Last week I wrote about how the laying on of hands in the sacraments represents the blessing of God the Father coming down unto us and making us His children. If we keep reading in the Old Testament, we see that the laying on of hands has another meaning. When Moses ordained Aaron and his sons as the first priests, God told them to take 1 bull and 2 rams, then to anoint Aaron and his sons with Chrism and dress them in the priestly vestments. Then, it says that Aaron and the other priests “lay their hands upon the head of the bull, and you shall kill the bull,” and “Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands upon the head of the ram, and you shall slaughter the ram,” and finally, “you shall take the other ram; and Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands upon the head of the ram, and you shall kill the ram” (Ex 29). The book of Leviticus is the instruction book for the Old Testament priests on how to make the sacrifices in the Temple. Over and over the book of Leviticus says things like this, “He shall bring the bull to the door of the tent of meeting before the Lord, and lay his hand on the head of the bull, and kill the bull before the Lord” (Lv 4:4). If you’re a bull or a ram or a lamb in the Temple and you see a guy in special priestly vestments coming towards you with his hands stretched out, you better run because you’re being set apart as a sacrifice for the Lord.
Likewise, in the ordination of a Catholic priest, the bishop lays his hands on the head of the young man, thus setting Him apart for the Lord and marking Him as a sacrificial offering for God. The priest is called to die to himself so He can live for Christ. It’s not just priests who receive the laying on of hands. In the Sacrament of Confirmation each candidate, or all together if there are many of them, receives the laying on of hands, signifying that they too are set apart for God. In the sacraments we are conformed to Jesus Christ. We become children of God because we are united with the Son of God. We are, as it were, sons in the Son. Jesus Christ became one of us in the incarnation in order to make us like Him and show us what it means to be children of God. As Jesus said, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mt 16:24). Being conformed to Christ means to take up the Cross and be willing to suffer for the good of others, as Jesus Christ did for us.
How do we take up the Cross in our daily lives? First, we know that everyone experiences suffering at some points in their lives. We can suffer patiently and offer it up. There’s no special trick to this. Simply tell Jesus that you are giving Him you pain and suffering for whatever intention you have. You can offer it for the souls in purgatory, for your family or children, for Catholic missionaries, or any other intention that you may have. This won’t make your suffering go away, but it will unite it to the Cross of Christ and give it meaning.
Some suffering, like an illness, comes to us against our will and some we choose to undergo. The highest form of suffering is the suffering that we willingly endure for the sake of a loved one, as a soldier or first responder puts their lives on the line to save some else or as a martyr endures suffering and death because of their faith in God. Martyrdom is to die the death of Christ and so to be conformed to Christ not only in life but also in death, and so martyrs go straight to heaven, because they are already united to Christ. Let us ask Jesus to give us the strength of the martyrs in all the suffering in our lives, that we may be conformed to Christ in life, in death, and for eternity in heaven.
It is part of Catholic doctrine that the Pope has the authority to teach on matters of faith and morals. This means that the Church doesn’t speak with any more authority than anyone else on matters of plumbing, nor can the Church teach on matters of astrophysics, nor can she tell you the best bait to use when fishing for black drum. The Church is charged with preserving the teachings of Jesus with regard to faith, what we believe about God, and to morals, what is right and wrong, good and bad. Today, many people doubt not only the Church’s actual teachings on morality but even the Church’s authority to teach on morality.
The primary way to teach morality is not through sermons, lectors, and books; it is through example. The example given by members of the hierarchy in recent decades, including priests, bishops, and even cardinals, has magnified this doubt a hundred times. People ask themselves why they should listen to anything that the Church says. They say that our teachings must not be any good if this is what it leads to. If these men had paid more attention to the moral teachings of the Church and let them be more than empty words but guidelines for their actions, then much pain and suffering could have been avoided. The authority that we have means that we have a greater responsibility to act always for the good of others and never to harm them. I am not qualified to judge them, but one day they will stand before One Who Is, as St. Paul wrote, “For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor 5:10).
