Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Drummer Boy

While driving home tonight, I decided to listen to our local Christmas song/carol station. During the drive, the song "Little Drummer Boy" came on (Josh Grobin singing). Now, I'm sure many are familiar with the song and the story it tells. A poor boy with a drum comes across the Magi on their way to present their "finest gifts" to Jesus. Once they arrive, the boy says,

Little Baby, I am a poor boy too, I have no gift to bring, that's fit to give the King. Shall I play for you, on my drum?

The Magi have gold, incense, and myrrh, and despite these gifts, the boy feels compelled to offer something, anything to this newborn King. All he has is his drum, which he plays. The story continues:

I played my drum for Him, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my best for Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

Now here's what got me:

Then He smiled at me, pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum

Here, this poor boy with nothing to give the King of kings, plays "his best" on his drum as a gift, and the reaction from this tiny baby who would save us all is a smile. It's a humbling thought that no matter our limitations, no matter our weaknesses, all Jesus asks is our "best", and I think when we do that, he smiles.

It also reminds me of when I come home from work and when my daughter sees me, she runs over, asks me to pick her up, and gives me a big hug. I hope we all make Jesus smile, not only during Christmas, but every season in life. Merry Christmas to all!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Advent... It's not Christmas yet!

As this season of Advent gets underway, Christmas songs are playing on the radio, people are out shopping more than usual for gifts, and decorations and trees are up around homes.

One of the things I appreciate as a Catholic is that we do not sing Christmas songs until after Christmas. Yes, that's right; no "Joy to the World", "Hark the Herald Angels Sing", etc., until after (or on this year) Dec. 25. Instead, we sing Advent hymns, like "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" and "People Look East" to name a couple familiar tunes. It seems contradictory to sing "Joy to the world, the Lord has come!" when liturgically, it hasn't happened yet!

Another thing I am appreciating more this year is that the liturgical year begins where it ends: Christ's return and God's kingdom. We end each year with the feast of Christ the King, which puts greater emphasis on the kingdom on earth, Christ's return. Advent continues this theme, because not only are we looking forward to celebrating Christ's birth, we are also at the same time looking forward to that day when he returns in his glory! This is why we can sing "People look east the time is near!" and "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel."

This Advent, may we all be reminded that while the focus is on Christ's birth, we must be vigilant and look for the day he returns!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


As I begin this extremely touchy and delicate subject, some preface is needed before we dive into it. While I agree with the teachings of the Church on this, it’s still an issue I wrestle with because of personal connections. I'm a person who has homosexual relatives and friends. I do not come from a perspective of "damn homosexuals!", unlike many misguided "Christians". I harbor no ill feelings towards those with homosexual attractions. I wish joy and happiness to those I care about, no matter their orientation. After all, Jesus came that we “might have life and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10) Again, this blog is to present Catholicism’s teachings on different topics with some of my own reflections.

The issue of homosexuality has taken center stage in recent months in our world, primarily due to the results of bullying and also because of its prominence politically as states debate the issue of homosexual marriage. All the attention has Christians struggling with the issue as well, and the responses from various denominations has been varying. For example, the Episcopal Church allows same sex marriages, while others, like Catholicism, have remained firm in their position and will not waver.

The Church is quite staunch on this issue primarily because of its stance on marriage and sexuality in general. Thanks to Blessed John Paul II’s work on the Theology of the Body, teachings on sexuality within the context of the Church were clarified. My previous post on pro-life is an example of the clarity provided, and I will be referring back to it.

Homosexuality still remains a sin in the Church. However, the teachings of the Church through the Catechism provide clarification on some things. First, the Church admits, “[homosexuality’s] psychological genesis remains largely unexplained,” (CCC 2357). Second, the Church differentiates between homosexual attraction and homosexual acts. Much like heterosexual attraction, homosexual attraction in itself is not sinful. The Church teaches that this “constitutes for most of them a trial,” (CCC 2358). Sin enters either through lust or acting upon said attractions. Outside of marriage, this is sinful whether homosexual or heterosexual.

Why is it a sin though? It largely comes down to the Church’s definition of marriage, specifically procreation. Homosexual acts cannot create new life; it is impossible. This is also why the Church does not allow same sex marriage. Referring to Genesis, the Catechism teaches that homosexual acts are “contrary to natural law,” (CCC 2357). God created man and woman, and from an anatomical standpoint, they are complementary, like puzzle pieces that are meant to go together.

Look at Genesis 2. God creates Adam, and wants to create a “suitable partner” for him (2:18). God creates the animals, but they do not suffice. Note Adam’s response once God creates Eve from his rib in Gen. 2:23:

“This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. This one shall be called ‘woman,’ for out of ‘her man’ this one has been taken.”

God made Adam a suitable partner, a woman! Immediately Adam recognizes this compatibility because of how she was made; there is no hesitation. Adam does not say, “Well, I suppose this will work.” No, instead he positively bursts out “YES!”

