Writings

Musings, Essays,
&  other Pondersome Distractions

short reflections on whatever happens to catch our fancy
longform articles intended to spur on your own reflections
spiritual meditations given throughout the liturgical year

On Christ’s Invitation to Chaos

Water is chaos. Water is death, disorder, ugliness, and confusion. As Holy Scripture teaches us, after God had made the heavens and the earth, the earth was, in its primal state, covered in water and “darkness was upon the face of the deep.” Yet, above these primordial depths fluttered the Spirit of God and by His Word He drew Creation from the waters.

The opening of Holy Scripture presents us with a pattern of God pulling order from disorder, life from death, and beauty from ugliness. As He pulled our world from the waters, so too will He pull salvation from chaos and death time and time again.

Remember the narrative of Noah’s Ark, and how God, in His anger, recalled the primordial waters of Creation to once again retake the face of the earth. Death, chaos, and destruction reigned. Yet, God again in His mercy drew forth salvation from the watery depths and humanity was made anew with Noah and his family.

Remember the narrative of the infant Moses laid upon the waters of the river Nile. As Noah had his Ark, so too did Moses have his basket—and what should have been his death became his salvation. For Pharaoh’s daughter drew him forth from the waters and named him Moses—meaning “to draw out.” His name, of course, is prophetic—because as he was drawn out from the Nile, so too will he draw Israel out of Egypt. Yet, once again water appears as death, as Israel becomes trapped on the banks of the Red Sea—but God turns what should have been death into life by allowing Israel to cross.

Note as well the fate of the Egyptians who were swallowed up in a watery death—a warning to us all of what happens if we attempt to navigate the chaos of this life without God.

We could also speak of how the waters of the Jordan River stood between Israel and the Promise Land or how Jonah, in his disobedience, was cast from his ship into waters and swallowed by a beast of the sea.

The entire pattern of God drawing forth salvation from the waters is perfected in the baptism of Jesus Christ. For here there is no ark or basket, but rather the very instrument of death itself—water—is made the tool of salvation. We are submerged in the baptismal waters to show our death with Christ, and, as God pulled forth Creation from the primordial waters of Genesis, so too are we drawn forth as new creatures in Jesus Christ. As St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us, Christ was not baptized to become holy, but to make the waters holy for us. God enters into death and the instrument of that death becomes the portal of our salvation.

This ancient symbolism of water representing chaos and death gives new insight into the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ—we may recall His first miracle of turning water into wine or His later miracles of walking on water and rebuking the storm at sea. We may even start to understand why, when He cast the demons into the pigs, the demons drove the animals to be drowned in the waters. Time and time again, Holy Scripture uses water to demonstrate the authority of Jesus Christ over chaos and death.

Here, let us stop and ask: Why is any of this important to today’s Gospel? Well, have you ever wondered why Jesus chose fisherman for His first disciples? Why not choose carpenters like He and his earthly father? Why did He choose fisherman? To understand, we must apply the lessons learned since Genesis: that the waters represent a formless, primordial chaos.

For our Lord tells His first disciples, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

He is not inviting His disciples to comfort or safety. For if one is going to be a fisherman, one must be upon the open waters. As God drew forth Creation from the formless depths of our primal earth, so too does He now invite His disciples to join Him in drawing forth a new Creation from the chaos of this world.

He calls them to be “fishers of men,” because as a man draws a fish out of the sea and into the boat, so too do the disciples of Christ draw souls out of the chaos of this world and into the Catholic Church. This is our calling. Our Lord asks us to endure the chaotic, stormy seas of this life for the sake of those souls who are still lost amongst its churning depths.

We must hear his call. We are to be “fishers of men,” and we will be in the chaos but not of it—we are called to draw souls out of the death of this life into the new life of Jesus Christ. We bring order to chaos, light to darkness, and hope to despair.

Our Lord has made the call—He has asked us to be fishers of men.

May we answer the call and “push out into the deep” to rescue souls from the watery chaos of this world.[1]

    [1] In the first reading from Isaiah (Is 8:23—9:3), the song of praise is from those souls drawn into the safety on the new Ark, the Catholic Church. It is not unremarkable that the road glorified is the “seaward” road. The second reading from St. Paul (1 Cor 1:10-13, 17) against divisions is a warning to not the chaos of the world enter the Church any more than a fisherman allows the waves of the sea into his boat. Finally, see Into the Deep: A Biblical Study on Chaos & Discipleship for a more in depth treatment of the allegory of water as chaos.

Baptism of Desire and Sacramental Character

The Church has traditionally taught that the desire for baptism, whether explicit or implicit, saves.[1] Yet, someone may ask, “If that person doesn’t receive the sacrament of baptism, is that person ‘fully Catholic’”?

If by “fully Catholic” one means “getting to heaven,” then the answer is yes. However, if by “fully Catholic” one means receiving the character/seal of baptism, then the answer is no. The Catechism teaches that the desire for Baptism “brings about the fruits of Baptism,” but “without being a sacrament” (CCC 1258). Since the character is only communicated through the sacrament (CCC 1121), it follows that the desire for Baptism does not communicate the sacramental character or seal.

What’s the significance of this? For this life, it simply means that the person wouldn’t enjoy the “rights within the Church” to participate in aspects of the life of the Church, such as the sacraments (CCC 1269). The character/seal is ordered to making the baptized “share in Christ’s priesthood” and constituting them as “a member of the Church according to different states and functions” (CCC 1121). Or, as Aquinas puts it, it gives a person the right “to do or receive something pertaining to the worship of the priesthood of Christ.”[2]

Concerning the afterlife, this lack of the character might not have any significance at all. The Church only definitively teaches that the seal remains at least until death.[3] Even if the character does remain in heaven, which is the general theological opinion,[4] the only implication would be that the souls that didn’t have it would experience beatitude in a lesser degree than those that did have it. But that’s not a problem because every soul will experience different degrees of beatitude in heaven depending on their state of charity.

Regardless of whether the seal remains, the important thing is that the baptism of desire does indeed save. And in that sense every soul in heaven is “fully Catholic.”   [1] For the Church’s teaching on the explicit desire for Baptism, see The Council of Trent, Canons on the Sacraments in General, Can. 4; Decree on Justification, Chap.4; Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 1259; Cf. Aquinas, Summa theologiae [ST] III, q. 66, aa. 11-12; q. 68, a. 2. For the Church’s teaching on the implicit desire for Baptism, see Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 1260. [2] Aquinas, ST III, q. 63, a. 6, ad 3. [3] See Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (St. Louis, MO: B. Herder Book Company, 1957), 335. [4] See Ibid.

Make a Resolution to Love

As the new year begins and many of us make resolutions, some concrete and realistic, others perhaps less so, the words of Jesus may be especially discouraging: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5:48). Our Lord is not addressing, of course, economic, academic, or aesthetic perfection. In other words, the Christian life does not demand that we become rich or supremely intelligent or beautiful. Instead, Jesus is speaking of moral perfection, a natural and supernatural integrity of life and action. But even if we have narrowed our focus, this command of Jesus may seem unreasonable, and an unreasonable command is no real command at all. The good news is that the heights of holiness can indeed be reached with God’s gracious help. Were Christ asking us to pull ourselves up by our spiritual bootstraps, the command would indeed be impossible. Enlivened and empowered by God’s grace, however, a life of holiness is within our grasp.

What does this life of holiness entail? St. John Paul II reflects on the biblical answer to this question in his encyclical Veritatis splendor. Though human life can be complicated and convoluted, the life of holiness requires, above all else, something simple: love. But this word is often distorted today, becoming very much like the squishy, vapid resolutions I mentioned above. Love is reduced to a feeling, an emotional state, and thus reduced to something turbulent and temporary. When Jesus speaks about love, on the contrary, it is something mighty, something profound, something worthy of animating one’s life.

For St. John Paul II, as for the entire Christian tradition, looking to Jesus shows us the path to love. I would like to draw out three essential elements of love. First, love (for example, the kind of love we find in virtuous friendships) involves willing the good of another person, and not for any perceived benefit but for the person’s own sake. While there is an emotional love proper to the human person, the love we are speaking about is fundamentally an act of the will. And because it is such an act, it is not subject to the turbulence and transience of emotional love. Consider a married couple that has been together for 40 years. There are bound to be days when the married persons do not feel in love with each other. Nevertheless, though emotional love when rightly ordered is a good that often accompanies voluntary love, voluntary love transcends emotional love. This distinction between love as an emotion and love as an act of the will explains at least part of the complex reality of divorce in the United States. Because couples confuse the two, often they base a relationship on emotional love and neglect the higher, more stable form of love that wills the good of the other in season and out of season, “in sickness and in health,” as the marriage rite puts it. When emotional love ceases or, God forbid, turns to hatred and resentment, the relationship itself crumbles.

