Journey into the Desert: Reflections on Worship – Week 4: Offering Our Sins

On February 28, I wrote about the first ever Lenten Video Study produced by the parish of St. Mary Magdalene in Gilbert, Arizona. The title of the study is Journey into the Desert: Reflections on Worship. If you signed up for the study through our parish Flocknote service, then you have been receiving weekly videos that pertain to this study. To learn more about this study and how it came to be, here is the article I wrote on February 28.

For today’s article, I am sharing my video and reflections with you. I was assigned to focus on how we can offer our sins to God through Worship. Below is my video, the reading that goes with the video, which is from The Way of the Disciple by Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, questions to answer, and then a prayer to recite. There are also additional resources at the end, including my favorite poem which was given to me in my Senior Seminar Class in the St. Ignatius Institute at the University of San Francisco 20 years ago by the aforementioned author.

Make time this week to prayerfully read and reflect on this excerpt…

“The great moral problem of the Samaritan appears to be that, in her search for love, she has had too many husbands. And her present “husband” really is not one at all. The frantic search for love, which often compensates for the lack of quality by sheer force of quantity, in the end has only created a greater void in the soul. After so many men, the woman finds herself alone, face to face with the Son of Man.

An interesting exegetical notation to John 4:18 (“You have had five husbands, and he whom you have now is not your husband”) refers us to 2 Kings 17:24: “And the King of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the people of Israel; and they took possession of Samaria, and dwelt in her cities.” These five pagan nations, which supplied occupants for Samaria, have been apparently symbolized by John in the woman’s five husbands, to indicate the Samaritan’s religious and moral perversion in the eyes of the Judeans, who had kept their faith and their race pure from foreign admixtures. The woman, personifying Samaria, and Samaria, personifying all sinners, together represent the human slide towards idolatry, self-indulgence, and the abandonment of God’s Law. Note, too, the sexual connotation of the expression “they took possession of Samaria”. The fundamental question here is our tendency to allow ourselves to be seduced by any lover other than God. The present, sixth “husband” on call, who is not really a husband, would then refer to the current Roman occupation that in the end utterly destroyed Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
We then have a grand total of six husbands, who neither singly nor collectively have brought the woman any lasting happiness. After so much flirtation with love, the poor Samaritan still has to draw water alone at noontime, still has to continue looking after herself. What an unbearable burden, to invest so much in “love” and get so little in return! But Jesus is the seventh Man, who comes to remove this burden from her shoulders. Seven, as we know, is the number of perfection, the number signaling the end of the search, the fulfillment of all desire, the arrival home.  What at first had been the mere breaking of a double taboo- Judean man talking to a Samarian woman- is revealed at this point as something much deeper: if Jesus dares to approach her and speak so intimately with her, without her covering her face with a veil (note how even the disciples are a little scandalized: “They marveled that he was talking with a woman”) it is because he is wooing her in order to seduce her heart and persuade her to welcome him as the Bridegroom of her soul.

We necessarily skip over all the other numerous aspects of the episode to conclude with one final theme: the conversion of the woman from needy sinner to disciple and evangelist. Jesus has peered into the depths of her soul and revealed to her her own innermost secrets, above all, her deep sadness at never having found a true love. But this revelation, far from frightening, depressing, or scaring her away, rather fills the woman with joy, the joy that announces the beginning of a new life. When he proclaims her sins to her, Jesus works a kind of exorcism that frees her of them. “So the woman left her water jar, and went away into the city, and said to the people, “Come see a man who told me all I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” The fact that Jesus has cleansed her soul with his gaze incites her to recognize in him the Messiah sent by God, the anointed Lamb who takes away the sins of the world.

