Archive for the ‘by Msgr. Charles Pope’ Category

If you read this post on Msgr. Pope’s blog, you will find many of his other outstanding reflections. For your convenience it is copied below with his kind permission.

Are You a Mouse or A Man? A Homily for The Feast of Corpus Christi

by Msgr. Charles Pope (posted with permission – source)

In many places this Sunday, the (moved) Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ Our Lord is celebrated.

While you may puzzle over my title for today’s blog, allow me to delay the explanation to a bit later. On a solemn feast like this, many things might be preached and taught. Let’s look at three areas for reflection: the Reality of the Eucharist, the Requirement of the Eucharist, and the Remembrance of the Eucharist.

I.  The Reality of the Eucharist – On this solemn feast we are called above all to faith in the fact (as revealed by the Lord Himself) that the Eucharist, the Holy Communion, is in fact a reception of the very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, whole and entire, in His glorified state. We do not partake of a symbol. The Eucharist is not a metaphor; it is truly the Lord. Neither is it a “piece” of His flesh. It is Christ, whole and entire. Scripture attests to this in many places:

Luke 22:19-20  And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after supper, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”

1 Cor 10:16  The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a partaking in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a partaking in the body of Christ?

Luke 24:35  They recognized him in the breaking of the bread.

1 Cor 11:29  For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.

John 6:51  I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.

This last quote is from the Gospel for today’s feast. The passage is a profound theology of the Eucharist from Jesus Himself. He makes it clear that we are not permitted to think of the Eucharist as a symbol or in metaphorical terms.

When Jesus referred to the bread as His flesh, the Jewish people hearing Him grumbled in protest. Jesus did not seek to reassure them or to insist that He was speaking only symbolically. Rather, He became even more adamant by shifting His vocabulary from the polite form of eating, φάγητε (phagete – meaning simply “to eat”) to the impolite form, τρώγων (trogon – meaning “to munch, gnaw, or chew”).

So insistent was He that they grasp this that He permitted many to leave Him that day, knowing that they would no longer follow in His company due to this very teaching (cf Jn 6:66). Yes, the Lord paid quite a price for this graphic and “hard” teaching (Jn 6:60).

Today He asks us, Do you also want to leave me? (Jn 6:67) We must supply our answer each time we approach the altar and hear, “The Body of Christ.” It is here that we answer the Lord, “Amen,” as if to say, “Lord, to whom shall we go, you have the word of eternal life!” (Jn 6:68)

If only everyone would grasp that the Lord Himself is truly present in our churches! Were that so, one could never empty our parishes of those seeking to pray with the Lord. As it is, though, only 27 percent come to Mass regularly. This is more evidence of the narrow road and how few there are who find it. Just as most left Jesus then, many continue to leave Him now or stand far away through indifference or false notions.

What father would not be severely alarmed if one of his children stopped eating? Consider, then, God’s alarm that many of us have stopped eating.

II.  The Requirement of the Eucharist – When I was a young boy I thought of going to Mass and receiving Communion as just something my mother made me do; it was just rituals and stuff. I never thought of it as essential for my survival. But in John’s Gospel today, Jesus teaches something very profound about Holy Communion (the Eucharist). In effect, He says that without Holy Communion we will starve and die spiritually.

Here is what Jesus says:  Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you (John 6:53).

As a kid and even a young adult I never thought of Holy Communion as essential for my life, as something that, if not received regularly, would cause me to die spiritually. But it makes sense doesn’t it? If we don’t eat food in our physical lives, we grow weak and eventually die. It is the same with Holy Communion.

Remember this from the Book of Exodus: the people were without food in the desert and they feared for their lives, so God gave them bread from heaven, “manna,” and they collected it each morning. Without eating that bread from Heaven they would never have made it to the Promised Land; they would have died in the desert.

It is the same with us. Without receiving Jesus, our living manna from Heaven, in Holy Communion, we will not make it to our Promised Land of Heaven! I guess it’s not just a ritual after all. It is essential for our survival.

Don’t miss Holy Communion; Jesus urges you to eat.

A mother and father in my parish recently noticed that their daughter wasn’t eating enough. Within a very short time they took her to the doctor, who was able to cure the problem; now the young girl is eating again. Those parents would have moved Heaven and earth to make sure that their daughter was able to eat.

It is the same with God. Jesus urges us to eat, to receive the Holy Communion, every Sunday without fail. Jesus urges us with this word: “Unless!” Holy Communion is our required food.

III. The Remembrance of the Eucharist – The word remembrance comes up a lot in reference to Holy Communion. Consider the following passages from Scripture:

Remember how for forty years now the LORD, your God, has directed all your journeying in the desert … and then fed you with manna (Deut 8).

Do not forget the LORD, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt (Deut 8:24).

Do this in remembrance of me (1 Cor 11:24, inter al).

What is remembrance and why is it important? In effect, to “remember” is to have present in your mind what God has done for you so that you’re grateful and different. God has saved us, made us His children, and opened Heaven for us. Yet our minds are very weak and too easily we let this slip from our conscious thoughts. Thus, the summons to an ἀνάμνησιν (anamnesin) or “remembrance” that is so common in the Eucharistic liturgy is a summons to our minds to be open to and powerfully aware of what the Lord has done for us. Don’t just stand or kneel there, forgetting; let this be present to you as a living and conscious reality that transforms you!

