EVERY Life is Worth Living is the theme for this year’s Respect Life month. Every life means every person beginning at conception, through pregnancy, at birth and all the years after birth until natural death. That is because every life is a gift from God. Deep in our souls is planted that truth. Our secular culture however seeks to bury that truth. Yet truth is truth.
Sometimes instinctive reactions, “gut responses” are teachers. I recall in the days before my conversion when I viewed abortion as simply a matter of personal choice. I visited my doctor’s office. In order to do so I had to walk past a door that had written on it “Madison Abortion Clinic”. I instinctively felt uneasy. Now having been led by the Spirit to the truth that every life is a gift from God to be respected and when necessary supported, I know why I experienced that queasy feeling. Every life is worth living.
I recall visiting my grandmother in a nursing home where she was surrounded with many other elderly dealing with physical and mental challenges. Life is not perfect; suffering is real. Yet the promise of the world to come for those who are faithful offers strength. Watching her deteriorate before my eyes with little I could do about it raised the question common in our day, why go through this. Then she smiled at me. I knew then that her life and all lives are worth living.
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Some months ago I was at the Treasure Hut in Hoven. As I was looking around, I heard a heated discussion with a mother and her children about going to a party (or concert or something). She told them they couldn’t go…telling her children: “Whenever you go into bad places, you leave your Guardian Angel at the door!” Tell you the truth, I had never heard that expression before then. And, you know, it is a good theology thought. It was supposed to make them think twice about going someplace bad because they’d be going alone. But…that’s not really the case…our Guardian Angels never leave us.
It’s just that putting ourselves in the near occasion of sin makes it harder for us to hear them!
Our loving God wants very much for us to find our way Home to Heaven, which is why, from infancy to death; He has wrapped every human person in the watchful care and the powerful protection of a Guardian Angel.
In the Second Book of the Bible (Exodus), God says, “See, I am sending an angel before you, to guard you on the way and bring you to the place I have prepared.” That place of course is Heaven, our home with God forever.
The mother at the Treasure Hut alludes well to what Matthew states: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.”
Once we realize that we have such a wonderful gift as our personal Guardian Angel, who is committed to our safe arrival in Heaven, we should be moved to listen to their promptings.
Our Guardian Angels are always with us:
- they work to keep us on the right path;
- they help us to rise whenever we fall into sin;
- they encourage us to grow in holiness;
- they assist us in dangerous situations and most importantly;
- they act as intermediaries in offering our prayers & good works to God.
Friday, (October 2nd) we celebrated the Feast of the Guardian Angels. It’s our annual reminder for us to maintain a daily relationship with our Guardian Angel. That could be as simple as reciting the Guardian Angel prayer that we learned as a child. Remember this, kneeling at your bedside:
“Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God’s love commits me here, ever this day be at my side, to light, to guard, to rule and guide. Amen!”
Never think we are too big to need the care and support of our Angelic Guides. Pray regularly to our Guardian Angels, thanking them for their constant care and asking for their powerful help and protection.
Whenever politicians, bureaucrats or boards want more tax dollars, the common (and successful ploy) is to say: “We need it for the children,” or “It’s for the sake of the children,” or “How can we deny an opportunity for the next generation?” And, like I wrote…it is very successful…though too often proven to be rooted in emotional response rather than a reasoned response. However, when I require that the WHOLE FAMILY attend Mass for the sake of the children…everything turned upside down. One would think I am asking to destroy the next generation…rather than to save it. And, this is the very point Jesus teaches us in this week’s Gospel: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”
What is it about the Mass that is such a problem? Or, better said, Why go to Mass? This is a question so many more Catholics who do not go are asking. Some experience a dissonance between church teachings and their choices (birth control, divorce and remarriage, sexual mores, etc.); others say church seems irrelevant to daily life (citing church scandals or remember being made not to feel welcome). Some say that they have little time for church: ‘with two working parents’, ‘kids in organized sports’, ‘caring for elderly parents’ (and many, many more). They feel a need for time to themselves. Some say Mass is boring, feel let down when they don’t get the euphoria some claim after worship at an entertaining, non-denominational church. (Matthew Kelly’s The Dynamic Catholic and CD’s does a good job exposing these ideas…and how to cast off the temptations the devil uses to distract us.)