The abandonment of the water jar, like Bartimaeus’ throwing off his old rag, symbolizes the newness of life that derives everything from Jesus, a life that no longer needs to carry the same crushing and absurd burdens or repeat the same useless tasks. Notice that, throughout the episode, neither Jesus nor the woman ever drinks a single drop of water, even though everything was set in motion by thirst of the body. The two have been refreshed and satisfied by their dialogue of love- he by making himself known and inviting her to intimacy with him, she by opening up little by little to divine seduction and surrendering at last with all the jubilation and immense relief of an enslaved soul that exits to freedom.

Such liberation makes her hasten to her townspeople, the very ones who have previously rejected her. Now she cares little about her marginal status: the rejected one now breaks the barrier that Jesus has first broken in approaching her, but now in order to proclaim to one and all what she has found. “Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.” But this new disciple, who has drunk in Jesus’ essential teaching in what could be called a very accelerated crash course, is only an ambassador, the precursor who is followed by Jesus’ personal presence. Her personal witnesses opened up hearts and ears, preparing people to receive Jesus in person. She makes herself into a pure instrument of God’s love; now she seems consumed with one desire: to love Jesus and bring others to him.

The true disciple rejoices at nothing more than at hearing what the woman heard in the end: “It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this indeed is the Saviour of the world.” What greater joy could be ours, too, than to know that many others may come to share in our own delight at having been found by Jesus.”

Reflect

After watching the video and reading the excerpt, consider these questions for prayerful reflection, journaling, and/or discussion with others…

  • What in your personal life is the “water jar” or “old rag” that is keeping you from abandoning yourself completely to God?
  • If you haven’t been to the Sacrament of Confession in some time, what is holding you back from God’s mercy and forgiveness? If you have been to Confession recently, what brought you to the Sacrament?
  • Do you struggle to reconcile the sins of your daily life with your call to be a disciple in the world?
  • Are you ready for a metanoia – a revolution of your soul – in your relationship with Jesus Christ and his Church?

Quick Lessons from the Catechism: The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation

Although I’ve written in the past here about the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I felt the need today to share with you what the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches on this beautiful sacrament given to us by Our Lord Jesus Christ through the authority He gave the Apostles to forgive sins. It’s on my mind today because last night in RCIA and Adult Confirmation, Fr. Will taught about Sacraments of Healing. The other Sacrament of Healing is Anointing of the Sick, which you can read about here.

These two sacraments assist us in the Christian life when we are subject to suffering, illness and death, which comes both spiritually and physically. It is through the Church that we receive the healing touch of the Divine Physician. Through his ministers (Priests) we receive his grace through the work of the Holy Spirit to heal and save our souls.

Personally, I love this sacrament and frequent it often. I find such contrition and consolation in the sacrament. If you are a baptized Catholic and haven’t been to Confession in a long time, I would highly encourage you to seek out Confession times and make a good confession. The Divine Physician is always waiting to heal us of our sins.

With this being said, let’s examine what the Catechism says for today’s QLC –

“On the evening of that day, the first day of the week,” Jesus showed himself to his apostles. “He breathed on them, and said to them: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained”‘ (Jn 20:19, 22-23. [#1485]

The forgiveness of sins committed after Baptism is conferred by a particular sacrament called the sacrament of conversion, confession, penance, or reconciliation. [#1486]

The sinner wounds God’s honor and love, his own human dignity as a man called to be a son of God, and the spiritual well-being of the Church, of which each Christian ought to be a living stone. [#1487]

To the eyes of faith no evil is graver than sin and nothing has worse consequences for sinners themselves, for the Church, and for the whole world. [#1488]

To return to communion with God after having lost it through sin is a process born of the grace of God who is rich in mercy and solicitous for the salvation of men. One must ask for this precious gift for oneself and for others. [#1489]

The movement of return to God, called conversion and repentance, entails sorrow for and abhorrence of sins committed, and the firm purpose of sinning no more in the future. Conversion touches the past and the future and is nourished by hope in God’s mercy. [#1490]

Pope Francis going to Confession

Pope Francis going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation with a Priest in St. Peter’s Basilica.

