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Habemus Papam! Viva il Papa!

Pope Francis

THE QUESTION OF THE DAY: JUST WHO IS THIS POPE FRANCIS?

Everyone’s talking now! Who is this new pope? What’s he gonna be like? I think that, if we pay close attention, we already have a pretty good idea of this pope’s character and of the direction in which he will be taking the Church. Let’s examine the evidence.

FIRST CLUE: HIS NAME

Admittedly, there are quite a few saints with the first name Francis, but the one we all automatically think of is St. Francis of Assisi. (If you’re trying to put a name with a face here, think garden statue with a bird.) “Francis, rebuild My Church!” Those were the words of Christ to this beloved saint. St. Francis was of noble birth, but he turned away from his wealth in favor of a humble life of service to God and to the Church. Personally, when I think of St. Francis, I think of peace, love, calm assurance, and complete trust in God, all of which are embodied in the well-known prayer attributed to him.

“The Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi”

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

SECOND CLUE: HIS FIRST WORDS AS POPE

After his election, Pope Francis came out onto the balcony of St. Peter’s basilica to give his first papal blessing. Before this blessing, Pope Francis asked all of the people to take a moment to pray for HIM. That, to me, speaks volumes. Not only is that a great act of humility, but I think it also shows that Pope Francis wants to be in touch with the people and that he wants to bring the faithful together as a united Body. Below is the full text of his remarks and the footage of his address.

Address of His Holiness, Pope Francis I, on the Occasion of His Election

“Brothers and sisters, good evening. You know that the task of the conclave was to give Rome a bishop. It seems my brother cardinals went almost to the ends of the earth to find one.

I thank you for your welcome.

The diocesan community of Rome has its bishop. Thank you.

First of all, I would like to offer a prayer for our bishop emeritus, Benedict XVI. Let us all pray together for him that the Lord bless him and that the Mother of God protect him. ‘Our Father who art in heaven. … Hail Mary, full of grace. … Glory be to the Father … .’

Now let’s begin this journey, bishop and people, this journey of the church of Rome, which is the one that presides in charity over all the churches — a journey of brotherhood, love and trust among us. Let us pray for one another. Let us pray for the whole world that there be a great brotherhood. I hope this journey of the church that we begin today — and I will be helped by my cardinal vicar, here present — will be fruitful for the evangelization of this so beautiful city.

Now I would like to give my blessing. But first, I will ask a favor. Before the bishop blesses his people, he asks that you pray to the Lord to bless me, the prayer of the people for the blessing of their bishop. Let’s pray for me in silence.”

(He gave his blessing “urbi et orbi” [to the city and the world]).

“Brothers and sisters, I’ll leave you. Thank you so much for the welcome. Pray for me. We’ll see each other soon. Tomorrow I want to go to pray to Mary so she would watch over all of Rome. Good night. Have a good rest.”

THIRD CLUE: HIS IMMEDIATE ACTION

After his remarks to the crowds gathered in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis called Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, to inform him that he plans to visit the former Pontiff in the coming days. Talk about coming out full steam!

SO, WHAT DOES ALL OF THIS SAY ABOUT THE NEW POPE?

These three things that we have seen today, in addition to his humility and loving service as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, say that Pope Francis will be working to keep the Church in touch with the Truth of the Catholic Faith while also seeking to reach out to the multitudes who are most in need of our service and the Gospel. He brings with him to the See of Peter a profound amount of humility, faith, and love. I, personally, cannot wait to see where he takes us next.

May God bless His Holiness, Francis I, Bishop of Rome! May he govern the Church for many years to come! May the Father watch over him, the Son protect him, and the Spirit guide him!


Did Jesus Have Brothers and Sisters?

 

“While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers appeared outside, wishing to speak with him.” -Matthew 12:46-50

                                                               “His mother and his brothers arrived. Standing outside they sent word to him and called him. A crowd seated around him told him, ‘Your mother and your brothers [and your sisters] are outside asking for you.’” -Mark 3:31-35

“Then his mother and his brothers came to him but were unable to join him because of the crowd.” -Luke 8:19-21

“So his brothers said to him, ‘Leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. No one works in secret if he wants to be known publicly. If you do these things, manifest yourself to the world.’ For his brothers did not believe in him.” -John 7:3-10

Who are these “brothers” of Jesus of whom the Gospel accounts speak? As Catholics, we believe in the perpetual virginity of Mary. How do we reconcile these verses with that ancient belief?

