Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day: A Catholic Understanding of the Nature and Call of Freedom

"Freedom is not being able to do whatever you want to do. That is license. If you have license, rather than authentic freedom, your house is built on sand and will collapse. Authentic freedom is the power to do what we ought to do; the power to choose the good, the true, and the beautiful. That will vanquish fear every time. If your concept of freedom is really license, fear will come out on top every time. Freedom has to be united with truth. There is no freedom outside of the truth: No authentic human freedom outside of the truth. “If you are truly my disciples, you will abide in my word. You will know the truth, and the truth till make you free.” – (paraphrased) Fr. John Corapi SOLT

"Why are human beings willing to fight and die for freedom? As Americans, this Memorial Day we will remember those who died in the service of our country. But as Catholic Americans, we will also reflect on the meaning of true freedom and thank God for the Church which is the way to that freedom, a freedom we as Catholics are called to live to the full.

If we want a deeper reflection on freedom than we will get at a typical Memorial Day event or in the media, we need only look to the Church. The Church teaches us that freedom is derived from nature and the whole of our humanity. "Through our physical bodies, we sum up the elements of the material world and bring them to their highest perfection and freely raise their voice in praise to the creator" (cf. Gaudium et spes 14). Thus, we know that we are more than the material world, for we have the capacity to appreciate creation and give thanks.

The perfection of any created thing is to be able to fully act according to what it is, to its nature. And, in this respect, the thing gives glory to its creator. On the other hand, when, for any reason, a thing cannot fully act according to its nature, we correctly view it as lacking in a good. When a person cannot fully act according to their human nature, this lacking in a good can take on a moral dimension and the loss of freedom.

Human beings, by virtue of their reason and free will, are unique among all other created things in that they can freely choose to act in ways that are not in accord with their nature, that is, they can turn away from God and reject their perfection, which is to become fully human and fully alive. However, turning away from God is not true freedom, it is an abuse of freedom. Instead of freeing us; it enslaves us. We need to understand this point because it is critical.

For example, in order to help us understand the significance of the abuse of freedom, Dr. Scott Hahn gives us a general example using a train. It is the nature of a train to run on tracks. As long as the train remains on the tracks, it is able to carry people or needed materials across the country. If, one day, the train viewed its tracks as restricting its freedom and decided to jump its tracks, what would happen? Therefore, acting according to our nature liberates and frees us. Acting against our nature results in a kind of slavery because we are no longer free to "Be all that we can be."

Now, I believe we can try to answer our original question. One reason why we human beings are willing to fight and die for freedom is because the need for freedom is imprinted onto our very nature. By virtue of our ability to reason and our free will, we are impelled to seek truth, especially religious truth. Our creator instilled this drive in us, so that we would seek Him, for He is truth. And having found truth, we are obligated to live it to the best of our ability.

This Memorial Day Catholics rightly honor our fallen brothers and sisters, but we also remember our Church, who has defended the dignity and freedom of the human person for two-thousand years."

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Being neutral is a myth

Three quotes that reveal the mind and heart of the Catholic Church regarding honorable military service, terrorism, the united sacrifices of military families, and the vocational generosity of soldiers:

As my Grandmother often said to me, "war is hell." She knew as she had a husband and son that fought in both world wars, had nephews and a grandson go off to faraway places. She prayed, worried, and suffered because of war. Nonetheless, she knew, like so many of us do, that without the sacrifices of themselves and their loved ones, there would be no enduring freedom. (Fr. John Corapi)

1. Peace is not simply the absence of war. Peace is the presence of justice. The irony of human affairs is that sometimes evil is so pressing and so destructive that the innocent can't be defended except through the cost of blood and lives. And that brings us to our conversation tonight. Virtuous military leaders are vital in defending a free people because securing the peace and the conduct of war are morally loaded enterprises. This is also why the military profession is not simply necessary or useful, but honorable. It's why your vocation as future military officers matters. It's why your lives matter - to serve God by serving other people in the vocation He calls you to.
---Archbishop Charles Chaput, Address to Air Force Academy Cadets, March 9, 2009

