Friday, October 30, 2015

Precepts of The Church Part 2: Mass and Holy Days of Obligation

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 The first precept of the Church has to do with Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation; namely the participation in Mass on these days.  The Code of Canon Law states: “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass; they are to abstain from those labors and business concerns which impede the worship to be rendered to God, the joy which is proper to the Lord’s day or the proper relaxation of mind and body.” ( Canon 1247) 2180 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church says the same thing as well.  Let’s unpack this canon.

“On Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation” :  This would constitute every single Sunday of the calendar year and the following Feasts: Immaculate Conception (Dec 8th), Christmas (Dec 25th), Mary, Mother of God  (Jan 1st), Epiphany (Jan 6th), Ascension Thursday (40 days after Easter), Corpus Christi (Thursday after Trinity Sunday), Assumption (August 15th) and All Saints (Nov 1st).  In the United States Epiphany and Corpus Christi have been moved to the following Sunday.  Additionally, in this diocese, Ascension has been moved to the following Sunday.  Immaculate Conception is always celebrated unless it falls on a Sunday (Sunday of Advent would take precedence). Christmas is a holy day regardless of what day it falls on.  The others are celebrated unless they fall on a Saturday or Monday.

the faithful” : This would be all baptized Catholics.  Those who are ill or taking care of those who are ill are exempt.  All others should make every effort to participate during Sunday and holy day masses.  I am aware that some employers make this near impossible. If you are an employer, don’t be that guy.  I realize that despite best efforts a church cannot be located in time whilst traveling.  Although should help in planning travel and vacations.  Save these, the faithful are obliged to participate in Sunday Mass.  To choose to not do so is a mortal sin.  To choose to not go to Mass for insufficient reason (stated above) constitutes a mortal sin in that it is serious matter (despite what our society says) and is done so with full use of knowledge and free will.  Hence, to willingly skip Mass incurs a penalty of not receiving Communion until one has been reconciled with God through Confession.  To be faithful means that we act in good faith and seek that which will build up that faith.

“are bound to participate in the Mass”:  Bound.  You are bound to participate in Mass if your are a faithful Catholic. Sunday Mass and holy day Masses are not optional!  This also means more than occupying a pew for x amount of minutes.  To participate means that one comes in with a disposition to worship God, to give thanks to God, and to seek a deeper relationship with God and His people.

“They are to abstain from those labors and business concerns which impede the worship to be rendered to God”:   Mass is to take central stage on Sunday.  It is the first priority.  I know this has gotten difficult because so many other entities have supplanted Mass as the first priority.  Let’s be honest, though, it was ground we ceded.  Sports, sport practices, jobs, and whole host of other things have reached into Sunday morning demanding this time.  I am not saying these things are evil.  However, to be blunt, the 1st Commandment does say “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me” and the third commandment says “Keep holy the Sabbath.”   These are commandments given by God.  They are commandments, not suggestions.

Sunday takes precedence because it is the day of the Resurrection.  It stands as the center of the week.  From the very early Church on, it was the day when the Christian community gathered together for worship and thanksgiving of God.  Because of the latter, the Greek word, eukharistia, meaning ‘thanksgiving’ was attached to the worship service.  Furthermore, as Christ says in Mark 2:27: “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”  The Sabbath was to be for the benefit of humanity.  There is a human necessity to both worship and give thanks.  It staves off false pride, a sense of entitlement, and gives us proper sight in how to approach the world.  In Mass, we are furthermore given the grace we need to meet the challenges of our time, to negotiate this world, to grow free from our sinful inclinations, and to set the world anew.  Also, Jesus says  in John 6:53, “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life within you.”  Participation in Mass gives the opportunity for that new life.