With all this said, how should homosexuals respond? Like all of us, they are called to chastity. The Catechism teaches that “by the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection,” (CCC 2359). That’s a tough pill for many to swallow, as it basically says that homosexuals should not have any romantic relations. In this sense, their vocation becomes the same as a single person’s (this is where I still struggle).

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11 Readings

It never ceases to amaze me how using Lectionary readings enhances worship and also speaks to the heart. This week was truly special because of 9/11 falling on a Sunday. The readings are ones that truly speak to the heart on this day of remembrance. The theme of forgiveness is very prevalent, and should give us pause, especially considering that the readings follow a schedule and were set for this date many years ago. It is amazing how God speaks and uses the Scriptures to touch our hearts.

I can't imagine the thoughts and feelings of those who lost loved ones on this day ten years ago. I also imagine that there are still those who feel anger and bitterness as they are reminded every year of this tragedy, especially this year. I hope and pray that many of those affected are able to hear these words and can heal from the pain if they still feel that bitterness.

10 years ago...

No theological discussion today, but rather some reflection as I remember what happened this fateful day ten years ago.

I remember it so clearly, much like my parents remember the assassination of JFK or my grandparents remembering the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was a Tuesday, and I know that only because one of my favorite bands, P.O.D., had just come out with their album Satellite. I was a senior in high school. It was second period, around 9:45, when I heard about the planes crashing into the Twin Towers of NYC. There was a sense of disbelief, shock, and confusion. There was no way this was happening to us. Just then, a correspondent who was in the Pentagon said they felt shaking. That was from the impact of that plane crashing.

We spent much of that school day watching NBC news (one of the few "outside" stations we could pick up in our school). During third period, both towers collapsed. It felt like a dream, like something that could never happen in real life, especially in America. Shortly afterwards, a "rumor" spread that a plane had crashed near Shanksville. All of us were skeptical; after all, we lived in Somerset County. Nothing exciting or dramatic happened here. A local news break, however, confirmed this rumor. Again, more disbelief and shock. What in the world was going on? Eventually, our administration told teachers to continue class as usual. How could we though, after what we had already seen and heard?

Phone calls began coming in to our area. After all, the national news could only say that a plane crashed in western PA, or Somerset county. Schools were wondering what to do. While not nearly as catastrophic as NYC, there was still chaos in our small world. Eventually, we were left out early along with other schools in the area. I think administrators realized that it was better to return home, perhaps to our families who also might have left work early.

The news stayed on much of the day at our house. It was unbelievable seeing the video and pictures of the events that had transpired that morning. I can only imagine what those in the towers had experienced, especially those who right in the path of each plane as it crashed.

Much has changed since then as we all know. Airport security has tightened dramatically. New rules and regulations have gone into effect, and others have been revised. Immediately following the events, there was a sense of unity. We were all Americans, all people who had witnessed a horrible tragedy in our nation. Leaders and politicians felt a common bond as was shown by Congress singing "God bless America" on the steps of the Capitol.

Now, it seems we have forgotten much, at least until this time rolls around every year. The bickering and fighting continue in our politics and the mentality of us vs. them still reigns supreme in our world. Many considered the events of 9/11 a wake-up call, but it seems we simply hit the snooze button and fell back into our old ways.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

"I call you friends"

On yet another Maundy Thursday, I contemplate the Gospel reading said every year at services in all Catholic churches. Jesus, taking off his robe, washing the feet of his disciples, and telling them to do likewise (John 13). While I reflected on this last year (see April 2010 posts), I wanted this year to look at John 15.

Typically, Christians are most familiar with Jesus' teaching on being the vine, with us being the branches. What strikes me most is what happens after that lesson, which we read starting in verse 11:

"I have told you this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father." (John 15:11-15)

What prompted this thought was a song I sang at the Newman Center in West Chester, which I attended while visiting Alyssa on weekends. The song is called "We have been told", and I had one of the verses running through my head, which goes like this: "You are my friends, if you keep my commands. No longer slaves, I call you friends."

Imagine the apostles' possible surprise at this statement. Here, the teacher and master they had been following for three years, now turns to them and calls them his friends. What a table turner! Now, I'm not too familiar with rabbinical structures during the first century, but I have a hunch that no other teacher did that with their disciples. Jesus seeks more than just our blind obedience; he wants to know us intimately. He wants to be our friend, our best friend if you will. Thinking about it moves me, because it shows how great his love is.

How often do we fail in this regard? I'm sure many of us have had friends we have lost touch with or have not talked to for quite a while. Some of those people we no longer consider friends; others we can talk to them after some time like nothing has changed. I have people in my life that fall under both categories. However, Jesus wants to be that friend that we talk to every day and that we want to spend time with. I know I disappoint consistently and need to strive to be a better friend. What steps do you take to better your friendship?

Saturday, April 9, 2011


Much criticism has been made about Catholicism and its belief in praying to the saints. Many of us are familiar with at least some names of the saints, most notably Jesus’ apostles along with other major figures in Christian history. But where does this belief stem from, and how did these great figures become saints?