Where do we see this aspect of love exemplified in the life and teaching of Jesus? We see it in His entire life of obedience to the Father for our sake, but especially in His willingness to die on the Cross. In the garden, our Lord’s humanity cannot help but cry out, “Let this cup pass from me.” And yet, because His human will is perfectly conformed to the Father’s will, He can say, “Yet not my will but Thine be done” (Mt. 26:39). It is a fearful thing to approach death, and thus we see Jesus in distress and sweating blood (Lk. 22:44). But He never ceased to will the good of our salvation. We too are meant to show our love for God in acts of obedience: “If you love me, keep my commandments” (Jn. 14:15). For those of us who are still imperfect, our emotions may militate against this saying of our Lord. After all, sometimes I may not feel like obeying God; it may feel better in the short term to pursue bodily pleasure and eschew higher goods. For those who have reached the heights of holiness, however, there is an emotional joy that accompanies obeying God. Love, as St. John Paul II says, is ready to live out the loftiest challenges. In this life, love is inextricably tied to self-giving, to sacrifice. Here, of course, Jesus is the ultimate example. We are not called merely to a fleeting emotional love but to a love that endures all for the sake of the beloved.

The second aspect of love is that it is always founded and grounded in the truth. This is quite a controversial point today, since many people have so absolutized the human will that whatever one chooses to pursue, to love, is justified, and justified precisely because one has chosen it. On the contrary, to state the matter simply, we cannot love what we do not know. Notice the respective implications of these opposing views. For the modern view of love, founded in an understanding of the will as an unfettered power to choose anything whatsoever, might makes right. The person with the stronger will inevitably wins out. Consequently, human relationships devolve into power struggles, occasions to manipulate and dominate others. For the classical view, founded in an understanding of the will as an intellectual appetite, all human beings are beholden to the wise and good order that God has created. Our willing must be in conformity with the truth about the created order, about the human person, and about God. When we choose something contrary to the truth, we are not free persons but slaves. The truth really does set us free (Jn. 8:32), and set us free primarily so that we may love as we ought.

Jesus’s entire mission hinges on the fact that we cannot love what we do not know. That is why the Son, the only one who has seen the Father (Jn. 1:18), comes to reveal the Father to us, so that we may know and love Him. This is our Lord’s prayer: “O righteous Father, the world has not known thee, but I have known thee; and these know that thou hast sent me. I made known to them thy name, and I will make it known, that thy love with which thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them” (Jn. 17:25-26). It is our job, then, whether by reflecting on the order of creation or on God’s word in Holy Scripture, to know God so that we may love Him all the more.

Finally, love should be focused on God; one should love God above all else. This is true even on the natural level, though for fallen man this is impossible without God’s healing grace. It is all the truer on the supernatural level, since we are called in charity to love God firstly and others, even sinners, out of love for God. God is to be loved above all else because love is of things lovable, and God is most loveable. Indeed, He is goodness itself and the source of all that is good. “God is love,” as 1 Jn. 4:8 says. When we place God first, when we love Him above all else, our other loves become rightly ordered. We are able to love our spouses, our children, our neighbors, our coworkers better when these loves are enlivened and perfected by love of God. Jesus Himself says when asked which is the greatest commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The entire Christian life hinges on these two commandments. They are inseparable, yes, but one is higher: love of God.

As we continue in this new year, let us remember with St. John Paul II that at the heart of our moral and spiritual journey toward perfection is love, a love that wills the good of the other for his own sake, a love that is always grounded in the truth, a love that is ordered first and foremost to the God who is love. Even if our other resolutions fall through, fulfilling the commandment of love will make this year fruitful.

Happy Is He Who Prays with the Church

Each feast day, St Therese of Lisieux's sister Pauline would read Dom Guéranger’s commentary on the Mass in order to prepare their minds and hearts. St. Therese writes of this experience, “How I loved the feasts! You knew how to explain all the mysteries hidden under each, and you did it so well that they were truly heavenly days for me.”[1]

Dom Prosper Guéranger was a Benedictine monk who was instrumental in the liturgical reform movement of nineteenth-century France as well as the re-founding of Solesmes Abbey. Our Lady of Clear Creek Monastery is part of the Solesmes Congregation and thus becomes a connection between our diocese and the history of Solesmes and Dom Guéranger.

Founded in 1010, the Benedictine Priory of Solesmes was closed in 1791 as a result of the anti-Church sentiment in France during the French Revolution. In 1831, the buildings of the priory which had survived the French Revolution but had fallen into neglect were put up for sale by the French Government. Father Guéranger realized that if he could buy the priory it would be an opportunity to re-establish the Benedictine religious life to France, which was all but lost after the French Revolution. With the help of private donations, Guéranger succeeded in acquiring the Priory of Solemnes, and in 1832, religious life under the Rule of St. Benedict returned to France. “Prayer which had been interrupted, has been resumed.”[2] In 1837, the Priory of Solesmes was made the Abbey of Solesmes and Dom Prosper Guéranger was appointed Abbot and Superior General of the Benedictines of the Congregation of France.

One of the results of re-establishing the Benedictine monastic tradition to France was that Dom Guéranger was able to focus on studying the Church’s liturgy. In 1841, Guéranger began writing The Liturgical Year, a fifteen-volume work which explains day by day the liturgical year of the Church, including the Mass and the Divine Office. After the devastating years during and following the French Revolution, in order to strengthen the Church, he recognized the importance of the laity having an understanding of the liturgy.

But this liturgical prayer would soon become powerless were the faithful not to take a real share in it, or at least not to associate themselves to it in heart. It can heal and save the world, but only on the condition that it be understood. Be wise, then, ye children of the Catholic Church, and obtain that largeness of heart which will make you pray the prayer of your mother.[3]

His hopes were that he could revitalize the Church by introducing the faithful to the prayer of the Church with explanations and commentaries. As seen in the life of St. Therese of Lisieux, The Liturgical Year made it possible for the lay faithful to come to know the prayer of the Church and participate in the liturgy in a way that was impossible before it was published. Saints read his work and were strengthened in their faith. Thus it is fitting that in 2005 the cause for beatification was opened for Servant of God Dom Prosper Guéranger.

Dom Prosper Guéranger died in 1875 after finishing nine of the fifteen volumes. The other six volumes were completed by another Benedictine monk under Dom Guéranger’s name. The Liturgical Year is today still considered one of the most important resources for liturgical studies. In addition to studying the liturgical year, Dom Guéranger also helped to recover and re-establish the use of authentic Gregorian Chant in the liturgy. May his work inspire us even today as we seek to draw closer to our Lord in the sacred liturgy. [1] Àngel de les Gavarres, Thérèse, The Little Child of God’s Mercy: Her Spiritual Itinerary in the Light of Her Autobiographical Manuscripts (Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 1999), 23. [2] Dom Prosper Guéranger, O.S.B., The Liturgical Year: Volume I – Advent (New Hampshire: Loreto Publications, 2000), 5. [3] Guéranger, The Liturgical Year: Volume I – Advent, 5-6.

The Nativity of our Lord: The Feast of this Awe-filled Mystery

As we prepare for the coming of Christ at Christmas, it seemed proper to spend some time with a few sermons of Saint Peter Chrysologus, particularly those dealing with the seasons of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany.

Saint Peter Chrysologus was appointed Bishop of Ravenna by Pope Sixtus III sometime around the year 431. At the time, Ravenna was the political capital of the Western Roman Empire. According to the legend of the saint, the people of Ravenna had chosen their own man for bishop, but St. Peter the Apostle and St. Appolinaris had come to Pope Sixtus III in a vision and instructed the Pope to name Peter Chrysologus bishop. St. Peter Chrysologus was known for his gifts as a shepherd to his people and a preacher. Of his writings, there are 176 sermons attributed to his name as well as a pastoral letter written to the heretic Eutyches. It is believed by scholars that of the 176 sermons, 168 are authentic writings of the saint. He was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1729 by Pope Benedict XIII.

