Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Supreme Importance of Prayer

One mark of Modernism is the emphasis on social justice.  There are those who feel it is at least as important, and maybe even more so, to concentrate on taking care of the physical needs of people than on our personal prayer and our relationship with Our Lord.  But in his weekly audience on April 25, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI specifically stated:  "It is significant that the Apostles acknowledge the importance of both prayer and works of charity, yet clearly give priority to prayer and the proclamation of the Gospel."  The most important part of our lives is prayer, even above works of charity.  Why would that be?  Without prayer, we are living our lives apart from God, who is the source of all that is good.  Works of charity, apart from God, who is True Love, are meaningless, as the Apostle Paul told us in I Corinthians 13:1-3:
If I speak with the tongues of men, and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And if I should have prophecy and should know all mysteries, and all knowledge, and if I should have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And if I should distribute all my goods to feed the poor, and if I should deliver my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
Works of charity will flow out of our relationship with God, as surely as planting a seed in the ground will cause a plant to grow and bloom.  But we must first have that relationship with God, and that is what our Holy Father is telling us.  Apart from God and a close personal relationship with our Creator, we are nothing more than sounding brass and clanging symbols.
Dear brothers and sisters,

In the last catechesis, I showed that from the beginning of her journey, the Church found herself having to face unforeseen situations, new questions and emergencies, which she sought to respond to in the light of faith, by allowing herself to be guided by the Holy Spirit.

Today I would like to pause to reflect on another of these situations, on a serious problem that the first Christian community in Jerusalem had to face and resolve, as St. Luke tells us in the sixth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, regarding the pastoral care of charity shown to those were alone and in need of help and assistance. The question is not of secondary importance for the Church and, at the time, it risked creating divisions within the Church; in fact, the number of the disciples was increasing, but the Hellenists began to murmur against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution (cf. Acts 6:1). Faced with this urgent need involving a fundamental aspect of the life of the community; i.e. charity shown to the weak, the poor, and the defenseless -- and justice -- the Apostles summon the whole group of the disciples.

At this time of pastoral emergency what stands out is the Apostles’ discernment. They are faced with the primary need to proclaim the Word of God according to the mandate of the Lord; but even though this is the primary demand placed upon the Church -- they consider with equal seriousness the duty of charity and of justice, that is, the duty of assisting widows and the poor, of lovingly providing for their brothers and sisters in situations of need, in order to respond to Jesus’ command: love one another as I have loved you (cf. John 15:12,17).

Therefore, the two realities they must live out within the Church -- the proclamation of the Word, the primacy of God, and concrete charity, justice -- are creating difficulties and a solution must be found, so that both may have their place, their necessary relation. The Apostles’ reflection is very clear; they say, as we heard: “It is not right that we should give up preaching the Word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:2-4).

Two things appear: first, that from that moment in the Church, there is a ministry of charity. The Church must not only proclaim the Word; she must also make the Word, which is charity and truth, a reality. And the second point: these men were to be not only of good repute; they must be men filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom; that is, they cannot be mere organizers who know how to “do”; they must “do so” in the spirit of faith by the light of God, in wisdom of heart. Therefore also their role -- though primarily of a practical nature -- is still a spiritual role. Charity and justice are not only social actions; rather, they are spiritual activities realized in the light of the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, we may say that the situation is handled with great responsibility on the part of the Apostles, who make this decision: seven men are chosen; the Apostles pray in order to ask for the power of the Holy Spirit; and then they lay hands on them so that they might be dedicated in a special way to this service of charity. Thus, in the Church’s life, in the first steps she takes, what happened during Jesus’ public life, in the home of Martha and Mary in Bethania, is reflected in a certain way. Martha was wholly given over to the service of hospitality offered to Jesus and to His disciples; Mary, on the other hand, devotes herself to listening to the Word of the Lord (cf. Luke 10:38-42). In both cases, the moments of prayer and of listening to God, and daily activity, i.e. the exercise of charity, are not placed in opposition. Jesus’ reminder: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the better part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42), as well as the Apostles’ reflection: “We … will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word” (Acts 6:4), demonstrate the priority that we must give to God.

