John Paul II
I finished my lunch that consisted of 3 day old pepperoni pizza and a crisp red apple. Having already read several pages of my book and wanting to preserve data on my phone my eyes started to wonder. Peering from left to right the panoramic view of the partially-filled lunchroom involved fellow company employees staring at their iPhones. My eyes suddenly shifted to the half-eaten fruit in my hand. “Apples are interesting,” I told myself. I went on to reflect on the amazing fact that apples exist and the differences on the crispness and sweetness each variety contains.
G.K. Chesterton once stated, “One sees great things from the valley; only small things from the peak.” This quote did not make sense to me until recently. Not until despair entered into my life again. See when I am succeeding [at least according to worldly standards] I do not stop to “smell the roses”—or to look at the wonder of the world. Rather, I am on to the next project, the next goal, the next challenge to overcome!
When I go through long periods of consolation I tend to take the blessing in my life for granted. Only through the school of suffering do I learn to focus my worldly preoccupations on God. Suffering does not discriminate. It does not recognize differences in age, race, financial background, or religious belief. Recently, my wife and I suffered another miscarriage. I struggle with reason for why God allows these horrific events to continue to hound us.
Both my wife and I went to the sacrament of Confession to help us heal from our doubting in God’s Providence. Did this completely eradicate my feelings of desolation? No, however, through recognizing suffering as a learning opportunity and trusting in God’s ultimate providence helps me start the healing process—albeit may be a long path for us.
I notice the greatness of God in the moments of suffering. Oftentimes during my mountain climb toward success I succumb to pride and lose sight of my reliance of Him. Because God is love, he allows things to happen to me. Saint John Paul II summed it up best, “Freedom exists for the sake of love.” This will be a constant struggle for me as I deal with the aftermath of our miscarriage. While I may not always feel the embrace of God’s consolation, I have learned from my past suffering that I will always be able to trust in His total Providence!
John Paul II in his 1995 encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae reminds us, “when the sense of God is lost, there is also a tendency to lose the sense of man, of his dignity and his life; in turn, the systematic violation of the moral law, especially in the serious matter of respect for human life and its dignity, produces a kind of progressive darkening of the capacity to discern God’s living and saving presence” (no. 21). Admittedly, I have seen the danger of the reduction of humanity which results in a loss of dignity of the individual person. Days when I struggle with patience, I sometimes reduce my children as tasks to be managed and the ultimate goal is getting them to bedtime by the arbitrary deadline I impose on the family.
As a person with OCD, it is a daily battle to combat my compulsive urges for order and stability. Unfortunately, my control-everything mindset does not simply reside in my home-life—it seeps into the workplace as well. I get to be so goal-driven and task-oriented that sometimes I miss the entire purpose of my job [and well, any job for that matter]—to help others! Over the past couple weeks, I sought out acknowledgement from the superiors in my department and I got a little frustrated when I did not constantly receive “corporate praise”.
St. Teresa of Avila once said, “There is more value in a little study of humility and in a single act of it than in all the knowledge in the world.” I would do well to heed this advice. I am grateful I came across the saint’s words as I began a fresh week. Focusing on the virtue of humility got my mind thinking. Eventually, my thoughts landed on a book from our living room bookshelf—Max Lucado’s You are Special. A staple in any children’s library, this is a story that I relate to more and more with each passing year. As amazing and wise as John Paul II and Teresa of Avila, are God mysteriously stirred the story of the Wemmicks in my long-term memory bank to remind myself the true meaning of life! Let me explain:
- God is a Merciful Judge: The tale begins with the average day for wooden creatures known as Wemmicks. Tirelessly, grey dots and golden stars are being placed on each individual. Dots represent a defect in a Wemmick whereas stars signify a positive attribute. All the Wemmicks were created by the same woodcarver—Eli. Punchinello is a Wemmick who receives only grey dots—and a lot of them! Over the course of the book, he gets to encounter an unblemished Wemmick without the stain of either dots or stars. Punchinello learns that visiting Eli on his hilltop residence grants Wemmicks the knowledge that they do not have to be defined by the type of markings they gave each other, and we even find out that the love of Eli prohibits dots or stars from sticking to the wooden creatures!
An obvious allegory for the Christian life, I am reminded that any good reward [or lack thereof] I receive at work does not increase or decrease my dignity as a human person or as an adopted son of God. God is a merciful judge in that He allows every day to be a new opportunity to love Him and to love my neighbor. The reception of confession is a powerful tool I have utilized in the past couple months to help combat my scrupulosity.