Known as the Doctor of Homilies, as a preacher, St. Peter’s sermons were short. “He frequently stated that he did not want to weary his hearers by speaking too long.”[1] Even though his sermons were short, they were beautifully crafted and theologically rich, earning him the epithet Chrysologus or “the Golden Orator.” While Christianity had become the official religion under Emperor Theodosius the Great in the late fourth century, there were still many at the beginning of the fifth century who were influenced by the old pagan religions. The focus of most of St. Peter’s sermons was the moral conversion of his flock. That he truly cared for the people he shepherded, desiring their conversion and salvation, is apparent in the sermons. “You are my life, my saving encouragement, and my glory. Therefore, I cannot suffer you to remain ignorant of what God gave me to know.”[2] His passion was for saving souls and his gift was to be able to share in his sermons difficult theological ideas in an easily understood and pastoral manner.

Preface II in the Eucharistic prayer for the Mass of the Nativity of the Lord could be a description of St. Peter Chrysologus’ thoughts present in his sermons regarding the Nativity. It is a beautiful prayer reminding us that in Christ’s Incarnation there is not only the salvation of man, but also the restoration of the unity of all creation which was disordered with the first sin in the Garden.

For on the feast of this awe-filled mystery,

though invisible in his own divine nature,

he has appeared visibly in ours;

and begotten before all ages,

he has begun to exist in time;

so that, raising up in himself all that was cast down,

he might restore unity to all creation

and call straying humanity back to the heavenly Kingdom.[3]

With this prayer in mind, we can now turn to the words of St. Peter Chrysologus and see how he expresses the same themes in his homilies.

For Peter Chrysologus, the Incarnation of Christ is always an awe-filled mystery. This mystery begins with the Annunciation. In one of his sermons, Chrysologus ponders the meaning of the Archangel Gabriel’s words when he proclaims to Mary, “the Lord is with thee.” “‘The Lord is with Thee.’ Why is the Lord with you? Because He is coming to you not merely to pay a visit, but He is coming down into you in a new mystery, that of being born.”[4] In another sermon the great saint asks us to turn our thoughts to the mystery of Christ in Mary’s womb.

Then ponder this in your heart: Can you fathom the mystery of the Lord’s birth? Do you deserve to enter into the resting place of that bosom, where the heavenly King, with all the full majesty of His divinity, finds His repose? Ought you, as a rash witness with human eyes and bodily senses, to gaze on the virgin’s conceiving? Can you, as a bystander, contemplate with daring reverence the very hands of God fashioning for himself the holy temple of a body within the womb of the mother?[5]

In Mary’s womb God became flesh and blood and shared in our human nature while Mary became the tabernacle of Our Lord and the Mother of God.

In the Gospel of Matthew, we are told that “Jesus was born in Bethlehem, of Judea, in the days of Herod” (Matt. 2:1). Both Bethlehem and Judea are particular places, both of which can be visited today, while “in the days of Herod” allows us to pinpoint a particular time in human history. As Preface II states, at Jesus’ birth God appears visibly and enters into time. St. Peter Chrysologus expresses it beautifully when he says,

He who made man from undefiled earth, without any process of birth, He Himself by being born fashioned His human nature from an undefiled body. The hand which with dignity raised earth to our image also with dignity assumed flesh for our restoration.[6]

That Christ assumes flesh for our restoration is a direct reference to the Fall in the Garden.

The first man, Adam, the father of the race, the origin of all posterity, lost by his sin the good of nature, the freedom of his race, and the life of his offspring…. Thus it is that Christ was born to elevate those prostrate in an earthy seed up to a heavenly nature.[7]

In Christ’s Incarnation it is not just man who is restored, but all of creation is restored as well. In his sermons there is a cosmological view in which all of creation celebrates the coming of our Savior.

So, what God commands an angel relates. His spirit fulfills it and His power brings it to perfection. The virgin believes it, and nature takes it up. The tale is told from the sky, and then proclaimed from all the heavens. The stars show it forth, and the Magi tell about it. The shepherds adore, and the beasts are aware. As the prophet testified: "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib." [8]

All of creation participates and celebrates the Nativity of our Lord.

As we prepare for the coming of Christ this Christmas, let us remember that it is part of the mystery and beauty of the Church, that the same truth preached during Advent and Christmas by St. Peter Chrysologus in fifth century Ravenna, is the same truth our pastors will preach to us on Christmas day. “Today, Christ, who is the King of peace, has come forth with His peace and routed all discord, banished dissensions, and dissipated conflicts.”[9] May we all experience the peace of Christ who routes discord and dissipates conflicts this Christmas.

 

The Alcuin Institute is constantly striving to understand the world in deep ways, and we do our best to spur others on to reflect more deeply on life. However, our individual journeys towards the Truth often go unnoticed. We hope that these “musings” on various issues will give you an insight into the deeply personal nature of our mission, while also giving you an occasion to ponder the same mysterious realities we seek to know and make known everyday.

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On Christ’s Invitation to Chaos

Water is chaos. Water is death, disorder, ugliness, and confusion. As Holy Scripture teaches us, after God had made the heavens and the earth, the earth was, in its primal state, covered in water and “darkness was upon the face of the deep.” Yet, above these primordial depths fluttered the Spirit of God and by His Word He drew Creation from the waters.

The opening of Holy Scripture presents us with a pattern of God pulling order from disorder, life from death, and beauty from ugliness. As He pulled our world from the waters, so too will He pull salvation from chaos and death time and time again.

Remember the narrative of Noah’s Ark, and how God, in His anger, recalled the primordial waters of Creation to once again retake the face of the earth. Death, chaos, and destruction reigned. Yet, God again in His mercy drew forth salvation from the watery depths and humanity was made anew with Noah and his family.

Remember the narrative of the infant Moses laid upon the waters of the river Nile. As Noah had his Ark, so too did Moses have his basket—and what should have been his death became his salvation. For Pharaoh’s daughter drew him forth from the waters and named him Moses—meaning “to draw out.” His name, of course, is prophetic—because as he was drawn out from the Nile, so too will he draw Israel out of Egypt. Yet, once again water appears as death, as Israel becomes trapped on the banks of the Red Sea—but God turns what should have been death into life by allowing Israel to cross.

Note as well the fate of the Egyptians who were swallowed up in a watery death—a warning to us all of what happens if we attempt to navigate the chaos of this life without God.

We could also speak of how the waters of the Jordan River stood between Israel and the Promise Land or how Jonah, in his disobedience, was cast from his ship into waters and swallowed by a beast of the sea.

The entire pattern of God drawing forth salvation from the waters is perfected in the baptism of Jesus Christ. For here there is no ark or basket, but rather the very instrument of death itself—water—is made the tool of salvation. We are submerged in the baptismal waters to show our death with Christ, and, as God pulled forth Creation from the primordial waters of Genesis, so too are we drawn forth as new creatures in Jesus Christ. As St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us, Christ was not baptized to become holy, but to make the waters holy for us. God enters into death and the instrument of that death becomes the portal of our salvation.

This ancient symbolism of water representing chaos and death gives new insight into the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ—we may recall His first miracle of turning water into wine or His later miracles of walking on water and rebuking the storm at sea. We may even start to understand why, when He cast the demons into the pigs, the demons drove the animals to be drowned in the waters. Time and time again, Holy Scripture uses water to demonstrate the authority of Jesus Christ over chaos and death.

Here, let us stop and ask: Why is any of this important to today’s Gospel? Well, have you ever wondered why Jesus chose fisherman for His first disciples? Why not choose carpenters like He and his earthly father? Why did He choose fisherman? To understand, we must apply the lessons learned since Genesis: that the waters represent a formless, primordial chaos.

For our Lord tells His first disciples, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

He is not inviting His disciples to comfort or safety. For if one is going to be a fisherman, one must be upon the open waters. As God drew forth Creation from the formless depths of our primal earth, so too does He now invite His disciples to join Him in drawing forth a new Creation from the chaos of this world.

He calls them to be “fishers of men,” because as a man draws a fish out of the sea and into the boat, so too do the disciples of Christ draw souls out of the chaos of this world and into the Catholic Church. This is our calling. Our Lord asks us to endure the chaotic, stormy seas of this life for the sake of those souls who are still lost amongst its churning depths.

We must hear his call. We are to be “fishers of men,” and we will be in the chaos but not of it—we are called to draw souls out of the death of this life into the new life of Jesus Christ. We bring order to chaos, light to darkness, and hope to despair.

Our Lord has made the call—He has asked us to be fishers of men.

