Tag Archives: Catholic

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

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The Gospel is Peace, and we are its Peacemakers

16 Jul Tim DeCelle

“Neither are any wars so furious and bloody, or of so long a continuance, as those occasioned by difference in opinion, especially if it be in things indifferent.” – Jonathan Swift

I have struggled of late to grasp, to strain, to keep what is mysterious and transcendent. I have a bad habit of reading too much. Not too much of just anything, but too much of the dour and polemical pieces that I find too often and easily published online. Such works bring me always crashing back down to earth, back to the cold and brute facts of human ego and violence. I am, unfortunately, thinking of some Christian and Catholic writers.

Peacemakers - Tim DeCelle

Certainly, this is not true of all or even most of those writing about their faith. But a vocal minority has made dominant an oppositional, warfare style of writing. It is all doom and gloom: we are living in perilous times, we must fight the enemy. I am incessantly reminded that we are in a culture war, that we must wage war and win.

   I thought I read something in the Gospels about peacemaking?

If you are reading this, I want to assure you: YOU are not the enemy. Whatever you might read about the battle for values or a clash of cultures, I assure you that you are not the barbarian at the gates of civilization. This kind of language always attempts to draw lines between people, an attempt that falsely divides what should be united.  In fact, the only battle that we should ever speak of is the battle between good and evil, between all of humanity and the forces of darkness. We must resist the temptation to see evil as somehow incarnated in another.

We are in this together. We are made to work together, to live in peace, and to be peacemakers. We are called to transcend the petty bickering and grandstanding about the “valueless” enemy. Before his crucifixion, Jesus prayed that all would be made “one.” This is a “one” united in and through Christ.

It is not a political unity. It is not a unity about who holds what ideology. Socialists and libertarians, liberals and conservatives and everyone in between and beyond—all will be made new in Christ, and not through ideology.

We have and will still have differences of opinions, of ideals, and yes, even values. We are not to abandon truth but rather to live in the image of Jesus is to live as a peacemaker. We are not called to fight for culture but for people. We are their defenders. Through this self-gift, the actual lives and souls of people will be transformed and, from it, the whole world.
– Tim DeCelle

From the Midwest to Big Apple

15 Jul Midwest Peace

Daydreams dancing in my head, a rainstorm of heels tapping the sidewalk, the power of the subway passing. I dreamt of the artists of the Lower East Side, the rooftops of East Harlem, the aristocrats of the Upper East. I desired to move into that world, the world where you swim with art, culture and lyrics. I was moving to New York City, and I was moving there with dreams.

The Big Apple  Friday at rush hour, arriving at Penn Station, duffle bag in hand, I stood in a sea of people who moved, dancing with one another, avoiding collisions with wisdom and alertness. Stumbling and toppling, I took refuge in a corner of the station to observe, immediately facing the reality of the city I painted so whimsically in my mind. Run over by high heels and swatted with briefcases, I watched, awakened.

With a year behind me now, I recently climbed the subway stairs with a learned confidence, walking with the wisdom and alertness that I so envied in the Penn Station crowd I had first encountered. A phrase that has visited me often repeated itself in my mind, “I can’t believe I live in New York.”

With this awe lingering, I left the city to visit my new nephew in the Twin Cities. While sharing a beer and dinner in the peace that the Midwest seems always to provide, my brother-in-law inquired, “How is it living in New York City?” Looking up I was brought back to that new moment of confidence, and I realized the dreams I had thought would be life here had disappeared. It is not jadedness that I have found, it is a new wonder. It is not until the projection of ideas for our future are surrendered that we truly encounter the Divine.

While I stood in awe that I had moved to the City, there was a fight between expectation and reality. I had expected to encounter something different, something separate from myself. But standing on the city’s corner, I encountered my true self. For wherever we run, for whatever dream we are going towards and conflict we are running from, there comes a moment where we are asked to encounter reality. This wonder that I was so adamantly in search of was always with me, it was the wonder that comes with the realization that this is all given, all given to us by Christ to explore and encounter. Now, I am falling into a new dream, a dream of the present where beauty is continually given with my surrender.

