Friday, December 23, 2016

in spite of, and despite of...

It's worth reflecting on the following words from an Italian Catholic brother...

How much I must criticize you, my church,
and yet how much I love you!

You have made me suffer more than anyone
and yet I owe more to you than to anyone.

I should like to see you destroyed
and yet I need your presence.

You have given me much scandal
and yet you alone have made me understand holiness.

Never in this world have I seen anything
more compromised, more false,
yet never have I touched anything
more pure, more generous or more beautiful.

Countless times
I have felt like slamming the door of my soul in your face
– and yet, every night,
I have prayed that I might die in your sure arms!

No, I cannot be free of you, for I am one with you,
even if not completely.

Then too–where would I go? To build another church?
But I could not build one without the same defects,
for they are my defects.

And again, if I were to build another church,
it would be my church, not Christ’s church.

No, I am old enough, I know better.

by Bro. Carlo Carretto (1910-1988)

10 ways to get the most from the Mass

Attending Mass for as early (and typical) as we remember can sometimes make it meaningless, even when it is the most worthwhile thing in the world. Here are ten things we can do to make sure we keep it "new" and meaningful every time...

1. Set a schedule and stick to it. Make sure you set yourself to put the highest priority to the Mass, versus just "going only when everything's done". For example, if you woke up late accidentally and washing dishes will make you late, set them neatly aside first and prep for church immediately.

2. Focus on God, not yourself, and more importantly, not on others. You're there to praise God and not to judge whether you're better than others or not, and not even whether they are acting properly or not. You'll only get irritated and definitely get distracted. So unless you're going to do something to correct them, don't mind them. The priest and the ministers aren't doing a good job? Bored? Again, keep your focus on God. You're there to praise God, and your perseverance despite the distractions make it more meaningful.

3. Come early. Just as in concerts or movies, having the best seat makes a lot of difference. Make sure you're settled way before the Mass starts. This way, you have time to clear your mind of things not related to the Mass as well.

4. Pray for a meaningful Mass. Coming in early is not just about having good seats. Praying before Mass helps clear your mind, and helps put you in a prayerful mode.

5. Read the readings beforehand. The Mass readings are meant to be heard, not read during the Mass. That's why it's not advised to have a "handout" and read it together with the lector or priest. However, it is understandable that factors such as audio quality or environment noise can make you unable to understand the words. Reading the readings before the Mass allows you to stay in the context of "hearing", while at the same time, ensuring you understand what is being read.

6. Expect to receive. The Mass is a free and overflowing channel of grace, regardless of who is ministering it, and regardless if the readers sound like croaking frogs, if the choir sings badly, or if the priest talks senseless during the homily. However, we need to open ourselves in order to receive. The more we open, the more we expect unconditionally, the more we'll receive.

7. Turn off all distractions you can control. Vibrate mode doesn't cut it. Turn that phone off, or silent it. Unless you're expecting to be involved in a life or death occupation, it's not worth missing even a second of focus. Have children? It's expected that they'll be easily made anxious, but consistency in talking to them and explaining the importance of a sacred disposition before the Mass will help them "grow" into it faster. Ask them to imitate you, and please don't "scare" them. Their growth in the Mass should be something worth remembering for good reasons, and not something dreadful, when dad or mom keeps scolding them.

8. Participate with piety. Stand and sit as appropriate. Sing as much as you can with all your might. Kneel even when there are no kneelers. Think of it as a holy choreographed song and dance number for God and with God. But do them with reverence always in mind. Do them all with God and His holiness in mind. Act with sacredness, and sacredness will always be with you.

9. Have regular confession. God loves us unconditionally and personally, but that means we should also respond with all that we can. Regularly cleansing ourselves of sin before we face Him in the Eucharist shows how much love we have for Him. Remember how you took the longest bath and wore the flashiest clothes during your date? At Mass, where our date is God, we shouldn't only dress with our best Sunday clothes, more importantly, we should ensure that our soul is all neat and clean as well.

10. Receive the Eucharist. The Mass is the highest form of prayer, because it is in the Mass that all the mysteries become as real as they can get. It is in the Mass that God meets us, not only in Spirit, but also physically. The Eucharist, after all, is not a mere symbol, but Jesus Himself -- body, blood, soul and divinity! And it doesn't end there... Jesus, in His humility and love for us, in a non-cannibalistic way, enters our lives literally.

BONUS: Smile and greet people. The Mass is our way celebrating as one community, as one family. It should allow us to lift each other up so that we can be more present to God. It doesn't matter if they'll reciprocate or not. If they reciprocate, then be inspired. If not, it is still your way of giving yourself to others. Remember that the more we give ourselves, the more we open ourselves to God as well.