Are you a mouse or a man? Now to address the puzzling question I posed in my title. Back in my seminary days we were given the example of a mouse who scurries across the altar, takes a consecrated host, runs off, and eats it. We were then asked, “Does the mouse eat the Body of Christ?” The answer is yes! The Eucharist has a reality unto itself. “Does the mouse receive a sacrament?” No, because a mouse has no rational mind. It eats the very Body of Christ, but to no avail, for it has no conscious awareness or appreciation of what (whom) it is eating. So then the question for you is this: “Are you a mouse or a man?”

How do you receive Holy Communion? Do you mindlessly shuffle along in the Communion line in a mechanistic way or do you go up powerfully aware of Him whom you are about to receive? Do you remember? Do you have vividly present in your mind what the Lord has done for you? Are you grateful and amazed at what He has done and what He offers? Or are you just like a mouse, mindlessly receiving something that has been put into your mouth?

Some people put more faith in Tylenol than they do in the Eucharist. Why? Because when they take Tylenol they actually expect something to happen! They expect the pain to go away, for there to be relief and healing. But when it comes to Holy Communion, they expect next to nothing. To them, it’s just a ritual. Hey, it’s time to go up and get the wafer (pardon the expression) now.

Really? How can this be? Poor catechesis? Sure. Little faith? Sure. Boredom? Yes, indeed. On some level it can be no better than a mouse eating a host. We are receiving the Lord of all creation, yet most expect little.

To this the Church says, “Remember! Have present in your mind all that the Lord has done is about to do for you. Let the reality of His presence be alive in your mind so that it changes you and makes you profoundly grateful and joyful. Become the One whom you receive!”

Jesus is more powerful than Tylenol, and we are men (and women), not mice.

On this Solemnity of the Body of Christ, we are summoned to deepen our faith in the Lord, present in the Eucharist and acting through His Sacraments. Routine may have dulling effects, but we cannot let it be such that we receive the Lord of glory each Sunday in any way that would be called mindless.

Ask the Lord to anoint your mind so that you remember and never forget.

Read Full Post »

If you read this post on Msgr. Pope’s blog, you will find many of his other outstanding reflections. For your convenience it is copied below with his kind permission.

We Must Receive the Whole Counsel of God

by Msgr. Charles Pope (posted with permission – source)

The first reading from today’s Mass is Paul’s farewell speech to the presbyters (priests) of the early Church. Here is a skilled bishop and pastor exhorting others who have pastoral roles within the Church. Let’s take a look at this text and apply its wisdom to bishops and priests as well as to parents and other leaders in the Church.

Paul’s Farewell Sermon – The scene is Miletus, a town in Asia Minor on the coast not far from Ephesus. Paul, who is about to depart for Jerusalem, summons the presbyters of the early Church at Ephesus. Paul has ministered there for three years and now summons the priests for this final exhortation. In the sermon, St. Paul cites his own example of having been a zealous teacher of the faith who did not fail to preach the “whole counsel of God.” He did not merely preach what suited him or made him popular; he preached it all. To these early priests, Paul leaves this legacy and would have them follow in his footsteps. Let’s look at excerpts from this final exhortation.

From Miletus Paul had the presbyters of the Church at Ephesus summoned. When they came to him, he addressed them, “You know how I lived among you the whole time from the day I first came to the province of Asia. I served the Lord with all humility and with the tears and trials that came to me … and I did not at all shrink from telling you what was for your benefit, or from teaching you in public or in your homes. I earnestly bore witness for both Jews and Greeks to repentance before God and to faith in our Lord Jesus … But now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem … But now I know that none of you to whom I preached the kingdom during my travels will ever see my face again. And so I solemnly declare to you this day that I am not responsible for the blood of any of you, for I did not shrink from proclaiming to you the entire plan of God (Acts 20:1-38, selected).

Here, then, is the prescription for every bishop, priest, deacon, catechist, parent, and Catholic: preach the whole counsel (the entire plan) of God. It is too easy for us to emphasize only that which pleases us, or makes sense to us, or fits in with our world view. There are some who eagerly receive the Lord’s sermons on love, but cannot abide His teachings on death, judgment, Heaven, and Hell. Some love to discuss liturgy and ceremony, but not the care of the poor. Others point to the Lord’s compassion, but neglect His call to repentance. Some love the way He dispatches the Pharisees and other leaders of the day, but suddenly become deaf when the Lord warns against fornication or insists that we love our spouse, neighbor, and enemy. Some love to focus inwardly and debate doctrine, but neglect the outward focus of true evangelization to which we are commanded (cf Mat 28:19).

As a whole, we in the Church today too easily divide out rather predictably along certain lines: life issues here, social justice concerns over there; strong moral preaching here, compassionate inclusiveness over there. When one side speaks, the other side says, “There they go again!”

Like St. Paul, we must be able to say that we did not shrink from proclaiming the whole counsel of God. While this is especially incumbent on the clergy, it must also be true for parents and all who attain any leadership in the Church. All of the issues above are important and must have their proper places in the preaching and witness of every Catholic, both clergy and lay. While we may have gifts to work in certain areas, we should learn to appreciate that others in the Church may be needed to balance and complete our work. We must exclude notions that stray from revealed doctrine, but within doctrine’s protective walls, it is necessary that we not shrink from proclaiming and appreciating the whole counsel of God.

