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Reflections on Catholic Faith - January 2008 - It's All About Jesus - But it Starts with His Mother

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January 28, 2008

Today is the memorial of Saint Thomas Aquinas – a priest and doctor of the Church. As I prepare this, I have on my desk, a book entitled INTRODUCTION TO ST. THOMAS AQUINAS. It was this book we studied in philosophy and theology classes when I went through the first two years of deacon formation. It is the study of this book that had me questioning whether I was perhaps foolish to consider becoming a deacon…. Meaning I found this somewhat difficult. But we persevered. This book contains the Summa Theologica and the Summa Contra Gentiles – two of Aquinas’ works.

By virtually universal consent, Thomas Aquinas is the preeminent spokesman of the Catholic tradition of reason and of divine revelation. He is one of the great teachers of the medieval Catholic Church, honored with two titles: Doctor of the Church and Angelic Doctor.

His road to his role in the church began at five years of age when his family gave him to a Benedictine monastery – his folks hoping that he would choose that as a way of life and perhaps become an abbot. It was in his own studies and formation that Thomas became attracted to Aristotle’s philosophy upon which Aquinas later based much of his logic and writing. Now if you want to hear about a strong mother type, listen to this. Still at a relatively young age, Thomas abandoned the family’s plans and left the Benedictine monastery to join the Dominicans.

Thomas’ mother ordered his brother to capture Thomas and they held him captive at home for over a year. Once freed, he went to Rome and elsewhere and completed his studies. His greatest contribution to the Catholic Church is his writings. I pulled this book down yesterday and it opened to a page which is a marvelous, if small example of the type of question Aquinas wrote in the Summa. His question? “Whether truth exists only in the intellect?” Isn’t that timely even in our day? We have so many relativists who say ‘well that may be your truth – but it certainly isn’t truth for me!” In the Summa, Thomas asked the question: Is truth only in the intellect?

The format of his writing in this document was to ask a question – argue for it in 2, 3 or 4 examples of why it is true. And then he would argue 3, 4 or 5 rebuttal arguments. So about whether our Catholic truths are true only for us, Aquinas says in rebuttal to this ‘your truth, my truth’ sort of thinking:

1. Truth resides not only in the intellect – but also in things. Otherwise, rocks in the earth would not be rocks unless they were known to be there. 2. If truth exists only in the intellect, then truth only exists when it is understood. This would lead to a many truths – when in fact, truth is Truth. 3. Finally, truth exists in things – not in the intellect.

I think of someone I know who told me she was going to stop going to the Catholic Church because it wasn’t what she wanted or needed.

She chose to stay home on Sundays because that is where she was most comfortable. Imagine how Thomas would write a question concerning whether God is served by where we feel the best.

The Summa Theologica, his last and, unfortunately, uncompleted work, deals with the whole of Catholic theology. He stopped work on it after celebrating Mass on December 6, 1273. When asked why he stopped writing, he replied, “I cannot go on.... All that I have written seems to me like so much straw compared to what I have seen and what has been revealed to me.” He died March 7, 1274.

In our deacon classes, we never discussed what may have happened to St. Thomas when he was saying Mass – perhaps a vision of the angels and saints surrounding him in praise of Christ-made-present at the altar… surely it must have been something profound. But the saint left us a marvelous legacy for scholars and students and interested readers to explore.

We honor Thomas Aquinas as a towering example of Catholicism – Catholic thinking. He was broad and universal in his approach, yet he invited us all into the exercise of the God-given gifts of reasoning and understanding.

(Note: Special thanks to the Franciscan Website which features daily information on the saints. You can find the address in my ‘links’ page if you’d like to read more about St. Thomas Aquinas or any other saints.)

Reading 1
2 Sm 5:1-7, 10

All the tribes of Israel came to David in Hebron and said:
“Here we are, your bone and your flesh.
In days past, when Saul was our king,
it was you who led the children of Israel out and brought them back.
And the LORD said to you, ‘You shall shepherd my people Israel
and shall be commander of Israel.’”
When all the elders of Israel came to David in Hebron,
King David made an agreement with them there before the LORD,
and they anointed him king of Israel.
David was thirty years old when he became king,
and he reigned for forty years:
seven years and six months in Hebron over Judah,
and thirty-three years in Jerusalem
over all Israel and Judah.

Then the king and his men set out for Jerusalem
against the Jebusites who inhabited the region.
David was told, “You cannot enter here:
the blind and the lame will drive you away!”
which was their way of saying, “David cannot enter here.”
But David did take the stronghold of Zion, which is the City of David.

David grew steadily more powerful,
for the LORD of hosts was with him.