May we answer the call and “push out into the deep” to rescue souls from the watery chaos of this world.[1]

    [1] In the first reading from Isaiah (Is 8:23—9:3), the song of praise is from those souls drawn into the safety on the new Ark, the Catholic Church. It is not unremarkable that the road glorified is the “seaward” road. The second reading from St. Paul (1 Cor 1:10-13, 17) against divisions is a warning to not the chaos of the world enter the Church any more than a fisherman allows the waves of the sea into his boat. Finally, see Into the Deep: A Biblical Study on Chaos & Discipleship for a more in depth treatment of the allegory of water as chaos.

Baptism of Desire and Sacramental Character

The Church has traditionally taught that the desire for baptism, whether explicit or implicit, saves.[1] Yet, someone may ask, “If that person doesn’t receive the sacrament of baptism, is that person ‘fully Catholic’”?

If by “fully Catholic” one means “getting to heaven,” then the answer is yes. However, if by “fully Catholic” one means receiving the character/seal of baptism, then the answer is no. The Catechism teaches that the desire for Baptism “brings about the fruits of Baptism,” but “without being a sacrament” (CCC 1258). Since the character is only communicated through the sacrament (CCC 1121), it follows that the desire for Baptism does not communicate the sacramental character or seal.

What’s the significance of this? For this life, it simply means that the person wouldn’t enjoy the “rights within the Church” to participate in aspects of the life of the Church, such as the sacraments (CCC 1269). The character/seal is ordered to making the baptized “share in Christ’s priesthood” and constituting them as “a member of the Church according to different states and functions” (CCC 1121). Or, as Aquinas puts it, it gives a person the right “to do or receive something pertaining to the worship of the priesthood of Christ.”[2]

Concerning the afterlife, this lack of the character might not have any significance at all. The Church only definitively teaches that the seal remains at least until death.[3] Even if the character does remain in heaven, which is the general theological opinion,[4] the only implication would be that the souls that didn’t have it would experience beatitude in a lesser degree than those that did have it. But that’s not a problem because every soul will experience different degrees of beatitude in heaven depending on their state of charity.

Regardless of whether the seal remains, the important thing is that the baptism of desire does indeed save. And in that sense every soul in heaven is “fully Catholic.”   [1] For the Church’s teaching on the explicit desire for Baptism, see The Council of Trent, Canons on the Sacraments in General, Can. 4; Decree on Justification, Chap.4; Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 1259; Cf. Aquinas, Summa theologiae [ST] III, q. 66, aa. 11-12; q. 68, a. 2. For the Church’s teaching on the implicit desire for Baptism, see Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 1260. [2] Aquinas, ST III, q. 63, a. 6, ad 3. [3] See Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (St. Louis, MO: B. Herder Book Company, 1957), 335. [4] See Ibid.

Make a Resolution to Love

As the new year begins and many of us make resolutions, some concrete and realistic, others perhaps less so, the words of Jesus may be especially discouraging: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5:48). Our Lord is not addressing, of course, economic, academic, or aesthetic perfection. In other words, the Christian life does not demand that we become rich or supremely intelligent or beautiful. Instead, Jesus is speaking of moral perfection, a natural and supernatural integrity of life and action. But even if we have narrowed our focus, this command of Jesus may seem unreasonable, and an unreasonable command is no real command at all. The good news is that the heights of holiness can indeed be reached with God’s gracious help. Were Christ asking us to pull ourselves up by our spiritual bootstraps, the command would indeed be impossible. Enlivened and empowered by God’s grace, however, a life of holiness is within our grasp.

What does this life of holiness entail? St. John Paul II reflects on the biblical answer to this question in his encyclical Veritatis splendor. Though human life can be complicated and convoluted, the life of holiness requires, above all else, something simple: love. But this word is often distorted today, becoming very much like the squishy, vapid resolutions I mentioned above. Love is reduced to a feeling, an emotional state, and thus reduced to something turbulent and temporary. When Jesus speaks about love, on the contrary, it is something mighty, something profound, something worthy of animating one’s life.

For St. John Paul II, as for the entire Christian tradition, looking to Jesus shows us the path to love. I would like to draw out three essential elements of love. First, love (for example, the kind of love we find in virtuous friendships) involves willing the good of another person, and not for any perceived benefit but for the person’s own sake. While there is an emotional love proper to the human person, the love we are speaking about is fundamentally an act of the will. And because it is such an act, it is not subject to the turbulence and transience of emotional love. Consider a married couple that has been together for 40 years. There are bound to be days when the married persons do not feel in love with each other. Nevertheless, though emotional love when rightly ordered is a good that often accompanies voluntary love, voluntary love transcends emotional love. This distinction between love as an emotion and love as an act of the will explains at least part of the complex reality of divorce in the United States. Because couples confuse the two, often they base a relationship on emotional love and neglect the higher, more stable form of love that wills the good of the other in season and out of season, “in sickness and in health,” as the marriage rite puts it. When emotional love ceases or, God forbid, turns to hatred and resentment, the relationship itself crumbles.

Where do we see this aspect of love exemplified in the life and teaching of Jesus? We see it in His entire life of obedience to the Father for our sake, but especially in His willingness to die on the Cross. In the garden, our Lord’s humanity cannot help but cry out, “Let this cup pass from me.” And yet, because His human will is perfectly conformed to the Father’s will, He can say, “Yet not my will but Thine be done” (Mt. 26:39). It is a fearful thing to approach death, and thus we see Jesus in distress and sweating blood (Lk. 22:44). But He never ceased to will the good of our salvation. We too are meant to show our love for God in acts of obedience: “If you love me, keep my commandments” (Jn. 14:15). For those of us who are still imperfect, our emotions may militate against this saying of our Lord. After all, sometimes I may not feel like obeying God; it may feel better in the short term to pursue bodily pleasure and eschew higher goods. For those who have reached the heights of holiness, however, there is an emotional joy that accompanies obeying God. Love, as St. John Paul II says, is ready to live out the loftiest challenges. In this life, love is inextricably tied to self-giving, to sacrifice. Here, of course, Jesus is the ultimate example. We are not called merely to a fleeting emotional love but to a love that endures all for the sake of the beloved.

The second aspect of love is that it is always founded and grounded in the truth. This is quite a controversial point today, since many people have so absolutized the human will that whatever one chooses to pursue, to love, is justified, and justified precisely because one has chosen it. On the contrary, to state the matter simply, we cannot love what we do not know. Notice the respective implications of these opposing views. For the modern view of love, founded in an understanding of the will as an unfettered power to choose anything whatsoever, might makes right. The person with the stronger will inevitably wins out. Consequently, human relationships devolve into power struggles, occasions to manipulate and dominate others. For the classical view, founded in an understanding of the will as an intellectual appetite, all human beings are beholden to the wise and good order that God has created. Our willing must be in conformity with the truth about the created order, about the human person, and about God. When we choose something contrary to the truth, we are not free persons but slaves. The truth really does set us free (Jn. 8:32), and set us free primarily so that we may love as we ought.

Jesus’s entire mission hinges on the fact that we cannot love what we do not know. That is why the Son, the only one who has seen the Father (Jn. 1:18), comes to reveal the Father to us, so that we may know and love Him. This is our Lord’s prayer: “O righteous Father, the world has not known thee, but I have known thee; and these know that thou hast sent me. I made known to them thy name, and I will make it known, that thy love with which thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them” (Jn. 17:25-26). It is our job, then, whether by reflecting on the order of creation or on God’s word in Holy Scripture, to know God so that we may love Him all the more.

Finally, love should be focused on God; one should love God above all else. This is true even on the natural level, though for fallen man this is impossible without God’s healing grace. It is all the truer on the supernatural level, since we are called in charity to love God firstly and others, even sinners, out of love for God. God is to be loved above all else because love is of things lovable, and God is most loveable. Indeed, He is goodness itself and the source of all that is good. “God is love,” as 1 Jn. 4:8 says. When we place God first, when we love Him above all else, our other loves become rightly ordered. We are able to love our spouses, our children, our neighbors, our coworkers better when these loves are enlivened and perfected by love of God. Jesus Himself says when asked which is the greatest commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The entire Christian life hinges on these two commandments. They are inseparable, yes, but one is higher: love of God.

As we continue in this new year, let us remember with St. John Paul II that at the heart of our moral and spiritual journey toward perfection is love, a love that wills the good of the other for his own sake, a love that is always grounded in the truth, a love that is ordered first and foremost to the God who is love. Even if our other resolutions fall through, fulfilling the commandment of love will make this year fruitful.