- Doors of Hell are Locked from the Inside: A second lesson gained from You Are Special is that it is my own pride and limited world outlook that prohibits me from experiencing a foretaste of Heaven in this life. I am reminded of the famous quip of C.S. Lewis about the Afterlife, “The doors of hell are locked from the inside!” What this means is that the misery and despair of hell—that is existing apart from God—is self-imposed. I certainly experienced a hellish existence over the past three weeks. I sought to gain control over both work and home. I veered off the road of holiness . Max Lucado’s book reminded me that despair may be cured with a visit to my Heavenly Father. I need only to give permission to the Holy Spirit to enter into me.
You are special. I am special. Because of the sin of pride, constant temptations of material goods, and the busyness of daily life we forget the merciful love of God. I will conclude with the Act of Contrition to remind us of God’s mercy and forgiving nature:
O my God, I am sorry for my sins because I have offended you. I know I should love you above all things. Help me to do penance, to do better, and to avoid anything that might lead me to sin. Amen.
The film Geostorm debuted in movie theaters across the world in mid-October. Earlier in the month, a trailer for this movie was on and it piqued my interest– which is rare because normally I find weather-related films to be boring! This movie is different. Relying on a unique story-line, Geostorm is about a future with the possibility of a global network of satellites used to control climate to benefit humanity– the catch is that someone hijacks this good technology and apocalyptic storms ensue.
Along with my interest in the possibility of humanity controlling weather, October is a month culturally dedicated on Halloween. Originating from the Catholic tradition of celebrating the Vigil of All Saints Day, the word Halloween originally referred to All Hallows [holy] Eve. In other words, it is a celebration of the officially canonized holy men and women by the Catholic Church who had such a profound and transformative relationship with God that they are believed to be united to Him in Heaven. Unfortunately, sometimes Halloween gets associated with witches, ghosts, goblins, magic, fortune telling, and other sorts of divination. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church,
All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to “unveil” the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone (CCC 2116).
What exactly does ‘falsely supposed to unveil the future’ mean? A few years ago, a co-worker and I were talking about the weather [go figure]. I do not quite remember how partly cloud with a chance of rain led to the practices of the occult, but my co-worker asked me “You’re Catholic, right? I heard Catholics do not like tarot reading, horoscopes, and things of that natures.” I went on to paraphrase the general message of the Catechism’s teaching– that it is bad to delve into dealings that try to control the future. “Well, what about weather forecasting?” my co-workers asked inquisitively. I did not have a good answer for him. After much reflection on this topic, I will share a few reasons why seeking knowledge from the occult is evil, whereas watching the weather channel to plan your weekend is not.
1. Old Testament Precedence: The evils of summoning knowledge through the occult is cataloged in the Old Testament. 1 Samuel 28 tells of King Saul’s going to the Witch of Endor to seek knowledge as “He [previously] consulted the LORD; but the LORD gave no answer, whether in dreams or by the Urim or through the prophets” (v.6). Although this chapter sounds like it came from Middle-Earth [Endor reminds of a Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings Universe!!], the first king of Israel went down a path seeking information via the wrong way. Listen to this brief exchange between Saul and the conjured spirit of the prophet Samuel:
Samuel then said to Saul, “Why do you disturb me by conjuring me up?” Saul replied: “I am in great distress, for the Philistines are waging war against me and God has turned away from me. Since God no longer answers me through prophets or in dreams, I have called upon you to tell me what I should do.”e6To this Samuel said: “But why do you ask me, if the LORD has abandoned you for your neighbor?f17The LORD has done to you what he declared through me: he has torn the kingdom from your hand and has given it to your neighbor David.18“Because you disobeyed the LORD’s directive and would not carry out his fierce anger against Amalek, the LORD has done this to you today.g19Moreover, the LORD will deliver Israel, and you as well, into the hands of the Philistines. By tomorrow you and your sons will be with me, and the LORD will have delivered the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines. (1 Samuel 28:15-19).
2. Individual gain: Saul’s consultation of Samuel the prophet was not inherently evil. In fact, God encouraged Jewish leaders to listen to His messengers. The problem lay in the fact that Saul sough out Samuel through an improper channel and for ulterior motives–to gain power to defeat his enemies. If I ever encountered that person from the break room, I would let them know that weather forecasting is definitely not evil because meteorologists predict the weather to benefit society not the individual. Furthermore, divination–tarot reading, ouija boards, etc– occurs when individuals seek specific knowledge to benefit themselves in a selfish manner. What is more, the word occult comes from the Latin occultus which means “knowledge of the hidden or secret”. Such knowledge is in direct opposition to the knowledge of God taught by the Catholic [Universal] Church!
3. Predicting the Future: A third and final point regarding the deep gulf between weather forecasting and practice of the occult is found in the nature of how one predicts through those means. Meteorology is established and justified via the scientific process. It is verifiable through series of tests and past data. Conversely, all forms of divination rely on the paranormal–man becomes a passive receipt of “secret knowledge” as opposed to learning about knowledge the proper way by faith and reason.
