Thursday, October 31, 2013

Who God Is & Who God Is Not

This is a great video explanation of God's nature from Fr. Barron:

If you want to read more about how important our concept of God is, then you might enjoy 5 False Ways Of Understanding God + Implications

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Utter Awe

Watch the absolute brilliance of this time-lapse video (made from about 10,000 photos) and join me at being in awe over the beauty of God's creation.

Now, remember every human being is more wonderful and beautiful than anything in this video.

You, and those around you, are the greatest and most wondrous part of creation God has ever made. Fashioned in the image and likeness of God, we should always stand in utter awe of the beauty God has planted in every human being.

God is reflected through you.
God's face is shown in those you encounter today.
"Behold, you are beautiful, my love, behold, you are beautiful!"
-Song of Songs 4:1

Friday, October 25, 2013

Questions To Ask Others When Evangelizing

I have found that a growing number of Catholics (and other Christians) have realized the urgency and necessity of evangelizing the culture and other people. But due to the lack of good evangelistic experiences, practices, and training there are few who know how to evangelize very effectively.

Some tend to equate evangelization with having all the right answers. I was one of these. My idea of evangelization was winning an argument or proving someone else wrong, through the power of the truth of the Catholic Church. It wasted a lot of time pushing people away, through my pride and lack of charity, to realize my mistake. Apologetics can remove an obstacle toward someone growing closer to Christ, but it rarely moves anyone closer to Him. This is done through an act of the will, in choosing faith and love.

Others believe that our faith is something very private that shouldn't be shared with others, in order not to offend them or seem too pushy. This attitude comes from a culture that believes faith is something we do part-time. Unfortunately, this attitude creates a culture of silence, where we don't talk about our faith at all. As many others have responded to this - our faith is always personal but never private. Imagine if the Apostles had never talked about their faith. We wouldn't have any Christians today, if they had.

What I have found works best when evangelizing others is to really listen to where they are coming from. Not in order to prove them wrong, but rather to truly accept the person who is in front of you as a son or daughter of God, made in His image and likeness, and uniquely made to glorify His name. When we are able to do this, we can marvel in their creation and truly love them where they are at, in order to help them grow closer to God. It isn't my job to convert anyone - I can't! Only God's grace, chosen through a free act of the other person's will, can faith happen. Thus, I am a limited instrument in the hand of God, who is called to love the other person and help them grow closer to God. True love for another person means I will always seek their good. Asking probing questions can help.

So, I submit that when we evangelize, we ought to ask more questions than the other person. Here are some I have found helpful in different situations. Note, not all questions are appropriate for every time in a persons life. I highly recommend you study the different thresholds of conversion, discussed in the amazing book "Forming Intentional Disciples" by Sherry Weddell. These thresholds can help you determine which questions are appropriate for individuals who are in different places and with different needs.


  • Tell me about what kind of role faith played in your family growing up, if any?
  • How would you describe your idea of Catholicism (or Christianity)?
  • Who do you look up to? What personality traits are most attractive?
  • How do you handle the rough parts of life?
  • What are you passionate about? 
  • What brings meaning to your life?
  • What makes you happy?
  • Would you like to continue our conversation?
  • Would you be interested in learning more about God, Jesus, The Bible, the Catholic Church, etc?
  • Do you pray? If so, would you mind describing it for me? If not, have you ever prayed in the past?
  • Do you believe a relationship with God is possible?
QUESTIONS FOR NONBELIEVERS (atheists, agnostics, etc):
  • Can you tell me about the god you don't believe in?
  • If you have heard of Jesus, what do you know about Him?
  • What do you mean by describing yourself as ____?
  • What do you think Christianity adds to the lives of others?
  • Do you believe in any kind of universal or higher power?
  • Have you believed in God in the past? If you did and don't any longer, why did you stop believing?
  • If you did believe in a god, what kind of god would you believe in?
  • What are the different ways you pray?
  • Can you describe what you find most fulfilling about being _____?
  • Tell me about God? How do you describe God to others?
  • What do you know about Jesus?
  • Is there anything about Christianity that you find attractive?
  • Could you describe what you believe about Jesus?
  • Is your faith something your practice every day? 
  • How would you describe your relationship with Jesus?
  • Is there anything about Catholicism that you find attractive?
  • What do you know about the Catholic Church?
  • Can you describe what it means to be Catholic, in your experience?
  • Do you have a personal prayer life? If so, how do you pray?
  • Is God someone you would say you have a personal relationship with?
  • Have you had any kind of moment when you felt particularly close to Jesus? If so, can you tell me about it? If not, have you ever wanted to?
To be a good evangelist we must have good discernment about how we might best help a person in each situation we encounter. So, there are no techniques or strategies that will always work. But, there are a few things we must always do.
  1. We must pray for others we are evangelizing. 
  2. We must live what we believe. Being a good Christian takes a lifetime of work, but is indispensable. 
  3. We must look for the opportunity to proclaim the Good News. This is essential to being a good evangelist. Without this proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus, our evangelization will remain incomplete.
My list above is not exhaustive nor does this post address all the issues in evangelization we need to think about. So, if you have something to add, please leave a comment.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

More Slaves Today Than Ever Before!

