Universalis, About this blog

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Holy Family

Today is the feast of the Holy Family, and yes, that's what I want my family to be: holy. Not sanctimonious, not stuffy and ceremonial: just plain old holy. No, not perfect -- none of that this side of heaven. No, not impeccable -- we do wrong aplenty here, and will continue to do so. It is a surprising comfort that the Father both knows this to be our lot on earth and provides his grace, especially in the sacraments, to deal with those lapses.

So what makes a family holy if it isn't perfect after all? I think that, at least for the families still on earth, we just have to live consecrated lives, set apart for God our Father. It's a matter of will and action. When we fall, which we will from time to time, we get back up, acknowledge our sins (big and small), reconcile with the Father with the sacrament, and push on again. There will be times when we don't understand what's going on, when we don't understand other members of our family, when we don't feel like it, but we push on. And his grace will always be enough!

May the Holy Family - Jesus, Mary and Joseph - be our inspiration, and may they smile upon our holy families today.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Open the door for Christmas

A thought occurred to me while reading this part of Pope Benedict's Christmas message:
“If we believe”. Here we see the power of faith! God has done everything; he has done the impossible: he was made flesh. His all-powerful love has accomplished something which surpasses all human understanding: the Infinite has become a child, has entered the human family. And yet, this same God cannot enter my heart unless I open the door to him. Porta fidei! The door of faith! We could be frightened by this, our inverse omnipotence. This human ability to be closed to God can make us fearful. But see the reality which chases away this gloomy thought, the hope that conquers fear: truth has sprung up! God is born! “The earth has yielded its fruits” (Ps 67:7). Yes, there is a good earth, a healthy earth, an earth freed of all selfishness and all lack of openness. In this world there is a good soil which God has prepared, that he might come to dwell among us. A dwelling place for his presence in the world. This good earth exists, and today too, in 2012, from this earth truth has sprung up! Consequently, there is hope in the world, a hope in which we can trust, even at the most difficult times and in the most difficult situations. Truth has sprung up, bringing kindness, justice and peace.

What do we risk in turning our backs on faith? We need not imagine: look at how Christianity has influenced civilizations across the centuries. Yes, there is both good and bad, but ascribing the bad to the good, which does not make sense, will justify throwing out everything. In chopping at the root of the largely good tree that is Christian society, one will destroy the whole tree. Gardeners know enough to prune and treat spots of rot and disease, rather than chop off the root altogether. And here is the root of what we largely enjoy today: Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas, who is present in the world through his Church, and whose reign persists in every Christian who practices justice in his name -- through the door of faith.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord!

Byzantine/Romanian Icon of the Nativity
From the psalm in last night's vigil:
Happy the people who acclaim such a king,
who walk, O Lord, in the light of your face,
who find their joy every day in your name,
who make your justice the source of their bliss...
‘He will say to me: “You are my father,
my God, the rock who saves me.”
I will keep my love for him always;
with him my covenant shall endure.’

And from today's psalm:
Let the heavens rejoice and earth be glad,
let the sea and all within it thunder praise,
let the land and all it bears rejoice,
all the trees of the wood shout for joy
at the presence of the Lord for he comes,
he comes to rule the earth...
With justice he will rule the world,
he will judge the peoples with his truth.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

At times of uncertainty

.. one is left wondering about tomorrow, and that is perfectly understandable. One is likely wondering about yesterday as well, at the route that led to this predicament. One might then start making plans -- a reasonable course of action. What one cannot do is to be cynical, which makes one irrational. There is tendency to withdraw, to recoil after a major setback, and that is only to be expected except in the most mature of people. But to be cynical goes too far, defending one's pride by deciding that what is still there no longer exists. Doing so reduces the sting and the humiliation, but it also reduces visibility.

In today's reading, Zechariah gets in trouble for being rather cynical. He probably didn't think he was being cynical, but his response to the angel's message about his wife's miraculous pregnancy was 'How can I be sure of this?' It's like asking for a guarantee, a written document perhaps. But cynicism is poison to faith, I guess. Upright as he was, his faith had taken a beating over the years, perhaps. His wife, Elizabeth, fares better. In reaction to her definite pregnancy in spite of her advanced years and barren state, she keeps to herself and comes to the faithful conclusion that this was a miracle from God. She had faith and optimism enough to make such an open conclusion.

