Catholic by Choice

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I named this blog “Catholic by Choice” with a specific purpose, to communicate to those who read my writing that I choose to be a Catholic Christian and love the Catholic Church. I am a “revert” to the Catholic Church. Though I was baptized into the Church as an infant and received the other Sacraments of initiation, I wandered from the faith as a teenage “hippie” in search of truth. Fortunately, like Dorothy in the “Wizard of Oz” I discovered there really is “no place like home” and came back into full participation in the Catholic Church. That is what is meant by the term “revert”, someone who returned home.

We often hear the term “cradle Catholic” used to refer to Catholics who were raised in a Catholic family. However, though one may be born into a Catholic family, it is not the cradle which makes one Catholic but the Sacrament of Baptism. For most of us, that happened for us when we were infants. However, the Sacrament presumes an ongoing cooperation with grace which will lead to continuing conversion in the life of the one who was baptized. This partly the reason why, in the Western Church, the Sacrament of Confirmation, another Sacrament of Initiation into Christ, was separated from Baptism and is given later as the child matures. 

I became what I now call a “Catholic by Choice” at the age of 18 when I questioned my way through the writings of the early Church fathers and back into the heart of the Catholic Church. Since then, I have sought to live my life within the Church. I experience the grace I need for ongoing conversion through receiving the Sacraments. I seek to renew and reform my mind through her continual instruction as it comes to us through the Bible, the Book of the Church, and the teaching office called the Magisterium.

The Gospel of St John records this beautiful promise given to the disciples by the Lord before he ascended: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you.

“I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.” (John 14: 15-20)

Over all these years I have become profoundly grateful that one of the ways in which the Lord fulfilled that promise is to provide the gift of the teaching office of the Catholic Church, what is called the “Magisterium” (from a latin word for teacher). In an age of compromise and confusion in so many Christian circles, the Catholic Church speaks clearly and courageously in defense of the truth. For example, the Catholic Church has not and will not compromise on the truth concerning the inviolable dignity of every human life from conception to natural death or the truth about marrige and the family and society founded upon it. I feel very fortunate to be instructed by her as a mother and teacher.

The Church is not “Some – thing” but  “Some – One”, the Risen Body of the Lord Jesus Christ continuing His redemptive mission in the world until He returns. Let me share a few salient quotes from Patristic sources which underscore this vision of the nature of the Church: “Let us love the Lord our God; let us love His Church… Let us love Him as our Father and her as our mother” (St. Augustine) “No one can have God as his Father who does not have the Church as his Mother” (St. Cyprian) “For where the Church is, there the Spirit of God is also; and where the Spirit of God is, there the Church is, and all grace. And the Spirit is truth.” (St. Irenaeus of Lyons)

For my Catholic readers I ask, do you experience the Church as a “mother”? The Church is a relational reality. Do you believe that you live in the Church and are sent on mission into the world? Catholic theology teaches what the early fathers, Saints and Councils throughout the ages all affirmed; to belong to Jesus is to belong to His Body. Our membership in the Church is a participation in the life of God; what the Apostle Peter referred to as a “participation in the Divine nature”. (2 Peter 1:4)

The Church is also not some “thing” which we try to “change” in the sense of remaking it into our image. The Church is a relational reality, a communion within which God’s Image and likeness is formed in us and revealed to a world waiting to be born. The Church is a communion with the Trinity – and with one another – in Him who is its Head. Living in that communion we are called and capacitated to love the world as He does. He continues to love the world through us.

Through our Baptism the Church became the privileged place in which we live our lives in Christ. To perceive, receive and live this reality requires ongoing conversion and continual instruction in the Christian way of life. In its treatment of this “mystery” called the Church, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, citing the early fathers of the Church states: “To reunite all his children, scattered and led astray by sin, the Father willed to call the whole of humanity together into his Son’s Church. The Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation. The Church is “the world reconciled.”
“She is that bark which “in the full sail of the Lord’s cross, by the breath of the Holy Spirit, navigates safely in this world.” According to another image dear to the Church Fathers, she is prefigured by Noah’s ark, which alone saves from the flood.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church Par 845).

I teach and help to lead the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) process in the parish to which I am assigned as a Deacon. This is a year long series of teachings on the Christian faith which is given to those who were never batized and seek to join the Church, Christians from other traditions who seek to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church (we do not rebaptize) and anybody else who wants to grow in the faith and Christian maturity.

Over the years I have worked in this area it has become all too clear that many Catholics know little about their faith. When they are introduced to its fullness and beauty, the grace of their baptism comes alive and they fall in love with the Lord in a new and fresh way – and with His plan for the whole world, His Body, the Church, which is the seed of the coming kingdom. 

