My column at Patheos: Lumen Fidei’s last chapter = Faith as light in family, cities, culture

My column at Patheos: Lumen Fidei’s last chapter = Faith as light in family, cities, culture

As we conclude the Year of Faith this month, I’m completing my 5-part series at Patheos summarizing Francis’ first encyclical on faith, Lumen Fidei, looking at chapter four. (Check out the new study guide on the document at the bottom of this post.)

Here’s the opening of my latest column at Patheos…

God has our best in mind — always! God sees the eternal city he longs to bring us to one day. Yet at the same time God provides faith for the life we are called to build in our homes, cities, and societies. In this final chapter of Lumen Fidei (LF), Francis explores how faith builds a better world for the sake of all.

Screen Shot 2012-09-26 at 11.39.54 AMFaith is not only a journey, but also “a process of building, the preparing of a place in which human beings can dwell together with one another (LF, 50).” God first built the Creation where humanity could live and flourish. Then he took it a step farther and engaged humanity, calling us into a relationship with himself.

We’ve seen from history that God always builds with the good of his people in mind. God calls us to build with him, and we must do so with faith in God in mind.

The faith of Abraham and the Old Testament peoples was built upon the promises of God and a yearning for their fulfillment: a holy land, a chosen nation, a blessing for the world. The Letter to the Hebrews recalls how their faith was built on God.

“They desired a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city (Heb 11:16).”

Faith builds reliably on the firmness and fidelity of God himself. Faith illuminates all we do, not just for ourselves but for the good of all.

We are designed to think and act like God — for the common good — building families and societies with faith.

Faith makes us appreciate the architecture of human relationships because it grasps their ultimate foundation and definitive destiny in God, in his love, and thus sheds light on the art of building; as such it becomes a service to the common good. Faith is truly a good for everyone; it is a common good. Its light does not simply brighten the interior of the Church, nor does it serve solely to build an eternal city in the hereafter; it helps us build our societies in such a way that they can journey towards a future of hope. (LF, 51)

Families are the building blocks of society that best serve the common good. God’s master plan uses families to bring love to the world.

The first setting in which faith enlightens the human city is the family. I think first and foremost of the stable union of man and woman in marriage. This union is born of their love, as a sign and presence of God’s own love, and of the acknowledgment and acceptance of the goodness of sexual differentiation, whereby spouses can become one flesh (cf. Gen 2:24) and are enabled to give birth to a new life, a manifestation of the Creator’s goodness, wisdom and loving plan. Grounded in this love, a man and a woman can promise each other mutual love in a gesture which engages their entire lives and mirrors many features of faith. Promising love for ever is possible when we perceive a plan bigger than our own ideas and undertakings, a plan which sustains us and enables us to surrender our future entirely to the one we love. Faith also helps us to grasp in all its depth and richness the begetting of children, as a sign of the love of the Creator who entrusts us with the mystery of a new person. (LF, 52)

Truly the vocation of marriage and family life is bigger than what a husband and wife might plan for themselves. Their home is the field where the seeds of God’s plan are sown; it is the where faith is passed on and where children learn to trust in the love of parents, and ultimately trust God too.

This is why it is so important that within their families parents encourage shared expressions of faith which can help children gradually to mature in their own faith (LF, 53).

The encounter with Christ is an indispensible necessity to fruitful family life. Strong Christian marriages give birth and build strong Christians. Homes built on the foundation of Christ provide a secure and firm environment for the conversion of children and their spiritual maturing.

Encountering Christ, letting themselves be caught up in and guided by his love, enlarges the horizons of existence, gives [life] a firm hope which will not disappoint. Faith is no refuge for the fainthearted, but something which enhances our lives. It makes us aware of a magnificent calling, the vocation of love. It assures us that this love is trustworthy and worth embracing, for it is based on God’s faithfulness which is stronger than our every weakness (LF, 53).

Read the rest at my column on Patheos.

To catch up with the series I wrote on Lumen Fidei, you can find the introduction here, and my earlier articles on Chapter 1, Chapter 2, and Chapter 3.

Go here to subscribe to my column by email or RSS.

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EXCELLENT RESOURCE!! Master Catechist and Ave Maria Press author, Jared Dees, has a great study guide on Lumen Fidei. Now you can do a personal study on this encyclical, or do a group study in your home or church! Don’t miss this study guide!

