The Lenten readings give all of us a general principle for evaluating our own lives and determining areas for growth during the holy Lenten season.
The First Reading reminds us of Satan’s successful deception of Adam and Eve, convincing them that pride, that is, disobedience of God, will enable them to be like God.
In fact, Adam and Eve are left in the Garden for the first time experiencing shame as they learn the hard way that the wages of sin never amounts to being like God, but rather the wages of sin is death.
God and Heaven are top priority
The Second Reading makes clear that disobedience and death really are the very same choice.
Disobedience and that assertion that “I know better than God!” leads me to place God and Heaven at a lower priority in my own life. Once this happens, it becomes progressively easier to make my goal something less-than-God, something less-than-Heaven.
But God and Heaven alone are the fullness of life, and ultimately to choose what is less-than-God or -Heaven as my top priority is to choose death.
That is why we have grown so readily in the United States into a culture of death. God and Heaven have been put on the shelf by our culture and the new normal has been to make something less-than-God and -Heaven our top priority.
Fighting the temptations
The Gospel Reading moves us to consider the temptations of Jesus.
Each of those temptations is a call to choose something less-than-God or -Heaven as the important life choice.
Whether it be bread, or earthly kingdoms, or the worship of evil in place of God, in every instance, Jesus is tempted to stop short of fulfilling His Father’s mission.
And so for us, too, every temptation is always a temptation to stop short of God and Heaven when pursuing the destiny of our life.
Culture of death
Our culture of death has led us not only to believe that we know better than God, even sometimes under the devil’s deceit calling this “following our conscience,” but even to the explicit killing involved in euthanasia or abortion, again, is something of a new normal.
The thought of choosing death over life in a way seems unthinkable. From another point of view, what seems unthinkable has become the new normal for our culture and for our society.
Lent is a time to discover the Truth
Lent is thus a time for us to sift through, to discover the Truth about God and Heaven in our own lives.
Anything less as top priority means death — the wages of sin — manifested in disobedience. Let our Lenten examination of conscience begin.
Thank you for reading this. God bless each one of you and let us pray for one another that we have a holy, and yes, happy Lent, as we hasten to the celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection.
Praised be Jesus Christ!
This column is the Bishop’s Morlino’s communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.
When the Temple in Jerusalem degenerated from reverent “house of prayer” (cf. Mt 21;13) into raucous public market, Jesus cleaned house! Since Lent is the perfect time to get our own house—our own soul—in order, I’d like to address one of the most insidious impediments to our respect for God and our charity toward others during Mass:
Have you ever noticed how the words “cell phone,” sounds remarkably like “self phone”? Besides obliterating manners and destroying common courtesy, a cell phone seems to possess the power to make other people completely disappear from its user’s consciousness or concern. A prominent Catholic blogger observed insightfully in an Internet article on device addition last September:
“When someone next to you answers the phone and starts talking loudly as if you didn’t exist, you realize that, in [his or] her private zone, you don’t.”
As a priest who celebrates an average of eight to twelve Masses per week, I invite you to consider the epidemic of cell phone disruption during Mass—from a priest’s perspective. In my experience, we priests hear an average of three or more phone intrusions per Mass—whether the device is ringing, or beeping/chiming to indicate the arrival of an email or “Tweet”. Multiply that number by eight to twelve Masses per week, and a priest must endure this devilish distraction somewhere in the neighborhood of 24 to 36…or MORE…times per week! And most often, it’s not just one ring…or one beep. Sometimes the phone’s owner lets it ring—and RING—and RING—all through the Scripture readings…and even during the Consecration!
At a televised Mass some time ago, someone let their phone ring through its entire cycle during the homily…not once…not twice…but three times! It takes extremely inappropriate behavior to force me to interrupt the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, but by that point—live TV or not—I had reached the limit of my patience, as had all the people who kept looking in the general direction of the noise. I stopped the homily, looked toward the anonymous perpetrator and asked the person to turn the phone, “all…the…way…off!” It was extremely unsettling to have to confront this rudeness during a live broadcast of the Mass—especially with thousands of viewers tuning in—but when the prayers of the Mass are drowned out by electronic noise pollution, even a priest with heroic patience can only take so much.
After that particular Mass, a well-meaning parishioner approached me and said, “Father, don’t get so upset. Be patient.”
With all due respect to that parishioner, he only noticed that one phone during that one Mass—though, immediately after the first offending phone was finally silenced, another person’s phone rang. No joke! By that point in the week, I had probably already endured dozens of rings and chimes during the many Masses I celebrated. Since I had confronted that incident on live TV, I expected a backlash. Instead many parishioners, phone callers, emailers—and even the TV crew—offered enthusiastic expressions of encouragement and gratitude.