Yesterday I found myself in what should not have been an unexpected predicament. Plan A to move to a more stable employment did not work out. I thought my prospects were reasonably good, but I was wrong. Plan B for another stable employment was also taken off the table. Plan C to retain my current unstable employment was compromised: an extra job on top of my primary one is no longer available. It's a financial setback, which is significant in this family of six.

Yesterday I was withdrawn. I recoiled in mild horror. But I refuse to be cynical. I have a year's employment ahead -- in theory (it may yet be taken away in six months, I think). But even six months is a considerable amount of time. I need to move on and plan ahead. Too much is at stake. Were I to be cynical, I might turn a blind eye to opportunities that exist. It is at this point that I cannot afford an impaired vision. Time to make plans and to keep my eyes open. It's time to show that I meant it when I last prayed "Thy will be done" concerning my employment situation.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The problem with evil ..

.. is that it doesn't vanish with the flick of a switch, just as it doesn't suddenly appear that way. It does not reside in one thing, or one place, that can be barricaded or banished from this world. It becomes real with our actions, but is conceived in our hearts. There is no banishing it any other way. Gun control legislation is no magic pill, because criminals won't care enough to obey them. And regardless of the weapon -- gun, knife, scissors, box cutter or an airplane -- evil that flares into violence will still take innocent lives.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Be Thankful

This morning I was growling and muttering angrily (like a lunatic) when I could not find a small item that I had dropped just as I was rushing out to catch a train. I was swearing, I banged the floor (a la Hulk), shoved several toys and pieces of furniture out of the way, to no avail. Yep, I have anger issues from time to time. I am glad I don't have the ability to use "the Force!"

As I finally sat down in the train, late and all, I acknowledged once again that I do have frustrations simmering in me, waiting for any occasion to vent. I should probably take it out on basketball or tennis instead! Given that finding time for that isn't easy, I did what I could, given where I was: I prayed. What dawned on me then, apart from the foolish and futile meltdown earlier, was, first of all, I should vent on God. He's a pretty good listener -- consider the Psalmist's vents across more than 100 Psalms, and he had some pretty awful problems!

So I started venting to God about everything I was unhappy with. It wasn't such a long list, now that I think about it, then it came to me: be thankful. Why? Because when everything is tallied up, I am blessed much more than I am wretched. Of course this is not the most novel of ideas: St. Paul probably repeats it several times in his letters. Be thankful. It puts things in perspective! And byond being thankful for one's blessings, Christians are called to be thankful as well for one's cross. How odd that seems, but again, perspective: it's part of something that goes beyond the moment, even if the problem, pain, misery, and frustration is only there as a symptom that will expose the nature of the underlying problem -- and how to solve it.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

How important is Christian unity?

Peretty darn important. If you aren't sure, prayerfully read John 17 and weep for the mess that the world has become and persists in because we give scandal instead of a sign. Weep likewise for families that have devolved into an association of individuals merely sharing a name or an address. Yesterday was the feast of St. Josaphat, martyr. He gave his life for his family and for unity, as our Saviour did for us and ours. What is our family worth to us?

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Throwing off the cloak -- taking on a new life

In last week's gospel reading, the blind man, Bartimaeus, dared enough to call out to Jesus who was passing by, even while being shushed by everyone Jesus calls him over, so he throws off his cloak and asks for healing from the depths of his heart. He is healed, then proceeded to follow Jesus in his way. Our new deacon made much of the analogy between throwing off the cloak and walking away from your old life. But there's more: ahead lies a radically new life in Christ, and one is not done without walking that road: forward! It is a grace to find that it is not some uncertain trek, where mystery casts dark shadows too dark to see. Much of it is revealed in light, plan in the day, as is much of his word. Who'd have known it, when the Spirit prompts, by Scripture's words, "pray constantly," it wasn't rocket science? For me, as for many over the centuries, it meant the Liturgy of he Hours. And suddenly, wonderfully, everything changes!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

What does St. Paul think of the Church?

