Tag Archive: RCIA


RCIA: Mystagogia of Prayer

prayer and Jesus

Now, at this point, let’s discuss, “The Mystagogia of Prayer”. MYSTAGOGIA, it’s an awesome sounding word, very intimidating. Mystagogia is defined as a deepening of our understandings in the mysteries of our faith and their impact on our lives. Whether we are newly baptized, or have been baptized for a long time, this time after Easter is a great time for all of us to immerse ourselves in the investigation of what it means to be a Catholic Christian. The early Church understood that many of the recently baptized needed time for the mysteries and sacraments, which they received, to “sink in” and mature. The seed of their faith had to be nurtured and protected. Their awareness of these things had to grow. Our awareness, also, has to grow. So if we are discussing Mystagogia of Prayer, we are discussing a deepening of our understanding of prayer, and how it flows into our lives as Catholic Christians.

What is Prayer? Back in the mid 1940’s, prayer was defined as, “The lifting up of the mind and heart to God.” That definition is still viable in today’s world. We speak of people having a “meeting of the minds”, or a “heart to heart talk”. These are ways of describing two people on the “same wave length”, understanding each other, really “in sync” with one another. The definition of prayer, namely, lifting up of the mind and heart to God, is nothing other than our speaking openly and honestly with God, and listening in our hearts for His reply.

The Mass is the highest form of prayer in which we can participate. We dispose ourselves, or prepare ourselves by listening to words from the Bible. The sections chosen will have a unified theme. It is about that theme, the priest or deacon will speak to us in the homily. The homily is to both acquaint us with the readings and to help us understand how they can be applied to ourselves in our daily life. We then offer (the Offertory) our daily life, the actions of our day, along with Jesus, to our Heavenly Father. The Consecration of the Mass is our following Jesus’ command to “Do this in memory of Me”. We have attached our works to the bread and wine that is being offered. “This is My Body”, and “This is My Blood”, the sacrifice to God is made anew. At the Great Amen, focusing on what has been done, we say our “YES” that we understand and agree with the priest’s words of “..through Him, With Him and In Him, all glory and honor is yours, almighty Father…” We, our actions of the day, together with Jesus’ sacrifice are given to God. We know that it is only through, with and in Jesus our works can become meaningful to God. We then receive our Lord in communion and quietly, in the silence of our heart, we listen, to God’s reply.

We have defined what prayer is. Don’t get lost in technicalities. There are different ways to pray to God. Don’t adhere to rigid standards. All are a means to guide us, to assist us. If we dance and don’t listen to the music and only focus on where our feet should move to, we are not dancing we are walking like a robot. If we propose marriage to someone and keep looking at a cheat sheet to tell us what to say, we won’t be getting married anytime soon. We don’t need a guide book to show us how to speak our love to our parents, or our children, or our significant other. We speak from our heart. We let the emotions that well up inside us, the thoughts that occupy our mind and heart, we let these frame our words to reveal our inner selves.

So too, talking to our Father in Heaven, we must speak from our heart. Here though, we have a significant advantage. God already knows us, knows our thoughts, knows our problems, knows our fears and worries. He knows what we want to say; but He waits for our free will to come into play. We must voice our problems, admit their existence, express our love and willingness to follow His decrees. In short, trust in Him.

And so, we pray. We might use formally worded prayers, like the Apostles Creed, the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Act of Contrition. Or we might say the Rosary. A mantra type of prayer repeating Our Father’s and Hail Mary’s while meditating on the various mysteries and their impact on our lives. We might go to Mass during the week days. Remember, the Mass is the greatest prayer we can participate in. We can utilize all of these forms of prayer throughout the day.

Our entire day can and should be a prayer. We say in the Morning Offering, “I offer You my prayers, works, joys and sufferings”. That pretty much covers the entire day. Everything we do, how we treat people throughout the day, where we allow our thoughts to go, all the times we smile, all the times we give people the opportunity to smile, all the hurt feelings we get that day, all the times we alleviate someone’s hurt feelings. Everything, all of this, we offer to You, Oh God. Our day, then, becomes a prayer. How good of a prayer it is, is up to us.

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love hate

When we hear the word exorcism, our mind thinks immediately to what we know about this rite. We can’t help but think of the movies that we have seen. In them was depicted all sorts of oddities, a young girls head turning around and around on her neck, objects flying across a room, vulgarities and condemnations being slung from a person’s mouth. Strange as all of this is, it is a film maker’s attempts at capturing in the film, the ultimate horror of evil, the degrading of sin, in short, the ugliness of being without love. This being without love is the cruelest torment of all. It is the fate of all who live lives that care for no one but themselves, who seek to take advantage of anyone or any moment to satisfy their own needs. Such is a life without love. It has sought no love, it has given no love, and so, in the end it receives no love.

The Church in her wisdom holds up a scrutiny for us to consider. Last week we addressed the Creed, the articles of faith that we believe. If we haven’t read through the Creed and tried to, at least, attempt an understanding of its contents, we are wasting precious time. Your Baptism declares that you do believe these articles of faith, even if you don’t understand how they can be.  It is not something that we can prove with philosophy, or logic, but that which our heart knows to be true, but doesn’t fully comprehend. This is really what faith is.

So, this Sunday, the Church speaks to us of exorcism. Why? Why the jump from Creed to Exorcism. All that we believe everything that is contained in the Creed, brings us to love.  In the Creed we speak of God, a God who loves and creates, of Jesus and what He said and did for us, and the love He has shown us. In it we pray to the Holy Spirit to surround us in love. We speak of the Church which is the gathering of all who love. Why is the Creed so important to us? Because, it leads us to all that is loving and beautiful in this world. Without this Creed, without this belief structure, we would be nothing but plotting, conniving individuals seeking only our own good and not caring for anyone else around us. So the horrors of exorcism, or rather the horrors, that necessitate exorcism, would be rampant without the Creed and a belief structure that the Church teaches and reminds us to follow.

Baptism brings us into the peace and love of God; we become adopted sons of God. We become part of the mystical Body of Christ, a group of loving individuals. The purpose of Christ, of Christianity, is to bring peace and concern for others into this world. Catholicism is not a club. It isn’t something that we have in our back pocket and pull it out when necessary. It is a living of life. It is an attempt to show God our love, by living lives that reflect His goodness, His love.

And so, the Fourth Sunday of Lent, the scrutiny speaks about exorcism. It does this, not for us to focus our attention on it, but to help us realize the horrible lengths that living without the church will take us. We live Catholic Christian lives not out of fear of what may happen, of what condemnation we might endure. No, nothing like that. We live these lives because Christ, who we follow, who we believe in, has shown us how to live. Can we honestly call ourselves Catholic Christians if we don’t live lives that reflect the joy, the happiness, the love that comes with being at peace with ourselves?  This is what we are called to do, this Sunday and every day of our lives. We must recognize that Jesus is beside us, always.  And with Him, through Him, and in Him, we can live a life that presents joy and love to a world that needs it.

jesus on trial

(Parables and Impact on Church and State)

“Jesus’ whole life, every word and action was His teaching.”-4 That is why we can’t just look at His miracles or the events touching Him. His whole life, blended together, was his teaching. Throughout that public life, He utilized one special form of teaching: parables. Simply put, parables are short stories depicting a human trait with some moral to be learned.

Many times in the parables, there are multiple people with whom we can identify. For example, in the Prodigal Son parable-5, we can identify ourselves with the erring son, the older brother, the father, or the servant. Each person’s role portrays something, some value that we can identify with. Jesus would use these stories to help the people understand their role in life, the direction their life is moving, the good or bad quality of their life. Whenever He used a parable it was not to condemn but rather to help the person come to a better understanding about themselves. Even in His teaching, his love for the person was of paramount importance. At the heart of each parable was the kernel seed of the Kingdom of God.

In fact, many of the parables would begin with the words, “The kingdom of God is like…” The parable would go on, not about what heaven was, nor where it was, but rather the dispositions needed to acquire it, to get there. As the Church (the people of God) matured down through the years, their understanding of some of the parables grew, as well. For example, the parable of the owner of the vineyard-6 paying the same full wages to those who came very late in the day was originally viewed as God’s mercy. Later, as the Church grew, she realized that it was deeper than that. At the heart of this parable was the teaching that nothing that we can do “earns” salvation. It is purely God’s gift. God calls everyone to the kingdom. How we respond to that call, how we accept that gift is what is critical. Before the break we used the phrase “this makes sense, therefore I believe”. Intellectually, it can make sense, but we cannot leave it there. To accept the kingdom is to place our trust in God. That, placing of our trust, is our response to God’s call.

In another parable we hear that the kingdom of God is the forgiveness of huge, un-payable debts of sin out of God’s mercy.-7 If God has forgiven us these huge debts of our sinfulness, it only stands to reason that we must forgive those debts that are owed to us. Why do we see the splinters of faults in others eyes, when we don’t see the beam protruding from our own eye? So, the kingdom of God will have the good and the bad in it, much like the parable of the net that indiscriminately gathers all kinds of fish.-8 Or, the kingdom is like the field that has wheat and weeds in it.-9 Both of these parables indicate that there will be a separation forever at the end.

To summarize this chapter, it is a glowing example of Jesus’ methodology of teaching. He gently loves us, and tries to urge us to look deeper into what the kingdom of God truly is. His love for us precedes everything else. He wants us to love Him back. He wants us to love our fellow man. Yes, we are sinful and lazy, but His love for us is always there. He died for us, so that we may live. Our acceptance of Him is something that will affect us the rest of our lives. It will affect how we live the rest of our lives and treat others. All of us are guilty of sin. No one can claim innocence on this charge. Because of this common guilt, it makes no sense to treat others as though they are less than us. And, through it all, Jesus (God) loves us and has forgiven us. If we accept all of this, then we accept the kingdom of God.

When I first read chapter five, in our book, I thought it was very dry. So, I read it again, and still again. I slowly realized the necessity of this chapter. It shows the backdrop of the time, into which Jesus came into the world. It shows the attitudes that were present, and why the peoples resisted so strongly the teachings of this Messiah. The Israelites did not expect a kingdom like the one preached by Jesus. Their kingdom was going to be one to overthrow the Roman tyranny. Their Messiah was to be a general, a great leader. Jesus was an enigma to both the Israelites and the Romans, as well. The Romans feared that this upstart Jesus would cause a revolution. But both factions were confused, since his words were that of peace and love.

The Hebrew peoples had grown accustomed to doing the letter of the law. The Torah spelled out everything for them: what they should eat, when they should eat, what they should pray; when they should pray. Life was simply a matter of doing exactly what the Hebrew Law said. If they did, then they would be pleasing to their God. There was no thought of internal moral convictions. You were righteous if you did what the law said. No more-no less. Judaism was a Theocracy: A nation ruled by God. Because of this, the high priest and the Sanhedrin ruled over all, because they were representatives of God. The Sanhedrin was a tribunal that was made up of members of the priestly class, Scribes, Doctors of the Law and the Elders. These last three groups were kind of the learned elite. However, among all the people, there was a great divide, caused by two diverse reactions to paganism.

On the one side were the Sadducees. They were religious but had no difficulty in associating with the pagans. Their group was made up of higher officials, merchants, property owners and priests. They held only to written law. If the law was mute on a point they felt that reason should decide. The other group was the Pharisees. They would not tolerate any dealings with the pagans. If it were not Judaic then there would be no tolerance of anything else. For the Pharisee, all law, written and oral, must control every aspect of human life. Most of the Doctors of Law were Pharisees.

Jesus seemed to be always caustic with the Pharisees. On one occasion, He called them “white washed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside but inside are full of dead men’s bones.”-10 On another occasion, when asked why he ate with sinners, Jesus replied, “Those that are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”-11 Because of their blind obedience to the law, they frequently challenged Jesus on why He did things on the Sabbath. Why did He and His disciples pluck ears of wheat and knead them with their hands to make a rough meal on the Sabbath? Why did He work a miracle on the Sabbath? Did He not know the law and that no work was to be done on the Sabbath? To which Jesus replied, “The Sabbath was made for man, not Man for the Sabbath”.-12

It was in this period that Jesus lived. He was constantly being challenged by the authority of the day, both religious and political. Throughout it all, Jesus shows us how to address adversity. Whether it is persecution from others, people challenging our views, ridiculing our lives of temperance and modesty, or just dealing with the sorrows of life, He shows us that our eye must be fixed on Him, at all times. No other way can we survive as Christians. No other way will we want to live.

____________________________

-4 Believing in Jesus Chapter 4, Page 47

-5 Luke 15:11-32

-6 Matt 20:1-16

-7 Matt 18:23-25

-8 Matt 13;47-50

-9 Matt 13:24-30

-10 Matt 23:27b

-11 Mark 2:17

-12 Mark 2:27b

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Jeeus life of

Today, we speak on the life of Jesus, what He said and did. We are going to do something a little differently, today. We are going to put ourselves back in the time of Christ, shortly after His crucifixion. Our lives, the way we talk, how we cook, what we do each day, everything is back in the days of 40 or 50 A.D. Even our names are different. In this room we might have a Mary, an Elizabeth, a Miriam, Naomi, Rachel, Ruth, Sarah, or Shoshanah. There could be an Aaron, an Adam, Benjamin, Joshua, or Zachariah.

For the next hour and a half, I am not Joe. My name is Zachariah. I never met Jesus, directly. I was on my way to visit my cousin in Jerusalem and celebrate Passover with him and his family. On the way, I saw a crowd, gathered on a hill. My curiosity got the better of me, and I went to see what was going on. That was when I saw Jesus. He was nailed to a cross. Though His breathing was labored, I heard Him say, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.” It was only years after that I realized He was not talking just about the people, who were present; He was talking about all mankind, all of us. We were crucifying Him. Later on, I had the good fortune to meet Peter and Paul, and through them I began to learn more about Jesus. I realized that this was how people would have to learn of Him, after His death, through others who believed in Him.

We are gathered in this room, sheltered from the noise of the chariots outside. We are also protected from the people who object to our beliefs, from the Romans who would persecute us, from the traditionalists who mock us and plot against us. Here, in this quiet room we can hear about the life of Jesus who came from the small town of Nazareth. Look around you, why are you here? Maybe somebody told you about Jesus and what He did. Maybe you are simply curious. Maybe you are looking for some meaning in your life. Whatever the reason we come here, the fact is we are here now. Hopefully, while we are here we will get to know Him better.

The first time people saw something unusual about Jesus was when He went to be baptized by John. Crowds had been following John, who was preaching a baptism of water, of repentance, and to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. After Jesus is baptized by John the clouds in the sky part and a voice is heard saying, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased”-1. Don’t forget, this Jesus is human, born of a woman. And here He hears, maybe for the first time, that there is something more to him. There is something special about Him. He is God’s son. He has to be a little confused by that statement.

Often we picture Jesus only as God, walking this earth clothed as a man. He is both man and God. He has the same doubts that mankind has. He can feel pain and sorrow. He laughed and cried. He was respectful and obedient to his mother. He was a human being like you and me. At the same time, He is also the Son of God. It is truly beyond our understanding. We don’t know how this can be, but we let go of our doubts, and open our hearts and believe. With God, all is possible.

When we think of the life of Jesus we tend to think of different miracles He performed. We think of how he would teach everyone who would listen. And, we are struck with his annoyance and intolerance with evil. But these events were, just that, events. It is the totality of His overall life that each of us must view not specific events. His life is one of total approachability. He is always surrounded by crowds and He loves the people, is moved by them, and weeps for them. Just as today, He loves and weeps for us. This God-man’s heart poured out love and concern with everyone he came into contact. And so, He reproaches them and us for seeking simply “signs and wonders”. His life isn’t a carnival act. We are to view His life, His entire life, the teachings, the love, and yes, even those signs and wonders, for they are based on His teachings and love. The greatest sign, the greatest wonder that God has given mankind is Jesus, Himself. Jesus is God’s gift of love to mankind.

One thing that each of us has to reconcile within our world, within ourselves is the problem and existence of evil. Evil does exist. We have all seen artwork and statues that depict devils as horned, tailed beings, hideous in appearance. Over time, mankind finds that image of evil hard to accept. Unfortunately, in rejecting that image of evil, mankind seems to reject the existence of evil, itself. Evil has many faces, however. Each one of us has our own demons. Each of us struggles to overcome them, and repeatedly we fall back into their grip, again and again. And Jesus loves us, still. God loves us, still. “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.”

You might think, “Ok, if God has forgiven me, I am saved already. I can continue as I have been.” It doesn’t work that way. Nothing is automatic. Your baptism cannot be just an event to you, a moment in time. Each of us must look within ourselves and let the power and love of God possess our heart and our soul. In so doing, the fire of that love begins to consume us. Our old ways become hideous to ourselves, as well. All that matters is doing what is pleasing to God. And in that, we find true happiness.

Accepting Jesus, then, is not a one and done deal. Intellectually, we get to know about Him, His works, and His love. Intellectually, we say within ourselves, “This makes sense. He makes sense. Therefore I believe.” But we are called to trust Jesus. It can all make sense, but if we don’t give ourselves to Jesus, if we don’t trust and accept Him, it remains only in our mind. Trusting Him means we allow these ideas, these principles of love and concern, to fill our hearts, our entire being. When this happens, our actions truly reflect what is in our heart.

One miracle that must be mentioned is the raising from the dead of His friend, Lazarus. John’s Gospel was the last of the Gospels to be written. By this time, the realization of the significance of Jesus’ own rising from the dead is understood. The conquering of evil, even death itself, shows Jesus to be not only a man, but also the Lord and Master of the universe.  He was God, as well. John places the telling of Lazarus’ raising as the last miracle done by Jesus. The remaining chapters of John’s Gospel speak to the events leading up to the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is this miracle, however, that John uses to portray the very nature of Jesus. Jesus tells Martha, “Your brother will rise”. She responds she knows that on the last day all will rise in the resurrection. To which Jesus tells her, “I am the Resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies will live.”-2 The miracle of raising Lazarus is a “sign, therefore, both of the final resurrection and of the rising from sin that takes place in the soul of the believer-3

Before we end this talk, we have to see it as it applies to us in our own lives. We learn of Jesus, not through direct face to face encounters with Him, but through others, through their beliefs and reflections, through the impact He has had on their lives. We saw that Jesus, at His baptism, hears the words, “This is my beloved Son…” This human, Jesus,  understands possibly for the first time, that there is something special about Him. If our baptism makes us adopted sons of God, then there is something special about us, as well. From before the existence of time, God saw each and every one of us, complete with good and bad actions, and He loves us. He waits for you, for me, for everyone to accomplish His plan. He waits for our trust in Him, so that He can work through us to bring about His kingdom.

-1 Mark 1:9-11
-2 John, 11:23
-3 The Jerome Biblical Commentary

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Forgivenss

Recognize that Christ instituted this sacrament out of love for us. He recognizes our inabilities, our problems, our sins and He responds with the gift of forgiveness. Seven times seven. Infinity times infinity. He is a loving God, a forgiving God.

We enter the confessional with maybe some fear, some uneasiness. Try to eliminate that immediately. Think of Jesus saying, “Let the little ones come to me.” To him we are children, struggling, tripping and fighting amongst ourselves. He wants to hear us call out to Him and tell Him we are sorry. Sorry for the sin, yes. But more importantly, sorry that our lives caused Him to suffer and die.

We are either kneeling or sitting before the priest. “Bless me father, for I have sinned…” Keep in mind you are not talking to a judge, to an executioner. You are talking to a priest, a fellow human being, who also struggles and trips as well. “Judge not, lest you be judged.” He is there to encourage you, to aid you, to help you in understanding yourself.

So what do you, an adult confess on your first time in the confessional? To list every sin, every mistake made, every fault would be an impossible task, and an extremely long one, at that. In the days prior to your first sacrament of reconciliation, it would be good to look for patterns in your lifestyle. Start now. Start looking at areas of your life that are leading you towards a way of life that you know is wrong. Remember the slippery slope mentioned in the talk on Reconciliation. Every imperfection, slides down to something less correct, until we hit rock bottom and commit something severely wrong. (Example: You don’t start out as a murderer, but someone who dislikes people, then bullies these people, then … then… then…)

We are where we are today, by all that has happened in the yesterdays.

Look at your life. Look at those things in your life that cause you to close your eyes and shake your head. Those things, of which you are really ashamed, of which you know that you shouldn’t be doing, they are probably what you need to mention first. The purpose of this sacrament is NOT, “let’s see if I can squeeze forgiveness out of the priest.” It is “what are those things that are preventing me from embracing Jesus”.

7 sacraments

Today’s chapter (16) begins with the words, “The Eucharist as discussed in the last chapter(15) can be taken as a model of all the other sacramental actions of the Church”. The sacraments are defined as: ‘visible signs of God’s saving love’. Jesus visibly walked among us. In Him, we see God in human flesh. In short, He lived among us, loving us. God’s love was visible for all to see. The definition of a sacrament can be applied to Jesus, as well. A visible signs of God’s saving love.

Many things fall into the category of what a sacrament is. The Church is thought of as the mystical body of Christ. Remember, we, the baptized, and the aspiring to be baptized, are the church. We are its arms, its legs, its heart and soul. Through our eyes, we see the needs of the world. Our nerve endings help us identify the aches and pains of the world. Each Christian around the altar represents Jesus in a unique way. We can bring Christ to the world with our words and our actions. We can bring the love of Christ to a world suffering and in need of love.

All of us know how much we, ourselves, are in need. Each one, of us, has our own personal hell to live with. We are not perfect. We have our flaws, our hurts, and our shames. Humanity is not perfect. Our own misuse of Free Will has crippled us. If you think you are the only one in this room, who is flawed, you are wrong. If you think you do not have flaws, you are wrong. This is humanity. Christ knows this and gives us what we call, the seven sacraments. Every event in life is captured within these seven visible signs.

Each sacrament will be discussed in the weeks to come in the RCIA program. For now, let’s just enumerate them and show their place in the critical situations in our lives:


• Baptism: Birth, entrance into life
• Confirmation: Facing up to the responsibilities of life
• Penance: The terrible human need for forgiveness
• Eucharist: A meal, summing up all of salvation
• Anointing: Facing the inherent weakness of the human body.
• Marriage: Forming the essential building block of society.
• Holy Orders: The need for a center of unity in the community.

These sacraments, these visible signs have one final purpose. Each sacrament provides us certainty. We can be sure. Every husband and wife, every parent or child, every person from time to time needs an external sign of love. Maybe a touch, a glance, a smile is all that we need. But we do need that external sign of love. If there were never something like this between us – we could legitimately wonder if there is any love at all. We are human beings, and as such, we need assurances.

We might say, “I don’t need the sacrament of Penance. I can go under the canopy of the sky and tell God that I am sorry.” Yes, you can. And if you really meant it with your heart and soul, God will forgive you. As you walk back inside, thoughts might flood in on you. Did He hear me? Was He listening? Was I devout enough? Am I kidding myself? Oh Geez, what if they aren’t forgiven? You really don’t have any assurance that anything was accomplished just then. Where do these assurances come from?

Earlier, we said that, “We are the Church. We bring Christ to the world.” The assurances come from the Church, the people of God. We bring Christ to the world … and to each other. You will hear in the discussion on Holy Orders that a priest, sometimes, is the only one present with the sick or the dying. In times like those, the priest represents the community, the Church. The mass is one of the few times during each day that the community, the Church, comes together in the church building.

Examples of the community, in relation to the Sacraments:

Baptism: The people in the church welcome the new member.
Confirmation: Those present add their own confirmation to the Spirit
Penance: Sinner is welcomed back by the community.
Eucharist: People come together to receive Jesus in their hearts.
Anointing: Family and friends representing the grieving community.
Marriage: Friends gather in joy to see a new little church begin.
Holy Orders: The people present welcome one sent to proclaim the Word to them.

Well, tonight we have discussed Visible, Signs, Christ, and Community. Grace, what is Grace? Do not think in terms of “IT”. It is very common to do just that. What is IT? Do I have IT? Can I get more of IT? We treat grace like ice cream. Grace is something to be had, to be increased, to be happy with. Tonight, and the rest of the meetings that we have here, whenever you hear the word “GRACE”, immediately think of “LOVE”. That one small mental flip, modifies and clarifies so much of our attitude towards God, Christ, Church, Community and our own condition. We say God is Love. If that is true, then the relationship we have with our God is one of love. Christ comes to us in the Eucharist, and we are filled with His love, the people present in the church receiving him are filled with love. The community is a faith-filled community, a loving community. The Church is the mystical Body of Christ, because it is sharing love with each other and with all who it comes in contact. We treat all that we meet with love, and in so doing, we bring Jesus to them. We, the community, can help make Jesus visible to a world by the loving actions He fills us with.

Each of us believes, because we have seen the effects of belief in the lives around us. We, in turn, will inspire others to belief in the same way. We are, each of us, links in a great chain of believers. That chain stretches from the apostles down through the ages, with all the saints and people who have lived caring lives, to us here and now. Each Christian around the altar represents Jesus in a unique way. We are unique because each of us has experiences, and combinations of experiences, that are unique only to us. We represent Jesus in a unique way. Don’t ever reject yourself. Jesus has not. His needs for you are unique. It may take you a very long time to figure out what it is that He needs from you, but at some point in your life, you will know. Each of us has a unique reason for being around the altar of Christ. Each of us has a reason for being!

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the blind

We know from past discussions that the readings from each Mass have a theme. Today, Acceptance Sunday is no exception. These three readings embrace you, the people seeking knowledge about, and entrance into, the Catholic Church. The theme in the first reading, from Jeremiah (1 Jer 31:7-9)
Thus says the LORD:I will gather them from the ends of the world,with the blind and the lame in their midst,the mothers and those with child;they shall return as an immense throng.They departed in tears,but I will console them and guide them

Make no mistake. God has called you. You might only see your coming to these meetings in light of a parent requesting you to come, or a situation deeming these steps as necessary. You might be curious, or looking for an answer, or seeking a deeper relationship with your God. But whatever the reason is that brings you here, make no mistake…it is a loving, thoughtful God who is calling you. You would not be here if He hadn’t taken the first step to call you, to set in motion those things that brought you here. And thus the words, “I will gather them from the ends of the world.”

In the second reading, (2 Heb 5:1-6) we hear: Brothers and sisters:Every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God,to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.

Wait a minute! Priest? I am just requesting Baptism, or entrance into the Catholic Church. What is this priest business? The offices of priest, prophet, and king are fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and we are baptized into Him. We all share in some way in these offices.

A Priest – offers sacrifice. A Prophet – teaches.  A King – serves. The second reading goes on…
He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring,for he himself is beset by weakness …No one takes this honor upon himself but only when called by God.

This portion of the reading talks directly to all of us and how we are to conduct ourselves. We deal patiently with those persons who are struggling and erring and making wrong choices. We love and understand those people who are puffed up with their own importance because as the reading says “for he himself, who is called to patiently deal with others, is also beset by weakness”.  We live our lives loving and understanding others, because we, ourselves, are beset by these same weaknesses. And the second reading concludes with once again calling attention to the fact that we are called by God. It is not we, who are taking the initiative, but God.

In the Gospel, (Mk 10:46-52) … we hear:
As Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, sat by the roadside begging. On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, who was passing by, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he kept calling out all the more, “Son of David, have pity on me.” Jesus said to him in reply, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man replied to him, “Master, I want to see.” Jesus told him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.”

What is this reading telling us, today, on Acceptance Sunday?  We know that God has taken the first step and is calling us to be priest, sacrificing, prophet, teaching and king, serving. But oh, how each of us is beset with weaknesses. In today’s Gospel, the blind man sees his weakness and cries out, “Master, I want to see”. We must be like the blind man and see ourselves as we really are. All of us have a glorified image of who we are, what we are about. But down deep, we know there are many things still lacking in us, our weaknesses. We have many good qualities and should be thankful for them. We cannot, however, overlook those weaknesses, those shortcomings, mistakes in judgment, wrong choices that fill our lives. All of these, good and bad, make us, us.

Acceptance Sunday is not a one and done deal. Every day of our life we must pray for the honesty to recognize and acknowledge what needs to be healed in us. Before the blind man could receive the sight he so desperately wanted, he had to first recognize and acknowledge his need for healing. So too, all God is waiting for is our recognition and acknowledgement that we need to be healed. Not a generality, but a soul searching attempt to see what it is that is preventing our forward movement to God. Once it is perceived, acknowledged, and admitted that we need healing, God’s response will be immediate, “Go your way, your faith has saved you.”

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Mystagogia: It means “going deeper into the mysteries” – that is, into the truths of the faith. The early Church understood that post Easter many of the mysteries of faith that had been entrusted to the newly initiated needed time to “sink-in” and mature. Let’s give a quick synopsis of what has happened over the past 8 months. For these are the mysteries we will be delving into, the rest of our lives. We have heard about:

The Church – we are not talking about the building, but us, the people. We are through our belief in Jesus, baptized and connected with one another into the People of God, the Church. Our love for each other is our manifestation of our love for our God. It is because of this love we can go up to the altar and receive the Eucharist.

We heard about the significance of the 7 Sacraments. We heard how each one, instituted by Jesus, has a significance and place in our lives at critical phases of our lives.

We heard about Jesus’ teaching and His Life. The purpose of why He came and what it means to each of us.

We heard about the place which Prayer has in our lives. We heard and learned the “Our Father”, “The Hail Mary”, and “The Glory be”. We have recited the Creed, an enumeration of all that we believe in. We have learned the formulation of the Rosary, Mary’s prayer.

We touched on each of The 10 Commandments. Not so much that we understood them completely, but at least have become aware of each one and what it means to us, as individuals.
We heard of the importance of Morality. How our living moral lives can positively affect others. The Commandments are a guide for all mankind for living moral lives.

This thumbnail sketch does nothing but enumerate some of the topics that were covered over these 8 months. What you now do with them depends solely on you. You have just scratched the surface of the beauty of the Catholic Church, of Christianity. As we said earlier, the Church realizes that you now have the awesome and wondrous task of allowing yourself to go deeper into these mysteries, to accept God’s love and goodness. Nobody’s words, no one else’s beliefs, or experiences, not even Scripture, itself, can be a replacement for your own personal belief. All they can do is help you become aware of Jesus and His love for you.

You are not alone, however. Every Catholic Christian living today has the same task ahead of them, as you. Each of us has the responsibility to learn what it is, in us that wants to join Jesus, to love Him. We need, also, to view what it is that is preventing us from joining Him. Our lives are not cast in cement. We are flesh and blood. We strive, we fail, we hope, we despair. Through it all Jesus looks on us, loves us and tries to help us see and understand. We need only try to comply, try to understand, seek out what things are pertinent to us. What do our lives really reflect? We have to move the Christianity which we learned with our mind and allow it to flood into our hearts. To say we love one another and to actually love one another are two separate things. We, you and I, we need to look inside ourselves and see our faults, as well as the good that we do.

So, in conclusion, realize that starting from today, right now, each of us must look solely at ourselves and give to Him, who we are right now. We cannot give Him who we want to be. We can only give Him what we have, what we are right now. The experience of loving Jesus is personal. It will always be personal. Just because you have attended this class does not guarantee your success. Your personal belief in Jesus, your desire to follow His way, the time you devote to praying and understanding all of these will help you grow. To understand ourselves, who we are, why we feel as we do, why we do as we do, all of these will help us grow. What we see, at times, we may not like, but we know that in spite of what we see, our God loves us and has a plan for us. He waits for us to grow to be the Catholic Christian that we want to be and that He wishes to see in us.

This time of scrutiny what is it? What is its’ purpose? It is not simply to critique and assess your readiness—that was done at the Rite of Election. The purpose of the scrutinies is for each of you, the elect, to look within yourselves and uncover, and understand all that is weak, defective, or sinful in your hearts. It has a second purpose, as well, to bring out, and strengthen all that is upright, strong, and good in you.

As you continue on this journey realize one very important fact. None of us, no one reading this, and no one on this planet is perfect. Each one of us has made and continues to make wrong and bad decisions in our life. This time of scrutiny is a time for honesty. This is a time for you to look at yourself and see what it is that is holding you back, preventing you from getting closer to Jesus.

In the readings, today, we hear many references to water and thirst. In the Book of Exodus, we hear the people complaining to Moses and to God about their thirst. These were the same people who had been enslaved in Egypt, but at least, there, they had food and water. Now with Moses, leading them to the Promised Land, they had neither. So, they grumbled as to where this journey was taking them, and the hardships they had to endure.

Before we touch on today’s Gospel, we have to understand a little of the tension between the Jewish people and the Samaritans. After the death of King Solomon, the Jewish kingdom split into two: northern Israel with its capital Samaria and southern Judea with its capital Jerusalem. The Samaritans were viewed as a sinful people, because they worshipped idols, their current fads. The Jews maintained their belief in one God. So, though they had common roots, Jewish people were forbidden to associate, nor talk with the Samaritans.

In the Gospel of John, we hear the story of Jesus at the well with the Samaritan woman. Jesus approaches the woman at the well and asks her for some water. She immediately responds with, “How do you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan, for water?” To which Jesus replies, if you had the gift of faith, and knew who I am, you would be asking me for the gift of living water.

The Gospel continues with Jesus revealing to her the nature of her life and that she had 5 husbands. This was her scrutiny. This was her time to look at herself, to view her life and see the falseness, the shallowness of it. This passage ends with the woman speaking of the Messiah, to which Jesus simply says, “I am He.”

Do you see the similarity in these readings and with what is going on with your life, right now? The waters of Baptism, your belief in Jesus, these have the promise of eternal life. This is your journey to the Promised Land. This is not, however, a simple road. It will entail hardship, at times. It will involve your honesty. It will require you to look at your life and how you are living it.

This time of scrutiny is very important. It starts you on a road of looking at yourself, at your motives and where you need to make corrections. This process of introspection (looking within) will last a lifetime. The more we focus on Jesus, and then look at where we are, we will know what it is that needs to be addressed.

We said at the outset that there were two purposes to the scrutinies. The second is to bring out, strengthen and understand all that is good within you. The Catholic Christian life is not, and will never be simply focused on the removal of evil. That is not what Jesus was  about. It is a positive life. It is one of doing good acts, helping people, being truly concerned about people.

We try to live our lives in a way that Jesus will be glorified and honored. We do this by being like Him. I can’t help people giving them money, if I am poor and have no money to give. I can’t help people across the street, if I, myself, am blind, and cannot see the other side of the street. The time of scrutiny is also a time to know what goodness we do possess. Do you have a smiling personality? Do you feel sad when you see someone suffering? Do you have time to give to people? These are all qualities that others need to receive. Give what you do have.

So the scrutinies involve our seeing where we are lacking, and also seeing what gifts we do have. We pray to our Father in heaven to help us eliminate those aspects of our lives that prevent us from living the life of Christ. And at the same time to help us grow to be like His Son.

As the time draws near for your reception of Baptism, or Confirmation or the Eucharist, you must spend it in preparation of yourselves. Allow the words of the Gospels to fill your hearts and reshape your lives. Allow Jesus’ life to inspire you and lead you. Look within and see what commitment you have made. The time of scrutiny is a positive time. It is a time of opportunity. It is your time.

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RCIA: Marriage

marriage encounter

At RCIA, each week, we keep hearing the term “community” in the talks. We heard that the Church is the community of all the believing peoples, connected with each other through their loving concern. In Baptism, the person being baptized is welcomed into the community. In Reconciliation, through the priest representing the community, the sinner is absolved from their sin. In the sacrament of the Sick, the priest again represents the community; but we also heard how much more comforting it is if the sick person is prayed over by the priest, and those who love him, i.e. his community. The sacrament of the Eucharist is the epitome of community. We receive the Body of Christ, the Head of the Community. In so doing, we acknowledge that we are not separated from the community but attentive to it and its’ needs.  And now, today, we will hear about the sacrament of Marriage, in which two people become a community.

Before we go any farther, let’s briefly discuss the concept of community. Five people live in the same house. Is that a community?  It could be. What is the interaction between them? The interaction, when all is said and done, is what defines a Christian community, their relationship with one another. Common interests, growth together, concerns for one another, interaction with one another. All of these manifest qualities of the community we are speaking about. Without these, we just have five people living under the same roof, co-existing with one another. Nothing is said at the breakfast or dinner table; each person doing their own thing; one reads a paper, one is texting, one talking on the phone, one listening to a sporting event, one lost in their own thoughts. If we are lost in ourselves, in our own needs, we cannot be truly concerned about anyone else. Just as good diffuses itself, and spreads itself, so too, love is contagious and rapidly spreads and grows among the peoples touched. I assume all of you drive. Think of the times you have allowed someone to pull in front of you. How often within two or three blocks, you see them do the same for someone else. Good diffuses itself. So, when you hear the term “community”, don’t think of it as a neighborhood, or a place. Think of people who are bound by love and affection for one another. That is a community.

Marriage, then, is the smallest community you can have. Two people mutually concerned about each other. Quoting Eric Fromm in his book, “The Art of Loving”, he says “Love is the active concern for the life and the growth of that which we love.” The word “active” is the operative word in that sentence; an active concern signifying that we are doing something for it. Marriage, then, is the resulting union of the two people who profess before the larger community their intention to wed. Too often in today’s world, we think of marriage as that special day, that singular event, involving brides’ maids and best men, and church, and a festive time afterwards. Though the celebration may be attended by many or just a few, the intensity of what is happening is not affected. The husband and wife willingly become a community of two. The sacrament of marriage is like the human-divine life of Jesus: a Godlike love flowing into and through the limited container of our human nature. The words “…for better or worse, in sickness and in health…” represent the Christian couples’ continual efforts to be faithful to each other and to the ideals of Christ, regardless of the circumstances. These continual efforts will be their constant making of the church, the building up of the community of Christ. The natural love, that mankind associates with marriage, is transformed into a personal couple-relationship with Jesus. Their love for each other reflects their love for their God and God’s love for them.

When Cathy and I were first married, I don’t think we thought of our marriage as representing the ideals of Christ, nor the constant building up of the church. At least I didn’t. It was just a natural normal thing that people do and did. I think my understanding of marriage was that she and I would live under one roof, loving each other, being attentive to each other’s needs, providing for our material comforts, having children and trying our best to bring them up within the Catholic Church. Period. Amen. And maybe, that is all that we could expect at that time, given our own growth, our own knowledge and our own expectations.

We attended a Marriage Encounter, one weekend. We were the youngest ones there. Everyone else, it seemed, was there trying to save their marriages, and we were just setting out on ours. One thing that we learned there and it truly stayed with us throughout our marriage was: “Realizing how tight the other person’s shoes are. Walk around in them for a while. Feel the pain that your spouse is enduring. Maybe, your spouse is enduring, because of what their spouse does… ehhh, that would be YOU.” This increased awareness was fostered by an exercise called “10-10”. After the marriage encounter was over, each week, we would go off and write a short love letter to the other. This was how 10-10 would start. In that letter, we would bring up something that the other person does, that bothers us, annoys us, angers us. Keep in mind this was a love letter, so there was no room in it for anger or complaining. After the letter was written, we would in the presence of each other, read aloud what our spouse had written to us. Only after it had been read, would we then discuss it, for no more than 10 minutes, each. By doing this we soon learned that sometimes the pain the other person is feeling in their shoes is because of our own actions.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that there are no coincidences with God. Everything that we endure, everything that happens to us God has already surveyed and allowed. Go back over your life and find the times that God has played a part in your life and you didn’t recognize it, at that time. I don’t know why or how we learned about The Marriage Encounter. It was a special time for us. We did not seek it out. We didn’t even know of its existence, let alone what it entailed. But somehow we found it, or maybe more accurately, God helped us find it.

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