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Christian Spirituality

24 Jul

    Every once in a while, someone will ask me if I consider myself a spiritual person. It is a strange and challenging question. I am a Christian. But am I spiritual? What does that even mean for a Christian? There are all kinds of spiritualities out there today, what is Christian spirituality?

Terence Sweeney - The Pentecost Sadeo Watanabe

The Pentecost Sadeo Watanabe

The general understanding of what it means to be a Christian is to be a follower of Christ. This is true (or at least should be true). There is another meaning to the word Christian. Christ means ‘the anointed;’ Jesus was the Christ because he was the anointed One. The Holy Spirit descended on him when he was baptized in the Jordan and anointed him the Christ. A few years later, the same Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles and Mary on Pentecost, anointing them too.

This is all good and nice, but how does this relate to being spiritual? In baptism and confirmation, Christians are anointed with the Holy Spirit. We become christs. What does this mean? It means the Holy Spirit lives in our hearts. In calling ourselves Christians, we are not just saying we try to follow Christ, we mean we have been anointed as follower of and witness for Christ. For a Christian, to be spiritual primarily means that the Holy Spirit lives in our heart. The Spirit fills us to overflowing giving us the gifts we need to follow Jesus and to be christs to our brothers and sisters.

This is the heart of Christian spirituality. It isn’t something we do, it is something that God gives us and that we must be receptive to it. We must allow the Spirit to totally transform us as the Spirit transformed Jesus, the Son of God, from a carpenter to the Messiah. Of course, as our Christian and non-Christian readers will clearly recognize, many Christians are often not very Christ-like. We block the Holy Spirit’s actions in our hearts; we are not spiritual because we do not follow the Spirit. Nonetheless, to be a Christian is a calling from God which can only be fulfilled if we allow the Spirit to overflow out of us in acts of love.

Am I saying that only Christians are spiritual? You mean to tell me that a Buddhist monk spending years in meditation is not spiritual? No. The Holy Spirit moves where it wills. The Holy Spirit is alive in spiritualties that are oriented to the good. However, it is in and through baptism, confirmation, and the prayers of the Catholic Church, that the Spirit is especially at work. The Spirit is at work in the hearts of all people: leading all people to Christ; calling us into relationship with God; calling us into relationship with each other; calling us all into the spiritual communion of the Church. So let the Spirit fill her heart, let the Spirit draw you into the communion, into the Church whose very soul is the Holy Spirit.

– Terence Sweeney


Ash Wednesday: From Dust to Joy

13 Feb Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday: From Dust to Joy

On Ash Wednesday, Catholics all over the Twin Cities will receive ashes on our heads and hear this message: “you are dust and to dust you shall return.” More Catholics go to Mass on Ash Wednesday than on most Sundays or Holy Days. I have heard both Catholics and non-Catholics complain about this. Both seem to be pointing to hypocrisy and self righteousness amongst people who return once a year to this Mass. I wonder if either group understands the real mystery going to Mass on Ash Wednesday.

Ash Wednesday is, in many ways, the saddest day of the year. The message: we are sinners and we are going to die. We try to keep death far from us by medication, exercise, and products to make us look younger, yet we gather to be reminded of something everyone already knows. Not only are we reminded of our sorry state, someone smears dirt on our foreheads while telling us. The day begins 40 days of fasting, based off of Jesus’ time in the wilderness and his rejection of Satan. Is this reason we fill churches, death, fasting, and fighting Satan?

In part, this is why. We all know that something is wrong not just with the world, not just with politics, but with us, with me. On Ash Wednesday, we finally recognize the time we did not help an elderly woman because we were in a rush. We remember the times when we have thought of a human person as a means to our own sexual gratification. We apologize for ignoring the poor and helpless. Above all we repent for the pride that keeps us from loving each other and God. We do this because we are reminded we are going to die.

But the truth is that despite the sorrow of Ash Wednesday, it is still a joyful day. Why are ashes on our foreheads and skipped meals a cause for happiness? Why should the thought of death and sin leave space for hope? Because, the Church offers us the truth that Ash Wednesday does not have the final word; that God does not leave us to the dust. On this penitential day, we still look to Easter and we know that our sins have been washed away, that death has been defeated, that the alleluia of the Church will never fail.

What should we do with this hope? Offer this season to Christ by fasting, praying, and almsgiving. Come back to Church for all of Lent. If you are already a churchgoer, invite others to join you. Don’t judge the people next to you at Mass; love them. Don’t be crushed by guilt; be freed by grace. This is Lent and this is our season of joy. It may hurt at times to think of death and sin, it may be painful to turn from sin and embrace those around us, but in the end the freedom of Jesus’ love is greater than dust and sin. We at The Heart of the Matter sincerely invite you to join us in repentance and grace. For truly, “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” We look forward to seeing you during Lent and to sharing the alleluia of Easter in 40 days.