Make no mistake about it: if we do this we will suffer. Paul speaks above of tears and trials. In preaching the whole counsel of God (not just your favorite passages or politically correct, “safe” themes), expect to suffer. Understand that you will not quite fit in with people’s expectations. Jesus got into trouble with just about everyone. He didn’t offend just the elite and powerful. For example, even His own disciples puzzled over His teachings on divorce saying, If that is the case of man not being able to divorce his wife it is better never to marry! (Matt 19) In the case of Jesus’ teaching on the Eucharist, many left Him and would no longer walk in His company (John 6). When Jesus spoke of His divine origins, many took up stones with which to stone Him, but He passed through their midst (Jn 8). In addition, Jesus spoke of taking up crosses, forgiving your enemies, and preferring nothing to Him. He forbade even lustful thoughts, let alone fornication, and insisted that we must learn to curb our unrighteous anger. Yes, preaching the whole counsel of God is guaranteed to earn us the wrath of many.

Over my years as a priest, I have had to bid a sad farewell to several congregations. This farewell speech of Paul’s is one I use to examine my ministry. Did I preach even the difficult teachings? Was I willing to suffer for the truth? Did my people hear from me the whole counsel of God, or just the parts that were “safe”?

How about you? Have you proclaimed the whole counsel of God? If you are a member of the clergy, when you move on; if you are a parent, when your child leaves for college; if you are a catechist, when the young people are ready to be confirmed; if you teach in RCIA, when the time comes for Easter sacraments. Can you say that you preached it all? God warned Ezekiel that if he failed to warn the sinner, the sinner would surely die for his sins but Ezekiel himself would be responsible for this death (Ez 3:17 ff). Paul is able to say that he is not responsible for the death (the blood) of any of them, because he did not shrink from proclaiming the whole counsel of God.

We must proclaim the whole counsel of God; not just the safe parts, not just the popular teachings, not just the parts that agree with my views and those of my friends. The whole counsel, even the things that are ridiculed—The Whole Counsel of God.

Read Full Post »

If you read this post on Msgr. Pope’s blog, you will find many of his other outstanding reflections. For your convenience it is copied below with his kind permission.

Do You Fear the Right Thing? A Meditation on the Story of Chicken Little

by Msgr. Charles Pope (posted with permission – source)

Fear is a complex passion. On the one hand, there are things that we ought to fear such as grave physical and spiritual dangers. The fear of being near the edge of a cliff might well save our life. The fear of serious sin and the punishment we might experience or the offense to God (who loves us) is both appropriate and holy. Sadly, more people lack this holy fear rooted in the possible loss of what is most precious to us: our eternal life with God.

There are also things we fear that we should not, and things that we fear more than we should. These sorts of fears are usually rooted in our disordered and inordinate affections.

A disordered affection is a love for something that is sinful. We ought not to love it at all, but we do; this causes us to fear anyone or anything that interferes with accessing and enjoying what is fundamentally sinful.

An inordinate affection is a love for something that is good in itself, but the love we have for it is too great. Loving it too much causes us to fear the loss of it more than we should. Many things in this world are lawful pleasures, but we come to love them too much. We love things more than people, and both things and people more than God. This is all out of order. We are to use things, love people, and worship God. Too often, though, we use people, love things, and forget about God.

There is also the great struggle that many have called the “sin of human respect,” wherein we fear people more than we fear God and seek to please people more than to please God. When we fall prey to this, we are willing to do sinful things in order to ingratiate ourselves to other human beings, fearing and revering them more than we do God.

Fear is a necessary passion for us, but too often our fears are misplaced and inordinate. Our fears are easily manipulated by Satan and the world.

A major area for spiritual growth is knowing what and whom to fear. Apart from God we will seldom get this answer right. We are easy prey for the devil and the world to draw us into all sorts of inordinate and even foolish fears.

Because a story can often have an impact that mere discourse cannot, I would like to illustrate this teaching with a well-known children’s story.

The story is the basis for two phrases in common use. Most are familiar with them, but some have never read (or have forgotten) the story from which they come. The first is “The sky is falling!” and the second is “Chicken Little” (used as a description of a person).

Both these phrases come from the children’s story Chicken Little. It is a story that speaks to the need to be careful about what we fear and what we do not fear. For indeed, one of the traps of Satan is to get us to focus on what we ought not to fear, or on what is secondary, so that we do not focus on what we should fear, or on what is more important. Aristotle, citing Socrates, said that courage is the virtue of knowing what to fear and what not to fear.

Please take the time to read this story completely. It may seem tedious to us modern folks with limited attention spans, but its conclusion is made more powerful by the litany of details. Please share it with your children as well.

Chicken Little was in the woods one day when an acorn fell on her head.
It scared her so much she trembled all over.
She shook so hard, half her feathers fell out.
“Help! Help!” she cried. “The sky is falling! I must go tell the king!”
So she ran in great fright to tell the king.

Along the way she met Henny Penny.
“Where are you going, Chicken Little?” Henny Penny asked.

“Oh, help!” Chicken Little cried. “The sky is falling!”
“How do you know?” asked Henny Penny.
“Oh! I saw it with my own eyes, and heard it with my own ears,
and part of it fell on my head!”
“This is terrible, just terrible!” Henny Penny clucked. “We’d better run.”

So they both ran away as fast as they could. Soon they met Ducky Lucky. “Where are you going, Chicken Little and Henny Penny?” he asked.
“The sky is falling! The sky is falling! We’re going to tell the king!” they cried. “How do you know?” asked Ducky Lucky.
“I saw it with my own eyes, and heard it with my own ears, and part of it fell on my head,” Chicken Little said.
“Oh dear, oh dear!” Ducky Lucky quacked. “We’d better run!” So they all ran down the road as fast as they could.

