Monday, June 25, 2012

How Music Led Me To God

By Jennifer Fulwiler

A while back I mentioned to an atheist acquaintance that I'd cried at Mass that morning. I explained that it was one of those times when I felt overwhelmed with the presence of God; I was so perfectly at peace, so surrounded by love, that I couldn't help but be moved to tears.

"Maybe it was the music," he responded. He went on to offer an erudite analysis of how music is known to produce certain positive sensations in the brain, noting that religious leaders from time immemorial have used the evolved human response to the stimulus of music to delude the faithful into believing that they've experience the divine.

I had to smile at his suggestion, because I actually agreed with part of his argument.

I never had a "religious experience" before my conversion from atheism to Christianity, and couldn't even imagine what that might be like. Would harp-playing angels appear in front of you? Would you hear a booming voice fill the room? I had no idea.

There had been a handful of moments in my life, however, when I experienced something that was unlike anything else I'd ever felt. On a few rare occasions I felt overcome with an odd sensation, an ecstatic elation on top of inner stillness that was so powerful that it made me feel as if I'd slipped into some other dimension. It was a moment of feeling compelled to relax, to let go, to just trust (trust in what or whom I didn't know, but that was definitely an overriding feeling when I had those experiences). Those moments were...well, if I hadn't been so certain that nothing existed beyond the material world, I might have said "spiritual." And they always occurred when I was listening to music.

It seemed illogical, really, that a mere arrangement of certain sounds in a certain order could transport me, for however brief a moment, into such a sublime state. I was aware of all the natural explanations for music's impact on the human brain; yet when I'd read about how the cochlea transmits information along the auditory nerve as neural discharges into the auditory cortex in the temporal lobe, I'd think, "Uhh, yeah, that's true…but I feel like there's something more going on as well."

One of the many things that rang true when I began studying Catholic theology was the emphasis on art -- music, in particular -- as a reflection of God. I came to see art as a sort of "secret handshake" of beings with souls: We share 96% of our DNA with chimps, but chimps don't write symphonies. Dogs don't rap. Dolphins can be trained to reproduce musical rhythms, but they don't sing songs. Only the creature made in the image and likeness of God can speak the secret language of music.

In other words, I realized that all those experiences I'd had while listening to music were so tremendous because they were experiences of my soul having a brush with its Creator. Or, in Pope Benedict's words:

The encounter with the beautiful can become the wound of the arrow that strikes the heart and in this way opens our eyes, so that later, from this experience, we take the criteria for judgment and can correctly evaluate the arguments. For me an unforgettable experience was the Bach concert that Leonard Bernstein conducted in Munich after the sudden death of Karl Richter. I was sitting next to the Lutheran Bishop Hanselmann. When the last note of one of the great Thomas-Kantor-Cantatas triumphantly faded away, we looked at each other spontaneously and right then we said:

"Anyone who has heard this, knows that the faith is true."

The music had such an extraordinary force of reality that we realized, no longer by deduction, but by the impact on our hearts, that it could not have originated from nothingness, but could only have come to be through the power of the Truth that became real in the composer's inspiration.

Christianity doesn't deny that beautiful music can move us to feel something; in fact, it acknowledges it, and then takes it a step farther by articulating exactly what it is we're feeling. And that's why I smiled when I heard my atheist friend's comment. It is actually because I am a Christian that I take that moment at Mass when I became filled with so much love and hope that I felt like I could explode with joy, and I say: Yes, maybe it was the music.

Source: National Catholic Register

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Why Latin American Catholics Join Evangelical Churches

Pope examines why Latin American Catholics join evangelical churches

Catholic News Agency reported on Jun 22, 2012:

Pope Benedict believes that Catholics who convert to evangelical Christianity often do so because they experience a lack of fervor, joy and community within Catholic parishes – rather than for doctrinal reasons.

“Often sincere people who leave our Church do not do so as a result of what non-Catholic groups believe, but fundamentally as a result of their own lived experience; for reasons not of doctrine but of life; not for strictly dogmatic, but for pastoral reasons; not due to theological problems, but to methodological problems of our Church,”he told a delegation of Colombian bishops at the Vatican June 21.

The Pope’s comments were specifically focused on Latin America, where“the increasingly active presence of Pentecostal and Evangelical communities … cannot be ignored or underestimated.”

Despite statistics indicating that more than 90 percent of Colombians still identify themselves as Catholics, in recent decades the rate of conversions to evangelical Protestantism has increased across Latin America, particularly in poor urban neighborhoods.

Such a trend, the Pope said, suggests that increasing numbers of Christians feel called “to purification and the revitalization of their faith.”