While at first understandable, upon closer examination a good number of these are poor excuses. Worship is not so much looking at how church relates to our lives but how we relate to God. The purpose of our worship is a gradual, steady transformation…all of us hearing God’s Word and receiving the Eucharist…being slowly, steadily fashioned into other Christs. It’s not all about expecting good feelings inside after Mass or getting winning numbers for the lottery from the hymn-board!
When I hear somebody say: “I’m too busy to go to church, I work three jobs, etc.” it might be better paraphrased as: “I have better, other things to do.” They sound a bit like the rich young man, invited to follow Jesus…sadly walking away when invited to be a follower because he had too many things and other things to do. Disappointed, Jesus looked at him with love! Our worship requires engagement and participation. It takes some effort. It is a commitment.
We need to do a better job of attracting and truly understanding those who care to criticize, but need also to invite a certain self-criticism that recognizes ‘reasons’ for the poor excuses they often are. Worship is not about me and God; it is first about God, then about the best me. I can be because of God. We come not to get something out of it; but, to let Jesus put His love into us (a love that goes far beyond a good feeling, that produces goodness in living, doing justice, walking humbly, loving tenderly as God has planned).
If you remember from last week’s readings, Peter is scolded by Jesus because he is thinking too much like a corporate officer than one who wants to follow Jesus. Our readings today speak to us about ambition. You know, there is nothing more heroic in this world than ambition. With a good balance between business experience and ambition (with proper funding)…“the world can be your oyster.” Ambition can be a force for achieving good or it can be destructive. But, in this world…it takes a balance.
However, Jesus teaches something different when it comes to achieving the Kingdom of God. In the First Reading this week, we see the negative side of ambition; those with no faith are insulted by people who sincerely practice their beliefs in their daily lives, so much so they intend to target them and bully them with physical violence and intimidation.
And, in contrast, Jesus rebukes His disciples because they were arguing about which one of them in the group was the greatest. Jesus brings to them a child and says: you must be like a child. (Children, much like today, had no rights and were treated little better than servants. In other words, they trusted the adults in the room. In their innocence, they are taught to be hard and distrusting.) For Jesus to suggest they be like children would have been puzzling. Jesus is looking for servant leaders; people who don’t lord it over others…but put themselves at the service of others. As disciples of Jesus, we are called in faith, to trust the Adult in the room…God! And, to do as the Adult teaches us to act, we can know we can return to our original innocence. It is a concept we need to constantly keep before our own minds, especially in the 21st century, as we try to be His followers. Humble service is called for, not ambitious titles and positions.
Reading our Gospel today, one would have to feel sorry for St. Peter. When Jesus poses the question: “Who do you say I am?” He is no longer asking the apostles to relate to Him the thinking of the people. He now wants to know what their personal opinion is. He seeks a sign from each of them to put into words…their faith… in action. Out of the silence, Peter bravely speaks and says, “You are the Christ.” Everyone might have thought it, but Peter leads the way and says it. He believes Jesus is the promised Messiah. Jesus warns them not to reveal this truth about Him just yet.
He then explains all that is going to happen. He will suffer and be rejected, put to death and rise again. Peter, probably still feeling brave after getting the identity of Jesus correct, takes Jesus aside and says this is outrageous and should not be allowed to happen. After all, if we have to climb mountains, we all want the path of least resistance. And, after all, if God would only listen to Peter, the world would be better off. (Kind of sounds like our prayers most of the time…doesn’t it.) Jesus reprimands him (and each of us) in full view of all the apostles and says: “Get behind me Satan.” This must have been a crushing experience for Peter. But Jesus tells the apostles, and us, that His followers must take up their cross and follow Him. There is no way to escape suffering if we are followers of Christ. The world doesn’t want to hear Jesus or His teaching, it wants all the benefits…but…little of the work it takes to make the world the Kingdom of God. Mankind still suffers from the original sin of wanting to be gods…and make the world in our image. (How has that been working for us lately?)
The irony is that people think because you are a follower of Christ you should be protected from the worst of what life has to throw at you. It’s not the case. What we can rely on is the presence of Jesus with us in the midst of what we are going through. And, know in faith, He is the Messiah Who is Integrity Itself and will not leave us or forget us. (Though, we tend to be more like Peter at times.) Let us thank the Lord for His strength in us.
