Make 2014 A Great Year With Prayer

A grave marker with a woman prayingBy many accounts, the world was pretty depressed in 2013. Wars, the still “recovering” economy, government spying, natural disasters, and more have created a general attitude of “blah” for many in the world.

I am not dismissing the negative impact the world around us can have. Despite years of economic and technological progress, human problems still remain. Nonetheless, I think as Christians we are called to not lose hope and remember our ultimate goal is to become more like Christ and develop a closeness to God.

I am not advocating a retreat from modern life. I am saying that the best relief from the troubles of the modern world is to spend time in prayer (including the sacraments).

Prayer is a deep connection to God that is available anytime, anywhere. When I was little at a “Vacation Bible School” event, the leader told us children something that impacted me spiritually more than just about anything I heard as a child. She told us that we could tell God anything. I remember feeling liberated to know that. The same is true as an adult.

I would add to this that we can experience the presence of God anytime as well, anytime we enter into prayer (whether it be vocal, meditative, or contemplative). It is a delight indeed to be able to experience the presence of our Lord “at will,” if we take advantage of it.

Why Saying “Happy Holidays” Doesn’t Bother Me

Red and Green Christmas bulbsTis the season for the “Christmas Wars” in Western society.  Supposedly there is a “War on Christmas” in American society, as the government and liberal culture stamp out any public celebration of Christmas.

While this may be true to some extent, one phrase that usually becomes the rallying point among Christians is the phrase “Happy Holidays.” It is seen as a more politically correct replacement for “Merry Christmas.” Some Christians will only shop at stores that require their employees to say “Merry Christmas.”

First, let me say I celebrate Christmas. And, I don’t care for rampant multiculturalism that squeezes out our cultural history. However, I also recognize that in our secular country not everybody is Christian, and if someone tells me “Happy Hanukkah” I’ll say thanks and wish them the same. To me, that is the decent and cool thing to do.

Now, let me say that as a Catholic, there are two reasons why I don’t mind “Happy Holidays” and even prefer it. 

First, we are in the Advent season; It isn’t Christmas until December 25th. When I wish someone “Happy Holidays” I mean that I hope they have a great Advent, and once it arrives, Christmas season. The only phrase that pithily says that is “Happy Holidays.” While stores that say it may not mean it this way, I think it fits.

Second, what does “holiday” mean? It means “holy day.” Even though the intention may be the opposite sometimes, when you are wished “Happy Holidays,” that includes a whole host of holy days, from St. Nicholas to Holy Family.

So, next time someone wishes you “Happy Holidays” relax and let it be a reminder to enjoy the rich selection of holidays that we celebrate during this time of year.

Yes, The Pope Is Catholic

saint francisLately, Pope Francis has been making waves due to a few controversial comments, especially regarding gays in the church and abortion. Basically, he’s been accused of downplaying or changing Catholic teaching on core subjects.

In case anyone is worried, yes, the Pope is still Catholic. While there are certain hot button issues that face the Church (and many of these are very important), it doesn’t mean those are the only topics a bishop can discuss.

Just because Francis would prefer to talk about other things doesn’t mean he lacks belief in any other part of Catholic teaching. Nor does it mean the Pope thinks they’re unimportant. The hot button issues of our age have been debated and taught a lot. Almost everyone in the world knows where the Church stands on them.

Can most non-believers articulate where the Church stands on loving your enemy? What about Catholic teaching on the poor? Or war? Likely, those issues are a little more muddled in the minds of other Christians and those who lack any faith.

No Pope or bishop will be able to promote the entire Catechism throughout his reign. He will certainly have his own emphases. There are lots of faithful Catholics in the world promoting Church teaching on various topics, including life and sexuality. The previous popes have also done a great job emphasizing these issues.

Now, Pope Francis is choosing to discuss other topics, ones which might have a big impact on drawing people into the fold who might otherwise never give the Church a chance. Then, the catechesis on all issues can begin.

Picking the name Francis was probably a good indicator of how his reign would be. St. Francis of Assisi, fully and traditionally Catholic, nonetheless made sure that the Church would be exposed to a different perspective from the topics of the day.

So, yes, the Pope is Catholic. Catholic means universal and discussing long held, but previously de-emphasized topics doesn’t make him any less of a Catholic. In fact, it might make him an even better one.

Thank You Pope Francis For Reaching Out

Attribution: presidencia.gov.ar

Attribution: presidencia.gov.ar

I don’t get into polemics much on this blog, because I want this to be a place of edification and prayer. I have had my fill of arguing over things that don’t really matter to 99% of the population.

This post may be a little polemical. I want to thank Pope Francis for his skill in reaching out to people that aren’t evangelized. While this has caused some consternation about his supposed orthodoxy from some Catholic conservatives, many non-Catholics are excited about the approach Francis is taking.

Personally, I like the tone of this papacy. Francis, I am convinced, is perfectly orthodox in his faith and practice. However, he has a knack for framing the faith in a way that makes sense to secularists and other non-Christians.

He reminds me of another guy who boldly reached out to non-believers, so much that many religious people of the time shuddered in fear and anger. Yeah, he reminds of Jesus.

We live in a hugely secular time, when the influence of the Christian faith is waning, at least in the Western world. Pope Francis seems like the right guy for the job, even if that means angering some of the self-proclaimed “righteous remnant” within the Church.