2) Those who are sworn to serve their country in the armed forces are servants of the security and freedom of nations. If they carry out their duty honorably, they truly contribute to the common good of the nation and the maintenance of peace.
--- Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2310

3) In the present circumstances, how can we speak of justice and forgiveness as the source and condition of peace? We can and we must, no matter how difficult this may be; a difficulty which comes from thinking that justice and forgiveness are irreconcilable. But forgiveness is the opposite of resentment and revenge, not of justice. In fact, true peace is "the work of justice" (Is 32: 17). True peace therefore is the fruit of justice. ... Forgiveness is in no way opposed to justice, as if to forgive meant to overlook the need to right the wrong done. It is rather the fullness of justice, leading to that tranquility of order which is much more than a fragile and temporary cessation of hostilities, involving as it does the deepest healing of the wounds which fester in human hearts. Justice and forgiveness are both essential to such healing.
---Pope John Paul II's "No Peace Without Justice, No Justice Without Forgiveness", World Day of Peace 2002

Friday, May 28, 2010

God does not change reality, He teaches us to look at reality differently

Do not pray for easy lives, pray to be stronger. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers, pray for powers equal to your tasks. Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle but you shall be a miracle. Every day you shall wonder at yourself, at the richness of life which has come to you by the grace of God. (Venerable Solanus Casey)

There are three forms of prayer (Contemplative; Meditative, and Verbal). The prayer that most people are familiar with is verbal (i.e. prayers of petition)

Prayers of Petitions - What are they?

In them, we ask God for things we need—primarily spiritual needs, but physical ones as well. Our prayers of petition should always include a statement of our willingness to accept God's will, whether He directly answers our prayer or not. The Our Father is a good example of a prayer of petition, and the line "Thy will be done" shows that, in the end, we acknowledge that God's plans for us are more important than what we desire.

There are people that almost never pray and, when they do it, it is with the hope God will solve problems they do not know how to handle themselves. And they justify it with the words from Jesus in scripture «Therefore, I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it shall be done for you» (Mk 11:24). They are right, and it is quite human, understandable and legitimate that, in front of a problem too difficult for us, we trust in God, in a much higher force.

But we must also add that prayers like that are “useless” («for your Father knows what you need before you ask him»: Mt 6:8), as long as they do not have a practical and direct utility, as —for instance— switch on a light. Therefore, what we do receive from God in prayers of petition is GRACE upon GRACE.

Should we, therefore, not pray...? Of course, we should!

Now that we know that by prayer we obtain the grace, our prayer has become more worthy and valuable. Furthermore, there are three benefits we do receive from the petition prayer:

1) Interior peace (to find our friend Jesus and to trust God is relaxing);

2) To mull over a problem, and knowing how to raise it, is to solve half of it

3) Praying helps us to discern between what is good and what, maybe out of some personal whim, are the actual intentions of our prayers.

Then, later on, we shall understand with the eyes of the faith what Jesus says: «Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son» (Jn 14:13).

Thursday, May 27, 2010

We are all "poor" but do we "see" it!

“In the evening of this life, I shall appear before you with empty hands, for I do not ask you, Lord, to count my works. All our justice is blemished in your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in your own justice and to receive from your love the eternal possession of yourself” - St Therese of the Child Jesus

Gospel text (Mk 10:46-52): As Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a large crowd, a blind beggar, Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth passing by, he began to call out, «Son of David, Jesus, have mercy on me!». Many people scolded him and told him to keep quiet, but he shouted all the louder, «Son of David, have mercy on me!».

Jesus stopped and said, «Call him». So they called the blind man saying, «Take heart. Get up, He is calling you». He immediately threw aside his cloak, jumped up and went to Jesus. Then Jesus asked him, «What do you want me to do for you?». The blind man said, «Master, let me see again!». And Jesus said to him, «Go your way, your faith has made you well». And immediately he could see, and he followed Jesus along the road.

