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.

St. Paul Was Not Ashamed of the Gospel — Are We?

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

St. Paul writes this in today’s reading from the Letter to the Romans: “I am not ashamed of the gospel. It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16).

“Gospel” here refers to the whole of the New Testament rather than merely the four Gospels. The gospel is the apostolic exhortation, the proclamation of the apostles of what Jesus taught and said and did for our salvation. This proclamation was recorded and collected in the letters of the apostles Paul, Peter, James, John, and Jude, and in what later came to be called the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The gospel is the transformative word of the Lord proclaimed by the apostles in obedience to the command of the Lord,

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matt 28:19-20).

Of these apostles (“sent ones”) Jesus says this:

Very truly I tell you, whoever receives the one I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me (Jn 13:20).

So the gospel is the authoritative and transformative proclamation of the Lord’s word through the apostles in totality. Of this full and received message St. Paul says he is not ashamed, though he has suffered for preaching it; others have suffered and even been killed for it!

Can we say the same? Are we unashamed of the gospel? Sadly, too many people are to some extent ashamed of the gospel. Even among practicing Catholics and clergy, there are too many who promote a compromised, watered-down message rather than boldly, joyfully, and confidently proclaiming the full gospel.

  • Many are ashamed of the gospel’s moral vision, especially those parts that challenge the rebellion of our times against marriage, the family, the proper purpose of sexuality, and the sanctity of human life. If a priest or lay person brings up such topics, too many Catholics cringe, embarrassed that a controversial subject has been mentioned. Some worry that someone might be angered, challenged, or “hurt.” The embarrassment and nervousness are often visible by the looks on their faces or their seeming need to change the subject, speak in euphemisms, or talk in generalities and abstractions. It seems that they want to avoid a clear discussion of the truth in such matters at all costs.
  • Many are ashamed of the strong demands of the cross. Jesus wanted us to be under no illusions. Strong medicine is required for what ails us. The cross and the need for self-denial and sacrifice are at the center of the gospel, but many are ashamed when the concept of the cross goes from being an abstraction to something more specific. Thus when the world protests with rhetorical questions we are embarrassed and too often compromise or grow silent. For example, when someone indignantly asks, “Are you saying that a woman who is pregnant as a result of rape must carry the child to birth?” Instead of responding, “Yes, and we must help her to decide whether to raise the child or place the child up for adoption,” we often compromise, saying that maybe abortion is all right in cases of rape or incest—but it isn’t. The child is innocent; he or she does not deserve to be killed. We are easily ashamed of the cross in other cases, too, such as in the abortion of possibly “defective” babies or euthanasia/assisted-suicide for the suffering. We shy away from standing firm when it comes to embracing of any kind of suffering, inconvenience, or cross. It’s harder to get married and stay married than it is to divorce; it’s harder to resist sin than give way to temptation; it’s harder to delay satisfaction than to indulge right away. In these ways the cross is no abstraction; it is quite real. When it gets real, though, many of us are ashamed of the gospel and what it proclaims.
  • Many are ashamed of the proclamation that Christ as the exclusive and only savior. In our “pluralistic” world, which “diversity” is an absolutized virtue, the thought that Jesus is the sole savior of mankind is an embarrassment to many Catholics. Scripture says of Jesus, He is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved (Acts 4:11-12). Jesus himself says, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (Jn 14:6). When the world says that there are many ways to God, that people have a right to worship the “god of their own understanding,” and that all ways are valid and good and true, too many Catholics are ashamed of our teaching that Jesus is the unique and only savior of mankind. If there are Muslims, Buddhists, or Zoroastrians in Heaven it is only because of the mercy and grace of Jesus. Talk like this engenders shame in many Catholics, who cringe and want to parrot the world’s view that Christianity has no preeminence or saving value above any other view.
  • Many are ashamed of what Jesus teaches on judgment and Hell. There are many passages in which Jesus and the apostles warn of Hell, judgment, and eternal exclusion from the Kingdom of God. Many shamefully dismiss Jesus’ parables and teachings about Hell and judgement as excess or hyperbole; strangely, they assert that when Jesus said that many would be lost and few would be saved that he meant precisely the opposite. They think that God will never say, “Depart from me you evildoers. Depart from me; I never knew you” Many are embarrassed by such teachings and simply dismiss them as implausible. They have shamefully reinvented God as a “sweetie pie” rather than the all holy God to whom we must be conformed if we ever hope to be able to endure His presence. Too many are embarrassed by the gospel and these teachings, most of which comes right from the mouth of Jesus.
  • Many are ashamed of simple biblical terms such as sin (especially mortal sin), evil, repentance, conversion, judgment, Hell, and phrases such as “woe to you,” “vengeance is mine,” and “fornicators will not inherit the Kingdom of God.” Many dismiss such common biblical phrases as “unwelcoming,” “unkind,” and “un-Christlike.” Never mind that many of these biblical phrases were commonly on the very lips of Jesus. Too many are ashamed of the real Christ and prefer a refashioned, softened one.

St. Paul says that he is not ashamed of the gospel. What about us? Are we confident and uncompromising in proclaiming the gospel or are we ashamed and fearful? Do we compromise the gospel in order to avoid the scorn of an unbelieving, sin-sick world? Do we stand up without shame and proclaim the truth with love and confidence?