In response to this, he urged Catholics to become “better believers, more pious, affable and welcoming in our parishes and communities, so that no-one feels distant or excluded.” The Pope also offered some practical advice, calling for better catechesis – particularly to the young – carefully prepared homilies during Mass and the promotion of Catholic doctrine in schools and universities.

If Catholics strive to follow this path, the Pope said, it will help awaken in them “the aspiration to share with others the joy of following Christ and become members of His mystical body.”

Similarly important, he said, is social solidarity with those who suffer most due to poverty or violence. A 2009 survey by polling company Gallup found that nearly 1 in 5 Colombians has had a close friend or relative murdered in past 12 months.

The Pope called for increased help for those people “whose fundamental rights are trampled underfoot and are forced to abandon home and family under the threat of terror and criminality,” as well as“those who have fallen into the barbarous networks of drugs or arms dealing.”

Such“generous and fraternal” help, he said, is not born of “any human calculation” but from “love for God and neighbor: the source from which the Church draws the strength she needs to carry out her task.”

Source: Catholic News Agency

Here are some of the comments posted:

The pope is right. As a former Evangelical, I know firsthand why Catholics leave in droves to the Protestant churches. Walk into an Evangelical church at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday morning and you will see people singing praises to God, hands raised and tears in their eyes. The music and the preaching are dynamic and inspiring. Walk into a typical Catholic church at the same time and you are likely to see a bunch of sour-faced parishioners repeatedly glancing at their watches while the priest delivers a homily that took him five minutes to prepare. Although we have the Eucharist and the fulness of truth, our Evangelical brethren possess something that we lack: life in the spirit.


Oh my this is not true from what i have personally seen. I am a Catholic who left the church and came back 12 years later near one of the largest evangelical churches in Canada and i left because of Doctrine and although i did not know it at the time i was being evangelized out of the Catholic church by people who were teaching me that i had to be "saved " and " born again". With a non practicing family and fear of being excommunicated if i was found out to have attended another church and in light of the very anti catholic stuff i was now learnin,I left so that i could gain heaven and God's approval. I am not alone. I know entire families at least three that i can think of off the top of my memory who left in order to be "saved" and now truly need to be saved from their error. Most of my many friends in the evangelical church are Catholics who have left. I have just by God's mercy, after the damage (and much of it) from the evangelical churches, came home to a more safe Catholic Church. The Pope needs to know that evangelicals are heavyily into "witnessing" to others and evangelising them who are already Catholic to save us. They think they are doing good. They are sheep stealing. Yes the youth find a sort of culture and more connection than they do here. I can relate i am horribly lonely after coming back finding very little to help me as i came back. The people run out of the church right after the mass here. It is not easy to make friendships here. But that is not what draws them out It is the evangelicals familiarity with scripture and our lack of it. They know their dctine we don't and as such we are a target. There are so many groups here that steal Catholic sheep. I could go through half of my facebook friends and tell you that they are stolen Catholic sheep for lack of a better word.

God help us, help them and help us help them come home too.


Catholic doctrine and dogma in the Homilies serves to cement our faith and understanding in what the Church teaches about our Faith as Catholics ... In contrast: Homilies presenting God's Message from the Word of Scripture speaks to the Soul of the Believer; and it is this which the Holy Spirit uses to call God's Children closer to Him. "Jesus is the Word of God", and it is only true Jesus that we can come to God the Father.


This is what Fr. Robert Barron says about why Catholics leave the Church:

Related post:

Why Catholics The Church

Please post your comments.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Making Time For Prayer

