Friday, September 14, 2012

The Triumph of the Cross in our Lives

Today the Church celebrates The Exaltation of the Cross. This feast was observed in Rome before the end of the seventh century. It commemorates the recovery of the Holy Cross, which had been placed on Mt. Calvary by St. Helena and preserved in Jerusalem, but then had fallen into the hands of Chosroas, King of the Persians. The precious relic was recovered and returned to Jerusalem by Emperor Heralius in 629.

In the Scripture readings for today's Mass, we hear about about how the people were healed when they looked upon the brass serpent lifted up on a pole by Moses. In the same way (as we hear in the Gospel Reading) we should look the Christ's sacrifice on the Cross to heal of our sins, to place our trust in him, and imitate him in all things. Our Lord said elsewhere "Whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me." (Matthew 10:38)

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, who was recently declared Venerable, used to say that any doctrine that rejected suffering and the Cross was of the Devil and should be rejected. He also remarked that without the Cross in our life, there would be no empty tomb. St. John of the Cross wrote "A person makes progress only by imitating Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. I would not consider any spirituality worthwhile that wants talk of sweetness and ease and that that runs from the imitation of Christ."

The Cross is all around us. Yes, it tops our church steeples; we might wear one around our necks or hang one on our wall; we bless ourselves with the sign of it before and after prayer. The Cross is an ever-present reminder to us that while God's grace is free, it is never cheap. The modern gospels of "health and wealth, "name it and claim it" or "blab it and grab it" fall short. Our modern hedonistic and self-absorbed culture that allows one to follow a non-challenging religion of our own making is a trap and a lie.

Thomas a Kempis, in Chapter 36 of Book 2 of the classic devotional work Imitation of Christ "On the Few Lovers of the Cross of Christ" says this.

Jesus has many who love His Kingdom in Heaven, but few who bear His Cross (Luke 14:27). He has many who desire comfort, but few who desire suffering. He finds many to share His feast, but few His fasting. All desire to rejoice with Him, but few are willing to suffer for His sake. Many follow Jesus to the Breaking of Bread, but few to the drinking of the Cup of His Passion. Many admire His miracles, but few follow Him in the humiliation of His Cross. Many love Jesus as long as no hardship touches them. Many praise and bless Him, as long as they are receiving any comfort from Him. But if Jesus withdraw Himself, they fall to complaining and utter dejection.

They who love Jesus for His own sake, and not for the sake of comfort for themselves, bless Him in every trial and anguish of heart, no less than in the greatest joy. And were He never willing to bestow comfort on them, they would still always praise Him and give Him thanks.
Oh, how powerful is the pure love of Jesus, free from all self-interest and self-love! Are they not all mercenaries, who are always seeking comfort? Do they not betray themselves as lovers of self rather than of Christ, when they are always thinking of their own advantage and gain? Where will you find one who is willing to serve God without reward?

Seldom is anyone so spiritual as to strip himself entirely of self-love. Who can point out anyone who is truly poor in spirit and entirely detached from creatures? His rare worth exceeds all on earth. If a man gave away all that he possessed, yet it is nothing. And if he did hard penance, still it is little. And if he attained all knowledge, he is still far from his goal. And if he had great virtue and most ardent devotion, he still lacks much, and especially the `one thing needful to him' (Luke 10:42). And what is this? That he forsakes himself and all else, and completely denies himself, retaining no trace of self-love. And when he has done all that he ought to do, let him feel that he has done nothing.

Let him not regard as great what others might esteem great, but let him truthfully confess himself an unprofitable servant. For these are the words of the Truth Himself: `When you shall have done all those things that are commanded you, say, "We are unprofitable servants" (Luke 17:10). Then he may indeed be called poor and naked in spirit, and say with the Prophet, `I am alone and poor' (Ps. 25:16). Yet there is no man richer, more powerful or freer than he who can forsake himself and all else, and set himself in the lowest place.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

What Is "Truth"? My Reply to a Seeker

Last year, my little netbook (which was my primary computer at the time) suffered a catastrophic melt-down of the type that for a time basically left me without my own personal computer. All my files and projects became inaccessible and were, for the most part, gone for good (Wah!). I have since then learned the error of my ways and am backing up all my important data.

