Heads Up: On Vacation

Keep Calm - Vacation

I am taking a break/vacation/unplugging from blogging over the next two weeks. It’s been a glorious year of blogging since my vacation last year. So many blessings to speak about – writing projects, teaching at the parish, and still having a great job, although this vacation is definitely needed. It’s also been a difficult year, but it seems that suffering is very much of my life.

While I am gone this week, please share my blog with your family and friends!! Including this post, there are 772 blog posts/articles. Check out my archives from the past year.

If you have suggestions or topics you would like me to write on in the future, please leave those suggestions in the comment box below or email me.

See you all soon!

In Christ through Mary,

– Tom

Quick Lessons from the Catechism: Expressions of Prayer

Since today is the feast day of Saint Teresa of Avila, the Doctor of Prayer, I found it fitting to quickly express to you one of the articles from the third chapter of the Christian Prayer section in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In this section, we will focus on the Expressions of Prayer: Vocal, Meditation, and Contemplative.

St. Teresa of Avila wrote on these three expressions of prayer extensively in her writings. In her work, The Way of Perfection, St. Teresa says,

“…Let us give ourselves to mental prayer. And let whoever cannot practice it turn to vocal prayer, reading, and colloquy with God…Mental prayer consists of what was explained: being aware and knowing that we are speaking, with whom we are speaking, and who we ourselves are who dare to speak so much with so great a Lord…the nature of mental prayer isn’t determined by whether or not the mouth is closed. If while speaking I thoroughly understand and know that I am speaking with God and I have greater awareness of this than I do of the words I’m saying, mental and vocal prayer are joined.”

On these three expressions of prayer, the Catechism says…

CCC 2720: The Church invites the faithful to regular prayer: daily prayers, the Liturgy of the Hours, Sunday Eucharist, the feasts of the liturgical year.

CCC 2721: The Christian tradition comprises three major expressions of the life of prayer: vocal prayer, meditation, and contemplative prayer. They have in common the recollection of the heart.

CCC 2722: Vocal prayer, founded on the union of the body and soul in human nature, associates the body with the interior prayer of the heart, following Christ’s example of praying to his Father and teaching the Our Father to his disciples.

CCC 2723: Meditation is a prayerful quest engaging thought, imagination, emotion, and desire. Its goal is to make our own in faith the subject considered, by confronting it with the reality of our own life.

CCC 2724: Contemplative prayer is the simple expression of the mystery of prayer. It is a gaze of faith fixed on Jesus, an attentiveness to the Word of God, a silent love. It achieves real union with the prayer of Christ to the extent that is makes us share in his mystery.

For a more extensive explanation on the three expressions of prayer, I would encourage you to read CCC 2700-2719.

As we celebrate the Doctor of Prayer, let us ask her to intercede for us during our fruitful times of prayer, but especially when our prayer lacks fruit and we find ourselves battling in prayer.

Quick Lessons from the Catechism: Truth, Beauty and Sacred Art

In recent days, I have had the privilege to view some new sacred art recently created in Northern Italy. To say that this art is beautiful would be the understatement of the month. As a child and adolescent growing up in the Catholic Church, I was subjected to some rather grim churches and terrible art. It was as if we were trying to destroy truth, beauty and sacred art and replace it with relativism, ghastly, and ugly modern art.

In a time when the teachings of the Second Vatican Council are coming to fruition, let us also reap the bountiful beauty of the Church’s sacred art and allow our parishes to be filled with art that reflects the Holy Trinity, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Communion of Saints. Catholic Churches should represent the Heavenly Kingdom and not the lower levels of the Inferno.

Stain Glass Window in Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Cottonwood, AZ

Stain Glass Window in Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Cottonwood, AZ

So what does the Catechism of the Catholic Church teach on sacred art?

In paragraph 2513, it states: The fine arts, but above all sacred art, “of their nature are directed toward expressing in some way the infinite beauty of God in works made by human hands. Their dedication to the increase of God’s praise and of his glory is more complete, the more exclusively they are devoted to turning men’s minds devoutly toward God” (SC 122).

To read more on sacred art in the Catechism, please see paragraphs 2500-2503. I would also check out The Foundation for Sacred Arts and the June 23, 2014 article from Catholic News Agency. I would also encourage to check Steve Bird Art for some fantastic paintings, drawing, and sculpture.

Interior of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Jasper, IN.

Interior of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Jasper, IN.

Quick Lessons from the Catechism: Respect for the Dead and Christian Funerals

Last week I had the opportunity to visit Queen of Heaven Mortuary and Cemetery in Mesa, Arizona. Fellow parishioner and friend, Harry Antram, Director of Funeral Services for the Diocese of Phoenix Catholic Cemeteries and Mortuaries, gave me a personal tour of the facility.

