New Parish Mission Talks: Homecoming

At the Homecoming event at St Mary's (with Fr. Tom Lynch)

At the Homecoming event at St Mary’s (with Fr. Tom Lynch)

We all have loved ones who have left the Catholic Church.

They are our children. Our grandchildren. Siblings and other relatives. Friends, neighbours and coworkers. Our hearts break for them as they brave the wilderness of life, outside the hearth and home of the Catholic Church.

How do we bring them home? And why did they leave in the first place?

Understanding the answer your loved one gives to that last question is just as important as the first — if we don’t grasp the real reasons people leave the Church, we’ll never be effective in our attempts to help them home.

This is the subject of my band-new parish mission event called Homecoming: How to Bring Family and Friends Home to the Catholic Church.
I just returned from giving this Mission for the first time at one of Canada’s most beautiful and historic parishes, Saint Mary’s Church in Lindsay, Ontario. I’ll be hitting the road again very soon to give it again at two more parishes this spring. And now, you can schedule this event at your parish. Just contact me and we’ll get the ball rolling. I expect that available dates will fill up quickly, so don’t wait — the eternal souls of your loved ones are worth every effort we can make to help them. And I’m confident that what you’ll learn from these presentations will help.

I look forward to connecting with you, and speaking for your parish or group!

“Hail, Full of Grace”: On the Solemnity of the Annunciation

Annunciation di Corciano

Today’s Gospel on this Solemnity of the Annunciation is the famous account of Mary’s encounter with Gabriel from Luke 1:26-38. It includes some indirect proof for two major Marian dogmas of the Church – the Immaculate Conception (which was recently celebrated on Dec. 8), and the perpetual virginity of Our Lady. It also gives us part of the biblical roots of the “Hail Mary”.

When the archangel Gabriel greets Mary, it marks the only recorded incident in scripture that an angel greets someone by their title, not their name. “Hail, Full of Grace, the Lord is with you” (Lk 1:28). This, of course, is the first line of the “Hail Mary”, with the second line, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb”, from Luke 1:42. So much for the ridiculous argument that the prayer is “unbiblical”.

But what of those dogmas? Speaking of the phrase, “Full of Grace”, in the original Greek of Luke’s Gospel, it is an interesting term: kecharitomene. It means, literally, “one who has been made full of God’s grace” (biblical translations that render this term “highly favored one”, or something to that effect, don’t cut it) . It’s a past perfect term, meaning that, at some point in the past, Mary was made perfectly full of God’s grace. This condition extends out into the future, into eternity. This is exactly what the Immaculate Conception is all about – that, from the first moment of her existence, Mary was preserved free from all stain of original sin. If one is perfectly full of the grace of God, there is no room for sin.

With respect to the perpetual virginity, Gabriel explains to Mary that she will bear the Messiah, and at this point he has said nothing about Jesus being conceived by the Holy Spirit. Yet, Mary says, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Lk 1:34). A very strange question for a young woman to ask, who, as we have already been told, was engaged to be married. Unless, that is, she had already intended to remain a virgin, consecrating herself wholly to God.

This post was originally published as “Mary of the Annunciation”

Quick Q and A on the Feast of St Joseph

JMJQ. March 19 is always the Solemnity of St Joseph, so why is it being celebrated today, March 20?

A. Because March 19 fell on a Sunday this year, this feast day was superseded by the Third Sunday of Lent. The Solemnity of Saint Joseph was thus moved to the following day this year.

Q. When did this feast originate in the Church?

A. Saint Joseph’s feast can trace its beginnings to the 15th century. It became a feast of the Universal Church (which is another way of referring to the Catholic Church as a whole) in 1621.

Q. Is it true that Saint Joseph is the patron saint of the Universal Church?

A. Yes. In 1847, Pope Saint Pius IX named Saint Joseph patron over the whole Church. He is also the primary patron saint of Canada and many other countries. Pope John XXIII, in the 20th century, included Saint Joseph’s name in Eucharistic Prayer I (the Roman Canon). Greater and greater honor has been shown to Saint Joseph over time, as, over the course of centuries, the Church has come to a deeper understanding of the role and importance of Saint Joseph in God’s plan of salvation, and in God’s family.