Today, Christ comes out to meet us. We are all just like Bartimaeus: the blind beggar, by whose side Jesus passed by, and who started to call him out until the Lord stopped and called him. We may have a more advantaged name... but our human weaknesses (moral) resemble the beggar's blindness. We cannot see either that Christ lives amongst our brothers and, thus, we treat them as we do. Perhaps, we fail to see in the social injustices, in the structures of sin, what through our eyes, is a scathing call for social commitment. Perhaps we do not fully grasp that «there is more joy in giving than in receiving», that «Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends» (Jn 15:13). What is "bright and clear" looks obscure to us: that the mirrors of the world lead to frustration, and that the paradoxes of the Gospel, after their hardships, bear fruits, fulfillment and life. We truly are visually weak, and this is not an euphemism, but a true fact: our will, weakened by the sin, dims the truth in our intelligence making us pick out what is not suitable for us.

Solution: start calling out, like the beggar, that is, humbly pray «Jesus, have mercy on me!» (Mk 10:48). And shout all the louder the more they scold you, the more they discourage you, the more you get dispirited: «Many people scolded him and told him to keep quiet, but he shouted all the louder...» (Mk 10:48). To call is also to beg: «Master, let me see again!» (Mk 10:51).

Solution: to grow in our faith and beyond our certitude, trust in who loved us, created us and came to redeem us and remain amongst us in the Eucharist.

Pope John Paul II said the very same with the example of his life: his long hours of meditation —so many that his Secretary complained that he prayed “too much”— This tells us clearly that «he who prays changes History».

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

To Be or Not To Be... Served

It is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the doing. It is not how much we give, but how much love we put in the giving. (Mother Teresa)

Gospel text (Mk 10:32-45): The disciples were on the road going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead. The Twelve were anxious and those who followed were afraid. Once more Jesus took the Twelve aside to tell them what was to happen to him, «You see we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be given over to the chief priests and the teachers of the Law. They will condemn him to death and hand him over to the foreigners who will make fun of him, spit on him, scourge him and finally kill him; but three days later He will rise».

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus and said to him, «Master, we want you to grant us what we are going to ask of you». And He said, «What do you want me to do for you?». They answered, «Grant us to sit one at your right and one at your left when you come in your glory». But Jesus said to them, «You don't know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized in the way I am baptized?». They answered, «We can». And Jesus told them, «The cup that I drink you will drink, and you will be baptized in the way I am baptized. But to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to grant. It has been prepared for others».

On hearing this, the other ten were angry with James and John; Jesus then called them to him and said, «As you know, the so-called rulers of the nations act as tyrants and their great ones oppress them. But it shall not be so among you; whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you shall make himself slave of all. Think of the Son of Man, who has not come to be served but to serve and to give his life to redeem many».

Most of the time when we think of service in our culture, we are really thinking of SERVE US! We are surrounded by people who serve us almost invisibly. Waiters and Waitresses, Postal workers, Garbage collectors, the server at Starbucks. Let’s face it, we are usually the person being served. Think about it for a minute. Today you will be served by any number of people in our community. How many will YOU serve?

What did God create you to be? When I was a kid, I used to watch mission impossible all the time. It was one of my very favorite shows. I used to love all the gadgets, but I also used to love the very first part of the show, because that was when Mr. Phelps would get his assignment on a small tape that would self destruct after the assignment was described. The tape always started the same way. “Mr. Phelps, your mission, should you choose to accept it….” And then the assignment was described. I love that part because it seemed to imply that there was a choice here. The assignment was in some way optional.

In many ways, our Christian life is very similar. God is holding out our assignment and he has clearly defined it in scripture. Yet the choice is ours. Do we join the adventure or simply watch from the sidelines? And what exactly is the mission? What are we called to do? What is our assignment? We’ve got to realize that we were created for service! We were given inherent tools to be used to serve the Lord and each other. This my friends is the very reason why we were created. This is where you will find joy and peace.

The Beatitudes speak the same way. Therein lies the pattern. The greatest of the saints are the humble. It is often the quiet ones, the prayerful ones who do the most for the kingdom. It is the gentle and lowly who are the greatest. Why? Is it some great act that they perform? No. It is because they trust in the Lord and take their problems and the problems of the church to the humblest and greatest, Jesus Christ.