The sacrament of Penance is a whole consisting in three actions of the penitent and the priest’s absolution. The penitent’s acts are repentance, confession or disclosure of sins to the priest, and the intention to make reparation and do works of reparation. [#1491]

Repentance (also called contrition) must be inspired by motives that arise from faith. If repentance arises from love of charity for God, it is called “perfect” contrition; if it is founded on other motives, it is called “imperfect.” [#1492]

One who desires to obtain reconciliation with God and with the Church, must confess to a priest all the unconfessed grave sins he remembers after having carefully examined his conscience. The confession of venial faults, without being necessary in itself, is nevertheless strongly recommended by the Church. [#1493]

The confessor proposes the performance of certain acts of “satisfaction” or “penance” to be performed by the penitent in order to repair the harm caused by sin and to re-establish habits befitting a disciple of Christ. [#1494]

Only priests who have received the faculty of absolving from the authority of the Church can forgive sins in the name of Christ. [#1495]

The spiritual effects of the sacrament of Penance are:

– reconciliation with God by which the penitent recovers grace;

– reconciliation with the Church;

– remission of the eternal punishment incurred by mortal sins;

– remission, at least in part, of temporal punishments resulting from sin;

– peace and serenity of conscience, and spiritual consolation;

– an increase of spiritual strength for the Christian battle. [#1496]

Individual and integral confession of grave sins followed by absolution remains the only ordinary means of reconciliation with God and with the Church. [#1497]

Through indulgences the faithful can obtain the remission of temporal punishment resulting from sin for themselves and also for the souls in Purgatory. [#1498]

To understand this sacrament completely, I highly suggest also reading paragraphs 1422-1484 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

To conclude, let’s see what Pope Francis has to say on the subject. In a Wednesday audience in late February 2014, the Holy Father said,

“’Everyone say to himself: ‘When was the last time I went to confession?’ And if it has been a long time, don’t lose another day! Go, the priest will be good. And Jesus, (will be) there, and Jesus is better than the priests – Jesus receives you. He will receive you with so much love! Be courageous, and go to confession…every time we go to confession, God embraces us.”

600th Blog Post 

Catholic Men’s Fellowship of Phoenix– Men’s Conference

Yesterday, 2200 of my fellow Catholic brothers and I attended the Catholic Men’s Fellowship of Phoenix – Men’s Conference at Grand Canyon University. It was the first men’s conference I was able to attend and to say the least it was a blessed and holy Saturday. Early yesterday morning I picked my friend Bill and his son, Noah, at their home. We first stopped and picked up some delicious breakfast burritos from Los Favoritos in Scottsdale and then proceeded to the West Valley to attend the men’s conference. We arrived 15 minutes before the doors opened and happily ran into Michael Poirier and his son bringing in CD’s that he was going to sell at the conference. As we walked up to the front of the arena, there was at least a few hundred men already standing outside – they were ready and wanted to get inside to start the day.

Bishop Thomas J. OlmstedDuring the entire conference, we were inspired, encouraged, and challenged by some very talented Catholic speakers. Our own Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted kicked off the day for us speaking about Fatherhood. We are so blessed in the Diocese of Phoenix to have such a loving and holy shepherd leading us. He is truly a man of God! He has completely taken a diocese that was torn and broken and turned it into one of the best diocese in the western part of the United States. We are growing and getting stronger as faithful Catholics by the day because of Bishop Olmsted.

We also heard from Hector Molina, Scott Hahn, Fr. John Lankeit (Fr. Thomas Roscia was unable to fly out of Toronto due to the snowstorm), Dr. Jonathan Reyes, Dr. William Chavira, and Terry Kennedy emceed the entire day. We were led in song by the music of Chris Muglia. Dr. William Chavira’s testimony about the evils of contraceptives was one of the most touching and inspiring testimonies I have ever heard on a retreat/conference. His words pierced a lot of hearts in that arena and I imagine there are many men now talking about contraceptive/birth control with their wives.

emailheader for men's conference

Hector Molina fired up the conference by teaching us the story of Lazarus, Dr. Hahn taught us about the New Evangelization, Fr. John Lankeit gave us the fire and brimstone of preparing our lives for Christ, and Dr. Jonathan Reyes shared with us the pragmatic and simple ways of being a great Catholic man. Woah! It was quite day and now writing this I realize how much the day impacted me. My favorite talk was from Dr. Jonathan Reyes for many reasons. One would be that he gave me simple steps to improve my relationship with Christ and with others and second, he presents like I do – strong and simple!

