Sunday, December 2, 2012

The daily Advent

The Our Father is a prayer taught to us by Jesus Christ himself. I pray it several times a day. In it every day I say "Adveniat Regnum Tuum", Thy Kingdom Come! It is like waiting for the Messiah and for his kingdom to come every day. Last week we celebrated Christ the King and today we're beginning Advent. What better time to start taking this petition more seriously and to transform my life accordingly? I complain about all the evil that is happening around me, but I can be sure that the real evil is that which is within me and the part of me that Christ has not conquered yet.

Christ can only transform me if I let him do it. This time of Advent only makes sense if it is a time of personal encounter with him and a preparation of our hearts for his coming. By preparing for the reliving of the first coming of Christ I am also preparing for his second coming, when he comes "to judge the living and the dead".

As of today I can start to live my every day as an Advent, and hopefully when Jesus comes again I can say: Thy Kingdom has Come!

Friday, November 23, 2012

A sacrifice a day keeps the devil away

St Michael Archangel fighting Satan
Today my daughter, who is only four, said that she drank her orange juice, which she does not particularly like and offered it up to God for one of her little friends who was sick at home.

We have forgotten the value of sacrifice in God's eyes. Most of the time we flee from anything that presents the slightest discomfort to us. When it's too cold we put the heating on; when the food is tasteless we put some salt on it; when the tea is not sweet enough we put sugar in it, and so on. When we cannot change something and it is absolutely inevitable to suffer, then there is always the last resource: complain about it, and make sure that everybody around me knows about my suffering.

Even some Catholics who make sacrifices think of choosing an aspect of their lives in which they make it. Often these mortifications are related to eating habits (or bad habits one wants to get rid of), because you can kill two birds with one stone, you know. It is never harmful to lose a few pounds while you strengthen your spiritual muscles. WRONG!

The real sacrifices are right there in front of my eyes every day, and I don't need to plan out a diet to make a sacrifice. How about just not complaining about the weather or the food? How about just doing my duties as a parent or at work with diligence without looking for easy solutions or shortcuts?

Does not the devil want us to have everything our way? How better can we prepare ourselves to enter the narrow gate if not by pruning ourselves and our desires, which tend to place us always at the centre. The person that makes a sacrifice and offers it to God places him in the centre instead of himself. There is no better way of preparing to resist temptation and to keep Satan away then the Sacraments, prayer and sacrifices.

My daughter's was a great example of a simple little sacrifice we can all make, and are called to make every day. There is a virtually infinite number, but here are some concrete ones just in case you need some ideas:

  • Wake up a few minutes early and spend that time in prayer
  • Give my full attention to my wife or children when they want to speak with me during my 'me time'
  • Offer to do the dishes after meal
  • Make a positive comment about someone I don't get along with at work
  • Make a visit to a church or chapel when I walk by next time
  • Next time you are at mass pay attention and be fully present
There is a great blog about Fr William Doyle, an Irish Jesuit priest, who also served as a chaplain in World War I, and who lived an extraordinary ascetic life. His many writings reveal how sacrifice and self-conquering can lead to spiritual perfection.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

You cannot receive Christ like that! Kneeling or standing?

Some time ago I read a leaflet, which explained that Pope Benedict started to distribute Holy Communion on the tongue and kneeling only. He has done this to promote greater reverence toward the Eucharist, and to help the communicants to express with the external posture the internal attitude that ought to be present in the believer. Sometimes I go to the Traditional Mass, where Communion is only given in this way, and also I used to attend the Novus Ordo with a community where it was the custom too, so it was nothing new to me, but it was phrased with such simplicity and such beauty that it really struck me. If I really believe that the Creator of the universe and the Savior of mankind is coming to me, what other posture can I assume? It got me thinking not only about kneeling for Communion, but my whole attitude during mass. Isn't the Blessed Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit the most important thing in my life? If yes, then isn't mass the best thing I can offer to God?