– Colleen Pesci

Catholic Devotion to Mary

12 Jul

Growing up, my mom made us partake in a lot of Marian devotions. We were interrupted to pray the Angelus while watching cartoons, sing Marian hymns at home and special occasions at church, and our house was decked with a plethora of images of Our Lady. The worst imposition was when my mom would pray a rosary with us late at night if we couldn’t sleep. No doubt sleep would come over us within five minutes. For most of my life, I didn’t understand why she and the Catholic Church put so much value on the Blessed Mother.

Virgin Mary Annuticiate Fra Angelico

Virgin Mary Annuticiate Fra Angelico

I questioned: Why do you stand when you pray the Hail Holy Queen? Why does she get an entire five decades of prayers dedicated to her? Why does she get multiple feast days for her honor? Why do some Catholics seem to worship her and treat her like the fourth person of the Trinity? All of this questioning turned me off to hearing and learning about various Marian devotions. I struggled a lot with the idea of asking for help from the Virgin Mary instead of going straight to God.

One realization I have come to is that God made us human with physical needs. He sent His only Son to come to earth as a man to experience what we experience and be able to relate to us. God became man and was born of a woman so that we would be able to understand and relate. A divine being made up of three in one persons? That doesn’t make any sense…but a baby boy born to a young girl and a carpenter? Now, that is something I can wrap my head around! We all have a mother and a father, even Jesus. The month of May is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. We honor her and remember the great sacrifice and love she experienced bringing Christ into the world.

How many times do we honor our own mother throughout the year? On her birthday and Mother’s Day, we spend time and money on her, write cards and give flowers. On these days and many other days throughout the year, we take time to thank our moms for giving us life, and for all they have sacrificed and given to and for us. And rightly so, these beautiful women have done so much for us, and we are literally here because of their love and sacrifice. How much more, then, should we love, honor, appreciate and thank the Mother of God. Christ would have never come as a man, suffered death and rose again if Mary hadn’t said “yes.”

During the month of May, and specifically around Mother’s Day when we honor our own mothers, I challenge you to take some time to honor and thank Our Lord’s mother. After all, she is our mom too: “Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home” (John 19:27).

 

– Catherine Huss

Pope Francis – There’s More Here than Politics

26 May Pope Francis Internet Memes - The Heart of the Matter
 I was struck during the events leading up to the election of Pope Francis. I got zero work done
the day the white smoke went up. I was glued to the streaming video feed from the Vatican. The
time between the white smoke and the actual announcement of exactly who was chosen to be the
new pope was almost unbearable. I was filled with so much anticipation and I just wanted to see
who it was. What was interesting for me and my friends was how much our experience contrasted
that of the recent presidential elections in our own country. We didn’t have the same sort of worry
or anxiety about who the next elected official would be, and where his ideologies would lead his us.
Our lives can change drastically depending on which civil politician is elected to office, and there is
a lot of uncertainty. It could go either way, if the wrong person is elected, it could damage this
country; and all my hope for a new beginning of the new age of prosperity, whatever, rides on the
right guy getting elected.
Pope Francis - There’s More Here than Politics
On the other hand, during these recent events in Rome, no one campaigned or tried to impress
us or dissuade us from liking his opponents. We weren’t swept up into the speculations between
the popular categories of ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative.’ To us, it didn’t matter who was elected. In my
friends who have met Christ and are changed by Him, I have found something exceptional,
something that provokes me and promises fulfillment and this is irrevocable. Images of Saint
Peter’s Square from that night come to mind. It was filled with Romans and pilgrims from across
the globe with signs that read “viva il papa”, long live the pope. It didn’t matter who would come out
those balcony doors. All those people were there and so excited and so happy to meet the new
pope, which means ‘papa.’  The words, “We have a pope” were such beautiful words to finally hear.
When Pope Benedict XVI announced he was stepping down, I was confronted with a unique
situation, and I was first confused and saddened. But it wasn’t the end of me, nor of my
religio-politcal leanings or ideologies. I was sad to see Benedict go, but I was certain the people of
the world would be guided well by the new pope. And indeed, I think we will be guided very well by
Pope Francis, I already feel an affection for him. His concrete gestures of humility and poverty, as
one of if not the most influential figure on the planet, really stick in my imagination. Its enjoyable to
watch the popular media scramble to squeeze him into one of their preconceived political
categories, “is he conservative or liberal?” Neither. He is pre-political. He proposes Christ to us;
reminds us of who loves our destiny truly. It’s not Obama and its not Romney.