Happy Is He Who Prays with the Church

Each feast day, St Therese of Lisieux's sister Pauline would read Dom Guéranger’s commentary on the Mass in order to prepare their minds and hearts. St. Therese writes of this experience, “How I loved the feasts! You knew how to explain all the mysteries hidden under each, and you did it so well that they were truly heavenly days for me.”[1]

Dom Prosper Guéranger was a Benedictine monk who was instrumental in the liturgical reform movement of nineteenth-century France as well as the re-founding of Solesmes Abbey. Our Lady of Clear Creek Monastery is part of the Solesmes Congregation and thus becomes a connection between our diocese and the history of Solesmes and Dom Guéranger.

Founded in 1010, the Benedictine Priory of Solesmes was closed in 1791 as a result of the anti-Church sentiment in France during the French Revolution. In 1831, the buildings of the priory which had survived the French Revolution but had fallen into neglect were put up for sale by the French Government. Father Guéranger realized that if he could buy the priory it would be an opportunity to re-establish the Benedictine religious life to France, which was all but lost after the French Revolution. With the help of private donations, Guéranger succeeded in acquiring the Priory of Solemnes, and in 1832, religious life under the Rule of St. Benedict returned to France. “Prayer which had been interrupted, has been resumed.”[2] In 1837, the Priory of Solesmes was made the Abbey of Solesmes and Dom Prosper Guéranger was appointed Abbot and Superior General of the Benedictines of the Congregation of France.

One of the results of re-establishing the Benedictine monastic tradition to France was that Dom Guéranger was able to focus on studying the Church’s liturgy. In 1841, Guéranger began writing The Liturgical Year, a fifteen-volume work which explains day by day the liturgical year of the Church, including the Mass and the Divine Office. After the devastating years during and following the French Revolution, in order to strengthen the Church, he recognized the importance of the laity having an understanding of the liturgy.

But this liturgical prayer would soon become powerless were the faithful not to take a real share in it, or at least not to associate themselves to it in heart. It can heal and save the world, but only on the condition that it be understood. Be wise, then, ye children of the Catholic Church, and obtain that largeness of heart which will make you pray the prayer of your mother.[3]

His hopes were that he could revitalize the Church by introducing the faithful to the prayer of the Church with explanations and commentaries. As seen in the life of St. Therese of Lisieux, The Liturgical Year made it possible for the lay faithful to come to know the prayer of the Church and participate in the liturgy in a way that was impossible before it was published. Saints read his work and were strengthened in their faith. Thus it is fitting that in 2005 the cause for beatification was opened for Servant of God Dom Prosper Guéranger.

Dom Prosper Guéranger died in 1875 after finishing nine of the fifteen volumes. The other six volumes were completed by another Benedictine monk under Dom Guéranger’s name. The Liturgical Year is today still considered one of the most important resources for liturgical studies. In addition to studying the liturgical year, Dom Guéranger also helped to recover and re-establish the use of authentic Gregorian Chant in the liturgy. May his work inspire us even today as we seek to draw closer to our Lord in the sacred liturgy. [1] Àngel de les Gavarres, Thérèse, The Little Child of God’s Mercy: Her Spiritual Itinerary in the Light of Her Autobiographical Manuscripts (Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 1999), 23. [2] Dom Prosper Guéranger, O.S.B., The Liturgical Year: Volume I – Advent (New Hampshire: Loreto Publications, 2000), 5. [3] Guéranger, The Liturgical Year: Volume I – Advent, 5-6.

The Nativity of our Lord: The Feast of this Awe-filled Mystery

As we prepare for the coming of Christ at Christmas, it seemed proper to spend some time with a few sermons of Saint Peter Chrysologus, particularly those dealing with the seasons of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany.

Saint Peter Chrysologus was appointed Bishop of Ravenna by Pope Sixtus III sometime around the year 431. At the time, Ravenna was the political capital of the Western Roman Empire. According to the legend of the saint, the people of Ravenna had chosen their own man for bishop, but St. Peter the Apostle and St. Appolinaris had come to Pope Sixtus III in a vision and instructed the Pope to name Peter Chrysologus bishop. St. Peter Chrysologus was known for his gifts as a shepherd to his people and a preacher. Of his writings, there are 176 sermons attributed to his name as well as a pastoral letter written to the heretic Eutyches. It is believed by scholars that of the 176 sermons, 168 are authentic writings of the saint. He was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1729 by Pope Benedict XIII.

Known as the Doctor of Homilies, as a preacher, St. Peter’s sermons were short. “He frequently stated that he did not want to weary his hearers by speaking too long.”[1] Even though his sermons were short, they were beautifully crafted and theologically rich, earning him the epithet Chrysologus or “the Golden Orator.” While Christianity had become the official religion under Emperor Theodosius the Great in the late fourth century, there were still many at the beginning of the fifth century who were influenced by the old pagan religions. The focus of most of St. Peter’s sermons was the moral conversion of his flock. That he truly cared for the people he shepherded, desiring their conversion and salvation, is apparent in the sermons. “You are my life, my saving encouragement, and my glory. Therefore, I cannot suffer you to remain ignorant of what God gave me to know.”[2] His passion was for saving souls and his gift was to be able to share in his sermons difficult theological ideas in an easily understood and pastoral manner.

Preface II in the Eucharistic prayer for the Mass of the Nativity of the Lord could be a description of St. Peter Chrysologus’ thoughts present in his sermons regarding the Nativity. It is a beautiful prayer reminding us that in Christ’s Incarnation there is not only the salvation of man, but also the restoration of the unity of all creation which was disordered with the first sin in the Garden.

For on the feast of this awe-filled mystery,

though invisible in his own divine nature,

he has appeared visibly in ours;

and begotten before all ages,

he has begun to exist in time;

so that, raising up in himself all that was cast down,

he might restore unity to all creation

and call straying humanity back to the heavenly Kingdom.[3]

With this prayer in mind, we can now turn to the words of St. Peter Chrysologus and see how he expresses the same themes in his homilies.

For Peter Chrysologus, the Incarnation of Christ is always an awe-filled mystery. This mystery begins with the Annunciation. In one of his sermons, Chrysologus ponders the meaning of the Archangel Gabriel’s words when he proclaims to Mary, “the Lord is with thee.” “‘The Lord is with Thee.’ Why is the Lord with you? Because He is coming to you not merely to pay a visit, but He is coming down into you in a new mystery, that of being born.”[4] In another sermon the great saint asks us to turn our thoughts to the mystery of Christ in Mary’s womb.

Then ponder this in your heart: Can you fathom the mystery of the Lord’s birth? Do you deserve to enter into the resting place of that bosom, where the heavenly King, with all the full majesty of His divinity, finds His repose? Ought you, as a rash witness with human eyes and bodily senses, to gaze on the virgin’s conceiving? Can you, as a bystander, contemplate with daring reverence the very hands of God fashioning for himself the holy temple of a body within the womb of the mother?[5]

In Mary’s womb God became flesh and blood and shared in our human nature while Mary became the tabernacle of Our Lord and the Mother of God.

In the Gospel of Matthew, we are told that “Jesus was born in Bethlehem, of Judea, in the days of Herod” (Matt. 2:1). Both Bethlehem and Judea are particular places, both of which can be visited today, while “in the days of Herod” allows us to pinpoint a particular time in human history. As Preface II states, at Jesus’ birth God appears visibly and enters into time. St. Peter Chrysologus expresses it beautifully when he says,

He who made man from undefiled earth, without any process of birth, He Himself by being born fashioned His human nature from an undefiled body. The hand which with dignity raised earth to our image also with dignity assumed flesh for our restoration.[6]

That Christ assumes flesh for our restoration is a direct reference to the Fall in the Garden.

The first man, Adam, the father of the race, the origin of all posterity, lost by his sin the good of nature, the freedom of his race, and the life of his offspring…. Thus it is that Christ was born to elevate those prostrate in an earthy seed up to a heavenly nature.[7]

In Christ’s Incarnation it is not just man who is restored, but all of creation is restored as well. In his sermons there is a cosmological view in which all of creation celebrates the coming of our Savior.

So, what God commands an angel relates. His spirit fulfills it and His power brings it to perfection. The virgin believes it, and nature takes it up. The tale is told from the sky, and then proclaimed from all the heavens. The stars show it forth, and the Magi tell about it. The shepherds adore, and the beasts are aware. As the prophet testified: "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib." [8]

All of creation participates and celebrates the Nativity of our Lord.