This is true in a double sense: the Greek word that explains God’s fatherly plan for salvation history is “oikonomia” – literally, “the law of the household”. Saint Joseph had charge of God’s “family” on earth in quite a literal sense – the Holy Family of Nazareth. Joseph was the foster father of the God-Man, Jesus Christ and husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

And Joseph is also the protector, by his prayers in heaven, of God’s other “family” on earth, the Church, which is also referred to in the New Testament as “the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19-20). Saint Joseph’s intercession is powerful indeed – we should learn to take more advantage of his help in our daily lives.

With the exception of Our Lady, there is no greater saint in Heaven than Saint Joseph. In her autobiography, Saint Teresa of Avila wrote: “To other saints, Our Lord seems to have given power to help us in some special necessity, but to this glorious saint (I know by my experience), he has given the power to help us in all things. Our Lord would have us understand that, as he was subject to Joseph on earth – Saint Joseph, bearing the title of his father and being his guardian, could command him – so now Our Lord in heaven grants all his petitions.”

Saint Joseph, pray for us!

Cardinal Collins Takes Trudeau to Task

Cardinal Thomas Collins, Archbishop of Toronto, penned a powerful letter today to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau regarding the Trudeau government’s regrettable recent decision to donate $650 million to international organizations that promote abortion and contraception.

The full text of the Cardinal’s letter is below:

The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau
Prime Minister of Canada
House of Commons, Ottawa

March 10, 2017

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,

I am writing to express my deep concern and disappointment at your government’s decision to provide $650 million to support “sexual and reproductive health programs” globally. While it is commendable and necessary to foster initiatives that further the rights of women and young girls worldwide, your public comments suggest that unless a woman has access to abortion or contraception, she is not empowered or able to realize her full potential.

I simply remind you and your colleagues that we have no rights at all unless we are afforded the right to life. That decision was made for you and for each one of us by a woman, determined and committed to bring a new life into this world.

It is praiseworthy to offer international aid; it is arrogant for powerful, wealthy nations to dictate what priorities developing countries should embrace. Pope Francis has cautioned the rich and powerful West against the danger of “ideological colonization,” in which such countries and organizations offer funding to help further a particular social agenda. Do we empower women by making sex selective abortions more accessible? Money spent on promoting abortion and contraception could be spent on vaccinating millions of women and girls against malaria or other diseases. $650 million could help build a lot of schools or universities, pathways to knowledge for future female leaders of our world.

Our country could learn from a number of inspiring examples of outreach and care that support women worldwide. Very often these programs are offered by faith-based, non-governmental organizations, which are usually the first to arrive and the last to leave any area of crisis or need. They understand the reality of the local situation, and respect the dignity of the people who live there.

Canada is blessed with prosperity and a wealth of resources. Surely we can do better than imposing a distorted vision of the empowerment of women on the people of countries that deserve our support to respond effectively to the challenge of their most pressing needs.

I would welcome the opportunity to speak with you regarding this critically important issue.

Sincerely yours,

Thomas Cardinal Collins

Archbishop of Toronto

I have to think that, at some level, this is Trudeau’s response to President Trump’s decision to pull U.S. federal funding for abortion-provider Planned Parenthood on an international level. And if I were you, I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for the PM to give His Eminence a call to chat about this. Ostensibly Catholic, Trudeau is, as one prelate described him, “a 19th-century, anti-Catholic secularist, wearing the garb of a metrosexual millennial”.

Having said that, even Justin Trudeau is not beyond the transformative reach of Christ. We should pray for his conversion, especially this Lent. In the New Testament, Saint Paul urges us to pray for government leaders: “Therefore I exhort first of all that you make supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings for everyone, for kings and for all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceful life in all godliness and honesty, for this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour” (1 Tim. 2:1-3). It’s worth remembering who was the Emperor at the time of Paul’s writing: the crazed Nero, who had Christians thrown to the lions and burned as human torches.

Trudeau is not crazed, as Nero was. Let us pray that he reads the Cardinal’s letter with goodwill and openness to reason, and regains belief in the sanctity of all human life, and human rights for all humans. As the noted philosopher Dr. Seuss put it: “A person’s a person, no matter how small”.

 

Ash Wednesday Q and A: What You Need to Know

 

Ash Wednesday 1Q. The season of Lent begins today, Ash Wednesday. Is Ash Wednesday a holy day of obligation? In other words, am I required as a Catholic to attend Mass on Ash Wednesday?