Recently, I ran across a draft of a blog entry that I was composing at the time my netbook crashed and that I had presumed was gone forever. It was a reworking of an e-mail that I sent in response to a dear relative several years ago who was considering foregoing the Catholic Church for the religion of a friend (ironically, the relative was also experiencing computer problems at that time). We exchanged a few e-mails on the subject, and the question came up, "How can I know the truth?" Below is my answer (slightly edited) which I thought I'd share here:

Well, I'm afraid I can’t help you with your Windows Explorer-- I’'ll defer to others on that. But you also asked the question: how can a person know the truth?

Well, I hope you really want to know, because one of the reasons it took me so long to answer is that I wanted to think it over and give you MY best answer and not just send you another article. So here goes:

How do you know the truth? That’s a good question and one that almost everyone asks themselves sooner or later. Socrates said that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Confucius tells us that “the aim of the superior man is truth.”

In the Bible, Jesus tells us if we listen to him “"we are truly [his] disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." (John 8:31-32), and that "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6). The Catechism of the Catholic Church (which I very highly recommend you have a copy of) says: “Man [and of course this includes women] tends by nature toward the truth. He is obliged to honor and bear witness to it: "It is in accordance with their dignity that all men, because they are persons . . . are both impelled by their nature and bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth once they come to know it and direct their whole lives in accordance with the demands of truth." (CCC 2467). 

Many of the really important things we come to know or to believe are usually a result of a serious search, examination and reflection. A lot of intangibles like love and acceptance, responsibility and commitment, we learn by experience. These things are real, but are personal and hard to really explain. Truth, on the other hand is actually more tangible; it is something that can be identified and recognized when seen, and can be explained and shared with someone else. 

The first thing to do is to pray. This is also the last thing, but a lot of people tend to look on prayer as only a tactic of last resort, when in fact what makes more sense is that you want to invoke God's assistance and guidance before (and during) your search for Truth as well. Even if you aren't at the place yet where you even believe there's a God who hears and answers prayer, a simple prayer such as "God, I don't know if you are even real, but if you are please guide me to you and to the Truth" is a perfectly good one.

At this point you can start asking questions-- serious questions with the intent of really wanting to know the answer. We could start with a dictionary definition of truth: “Conformity to fact or actuality; fidelity to an original or standard; reality, actuality; a statement proven to be or accepted as true; sincerity, integrity.” By this it follows that, whatever the opposite of truth is, is not the truth. Based on this, we can further say what the truth is not. Truth is not

· Our feelings or emotions or personal preference 
· Whatever seems true for one situation and not another 
· Whatever seems true for one person (culture, group, etc.) and not another 
· Whatever seems true for another time and place, but not another 

In other words, Truth is not subjective, nor is it relative. Authentic Truth cannot be one thing for me and another for you. Either something is true, or it is not.

Is what someone is telling you the Truth-- really the Truth? Maybe, maybe not. What is important is to hold what you hear to an objective (true) standard to which it can be measured. 

For example, let’s now briefly take up the issue you had before you recently: is someone telling you their church believes one thing, but you are told by someone else that is not the case? Both statements cannot be true, so in that case you must do one of two things: believe the person or source that you trust the most, or research the issue yourself. 

If you decide to research the issue, you also must weigh the reliability of the materials you use to find your answers. If you take the word of a trusted (not merely likable) person or source over another, you must decide which source or person is more reliable. In this case we are discussing, the question would be: is what the Mormons say is true or is what the Catholic Church says true? Who is more reliable and more likely to possess the Truth? 

This is how I see it, and you can take it for what it’s worth. It is a fact of history that the Catholic Church was founded by Christ himself and that the Scriptures clearly teach that he gave his own authority and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to this same Church to teach in his name until he comes again (I think I have good historical, logical, biblical and experiential reasons for believing this and if you are interested I can send you or direct you towards some further information). As a result, I believe the Church is an entirely reliable source and guide for Truth and has been such for almost 2000 years. On the other hand, it is a fact of history that the Mormon religion was founded less that 200 years ago by a man with a questionable background and motives who introduced teachings that NO Christian has ever believed in the 2000 years of Christian history (again, I have material on this if you are interested). As you can see, this approach is based on reality and reliability. As applied to the overall subject of Truth, this is just one issue, but you get the idea. 