St. Augustine, the bishop of Hippo, wrote this about the responsibility of being a bishop, “Where I’m terrified by what I am for you, I am given comfort by what I am with you. For you I am a bishop, with you, after all, I am a Christian. The first is the name of an office undertaken, the second a name of grace; that one means danger, this one salvation,” and in praying to God, said, “Make my ministry fruitful… The turbulent have to be corrected, the faint-hearted cheered up, the weak supported; the gospel’s opponents need to be refuted, its insidious enemies guarded against; the unlearned need to be taught, the indolent stirred up, the argumentative checked; the proud must be put in their place, the desperate set on their feet, those engaged in quarrels reconciled; the needy have to be helped, the oppressed to be liberated, the good to be given your backing, the bad to be tolerated; all must be loved.”
I say let us together seek the truth, and then, having found it, walk in it. We are called to truly love everyone, but not in the way that we love pizza, where people can disagree on the best toppings, or as an emotion, which may come and go, but as a firm commitment to do good to others, no matter how I may personally feel. The moral teachings of the Church are all about teachings us how to truly love God and our neighbor. They are there to guide us in living as a disciple of Christ. May God help me and all of us to always act in love, to always do the best for those around us, especially those most in need, and thus to give an example that leads people to the love of God.
Last Thursday was the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven and next Thursday is the Feast of the Coronation of Our Lady. We call Mary the Queen of Heaven and Earth, but what does that even mean? Many Protestants think that Catholics worship Mary or consider her to be equal to God, but they don’t understand that Catholic believe what we do about Mary because of what we believe about Jesus.
They say that the Bible doesn’t say that Mary is Queen. However, the Book of Revelation says, “And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars: and being with child, she cried travailing in birth, and was in pain to be delivered… and she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with an iron rod: and her son was taken up to God, and to his throne” (Rev 12:1-2, 5). This is talking primarily about the Blessed Virgin Mary, who literally gave birth to Jesus Christ, the Messiah destined to rule the nations. It makes us think of another prophecy in the Book of Isaiah, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Is 7:14). We may think of this as the people of Israel, who were made up of 12 tribes and from whom the Messiah came, or we can think of it as the Church, which began with the 12 apostles and which St. Paul calls the Body of Christ and the Bride of Christ. After all, the bride of a king would be a queen, right?
That’s actually not the case with the Middle East in general and ancient Israel in particular. Starting with King Solomon, the Son of David, it is the mother of the king who is given the position of honor as Queen-Mother. After Solomon assumed the throne he had a throne set up for his mother, Bathsheba, at his right hand and even bowed down to her (1 Kings 2:19), which reminds us that Jesus Himself, was, as a child, obedient to Mary and Joseph (Lk 2:51). In the Davidic kingdom the Queen Mother exercised a lot of influence. People would go to the Queen Mother and ask her to take their requests to the King, and she would intercede on their behalf (1 Kg 2:13-35), although the answer was not always yes. When we call Mary Queen, it is because we know that Jesus is the true Son of David, heir to the throne of Israel, and King of the Universe.
This kingdom is not one of worldly power and authority, but a Kingdom of grace and of love. Christ doesn’t rule over us as a tyrant, but He takes us into His family, as St. Paul wrote to the Romans, “For the Spirit himself giveth testimony to our spirit, that we are the sons of God. And if sons, heirs also; heirs indeed of God, and joint heirs with Christ: yet so, if we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him” (Rm 8:16-17).
Remember that the Book of Revelation was written by the Apostle John, and in his Gospel St. John never refers to Mary by name. He always calls her “woman,” like at the Wedding at Cana (Jn 2:4) and at the foot of the Cross, when Jesus gave her to “the disciple whom he loved” as his mother and gave the disciple to her as her son (Jn 19:26). We are all disciples whom Jesus loves, and Jesus gave His mother to all of us as our mother. If Jesus has made us, by His Cross and Resurrection, children of His Heavenly Father, then He has also made us children of His mother, Mary. When we say that Mary is Queen of Heaven and Earth we are not making her equal to God, for it is only through her Son, Jesus Christ, that she is honored. Her glory is merely a reflection of His glory. May she teach us to love her Son as she does.