How often does it occur to us to make our prayer lives a priority? Do we even know how to get started? How about if we stop making prayer conform to our day and instead make the day conform to our prayer lives. Not that this is easily done all the time, but it will help to start us off on the right path toward becoming more faithful Christians at work.
When I think of people who excel at integrating prayer with the busy workday, one of the best examples I can think of is Jennifer Baugh. Jennifer impressed me the first time she contacted me more than a year ago via a business networking Web site. She was start­ing a Dallas-based networking group for Catholics in their 20s and 30s called Young Catholic Professionalsand wanted to discuss my experiences with similar groups I have started in Atlanta.
Jennifer has an impressive background, and I love her passion for encour­aging a culture of Catholic community in all aspects of our lives, especially in the workplace.
In one of our discussions, I asked Jennifer how she makes time for prayer during her hectic days. She told me she has long been inspired by one of her favorite verses in Scripture, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:11)! It is how Jennifer makes prayer the backbone of her day. She says: “As a young professional, there are constant pressures to perform and exceed expectations in a new working environment. I often felt that as a recent MBA graduate working for a high-intensity consulting firm that I had a great responsibility to react to every challenge with complete calm and confidence. The temptation to lose my spiritual center amidst the demands of the corporate world was real. My BlackBerry never left my side as I awaited each email with anxiety and disquiet.
“By the grace of God, my office building was located right next to the downtown Cathedral where daily Mass was celebrated at noon. Each day I would look forward to leaving the office for this time of prayer and reflection. Seeing the other men and women who were taking time out of their busy schedules to participate in the Mass was a powerful and humbling experience. Together we listened to the eucharistic prayer that says, ‘In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety.’
“Making time for prayer has helped me find balance to my work and reminded me not to be so inwardly focused on my trials. As Saint Paul tells us, ‘Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God’ (Philippians 4:6). Prayer is our great weapon and will help us weather any storm in our professional and personal lives. Mak­ing time for prayer will also enable us to act in a Christian manner in business decision-making rather than react emotionally to new situations.”
Jennifer is eminently practical and very disciplined. She sets aside time for prayer when she wakes up and before she goes to bed, but finds that going to daily Mass as often as possible provides the best opportunity for prayer. She is also fond of prayer in the car and leaves her rosary beads hanging from her mirror to remind her to use the time for thanksgiving and reflection. Jennifer finds that using her daily routines to help her stay close to Christ is rewarding and helpful. Lest you think her prayer is always scheduled, Jennifer is working on being more spontaneous in her prayer life. She shared with me that, “Life is full of contradictions. I am working on pray­ing throughout the day as the Spirit moves me. There are so many opportunities to thank God or to offer up a struggle. My favorite prayer is the Memorare, which I tend to pray when I am worried about something. I also have started to pray the Jesus prayer when I am pressed for time.”
Thinking about Jennifer, what can you learn from her and perhaps integrate into your own daily prayers? Knowing that we are all different in our spiritual and prayer lives, I encourage you to take from Jennifer’s experience the value that it might have in your own workplace. It is a challenge, but it will also strengthen your workplace faith.
In past blogs, I explored the difficulties that we often have in finding quiet time for prayer, reflection, and thinking. That, in addition to finding time to prayer, are the biggest challenges I most frequently hear from business and professional people. In today’s world, the trend is toward squeezing the air out of our schedules and being more productive. We rarely stop to consider the harm we are doing ourselves by ignoring our need for peace and quiet. By just taking the time to think and pray each day, it will become easier and easier to work and to share our faith in the workplace.
For me, the difficulty in finding the time to think and pray came in those moments when my faith was new; when I still relied on books to find faith, not prayer. Before I began my RCIA classes in the summer of 2006, I studied the Catholic faith in earnest. I tend to intellectualize everything, and my first thoughts were to learn everything I could about our faith. I quickly realized there was more to Catholicism than knowledge, history, and tradition. I then began to focus on being the best Catholic I could be, and started on my true faith journey, versus simply immersing myself in books. One of the biggest obstacles for me in those days was my lack of prayer life. I knew I needed to pray, but I couldn’t ever remember sincerely praying about anything. I was struggling with the typical male challenge of asking for help, especially asking God for help. Who was I to bother him with my petty problems?
I finally sought guidance. I shared my prayer challenges with one of our deacons and asked for advice. He looked at me with some amusement and said I was approaching prayer the wrong way. “Don’t worry about asking for help just yet,” he said. He ad­vised me to simply praise God for who he is, and then thank him for what he has done…praise first, then thanksgiving. Eventually, I learned to ask God for help and guidance, but my real prayer life started by praising and then offering thanks to him. I finally got it! I understood that my faith would never grow unless I had an active prayer life. This was the beginning of my prayer journey that has continued to unfold and grow with each passing day. I would like to share with you the stages of my prayer journey as a Catholic, lessons I have learned and insights into how I pray in hopes you will find my experiences helpful.
STAGE ONE of my prayer life was learning to thank God and be grateful. Going to him in prayer every day and reflecting on the blessings and burdens in my life are how I learned to appreciate and acknowledge the Lord’s role in my life. I never start a prayer without thanking him. I have also learned to recognize his role in my work life, and I frequently go to him in prayer before major decisions and when I need support.
STAGE TWO for me was learning to ask for forgiveness. I go to reconciliation frequently, but it is still important for me to ask the Lord for his pardon and forgiveness when I commit a sin, which is more frequently than I care to admit. It has become a daily examina­tion of conscience for me to reflect on where I have failed him and ask for forgiveness and the grace to not commit that sin again. This reflection time is easily incorporated into the Daily Examen that I have mentioned in previous blogs. I often take moments out of my day to think back on where I may have wronged him, or perhaps acted in self-interest. Doing this daily, I am able to move forward in forgiveness.
STAGE THREE was asking for his help and guidance. This stage of prayer is also when I learned to pray for others and their needs. Help is the key here. I think men in general struggle with asking for help, and I am no exception. My growing prayer life and deepening faith journey have given me the humility to realize I don’t have all the answers and that Jesus absolutely wants to help me. Early on I would tentatively ask for help with the big stuff such as getting my family into heaven, blessing our priests and deacons, blessing my business, and so on. Now, I am very comfortable asking for his help and guidance in every facet of my life. But first I had to gain the humility to recognize that without our Lord, I am nothing, and I need his strength. Asking for help in my work life was once a major struggle for me, but as I shed my old compartmentalized existence for an integrated life, I recognized where I needed perhaps the most help was at work.
