Monday, October 30, 2006

God and Sport

I used to be a sports nut. I would spend hours a day analzying games and teams. I would read the sports page and know all the teams, players, scores and stats. I would then watch my teams play and then a bunch of games I didn't care too much about. Then, I realized that this had gone too far.

I started to wean myself from sports about 6 years ago. I don't watch too much anymore. I don't talk about it as much or spend much time thinking about them. What happened to me?

It started when I realized the effect all this time and energy was having on my family. Then I started to think about what I was promoting by making sports such an important thing. I knew I had to cut it back.

Sports are too important to too many people in our society. We have made sports an idol and we worship it to the tune of billions and billions of our dollars. It isn't just a fun distraction and good wholesome entertainment anymore. Cheating is touted as okay, as long as you aren't caught. Get all you can now and think only of yourself.

Sport can still be good, but we must be careful to limit ourselves and to temper our reactions. If someone gets depressed all day because a team lost a game, then something is wrong.

I think the Vatican has it right. They have established an office to target sports, but in order to promote what is good in it and to evangelize, not what leads us away from Christ.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Scapular and Other Sacramentals

Q - What is the difference between a "scapular" medal and just an ordinary saint medal? How is a "scapular medal" related to a cloth scapular--or is it? And while you're at it, could you just say some general things about sacramentals? :) Thanks!

A - Thanks for your question!
I will take on the second question first. A sacramental is defined by the Catechism of the Catholic Church as:
1667 "Holy Mother Church has, moreover, instituted sacramentals. These are sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments. They signify effects, particularly of a spiritual nature, which are obtained through the intercession of the Church. By them men are disposed to receive the chief effect of the sacraments, and various occasions in life are rendered holy."
So, a sacramental is a sign that helps us to receive the grace that comes through the Sacraments of the Church. They are another help that God gives us to draw us further into holiness. Some common sacramentals include holy water, common blessings (blessing of a house, blessing of a child by a parent, etc.), Sign of the Cross, blessed medals, rosaries, etc. No Sacramental is considered "magic" or "holy" in and of itself. The purpose of them is to bring us closer to God. They do nothing without our decision to accept God's grace and then grow in holiness.

Furthermore, medals, scapulars and other objects worn on a person are a reminder to us of prayer and devotion to God. For an object, such as a medal, to be considered a sacramental then it must be blessed. Otherwise they are considered mere objects or jewelry.

Now, as for scapulars - they originally were large pieces of clothe worn over the shoulders to signify taking on the yoke of Christ. They then grew smaller and are now worn like necklaces around the neck with only small pieces of cloth (and now some are medals). They can be worn as a way to associate yourself with a religious order or as a devotional. There are certain promises associated with wearing a scapular, in particular that the Virgin Mary will assist the wearer at the time of death. Again, this isn't some kind of "get out of jail free" card. We must certainly do our part to grow in faith, hope and charity. IF we do that, then the promise will be fulfilled. But, this is a two-way street and both parties must do their part.

There are many different kinds of scapulars (more than 20). As briefly mentioned above, there are some scapulars that are associated with particular religious orders. So, some scapulars require that a person is affiliated in some way with that particular order(e.g., the scapular of the Most Blessed Trinity - Trinitarian Order). The most popular kind are the scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (affiliated with the Carmelites) called the brown scapular and the scapular of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is called the green scapular.

Saint Pius X allowed the use of a medal instead of the traditional cloth scapular in 1910. But, to be enrolled or invested into the scapular devotion one must first use the traditional scapular, which can then be replaced by the medal one. Here is the text of the statement by Pius X.

For more info on all of this go to the following links:
Sacramentals
Brown Scapular
Green Scapular
More on Sacramentals

So, to specifically answer the first question, the scapular medal is used as a sacramental associated a particular devotion to Christ and Mary as explained above and other medals are generally worn by someone who has a particular devotion to a certain Saint or devotional that the medal is associated with. Some of the more common medals include the miraculous medal and the Sacred Heart medals.

More on devotional medals

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Porn

"No society sincerely concerned with the well being of its members can tolerate the evil of pornography." - Archbishop Myers

How true. I think we have swept the problem under the rug too long. Statistics on the subject are frightening.
*Somewhere between 70-90% of college-aged young men use pornography regularly.
*Addiction levels are skyrocketing.
*25% of Protestant pastors report a problem with porn.
*It is more addictive than heroine or cocaine.

This is just the start. The problem with people using pornography is rampant. Our Church has started to take steps, but unfortunately we have been reactive to the problem. If you need help, then please don't hesitate to seek it out.

For a good article on how the devil uses porn, read this.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Discipleship

Last night I was blessed to be able to present at Confirmation class on lifelong discipleship. I talked first about the basics of being a Catholic - The precepts of the Church. But, the focus was on what it means to be a true disciple seeking holiness and spiritual maturity. I gave 10 signs of a spiritually mature Catholic and thought I would share them here. The list is not a complete one, nor is it infallible. But, I do think it can be helpful.