Friday, December 12, 2014

the wicked, the bored and the Church

A lot of people ask me, “if your religion is true, why do you have so many wayward members?

It would be good to ask God why.

God’s People has Historically Stumbled Consistently

The Israelites worshipped a golden cow immediately after being freed from slavery and being fed in both extremely unreal ways. Then they married those who God strictly forbade them to. In fact, God was really close to having destroyed them. Thankfully the prophets seeked mercy in their behalf. Yet no Bible student would question they were God's chosen people.

And no, Jesus didn't set the Jews aside despite these not-so-favorable events. Instead He came to be the fulfillment and completion of God's promises to mankind through the Jews. So why were they still God's people despite being a disappointment so many times?

Moving forward, we have Judas who betrayed Jesus and never really understood Him. He could’ve been “allowed as a quiet disciple”, yet Jesus still chose him as an Apostle despite knowing this fully. Then there's Peter who denied Him three times! We tend to oversimplify his denial a lot, but if you find someone you can really call a friend yet was not even brave enough to be there for you when needed, that's really painful. John was there. Why couldn't he? And yet He was still given the distinction of having primacy amongst all others. Why?

Or let's go back to early Genesis. Adam and Eve really screwed it up big time. All they had to do was not eat a fruit and they'd have it made. How easy was that?! But they wanted to be gods. That's basically telling God they don't need Him even after everything He's done. Yet instead of starting fresh with a completely new sets of men and women, He chose to continue building His family with them. Why?

I honestly don't know. It's one of the mysteries of God's love we shouldn't question, and should just be grateful for. He did say He came to call not the righteous, but the sinners to repentance. So expect a lot of work in progress members of the Church.

More importantly, I know that God keeps His promises, and He promised to build His church on Peter and the Apostles. If that Church was gone at any point in time, Jesus was lying when He said the gates of hell will not prevail against it. It may get wounded but it will not be defeated.

Of course, Jesus didn't lie, but the question remains, where is that Church? Let’s consider the facts.

The Historical Church That Prevails

Which church can be traced way back to the the early church? If you study the early church fathers, which church today teaches and practices the same things as they did? We’re talking about those who lived during the time of the Apostles, instructed by them, and lead the church the early years. In the same way, which Church can be traced way back to Peter?

The answers to these questions are the same... the Catholic Church!

History clearly shows that the doctrines and morals of the early Church are in line with the Catholic church, from the way to worship to how Christians are to behave. In fact, the format of the Mass is exactly how the early Church celebrated their identities, also having the Eucharist at the center of their faith knowing fully that it is Jesus Himself, and not a mere symbol.

All the popes can be traced from the current pope way back to Peter. Yes, there have been bad popes but they have not definitively taught anything against God, because of God's gift of infallibility to us (and I encourage you to learn more about that). Again, if the lineage got broken, or if there was ever a time anyone absolutely had to "rebuild a new church", than Jesus was lying.

Finally, it is the Catholic church that shaped and defined the books of the Bible. There were multitudes of literature flying around when Christianity was still young. Some were bad, some were good, and some were confusing. How can a Christian know which to follow? It was only after the Church spoke that everyone knew which books are divinely inspired and which are not. No one questioned it afterwards until the 16th century. The Bible didn’t fall from heaven. God gave it to us through the Catholic church.

The next question I'm sure is, "Okay, so it is the Catholic Church, but how can one possibly be a happy Catholic with its empty practices? Does God condemn all of us to be in a boring, ignorant and non-personal church? Sunday masses are bad enough, but we’re not even being fed outside the Mass. Is that how God’s church functions?"

Boredom Doesn’t Really Matter

Let’s look at the Bible again. The Israelites surely had a challenge keeping it for God, continuously going back to the golden cow though it was clearly Yahweh who is God. They were bored and doubtful of how things were going for them and wanted something else. Their solution? Cow! Here was God bringing them miracles after miracles, and yet Moses climbed up the mountain, and a cow emerged immediately!

Yet we all know, and so did they after being reprimanded, that it is Yahweh who is God. They may not see God with their eyes, and He may be asking them to sacrifice a lot, but nothing beats the real thing. A cow, even if made of gold, will never spell G-O-D. It will never love them and care for them as God would. But if God is the source of happiness and love, how come the Israelites still weren’t content, and were even bold enough to mock God?

First, following God meant letting go of their comfort zones. They didn’t have food and shelter, and the Egyptians were at their tail. How could God have brought them to that situation?