When Pontius Pilate asked Jesus, "What is truth", he didn't really want to know, but was simply going through the motions of being a sophisticated seeker of Truth. If you really want to know what the Truth is, you have to not just ask, but sincerely search for that Truth using your head as well as your heart. And it’s worth the hard work you put into it because it is always better to be in the Truth than not. The Truth makes a person more confident and less anxious and, no matter what their condition in life is, it fills their life with freedom and real joy. This is what I have found in my own life, and it is what I hope for you and everyone else. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

What is Sacrifice, Why is it Necessary, and Why Did Jesus Have to Die for Our Sins?

Hey, remember me? I can't believe it's been something like two years since I last posted something on this blog, but here I am. Other than having too many other irons in the fire and being overly tired by the time I have free time, I have no excuses. It's not for lack of ideas or desire, that's for sure.

What prompted my return to this particular corner of my blogosphere (I have another blog which you might know about, Sunday Scripture Study for Catholics), is the upcoming Solemnity of Corpus Christi (the Body and Blood of Christ) which celebrates the truth that Jesus Christ is truly present upon the Catholic (and Orthodox) altars of the world under the appearance of ordinary bread and wine. I was looking for a blog entry I thought I had done a few years ago in response to young niece of mine who had a question about sacrifice in general and the necessity of Jesus' sacrifice on the Cross in particular. I didn't find it in my blog, so I decided to post it now.

Uncle Vince here!

[Your aunt] forwarded me some questions you had about some things that occurred to you at a recent retreat. These are really good questions, because (a) it shows you are thinking about important things and (b) because the particular questions you asked are important for understanding religion in general and our Catholic Faith in particular. I think I have some answers for you. You’ll need your or your Mom’s Bible for this so I’ll wait here while you run and get it.

Hmm hmm hmmm hmm…

Are you back? Good!

Let’s take the question about sacrifice first: why sacrifice?

The basic definition of a sacrifice is something you give up out of love. People give up many things for the benefit of those they love: parents sacrifice their time and money for their children, soldiers and firefighters may sacrifice their lives for others. This kind of sacrifice is an act of love.

Sometimes a sacrifice is made to make up for something wrong that they have done. Suppose a girl breaks a window with a baseball. The girl is caught and confesses, but the person whose window it is forgives her. However, it is only fair (or just) that the girl work (time) or find some way to help pay (with money) for the window. This kind of sacrifice is known as reparation, or paying what is owed.

But what does that have to do with sacrificing and God?

People seem to have an inborn sense that they should worship and sacrifice to God. If you look in the beginning of your Bible in Genesis chapter 4, verses 1 through 7, you will see the story of Cain and Abel. These were the very first people after Adam and Eve and they are already making sacrifices to God. In ancient times, people usually sacrificed animals because, since they didn’t use money yet, animals like cows and sheep represented wealth, plus the shedding of blood represented life and death.

Also, if you look toward the end of your Bible in Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans in Chapter 1 verses 18 to 23 (also see Wisdom 13:1-9 in the middle of the Old Testament), Saint Paul tells us that all people everywhere are searching for God, but since many of them did not know the God of the Bible, they began to try to worship God the best they could. However, this led to a lot of false religions in the world that, even though they may have had some good about them, led them into wrong ideas about God. Some of these false religions went horribly wrong like the parts of Aztec and other civilizations that had human sacrifice and other terrible practices.

The Christian idea about sacrifice came out of sacrifices of the Old Testament which was the beginning of God’s revealing himself to his people. The Catholic Church teaches us that Jesus Christ came to end all these sacrifices which were only kind of image or preparation for his one, true sacrifice. But why did God choose to sacrifice His only son if He loved Him so much? This is the most important question of all.

Ever since the time of Adam and Eve (the parents and representatives of mankind) and the Original Sin (see Genesis, chapter 3) mankind has been separated from God, not only because of our first parent’s sin but because of all the sins committed by every person who ever lived on the earth. God created us to live with him in heaven forever but since none of us ourselves could possibly make reparation for all this sin that separates us from God (since God is infinitely Holy), God in his great mercy and love found a way.

God loved us so much that that is precisely why He chose his own Son to sacrifice himself on our behalf. Since Jesus was fully man (so he could represent us) and fully God (so that he offer such an infinite sacrifice) he was the only one who could do it. That is why we call him our Savior. All that is left for us to do is to place our faith in him and his sacrifice, be baptized, and follow his teachings everyday. That is why we call him Lord. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

When we go to Mass every Sunday, it is this very same sacrifice of Jesus (not a new one, but the same one) that is being re-presented on the altar under the appearance of bread and wine and which we have the privilege of participating in offering our worship and our daily lives. Just think: we are participating in the greatest sacrifice there ever was!