Quite a bit, it seems. He had previously talked about how salvation is by grace alone though faith, then in his letter to the Ephesians in Chapter 3, he reminds his reader of the grace that was entrusted to him -- a grace meant for the Ephesians. Why does God need to go through a man (and Paul considers himself the least of the saints)? Furthermore, he goes on about the mystery of salvation in Christ was kept hidden until it could be revealed though the Church. Again, why through the Church?
   My take on this is that we often take for granted what "church" is about, but we must see, from the rather Catholic perspective of St. Paul, in that chapter and elsewhere,that there is more mystery in the Church than seems obvious to any who scoff at the idea of "one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church" and prefer the term "assembly" or "congregation." God chose to reveal the mysteries of his grace through the Church on so many levels, and to dismiss the notion is to miss out on profound revelations that, apparently, are front and center.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Losing oneself

The thing about knowing Jesus is that, apparently, when you think you know him, it turns out that you don't. Here I thought I knew what the plain scripture says about having to lose one's life for him and the gospel, then it turns out he means more. Much more. It isn't about dying for him, but for most of us, it is rather by living for him. It isn't necessarily about giving up your life in death, but in dying to yourself by turning you life over to him. In my case, by giving it over to my wife and my kids. I am terrified!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Enter into Eternal Life

The rich young man asks Jesus (Mt 19) "what must I do to have eternal life?" Some translations use "to receive"instead. And while that notion of obtaining salvation for oneself is truly flawed, there is another mistake here: that eternal life begins *after* this life. Not so. As in everything, Jesus fulfills and surpasses all expectaions. Eternal life begins here and now, and we should live it here and now. One enters eternal life through baptism. Every day and hour hence is an opportunity to live out that life. Eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus in the Eucharist is receiving more of his life in this sacrament. This, the Church proclaims, is the source and summit of our Christian life, because Jesus, Word Incarnate, is the Eucharist.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

How do we define ouselves?

Earler I spied a registration plate that gave me pause. It began with "SXY" and then some numbers. Hence the title of this post. The question popped into my head, "why not instead define oneself with something that lasts?" For sexiness is a passing thing, as are most of our physical traits. Even certain abilities are passing: our wit, our boundless energy, our incredible memory and attention to detail. What does not pass is our love. Then I got to thinking: this is perhaps key to understanding so many things. Are all men and women created equal? Only if we measure our worth by our ability to love. You don't need a PhD to love, nor money, nor savvy, nor a glib tongue. You don't even need to be a grownup. You don't even need to be terribly emotional nor sentimental. Thankfully, love is, for the rational adult, a rational act from our free will. For the blessed children, it is simply an impulse awaiting full blossom, but even so, they can love. And if love defines us, then, properly understood, we are loveable beyond our looks, our properties, our skills and the gilded trappings that most of us cannot afford anyway.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Mercy, not sacrifice

When the Pharisees questioned the attention that Jesus actually spent with sinners (Matt 9:9-13) and tax collectors, Jesus replied that he was there as a doctor to the sick. Then he quotes Hosea 6:6, What I desire is mercy, not sacrifice. I did not understand this for years, until I actually took a look at it in context. The NRSV translates it as steadfast love rather than mercy, but the full verse opened my eyes: For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings.

The contrast is instructive. Matthew was called to follow, and he did. And so did many avowed sinners who heard the call down through the ages. The Pharisees, known for their focus on ritual purity, were clearly puzzled, and this explains why they had hung about for the most part. Their relationship with God was too much defined by their rituals, ultimately expressed in the Temple sacrifice. Turning this on its head, Christ calls us to follow him, and he'll take care of the rest. He provides the sacrifice. He reveals himself, and the knowledge of God; we don't go about discovering him. He shares this knowledge intimately beyond head knowledge through the Holy Spirit and the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist, where we know him most intimately and in a "super-substantial" way as we receive him, body and blood, soul and divinity.