10 Signs of a Spiritually Mature Catholic Disciple

(1) Free from Mortal sin
"For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin." -Romans 6:6-7

-To be close to God means to choose to remain in a relationship with Him. When we commit mortal sin, we threaten that relationship.

(2) Has the habit of prayer
“Pray continually; 18give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.”-1 Thes 5:16-18

-As with any relationship, we must work on it and continue to spend time with the other. Prayer is our connection with God. We must nurture it.

(3) Is joyful, even when suffering and disappointed
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” -Phil 4:4-7

Joy is not happiness. It is the virtue that leads to the firm knowledge that God is in control and will always be with us, no matter what.

(4) Lives for Christ’s will regardless of where God leads us.
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I that live, but Christ who lives in me.” -Galatians 2:20

-We must let go of our own will in order to let God take control of our lives. Of course this is easier said than done. Yet, when accomplished holiness follows.

(5) Knows Scripture and Church Teachings
“Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, "Go to that chariot and stay near it. Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. "Do you understand what you are reading?" Philip asked. "How can I," he said, "unless someone explains it to me?" So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. “The eunuch asked Philip, "Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?" Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.”-Acts 8:26-31, 34-35

-We cannot love what we do not know. The more we know about Christ the more we can love.

(6) Obedient to the teachings of Christ
" As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." At once they left their nets and followed him." -Matt 4:18-20

-To be a mature disciple, we must be able to hear Christ's voice and follow His commands, no matter how hard or inconvenient they are. Also, to delay obedience is the same as disobeying.

(7) Seeks Virtue
"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you." -Phil 4: 8-9

-Virtue is the habit of doing what is good and true easily and quickly. But, this doesn't come easily. We must pray for virtue and practice it continually.

(8) Serves others selflessly
“If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High.” -Luke 6:33-35

-Service to others is a true sign of a mature disciple. Christ taught us to wash the feet of others, to be the last, to put others first. His servant leadership is a model for us all.

(9) Shares their faith with others
“For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, it is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe.” -Romans 1:16

-We cannot claim to be mature disciples who love God if we don't seek to share God's love with others. We can talk about our spouses, girlfriends, boyfriends and others easily. We don't stand up for others badmouthing them. Do we do the same for Christ?

(10) Flies to the Sacraments
“They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” -Acts 2:42

-The center of our Catholic faith is found in the Sacraments and the grace received through them. We should center our spiritual life around them, especially frequent reception of the Eucharist and frequent reconciliation.

Monday, October 9, 2006

From Gunk to Glory

“You go for it,” my friend said somewhat skeptically as we both looked on at the worn-out, falling-apart furniture I wanted to re-cover. “Just let me know if you need help moving the stuff,” he added heading out the door and leaving me to daydream about the potential of the pieces – the fabrics, the colors, the placement of the refinished pieces in my house. I was thrilled.

You see refinishing furniture has become one of my favorite hobbies. It all started with a friend’s dresser. She was getting rid of old furniture she’d had since childhood. Confident I could transform the piece, I had some friends help me load it on my truck.

Later, when those same friends helped me move the refinished piece into a new home they didn’t recognize it. When I explained it was the same dresser, they protested. “No way! It looks totally different!” Mission accomplished. I’d brought the dresser from gunk to glory. I quickly set about my next project.

One day when I was praying about some hurts and struggles in my life I found myself saying, “Lord, use this gunk - these hurts, these difficulties. Take it! Transform me.” In that moment it hit me. God does in our lives, what I had done in the “life” of that dresser. He turns it from “gunk” to glory.

Now, I’m not insinuating that any humans could ever be “gunk” or junk. We are all priceless sons and daughters of God. But sometimes because of bad decisions or unpleasant circumstances we accumulate “gunk” . . . a bit like old furniture. A friend wrongs us and it chips away some of the paint of self worth. We lose a loved one and feel unstable, as if we’ve lost a supporting leg. We sin against God and a film of dusty shame covers us. At some time in life we all experience “gunk” and feel less than whole.

But God is here with His grace to transform us into the glorious person He created us to be. Just as I have plans for my furniture pieces, God has a plan for our lives. Just like I get thrilled thinking about all the possibilities of fabrics and colors and room placements for my new project, God is thrilled about the plan for your life. Just as I pour my efforts into re-doing furniture (scrubbing, stripping, painting, and finishing each piece with care) God pours His effort into transforming our lives.

God’s “effort” is grace. God unleashes His grace- His power and help - into our lives to transform us from gunk to glory.

This story of transformation is not new. In the Bible we hear story after story of how God’s power transforms peoples’ lives. It transformed David from sinner to saint, Paul from persecutor to preacher, and Mary Magdalene from adulterer to adorer of Christ.

As confident as I was in my ability to refinish that old dresser, I am infinitely more confident in God’s ability to transform and “refinish” our lives.

So today let us all open our hearts and minds to God. Let us receive His grace - through prayer, through the sacraments, through genuine fellowship. Let us offer Him our “gunk”, and let Him transform us with His grace into glory!


“And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:18