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Archive for the ‘Sacraments’ Category

My family could really use a “Lazarus, come out” type of moment. Right now, my father-in-law – a vibrant, active, healthy, 77 year old man – lay in critical care after suffering a brain injury yesterday…..while playing tennis. Yes, that’s right, he was playing tennis. I would never have believed it’s possible to fall so hard on a tennis court that you crack your skull but now I know it has happened at least once. I also never new (before this, that is) that increased intercranial pressure is sometimes treated by removing part of the patient’s skull for a time.

Friday night, I had the privilege of being present when our priest administered Last Rites (also know as Extreme Unction or Anointing of the Sick) to my father-in-law. Thank you, Lord, that a practice I, a few years ago, would have dismissed as empty religiosity was a beautiful witness of the love, faithfulness, and mercy of God to the nurse working in the room while we prayed.

“This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it.” Jn. 11:4

We have no idea what the outcome of the tragic situation will be but we are confidant that God is being and will continue to be gloried in it. Still, it’s hard enough to walk through something so tough, but I’ve also got to help our children walk through it. Would you please pray for us about that? And if your willing, leave a prayer in the comment box. That would really encourage my children. Thank you.

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Headed South

Later this week we will travel south to Florida for our family vacation. Every summer, we head to Ft. Lauderdale for a week, give or take a few days. One year ago, it was on those same sandy beaches I was walking as I was coming to grips with the realization that the Catholic Church might be a very real and unavoidable option for me. The fact that I spent much of the week glued to EWTN after the kids were in bed- we don’t get cable at home – should have been my first clue!

This will be our first trip as a Catholic Christian family and, hence, our first real “taste” of the universality of the Catholic Church. I’ll confess, in the past, that even though we vacation in the same spot every summer, we never went to the effort of finding a church there. Maybe it’s because it’s not so easy to find an Anglican Church or maybe we weren’t sure we would be comfortable with the worship style of the many protestant churches nearby. This time I am excited to go to Mass on vacation. We may still be uncomfortable with the worship style but that’s not what we’re after. We will be seeking the sacraments. It amazes me that anywhere along our trek from our state to Florida, we can stop at any number of Catholic Churches and be at home. This year, that is one of the most exciting aspects of our vacation for me because the universality of Catholicism is partly what drew us to it.

I don’t know how much I’ll post while away, if at all. During the day, we will obviously be on the beach and in the evening, it will just depend on what’s showing on EWTN! 🙂

For the traveling Catholics out there, this website gives Mass times for cities nationwide. I’m secretly hoping I can figure out a way to get here, to Fr. Longenecker’s parish for Mass.

Bon Voyage!

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Let’s say your daughter, hours and hours after attending morning Mass, happens to mention that some of the wine may have splashed onto her dress when she received the Eucharist this that morning. The chalice used for Daily Mass is a good bit heavier than the one used on Sundays. (I guess they figure the Daily Mass goers have built up the upper body strength to handle the heavier vessel!) Dd, not yet being used to the heavier weight of the weekday chalice, may have tipped it a bit too far. In fact, she’s pretty sure the wine, otherwise know to Catholics as “The Precious Blood”, did indeed splash onto her dress because she recalls sniffing her dress immediately after Mass and it having the distinct scent of…..wine!!! So when she told me this, I was overcome with horror. Think about it. If you say you believe the Eucharist really is the true body, blood, soul and divinity of the Lord, then a spill, or even a little splash onto one’s garment, might result in a scene reminiscent of the movie Monsters, Inc. when George undergoes CDA (Child Detection Agency) decontamination because he unknowingly re-enters Monstropolis with a child’s sock clinging to his backside. I guess the Church’s version of a modern day HazMat (hazardous materials) decontamination would be a SalvMat (salvific materials) decontamination?!? 🙂

All kidding aside, there are very specific ways to deal with accidents such as this. I’m just not yet sure what those ways are. I have a call in to Fr. D and am anxiously awaiting his reply.