STAGE FOUR in my prayer journey has been learning to completely unburden myself to the Lord. This has occurred only in the past few years. I have always been inclined to carry my stress, frustrations, worries and fears like a secret weight around my neck. As I got bet­ter at asking the Lord for help, I began asking him to help lighten these mental and emotional burdens. I am so grateful that I now can go to him and absolutely give up to him whatever is weighing me down, from work stress to concern about my children’s futures. Whatever it is, I share it with Jesus as he asked us to: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves. For my yoke is easy and my burden light” (Matthew 11:28–30).
I am confident there will be more and evolving stages of prayer growth for me if I am humble and focused on deepening my rela­tionship with Christ. Saint Teresa of Avila wrote frequently on the stages of prayer, especially in her book The Interior Castle. I hope to reach the contemplative and mystical prayer life she describes in her works, and pray that Jesus will lead me there. But I have a lot yet to learn.
I’d like to share some important, big-picture lessons I have learned in my prayer life:
1. Make time for prayer; just do it!
As I stated earlier, if you don’t schedule prayer time and stick to it, it will not happen. And again, I encourage you to include prayer time on your calendar. You should start your day with prayer and continue to pray throughout the day. Set aside short blocks of time. Making time for prayer is like making time for your family. How much time are you willing to spend a day with your loved ones? It should not be a struggle to commit a small amount of time each day to pray. How you do it, or for how long, is not nearly as important as the act of doing it.
2. Block out the noise.
Turn off the car radio, watch less or no TV, reduce unnecessary computer time, and seek out more quiet moments during the day. Take a walk by yourself at lunch to clear the cobwebs. Turn off your cell phone on the way home and use that time for quiet reflection. Because our jobs typically demand it, it is difficult to pray and hear God when we are distracted by the noise of the world. It is easy to schedule around it, if you must, but remember: It’s not another “to-do” list item.
3. Have the proper disposition.
It is important to have the right attitude of humility and trust that God can and will help us before we start praying. Reading Scrip­ture or a book of meditations such as In Conversation With God or Imitation of Christ every day before prayer will help prepare our minds and hearts to approach the Lord in a deeper and more meaningful way. We should always end our prayers feeling grateful for the blessings God has given us in our lives.
4. Work through the “dry patches.”
We all experience dryness in our prayers or have trouble focusing. We may feel that God is not listening. We may fall into the trap of asking God to validate what we want, instead of submitting to his will. I am certain that we will all likely experience this, but keep at it. We may realize that our dry patches come as a result of rush­ing prayer or going through the motions, which we should always avoid. In those cases, we have to revert back to taking the time to think and be alone with God; that will lead back to a prayerful life.
5. Practice more listening and less talking.
As our work schedules continuously fill up, we often become so busy talking and working that we don’t hear him. That detracts from our quality prayer time. I have a tendency to ask God to grant my requests when I should be focused on asking him what he requires of me. It is easy to fall into cycles of “I’m too busy” or to simply forget to take prayer time. Don’t let your work become so busy that you forget your role in God’s plan.
6. Realize we can’t grow in our faith journeys without growing our prayer lives.
We simply will not grow our relationship with Christ unless we do so through prayer. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2744): “Prayer is a vital necessity. Proof from the contrary is no less convincing: if we do not allow the Spirit to lead us, we fall back into the slavery of sin.”8 Make time for prayer throughout the workday, and you will find a more peaceful and enjoyable work environment.
Finally, I would like to share insights on how I pray and what led me to where I am now, in hopes that they will inspire and help you deepen your own prayer life:
I get up early each morning and start every day by reading Scripture in the quiet of my home. I then read and reflect on vari­ous meditations and how they apply to my life. I follow with the Morning Offering, praying for the special intentions of friends and loved ones, and then finish with the Angelus, which is traditionally prayed three times a day (at 6 a.m., noon, and 6 p.m.)
I started praying the rosary a few years ago and typically pray it on my way to work or during a run. I put off praying the rosary for a long time, but it has become a critical part of my prayer life and is a true blessing. This goes hand-in-hand with my ever-deepening love and appreciation for our Blessed Mother and asking for her intercession and help.
The Daily Examen, developed by the Jesuits, is a critical part of my daily routine. Basically we are asked to stop five times throughout the day for a few minutes of reflection and prayer. Each stopping point has a specific purpose, such as the prayer of thanksgiving, prayer for insight, prayer to find God in all things that day, prayer for your desires and what you seek from God, and finally a prayer about the future and what you will resolve to do tomorrow. It is best to put these five-minute blocks on your calendar throughout the day so you will be reminded.
If it is not on my calendar, it rarely happens. I schedule different prayers at various times in the day on my iPhone. This helps me remember to pray, forces me to make time for it and allows me to read the prayer if I have not yet memorized it. This is a good way to integrate our faith with technology.
In a nod to the incredible advances in technology, I will share that I find a number of Catholic apps for my iPhone to be very helpful for integrating my faith into my busy world. A few suggestions are iRosary, The Divine Office, Confession and RC Calendar. BlackBerry, Android and other smartphones may have similar products worth investigating.
Pray at every meal, public and private, regardless of your com­panions. It is important for us be thankful, acknowledge Christ, and ask for his blessing.
My wife and I pray with our children every night. It is important for them to develop their own prayer lives, but they need to see our example, and we also grow by sharing our prayer lives with them.
I have been a eucharistic adoration guardian since January 2007, and this is the best hour of my week. No matter what is happening in my life, I can come into the Real Presence of Christ and open up to him in prayer. It is uplifting, energizing, and a great way to start my day. I also stop by our parish chapel to pray before or after work as often as I can.
I certainly don’t have all the answers on prayer. I simply want to share with you as someone who struggles with the same issues and obstacles as you that my prayer life and my faith journey have grown together. I presented you with many ideas and suggestions, but remember that they are yours to accommodate into your own life. Start at a comfortable place and work until you reach your level of comfort. The important thing is that you just do it. The most significant changes in my prayer life occurred when I made the commitment to “just do it” and started scheduling my prayer time on my computer and iPhone.
I didn’t have any kind of prayer life before converting to the Catholic Church, and now I couldn’t imagine life without it. To me, prayer is any time that I turn my attention to God and away from myself alone. It can be accomplished in a variety of ways. Feeling worthy or inspired is not a great barometer for measuring our prayer lives. Praying for the desire for prayer is worthwhile and a good start. My life, especially my work life, is richer and more fulfilling because my days are now built on a foundation of prayer.
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Your life Is Not About You