As we prepare for the coming of Christ this Christmas, let us remember that it is part of the mystery and beauty of the Church, that the same truth preached during Advent and Christmas by St. Peter Chrysologus in fifth century Ravenna, is the same truth our pastors will preach to us on Christmas day. “Today, Christ, who is the King of peace, has come forth with His peace and routed all discord, banished dissensions, and dissipated conflicts.”[9] May we all experience the peace of Christ who routes discord and dissipates conflicts this Christmas.

Humans are Religious Animals

When thinking about religion and about our experience thereof, we might contemplate most readily the feelings we have when we pray, or the love we have for God, or perhaps the knowledge we have of God that gives rise to such love. And these are all legitimate aspects of human religious experience and expression. But perhaps we are less ready to see religion as a matter of justice. Religion is a part of justice because justice is about rendering to another what is his due. And just as we owe things to our parents, to our friends, to our coworkers, and so forth, so do we owe things to the God who created us, who sustains us in every moment in being, and who bestows on us every good gift. Religion is about rendering to God what is His due, and thus we see human beings in every time and place offering sacrifices, praying, taking vows and oaths.

Of course, because we live in a fallen world, these religious expressions are inevitably imperfect and sometimes even perverse. Human sacrifice or disordered sexual practices are extreme examples, but even more mundane religious expressions are subject to superstition and sensationalism, founded as they are on incomplete notions of God and of the human person in relation to Him. Nevertheless, the ubiquitous nature of religion testifies to its deep rootedness in human nature. We are fundamentally religious animals. We have what we might call a natural inclination toward religion and its acts.

This might be jarring for many to hear, especially given that atheism is often considered to be the human default. Religion is seen as something extrinsic or foreign to human nature. Or, if it is associated in some way with the evolutionary development of human beings, it is judged to be a vestiguum, a defunct remainder of a bygone age. This understanding, though, is contrary to the evidence. It is contrary to what we know to be true of the human heart, which must always seek its treasure, whether it be in the ego or in power, whatever false god one chooses, or whether it be in the one true God.

St. Thomas Aquinas also articulates a virtue of religion, a stable disposition or habit that allows us to perform acts of devotion that direct us toward God. We ought to cultivate this virtue daily. Jesus does not undermine or contravene the truth and beauty of natural human religiosity. Instead, Christ purifies and perfects human religion. He offers Himself as the insurmountable Sacrifice; He teaches us personally how to pray; He makes holy our vows and oaths. In Christ, we can approach at last the infinite God with the most fitting gifts. In His Church, we can participate even now in the heavenly liturgy and superabundantly fulfill the desire we all possess to order our lives to the God to whom we owe life and breath and everything.

To the Post-Roe Generation

Almost fifty years ago, on January 22nd, 1973, to the devastation of pro-life Americans, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Roe. V. Wade that a woman’s right to abortion was protected by the United States Constitution. In the years following, secular news on the pro-life community and its actions greatly lacked in accuracy and in coverage. Unphased by this, millions of resilient individuals continued to build a culture of life, in ways unrecognized by the masses. Faithfully they continued to pray, fast, march, and appeal for a nation that values and respects every human life from conception to death. All the while, they continued to love and serve women, children, and families, founding and volunteering at thousands of pregnancy resource centers and pro-life ministries throughout the country. Within our own Diocese of Tulsa & Eastern Oklahoma, there are many such individuals and ministries, who have all been working and praying long and hard, behind the scenes, during this time ruled by Roe V. Wade.

What joyful news came to these men and women, and all of the pro-life community, when on June 24th of this year, the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution does not secure a right to abortion. Not illegalized across the entire country, but brought down to the state level, abortion lost a great deal of the power of its paralyzing grip on our communities. Pro-life America rejoiced, but did not rest. They knew what would come next. In the days to follow, some states immediately instated the pro-life laws they had sought for years, while others began to establish themselves as abortion sanctuaries.

In the words of Sue Anne Williams, a long-time volunteer and Team Coordinator of Rachel’s Vineyard, “We still have to pray and work hard for abortion to completely be dissolved…Roe v. Wade was a great first step, and it’s the beginning of the end, but it’s not the end.” Good to her word, that is exactly what she and the whole Rachel’s Vineyard team are doing. Rachel’s Vineyard is an international ministry for the restoration and healing of hearts affected by abortion. Catholic Charites facilitates this ministry, with English and Spanish retreats, to our Eastern Oklahoman community. More than ever in this post-Roe time, Rachel’s Vineyard ministry is incredibly essential in healing and restoring our culture into one of life.

What we must do now, as the pro-life people of Eastern Oklahoma, is, as Saint Pope John Paul II once implored, “become craftsmen of a new humanity.” There are many aspects of this craftsmanship, and each pro-life ministry addresses its own. While Rachel’s Vineyard is an incredibly important step of healing those who have already been affected, as Williams said, “we want to make it where no one needs our services.”

This is where the other aspects of creating a culture of life come in. Rachel’s Vineyard is necessary because the current culture is rooted in misunderstanding of the human person, sexuality, marriage, and family. This is the foundation of all pro-life issues. Women need to rediscover their identity and the beauty of femininity; likewise, men must reclaim the differences and gifts of masculinity. Williams explained that “marriage and family need to be looked at as holy [and beautiful] instead of as a noose around someone’s neck” and that “we have lost what it is to be feminine.” Sarah Vestrat, Co-Director of Go Life and Coordinator of Sidewalk Advocates for Life, stated that, while “[impurity] is normalized and even promoted, any kind of purity is mocked.”

Therefore, in order create a pro-life culture, we must uproot these misunderstandings, and deeply re-found the culture in the beautiful truths of identity, relationship, and love. We can begin to do this by educating ourselves on these truths, rediscovering the joy of these truths for ourselves, and spreading them to others by living these truths out. By living out the truth of our identity, God’s plan for sexuality, marriage, and the family with boldness and beauty, we the people of the Diocese of Tulsa and Eastern Oklahoma, can begin to lay new roots for a healed humanity. Vestrat firmly believes this and explains that if we do this, “we can, in a small way, change the culture of our community right here,” and by changing our Eastern Oklahoman community’s culture, begin to transform all of humanity, little by little.

This is exactly what Go Life, Birthright, and many others are doing in the area, around the country, and around the world.

Go Life Women’s Services and Mobile Medical offer community and support to women via free ultrasounds, counseling, and pregnancy tests, and connect them to community resources for other needs. Vestrat mentioned that “probably, most [mothers] can’t go out of the state [to get abortions] … and will come to us and other pregnancy resource centers.” With potentially rising numbers of women seeking help, it is incredibly important that the pro-life community does not desert them now, but continues to support them and love them so they can come to see that life is a better and freer choice than death. Go Life is located across the street from Tulsa’s former abortion clinic, and part of their mission is Sidewalk Advocates for Life: trained individuals who bring life-affirming support and encouragement to sidewalks in front of abortion clinics. Now that the clinic is shut down, the advocates are focusing on the Planned Parenthood facility in Tulsa, where potential consultations for out-of-state abortions are being made. There, the Advocates continue to pray and inform women about life-affirming resources available to them. Go Life assists well to answer John Paul II’s plea for “[men and women to become] capable of solidarity, peace and love of life, with respect for everyone,” by providing resources for people to discover their own dignity and the beauty of God’s plan for life.

Birthright is another of many pro-life ministries in Tulsa. Our branch of Birthright was founded the same year that Roe. v Wade took place and will be celebrating its 50th anniversary this January. Birthright empowers all pregnant women seeking help by providing positive encouragement, information, maternity and baby items, parenting classes, and other resources and referrals. They truly are assisting “brothers and sisters—members all of the same family—[so that they] are able at last to live in peace” as St. John Paul II called for, making it possible for people of all religions, ethnicities, and languages to access the resources necessary to choose life. Connie Sullivan, Executive Director of Birthright of Tulsa, thanks the public for their generous help and support and explains that there is always a need of more supplies and volunteers. Like Go Life, they also expect an increase in the numbers of women seeking their help. She also shared that they need help getting the word out about their services, as “the post-Roe generation is not getting attention because they’re not breaking and smashing and screaming, they’re going about, doing good, loving, promoting life, as we’ve all been trying to do all this time.” And this is the goal of Birthright, “to work slow and steady with women, no quick fixes.”  “Slow and steady,” she says, “because that’s what love is.”