Anyone with a modicum of social awareness recognizes how modern “communications devices” are actually destroying genuinely human interaction between individuals. A growing number of scientific studies also catalog the damaging effects on brain development—not to mention the common symptoms of addiction and withdrawal—from device misuse and overuse.
But it’s when our phones disrupt our relationship with God—and distract others from God—that it’s time for priests to “cleanse the temple” of this modern scourge that turns the Father’s house of prayer into the Devil’s den of distraction.
For all the rationalizations people make for bringing their phone into church—and I’ve probably heard them all—we would better serve our souls, better respect our neighbors, and better honor the Lord…if we checked our excuses at the door…and left our phones in the car!
I recently had the opportunity – for the first time in my 8.5 years as a priest – to do a “Blessing after Miscarriage”. I wanted to post about it, because I suspect that it is simply not widely known that it is even a possibility.
Nowadays, I ordinarily use the 1962 Roman Ritual for blessings, as I generally find the prayers contained therein to be more meaningful and efficacious. However, in this case, there is no such blessing found in the older rites! It is the newer Book of Blessings that has this ritual/blessing, in both a longer and a shorter form.
You can see a somewhat simplified form HERE. (In the actual Book of Blessings, there are some additional options given, as well as a short form – so I recommend to any priest who may want to offer this blessing to use the deadtree version and not the online edition.)
If you know anyone who has recently suffered a miscarriage, you might suggest that she approach her priest to receive this blessing.
The Lent reminds us of the simple truth that we are going to die and subsequently face judgment. Hence we need to repent and come to believe the good news that only Jesus can save us.
Deuteronomy features Moses laying out the basic reality that all of us have a choice to make:
Today I have set before you life and prosperity, death and doom …
I call heaven and earth today to witness against you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse (Dt 30:15, 20).
So there is our choice: life or death, prosperity or doom. There is a Latin expression, Tertium non datur (No third way is given). We often like to think that we can take some middle path, but in the matter of the last things, there is no middle path, no third way. Either we choose God and His kingdom, and then reflect that choice in all of our smaller decisions, or we do not.
To those who think that a middle path is possible, I would say that it is the way of compromise, ambivalence, and tepidity. Walking such a path demonstrates a lack of commitment and a refusal to witness to Christ. These are not virtues that belong to God’s Kingdom; they pertain more to the kingdom of darkness. Jesus says, Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil (Matt 5:37). He also says, No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money (Matt 6:24).
So we are back to a choice: for the Kingdom of Light or for the kingdom of darkness; for the world and its ways, or for God and His ways. Do we choose to gratify the flesh or nourish the spirit, to serve Satan and his agenda or to serve Christ and follow His will and plan?
You are free to choose, but you’re not free not to choose. That is to say, you must choose. If you think that you can go on simply not choosing one or the other, I’ve got news for you: not choosing is choosing the kingdom of darkness.
Many do not directly choose Satan, but rather indirectly choose him by following his ways. We are asked to choose God directly, by accepting the gift of faith and basing our life on what the He commands. Faith is not some sort of “default position” we can have by accident. Faith is the supernaturally-assisted and transformed human decision for God and all that that choice implies. Faith is a gift freely offered and one that we must freely accept; it is a choice that will not be forced on us. Through our many daily choices, we are called to reaffirm, by grace, the choice we have made for God.
So again, life is about choices: the fundamental choice of faith and all the daily choices that either affirm or deny the reality of our faith.
We live in times in which people like to demand free choice, but also like to evade the responsibilities that come with making choices. Moses goes on in the reading today to describe the fact that the choice we make for or against God will have consequences:
If you obey the commandments of the LORD, your God, which I enjoin on you today, loving him, and walking in his ways, and keeping his commandments, statutes and decrees, you will live and grow numerous, and the LORD, your God, will bless you in the land you are entering to occupy. If, however, you turn away your hearts and will not listen, but are led astray and adore and serve other gods, I tell you now that you will certainly perish; you will not have a long life on the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and occupy (Dt 30).
Yes, choices have consequences. Even small daily choices have the cumulative effect of moving us in one direction or the other, toward God or away.
Many small choices also have a way of forming our hearts. Deeds become habits; habits become character; character becomes destiny. These choices form our hearts, establish our character, and move us into one future or another.
While sudden and dramatic conversions are possible as long as we are still living, it is more common that our hearts become more fixed over time and our fundamental character becomes less and less likely to change. As we get older, it’s harder to change because that’s what choices do to us: they move us in a certain direction, down a certain path; and the further along that path we go, the less likely we are to turn back.
Therefore, daily choices are important. It is essential to examine our conscience regularly and make frequent use of the Sacrament of Confession. Each day we ought to ask the question, “Where am I going with my life?” If we go on for too long living an unreflective life, it is easy to find ourselves deeply locked in sinful habits that become harder and harder to break. Frequent reflection is necessary and we ought not to make light of small daily decisions.
