On July 9, 1572, after ten days of unspeakable torture and mutilations, 19 men (17 priests and two lay brothers) were hung for refusing to deny their belief in the Blessed Sacrament and papal supremacy.
Over 400 years later these martyrs continue to inspire people to live the faith. Do we possess that same deep sense of faith in the Holy Eucharist as modeled by these heroic martyrs? Are we willing to lay down our lives for that belief?
If we were to put this question into the more mundane settings of every day life, how would we respond?
1. Are we willing to make the sign of the cross and pray over our meal before eating in a public restaurant?
Praying before a meal in a restaurant isn't an act we do to be seen. It is giving thanks to God for the blessing of a meal we are able to enjoy with others doing the cooking and cleaning. Isn't that worth giving thanks to God? Are we too self-conscious to acknowledge God in this simple manner?
2. When the opportunities arise, are we willing to share our faith with others?
This doesn't have to be seen in the negative light of proselytizing. However, if we believe that Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords shouldn't we be excited to share that Good News with others? As C.S. Lewis points out, "If Christianity is true it is the most important thing in the world. If it isn't true, it is of no importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important." Revelation 3:15-16 expounds on this when it makes reference to whether we are hot, cold, or lukewarm. The consequences of being lukewarm are not pretty regardless of which translation of the Bible one uses. I have seen three different words used for how the lukewarm will be expelled from the mouth of the Holy One--spew, spit or vomit. None of those options are very appealing. Do we take these admonitions seriously? Is growing in our faith a priority in our lives?
3. What is our attitude toward the Blessed Sacrament?
Do we truly believe that Jesus is present in the Blessed Sacrament, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity? If so, does our demeanor at the celebration of the Holy Eucharist reflect that solemn belief? The ritual of the liturgy is beautiful, but it also has the potential to lull us into complacency because we know what comes next. Remember, this isn't an empty ritual in which we simply attend as an observer. We enter into the sacred mystery and encounter the living God at each and every Eucharistic celebration. Do we comprehend the magnitude of this privilege as well as the corresponding responsibility?
We may never be challenged to lay down our lives for the faith as did the martyrs of Gorkum. However, we are called to be faithful witnesses each and every day of our lives--in season and out of season. May the Holy Spirit fill us with the gifts of courage and perseverance so that we may remain faithful.
Holy Martyrs of Gorkum, pray for us!
I read an article today in the National Catholic Register written by Robert Morrison. The article was entitled, Will There Be 'Priest Holes' in the U.S.A.? It was an interesting and informative article which raised some significant questions regarding the future of the Church in our country. Reading the public comments after the article was even more enlightening.
There is plenty of blame to go around regarding the state of our contemporary culture as well as the state of the Church. It is easy to point fingers and blame a variety of individuals or political groups for the sin and degradation we see at work in society. We can categorize voting blocks and issue condemnations towards them for the people placed in office because of how that block of people voted. Obviously, we can easily point to many elected officials who have shunned the teachings of Church and consistently vote for legislation which undermines the values to which we hold dear. The same thing can be said for members of the executive and judicial branches of government as well. Does placing blame help us solve the problem?
The somber reality that I took from the public comments was the disdain that some people expressed toward the priests and bishops. Questions such as, "Will there be any good priests willing to come through the priest hole? Why won't they preach from the pulpit about the evils of a particular political party?" On and on the comments flowed one after the other. My heart was heavy for all of the good priests and bishops who minister to their flocks so faithfully.
As in any walk of life, there are priests and bishops who are more effective than others at the work they do. That is simply a reality of life. Members of the clergy each bring their unique gifts into their ministry. Hopefully, these gifts are nurtured and utilized through a life of prayer and humble service to the people in their care. As we all know, sometimes clergy members make bad choices just as anyone else and fall into sin. The last decade has revealed some very grievous sins of a few. However, the comments made after this article were not about those few. It seemed to be a more general critique of the presbyterate and episcopacy at large.
I want to address a few of the issues directly.
1. How much does the average parishioner expect from a 6 to 12 minute homily at a Sunday liturgy?
Do you want every catechetical topic addressed in detail through the Sunday homilies? If so, how do you propose to realistically accomplish that task? Furthermore, if the person preaching goes over 12 minutes in his homily there will likely be complaints about the long-winded preaching. Also, in many churches, there are anywhere from 3 to 6 Masses that need to take place on Sunday. The parking lot needs to be emptied so another group can come in for the next Mass. It may seem like a mundane problem on the surface, but if you have ever attended a parish with limited parking you know what I mean.
