The Traveler’s Pass

Are you traveling this summer?  Will you be going to Mass when you’re away?

In my pre-catholic years the idea of going to Church on vacation was never anything I, or my family, really ever thought about. As a protestant, your Church wasn’t universal; your Church was in effect your local congregation. Your Church was the place you went to get “fed.” So when you went on vacation, the idea of going to Church while traveling became a somewhat practical, and often more conceptual, impossibility. You had those that occasionally would, of course; but outside of attending with family or friends most who did so were being opportunistic travelers visiting a “spiritual place” or celebrated church of note.  For the average traveling family, however, this was not usually the case.  So as a Catholic, the often debated urban legend of the “Traveler’s Pass” for not attending Mass while traveling is something I continue to find fascinating.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states in paragraph 1389 that The Church obliges the faithful to take part in the Divine Liturgy on Sundays and feast days and, prepared by the sacrament of Reconciliation, to receive the Eucharist at least once a year, if possible during the Easter season.  But the Church strongly encourages the faithful to receive the holy Eucharist on Sundays and feast days, or more often still, even daily.

Our friends at Catholic Answers (www.Catholic.com) responded to this more practically by saying, “It depends on the availability of Mass while you are traveling. If there is no Mass available in an area in which you are traveling, or if just reason exists while traveling that makes attending Mass that Sunday or holy day not possible (e.g., illness, job requirements, unfamiliarity with the area), then you are dispensed from the requirement to attend Mass that Sunday or holy day…

…As a rule of thumb when traveling, it is good to try to make provision for Mass attendance before your trip. That way you have opportunity to find a local church, work a Mass time into your schedule, and make arrangements for transportation to the church. If Mass attendance is made a travel priority — at least as high a priority as leisure tours and/or business meetings — it is less likely that scheduling and transportation predicaments will derail Mass attendance while traveling.” (Michelle Arnold, Catholic Answers, 10/10/2007)

So how did Mass become optional to so many Catholics while traveling?

Who really knows? It’s fair to question where many things came from pre-Vatican II and pre-Catechism. I have heard many Bishops within the Church, when publicly interviewed, admit the lack of Catechesis that permeated the American Catholic Church over the last two generations. Much true understanding has fallen from many.

We could blame it on the Protestants, of course. It’s a fair argument in the face of un-catechized generations. One could easily imagine a husband-wife conversation such as, “Honey, the neighbors don’t go to church when they go on vacation, why do we have too? And don’t tell me it’s because of your mother!”

We could blame our parents because they never instituted the practice for us on our family vacations when we were kids; but we blame them for everything else.

We could blame it on our spouse, but it’s our responsibility to get them to Heaven – not the other way around.

Regardless of our rationale, I think the more important question we should ask ourselves though is….Why Not?  Why not go to Mass while traveling?

Father Robert Barron (www.WordOnFire.org) produced a DVD series released prior to Christmas in 2013 simply called, “Catholicism.” (www.CatholcisimSeries.com) The series is a fantastic overview of the depth, breadth, and historical scope of our Catholic faith. Not only is the cinematography very eye catching, but the ever expanding context of the series reveals an underlying belief most dedicated Catholics share; there isn’t enough life to learn all you can learn about the faith. Being a Catholic is a daily journey and learning about the faith is something you can only do in little bits one day at a time.

Stephen K. Ray (www.catholic-convert.com) in his book Crossing the Tiber described our faith and his conversion to it in this way:

“The ‘something’ we had once militantly resisted, the Catholic Church, was found to be glorious, beautiful, and splendid – like a massive creature, too grand and colossal to comprehend fully, yet modest and personal enough to put affectionally in your pocket.  It was fullness.  Why the term fullness?  Because the Catholic Church encompasses so much more than we had ever known in our Protestant past – the fullness of the faith carefully preserved and nurtured through the centuries.  We are not going from Cristian to Catholic, as though we are leaving the ‘Christian’ part behind.  We are developing and experiencing the Christian faith more fully by becoming Catholic Christians.  Catholicism is ancient, yet forever young; it is constant and firm, yet forever lively and robust; it is old, yet always new and vital.  It is simple enough for a mouse to wade in, yet deep enough for an elephant to swim in.” 

So…if you are curious at all about understanding your Catholic faith more, and you don’t attend Mass while traveling, you are missing what is arguably your greatest and easiest opportunity to do so. Whether it be different nuances within the Mass, the construction of the Church, the age of the Church, the placement of the Altar, the placement of the pews, the name of the Church, the location of the Church within the community you are visiting, the congregation that welcomes you, the Priest, the music, the art work, how the liturgy is presented, the communal prayers, and even the Mass times can all help you understand so much more about what it means to be Catholic.

Though far from attending Mass one hundred percent of the time while traveling, I have had the pleasure of participating in the Mass in many different cities, states and even in other countries. Going always – always – becomes a highlight of my trip. Even when I have to drag protesting family members with me, we always leave glad we came and that we made Mass a priority.  Oh and the kids – which is the best part – are like freshmen on campus, especially in the older Churches.  Their eyes are glued to the art and design of the building and They are curious as to where the people and the sounds of the Mass come from. To them, a new church is like a new car, they want to check it all out and see what is different.