-The Heart of the Matter

Leaving and the Return

4 Jan

  My family loves to sit in the front of the church for midnight Christmas Mass, and every year other parishioners get audibly annoyed with us for saving an entire row up until the minute before Mass starts. My father has made it a habit, most likely developed in his bell-bottom bachelor days, which he can’t seem to grow out of completely, to be late for everything. After a few years of enduring the embarrassment I agreed to take the yearly duty of saving seats if and only if the rest of the family promised to arrive well before the altar boys processed down the aisle.

Leaving and the Return - Laura Eusterman

  Last year, I remember waiting such an uncomfortably long time for my family to arrive that I thought it best to kneel and pray before anyone could tell me that they wanted to take those seats. Everyone around me was chatting. I could not concentrate on the simplest Hail Mary, let alone any kind of heart to heart with God. He had seemed distant lately anyway. I hadn’t been able to hear Him even in the silent moments and purposeful prayer time in the past weeks, maybe months.

  Closing my eyes and bowing my head seemed to amplify the conversations around me. Why would He reach me in this echoing church if He hadn’t been speaking when I had been ready to listen? This frustration may have been as bad as showing up with my tardy family.

Trying to drown out the noise with my own thoughts and seeking mental escape only turned into criticism. “Some ‘house of prayer!’…Now I understand why natives don’t like tourists…If I see one more person texting in here I’m going to freak out.” It was the self-righteousness talking, not me. “This is not helping.”

I gave up, sat back, and picked up the Christmas program. The top of the page had a quote by the pope. It was something like: “Christ leaves so that He may come back again.” It struck me, not in the way of an answered prayer, but more like a surprise. God left His friends all the time! He came into the world as a man, He slept when the apostles were in a storm, He died, came back, ascended, and descended. He even showed up to two travelers only to vanish when they recognized Him.

This is exactly what Advent and Christmas, and my distraction in prayer, is about: recognizing that He is not here but that He will come. It may be true that He is always present, but we don’t always perceive Him. Some of the time it feels like he is uninvolved. He comes. He leaves. He does as He wishes, not as we want. I think He leaves to make His return that much more potent. I think He wants us to miss Him so that we fully embrace Him when He comes back. Needless to say, my family showed up, a little before right on time.

-Laura Eusterman

Red Kettles: Giving Throughout the Year

19 Dec

It’s that time of year again. Bells are ringing and large, red kettles fill up with loose change outside of major retail store entrances across the country. The Salvation Army probably has the greatest foothold on our Christmas alms giving habits simply by being omnipresent during our shopping duties.

There is an irony in this tradition. During the holidays, we are more than willing to empty our pocket change into the hands of someone wearing a red vest. Yet, we rarely do so during the rest of the year when panhandlers or veterans experiencing homelessness ask us for spare change at red lights. So what is it about the red vest and kettle that suddenly allows us to let our guard down and give more openly and charitably?

I would argue our generosity (or the lack of) is built on trust. Having the name “Salvation Army” attached to the act of panhandling seems to make all the difference. We trust them with our money and feel confident that we know where it is going. Yet, I wonder if people know that some of the bell-ringers are themselves the homeless men and women whom our giving is meant to benefit. Would we still give our loose change to the very same person if they approached us at a red light, not with a red kettle and vest, but with a cardboard sign and outstretched hand? Usually we do not. Why? What if they buy booze with the money? Or drugs? This line of thinking gives us an easy out.

Yet, it was Christ who lived among these same poor. He never judged those living on the margins of society for any improper ways and deeds. As Dorothy Day once said, “The Gospel takes away our right forever, to discriminate between the deserving and the undeserving poor.”

Something greater is asked of us, whether we are Catholics or not. Keep dropping spare change into the red kettle. But don’t ignore the fact that that outside of the Advent season, those same folks will be begging for our loose change at red lights. Give generously. Don’t let these folks remain nameless. Christ exists in all people; we must start acting as if this were true.

Red Kettle Donations


-Kevin Bailey

Finding Stillness this Advent

1 Dec
Advent Wreath

Advent Wreath

  The lead up to Christmas is here so it is time to get busy. You know what I am talking about: the shopping, Christmas carols from thanksgiving until the 25th, that annoying habit of people referring to Christmas trees as ‘holiday’ trees, etc. The way most people ‘celebrate’ Christmas is by shopping for a month and then having a one day gift giving extravaganza. I don’t object to all this (I like gifts) but something gets lost. What is missing? Well it has something to do with a forgotten season, Advent.