We live in times in which it is often easy to insulate ourselves from the immediate consequences of the choices we make. Medicine, technology, and social safety nets are all good things in and of themselves, but they do tend to shield us from immediate consequences, and help to cultivate the illusion that consequences can be forever evaded. They cannot.
We also live in times in which, perhaps more than ever before, the community is willing to bear the burden of poor individual choices. Again, this is not in and of itself a bad thing, but it does become an enabler of bad behavior, and fosters the illusion that consequences can be avoided forever. They cannot.
Our own culture is currently struggling under the weight of a colossal number of poor individual choices, ones that have added up to a financial, spiritual, moral, and emotional debt that we cannot pay. Sexual misconduct, divorce, cohabitation, abortion, sexually transmitted diseases, the use of hallucinogenic and addictive drugs, the casting off of discipline and parental responsibility, the rejection of faith and ancient and tested wisdom, rebellion, silence in the face of sin and injustice, greed, consumerism, factions, envy, discord, and on and on … all of this is taking a tremendous toll. The consequences are mounting and it is becoming clear that even the most basic functions of society such as raising the next generation, preserving order and stability, and ensuring the common good are gravely threatened.
And what is true collectively is also true for us as individuals. Many poor choices in small matters quickly draw us into self-destructive patterns that get more and more deeply entrenched. Without regular reflection and the reminder of penitential seasons like Lent, it is easy to lose our way. St. Augustine noted this in his Confessions, in which he described himself as being bound,
“not by another’s irons, but by my own iron will. … For in truth, lust is made out of a perverse will, and when lust is served, it becomes habit, and when habit is not resisted, it becomes necessity” (Confessions 8.5.10).
Moses’ warnings are before us as never before.
In 1917, a beautiful and holy woman (Our Lady) appeared to three little children. She explained that the horrifying war (World War I) was finally coming to an end, but also warned that if people did not turn back to her Son Jesus and start praying, an even more devastating war would ensue; Russia would spread her errors and great disaster would befall the world. Do I need to tell you what happened? Any even casual assessment of the 20th century would find it hard to conclude that it was anything but satanic in terms of its wars, death rates through violence and abortion, and in its persecution of the Church.
Life or death, prosperity or doom; what will you choose?
Headlines last week were proclaiming that a group of cardinals believe Pope Francis should step down to avoid a catastrophic schism in the Catholic Church.
Schism? What schism?
In fact, the modern Catholic Church is already in schism, but it is an internal schism, hidden to most people.
The divide is very clear and yet virtually unspoken. Nobody dares to really speak of it. The divide runs between cardinals. It runs between bishops and archbishops. It runs between theologians. It runs between parish priests. It runs between liturgists and catechists, church workers, musicians, teachers, journalists and writers.
It is not really a divide between conservative and liberal, between traditionalist and progressive.
It is the divide between those who believe that Jesus Christ is the Virgin born Son of God and that as the second person of the Holy and undivided Trinity established his church on earth supernaturally filled with the Holy Spirit which would stand firm until the end of time, and those who believe otherwise.
Those who believe otherwise are the modernists. They are the ones who think the church is a human construct. It is a historic accident that occurred two thousand years ago and succeeded by a few twists of fate and a few happy circumstances. Because the believe the church is a human construct from a particular time and place, the church can and MUST adapt and change for every age and culture in which she finds herself.
This is the great divide. This is the schism which already exists.
Is the church a divinely appointed institution established for the eternal salvation of souls or is it a social construct which sincere people have put together to make the world a better place?
This is the divide within the church today and every conflict about everything –from music, to architecture, to art, to Catholic education, from liturgy, to literature, from devotions to disciplines and doctrines–everything comes back to this basic divide.
Of course I believe the first: the church was established by God’s Son Jesus Christ our Lord for the defeat of Satan, the salvation of souls and the redemption of the world through the supernatural graces empowered by the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the cross.
All the rest–from saving the environment to feeding the hungry, from equal rights for workers to opening a soup kitchen, from educating the young to achieving peace and justice–are secondary and reliant on this first and eternal priority.
The schism already exists.
All that is required is for individual Catholics to decide which side of the chasm they reside.
From time to time it is a good idea to be reminded of the proper postures we should have when we celebrate Holy Mass.
During one of the Penitential Rites at the beginning of Mass (“I confess to Almighty God . . .”) we are supposed to strike our breast three times when we say: “Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.” Simply follow the example of the celebrant.
There are a couple of times when we should bow from the waist and not just a nod of the head. One is during the Profession of Faith, as indicated in the missalette, at the words “and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.” There are two times in the year when we genuflect instead of bow – Christmas & Annunciation March 25. The other bow is before we receive Holy Communion either on the tongue or in the hand before we respond “Amen.” Some try to say “Amen” when the Host is already in their mouths.
