Saturday, July 9, 2016

4 Building Blocks of Catholic Hope



Dear Theophilous,

As Catholic-Christians the greatest treasure we have is hope. The hope we hold, however, is vastly different from the hope that the world offers. The hope the world offers entails buying a lottery ticket and hoping that our numbers come up; this is no more than wishful thinking. The hope we hold as Catholics is our desire for eternal life with our Lord. The two are polar opposites.

The wishful thinking of worldly hope takes our destiny out of our own hands. It requires the cooperation of others and a little bit of luck. Worldly hope has its eyes on worldly goods, its desire no greater than our ambitions.

On the other hand, our Catholic hope, our desire for eternal life, sets its sights firmly on God. We look beyond ourselves to the life that is to come - to bigger and better things. With our Catholic hope we take our destiny into our own hands; we can make it happen.

There are four integral things we can do to make our Catholic hope in eternal life with God happen: Prayer, Mass, Reconciliation and Almsgiving. Like building blocks, one leads to another, with their combined support raising us towards heaven. These four actions that will bring our Catholic hope to fruition are intrinsic to the growth of any Catholic’s faith life, whether one is already a deeply devout Catholic looking to expand their spiritual life, or a lapsed Catholic or convert to the Catholic faith looking to reboot their life in Christ.


Prayer

It’s difficult to be in a room with someone we don’t know. The conversation can be disjointed and the silences awkward. We don’t seem to know where to begin, how to break the ice; unfortunately sometimes we don’t even try. We need to build a relationship. How do we get beyond this awkward phase in a relationship? We do it through discussion, dialogue and conversation.

Prayer is the discussion, dialogue and conversation we use to develop our relationship with God.

Prayer can seem daunting, however, especially if one hasn’t been in the practice for some time. Not to worry, though, because prayer is much like the conversations we have with family and friends, changing to meet the circumstances we find ourselves in. Remember, God always loves us, we are the ones on a spiritual journey of hope and He will encourage us on every step of our journey; whispering to us gently with each prayer.

Our prayers can be quite simple. For those returning to the faith, it would be enough to say, “God, I am looking for You. Help me to find You.” As our relationship with God grows, so will our dialogue with Him. As our faith deepens our prayer life can become more complex, involving daily devotions such as the Rosary or the Liturgy of the Hours. Even for those who have developed a strong prayer life, there are times when a simple “Jesus, I trust in You!” is all that is needed.

In prayer, just like all conversations, however, we need to remember that it is a conversation and not a monologue. Samuel’s, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening,” needs to be on our lips in prayer. The Lord knows our prayers before we even speak them, if our relationship with God is to grow; we need to listen to His reply.


Mass

Once we are comfortable in our relationship with God through prayer, we will naturally want to nurture the love we have for Him. This is why we have the Mass. This is why all those who have realized our deep longing for eternal life with the Lord can’t seem to get to Mass enough.

Mass is the ultimate prayer.

In the Liturgy of the Word, we can come to know and understand God’s plan for us – Salvation History. Listening attentively, we can hear God speaking to us through Sacred Scripture; not only to the ancient Hebrews or the Jews of the Roman Empire, but to us personally. There may be times when the priest’s homily is necessary for us to connect the dots between the readings, there will be other times when the link to our lives is as plain as day, and there will be other times when, like Mary, we will need to ponder these things in our hearts. The important thing is to listen.

In the Liturgy of the Eucharist God comes to us – personally, tangibly, physically. With the words of consecration, Jesus comes into our midst – body, blood, soul and divinity. It has been said that if we truly understood what was happening in the Eucharist, firstly, we would not be able to stay away from Mass; and, secondly, we would drop dead from the sheer magnitude and majesty of what we have before us.

When we desire to grow our relationship with someone, we look for every opportunity to spend time with them. God offers us His presence in the Eucharist. If our Catholic hope is to spend eternity with our Lord, we can catch a glimpse of this in the Eucharist.


Reconciliation

When we look for opportunities to be with someone we love, we also make sure that we’re ready to be with them. When dating, future spouses will make sure they are showered, dressed to impress and groomed to perfection. How much more should our attention be to these kind details when it comes to spending time with our Lord? Being ready to spend time with the Lord isn’t just about appearances (though this does make a statement about our inward commitment to our relationship with God) it has all to do with our spiritual readiness to spend time with Him.