A. No. Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation. In Canada, the holy days of obligation are as follows: every Sunday (which obviously includes Easter Sunday), Christmas Day, and January 1 (which is the feast of Mary, Mother of God). It is a mortal (grave) sin to miss Mass on those days, and if one has missed Mass on a holy day of obligation (unless it was for a very serious reason), one must go to Confession before receiving the Eucharist again.

Having said this, holy days of obligation are really a “bare minimum” for Mass attendance. A Catholic who is serious about his or her relationship with Jesus Christ will naturally look for more opportunities to be with Christ in prayer. The greatest prayer of the Church is the Mass, and Jesus is present in the Eucharist in his true Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in a way that he is not present elsewhere.

Going to Mass on Ash Wednesday is a very salutary practice, and it is a fitting way to begin Lent.

Q. Is Ash Wednesday a day of fasting and abstinence from meat?

A. Yes. All Catholics aged 18-59 must participate on a day of fasting, which consists of the following: one may eat one regular-sized meal and two snacks which, when put together, do not equal or surpass the size of the one regular meal. Fluids, like water and other beverages, do not count against the fast.

If one has a medical condition that requires more food be eaten (for example, medicine that must regularly be taken with food), or if one is diabetic, pregnant or a nursing mother, or is a soldier on active duty (there are other situations that could qualify), one can be exempted from the fast by one’s pastor.

All Catholics aged 14 and up are required to abstain from eating meat on a day of abstinence. Fish, fruits and vegetables are fine.

Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of fasting and abstinence. Every Friday in Lent is a day of abstinence in the United States, while in Canada, it’s every Friday of the year, which is the universal norm in the Church.

Q. Does one have to be Catholic to receive ashes on one’s forehead on Ash Wednesday?

A. No. In fact, it is a common occurrence to see many people of other faiths – or no faith at all – walk into a Catholic Church to receive the ashes. This is especially so at our great Cathedrals in major cities. There is something about this ritual that draws many people in. The biblical quote from Genesis 3 that is spoken to the recipient (“Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return”) reminds us that we are creatures, not gods. We will die, be buried (return to the dust), and give an account of our lives to an unbiased judge – Almighty God. The common experience of human sin and mortality is, I believe what draws so many non-Catholics to Ash Wednesday.

The second part of what is said to each recipient of ashes is the Good News: “Repent and believe in the Gospel”. For each one of us who turns away from sin, trusts in the forgiveness of Jesus Christ, and attempts with God’s help to change one’s life, there is new hope. In the Bible, “believe” does not mean to simply give mental assent to a fact; it means “become obedient to” the Gospel. Changing our life to become more like Jesus Christ is a big part of what Lent is all about.

BREAKING: New Dead Sea Scrolls Cave Discovered

Cave 4 (credit- Cale Clarke)

This is an absolute bombshell.

My professor, Dr. Craig Evans, emailed me and some of his other students earlier this week, alerting us about an amazing discovery made in Israel, something he was sworn to secrecy about until the official announcement could be made today. It’s the kind of announcement that biblical scholars and, indeed, anyone who is concerned about the world of Jesus of Nazareth dreams about making: a new cave has been discovered in Israel, most likely containing more of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Dr. Evans, writing for the Logos academic blog:

The last Dead Sea Scrolls cave, linked to the ruins on the marl shelf at the mouth of Wadi Qumran, was discovered in 1956, bringing the total number of caves to eleven — eleven caves containing the famous Dead Sea Scrolls, ceramic jars, and a number of other artifacts.

For sixty years archaeologists and looters have been searching for a twelfth cave. Would another one ever be found? Most didn’t think so. This is what makes the announcement from Hebrew University so astounding: A twelfth cave has been discovered!

The cave that has been discovered has been unsurprisingly dubbed “Cave 12” (What did you expect? The Batcave? Already taken, sorry). Here’s what was inside:

Not only were six scroll jars recovered, but small fragments of parchment and papyrus, as well as at least one linen used for wrapping scrolls.

Scientific testing of the ceramic should confirm its link to the ruins and Qumran and to some of the other jars found in nearby caves. DNA testing of the parchment could confirm links to some of the scrolls whose origins have to date not been determined. The presence of the jars and the linen wrapper confirms that Scrolls used to be in this cave (and same applies in the case of Cave 8).

The Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) are not Christian documents, but they are vitally important for understanding Jesus and his world. They show what many Jews who were roughly contemporaneous with Jesus believed about the coming Messianic age. As Evans notes:

The Qumran Scrolls are also important because they shed a great deal of light on the Judaism of Jesus’ day and a great deal of light on specific teachings of Jesus and his early followers.

