Is There Room in this Pew?

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“The West Wing” was a popular NBC television show that ran from 1999 until 2006 entertaining audiences with its whit and storytelling. One story from the show that still comes to mind for me from time to time occurred during episode 32 entitled Noël. The story was a plot analogy shared by the character of Leo, the White House Chief of Staff, and told to Josh, the President’s Senior Political Advisor, and was scripted out as follows:

“This guy’s walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out. A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, ‘Hey you. Can you help me out?’ The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, ‘Father, I’m down in this hole can you help me out?’ The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by, ‘Hey Joe, it’s me can you help me out?’ And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, “Are you stupid? Now we are both down here.’ The friend says, ‘Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.’”

I love that story on multiple levels. But one sure reason is that it always reminds me of one of my favorite stories in the Bible found in the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 2, vs. 1-5 – the story of the paralytic – which happened during Jesus’ ministry in Galilee:

“When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it became known that he was home. Many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them, not even around the door, and he preached the word to them. They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd, they opened the roof above him. After they had broken through, they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Child, your sins are forgiven.’”

What I love about both of these stories is that they emphasize the empowerment of the individual to create significant impact in the lives of those around them, and an empowerment that goes beyond relying on the traditional systems of their lives to make things happen. Specifically within the Gospel story, it was “their faith” that granted the paralytic grace; it wasn’t the paralytics. And it wasn’t their faith in the institution; it was their faith in Jesus. They didn’t just drop him off at the gate and let him stand in line. They didn’t just find a disciple and say hey, “Can you make sure our friend gets in to see the big J?” They dug a hole in the roof and lowered him down into Christ’s lap. They believed in what Jesus Christ could do.

So who were those four men in the greater scope of history? Who was Joe in the West Wing story? Well, surprise, they’re you and me, and that is what we are called to do as members of the body of Christ.

Now if you haven’t heard the term The New Evangelization, I pray you open your ears, your mind, and hopefully a book to those words because they are talking about you my friend.

Now the word evangelize tends to scare people; especially Catholics. It reeks of crazy people walking in front of public spaces wearing sign boards reading, “Repent, for the end of the world is at hand.” Or creates a nervous muscle twitch thinking about the last time we went to lunch with those three guys at work who all go to the same Baptist Church. But those things aren’t the New Evangelization. The New Evangelization started with Pope Pius the VI, and has ballooned in significance over the last three Popes into the War Cry of the modern Catholic Church.

And we – that’s you and me – have a role. We are the laity. What is the laity? We the people are the laity. The few, the proud, the ones occupying our favorite space in the pew so we can hear Father clearly, keep our kids from embarrassing us to much, and making sure we sit close enough to get wine this week. We who wonder halfway through Mass if there will there be donuts afterwards? We who hope there’s not a second collection so we won’t be late for our breakfast reservation at the restaurant or miss the kickoff of the football game. We…the laity.

So what are we actually supposed to do?

Well, let’s ask Pope Francis that question. Below is a response Pope Francis gave to reporter Jeffrey Tucker when asked just that question back in April of 2013:

“We priests tend to clericalize the laity,” Francis said. “[We] focus on things of the clergy, more specifically, the sanctuary, rather than bringing the Gospel to the world… A Church that limits herself to administering parish work experiences what someone in prison does: physical and mental atrophy.

“We infect lay people with our own disease. And some begin to believe the fundamental service God asks of them is to become greeters, lectors or extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion at Church. Rather, [the call is] to live and spread the faith in their families, workplaces, schools, neighborhoods and beyond.”

The reform that’s needed is “neither to clericalize nor ask to be clericalized. The layperson is a layperson. He has to live as a layperson… to be a leaven of the love of God in society itself…. [He] is to create and sow hope, to proclaim the faith, not from a pulpit but from his everyday life. And like all of us, the layperson is called to carry his daily cross—the cross of the layperson, not of the priest.”Pope Francis

Is Pope Francis being critical of established norms here, maybe, but what he is also describing is the New Evangelization. He is challenging us to live out our faith proudly, and when it’s recognized for what is; share it.

Maybe even…hold on….wait for it….invite someone to Church!

Why would I do that? Oh my, here come the sign boards and the crazy’s again.

No; not at all. The big ask is to just live your faith. L—i—v—e—I–t.

Why just live your faith? Because we, the Laity, are the only ones who can evangelize in this way. What does a priest know about being a parent, being a co-worker at your work, living in your neighborhood, and dealing with your family? He’ll have some insight, yes, but your role is so much more important. Do you realize those who know you, and know you are Catholic, see what it means to be a Catholic from watching you? They see what your interpretation of being a Christian is by watching you. So even if you’re truly not living the faith, you are already carrying a message. So what message are you sending? Here’s a thought – how about a message of what living out what it means for people to be a follower of Jesus Christ?

The blessing of that choice is that by living your faith come the opportunities to share your faith, from sharing your faith come the opportunities to jump into a few holes and show people a way out, and from jumping into holes come the opportunities to carry those paralyzed by sin to Jesus Christ. Be who you are. Be what He has called you to be.