To simply be perfectly honest, I am still in need of the divine doctor who alone brings healing of my soul. "O happy fault" that this should mean that he attends to me most lovingly!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Sisters of Mercy speak the language of faith

One of the most amazing aspects of faith in God is the proper perspective that power is ascribed to God alone. Therefore, the language of faith emphasizes thanksgiving and trust in God, while we, his children, speak of charity and service pertaining to one another. With God, power is not grasped: it is granted to us as grace. As the Sisters of Mercy point out about the LCWR scandal, problems arise when the language indicates a political struggle instead. As this scandal unfolds, it is becoming a circus of politics by mainstream media, not at all a dialogue.

What now, SSPX?

Vatican confirms offer to SSPX for a personal prelature. On the plus side, unity is always a good inspiration. It is a characteristic of the Holy Spirit to bring peace, and it is as the Lord prayed fervently. On the minus side, this would be an inopportune time to be tempted to gloat -- may God's grace bring about nothing but his gifts of charity and hope!

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Which is the first of all commandments?

What immediately struck me from this question, put to Jesus by one of the scribes in today's reading (Mk 12:28-34) is that the question itself of primary importance. Assuming that God exists as the Church teaches, then it is imperative to ask what his greatest or primary command is. Then it occurred to me as well that this question may well be taken to the wrong extreme of seeking what is fundamental in order to escape the rest. But even so, Jesus does not leave much room to wriggle out of the rest: "Listen, Israel, the Lord, our God, is the one Lord, and you must love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself." The analogy of faith tells us that no component of it stands isolated from the rest of the faith, so we are compelled to recall the admonition from Jesus to observe all that he commanded the Apostles, and so we must keep the fullness of the Apostolic faith. But a postmodern believer might quickly complain that to speak of commandments is old-fashioned and too forbidding to consider. Here also, the analogy of faith comes to our aid, for Jesus equated this obedience to his commandments with love for him. We may well wince at the notion of receiving commands, but here we have someone who is more than worthy to give them: no earthly ruler who is, at his core, no better than we. This Lord is fully God, and has the right to issue commands, not because of his terrible power -- which is indeed terrible and to be feared -- but because of his awesome love, because he is love. Therefore, to circle back to that question, the first of all commandments is to love -- to love him who loved us first.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

This short reading from today's Gospel, from Jn 6:16-21, baffled me at first:
In the evening the disciples went down to the shore of the lake and got into a boat to make for Capernaum on the other side of the lake. It was getting dark by now and Jesus had still not rejoined them. The wind was strong, and the sea was getting rough. They had rowed three or four miles when they saw Jesus walking on the lake and coming towards the boat. This frightened them, but he said, ‘It is I. Do not be afraid.’ They were for taking him into the boat, but in no time it reached the shore at the place they were making for.
But I learned something from meditating upon it for a while. Like the disciples then, I get anxious about where I think I should be and when. Perhaps with some amusement, Christ demonstrates that he is never late for appointments!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

He does not call from afar

Two of the disciples of Jesus were on their way to a village called Emmaus, .. Jesus himself came up and walked by their side; but something prevented them from recognising him. He said to them, ‘What matters are you discussing as you walk along?’ .. Then one of them, called Cleopas, answered him, .. Then he said to them, ‘You foolish men! So slow to believe the full message of the prophets! .. ’ Then, starting with Moses and going through all the prophets, he explained to them ..

Now while he was with them at table, he took the bread and said the blessing; then he broke it and handed it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognised him; but he had vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?

They set out that instant and returned to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven assembled together with their companions, who said to them, ‘Yes, it is true. The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.’ Then they told their story of what had happened on the road and how they had recognised him at the breaking of bread.
Luke 24:13-35
He walks alongside us, prodding us to speak to him in prayer, to listen to him there, and in a particular way in the Bible. He goes further: he, the Word made flesh, feeds us in his very substance in the Eucharist, the sacrament where all of the Easter Triduum, from the upper room to the Cross, to the empty tomb -- is so pithily made present to us in Holy Communion.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Called to Life

Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, for his love has no end.