Did you know:
  • More than 27 million live as slaves in 21st Century? That is more than at any other time in human history!
  • There are more slaves today than were seized from Africa in four centuries of slave trade.
  • At least 14,500 slaves are trafficked into the US each year, with many predicting tens of thousands more than that.
  • Slaves go for as little as $5 in India and you can secure one for a mere $3,000 in the U.S.
Most slaves are young women and children - those who are more easily abused and forced to do the bidding of others through fear, intimidation, bribery, and abuse.

Don't think that slaves are not in our midst, as this story in the NY Times shows:
Americans tend to associate “modern slavery” with illiterate girls in India or Cambodia. Yet there I was the other day, interviewing a college graduate who says she spent three years terrorized by pimps in a brothel in Midtown Manhattan.

Those who think that commercial sex in this country is invariably voluntary — and especially men who pay for sex — should listen to her story. The men buying her services all mistakenly assumed that she was working of her own volition, she says.

Yumi Li (a nickname) grew up in a Korean area of northeastern China. After university, she became an accountant, but, restless and ambitious, she yearned to go abroad.

So she accepted an offer from a female jobs agent to be smuggled to New York and take up a job using her accounting skills and paying $5,000 a month. Yumi’s relatives had to sign documents pledging their homes as collateral if she did not pay back the $50,000 smugglers’ fee from her earnings.

Yumi set off for America with a fake South Korean passport. On arrival in New York, however, Yumi was ordered to work in a brothel.

“When they first mentioned prostitution, I thought I would go crazy,” Yumi told me. “I was thinking, ‘how can this happen to someone like me who is college-educated?’ ” Her voice trailed off, and she added: “I wanted to die.” Continue Reading.
Pray and work to end slavery. What can you do?
  • Talk to your political representatives about the issue.
  • Donate to reputable charities and support reputable NGOs fighting human trafficking.
  • Educate yourself about the issue.
  • Help raise awareness by talking about it.
  • Report any suspected abuse of children or adults.
  • Don't buy materials made in sweat shops.
  • Pray!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Do You Know What Confirmation Is And What It Does?

First off, the best place to start exploring Confirmation is to begin by exploring what both the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation are and are not.

Baptism is the first of the Sacraments of Initiation, that is, a Sacrament which cleanses our souls of the guilt (not the stain) of original sin, makes us partakers of the Divine Nature, brings us into the family of God (the Church), makes us sons and daughters of the Father & brothers and sisters of Christ, and it gives us sanctifying and actual grace. It is not complete in the sense that it doesn't give us every grace we need to have a mature Christian faith. Rather, it is the gateway into a Christian and Sacramental life.

The Catechism describes Baptism in this way:
1213 “Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit (vitae spiritualis ianua), and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission: "Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water in the word.”
Baptism is not intended by Christ to do everything for us in the spiritual life, but to start the process of living a life bound to Him and the Church.

Confirmation is the strengthening process of the graces we already received in baptism. It is NOT just an affirmation of the person getting confirmed, as if it is about what we do – but more about what Christ does for us. Most Catholics believe it to be the other way around. They incorrectly view Confirmation as our “choosing Christ” and about our desire to be Catholic.

In reality, the traditional ordering of the Sacraments is Baptism – Confirmation – Eucharist. Only in the last 100 years or so has the process changed to have Confirmation come after Eucharist. But, there is a trend, in some areas of the Church, to reverse this.

In Vatican II, the Church taught the following:
“They are more perfectly bound to the Church by the sacrament of Confirmation, and the Holy Spirit endows them with special strength so that they are more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith, both by word and by deed, as true witnesses of Christ” (LG, 11)
This teaching about how we become evangelists, full of the Holy Spirit, who go out into the world to preach and live the Gospel comes straight from the Bible:
“When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.” – Acts 8: 14 – 17
We see here that Baptism isn't complete nor is it all there is. The laying on of hands (Confirmation) was needed for the completion of the Sacrament and the coming of the power of the Holy Spirit. This is what happens in Confirmation. It is the same thing that happened to the Apostles at Pentecost. Once they received the Holy Spirit they immediately went out and preached.

The Catechism states:
CCC, 1303 “From this fact, Confirmation brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace:
- it roots us more deeply in the divine filiation which makes us cry, "Abba! Father!";
- it unites us more firmly to Christ;
- it increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us;
- it renders our bond with the Church more perfect;
- it gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross:”
So, in the sense that our Baptism isn’t enough to complete (but rather begin) our initiation into Christ, it isn’t enough. In the sense that Baptism does what Christ intended it to do (begin the life of grace) – it is enough.

Fr. Barron tells us even more -

You might also check out the 35 Saints Names Rarely Picked For Confirmation!

Do Believers Brainwash Their Children?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Wrestling With Hard Passages Of The Old Testament

The Bible is the written revelation of God to humanity. We are able to know about God, about ourselves, our destiny, our salvation, and how to live because of it. But, there are a number of passages in the Bible that are difficult to figure out, especially in the Old Testament.

