Thursday, December 31, 2015

Prayer Life - Use it or Lose it

Dear Theophilous,

Use it or lose it!

I’ve heard this expression countless times in my life applied to countless situations.

The context I can probably speak to the best about this from experience is language. In my youth I was blessed enough to be able to travel and live across Europe; experiences that needed me to become somewhat proficient in a number of different languages. At one point I had a fairly good command of at least 5 languages beyond my native English. Over the years, however, as my need to use some of these languages has diminished, so has my ability to speak them.

Use it or lose it is also an expression often used in reference to muscle. Again, speaking from middle-aged experience, my increasingly sedentary life has also led to decreased muscle mass. I prefer to acknowledge this phenomenon by explaining that my weight has migrated from my cyclist thighs to my gut.

I think the same can be said of our spiritual lives – as we pray less and less, our spiritual life will have a tendency to atrophy.

Unfortunately, not many people see their spiritual life in the same vein as their physical or linguistic abilities. Many approach their prayer life like riding a bike; that you can hop on and off at will and the experience will always be the same. That said, if you haven’t ridden a bike in a while, I wouldn’t suggest the Tour de France (let alone just a stage of this fabled race) be the place to start up again.

Still, time and again, we hear of people abandoning their prayer life because they didn’t have a beatific vision during Grace Before Meals. Even the most holy of saints will tell you that prayer life takes work – work that isn’t always immediately compensated. Blessed (soon to be Saint) Theresa of Calcutta, herself, spoke about going through years of spiritual dryness.

As we turn the calendar on another year, many people (myself included) take this opportunity to make resolutions to change their lives for the better. The New Year’s resolutions that fail by the end of January will be the ones that set their sites on achieving the Champs Élysées or the Transfiguration overnight. The resolutions that will succeed in changing lives are the ones that see the journey is made up of many small steps.

If a renewed prayer life is your New Year’s Resolution, know that you are in my prayers. As you embark on this journey, I would encourage you to remain focussed on the small steps of the journey while always keeping the final destination in mind.

A great tool I would suggest is the Honor Your Inner Monk app for your smartphone. This app will provide you with 2 short daily prayers (morning and afternoon), needing between only 1 to 2 minutes of your time each. Always short, but always relevant, they are the small steps needed to take you through your grand tour towards heaven.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Why Be Catholic?

Dear Theophilous,

I’m what most people would consider a cradle Catholic, more or less. Shortly after I was born I was baptized at St. Anselm’s parish in Toronto. Even though it wasn’t their home parish, they had gotten married there, and thus the decision to have me baptized there. I don’t think any of us have ever been back to St. Anselm’s since.

I also have vague recollections of my sister’s baptism when I was 3, but most of my early childhood memories are of Sunday School at the local United Church. It wasn’t until I was 9 years-old and my mom went through the RCIA program that we started attending St. John Chrysostom and I made my first Reconciliation and Eucharist. From that point on, for all intents and purposes, was raised a cradle Catholic.

During those formative years, if you had asked me Why I was Catholic, I would have given the question about a 10-second thought before answering, “Because my parents are.” Actually, growing up in the Catholic school system, it just seemed natural that everybody and their parents (and their parents’ parents) were Catholic. It was just the natural order of things.

As I’ve been mellowing in my old age, however, I’ve been giving more and more thought to the question Why be Catholic? It’s a question I’ve heard discussed by a variety of different personalities on The Catholic Channel on SiriusXM, giving much food for thought. It’s a question I knew I had to answer once I saw it emblazoned on a banner in my mother-in-law’s parish in London, Ontario.

I know the answer, “Because my parents are,” will no longer hold water when it comes to defending my Catholic faith, so I narrowed it down to three key reasons:

  • The Eucharist
  • The Truth
  • My Family

The Eucharist

The Catechism of the Catholic Church rightly states that “The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life.” (CCC #1324) The Catechism tells us how all other sacraments, and all other life in the Church are bound up in the Eucharist and oriented toward it. How could they not be? This is the body and blood, soul and divinity of our Lord and Saviour. Really, the Eucharist is the be all and end all of what it means to be Catholic, and in my mind, what it means to be Christian.

Believing in the Eucharist isn’t easy. It never was. Even those who knew Christ and followed him daily had a hard time. During the Eucharistic Discourse in the Gospel according to St. John, when Jesus tells His followers they need to eat His flesh and drink His blood they grumble, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (Jn 6:60) And then when Jesus reiterated our need for the Eucharist, “many drew back and no longer walked with Him.” (Jn 6:66).

Knowing the Eucharist, understanding the Eucharist, loving the Eucharist; none of it is easy; but one you do, it is the most beautiful thing on Earth. I’ve heard it said that if we truly knew in our hearts what the Eucharist contained – wild horses could not keep us away from it. Some of the most profound moments in my life have come before the Blessed Sacrament, my heart physically pulled towards the Tabernacle; the ache of my suffering eased by the sacrifice on the altar; the tranquil warmth that fills me when I consume the Eucharist.

It is through the Eucharist that I love that I have come to know Christ’s love for me, a sinner.

The Truth

If the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith, our faith hinges on a single question that Jesus asks us: “Who do you say that I am?” (Mk 8:29, Mt 16:15) How we answer that question changes everything. C.S. Lewis tells us we can answer this question in only in one of three ways: that Christ a liar, a lunatic, or He is Lord. Personally, I pick the third option each and every time.

Whenever defending doctrine or explaining a point of faith, I like to begin the discussion by asking this very question. The starting point with Christians is that He is Lord, God, one with the Father and the Holy Spirit. (If this isn’t the answer, there’s a whole other conversation that needs to take place). If Christ is God, then we have to take what He says as the Truth – like it or not.

Christ Himself tells us, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” (Jn 14:6) It’s not a boast – it’s a simple fact.

There are a lot of Christ’s teachings that are difficult, even more so now in the 21st Century than they were in the 1st Century (and look what they did to Jesus back then). When we propose that our truths are better than Christ’s, are we then not presupposing that we are greater than God?

The Truth that Christ gives us in His Gospel is like a beacon in the dark. The Truth guides us to the joy of eternal life in Him. The seas may be, and usually are, rough; but the guiding light of Christ’s love and Truth bring us to safety. Instead of binding us up, the Truth liberates us to not worry about the raging waters around us, but to take comfort in the safe harbour we are going to enter.

My Family

The joy of faith is not something to be kept in secret, a lamp hidden under a bushel basket; rather, it is to be shared freely. I love the expression: Don’t just keep the faith. Give it away!

I always teach my students that the true meaning of Love is “to want what is best for the other.” If I truly love my wife and if I truly love my son, how could I ever imagine to keep from them the beauty I have found in the Eucharist and the Truth? There is nothing I want more for them than the love of God.

This is how the faith has come down to us over 2,000 years. Passed from generation to generation, parent to child. I can’t think of any better gift I could give my son, a gift that will not only last a lifetime, but for all eternity.

Why Be Catholic? Is a question I had never given too much thought to, but it’s a question which defines who I am; who my family is.  This is a question I no longer run from, but embrace and am proud to answer.