You can do it. He believes in you, and you were made for it. Mother Theresa was once asked by a group of listeners to share an idea with them that would change their lives. Mother answered with, “Smile at each other.” When later asked how does one become a Saint? Her simple response was, “Say yes to Jesus.”

Brothers, have you heard of the New Evangelization? Are you living it? What’s holding you back?

YBIC

What if Adam hadn’t bitten the Apple

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This has always been one of the great brain teasers of my life. What if Adam in the Garden of Eden hadn’t bitten the Apple as told to us in the book of Genesis?

What would this life be like if we had never entered into original sin? Would life be easier? Would it be harder? For the longest time I always believed that I would have to wait until I got to heaven to find out the answer to that question.

However, after spending a lot of time with one of my favorite authors, Scott Hahn, through several of his books and in hearing him speak I came to realize that I was wrong. We do know what life would be like – it’s life in Jesus Christ.

Why?

Because Jesus Christ is the new Adam, that’s why (CCC 411).  Jesus established a new covenant relationship (CCC 50). So what does that mean? It means God flipped the biggest reset button in the history of the world. It means that God figuratively took the Apple back out of Adam’s mouth. We still have original sin, unfortunately, it did happen along with the rest of the Old Testament; but we are cleansed of Original Sin through Baptism and enjoy a new covenant relationship through Christ.

Okay then, well what does that mean? Well, it means that in life through Jesus Christ we re-enter life as a son of man, a son of Adam, and a son of a no-apple-biting Adam. We re-discover our purpose as Children of God to live out our lives in our garden of love and joy, to experience life in appreciation of all of creation, and to be thankful for all that is given and from whence it came.

However, this also means that as sons of Adam we run the same risk of repeating the sins of the father. We have responsibilities within this covenant relationship as members of the body of Christ. Furthermore, in paying for the sins of the father, original sin has left us with the misery of concupiscence and the blessing of free will as a challenge to daily life. So in staying within the analogy, God may have taken the Apple out of Adam’s mouth, but the Tree is still in the Garden and the serpent is still crawling around.

Nothing crystallizes this daily balance of living out our lives more than grasping the differences between our two deaths: Physical and Supernatural. Christ emphasizes this to us in the Gospel of John, Chapter 11, when in reading we experience the story of Lazarus. Christ clearly calls natural death sleep so that we may understand the severity of supernatural death. Physical death has no true meaning. Only supernatural death has significance because it separates us from our covenant relationship with the Father.

Now what adds further challenges to living out our modern lives and being leaders to our families is how complex we’ve made our lives to be. As Christians we know our daily challenge of a clear mind becomes a version of those famous words from Ricky Ricardo to Lucy, “You’ve got some thinkin’ to do.” But yet we humans make thinking clearly harder every day, we shorten our own attention spans, and we rationalize truths in terms of time we seem not to have. Just the other day in fact K-LOVE (97.3 FM) reported the results of a Canadian Research Institute’s study on adult attention span; it’s down to eight seconds. Eight seconds. They compared those results to that of a Goldfish, which is nine seconds. In our modern garden we have given the serpent not just one tree to pick the wrong fruit from, but fields of them, and we keep growing more.

So to summarize the answer to my question, I’ll share one of my favorite resources of faith from my old protestant days: the NOOMA Project (www.NOOMA.com), and invite you to follow the link to it. Ironically Pastor Rob Bell, like a few others I’ve read, is a protestant evangelical pastor who has intellectually stumbled over what are really fundamental aspects of Catholicism and, ignorant of this irony or not, shares them as new theological ideas Protestants should explore. Specifically from the NOOMA project, Rob Bell in episode 003 (“Trees”) nails my Adam question perfectly and clearly paints an analogy of the humanistic view of our need, as God’s children, for the new covenant relationship Christ created. In accepting Christ in our lives we in essence begin longing for life in Adam’s garden as we are made to do. Or, as more simply put by Pastor Bell, for a life between the trees.

One beauty of Catholicism then, by understanding our need we have for living in Christ today, is that it immediately becomes easier to also understand the role of Holy Mother Church – our support system and partner in living out our lives. What an amazing gift the Church is to us, and our relationship to her a key.

The Sacraments should also now take on greater meaning as well, becoming as much a need for life as the water we drink and the air we breathe. The Mass becomes the only food we truly need. Confession our only true medicine to heal the sick and dying. The Communion of Saints our strength and our real family.

So bringing all of this out, and knowing now that God took the Apple out of Adam’s mouth, the question becomes to us as brothers, “Are we living each day making decisions that help us and our families avoid some form of physical death, or are we making decisions that help us and our families avoid a supernatural death?”

Do you eat Apples?

“Lazarus, come out!”

YBIC

Confessions of an awkward EME

The Mystery of the Eucharist

I am a sinner. No questions asked. I am a sinner. The “I” in sin – that’s me.