So central to Catholic life is Sunday Mass that the Church has always seen it as central, with Vatican  II declaring it to be the ‘source and summit’ of the Catholic faith (see Lumen Gentium 11, Catechism of the Catholic Church 1324).  To willingly skip Sunday Mass is to starve ourselves spiritually and to drain the life of Christ from us; a life that we will need to enter heaven.  Sunday Mass is celebrated by anticipatory Masses on Saturday evening through Sunday day and night.  Other Masses of the week do not take the place of the Sunday Mass!  If your child goes to school weekday Masses, this is not in lieu of Sunday.  Unless the weekday be a holy day of obligation, no sin is incurred by missing Mass on a weekday.  This is not so for Sunday Mass.  This is not so for Holy days of Obligation.

“the joy which is proper to the Lord’s day or the proper relaxation of mind and body.”:  Again, the Sabbath is made for man.  We need rest.  Our ridding Sunday of its rest has not been to our betterment.  We, as a nation, are more stressed out than ever.  We are finding that secular engagements can be a demanding master.  That we choose to act as if Sunday is just another day has not served us, our country, or our parishes well.  We physically, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally need down time.  Maybe the God who hardwired us knows this.

This precept, as all the following precepts are meant for our betterment.  Challenging though they be, they are meant to help us grow in holiness, maturity, and faith.  Withdrawing from them will produce nothing positive or good.  Entering into them and participating as God commanded us to do (recall Jesus’ command to ’do this in memory of me’ at that first Mass, the Last Supper) can only be to our good if we allow it to be so.  So come giving thanks, expressing sorrow, expressing glory and adoration of God so that He may, in turn, give you an abundance of His grace.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Precepts of the Church: Introduction

These precepts are an answer to the question of what does it mean to be a Catholic in good standing.  These precepts are the baseline, the beginning, the bare minimum of what the Church says are concrete measures of what being a Catholic entails.  I write these pastor’s pens with an understanding that all the precepts are is the jumping point of the Catholic life and relationship with God and His Church.  I will go into greater detail on each one over the course of several columns so that we may see why each is an integral part of the Catholic life, how each is necessary to the identity of a Catholic, and how each points to a call to holiness that we are given by virtue of our baptism.

    I know that in our culture over the past 5 or 6 decades we have adapted a ‘away with the rules’ approach.  Those who uphold rules are seen as Pharisaical or rigid ideologues impinging on freedom.  It has led to a moral anarchy in our society where what is moral or immoral is up to me.  Likewise, we have deluded ourselves into believing that being Catholic is whatever I say it is and that if the Church has criteria on what constitutes a member in good standing then the Church is out of line.  This, too has led to a moral anarchy where being holy devolved into being good which devolved into being nice which devolved into being inoffensive.  We dismiss divine revelation for human wisdom; saying divine revelation is just human rules.  Even the Bible itself is dismissed as a mythology anthology full of fables and tales.  All of this done as an act of rebellion in which I am my own master. 
    The Catholic Church, though, is no mere human institution.  If Jesus is who He says He is, then what He calls the Church becomes the guiding principle. To this Church He said “what you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, what you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Mathew 16:19, 18:18)  The Church built its teachings on those of Jesus.  Jesus’ teaching flowed from the Old Testament, especially the 10 Commandments.  Hence, the Church has the right and duty to define what life in Christ looks like.  The precepts of the Church do this; they give us an understanding of what it means to be a disciple.  If you look at the precepts, they read like a list of those things that will keep you healthy enough to engage in the work of the Gospel.

    I guess a colloquial way of looking at it is that here is the meal and exercise plan if you are to possess the strength to get about the business of the kingdom.  At one time, there was a 7th precept: To engage in the evangelization mission of the Church. 

    I am afraid if I were to say that only those who fulfill the precepts of the Church can receive the sacraments, many would fall away.  However, that is exactly what the Church is saying.  There are standards.  These are the measuring line.  I invite you to look at this list and ask yourself both ‘have I been doing these, and how do I start back up if I have not.’  That latter part is of great importance!  Remember, we are a Church of mercy and forgiveness.  However the human heart has to be so disposed to mercy and forgiveness before it can be given.  In the next 3 or 4 weeks, I will be going one by one on these precepts as a preparation to the Year of Mercy that is starting on December 8th. 