Visiting Beautiful Churches

inside of gothic church paintingIf there’s one thing the Church doesn’t quite understand today, it’s the role of beauty in worship. While I appreciate the simplification of the liturgy and its translation into English, I still feel we’ve lost a lot of the mystery and beauty in our worship services (and where they’re held) today.

And, the beauty we’ve lost is most evident in the way we design churches. And it’s not just the Protestant mega-churches that are designed with no sense of reverence. Even many Catholic parishes have designed worship spaces rather than true churches that inspire beauty and awe.

Visiting beautiful churches has always been one of my favorite activities on trips, especially to larger cities. However, it’s kind of a shame that a person has to travel to see majestic Catholic churches. There was a time when every town had a beautiful church that inspired wonder and mystery.

But, in today’s reality, sometimes visiting beautiful churches requires some travel. It’s an activity I recommend, especially if you are on vacation or can get away. You don’t even have to attend worship services, just walk in the church, admire the beauty, and pray/meditate.

Sometimes shrines are even better than simple churches. They are often designed with beauty in mind and even have important, even miraculous, events attached to them. It’s quite meditative to pray in these places, knowing that God has touched the shrine in some special way.

So, if you are on vacation or are close to beautiful churches, it is a fun and fulfilling day activity to go out and visit these churches. It’s always refreshing to pray and meditate in places of extreme beauty. It’s a nice vacation idea to ground yourself in your faith while you’re away from home.

The Summer Rush

summer meadow paintingSummer is often portrayed as a time of rest and relaxation. I guess those people have never gone on vacation or tried to plan relaxation! However, summer is also considered down time in many churches.

Most parishes don’t have the choir during summer and attendance is often down. While social events can be well-attended, religious oriented ones aren’t. In addition, it’s likely that many of us take a summer break from devotions and prayer during summer too. The rest and relaxation time is just too much. Call it the summer rush.

However, summer doesn’t have to be a down time for your faith. There are ways to keep up with your spirituality during the summer months. I’m going to offer a few tips.

First, start a new discipline for the summer. This will make sure that you have something fresh to pursue. Maybe it can be a prayer walk in nature, a few minutes before the Blessed Sacrament, or a decade of the rosary. Trying something new just might give you more enthusiasm for prayer during the summer.

Resist the urge to let vacation be a break from your faith. If you go on vacation, try to attend a service and make sure to emphasize family prayer. It could actually be fun. Praying together on the beach or attending a mass at a new parish in the mountains could be a breath of fresh air that everyone’s faith needs.

Finally, bring God into the midst of the stress. Take a few minutes a day just for you to be mindful of your situation and pray. It could be five minutes on your porch in the morning or silent prayer while you sunbathe at the swimming pool. Be more centered and spend time with God.

Don’t let the summer rush and the busy months get you stressed out. Find a way to keep your spirituality alive in the midst of the summer months.

The Best Laid Plans

pentecost holy spirit iconThere are many ways to get from point A to point B and there may even be a better or personally preferred route. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the only way.

Last night  was driving to visit my brother and encountered a detour. I was aggravated at first. It only ended up adding a few minutes to my trip. But, the new road actually took me by some breathtaking scenery. I was able to go to the top of a hill that allowed me to see the previous route from a distance, in a new perspective.

Basically, this relates to spirituality in a couple of ways. First, it shows how we can do something everyday and still find new meaning when we step back and take a different perspective. What becomes routine can easily become more meaningful and exciting if we simply step back a little and really examine it.

However, the most important point is that sometimes there are many ways to get from point A to point B. Our best laid plans may not always be the right ones in eyes of God. He has the best in mind and sometimes our chosen roads and paths might not always be his.

Not only might he have a different path in mind, but that path likely has its own share of beauty, and most importantly, purpose. God’s plans aren’t always completely in line with our own. Perhaps he takes us a certain path because we are needed to influence and touch the broadest number of people. Or maybe we’ll learn some important lessons along the way.

So, be open to the path of the Holy Spirit in guiding us to what God has in store for us. The Spirit might not take us the most direct or even our preferred route. But, he has the best way of getting us there in line with the perfect plan of God. The best laid plans of people aren’t always what God wants.

Who is Jesus Christ?

A statue of JesusChristians are named after Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ own time, he would likely have been known as Jesus of Nazareth, or perhaps Jesus “Bar Joseph” i.e. “Son of Joseph.” Christians refer to him as Jesus Christ because the title “Christ” was applied to him very early in the history of Christianity. “Christ” is the Greek equivalent of “Messiah,” and means “anointed one.” Basically this means that we believe Jesus is the predicted king in the line of David, the ideal Jewish king.

However, we believe Jesus is more than just an earthly king. He is, for Christians, much more. Christians believe that Jesus is God incarnate, i.e. God in the flesh. This means that Christians believe that the God of the cosmos became uniquely human in the person of Jesus Christ. Thus, Jesus Christ is true God. However, we also believe he is true human, which is to say he was genuinely human as well.

Because he was fully God and fully human, his teachings were the very teachings of God. Jesus was born of a Virgin (Mary) and became a travelling teacher/preacher when he was around 30. This was the public ministry of Jesus. Jesus revealed the way to God, and taught us how to love God and neighbor. After ministering for three years, he increasingly ran afoul of the authorities. This led to his crucifixion and death on Good Friday.

Three days later Christians believe Jesus was raised from the dead, which is to say, he is no longer dead, but is living. Forty days after his resurrection, he returned to the Father in heaven, an event called the Ascension, celebrated 40 days after Easter Sunday.