One of the great things about being Catholic is its Universal nature, and that the Eucharist is available to you nearly everywhere in the world through a service you understand and can participate in. How could you not appreciate access to the Eucharist wherever you are?

Now as a traveler, might I ask if you know what a Basilica is? A Basilica is a Catholic Church with special privileges conferred on it by the Pope. Did you know that there is a Basilica in many of the major cities throughout the United States?  Some US cities even have two or more. St. Louis has two and New York has four. Several cities in Europe and South America have six to nine. Basilica’s are amazing places with a public mission and breathtaking art work. Many Basilica’s even show up on the top 25 places to visit in a city on web tools like Trip Advisor. Did you know that you can attend Mass at a Basilica? They usually have multiple Mass times daily, and if you do attend Mass there you’ll likely brag about it when you come home. It’s hard to keep the phone on your camera put away as many of them offer tours in between Mass times.

Don’t like Basilica’s; how about a Cathedral?  Every diocese has one.  It’s the main church of the diocese where the Bishop normally resides.  They aren’t too shabby either.  You might check one out. Have you ever checked out your own?

Another thought; does your Priest give good homilies? Not that it truly matters, but how do you know? Compared one lately? My favorite Priest to listen to is at my in-law’s parish where they live. It’s a small country parish on the outskirts of small town America. All of the music is played by a single guitarist, the singing sounds like someone strangled a cat, and the Altar Servers all wear high-water jeans and hand-me-down Air Jordan’s under their garments. But the homilies…the homilies are off the chart’s incredible and move your heart to the Eucharist every time.

So why not add value to your summer trip this year?  Go to Mass somewhere.

How about you brother?  Do you plan Mass attendance into your vacation?  Why not?  Have you thought about what your missing?

YBIC

Good Things

In 1991 the Band BoDeans released the Album Good Things which carried the title track by the same name. Though it is essentially a whimsical love song about the expectations a young man has about the future of a relationship with a girl he falls in love with, the song reminds me on occasion of the same attitude carried by some people of faith regarding their relationship with God. They only expect Good Things to happen to them because of God’s love.

A good friend of mine that lives in Olathe, and Mormon mother of four children, has seen her faith tested. Her husband was diagnosed with a debilitating muscle disease which lost him his job at Hallmark after running out of long-term disability. Until then a stay-at-home mom, she returned to work to provide for the family and nursed him at home when she wasn’t on the job. He came through it, and began a period of recovery.

One morning not soon thereafter he kissed her goodbye and sent her off to work. After she drove away he threw some personal belongings in his new car they saved for, took what money was in the house, and drove off to California with plans of restarting his life with his old high school sweetheart. A couple days later when she and I met up for me to hear the story, she cried openly with me and kept saying, “I don’t understand. We lived out our faith perfectly. We did everything we should have done. Why? Why does this stuff keep happening to us? We should have good things happening to us.

A current co-worker of mine went to lunch with me one day, and I drove, which allowed him the opportunity to discover I listen to Christian Radio. He was very excited to learn this and felt the need to share his witness with me at lunch. I sat, listened, and appreciated all he had to say. He then wanted to know about my faith experience. Not having the time to get into it at that point of our lunch hour, I just asked for his home e-mail address and later sent him a copy of my CRHP witness.

The next day he was my new best friend, and set up camp in my office. “I knew it. I knew it!” he said over and over again. You are a Christian, and that is why things are going so well for you. Everybody recognizes your success, and you have that because you have Jesus in your life.” And he kept pointing at me when he said it. “As Christians, God brings Good Things to us,” he finished.

Dumbfounded, I looked at him like a monkey doing a math problem and asked simply, “Did you read my witness? Not really sure if you appreciate my level of thanks to have Christ in my life. I don’t expect anything. In fact I’m trying to give more of myself everyday because I feel that my life has been too much about me?”

To this day my friend and I continue to debate over our versions of the Good Things that have come through my relationship with Jesus Christ.  He, like my friend the Mormon, attribute a sense of expectation to their faith.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life, (John 3:16).  Arguably one of the most famous of Bible versus.  But what is Love? What is God’s love? Is it the parental forgiveness of a patient father, or is it the responsive accolades of a praise appreciative creator?  Or is God’s Love possibly the commitment, and subsequent sacrifices, to a relationship of value many of us struggle our whole lives to fully understand?  More importantly, could it perhaps be the joy we receive from seeing the fruits of that mutual commitment and sacrifice in our relationship with Him?  And then…the model it becomes for us in our relationships with one another?

Personally, I am just thankful for Christ’s forgiveness. I have stopped asking for personal things in prayers and just thank God for all He has given me. In many ways I see my life as being over, and see each new chapter of my life through the purpose of serving others or serving in the role of husband, father, brother, neighbor or friend. Still a sinner in need of a savior, my prayer is that I may give in thanksgiving for all I have already received.

So bothers where do you stand? Should we expect something for our faith? Should we expect Good Things? Or have we already received it? If our relationship with Christ is on-going, what should our expectations be? Should there be any expectations at all?

YBIC

Is There Room in this Pew?

4595321005_46e1c4d442

“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

5adam-and-eve-in-the-garden-of-edenSM

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