I believe every word written in Scripture is true, but this does not give me the authority to interpret the Bible however I like in every situation. Rather we must all have an interpretive guide, otherwise we cannot be certain that of the truth.

The Bible itself says that interpretation is not to come from ourselves alone:
Know this first of all, that there is no prophecy of scripture that is a matter of personal interpretation for no prophecy ever came through human will; but rather human beings moved by the holy Spirit spoke under the influence of God. -2 Peter 1:20-21
It also says we need an authority to help us interpret the Bible correctly:
Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and said, "Do you understand what you are reading?" He replied, "How can I, unless someone instructs me?" So he invited Philip to get in and sit with him. - Acts 8:30-31
The Bible also says that some parts are hard to understand, as Peter says when writing about Paul's epistles:
And consider the patience of our Lord as salvation, as our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, also wrote to you, speaking of these things as he does in all his letters. In them there are some things hard to understand that the ignorant and unstable distort to their own destruction, just as they do the other scriptures. - 2 Peter 3:15-16
The Bible is a collection of ancient texts with different audiences, authors, messages, literary styles, objectives, and styles. We have to study it intently and have a proper hermeneutic, that is, a proper way of interpreting the Bible. If we don't have this, then we can easily find ourselves committing interpretive errors. While the bible might be inerrant, we are not. With this is mind, Jesus set up the Catholic Church to help us.

In light of the Church's teaching, Fr. Barron has some great comments on violence in some difficult passages in the Bible:

Monday, October 21, 2013

Jesus Doesn't Judge Others - We Shouldn't Either

One of the more interesting passages of the Gospel of John comes to us in Chapter 8. The full story is below. We will break it down into chunks to examine what I mean when I argue that Jesus doesn't judge others.
"Early in the morning he came again to the temple; all the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such. What do you say about her?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the eldest, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus looked up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.”"
-John 8:2-11
There are several striking features within this passage I would like to explore. The first is the location. Notice they are in the temple and it is early morning.

The woman was most likely caught in adultery the night before and kept under guard until Jesus arrived in the Temple, so she could be used in a ploy to trap Jesus. This means the Pharisees and Scribes had been thinking about this situation for a while and thought it might prove to be the starting point of Jesus downfall.

We see that they have already condemned the woman. Under Jewish law she is guilty (because she was "caught in the act" by witnesses) and deserves to die by stoning according to Lev 20:10. What they don't say is that the man who was having adultery with her is also deserving of the same punishment. There is certainly a double-standard in place.

Why is this a trap? If Jesus says to stone her, then they will report him to the Roman officials for inciting a capital punishment, which only the Romans could carry out. If Jesus says not to stone her, then he is undercutting Jewish law and would lose credibility with the Jews.

Instead he bends over and starts to write in the dirt - the only time we ever hear of Jesus writing. What He wrote has been guessed at for centuries. My take comes directly from the prophet Jeremiah, which the Scribes and Pharisees would have been familiar with. It states:
"Lord, you are the hope of Israel; all who forsake you will be put to shame. Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the Lord, the spring of living water."-Jer 17:13
Is Jesus writing the names of the accusers? Maybe. Maybe not. But, it makes sense to me. Just a few verses before (verse 10) Jeremiah writes:
“I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.”
Jesus is able to search the hearts of the Scribes and Pharisees. He sees the hatred and vice within them. He also sees the heart of the adulteress and how she is repentant. The contrast is stark. He stands up and answers them:
“Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Then "immediately" he goes back to writing in the dust. They leave, starting with the oldest (wisest), because they see that they are caught in their own trap. They cannot stone her - because the Romans might make them pay with their own lives. So, they walk away, but discredit themselves by not fulfilling the Mosaic law.

To top it off, they thought themselves sinless, because they observed the Mosaic law down to the finest detail. But, Jesus points us to the new law, which looks at the heart and shows they were truly sinners, as we all are.

So, now the attention is drawn to the woman. While the Jewish leaders were present, she is merely a pawn in their scheme. But, when they leave, she becomes present to us and we see how much Jesus loves her. He asks her if anyone has "condemned her". The Greek word used here is "katakrinĊ" which means "to judge someone worthy of punishment". She answers that there are none left to judge her in this way and Jesus tells us, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.”"

Notice Jesus doesn't judge that the woman is worthy of punishment, even though she has sinned. This is for His Father to do.

So, is Jesus saying she can do whatever she wants? Of course not - hence the statement to "go and sin no more."