Are we ashamed of the gospel or are we joyful and confident?

This song says, “You should be a witness! Stand up and be a witness for the Lord!”

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Having recently sent some of my relatives the message below and only receiving one reply (an acceptable one), I must say it’s tempting to give up trying to reach out to people. However, this morning I read Msgr. Charles Pope’s post regarding this Sunday’s Gospel (copied below with his kind permission – following my message to family.)

My message to family:

As far as I know, no one to whom I am sending this message has renounced their Catholic faith. Therefore, I speak to you as a fellow Catholic, regardless of how actively each of us may be practicing our mutual faith. That’s between God and us, individually.

I think it should be obvious to all of us that there has been a great degradation in moral behavior among our fellow brethren throughout the world. And I think this is something we all should be gravely concerned about. I really don’t think I need to list specific moral behavioral aberrations. Even if you are only minimally in tune with the teachings of Jesus and his Catholic Church, all of them should be quite obvious to you. They are so numerous!

So what is the point of my message? It is to share with you my – and solicit your – grave concern for the wellbeing of ourselves, our loved ones and all mankind.

Perhaps we must first be attuned to and seriously concerned about what is happening in our Catholic Church. Hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, volcanoes, avalanches, tsunamis, nuclear bombs, and so on, can exterminate human lives, but only the violence of rejecting the teachings of Christ Jesus in union with his Father and the Holy Spirit, can exterminate the life of a soul. And that is what is going on in our beloved Catholic Church today. The most horrific crime against humanity and its Creator is being committed by those to whom Christ has entrusted our souls.

Please join me in my concern and prayers.

Sinner Please Don’t Let This Harvest Pass

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

There is an urgency and clarity about Sunday’s Gospel that is often lacking in modern Christians, including the clergy. The message is urgent, provocative, and clear: there is a day of judgment coming for every one of us and we must be ready for it. The message is a sobering one for a modern world that is often dismissive of judgment—and certainly of Hell. Jesus clearly says that the Kingdom of God can be taken from us for our refusal to accept its fruits in our life.

The parables that Jesus related to teach about judgment and the reality of Hell are often quite vivid, even shocking in their harsh imagery; they are certainly not stories for the easily offended. They are also difficult to take for those who have tried to refashion Jesus into a pleasant, affirming sort of fellow rather than the uncompromising prophet and Lord that He is.

No one spoke of Hell more often than Jesus did. Attempting to reconcile these bluntly presented teachings with the God who loves us so much points to the deeper mysteries of justice and mercy and their interaction with human freedom. This point must be clear, however: no one loves us more than Jesus does and yet no one spoke of Hell and its certainty more often than Jesus did. No one warned us of judgment and its inescapable consequences more often than did Jesus. Out of love for us, Jesus spoke of death, judgment, Heaven, and Hell. As one who loves us, He wants none of us to be lost. So He warns us; He speaks the truth in love.

Historically, this parable had meaning for the ancient Jews that had already come to pass. God had established and cared for his vine, Israel. He had given them every blessing; He had led them out of slavery and established them in the Promised Land. Yet when searching for the fruits of righteousness He found little. God sent many prophets to warn them and to call forth those fruits, but they were persecuted, rejected, and even murdered. Finally, God sent His Son, but He too was murdered. There comes forth a sentence: He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times … Therefore, I say to you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit. By 70 A.D., Jerusalem was destroyed; the Temple was never to be rebuilt.

The Jewish people are not singled out in the Scriptures., All of us, like them, are a vineyard. If we are not careful, their story will be ours. Like the ancients, we have a decision to make. Either we accept the offer of the Kingdom and thereby yield to the Lord’s work and bring forth a harvest, or we face judgment for rejecting that offer. God will not force us to accept His Kingship or His Kingdom. We have a choice to make and that choice will be at the heart of the judgment we will face.

Let’s take a closer look at today’s Gospel and apply it to the vineyard of our lives.

I.  THE SOWING – The text says, There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey.

Note the care and providence of the landowner (God), who has given each of us life and every kind of grace. The image of the vineyard indicates that we have the capacity to bear fruit. This signifies the many gifts, talents, and abilities that we have been given by God.

The hedge calls to mind the protection of His grace and mercy. Though the world can be a tempting place, God has put a hedge of protection around us that is sufficient to keep us safe from serious sin, if we accept its power.

But a hedge implies limits. Although God’s protective graces are sufficient, we must live within limits, within the hedge that keeps the wild animals of temptation from devouring the fruits of our vine.

The tower is symbolic of the Church, which stands guard like a watchman warning those who live within the boundaries of the hedge of dangers. The tower (the Church) is stands as a sign of contradiction to the hostile world outside, which seeks to devour the fruit of the vineyard.

That the landowner leases the vineyard is a reminder that we are not our own; we have been purchased at great cost. God and God alone created all these things we call ours. We are but stewards, even of our own lives. We belong to God; we must render an account to Him and show forth fruits.