So, anyone care to make a guess as to how he will advise us to deal with the “blood-stained” dress?!?

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Although I never would have pegged myself a crunchy type of gal, I, along with some of my IRL friends, have taken what some might call extreme measures to improve the dietary health of our families. Having become convinced of the nutritional value of the whole kernel of wheat (not just what’s left once it’s refined into white flour) we grind it ourselves to make our own bread. We search out organic produce (when it doesn’t break the bank), grass fed beef and chicken (again when it doesn’t break the bank) and the freshest eggs. (No, I don’t wear Birckenstocks. 😉 ) We want to give our families the best. We want to be good stewards of these bodies we’ve been given. We have become convinced that eating real food can add life and energy to our physical bodies.

What does this have to do with the Sacraments?

Catholics believe “the seven sacraments are the signs and instruments by which the Holy Spirit spreads the grace of Christ the head throughout the Church which is his Body.” (CCC 774) As James Cardinal Gibbins described, a sacrament is:

“a visible sign, instituted by Christ by which grace is conveyed to our souls.”

They are not merely symbols or remembrances. They are food for our souls by which we receive the life of God Himself. The sacraments “give birth and increase, healing and mission to the Christian’s life of faith.” (CCC 1210) For something to be a Sacrament, three requirements must be met: It must have a visible, outward sign. It must communicate grace. Lastly, it must be instituted by Jesus.

It’s important to understand that the Sacraments are not “magic.” They do not offer a free ticket into heaven. Alan Schreck, in his book Catholic and Christian has this to say:

“The sacraments are not ‘magic.’ The power and life they convey come from God through Jesus Christ. Separated from the cross of Jesus Christ and from his grace, the sacraments would be only dry, barren ditches – empty, meaningless rituals. But because they are inseparably linked to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the sacraments are full of God’s abundant life which his Church receives through faith…….We must participate in the sacraments not merely externally, but with real faith and expectancy that God himself is present there and wishes to act in our lives through them.” pg. 127-128

What are these Sacraments that are so vital?

The Catholic Church formally recognizes seven of them:

  • Baptism
  • Confirmation
  • Reconciliation (Penance)
  • Marriage
  • Eucharist
  • Holy Orders
  • Anointing the Sick

It’s not my intent in this post to unpack each of the Sacraments individually but rather to introduce them and describe what they generally convey. However, it was in my own study of the sacraments that I came to understand the grace and life God wanted to give me through. I have already written a bit about my study on the Eucharist here.

Begging the Question

I know what you’re thinking. You’re wondering, “But what does she think about me? She certainly can’t think I don’t have access to God’s grace outside of the Catholic Church!” No, I don’t think God can’t extend His grace to those outside of His Church.

To quote Alan Schreck again:

“The grace of God is not limited to the sacraments, but the sacraments make it available to us in a unique and reliable way.” pg. 128

And to quote a favorite priest of mine:

“God has freely bound Himself to work His salvation in the sacraments, but God is not bound by the sacraments to work His salvation.”

When my eyes were opened to the nutritional value of an unrefined kernel of wheat, I knew I no longer wanted to expose my family to the health risks associated with eating processed foods. I wanted real food for our bodies.  I bought a grainmill.

When my heart was opened to the grace and life that awaited me in the sacraments, I knew that to live without them would be at the risk of missing out on the fullness of grace and life God has for me. I wanted real food for my soul.  I became a Catholic.

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It’s Mother’s Day here in the United States and I believe it’s no coincidence that the gospel reading for today is this:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” John 14:27

As I consider the mothers I know, many are them are dealing with very hard circumstances: challenging children, difficult losses, overwhelming family responsibilities, estranged relationships, etc., etc., etc… It’s doubtful any of these women would describe their lives as peaceful. Sometimes, when I hear of these hard trials, my desire is to “fix” it, to take away my friend’s pain. But, in many cases, it’s not possible for me to take the pain away and to do so might even be offering “peace as the world gives”.