Although Roe v. Wade is overturned, women still face unexpected pregnancies, our communities still suffer greatly from the effects of abortion, and our culture is still founded on lies about the human person, sexuality, marriage, and the family. We the people of the Diocese of Eastern Oklahoma must take the next step, and not rest until the hold abortion has upon society is dissolved. Actions speak louder than words, and so we must LIVE out our belief that every life is sacred. We must embrace the joy of our true identities in Christ and strive to become virtuous men and women, capable of building a culture of peace and respect for every life, by first learning to LIVE and recognize our life as a gift from Christ Himself. We cannot run and hide from the dark culture we live in; we must enter into it secure in this truth, rooted in the light and love of Christ and begin to transform it. We must be present in our communities, forming relationships with these women, encountering them as they are, and allowing Christ’s redeeming love to be encountered through us. Motivated by this recognition of Divine Life for and within every person, we must be active in our communities, sharing life-affirming resources and support with those around us seeking help. By doing all this, we will continue to build a new humanity founded on correct understanding and love of life as a gift from God, a humanity “where brothers and sisters—members all of the same family—are able at last to live in peace.”

Adoration: A Simple Way to Grow Your Prayer Life

Deacon candidate Carlos Ambriz has been transformed from his time with Jesus in the Eucharist and has offered support and prayers to beginning the perpetual adoration chapel at the parish of St. Francis Xavier in Tulsa. In late July of 2022, Inauguration of the chapel marked the beginning hours of worship and thanksgiving to our Lord in the community. Seventeen years ago, the first steps to building this adoration chapel occurred among some of the faithful at the parish of St. Francis Xavier. Mr. Ambriz explained that there was a need for the people to have a specific place for prayer. Today, the parish of St. Francis Xavier in Tulsa is the third perpetual adoration chapel in the city, joining Sts. Peter and Paul parish and the chapel at St. John’s Hospital.

Christ has given Himself in the Eucharist so that we might know and love Him in a more intimate way. Chris Lauderdale, a young adult parishioner at St. Pius X in Tulsa and a frequent adorer of the Blessed Sacrament, offers a beautiful glimpse into the relationship the Lord invites us into by giving us the Eucharist. Chris says, “What I love about adoration is how intimate it is. When I am in front of the Blessed Sacrament everything else disappears. It’s that time where I am staring into the face of the beloved and the beloved is staring into the face of me. There is… a really quiet intimacy about it, about this very concrete being with another. When you are in the chapel: it’s His Flesh and Blood, God incarnate, from Heaven, dwells right there.” The particularity of an adoration chapel allows you to “be totally vulnerable with Him and… pour your heart [out] to Him.” In Christ’s life, death, and resurrection He heals us and allows us to love with a more perfect love, His love.

By looking to God in such a concrete manner I am able to say “Christ, You are present here and so, You are present in all of me. My joys and sufferings, my loneliness, my weakness, my successes, my friendships, my family, You are here.” Jesus Christ is here, now, and that awareness changes every moment because I no longer have to pretend that everything is together. No, He knows the mess of my life and the mess of my heart and He wants to be welcomed into those places for He says Behold, I make all things new (Rev 21:5).

Msgr. Gaalaas explains that adoring our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament increases our awareness that God is real and “He is not only up in Heaven but He is also down here on earth with us. It is part of His promise to be with us always.” I am with you always until the end of the age (Mt 28:20). The Lord, is here, now. He pursues our hearts and reveals Himself to us in the day to day encounters. The Eucharistic chapel provides us with a concrete place in which Christ dwells.

Jesus desires our hearts. He wants a relationship with each person He brings into being, with each of us. With any new friendship, there is a kind of uneasiness as you begin to spend time with them. Chris explains, “It’s the same with Jesus because He’s a person. He’s someone to know. He’s someone to be known. He’s someone who you allow yourself to be known by Him. There is always the newness of that relationship which becomes more comfortable with time. What became an acquaintance…becomes a friend and then…a best friend…and then, a lover.” We must be willing to spend time with someone so that we can get to know them. Jesus dwells among us so that we can get to know Him, begin to love Him and to receive His love.

The fruits of an Hour devoted to Our Lord Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar:

Peace. Time spent in worship and thanksgiving to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament provides within us an overwhelming peace. As we become more aware of Who God the Almighty truly is, we rely less on our own efficiency and productivity, and more on the Lord’s great mercy and love. We become more aware that “life is not just doing activities,” says Carlos Ambriz. Everything becomes transformed because we begin to understand God’s presence penetrating every moment and the vastness of His invitation to move into a deeper relationship with Him.

Msgr. Gaalaas explains that though adoration of Jesus in the Eucharist “might not seem worthwhile at first,” it is good to “give it some time [and] to be patient with yourself.” “Even if it seems as though we’re doing nothing there in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament we’re receiving blessings… [The Lord is] working something good in our hearts even though we are unaware of it.” It takes faith in our Lord Jesus and perseverance to keep saying Yes to Him, to keep yearning for Him and for His love alone. It may not always be easy, it may not always feel nice. But, it is vital for our lives as Christians. St. John Paul II writes that Eucharistic worship is at the heart of the Christian life. He explains that “Thanks to the Eucharist, the love that springs up within us from the Eucharist develops in us, becomes deeper and grows stronger.” In the presence of the concrete reality of Jesus in the Eucharist, it may seem “as though God is far away…just raise your eyes to the host and to realize it really is Jesus and He is looking out to us with great love and that love is transformative—not of Him, but of us,” Msgr. Gaalaas says. When we are with Jesus in the Eucharist, we become transformed in Him as we lay out our hearts to Him.

Mr. Ambriz encourages “every Catholic…[to] have an hour, at least an hour, of Adoration. At least an hour a week” develops our prayer life immensely.  His flesh and blood dwell in the tabernacle for the sake of the salvation of the World. It is not an image or a memory. He is present now. He wants our hearts now. To spend one hour a week to simply be with Jesus in the Eucharist is a simple way to begin entering deeper into the generative life that Jesus Christ desires for each of us.

An Invitation to Action

“The Church and the world have a great need of Eucharistic worship. Jesus waits for us in this sacrament of love. Let us be generous with our time in going to meet Him in adoration and contemplation that is full of faith and ready to make reparation for the great faults and crimes of the world.” Pope John Paul II “Dominicae Cenae”

In addition to the three perpetual adoration chapels throughout the diocese, there are a number of additional times to adore Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament at various Parishes. Visit your parish website for their scheduled times of Eucharistic Adoration.

Memories from a Man at Montereau

As I walk down the hallway of Montereau Retirement Center in Tulsa, some of the doors are left open, warmly welcoming guests and neighbors alike to pop in for a visit. One of these open doors, with a framed certificate and patriotic decorations on the shelf next to it, leads to Nick Kerpon’s apartment. Nick Kerpon, a resident at Montereau since 2016, is known for his wit and good outlook on life. “You go to  have fun, no matter where you are and what situation you’re in, you want to have fun,” he believes.

At the end of his interview with me, Nick sums up his life by saying, “There’s a lot of priests that have affected me.” From all the detailed stories of each and every priest he shared with me, the grace and gift of great priests is truly prevalent.

Nick, born in 1936, was raised in Des Moines, Iowa. His family attended St. Joseph Catholic Church, which was directly across the street from the house he grew up in. He sang in the choir and was an alter server. Nick remembers serving at the Sorrowful Mother Novena prayer services every Friday led by Fr. (later Msgr.) Maurice Aspinwall. “People from all over Des Moines—[our parish] was way out on the east side…—but they’d come on the street cars, which came right to the corner. There  [were services at] 3:00, 6:00, and 7:30 ,” in the evening. “Serving those was like a three-ring circus because… at certain times in the Novena, we had to turn different lights on,” he says, fanning out his hands to show me how the sanctuary looked lit up.

After attending Catholic schools second grade through high school, Nick went to Loras College—a private, then all-male, Catholic university in Dubuque, Iowa. Here he met  the future Fr. Robert Grallap. They quickly became best friends and later shared an apartment off-campus together. Nick says, “I never had a brother, I had one sister, but Fr. Bob was my brother.” Their friendship lasted a lifetime, visiting each other, and always making time to play at least one round of golf together, even after Nick moved out of state due to  his career with the Ford Motor Credit company.

After graduating from Loras College, Nick also served six months active duty at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri in the Iowa National Guard. Then,  he spent five and half months in reserve, specifically in the military police company division.