When I was growing up, I always liked learning things, but I didn’t always like school. I usually preferred to either just sit and talk with someone or go off on my own and figure it out. In fact, when I would struggle with a concept I often needed to go off on my own and turn it over in my mind so I could wrap my head around it. I couldn’t accept something until I had seen the logic of it. We can learn from anything experience that we have, but there are some experiences and people that have a deeper impact on us than others. For example, there was the time when I was driving my very first car home for the first time. It was an ’87 Ford Ranger, and it was raining. That day, I learned not to oversteer on wet roads when there’s nothing in the bed of your truck, because you might just put your truck in the ditch. I was alright, and so was the truck, but my dad had to hook up a toe cable to get me out.
For most of us, our parents are the most influential people in our lives, because they’ve been influencing how we think, what we value, and how we understand life and the universe since before we could even understand English. This is what the Church means by saying that parents are the primary educators of their children; that, whether they are trying to teach their children or not, their children are learning far more from their example than they ever will from a school teacher. It’s important that parents recognize this and be deliberate about what they’re teaching their children.
I was blessed to have a family who went to Mass together every Sunday, a mom who did my religion homework with me just like the rest of my homework, and grandparents who were always happy for us to pray the Rosary with them before bed. God was simply a normal and important part of our lives. Is God a normal part of your lives? Is it normal to go to Church, to talk about God, and to pray? Would your children look at you funny if you started praying grace before meals or if you make the sign of the Cross when you drive in front of a Catholic Church? Remember that it’s never too late to start. My family didn’t start praying grace before meals until I was in high school and my brother made that his Lenten penance one year, so the whole family started doing it.
Parents, you have a huge amount of influence in how your children view life and what’s truly important. If God isn’t a normal part of your lives, then you’re teaching them that God isn’t that important. If He is, then they’ll still have to decide for themselves whether or not to place their faith in God, but you’re preparing them to make that decision to the best of your ability.
This Tuesday is the Feast of the Transfiguration. On Mt. Tabor Jesus was transfigured and revealed His glory to Peter, James, and John, and Moses and Elijah appeared and they talked about Jesus’ upcoming Passion and death. Jesus showed all of this to Peter, James, and John to strengthen them, knowing that their faith would be tested by His arrest and crucifixion. Do we believe that we can also be transfigured by Jesus? That our families and communities can be transfigured?
In the prayer, “Hail, Holy Queen, which we pray at the end of the Rosary, we ask Mary, “To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve, to thee do we lift up our sighs, mourning, and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn, then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy towards us and show unto us the Blessed Fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” We call this life the “valley of tears,” because here we are “banished” from our true home in heaven and our own sins separate us from God. So, we sigh, mourn, and weep for our sins and the sins of the world. Therefore, we ask Mary to show us Jesus, to bring us close to Jesus, to “make us worthy of the promises of Christ.”
St. Paul wrote, “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin may be destroyed, to the end that we may serve sin no longer. For he that is dead is justified from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live together with Christ” (Rm 6:6-8). We must kill sin with ourselves. We should show mercy to other people, but we shouldn’t show mercy to our own sins.
The Christian practice of mortification, from the Latin mortis, meaning “of dead,” is the practice of denying our bodily wants so that we can train ourselves to reject sin. Athletes and soldiers train themselves for the contest; mortification is one part of Christian training. All sin comes from a desire for something good that becomes twisted. Food is good, but an inordinate desire for food is gluttony. Honor is good, but a twisted desire for personal honor is pride. We all need rest to regain our physical and mental strength, but the desire to only rest and never work is laziness. We can train ourselves and strengthen our own willpower by denying ourselves even good things, so that we can better say no to sinful things. The Catholic tradition is to do this on Fridays to remember that Jesus was crucified on a Friday. You might want to abstain from meat on Fridays, or give up TV, to put the A/C a few degrees hotter or colder than you normally would, or any number of other possibilities. It should be a real sacrifice, but not something that will harm your health.