This morning at Mass, I was reminded of Jesus’ desire that we know His peace, especially in the midst of our hardest, darkest days. His peace does not change with the shifting winds. His peace is independent of our circumstances.

As a Christian, I can’t imagine enduring any hardship without the Lord Jesus at my side. As a Catholic Christian, I can’t imagine enduring this life without the peace that Jesus gives through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. (more on that another day)

This morning, in the homily, we learned of a young Carmelite nun, Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, who lived in France in the late 1800’s. Her life was anything but peaceful. She had “anger issues”. Her father died when she was only seven. She was plagued with periods of spiritual darkness throughout her life. Yet this young, trial-ridden woman penned these words at the age of 24, just two years before her death from Addison’s Disease:

O my God, Trinity whom I adore;help me to forget myself entirely that I may be established in You as still and as peaceful as if my soul were already in eternity. May nothing trouble my peace or make me leave You, O my Unchanging One, but may each minute carry me further into the depths of Your mystery. Give peace to my soul; make it Your heaven, Your beloved dwelling and Your resting place. May I never leave You there alone but be wholly present, my faith wholly vigilant, wholly adoring, and wholly surrendered to Your creative Action.

 

O my beloved Christ, crucified by love, I wish to be a bride for Your Heart; I wish to cover You with glory; I wish to love You…even unto death! But I feel my weakness, and I ask You to “clothe me with Yourself,” to identify my soul with all the movements of Your Soul, to overwhelm me, to possess me, to substitute yourself for me that my life may be but a radiance of Your Life. Come into me as Adorer, as Restorer, as Savior.

 

O Eternal Word, Word of my God, I want to spend my life in listening to You, to become wholly teachable that I may learn all from You. Then, through all nights, all voids, all helplessness, I want to gaze on You always and remain in Your great light. O my beloved Star, so fascinate me that I may not withdraw from Your radiance.

 

O consuming Fire, Spirit of Love, “come upon me,” and create in my soul a kind of incarnation of the Word: that I may be another humanity for Him in which He can renew His whole Mystery. And You, O Father, bend lovingly over Your poor little creature; “cover her with Your shadow,” seeing in her only the “Beloved in whom You are well pleased.”

 

O my Three, my All, my Beatitude, infinite Solitude, Immensity in which I lose myself, I surrender myself to You as Your prey. Bury Yourself in me that I may bury myself in You until I depart to contemplate in Your light the abyss of Your greatness.

 

-Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, 21 November 1904

To my mom and all the other mothers I know, may the peace of Christ be very present in your lives, no matter how small or great the trials you may be facing. That’s my prayer for you.

Happy Mother’s Day

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…and I don’t mean a weight loss program. 😉

Every once in a while you learn a new bit of information or you see something as if seeing it for the first time and you have a hunch that what you’re learning or seeing may have a big impact on your life. Now I’m not talking a “lightbulb” moment like when I learned I could place books on hold at our local library via the internet and some hard-working librarian would pull all of them off the shelf and have them waiting for me at the check-out desk within a couple of days. Or when I learned that Bed, Bath & Beyond will let you use expired coupons (did you know that?!).

What I’m talking about is more than a “lightbulb moment”. I talkin’ one of those scales-falling-from-your-eyes moments when you realize your life may or should change profoundly in response to what you’ve seen. The scales are falling so fast you can practically here them clatter as they hit the floor. Perhaps you’re even shaken to the core by it….but you can’t ignore it. You can’t not be changed by it. You’re drawn by it.