Another awesome part of the day was when I witnessed hundreds and I mean, HUNDREDS of Catholic men standing in line (some for up to 3 hours) to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. For Phoenix, it was a cold day in February – 55 degrees – to see all those sinful men (yes, we have to admit that we are sinful) standing out in the “cold” weather to receive the abundant grace that comes from being forgiven of sin. Seeing so many priests, and Bishop Olmsted, sitting in white plastic chairs hearing Confession was a sight for the eyes.

cmfp-logoI encourage you to check out Catholic Men’s Fellowship of Phoenix to read more about the day. If you don’t have a group like this in your diocese, then it’s time to get off the sidelines, put your New Evangelization gear on and get to work. Brothers – we need to be Catholic men not afraid to stand up against the evils of the post-modern anti-Christian world we live in today. It’s an epic time to be alive and we are being called to live like epic heroes for Christ and his Catholic Church. As Bishop Olmsted said today in his homily at the closing Mass quoting our Lord Jesus Christ – we must “put out into the deep” and “Be Not Afraid.”

If you attended the event, please share with us in the comment box things that you enjoyed or took away from the conference. Please share this post with fellow brothers in Christ who attended the conference as well.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation

It’s Monday night, late – in the 11 o’clock hour in Arizona. The film, Shrek Forever After is on FX. All night long I have had Confession on my mind (Sacrament of Reconciliation – for any non-Catholics). The reason it’s been on my mind all night is that I really want to go tomorrow. St. Daniel the Prophet in Scottsdale offers Reconciliation a few times during the week. The Pastor, Fr. Thaddeus McGuire, understands the importance of the Sacrament. He is a good and faithful priest. For me, Reconciliation is a place of great penance. I try to go every week or every other week depending on the severity of my sins. Realizing that I am weak and need God’s grace is not easy to admit, but I truly enjoy the Sacrament given to us by Jesus Christ (see Jn 20).

It’s also been on my mind from last night since that is when I read Proposition 33 from the Synod on the New Evangelization. Proposition 33 of 58 states that there should be a place of distinction (a church), in each diocese, where the Sacrament of Reconciliation is celebrated perpetually – everyday. You heard me right! Just like we have Perpetual Adoration, the synod proposes that we have Perpetual Reconciliation! What a message this would send to the secular world!

Can you imagine the conversions (Metanoia – change of heart) each diocese would have on a daily basis if the Sacrament of Reconciliation were offered daily, around the clock, during every week of every month – day or night???

The Catechism of the Catholic Church 1422 states, “Those who approach the sacrament of Penance obtain pardon from God’s mercy for the offense committed against him, and are, at the same time, reconciled with the Church which they have wounded by their sins and which by charity, by example, and by prayer labors for their conversion.”

If you have not been to Reconciliation in sometime, I encourage you to go soon! With the Year of Faith upon us, make that leap “of faith” and go. If you need encouragement from a friend who goes on a regular basis, then ask him or her to go with you. If you think God won’t forgive you of your sins, think again brothers and sisters. God’s mercy, his covenant fidelity, never ceases! Ask a priest and go today!

Today at the USCCB Assembly, Cardinal Timothy Dolan said that, “As we ‘come and go’ in response to the invitation of Jesus, we begin with the Sacrament of Penance. This is the sacrament of the New Evangelization.” (Bold is mine)

The powerful video below (seen by 50,000 teens and young adults this past summer during the Franciscan University of Steubenville High School Youth Conferences) hopefully inspires you. Don’t wait another second to receive God’s abundant Grace. Here is the schedule for Confessions in the Diocese of Phoenix.