As many of my CRHP Team brothers know who heard my testimony, for years I was scared to even come into a church. So the idea of even standing near the altar, let alone serving the Eucharist, was a recipe for God striking me dead right there in the Sanctuary. Forgiven is one thing, taunting is a whole other matter. Not happening. Nope. Not good enough, not pretty enough, not anything enough. This guy is definitely captain of the un-worthies when it came to Jesus in the flesh. The idea of doing that was right up with there with waving a seven iron over my head in a lightning storm. No way.

So for years I watched in awe of those I knew who served the sacrament as Extra Ordinary Ministers of the Eucharist in such a beautiful way. Amazing people. My heros. God’s gift to the Mass. True Saints. I…. I just couldn’t do it.

Then along came a roadblock in my life. Somehow I needed to figure out a way to get the Eucharist into another service component of my life that was causing me to miss Mass. So to solve my problem I explored the program of Eucharist for the Homebound as my solution. The only problem was….You had to get trained as an EME first.

So after some heavy breathing in a paper bag, I went through the training. After you go through training, Adam Smith’s invisible hand works you into the system and low and behold you are scheduled at a Mass to serve. It was at this point I verified my life insurance, left my living will open on my home office desk, told my wife and children I loved them one last time, and then went up to serve at Mass.

Standing on the altar my thoughts wandered for some reason to Simon, the Crenian, who was made to carry Christ’s cross to the place of His crucifixion. I always wish I could have done that. Probably sounds crazy I know, but I owe Christ my life, and to lesson His burden in any way on that journey would have been an honor I would have died for. That’s when it hit me. That is what I am about to do.

But it also became so much more.

Despite my nervous and shaking hands I managed through the experience. As I held the Eucharist high and proclaimed it the Body of Christ I began to notice some things. I began to see the people and the Eucharist as Jesus. All of the different faces were one face – even though they changed they were the same. And so much as I was helping Christ carry his cross, I was also helping all of these people carry their crosses to Christ. I began to see the truth of the reminder of the connection between the Last Supper and the Crucifixion; that if Christ really hadn’t instituted the Mass at the Last Supper then Christ’s Death on the Cross wasn’t truly a real sacrifice. But He did and it was; they are inexorably linked, and as we come into communion with Christ we share in that sacrifice and are born into the New Covenant.

There were smiles, there were anxious faces, there was somberness, and there was joy. People came as they were able and with all that defined them. The children, oh the children, all of my fears and personal anxieties faded away with the children. The opportunity to bless them in the name of Jesus Christ was an overwhelming joy to experience and share.

The line never seemed to end. I actually worried at first that I might run out of bread, but then remembered the parables of Christ feeding the masses and laughed to myself. After my line diminished I joined another, and then it ended.

Upon completing the service, I came down from the altar, bowed, and returned to my seat thankful the congregation was still in prayer because I needed to kneel. Collapsing in prayer I fought back tears. I thanked God for that amazing opportunity to witness His Grace being poured out unto others.   It was amazing.  Through originally an experience I feared greatly, I not only grew in faith but felt the blessing and joy of serving others like few things I have ever done.

Our CRHP brother Dan Lickel has adopted the motto, “If something scares me, that probably is what I need to be doing.” I am thinking he is on to something there.

Brothers, have you had opportunities to serve in your faith life that at first scared you, but later turned out to be an amazing blessing? What were they? How did it change you? Should we take Dan’s lead and follow our fears?

YBIC

Reflections

Dan, thanks for creating this page of resources and letting me have access to it. Lots of great stuff. This Sunday 3/29 reflection question concerning “Jesus Barabbas” and the mystery behind what he did after being released are polar opposites. This is logical considering what he had just witnessed. Likewise, today’s Gospel 3/26 has Jesus calling people “liars.” He also called people “blind guides, fools, frauds” and “whitewashed tombs.” To quote the Laudate reflection for today, Jesus was blunt and was asking for trouble. Like the people of his time, our response should be one of polar opposites. My response is usually one of moderation and lukewarm. While usually a logical strategy to the physical world, what an illogical response to what counts!

 

Scott Kmiecik (April 2015)

Reconciliation

I just wanted to comment on the discussion questions for this week. Let’s just say that I have broken almost every one of them. Most of them daily/hourly/minute by minute. I have had moments where I stepped out of the confessional and my mind was already going places it shouldn’t. I have wanted to turn around and sit back down in the confessional. Lust is probably the toughest for most of us guys. Not so easy when temptation is around every corner, on every tv screen and is in almost every book/magazine/web page you view. I have prayed on this often. Prayer works wonders. I am convinced that God has a sense of humor but he is definitely helping me.
Just Morgan (April 2015)

Gospel Reading

I just wanted to comment on the Gospel reading today. I loved how well the first reading and Gospel worked together. The story of the man who wanted to be healed from leprosy. What really struck me was that Jesus was first moved with pity then he reached out his hand and healed him. I love this because we get to see the fully human side of Jesus as well as the fully divine side. Pretty awesome stuff.

Peace brothers

Just Morgan (Feb 2015)