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.

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.

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.

Who Is God?

Image of Jesus on the crossOver the next few months, as part of Ordinary Time, we are going to explore some basic aspects of Christianity. I want to start with God, which is obviously the best place to begin.

The basic Christian understanding of God is that he is omnipotent (all-powerful), omniscient (all-knowing), and omnipresent (everywhere). There is also only one God, meaning Christians are monotheist, sharing this belief in common with Jews and Muslims.

Christians have a unique brand of monotheism, Trinitarianism (celebrated on Trinity Sunday). I prefer to call this a “dynamic monotheism” because we believe God is one, but also “three.” The Catholic (and majority Christian), view is that God is one substance (i.e. whatever makes God “God”) existing as three separate persons (separate realities). Thus, the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, but each is not the other.

Christians also believe in a personal God, i.e. that God is active in the lives of humans. God reveals himself to humans, and this happened gradually throughout history, beginning with covenants with Noah, Abraham, and Moses, and reaching its fullness with the New Covenant in Jesus.

While some religions and movements tend to see God as distant (such as Deism), Christianity believes God is actively seeking out his creatures for redemption. Because of this, St. John could describe God as “love.”

Welcome Back To Ordinary Time

Ordinary Time is when the Church celebrates “all aspects” of the life of Christ.  Far from being a “summer break” or time when there are no celebrations, Ordinary Time is really quite the opposite. It can be viewed as an integration of the other seasons. Whereas the individual aspects of Christ’s life are celebrated in the other seasons, Ordinary Time brings them together into a whole.

Far from a summer break or vacation from Church, Ordinary Time is the “meat” of Christ’s entire life: his person and teachings.

Thoughts On Work and Saint Joseph the Worker

Saint Joseph StatueToday is Saint Joseph the Worker, a secondary celebration related to Saint Joseph, whose main feast is on March 19th.

The feast of Saint Joseph the Worker was established to celebrate the Christian understanding of work. The Church has always emphasized the importance of work being about people over profits. In other words, for Christians, work is something more than just doing your part to earn a living (or earn someone else one).

I strongly believe in freedom, including economic freedom. I don’t believe it is the government’s job to tell businesses what to do. Nonetheless, I believe it is time for people to start standing up for our right to have dignity in our work. Most Americans and Westerners hate their jobs. We are unfulfilled, stressed, over-worked, and (based on the expense of the average education) underpaid. In short, work is hardly a calling and more of a burden.

The problem with modern work, as I see it, is materialism. We work extra hours, avoid doing the things we love, lack time for family, and never have time for silent time with God, so that we can earn a little more money to buy things that don’t make us happy. In short, we shorten our lives and destroy our relationships and spirituality to buy things we will never have time to enjoy anyway.

If we weren’t tethered to material goods, we could tell employers that mistreat us to “take a hike” because we wouldn’t need the extra money to finance things that are too big and expensive for us.

I know this is a simple view, but just imagine if we didn’t need so much stuff. Work would probably regain more of its meaning as a spiritually and enriching vocation as opposed to a desperately needed means to an end.

Saint Joseph, pray for us!

Spring And The Resurrection

Magnolia blossoms on the grassI have always enjoyed the season of Spring. As I get older, I am less and less of a “winter person,” and by February and March, I’m looking at the 10-day forecast for any sign of spring breaking forth.

Spring is a great time to celebrate the resurrection, which is why Easter is celebrated now. Nature is bursting forth with newness and beauty. The winter cold, sparseness, and death gives way to warmth, abundance, and life.

The resurrection of Jesus is what brings us to this abundance and life. That Easter falls during the spring (at least in the Northern Hemisphere) is perfect symbolism for the renewal brought forth by the resurrection of the Lord.

So, everyone have a great Easter season, and an excellent spring.

Happy Divine Mercy Sunday

Divine Mercy imageToday is the second Sunday of Easter, which is now officially Divine Mercy Sunday. It is also the Octave of Easter (8 days after Easter Sunday).

The holiday is based on the visions of St. Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun. In her visions, Jesus asked her to paint the vision of his divine mercy being poured forth from his sacred heart. The image is now very famous in Catholic churches and homes.

Devotions related to Divine Mercy ask for Christ’s abundant mercy, trust in his mercy, and then show mercy towards others.

Mercy is a theme in Jesus’ teachings, and in the Beatitudes Jesus reminds us that “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” During this holiday, let’s remember Christ’s abundant mercy towards us, and then show that to others.