So, how then do we balance not judging a person as worthy of punishment and yet judge that their actions might be wrong? The Bible will offer the solution, of course. Let us start with the favorite of our culture today - “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matt. 7:1; Luke 6:37). To understand what Jesus is saying we must understand the first kind of judgment that we find in the Bible - the ultimate Divine judgment we all will receive when we die. We see this in the Old Testament, including
"Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, says the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions” -Ezekiel 18:30
The Old Testament prophets widely spoke of the Divine judgment the Israelites would face if they failed to repent. The prophets leave the Divine judgment of souls for God while speaking the message of repentance. This Divine right to judge our souls’ eternal punishment or reward is echoed by Paul.
“...on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus” -Romans 2:16
The second kind of judgment we see in the Bible is judging the acts of another person to be good or evil. This kind of judgment must be done in love of others, with prudence, and should be done in order to steer our fellow man to his proper goal, heaven.
Take heed to yourselves; if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” -Luke 17:3

As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear -1 Timothy 5:20
“This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith” -Titus 1:13
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” -Matt 18:15
Thus, while we are to avoid the judgment of deciding another’s ultimate fate, sometimes it is necessary and good to direct someone to stop sinning out of love for them. While this isn’t the most politically correct thing to do, Jesus never failed to be politically incorrect when love was at stake. If we truly thirst for the salvation of all like Jesus did, then in some situations we are obligated to speak the truth about the dangers of another’s sinful actions.

Jesus was also never shy about talking to another about their sin, and taking it a step further, he always told them they should stop. He constantly rebuked the Pharisees for their hypocrisy (John the Baptist was even more harsh).

While in the John 8 He says that He does not judge (condemn) the woman, He does judge she has sinned. Jesus never tolerated sin, and He was quick to show others their sinful actions were wrong, but He only did it out of love and with compassion. He knew eternity was at stake.

From this quick look at the biblical understanding of judgment and tolerance we can easily understand what Jesus means when he tells us not to judge others.
Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven-Luke 6:37
This is referring to the ultimate judgment of someone’s soul that is reserved to God alone. If we continue to read, it becomes even clearer how we are supposed to act in these situations.
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, `Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,' when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye” -Luke 6:41-42
Jesus is saying to rebuke another out of love, with gentleness and kindness, but do not rub their noses in it.

When another person says not to “judge them” it may be that they are saying that you do not have the right to tell them that what they have done is wrong. However, Jesus tells us that as long as we do it out of love and we don’t presume to know their destiny, we can, and sometimes must, help our brothers and sisters see their own sin. If we then get labeled as intolerant hate-mongers or judgmental bigots, we might do just as Jesus did and correct their error. If they still refuse to listen, then we must do what Jesus taught and shake the dust from our sandals (or boots) and move on.

Paul, who very well could have the greatest thirst for souls of all the apostles, sums it all up for us while writing to Timothy about the balance that must be brought to a Christian who wants to evangelize and preach the truth.
"I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching” -2 Timothy 4:1-2
With this being said, it might be easier to understand why Jesus (and Pope Francis) doesn't judge others and why we shouldn't either.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

How To Be Happy

All of us want the same thing.  Happiness. We will all get it finally in heaven (and perfectly) but how do we seek it out before we die? In very different ways.

***Some of us seek it out in pleasure, yet find that pleasure alone cannot equal happiness and we are then left unfulfilled. We can find examples of this in how people seek it in drugs or alcohol.

***Some of us seek it in other people, and find they will always be unable to fulfill our deepest longings. Thus, we feel that we haven't found the right person or that we need to change them. This leads to many broken marriages and relationships.

***Some seek it in a combination of pleasure and people.  An example is when people seek to use others sexually. Pre-marital sex, contraception, affairs, etc. This will always lead to unhappiness.

***Some people seek it in power or glory.  They mistake human admiration for happiness, which will always be shown as a sham ultimately.

***Some seek it in money and attaining earthly treasures. They obtain things in place of having real happiness.


So, what will bring true happiness?  Let JPII tell us about it,
"Creating man and woman in his own image and likeness, God wills for them the fullness of good, or supernatural happiness, which flows from sharing in his own life." 
Pope Francis put it this way:
"In our day we pass in front of so many doors that invite us to come in, promising a happiness which later we realize lasts only an instant, exhausts itself with no future. But I ask you: by which door do we want to enter? And who do we want to let in through the door of our life? I would like to say forcefully: let’s not be afraid to cross the threshold of faith in Jesus, to let him enter our life more and more, to step out of our selfishness, our closure, our indifference to others so that Jesus may illuminate our life with a light that never goes out. It is not a firework, not a flash of light! No, it is a peaceful light that lasts for ever and gives us peace. Consequently it is the light we encounter if we enter through Jesus’ door."
We can only be truly happy when we stop trying to create our own happiness and share in the only thing that can truly grant us the gift of happiness - God.  Thus, we have to receive the gift of love that God gives us.

A true happiness is grounded in what is true, beautiful, and good.  God is the only thing that can fulfill these three things we long for. But, it isn't merely our choosing God. He chose us first. Thus, we merely need to respond with a "yes" to his invitation.

Do you want to be happy?  Of course.
Choose God.
Receive Him.
Live your life for Him.
Love Him and His children.
Be happy...

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Halloween & Smut

Halloween decorations have invaded stores for a while now and it made me think about the changes that have happened over the last 30 years or so. When I was a kid [cue the 'old man' comments], Halloween was fun, not too macabre and not filled with sex or the occult. That isn't the case today.