If we want to return to our true home in heaven, to be transfigured in the glory of God and live together with Christ, then we must take up our Crosses daily and follow after Him.
Wednesday, July 31 is the Memorial of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the 463 anniversary of his death. St. Ignatius was born in 1491 to the Spanish nobility. He served as a page in the court of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella before joining the army. He lived a life dedicated to feats of arms and worldly glory. In 1521 he was injured at the siege of Pampeluna and taken to a monastery to heal. During his recuperation he had a lot of time to reflect and to read, but the only books they had were a life of Christ by Ludolph the Carthusian and a collection of biographies of the saints. He especially reflected on the biography of St. Francis of Assisi and began to feel a desire to do what St. Francis did and leave everything behind, dedicate His life entirely to Christ, and work for the renewal of the Church. However, his thoughts would often also turn back to his former worldly pursuits. Reflecting on these things he realized that worldly glory left him dry and depressed, and so he dedicated His life to the glory of God.
When he left there he took a vow of chastity, hung up his sword before the altar of the Virgin of Montserrat, donned a pilgrim’s robes, and became a hermit for several years to learn how to live a Christian life. In 1523 he left for the Holy Land to convert Muslims, and in 1528 he began studying theology, graduating in 1534. At the University of Paris he began to gather others around himself, like Blessed Peter Faber and St. Francis Xavier, and eventually founded the Society of Jesus. The Society of Jesus, known as the Jesuits, were dedicated to the service of the Pope and the Church and to bringing protestants to conversion.
The motto of the Society of Jesus is Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam, “Greater Glory to God.” St. Ignatius explained the meaning of this motto by pointing out that we are always obligated to choose good instead of bad and virtue instead of vice. This is a basic part of Christianity. However, sometimes there are multiple good options for how to act, so how do we choose between them? St. Ignatius said that we should always choose the action that gives greater glory to God. This isn’t about what we are obligated to do, but about becoming a saint. We shouldn’t be satisfied with mediocrity but should always strive for greatness. Ultimately, though, worldly greatness will fade away and be forgotten, and you can’t take it with you into the afterlife. In the end even the tombs and mausoleums will turn to dust, but God’s glory is eternal, without beginning or end.
Do you want glory? Then strive to achieve the only type of glory that will matter in the end: the glory of God that the saints share in heaven.
Everything about the Mass means something, and that includes the building that we celebrate the Mass in. Basic church architecture comes from the ancient period, especially during the 4th century after Christianity was legalized, and it was refined during the High Middle Ages. They tried to design the Church to speak to us of the faith and teach us about God just by seeing it.
First, the Church buildings represents the Church itself. Of course, the Church is more than a buildings or a charitable organization. The Church is the body of Christ, with Jesus Christ as the head of the Church and we, the faithful on earth, along with the souls in purgatory and the saints in heaven, are the members which make up the body. In a Church building the sanctuary, where the altar, celebrant’s chair (cathedra), and tabernacle are is the head and represents Jesus. The altar is connected to Jesus because it is on the altar that the Eucharist, the Real Presence of Christ, is offered to God the Father. The celebrant represents Jesus because He presides over the Mass in persona Christi, in the person of Christ, by using Jesus’ words and actions at the Last Supper to offer the sacrifice of the Mass. The tabernacle, of course, holds the Eucharist, which is the presence of Jesus Himself. The nave of the Church represents the body of Christ, including us on earth, the angels, and the saints. The nave has the pews and is where the people gather to attend Mass. It also usually has images of the saints in stained glass windows and as statues. If you look at an image of a Medieval Church you’ll see that it even has arms, like a body.