I have also found many “former” Catholics or “non-practicing” Catholics are just waiting to be invited to come home. One of the great defenders of the Catholic Church, a man whose cause for canonization has now been advanced, Bishop Fulton Sheen, once said in a radio reply, “There are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church.” Sadly, the truth of the adage is verified in my work as I find Catholics who have not been evangelized or properly catechized.

There is a growing movement underway of Catholics returning home to the Church. The greatest effort promoting this homecoming is called “Catholics Come Home”, led by Tom Peterson. I met Tom Peterson several years ago at a Catholic Leadership Conference. I remember the year because I had pneumonia and almost did not even attend. However, after persevering through the long trip because the conference is always a highlight of my year, I knew I simply HAD to meet this man.

I had seen my first “Catholics Come Home” commercial months earlier and became convinced that the work of this non-profit media apostolate was going to become one of the most important resources for the New Evangelization in my lifetime. “Finally,” I thought to myself, “someone is using the new integrated media with excellence to tell the real story of the greatest treasure in the whole world, the fullness of the Christian faith as found within the Catholic Church.”

On the first day of the conference I found Tom in the crowd. I was brimming over with enthusiasm. I walked up to him, introduced myself, and told him that I believed the work the Lord had given to him was one of the greatest resources we had in this new missionary age. Those who know me know that when I believe something is anointed by the Spirit and effective, I am blunt and right to the point. However, in retrospect, I was visibly very sick and anything but laid back in that encounter. I probably would have scared myself if I were Tom Peterson.

Fortunately, he was not put off by my manner or my coughing. He was encouraged. We conversed for quite some time and connected throughout that important weekend. I had the opportunity to see the newest commercials they had planned and to hear Tom speak. This gifted and humble man left a successful advertising career to serve the Lord and his Church in this critical time in history.

For  those who have not yet seen a “Catholics Come Home” commercial, you need to stop reading this article and go to their outstanding interactive web site here. Watch these commercials. Read about this wonderful New Evangelization Apostolate. Get encouraged and learn to feel good again about being a Catholic Christian. But don’t stop there!  Respond to one or more of the wonderful opportunities offered on this virtual media apostolate site to join in the mission.

The ads and the interactive website have reached 40 million viewers across the US and 1.5 million viewers worldwide in the past three years.  According to census statistics published by participating dioceses, “Catholics Come Home” ads have helped more than 200,000 fallen away Catholics come home to the Catholic Church.

Since at least the Third Century, Christians have commemorated this day as a Solemnity, the day when the two pillars of the Church, the great Apostles, Peter and Paul, met the Lord whom they served with such beauty, face to face in the communion of eternal love. The Christian tradition celebrates the death of the saints, their dies natalis, as their day of birth to eternal life in Christ. To the early Christians death was viewed not as an end but as a “change of habitation.” So today, for Christians who truly believe, it is no longer an enemy but a friend.

June 29 marks the Feast of the Solemnity of the Apostles Peter and Paul in the Catholic Church calendar. These two great pillars of Christianity were both martyred for the faith. Their Feast is celebrated together. Priests and deacons throughout the entire world wear Red at the Liturgy, symbolizing that the blood of the Martyrs, as the Second Century Church Father Tertullian so clearly proclaimed, “is the seed of the Church.” Tuesday, June 30, we continue to wear Red as we commemorate the Martyrs of the First Church of Rome. The word “Martyr” derives from a Greek word which means “witness.” The Catholic Christian faith proclaims that the shedding of ones blood in fidelity to Jesus Christ is the final witness to the Faith.

From the day when Peter’s brother Andrew brought him to Jesus, and Jesus “looked at him” with those piercing eyes of Divine Love Incarnate (John 1:42), Peter was especially chosen. The early undivided Church acknowledged this fact and held his office in high esteem. From the day the persecutor of the Church, Saul, heard the Risen Jesus ask the question “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me”(Acts 9:4), this former persecutor of the Way (Acts 22:4) became the Apostle to the Gentiles. In both encounters their names were changed, reflecting the interior truth of what occurs in every conversion and informs every vocation.These two men became, and still stand, as the pillars of the Church. 

In the early Church, altars were built over the graves of the martyrs which the early Christians revered. They often became the place where the Eucharist was celebrated. The practice of reverencing the bones of the martyrs showed the respect with which the body was held by the early Christians and their absolute belief in the bodily resurrection, a tenet of the Christian faith which we profess in our Creeds and leads to our high regard for the body and understanding of the integrity of the human person, body, soul and spirit.