This point must be emphasized: God has given us great care. He has given us His grace and mercy—His very self. As the text from Isaiah says, What more was there to do for my vineyard that I had not done? God loves us and does not want us to be lost. He gives us every grace and mercy we need. The Lord says, As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel? (Ez 33:11) This must be emphasized because we grumble too quickly about the coming judgment. God offers every possible grace to save us. It is up to us to accept or reject His help.

II.  THE SEEKING – The text says, When vintage time drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce.

There come moments in our lives when God looks for fruits. Remember that He is the owner and the fruits are rightfully His. He has done everything to bring forth the fruit and now deserves to see the produce of His grace in the vineyard of our life, which is His own.

What fruits does the Lord seek? The values and fruits of the Kingdom: faith, justice, mercy, peace, forgiveness, chastity, faithfulness, generosity, love of the poor, love of one’s family and friends—even love of one’s enemy—kindness, truth, sincerity, courage to speak the truth and witness to the faith, and an evangelical spirit.

The text says that the owner sent his servants to obtain the produce. Here also is evidence of God’s mercy. Historically, God’s “servants” were the prophets. God sent them not only to bring forth the harvest of justice, but also to clarify and apply His Word, and to remind and warn sinners. God patiently sent many generations of prophets to help Israel.

It is the same for us. God sends us many “prophets.” Perhaps they are priests or religious, parents, catechists, teachers, or role models; but they are all part of God’s plan to warn us to bear fruit and to help call forth and obtain some of those fruits. Each in his own way says, as St. Paul did in today’s second reading, Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me (Phil 4:8-9).

Yes, God seeks fruits, and rightfully so. He sends His servants, the prophets, to help call them forth in us.

III. THE SINNING – The text says, But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned. Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones, but they treated them in the same way. Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.’ They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.

Despite all that the owner has done by sending His servants, the tenants reject them all, and with increasing vehemence; their hearts grow harder. The landowner even goes so far to demonstrate his love and his will to save that he sends his own son, but they drag him outside the vineyard and kill him. Yes, Jesus died outside the city gates, murdered for seeking the fruit of faith from the tenants of the vineyard.

What of us? There are too many who reject God’s prophets. They do so with growing vehemence and abusive treatment. Many people today despise the Church, the Scriptures, parents, friends, and Christians in general who seek to clarify and apply God’s Word and to warn of the need to be ready. Repeated resistance can cause a hardening of the heart to set in. In the end, there are some—in fact many according to Jesus—who effectively kill the life of God within them and utterly reject the Kingdom of God and its values. They do not want to live lives that show forth forgiveness, mercy, love of enemies, chastity, justice, love of the poor, generosity, kindness, and witness to the Lord and the truth.

We ought to be very sober because there are many, many people today who are like this. Some have merely drifted away and are indifferent. (Some have been hurt or are struggling to believe, but at least they remain open.) Still others are passionate in their hatred for the Church, Scripture, and anything to do with God, explicitly rejecting many of the values of His kingdom. We must continue in our attempts to reach them.

IV. THE SENTENCE – The text says, What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes? They answered him, ‘He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times.’ Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.

Here, then, is the sentence: If you don’t want the Kingdom, you don’t have to have it. On one level, it would seem everyone wants the Kingdom. In other words, everyone who has any faith in God at all wants to go to Heaven. But what is Heaven? It is the fullness of the Kingdom of God. It is not just a place of our making. It is that place where the will of God, the Kingdom’s values, are in full flower. Many, however, do not want to live chastely, do not want to forgive, do not want to be generous, do not want to love the poor, do not want God or anyone else at the center, do not want to worship God.

Self exclusion – Having rejected the Kingdom’s values, and having rejected the prophets who warned them, many simply exclude themselves from the Kingdom. God will not force the Kingdom on anyone. If, even after God’s grace and mercy and His pleading through the prophets, you don’t want it, you don’t have to have it. It will be taken from you and given to those who do.

The existence of Hell is rooted in God’s respect for our freedom, for we have been called to love. Love must be free, not compelled. Therefore, Hell has to be a reality. It is the “alternative arrangement” that others make for themselves in their rejection of the Kingdom of God. At our death, our decision is forever fixed.

Yes, Hell and the judgment that precedes it are clearly taught in today’s Gospel and in many other places (e.g., Matt 23:33; Lk 16:23; Mk 43:47; Matt 5:29; Matt 10:28; Matt 18:9; Matt 5:22; Matt 11:23; Matt 7:23; Matt 25:41; Mk 9:48; Luke 13:23; Rev 22:15). These teachings come from a Lord who loves us and wants to save us, but who is also well aware of our stubborn and stiff-necked ways.

What is a healthy response to this teaching? To work earnestly for the salvation of souls, beginning with our own. Nothing has destroyed evangelization and missionary activity more than the modern notion that everyone goes to Heaven. Nothing has so destroyed zeal for the moral life and hunger for the Sacraments, prayer, and Scripture. And nothing is so contrary to Scripture as the dismissal of Hell with the false notion that all are going to Heaven.

But rather than panic or despair, we must get to work and be more urgent in our quest to win souls for Christ. Whom does the Lord want you to work with to draw back to Him? Pray and ask Him: “Who, Lord?” The Lord does not want any to be lost. He still sends His prophets (this means you) to draw back anyone who will listen. Will you work for the Lord? Will you work for souls?