Can we speak of "ends" for God? Only if we misunderstand who he is. As Fr. Robert Barron explains in episode 3 of the Catholicism series (preview here via the Seeing and Believing blog), God is not a being, as if he could be counted, he is not the highest as if he could be compared or measured. He relates St. Anselm teaching that God is whom "a greater cannot be thought." Therefore, the notion of ends do not apply! The Resurrection highlights this so profoundly to beings such as ourselves who typically view death with anxiety: life overcomes death! The Psalmist (Ps 117) sings "I shall not die" -- how could someone from that primitive age have thought this? -- and "I shall live and recount his deeds!" What an attitude to take, rejoicing so much in life in thanksgiving!

I should most certainly make that my attitude! What room is there for anxiety or gloom, if even death is swallowed up?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Called to be gifted

In the readings today, Isaiah tells King Ahaz what should be joyous tidings: that the Lord bids him to ask for a sign. Why does the king refuse? His words, 'I will not put the Lord to the test,' are humble enough on the face of it, but Isaiah instead conveys vexation? How should the king have responded? I guess he should have responded graciously. God is a magnanimous giver of gifts. Whether by insincerity, or by false humility, or even by pride, the king's refusal seems not to be the right answer.

In the Gospel reading from Luke, the angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she is to be the blessed mother of the Son of God, the Word of God, Christ and king. To these tidings, our Lady responds with perplexity and some anxiety, and the angel is not offended. This was, after all, a girl of fourteen years or so, and so her response was understandable, and really quite sincere. And her ultimate response caps it off: 'I am the handmaid of the Lord, let what you have said be done to me,' or, as the more romantic translations say, 'let it be done to me according to thy word.' I like this version because that word is the Word of God, himself.

This, I think, is how we should respond when faced with God's gifts. We are called to be gifted (not just called and gifted), for the Lord delights in his creation, and his love is everlasting. To his graciousness, and it is really proper and courteous -- we should say "Thank you!" and accept the gift.

Monday, February 27, 2012


In the first Sunday of Lent, Mark describes (Mk 1:12-15) some of the first activities of Jesus in very concise terms, but they brim with significance. After his baptism, Jesus went ..
  out into the wilderness and he remained there for forty days, and was tempted by Satan. He was with the wild beasts, and the angels looked after him.
  After John had been arrested, Jesus went into Galilee. There he proclaimed the Good News from God. ‘The time has come’ he said ‘and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the Good News.’
Jesus had Good News to share, and when the work of John was curtailed by Herod putting him in prison, Jesus took up the task of witnessing. It follows baptism, which according to Peter (1 Pt 3:18-22) saves you now.. a pledge made to God from a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our baptized existence, one that is reborn through the death and resurrection of Jesus, is itself a witness to the Good News. But this witness needs a voice, it needs hands and feet, so that the audience may hear, see and experience it. I have a voice, I have hands and feet. Am I witnessing to others? If I am not, what am I waiting for?

Sunday, February 26, 2012


One of the things that seem etched into Man's heart is a sense of calling, something that pulls beyond what is immediately obvious, that there should be something more to life than whatever there seems to be. I grew up on stories with heroes in them, from the fictional to the historical, from the Old Testament heroes like Samson and David, to brief stories of the saints like Christopher and Francis of Assisi. And the mythical Norse heroes to the Greek, Arthur and his knights, Charlemagne, Roland and the paladins. Lapu-lapu, Rizal, Bonifacio and the heroes of more than a century ago. They all had callings of significance, and I could feel it in my bones that I had mine. Probably not the same that they had, probably not as big, but just as exciting and full of adventure and surprises.

