship with God is the top priority in my life?'.  Think about it - what good is it going to do me if I give up soda for forty days if I still give in to pride?  What good is it if I give up candy for a few weeks if I still give in to lust?  What good is it if I give up ice cream but still give in to envy?  Soda, candy and ice cream are not the problem - sin is.  Is there any virtue or growth in giving up gum but still getting drunk every weekend?  Any virtue in giving up coffee but still watching pornography?  Any virtue in giving up chocolate but continuing to gossip? 

I must present a challenge to myself to not make Lent trivial and give up the same favorite food that I have given up every year since I was twelve and then forty days later gorge myself with it.  Lent is about transformation - allowing my God to replace my stony heart with a heart of flesh - a heart that can authentically love.  Lent does not have to be a mediocre experience, nor does life.  Too often I allow myself to settle for mediocrity instead of living out the goodness of God's plan for me - to become who he made me to be.  Too often I let laziness, fear, doubt, discouragement get the better of me and convince me that I'm not worth it.  God has placed his Spirit within us which means we don't have to settle - we have the ability by God's grace to enter into the beauty of human existence.  I don't have to listen to Satan's lies and neither do you.  The potency of grace that is freely available to us during Lent is magnificent if we would open our hearts to receive it.  Do whatever it takes to be a saint.  Give up the sin in my life, add more prayer time in my day - whatever it takes to cast down my idols and be filled with the Holy Spirit - that's what I want my Lent to be about.  It's not about how hard I try to do it on my own because that would be impossible - I simply can't do it on my own, I'm not strong enough and I wasn't made to ever do anything on my own - it's about how much I am willing to cooperate with God's grace to allow him to transform my heart.  It may not be easy, but the most joyous Easters that I've ever experienced have been the ones that followed the most difficult and arduous Lents.

And just to end on a fun note:

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Church Militant - Strap On Your Combat Boots

Below is a statement from Bishop Johnston opposing the recent contraception mandate being imposed by the federal government.  This situation is a call and a reminder of who we really are - who we really are as humans and who we really are as Catholics.  It is fairly well-known, and is becoming more known with this issue, that the Catholic Church opposes contraceptives, sterilizations, abortions, etc.  This situation gives us all the opportunity to ask ourselves 'why?'. 

The Church does not stand opposed to these things because She wants to boss everyone around and control people's lives - in all reality the Church upholds the free will of the person more than any government ever could.  However, She also upholds the dignity and worth of the human person more than any government ever could.  Both of these realities are the reason that so many bishops in our country are voicing opposition to the mandate.  It is crushing our religious freedom and the dignity of the person. 

I always like to focus on what the Church is saying 'yes' to when She says 'no' to something - so let's take a brief look at what the Church is saying in her opposition to contraception.  The Church affirms that the marital act has a twofold purpose of union and procreation - to separate these aspects is to degrade the marital act and the dignity of the person because through the use of contraceptives the person is inevitably treated as an object for the pleasure of the other rather than as a person deserving of a total gift of love.  We can simply take a walk through history to show how this is the reality.  Pope Paul VI said that contraceptives would "open wide the way to marital infidelity", there would be a general lowering of morality and that men would reduce women "to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection."  It's not difficult to see that these things have occurred exponentially since contraceptives have become the norm. Contraceptives are an impediment to the flourishing of authentic love and cause us to treat one another as less than human.  Contraception is an intrinsic evil because it so profoundly distorts the purpose and meaning of our sexuality and our humanity.  Much more could be said, but the gist of it all is that the Church is simply upholding your dignity as a person and the beauty of the marital act - saying 'yes' to life and love - when She says 'no' to contraception. 