There is a day of judgment looming and we must be made ready for it by the Lord. Will you be urgent about it, for yourself and others?

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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 Ministry of Angels, as Seen in a Commercial

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

Most of us struggle with the fact that God allows bad things to happen to us. Why does He not intervene more often to protect us from attacks of various kinds and from events that cause sadness, setbacks, or suffering?

While mysterious, the clearest answer is that God allows suffering in order that some greater blessing may occur. To some degree I have found this to be so; some of my greatest blessings required that a door slam shut for me or that I endure some suffering. If my college sweetheart had not ended things, I would most likely not have the very great blessing of being a priest today. Had I gotten some of my preferred assignments in my early years as a priest, I would not have been enriched by the assignments I did have. Those difficult assignments have drawn me out and helped me to grow far more than the cozy, familiar placements I desired would have. Had I not entered into the crucible of depression and anxiety in my thirties, I would not have learned to trust God as much as I do, and I would not have learned important lessons about myself and about life.

So despite that fact that we understandably fear suffering and dislike it, for reasons of His own (reasons He knows best), God does allow some degree of it in our lives.

Yet I wonder if we really consider often enough the countless times God did step in to prevent disaster in our lives. We tend to focus on the negative things in life and overlook the enormous number of blessings we often take for granted: every beat of our heart, the proper functioning of every cell in our body, and all of the perfect balances that exist in nature and the cosmos in order to sustain us.

Just think of the simple act of walking, all of the possible missteps we might take but most often do not. Think of all the foolish risks we have taken in our lives—especially when we were young—that did not end in disaster. Think of all the poor choices we have made and yet escaped the worst possible outcomes.

Yes, we wonder why we and others suffer and why God allows it, but do we ever wonder why we don’t suffer? Do we ever think about why and how we have escaped enduring the consequences of some awfully foolish things we have done? In typical human fashion, we minimize our many, many blessings, and magnify and resent our sufferings.

I have a favorite expression, one that I have made my own over the years, that I use in response to people who ask me how I am doing: “I’m pretty well blessed, for a sinner.”  I’ve heard others put the same sentiment this way: “I’m more blessed than I deserve.” Yes, we are all pretty well blessed indeed!

I thought of all those things as I watched the commercial below (aired during the 2014 Super Bowl). While it speaks of the watchfulness of a father, it makes me think of my guardian angel, who has surely preserved me from many disasters.

As you watch the commercial, don’t forget to thank God for the many times He has rescued you through the intervention of your guardian angel. Thank Him too for His hidden blessings—blessings that, though you know nothing of them, are bestowed by Him all the same. Finally, think of the wonderful mercy He has often shown in protecting you from the worst of your foolishness.

 

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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.

Trademarks of the True Messiah – A Homily for the 22nd Sunday of the Year

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

In Sunday’s Gospel the Lord firmly sets before us the need for the cross, not as an end in itself, but as the way to glory. Let’s consider the Gospel in three stages.

I.  The Pattern that is Announced – The text says, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.

The Lord announces not only the Cross but also the Resurrection. In effect, He announces the pattern of the Christian life, which we have come to call the “Paschal Mystery.”

The expression “Paschal Mystery” refers to the suffering, death, resurrection, and glorification of Jesus as a whole. The word “Paschal” is related to the Hebrew word for Passover, “Pesach.” Just as the shed blood of a lamb saved the people from the angel of death and signaled their deliverance, so does Jesus’ death, his Blood, save us from death and deliver us from slavery to sin.

So He is announcing a pattern: the Cross leads somewhere; it accomplishes something. It is not an end in itself; it has a purpose; it is part of a pattern.

St. Paul articulates the pattern of the Paschal Mystery in this way: We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body (2 Cor 4:10). It is like an upward spiral in which the cross brings blessings we enjoy. We often circle back to the crosses God permits, but then there come even greater blessings and higher capacities. Cross, growth, cross, growth—so the pattern continues until we reach the end, dying with Christ so as to live with Him.

This is the pattern of our life. We are dying to our old self, to this world, to our sins; but rising to new life, rising to the Kingdom of God and becoming victorious over sin. The cross brings life; it is a prelude to growth. We die in order to live more richly. An old spiritual says of this repeated pattern that “every round goes higher, higher.”

Do you see the pattern that Jesus announces? Neither the Lord not the Church announces the cross so as to burden us. No, the cross is part of a pattern that, if accepted with faith, brings blessing, new life, and greater strength.

II.  The Prevention that is Attempted – The text says, Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

Notice Peter’s exact wording: “No such thing shall ever happen to you.” We ought to ask, “What such thing?” Peter, in precluding that Jesus suffer and die, also implicitly blocks the rising and glorification of Jesus, for Christ cannot rise unless He dies.

Peter, of course, is not thinking this all the way through—but neither do we when we seek to avoid crosses for ourselves or to hinder others improperly from accepting their crosses. The cross brings glory and growth; we run the risk of depriving ourselves and others of these if we rush to eliminate all the demands and difficulties of life. We may do this through enabling behaviors or perhaps by spoiling our children.