That was me, about 18 months ago while sitting with our church bible study as we studies this passage:

“Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.
36: But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.
37: All that the Father gives me will come to me; and him who comes to me I will not cast out.
38: For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me;
39: and this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day.
40: For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
41: The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, “I am the bread which came down from heaven.”
42: They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, `I have come down from heaven’?”
43: Jesus answered them, “Do not murmur among yourselves.
44: No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.
45: It is written in the prophets, `And they shall all be taught by God.’ Every one who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.
46: Not that any one has seen the Father except him who is from God; he has seen the Father.
47: Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.
48: I am the bread of life.
49: Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.
50: This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die.
51: I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
52: The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
53: So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you;
54: he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
55: For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.
56: He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.
57: As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me.
58: This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.” John 6:35-58

I had read these verses before, many times in fact. Frankly, it really didn’t matter to me if the wafer and wine we ingested at communion were the real deal or a memorial. If my Dh wanted to believe they were the real flesh and blood of Jesus, that was fine with me. Either way, it didn’t make any difference how we lived out our faith. That’s where I was that evening when we examined this passage.

But that particular evening, my reasoning fell apart when I discovered that the Greek word Jesus uses for “eats” in some of these verses (the ones I have bolded) means literally to “chew” or “gnaw”. Before verse 54, he uses a more common verb for eat, one that could be interpreted to have a figurative meaning, i.e. the necessity of faith. But from verse 54 on, the focus of his teaching shifts to a more crude and forceful connotation. (scales hitting the floor) In fact, this gnawing/chewing is so important that He repeats it three more times in this passage. (more scales hitting the floor) Not only that but he associates this gnawing/chewing with having eternal life (v. 54) and with abiding in Him (v. 56). (still more scales)

Because our study group was also reading through Robert Wilken’s The Spirit of Early Christian Thought and was being led by a guy who was studying directly under Dr. Wilken, we incorporated many writings of the ECF’s. How did the early Christians understand this passage?

“They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again.” Ignatius of Antioch, A.D. 110

“And this food is called among us Eukaristia [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.” Justin Martyr, A.D. 155

“He has acknowledged the cup (which is a part of the creation) as His own blood, from which He bedews our blood; and the bread (also a part of the creation) He has established as His own body, from which He gives increase to our bodies.” Irenaeus, A.D. 189

“I wish to admonish you with examples from your religion. You are accustomed to take part in the divine mysteries, so you know how, when you have received the Body of the Lord, you reverently exercise every care lest a particle of it fall, and lest anything of the consecrated gift perish. You account yourselves guilty, and rightly do you so believe, if any of it be lost through negligence. But if you observe such caution in keeping His Body, and properly so, how is it that you think neglecting the word of God a lesser crime than neglecting His Body?” Origen, A.D. 244

I have to admit it was a bit of a rug-pulled-out-from-under-me experience. I think the room may have even begun to spin. The Lord had shown me something BIG and I knew I would not be unchanged by it. Jesus was telling me He is in the Eucharist and that my partaking in the Eucharist assists me in abiding in Him and obtaining eternal life. Writings of the ECF’s supported these notions. The implications for my life were huge.

Why did I never understand this before? I have wondered that often since then. I think the timing and circumstances God provides for revealing more of Himself to us are part of His mystery. Perhaps up to that point in my life, He had other things to show me? I think of the Ethiopian eunuch who had been reading his bible but still didn’t “get it” until God providentially planted Philip in the eunuch’s path (Acts 8:26-31) Or there’s the all too familiar story of Paul’s Damascus Road conversion. Paul had plenty of opportunities to “see” but it wouldn’t happen unless it was God’s time and God’s way. Only God knows what it takes for us to see what He wants to reveal.

I have only skimmed the surface as far as the Early Church’s belief in the Eucharist. There are links below if you want to read more. God has each of us in a unique place of His choosing. But I do think it’s imperative (as well as a scriptural exhortation) that we know what we believe and why.

Know what you believe.

Know why.

But be careful though…it just may lead you someplace unexpected. 🙂

For futher study:

Scripture Catholic on the Eucharist

EarlyChurchFathers.com

Crossing the Tiber

The Mass of the Early Christians

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