Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Why Jesus Had to Die



Dear Theophilous,

Like most of us who grew up going to a Catholic school, I could easily answer the question: Why did Christ die on the Cross? Like every child from preschool on, I would easily parrot back – To forgive our sins. It was an answer I knew by heart, but never really understood.

Until recently, when I read Venerable Fulton J. Sheen’s TheDivine Romance.

Originally published in 1930, Sheen’s work is timeless, and there are many ideas about the Church in Western Culture that one would think were prophetic, as they seem to address the trials She is currently going through in the early Twenty-First Century. Although thought provoking and worthy of much discussion, this will have to wait for another day.

As we approached Holy Week, what really struck my heart was how Sheen explained why it had to be Christ, and only Christ who could pay the debt of humanity’s sins on the Cross. Venerable Sheen based his explanation on the two-fold notion of a sin’s gravity being based on the one sinned against, while the honour of the repayment must be tied to the one make the atonement.

Let me explain…


Sin’s Weight

Any insult is offensive, but the severity of the insult lies with the one who is insulted. Let’s take the insult of pie-ing someone in the face for example. If I were to pie my boss in the face, I may get a few days off without pay, or possibly even fired. If I were to pie the mayor in the face, I may spend a night in jail and receive a fine. If a Member of Parliament (or Congressman) were my target, the jail time and fine would probably be a bit higher, while if it were the Prime Minister (or President), I could expect to cool my heels in a jail cell for a longer stretch, and when I got out, I’d spend a few years working to pay back whatever fine the judge found fitting.

The point to all this is to understand that the penalty for an offence is directly linked to the one offended (a student once paid a 25-cents to pie me in the face, and they were heralded as a hero of the student body). If the penalty for the offence of pie-ing someone in the face grows according to their importance in society, how much greater when the one offended through sin is God.


The Honour of Atonement

The more distinguished the title one bears, the loftier the honour their gift can bestow. Traditionally, one will receive recognition from public dignitaries for achieving special milestones; for example a 50th Wedding Anniversary or a 100th Birthday. A certificate from the mayor may be framed and then lost in a drawer. The form letter from the Member of Parliament (or Congressman) could take pride of place on the mantle. A personally signed note from the Prime Minister (or President) will most likely hang proudly on the wall. The most cherished of all (at least in our home) would be a letter of Apostolic Blessing from the Holy Father in the Vatican.

The higher in stature the one giving the gift, the greater honour the gift bestows on the one receiving it. If we would give such pride of place to the gifts given to us by human dignitaries, how much greater is the gift given by our infinite God through His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ?


Sin is offensive! Since sin offends God, and our God is infinite; then logically one realizes that gravity of sin’s weight is also infinite. If the weight of our sin is infinite, then it will require the honour of an infinite sacrifice to make atonement for this sin.

Out of pity for His creation, out of His love for humanity, God in His great mercy offered His Son to come down from heaven and pay the infinite price to forgive our infinite sinfulness. No one but the Messiah could make this payment; the price is too great. It is through Christ’s great sacrifice on the Cross and through His resurrection, that the death of sin could be conquered and the doors opened to eternal life in heaven.


This is why on Good Friday I weep, knowing that Jesus paid the price for the debt that I incurred.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Keeping Holy Week Holy




Dear Theophilous,

It seems like only yesterday we were surprised by the fact that, yet again, Lent had snuck up on us, and we weren’t ready to make our Lenten sacrifice. Ash Wednesday was upon us, we hadn’t given Lent any thought, and we were left scrambling to decide what to sacrifice. We all know that nothing good comes when that happens, we fall back on the old standbys (chocolate, chips, …), which seem doomed to fail from the start – just like last Lent.

Here we are, 5 weeks later, and now Holy Week has snuck up on us. The holiest time of the year. Yet, if we have prepared for Holy Week the same way we have prepared for Lent (as in, not at all), then we can expect to get the same out of our Holy Week… nothing at all.

Like any major event in our lives – we need to plan ahead.

Since Holy Week is only a few days away, I thought to share a couple of ideas on how to make Holy Week a time of prayerful preparation for the great feast of Easter.