The sacrament of Reconciliation, the confession of our sins, our fessing up to God to restore our relationship with Him is what it takes to get our soul ready to spend eternity with Him. If our Catholic hope, our ardent desire, is to spend our eternal life with the Lord, then we need to make sure we are ready for it. Unfortunately, Reconciliation is probably the sacrament that Catholics fear the most, even those who are in the regular habit of making their way to the confessional. After a long absence, Reconciliation can seem overwhelming, but not only God, but the priest will rejoice in a lost lamb’s return, helping take the baby steps necessary to make a good confession.

To receive the most our of God’s grace through Reconciliation, it is important to prepare oneself to make a good confession. Making a thorough examination of conscience is key to the process. Look deep into your soul, God already knows all, but He needs you to do the cleaning yourself. Reconciliation is always a difficult task that takes humility, but it does get easier with practice. Once a good confession made, and one is reconciled to the Lord, they need to get back to Mass to be able to fully participate in the Eucharist.


Almsgiving

This fourth aspect of making our Catholic hope become a reality flows naturally from the first three. When one has a strong prayer life and has developed the habits of frequent Reconciliation and participation in the Eucharist, a change comes over them. Reconciled to Christ, they become more Christ-like. In washing the feet of His disciples, Christ showed us the mission to serve, and this service is almsgiving.

Typically, when we think of almsgiving, we think of giving money to the poor – and yes, this is a part of the almsgiving that leads to our Catholic hope. In a material world with material needs, most Catholics balk at the traditional notion of almsgiving as tithing (giving 10% to the Church). Tithing is important, doing without for others is the humility needed to present oneself before the Lord, but it does not entail cutting a cheque for 10% to the Church at tax time.

It is important to provide monetary support to the Church to keep the lights on, pay salaries, and to offer all of the other support services that the Catholic Church provides, but that the world seldom sees (think St. Vincent de Paul). Tithing can also involve other forms of giving too, such as directly helping charities with monetary or material aid, as well as volunteering personal time to help out where needed.



Our Catholic hope goes beyond what this world has to offer; it is firmly set in our desire to spend eternity with God. Our Catholic hope is unique, in that we hold in our own hands the ability to make this hope a reality. The four building blocks of Prayer, Mass, Reconciliation and Almsgiving are what we can use to develop our relationship with God, bringing us to spend more time in His presence.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

There's a "Catholic" App for That



Dear Theophilous,

As the speed of life ramps itself up to an alarming pace, there has been a growing trend to turn even more often to technology to keep one’s self afloat – never mind being ahead of the game. Over the past couple of years, whenever one has felt the pressure of keeping up with the times, when there has been a sense of floundering in the current of the world, the answer to the problem has been a pat: There’s an app for that. A quick perusal of iTunes or the Google Play Store confirms this to be true – there is an app for everything, including our Catholic faith.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a bit of a Luddite when it comes to the techno world. For the longest time I resisted the siren song of assimilation. My wife and I shared a flip-phone until only a couple of years ago, and the smart phone I have now is probably woefully out of date… but it works. Frankly, I’m sure I use my phone and laptop to about 1% of their capacity – my laptop really isn’t much more than a glorified typewriter (if you can remember what that is).

This all said, I have found that my smart phone has helped me to deepen my faith, simply because There’s an app for that. Actually, there are many Catholic apps out there, and I’ll honestly admit that I haven’t researched them all, but I have found 3 Catholic apps that I use almost daily.

Laudate

Billed in the Google Play Store as the #1 Free Catholic App, Laudate lives up to the hype. Comprehensive, yet concise, this app has it all, but is streamlined for quick and easy use. I use the Laudate app daily for my morning offering, the saints of the day, as well as for the daily readings. I have also used the app sporadically to find prayers that are outside of my daily routine, to search out particular Bible verses, the Catechism or Vatican documents, as well as for its Examination of Conscience. The app also has other features such as the Liturgy of the Hours, Rosary/Chaplet, daily reflections, Stations of the Cross, Latin Prayers, EWTN, two Bible versions (NARE, Douay-Rheims) and access to a variety of Catholic media. Like I said, it has it all. Best of all, there is a Bookmark function that allows you to keep favourite aspects of the app at the top of the home page, saving you from having to hunt them out with 3 or 4 clicks. There is also an iPad version of the app, which my students have found to be very helpful in the classroom.