Unfortunately it is very rare to see real reverence and love for Christ in the Eucharist. To receive Christ in hand and standing has become the norm. Do we not contradict ourselves in saying "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof" and then going up to communicate without making any outward sign of acknowledgment of the Son in the Eucharist? Crossing ourselves? Genuflecting? Bowing? I decided that I would kneel down to receive Communion from then on.

I did not have to wait for long to be corrected. 

Once when I went up to receive the Lord and knelt down the priest refused to give me Communion. He instructed me to stand up, which I did for peace's sake, but it would be hard to describe the way I felt. The worst thing was that after  mass the priest came to me and started to correct me as if there was a problem with me. Was he not aware of what the Church officially prescribes regarding this matter?

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal deals with the posture for Holy Communion in no.160. The English translation has already been adapted to the specific countries, and the norm of the United States is to receive Communion standing, "unless an individual member of the faithful wishes to receive Communion while kneeling" (GIRM 160). The original Latin text says that the faithful will receive Communion standing or kneeling, as it has been established by the Episcopal Conference.

Little known is the fact that the Episcopal Conference can only establish the preferred way. If the bishops of a country want standing to be established as the preferred way, they need to refer the matter to the Holy See, which needs to approve the request. This is only done on the condition that the faithful remain free to kneel for Communion if they wish to.

I have done a little research, and I came across some clarification given by Cardinal Arinze. He deals with this question with great clarity and, as the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of Sacraments, with authority also.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A papal pardon. Why not? - Why? Not!

Canon lawyer Edward Peters offered some points of reflection on apossiblepapal pardon being accorded to Paolo Gabriele, which was speculated by some after the pope sent him a book of psalms.
Dr Peters quotes a paragraph from the book-length interview of Peter Seewald with Pope Benedict: "After the mid-sixties [punishment] was simply not applied any more. The prevailing mentality was that the Church must not be a Church of laws but, rather, a Church of love; she must not punish. Thus the awareness that punishment can be an act of love ceased to exist. This led to an odd darkening of the mind, even in very good people. Today we have to learn all over again that love for the sinner and love for the person who has been harmed are correctly balanced if I punish the sinner in the form that is possible and appropriate. In this respect there was in the past a change of mentality, in which the law and the need for punishment were obscured. Ultimately this also narrowed the concept of love, which in fact is not just being nice or courteous, but is found in the truth. And another component of truth is that I must punish the one who has sinned against real love." Light of the World: A Conversation with Peter Seewald (Ignatius Press, 2010) 25-26.
Peters concludes: "Personally, I don’t see the pope’s sending a devotional book to Gabriele as a sign of coming leniency; I see it more as a sign of continuing love. Benedict was the victim of a very serious crime, but he still loves the offender. The pope seeks Gabriele’s personal good but, precisely as pope, Benedict also has the future of the papal office to consider; pardoning Gabriele could well make the next pope’s job that much harder to perform—and who knows better than Benedict how hard it already is to be pope?"
I fully agree with Dr Peters. I work in a boarding school, where I am a member of the board that makes the rules and enforces them too. Infringement of certain rules deserves a punishment. Sometimes this punishment is given with a saddened heart, and the student might also be truly sorry. When the student is punished because of disrespect with a teacher or a figure of authority he usually apologizes before the punishment is applied and we forgive him, but not for that reason do we take away the punishment.
Does not the same apply at home? Punishing our children does not mean that we do not love them. In fact, we punish them not out of retribution, but looking for their greater good out of love. Punishment is part of authentic and formative love. It propels toward perfection. I think that the pope also instructs us how to love authentically. He does love Gabriele, but knows that a papal pardon would not be the appropriate expression of love.
By not talking about important realities (since the mid-sixties), such as judgment and hell haven't we gotten used to a 'nice God', who ultimately does not care what we do, a God that does not demand a virtuous life? May the Lord grant us the grace to understand this formative aspect of love.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The shortest Christmas wish list

If you asked some of the contestants for the Miss Universe title what their deepest desire is, they would probably answer ‘World peace”. If you asked them to even write it down, it would be something like “World piece” (sorry Miss Universe, but I know you have a good sense of humor, and you may not be one of these ladies anyway).