  You see Catholics don’t just live with your standard 12 month calendar; we have a liturgical year with its own calendar. This Sunday marks the beginning of the Advent and therefore the beginning of the Catholic New Year. And what is one supposed to do doing Advent? Wait. That is right: just wait.

Hang on a sec, waiting is boring, pointless, and passive. We all get stuck waiting in lines to buy gifts (10-15 minutes) to be x-rayed at the airport (an hour unless you are in the rich people line), to download the newest app (.2 seconds). I mean, we all read Oh the Places You’ll Go; the waiting place is the bad place. We are Americans, in the 21st century, during the “Holiday Season” (which holiday? No one knows.) There is no time for waiting, which is why I buy gifts while in line to buy gifts at the Mall of America using my newest app that took a long .2 seconds to download.

So why wait? John Milton once wondered about that as a young man trying to write poetry. And then he suddenly realized something “they also serve who stand and wait.” We think that we have to do everything, buy everything, go everywhere. But God invites us to realize, that our value isn’t in what we do but who we are, His beloved creation. He doesn’t need us to run around, the He wants to offer us peace and goodwill.

In Psalm 46, God tells us to “be still and know that I am God.” Advent is about living this gift of stillness and recognizing that it is God who makes all things possible. So what are we waiting for? For something that already happened, for something that happens, and for something that will happen. We wait to celebrate a baby being born to illiterate peasants in a dirty hovel. Why? Because that baby is the Prince of Peace (stillness) and his mother is the virgin mother of Emanuel (God with us) and his father is Joseph (the righteous man) and because that donkey and cow look so cute in my Mom’s crèche. We wait in stillness now because Jesus was not born once but is born in our hearts when we make room for Him. What does this room look like: a still waiting. And what is going to happen? In the fullness of time, Jesus will come for us all offering us room in the eternal Inn, the Kingdom of God.

This is the heart of advent, waiting with the shepherds, the Magi, the angels, Mary and Joseph and even with the donkey and cow. We are called to set aside all our projects and to be still, to stand and wait. We may still have to run around and buy gifts and go to “holiday” parties but amidst all that, let’s all try to sit in silence a little this season. Pray, go to Church, get an advent wreath or calendar, say the rosary. Make some room in your hearts in this busy season so the Holy Family can dwell in us. Be still and know that God is God and He is with us.

– Terence Sweeney

The Holy Spirit, Defender of the Weak

29 May

The Holy Spirit, Defender of the Weak

Karl Marx criticized the Christian religion for sustaining the conditions of a rigid class stratification. Christianity has little interest, so the critique goes, in the narratives of the oppressed. After all, the Church has historically been in positions of power—why would it want to proclaim the stories of the marginalized?

The above represents a common critique of the Catholic faith, one which has seen many interpretations and has been extended well into the 21st century. In some sense, the critique is valid and necessary; the Church has at times engaged in the political power matrices of its historical climate. But it has done so occasionally and lamentably. In fact, what the tradition teaches is quite the opposite: the Christian religion is the religion of the marginalized and victim class.

This, in actuality, comprises the original disciples of Jesus, men and women who represented an economically, politically, and religiously oppressed class of individuals. The genesis of Christian cultural evangelization and advocacy is forged within this identity, and the association between a marginalized identity and the act of Christ is inseparable. This act is a self-giving act, one which finds its fullest expression on the Cross. Here, Christians believe that the salvation of the world came about. Yet, its coming about is rooted in the expression of outrageous love and weakness.

That is to say, Christians believe that salvation emanated from the exact opposite orientation of political power and class rule. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples. One of the many miraculous results of this descent was the eventual reformation of the world’s largest and most powerful empire. Rome was slowly becoming Christian, but not through violent oppression or revolution. Instead, it slowly changes through the selfless acts of love and self-giving martyrdom.

The disciples believed the Holy Spirit was guiding them. Christians also refer to the Spirit as the Paraclete, which translates from the Greek as the advocate or defender. The Spirit is the advocate for both truth and justice, a defender of the weak and the truth of the Gospels. Catholic anthropologist Rene Girard deftly observes, “The Paraclete is called on behalf of the prisoner, the victim, to speak in his place and in his name, to act in his defense. The Paraclete is the universal advocate, the chief defender of all innocent victims, the destroyer of every representation of persecution. He is truly the spirit of truth that dissipates the fog of mythology.”

The Holy Spirit speaks for those who history has forgotten. It is the Spirit who defends the weak and the victim, and in so doing, reveals the heart of the Gospel message of salvation, breaking apart divisions so that they may be brought together as one body, united in Christ.