– PJ Butler

In other news, Pope Francis internet Memes:

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Lipstick, Tattoos, and Embodied Souls

18 May Catholic Tattoo - The Heart of the Matter

Saturday night, downtown Minneapolis is one big Minnesotan hot dish. You are guaranteed to see all sorts of things, from the bachelorette party walking bar to bar, and “that one girl who just shouldn’t have worn that,” to the 55 year old couple leaving the Orpheum all dressed up, to the mentally ill elderly man trying to feed his dog newspaper.

Lipstick, Tattoos, and Embodied Souls - Kari Elsen - The Heart of the Matter

What would this scene look like in Heaven? What we are is much more than what we can see with our eyes; each body walking the streets has within it a soul. We are more than our blond highlights and our “Semper Fi” tattoo, so how do we embrace the fact that we are both body and soul? The truth is that our body is mortal, but our soul is immortal, and what we do with our body affects our soul. In his encyclical, Deus Caritas est (God is Love), Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI says that “Man is truly himself when his body and soul are intimately united…Should he aspire to be pure spirit and to reject the flesh as pertaining to his animal nature alone, then spirit and body would both lose their dignity. On the other hand, should he deny the spirit and consider matter, the body, as the only reality, he would likewise lose his greatness.” This being that both body and soul are good and we need both!

We are physical people; we learn through our five senses and do what we can to “feel good.” Our Catholic faith recognizes this, and this is why we can experience God through the smells of incense, the feeling of chrism oil on our heads, and the taste of the Eucharist. What we do with our bodies affects our souls; we drink too much: we affect our soul, we are promiscuous: we affect our souls. Because we are physical beings, the sins of the flesh are sometimes the hardest to gain control of. In reconciliation we use our bodies to speak words out loud so God can purify our souls, and in this sacrament we experience God’s forgiveness in a physical, bodily manner as well as on the level of the soul.

The next time you find yourself critiquing yourself or others based on the state of the body; remember that you are much more than your body: you are an embodied soul, that is, a soul within a body. Go to reconciliation, gain some new perspective. Because a clean soul is so much more beautiful than the perfected body and you may just find that the state of your soul can radiate more beauty than you could ever know.

– Kari Elsen

Prayer for a Man’s Man

17 Apr Prayer for Men - Isaac Huss

The taste of orange juice right after you brushed your teeth. The sound of nails scratching a chalkboard. The feeling of getting kicked square in the crotch. All are things I’d sometimes prefer to spending an extended period of time in prayer. Okay, maybe not the last one, but you get the point. Prayer is often hard, really hard. From what I can tell, my struggles with prayer are pretty representative of what you might call a normal dude in America today. Men aren’t exactly pounding down the doors of the local parish church nowadays. The fact is, there are millions of things men would rather do than sit down and pray. I’m not saying men don’t want to pray or don’t understand the importance of prayer, although there are certainly plenty in both camps. I’m just saying the average Joe has a hard time with prayer in general, even if he would really actually like to pray.

Prayer for a Man's Man - Isaac Huss

When I was confirmed, I was told to ask God for a gift of the Holy Spirit. When piety was described to me as essentially a desire for doing holy things, I thought, “Sign me up! I’d love to actually enjoy going to Mass.” When the rubber hit the road, kneeling down and praying was not attractive to me at all. Ever. In hindsight, I was probably a wee bit naive about what it meant to receive the gift of piety. In other words, “Sure, God, I’ll pray, but what will I get out of it? Can you make it fun and exciting? Or at least a little bit enjoyable? Hell, I’d settle for tolerable! Oh, and sorry for swearing. Amen.”