2. Does the average parishioner really want the Sunday homily to be a political discourse on a regular basis from week to week?
Politics is a touchy subject in the best of circumstances. Throw it into the pulpit as a mainstay and see where it leads. The Gospel message certainly applies to our daily life in all aspects, including politics. Is it the role of the priest and bishop to preach politics, or is it his role to preach the Gospel and invite the parishioners to apply it to their lives? This would obviously include their politics and voting habits as well.
3. What other opportunities have priests and bishops provided for parishioners to learn about the issues of the culture as well as their faith?
Many parishes provide extra opportunities beyond the Sunday liturgy to learn about the faith and come to a deeper understanding of moral and political issues. Check out the low attendance numbers at the majority of these events and ask yourself who is to blame.
4. Have you noticed any of the good things your priest (or bishop) has done?
I am touched by the pastoral outreach of many of our good and dedicated priests. They come to the hospital quickly when summoned to offer the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. They bless us abundantly with their words of forgiveness and encouragement in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. They make couples feel like the most important people in the world when they celebrate the Rite of Matrimony bringing the two into one flesh. The Sacraments of Initiation touch the lives of people in extraordinary ways because our priests work with other parish leaders to catechize, plan, and organize these special milestones of life. I can only imagine the number of lives that have been forever impacted because of the presence of a priest in a tragic setting. A priest being present at the Twin Towers on 9/11 makes headlines. A priest being at a car accident scene, Intensive Care Unit at a hospital, or at the bedside in someone's home will most often not make the evening news. However, this pastoral care takes place frequently and changes lives in some profound ways.
5. When was the last time we made an effort to lift up our priests and bishops in a positive way?
Members of the clergy aren't perfect and I realize that some have let us down in pretty dramatic fashion. On the other hand, there are many who are striving to be faithful to their calling and are truly wanting to serve their people with humility and love. That can be a tough task to accomplish when we bombard them with incessant criticism. How does a priest stay happy, healthy, and upbeat if the only thing he ever hears about is what he is doing wrong? When was the last time you prayed intently for your pastor and your bishop?
Finally, I am not dismissing the real needs that should be addressed in our parishes. This comes from the pulpit, in our various councils, in our Catholic schools, in the CCD and Religious Education programs, and through all of the other Church related organizations connected to our parishes. The priest has a huge responsibility to bring all of these entities and initiatives together in servant leadership to effectively build up the Body of Christ. The ministries of preaching, teaching, and healing are much needed in our parish communities. It can certainly be a daunting task.
Thank you to all of our priests and bishops who strive to do these tasks faithfully. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with each of you.
On July 6, the Church celebrates the life of St. Maria Goretti. While she is greatly honored as a saint for young people to emulate, there is much that we can all learn from the example of this precious child. Chastity and courage are immediately evident, but it seems that faithfulness provided the foundation of her heroic life--and death--to preserve her purity.
Faithfulness in daily duties can strengthen us for the times when greater sacrifices are required of us. Maria Goretti had established disciplined habits in her young life. These habits of prayer, hard work, and sacrifices for the good of others prepared her for the ultimate sacrifice she would be challenged to make. Thankfully, she found herself well-prepared.
We may not all be called to martyrdom, but we are all called to holiness. God chose us in Christ before the world began to be holy and blameless in his sight. (See Ephesians 1:3-6.) Quite simply, we are called to be saints. How does faithfulness figure into our own spiritual journey to being saints? Are we faithful in our prayer life? Are we faithful in loving God with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength? Are we faithful in loving our neighbor as ourselves? In the day-to-day routines of life we can truly assess who we are. As the old question goes, "How do we act when we think no one is looking?"
If we are firmly set in the ways of God, the virtue and gift of courage will be there for us when we need it. Faithfulness in small things establishes a pattern of living which guides us in the bigger issues. Courageous action in a difficult circumstance will be a natural response because we have been living courageously all along. It will be the ordinary response to an extraordinary situation.
Let's put this into the context of chastity. How do we live a pure and wholesome life when the culture bombards us with every lustful temptation available? Let's be honest, the challenges are very real. The statistical evidence of males being addicted to pornography is staggering. This affliction acts as a severe detriment to developing and nurturing successful marital relationships. Basically, how do we remain pure and chaste according to our state in life when there are so many different assaults attempting to take us down?