Jesus calls Levi, painting by Hendrick Terbrugghen 17th century It is probably just as well that I encountered St Josemaria Escriva at some point, and I learned the most amazing thing that makes incredible sense: the call to do ordinary things extraordinarily well -- supernaturally well, in fact. This Lent calls me to an opportunity to be returned to myself (not for me to return to myself, as I'd misstated below). To what do I return? For one, that I am called, to sanctify what is ordinary, by turning it into prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to therefore infuse the mundane activities of everyday with supernatural grace. Father and husband. Teacher, thinker, tinker. In today's readings, Isaiah proclaims God's call to holy ordinariness in acting with justice and compassion, reverence and faith (Is 58:9-14), and Jesus calls sinners to repentance, but also, as with Levi, to be his disciple (Lk 5:27-32). And this Levi is renamed Matthew, and goes from tax collector to apostle, doing ordinary things, really. Yet how many authors have had their book copied, reprinted, cited, read aloud, translated into dozens of languages, over a period of about 2000 years? Quite a boast, and it started one ordinary day at the customs house, with one extraordinary call!

Friday, February 24, 2012


No one bats an eyelash when one hears of radical diets that shun the intake of, for example, protein, sweets, carbs, etc. We're fairly happy to admit that we don't really need those types of (usually delightful) food too much -- that there is something more important than enjoying them. But bring up the word fasting, apart from a medical context, and one instinctive reaction is, Huh? Fr. Bill today talked about a balance between feasting and fasting (catchy way of putting it). One is appreciated more if it is balanced with the other. Each is done right, done better, in the proper perspective.

Apart from keeping a balance between the two, Isaiah conveys this reminder from God: be consistent. Why do we fast? It is not to win admiration, nor to get paid for my fast. To be heard by God, a fast as prayer. Why should it ever be necessary? Well, it probably isn't, but it is consistent with a sincere and heartfelt prayer. It is a penitential prayer that is incarnated -- made flesh with the physical act of fasting. This is consistent because we are incarnate beings. To please God. Why is that important? Because apart from being Creator, he is our Father. He was delighted in our creation and is delighted when we imitate him. With sincere fasting, a heartfelt and incarnate prayer, we imitate his love when we offer him our love. He doesn't need it, but it is what we were made for, to love. As Isaiah continues to relate to us, to fast consistently, with love, means these (Is 58:1-9):

to break unjust fetters
  undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
  and break every yoke,
to share your bread with the hungry,
  and shelter the homeless poor,
to clothe the man you see to be naked
  and not turn from your own kin?
Then will your light shine like the dawn
  and your wound be quickly healed over.
Your integrity will go before you
  and the glory of the Lord behind you.
Cry, and the Lord will answer;
  call, and he will say, ‘I am here.’

Lent: a Journey to Discovery

Two days ago, on Ash Wednesday, I began a journey. There's a Lenten calendar that I think the archdiocese put out, and it urges: Return to yourself. Words are almost invariably set within a context, so those words are certainly loaded, but they are also true. We set aside the trappings and the peripherals and go to the bare desert. As some put it, we revisit the innocence of our baptism. And I start with the ashes: reminding me that I came from dust, and to dust I shall return one day.

Is that it?

In the depths of my heart, I already know the answer: no, that is not all there is. While true, there is more to me than dust, and I did not emerge from dust on my own, nor by accident.

Then earlier today, Thursday, yet another truth is revealed: I set before you life or death, blessing or curse (Dt 30:15-20) -- choices. Life is about choices. But if I am but dust, then what is the point of making choices? Aha! I know instinctively that choices do matter, usually the difficult ones: they usually reflect a significant goal. ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me' (Lk 9:22-25).

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

What's up and down in Christendom today?

NewAdvent: George Weigel: Divide and Conquer
LifeSiteNews: White House claim that 98% of Catholic women use contraception a ‘damned lie’: Lutheran author
LifeNews: Every Catholic Bishop Opposes Obama Mandate, Lutherans Too
Pope Benedict XVI: Unity In The Church Is A Divine Gift Which Must Be Defended

And everything above has something to do with the longed for unity of all Christians under the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Unity is strength, and divisions bring grief and scandal. The message -- the Gospel -- is being obscured, obfuscated and trampled upon.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Why does this generation ask for a sign?