The Church also represents heaven and earth. This goes all the way back to Solomon’s Temple. The Sanctuary of the Temple was decorated with angels and represented heaven, while the rest of the Temple was decorated with gardens and animals representing the Earth. In a Catholic Church the sanctuary is where Jesus is, where the offering takes place, and is often decorated with angels, like St. Louis Cathedral downtown. The nave represents earth and is where we are gathered for the Mass. During Mass we look towards the sanctuary, just like we ought to have our eyes fixed on heaven. When it’s time to receive Communion the priest and ministers bring the Eucharist down to the nave, symbolizing the Incarnation, when Jesus came down from heaven to earth, and the people go up towards the Sanctuary, showing that heaven is our final destination. That point where the sanctuary and nave meet, where the altar rail would be in a traditional Church, represents the meeting of heaven and earth both in the person of Jesus Christ and in the Mass.
Whenever I go into a Church for the first time, I pay the most attention to the tabernacle, the altar, the stained glass windows, and the stations of the Cross. Look around in churches, look at the details, designs, and artwork in the Church, and ask how this Church is pointing us towards heaven.
Fr. Bryan Recommends
The iPieta app
Not too long ago the average Catholic would have had a family bible in their home, possibly a copy of the Baltimore Catechism, and maybe a book on the lives of the saints, the life of Christ, or a similar spiritual topic, and many people would not have even had that. If you wanted to study the faith in more depths, you had to rely on your priest or what few resources you could get your hands on. Today, with the advent of the internet, we all have access to Catholic writings, videos, and materials at every level, from beginner to doctorate, but how do we know what to trust or where to look?
One of the very best Catholic resources available is the iPieta app for iPhone, iPad, and Android devices, and it’s completely free (although it does take up quite a bit of space). The app has four sections, Bible, Calendar, Prayer, and Veritas.
The Bible section has the entire Bible in English, Latin, Spanish, French, German, and more. The English translation is the Douay-Rheims Version, which is the traditional English version of the Bible. The language is a bit old fashioned, since the last version was from the 1800s, but it’s a very accurate translation, and it’s very nice to have the entire Bible on your phone or tablet.
The Calendar section has the liturgical calendar on it. If you’re wondering if today is the feast of a particular saint, or what weekday Christmas will fall on this year, you can find it in the calendar all the way out to 2050! It also has the readings for the day, which is very good if you want to pray with the readings for next Sunday ahead of time to prepare spiritually for Mass. Just remember, even though it’s the same readings, it’s not the same translation that we use in Mass.
The Prayer section has literally hundreds of prayers for all kinds of different circumstances. It has prayers to Jesus, prayers to the Holy Spirit, prayers for consecration, for the Blessed Virgin, the angels, and the saints, prayers to ask for blessings, and prayers for the Eucharist. It has the Mysteries and prayers of the Rosary, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, other novenas, and more.
The Veritas Section is perhaps the most impressive of all, because it contains an entire Catholic library. It has the entire 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia, the Baltimore Catechism, Butler’s Lives of the Saints, hundreds of official writings of the Popes and Church councils, Bible commentaries, writings of the Fathers of the Church, like St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, and St. John Chrysostom, and dozens of spiritual books by saints and spiritual masters.
When I downloaded it about 10 years ago, I thought paying $2.99 was a pretty darn good deal for all of that, but, now you can download it for free. If you have a smart phone it’d be silly not to get it.
In just a few days we’ll celebrate the anniversary of the birth of our nation, Independence Day, and the signing of the Declaration of Independence. We are rightly proud to be Americans. Our forefathers declared their independence from the oppressive government of England, fought to defend that independence, and set up a government that has, in large part, preserved the liberties they fought for through these past 243 years. We also recognize that the United States isn’t perfect. In our history, we can point to slavery, the internment of the Japanese during World War II, and other episodes as points of shame, and today we still fight against the scourge of abortion, racism, and violence.
Patriotism is a form of love, and love is not made up of affectionate feelings. Love can produce good and affectionate feelings, but that’s not what love is. Love means a firm commitment to seek the good of another, not counting the cost to yourself. Love must be grounded in truth, so that it can lead to self-giving and self-sacrifice. Patriotism is the love of our country; so, let us be grateful for the freedom and prosperity that is ours, and ask how we may insure that freedom and prosperity for future generations.