Soon they met Goosey Loosey waddling along the roadside.
“Hello there, Chicken Little, Henny Penny, and Ducky Lucky,” called Goosey Loosey. “Where are you all going in such a hurry?”
“We’re running for our lives!” cried Chicken Little. “The sky is falling!” clucked Henny Penny. “And we’re running to tell the king!” quacked Ducky Lucky.
“How do you know the sky is falling?” asked Goosey Loosey.
“I saw it with my own eyes, and heard it with my own ears, and part of it fell on my head,” Chicken Little said. “Goodness!” squawked Goosey Loosey. “Then I’d better run with you.”

And they all ran in a great fright across a meadow. Before long they met Turkey Lurkey strutting back and forth. “Hello there, Chicken Little, Henny Penny, Ducky Lucky, and Goosey Loosey,” he called. “Where are you all going in such a hurry?” “Help! Help!” cried Chicken Little. “We’re running for our lives!” clucked Henny Penny. “The sky is falling!” quacked Ducky Lucky. “And we’re running to tell the king!” squawked Goosey Loosey.
“How do you know the sky is falling?” asked Turkey Lurkey.
“I saw it with my own eyes, and heard it with my own ears, and part of it fell on my head,” Chicken Little said. “Oh dear! I always suspected the sky would fall someday,” Turkey Lurkey gobbled. “I’d better run with you.”

So they all ran with all their might, until they met the fox, Foxy Loxy. “Well, well,” said Foxy Loxy. “Where are you rushing on such a fine day?”
“Help! Help!” cried Chicken Little, Henny Penny, Ducky Lucky, Goosey Loosey, and Turkey Lurkey. “It’s not a fine day at all. The sky is falling, and we’re running to tell the king!” “How do you know the sky is falling?” said Foxy Loxy.
“I saw it with my own eyes, and heard it with my own ears, and part of it fell on my head,” Chicken Little said. “I see,” said Foxy Loxy. “Well then, follow me, and I’ll show you the way to the king.”

So Foxy Loxy led Chicken Little, Henny Penny, Ducky Lucky, Goosey Loosey, and Turkey Lurkey across a field and through the woods. He led them straight to his den, and they never saw the king to tell him the sky was falling.

Notice how fearing the wrong thing, and fearing it to excess, blinded them to what was more truly to be feared, what was more truly a threat. Here lies a doorway for the devil. He incites us to fear lesser things like unpopularity, loss of money, poor health, the loss of worldly trinkets, the next election, global warming, persecution, and worldly setbacks, so that we do not fear Judgment Day and the possibility of Hell.

The day of destiny is closing in, but never mind that! The sky is falling: the wrong political party is in power; the planet is overheating; the economy is about to collapse. You might lose your home to a storm; people might not think you are pretty enough, tall enough, or thin enough. Be afraid; be very afraid! You don’t have time to pray and ask God to get you ready for Judgment Day because you are too busy being afraid that eating food X may cause cancer, or that people may be laughing at you because of the five or ten pounds you gained last Christmas, or that the Yellowstone Caldera may blow at any time.

I will not tell you that the aforementioned concerns have no merit, only that they have less merit than what most people never think about or fear: where they are going to spend eternity. Chicken Little and her friends were easy prey for Foxy Loxy because they were obsessed with lesser things and ignored more dangerous (and obvious in this case) things like a fox!

Yes, “Foxy Loxy” has you worried about smaller and passing things. Now you are easy prey. It will take but a moment for him to lead you astray and have you for dinner!

Make sure you fear the right thing. God has a plan to simplify our lives. We are to fear Him and be sober about getting ready, with His help, for the certain-to-come Day of Judgment. If we fear Him, we don’t need to fear anyone or anything else.

Bishop Robert Barron has observed that the three tallest buildings in Chicago are insurance buildings. Fear “looms large” in our culture, but no insurance company can insure you against the only certain threat you face: Judgment Day. Only God can do that.

The sky may or may not be falling. (Personally, I doubt 80% of the media’s fearmongering.) But Judgment Day surely is looming. Foxy Loxy (Satan) is waiting for you. Will he get you? Will your fear of the Lord help you to avoid falling prey to his deceptions?

Courage is fearing the right thing and the right one.

 

 

Read Full Post »

If you read this post on Msgr. Pope’s blog, you will find many of his other outstanding reflections. For your convenience it is copied below with his kind permission.

Red highlights are my doing.

More Parish Closings Nationwide – What Are We to Learn and Do?

by Msgr. Charles Pope (posted with permission – source)

It was recently announced that a substantial number of Catholic parishes will be closing in Connecticut. This is just the latest in a national trend that is likely to affect the diocese where you live, especially in the north. I’d like to offer some rather quick thoughts and then ponder what I think is the root cause for our decline.