Halloween has been taken over by the grotesque and by commercialized sex. What a shame! It is part and parcel of a culture that is stewing in a porn-injected understanding of sexuality and the human person. In many ways, other people are only pieces of meat for public display in modern culture.

Catholics should not participate in these sides of Halloween. Now, I am not saying that we should reject Halloween all-together, rather I am suggesting that we need to start to think about it now in order to plan on how we might redeem the good in it.

But, first, let us look at the bad, by way of introducing a few costumes.

I remember dressing up as a kid as a robot, superman, cowboy, etc. I also remember some ghosts, princesses, etc. But, I certainly don't remember the tawdry outfits that we have today.

WOMEN STAND UP FOR YOURSELVES. Who do you think designs all these "sexy" and "adult" costumes? It certainly isn't your neighborhood feminist, religious sister, or anyone else who respects women. It is someone who wants to use your beauty to incite lust in others. This not only is scandalous and sinful, but it is just downright nefarious.

MEN AREN'T OFF THE HOOK EITHER. You don't need to wear anything offensive or sexy either. The most offensive costumes I have seen were for men. Men do not need to parade themselves as objects of sex or evil either.

Think of it this way - what being would want men and women displaying themselves for others in bars, streets, and parties?
Hint - it ain't anybody in Heaven...

As you can probably tell, this really upsets me, because it is filtering into our kids lives and culture. Even small children's costumes have been sexualized (but as a father of four girls, you won't find any of them dressing up like tiny strippers, which they DO have).

So, what is a Catholic to do? There are some who say that Catholics should not partake in anything that has to do with Halloween, because of it's association with evil, the devil, and the occult. While we certainly shouldn't have anything to do with those things, we need not throw the baby out with the bathwater. There are some good things about Halloween as expressed in these Catholic articles, which can be redeemed:
I make the following suggestions if you are going to participate in Halloween:
  • Wear an modest and appropriate costume if you dress up. Nothing "sexy" and nothing having to do with the occult. Make it fun or creative.
  • Learn the truth behind Halloween and share it with others.
  • Don't forget to celebrate All Souls and All Saints with even more gusto.
  • Be temperate at any celebration you attend.
  • If you have kids, teach them about the Catholic roots of the days surrounding Halloween, dress them appropriately as well, keep them safe, and don't expose them to the occult practices that surround Halloween.
  • Avoid the grotesque, terror, and horror of Halloween.
  • Pray for the souls in Purgatory and with the Saints in Heaven.
  • Don't let kids trick-or-treat without adults, late, or in unknown/dangerous places.
  • Don't watch horror movies or dabble in "games" that have occult origins, such as Tarot cards or the Ouija board.
  • Have fun, be creative and don't let the culture define your Halloween.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

What Every Catholic Needs To Know About Vatican II

Many Catholics have heard a lot about Vatican II and yet are ignorant about the basics of the council. This post may serve as a first-step in overcoming some of those gaps in knowledge, but please don't let it be your last, if you need to know more.

Over the years the Pope, Bishops, and leaders of our Church frequently reference Vatican II.  On Monday, Pope Francis said:
"As children of the Church we must continue on the path of Vatican Council II, stripping ourselves of useless and harmful things, of false worldly securities which weigh down the Church and damage her true face."
Once again, we have an importance reference to the Church and the changes that happened in Vatican II. If we don't have a proper reference point of understanding what happened, we will struggle to see the important issues the Church is still trying to tackle in renewing the Church's structures and work.


Whenever I talk about Vatican II with others, I begin by asking them what Vatican II did. They almost universally respond by talking about the changes in the liturgy. While these are the most visible changes, they are not the most important things to come from Vatican II.

Vatican II was the 21st ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church. All other councils were called because of some crisis or problem that the Church needed to address. For instance, many heresies (Arianism, Gnosticism, etc.) were addressed by proclaiming what the orthodox ("right teaching") teaching of the Church was.

Vatican II was different because the Church didn't need to address any major crisis. It was called by John XXIII more as a pastoral council than a doctrinal one. That doesn't mean it didn't give us doctrine, but rather that it was aimed more at helping Catholic live out the teachings of the Church. Therefore, It's main purpose was to help apply the truths of Christ to modern-day life.


When John XXIII called the Council, the world was shocked he did so. 'Why' was the question.

John XXIII’s theme for the Council was put forward in a document to open the first session. (Gaudet Mater Ecclesia) “Mother Church Rejoices”. The Church is called to teach, govern and sanctify. But, unlike most other councils of the Church, there was no crisis in doctrine that proceeded it. There was also no need for dogmatic definitions. What the Church needed was for to apply the teachings the Church already had to the present and foreseeable future.

So, he wanted the Church to examine itself and ask the question of “what do we need to do to make our faith deeper and more lively.”

There was a deep need to have doctrine stated in a relevant way, but in a way that did not change what was being taught. It's formulation and presentation needed updating without leaving any truth behind.

John XXIII's vision of the council was:

  1. Awareness - The Church is aware of itself
  2. Renewal - After we become aware we reform (note you cannot reform what you don’t know about)
  3. Dialogue - Dialogue with the world at large.