I know this will sound crazy, but here’s the answer: look to the Greek for clarification.

The word in Greek (the language in which all of the Gospel accounts were originally written) used in each of those verses quoted above to mean “brother” is “ἀδελφοὶ“. This word can be translated as “brothers” (either of the same parents or only of the same mother or father), “countrymen”, and several other words. It can also mean relatives. The traditional interpretation of these verses, then, is that these people were relatives of Jesus who were referred to as His brothers because they were members of the same generation. Another interpretation is that these were the children of Joseph from a previous marriage but were not Mary’s children. This latter interpretation, however, is not the typical way in which these verses are explained and there is little evidence to support this theory.

 

Frustrated?

 

I don’t know about you guys, but I often become frustrated with myself about a lot of things. School work, grades, social stuff…and sin. You guys ever caught yourselves doing something you absolutely hate? I find myself constantly thinking “What I do I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate.” (Romans 7:15). Story of my life! It can sometimes be overwhelming to realize just how far I stray from where I ought to be in spite of my sincere desire to follow Christ faithfully. It’s easy to become discouraged at the thought of my own weakness. And sometimes I think it would just be easier to stop trying.

But you know what? It wouldn’t.

Everyone has those days, so if you’re reading this and feeling that way…it’ll pass. Don’t focus so much on your own weakness! It’s true that we’re weak. It’s true that we fall into sin easily and frequently. But it is also true that we don’t have to (and, in truth, cannot) rely on our own strength. We have a King who has already paid the price of our sins and Who is always ready to help us on our way to Him. So don’t count on your own strength and ability! You will always fail along the way if you rely on yourself. Instead, trust Jesus to lead you. Lean on Him always and cry out to Him when you are ready to give up on everything.

Reader Request Topic

And the question is:

“What is the big deal with the Pope being called ‘Father’ and the ‘Leader of the Church?’ God is our Father and shouldn’t Jesus be called the leader?”

This is a very interesting question…and also one that I think would have to be handled very carefully so as to be sure to clarify what Catholics mean by these titles. The reader who posted this question was asked to answer this by another person and responded by saying that the pope, along with all bishops and priests, is a  spiritual father in the Catholic Church and holds special authority. I thoroughly agree with that answer, so what I will do here is elaborate.

The name “father” is a relational name which is applied to the Pope and to all priests because of the role they play in the lives of Catholics. They are our spiritual fathers because they help us along in our journey as Christians, much in the same way as St. Paul referred to himself as the “father” of those to whom he had preached the Gospel message (1 Corinthians 4:14-15, Philemon 1:10-11). This relationship to the priest, however, could never replace the relationship which we must have with God, our Father. It is He who gives us these spiritual fathers to guide us on our way to Him, and it is in His ministry and that of His Son that the priest acts.

As to the leadership of the Church, we know from the Gospels that Christ did indeed appoint an earthly head for His Church—St. Peter (Matthew 16:18-19). However, we must also note that St. Peter (as well as his successors, including the Pope today) would have had no authority had it not been for Christ. The Pope, therefore, is also called the “Vicar of Christ”, or the one who holds the place of Christ on earth. This means that the Pope acts as the leader of the Church on earth, a position which is only possible because Christ allows it. The authority of the papacy is further grounded in Christ’s own authority as God to pass this power to St. Peter and to his successors. The Pope is is no way above Christ, as Christ is the Head of the Church and the Pope is His servant, His vicar on earth.

So, in short, can the Pope rightly be called “Father” and “Leader”? Yes, because he acts in the ministry of God as a spiritual father and holds the authority given by Christ to St. Peter.

Which Gospel is Your Favorite?

People ask me this all the time, and my answer is always the same: I like all four of them. It’s really a trick question. We’ve so blended the Gospel accounts that we’ve forgotten the differences between them. If I asked you this question and you answered by saying that St. Mark’s account was your favorite, I’d ask you whether or not you liked celebrating Christmas. If yes, then why St. Mark’s account? He doesn’t have the nativity story.

There goes Christmas.

If you say you like St. Matthew’s account, I’d ask you if you liked The Annunciation by Fra Angelico.