Sorry this answer is so long, but it is a good and important question and I wanted to give you the best answer I could. Please keep asking those good questions—and I will try to be less long winded!


Uncle Vince

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Fr. Paul Scalia On "The Seven Deadly Sins"

Here is an audio series that every Catholic simply MUST listen to. This is doubly true if your Catholic education in the vices and the virtues stopped after CCD or Catholic school. The speaker is Fr. Paul Scalia (son of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia). In this series (starting with a session on the Natural Law), Fr. Scalia-- using Sacred Scripture, the writings of the Saints (especially St. Thomas Aquinas), Dante's Divine Comedy, and a good measure of laugh-out-loud humor--explains the Deadly Sins, their origin and cause, and how to combat them. Download and listen to these exceptional talks for yourselves and pass them on to your teen and adult children, other loved ones and friends, and basically all those who need a clear refresher of these important truths of the Faith:

The Natural Law
The Seven Deadly Sins

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Quick Question About "The Da Vinci Code"

I suscribe to a service called "Quick Questions" that sends out a daily e-mail answering questions about the Catholic Faith. Todays question addresses the topic of The Da Vinci Code, the highly controversial-- and still, widely read-- novel by Dan Brown. I thought the staff apologist that answered this question did a good job in addressing the main issues of why Catholics (and anyone interested in truth) have problems with Browns book-- and, by extension, any work or literary or cinematic fiction that distort or play loose with serious historical facts and religious truths:

Q: “I have just read Catholic Answers' report on the novel The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. I have to say that the Church seems very flustered about the book. Surely the Church has nothing to fear from a work of fiction, no matter what the view of the author.”

A: Actually, the Church as an institution has had no comment, one way or the other, on The Da Vinci Code. The book has not been placed by the Vatican on any "forbidden books" list nor have any "official" sanctions been placed on it. Those who are concerned are faithful Catholics, clerical and lay, who have seen the book confuse Catholics and other Christians about the character of people in the early Church, the relationship of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene, and orthodox Christian doctrine.

Although many have claimed that Christians shouldn’t be concerned about the novel because it is fiction, Brown himself has touted the book as the fruit of factual research. He opens the novel with a "Fact Page" that purports to be unvarnished truth. In other words, he wants people to believe that his conclusions in the novel are true.

Even had Brown not advertised his book to reveal hidden "truths" about Christianity, the device of fiction does not grant authors the right to disseminate historical untruths. Analogously, a novel that purported to reveal that the Holocaust never happened and that Adolf Hitler was really a great guy would be (quite properly) discounted by people of good will everywhere as anti-Semitic agitprop. Indeed, in this day and age, such a book would likely never see publication, at least by mainstream publishers. If such a book as that could not be defended with the disclaimer "It’s only a novel!" then other books that spread historical untruths also cannot be defended as "only fiction."

You can subscribe the "Quick Questions" by going to the Catholic Answers website and clicking on the banner that says "Quick Questions E-Letter FREE."

Sunday, May 16, 2010

SB 1070: What Do I Think About It?

This has got to be the hot button topic of the day. Virtually everybody has an opinion on it, some informed and some not so informed. And there are some who are completely misinformed and are running on pure emotion or political posturing. I'm asked about this law a lot, so I am going to try and explain my views here.

As you may or may not know, I am a "third generation" American of Mexican extraction. I put that in quotes because my family was settled in California before it was the United States. I love my heritage and am proud to be what I am. My wife is Filipino and, like most of those who come here from foreign shores, her family worked hard and sacrificed to play by all the rules to come to this country. I was born and raised in California, but have lived happily in Arizona for the last fifteen years. I was in the military, so I've seen some of the world, and I'm now a fire code enforcement official, so I see a fairly wide spectrum of the community--the good, bad and the ugly.

Having said that, let me say this: Those who are against this law and do not live in Arizona need to step back and look at reality.

First of all, this law is NOT about racial profiling-- in fact, language within the law prohibits it. It simply is an enforcement of existing law. If I thought it was going to profile people with brown skin (including me) I would be against it.