Considering that I am Director of Adult Evangelization and Catechesis at the parish, I felt the need to understand the role that Catholic cemeteries play in the life of Catholics and the life of the parish. Although I have been to numerous funerals in my life already, it was my personal desire to know what happens before one arrives to the funeral of a family member or friend.

In recent years, I have been thinking more and more about my own mortality. I am reminded of what St. Benedict says in his Rule – “To see death before one daily” (Chap. 4, #47). Although The Rule of St. Benedict was originally written for his Benedictine brothers, this little gem in the beginning of his Rule should be a good reminder for us all.

With that being said, I found my visit and tour with Harry the perfect opportunity to teach you what the Catechism of the Catholic Church states on Respect for the Dead and Christian Funerals.

In regards for the Respect for the Dead, it states…

CCC 2299: The dying should be given attention and care to help them live their last moments in dignity and peace. They will be helped by the prayer of their relatives, who must see to it that the sick receive at the proper time the sacraments that prepare them to meet the living God.

CCC 2300: The bodies of the dead must be treated with respect and charity, in faith and hope of the Resurrection. The burial of the dead is a corporal work of mercy; it honors the children of God, who are temples of the Holy Spirit.

CCC 2301: Autopsies can be morally permitted for legal inquests or scientific research. The free gift of organs after death is legitimate and can be meritorious. The Church permits cremation, provided that it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body.

Requiem Mass with Black Vestments

Requiem Mass with Black Vestments

In regards to Christian Funerals, it states…

CCC 1680: All the sacraments, and principally those of Christian initiation, have as their goal the last Passover of the child of God which, through death, leads him into the life of the Kingdom. Then what he confessed in faith and hope will be fulfilled: “I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.”

CCC 1682: For the Christian the day of death inaugurates, at the end of his sacramental life, the fulfillment of his new birth begun at Baptism, the definitive “conformity” to “the image of the Son” conferred by the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and participation in the feast of the Kingdom which was anticipated in the Eucharist- even if final purifications are still necessary for him in order to be clothed with the nuptial garment.

CCC 1684: The Christian funeral is a liturgical celebration of the Church. The ministry of the Church in this instance aims at expressing efficacious communion with the deceased, at the participation in that communion of the community gathered for the funeral, and at the proclamation of eternal life to the community.

For a more extensive explanation of Christian Funerals, I would suggest reading the entire section that consists of paragraphs 1680-1690.

To listen to Harry Antram’s talk on Catholic Funeral Practices, please go here. This talk was part of the Saturday Morning Speaker Series held at Saint Mary Magdalene Catholic Church.

The Prayer for a Happy Death through the intercession of St. Joseph can be found here.

Quick Lessons from the Catechism: The Transfiguration of Jesus Christ

As the entire globe prays for peace in Iraq and we remember our fellow Christians who are being persecuted and martyred for their faith, let us unite in solidarity with them on the this day of the Transfiguration of Our Lord. At each moment of the day, when you are praying, pray for peace in a country that needs it more than ever. Although we are facing religious persecution as Christians today, what the Chaldean Christians are enduring does not compare. PRAY, FAST, and do it with great diligence.

In the end, we must remember that we are on the winning team. Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God died for our sins and three days later rose from the dead in all his glory. The Transfiguration of Our Lord is the foreshadowing of His Glory after the Resurrection. As we celebrate this great feast in both the Eastern and Western lungs of the Church, and we remember in prayer our fellow Christians in Iraq enduring their sufferings, let us examine briefly what the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches about this important event in the life of Jesus Christ –

CCC 567: Christ’s Transfiguration aims at strengthening the apostles’ faith in anticipation of his Passion: the ascent on to the “high mountain” prepares for the ascent to Calvary. Christ, Head of the Church, manifests what his Body contains and radiates in the sacraments: “the hope of glory” (Col 1:27; cf.: St. Leo the Great, Sermo 51, 3: PL 54, 310C).

For the complete teaching of Jesus’ Transfiguration in the Catechism, read paragraphs 554-556. I would also encourage you to read my post from last year here.

O Blessed and Holy Theotokos…Pray for Iraq, the Chaldean Christians, and Each One of Us. Amen.

Theotokos - Orthodox

Quick Lessons from the Catechism: The Kingdom of God

Over the past three Sundays in the Latin rite of the Catholic Church, we have been hearing about the Kingdom of Heaven parables in the Gospel of St. Matthew. Although there are parables with this same motif in the other Gospels, we see St. Matthew focusing on the Kingdom of Heaven because he is trying to prove to his audience, Jewish Christians (those who were either converting to Christianity or those who had already converted), that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Davidic and Solomonic Kingdom.