    In each precept, I will also point out that each precept is a minimum and not a maximum.  The goal of a healthy relationship isn’t defined in what is the least that has to be done.  If that is the case, could one actually say they love the other?  The more one loves, the lighter these precepts are and the deeper we will go.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Lord, I Want To See...Maybe

The Gospel for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B, is St. Mark's account of the healing of Bartimaeus.  Bartimaeus is a blind man who hears Jesus is coming through.  He says two things: "Son of David, have pity on me" (twice) and "Master, I want to see."  Even though he is initially dissuaded from approaching Jesus by those around him, he persists.  The lot of a blind man in the time of Jesus was s dismal existence.  Unable to hold a job or farm, their lives were reduced to begging for their sustenance.  The regaining of sight was more than a mere regaining of a lost sense, it was the reconnection to life that the renewed sense allowed.  Once Bartimaeus is healed, he cannot be a blind man anymore.  A new life is given and  the expectations that go with this new life are part of the consequence of the healing.  Jesus acts on Bartimaeus' faith and restores his vision and tell him "Go your way, your faith has saved you."  What 'your way' does Bartimaeus choose?  We are told he follows Jesus.

So, is this a nice story of an interaction between a blind man and a loving Messiah?  No.  There is much more going on.  Let's break this down:

Bartimaeus seeks Jesus.  We hear of many cures that Jesus performs over the course of His ministry.  They all have a striking resemblance: they all are either brought to Jesus or approach Jesus themselves, such as Bartimaeus did.  Jesus didn't go looking for them.  Remember the story of the Prodigal Son from the Gospel of Luke; although the father mourns his son's absence, he does not go looking for him.  His son freely chose to leave and his son must freely choose to come back.  The miracles of Jesus are more than mere stories about what a good guy Jesus is.  All of the healings were about a restoration.  They point to what Jesus came to do: to restore humanity back into an eternal relationship with the Father.  That relationship had been estranged by sin.  Illness, blindness, possession, leprosy, and such were all signs of a  fractured or severed relationship whose presence kept the person from the fullness of life.  Jesus doesn't merely heal, he restores.

However, Bartimaeus his initially dissuaded from approaching Jesus.  He is rebuked and told to be silent.  We are not told by whom and for what reason, only that those around him are quite content for him to remain blind.  When a person decides to seek Jesus, there will always be people who will try to dissuade them.  Some will try to dissuade because they do not want conversion for themselves and cannot bear to have a person they know do so.  Some will try to dissuade because we don't want 'that type' of person amongst our company.  All who dissuade are agents of Satan.  Some will even try to convince that no need of healing is necessary or that their blindness is acceptable. The world is very adept at condoning sin under the guise of tolerance.  Even within the Church there are some who will say that one's blindness is fine.  They will say that this is what mercy looks like.  There is nothing merciful about allowing a person to remain in darkness; there is nothing merciful about prohibiting a restoration of sight when all that is necessary is the faith to seek it and the desire for a new life in Christ.

Bartimaeus, however, is not dissuaded in the least and only cries out all the louder.  This time Jesus calls for him and now there are those around Bartimaeus who tell him to 'Take courage, get up Jesus is calling you."   These are those who actually facilitate conversion, who seek what is good and help in the process of conversion, leading the blind to Christ.  Where those who dissuade are agents of Satan, those who encourage and are willing to lead a person to Christ are agents and disciples of Jesus.  This is our call as baptized Catholics.  To be amongst this group, though, presumes that we see.  We cannot be the blind leading the blind. (Luke 6:39)  A person who is a slave the sin will hardly be of much help in helping to free another who is a slave to sin.  Translated for Catholics: Do we seek to maintain a state of grace in our life, by embracing ongoing conversion (as witnessed to by regular Confession) and seeking to deepen our faith and understanding in Jesus, His Gospel, and His Church?  When we are given sight, it is so that we do as Bartimaeus did; follow Jesus.  It is hard to follow Jesus if we do make the effort to come to know what this entails.  Without the following of Jesus, we might as well be blind.