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My Column at Patheos has me working my way through Lumen Fidei (Francis’ first encyclical)

My Column at Patheos has me working my way through Lumen Fidei (Francis’ first encyclical)

As the Year of Faith continues, I thought it wise to study and reflect on Francis’ first encyclical specially geared to teach on faith. This encyclical letter was much anticipated and begun by Benedict XVI, and was subsequently completed and released under Francis. It was released at the end of June, just in time for my summer vacation. But I’m back! And happy to share a few quotes from it —  the “greatest hits” imho — that I find there.

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Today, at my column at Patheos, I begin a series reflecting on each of the parts of this wise and easy-to-digest catechesis on faith. As you might expect, the document is filled with scripture. I give you a snippet below of a particular verse that moved me…

One verse from Scripture cited in Lumen Fidei struck me with unusual power, to see it with new eyes.

On the eve of his passion, Jesus assured Peter: “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail (Lk 22: 32).”

What a momentous statement.

So often Christians think about the action of our prayers being made to God. Yet in this instance, the Lord and the Light of the World, offers an intentional and personal prayer for an arrogant and blundering fisherman in Peter. The gospels have numerous instances of Jesus at prayer. But in this short verse we get a vision of God who prays for us! Jesus has each of us in mind before we utter a word or thought of the heart.

In this clear intercession – I have prayed for you – Jesus pins hope on Peter’s faith, but it is not fainthearted. Jesus backs it with his power and light. Jesus entrusts this faith, by turn, on the followers to come after Peter, as they too will be transformed by the light of faith.

I now imagine this word of God applying to me. I see Jesus praying for my faith, the virtue infused at my baptism. To assist me in not failing, Jesus has given me brothers and sisters in the church, along with the graces of the sacraments, to insure it. This, indeed, is the faith born of encounter with Jesus: it brightens one’s path, and opens “vast horizons” that lead “beyond our isolated selves towards the breadth of communion.” It is a faith that “enriches life in all its dimensions (LF, par 6.)”

Read the whole article at my column, “A Word in Season”, on Patheos.

To subscribe to my column at Patheos via RSS or to get the whole series delivered to your email inbox, go here.

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Photos: Top cover photo: me and a cardboard cut-out of Francis at Catholic Marketing Network, near the Ignatius Press booth.

Mid text: Screen shot from news.va

Wanted: Spiritual Fathers and Mothers – my latest column @PatheosCatholic

Do you have spiritual heroes? I do. They are people who remain dear to my heart. They are men and women who have showed me the way to change my life for the better, and many of them, through their friendly mentoring helped to grow me up in the faith. I could list many names from years gone by beyond my family circle. They were church folk, school folk, older women friends. Somehow they generously took time to love me and encourage me even when I could not offer anything of value in return. They were magnanimous spiritual mothers and fathers to me. I’m fortunate to still know a few today.

I could also list the names of many favorite saints who have inspired me along the way.

I thank God for all of them, the saints, and the good Christians I met who have shepherded me, especially as a teen and younger woman. Somewhere along the way, I started to want to be like them.

If you read my book, Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious, you’ll find that I make the case that Christian women are called to grow and mature in such a way as to be able to make disciples through their holy influence in their spheres of life — to be physical and spiritual mothers. Whether single, married, or religious, women are baptized and called to participate in the universal mission of the Church that ignites faith and light and love in others. That we not only come to know, love, and serve Christ ourselves, but that we bring others along to Heaven with us as well.

Yet we live in a society that often demeans parenthood and degrades or ignores the spiritual dimensions that are so necessary to human flourishing. As I wrote in my latest column at Patheos, we need spiritual heroes…

What the world needs now are spiritual heroes. Be they spiritual fathers or spiritual mothers, we need them. The Catholic Church has long known this and has produced spiritual fathers and mothers by the millions. We call them saints.

Besides all the famous names on the heavenly rolls like the Blessed Mother, St Joseph, the Apostles and Martyrs, and the rest, there are millions more –- unnamed and lesser saints — who started their days just like you and me. They got up in the morning and got to work.