Paul VI became pope during the council, after John XXIII's death. After the council, John Paul II became pope. During the implementation of the council, there was one major question - how do we go about implementing the teachings in the council? Both Paul VI and JPII had to struggle with this question. Benedict XVI and Francis have done so also.

Some saw in Vatican II an opportunity to "update" the Church's doctrine. They wanted the Church to change the moral teachings on contraception, sex, etc. They also wanted doctrines such as the all-male priesthood, etc to change.

This caused an upheaval and confusion in the Church that has lasted until our day. Every parish and diocese was greatly effected by this confusion. Many people left the Church, not knowing what was going on, others simply drifted along. During this time religious education was very poor and generations of Catholics since have been poorly formed, including my own generation.

On the bright side, the Church has begun to correctly implement the teachings of Vatican II more recently. There has been a re-capturing of the truth found in the teachings of Vatican II and a proper balance to it all. We are doing much better at educating the people and I believe a corner has been turned. While we still have a long way to go, there is great reason to be hopeful that we are headed in the right direction.

Now, what specifically did Vatican II teach? Well, to get it all I urge you to pick up the documents and read them. You can buy books and commentaries on Vatican II or you can even get them from the internet. Here is the Vatican's website with all 16 documents.

Some of the major themes / teachings include:
  • Aggiornamento - this is a word that means to "bring up to date". This doesn't mean the Church's doctrine changes, but how we teach, communicate, and apply it might. It can be seen as a way of trying to read the signs of the times and adjust where we are willing and able to.
  • Ressourcement - this word means a "return to the sources". The Council Fathers balanced the updating with a retrieval of some of the lost practices of the early Church. RCIA is a fruit of this effort.
  • The universal call to holiness - everyone is called to perfection in the spiritual life.
  • Renewal in the Church - it begins by understanding God and the nature of the Church as well as our imperfection.
  • Changes in liturgy - the liturgy is our source and summit of the spiritual life.
  • Dialogue with the world - when we engage the world and culture with the truth of Christ, we can help renew both.
  • Call for the laity to "reform the temporal order".
There are many more, but these are a quick summary points. I hope this encourages you to study more for yourself.

Of course, the most visible changes were in the prayers/actions we have at Mass. Some of the major changes to the liturgy include:
  • Using the vernacular (language of the people)
  • The priest facing the people during the Eucharistic prayer
  • The call to "active participation" of the entire congregation (though some mis-interpreted this as a call to change many things not intended to be changed).
  • Call to catechize more about the liturgy to help the congregation grow in understanding of the action of the liturgy and therefore faith in Christ.
  • Greater use of Scripture. We have an extra reading since Vatican II.
Liturgical renewal began long before Vatican II and is actually still on-going. We have seen such ongoing changes with the new translation of the Roman Missal and the wider use of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (Latin).

There are four major documents in Vatican II, called 'Constitutions'. One is on the liturgy, one is on the Church, one is on Revelation, and the last is on The Church in the Modern World. These four documents are the most important. But, there are others that are very important as well. Some of the other topics in the documents include:
  • marriage
  • family
  • culture
  • social life
  • economics
  • political community
  • moral basis of authority
  • Sacraments
  • media
  • Eastern Rite Catholic Churches
  • Ecumenism
  • Office of Bishops
  • Religious
  • Priestly formation
  • Christian Education
  • Non-Christian Religions Laity
  • Religious liberty
  • Missions

JPII said his pontificate was dedicated to properly implementing Vatican II. Benedict XVI said his pontificate was an extension of JPII's and then Francis said the same about Benedict.

Therefore, to understand the Catholic Church's needs today, we must understand Vatican II. We can rest in the knowledge that the Holy Spirit continues to guide the Church. Through prayer and study may we all grow together in holiness and faith as we journey with our pastors on this road to truth, goodness and beauty.

If you want to read more you ought to go straight to the documents. But, you can find some good commentary here:

A Greater Gift

This summer I spent a week in Colorado with my brother, sister-in-law, and 5 year old niece.  One of the highlights of the trip were the hikes we took.  Most evenings we would investigate kid friendly hikes online and then pick one for the following day.  The words "kid friendly" quickly became the joke of the trip as we traversed giant boulders, navigated over mounds of rocks (otherwise known as a "clearly marked path"), and took up steep inclines to breathtaking views. 


My niece was a trooper and didn't fall once in all those "kid friendly" hikes . . . until one of our final days when we were actually on a legitimately kid friendly path!  As we descended a very gentle gravel path she landed on her knee and the floodgates opened.  She sobbed as we carried her to the car, as we traveled to the nearby grocery store for more first aid supplies, on the ride to the condo, and all throughout her bath.  As my sister-in-law gently, but deliberately did one final cleaning to remove all the dirt from the wound, my niece's tone of voice changed.   


"Mom", she said firmly. "Mom! Mom!!" finally putting her little hand on my sister-in-law's arm to get her attention.  She wasn't just crying out.  She had an idea.  "I know what won't hurt as much."  She proceeded to tell her mom how she could go about this in a way that wouldn't hurt so much. 