For example, an Aramaic scroll from Cave 4 speaks of a coming figure who will be called “Son of God” and “Son of the Most High” who will be “Great” and who will reign forever. The parallels with the Annunciation of Luke 1 are obvious. Another scroll from Cave 4 anticipates the coming of God’s Messiah who give sight to the blind, heal the wounded, raise the dead, and proclaim good news to the poor. The parallels to Jesus’ reply to John the Baptist are quite apparent.

Even Paul’s “works of the law” terminology finds an important parallel in a Cave 4 letter concerned with legal matters.
The Melchizedek Scroll from Cave 11 forecasts the coming of one who seems to be God himself, possessing the power to forgive sin, heal, and defeat Satan. Examples like these — and there are many more — should make it clear how important the Scrolls are.

Dr. Evans and another of his students, Jeremiah Johnston, have also published a piece today on FOX News, arguing that the Scrolls rightfully belong to Israel.

And, just in case all of this wasn’t enough to digest already, there is an extremely strong possibility that a thirteenth cave may also exist nearby! This one is even more promising, because the cave mouth has been sealed over (indicating that it may never have been looted). The coming days and weeks are going to be very, very interesting times for biblical scholars and archaeologists alike.

Share this article on social media and spread the word about this amazing discovery!

How a Patriots Super Bowl ring gave life to orphans

2001 RingAs we get ready for The Big Game today, here’s a fantastic story about former New England Patriot Jerod Cherry, who won three Super Bowls with the team. Cherry donated his most prized Super Bowl ring, from the 2001 team (the Patriots’ first championship) to help pay for an orphanage that rescues children from drugs and sex trafficking.

Ian O’Connor, writing for ESPN:

Cherry was moved by a presentation that included the image of a starving, emaciated child in a faraway land and of a nearby vulture apparently waiting for the child to die. “I’m a father with four kids, and something like that really puts you in your place,” he said.

and:

But Cherry had read about Cain and Abel, and he decided his sacrifice needed to be more like Abel’s. “No disrespect to the other two rings,” he said. “I easily could’ve given the second or third one, and nobody would’ve said anything. But my thought was, ‘If I’m going to give anything that’s sacrificial and supposed to represent my faith in God, I’d better give my best and what I care about the most.'”

Incredibly poignant story about what O’Connor calls “the most valuable ring in Super Bowl history”.

Sunday Scriptures: The Foolish Shaming the Wise

1 Corinthians

In this Sunday’s second reading, once again we hear from St Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians (1:26-31). This section builds on Paul’s teaching about the wisdom of the cross. Here’s what he wrote just prior to the verses selected for today’s reading:

Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Cor 1:20-25).

This passage has a lot of implications for how we present the Gospel in today’s society. Richard Hays notes that, if apologetics can be done at all, we cannot take as our starting point the questions that modern men and women ask, and then try to provide satisfying Christian “answers” for them. In truth, those answers will never satisfy them, whether they be Jews or Greeks. Rather, we must present to them the person of Jesus.

We also, as Hays notes, must focus on the apocalyptic dimension of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus didn’t die simply to forgive our sins, but to “destroy the old age and bring the new into being”. And one of the things God does in this “new age” is overturn the social apple cart, as it were. And it’s here that today’s second reading comes into play:

For consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to the flesh, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no flesh might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption; therefore, as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast of the Lord” (1 Cor 1:26-31).

The Church in Corinth was a mixed bag, a motley crew of rich and poor, educated and, in the world’s eyes, ignorant. Obviously, some of the members of the Corinthian congregation were wealthy (the early Church, having no public buildings, relied on some of its more well-heeled members to provide meeting space for worship in their private homes). And education and wealth in themselves are not bad things. They can be used to bring oneself and others closer to Jesus, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3).

But their material wealth did not make them better than anyone else in the eyes of God, before whom all stand as equals in Jesus’ new world order. In fact, “God chose” to shame the wise, strong, and powerful of this world by creating “ex nihilo” (the actual term used by Paul in v. 28) a new, apocalyptic community, just as he once created the present universe out of nothing.

No one belongs to this community because they deserve it. It is sheer Grace. God created and called us to this new society called the Church. And for this, we are eternally grateful.