  1. Bishops don’t close parishes, people do. While it may be juridically true that bishops formally certify or give recognition to the opening, closing, and merging of parishes, it is ultimately God’s people who create or withdraw the need for a parish. The hard truth is that Catholics are contracepting and aborting in large numbers, thus depleting our ranks. Further, in most urban areas of the northeast, barely 15% of Catholics attend Mass regularly. In comparison, during the first half of the 20th century, when many of the parishes being closed today were being built, nearly 85% of Catholics attended Mass regularly. It is unrealistic for Catholics to expect that parishes should not be closed in significant numbers when there is so little attendance and concomitant support.
  2. Some point out that large numbers of Catholics have left the Northeast and headed south and west. That helps to explain why many parishes in the south and southwest are growing (even booming), but it does not mean that the overall population of the Northeast has dropped dramatically. To some degree, there has been a failure to evangelize, but the deepest wounds are in the decline of Mass attendance and our failure to hand on the faith. We are currently burying the last generation to be taught that Sunday Mass was an obligation to be met under pain of mortal sin.
  3. There is shared responsibility. It is easy to be angry at bishops and priests when parishes must be closed. Years of poor catechesis, a lack of effective preaching, and poorly celebrated liturgies have taken their toll and the clergy bear the first responsibility in this. However, dissent and division among the faithful and a drifting from the practice of the faith are also big factors. Many priest who do preach firmly and insist on clear doctrine are made to pay dearly.
  4. At the end of day, the clergy cannot take full responsibility for the problem, nor can they address it alone. Why? Because shepherds don’t have sheep, sheep have sheep. Evangelization cannot be just a problem for the rectory; it is ultimately a family problem. Parents and grandparents must do more to summon their children home and witness the power of the liturgy and sacraments to transform.
  5. Many blame the liturgy for the low attendance. While the liturgy as commonly celebrated today can seem bland and uninspiring, and much modern Church music “banal” (as the Pope recently remarked), the proposed solutions are bewildering in number and even where implemented attract only small numbers. For example, some have cheered the reintroduction of the Traditional Latin Mass, a form of the Mass that I happen to love. However, I don’t know of a single diocese in this country in which the number of Catholics attending that form accounts for more than 1% of all Mass attendees. Thus, the problem seems deeper than the external forms.
  6. The heart of the problem is an overall malaise. There is little urgency; few seem to feel the need for the faith, the Church, the sacraments, or the Word of God. In my opinion, a steady diet of universalism (the unbiblical notion that all or the vast majority of people will be saved, no matter what) inside the Church, and a steady diet of pluralism and relativism outside the Church have played the largest role in the problem. There’s no real problem seen, no hurry, no need for what we offer. At best we are just one product on the shelf of a boutique dedicated to the non-essential niceties that people dabble in if they have the time. The common view in our culture is that religion is a nice little way of accessorizing your life, but otherwise, who cares?

Given what I think is the root cause, how should we begin to stop the steady erosion of the practice of Catholic faith? I would agree with Dr. Ralph Martin that the first step must be to revive a more biblical vision of urgency regarding salvation. Just because many people—even among the clergy—say that there isn’t a problem doesn’t mean that there isn’t one.

Jesus was far more sober in assessing the situation. He devoted many parables and warnings to our need to attend to the salvation He offers. There are the sheep and the goats, those on the right and those on the left, the wise virgins and the foolish ones, those ready for the master’s return and those who are not, those who will hear, “Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” and those who will hear, “Depart from me. I know you not.” Jesus noted that the road to damnation was wide and many were on it, and “only a few” were on the narrow road to salvation (Matt 7:13-14).

But just try to tell any of this to most people today and see what kind of response you get. My sense is that urgency is at an all-time low. Yet biblically, directly from Jesus Himself, it is clear that the likelihood of being saved is greatly reduced when one does not repent regularly and walk in the faith actively, including a heavy dose of Scripture and frequent reception of the sacraments.

Yet few people speak this way today. Many dismiss such speech as “fear-based” argument. The fact is, however, that some things should be feared, including our tendency to be hard-hearted and hard-headed, to prefer passing things and error to eternal truths. Running about in a panic is not helpful; we need sober acceptance of our vital need for the sacraments, the proclaimed Word, holy fellowship, and the transformative power of the liturgy.

Until this sober appreciation is recovered by many and demonstrated by the few of us who remain, the steady erosion seems likely to continue. Church closings may be “coming soon to a neighborhood near you.” It is sad to lose buildings, many of them works of art, but it is even sadder to ponder the human loss that the empty buildings represent.

Read Full Post »

If you read this post on Msgr. Pope’s blog, you will find many of his other outstanding reflections. For your convenience it is copied below with his kind permission.

Are You Smarter than a Sheep?

by Msgr. Charles Pope (posted with permission – source)

The Fourth Sunday of Easter is traditionally called Good Shepherd Sunday, for the readings focus on how our risen Lord Jesus is our shepherd, who leads us to eternal life. Of course the flip side is that we are sheep. We sometimes miss the humor of the Lord calling us sheep. He could have said we are strong and swift as horses, beautiful as gazelles, or brave as lions; instead, He said we are like sheep. I guess I’ve been called worse, but it’s a little humbling and embarrassing, really. Yet sheep are worthwhile animals and they have a certain quality that makes them pretty smart. Are you smarter than a sheep? Well, let’s look and see how we stack up as we look at this Gospel in three stages.

I. The Situation of the Sheep In this Gospel the Lord is speaking to Pharisees and almost trying to reassure them that He is not like other false shepherds, false messiahs who have led many astray. Jesus says, Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber. … All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them … A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy.

The times in which Jesus lived were ones of social unrest and political turmoil. There were heightened expectations of a coming messiah who would liberate Israel from its Roman and Herodian oppressors. Given the climate of the times, most had emphasized the role of the messiah as a political and economic liberator who would come and wage war and victoriously reestablish the Davidic Monarchy in all its worldly glory.