Ok, so that being said, since contraception (not to mention sterilization, abortion, etc.) is an intrinsic evil, we cannot support it or provide for it.  That is why the bishops are so strongly opposing the mandate being forced upon us by the HHS.  This is a time not to just sit back and pretend that it will just all work itself out - but what are we to do?  First we have to realize that ultimately we are not fighting people in Washington - the people in Washington need love and conversion just as much as we do - yes, we need to contact them and help them understand the gravity and error of their actions in forcing such a mandate upon us, but ultimately they are not the enemy.  Ultimately we are fighting a spiritual battle against the powers of darkness.  That is why the number one thing that you can do is pray - you'll notice that at the end of Bishop Johnston's statement he asks for prayer and fasting - he understands who the real enemy is.  Secondly, it is necessary that we do contact those in our government leadership and ask them to respect our conscience rights and religious freedom.  Prayer and action - both are necessary and indispensable.  Also, let your hope rise - God is greater than any struggle or storms we may encounter in this life and we can trust that His promises are true.

Take it away, Bishop Johnston:
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
We are facing a grave and unprecedented attack today on the religious freedom we enjoy in the United States.  The Obama Administration, through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has recently imposed a nationwide mandate that health insurance plans cover contraceptives, abortion-inducing drugs, and sterilization procedures. 
For over 2,000 years the Catholic Church has taught that abortion, sterilization, and contraception are wrong.  In fact, less than 90 years ago, all Christian congregations morally objected to these practices.  However, sadly today, and despite the fact that the Church's position has never wavered on these issues, the views of many Catholics on them is no different than those of most non-believers.  Perhaps this is why the Obama Administration has chosen this moment in history to try to force the Catholic Church, as well as other communities of faith, to act against basic moral convictions.  Given the fact that many of our own people do not subscribe to what the Church teaches, does the Administration assume that most of our faithful will not care?  I hope you prove them wrong.
First, I invite you to examine whether you have fairly considered, and are living, the Church's consistent teaching on the moral issues of abortion, contraception, and sterilization.  The Catholic Church will never yield in her defense of both the sacredness of human life and the inseparability of the unitive and procreative aspects of conjugal love.  This is a moment where each of us will be called to take a stand either for or against the Church.  My prayer is that this will be a moment of recommitment, deeper conversion, and reconfirmation of our faith by the Holy Spirit; a period of grace which always accompanies times of difficulty in the life of the Church. 
Second, I ask you to take action to prevent the government from punishing us for living what we believe.  Many brothers and sisters of varying faiths join us in this important effort, as well as other persons of good will.  Our parents and grandparents did not come to these shores to help build America's cities and towns, its infrastructure and institutions, its enterprise and culture, only to have their posterity stripped of their God-given rights.  In generations past, the Church has always been able to protect her sacred rights and duties.  I hope and trust she can count on this generation of Catholics to do the same.  Our children and grandchildren deserve nothing less. 
By this rule, the Obama Administration intends to force the Catholic Church to act against its basic moral convictions.  This rule will force Christian employers to offer abortion-inducing drugs in their health plans.  By this rule, the Obama Administration casts aside the long-standing respect our government has shown in not forcing churches to act against their religious beliefs. 
We cannot - and we will not - comply with this unjust law.  I call on all Catholics in our diocese to act now to seek the immediate reversal of this rule.
Contact President Barack Obama and express your profound disappointment in the new contraceptive and abortion mandate.
Senator Roy Blunt is the sponsor of the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, which would reverse this mandate.  Contact him and thank him for his sponsorship of this bill.  Contact Senator Claire McCaskill and request that she co-sponsor this bill. 
Contact your U.S. Representative and urge his or her support for the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act in the U.S. House. 
If you would like more information on what you can do, visit the Web sites of the diocese and the Missouri Catholic Conference.  Through our diocesan newspaper, The Mirror, and electronic media, I will keep you up-to-date on this important issue.  I also ask that you pray and fast for a reversal of this bad decision.
Devotedly yours in Christ,
Most Reverend James V. Johnston, Jr., D.D., J.C.L.
Bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau
Contact the White House here.
Sign a petition here.
Contact Roy Blunt here.
Contact Claire McCaskill here.
Contact your representative here.
Contact God in the Chapel or anywhere you are.
I don't think this really needs a commentary, because you'll get it after you watch it....