Last year, Pope Benedict XVI, while announcing the closing of a Year dedicated of St. Paul, made an amazing announcement. He disclosed the results of a scientific probe into the sarcophagus inside the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls. It is at this holy site that the faithful have for centuries venerated the bones of St. Paul.

In his homily, broadcast live on Italian television, the Pope told the faithful that the tomb had been “subject to a scientific investigation. A small hole was drilled in the sarcophagus, unopened for centuries, and a probe was introduced. It found traces of a valuable purple fabric, in linen and gold layer-laminated, and a blue fabric with linen threads. Red incense grains and substances containing proteins and limestone were also discovered.

“Small fragments of bone were found and radiocarbon dated by experts who did not know their place of origin. Results indicate that they belong to someone who lived between the 1st and 2nd century A.D. This seems to confirm the unanimous and undisputed tradition according to which these are the mortal remains of the Apostle Paul. All this fills our soul with deep emotion.”

The Apostle Paul suffered martyrdom at the hands of Roman authorities between 65 and 67 A.D. He was buried by the Christian faithful. About 250 years later the Emperor Constantine built a Basilica built over his tomb. Under the marble tombstone is a Latin inscription which reads “PAULO APOSTOLO MART” (Apostle Paul, Martyr).

The Pope urged Christians to imitate the courage of St. Paul in this critical hour in human history. He referred to the teachings of the Apostle in his many New Testament letters and reminded the faithful that “courage is needed to adhere to the Church’s faith, even if it contradicts the mould of today’s world. Paul calls this non-conformism a ‘grown-up faith’. For him following the prevailing winds and currents of the time is childish. For this reason dedicating oneself to the inviolability of life from its beginning, radically opposing the principle of violence, in the defense precisely of the most defenseless; recognizing the lifetime marriage between a man and a woman in accordance with the Creator’s order, re-established again by Christ is also part of a grown-up faith. A grown-up faith does not follow any current here and there. It is against the winds of fashion.”

The results of the scientific study verifying the bone fragments as those of the Apostle Paul coincided with some other news last year as well. Vatican archaeologists discovered the oldest image of St Paul ever found. It was discovered on the walls of the catacombs beneath Rome and was dated to be from the late 4th century. The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, published the image. It revealed the face of a man with a pointed black beard on a red background inside a bright yellow halo. The Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology found the Icon on June 19, 2010 in the Catacomb of Santa Tecla in Rome.

Pope Benedict XVI has set the Catholic Church on a path of deepening conversion, continually challenging all who bear the name Christian to live fully the Christian faith in an age which has succumbed to what he has called a “Dictatorship of Relativism.” It is obvious in this Pope’s writings, messages and example that he understands the urgency of the hour and believes that only the Church can bring about the change needed to transform the current “culture of death” into a new “culture of life” and “civilization of love.”

On this great Feast we need to rededicate ourselves to being true witnesses, with an adult faith, willing to participate fully in this new missionary age of the Catholic Church. May the blood of the Martyrs continue to be the seed of the Church. St. Peter and St. Paul, pray for us!

Last week in New York the homosexual equivalency agenda advanced their cutural revolution and dealt one more blow against marriage – and the family and society founded upon it. I call this effort a “homosexual equivalency movement” to reflect the goal of its leaders. They are dedicated to building a society where the positive law of the Nation forces us all to call to be a marriage what can never be a marriage – or face the police power of the State.

The leaders of the homosexual equivalency movement insist that homosexual sexual practices are morally equivalent to the sexual expression of marital love between a man and a woman. They are dedicated to building a society where the positive law of the Nation forces us all to call to be a marriage what can never be a marriage – or face the police power of the State.

They are using the courts and the legislatures to enforce this cultural revolution. They scored what they believe was a decisive “victory” for their brave new world in New York last week. History will prove them wrong. It has in the past when such efforts failed. One only has to look to ancient Rome. There we also discover a growing intolerance toward faithful Christians who defended the truth about marriage against efforts to give an equivalent status, under the law, to homosexual relationships. 

Sadly, even those who knew they were doing something which violated the Natural Law and threatens the common good – voting to call something a marriage which can never be a marriage – succumbed to the pressure of the mob last week. And the mob celebrated in the streets of New York on Sunday. The mob also placed on display some of the behaviors which will soon be protected by the positive or “civil” law of the State.

The Catholic Bishop of Brooklyn, Nicholas Anthony DiMarzio, published an op-ed in the New York Daily News entitled “Passage of gay nuptials in New York State is another ‘nail in the coffin’ of marriage.” He released a statement after the vote in which he noted “This issue has been framed as upholding marriage equality. This is not the case since one of the principal purposes of marriage is to bring new life into the world. This cannot happen in same-sex marriage. It is not a civil rights issue, but rather a human rights issue upholding the age-old understanding of marriage. Our political leaders do not believe their own rhetoric. If they did, how in good conscience could they carve out any exemption for institutions that would be proponents of bigotry and prejudice?”