Honor your Inner Monk

This app is produced the Brothers at Saint Meinrad Archabbey to help the laity develop their daily prayer life, to discover their Inner Monk. I (try to) turn to this app twice a day for the morning and afternoon prayer. The prayers are short and to the point (never taking more than a minute), and with reflection are often very appropriate for whatever is going on in my life that day. One of the key elements of this app is your prayer tracker; like the tracker on your treadmill, you can watch your red line grow as you complete your prayers each day, ending with either cheers or jeers at the end of the month. In all honesty, each month my morning bar is usually a bit longer than my afternoon bar. The Inner Monk app has some other cool features including other short Catholic prayers, which you can use to accumulate bonus accolades, as well as a series of Gregorian Chants by the monks at the archabbey.

The Pope App

Admittedly, I don’t use The Pope App very often (but a good friend of my swears by it). This app is put out by news.va and is for Francis junkies. The Pope App provides video, audio and text of just about everything the Pope does. This app goes beyond news releases and brings the user the words of Francis from his public audiences, homilies and exhortations. It is even possible to live stream Papal events or pick up his Twitter feed (@pontifex).



I have a few other Catholic apps on my phone, which I really haven’t discovered yet. Perhaps the summer holidays will give me the chance to find a new favourite, or at least an app to come back to from time to time. These include Lighthouse Catholic Media, Shalom World, and DivineOffice. I would also be very curious if you have any other suggestions of Catholic apps for my smart phone, so leave them in the combox below.


Thursday, February 25, 2016

Facing Our Fears with 5 Smooth Stones



Dear Theophilous,

I’ve gotten into the habit of listening to the cd’s put out by Lighthouse Catholic Media whenever I drive to and from my parents’ house. The ride is an hour door-to-door, which is perfect since the talks are also usually 45 minutes to an hour long. Doing the drive almost weekly for the past 20 years, I know the road well enough to be able to give the talks enough attention while still driving safely.

On the most recent jaunt to my folks’ to drop off my son for a “sleep” over, we listened to Mark Hart’s talk Facing Your Fears. My son loves listening to the Lighthouse cd’s and about 20 minutes into the ride he piped up from the back seat: “This guy’s quite a comedian!” A few minutes later we added our own comedic genius when Mark challenged his audience to meditate on what we would become the patron saint of once we got to heaven (God willing). Mark himself claims that he will become the patron saint of turning off lights in empty room. I couldn’t resist dropping the well-intentioned barb, “I’ll be the patron saint of flushing un-flushed toilets!” To which my son retorted without missing a beat: “And I’ll be the patron saint of not flushing toilets!”

As much as we are all called to become saints, Mark Hart’s talk went much deeper. He talks about how our fears keep us from becoming the saints we are meant to be. He likens our fears to the Philistine giant, Goliath; and that like David, we need to slay our giants, our Goliaths, our fears if we are to become the saints God has called us to be.

Although we all know the gist of the David and Goliath story, many of us don’t necessarily know all of the details. By divine providence, this story from the 1st Book of Samuel provided the readings of the day for the week leading up to when I heard Mark Hart’s talk.

The story of David and Goliath can be found at 1 Samuel 17:32-51, and I won’t re-write the entire story here; but there are a couple of verses that I would like to highlight:

As David and Goliath squared off, the Philistine giant taunted the Hebrew shepherd boy, “Am I a dog, that you would come to me with sticks?” (1 Sm 17:43) Goliath then cursed David, threatening that he would leave him for dead; carrion for the birds. (1 Sm 17:44)

The giant, shield bearer before him and sword in hand, must have cut an imposing figure. It’s no wonder that none of the Israelite soldiers wanted to take him on. In the same way, our fears can also seem insurmountable, and we will do whatever we can to avoid them, instead of facing them head on.