Secondly, this law does not-- repeat does NOT-- give police the legal right to stop people whenever they feel like it just to ask their legal status. It does give them the right to ask about their legal status if the person is being lawfully detained for the commission of a crime AND does not possess common ID, like a drivers license. So if you don't commit crimes or get arrested and you have ID, no problem.

So let's stop with the mischaracterizing the law. Instead, lets look at some facts.

Fact: Illegal immigration (note the word 'illegal') is draining Arizona. The emergency room system here is collapsing, the state social welfare system that are meant for American citizens in need are over-burdened and are on the verge of being cut. The public school system is hemorrhaging red ink. Cops and regular citizens along the border are being threatened and killed by violent gangs. The law enforcement system is going broke because of both non-violent and violent crime committed by non-citizens.

Answer me this: Who's going to deal with this and pay for all this? People on the liberal coasts? Who is now paying the price in treasure and blood while the rest of the country wrings their hands and the POTUS makes jokes? What would you have Arizona do--allow itself to be drained of resources? Other than open the borders or grant blanket amnesty, what would you do? I have asked this question many times in many venues and have never received an answer-- only silence.

What about all the American kids in Arizona who can't get jobs because the entry-level jobs that traditionally go to young folks are going to cheap illegal immigrants? Who is dealing with this? Arizona and Arizonans, that's who! We are the Gondor of the US taking the brunt while everyone else sits safely in their ivory towers. If the Feds or no one else will help us, we will do it ourselves. If you have a better plan that you're willing to help pay for, let's hear it.

Finally, let's be clear on this: those self-anointed Latino 'leaders,' activists and celebrities that are now screaming "RACISM" over this law do NOT speak for me. They only speak for themselves and for those who are similarly misinformed, paranoid and politically motivated. I can speak for myself.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Ant and The Grasshopper: An Aesop's Fable Retold for Modern America


The ant works hard in the withering heat all summer long, building his house and laying up supplies for the winter. The grasshopper thinks the ant is a fool and laughs and dances and plays the summer away.

Come winter, the ant is warm and well fed. The grasshopper has no food or shelter, so he dies out in the cold.

The End.

[MORAL OF THE STORY: Be responsible for yourself.]
* * * * *

The ant works hard in the withering heat and the rain all summer long, building his house and laying up supplies for the winter.The grasshopper thinks the ant is a fool and laughs and dances and plays the summer away.

When winter comes, the shivering grasshopper calls a press conference and demands to know why the ant should be allowed to be warm and well fed while he is cold and starving.

CBS, NBC , PBS, CNN, and ABC show up to provide pictures of the shivering grasshopper next to a video of the ant in his comfortable home with a table filled with food.

America is stunned by the sharp contrast. How can this be, that in a country of such wealth, this poor grasshopper is allowed to suffer so? Kermit the Frog appears on Oprah with the grasshopper and everybody cries when they sing, “It's Not Easy Being Green . . .”

ACORN stages a demonstration in front of the ant's house where the news stations film the group singing, “We shall overcome.” Then the Rev. Al Sharpton has the group kneel down to pray to God for the grasshopper's sake.

Dear Leader condemns the ant and blames President Bush, President Reagan, Christopher Columbus, and the Pope for the grasshopper's plight.

Nancy Pelosi & Harry Reid exclaim in an interview with Larry King that the ant has gotten rich off the back of the grasshopper, and both call for an immediate tax hike on the ant to make him pay his fair share.

Finally, the EEOC drafts the Economic Equity & Anti-Grasshopper Act retroactive to the beginning of the summer.

The ant is fined for failing to hire a proportionate number of green bugs and, having nothing left to pay his retroactive taxes, his home is confiscated by the Government Green Czar and given to the grasshopper. The story ends as we see the grasshopper and his free-loading friends finishing up the last bits of the ant’s food while the government house he is in, which, as you recall, just happens to be the ant's old house, crumbles around them because the grasshopper doesn't maintain it.

The ant has disappeared in the snow, never to be seen again.

The grasshopper is found dead in a drug related incident, and the house, now abandoned, is taken over by a gang of spiders who terrorize the ramshackle, once prosperous and once peaceful, neighborhood.

As this scenario is repeated over and over in community after community, he entire Nation collapses, dragging the rest of the free world with it.

The End.

[MORAL OF THE STORY: Be careful how you vote in 2010 and 2012.]

Author unknown.