By: Msgr. Charles Pope

I was meditating on John 11, for personal Bible Study earlier today. It is the story of the raising of Lazarus. And I was struck by the following lines:

[Martha and Mary] sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Therefore, when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days…..[Later. Jesus] told [his disciples] plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

One of the harder truths of life is that our life is not about us. Neither are we the most important thing or person in the world. Rather we exist in and for the glory of God and our ultimate glory in to be caught up in and be part of God’s glory and his Kingdom. Further, we also exist, not only for our own sake but also for the sake of others.

And we see some of this in this story of Lazarus. Jesus speaks of Lazarus’ grave illness as “for the glory of God.” He further indicates that it is also so that He (Jesus) may be glorified. Further, Lazarus’ illness is also for others, that they may come to believe.

And even more stunning than his words are the actions of Jesus, who, hearing of the grave condition of Lazarus, delays his departure to see him for two whole days. His delay means that Lazarus dies! Jesus then says to his disciples that he is “glad for their sakes that he was not there (for Lazarus)!

Now, few of us can failed to be shocked by some or all of this. But our shock is largely based on a premise that this story should be largely about Lazarus and his physical condition. But, it is not, in the first place about Lazarus or about his health. It is about Jesus, it is about God’s glory, and it is about our faith in God.

Jesus’ first concern is not about Lazarus’ physical life, his condition, or about the distress of Mary and Martha who see their brother sick and then die. His first concern is for the faith of all involved and he is willing to allow a crisis to unfold in order to finally strengthen the faith of the many, even if this means the distress of the few.

Your life is not about you. We are each part of a bigger picture, a picture that God sees far better than we. This concept shocks us, I suspect for at least two reasons:

First, we live in an age that strongly emphasizes the dignity, rights and importance of the individual. Of itself this is not bad and is one of the things that distinguishes our age and its concern for human rights. However, the importance and needs of the individual must be balanced against the common good, and the needs of other individuals and groups. It must also be seen in the light of God’s glory, God’s plan and the mysterious interplay of the individual, others and God. God alone knows all this and what is best for all involved, not just me.