The virtue of patriotism doesn’t mean that we blindly proclaim the glory of our homeland, but that, out of love for our homeland and fellow citizens, we work tirelessly to defend her and help her to grow in virtue. A patriot defends his country from aggression and all those who seek to harm it. We have a long history of patriots and heroes who have taken up arms to defend this country, and some of their finest moments have come at the times of greatest danger. We must remember to pray for everyone who’s risked or given life or limb in our defense.
The virtue of patriotism also makes us want to help our country to grow in virtue. If we think that the United States is already perfect, the chosen land, the city on a hill, then we might blind ourselves to its problems. We can admit the weaknesses of our country while still loving it, and then we can work to improve them. We can pray for our neighbors, our country, our elected officials, and all those who work for the government. We can pay attention to what’s happening in politics and stay informed, so that we can be informed voters, not voting just for what’s best for ourselves, but for the country.
The point is that if we love our country in her greatness and in her best moments, then we must love her more in her weakness and sin; we must love her enough to see her weakness and do something about it.
For decades, priests recognized that people would stop attending Church regularly in their late teens and 20s, but the thought was that they would always come back to get married, to baptize their children, and to send them to parish religious education or a Catholic school. So, you’d have a chance to bring them back into the Church and get them actively participating, going to Mass, and growing in their faith. Unfortunately, that’s not the case anymore. Statistically, there are more people calling themselves Catholics than ever before in the United States, but fewer of them are participating in the life of the Church.
Since 1970, the US population has increased from 205.1 million to 327.2 million, and the Catholic population has likewise increased from 54.1 million to 76.3 million. In 1970, about 26% of the US population considered themselves Catholic and by 2018 that fell to about 23%. However, while the number of Catholics has increased, the number of Catholics participating in the life of the Church and receiving the Sacraments has decreased, in some cases dramatically. The number of Children of elementary and high school age receiving religious education, either in a Catholic school or parish program, has decreased from 9.9 million in 1970 to 4.7 million in 2018, just under half. The number of infant baptisms was 1.09 million in 1970 and 615,119 in 2018. The number of Catholic marriages dropped from 426,309 in 1970 to 143,082 in 2018. Confirmations went from 419,360 in 1970 to 630,465 in 2000, then decreased steadily to 556,418 in 2018. Similarly, first communions increased from 849,919 in 1970 to 881,321 in 2000, before dropping to 685,595 in 2018. This is all bad enough, but there are two more changes that are even more disturbing to me. The percent of Catholics attending Mass weekly has dropped from 54.9% in 1970 to 21.1% in 2018, and the percent attending monthly has dropped from 71.36% in 1970 to 45.3% in 2018. There was a greater percent of Catholics going to Mass every week in 1970 than there are going to Mass once a month now. Finally, even the number of Catholic funerals has begun to drop, from 417,779 in 1970 to 472,789 in 2000, then down to 392,277 in 2018. The one rule of Catholic life that we could count on was that people always came back for their funerals, but even that is starting to change.
I don’t mean this to be a depressing article. The Lord comes to bring us life and true and lasting joy. Jesus Christ is the Price of Peace who brings hope to the world, and we should always be filled with hope in the Lord, knowing that the Holy Spirit is still with us. However, we also need to do our part. We need to teach the fullness of the faith. In the 1960s and 70s the faith was watered down in many places. I remember my mom telling me that the only thing she learned in religious education was “to be a good Catholic, you just need to go to Church and be nice to people.” If we don’t take the Bible and the teachings of the Church seriously, how can we expect anyone else to? We also need to treat the Eucharist with the reverence it deserves. The Mass shouldn’t look like everything else in our lives. When we enter Church, we should be immediately aware that we are in God’s house. It should look, and smell, and sound different, and it should feel different, more reverent and more holy. If the Church and Mass aren’t obviously places of holiness, then how can the holiness of God be translated into the rest of our lives. The Spirit of God is present in His Church, let’s work to make sure that His Presence has an impact in the way we worship and in the way we live our lives.
Fr. Bryan became pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes on July 3, 2017. Read his bio here.