“Mondays with Mary” – The Holy Rosary Through the Words of Blessed John Paul II

Last Tuesday I went to Confession (the Sacrament of Reconciliation), as I always do on Tuesdays at a parish close to where I work in Scottsdale. For the past month, every Tuesday, I go to weekly Confession since I am fully aware of my own faults and weaknesses…and there are many! I enjoy the time in the Confessional and often go to a priest who I know pretty well.

Let’s be truthful – it’s not easy to go and admit your faults to someone else, but Jesus did give the Apostles the power to forgive sins (Jn 20:19-23) and with the grace that pours from the Sacrament, we should take advantage of God’s mercy and love for us as often as possible.  The priest who hears my Confession gave me a high-five recently. He was happy to know that I go to weekly Confession. Another priest here in Phoenix also was happy to hear the same information. Both of these great men of God encourage their parishioners to attend frequently…because of the GRACE that comes from the Sacrament. St. Padre Pio would sit in the Confessional for hours, and even days on end, to hear Confessions and forgive in the name and power of Jesus Christ.

The reason I begin talking about Reconciliation was because while I was in line for Confession, there was an elderly couple in front of me (70-80 years old) who were praying the Holy Rosary as they waited in line. I remember I pulled out my Rosary and they both looked at me at the same time and nodded as to say – good job young man, the Rosary is important for our lives as Catholics. From my standpoint, I felt as if the three of us were united in our Catholicity praying the Holy Rosary together. As I stood there praying the Sorrowful Mysteries, it was great to know that others pray this great Marian prayer and that we were united in faith, even though we were generations apart in age. The Catholic Church and her prayers truly unite the faithful from age to age. (Paragraph #43 below will solidify my argument for you).

For this “Mondays with Mary”, I wanted to share with you the two paragraphs from above, but also wanted to provide some great excerpts from Blessed John Paul II and his Apostolic Letter – Rosarium Virginis Mariae (On the Most Holy Rosary). Blessed John Paul II said a few weeks after his Pontificate began in 1978 and in his document that the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary (official name) was his favorite prayer to pray. He prayed it daily. Below are some of his great words on the Most Holy Rosary. I hope you enjoy them, contemplate on them, and share them with your family and friends. I would also encourage you to read the document as well.

Paragraph #1 – “The Rosary, though clearly Marian in character, is at heart a Christocentric prayer. In the sobriety of its elements, it has all the depth of the Gospel message in its entirety, of which it can be said to be a contemplation.”

Paragraph #3 – “The Rosary, reclaimed in its full meaning, goes to the very heart of the Christian life; it offers a familiar yet fruitful spiritual meaning and educational opportunity for personal contemplation, the formation of the People of God, and the new evangelization.”

Paragraph #14 – “Contemplating the scenes of the Rosary in union with Mary is a means of learning from her to “read” Christ, to discover his secrets and to understand his message.

Paragraph #16 – “In support of the prayer which Christ and the Spirit cause to rise in our hearts, Mary intervenes with her maternal intercession, “The prayer of the Church is sustained by the prayer of Mary.”…The Rosary is both meditation and supplication.”

Paragraph #21 – “In proposing to the Christian community five significant moments – “luminous” mysteries – during this phase of Christ’s life…each of these mysteries is a revelation of the Kingdom now present in the very person of Jesus.

Paragraph #25 – “…the Rosary does indeed “mark the rhythm of life,” bringing it into harmony with the “rhythm” of God’s own life, in the joyful communion of the Holy Trinity, our life’s destiny and deepest longing.”

Paragraph #30 – In order to supply a Biblical foundation and greater depth to our meditation, it is helpful to follow the announcement of the mystery with the proclamation of a related Biblical passage, long or short, depending on the circumstances.”