Second, we live in an age that strongly emphasizes physical health and comfort, as well as emotional happiness. While these things are truly good, there are greater good. And the greatest good is our spiritual well being, our faith and holiness. God is far more concerned with our eternal destiny that our present comfort. Jesus says for example, it is better to cut off a hand, a foot or pluck out our eye than to sin seriously. And while he may be using hyperbole, the teaching remains that it a more serious thing to sin seriously than to loose even very precious parts of our body. We don’t think this way. We tend to value our bodies and physical well-being more than spiritual matters. Not so with God.

Hence we see that Jesus is willing to rank faith and spiritual well-being above physical and emotional comfort. He is also willing to act for the good of many, even if that means some difficulty for the few or the one. This many rankle our “self-esteem culture,” but, to some extent we are a little to “precious” these days, and it is good to be reminded we are not the only one who is important, and that we don’t exist only for our own sake, but also for others and for the glory of God.

Another example of this whole principle is the surprising and “inconclusive” ending of the Acts of the Apostles.

Fully the last two-thirds of Acts is focused on the Evangelical Mission of St. Paul as he made four journeys into Asia Minor and then into Greece. The final chapters of Acts deal with Paul’s arrest, imprisonment and appearance before Roman officials such as Felix and Festus, as well as Herod Agrippa in Jerusalem and Caesarea.

Paul appeals his case to Rome and is sent there on ill fated journey that shipwrecks at Malta. Finally making it to Rome, Paul is imprisoned and awaits the trial that will either vindicate him or seal his fate. The story seems to be building to a climactic conclusion and we, the readers, are ready to see Paul through his final trial. But then something astonishing happens: the story just ends. Here is the concluding line of the Acts of the Apostles:

[Paul] remained for two full years in his lodgings. He received all who came to him, and with complete assurance and without hindrance he proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 28:30-31)

But Luke! Don’t just leave us hanging! Did Paul go on trial? We he acquitted as some traditions assert and then made his way to Spain as he wanted? Or did he loose his appeal and suffer beheading right away? What was the outcome? We have seen Paul so far and now the story just ends?!

How can we answer this exasperating and unsatisfying end?

The simplest answer is that the Acts of the Apostles is not about Paul. It is about the going forth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the nations. Luke has, to be sure, personified this going forth of the Gospel to the nations by focusing on Paul. And once Paul reaches Rome and, though under house arrest, is able to freely preach the Gospel there (for there is chaining the Word of God (2 Tim 2:9)), the story reaches its natural conclusion. From Rome the Gospel will go forth to every part of the Empire, for every road led to Rome and away from it. Now that the Gospel has reached the center hub and is being freely preached, it will radiate outward in all directions by the grace of God.

It never WAS about Paul. It was about the Gospel. Paul himself testified to this when he said, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace. (Acts 20:24)

We are often focused on personalities and frequently we loose track about what is most important. And, frankly the personality we are most focused on is very often ourselves. Acts never really was about Paul. And your life is not about you. It is about what the Lord is doing for you and through you. We often want things to revolve around us, around what we think, and what we want. But, truth be told, you are not that important, neither am I. We must decrease and the Lord must increase (Jn 3:30).

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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Newlyweds Flock To Rome For Papal Blessing

Newlyweds, (L to R) Axel and Susie Dreyer from Dusseldorf, Germany and Anna and Kyle Barella from Naples, Fla.
One of the most striking sights in Rome appears every Wednesday afternoon in St. Peter’s Square when newly married couples, resplendent in their wedding attire, emerge after being blessed by Pope Benedict XVI.

“I had never been to Rome before and could only imagine how beautiful and how sacred this place is … so I could not be happier than to get married and have that marriage blessed by the Pope,” said new bride Anna Barella, a 26-year-old from Naples, Florida.

Standing next to her was her husband, 25-year-old Kyle. They were married in Rome on Saturday, June 16 at the Church of Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini. On June 20 they were one of over a dozen couples to experience the papal tradition of newlyweds being blessed at the weekly general audience.

“I think it is great,” said Kyle, “I mean there is no better way to start your marriage than with a blessing from the Holy Father, and hopefully we’ll get a lot out of it.”

The Barellas applied for their special newlywed or “Sposi Novelli” tickets through the Bishop’s Office for U.S. Visitors to the Vatican, which is based in Rome.

Couples must have been married in the Church for two months or less, something that has to be verified by a valid Catholic sacramental marriage certificate. This is often further inspected by ushers before the papal audience itself. Both bride and groom are also encouraged to don their wedding attire.

“It was a great experience,” said the tuxedo-wearing German Axel Dreyer. The 40-year-old from Dusseldorf got married 10 days ago to 32-year-old Susie, and they are now enjoying a Roman honeymoon.