Afterwards, Moses left them to climb Mt. Sinai. They felt abandoned and lost, and missed the pagan ways they were used to. They wanted something instant and something that fits their way of thinking.  It started to get boring, so they decided to make gods of their own.

But God did provide to them. Their lack of faith just prevented them from knowing that. It probably did feel like their long walk was not leading them anywhere, and the desert doesn’t really show much of food and refreshment options. But they should’ve trusted that God had a plan and was already working on them. Faith demands more from us, and we should continue to trust God even if things doesn’t make sense for us.

God also didn’t leave them alone when Moses went up. Aaron was left to care for them. He wasn’t Moses, but that shouldn’t have mattered. It is not Moses nor was it Aaron alone who brought them there. God brought them there. God asked them to wait while Moses was away, but they let their impatience get the best of them.

Boredom is not a measure of God’s Church, since it’s possible that we just missed or misunderstood something, or that we are looking for the wrong things from what’s given. The problem with the Israelites was that they shaped God in the image they made themselves. Instead of listening to Him and His words through the prophets, they defined “god” based on what made sense to them and what made them happy. But God’s ways are not our ways, and the only way we can know Him--truly and fully--is by listening to Him through His Church. Many will claim the Bible alone is the ultimate guide, but the BIble itself tells us that interpreting the Bible is not a private business (2 Pt 1:20). Just look at how many churches there are right now claiming to be God’s church yet speaking of completely different things.

Looking at it from another angle, would you give a loved one a gift based on what he said would make him happy, or based on what you only assumed would make him happy? God gave instructions to the Church on how we can grow nearer Him, and how we can love Him more. Why assume something else? Why think that the Mass is not how God wants to be worshipped, or that the times dictate how we should act? God taught us through His Church. It doesn’t make sense to insist following otherwise.

But again, even if we’ve established that God’s Church is Catholic, and boredom isn’t a measure of things, that probably tells you that God has decreed boredom for all of us. I disagree.

Is It Really Boring?

To paraphrase Fulton Sheen, “there are a few people who hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church.

Ignorance translates to sadness, and lack of understanding translates to boredom. However beautiful something is, if it doesn’t make sense to us, it naturally won’t mean anything to us too. The Catholic faith is very rich, but if we don’t understand them or don’t even know what they really are from all the conflicting views we’ve heard, it’s natural for us to immediately label it as “not my cup of tea”.

Unfortunately, it’s not a “whatever floats your boat” sort of thing. Jesus did say, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life”. He is the only way, and there is no truth and life apart from Him. But He also said that those who follow Him will have their joy complete (Jn 15:10-11). So what are we missing?

It isn’t a lie because Jesus said it. In fact, we just need to look at the saints who loved Jesus and His Church so much they still found peace and happiness even while being tortured to death. They’d rather choose death than deny God and His Church. St. Tarcisius died protecting “a piece of bread”. Heck, even Tolkien said his primary source of inspiration to write the Lord of the Rings was his Catholic faith. Why? What did they see to find joy in it?

I was born and baptized a Catholic, raised a Catholic, and attended Catholic schools from grade school to college. However, I’ll be the first to tell you that more than half of what I know about my faith didn’t come from my parents and from school. I learned them reading books and Church documents. But before learning more about my faith, I also found it boring and meaningless.

For one, I grew up thinking the Eucharist was a mere symbol of our faith. I’d tell myself, “of course, it’s cool to imitate Jesus during the last supper during Mass” and that’s it. I would eventually learn that there’s significantly more to the Eucharist (and the “boring” Mass) than I ever imagined. It’s no exaggeration to say that things were never the same after that realization. The Mass has since then always exciting even if the priest is boring.

How about you? How much of the Catholic Church do you really know? Have you read the Catechism of the Catholic Church? Have you read the works of people like Frank Sheed? How about the works of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI? Have you tried Scott Hahn or Peter Kreeft? Whatever you know about the Catholic Church, it’s worth asking where you got them. Did they come from those who truly understand the Catholic faith and love it, for a different perspective? When was the last time you asked yourself what the Catholic Church truly believes?

Will the Real Catholic Church Please Stand Up?

Unfortunately, it is not easy to know the Truth nowadays. Not only are there many anti-Catholics spreading the wrong information, there are also a lot of Catholics who are not exactly a beauty to behold. We have a lot of Catholics who themselves don’t know their own faith. Even worse, we have Catholics who don’t act as Catholics should.

However, God’s Church is not defined by those who are not “real followers”. The authenticity of a medicine is not measured by the health of those who don’t drink it or those who don’t drink it properly. A game’s excitement can’t be measured when the only ones we’ve seen are players who don’t know how to play the game.