Responsorial Psalm
89:20, 21-22, 25-26

R. (25a) My faithfulness and my mercy shall be with him.
Once you spoke in a vision,
and to your faithful ones you said:
“On a champion I have placed a crown;
over the people I have set a youth.”
R. My faithfulness and my mercy shall be with him.
“I have found David, my servant;
with my holy oil I have anointed him,
That my hand may be always with him,
and that my arm may make him strong.”
R. My faithfulness and my mercy shall be with him.
“My faithfulness and my mercy shall be with him,
and through my name shall his horn be exalted.
I will set his hand upon the sea,
his right hand upon the rivers.”
R. My faithfulness and my mercy shall be with him.

Mk 3:22-30

The scribes who had come from Jerusalem said of Jesus, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and
“By the prince of demons he drives out demons.” Summoning them, he began to speak to them in parables, “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand; that is the end of him. But no one can enter a strong man’s house to plunder his property unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can plunder his house.

Amen, I say to you, all sins and all blasphemies that people utter will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin.”
For they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

January 7, 2008

Praise be Jesus Christ – Now and forever. I have worked on these words…. to use them for a column (for my website) – but to also use them for a mini-homily (or reflection) at Monday Mass or a Communion Service in case Fr. Bill can’t be with us.

I started with those words – Praise be Jesus Christ…. they are used in many of the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches – but don’t be surprised if some Latin-rite priest or Bishop starts a Mass or a sermon with them. All who hear “Praise be Jesus Christ” respond with the words, “Now and forever.”

In Colorado, we have had a Ukrainian Rite priest who comes from New York City. He does this as he takes his vacations – and for thirty five years, he’s been giving the local pastor time off. The Ukrainian Rite priest always starts his sermons with the words, “Praise be Jesus Christ.” It didn’t take long for people in Colorado to learn to respond with those words I mentioned, “Now and forever.” This is related to today’s theme.

On my website – I said that the January reflections are all about Jesus – but it starts with Mary, his Mother.

What I meant by that, of course is that last week, we were celebrating the New Year. And in the Catholic Church – the way we do that is to celebrate the Solemnity of Mary in her title – in the Church’s recognition of her as the Mother of God.

Now however, if I wanted to devote these four Monday ‘reflections’ to Jesus – where should I start? Where would HE have me start? Theologically? Jesus – the Word who (always) was God and who became man to help lead mankind back to the Father? Well, yes… but…. I would like to start this Month of Jesus by reminding us that Jesus is with us.

Well sure, you’d say that Jesus is God and God is everywhere. That’s true and it’s head-type stuff. For Catholics, Jesus is here… right here… First and foremost in the Eucharist. And he is here in Holy Scripture. And he is here in his Church. But he is also HERE… I mean HERE!!

Jesus repeatedly said, “Don’t be afraid. Do not fear. I am with you. I will never leave you.” He is so near to us – this isn’t me just saying this…. It’s true. Yes – it’s so!

There is a holy woman whose nickname is Anne and she says that she is in regular ‘communication with Jesus. I don’t know the truth of it – although her bishop say’s it’s okay for Anne to share from these ‘sessions’ of talk with Jesus. During one conversation – she asked Jesus what he did all day while she was working on her daily duties? Jesus replied, “I am standing by, so that if you need Me, I am here.” Anne said that this made her smile and lightened her heart considerably.

Anne said, “To think that this is available to everyone…. (if they knew and believed this) people would all feel this way.” They’d feel this closeness to Jesus… they wouldn’t swear during the day… they might stop smoking… they might not be as critical of themselves or of others… They might come to know that Jesus is also with others and they would love others in some way that is beyond our human loving.

Yes – It’s all about Jesus – Jesus who is ‘standing by’ just in case you need him… or want to pray to him… or ask his advice… or if you want to welcome him further into your mind and heart. Kinda awesome stuff, isn’t it?

Jesus, I love you. Possess me.

Reading 1
1 Jn 3:22–4:6
Beloved: We receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And his commandment is this: we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us. Those who keep his commandments remain in him, and he in them, and the way we know that he remains in us is from the Spirit whom he gave us.

Beloved, do not trust every spirit but test the spirits to see whether they belong to God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can know the Spirit of God: every spirit that acknowledges Jesus Christ come in the flesh belongs to God, and every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus does not belong to God. This is the spirit of the antichrist who, as you heard, is to come, but in fact is already in the world.

You belong to God, children, and you have conquered them,
for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They belong to the world; accordingly, their teaching belongs to the world, and the world listens to them.
We belong to God, and anyone who knows God listens to us,
while anyone who does not belong to God refuses to hear us.
This is how we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of deceit.

Responsorial Psalm
2:7bc-8, 10-12a

R. (8ab) I will give you all the nations for an inheritance.
The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; this day I have begotten you. Ask of me and I will give you the nations for an inheritance and the ends of the earth for your possession.”
R. I will give you all the nations for an inheritance.
And now, O kings, give heed; take warning, you rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice before him;
with trembling rejoice.