The truth about marriage is not simply a “religious” construct.  The Natural Law reveals – and the cross cultural history of civilization affirms – that marriage is between a man and a woman, open to children and intended for life. Marriage is the foundation for the family which is the privileged place for the formation of virtue and character in children, our future citizens. The family is the first society, first economy, first school, first church, first hospital, forst society, first civilizing and mediating institution and first government. It is built upon the solid foundation of true marriage and no counterfeit will provide the necessary ground for its flourishing.

In his apostolic exhortation on the Eucharist, the Sacrament of Charity, Pope Benedict summarized the duty of the Catholic faithful when confronted with this assault on authentic marriage:  “Marriage and the family are institutions that must be promoted and defended from every possible misrepresentation of their true nature, since whatever is injurious to them is injurious to society itself.” So, get ready, Catholics, at least believing Catholics, will not back down.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of the Catholic Church wrote in 2003, “The Church’s teaching on marriage and on the complementarity of the sexes reiterates a truth that is evident to right reason and recognized as such by all the major cultures of the world. Marriage is not just any relationship between human beings. It was established by the Creator with its own nature, essential properties and purpose.

“No ideology can erase from the human spirit the certainty that marriage exists solely between a man and a woman, who by mutual personal gift, proper and exclusive to themselves, tend toward the communion of their persons. In this way, they mutually perfect each other, in order to cooperate with God in the procreation and upbringing of new human lives.”

What the Catholic Church teaches about marriage is not only a “religious” position, though it is certainly affirmed by revelation. It is objectively true and cannot be changed. In this age which Pope Benedict XVI rightly called a “Dictatorship of Relativism”, such truth claims elicit anger among the new cultural revolutionaries. The anger will only grow as the clash of world views becomes even clearer. 

In the long run, this effort in New York to call a marriage what can never be a marriage will not endure. The truth will prevail and the real common good of society will be protected. However, it will feed what is becoming a  growing persecution against Catholics, other faithful Christians and any others who insist that a marriage is what it is – and not what the new Caesar decrees.

The so called “religious exemption” elements within the legislation were a ploy to placate those who might otherwise see the obvious bigotry which this legislation entails. “Exempt” the Church out of the public square by forcing faithful Christians, Jews and others who insist on the importance of marriage – and the and family and society built upon it – into their own ghettos. Maybe then they will  leave everyone else alone.

In the warning issued before the vote by Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, “You are claiming the power to change what is not into what is, simply because you say so.” Sadly, even some Catholic legislators sold out. They did not understand what their Church proclaims about true marriage. Like the truth she proclaims about the dignity of every human life, from conception to natural death, the truth about marriage is written in the Natural Law.

Sadly, the irony is that the son of the man who betrayed the truth about the right to life and the dignity of the child in the womb, former Governor Mario Cuomo, has now betrayed the truth about marriage. Both father and son claim to be Catholic. They acted in a manner which betrayed that they are unfaithful and deceived at best. Get ready, the persecution of faithful Catholics, and other Christians and people of good will who understand the objective truth about marriage  is about to increase.

On Thursday June 23, 2010,at 7 p.m., the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, the Holy Father celebrated Mass on the square in front of Rome’s St. John Lateran Basilica. Following this Liturgy he presided at the traditional Eucharistic procession from the basilica, along Via Merulana, to the Basilica of St. Mary Major. Vatican offices were closed in honor of this great Feast. Corpus Christi is a “moveable Feast” and was been transferred to this in the United States.

On this wonderful Feast the faithful throughout the whole world are invited to be changed profoundly by their participation in the most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the Eucharistic procession. No ‘old fashioned ritual’, this reveals the very truth of the new reality brought about through the Paschal mystery. Though this Feast has been transferred to Sunday in the United States, the Church in most of the world celebrated it on Thursday. Whenever it is celebrated, it is a richly significant day in Catholic life. Priests, accompanied by Deacons, lead the faithful in a solemn procession of the Consecrated Holy Eucharist throughout the Streets of the world.
The celebration of this Solemnity goes back to the thirteenth century. Pope Urban IV instituted it in 1264 for the entire Church. He wanted it to be filled with joy and accompanied by hymns and a festive procession. He asked the great Western Church father, St. Thomas Aquinas, to compose two Offices of prayer. St Thomas did so- along with five hymns – and they have nourished the piety of Christians for centuries.