I do not wish to enter now into an interpretation of this Martha-Mary pericope. At any rate, activity on behalf of one’s neighbor, for the other, should not be condemned; however, it should be emphasized that activity must also be penetrated interiorly by the spirit of contemplation. On the other hand, St. Augustine says that the reality of Mary is a vision of what shall be ours in heaven; therefore, on earth we can never have it completely, but a little taste of anticipation must nonetheless be present in all of our activities. The contemplation of God must also be present. We must not lose ourselves in pure activism, but should always allow ourselves to be penetrated, even in our activity, by the light of God’s Word and thereby learn true charity, true service of our neighbor, who doesn’t need many things -- certainly he has need of the necessities -- but who above all needs our heart’s affection, the light of God. [The Holy Father is telling us that yes, we must take care of the physical needs of our neighbors, but first and foremost are the spiritual needs.]

St. Ambrose, commenting on the episode of Martha and Mary, thus exhorts his faithful and also us: “Let us also seek to have what cannot be taken away from us, by offering diligent, undistracted attention to the Lord’s Word: for it also happens that the seeds of the heavenly word are carried off, if they are strewn along the path. Like Mary, stir up within yourself the desire to know: this is the greatest, most perfect work.” And he adds: “may the care of ministry not distract us from the knowledge of heavenly words,” from prayer (Expositio Evangelii secundum Lucam, VII, 85: PL 15, 1720).

The saints, then, have experienced a profound unity of life between prayer and action, between total love of God and love for the brethren. [Our ultimate goal - to love God and to love our fellow man] St. Bernard, who is a model of harmony between contemplation and industriousness, in the book De consideratione, addressed to Pope Innocent II in order to offer him a few reflections on his ministry, insists precisely upon the importance of interior recollection and of prayer in defending oneself from the dangers of excessive activity, whatever be the condition in which we find ourselves and the task we carry out. St. Bernard affirms that too many occupations, a frenetic life, often end in hardening the heart and in making the spirit suffer (cf. II, 3).  [Action without contemplative prayer will lead to burnout and make us ineffectual and spiritually impotent.]

It is a precious reminder for us today, habituated as we are to evaluate everything based upon the criteria of productivity and efficiency. The passage from the Acts of the Apostles reminds us of the importance of work -- whence, undoubtedly, true ministry is born – and of the importance of commitment to daily activity responsibly carried out with dedication, but it also reminds us of our need for God, for His guidance, for His light, which gives us strength and hope. Without daily prayer faithfully lived out, our activity becomes empty, it loses its deep soul, it is reduced to mere activism, which in the end leaves us unsatisfied.

There is a beautiful invocation from the Christian tradition to be recited before each activity, which goes like this: “Actiones nostras, quæsumus, Domine, aspirando præveni et adiuvando prosequere, ut cuncta nostra oratio et operatio a te semper incipiat, et per te coepta finiatur”, that is: “Inspire our actions, Lord, and accompany them by your help, so that our every word and act may always have its beginning in you and in you be brought to completion.” Every step of our lives, every action -- also of the Church -- must be carried out before God, in the light of His Word.

In last Wednesday’s catechesis I had emphasized the first Christian community’s undivided prayer in the face of trial and how, precisely in prayer, in meditation on Sacred Scripture, it was able to understand the events it was going through. When prayer is nourished by the Word of God we are able to see reality with new eyes, with the eyes of faith, and the Lord -- who speaks to the mind and heart -- gives new light on the journey at every moment and in every situation. We believe in the power of God’s Word and in prayer. Even the difficulties the Church was living through when faced with the problem of service to the poor -- the question of charity -- were overcome through prayer, in the light of God, of the Holy Spirit.

St. Peter Ordaining St. Stephen
The Apostles did not merely ratify their choice of Stephen and the other men, but “after having prayed, they laid their hands upon them” (Acts 6:6). The Evangelist will record these acts again on the occasion of the election of Paul and Barnabas, where we read: “after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off” (Acts 13:3). It again confirms that the practice of charity is a spiritual service. Both realities must go together.