R. I will give you all the nations for an inheritance.

Mt 4:12-17, 23-25

When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, that what had been said through Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled:

Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles,the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen.

From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people. His fame spread to all of Syria, and they brought to him all who were sick with various diseases and racked with pain, those who were possessed, lunatics, and paralytics, and he cured them.

And great crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan followed him.

December 31, 2007

It is beautiful that we begin the New Year in honor of and under the patronage of Mary as Mother of God. The precise title “Mother of God” goes back to at least the third or fourth century. In the Greek form Theotokos (God-bearer), it became the touchstone of the Church’s teaching about the Incarnation. The Council of Ephesus in 431 insisted that the holy Fathers were right in calling the holy virgin Theotokos. At the end of this particular session, crowds of people marched through the streets shouting: “Praised be the Theotokos!” The tradition reaches to our own day. In its chapter on Mary’s role in the Church, Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church calls Mary the “Mother of God” 12 times.

Other themes come together today. It is the Octave of Christmas: Our remembrance of Mary’s divine motherhood injects a further note of Christmas joy. It is a day of prayer for world peace: Mary is the mother of the Prince of Peace. It is the first day of a new year: Mary continues to bring new life to her children—who are also God’s children.

In a Vatican II Document called the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church – we find these words: “The Blessed Virgin was eternally predestined, in conjunction with the incarnation of the Divine Word, to be the Mother of God.”

May I quote now from a woman – her name is Catherine Doherty. She wrote: “Mother of God – what awesome words. How could it be that femininity enfolds Divinity? And yet it did. How is it possible that God Almighty came as a baby… as one of us? How is it that a poor Jewish teenager would be the one that God Himself would run to here on earth? Mary was and is the Mother of God, yet she is also a child of this very earth that we live on. Mary knew neighborhoods and peoples and various locales. Yet she is the Theotokos.

Catherine Doherty used to say, “To even begin to come to grips with this, we need to fold the wings of our intellect, let faith open its arms and the soul be plunged into the heart of a mystery that is timeless.” One final quote from Catherine. It isn’t Marian – but I’d like to use it to lead us to a different and very personal construct of our devotion to Mary. Catherine Doherty used to be fond of saying, “With God – every moment is the moment of beginning again. Let us hear that – no matter how sinful… how broken we may have been – how irregular our journey has been … With God -- every moment is the moment of beginning again. I think this is a wonderful saying for us to have as we enter the New Year. And now, here is an idea that is a moment of beginning again in our appreciation of, and relationship with our Blessed Mother.

We are a nation dedicated to – and pledged to the patronage of our Blessed Mother. Our veneration of Mary as Mother of God may make her seem all-too-heavenly and remote from us.

Yet there is a custom – a regional and cultural tradition that I would like to mention. It is common in European and other cultures – to dedicate an area to the patronage of the Mother of God. We know of prayer and dedication to Our Lady of Fatima… Our Lady of Medjugorje… Our Lady of Guadalupe. But petition to Mary is done in locales even when there are no apparitions or miracles. This dedication is done by simple acclamation of the people… people who recognize that Mary is the not only the Mother of God – she is the Mother of us all. She is right here with us – because her Son is here with us.

What the people of many areas do is to dedicate an area to Our Lady. It would be wonderful to recognize Mary’s presence among us -- and to pray to Our Lady of Payson and ask for her intercession and special protection for this area and for all peoples.

Does is sound strange to hear Our Lady of Payson? It shouldn’t at all. It could be a regular part of our own personal prayers: “Our Lady of Payson, Pray for Us.” This is a way of recognizing that an area is especially dedicated to Mary – asking that the graces she mediates are poured out in abundance upon our neighbors and us. Our Lady of Payson, help send us precious water. Our Lady of Payson, protect us from forest fires. Our Lady of Payson, grant help to the unemployed. Our Lady of Payson, help us find unity with all Christian peoples. Our Lady of Payson, help us to end domestic violence.

The Church teaches us of Mary and her role as Mother of God. It reminds us that she was the one who conceived, brought forth and gave mother’s milk to her son who is our God. We honor that with a solemnity of celebration today. Can we also see that Mary is not just ‘up there’ – not just a woman of awesome holiness who lived 2,000 years ago… but a woman who lived on our earth… a woman who wants to be very near to us and to lead us to new life in her Son.

If, like many of our Protestant brothers and sisters, you have become detached from the Mother of Jesus… from the Mother of God… think of her as Our Lady of Payson…. Or Our Lady of the Beeline Highway… Or Our Lady of Pine or Strawberry… because she is that present and that caring of each of us… You can start this new year with a new devotion to Christ and to His Mother… because we can remember these words: With God – every moment is the moment of beginning again.

Pray for us O Holy Mother of God – that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. Our Lady of Payson, Pray for us. Amen.

© 2006-2009 Deacon Tom Online

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