Of course it will take more than a few pages to even summarize what the Church teaches. But I challenge you to find out what the Church is really about. What does the Church itself say about its belief on the Eucharist? Why do Catholics say they don’t worship Mary and the saints, despite insistence by anti-Catholics that they do? What does the Purgatory really mean? Or why is the Holy Rosary not a repetitive prayer even when it’s filled with very few formula prayers? Why confess your sins to a priest?

Read the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Read Frank Sheed, Peter Kreeft, John Paul II and Ratzinger/Benedict XVI. Go to Go to a reputable priest. There’s a lot you can do, and you owe it to God and yourself to do so.

Remember, if you love or want to fall in love with God, getting to know Him and His Church comes with the package. The more you know about Him, the more you’ll fall in love. And the more you love Him, the more you’ll want to know about Him. There’s just no other way around that. Anything else is just selfish and meaningless.

We Need to Push as Well

Admittedly, some people will complain why they didn’t hear about this before, or why no one challenged them to really understand Catholicism. It is quite frustrating to realize you’ve not been fed properly by the Church God entrusted. It’s fair to ask why your priest didn’t give good and meaningful sermons, or why your Catholic teacher didn’t teach you the Faith properly. Don’t worry. The Church is aware of that and the good men in it are doing their best to build His Church. But remember, we are also a part of that Church. That means we also need to do our part. Once we found the Truth, it is our responsibility to tell the world of His love.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

in love... but miserable?

In love, but miserable? I’m so sorry you feel this way! You should not have to.

If you are lonely, a boyfriend is not the way to cure the problem. In fact, I guarantee that it will only make it worse.

Our culture so often links self-esteem to getting attention from the opposite sex and being “in love”. This is distorted and downright cruel.

If you are lonely, the best way to deal with your loneliness is by reaching out and making friends. Boyfriends are often temporary. Good friends are permanent—they stick with you through your life, and they don’t “break up” with you when they find another friend.

You didn’t mention your family. If you have one, spend time with them. Work to build those relationships and to make them strong. They will be your family for life, so you may as well get along as well as possible.
Do things that get you out of yourself. Find out what talents God gave you and develop them. Reach out in love to others who are lonely—people who are sick, people in nursing homes, and so on. It is amazing what giving a little love can do.

Most important of all, of course, is to develop a relationship with the divine Source of all love—God. Your self-esteem should not come from a boyfriend. It should come from the fact that you are created in the image and likeness of God and that He loved you enough to die for you. That love, dignity and respect you will never get from a mere mortal boyfriend! Remember what God did for you and how much He loves you. Stay in regular contact with Him.

I know all of this may be easier said than done. If you are feeling bad about yourself, and if it doesn’t get better with new friendships and prayer, make a couple of appointment with a good Christian therapist. I honestly believe that good, Christ-based counseling can help everyone at one point or another in his life. There are often deeper emotional reasons for our insecurities and fears. Find out what yours are, expose them to the light and then trust God to help you deal with them.

Until you have done all this, don’t worry about finding a boyfriend. Worry about finding yourself. Then, when it is time, you will be in a much better position to pick a great guy, instead of just taking the first one to come along.

Real Love
by Mary Beth Bonacci

Friday, August 9, 2013

is chastity the same thing as abstinence?

Abstinence means that a person is not sexually active. If I heard that a guy was abstinent, that would not tell me much about him. Maybe he is a man with courage and character and is saving himself for his bride. Maybe he just can not find a date. Either way, abstinence is defined as what is not happening to a person’s body—in other words, no sex.

Chastity is different because it is defined by what a person is doing with his or her sexuality. It means having the strength to use your sexuality according to God’s plan, whether you are single or married. Living this virtue purifies your heart, heals your memories, strengthens your will, and glorifies God with your body. For an unmarried person it is sexuality dedicated to hope—saving sex for marriage. An unmarried person who has already had sex can still choose to be chaste by starting over.

For the married and the unmarried it means having reverence for the gift of sex. Chastity is a virtue that defends love from selfishness and frees us from using others as objects. It makes us capable of authentic love. In short, abstinence ends in marriage but chastity holds marriage together.

If You Really Loved Me
by Jason Evert

Thursday, May 16, 2013

consumed by the finite // 2013.05.16

Have you seen an episode of A&E's Hoarders? If not, it's a TV series that goes to houses of people that hoards practically everything to the point that they literally have no more place to live in within their own home. Hoarders basically forget that not everything will fit in their house. Imagine 80% of your house filled with anything, regardless if useful or not.