Here’s the thing about prayer: it’s the exact opposite of self-centered. Prayer is a turning from self to God. It’s not self-seeking, it’s God-seeking. Not self-serving, but God-serving. Here’s where man’s struggle to pray becomes refreshingly counter-intuitive: when a man sits in prayer, whether it’s in Mass or by himself, and he starts to feel that familiar feeling of I’d-rather-be-doing-anything-else, that’s not him failing at prayer. In fact, it’s the opposite. It means he’s succeeding and the prayer is doing its work. Or, more properly speaking, God is doing His work.

When a weightlifter feels the burn while bench pressing, he doesn’t assume he’s failed, he realizes that the lifting is pushing him to his limits and making him stronger. Similarly, when we struggle in prayer, we are actually succeeding–pushing our spiritual capacity to its limit and making our love for God stronger. The goal of benching is not perfect form but a strong body. The goal of prayer is not perfect prayer, but love of God. I’m not saying that prayer can’t possibly be enjoyable or that the only way we grow in holiness is by gritting our teeth. I am saying that the measure of holiness does not necessarily mean that you’d rather participate in a 3-hour Latin high mass than watch the Vikings, or that a holy hour miraculously seems so much more appealing than a happy hour. Instead, holiness just might mean that you’d rather be doing something else, but you choose to pray anyway.

-Isaac Huss

Freedom Through Confession

3 Apr

Freedom Through Confession - Colleen Pesci

  The winter lies heavy on our backs. The morning sun rising long after we have started our days only to be blocked by the low grey sky, turning our strides into a trudge through soiled slush, with our minds solely concentrated on leaving one destination and arriving at another. I walk, clouded, up the large stone steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, positioned on bustling 5th Ave. Commuters hustle by me, heads down, scarves wrapped, looking for the shelter of their offices and the warmth of their cubicles. The stone of the church mimicking the condition of my heart: heavy and cold.

I head straight back to the confessionals feeling once again like a small fifth grader, heart pounding, palms sweating, mind racing, anxious to divulge my secrets and sins. As I kneel behind the screen I feel safe, tucked away in this small corner of the church, me and the priest, divided by a screen, identities unknown. In the opening prayer I am hit with a familiar voice, one that I have heard many times, yet one that sits in my memory as speaking to a crowd, to an audience. Here, however, there is a personable tone, it is Cardinal Archbishop Dolan.

After my initial shock of recognition and at the end of my sharing, he pauses with a sigh as he digests what I have given him, and he responds with these words:

“Remember, my dear friend, the story of St. Andrew. We, as Christians, focus on his yes to the Lord, his surrender and trust, his movement towards Christ. But with every movement towards something there is a leaving behind, with every ‘yes’ there lies countless ‘no’s.’ Fulton Sheen is buried feet away from us, under this very altar. He wrote once of a scene at the confessional. A line of people waiting to enter, backs arched with heavy burdens, yet as they leave, they walk with a freedom past piles and piles of people’s pain, sin, and sorrow that have been laid down, released from their possession. Leave here, and leave it behind. Leave it behind at the door. For all is forgiven.”

I walked out of the Cathedral, down the concrete steps, past the booming stone walls, and once again into the sharp winter wind, my heart no longer clouded by grayness. With the morning sun, I watched the streets become alive with steady steps, hands grasped around the steaming cups of morning coffee and I recognize the Promise. In our human weakness, there is redemption. My every choice and encounter not only is an opportunity for my yes but also my no. I stand in front of these encounters, not with a heart of fear but of Promise, because when shackled to my weakness there sits waiting for me, tucked away in a drafty church,  an opportunity to release my burdens and walk away, free.

-Colleen Pesci

Why Start Religion Early for Your Kid?

24 Mar Start Teaching our Children the Faith Early

Spirituality and religion are so profoundly personal.  And many of us are still on our journey of either/both/one.  Given that each person has a particular journey, why start religious instruction early for children?  Why not let them choose their own path when they are old enough to be interested in it?

We have opted to start religion for our kiddos from the get-go for a number of reasons: 1) being part of a larger spiritual community; 2) development of conscience; and 3) reinforcement of our parenting values.

Why Start Religion Early for Your Kid?

Why Start Religion Early for Your Kid?