Josephus, a Jewish historian of the time, may have exaggerated (but only a little) when he spoke of 10,000 insurrections in the years leading up to the Jewish War with the Romans (66 – 70 A.D.). Even as early as Jesus’ lifetime there had been conflicts and bloody uprisings led by numerous false messiahs. It is most likely these whom Jesus refers to as thieves and robbers. It is also likely why Jesus resisted being called Messiah except in very specific circumstances (Matt 16:16,20; Mk 8:30; Mk 14:62).

Jesus also warned that after He ascended, false messiahs would continue to plague the land:

For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible. See, I have told you ahead of time. “So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the desert,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it’” (Matt 24:24-26).

Ultimately these false Christs did arise and mislead many; the results were horrible. Josephus wrote that 1.2 million Jewish people lost their lives in the Jewish War with the Romans.

So this is the situation of the sheep. Jesus speaks of the dangers of false saviors, unambiguously denouncing them as thieves and robbers. We, too, are in a world in which erroneous philosophies and false messiahs seek to claim our loyalties and engage us in error.

Perhaps it is the false claims of materialism, which says the right combination of wealth and power can bring meaning and happiness. Sadly, many of the “prosperity Gospel” preachers compound this by their silence about the cross and sin.

Perhaps it is the error of secularism, which exalts the State and the culture, putting their importance above God. Many in the Church and in the Protestant denominations (both clergy and lay) follow false shepherds and call others to do so. They seek to more closely align their faith with politics, instead of their politics with faith; they show more allegiance to the “party” than to the Faith; they do not prophetically address the errors associated with their political point of view; they see their political leaders as shepherds than they do their bishops or priests. Many also follow the false shepherds of culture, looking to them for moral leadership rather than to God, the Scriptures, or the Church. If Miley Cyrus says it, it must be so, but if the Church says something, there are protests and anger. Yes, false messiahs are all around us in the secular culture. Sadly, many Catholics and Christians follow them like sheep to the slaughter.

Perhaps it is the arrogance of modern times, which claims a special enlightenment over previous eras (such as the biblical era), which were “less enlightened and tolerant.” Here, too, many false shepherds in the clothing of trendy preachers and theologians have sought to engage God’s people in this sort of arrogance: that we moderns have “come of age” and may safely ignore the wisdom of the past in the Scriptures and sacred Tradition.

Perhaps it is the promiscuity of this age, which claims sexual liberty for itself but never counts the cost in broken lives, broken families, STDs, AIDS, high divorce rates, teenage pregnancy, abortion, and so on. Sadly, many so-called preachers and supposedly Christian denominations now bless homosexual unions and ordain clergy who are practicing the homosexual “lifestyle.” Many also support abortion and contraception, while saying little or nothing about premarital sex.

Yes, the sheep are still afflicted; false philosophies and messiahs abound. Jesus calls them thieves and marauders (robbers) because they want to steal from us what the Lord has given and harm us by leading us astray. Their wish is ultimately to slaughter and destroy.

Do not be misled by the soft focus of these wolves in sheep’s clothing, with their message of “tolerance” and humanitarian concern. A simple look at the death toll in the 20th century from such ideologies shows the wolf lurking behind these foolish and evil trends that have misled the flock.

As to these false shepherds, remember that not one of them ever died for you; only Jesus did that.

II. The Shepherd and His Sheep – Having rejected false shepherds, Jesus now goes on to describe Himself as the true Shepherd:

But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice. But they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.

This passage tells us not only of the true Shepherd, but also his true sheep. The true Shepherd is sent by the Father, who is the gatekeeper and has opened the way for the Son and true Shepherd. The Father has confirmed the Son by signs and wonders and by the fulfillment of prophesies in abundance.

Of the true sheep, the Lord says that they not only recognize His voice, but also that they will run from a stranger because they do not recognize his voice.

In shepherding areas, flocks belonging to different shepherds are often brought together in fenced-off areas for the night, especially during the cooler months. One may wonder how shepherds can tell which sheep belong to which shepherd. Ultimately the sheep sort themselves out. In the morning a shepherd will go to the gate and summon his sheep with a chant-like like call. Those that recognize his voice will run to him; those that do not will recoil in fear. Now that’s pretty smart, actually. Sheep may not know how to go to the moon and back, but they do know their master’s voice.

So the question for each of us is this: are you smarter than a sheep? Sheep have the remarkable ability to know their master’s voice and instinctively fear any other voice, fleeing from it.

In this way, it would seem that sheep are smarter than most of us are! We do not flee voices contrary to Christ; instead, we draw close and say, “Tell me more.” In fact, we spend a lot of time and money to listen to other voices. We spend buy big televisions so that the enemy’s voice can influence us and our children. We spend a lot of time watching television, listening to the radio, and surfing the Internet. We are drawn so easily to the enemy’s voice.

Not only do we not flee it, we feast on it. Instead of rebuking it, we rebuke the voice of God. We put His Word on trial instead of putting the world on trial.

The goal for us is to be more wary, like sheep, to recognize only one voice, that of the Lord speaking though His Church, fleeing every other voice.

III. The Salvation of the Sheep – The text says, Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. … I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.

Here, then, is the description of the Christian life: acceptance, access, and abundance.