“Well, we always planned that when we got married we wanted to get a blessing from the Pope, because it is just like a second wedding and we loved it,” said Axel.

Wearing her wedding dress beneath the blistering mid-afternoon sun, the new Mrs. Dreyer remarked that “it is so hot I’m feeling that I have to jump into one of the fountains.”

She fully believed, however, that the discomfort was worth it to receive a blessing directly from Pope Benedict XVI.

Susie hopes that they will have a “good family life and that our children, when we have some, will also grow up in the beliefs of Jesus and the Catholic Church.”

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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Top 10 Eucharistic Movie Moments

Over at the National Catholic Register, my wife, April and I run down our “Top 10 Eucharistic Movie Moments” just in time for Corpus Christi. Here’s the list, updated from what we filed two weeks ago. Add further suggestions in the comments.

10. Rocky II (1979) … and Rudy, and Cinderella Man.

You’ve got to love Rocky praying in front of the tabernacle, the giant crucifix absurdly close to Adrienne’s hospital bed so that it’s in every shot, and Rocky getting a blessing on the way to the big fight. But Rudy andCinderella Man also have strong Catholic chapel scenes.

9. The Longest Day (1962): A priest puts forth heroic effort on D-Day to rescue his Mass kit.

8. Marcelino Pan y Vino (The Miracle of Marcelino) (1955): This great old movie only treats of the Eucharist symbolically, but the reference is unmistakable and powerful.

7. Romero (1989): Martyrdom at Mass is not just the climactic scene, but the theme.

6. Becket (1964): The saint is killed in Canterbury Cathedral.

5. The Maldonado Miracle (2003): The blood of Christ unites a town and saves souls in Salma Hayek’s directorial debut.

4. Brideshead Revisited (1981): Charles Ryder (Jeremy Irons) calls the chapel with an empty tabernacle “just an oddly decorated room” and is renewed when it is reconsecrated and “reloaded.”

3. The Mission (1986): At the end, there is a remarkable scene of enemies firing on a Eucharistic procession led by Father Gabriel (Jeremy Irons).

Note to Jeremy Irons: Might God be trying to tell you something by putting you in two of the clearest, most direct Eucharistic movie scenes in the 20th century?

2. For Greater Glory (2012): There are priests martyred next to tabernacles, makeshift Masses on mountainsides, and an altar boy is the bravest hero.

1. The Passion of the Christ (2004): The top place has to go to the movie that takes pains to represent how the Eucharist is a window on the Crucifixion.

The way the movie intercuts between the passion and the Institution of the Eucharist makes it clear that Jesus wanted us to have contact with the first through the instrument of the second.

Source: Catholic Vote

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Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Three Temptations Of The Church

In Volume I of Jesus of Nazareth, authored by Pope Benedict XVI before he became pontiff, the three temptations of Christ in the desert before entering public life are considered. The devil poses these temptations to try to confirm his suspicions that Jesus is the chosen one of God, and the temptations themselves are geared to be attractive to one who wants to be accepted as the promised Messiah. The Pope also makes applications of the temptations to the Church – three tempting approaches that would assure the acceptance of the Church and its message, but would be unworthy of the Church.

1) Regarding the first temptation, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread” (Mt. 4:3), it is clear that an easy way for Jesus to win acceptance of his Messiahship would be to become a “bread king.” One thinks of the incident in which he multiplied the loaves and fishes for a crowd of five thousand, which incited the crowd to try to take him by force and make him king (Jn. 6:15) – so that he had to flee into the mountain to escape. If he provided such largesse often, an easy path to acceptance by the masses would be paved for him.

As applied to the Church, Benedict envisions the Church being afflicted by the same temptation:

Is there anything more tragic, is there anything more opposed to belief in the existence of a good God and a Redeemer of mankind, than world hunger?… Are not social problems—the primary, true yardstick by which redemption has to be measured?… Marxism—quite understandably—made this very point the core of its promise of salvation. Should we not say the same thing to the Church? If you claim to be the Church of God, then start by making sure the world has bread—the rest comes later.

A very serious temptation of the Church is to gain acceptance of its authority and message by solving social problems. Liberation theologians during the 70s allied themselves with Marxism, thinking this alliance would draw people to the message of the Gospel. But the Kingdom of God is a separate message, connected, but not identical, with social justice.

Liberal Catholics, identifying the Gospel with social justice, often are willing to literally “throw out the baby with the bathwater” – voting for rabidly pro-abortion candidates on the grounds that they are for social justice (along with most atheists and secularists). The right to life of the most vulnerable human beings is considered somehow irrelevant to this “social justice.”