We also hinder our own growth by refusing to accept the crosses of self-discipline, hard work, obedience, suffering, consequences, limits, and resistance of temptation. In rejecting the cross we also reject its fruits.

All of this serves to explain Jesus’ severe reaction to Peter’s words. He even goes so far as to call Peter, “Satan,” for it pertains to Satan to pretend to befriend us in protesting our crosses while really just wanting to thwart our blessings. Peter may not know what he is doing, but Satan does—he seeks to become an obstacle to Jesus’ work.

Jesus’ severe reaction is rooted in protecting our blessings.

III. The Prescription that is Awarding – Jesus goes on to teach further on the wisdom of and the need for the cross. The text says, Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life? For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay all according to his conduct.”

The heart of Jesus’ teaching here is the deep paradox that in order to find our life we must lose it. More specifically, in order to gain Heaven, we must die to this world. That dying is a process more so than just an event at the end of our physical life here. Although we cling to life in this world, it is really not life at all. It is a mere spark compared to the fire of love that God offers; it is a single note compared to the great symphony God directs.

Jesus instructs us to be willing to exchange this tiny, dying life for that which is true life. The Lord says that whatever small blessings come from clinging to this life and this world are really no benefit at all.

Of course what the world’s cheap trinkets offer is immediate gratification and evasion of the cross. We may feel relief for a moment, but our growth is stunted and those cheap little trinkets slip through our fingers. We gain the world (cheap little trinket that it is) but lose our souls. It’s a total loss, or to use a modern expression, it’s a FAIL!

Jesus’ final words, however, remind us that the choice is ours. The day will come when He will respond to our choice. Either we accept true life and win or we choose the passing, dying life of this world and lose.

Addendum:

Hedonism – This is the doctrine that pleasure or happiness is the sole or chief good in life. It comes from the Greek word hēdonē, meaning “pleasure” and is akin to the Greek hēdys, meaning “sweet.”

Of course pleasure is to be desired and to some degree sought, but it is not the only good in life. Indeed, some of our greatest goods and accomplishments require sacrifice: years of study and preparation for a career; the blood, sweat, and tears of raising children.

Hedonism seeks to avoid sacrifice and suffering at all costs. It is directly opposed to the theology of the Cross. St. Paul spoke in his day of the enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is the belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things (Php 3:18–19). He also taught that the cross was an absurdity to the Gentiles (1 Cor 1:23).

Things have not changed, my friends. The world reacts with great indignation whenever the cross or suffering is even implied. So the world will cry out with bewildered exasperation and ask incredulously of the Church, are you saying that a woman who was raped must carry the child to term and cannot abort? Yes, we are. Are you saying that a “gay” person must live celibately and may never “marry” his or her same-sex lover? Yes, we are. Are you saying that a handicapped child in the womb must be “condemned” to live in the world and cannot be aborted and put out of his (more accurately our) “misery”? Yes, we are. Are you saying that a suffering person cannot be euthanized to avoid the pain? Yes, we are.

The shock expressed in these sorts of questions shows how deeply hedonism has infected the modern mind. The concept of the cross is not only absurd, it is downright “immoral” in the hedonist mentality, which sees pleasure as the only true human good. To the hedonist, a life without enough pleasure is a life not worth living, and anyone who would seek to set limits on the lawful (and sometime unlawful) pleasures of others is mean, hateful, absurd, obtuse, intolerant, and just plain evil.

When pleasure is life’s only goal or good, how dare you, or the Church, or anyone seek to set limits on it let alone suggest that the way of the cross is better or required! You must be banished, silenced, and destroyed.

Many faithful Catholics in the pews are deeply infected with the illusion of hedonism and thus take up the voice of bewilderment, anger, and scoffing whenever the Church points to the cross and insists on self-denial, sacrifice, and doing the right thing even when the cost is great. The head wagging in congregations is often visible if a priest dares to preach that abortion, euthanasia, in vitro fertilization, and contraception are wrong regardless of the cost, or if he speaks about the reality of the cross. The faithful who swim in the waters of a hedonistic culture are often shocked at anything that might limit the pleasure that others want to pursue.

Hedonism makes the central Christian mysteries of the cross and redemptive suffering seem like something from a distant planet or a parallel and strange universe. The opening word from Jesus’ mouth, “Repent,” seems strange to the hedonistic world, which has even reconstructed Jesus Himself to be someone who just wants us to be happy and content. The cry goes up, even among the faithful, doesn’t God want me to be happy? On this basis, all kinds of sinful behavior is supposed to be tolerated because insisting on the opposite is “hard” and because it seems “mean” to speak of the cross or of self-discipline in a hedonistic culture.

Bringing people back to the real Jesus and to the real message of the Gospel, which features the cross as the way to glory, takes a lot of work and a long conversation. We must be prepared to engage in that extended conversation with people.

This song speaks of life as a kind of spiraling climb between cross and glory. As the spiritual says, “Every round goes higher, higher, soldiers of the Cross.”

 

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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.

Which Do You Prefer: Melons and Leeks, or the Bread of Heaven?