Acceptance – The text says that we must enter through the gate, and the gate is Christ. We are invited to accept the offer of being baptized into Christ Jesus. In today’s first reading from Acts, Peter and the other apostles are asked by the repentant and chastened crowd, “What are we to do, my brothers?” Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit …. “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand persons were added that day. Yes, we are invited to enter through the gate, to be baptized into Christ Jesus. He is the gate and the way to the Father.

Access – In accepting baptism, we enter through the gate and have access to the wide, green pastures. Jesus describes this entry as “being saved.” Most of us tend to think of salvation rather abstractly, as if it is the result of a legal process through which one goes from being guilty to having the charges dismissed. That, however, is only a very partial understanding of salvation. The Greek word σωθήσεται (sothesetai) more fully means to be safe, rescued, delivered out of danger and into safety. In the New Testament it is used principally of God rescuing believers from the penalty and power of sin—bringing them into his into His safety and grace. Being saved is much more than changing legal categories; it is new life! It is power over sin; it is being kept from the poison of sin and its terrible enslaving effects. Salvation is also related to the concept of health (salus = health and well being). For the believer who accepts Christ’s offer, there is access to the protected pasture; there is supply or provision of grazing land as well. The Lord feeds His faithful and brings them strength. Yes, there is access to God’s many gifts.

Abundance – The Lord concludes by saying that He came so that we might have life more abundantly. This is the fundamental purpose of all he did. Abundant life is really what is meant by eternal life. Eternal does not refer merely to the length of life, but even more so its fullness. And while we will not enjoy this fully until Heaven, it does begin now. We, through Christ our good shepherd, gradually become more fully alive. I am more than fifty years old and my body in some physical sense is less alive, but my soul is more alive than ever! I have more joy, more confidence, more peace, and more contentment. There are many sins with which I now struggle less. I have a greater capacity to love and to forgive. The Lord has granted this by giving me access to His grace and His pasture, and feeding me there. I am more abundantly alive today than I ever was in my twenties. Yes, the Lord came that we might have life more abundantly; I am a witness of this. Eternal life has already begun in me and is growing day by day.

So, are you smarter than a sheep? If you are, then run to Jesus. Flee every other voice. Enter the sheepfold and let Him give you life.

Here is a portion of a performance of Handel’s Pastoral Symphony of the Messiah:

Read Full Post »

As a follow-up to my post about the “uplifting” Easter Sunday “talk” I heard that had nothing to do with the readings of the liturgy for that most glorious of all Catholic solemnities (Christ’s resurrection), I share with you the following uplifting comments from Msgr. Charles Pope.

“… Even now, though, the Lord, by the grace of His passion, death, and resurrection, has purchased for us a new life—a life transformed and increasingly free from sin, sorrow, regret, anger, greed, lust, and all forms of negativity. To be a new creation in Christ is to be more confident, serene, joyful, virtuous, and chaste. It is to live a life that is orderly and properly directed to our noble and glorious end: life with God forever. Jesus, in his resurrection, manifests this capacity for us to walk in newness of life.”

Easter Sunday Sermon – A Missed Opportunity

I heard a very beautiful, sentimental, loving, uplifting, tear-inspiring “talk” at Easter Sunday Mass this morning. No one could have left the church without loving the presiding priest due to his humble, sincere and loving demeanor and the message he conveyed along with his personal emotionally affecting anecdotes. The standing-room-only attendees applauded Father for his “homily”. I didn’t, but I understood why everyone else did because I was as emotionally moved as were they. However, Father’s “homily” did not relate to the readings in the least regard. In fact, they were not even referred to. The presiding priest was not our pastor. He is a priest from a far northern state who visits our Florida parish annually for Easter week and helps the pastor cover all the Masses. So many people come from all parts of the country and beyond to spend time in our beautiful climate and surroundings that our parish must have two Masses simultaneously on Easter Sunday. In addition to the Vigil Mass, we have four morning Masses, two in the church and two in the parish hall (for those for whom there is no room remaining in the church). There is also a Spanish Mass at 1:30 pm and a fourth (actually a fifth) English Mass at 3:00 pm.

Based on percentages that we are all familiar with, I can’t help but presume that many of our Mass participants do not attend Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of obligation. A gentleman sitting next to my wife told her that he had to walk around outside the church (our church has a marvelous prayer garden) before he could enter it. I took that as a feeling of guilt and if so, it was actually a healthy feeling for him to have. He did, however, probably along with 99 or more percent of the attendees, approach for communion (I can’t say that he or everyone else that approached actually received).

The point I’d like to make is that however emotionally moved everyone was, I didn’t hear anything in Father’s “homily” that might provoke a good many of his listeners to attend Mass next Sunday. I wouldn’t be surprised if some, if not many, don’t attend another Mass until next Christmas.

What a missed opportunity to inspire – more truly, to instruct – those who rarely attend Mass to do so every Sunday and holy day of obligation. And to remind them of the obligation to be in a state of sanctifying grace when they receive communion. Could priests not at least say “if you haven’t been to confession since you last failed to attend Mass on a Sunday or holy day of obligation, and yet were truly quite able to do so, please do not receive communion”? They could also add “you are welcome to come forth to “one of the priests” distributing communion for a blessing”. Okay, rephrase the message to be as gentle as you wish, but make the point! How else will they learn what they are missing out on, now, and might for all eternity?

Read Full Post »

Part two of  Will you ever be able to truly say “I want for nothing more”?