2) In the second temptation, the devil transports Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem, and challenges him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will give his angels charge concerning you’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone” (Mt. 4:5-7). This challenge to “push the envelope” of God’s forbearance would satisfy the devil’s curiosity, but Jesus responds that we “should not tempt the Lord God.”

The Pope comments,

The structural question concerning the remarkable scriptural discussion between Christ and the tempter thus leads directly to the question about its content. What is this dispute about? The issue at stake in this second temptation has been summed up under the motif of “bread and circuses.” The idea is that after bread has been provided, a spectacle has to be offered, too.

Imagine the instant influence and adulation Jesus could have acquired, if there had been a crowd gathered down below the temple, looking up and seeing him literally being carried down by the angels; or if, in his preaching, he had used his miraculous powers to draw attention to himself in front of crowds, e.g. by levitating.

There is a temptation among some segments of the Church to draw people in and make conversions through “signs and wonders.” The Medjugorje cult now is the chief example of this. Pilgrims have been coming in the tens of thousands for over thirty years to an unauthorized Marian shrine, where the Madonna is alleged to have been appearing almost on demand to six visionaries over 33,000 times. Visitors often return with tales of seeing solar phenomena imitating the miraculous “dance of the sun” at Fatima in 1917, and having their rosaries mysteriously turn a golden tint; Randall Sullivan, in The Miracle Detective, reports an incident when the visionaries were pulled miraculously in two minutes to the top of Cross Mountain at Medjugorje.

But the messages of the “Gospa” at Medjugorje are heterodox messages: “all faiths are identical;” some people are in hell because “they have committed grave sins that God cannot pardon;” people in heaven are “present with the soul and the body;” and a disobedient priest-director, Fr. Zovko, is a “saint,” in spite of his suspension from priestly functions. This Madonna allegedly entrusted ten secrets to the visionaries, none of which have been revealed; predicted a “great sign” which never appeared; and said that her last appearance would be on July 31, 1981, but apparently changed her mind, and decided to continue appearing. This Madonna also, strangely and uncharacteristically, supports the Franciscans in their disobedience to Vatican orders, and tells the visionaries to ignore their bishops. These are strange “fruits” of a visitation by the Madonna. Disobedience is the sin Satan (famous for his own non serviam) identifies with most closely; once inculcated, it branches out into greed, lust, wrath, and other capital sins.

Medjugorje supporters point to many “good fruits” – conversions, return to the sacraments, etc. – but one can also be sure that there would have been all manner of conversions and repentance, possibly lifelong, if Jesus had decided to manifest his supernatural powers in public.

Yves Chiron chronicles 71 apparitions supposed to have taken place after Medjugorje, between 1981 and 1991. This is a spectacular way to get some people to flock to the sacraments and convert, complementing the “bread” with “circuses.” But lasting faith ordinarily grows in low-key surroundings in the silence of the heart.

3) In the third temptation, from a very high mountain, the devil “showed [Jesus] all the kingdoms of the world, and their glory, and he said to Him, ‘All these things will I give you, if you fall down and worship me’” (Mt. 4:8).

The Pope observes that, as applied to the Church,

The tempter is not so crude as to suggest to us directly that we should worship the devil. He merely suggests that we opt for the reasonable decision, that we choose to give priority to a planned and thoroughly organized world, where God may have his place as a private concern but must not interfere in our essential purposes…. Faith and religion are now directed toward political goals. Only the organization of the world counts. Religion matters only insofar as it can serve that objective.

First of all, one should notice that Jesus did not contradict the devil regarding the alleged power he had over the world. Like a Mafia boss, Satan, within the limits allowed by God, has tremendous power to reward those who are forwarding his purposes, and make things difficult for anyone who gets in his way. But Jesus was not interested in any kind of “power sharing” or détente with evil.

The temptation of the Church, similarly, is nothing so gross as devil worship, but much more subtle – making accommodation with evil, to be seen as “progressive,” and thus winning many of a progressive mentality to its side. For example, the current rush of some Catholic institutions to accept the Presidential mandate for coverage of contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilizing procedures is an accommodation that has mustered much support from liberals, who congratulate such institutions for no longer being “stuck in the dark ages,” inimical to modern progress. Some, seeing how “progressive” the Church has become, might overcome their hesitancy and desire to become associated with this modernized Church. This sort of Church, in their eyes, would be an asset for their plans of organizing or reorganizing society, no longer an unwelcome obstacle. But power-sharing with evil has a way of boomeranging.

At the end of these three temptations, the Gospel tells us that angels came to minister to Jesus. Likewise, if the Church is able to avoid easy, pragmatic ways of evangelizing the world, we can be sure that supernatural help will arrive to give an extra boost to its efforts.

Source: Crisis Magazine

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