With the laying on of hands, the Apostles confer a particular ministry upon seven men, so that they might be given the corresponding grace. The emphasis on prayer -- “after praying,” they say -- is important because it highlights the action’s spiritual dimension; it is not simply a matter of conferring a task, as happens in a social organization; rather, it is an ecclesial event in which the Holy Spirit appropriates to Himself seven men whom the Church has chosen by consecrating them in the Truth, who is Jesus Christ: He is the silent protagonist, present in the imposition of hands so that those who are chosen might be transformed by His power and sanctified in order to face the practical challenges, the challenges of pastoral life. And the emphasis on prayer reminds us, moreover, that it is only through an intimate relationship with God cultivated each day that a response to the Lord’s choice is born and that every ministry in the Church is entrusted.

Dear brothers and sisters, the pastoral problem that led the Apostles to choose and lay hands on seven men charged with the task of the service of charity, in order that they might dedicate themselves to prayer and to preaching the Word, indicates also to us the primacy of prayer and of God’s Word, which then also produces pastoral action. For Pastors, this is the first and most precious form of service paid to the flock entrusted to them. If the lungs of prayer and the Word of God fail to nourish the breath of our spiritual life, we risk suffocating amid a thousand daily cares: prayer is the breath of the soul and of life. And there is another precious reminder that I would like to emphasize: in our relationship with God, in listening to His Word, in conversation with God, even when we find ourselves in the silence of a church or in our room, we are united in the Lord with so many brothers and sisters in faith, like an ensemble of instruments that, though retaining their individuality, offer to God one great symphony of intercession, of thanksgiving and of praise. Thank you.
Once more, the depth and wisdom of the Holy Father amazes me.  He strikes at the core of the ills we face, and shows that we have and are nothing apart from our Creator.  The Holy Father, in his message, emphasizes how absolutely vital prayer is to our lives.  As Pope Benedict XVI said:  "If the lungs of prayer and the Word of God fail to nourish the breath of our spiritual life, we risk suffocating amid a thousand daily cares: prayer is the breath of the soul and of life. "

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Are You a Dumb Sheep?

Our Lord has called us sheep. Is he just trying to tell us we are stupid? Well, that might be true for some of us, but this is not what our Lord meant.  The universal perception of sheep is that they are so stupid they will follow one another right off of a cliff to their own deaths if they are not stopped. This is true, but it's not because sheep are stupid.  There is a reason why sheep act with "group think."  From
Due to their strong flocking instinct and failure to act independently of one another, sheep have been universally branded "stupid." But sheep are not stupid. Their only protection from predators is to band together and follow the sheep in front of them. If a predator is threatening the flock, this is not the time to act independently.
Sheep have no way to protect themselves other than to band together. Therefore, they will follow one another even into apparent danger. Sheep need a shepherd to survive. 

Man's greatest enemy is Satan, who wants to destroy each and every one of us, and without anyone to defend us, Satan will accomplish his evil purpose. We, in our natural carnal state, are completely defenseless against his wickedness and evil.  Like sheep, we can sense there is something evil out to destroy us, but also like sheep, we have no natural defense against that evil.  We tend to band together because we feel that is our only defense, which in turn leads us to destruction.  But our Lord came to this earth as a man and died on the cross to become the Good Shepherd who will protect and save us from the evil one.

The Gospel for today in the Traditional Latin Mass is taken from John 10:11-16 in which Jesus tells us He is the Good Shepherd who will lay down his life to save His sheep.  
11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd giveth his life for his sheep.

12 But the hireling, and he that is not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf snatcheth, and scattereth the sheep:

13 And the hireling fleeth, because he is a hireling: and he hath no care for the sheep.

14 I am the good shepherd, and I know mine, and mine know me.

15 As the Father knoweth me, and I know the Father, and I lay down my life for my sheep.

16 And other sheep I have, that are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice, and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.
There is an excellent reading in the Traditional Breviary by St. Gregory the Pope in which he explains that this beautiful passage not only tells us how to recognize the Good Shepherd, but how to follow the example of Jesus and lead others to the true Way of Life.
Dearly beloved, ye have heard from the Holy Gospel what is at once your instruction, and our danger. For behold what Christ saith concerning goodness! He himself is good, not from any gift of nature bestowed upon him, but by the very essence of his being, and he saith : I am the Good Shepherd. And then he saith what is the character of his goodness, even of that goodness of his which we must strive to copy : The Good Shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. As he had foretold, even so did he ; what he had commanded, that he exemplified. The Good Shepherd gave his life for the sheep, and made his own body and his own blood to be our Sacramental Food, pasturing upon his own Flesh the sheep whom he had bought.