Easter Feast

Not only is Easter the greatest feast of the liturgical year, it is also a time for family and friends to get together to celebrate. Everyone loves a grand feast surrounded by loved ones, with laughter and merriment as the sound track, and the egg hunt as the opening act. A day of this magnitude requires lots of planning and preparation – get as much done beforehand as possible. Having everything ready to go before Holy Wee begins will not only allow you to relax and enjoy the great feast, but it will also allow you to concentrate on the totality of Easter from Passion to Resurrection.

There is no possible way to meditate on the great gift of the Eucharist at the Last Supper on Holy Thursday if one is scurrying around town for last minute items before all the stores shut down for the weekend. You will not be able to ponder on the magnitude of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross if your mind is mulling over Sunday’s menu. Finally, if there is any Sunday you should linger on your knees in thanksgiving and wonderment at the God’s greatness instead of rushing home to get the ham in the oven, it’s Easter Sunday.


Penitential Preparation

As Catholics, we are called to avail ourselves of the sacrament of Reconciliation at least once a year. Normally, it is strongly encouraged to make a good Confession during the season of Lent. Many parishes will organize an evening penitential service, with a liturgy of the word, followed by Confession, where the pastors of neighbouring parishes will come to help out (and I’m sure the favour is returned). Annually the Archdiocese of Toronto will have a Day of Confession, where parish priests will spend the majority of the day in the Confessional, negating the excuse that regularly scheduled Reconciliation doesn’t fit into your routine.

If for whatever reason you haven’t made it to Confession this lent (like myself), make plans to get there this weekend – times are usually posted on your parish website.


Prayer Plan

Life is busy enough without throwing a major holiday into the mix. I find that if I don’t have a plan for a daily prayer routine, I’ll find myself dropping exhausted into bed without having once stopped to talk with our Lord. If we really want to take away some spiritual nourishment this Holy Week, then it’s time to step it up a notch.

A few ideas of how to supplement your prayer life during Holy Week might include:

Ø  Praying the Sorrowful Mysteries daily
Ø  Daily meditation on the Stations of the Cross (or just a few each day)
Ø  Praying the Divine Mercy chaplet at 3pm daily

The idea is to focus on Christ’s sacrifice for us so as to make the magnitude of His Passion and Resurrection that much more powerful.


Family Support

Our faith is a family affair, and it’s our responsibility to get our spouses, children, parents, brothers & sisters, etc. to heaven. With this in mind, we need to keep them in the loop of our Holy Week plans. First and foremost, this is to encourage them to grow closer to Christ through a deeper meditation on his Passion and Resurrection. Of equal importance, is to communicate these plans to those closest to you who will be affected by them so that they can be respectful of your own preparation for Good Friday and Easter. There are enough distractions going on in the preparations for the greatest feast of the year, they don’t need to be complicated by any petty disputes that arise from miscommunications and misunderstandings.


The seven days between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday are meant to be a flurry of spiritual activity and not dedicated to a worldly business. It is a time to prepare our souls for the magnitude of Christ’s Passion, and not simply our homes for the multitudes who will come for dinner. By being ready for Holy Week, we will be able to properly meditate upon the greatness of Christ’s sacrifice and His triumph over death.


May you and your family have a prayerful and prayer-filled Holy Week that truly merits its name.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Why Catholics Fast



Dear Theophilous,

Why is it on days that I’m fasting, all I can do is think about food? It doesn’t help matters either when all the billboards are for restaurants, all the TV commercials for fast-food, and my list of errands includes a trip to the grocery store.

Despite all the temptation, I fast anyway.

Since Christ warns us about making a show of our fasting: And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting, (Mt 6:16) whenever I fast, I’ll quietly tell my wife and son, so that they will be respectful and understanding, but I don’t go around with a sign around my neck that says: Do not feed the Catholic. Because of this, there is usually some point in the day when I need to politely explain that I’m fasting to someone’s generous insistence that I eat.