For my fellow teachers – paragraph #42 – “To pray the Rosary for children, and even more, with children, training them from their earliest years to experience this daily “pause for prayer” with the family, is admittedly not the solution to every problem, but it is a spiritual aid which should not be underestimated.”

Paragraph #43 – “I look to you, brothers and sisters of every state of life, to you, Christian families, to you, the sick and elderly, and to you, young people: confidently take up the Rosary once again. Rediscover the Rosary in the light of Scripture, in harmony with the liturgy, and in the context of your daily lives.”

During this month of the Holy Rosary, let us pray for Our Lady’s maternal and queenly intercession to our King and Lord, Jesus Christ. Let us also pray that we may find more time in our daily lives to offer up the Rosary and to ask for the intercession of Blessed John Paul II and the communion of saints and the divisions of angels to be with us always.

St. John Vianney – The Parish Priest

Today is the memorial of St. John Vianney or as many people know him “The Cure D’Ars” – the (parish) priest of Ars. He was born on May 8, 1786 and died on August 4, 1859. To read a detailed account of his life, please see the website Catholic Online. Below is a very short explanation of his later life and a part of his life as a priest I enjoy since I frequent the Sacrament of Reconciliation often.

The little town of Ars was a sinful place filled with immorality, religious apathy and thoughtlessness. St. John Vianney always tried to help the sinners of the town, although he did try to leave three times to join a monastery (sin can do that to you!). However, he came back each time ready to fight the sinful acts of the people. He arrived in Ars at the age of 31 and was there till his entrance into heavenly glory. He ended up converting his entire parish and became known as a great confessor and spiritual director to many. He converted thousands of people to the Catholic faith. Many people could not resist his words in the confessional.

One of the things I like about St. John Vianney is that he devoted many hours of his day at the parish offering the Sacrament of Reconciliation to his parishioners. He would often sit in the confessional for 13-17 hours and had the spiritual gift of reading the souls of his penitents. He had a great compassion for the souls in his care, as a parish priest should.

Like St. Pio of Pietrelcina, who also had the gift of reading souls and sitting in the confessional at hours on end, St. John Vianney suffered from attacks by the devil. The devil once said to him that if three men existed on earth like him that his kingdom (Satan’s) would be destroyed.

In 1925, St. John Vianney was canonized a saint. In 1929, Pope Pius XI declared him the “Patron of Parish Priests.”

While in graduate school at Franciscan University of Steubenville, I spent time in Philadelphia with friends. One time when I was there, I met John Volk. He was involved with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia Men’s Conference. During a conversation about being men of God, he gave me the booklet, Thoughts of the Cure D’Ars. At his request, I have kept this booklet in my car and often read from it at stoplights or when sitting in traffic. It’s a great little booklet of sayings from St. John Vianney.  I would encourage you to purchase this booklet as well. Below are ten insights from “The Cure D’Ars.” There are many more in the booklet!

“Almighty God sends no trial without consolation.” – On Suffering (M.).

“Do not be afraid of people saying that going to Mass on a weekday is only for those who have nothing to do….Are you ashamed to serve God for fear of being despised?” – Eucharistic Meditation 25

“Remember that when the priest gives you absolution, you have but one thing to think of – that the Blood of the good God is flowing over your soul to purify it and make it as bright as it was made by its Baptism. – Catechism on the Sacrament of Penance (M.).

“Let us live as the Blessed Virgin lived: loving God only, desiring God only, trying to please God only in all that we do.” – Sermon on the Feast of the Assumption.

“He who does not pray is like a hen or a turkey that cannot rise into the air. He who prays is like an intrepid eagle!” – On the Joys of the Interior Life (SP.).

“Never let your home be without a crucifix upon its walls, to the end that all who enter it may know that you are a disciple of a Crucified Lord, and that you are not ashamed to own it.” – On Home Life (F.).

