Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

22 June 2014

New Roads to Run

My life in the past couple of weeks has witnessed newness. The Bishop has transferred me to full-time hospital and nursing home ministry in Schuylkill County. I moved to my new digs in Saint Clair almost a week ago, and received a very warm welcome from the pastor and various parishioners.

One humorous anecdote: Having just arrived on the scene, I have not yet acquired an ID badge for the hospital, but that hasn't stopped me from visiting people. On either Tuesday or Wednesday evening I was surveying the floor, probably appearing puzzled. The nurse at the desk asked me if I could be helped. (I'm not so sure sometimes!) Anyhow, she decided to call security just to make sure I was legit. Apparently Collar-ID doesn't work anymore! I told her I didn't blame her for doing it. I can look suspicious, with shifty and furtive eyes sizing up the joint. But then, a Deus ex machina appeared in the form of one of the nurses, a parishioner who vouched for me. Since that evening, the nurse at the desk and I have exchanged friendly hellos.

Running has not abated since my arrival, but the standard routes are getting old quick. Since we have so many hills, it is meet to meet those hills head-on. Only recently have I begun to attempt hills. In the interim between the March and April marathons I took to the hills of Temple and Alsace Township in Berks County. Up here in County Schuylkill there are plenty more--steep ones, mercilessly steep. Take "the Burma"--Burma Road, so named because of its barrenness. After the coal was mined, a wasteland remained. But there is considerable forested area, good for concealing target shooters and beer-guzzling teenagers.

Another anecdote: last night after the vigil Mass I finished up six miles by coming toward the rectory from the direction of the Burma (I didn't attempt the hill, but went up only as far as a new development just past the newer crop of homes from the 1980s). No cars were behind me. The borough set up a speed-indicating sign across from the rectory and church. It showed "8," with brief vacillation between 7 and 9. The sign was working, and so was I.

I look forward to many visits, many opportunities to extend the Lord's Charity through His Word and Sacraments. "The fields are ripe for harvest" (Jn 4:35), for this area used to be known--and still is--for vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life. It used to be known for Catholics, for devout people of many faiths. "The Sea of Faith / Was once, too, at the full" (Matthew Arnold, Dover Beach). Every priestly contribution helps: every offering of the Lord's Sacrificial Banquet, every Hail Mary, every Anointing.

13 June 2014

Pursuing Perfect Love

I came across this post recently from a site called The Chastity Project. I appreciated its message with regard to the use of novenas as a tool to discern one's vocation, or to obtain any particular definite answer. The greater concern is the human insecurity (fear) that underlies much of our prayer. Insecure people pray not to seek God's will for their lives but rather to dictate that will, to "control and enjoy" God much as alcoholics desire to "control and enjoy" their drinking.

Karl Marx was known to call religion "the opiate of the people." (I am surely quoting it out of context, but that makes me no different from many people.) The situations in which we find ourselves, and our insecurities about them, often admit of no easy--and sometimes no possible-- solution.

BUT!!! "Nothing is impossible for God" (Lk 1:37), right? "If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it" (Jn 14:14), right? Then there's the Catechism, which quotes Tertullian: "Prayer is the only thing that can conquer God"!

Whence people of faith are known to turn to prayer, justifiably, to allay their fears and foster the sense that everything will be all right. Going all the way back to the pre-Pentecost days, followers of Christ have engaged in novenas--nine days of storming the heavens with their intentions. Disciples pray, and they enjoin others to pray for them. But with what motives? "If God sees that I'm serious about this matter, He'll have to grant it!" Now I don't believe that every praying person thinks so, but some must. The felt need to prove ourselves to God may be a subtle, even unconscious attitude, but it's there. And it's born of fear, betraying a lack of that "perfect love" that, to be honest, I haven't found in a great many people. (Should I just start keeping better company?)

The most egregious examples of the temptation to seek control of God include the consultation of mediums, interpretation of omens, etc. (cf. CCC 2110-2117). Conducted with full understanding and consent, these acts constitute grave sin. Manipulative intentions in prayer may well qualify as a venial sin, at best, but are nonetheless to be avoided.