Our son who is two and a half has a sweet love of Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary.  He doesn’t get the advanced concepts of the hypostatic union or transubstantiation.  He doesn’t need to.  He understands Jesus was once a little boy too.  He understands Mama Mary to be his heavenly mother, and Jesus’ mama, who is there to comfort him when he is alone and scared.  For him, the Saints are not only a great baseball team, but also a team of wonderful people who are dead and whose examples we strive to follow.

 When we consider how the Church can influence the development of conscience, we don’t see religion as a vehicle for shaming or guilt-tripping.  The shaping of a conscience is comprised of delineating desirable behavior from undesirable behavior, and empowering the child to internalize this distinction process.  All parents do this, regardless of creed.  Catholicism provides a blue print to make this go more smoothly.

But why start now when they are so little?  Because I cannot hope that our children come to embrace these values later on as they are not the natural values to embrace.  It is natural for children to be rude, selfish, and wild. Instead of shaping his behavior through punishment (all the time), an external force, we are trying to give him a rooting in the whys behind the don’t-do-that.  Following your base instincts will not bring you closer to a God of love, and will not make you happy.  You have to practice self-discipline, and develop it from the get go, based on something that is higher than your parents.  Someone you are accountable to when no one is looking. If you have surrounded your child with a culture that backs up what you have shown them, then they can see from their friends, their friends’ parents, their school, and their environment a mirroring of values you hold true.

In conclusion, why not have God as a part of their routine?  Even if you are more spiritual than religious, consider how as a parent you give your child parameters and boundaries on all other fronts.  Why not organize their exposure to a Higher Power in the form of organized religion? It’s up to you how you present the routine of the Divine, and which traditions you emphasize, and accordingly you could give your child a better or different or more complete version than what you yourself received.

-Nell Alt

Looking for the Kingdom at the Neighborhood Café

20 Mar The Neighborhood Cafe

   I have a fairly juvenile approach toward prayer. My own interpretations and perspective often turn a little ridiculous. For instance, my wife and I recently read Romans 14:17, “For the Kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” I thought, “man, that sounds tough.” I truly enjoy the happiness of indulging in food and drink. What if Saint Peter is more of a host waiting to show us to our reserved spot (upon condition)? Don’t  you think that we’ll be eating and drinking to our hearts’ content once through the big pearly gates up there?  

Looking for the Kingdom at the Neighborhood Café
 
  I’ve recently found my own little slice of heaven at my favorite neighborhood greasy-spoon diner, appropriately called The Neighborhood Café on Snelling Ave in St Paul. They continue to make improvements, such as offering breakfast hash that looks more homemade than what you would get out of a can, a small dinner menu with good appetizers, a great draft beer lineup that includes tasty local suds, and usually a wildly concocted special that never seems to make sense until it hits your taste buds. They have the gruff (but with a smirk) service that is essential in the greasy spoon category.

  A few weeks ago, friends and I were there for one of their first dinner offerings. As we watched the local football rivalry ensue on their single wall-mounted 17” TV, I noshed on a pulled pork Cubano sandwich. My wife enjoyed a deluxe grilled cheese complete with bacon and tomato while our friend practically inhaled the famous pot roast. Although our stomachs were stuffed we all willingly assisted in the take down of a caramel-drizzled, seared pear with ice cream in the middle. Before we walked in we knew a few of the wait staff and the owner, after we departed we knew most of the patrons as well.

  This is my heaven. This is where I find my peace, my joy. Is it reasonable to think that this experience is what eternity could be? I doubt it, because in my heart of hearts, or the heart of my stomach, I know that the evening could have included much less tasty fare and would still have been as enjoyable. The peace I find in these situations isn’t how seasoned the pork is or how perfectly proportioned the deluxe grilled cheese presents. It isn’t about the seared pears or local brews. It’s about the laughs, the jokes, and the hilarious remarks. That is what the Holy Spirit is in my juvenile world. That is the peace I seek. Although my conscious goal is to find my wife and I a delicious meal that will fill our bodies, the real seasoning I seek is seeing the Spirit in others. Smiles on faces and inside jokes with new friends is the righteousness I crave. Maybe my purgatory would be an empty Neighborhood Cafe… still sounds pretty tasty though.

– Joseph Olson