The Pharisees .. demanded of him a sign from heaven, to test him. And with a sigh that came straight from the heart he said 'Why does this generation demand a sign? I tell you solemnly, no sign shall be given ..' And leaving them again .. he went away to the opposite shore. (Mark 8:11-13)

You can imagine how it could have happened. The arrogant demand for a sign, the eyes betraying the thought: "Nah, don't bother. I know your game. You're a fake: you can't do it." You can also imagine the frustration as Jesus fetched such a deep sigh, jumps on a boat, fleeing for the opposite shore.

How do we pray? St. James tells us in his letter:

If there is any one of you who needs wisdom, he must ask God, who gives to all freely and ungrudgingly.. But he must ask with faith, and no trace of doubt.. (James 1:1-11)

So there we have it, in the example of asking God for wisdom: ask, don't demand (and don't test), but with confidence. Why with confidence? Well, God loves you.. doesn't he? By faith, we know: yes he does. So every doubt is is not just lack in confidence: it is a lack in trust.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Who are my heroes?

It came as a bit of a shock (and quandary) when I belatedly noticed that my fictional heroes were not quite the shining heroes I thought they were. I was reading the series, The Belgariad, to my eldest (twelve) when we both realized that certain tenets of the heroes did not sit well with us. One hero is a thief, for example, while another has no trouble lauding how well the main hero, a young boy, could lie. I think it was the same hero who states at some point that a little sin was fine.
  But I continue to read the series to Justin, because I realized that such blatantly false, or imprudent ideas are best handled by clarifying them, rather than pretending that they were never uttered.
  It also elicited some reflection on my own experience, that they did not quite corrupt me to the core in spite of the unfortunate exposure -- in spite of my own inadequacies, of course. There were other exposures in my past that could have led me down diverse disasters of varying gravity. I would be a fool to think that I had steered clear of them by my own lights. :-)

Saturday, January 28, 2012

In season, out of season: work for unity

I shamelessly borrow those words of urgency to the need for Christian unity, as Pope Benedict enjoins us to take every opportunity towards it. No Christian can sit this out; the world desperately needs the powerful witness of one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. It won't be easy, but it can't be set aside either.

Friday, January 20, 2012

That they may be one

Perhaps one of the most neglected scandals today is that which comes from the disunity of Christians:
 “How can we give a convincing witness if we are divided?”. It was in the perspective of the New Evangelization on Wednesday morning, 18 January, that the Pope introduced the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity – from Wednesday, 18 January until Wednesday, 25 January – during which prayers will be said in all the Churches for the attainment of the gift of full communion. (L’Osservatore Romano)
Please, in case you have never given it thought, pray about it. It was our Lord who said: ‘that they may be one’ (John 17 -- please read the whole chapter).

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Infertile people can't marry says Catholic Church -- false article

On the basis of the cited video from GMA news, this article is way off the mark (to put it mildly). There is nothing in the video about infertile couples, nor about mortal sin, nor about telling other religions what they can or cannot do. That report was about the recent statements of Archbishop Cruz concerning same sex marriage, and the address by Pope Benedict XVI to the diplomatic corps on Monday.
Video link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=JXs7Fk8RgME

Thursday, January 05, 2012

By Love, heaven is laid open

Today's readings celebrate the marvelous love of God through Jesus Christ. In his encounter with Nathanael (Jn 1:43-51), Jesus declares,
 ‘You will see greater things than that. .. I tell you most solemnly, you will see heaven laid open and, above the Son of Man, the angels of God ascending and descending.’
Jacob's dream of a ladder to heaven with angels ascending and descending. Source: Wikipedia.The last ties in with Jacob's dream of a ladder stretching between heaven and earth, with angels ascending and descending, in which God declares:
 ‘Through you and your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed. See, I am with you and I will keep you safe wherever you go.’
God-with-us is Jesus himself. Giving up his life for us -- the Incarnation, passion and death and resurrection -- laid heaven open. In a word, love laid heaven open to us. By that love, we are connected to the Father through the Son, depicted by the angels ascending and descending. (I might add that this is likewise depicted by the communion of saints, with our victorious brothers and sisters in heaven working the same way the angels did, through the Son by whom we are all in communion, which death cannot destroy.)
  In the first reading (1 Jn 3:11-21), we are taught that the message we heard from the beginning is that we are to love one another. This love is life itself, for [i]f you refuse to love, you must remain dead. And we have a model to follow, for [t]his has taught us to love, that he gave up his life for us. God loved us first and laid heaven open for us. We who are in Christ should now love others in the same way, giving up our lives in ordinary but real and active ways, giving of our time and energy for others. We who are in Christ can thus make a way between our Father in heaven and those whom we love, through our love, which is God's love living in us, lived out in acts of charity.
  My son Patrick wanted to know more about miracles and I do pray that he will one day see these miracles. But more than the uncorrupted saints of a century or more, the unexplainable cures and the Eucharistic miracles, I hope that he and my other children will experience and ever rejoice in greater things .. heaven laid open at every conversion that turns a sinner into a saint.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Extraordinary in the Ordinary