In his writings, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, has emphasized the importance of resting from labors so that we can routinely renew ourselves in mind, body and spirit. Up until 40 years ago Sunday was truly a day of rest with most businesses and restaurants being shut down for the day. Those that could not would go as far as trading weeks so family and employees could have every other week off from Sunday work. Sadly, that all changed with the advent of 24-hour stores that don’t distinguish one day from the next…with many employees having to work a Sunday Shift. Not only is this preventing people from attending Church to worship God as He commanded, but it’s also robbing them of the time they need for rest and renewal. Now, don’t get me wrong…sometimes there is no other recourse (and I thank Wal-Mart being open 24 hours when I live in Hoven, SD). I do have a problem when the Catholic Christians who live in Aberdeen and Pierre pile in and on Sundays.
At Christian companies, religious principles can (and should) complement business practices. Yet, it is interesting how our modern American society is beginning to treat the corporations that voluntarily respect the weekend free tradition as – not only peculiar…but…with suspicion of being social radicals. The business hours sign will read: “closed on Sundays to allow employees time for family and worship.” Chick-fil-A, Hobby Lobby, Mardel Christian Bookstore (not to mention those great Orthodox Jewish deli’s which close on Saturdays, Muslim owned businesses closed on Fridays) are some examples of corporations hearing and authentically living their faith.
So, this weekend we celebrate Labor Day, a day that used to fill the parks and lakes with people taking a special day off of work. But now it’s become nothing more than an opportunity for businesses to get more money by luring the many people who are off of work into their stores for a sale. What began 133 years ago as a day of reward to American Laborers, has become just another day for businesses to bring in the almighty dollar. I hope that you will act to reclaim the Labor Day holiday as it was intended, a day of rest for all in the American workforce. So don’t go anywhere where people have to work! Don’t go to the mall or the movies or to a restaurant or fast food place. Those people should be home resting too! America is blessed with a wonderful labor force…let’s let everyone celebrate with the day (weekend) off! Happy Labor Day!
“Be still and know that I am God.” Thus does the LORD instruct us in Psalm 46, verse 10. The stillness to which we are called in Holy Scripture is a letting go of actions and words that yields silence, both interior and exterior, and such silence is essential for every disciple of the Lord Jesus. We need times of exterior silence in order to cultivate interior silence, and without interior silence we make it very difficult to hear the Word of God. For this reason, silence is indispensable to authentic and mature Christian faith and life.
Our Evangelical Protestant brethren often emphasize the need for a daily “Quiet Time,” which is accompanied by reading the Bible and keeping silent. This is nothing other than the ancient Catholic practice of lectio divina, or divine reading, which is a meditative reading of the Scriptures in a quiet place. Divine reading is understood to have four parts: lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio. Reading leads to meditating on what is read, and our meditation leads to prayer that culminates in the contemplation of the beauty of God. Understanding the parts, though, is not essential to the practice of lectio divina: simply set aside time each day, go to a quiet place, open the Sacred Page and read. “Be still and know that I am God.”
Exterior and interior silence is also essential in the sacred liturgy. We come to the church from a life filled with action and noise, and when we enter the sacred space of the House of God, we need to be quiet. Conversations should end in the vestibule, so that by the time we reach the pew, we are on the path to being still. Prayerful readings of the Scripture lessons appointed for that Mass might be helpful, or perhaps it would be well simply to kneel in silent adoration of the Lord Jesus present in the tabernacle. “Be still and know that I am God.”
Once the celebration of Mass begins, the liturgy will be punctuated by several periods of sacred silence: at the penitential rites, as we remember our sins and ask for mercy; during the Liturgy of the Word, to ponder the Scriptures; after the homily, to consider the instruction given; before the end of the Communion Rite, to give thanks for the gift of grace we receive in the Most Holy Eucharist. During these times of silence, we are not waiting for the next thing to happen; instead, we are waiting together upon the LORD. “Be still and know that I am God.”
When Mass is ended, our need for silence does not end. The church is always a place of prayer, even after the procession leaves the sanctuary. For the sake of those who want to linger in adoration; or, of those who are arriving to visit (or tour) the church need stillness to gain full appreciation of the experience, we should save our conversations until we reach the vestibule or, even better, have walked outside the church, preferably unto the lawn areas which is designed for fellowship after Mass. With such reverential silence, we can begin to fulfill the precept: “Be still and know that I am God.”