“January 1st of ’73, I died and came to heaven: I moved to Tulsa,” Nick jokes about relocating to be a branch manager for Ford Motor Credit. This  was also the same year that the Diocese of Tulsa and Eastern Oklahoma  was created out of the combined Diocese of Oklahoma City and Tulsa.

Nick and his wife, Katy, raised their five children and lived in the same house in the Quail Creek neighborhood for 30 years together. Nick lived there another 13 years after Katy passed away in 2003. They attended the Church of the Resurrection and were very involved in an adult small faith group, striving to teach their children the Faith both  by word and example. “You do the best you can,” he advises, “and show them the way.” Nancy Moore, the public relations coordinator at Montereau and a friend of Nick’s, says “[he] has set such an example in [his] family… an exemplary example.” Nick also served as a lector and Eucharistic minister regularly for decades. He especially loved bringing the Blessed Sacrament to the hospitalized and homebound.

For many years at Montereau, Nick continued to be a Eucharistic Minister at Mass in the chapel every day. “All around the edges of the chapel are [people] using wheelchairs or [walkers], I have even had hospital beds,” he describes. “I just loved to be there for them,” give them Communion, and “call their name  if I could, like ‘Lynn, this is the Body of Christ.’ I loved to do it that way and our priests here do that too.” Using a walker himself now, Nick is not able to serve in that manner anymore, but l ectors every Sunday and schedules the other lectors and Eucharistic ministers, along with helping Fr. Gerald Coleman, who is the current resident Catholic chaplain at Montereau, with any administration arrangements required. There are also four retired priests living at Montereau: Fr. Marty Morgan, Fr. Charles Swett, Fr. Rolland Follman, and Fr. William Hamill. “That’s most important to me in my time of life right now,” Nick says. “We have a priest here someway, somewhere that can say Mass and minister the Sacraments and take care of us and take care of everybody.”

He has been friends with Fr. Hamill for many years, first meeting him when he was assigned to be an associate pastor at the Church of the Resurrection in 1972. Fr. Hamill baptized all of Nick and Katy’s children and celebrated the Masses for most of their weddings. Fr. Hamill also determinately attended Nick’s granddaughter’s Confirmation last year. In March, for his fiftieth anniversary of ordination to the priesthood, Nick helped arrange for Fr. Hamill to say Mass in Montereau’s chapel for the first time in many years due to his health conditions.

Nick was also an active volunteer at Saint Francis Hospital, especially after his retirement from Ford Motor Credit in 1999.   Both Katy and his second wife, Charlotte, worked as nurses in the hospital. He cheered up patients, guests, doctors, and nurses with  his humor and wit while delivering mail throughout the building. “I used to call myself the pink lady in the mail room,” he jokes. “We didn’t quite wear pink, but  it’s close.” He was also a volunteer coordinator for the hospital’s annual Kids are Special Day for many years.

The certificate framed outside his door is the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award which was given to him  by the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program for over 4,000 hours of volunteering at Saint Francis along with other organizations including the Church of the Resurrection, the German-American Society, and the Veterans Committee at Montereau. On staying active in your Faith and community after retirement, Ms. Moore suggests to “do what you love…That’s what [Nick] does… he has a heart where he could just volunteer everywhere, but  he really focusses on doing the stuff he loves. And he is so good at it.”

Nick remembers Fr. Jim Caldwell’s ordination to the priesthood on July 26, 2003 as the most significant Diocesan  event he has attended. As a seminarian, Fr. Caldwell completed his pastoral year at the Church of the Resurrection. “I’ll never forget, when he came off that alter at the end, he was dancing all the way down the aisle he was so happy… that he’s a priest. He’s a priest!” Nick cheers. Then,  Nick grows solemn as he continues his story, later that day, “this one lady came over and said, ‘did you hear?’” Charlotte’s her first husband, Bill Zimmerman, had died while driving the day before and Charlotte broke her neck in the resulting crash. Nick also had unfortunate news: Katy was extremely close to death. Nick visited Charlotte on the sixth floor of the hospital and Charlotte’s grown children—who Nick started calling his “four bonus kids” after marrying Charlotte—visited Katy on the second floor because the two women were friends from working at the hospital and attending Resurrection together. Nick even held the prayer book for Fr. Michael Knipe to read from at Bill’s funeral. “I’ll never forget that. And I told the kids that night that I know where we’re going to be, where our grave’s going to be. And it’s about 20 feet from the Zimmerman grave,” Nick predicted rightly. Katy passed away ten days after Bill.

Nick met many wonderful priests serving as chaplains at Saint Francis Hospital while he was volunteering there, including Fr. John Choorackunnel. Fr. John co-celebrated the Masses for Katy’s funeral with Fr. Knipe  in 2003, Nick and Charlotte’s wedding in 2004, and Charlotte’s funeral in 2016.

In 2012, Charlotte was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was given six months to live. She lived four and half years. The effects of chemo and radiation was one scare after another for them both. “The stress level nailed me to the Cross,” Nick remembers.

Charlotte’s last six months were at Montereau. “Charlotte put me here, she did,” Nick believes. “Everything [in our apartment] is just like it was when we moved in here. If I change anything, there will be a lightning bolt come down and get me,” he adds laughing. One of the only changes to the apartment is the crucifix that was on Charlotte’s casket during her funeral now hangs on the living room wall. This was a gift from another priest: Fr. James McGlinchey, who was the chaplain at Montereau when Nick and Charlotte first moved there. Fr. McGlinchey stayed beside them in Charlotte’s final months and was the other celebrant at her funeral Mass.

“Ever since I lost Charlotte, … every morning… before I leave here, I look at [her] picture and say, ‘honey, get me through today,’… and I say a little prayer. And she does, I guarantee.”

Nick has certainly not slowed down since moving into Montereau with either his Faith life, volunteering, or sociability. “There’s nothing like it. Most retirement communities… are run by big corporations. Not here. This is put together by the Warrens  [who also created Saint Francis Hospital] and it’s stayed independent and non-profit… But here, and especially for a Catholic, my gosh, you got Mass every day, right here.”

He focuses on and finds joy in the little things each and every day, remembering all the people and priests God has put in his life with gratitude.

Being Conformed to Christ’s Priesthood

No discussion of the sacraments of the New Law can be complete without a consideration of sacramental character. Three sacraments (Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders) bestow sacramental characters, but what exactly are these characters? Answering this will serve to bolster our appreciation for them and for the sacraments which bestow them upon us. In short, the characters are bound up with receiving, or bestowing on others, things pertaining to divine worship. The sacramental characters are, first and foremost, conformations to Christ, especially to Christ’s Priesthood.

The New Testament presents Jesus as the new and perfect High Priest. Think here especially of the Letter to the Hebrews. And "High Priest" is not merely a juridical designation; it is not simply a legal title. It is a divine consecration that marks His very being (that is to say, it is ontological). Jesus is made High Priest so as to inaugurate the worship of the New Law. We need such an ontological consecration as well if we are to participate in the liturgical life of the Church.

As I said, three sacraments impart a mark of Christ, a “character” or “cultic power.” The first, of course, is Baptism, and it is on this sacrament that I would like to focus. Baptism is the first of the sacraments of initiation; it incorporates us into Christ and His Mystical Body. It also bestows a character, a consecration that makes the faithful apt to receive validly the other sacraments of the New Law. Good dispositions and intentions can only get one so far, and without this fundamental baptismal consecration, the reception of the other sacraments would remain ineffective. The baptismal character opens us up, as it were, to the whole exercise of Christian worship. It gives us the power to cooperate liturgically in the Sacrifice of the Mass, and in such a way that we are not merely spectators or assistants but “actors” and participants. This can be seen in the ancient custom of dismissing the catechumens before the offertory. Even today it is signified in the collective form of prayers that join us to the celebrant. Additionally, in virtue of Baptism and the character it bestows, a marriage entered into by baptized persons is a properly Christian and sacramental marriage.

The cultic consecration we receive in Baptism is indelible, not capable of being removed. Consequently, Baptism (as well as Confirmation and Orders) is not repeatable. Even the apostate, the one who tragically rejects his baptismal faith, cannot efface his baptismal character. The 20th century theologian and cardinal, Charles Journet, speaks beautifully of the sacramental character in the tragic figure: “[I]t remains in him as the last witness of his membership in Christ and of his Christian dignity, a secret possibility of returning to the light.” Let us recover, then, an appreciation for sacramental character and the special conformation it affords us to the Priesthood of Christ.

 

*This musing was inspired by an article I translated some time ago by Charles Cardinal Journet, The Mystery of Sacramentality.