Think about that and imagine how impossible it is for a finite creature to contain the Infinite. We're not even talking about making the ocean fit in one pail. The ocean doesn't even compare with an everlasting supply of water. How can we, finite humans, ever contain our Infinite God? The answer is Jesus.

One of the greatest mystery of our Christian faith is Jesus' incarnation, when God took the form of man to be one with us. The psalmist asks, "what is mankind that you are mindful of them?" That God who is infinite and lacks nothing reaches out to a finite creature that even rejects Him?

Jesus tells us in today's Gospel that God wants us to be one with Him. The Infinite who lacks nothing has an Infinite love that He seeks to share, and through Jesus, we are able to receive this love -- because through Him we have been made full members of God's family!

And just so you won't miss this great mystery, Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist. In case you're still unaware of how big and great this is, we believe that the Eucharist we receive is Jesus Himself. Think about it, God enters you every Mass!

And so we pray, thank you God for your infinite love, that love so great that it seeks us sinful people to be partakers however unworthy we are. We thank you for the Incarnation and the Eucharist, that we can call ourselves members of your Church, members of your family. We pray that we may be able to at least give You ourselves without anything held back.

Click here to read today's readings.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

a promise kept after a seeming departure // 2013.05.12

We are all created to love.

The Church tells us that we can only find our lives in an authentic giving of oneself to others. That is why funerals are always filled with sad and crying people. They mourn that they may be able to release all their sadness and be able to move on.

It was the same when Jesus ascended to heaven. The Apostles felt the same as if someone died. They trusted Jesus and His promise of not leaving them by themselves, but they still had to face the sadness of their loved one parting.

Did they remain desolate and alone? No. Jesus kept His promise and the Holy Spirit filled them with God's love. Their zeal returned and they knew for real that Jesus is still with them, even more than before.

Today, trust that even if you didn't live when Jesus walked the earth you, He is still with you. Let the Holy Spirit fill you with God's love, and receive Him in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

Friday, May 10, 2013

as accurate as it can get // 2013.05.11

Click here to read today's readings.

Anyone caught in God's love can easily understand someone like Apollos in today's readings. He studied the Scriptures very thoroughly, was instructed in the Way of the Lord, and most importantly, had an ardent spirit for God. Why not use his gift of eloquence to speak about Him?

Unfortunately, Scripture does not interpret itself. A verse can mean many things which are not always evident. And while it is easy to "fish" for thoughts in God's words, it is also easy to "hook" the wrong ideas from it without even knowing it.

As the Bible itself states, "no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation" (2 Peter 1:20). It also tells us of Phillip who tells God's angel that someone needs to guide him (Acts 8:30). How then can one know with certainty that he is not interpreting God's word on his own, or that his guide is also not doing the same?

Reading further, we see Priscilla and Aquila approaching Apollos, teaching Him more accurately. They are traditionally listed as one of the seventy disciples, and are thus authorized teachers of the Church. Jesus promised that the gates of hell will not prevail against His church, so we can be assured that they are teaching what Jesus taught.

Thousands of years after, we still have the Church from Peter and the other disciples, to Francis and all the other bishops who have inherited the office of teaching us inerrantly in matters of faith and morals.

The Bible is the best book you'll ever read, but always look at the Church whom Jesus left to safeguard its truths.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

with loots of toys promised // 2013.05.10

My father was working abroad when I grew up, and being a child, you can't blame me for being excited when he'd ask me what I want and tell me that he'd buy it for me when he returns home.

Unfortunately, even at a young age, I yearned for my father to be beside me more than the toys. We'd exchange a lot of letters to each other and talk over the telephone whenever possible, whenever I see my neighbors' dads with them, you can imagine how easily I become sad and easily forget about the promise of toys, clothes and out of towns.

In today's Gospel, Jesus tells His disciples that He will leave, and that the world will make them suffer. The world will rejoice while you will suffer, make you think that God has forsaken you, make you forget about His promises, and tell you to live your life like there's no tomorrow.

But Jesus assures us, "your grief will become joy... your hearts will rejoice,
and no one will take your joy away from you." And to top it all, He tells us, "whatever you ask the Father in my name He will give you". That definitely sounds more exciting than the loot of toys my dad promises.

Tired and weary of the world's pull? Confused with what the world is trying to offer? Envious of those that make you feel like you're missing a lot if you'll stick with God? Don't be! God is way more than enough. Hold on and know that God loves you. And just as I was comforted by my dad's words and letters while he was abroad, let God always comfort you when you pray to Him. You'll be surprised at how much He really is with you!

Click here to read today's readings.