Yes? Then why St. Matthew’s account? His annunciation is to St. Joseph, not Mary. In fact…do you like the Rosary? Then why Matthew’s account? We wouldn’t know much about Mary at all or her important role without St. Luke!

St. Luke’s account, you say? Do you like saying the “Our Father”? There went that! Only St. Matthew records the prayer with the word “our” in front of “Father”. Were you baptized in the name of the Trinity? Only St. Matthew’s account instructs us to do that.

Ah, St. John? Do you like the story of the Good Samaritan? Or how about the singing angels at the birth of Jesus? Or the story of the penitent thief? All of that is unique to St. Luke’s Gospel account and is nowhere to be found in St. John’s account.

So, you see? We could never have just one Gospel account or even pick just one as a favorite. There are elements from all four of the accounts that we have grown up with and have come to love and treasure. What would we do if there were suddenly no angels at Christmas or even no Christmas at all? We must respect the differences between the four Gospels and learn to hold each one in esteem for its own unique features and contributions.

A Response

You know how you see or hear things sometimes and you just have to say something about it? Yeah…this is one of those times. This morning, as I was searching Google Images for pictures to use for one of the posts, I came across this image:

Well, this image among many others just like it, but I thought this one was the most direct. And, as has always been my problem, I have a comment. So here’s my two cents.

I think a lot of people get this impression from Christianity. “God loves you…as long as you love Him” or “God loves you…as long as you worship Him” or “God loves you…as long as you do everything He says”. But all of those are wrong. Because when Christians say that God’s love is unconditional, we mean that God’s love is 100% without conditions. You don’t have to love, worship, or obey God for Him to love you because, no matter what you do or where you go, God will always love you regardlessof anything and everything.

If God loves only based on our response, then He is foolish and that would mean He isn’t God. Why is that foolish? Let’s face it: we fall short of God’s Law all the time. If His love for us was determined by our ability to live perfectly, He wouldn’t love any of us. If His love for us came with the condition of having to worship Him, then what about those who have never heard of Him? Did He not also create them, are they not also valuable?

God doesn’t love us because we follow Him perfectly, because we worship Him, or even because we love Him. He loves us because He is infinitely good. He loves us because He created us out of love and continues to love His creation regardless of our sins. Now, that being said, does God desire that we should love Him? Yes, of course He does! But let me ask you this: If your child told you he hated you and refused to have anything to do with you, would you not still love that child and want him to turn back to you? Of course you would. So even when we sin against God, even when we refuse to love and worship Him, His love still goes on. He still loves us even though we refuse to know, love, and serve Him.

Now, of course, in any discussion about God’s love for us, the question of Hell comes up. So here’s a very abbreviated response. Why does a God who loves each person unconditionally even allow the existence of Hell? I’ll answer that question with another question: If your child plays baseball in the house, even though you have repeatedly told him not to, and breaks a window, what do you do? Even if the child apologizes, do you not still punish the child for disobeying you? Is it contrary to your love for your child if you punish him? No. The child chose to disobey you and there are consequences for that.

Let’s apply that scenario to God. We have the ability to make our own choices (which we all know). We can choose good, and we can choose evil. This free will is a gift from God. Without it, we would be little more than robots mechanically following God’s orders, and that’s not what He wants from us. He wants us to choose to love and serve Him because He knows that forced love is no love at all and that forced service is not service–it’s slavery.

We have the ability to choose and God respects those choices. If we refuse to love and follow Him in life, why should we want to be with Him eternally? Essentially, it is not God who sends anyone to Hell because, by our choices, we decide. (Note: The question of Hell has a lot more to it, but for the sake of time, I’m summarizing. I think I’ll address this more fully later on in another post.)

And that’s my two cents’ worth.

Homily Reflection: Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

I meant to post this on Sunday and…well, I didn’t get around to it. So, before I share my reflection on the homily that was offered by one of our deacons this weekend, I should probably refresh your memory. Here are the readings that I’ll be referencing (first reading and Gospel reading):

First Reading

Elijah went a day’s journey into the desert,
until he came to a broom tree and sat beneath it.
He prayed for death saying:
“This is enough, O LORD!
Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”
He lay down and fell asleep under the broom tree,
but then an angel touched him and ordered him to get up and eat.
Elijah looked and there at his head was a hearth cake
and a jug of water.
After he ate and drank, he lay down again,
but the angel of the LORD came back a second time,
touched him, and ordered,
“Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!”
He got up, ate, and drank;
then strengthened by that food,
he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb.