To begin, we are all called as Christians to be saints. This is why, in addition to saints’ feast days, Catholics celebrate All Saints Day on November 1, as a way to celebrate the men and women in our lives who have been great influences. Christ calls us to be holy, and as any study of those who have the title “Saint”, these people had their own struggles in life. A prime example is St. Augustine of Hippo, a man who engaged in sexual immorality before converting, and who later became recognized as a “Doctor of the Church” for his writings on the faith.

The primary reason for the belief in asking the saints for help is the belief in “the communion of saints,” found in the Apostles’ Creed. Those departed brothers and sisters are no less a part of the Christ’s Church than we are who are still living. Thus, asking saints for their intercessions is not nearly so different than asking a friend to pray for us. We also see the saints interceding on our behalf in John’s vision in Revelation 5:8 and 7:9-14. We should be able to take some measure of comfort that our loved ones who are in heaven also may intercede on our behalf!

The communion of saints is something we see (in part) in the letter to the Hebrews, notably chapter 11, which is known as the “faith” chapter. Here, the author goes through various figures we find in the Old Testament, praising them for their faith. Granted, Roman Catholicism only recognizes figures from the New Testament onward (the Eastern rite does have Old Testament saints), but we see how looking to the saints can bolster our own faith.

Here some may ask, “But isn’t that communing with the dead?” Prayer is not holding a séance; we are not seeking to gain information, but rather are asking for help. Also, as Christians we believe in eternal life, so those saints and other departed brothers and sisters are still very much alive with God in heaven. This is another belief of saints: that they are assuredly in heaven.

Another objection may be, “But we should go directly to Jesus with our prayers.” True, our prayers should be focused on Him. But once again, we ask friends to pray for us, and throughout the Bible, we see many people asking others to do the same, such as Paul in his many letters to the churches of the time. The apostle James also writes,

“The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects. Elijah was a man of like nature with ourselves and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth its fruit.” (James 5:16-18)

We see in Scripture time and again how those who follow God’s will on earth are effective in their prayers. How much more so then are those who have been made worthy to be in God’s presence!

This is something I am still learning about of course. I know only a handful of patron saints, like St. Thomas Aquinas, patron saint of education, or St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, patron saint of teachers, yet I find it comforting that even when I ask others on earth to pray for me, that perhaps my grandparents and other relatives are also praying for me. Perhaps in better understanding this teaching, you can as well.

Friday, February 18, 2011


“I am pro-life.” We hear this statement very often in our world today. But what does it mean? To most, it means being anti-abortion. However, ask those same people their opinion on contraception, capital punishment, war, or homosexuality, and you may get some interesting answers.

In a nutshell, Catholicism takes all such issues as life issues. Most of these issues focus around romantic relationships, especially the sacrament of matrimony (marriage). In Catholicism, a valid marriage is one that meets certain criteria: fidelity (the couples intend to be faithful to their vows), indissolubility (essentially “what God has joined together, let no one separate”), and openness to children. It’s this last criterion that makes some people uneasy when mentioned with some of the above issues.

As some may recall, a few months ago Pope Benedict made a statement about contraception and male prostitutes that caused people to scratch their heads and go “Huh?”. A statement made later provided some clarification. Essentially, the contraception ban is only for married couples. If we follow the logic, it makes sense. Only married couples should be engaging in intercourse, therefore contraception should not be used by anyone calling themselves Christian.

But what’s the big deal with contraception anyway? What contraception does is, in a sense, divorce sex from babies. Sex is no longer a procreative act, but one just for pleasure. As Christians, we are all called to give our complete selves to God. Contraception more or less says to God, “I give everything to you, except my fertility,” or “You can have control God, except in the bedroom.” Many historic leaders wrote about the consequences of a contraceptive society, such as Theodore Roosevelt, Gandhi, even the atheist and psychologist Sigmund Freud. All say that such a society (to paraphrase) will go down the tubes.

Following the criteria mentioned above, one can see why homosexual behavior then is seen as a sin. Openness to children is an impossibility. This is why Catholicism is staunch in its stance on this, while other denominations have begun allowing same gender marriages. At the heart of this, writes Christopher West, an author and one who has thoroughly studied Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, is a large insecurity among people with themselves. Images are portrayed everywhere as to what being a man or woman in our society should be. However, we are called to a different path, that of the cross. From the beginning, God intended man and woman to be together (Genesis 1 & 2).

What are those with homosexual tendencies to do then? Catholicism teaches that they are to lead chaste lives and strive to follow God’s calling, being the man or woman He created them to be. By no means is this an easy journey, and not everyone “makes it.” However, I believe God rewards our efforts, for we all fall short of His calling in our lives from time to time.

Side note: I spent quite a few weeks on this topic with the youth group I was working with. Much of the material I pulled from came from Christopher West’s book, “Good News About Sex and Marriage.” This post just touches on some major points from the talks I had with the youth. War and capital punishment will be upcoming!