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

The first reading for daily Mass on Monday (18th week of the year) was taken from the Book of Numbers. It features the Israelites grumbling about the manna in the wilderness:

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 (Numbers 11:4-5).

While it is easy to be astonished at their insolence and ingratitude, the scene presented depicts very common human tendencies; it is not unique to these people once in the desert. Their complaints are too easily our own.

Let’s look at some of the issues raised and see how it is possible for many of us today to struggle in the same way.

I. They prefer the abundance of food and creature comforts that come along with slavery in Egypt, to the freedom of children of God and the chance to journey to the Promised Land. Too easily, this is our struggle as well. Jesus points to the cross, but we prefer the pillow. Heaven is a nice thought, but it is in the future and the journey is a long one.

Too easily we prefer our own version of “melons and leeks.” Perhaps it is possessions, or power, or popularity. Never mind that the price we pay for them is a kind of bondage to the world and its demands. When the world grants its blessings, we become enslaved by the fact that we have too much to lose. We are willing to compromise our freedom, which Christ died to purchase for us, and enter into bondage to sin. We will buy into lies, commit any number of sins, or perhaps suppress the truth—all in an attempt to stay popular and well-connected. Why? Because we have become so desperate for the world’s blessings that we will make compromises that harm our integrity or hurt other people just to get those things we think we can’t live without.

We don’t like to call it bondage, though. Instead, we call it being “relevant,” “modern,” “tolerant,” and “compassionate.”  Yes, as we descend into deeper darkness and bondage to sin and our passions, we are pressured to call it “enlightenment,” “choice,” and “freedom.” So, although we use other terms, it is still bondage for the many who are afraid to break free from it.

We are in bondage to Egypt, enslaved to Pharaoh. We prefer that to the freedom of the desert, with its difficult journey to a Promised Land (Heaven) that we have not yet fully seen. The pleasures of the world, its melons and leeks, are displayed to us in the present and available for immediate enjoyment.

And so the cry still goes up: “Give us melons; give us leeks; give us cucumbers and fleshpots! Away with the desert. Away with the cross. Away with the Promised Land, if it exists at all. It is too far off and too hard to get to. Melons and leeks, please. Give us meat; we are tired of manna!”

II. They are bored with the manna. While its exact composition is mysterious to us, it would seem that manna could be collected, kneaded like dough, and baked like bread. As such, it was a fairly plain substance, meant more to sustain than to be enjoyed.

Remembering the melons, leeks, and fleshpots of Egypt, they were bored with this plain manna. Never mind that it was miraculously provided every day by God, and in just the right quantity. Even miracles can seem boring after a while to our petulantly demanding desires. The Lord may show us miracles today, but too easily do we demand even more tomorrow.

We are also somewhat like little children who prefer Twinkies and cupcakes to vegetables and other more wholesome foods. Indeed, the Israelites’ boredom with and even repulsion to the miracle food from Heaven does not sound so different from the complaint of many Catholics today that “Mass is boring.”

While it is certainly true that we can work to ensure that the liturgy reflects the glory it offers, it is also true that God has a fairly stable and consistent diet for us. He exhorts us to stay faithful to the manna: the wholesome food of prayer, Scripture, the Sacraments, and stable, faithful fellowship in union with the Church.

In our fickle spirits, many of us run after the latest fads and movements. Many Catholics say, “Why can’t we be more like the mega-churches with all the latest, including a Starbucks Coffee Café, contemporary music, a rock-star-like pastor delivering sensitive, toned-down preaching with many promises and few demands, and all that jazz?”

But as an old spiritual says regarding this type of person, “Some go to church for to sing and shout, before six months, they’s all turned out!” Thus some will leave the Catholic Church and other traditional forms that feature the more routine but stable and steady manner, in favor of the hip and the latest. They often find that within six months they’re bored again.

While the Church is always in need of reform, there is a lot to be said for the slow and steady pace as she journeys through the desert relying on the less glamorous but more stable and sensible food: the manna of the Eucharist, the Word of God, the Sacred Liturgy, prayer, and fellowship.

III. Who feeds you? Beyond these liturgical preferences of many for melons and leeks over manna, there is also a manifest preference for the food of this world. There is a tragic tendency for many Catholics—even regular church-goers—to get most of their food not from the Lord, Scripture, and the Church, but from the Egypt of this world.

Most dine regularly at the banquet table of popular entertainment, and secular news media and talk radio. They seem to eat this food quite uncritically! The manna is complained about, but the melons and leeks are praised without qualification.

While Christians cannot wholly avoid all contact with the world or eschew all its food, when do the melons and leeks ever come up for criticism? When do Christians finally look closely and say, “That is not the mind of God!” When do they ever conclude that this food is inferior to what God offers? When do parents finally walk into the living room, turn off the television, and tell their children that what they have just seen and heard is not the mind of God?

Tragically, this is rare. The food of this world is eaten in amounts far surpassing the consumption of the food of God. The melons and leeks of the world are praised, while the manna of God is put on trial for not being like the food of this world.

For a Christian, of course, this is backwards. The world should be on trial based on the Word of God. Instead, even for most Catholics, the Word of God and the teachings of the Church are put on trial by the standards of the world.