This little exchange stopped me in my tracks.  My niece was convinced she knew a better way, a way that wouldn't hurt.  She was certain of it, as certain as she had ever been about anything (and she is pretty head strong and certain of everything!)  This little girl, who knew nothing about the danger of infection, the cleansing properties of antiseptics, or the angle at which my sister-in-law needed to get into the wound to clean out all the little bits of dirt . . . was certain she knew a better way.  Certain.


How often do I look to heaven and firmly say, "Lord! Lord!!  I know what won't hurt as much."  I say it all the time.  Certain I know a better way to go about what he is doing.  Certain.


Recently the Lord has been showing me that he does in fact know what he is doing.  The difficulties in my life - the things that hurt in some way - are doing something.  They serve a purpose.  What God is doing in and through my present struggles is a greater gift to me than for him to simply remove them. 


I see those words on the page and part of me can't believe I typed them.  It's been a long time getting to this place and I'm sure there is a long road still in letting this truth sink in.  But today somehow I'm aware that the struggles are a gift.  They are doing something good in me.  I've caught glimpse of that, a glimpse at the good they are doing. 


They are a gift.  Greater than any other he could give right now.  How can I know this?  If there was a greater gift he could give, he would.  The Cross is proof of this.  He holds nothing back.


Today may we trust that the Lord knows what he is doing.  He sees our pain.  He hears our cry.  He knows our wounds.  He is giving us a gift.  He has a purpose. 


Lord, help us receive your gift and trust in your purpose.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Fr. Barron Gives Us A Great Reflection On The Movie Gravity.

I saw the movie Gravity last week. I liked it a lot and thought the themes of faith, redemption, divinity, humanity, and love ran throughout the movie. In fact, I think it is one of the more artistic films in a long while. The cinematography is some of the best ever, with mind-blowing images of space. Furthermore, although the script isn't perfect, it is good enough to carry the themes above.

Fr. Barron has a great commentary on it:

Some of the things he didn't talk about:

  • The Chinese station had a Buddha statue in it. The Russian station had an image of St. Christopher in it. Add that to the reference on the Hindu sacred river, the Ganges, and we see the universal human desire for God being called upon.
  • What about the American ship? It offers us the image of Marvin the Martian. Sadly, the film tells us the Americans are the ones most off the mark, which may be true in some cases.
  • Also, there is a scene of baptism at the end, where Bullock is "born-again" and emerges to then have the ability to thank God.
  • Finally - in space there is no sound. It is in this "silence" that Bullock finds God. Where else could we find Him but in silence?

Monday, October 7, 2013

Why Is There A Hell If God Loves Everyone?

Not an uncommon question - why does Hell exist if God loves everyone?

First, there are a few things we must understand about the nature of God, the nature of humans, and our relationship with God.
  • God is the source of all good.  God does not create evil (which isn't really a "thing", but rather an absence of a good).  
  • God cannot act in a way that is evil (lacking in goodness).
  • God allows humans to choose to do good or evil. We have free will. 
  • It is possible to reject God's grace. This is our own free choice.
  • God wants (wills) all be saved.
  • If anyone goes to Hell, they have chosen to do so.
God loves us so much that he allows us to choose hell. That might sound like a radical statement, but it it true - God allows us to choose Hell, against what he wants for us. Why? Because God respects our freedom SO much that He would allow us to choose something bad for us. Without such freedom we could not choose to love freely either. Because if there is no ability to choose to not love God, then we aren't free to choose to love Him either. The choice would have been already made for us.

Love doesn't always equal nice, clean and pretty. Love isn't about feeling good. It is about what is best for the other, despite the cost to myself. As a parent this is certainly the case. I see parents make the common mistake of wanting to be a friend to their children and so they do not discipline them, which can lead to spoiled kids. I remember the first time I punished my first child. I cried more than she did. But, I did it because I truly love her.

God wants what is best for us - that is freedom to choose to love Him. In order to give us this option He allows us to choose that which is not in our best interest. Free will cuts both ways.

Thus, the Catechism says:
1036 The affirmations of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church on the subject of hell are a call to the responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny
Hell is being separated from God for eternity. Since we are created for union with God, it is unnatural for us to be in Hell. But, God never stops loving us. We are the ones who stop loving Him. He cannot stop loving us, because by his nature, God is love.
"Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him." - 1 John 4:8-9.
God values one of us more than all of the rest of His creation added up. Christ died on a cross and rose again so that we might have life eternal with Him. He didn't live, die, and rise again for stars, mountains, animals, or plants.

He died for you and me. His children.

The Catechism says:
220 God's love is "everlasting": "For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you." Through Jeremiah, God declares to his people, "I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you."
To be loved by God does not mean He won't allow us to choose not to love Him - even eternally. This is why there is a Hell, even though God loves everyone.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Military Contract Chaplains Barred From Celebrating Mass Because of Government Shutdown!