Take the example covered by the Everts: Unmarried adults sometimes feel pressure from their parents or peers, or often from themselves, that "I should be married by now," or (if already paired, especially if cohabitating) "We should just get married." It can become a decision made out of fear/insecurity and not in the highest possible freedom of spirit. If this can happen with respect to such great decisions as marriage, how much more so with lesser concerns?

If there is any assurance to be gleaned therefrom, recall that there is a degree of insecurity in all of us. We seek the Lord's help to root out every deficiency that He reveals to us this side of the grave. And we continue to pray, both "directly" to the Lord and "indirectly" to the saints; these latter being fellow human beings who dealt successfully (i.e., faithfully) with their own "ill sets." We also seek help from trusted (living) human sources; and this without shame or worry, for those living sources need someone to extract them from their sinful attachments, lethargy, and neurosis, too!

07 June 2014

The Holy Spirit: Seal for Consecration and Mission

Holy Mother Church rejoices in the abundant outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In our Diocese of Allentown, she rejoices in four newly ordained priests: Father James M. Harper, III, assigned to Notre Dame of Bethlehem; Father Daniel E. Kravatz, Jr., assigned to our parish; Father Kevin M. Lonergan, assigned to St. Jane Frances de Chantal, Easton; and Father Mark R. Searles, assigned to Sacred Heart, Allentown. The same Spirit who hovered over the primordial deep, the same Spirit who led Moses and the Israelites through the parted waters of the Red Sea, the same Spirit who breathed life into a field of dry bones, the Spirit who filled the womb of the Virgin Mother: this Holy Spirit enlivens the Church in her doctrine, liturgy, morality, and prayer from one generation to the next. Jesus conveyed the Spirit upon the Apostles, St. John says, by breathing upon them on the night of His Resurrection; by contrast, the Book of Acts offers the traditional account of the Apostles and Mary gathered in the Upper Room in expectant prayer. In either case, the Spirit descends upon them to set them afire with missionary charity and clarity.

The Holy Spirit is the Prime Agent in the Church’s Sacramental life. In the Eucharistic Prayers of the Mass notice how the priest extends his hands over the Gifts, meanwhile invoking the Holy Spirit to transform them into Christ’s Body and Blood. This action is called epiclesis, “calling upon” in the sense of “over top of.” Then there is the ancient action of “Laying on of Hands,” which is a constitutive or at least optional component of most of the sacraments. In Confession it is optional for the priest to lay his hand on the penitent’s head if there is no grate separating them; at the very least, he extends his right hand as he grants absolution. In Anointing of the Sick, the priest first lays his hands upon the person’s head before anointing his head and palms. There are the three sacraments that confer the Holy Spirit upon a person in a game-changing, identity-forming way: Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders. While Baptism does not involve the direct imposition of hands, the minister’s hand may touch the candidate in the imposition of Sacred Chrism. In Confirmation, the minister extends hands over (toward) the candidates, and touches the Chrism to the person’s forehead. The Bishop ordains candidates by imposing his hands upon their heads; once again, Chrism is used upon a priest’s palms, and upon a bishop’s head.

All this is to note how the divine Mysteries convey the Holy Spirit’s vital power upon the recipient who by repentance and gratitude strives to be worthy of such magnificent gifts. Confirmation, in particular, “in a certain way perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the Church” (CCC 1288). The Bishop, in his very person and in his sacramental actions, re-presents the Spirit-breathing Christ by breathing upon the Chrism he consecrates in anticipation of the Paschal Feasts. The Baptized is rightly called a “Christian,” that is to say, one who is anointed as Jesus Himself was anointed Prophet to speak the Word of God, Priest to offer both Himself and mankind in sacrifice, and King to care for and lead people into the true Freedom of the Spirit.

Just as the Spirit descended at Pentecost to unite the confused tongues of the human race, so the Christian is anointed and commissioned by God to be a force for unity, clarity, and enthusiasm. If you have been baptized and confirmed, and you strive to live in communion with God and neighbor in the state of sanctifying grace, then you are duly empowered to be that force for unity, clarity, and enthusiasm into a world that surely needs it!