St. Matthew along with the other Gospel writers tells us in their accounts that the Kingdom of God is going to be much different than what they were actually expecting. Most Jews believed that the Messiah would return to reestablish the kingdom that David built, including the reestablishment of the Temple, which Solomon had built. Even in Acts of the Apostles 1:6, the Apostles ask Jesus the question, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” – they were speaking about the Davidic kingdom.

Although we learn about the Kingdom of Heaven from the Sacred Scriptures, as Catholics, we also look at what Sacred Tradition tells us. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is a resource that every Catholic Christian should possess. If you don’t own your copy, I would suggest purchasing one as soon as possible. We give them to all our RCIA candidates and catechumens.

Regarding the Kingdom of God, the Catechism teaches us…

CCC 567: The Kingdom of heaven was inaugurated on earth by Christ. “This kingdom shone out before men in the word, in the works, and in the presence of Christ” (Lumen Gentium 5). The Church is the seed and beginning of this kingdom. Her keys are entrusted to Peter.

For a deeper and fuller explanation of the Kingdom of God in the Catechism, I would suggest reading paragraphs 541-553. With that being said, here is CCC 546, which directly teaches us about the Kingdom of God parables we have been hearing in the Sacred Liturgy for the past three weeks,

Jesus invitation to enter his kingdom comes in the forms of parables, a characteristic feature of his teaching. Through his parables he invites people to the feast of the kingdom, but he also asks for a radical choice: to gain the kingdom, one must give everything. Words are not enough; deeds are required. The parables are like mirrors for man: will he be hard soil or good earth for the world? What use has he made of the talents he has received? Jesus and the presence of the kingdom in this world are secretly at the heart of the parables. One must enter the kingdom, that is, become a disciple of Christ, in order to “know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven.” For those who stay, “outside,” everything remains enigmatic.

Quick Lessons from the Catechism: The Importance of Fasting

The practice of fasting is a form of penance that pre-dates Christianity. In the Old Testament, we see fasting associated always with prayer in numerous scriptures. In the Book of Tobit, it states, “Prayer is good when accompanied by fasting, almsgiving, and righteousness” (12:8). The prophet Daniel, states, “Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and supplications with fasting and sackcloth and ashes” (9:3). Psalm 69:10 says, “When I humbled my soul with fasting, it became my reproach.”

So why am I specifically focusing on fasting as a teaching of the Church for today’s Quick Lessons from the Catechism? We are not in a penitential season such as Advent or Lent. Why the focus today of all days?

Well if you read the blog post from a few days ago written by Elizabeth Scalia, The Anchoress, on what we can do to unite ourselves in solidarity with our fellow Christians in the Middle East who are being persecuted and killed for being believers of Jesus Christ, fasting is one of the five points. Fasting is a very important element for us as Christians for it unites our suffering to that of Jesus Christ as well as to what (or who) the fast is being offered for.

Our fellow Christians in the Middle East need our support, prayers, and solidarity at this very moment. Let us either fast today or over the weeks ahead (specifically Fridays since that’s the day Our Lord died on the cross) offering the prayers for their sufferings. Although we may never meet them, at least not on this side of Heaven, we can be in complete solidarity for their anguish now.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states,

CCC 1434: The interior penance of the Christian can be expressed in many and various ways. Scripture and the Fathers insist above all on three forms, fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, which express conversion in relation to oneself, to God, and to others. Alongside the radical purification bought about by Baptism or martyrdom they cite as means of obtaining forgiveness of sins: efforts at reconciliation with one’s neighbor, tears of repentance, concern for the salvation of one’s neighbor, the intercession of the saints, and the practice of charity “which covers a multitude of sins.” [Bold mine].

CCC 1438: The seasons and days of penance in the course of the liturgical year (Lent, each Friday in memory of the death of the Lord) are intense moments of the Church’s penitential practice. These times are particularly appropriate for spiritual exercises, penitential liturgies, pilgrimages as signs of penance, voluntary self-denial such as fasting and almsgiving, and fraternal sharing (charitable and missionary works). [Bold mine].

CCC 2043: The fourth precept (“You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church”) ensures the times of ascesis and penance which prepares us for the liturgical feasts and helps us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart.

The traditional fast is to eat bread and water, however, if you can’t do that because of either dietary or medical reasons, please read the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops regulations on fasting.

St. Charbel…Pray for us.

St. James the Apostle…Pray for us.

St. John of Damascus…Pray for us.