Today's Gospel reading (Jn 1:35-42) shows how the ordinary can become an encounter with Jesus.
As John stood with two of his disciples, Jesus passed, and John stared hard at him and said, ‘Look, there is the lamb of God.’ Hearing this, the two disciples followed Jesus. Jesus turned round, saw them following and said, ‘What do you want?’ They answered, ‘Rabbi,’ – which means Teacher –’where do you live?’ ‘Come and see’ he replied; so they went and saw where he lived, and stayed with him the rest of that day.
  One of these two who became followers of Jesus after hearing what John had said was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. Early next morning, Andrew met his brother and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ – which means the Christ – and he took Simon to Jesus. Jesus looked hard at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John; you are to be called Cephas’ – meaning Rock.
Saints Andrew and John and the Lamb of God, Abtei Maria Laach,  by Wilhelm Rupprecht (1956). John marks this passage with a clue: John stared hard at Jesus in the first verse, then Jesus "looked hard" at Simon in the last, with the same Greek ἐμβλέψας on both. In this passage, John introduces his disciple Andrew on to Jesus, and Andrew in turn introduces his brother Simon to Jesus. Simon not only becomes a disciple of Jesus, but is given another name, Rock.
  May I also turn the most ordinary scenes of my daily life, at home or at work, into something extraordinary and sanctified!
  One of the first lessons I learned from Opus Dei, when I attended their study center back in college, was how our ordinary activities can be sanctified as we do them extraordinarily well, prayerfully -- I'm paraphrasing the various ways I'd heard or read about this idea. This, of course, comes from St. Josemaria Escriva, who was influenced, I'd read, by the writings of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Also, just by googling, I found out that Prof. Scott Hahn, one of my favorite Christian writers, has written a book on his road to Opus Dei: Ordinary Work, Extraordinary Grace: My Spiritual Journey in Opus Dei. Those are three witnesses whose writings I can recommend, although I have not yet read any book by St. Thérèse, only a reflection on her witness by Pope Benedict XVI.
Photo source: http://05varvara.wordpress.com.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

May the Lord uncover his face to you

Awhile back I heard or read about le`hem ha panim, I think from Catholic Answers live (podcast) -- the bread of the presence, or the bread of the face. This article is good reading on this subject, which comes up in today's readings in the feast of Mary, Mother of God. In the first reading, the priestly blessing is formulated that Aaron and his sons are to use:

May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord let his face shine on you and be gracious to you.
May the Lord uncover his face to you and bring you peace.

Mary is the new ark of the covenant, a singular vessel of the real presence of God through his Son, whom we also know as the bread of life, the prince of peace. In the Incarnation of the Word made flesh through Mary, the Lord uncovered his face in Jesus who is the image of God. Truly, the Lord was gracious upon us for sending his Son. This reminds me of the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in Eucharistic adoration. The monstrance is covered with cloth but uncovered at the exposition.
   We also get the model of prayer in Mary from today's Gospel reading: As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart. It would be so like me, a man, to jump up astonished and say "Eureka! I've got it!" at some realization. True and significant as that realization might be, I think that Mary's example of contemplation is a superior approach. We men can get too excitable, but I think that contemplative prayer, unassuming and constant, daily, will go much deeper.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us!