In one of them St. Thomas noted: “Material food first of all turns itself into the person who eats it, and as a consequence, restores his losses and increases his vital energies. Spiritual food, on the other hand, turns the person who eats it into Itself, and thus the proper effect of this sacrament is the conversion of man into Christ, so that he may no longer live for himself, but that Christ may live in Him. And as a consequence it has the double effect of restoring the spiritual losses caused by sins and defects and of increasing the power of the virtues”.
In this celebration we proclaim our belief in the Real presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. We also proclaim that same Jesus lives within each one of us who are baptized into His Body, the Church. In fact, the entire Trinity takes up residence within us and, through that life in the Church and participation in the Sacraments we can live in the Trinity. This is the mystery of what we call communion.

The Christian faith and life is about relationship, with the Father, in and through His Son Jesus and in Jesus Christ with one another for the sake of the world. The world into which we process is the world that God still loves so much that He continues to send His Son to save, recreate and transform it from within.  The Corpus Christi procession symbolizes the ongoing redemptive mission of Jesus Christ and our participation in it. 
I have fond memories of this beautiful event which stretch back into my early childhood. It is an extremely important day in my vocation, the anniversary of my ordination to the Diaconate in Christ. Since my ordination to ministry as a Deacon, it has come to signify my call to go “from the altar and ambo into the world.” This is how I explain the ministry of a deacon to anyone who asks. We are clergy called to the world, as witnesses of Christ the Servant. 

It also reminds me of the call to continuing conversion, the universal call to holiness. Each of us who bear the name Christian are to become more like the One whom we love and in whom we live. He comes to dwell within us and we live our lives now in Him. We are “living monstrances”, enthroning the Lord in our “hearts”, which is, in biblical language, the center of the person.

In the Holy Eucharist we receive the Divine Host whom we carry in procession. When we process we proclaim that the Lord continues to come into the world through the Church. Through our Baptism he has taken up residence within each one of us. We carry Him into the real world just as we carry the monstrance into its streets today. 

Jesus told his disciples “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.”  We who have been given the bread of angels do have His Life within us;- the very life of the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit – a communion of Divine Persons in the Perfect unity of Perfect love.

The Feast of Corpus Christi follows the great Feast of the Holy Trinity in the Western Catholic Church calendar in order to show this profound connection. Through our continual reception of the Eucharist we are invited to live more fully in the Trinitarian communion- and given the grace to do so!
Then we are sent into the world to carry Jesus to others. The Lord wants all men and women to live within the Church. She is the home of the whole human race and a seed of the kingdom. The implications of that invitation are meant to unfold into a life of continual conversion in every believer. This conversion happens in and through the very “stuff” of the struggles and travail of our daily lives; through the mistakes, the wrong choices, the failures, and the pain, joined to His Passion. 

Through it all, the love of God purifies and refines us like the refiners’ fire purified the gold that was used to make the many Monstrances we carry into the Streets of the world on this great and glorious Feast of Corpus Christi. Like Mary, the Mother of the Lord – and the mother of all who follow her Son – we are invited to give our own “Fiat”, our “Yes” to the God of love. We enthrone Him in our hearts.

For me, this is the day when I celebrate my ordination to the Diaconate in Christ. Because this event, which changed my entire life and “ordered” me for service in Christ, occurred on this feast in 1996, I always celebrate the Feast as my ordination anniversary, rather than the calendar date.

I knew then, and have only grown to understand more deeply with each passing year, how significant it was that the Lord who called me allowed me to root my service as a member of the Clergy in the rich and deep meaning of this marvelous Feast. The mystery it recalls to our hearts and minds and the invitation to intimacy with the Lord which it extends has informed my response to the Vocation of Deacon. 

As we march the Monstrance into the cities of the whole world we participate in a profoundly prophetic act. The early Eastern Church Fathers referred to the Church as the “world transfigured” and the “world reconciled.” That reconciliation and transfiguration continues through the Church. Jesus has been raised from the dead and he walks into the world.

St. Paul, in his letter to the Christians in Philippi, reminds us our true “citizenship” is “in heaven.” While we live in this current age we participate in bringing heaven to earth and earth to heaven. We who are Christians now live in the Church and go into the world. Our mission is to bring this world back to God in and through Jesus Christ.
We have received the Bread of Heaven. Let us become what we consume. On the Feast of Corpus Christi, as we march through the Streets of the world lifting Jesus Christ enthroned, let us say”Yes” to the invitation to become “living monstrances”. Let the consuming fire of God’s love purify us so that we can now be used to reveal His presence to a world waiting to be born anew.YouTube Preview Image