Finally, when Bartimaeus is asked by Jesus what he wants, he simply says "Master, I want to see!" Notice:  Master.  Bartimaeus makes a profession of faith of who Jesus is.  He is his master; Bartimaeus approaches as a servant.  The name, Bartimaeus, means son of the unclean one.  He is humanity.  His unclean status makes him unfit for the Kingdom.  His blindness is symbolic of this.  To go from unclean to clean necessitates his reorienting his life towards a new master, Jesus.  Only in this reorientation can he go from the son of the unclean one to being a son of God; hence the only reasonable to reaction to Jesus' intervention is for Bartimaeus to follow Him. 

All of this calls for a response on our part.  Do we embrace conversion?  Do we even seek it?  Because we happen to inhabit a pew every so often does not mean guaranteed entrance into heaven.  See Luke 13:22-27.  What we do in Church is supposed to inspire conversion in ourselves in such a powerful way that we become for others a path by which the blind are led to Jesus.  To believe that conversion can happen independent of the sacraments is a fool's game.  To believe that the role of Confession is optional is to steadfastly adhere to blindness. 

That the confessional has fallen largely silent is a stinging indictment against this age.  It is the work of Satan!  How can the blind see if we shut off the path to Jesus?  What does it say, my brother priests, when time for confession for the entire week is less time than an average meal and offered at a time so obnoxiously inconvenient to most that many do not come?  What does it say when 15-45 minutes are allotted for a parish of hundreds if not thousands of families?  Do we hide behind the ubiquitous " or by appointment" knowing that catching us is near impossible. Does this not send a message?  Do we not become the people telling Bartimaeus to be silent?    Yet, we have the audacity to complain that no one comes when we have set the stage for failure?  Do we preach about confession?  Do we speak of the reality of sin?  Do the words 'mortal sin' ever depart from our mouths?  Do we not see how this feeds into a mentality that empties out our churches?  The blame, so to speak, is not only there.  My brothers and sisters in the laity:  Are you insistent on confession?  Do you do an examination of conscience?  Do you allow the world to condone blindness, allowing the 'everyone is doing it' to be reason for your own willful blindness?  I might add this question to my brother priests as well.  How often do we avail ourselves of the sacrament of Reconciliation?  It will be very hard to treasure this sacrament if we ourselves are not open to conversion.

There is no room for "Lord, I want to see...maybe" or "but not now".  Blind disciples are ineffective at spreading the kingdom.  We must have the same humility as Bartimaeus.  We must admit our need for healing and restoration.  We must not allow others to dissuade us from this.  We must recognize that only in reorienting ourselves to God as our master, can we find such healing and restoration.  Jesus is ever near us, waiting for us to call out to Him. Can we say "Son of David, have mercy on me?"   Will we turn from the blindness of sin so as to walk in the way of Jesus?  Will we facilitate this possibility to others?  We know this world is becoming a darker and darker place as sin is called good and conversion is called evil.  In this dark night, we are called to be light.  To be light though, necessitates eschewing the darkness and blindness of sin and a embracing and living of the light of Christ.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Yeah, I skipped Sunday Mass! So What?

In the United States, Mass attendance has been falling steadily over the last several decades, from 75 percent to 42 percent with no real end in sight.  Over those years, those Catholics who identify themselves as Catholic have seen that identity as possible without the actual practice of the faith has risen significantly.  A cavalier attitude has developed about Mass attendance that sees Church as easily divorced from spirituality.  Into this spiritual void has jumped universalism, a false teaching that everyone goes to heaven (if there be one) except those who are bad (who don't think like me).  It's no real big deal if a person doesn't go to Mass or live any of the precepts of the Church as long as one is good seems to be the predominant feeling out there.  The Mass is boring many feel.  The music sucks or the priest is too ________ , so I don't go.  I can find God in my favorite recreational activity.  The list goes on. So what's the big deal?  Why does it matter and why should I go?