Sunday Scriptures: Cults of Personality

1 Cor

Once again, this Sunday’s second reading is from 1 Corinthians, and once again it’s from chapter 1 (vv. 10-13, 17). There were real divisions in the congregation that were very worrying to St Paul. Peter Kreeft once noted that Paul was horrified by the beginnings of a sort of “Protestantism” in Corinth. It isn’t a bad analogy at all – many early Protestant movements came to be identified with the particular individual who founded it – Lutheranism (Martin Luther) and Calvinism (John Calvin) are two examples that immediately spring to mind.

In Corinth in the first century, members of the Church were aligning themselves behind various leaders, too. They weren’t leaving the Church per se in order to do that, but these actions still had a very divisive effect. Catholics were forming various “camps” based on which leader they preferred, whether that was Paul, Apollos (a very eloquent preacher in the early Church who had spent some time in Corinth – for more on him see Acts 18:24-28), or Cephas (the Apostle Peter – “Cephas” is “Peter” in Aramaic). Some seemed to reject any merely human leadership, claiming to belong solely to Jesus Christ, without need of any Church intermediaries.

Some representatives of a “parishioner” in Corinth (“Chloe’s people”) had gotten word about this state of affairs to Paul, who at the time was in Ephesus. He was incredulous and extremely disappointed. He thunders, “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” He urges them in the strongest words possible (“in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”) “that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.” Christ must be the centre, and human leaders are only useful inasmuch as they point people not to themselves, but to Jesus.

How can we apply Paul’s warning to us today?

Today, just as in the first century, Catholics are just as tempted to create “cults of personality” centred around human leaders, whether they be bishops, priests, professed religious, or laypeople. There are also people who foolishly believe that they can have full access to Jesus without the Church. How do we deal with such problems? I would suggest two remedies – one for all of us, and one for those in leadership.

First, for all Catholics – we must recognize that the basis of our belief is the one Person of Christ. This is what unites us: “one Lord, one faith, one baptism”, as Paul writes elsewhere (Ephesians 4:3-5). Secondly, leaders must purify their intentions. Why do we do what we do? Is our intention solely to give glory to God, or to ourselves? Humans are always a “mixed bag” of motives to some extent, but our neither our motives nor our message should revolve around ourselves. Paul himself sets the example, as he notes in today’s reading: Christ sent him to “preach the gospel, and not with the wisdom of human eloquence, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning.”

Maltese Madness

ALTodd Aglialoro, writing for Catholic Answers:

With their shocking publication of new norms for permitting divorced and remarried Catholics to return to the reception of Holy Communion (based on their reading of Amoris Laetitia – ed.), the bishops of Malta have shown how great errors can grow from tiny seeds.

And:

Remember, divorced and remarried Catholics (those, obviously, who have not had their first marriages determined to be invalid by the annulment process) are not prohibited from receiving Communion because the “failure” of their first marriage was a sin. They are prohibited because, in maintaining a sexual relationship with a person who isn’t their spouse, they are committing adultery. This grave sin is incompatible with the state of grace required for worthy reception of the Eucharist (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1415).

The remedy for such people, as affirmed for example in John Paul II’s encyclical Familiaris Consortio (84), is first to stop committing adultery. Even if life circumstances practically or even morally require them to continue living in a common household with someone who isn’t their spouse, in no way would those circumstances ever require them to continue having sexual intercourse with someone who isn’t their spouse.

The bishops of Malta, on the strength of footnote 329 (of AL ed.), are now saying that circumstances might do just that. Because not having sex with someone may be impossible, adultery and Holy Communion are now compatible.

What an appallingly defeatist idea, and one that is without analog in Catholic morality. Where else do bishops teach that it’s impossible to do what’s right?

Todd absolutely nails some key issues here, with the precision and power of a Bobby Hull slapshot (he’s a big hockey fan). The fact that Catholic Answers (a well-known, orthodox organization, faithful to the Magisterium and to historic Church teaching) thought it necessary to publish such a piece in the first place is very telling. It’s safe to say we’ve reached a full-blown crisis in the universal Church. Nothing less than the integrity of three sacraments (marriage, the Eucharist, and confession) are at stake. The integrity of scripture (with respect to the Gospel teaching of Jesus on marriage) is also being challenged. Quite a bit is on the line, not to mention the fate of countless eternal souls who have every right to look to the bishops of Christ’s Church for clear moral guidance.