Many of us mere mortals, while piously attempting to honor and revere saints, mistakenly see their heroic virtue as beyond our reach. What I’m saying is that many Catholics and others put saints on pedestals in ways that leave us fretting that such sanctity is unattainable for the regular folks, the Joe and Joan Q. Public sitting in the pew.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Saints in heaven this very moment are looking at us and praying that we dispatch with this silly notion, and dispel this excuse from the responsibility and, yes, the privilege, each baptized person has to grow in holiness. That is, to try to be a saint.

Let me say this as forthrightly as I can: Get a grip, People of God!

The saints began with the same raw materials we do: A sinful life in need of God and his grace. Fortunately grace is not in short supply, for where sin increases, grace abounds all the more. (Cf. Romans 5: 20)

There’s more, of course.

Go read it. There’s a bodacious mission out there waiting for you.

Here’s my tribute to what I will miss about Pope Benedict XVI, and what I’ve learned from him

Here’s my tribute to what I will miss about Pope Benedict XVI, and what I’ve learned from him

From my column at Patheos this week on the intersection of Benedict, the Catechism, and the hope of heaven…

I have a first edition English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in hardcover. Ever since my great awakening to my Catholic faith in my teen years, I’ve been reading about our faith, and taking theology classes when I could. So in 1992, when I heard that the Catholic Church was putting out a new catechism, the theology geek in me bought a copy when the English translation arrived in 1994.

Within the first 70 pages or so, I was hooked. I had no idea who was responsible for what I was reading, but the clarity of the teaching grabbed me.

There were several “teachable moments” where the Catechism affirmed what I already believed, or corrected or challenged my understandings. I’ll share just one instance that blessed me, and came back to bless me again years later, and is blessing me still.

The ultimate end of the whole divine economy is the entry of God’s creatures into the perfect unity of the Blessed Trinity. (CCC, par 260)

What? God wants union with his creatures? Up until that point I had I understood that Jesus loved me. I understood that Jesus died for my sins. I understood that those graces had the power to change me and be like Jesus. But my understanding fell short of such a love yielding this kind of a bond as my entering into union with God.

Everything in God’s plan of salvation — another name for the “divine economy” — is moving toward God. Myself included. The Trinity is my destiny and yours.

This woke me up as it gave me pause.

This one sentence kept coming alive in my mind over and over again. It expanded my image of God, my relationship with him and his heaven. For most of my adult life I vaguely acknowledged that, one day, I would die. Yet I never really considered the true hope of heaven, or what it might look like. I was merrily oblivious. Looking back, my rather lame vision of heaven included clouds and angels and what not. God’s heaven was a very distant “place” that didn’t demand my meditation. But I began to ask myself, how can one truly have hope without knowing where the source of hope comes from?

Good catechesis, and the power of the Holy Spirit, has a way of making us dig deeper until we own what we profess to believe.

Two years later, in 1996, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and the weight of my own mortality squarely rested across my shoulders. During that time of stress and heartache, what the Catechism had taught me came alive. I remembered that line about entering into the unity of the Trinity. My life, lived well — yoked to Christ — would someday have this potential to be permanently joined to God… to be in union with the Persons of the Trinity for eternity.

Heaven would be all about this relationship!

That one little sentence of truth from the Catechism brought me such hope, and clear direction for the rest of my life! And hope is exactly what one needs, not only when facing a cancer diagnosis, but, really, every single day.

Fast forward, years later, into cancer survivorship…  the same Catechism was still challenging me, and it was a catalyst for my returning to graduate school in my forties. There were thousands of footnotes in the Catechism, and I wanted to know what they all meant! (That thirst eventually led me to seek a Masters in the theology, and I received my diploma in 2008 –- 12 years post-cancer!)

As I poured over Scripture and theology books during those study years, I came to discover the “who’s who” behind the Catechism.  Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger – our Pope Benedict XVI  – was the chief architect of the Catechism, at the directive of Blessed Pope John Paul II.

In 1986, I entrusted a commission of twelve Cardinals and Bishops, chaired by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, with the task of preparing a draft of the catechism….

(John Paul II, Apostolic Constitution, Fidei Depositum, Oct. 11, 1992.)

I felt such a debt of gratitude to Cardinal Ratzinger for the Catechism. It was a monumental work – the first update to the Roman Catechism in over 400 years – plus it took six years to develop, with input from over a thousand bishops from the world over. It would influence future generations for the next century! It certainly had its effect on me.