What is Mass? 

I guess we should start by saying what is Mass.  I believe that most people are of reasonable disposition and are open to truth.  Mass is an act of worship of God.  It is the where we directly participate in the saving action of Christ on the Cross.  It is a direct participation in the sin/peace offering that Jesus allowed Himself to be. He offered Himself as sacrifice so that the relationship between God and us could be eternally re-established.  We lost that relationship through sin; but God could never bring Himself to write us off as beyond His help.  He wanted to be one with us again and used Himself to seal that bond.  The sin/peace offering, though, was a sacrificial meal.  Until the person for whom the sacrifice was offered ate a part of the sacrifice the sacrifice would have no benefit.  In John 6:53-54 Jesus says, " Let me solemnly assure you, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life within you.  He who feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has life eternal, and I will raise him up on the last day." At the Last Supper, Jesus enables this to take place by taking two common elements of the Passover meal, bread and wine, and declaring them to be the Body and Blood He was about to offer on the Cross.  The Last Supper is that first Mass.  All other Masses over two thousand years have been a direct participation in this one sacrificial offering.

Do we get the gravity of the situation?  Could you imagine one of the apostles saying, "Yeah, I could go to this, but I would rather_______".  Wow, imagine saying that to Jesus' face!  Your sacrifice isn't worth my time.  I can have life, even eternal life, without you.  I don't need the sacrifice of the Cross.  I am a good person.  Sounds easy to say now, how do we think that will play in front of God face to face?

Mass, you see, is an admission we need God's grace and help in our lives.  We go in, not to be entertained, but to give thanksgiving (the word Eucharist comes from the Greek word for thanksgiving) for what God has done for us and wants to do for us.  It is not a hoop to jump through, but supposed to be a conscious act of worship.  It is our awareness that we do want the relationship with God for eternity by showing that desire in the present that should drive us to Mass.  God's reward for this desire and openness to His will is to give us the Flesh and Blood of His Son so that we may indeed have His life within us.

Going to Mass is not merely a matter of sitting in a pew for an hour, it is about engagement in worship.  We do this because the work of the Gospel must be done.  It can not be done passively.  If you have been baptized, the mission of the Church is already something that has been promised and for which we will be held liable. 

Why go?  Because we are called to be holy!

The majority of Catholics believe we are called to be good or nice.  What does that mean?  I don't know!  It is a rather flexible definition for which the bar seems to be plummeting on a regular basis.  Being good always seems to embrace my favorite sins or bad habits, doesn't it?  The call of a Catholic isn't toward such mediocrity.  No, the call of Catholics is to holiness: to be a city set on a hill, a light, salt (see Matthew 5:13-16).  We are to be Christ's witnesses to the transforming power of His grace.  How can we do this if we do not get the grace we need?  Holiness takes fuel.  God gives that fuel through the sacraments.  Without that fuel, sin will take over and numb us to that necessity.  As grace builds on grace, so sin builds on sin.  The devil will want all traces of God's life stripped from you.  He will keep you as far away from the sacraments as possible, or losing that, convince you to receive them to no good end.  In other words, to receive them in a state of mortal sin so they have no effect.  It is no wonder that missing Mass is usually preceded by an abandonment of the confessional.  We need the grace of both because of the call to holiness that is given us.

Conquering the Yabuts

Who or what are the yabuts?  They are the excuses we come up with (yeah, but....)  My brother clerics, read these carefully as usually we are the ones that provide the fuel for more than a few of the yabuts.