“If we could only see the joy of our Guardian Angel when he sees up fighting our temptations!…” – On Temptations

“Humility is to the various virtues what the chain is to the Rosary; take away the chain and the beads are scattered, remove Humility and all virtues vanish.” – Maxim (T.).

“The devil writes down our sins – our Guardian Angel all our merits. Labor that the Guardian Angel’s book may be full, and the devil’s empty.” – Catechism on Sin (M.).

“The Saints never complain.” – Maxim (M.).  

St. John Vianney…Pray for Us. 

Holiness and Martyrdom as a Catholic in America

When Cardinal Timothy Dolan received his red hat on February 18, he said that he was grateful to the Holy Father for giving him this honor, but he just wants to be a saint. If I were to sit down with Cardinal Dolan today, I would share with him that the easiest way to canonization, according to the 6th point in the article – Desiderata for 2012 written by Reverend C. John McCloskey III, is to die a martyr. Knowing the extent of Cardinal Dolan’s experience and education, I would imagine that he would already understand this fact. I make this statement because martyrdom is very likely to appear in the United States of America in the years to come. With the greatest threats against Religious Freedom and attacks on the First Amendment this country has ever seen, it it quite possible that not only will our bishops, priests, and religious face martyrdom, but many faithful and obedient Catholics who will not comply with a tyrannical government could as well. I will let this marinate in your minds return to it at the end.

With that being said, the purpose of my blog is to engage and educate the Catholic lay faithful in the New Evangelization. It’s my hope that through my writing, I will help teach the “basics” of the Catholic faith for Catholic adults, who did receive proper catechesis as adolescents. In the words of Our Lord Jesus Christ and one of his great vicars and universal shepherds, we must remember – “Be Not Afraid!” We must not be afraid of what lies ahead of us or be afraid to learn more about Catholicism. Today, I will discuss holiness, what it means to be saint, and martyrdom.

In Thessalonians 1:6-7, St. Paul says, “you become imitators of us and of the Lord…you became an example to all the believers…” To be holy and to seek perfection is not an option, but an obligation. As followers of Jesus Christ, we must always thrive to be saints. Every Christian has the capacity of becoming a saint. Our purpose in life is to be holy in imitation of Jesus Christ, who is all holy. He is to be our perfect model. As St. Paul says in Corinthians 11:1 – “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

What is holiness?

Holiness is the separation of the irreverent, seeking and giving oneself to God. God is the foundation of holiness because God is all goodness. The invitation to holiness and goodness comes from God himself.  As Christians, to be holy is to bring our best versions to the world. However, because we suffer from the remnants of Original Sin, it can be difficult and challenging at times to live a life of holiness. We must always remember that we have Jesus Christ as our model and strength and should never get discouraged. Even the greatest saints of the Catholic Church had their struggles and moments of weakness.

What is a saint? Who is called to be a saint? When do we receive this call?

A saint is a person who thrives to live a life of holiness with the help of God’s grace and attains the prize of eternal life (CCC 828). The word saint comes from the Latin term – sanctus, which means “holy.” Sanctification is the process where one is made holy.

All Christians are called to holiness. We are called to holiness after receiving the Sacrament of Baptism. In Baptism, we are claimed and adopted by God as his children. We are restored to the filial (sonship) relationship that was established first and foremost with the first man. In our Baptism, we receive the three theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity. We also share in the three Old Testament offices that are fulfilled by Jesus – Priest, Prophet, and King.

To be a saint is to live a life dedicated to heroism. Heroism is about self-sacrificial deeds; it’s not about self-glorification and narcissism. It requires one to live with heroic virtue! G.K. Chesterton said, the “saints are the heroes of the Church.” Zorro has always been one of my favorite literary heroes. When I think about Zorro, the words of self-sacrifice, strength, goodness, and servant of the people come to mind. Just as Zorro is a great hero, so must we thrive to live lives dedicated to self-sacrifice, goodness, and serving others. Throughout the history of the Catholic Church, there have been many men and women who have answered the call to live lives of heroic virtue and self-sacrifice. In recent years, I think of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, St. Gianna Beretta Molla, Blessed John Paul II, and St. Jose Maria Escriva. These men and women truly lived their lives for Jesus Christ and were filled with joy. St. Teresa of Avila said to be a saint is to live life with joy and passion – “a sad saint is not a saint at all.”