What’s more, my studies led me to discover Ratzinger as one of the premier theologians of the last two generations — with dozens of books to his name! As I studied eschatology — the study of death and eternal life — I learned how important the actual Risen Body of Jesus is to humanity’s eternal destiny. I came to relish Fr. Ratzinger’s work on the subject. The good professor helped me unpack the beauty of a heavenly union with the Trinity, as he describes how Jesus brings about this union for us.

Heaven’s existence depends on the fact that Jesus Christ, as God, is man, and makes space for human existence in the existence of God himself. One is in heaven when, and to the degree, that one is in Christ. It is by being with Christ that we find the true location of our existence as human beings in God. Heaven is thus, primarily, a personal reality…

(Joseph Ratzinger, Dogmatic Theology, Eschatology, The Catholic University of America, 1988, p. 234.)

Jesus makes a space for us in himself, as we truly become the body of Christ. As I read this text that had preceded the Catechism, I immediately recognized the themes I had read earlier.

Read the rest over at Patheos.

Image courtesy of Thomas McDonald

Your heart matters to God, so how has your prayer life been lately? Some gems from the Catechism in my latest column at Patheos

Your heart matters to God, so how has your prayer life been lately? Some gems from the Catechism in my latest column at Patheos

file0001404780822The Year of Faith is a great time to reboot one’s prayer life. Here’s what my column at Patheos offers this week…

Prayer is something all Christians should be “practicing” — both corporately as a Church, and individually — and for a very good reason: the fruit of prayer can be a new heart and a deepening of our love for God.

Indeed, the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s (CCC) chapter on “The Life of Prayer” opens with these words:

Prayer is the life of the new heart.”(CCC 2697)

(Hm. That makes me ask myself: how “new” and “renewed” is my heart? Or, even more basic: Just what is going on in my heart in the first place?)

The same paragraph states,

“Prayer is a remembrance of God often awakened by the memory of the heart.”

Again, note the emphasis on the state of the heart.

(Hmmm. This takes me deeper: what are the memories of God in my heart? And do I recall them easily? Just, what is my history with God? Is he first in my heart?)

Prayer reveals the heart’s contents, and determines where God may be leading us.

The Lord leads all persons by paths and in ways pleasing to him, and each believer responds according to his heart’s resolve and the personal expressions of his prayer. (CCC 2699)

Recall Jesus saying, “You did not choose me, I chose you…” (John 15:16) The God who first loved us desires our love in return. And so, if I’m a follower of Christ, I must yield to him in prayer. He leads in ways “pleasing” to him.

(Indeed, what is my heart’s resolve in matters of prayer? Am I willing to be led by God in prayer? Or is prayer something that I lead? Which way is more pleasing to him?)

There’s more: Read it all right here. You can subscribe to receive my columns via email or via an RSS feed here.

It’s all about Jesus. His presence in the Host is the door to the infinite… my latest column at Patheos

IMG_0617Today the optional memorial in the Church calendar is the Holy Name of Jesus. It’s not only the name for Our Lord and Savior, it makes a perfect prayer… “Jesus”.  Here’s my own little homage to Jesus for today… a sampling from my column at Patheos…

When I consider the proximity of Jesus to me personally in the Mass, and in particular when I sit in front of the Blessed Sacrament, that’s what warms my heart toward his; to know that his heart is first turned toward me, that his heart burns for mine.

When I humbly kneel or sit in front of the Blessed Sacrament elevated in the monstrance, I’m looking into a holy portal to the other side of all we can hope and imagine. The host in the monstrance is, out of its element, in suspended animation. Its bread was consecrated so that it might be consumed and receive by a communicant—to strengthen them with the very body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. It is destined, still, to be Holy Communion that nourishes and becomes part of its recipient. Yet, for the moment, that purpose is delayed, as the Church in her wisdom “exposes” the Incarnate One on the Altar that we might draw near to the very love that beats for us, from the heart that gave all.

This is why it’s called Adoration.

When we come face to face with heart of this love, we learn what it means to adore. True adoration brings an intimate knowledge we cannot find on our own. In adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, we get a foretaste of the infinite, a prolonged visitation of the True Presence outside of the Mass. Within that thin opaque portal, the Host holds all we need to know and can imagine.