Yabut 1:  Mass is boring!  If we come to be entertained, we have already come with the wrong disposition.  If we wish to entertained then the focus has shifted from God to me.  Disposition matters.  Am I there to worship or be worshipped?  I know that we can find the music to our disliking.  I know many who preach cannot do so well or effectively.  I know it can feel dead in there.  The way to combat this is to go in with the right disposition.  I am here to worship God.  I am here to give thanks.  It is a shame I have to undergo mediocrity at mass to do so?  Yes, it is!  To my brothers; does what we do point to God in a way that brings awe?  Is the music pointing to worship of God or do we sing about ourselves? Is there any sense of transcendence to what we are doing?  Can the people see that we believe in the way we comport ourselves and in the way we handle the Sacred Species?  It is hard for people to get that this isn't about being entertained if we act as if we are putting on a show to entertain them.  We, too, must come in with a disposition that what we are there to do is worship God and in return receive the grace we need to go get about the business of the Kingdom.  If we don't believe that what we handle is the Body and Blood of Christ, how can we expect those who come to Mass to do so?

Yabut 2: I can find God elsewhere!  I am going to start with a fairly blunt statement: my Catholic faith should be easily distinguishable from a pagan's faith.  Jesus didn't point at a forest, a fishing boat, a recliner, a football game, or a bed and say "Here is where you can find me."  He did, however, take unleavened bread and wine and say "This is my Body, this is my Blood."  He is saying, "Here I am!  I make myself physically present to you in this Mass!  I make myself physically present to you in the Eucharistic Species!  Jesus doesn't want to be with you in some mere theoretical manner, but in a very real and true sense.   There is no other venue in which we will find God so concretely!  Now, imagine, telling God that I didn't find His concrete presence in my life all that important...but I fully expect to get into your home for all eternity.  I don't think that is going to play over so well, do you?

Yabut 3: Mass is full of hypocrites!  Yes, it is.  Join the club.  To some degree we engage in hypocrisy on a regular basis.  We know the right and do the wrong.  We fail.  It is called sin.  Pope Francis has likened the Church to a field hospital where the grace of God is given repeatedly to us as a medicine to cure us and bandage our wounds.  For this reason, the Church has the medicinal sacrament of Confession/Reconciliation to make us well enough to receive the solid food of the Eucharist.  I know that trying to find confession times in most parishes is difficult (file under things that are not helping, Father) which screams it must not be important.  As already stated, though, the Mass is sin/peace offering.  It is offered for sinners so that they might draw closer to God and in doing so be given the grace necessary to be the authentic witnesses we are baptized to be.  It does presume a desire for relationship with God and an openness to growth in said relationship.  This is why confession is so important.  When we are in a state of mortal sin, that openness is severed.  In a state of mortal sin we go from mere hypocrites to those hell bound.  Mass is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.

What Difference does it Make?

A rather large difference, truth be told.  What happens when the light of Christ is extinguished in an individual?  There is less light!  If I spiritually starve myself to death, it is to the detriment of all around me.  Furthermore, if I am starving myself to death it is a good bet I am teaching others to do the same.  I shut myself out of heaven and invite others to do the same.  Remember, Jesus Himself says, "Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life within you."  Without that life we CANNOT enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  Jesus set up the criteria.  Furthermore, imagine, if you will, what would happen if the 1.25 billion Catholics not only received the Body and Blood of Christ in a state open to its effects (aka 'state of grace') just how positively transforming that could be in this violence ridden world.  Imagine the true good that would result.  Without our connection to the Eucharist on a regular basis, this cannot be accomplished.  Why every week?  Because our need for God is that strong.  When God commanded that we keep holy the Sabbath, it was for our good.  We need Him, we need His grace.  Pride obscures this fact, humility points to this fact.

Jesus gave His Body and Blood so that through it the world could be transformed and reunited with its Creator.  What a horrible thing to say to Him that we know better than Him and find His sacrifice as beneath us!  Jesus reminds us "There is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, nothing hidden that will not be made known.  Everything you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight; what you have whispered in locked rooms will be proclaimed from the rooftops." (Luke 12:2-3)  Our internal dispositions will be laid bare before the judgment seat of God.  I, for one, know I need God's grace to get through the maze that is this life.  Let us be honest and overcome the yabuts and go seek Jesus where He makes Himself most concretely known.  If we are to expect the Kingdom of Heaven, it will not come from ignoring Jesus on earth.