He, by despising death, hath shewn us how to do the like ; he hath set before us the mould wherein it behoveth us to be cast. Our first duty is, freely and tenderly to spend our outward things for his sheep, but lastly, if need be, to serve the same by our death also. From the light offering of the first, we go on to the stern offering of the last ; and, if we be ready to give our life for the sheep, why should we scruple to give our substance, seeing how much more is the life than meat?
And some there be which love the things of this world better than they love the sheep. All such as they no longer deserve to be called shepherds. For these are they of whom it is written : But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth. Such an one as this is not a shepherd but an hireling, which feedeth the Lord's sheep, not because he loveth their souls, but because he obtaineth earthly gain thereby. He that taketh upon himself a shepherd's place, but seeketh not gain of souls, that same is but an hireling ; such an one is ever ready for creature-comforts, he loveth his pre-eminence, he groweth sleek upon his income, and he liketh well to see men bow down to him.
This last paragraph is especially ominous, I think, for all bishops and priests who have been given a duty to protect the people of God.  How many are sacrificing the people of God because they want to just fit in with the rest of the world, they don't want anyone to think badly of them and so will not stand up for what is right?  We may not always be able to depend on humans for the protection we need, but we can always be sure that the Good Shepherd will never let us down. 

Legalized Torture and Killing

There is a horrific story out of South Carolina about a family dog that killed and dismembered a 2-month old child.  According to the story, this happened while the father slept.  The mother discovered this unbelievable tragedy when she returned home.  From the article:  "Aiden McGrew’s mother called 911 when she got home around 11 a.m. and discovered the boy’s leg was severed by a retriever mix the family had taken into the home a few weeks earlier."  The coroner, Chris Nisbet, said, "Today is one of the saddest days in my [over] 20 years of being in the Dorchester County Coroner’s Office as I report to all of you one of the worst deaths I have ever handled."  This will, I am sure, haunt all involved for the rest of their lives.   I definitely offer prayers for the family that they will somehow be able to handle this terrible tragedy.

But the unfortunate fact of our society is that thousands of small children are killed and dismembered every day in the United States, and many more tens of thousands throughout the world.  It is completely legal.  It is called abortion.  Yes, these are "unborn" children, but the truth is that if the child in the South Carolina story had been four months younger, or a 7 month old preborn baby, it would have been completely legal to go into the womb of Aiden McGrew's mother and tear him apart limb from limb. 

Most people are not aware of just how abortions are done.  There are different methods, but one that is often employed is called "Dilation and Curettage", in which the abortionist goes into the mother's womb with a  hook shaped knife (curette) which cuts the baby into pieces. The pieces are scraped out through the cervix and discarded.  The diagram at the right shows how this is done.  A nurse must then reassemble all the dismembered parts of the baby to make sure none were left in the mother.  As you can see from the diagram, the last part of the baby to be removed is the head.  I will spare showing you pictures of a mutilated baby from this procedure, but if you are interested, you can do an online search.  But I will warn you, these pictures are gruesome beyond description.

This is what happens in abortion clinics throughout our country. This is what we are paying for when we give taxpayer dollars to Planned Parenthood. We are paying for the mutilation and murder of innocent babies in the wombs of their mothers. Most people blissfully and ignorantly walk by these killing fields never thinking about the horrors happening on the other side of those walls. Little legs and arms are torn off of babies' bodies, their heads are decapitated. And it is a scientific fact that a fetus can feel pain at least as early as 8 weeks.

We cringe at stories like the one from South Carolina, and we hold our children a little closer to us thankful that such a dreadful event has not happened in our families. But as you read this, remember that it is happening to thousands of children at this very moment. How much longer can our loving God put up with this satanic evil? How much longer can good people allow this to happen right under their own noses? If you are sickened by the story out of South Carolina, then you should be even more outraged that this is sanctioned by our government. What are you doing about it? Edmund Burke said: "The only thing necessary for the triumph [of evil] is for good men to do nothing."

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