-Tim DeCelle

The Promise of Resurrection

20 Apr

The Promise of Resurrection

I’ve been charged with a mission: write about the Resurrection of our Lord. I am not going to lie; I’ve been doing research, listening to homilies about the Resurrection, reading articles, reading the Bible, and this is hard! How do I express the magnitude of the importance of the RESURRECTION?! I think my conclusion is that the Resurrection is the pivotal and most important event in all of history. Some of you reading this may think to yourself, “Well, of course! You had to research and read the Bible to figure this out?” Well…not exactly. I started to think about who I am and what I would be if Jesus had not risen again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.

There are a good number of people out there who that think life would be so much easier without religion, specifically life without Jesus. Life would be less stressful, and there wouldn’t be rules restricting us or higher being out there holding us accountable for our actions or thoughts. You could do whatever made you “happy.” But look at King Solomon; he was doing a pretty good job living his life without God. He had all the earthly pleasures he could dream of, including 300 wives. Yet, this wasn’t enough. Throughout his writings in Ecclesiastes and Proverbs, we see his heart turning towards something greater: “without God, it is all emptiness.”

Because of Jesus, we can look at our lives with hope. Hope that through Jesus’ passion and resurrection, we too can endure suffering and come out on the other side redeemed. Because of Jesus’ own pain and love, our sufferings and love matter. St. Therese of Liseiux, one of my favorite saints, says it best, “You know well enough that Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, nor even at their difficulty, but at the love at which we do them.” We indeed know this is Truth: without Jesus, all of our successes and failures, and even our entire lives mean nothing. Why would any human being in his right mind suffer such a brutal death for another? Because of love.

This Easter season, let us look at the Cross and keep in mind not only Christ’s sufferings, but even more the love He has for us. The love that allowed him to trust fully in His Father, that after His suffering and death, He would rise and be seated at the right hand of the Father. No matter what you may be struggling with this Easter season, know that your redemption lies in uniting your sufferings to Christ Jesus’ suffering and death; this is proven in the struggle of Christ and ultimately in His Resurrection
. This is a promise.

John 10:10, I came so that they may have a life and have it more abundantly.

– Kari Elsen

He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Hilariter! Alleluia!

10 Apr


Lent is over. It ended with a word: alleluia! The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed! The fasting, prayer and almsgiving of Lent, brought us to this moment: the death and resurrection of Jesus. Giving up meat, alcohol, chocolate, coffee, all of this pales next to the agony of the cross and the glory of His rising from the dead. As we prayed on the Easter Vigil “This is our Passover feast, when Christ, the true Lamb, is slain, whose blood consecrates the homes of all believers.” We have been consecrated by His blood.

We began this journey in the sorrow of Ash Wednesday and we end it in the joy of Easter. During the Easter Vigil we heard that, “this is the night when Christians everywhere, washed clean of sin and freed from all defilement, are restored to grace and grow together in holiness.” This past weekend, and throughout the Easter season, we do not merely remember a past event, we live it anew as we wash feet, embrace the cross, light the candle in darkness, and break into the exaltation of the Gloria.

The days of the Triduum and the Easter season are our high holy days. Jesus promised us that “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.” And so on Holy Thursday, and at every Mass, Jesus gives us his flesh and blood to eat and drink. Paul boasted that he only preached “Christ and Him crucified.” Why? Because, the cross of Good Friday is the intersection of God judgment and mercy; an intersection that pays the ransom of sin, which we cannot pay. “To ransom a slave you [the Father] gave away your Son.” On the cross, He freed us from the sorrow of our ashes. But we are not only freed from sorrow. Paul tells us “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” This is the essential truth of Easter. In the Resurrection, we are more than just redeemed; we are raised up as sons and daughters of the Most High. This is what it means to be Christian: by dying with Christ for others, we raised with Christ in the Resurrection. We must love as He loved, and so be raised from death into the life of love.

These three feast days are the cause of celebrating. Paul invites us to “Rejoice in the Lord always; I say it again, rejoice!” We cast aside our fasting because “the attendants [us] of the bridegroom [Jesus] cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they?” In this season of Easter, which lasts until the Pentecost on May 27, the Church asks us to celebrate in the joy of the Resurrection. We live this celebration through prayer, love of others, and feasting. An Easter carol proclaims that our Easter season is full of heavenly and earthly joy.

Hilariter, Alleluia, Hilariter, Alleluia.

The whole bright world rejoices now, Hilariter!
The birds do sing from every bough, Alleluia!
Then shout beneath the racing skies, Hilariter!
To Him who rose that we might rise, Alleluia!