I admit I cannot often describe what goes on in those moments of prayer. But in my finite knowledge of the ways of love I fathom it as my heart “seeing” the face of Jesus, the heart of Jesus, the hands of Jesus—all the infinite Good that my heart can hold. And I can almost imagine passing through the veil between heaven and earth.

The rest is here.

Subscribe to my column, A Word in Season, and have it delivered to your email or RSS reader.

Here’s a little bonus for the feast day in honor of the Most Holy Name of Jesus… (I’ve long loved this simple song from Margaret Becker.)

 

Got Prayer? Here’s some advice on squeezing more prayer breaks into your day…

Got Prayer? Here’s some advice on squeezing more prayer breaks into your day…

The Year of Faith is calling us to be more faithful. The three-fold call to know our faith, live our faith, and share our faith is what this year is all about. Here’s one of six suggestions on living our daily call to prayer, from my column at Patheos.

Got prayer? You don’t need a spiritual director to tell you that prayer is important. Prayer is conversation with God. We all need more of that! But, we don’t always make time for it as we should. All I can tell you is that real change and real growth in the spiritual life comes with practice, buoyed by our heart’s desire to come closer to God.

Good habits start with one small step in the right direction. Prayer is no different from the other important disciplines of life. Let me suggest several simple and well-tried practices to increase our prayer time. Don’t attempt them all. Do the one or two that appeal to you. Or maybe, do the one that is the most doable logistically. Then stick with it. Sometimes we’ve got to have small successes first, and be faithful in little things before moving on to bigger ones. Don’t overreach. Just try something.

Start the day differently.

From dieting to exercise to getting things done before children awake, we all know that starting the morning right sets the tone for the day.

  • Go “old school”: As you rise, just kneel down alongside your bed as ask God to enter your day, and to keep you mindful of his presence as you go through your day.
  • Put a bible next to your bed and read a few verses of the psalms, or from the Sermon on the Mount before you rise.
  • Pray Morning Prayer with your coffee using a phone app or a copy of the Magnificat.
  • Tape a “morning offering” prayer to your bathroom mirror and pray it as you dress for the day.

There’s more over at Patheos. 

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It’s all about the relationship! Or, getting personal with Jesus in the Year of Faith…

It’s all about the relationship! Or, getting personal with Jesus in the Year of Faith…

Christ Pantocrater, Cathedral-Basilica of Cefalù, Sicily. (Courtesy of Xerones on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/xerones/
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The heart of the matter, when it comes to the Year of Faith is not the lines of the Catechism that you memorize, though that’s laudable… or the bible study you will be leading at your parish, though that’s fantastic… or the course your gonna take on Catholicism, though that’s a great commitment… or the service to those in need you might undertake, though that’s really needed.

No, the heart of the Year of Faith, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, is an actual beating heart… it is the heart of Jesus that beats wildly for you and for me.

In my column over at Patheos this week, I share a little bit about how my hubby and me have a big anniversary coming up… one of those that end in “0″ and how that long-lasting love all began with an encounter, an introduction, a meeting that led to a whole lot more. And yet, the heart of the matter of this Year of Faith, as I was saying, is how the really great love of our life ought to be Jesus, above all.

Here’s a sampling…

The relationship is the thing.  It’s that way in marriage… and it’s that way for the Year of Faith. Both require only one thing… that I encounter my true love and renew my bond with him, and live a life that reflects the depth of that love.

I first met my husband when I 16. A mutual friend introduced us — during a fire drill, of all things — as we stood outside on the front lawn of our high school waiting for the “all clear” to go back inside. Our friend wanted to introduce us because we were both into playing guitar. Turns out, I had already seen the boy before, and I had at least one class with him… I just had never spoken to him. You could say I had known of him, but I didn’t know him.

[snip]

The true task of the Year of Faith is so simple we might miss it: it is a call to be in a relationship with Jesus… not to just know of him, but to know him. Faith practice is like a marriage that has many good and holy distractions: children, work, worship, and any number of special events in the course of a year. Yet the heart of the thing is the relationship of the lovers at its center. It all begins with an encounter with another person…

We’ve got a really big year coming up in the Church. Let’s fall in love with the Lover of our soul.

Read all of my column here, and feel free to subscribe here. Oh, and you can subscribe to this blog right over there —> in the sidebar, too.