Living the life of a saint is not always the most popular lifestyle in our culture or period of history. To be a saint is to be counter-cultural just as the Church is counter-cultural. During his three-year ministry, Jesus himself was counter-cultural for he ate with sinners, spoke with woman (some became his disciples), and countered the elders of the faith.

Most Reverend Thomas J. Olmsted, Bishop of Phoenix says, “Christ does not call us to be popular, or even successful. He calls us to take up the cross each day and follow him. There is only one ultimate failure in life: not to be a saint. Nothing else in life matters, compared to the treasure of Christ’s love.”

As Catholics, how do we become saints seeking holiness?

First, we must receive the Sacraments. Although all seven are fundamental, Reconciliation and Holy Eucharist can be received on a daily basis. The Sacrament of Reconciliation assists us in our relationship with Our Lord and allows us to restore our personal relationship with him when it is severed. If you have not been in some time, I encourage you to find a time and go. The Sacrament of Holy Eucharist is the life giving bread of Jesus Christ. It not only nourishes our physical body, but gives us spiritual strength as well. It is truly Christ’s body, blood, soul, and divinity. Next, we need spiritual direction. A director of our interior life will aid us in our prayer and help us to discern God’s will for our lives. Lastly, reading the Scriptures, Lives of the Saints, or other spiritual texts will engage us to know God in a personal way and will also assist in our relationship with Our Lord and His Church.

As Catholics who are striving to live lives of holiness, learning each day how to be saints, and living contradictory to the world around us will often bring times of hostility and persecution. We saw this in the Early Church as Christianity grew. Hostility and persecution rose up to meet Christianity and the martyrs of the Early Church were born. The word martyr comes from the Greek term – witness.  St. Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian faith was stoned to death (Acts 7:54-60). Other individuals such as St. Lawrence, St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Martina of Rome, and eleven of the twelve apostles (excluding John) and many others all died the martyr’s death. In his Letter to the Romans, St. Ignatius of Antioch says about his impending martyrdom, “…Come fire, cross, battling with wild beasts…only let me get to Jesus Christ…I would rather die.”

There are two forms of martyrdom – red martyrdom and white martyrdom. Red martyrdom is witnessing to the faith where a person endures death. The Church proclaims those who are killed for the faith are baptized by blood and are directed straight to heaven. The red martyrs are genuine examples of heroic fortitude and conviction that is unparallel. White martyrdom (dry martyrdom) is social persecution rather than death. This form of martyrdom is when a person or group of persons are attacked either verbally or in writing for having a conviction of faith or when they choose not to violate their moral conscience. This is the most common form of martyrdom for us Catholics in America to date, but that could change soon.

Although the 20th century witnessed more red martyrs for the faith around the world than any other century, here in the United States white martyrdom was more common. However, in recent years and with the multiplying of the culture wars, white martyrdom has dramatically increased against Catholics in general (see Huffington Post article). With the announcement of the HHS Mandate and the so-called “compromise”, verbal and hate filled attacks have been on the rise against Catholics since we stand against this unjust law. We will not allow a tyrannical government like the Obama Administration to force us into anything that contradicts our Religious Freedom and First Amendment Rights on the grounds of “women’s health” (see yesterday’s results from the Blunt Amendment – right down party lines). We will not comply!

In the 1920’s, the government of Mexico declared war on the Catholic Church killing bishops, priests, religious brothers and sisters, and lay faithful in the streets. It was terrible time for the Church in Mexico and many good and faithful people lost their lives. If the dangers we have now continue and the current administration is re-elected for four more years, Mexico from the 1920’s could appear on the shores and in the heartland of the United States.