If you read this post on Msgr. Pope’s blog, you will find many of his other outstanding reflections. For your convenience it is copied below with his kind permission.

The Pain of Greed

by Msgr. Charles Pope (posted with permission – source)

There is a text in the Office of Readings that speaks to the connection between greed, affluence and dissatisfaction.

The foreign elements among them were so greedy for meat that even the Israelites lamented again, “Would that we had meat for food! We remember the fish we used to eat without cost in Egypt, and the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now we are famished; we see nothing before us but this manna.” … [The LORD replied,] “To the people, you shall say: Sanctify yourselves for tomorrow, when you shall have meat to eat. For in the hearing of the Lord you have cried, ‘Would that we had meat for food! Oh, how well off we were in Egypt!’ Therefore, the Lord will give you meat for food, and you will eat it, not for one day, or two days, or five, or ten, or twenty days, but for a whole month—until it comes out of your very nostrils and becomes loathsome to you. For you have spurned the Lord who is in your midst, and in his presence you have wailed, ‘Why did we ever leave Egypt?’” (Numbers 11:4-6, 18-30)

I have written before about the Israelites preferring slavery in Egypt, with its melons, leeks, and cucumbers (here), but in today’s reflection I would like to emphasize how what we desire can eventually become loathsome to us. The Lord says that not only would He give them the meat they asked for, but that He would do so until it comes out of your very nostrils and becomes loathsome to you. In this way, He reminds us that our greed for earthly things will eventually bring us consequences that disgust us.

What is greed? It is the insatiable desire for more. By it, we desire far more than we need; in fact, we can never be satisfied.

  1. Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is emptiness (Eccles 5:10).
  2. All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied (Ecclesiastes 6:7).
  3. All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again. All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing (Eccles 1:7-8).
  4. Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, nor are the eyes of man ever satisfied (Proverbs 27:20).

In the passage from Numbers, God fed the people with the miraculous manna from Heaven. However, even food from the very hand of God is not enough for the faithless and the greedy.

The sinful drive of greed will always protest unless we, by God’s grace, learn to curb it. Greed will always make us think that we need more; that we need what we want, in the way that we want it, and exactly when we want it. And if we get all that, we are still not satisfied; we simply become more particular, fussy, and demanding. Indeed, we have never had so many consumer options, comforts, and conveniences; and yet I would say that on the whole we have never been more unhappy. In this age of comfort and convenience, psychotherapy and psychotropic medications are big businesses. Misery indexes, consumer confidence surveys, and opinion polls often show high levels of fear, dissatisfaction, and anger. It is the same with our health. We have never lived so long and been so healthy, yet we have never worried more about our health.

Yes, no matter how much we have, it is never enough; and we are all afflicted with greed to some extent.

Greed is one of the under-confessed sins of our time. It is always the other guy who is greedy, the one who earns more than I do; he is the greedy one.

No, greed is common a human problem, and it takes a heavy toll on us all by robbing us of gratitude, satisfaction, and joy with what we have. Greed robs us of the ability to enjoy life and to savor what is before us.

Even more, God teaches that greed punishes us with the very excess it drives us to desire. God says of this greed that it will sicken us with its excess: until it comes out of your very nostrils and becomes loathsome to you.

What does our present age with its unprecedented comforts and conveniences actually afford us? Stress, overwork, and worry seem to be our common lot. We are all in a big hurry to get somewhere, to get on to the next thing.

Consider a simple thing like a car or a cell phone—great conveniences, right? Yet they seem to bring more stress. Our cars raise the expectation that we should reasonably be all over God’s green acre with little care for the actual human cost of making the trip and sitting in traffic. Our cell phones make us available at any time of the day or night; there is little or no quiet in our lives; relationships are more often virtual than real.

At some point it all starts to seem loathsome to us. We have more and more, the latest and greatest, the most recent upgrade—more and more until it comes out of our nostrils. We start to long for simplicity and for a time before we ever knew we “needed” all this stuff. Yet we cannot imagine how to pull free from so much of it. Life without a cellphone? Life without Facebook? Are you kidding? All of our gadgets and advanced technology have not freed us; they have ensnared us. And still our greed drives us to want more.

Scripture says, The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether they eat little or much, but as for the rich, their abundance permits them no sleep (Eccles 5:12). And this is largely true. Despite all our labor-saving devices we are busier and more restless than ever.

Yes, God’s word is true. Greed ignites an insatiable desire for more. At some point, God’s remedy is to permit us to obtain so much that it becomes downright loathsome to us; through this we discover that less is more.

Simplicity may be difficult to achieve in times like these. Living in an Amish village is not an option for most of us, but deciding what is important and then focusing on it is a step in the right direction. To an age that cries out” “You can have it all,” we must learn to respond, “No, I can’t. We have to accept that “all” is too much and that less is more.

Affluence and abundance usually seem unambiguously good to us, but they are not; they bring human costs that we too seldom weigh. Scripture says, The rich may be able pay a ransom for their lives, but the poor won’t even get threatened (Prov 13:8). In other words, in our abundance we have too much to lose and so are easily threatened. There is a paradoxical kind of freedom that comes from having and needing less.

God’s Word is true. The text from Numbers above provides wisdom, as does this teaching from the Holy Spirit through St. Paul:

But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs (1 Tim 6:6-10).

This song in the video below says, “It’ll wear you out, dealin’ with too much stuff.”

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »