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By: Sr. Clare Hunter

What kind of heretic are you? A new Buzzfeed quiz? Though not intentionally, I know I have given incorrect answers about the faith (heretic) because of my lack of knowledge. To be quite honest, there are many teachings of Jesus that I do not fully understand and make me uncomfortable. Actually, I might go so far as to say that I really don’t like them and believe they are “impossible” to follow and comprehend. I am rather disappointed that the sacrament of Confirmation, or even taking religious vows, does not include some kind of pill, or infusion, that gives one complete theological knowledge — oh, and complete compliance to God’s will. Where are those pills to make me holy, brilliant, and sinless?

P8071310So, which Catholic Church teaching don’t you like? Actually, that is not the right question. It is, which teaching of Jesus don’t you like? Reading and re-reading the Gospels has helped me to face that question. It was easy to disagree with my parents, religion teachers, priests and sisters, but when I realized that the teachings held by the Catholic faith were all from Jesus Christ, as the Word of the Father, I realized that God is the One with whom I had to take up my grievances. And so I do. I am merely following in the footsteps of the disciples and apostles who spent most of their time asking Jesus what He was talking about, rejecting His words and, unfortunately, not following His commandments. Is it a sin to question God and complain about His teachings? No. In fact, for many of us, it is the beginning of prayer.

It has been an “exciting” week for the media reporting on the Synod on marriage at the Vatican. With topics including homosexuality, divorce, contraception, cohabitation, abortion, pre-marital sex, and the Catholic Church — it doesn’t get more controversial and emotional than that! Each one of us has been challenged to reflect on these issues and to grow in our understanding of why and how the Catholic Church believes what it does. It is a tremendous opportunity to mature in faith and knowledge and to assess our own need to grow in our personal relationship with God. These issues touch wounds in each of us, and we should remember that they touched the genealogy and followers of Jesus Christ. Our Lord knew very well what He was doing when speaking about such hard teachings. Why else would He bestow such healing looks of love and pity on those gathered around Him?

imagesJesus is very clear with the disciples when they are astonished, shocked, or flatly reject something He says or teaches. Whether they refuse to accept His suffering and death, His teachings on marriage and divorce, or the radical disposing of one’s possessions and family, Our Lord is unwavering. Despite the mass exodus of followers after He tells them that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood for eternal life, He rebukes all and tells them that they cannot do alone what He is teaching. When the disciples question the difficult teachings on discipleship, Jesus declares that “for human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible” (cf. Mt 19:26, Mk 10:27).

For it to be possible for us to accept the Gospel message, our hearts must be open to God. We know this is not easy. Our fears of sacrifice and suffering, our weaknesses to temptations and plain, old sloth keep us from a disciplined prayer life and moral actions. Yet, in spite of all of this we do desire conversion; it is that little voice in each of us that says “there has to be more than this in life.” We know we are not happy with mediocrity. And on our honest days, we know that, though difficult to live, the teachings of Jesus resonate in our hearts and make sense. How incredible it is that we have a loving God who invites us into a relationship with Him that gives us the happiness we so desire. Yes, this includes obedience to His will and commandments, but we have been promised the abiding presence of His Spirit and the body and blood of the Son to enable us to be faithful sons and daughters. Like any relationship, it takes work and sacrifice on the part of both parties. He has held up to His promise. Now what about our part?

Wouldn’t a conversion, or perfection pill be easier? Yes. But we would probably forget to take it and complain about that, too!

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By: Bishop Paul S. Loverde

“Habemus papam!” I can still hear the cheering from the crowd which eagerly awaited the emergence of the newly elected pope in St. Peter’s Square. On June 21, 1963, I was a seminarian in Rome studying at the North American College and was blessed to be in that crowded square. When Giovanni Cardinal Montini emerged having taken the name Pope Paul VI, I knew that he, too, embraced the evangelical and missionary zeal of our mutual namesake, St. Paul. I would have the privilege of being in the presence of Pope Paul VI — who is being beatified by Pope Francis on October 19 at the end of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family — two more times: once when he visited us seminarians at our summer villa, and later at a papal audience after my priestly ordination. Though these are fond memories, what has most been impressed upon my mind and heart is Pope Paul VI’s steadfastness in leading the Church through difficult times. For this reason, he has always been a pope for whom I have had a great deal of admiration and respect. His beatification is so timely at this moment in our history!

PaulVIPope Paul VI was elected prior to the second session of the Second Vatican Council, when the Church was experiencing what Pope St. John XIII had called an “aggiornamento,” or an updating. Theologians and clergy at the Council had the task of discerning how the Church could dialogue with the modern world — what aspects of the culture could be embraced by the faithful and which would have to be kept at bay because their integration would threaten the unity of the Faith. As Pope Francis has said, “Faith is ‘one,’ in the first place, because of the oneness of God. Faith is one because it is shared by the whole Church, in which we receive a common gaze. Faith must be professed in all of its purity and integrity,” (“Lumen Fidei,” No. 48).

Much of Pope Paul VI’s pontificate would be directed at answering lingering questions that remained after the Council had ended. Many of those questions had to do with marriage and the family in light of cultural changes that were taking place. Pope Paul VI is undoubtedly most remembered for his forthright teaching about responsible parenthood in his encyclical“Humane Vitae” (1968). Many have read “Humane Vitae” and reduced its message to a “no” from the Church about the licit use of artificial contraception. What they miss, however, is the document’s rich presentation of the biblical understanding of marriage that the Catholic Church has consistently promoted. The characteristics of marriage as designed by God include that it is “fully human,” “a total, personal friendship in which husband and wife share everything,” “faithful and exclusive of all others until death,” and “is ordained toward the procreation and education of children” who are a supreme gift to their parents (No. 9).

To enter into marriage, then, is to enter into a union that God intends to be total, faithful, and fruitful. Responsible parenthood must respect the design that God has for the sexual union which involves openness to life unless there is a grave reason why a couple cannot welcome a child. The Church’s teaching on the sexual union between husband and wife is one that promotes communication, mutual discernment, and a respect for the ability of man and woman together to cooperate in God’s creative work.

Sadly, many people still misunderstand the Church’s presentation of marriage in “Humane Vitae” and characterize it as antiquated and restrictive. The truth, however, is that the Church’s teaching increases a couple’s freedom — freedom to love one another as they have been created by God. In “Lumen Fidei,” Pope Francis explained: “Precisely because all of the articles of faith are interconnected, to deny one of them, even those that seem least important, is tantamount to distorting the whole,” (No. 48). The Church’s teaching on human sexuality, contraception, and marriage are related to all that She professes and teaches. They are a response to the revelation of Jesus Christ about the kind of love for which we are made. For that reason they remain relevant.

I find myself reflecting on the courage of Pope Paul VI these days, as our own culture wrestles with the nature of marriage. Though in our times, the biblical view of marriage may not be understood or popular, it does not for that reason lose its truth or beauty. St. Paul’s bold proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, even in difficult times, inspires me as it inspired Pope Paul VI, to share the teaching on marriage in its fullness. It is not coincidental, then, at the end of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, an event during which bishops in communion with the pope are discussing how to best strengthen married love and family life, that Pope Francis will beautify a champion of these realities. I hope you join me in thanksgiving for the witness of Pope Paul VI, a man of God who has taught me to teach the faith with patience, love, and zeal! May he intercede for all of us, especially for married couples and families!

Paul S. Loverde is bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Virginia. A new edition of his pastoral letter on pornography, Bought with a Price, and his recent letter on the new evangelization, Go Forth with Hearts on Fire, are available at Amazon for Kindle and at www.arlingtondiocese.org/purity.

This column first appeared in The Arlington Catholic Herald. View it here

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By: Sr. Clare Hunter

“Behold, I am going to send an angel before you to guard you along the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared. Be on your guard before him and obey his voice; do not be rebellious toward him, for he will not pardon your transgression, since My name is in him. But if you truly obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries” (Exodus 23:20-22).

I recently asked a man about his first memory of an encounter with God. He thought for a few minutes and shared an account, that I was to believe or not, of an experience he had as a young child. He was in his room and felt an “evil presence” and got very scared. He started to pray, and he felt someone take his hand. A sensation of peace and security came over him. “As weird as it sounds,” he said, he knew it was his Guardian Angel who took his hand and made him feel safe, and the evil presence disappeared. Not only was I touched by his story, but I was struck that he did not tell me about seeing Jesus, or the Father, Himself, but he knew God, as many have, through a “messenger of God,” an angel.

LF8October 2 is the great feast of the Guardian Angels. In fact, this is “angel week” as we celebrated the great feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael on September 29. Certainly the mystery of angels captivates the world, young and old, of all faiths, yet it is important to make sure we have a proper understanding of the office of angels, and even more important to equip ourselves with the prayers and devotions that bring us into a deeper relationship with the angels and their invaluable protection.

Rooted deep within the Judeo-Christian tradition is the belief that part of God’s creation includes a species known as angels. Their mission is to make God known. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us of the relationship between humans and their angels:

“From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. ‘Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.’ Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God” (CCC 336).

Angels have no bodies. They are not human, nor will humans become angels. In fact, we are taught that we will be “above the angels” as members of the Body of Christ. This was the very truth that caused Lucifer, a Seraph, to reject God, and, along with countless angels, to be cast into hell. Yes, bodiless beings that can protect and lead us is hard to comprehend and imagine, hence the images of winged “babies” or strong warriors who shield us from evil. When a loved one dies, it is natural to want to know and feel their presence and to believe that one of their souls is close by, guiding and protecting us each day. And God willing, they are, but not as angels.

Today is a perfect day to brush up on your angelology and to pray in deep gratitude for your Guardian Angel. Make sure you have these prayers memorized by the end of the day. Each of us receive our own angel for our time on earth, whose mission is to lead our soul into heaven. That is his only mission! He only has us! We can’t let him fail!

Prayer to your Guardian Angel:

Angel of God,
My guardian dear,
To whom God’s love
Commits me here,
Ever this day,
Be at my side,
To light and guard,
Rule and guide. Amen.

Prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel:

St. Michael the Archangel,
Defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
And do thou,
O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
By the power of God,
Thrust into hell Satan,
And all the evil spirits,
Who prowl about the world
Seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

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By: Therese Bermpohl

Got family vacation plans for 2015? How about attending the World Meeting of Families (MWOF) from September 22-25, 2015? If you hang around until the last day, you may get a chance to meet Pope Francis.

The WMOF will take place at the Philly Convention Center and is expected to attract 10 to 15 thousand Catholics from around the world. There are 6,000 rooms on hold for the conference, and another 4,000, (10,000 total) on hold for the papal visit, which has not yet been made official. If you cannot afford a hotel room there is ample opportunity to stay with host families.

The event/festivities surrounding the WMF will include:

  • Daily Mass
  • Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament available all day, all week
  • Two to three keynotes each day, including a youth track, and a young adult track
  • Family Fest, sponsored by Philadelphia’s leading cultural institutions (for example, among others, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Franklin Institute are each planning family-themed exhibits and extended hours during the week. Every evening there will be film festivals, concerts, etc)
  • A Market Place for an exchange of goods and ideas
  • Daycare
The Holy Family Iconic Painting for the World Meeting of Families – Philadelphia 2015, can help us think about, and feel emotions around, God and family. Neilson Carlin of Kennett Square, PA has been asked to create the Icon of the World Meeting of Families – Philadelphia 2015.

The Holy Family Iconic Painting for the World Meeting of Families – Philadelphia 2015, can help us think about, and feel emotions around, God and family. Neilson Carlin of Kennett Square, PA has been asked to create the Icon of the World Meeting of Families – Philadelphia 2015.

Pope Francis is expected to arrive on September 25, 2015, and to be greeted by thousands at Independence Hall in downtown Philadelphia. The following morning, more than 40,000 young people will gather for a rally with the Pope on the grounds of Citizens Bank Park. Later that evening, more than one million people are expected for the festival of families and another million for the Papal Mass on Sunday morning, all held along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in the heart of Philly.

Also available for families are catechetical materials in both English and Spanish that highlight what Catholics believe about the dignity of marriage and family.

Registration is opening soon, so if you would like to attend, now is a good time to start considering your options!

If you cannot attend, please pray for the success of the event and for the strengthening of families throughout the world.

For the most updated information on the World Meeting of Families click here.

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The following article was first printed on Catholic News Agency about the Opening Mass at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family.

By: Natalie Plumb

The debate about the nature of marriage is rapidly unfolding.  On the state level, this debate continues to garner attention from our religious and political leaders, same-sex marriage advocates, parents, professors and students.

JPIIOpeningMass

Bishop Loverde celebrates Opening Mass for the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at The Catholic University of America. (Photo by Natalie Plumb)

On Sept. 10, in Washington, D.C. – a city that will continue to be the center of a political debate on the issue – a group of students began graduate degree programs that offer a specific concentration on the study of marriage and the family, in a hope to offer informed voices to the debate.  In a countercultural turn, these students will be rigorously engaging in studies that support and promote the Catholic understanding of marriage – a union between one man and one woman for their good and the good of their children.

Nearly 80 students, professors, seminarians, priests, vocalists and laypersons gathered to celebrate the Opening Mass for the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at The Catholic University of America, presided by Bishop Paul S. Loverde of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington.  The Institute “provide[s] a comprehensive understanding of marriage and family faithful to Catholic magisterial tradition.”  Students examine marriage in its authentic form by studying theology, biotechnology, psychology, sociology and by engaging contemporary challenges to Christian ethics.

At just 26 years of age, Caitlin Williams is a second-year Ph.D. student at the John Paul II Institute, who says she is driven by the challenge young Catholics face in witnessing to authentic marriage.

JPIIOpeningMass2

The Opening Mass took place in the Crypt Church at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. (Photo by Natalie Plumb)

“The response of the whole world to the heart of the Church laid bare…it motivates me to study, to reach people who wouldn’t otherwise find Her,” Williams said.

Graduate student and priest Fr. Anthony Craig calls our time the time to “enact the great New Evangelization that the Catholic Church’s last three pontiffs have discussed.”

Marriage and the family are integral to this New Evangelization and the renewal of a culture that strengthens marriage and nourishes the family.  Pope Francis himself will attest to this on September 14, when he will publically witness the marriage of 20 couples in Rome.  He is following the example of St. John Paul II, who was the last pontiff to do so in 1994.

With a small student body – last year’s class graduated 28 – the odds would appear against students like Fr. Craig. But he said that the Lord works through small factions, which we know through Church history; the Church itself began with only 12 apostles.

“He can work with a small number of people,” Fr. Craig said. “In a like manner, the Lord will enact something great to witness to the truth that actually holds us.”

Given the challenges these students will face in a culture that desires to redefine marriage and the family, often in order to cater to the desire of adults over children, Bishop Loverde offered a few words of encouragement during his homily at the Institute’s Opening Mass, which was a Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit.

“We are to evangelize, and to do that precisely by proclaiming the authentic meaning of marriage,” Bishop Loverde said, adding that we can only do this through the power of the Holy Spirit. “Let us beseech Him, to thirst for God, as did our patron, our beloved, St. John Paul II.”

Click here to read more on Catholic News Agency

Natalie writes on Thursdays about faith, dating, relationships, and the in between. May her non-fiction stories and scenarios challenge you. May they help you laugh, cry, think and wonder.

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By: Erin Healy

This fall, Theology on Tap will present powerful encounters with Jesus Christ. Meet three of our speakers whose lives were forever transformed:

  • Before he entered the seminary, Fr. Wagner was a mechanical engineer working as a contractor in Crystal City. Gripped by the lifestyle of agnosticism and materialism, it wasn’t until he accepted an invitation to attend a Catholic men’s conference that he discovered a void in his life he didn’t even know existed…
  • Gloria was a 12-year-old protestant attending Catholic school. After a lunchtime food fight, her classmates found themselves sitting in the chapel, in front of the monstrance. It was in that moment that Gloria was “consumed by fire that burned, but didn’t hurt.” For the first time, she experienced the knowledge that Jesus was real. Two days later, she informed her parents that she was becoming a Catholic…
  • Trent graduated from college and, not knowing what do to next, joined a commune in Wisconsin. As a Ph.D. student at the University of Virginia, Trent was in Dharamsala, India waiting to cross the border into Tibet to further his study of Buddhism. He decided to attend Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. While at Mass, he was overcome by the real presence in the Eucharist. He contacted his advisor and changed his dissertation topic from Buddhism to Catholicism…

TOTSept29To hear the rest of their stories, join us for Theology on Tap at 7:30 p.m. on Monday evenings from September 29 through November 3 at O’Sullivan’s Irish Pub in Arlington. All adults ages 21-39, single and married are welcome. For a complete list of dates and speakers, click here. Check the event out on Facebook here.

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By: Natalie Plumb

In my last post, I discussed decision-making, and the tendency of some Christians to “wait on God’s will” as a safety net — rather than making the hard decision between two positive choices, we fall back on waiting for some explicit sign from God.

falsehopeThis week, I wanted to discuss how, even when we do follow God’s will (I won’t go into details here and risk repeating last week’s post), we tend to start thinking in bargain form. We begin to treat God as if He were a human, expecting Him to “pay us back” with what we want in return. We might be tempted to think: “God, I did this for you. When are you going to pull through for me?”

Rather than writing a whole new piece on this subject, I figured I would just point you readers to “False hopes,” a stunning piece written by Arlington Catholic Herald columnist Mary Beth Bonacci. I was left meditating on my own life, and how I subconsciously face this challenge. Bonacci integrates everything — from C.S. Lewis’ wisdom, to her personal experience and that of others, all while answering the painful question: “But what happens when He doesn’t come through for us?”

Read on…

“Whatever men expect they soon come to think they have a right to: the sense of disappointment can, with very little skill on our part, be turned into a sense of injury. It is after men have given in to the irremediable, after they have despaired of relief and ceased to think even a half-hour ahead that the dangers of humbled and gentle weariness begin. To produce the best results from the patient’s fatigue, therefore, you must feed him with false hopes.” — C.S. Lewis, “The Screwtape Letters”

For years, I have been thinking of writing a book for single Catholic adults. I’m thinking of calling it “Lies People Tell.”

A few weeks ago, I met with a young woman who had just broken up with her boyfriend. She was, of course, sad and struggling. But she said that her friends were trying to cheer her up by telling her, “I just know that God has really great things in store for you.”

I thought of the line above, from C.S. Lewis’ classic book The Screwtape Letters. The book, if you haven’t been fortunate enough to read it, is a fictional collection of instructional letters from a senior devil to his nephew, explaining to him the art of temptation. (Hence the somewhat diabolical-sounding advice.) In this passage, Uncle Screwtape tells his nephew that false hopes are deadly to the spiritual life.

People feed single Catholics this kind of spiritual junk food all the time. “God hasn’t forgotten you.” “God has somebody picked out for you, and He will reveal that person to you when the time is right.” And, my personal favorite, “If you date chastely, God will reward you with a spouse.”

It isn’t just singles. Everybody who has suffered in any way has heard some variation of this. “God will solve this.” “God will give you what you want.” “God will make it right.”

I was once doing a call-in radio show and got a call from “Roy from Boston.” Roy’s question was “So, what do you do when you’re getting into your late 30s, you’re losing your looks, you’ve been living by the rules, but God isn’t holding up His end of the bargain?”

I told Roy to speak for himself on the whole “losing your looks” thing.

I then told him that there is no “bargain” — that there is no Beatitude promising “blessed are the chaste, for they shall have a spouse by their 35th birthday.” God doesn’t work that way.

I think there is a real danger here — for singles, and for anybody else who believes that God is a God who somehow offers us guarantees in this life. We want to believe that’s who God is — the One who smooths the path for us, who grants us our hearts’ desires, who gives us whatever we want or expect or feel that we are owed.

But what happens when He doesn’t come through for us?

Click here to continue reading this Arlington Catholic Herald column.

Natalie writes on Thursdays about faith, dating, relationships, and the in between. May her non-fiction stories and scenarios challenge you. May they help you laugh, cry, think and wonder.

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