Thursday, January 30, 2014

What Would Jesus Do?

Dear Theophilus,

WWJD? What Would Jesus Do? The question is just about as ubiquitous as the colourful plastic bracelets. Unfortunately, I don’t think the majority of the people asking the question would be happy with the answer.

The question, WWJD? is usually followed by the questioner citing Christ: You shall love your neighbour as yourself, (Mt 22:39) or Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. (Jn 13:34) The intended meaning being that if you are a true Christian, then you will let others do whatever they please, not hold them up to a moral standard; that love must somehow equal permission.

This endemic problem stems from contemporary society’s habit to read their own perspective and opinion onto the sayings of Christ instead of reading what Christ has to say onto their perspective and opinion. As Michael Coren so aptly put it in his book Heresy, people are looking for God the Grandfather (doting and obliging) instead of God the Father (wise and guiding, yet firm with His love). We seem to have forgotten that sometimes love has to say, “No.”

The people who trot out the question, What Would Jesus Do? enrobing themselves in what they perceive to be the love of Christ, a love which will let them do their own will instead of God’s, are usually surprised by Jesus’ stronger words of love and what one should do:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called the least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Mt 5:17-19)

Guiding us to follow the Commandments God set out in His covenant with His people. That by following His law we will come to know greatness in heaven.

Christ also stated:

I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. (Lk 12:49-51)

The fire Christ promises is to purge us from our sinful ways. The division He brings is between those who choose to follow Him and those who reject His law.

I know that much of what I have just written would come across as being hardhearted. That, according to what many people in the world say today, I am being un-Christian. The crux of my point here returns to what I have already said, when we quote Christ saying Love your neighbour as yourself ; are we reading our own perspective onto Christ’s words, or are we reading His words onto our perspective? Do we really understand the true meaning of God’s love?

Christ’s love for us desires to bring us to an eternal wholeness, and this is a love He calls us to share with one another. Christ’s love strives to bring us out of our sinfulness and into the light of His ways, and this is the love that He calls us to share with one another. Christ’s love accepts us for who we are, yet challenges us to change for the better, to go and sin no more; and this is the love He calls us to share with one another.

In this light when we are faced with a moral dilemma, What Would Jesus Do? is a legitimate question to ask ourselves, and others. The question calls us to a higher moral standard; a divine moral standard at that. WWJD? demands that we mirror Christ’s love by keeping others from harm, calling them from their sinful ways. Perhaps the hardest thing of all for us to do when we strive to Do what Jesus did; is to judge sinful actions without being judgemental of the sinner.

The next time someone trying to argue for permission for their sinful ways tries to take the ethical upper hand by asking WWJD? followed by the usual Jesus quote: Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another; I will answer them as Jesus did: You are wrong because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God. (Mt 22:29)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Mike's Prayer

Dear Theophilus,

As parents my wife and I are constantly wondering how we’re doing in raising our son. We sometimes find that we’re asking ourselves: “Are we getting it right?” Every so often our nine-year-old son Michael comes up with something that tells us that the answer is a resounding “Yes!”

This past Monday was one of those moments. As I was sorting through the myriad of papers (tests, letters, homework, etc.) that he had stuffed in his backpack, I came across a prayer he had written. I was astounded by what he had written. So with his permission, I’ll share it with you here:

Dear Lord, God,

Help us face the many abysses of evil.
Lord, thank you for our families and friends.
If we have disobeyed you in the past days of the New Year,
please let us remember that we are "all yours".
We are not perfect and let us not be judged in life by those who need prayers.
Help us know that you are there.


Needless to say I was absolutely floored. Days later I’m still amazed at how he understands his relationship with God can be on so many different levels. Michael’s prayer reminds us of how we need God in every aspect of our lives:

Protection from evil;
Thanksgiving for the many blessings in our lives;
Repentance for our sinfulness;
Acknowledgement that we must help one another through prayer; and
A longing to know God.

Our Catholic faith is a dynamic part of who we are as a family. We try to infuse it in everything that we do, from great family celebrations to the most mundane of daily chores. Between evening sports activities, homework and friends, we wonder sometimes if the message is getting through. It’s in moments like these that my wife and I know that God is working through us.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Lectio Divina

Dear Theophilus,

Inspired by Archbishop Cardinal Collins, lately I have come into the practice of Lectio Divina as a part of my daily prayer life. This has grown out of a desire to read and meditate on the daily readings set out by the Church. 