Some people call it old fashioned, but it might more appropriately be called wisdom. Guarding our senses to maintain holiness is a very prudent thing to do despite what the naysayers may tell us. For example, what types of television programs do we watch? Worse yet, how do we protect ourselves and our children from some of the commercials that come on even during family friendly programs? It used to be sexual innuendos that we just hoped the children wouldn't understand. Now there is nothing subtle about the products be pitched into our living rooms. How do you explain erectile dysfunction to your child after one of those charming commercials enter the airwaves? Furthermore, what does it mean when there is a man and a woman in a bathtub in the commercial and the announcer is talking about being ready when the time is right? In my mind, it means "the time is right" to turn the TV off.
Do you want to go to the mall? How do you feel walking past a store like Victoria's Secret with your children in tow? I never thought I would find myself hoping that we would just go look at toys when my children were young, but after realizing Victoria hadn't left anything to being a secret, I was grateful when the toy store arrived in view. People watching at the mall is a whole different issue. Modesty isn't a word that would come up very often as a description for the way many folks dress. By the way, when was the last time you heard a homily based upon the "near occasion of sin"?
Internet pornography is a plague upon our civilization--plain and simple. It sucks more and more individuals into unchaste lifestyles than we can imagine. What would have been unthinkable at one time in our history now seems to be the norm. Pornography generates a huge amount of money and perpetuates unhealthy lifestyle choices in many different ways. I have heard politicians say, "It's the economy stupid." Well, if this is how we keep the economy going, we are in a sad state of affairs.
What shall we do? First, it would seem that faithfulness begins with prayer. Let's ask God for the gift of purity and chastity. Let's turn to prayer immediately upon experiencing temptation. Flirting with the temptation leads to disaster. The temptation needs to be rebuked immediately with our hearts and minds turned towards God. Years ago we would have been instructed to offer up an "ejaculation" at the time of temptation. If we use that word now it seems that we are part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Say a quick prayer at the time of temptation. How's that?
Second, let's be faithful in the daily routines of life. Custody of the senses is still a positive way to go. Are we looking at things that are pure, wholesome, and holy? The eyes are the window to the soul. What is entering into our soul through our eyes? How diligently are we protecting the purity of our soul by guarding what we allow our eyes to see? This includes TV programs, movies, concerts, clubs, the beach, and a multitude of other places that promote lustful appetites. Some would say that we basically can't look at anything; that is a justifiable concern in modern society. I am not suggesting that we go hide in a cave and never come out. I am simply encouraging diligence in evaluating what we have come to deem as acceptable in regard to what we allow pass through the lenses of our eyes.
Continuing on with faithfulness in daily life, how do we speak? Do we use our tongues to give glory and praise to God, or do our words spew out profanities, blasphemies, and sexual vileness? The words we use matter; we are either building up the Kingdom of God or tearing it down. Have we become accustomed to speaking in a way that is less than stellar for building up the Kingdom?
Third, do we have a desire to be holy and blameless in the Lord's sight? Who are our friends? Do they bring out the best in us? On the flip side, do we bring out the best in others? Do we have someone that holds us accountable for our actions? How would people describe us simply based upon the company we keep?
Fourth, do we continue to grow in wisdom, grace, and knowledge of our faith? Are we faithful in forming our conscience correctly? Do we know what the Church teaches about sexual morality? We have heard more about contraception in the last year since the HHS Mandate was issued than what we had probably heard in years. That is just one facet of the Church's teaching on sexual morality. Do we have an understanding of the Church's stand on pre-marital sex, masturbation, fornication, adultery, abortion, invitro-fertilization, etc.? How can we form our consciences correctly if we don't take the time to understand the depth and breadth of these issues? We have a responsibility to be students of our faith continuously.
Finally, when was the last time we did a thorough examination of conscience and sought forgiveness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation? We have to know where we are to determine where we are going. Do we see ourselves growing closer to God with each passing year or drifting farther away? Staying close to the Sacraments of the Church empowers us to live more fully in God's grace.
St. Maria Goretti demonstrated courage and it is my hope that her feast day will inspire us to seek God in a pure and wholesome manner. If we have not followed her example of purity, may we be earnest in seeking forgiveness and amending our ways.
St. Maria Goretti--pray for us!
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