Gospel Reading

The Jews murmured about Jesus because he said,
“I am the bread that came down from heaven,”
and they said,
“Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph?
Do we not know his father and mother?
Then how can he say,
‘I have come down from heaven?'”
Jesus answered and said to them,
“Stop murmuring among yourselves.
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him,
and I will raise him on the last day.
It is written in the prophets:
They shall all be taught by God.
Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me.
Not that anyone has seen the Father
except the one who is from God;
he has seen the Father.
Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever believes has eternal life.
I am the bread of life.
Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died;
this is the bread that comes down from heaven
so that one may eat it and not die.
I am the living bread that came down from heaven;
whoever eats this bread will live forever;
and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

With those two readings in mind, here’s what Dc. Mike had to say. We often think of the God of the Old Testament as this evil, vengeful Being who punishes even the slightest offense. And yet, in the first reading, we see that this isn’t true because we see God’s love and mercy. God had always been with Elijah and had protected him through every trial and danger, but even so Elijah was afraid when Jezebel threatened his life, and so he fled the city.

Now, after everything God did for Elijah, we might understand if He was a little frustrated with the prophet, right? But if you’ll notice from the reading, God doesn’t chastise Elijah. Instead, He sends an angel to offer him food and drink for the long journey ahead of him. This reading alone offers so much material for reflection. As Dc. Mike said to us on Sunday, we’ve all been one or more of the parts of the story. Sometimes, we’re Elijah, afraid and not sure what to do in spite of all God has done for us in the past. Sometimes, we’re the angel offering help to others for the journeys ahead of them. And sometimes, we’re the food that others need to be able to go on.

Moving into the Gospel reading, we see the same thing. Rather than becoming frustrated with the people in the crowd who refuse to accept His teaching, Jesus persists in teaching them. He doesn’t become angry with the people for questioning Him, but He uses that as an opportunity to develop and explain His teaching. From these two readings, then, we learn of God’s love for us and His unending patience with us.

Caution! You are now entering an opinion zone!

We’re always told never to doubt God’s love for us because His love is unconditional. It doesn’t matter what we do, He will always love us and forgive us.

Needless to say, that’s sometimes easier said than done. There are times when we doubt God’s love because we can’t forgive or love ourselves because of something we’ve done. How soon and how easily we forget that we have proof of God’s love for us.

If we ever doubt our worth, if we ever doubt God’s love for us, we can always look at a crucifix. The Father loves us so much that He sent His Son to die for us. The Son loves us so much that He bore the torture and humiliation of the Cross for us. We are not worthless because we have each been ransomed with the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ. If we know this and hold this to be true, how can we ever doubt how much God loves us? And, more importantly…how can we not love Him in return?

Why Suffer?

This is a question we ask ourselves a lot nowadays, isn’t it? After all, with modern medicine and technology, suffering is almost unnecessary (for lack of a better word). Why be uncomfortable? Why deny yourself anything?

Now, before I really get into this, let me clarify something. I’m not knocking modern medicine here. I’m not saying that advancements in the way we care for our health are not important and I’m not saying that they aren’t blessings for us. That is way beyond my point.

Here’s my point: With all of these comforts available to us, we’ve lost sight of the value of suffering. (And yes, suffering does indeed have a value.) We no longer approach suffering from the Christian perspective, as redemptive, we approach it from the world’s perspective, as an inconvenience, an obstacle to happiness. Do we avoid suffering like the plague?
When pain comes our way, do we offer that up to God for the Church or other souls, or do we immediately seek a way to end our suffering?

But why does suffering have value in the eyes of a Christian? Because Our Lord suffered for us…because we are the value of suffering. The value of suffering can be the immortal souls of others. It is because Jesus suffered for us that we can be called the children of God. So how can we, as Christians, do anything other than embrace the crosses of suffering that will surely come during our lives?

So…why suffer? Because we know, through Jesus’ example, that suffering has value. We know that suffering doesn’t separate us from God; rather, it draws us closer to Him and makes us more like Jesus.