Because of the government shutdown, some priests who contract with the Armed Services to provide pastoral care for the troops have been threatened with arrest if they try to celebrate the Sacraments on base. This is pretty egregious example of a violation of First Amendment (religious freedom). More:
If the government shutdown continues through the weekend, there will be no Catholic priest to celebrate Mass this Sunday in the chapels at some U.S. military installations where non-active-duty priests serve as government contractors.

Military personnel enjoy, like all Americans, the First Amendment guarantee of the “Free Exercise” of their particular religious faith. But because military personnel are considered a “captive audience,” the laws of our country require the government to provide access to that faith. This is why we have a military chaplaincy. This all becomes very clear when one thinks of a military family stationed in Bahrain or Japan. They cannot walk down the street to the local synagogue, church, mosque, etc.

There is a chronic shortage of active duty Catholic chaplains. While roughly 25% of the military is Catholic, Catholic priests make up only about 8% of the chaplain corps. That means approximately 275,000 men and women in uniform, and their families, are served by only 234 active-duty priests. The temporary solution to this shortage is to provide GS and contract priests. These men are employed by the government to ensure that a priest is available when an active duty Catholic Chaplain is not present. With the government shutdown, many GS and contract priests who minister to Catholics on military bases worldwide are not permitted to work – not even to volunteer. During the shutdown, it is illegal for them to minister on base and they risk being arrested if they attempt to do so.

As an example, if a Catholic family has a Baptism scheduled this weekend at an Air Force base that is staffed by a GS or contract priest, unless they can locate a priest who is not a GS or contract priest, the Baptism is most likely cancelled. If you are a Catholic stationed in Japan or Korea and are served by a Contract or GS priest, unless you speak Korean or Japanese and can find a church nearby, then you have no choice but to go without Mass this weekend. Until the Federal Government resumes normal operations, or an exemption is granted to contract or GS priests, Catholic services are indefinitely suspended at many of those worldwide installations served by contract and GS priests.

At a time when the military is considering alternative sources of funding for sporting events at the service academies, no one seems to be looking for funding to ensure the Free Exercise rights of Catholics in uniform. Why not?

*John Schlageter is General Counsel for the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA. has some details and recommends we contact our elected representatives.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Radical Groups Behind Hollywood's Culture Of Sex & Abortion

A while back, I got an email from a reader who sent me a link to an organization I had not heard of before, but now believe should be known by others. The group is called - their stated mission is the following:
The Entertainment Resource Professionals Association (ERPA) is a coalition of independent organizations and individuals who work to inspire cause-specific story ideas within entertainment media, and to provide accurate and unbiased public health information to members of television, film and video game industries. ERPA's primary purpose is to serve as a support system and resource for its participants working in this new and growing field, which we call Entertainment Outreach. ERPA members gather monthly in the Los Angeles area to ensure regular networking opportunities. The organization also hosts a listserv for ongoing information sharing.
This group is co-sponsored by The Media Project (a project of Advocates for Youth), and the UCLA School of Public Health. Sounds simple and harmless right?

Not exactly.

The Media Project is a group that advocates for adolescent education of abortion, contraception, homosexual identity, etc. Their mission is:
The Media Project, a program of Advocates for Youth, offers entertainment professionals the latest facts, research assistance, script consultation, and story ideas on today's sexual and reproductive health issues, including condoms, pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, abstinence, and abortion.
So, they consult with Hollywood writers, producers, directors, actors, and other professionals to bring their agenda to the table. Are they successful in getting their viewpoints across? They sure are and tout their successes on their website.

The industry respects them and uses them as consultants. They are an outreach service of Advocates for Youth. This group has the same agenda, but with many other goals, including sex education curricula in schools, lobbying elected official, research that supports their goals, etc. They are run by a former executive at NARAL - a national pro-abortion group.

So, now the connection all comes together. The list of people involved includes "educators, researchers, public health officials, public relations professionals, writers, journalists, publicists, advertisers and media professionals, among others."

Here are some of the "facts" that are on the AFY website:
  • Abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula teach that sexual expression outside of marriage will have harmful social, psychological and physical consequences, thereby stigmatizing and shaming students who have already had sex;.
  • Abstinence-only-until-marriage programs discriminate against GLBTQ students who can’t legally marry by expressing relationships in strict heterosexual standards.
  • Advocates for Youth believes that it is time to get over the “condom phobia” promoted during the last eight (8) years. Young people need all the facts about condoms and not just the negative spin from social conservatives.
  • Advocates for Youth believes that birth control is basic health care and that confidential access to birth control benefits. Every person has the right to decide when they want to have children and how many.
  • Advocates for Youth supports removing the arbitrary age restriction for emergency contraception over-the-counter for all women of reproductive age. No young woman should have to face an unwanted pregnancy when a remedy exists to prevent pregnancy.
This is all harmful for our children and society. We need to stand up and oppose these kind of programs and the public funding of such programs that run contrary to the health and well-being of our society.

We also need to support groups that are trying to change the culture of the entertainment industry, such as:
We also need to pray for those who work in the entertainment industry and love them enough to try an influence them to change their ways if they are advocating things that are unhealthy for themselves or others.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013