St. John Paul II in his encyclical letter Fides Et Ratio tells us, “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth…Philosophy and the sciences function within the order of natural reason; while faith, enlightened and guided by the Spirit, recognizes in the message of salvation the “fullness of grace and truth” (cf. Jn 1:14) which God has willed to reveal in history and definitively through his Son, Jesus Christ.” Truth is to be for the benefit of all humanity. Because God is our Creator and I am a creature, I am not meant to acquire control of the future of my life–especially through methods of the occult. This would be selfish of me and quite prideful. “Well, what about weather forecasting? Is that wrong too?” I definitively say no. Weather forecasting benefits the whole of mankind and is backed by science. May we ask for the graces and courage to resist and temptation to falsely control our future!
Please feel free to check out my book review of Christ’s Descent into Hell: John Paul II, Joseph Ratzinger, and Hans Urs von Balthasar on the Theology of Holy Saturday for Homiletic and Pastoral Review through link below. This book is probably the best book on Holy Saturday theology I have ever read!
I love random facts! I find they are great conversation starters and help me to trigger and bridge past and seemingly unconnected memories together. Speaking of the subject of bridges, I recently learned that the world’s longest bridge is over 102 miles! Carrying trains this incredible engineering feat connects the cities of Nanjing and Shanghai.
Aside from being massive architectural projects and accomplishments, the daily function of a bridge is a little more mundane—it serves as a connection between two points that otherwise could not meet or communicate. In a similar way today I am going to share my thoughts on how I myself and all Catholics, and Christians in general, are called to act a bridge between God and humanity. Examining Scripture, Tradition, and evidence from a strictly logical standpoint, I put forth three reasons why all Christians need to be bridge-builders
1. For the Bible tells Me So: You do not have to look far in the New Testament before you discover examples of Jesus promoting unity and building relationships with traditional 1st century outsider groups. In John 4, Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman at the ancient water-cooler, the well of Jacob. Here is reaches out to a Samaritan who Jews ostracized during ancient times. Despite this Jesus provides her an offer of everlasting water. She readily exclaims, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water” (John 4:15).
The Gospel of St. Luke abounds with examples of Jesus ministering to outcasts and “building bridges” to all of humanity. I will list just a few: shepherds being invited to witness the birth of Christ (Luke 2:15-20), call of Levi the tax collector (Luke 5:27-32), forgiving the sinful woman (Luke 7:36-50, and sending out of the seventy-two disciples to minister to others (Luke 10: 1-10).
Finally, I want to share the instance in the Acts of the Apostles where possible discord over whether followers of Christ needed to be circumcised in the custom of Judaism. In Acts 15 the Council of Jerusalem took place and God provided unity in this affair by bestowing authority to Peter through the power of the Holy Spirit. According to the author of Acts the following happened:
After much debate had taken place, Peter got up and said to them, “My brothers, you are well aware that from early days God made his choice among you that through my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe.c 8And God, who knows the heart, bore witness by granting them the holy Spirit just as he did us.d 9He made no distinction between us and them, for by faith he purified their hearts.e 10Why, then, are you now putting God to the test by placing on the shoulders of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear?f 11On the contrary, we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus,g in the same way as they.”* 12The whole assembly fell silent, and they listened while Paul and Barnabas described the signs and wonders God had worked among the Gentiles through them. (Acts 15:7-12).
In the midst of such authority silent reflection and pondering took place and unity flourished.
2. Follow Francis: Continuing on the theme of unity promoted by papal authority, Pope Francis on the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall told Christians to, “Build bridges of understanding and dialogue.” In the pope is a visible sign of the unity of the Catholic Church. We as Catholic look to the pope with honor and as a leader of the faith not because he tells us but because Jesus gave us the gift of the papacy.
Like Francis, the late Pope John Paul II promoted ecumenism [fancy word for promoting unity J) The Polish pontiff tells us in his encyclical letter Ut Unum Sint [On Commitment to Ecumenism],
Together with all Christ’s disciples, the Catholic Church bases upon God’s plan her ecumenical commitment to gather all Christians
into unity. Indeed, “the Church is not a reality closed in on herself. Rather, she is permanently open to missionary and ecumenical endeavor, for she is sent to the world to announce and witness, to make present and spread the mystery of communion which is essential to her, and to gather all people and all things into Christ, so as to be for all an ‘inseparable sacrament of unity’…The unity of all divided humanity is the will of God (nos. 5-6).