So the question is this: who is it that feeds you? Is it the world or the Lord? What proportion of your food comes from the Lord and what from the world? Answer honestly! Which is more influential in your daily life and your thinking: the world or the Lord?  Who is really feeding you, informing you, and influencing you? Is it the melons and leeks of this world or is it the faithful, stable, even miraculous manna of the Lord and His Church?

These are some probing questions for all of us, drawn from an ancient wilderness. God’s people, who tired of the manna, harmed themselves and others. It is easy to blame others for the mess we’re in today, but there are too many Catholics who prefer the melons and leeks of this world and have failed to summon others to the manna given by the Lord.

Have mercy on us, Lord our God. Give us a deep desire for the manna you offer. And having given it to us in abundance, help us to share it as well!

 

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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.

Give Me Jesus – A Sermon for the 17th Sunday of the Year

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

The Gospel today asks a fundamental question: “What is it that you value most?” In other words, He’s asking us what we want most. We tend to answer questions like this the way we think we should, rather than genuinely. When we’re with the doctor (and Jesus is our doctor) our best bet is to answer honestly so that we can begin a true healing process. The fact is, we all need a heart transplant; we need a new heart, one that desires God and the things awaiting us in Heaven more so than any earthly thing.

Let’s take a look at this Gospel, which sets forth in three fundamental movements the picture and price of the Kingdom of God along with a peril that reminds us that we must make a choice.

I. The Picture – The Gospel uses three images for the kingdom, two of which we will look at here (a buried treasure and a pearl), and the third of which (a net) we will examine later. Both the treasure and pearl symbols are used elsewhere in Scripture. Studying those other passages can be helpful in fine-tuning our understanding of the gift of the Kingdom, which Jesus is discussing in today’s Gospel.

Buried Treasure – The concept of treasure (buried in the case of today’s Gospel) is mentioned elsewhere by Jesus:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matt 6:19-21).

Although we tend to think of treasure as a bunch of “stuff,” the image of treasure that Jesus uses in today’s Gospel is more a symbol for the heart and for our deepest desires, because our treasure is linked to our heart. One of the greatest gifts that God offers us is the gift a new heart, one that values most what He offers: holiness and Himself. One of the most fundamental prophetic texts of the Old Testament announces what Jesus has fulfilled:

Oh, my people, I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws (Ezekiel 36:25-27).

The great treasure of the Kingdom of God gives us a new heart, by choosing it our heart is changed. To have a new heart is to experience our desires changing. We become less focused on passing, worldly things and more interested in the lasting treasure of the Kingdom of Heaven. We begin to love what and whom God loves. We begin to love holiness, justice, chastity, goodness, righteousness, and truth. We begin to love our spouse, family, the poor, and even our enemies the way God loves them. Our heart becomes alive with joy and zeal for the Kingdom of God and an evangelical spirit impels us to speak what we know to be true.

Yes, the buried, hidden treasure of the Kingdom of God unlocks our heart, bringing new life coursing through our veins, through our very soul. In choosing this treasure we get a new heart, for where our treasure is, there also will be our heart.

A Pearl – The second image comes from the Wisdom tradition, in which holy Wisdom is likened to a pearl. Here, too, is described one of the most precious gifts of the Kingdom of God: a new mind through holy Wisdom. What is this new mind? It is one that begins to think more and more as God does, one that shares His priorities and vision, one that sees as He does; it is the mind of Christ (cf 1 Cor 2:16). With this new mind we see through and reject worldly thinking, priorities, and agendas. We come to rejoice in God’s truth and to grasp more deeply its beauty and sensibility. What a precious gift the new mind is, thinking with God and having the mind of Christ!

So here are two precious manifestations of the Kingdom of God: a new heart and a new mind, which is really another way of saying, “a whole new self.” God is offering us a new life, a new self, a complete transformation.

II. The Price – What are these offerings of the Kingdom worth and what do they ultimately cost? The answer is clear in today’s Gospel: they cost, and are worth, everything. Regarding the hidden treasure and the pearl, the text says that both men went and sold all they had for them. They were willing to forsake everything for these precious items.

Be careful not to reduce this Gospel to a moralism. Notice that these men were eager to go and sell, to forsake, everything else. They did this not so much because they had to, but because they wanted to. They wanted to pay the price and did so with eagerness because they were so enamored of the glory they had found. Here is the gift to seek from the Lord: a willing and eager heart for the Kingdom of God, so eager that we are willing to forsake anything and everything for it.

For ultimately the Kingdom of God does cost everything and we will not fully inherit it until we are fully done with this world and its claims on our heart.

The gift to seek from the Lord is not that we forsake the world with sullen faces and depressed spirits, as if we were paying taxes. No! The gift to seek is that we, like these men, be so taken by the glory of God and His kingdom that we are more than willing to set aside anything that gets in our way, that we are so eager for the things of the Kingdom that loss of the world’s intoxicating trinkets means almost nothing.

Do you see? This is the gift: a heart that appreciates the true worth of the Kingdom of God such that no price is too high. Scripture says elsewhere,

  What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ (Phil 3:8).

  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Cor 4:17).

  I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us (Rom 8:18).

  No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him (1 Cor 2:9).