To the outsider, fasting can be one of the most perplexing Catholic practices. Making the conscious decision to go without food, especially in our consumption-geared society, seems to go against the natural order. Although Catholics can, and will, fast for any number of reasons throughout the year, this penitential practice comes to the fore yearly during the season of Lent.

So this raises the question: Why do Catholics fast?

The short answer is to be Christ-like.

In everything we do, Christians are called to imitate Christ. Whether it is to love our neighbours, our enemies, to pick up our Cross, or to forgive others; we are asked to follow Christ’s lead, as difficult and impossible as it might seem. Thus, during the 40 days of Lent, we are called to mirror Christ’s 40 days in the desert, in fasting and prayer.

Then Jesus was lead by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for 40 days and 40 nights, and afterwards he was hungry. (Mt 4:11)

One would think that Catholics are being called to an impossible task to be Christ-like during Lent, and to go 40 days without eating anything (though I think I’ve built up enough reserve around my midriff that I just might make it). Fortunately, the rules on fasting don’t go to quite this extreme. Although the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops does not give specific guidelines on fasting (calling for only a reduction in quantity and richness of food eaten on their website), the general rule of thumb is one full meal per day, with two smaller meals, which when combined, do not exceed amount the one full meal. Really, this isn’t out of the ordinary for most of us. The part I have the most difficulty with is the no snacking allowed!

So, outside of the imitation of Christ in the desert, one must ask again: Why do Catholics fast?

Over the years, I have found the rationale for fasting to be three-fold:

·      Penance
·      Prayer
·      Thanksgiving


Penance

Lent is a time of becoming attuned to our sinfulness so that we can seek God’s forgiveness and mercy. Gluttony is a sin that I, like much of our consumerist society, grapple with on a daily basis. It’s not that we aren’t supposed to enjoy the delicious beauty of God’s creation, it’s just the copious amounts in which we enjoy it. The hunger pangs I feel throughout the day, especially at the times when I would normally reach for a (not-so) small snack, remind me of my inclination to sin, and to call on the Holy Spirit to push through the moment of minimal temptation.


Prayer

Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are the three pillars of Lent, and all three are interdependent. Fasting calls us to a more attentive prayer. When I fast before Mass or Adoration, I am reminded that Man does not live by bread alone (Mt 4:4), and I hunger for the Lord in the Eucharist. When I am fasting, and have gotten over the hurdle of fixating on food, this leaves me more time and ability to concentrate on prayer. Finally, as I move through the day and hunger strikes between meals, I use it as a reminder to say a quick prayer: Jesus, I trust in you! or Have mercy on me, a sinner! or Lord, I hunger for you! or There is no virtue without temptation! (St. Augustine) or how ever the Holy Spirit moves me.


Thanksgiving

Let’s face it… Most of us living in Europe or North America have never really known hunger. We may get hungry from time-to-time, but we have never experienced what it is like to be truly hungry. A former student of mine once went on a mission trip to Zimbabwe; he recounted how children would walk for kilometers for the chance at their only meal for the day - a bowl of porridge, and if there wasn’t enough to go around, those at the end of the line would shrug their shoulders and walk home, only to return the next day in hopes of getting there in time for something to eat. Missing your one meal a day… this is true hunger. In the grand scheme of things, two small meals and one regular sized meal is no great sacrifice. Those little hunger pangs I feel throughout the day are a reminder of the truly blessed life I lead, and that I need to do more to help those who are less fortunate.


Catholics are called to truly fast only 2 days a year: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Traditionally, Catholics have practiced fasting and abstinence (not eating meat) on Fridays throughout Lent, and for many, this is a practice on Fridays throughout the rest of the year. If we were to go back to the Early Church, in the formative years of the Church Fathers, the practice was to fast on both Wednesdays (when Judas took it into his heart to betray Jesus) and Fridays (when Jesus died on the Cross).


No matter if one choses to fast on only the two required days, during Lent, throughout the year, or even to add days of fasting and abstinence for various reasons. We need to remember that fasting is not simply a Catholic weight loss program, but a sacred practice calling us to penance, prayer and thanksgiving.