3. Brains, brains, brains: I was binge watching an episode of The Walk Dead [YES I DID JUST TRANSITION FROM THE POPE TO ZOMBIES!!] a couple summers ago and took an important lesson from the show. In dire situations humans will work together to survive despite coming from various backgrounds. Police officers, farmers, and pizza delivery boys were able to unite for a common objective [namely to avoid being turned into a zombie] and I came away from the show thinking: should all people, in particular Christians unite? From a strictly logical standpoint people tend to be happier when working together as a team. This is true for me. At work I am more fulfilled when I work to serve the rest of my co-workers and assist throughout the day as opposed to having a self-serving mentality. Moreover, the old adage “two heads are better than one” is true when it comes to uniting and forging improved relationships.
Please do not interpret my urging for all Christians to be bridge-makers as a full on endorsement of compromising your Christians values completely. There are some non-negotiables I hold as a Catholic-Christian. I will not sell out my faith and I believe in the value of life at all stages. That being said, when it comes to me interacting people with completely different world outlooks
from myself I need to exercise patience, clarity in my thoughts, and charity in my dialogue to help others see the value in my positions. I also need to be humble enough to see things from others’ perspectives as well. Bridge-building is not an easy process—it is long and toilsome. With the gift of understanding and patience from the Holy Spirit such dialogue is possible!
This Saturday marks the 100th anniversary of the Marian Apparitions at Fatima, Portugal . Along with this upcoming feast day, I am participating in a 33 day Marian consecration which culminates on the Feast of Fatima as well. That being said, I think it is appropriate to dispel common misunderstandings non-Catholics may have about the Blessed Mother of Jesus. According to 1 Timothy 2:5, “For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself.” It seems clear-cut that any reaching out to Mary for help and mediation is to be frowned upon to prevent falling into heresy!
What I am going to outline today are a few explanations from both Scripture and Tradition to describe the Catholic approach to Mary and how we are called to HONOR, but NOT WORSHIP Mary! First we will look at biblical evidence and then I will briefly go over the Second Vatican II document on the Church [Lumen Gentium] and analyze some thoughts about Mary from the St. Pope John Paul II.
- Biblical background on Mary’s Mediation: Before I mention the key passage about Mary’s intercessory action I want to highlight her vow of total obedience to God first. In Luke the angel greeted Mary with these words, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28). The original Greek is Chaire, Kecharitomene which translated to “Hail, full of grace”. Catholics interprets the phrase full of grace to refer to Mary being conceived without sin. Having this preliminary understanding of Mary, let us look at a strong example regarding her mediation to help humankind. The wedding at Cana in the beginning of John’s gospel is Jesus’ first public miracle. Here Mary displays her role as a mediator and advocate when she urges Jesus to perform the miracle of changing the water into wine. According to the fourth gospel. “When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine” (John 2:3). Catholics honor towards Mary is not because she is a god but because of her close connection to God! John 2:5 is evidence that Mary’s end purpose is obedience and submission to God when she expresses to the wedding servers, “Do whatever he [Jesus] tells you.”
- Testimony of Tradition: Along with the evidence from the New Testament, we will look briefly at what the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium and Pope John Paul II tells us about Mary as a mediator. According to Lumen Gentium 60,
There is but one Mediator as we know from the words of the apostle, “for there is one God and one mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a redemption for all”.(298) The maternal duty of Mary toward men in no way obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows His power. For all the salvific influence of the Blessed Virgin on men originates, not from some inner necessity, but from the divine pleasure. It flows forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rests on His mediation, depends entirely on it and draws all its power from it. In no way does it impede, but rather does it foster the immediate union of the faithful with Christ.
It is also appropriate to mention that it is not a coincidence that the content of the final chapter of this council document being relating to Mary. The last major section of the chapter mentions Mary as the sign of created hope and solace to the wandering people of God. Mary is not the end but she is a signpost for Christians to rely on throughout our pilgrim journey towards Heaven! (Lumen Gentium 68).
Finally, I want us to examine St. John Paul II’s Marian devotion. The polish pope focuses on the maternal mediation of Mary in his encyclical, Redemptoris Mater. To start off, John Paul II acknowledges the same point I made at the beginning of today’s post—that there is only one mediator Jesus. In union with Tradition the pope states, “The teaching of the Second Vatican Council presents the truth of Mary’s mediation as “a sharing in the one unique source that is the mediation of Christ himself (Redemptoris Mater 38). Mary is the first and greatest apostle of God and God entrusted Himself to her before anyone else (Redemptoris Mater 39). John Paul II also says, “After her Son’s departure, her motherhood remains in the Church as maternal mediation: interceding for all her children, the Mother cooperates in the saving work of her Son, the Redeemer of the world (Redemptoris Mater 40). The key word in this quote is cooperates. Mary is not equal to God, but she does COOPERATE with God and in the mediation of Jesus Christ!