If God gives you an abundant harvest of trials, it is a sign of great holiness which He desires you to attain. Do you want to become a great saint? Ask God to send you many sufferings. The flame of Divine Love never rises higher than when fed with the wood of the Cross, which the infinite charity of the Savior used to finish His sacrifice. All the pleasures of the world are nothing compared with the sweetness found in the gall and vinegar offered to Jesus Christ. That is, hard and painful things endured for Jesus Christ and with Jesus Christ.
-Saint Ignatius of Loyola

Why Four Gospels?

Okay, so I promised you guys a series on the Four Gospels, which I’m moving to this blog from my old blog. Before we jump into it, though, there are a few things we need to clear up. For example, this question: Why are there four Gospels and not some other number? Why not five, two, or even just one? In order to answer that question, we’ll have to turn to the early Church.

Many people have the misconception that the Church has always had the Four Gospels we know today–not true. In the early Church, the community faced the problem of having multiple Gospels, some of which contradicted each other. How should we decide which ones to keep? This is a two-fold question.

The first thing you must understand is how Scripture is linked with Tradition. The early Church had no written records of the life and death of Jesus Christ. What they did have, however, was oral tradition–the stories that were passed down to them that ultimately came from the Apostles, the men with whom Jesus traveled. So, when different written accounts or even different stories began to circulate, how did the faithful measure their truth? They compared it with the Tradition they already knew. If the gospel that came to them or the story someone told them was against what they themselves had already been taught, they rejected it.

Still the problem remains: we have these Four Gospels (the ones that the faithful have not widely rejected as being contrary to Tradition), which do we use for instruction?

That question was approached many different ways, most notably by three different men: Marcion, Tatian, and Irenaeus.

Marcion’s Idea

Marcion was a businessman from modern-day Turkey. As such, he was very objective and what many would call reasonable. Around the year 150, he proposed that the Church have one Gospel–just pick one. Marcion himself advocated the Gospel of Luke and felt that it was the best choice for the Church. This idea, however, was widely rejected because different Christian communities had grown up around different Gospels and didn’t like the idea of having to toss out their tradition. The Church felt that the people had to accept something in order for it to become doctrine, so Marcion’s idea was (politely, I’m sure) rejected.

Tatian’s Unity

And along comes Tatian. In the year 160, he proposed that the Church simply combine the Four Gospels into one Gospel to be used for the instruction of the faithful. This concept, called “Gospel harmony”, sought to combine the Gospels by picking and choosing the best parts from each. The idea, believe it or not, was actually highly popular among the faithful. It was, however, as you may have guessed, ultimately rejected. The concept would not do because the people and Church authority felt that it was necessary to maintain the different viewpoints found in the Gospels. So, bang goes Tatian’s theory. Who’s left standing?

Bishop Irenaeus of Lyons (Thank Goodness)

Here we have it! This is the man we have to thank for the Four Gospels rather than just one or some combination. Around the year 180, Irenaeus spoke up and said that the Church should keep each of the Four Gospels separately and preserve their fullness–they tell the same story in different ways. Why did we listen to Irenaeus? Well, first off, his theory seemed to be the most popular of all of them. Secondly, however, he was a bishop. As such, he listened to the faithful and heard them calling out for all Four Gospels, not just one and not a combination. Irenaeus felt that this desire should be brought to the attention of everyone in the Church. Thanks to him, the Church saw the need to keep all four accounts. This decision has held firm for roughly 2,000 years and (in my not so humble opinion) has worked out quite well.

So, that’s the story everybody. That’s how the Four Gospels we have were chosen, why there isn’t some other number, and why the other early Gospels were rejected.

But, you might still want to know what was in those other Gospels. Am I right? Well, if you’re thoroughly curious, you can read Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make it Into the New Testament by Bart D. Ehrman. This book offers a few of the texts that were not put into the canon of the New Testament and has one section dedicated to the Gospels that were rejected by the early Church. So, have a look if you’re curious.

A Quote for Catholic Teens

“Dear young people, do not settle for anything less than Truth and Love, do not be content with anything less than Christ.” -Pope Benedict XVI

I ran across this quote the other day on Facebook and absolutely LOVED it. It’s wonderful that our Holy Father reminds us of this…because it has become all too easy to replace Christ with things of this world. As Catholic teens trying to truly live the Faith, we must never lose sight of Jesus in our lives and we must keep Him always at the center of everything we do. It is God who created us and it is for Him that we live, not for this world.

Thanks for the reminder, your Holiness!

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