  But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (Phil 3:13-14).

Yes, the Kingdom of God is more than worth any price we must pay, and ultimately we will pay all for it. Pray for an eager and willing spirit that comes from appreciating the unsurpassed worth of the Kingdom!

III. The Peril – The final movement contains a warning about our upcoming judgment. Ultimately, we either want the Kingdom of God or we don’t. Hence the Lord speaks of a net that captures everything (referring to our summons to the judgment). Those who want the Kingdom and have accepted its value and price will be gathered in; those who do not want the Kingdom of God and do not accept its value will be cast aside.

There are clearly some who do not value the Kingdom. They may desire “heaven,” but it is one of their own making, not the real Heaven. The true Heaven is the Kingdom of God in all its fullness. The Kingdom of God includes things like forgiveness, mercy, justice, chastity, love of the poor, love of one’s enemies, and the celebration of what is good, true, and beautiful. The Kingdom of God has God, not man, at its center.

Yes, there are many who neither want nor value some or even most of these things. When the net is drawn in, our decision is made final. Though we may wish for a fairy tale ending, one in which opponents of the Kingdom suddenly love it, God quite clearly says that at the judgment one’s decision for or against the Kingdom becomes final; it is fixed forever.

An old song says, “Better choose the Lord today, for tomorrow very well might be too late.” Thus we are warned that the judgment looms and that we ought to be earnest in seeking a heart from the Lord that eagerly desires the Kingdom and appreciates its worth above all people and all things. In the end, we get what we want. Either we will have chosen the Kingdom or not.

Pray for a new heart, one that values the Kingdom of Heaven above all else. We ought to consider ourselves warned.

The Gospel today is about what we truly value, and is presented in three movements.

This song says, “You can have all this world, just give me Jesus.

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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.

Greed: A Meditation on an Underreported Sin

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

One of the more underreported sins is greed. It is easy to conclude that greed is something manifested by “that other person,” who has more than I do. Yes, that rich guy over there, the one who earns a dollar more per hour than I do; he’s greedy, but I’m not.

But honestly, does any one of us ever come to a point in our life when we say, “I earn more than enough money. I’ll just give the rest away”? Not on your life!

Almost never would such a thought even occur to the average person. Instead, most of us respond to a pay increase, for example, by expanding our lifestyle and continuing to complain that we don’t have enough. At some point, we ought to admit that we do cross over into greed.

What is greed? It is the insatiable desire for more. It is a deep drive in us that, no matter how much we have, makes us think that it’s not enough. We still want more, and if we get more we want more still. This is the experience of greed.

Familiar though this sounds, too few of us are willing to consider that greed is really a problem for us. Greed is always something that other guy has.

Of course it doesn’t help that we live in a culture of consumption, which constantly tells us that we don’t have enough. Commercials tell us that the car we’re driving isn’t as good as this other car we could be driving. And so even though we have a perfectly good car, one with four wheels, a working engine, and probably even air conditioning, it still it isn’t good enough. So it is with almost every other product or amenity that is sold to us on a daily basis. The clever marketing experts of Madison Avenue are great at making us feel deprived. As a result, it almost never occurs to most of us that we may have crossed the line into greed. Despite having even six- and seven-figure incomes, many still feel that they don’t have enough.

This is all the more reason that we should spend some time reflecting on the nature of greed. Greed is a deep drive of sin, one of the deadly sins, and it brings with it a kind of blindness that causes us to mistake mere wants for true needs. As we entertain this illusion, there’s very little to prompt us to consider that we actually have more than enough. There’s very little to cause me to say, “Gee, I’ve gotten greedy” or to work toward curbing this insatiable desire for more.

No, it’s the other guy who’s greedy; I’m not. It’s a problem that those nasty rich and powerful people have. Never mind that I’m pretty darned rich myself, living in a home with running water, air conditioning, and maybe even luxuries like granite countertops and widescreen TVs.

When was the last time you heard a sermon on greed? If you did, it was probably the priest talking about some abstract group of people (not those present, of course) who probably also hold the “wrong” political opinions, etc. Yes, greed is always someone else’s problem.

When do I honestly look at myself and wonder if I am greedy? When do I ever conclude that I have more than enough and need to be more generous with what has become excessive in my life? When do I ever apply the old precept that if I have two coats, one of them belongs to the poor? I do understand that it’s good to have something laid up for a rainy day, but do I ever ask myself if I’m really trusting in God or just in my rainy day fund? When do I ever wonder if I’ve crossed the line into greed?

I realize that some of you who read this post will find it disturbing. So do I. These are uncomfortable questions.

Let me assure you that I do not write this post from a political perspective. I do not want the government mandating how much I can or should earn, and how much I can or should give away. I am referring to a very personal moral assessment that we all should make.

I also do not write as an economist. I realize that market-based economies are complex and that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with meeting people’s needs with products and services. I am also aware that markets supply jobs. But still, I must insist that we all ask ourselves some personal questions about limits. We cannot simply conclude that greed is the other guy’s problem.

Greed is one of the seven deadly sins; we ought to take it more seriously than many of us do. Somewhere there’s room for most of us to reflect on one of the most underreported sins: greed.

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