An ancient tradition, dating back to Origen in the Third Century Lectio Devina can be simply translated as either Holy or Sacred Reading, referring to one reads and meditates on Sacred Scripture. This understanding of Lectio Devina is reiterated by Cardinal Collins in the introduction to his book Pathway to our Hearts, where he is quick to point out that Lectio Devina should not be approached as a course in Bible study (exegis). Although Cardinal Collins recognizes that Scripture study is important, he reminds us that Lectio Divina is meant to be a prayerful encounter with our living God through the inspired word of Sacred Scripture. 

There is no official format for Lectio Divina, however, there are certain elements that will help one get the most out of this spiritual practice. Reading, prayer, meditation and contemplation are all a part of Lectio Divina, however, the order you do these in depends on the amount of time you have to dedicate to Lectio Divina and finding a formula that works best for you. Since I can only dedicate 15 minutes to my daily Scripture reading (unlike the 45 minute Lectio Divina sessions Cardinal Collins offers monthly at St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto), I follow the simple formula of prayer, reading, and then combine my meditation and contemplation. 

I start with prayer to focus my mind and settle my heart. I find that this helps me ready myself to receive the Word of God and to meditate on how He is speaking to me. The prayer is usually quite simple, I either allow the Holy Spirit to guide my prayer: Lord, please allow me to hear your will for me today in your word; or I will recite the words of the prophet Samuel: Speak Lord, your servant is listening. If I am feeling particularly agitated, I may even recite a decade of the Rosary. 

My heart and mind ready to listen to the Lord, I turn to the passage I have chosen to read that day. I usually read the Bible readings for the day, but there are other times when I feel I need to return to Sunday’s Gospel throughout the rest of the week; and still other times there is a particular passage that I feel is pertinent to my life right now. Since Lectio Divina is meant to be a prayerful encounter with God through Scripture I read the passage slowly and out loud, imagining that I am proclaiming the Word at Mass. I let the Word linger on my lips, savouring what God is saying. Searching for what God is trying to tell me. 

This is where meditation and contemplation on the Word comes in. I will often read, re-read and read the passage again. There will be key phrases and words that jump off the page for me. There are times when I have returned to a reading and God has prompted my attention in a new direction, peeling back the layers of his will for me. Usually I am surprised by how there is something in the reading that speaks directly to something going on in my life. I have even laughed out loud when the Lord has offered me a solution to a problem that I had not thought of, but with His help seems so obvious. 

I will then finish my meditation with an Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be.

My Lectio Divina complete, I find renewed strength to take on the day. I take courage in knowing that God has a plan for me, and that I am setting out to do His will.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Every Mass is like High Mass

Dear Theophilus,

As a family we like to start school breaks (Christmas and summer) with a little get-a-way. We find our holidays to be more relaxing because there is a distinct break between work and down time with the forced relaxation that a hotel stay brings. It’s nothing extravagant, just a couple of nights in a hotel with a pool in downtown Toronto, with someone to make the beds, cook meals and do the dishes for few days.

Each year one of the highlights is attending High Mass at St. Michael’s Cathedral.

One of the reason’s my son likes going to the cathedral because his name is also Michael, so he feels a certain link with the church, like it’s his very own. He also likes looking for the Archbishop’s tasselled hat hanging above the altar. And the look of awe in his eye when he saw Thomas Cardinal Collins processing in was only matched by his excitement when he realized we would received communion from his Eminence.

Personally, I find a certain enchantment with the sacred beauty that Mass at the cathedral entails. There is all of the sacred art – murals, stained glass, the gold gilded tabernacle; which all focus the mind towards God (unfortunately all hidden behind restorers’ scaffolding on our December visit). When the 100-voice strong choir from the acclaimed St. Michael’s Boys’ Choir School sang the Gloria, I closed my eyes and imagined that this must be as close as earthly possible to the Angels’ refrain on the night of the Nativity. Added to this was the sweet scent of incense, and I felt that I was participating in something sacred.

I was so moved and excited by the whole experience, shortly after Mass I sent a text message to a friend: High Mass at the Cathedral with the Cardinal. AWESOME!!!!!!

To which he replied: Very cool … our Mass parish priest … no power … still awesome …

I was dumbfounded. He was so very right! Yes, all the sacred beauty and enchantment of the cathedral Mass are wonderful, but what is truly awesome, the source and summit of our faith, is the Eucharist. Whether it is celebrated on the altar of the humblest of chapels or under the Dome of St. Peter’s in Rome, the core of the Mass is the same. We are called to partake in Christ’s sacrifice in the Eucharist. AWESOME!!!!!