A courageous parish priest’s request to his parishioners to go to confession instead of giving him Christmas presents was very well received both in his parish (pretty remarkable!) and in the Catholic blogosphere. This is a priest who has his priorities right. Well done, father! It is soothing for the soul to hear some good news amidst the sea of bad ones we get every day.

What else could a priest ask for?

Even though this good news broke some days ago already, it kept coming back to my mind. What else could a priest ask for Christmas? The mission of a priest is to bring souls to heaven, many of whom would be lost without him. The priest brings Christ to the faithful by administering the sacraments. So, it is clear that the only way to Christmas is repentance and the cleaning of one’s soul. We spend so much time to prepare the house for Christmas: the house is decorated, the tree is set, gifts are bought etc. But the real preparation must be inside. To make an appeal similar to that of our brave priest is the only right wish a parish priest can make. It is not a vague, utopian wish like world peace, but a concrete one, which resounds in the heart of each. Priests, be courageous and challenge us!

Not only priests

As Catholics we are all called to work for the salvation of souls, starting with our own. My fellow Catholics, the greatest gift we can give our priests for Christmas is that we go to confession. Any Catholic taking their faith seriously should prefer the salvation of a single soul over any material gift however valuable, and should never make compromises or put their salvation in jeopardy because of any material good.

To see if I have my priorities right I need to answer this simple question: what is my most inner desire for Christmas?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

3 reasons why I don't want to be like James Bond

007 is super cool. Not only has he got all the money he needs to travel around and drive the best cars; not only does he have the coolest gadgets to obtain information, trace down people or eliminate them; he is also in control of the situation... always... even when he is not. He is the hero that the creators want the audience to aspire to be like.

James Bond does offer good entertainment, and I must confess that I do enjoy the Bond movies, but there are three main reasons why I would not like to be like him besides for all the danger and thrill he goes through, which I would probably not enjoy if I was in his shoes.

1) No matter how well he gets along with people or how well he can socialize, James Bond is utterly lonely and unsettled.

2) Even though James Bond is always in control of the situation, he falls for women. True, he is not a womanizer, at least not if you only watch one episode at a time, but overall he has been 'romantically involved' (as it is euphemistically put nowadays) with way too many women to be called a faithful type.

3) The highest ideals James Bond pursues are of this world. Plain and simple. We are not surprised or shocked by this fact, given that those movies where supernatural ideals are pursued are the exception to the rule.

My 007 friend has already got a special place on the theater screens and in the media, but my real heroes have a special place in my heart.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Unity with Christ and the Church

When we hear the siren of an ambulance we always pray a Hail Mary and a little prayer for the person that is ill, which goes: "God, please help the sick". This is something we do with the children every time. Their little ears are so trained to the sound of the siren that sometimes we only notice that they are praying even though we did not even notice the ambulance passing by. It is a great way to ask for the necessary graces for the person in need. There was a period in which my daughter used to ask why we had to pray for the sick. We would tell her that we prayed for healing. 

On our way to mass today we saw an ambulance, and my children immediately started to pray. However, after the Hail Mary, my daughter did not say the usual prayer, but instead she said: "Jesus, please help the person to come to the Church". There is something beautiful about this, and it shows how she has a grasp of something fundamentally true and important. The person is first and foremost needs to be reconciled with God and the Church; we all need to be spiritually sound, in communion with the Church. Physical health and healing are only of secondary importance.

Dominic Savio captured it with such eloquence as one of his resolutions made at his First Communion: "Death rather than sin". I will stay united with Christ and his Church rather than commit even a venial sin. In fact, detachment from sin is a minimum requirement for each and every Catholic. I cannot claim to be a Catholic and take delight in what is sinful. Yes, sin is inevitable, but it cannot be wanted for its sake.

The siren or the church bells will once sound for me, and I would like someone to have taught their children to say a little prayer for me. If it be God's will then for my physical healing, but most importantly for my union with Christ.