Receiving the Eucharist Correctly
If you receive Holy Communion in the hand, the hand you use to put the Host into your mouth is the hand underneath. You are not supposed to switch the Host from one hand to the other. Nor are we to receive Holy Communion with only one hand. We are not supposed to palm the Holy Eucharist.
I have been following the practice of giving Holy Communion on the tongue when someone is holding a baby, using a cane or walker, or has an arm in a sling since it is more dignified that way and keeps a person from having to make twists and gyrations in order to hold the hands properly.
Some Catholics have adopted the practice of the “orans” position of the hands during the Our Father, holding the arms outstretched with palms upward, similar to the priest celebrant. Also, some like to hold hands with those around them during the Lord’s Prayer. These practices have probably developed at the encouragement of some priests or religious educators in the past, but they are not prescribed postures in the liturgy for congregations. (Learn more here and here.) As far as I know, they are not forbidden either. I do not promote these postures myself because the Church’s liturgy does not promote them, but I do not say anything one way or the other if people have been assuming those postures and like to do it. However, when I am asked, I do tell people that they should not feel obligated to hold hands or to hold their hands up like the priest if they choose not to do so.
By Bishop Robert Finn: In August of 2009, Archbishop Joseph Naumann, of Kansas City, Kansas, and I co-authored a joint pastoral statement, “Principles of Catholic Social Teaching and Health Care Reform.” The full text can be found on the Catholic Key Blog, and other places.
A Catholic Solution to Replacing Obamacare
The United States Bishops had issued several statements about what would eventually become “Obama Care,” or the Affordable Care Act. As neighbor bishops serving Missouri and Kansas, we took a slightly different approach, appealing, first, to the Catholic understanding of subsidiarity. I cite a section of the Letter:
“This notion that health care ought to be determined at the lowest level rather than at the higher strata of society, has been promoted by the Church as “subsidiarity.” Subsidiarity is that principle by which we respect the inherent dignity and freedom of the individual by never doing for others what they can do for themselves and thus enabling individuals to have the most possible discretion in the affairs of their lives. (See: Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, ## 185ff.; Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 1883) The writings of recent Popes have warned that the neglect of subsidiarity can lead to an excessive centralization of human services, which in turn leads to excessive costs, and loss of personal responsibility and quality of care.
Pope John Paul II wrote, “By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the Social Assistance State leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending.” (Centesimus Annus #48)
And Pope Benedict XVI, “The State which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing which the suffering person—every person—needs: namely, loving personal concern. We do not need a State which regulates and controls everything, but a State which, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from the different social forces and combines spontaneity with closeness to those in need. … In the end, the claim that just social structures would make works of charity superfluous masks a materialist conception of man: the mistaken notion that man can live ‘by bread alone’ (Mt 4:4; cf. Dt 8:3)—a conviction that demeans man and ultimately disregards all that is specifically human.” (Deus Caritas Est #28)
The Federal Government is clearly required to lead in areas such as national defense, international diplomacy and trade. Initiatives such as health care, education, business and commerce, the distribution of charitable assistance, and some other areas, are most meaningfully executed at appropriate lower levels of responsibility.
As the New Administration and Congress proceeds, necessarily, with the repeal and replacement of this program of national health care, the study of time tested Catholic social principles such as subsidiarity, solidarity, and the inviolable value of human life, will be worthy guides to the formulation of a meaningful model.
Going to Mass EVERY weekend is INFINITELY more important than giving up something for Lent.
The Church NOWHERE requires Catholics to give up anything throughout Lent.
The Church does say that it is a grave sin to not attend weekend Mass (exceptions of illness/caring for someone who is ill/dangerous or overly burdensome travel etc.)
Sadly, some ignore the commandment concerning weekend Mass but would run through a brick wall in order to keep their Lenten pledge.
Don’t get me wrong – it is good to have zeal for a Lenten commitment, but it makes no sense if the more basic apparatus of the Faith is not in place as well.
It doesn’t make any sense to say “I’m giving up sweets for Lent even though the Church doesn’t require it, but I go to Mass once a month even though the Church says Sunday/Saturday pm Mass is what I am to build my life around.”
Said yet another way: don’t give up anything for Lent until you have first committed to going to Mass every weekend of Lent.
1) I’m not saying “do something positive instead of giving something up for Lent” I’m saying go to Mass every Sunday before worrying about doing something for Lent.
2) Also, this isn’t me “judging” anyone. Neither is this me saying I’m better than anyone. This is me pointing out an ACTION that is problematic and in need of correcting in order for a person to find true happiness. I share this out of love – weekly Mass is critical for a person to find peace.