The ‘hilariter’ of Easter is our human celebration with food, drink, and Easter eggs. The ‘Alleluia’ is human joy raised up to the divine. Thus we must rejoice by celebrating and loving God and all people. From all of us at the Heart of the Matter: have a happy and blessed Easter season.

He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Hilariter! Alleluia!

-Terence Sweeney

Sacrifice for Others: The Space Where Love Exists

27 Mar
Fritz Eichenberg - The Black Crucifixion

Fritz Eichenberg - The Black Crucifixion

 My mother is a breast-cancer survivor. During her doctor visits and all the treatments, my father was always right beside her, making sure she was taken care of. It was very taxing for both of them, but my dad was always at her service.

  I was out of town recently and a particular circumstance forced me to stay with a family I had never met; they were friends of friends. When I arrived at the house late at night I found the bathroom totally cleaned and the bedroom waiting and prepared for me. I was struck by their hospitality because I had never met these people.

  My best friend is always available to talk, no matter the time of day, no matter what sort of neurotic mess I’ve gotten myself into and he is never scandalized or embarrassed by my weakness.

  What do these experiences have in common? The common thread is that they are all examples of sacrifice. Some think, the value of sacrifice lies in its difficulty. The true value of sacrifice is in recognizing the other, affirming the other. Sacrifice is worth something only because it is done for someone. My father, that hospitable family, and my friend all looked away from themselves, even if only for a minute, recognized the needs of the other, and lived for another. In these experiences life exists, communion between people exists’ and life-giving communion exists. In a word, love exists.

  Living for the other implies not living for one’s self. In my experience, it is an unfortunate fact of reality that it’s easier to live for and affirm myself, and it’s difficult to live for the other. The Christian season of Lent is a time in which the Church helps us to recognize two things: our human need for Otherness; and how difficult it can be to turn away from ourselves toward the other. Lent guides us on our journey to acknowledge the Presence of God, who is Other, and who is always in our midst, and to acknowledge him as the proposed answer to our need for otherness. In Him, who is Love itself, we find the freedom and peace we all desire.

 Christ on the cross, and the Church that announces this event, loudly proclaims the reality that God is not against us, He is for us. God sacrifices for us; that is, he recognizes and meets our need, and lives for us. I think we, modern urban Americans, have a hard time acknowledging this beautiful fact. Reality is not against me. If God is for us, who can be against us? He came to serve. While we were yet sinners He died for us.

– P.J. Butler

The Breaking News of Easter: “God so Loved the World. . .”

20 Mar
Paul Aizpiri “La Huitiesme Texte” From La Passion de Nostre Seigneur

Paul Aizpiri “La Huitiesme Texte” From La Passion de Nostre Seigneur

  Have you heard the good news lately? Perhaps you have encountered this question in the form of a flier in your car window, or the polite man or woman who knocked on your door hoping to speak with you. It has been asked so often, and in such uniquely annoying ways, that we find it not just a tired cliché, but an intolerable one at that. Yet, it is a question worth asking today, especially if we put noted emphasis on the last word. Have you heard the good news lately? And when was it you last heard what made that news so good?

  A casual observer may note that the current public climate, influenced as it is by political rhetoric, has reflected a frequently negative picture of this news. It is unfortunate that religious discourse today has largely been represented negatively and at times adopted a polemical stance in the name of “cultural warfare.” This mode of critique can be useful and sometimes even necessary. But, when it becomes entrenched in the mentality and language of warfare, it is easy to lose sight of the “yes” in this chorus of “no.” You may have heard innumerable statements about what the good news is not such that it becomes strange to think of it as good at all.

We find ourselves now in Lent. It is our time spent in a spiritual desert, a time for prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and meditation. It is a time to be alone, to be quiet, and to listen. The arguments of the world will go on, but if we find a few moments of silence this season perhaps we will hear the whispered words of the good news. It is the news of salvation, of transformation, and redemption. It is the story of our lives, of second chances. It is, above all, the news of love that knocks on our door asking for our “yes” and offering unconditional love and acceptance.

This love is the Good News. It is the greatest news we could receive. It is the only news worth anything. The Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar spoke of this news succinctly and perfectly:

Love alone is credible; nothing else can be believed, and nothing else ought to be believed. This is the achievement, the ‘work’ of faith: to recognize this absolute prius, which nothing else can surpass; to believe that there is such a thing as love, absolute love, and that there is nothing higher or greater than it.

This is the essence of the Good News: that God could love us, with all of our hopes and imperfections, with all the many ways we may feel less than deserving, no matter who we are. Our life story is never over; however broken we may be, there is always Good News on the horizon, waiting to embrace us.

– Tim DeCelle