We must answer the taunts of our fears the same way David answered the taunts of Goliath: “You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts.” (1 Sm 17:45)

As Mark Hart puts it so clearly: “We don’t need to tell God how big our problems are; we need to tell our problems how big God is.”

That’s exactly what David did, he told Goliath how big God is.

We all know how the story ends… David slays Goliath with his sling and he cuts off the Giant’s head. But how did he do it? How did this ruddy youth, a mere shepherd boy, bring down the giant, a professional warrior who was armed to the teeth?

He put his trust in God.

When Saul saw that David was adamant in facing down the giant, he had him kitted out in his own personal armour. As a shepherd and not a warrior, however, David wasn’t used to the armour, could hardly walk in it, and refused to wear it (1 Sm 17:38-39). Instead, “David took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch.” (1 Sm 17:40)

This is how David faced Goliath. Not with royal armour; not with the king’s sword; but with 5 smooth stones. This is how God calls us to face our own giants, our fears; not with the armour and sword of this world, but with the 5 smooth stones he provides for us.

So what are our 5 smooth stones provided by God to fight our fears?

I would propose that they are:

Ø  Humility;
Ø  Wisdom;
Ø  Virtue;
Ø  Courage; and the
Ø  Grace of God

I think that humility needs to be the first stone we place in our pouch. Too often our pride gets in our way and we see needing others as a sign of weakness. We would rather face our fears alone and fail, rather than admit that we have fears to begin with. We would rather cower in fear than put ourselves in debt to the Lord. Although David stood alone before Goliath, he was humble enough to know that he could not defeat the giant with out God’s help – “This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand” (1 Sm 17:46). It takes a bigger person to admit that they are frightened, that they need help, that they need to put their trust in someone. In order to slay the giants of our fears, in all humility we need to say: Jesus, I trust in you!

The second stone we need to pick up and put in our pouch is Wisdom. How can we trust in God if we do not know His ways? The wisdom with which we arm ourselves cannot be boastful or arrogant – it needs to be the humble wisdom of understanding the difference between right and wrong; knowing that God’s way is always right, whether we understand or like it or not. If we have wisdom in the ways of the Lord, then, like Mark Hart says, we can tell our fears just how big our God is.

“There can be no Virtue without temptation,” is a quote from St. Augustine that has become almost a mantra for me. The devil prays on our fears. Satan knows that our fears are the chink in our armour; a weakness to be exploited through temptation. I find that the more I give in to a particular temptation, the greater my fear grows. By leading a life of virtue, a life that is in many ways harder than a life of vice, I can face down my fears and move on to the bigger and better things that God has called me to. A virtuous life is one that grows out of both humility and wisdom; the knowledge of His ways and the confidence to trust in Him.

Every day I pray for the smooth stone of Courage. Every morning before we leave the house, my son and I pray for the courage to be a light of God’s will in the darkness of the world. Let’s face it, the world must be a dark and scary place if even St. John Paul the Great proclaimed the presence of a Culture of Death. If we don’t have courage, how can we ever face our fears? We will remain paralysed, unable to move, unable to find the joy God has planned for us. Like the stones we’ve already placed in our pouch, courage is built upon the stones that have gone in before it.

It is the Grace of God, however, that is the stone that slays the giant of our fears. David himself recognizes this in Psalm 124 when he sings: If it had not been for the Lord who was on our side, when our enemies attacked us, then they would have swallowed us up alive. (Ps 124:2-3) St. Paul reiterates this when he writes: But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me has not been in vain. (1 Cor 15:10) And of course there is the ubiquitous citation: If but for the grace of God go I; meaning that if it were not for the will of God, I too would have suffered. It truly is the Grace of God that defeats our demons. Demons, Satan and the temptations they play with our fears are greater than this world, and it will take God’s grace to defeat them, but we have the hope of knowing that our Lord will deliver us from our enemies.


The world is a dark and scary place, and our fears can seem bigger than ourselves. However, when we put the 5 smooth stones of humility, wisdom, virtue, courage, and God’s Grace in our pouch, we can face down our fears and win, just like David faced down Goliath and was victorious.