Good or Virtuous, That is the Question

Lately, I’ve been trying to read something about the “Saint of the Day,” or a particular Saint that pops into my head when I wonder how on earth someone could be “saintly” when they dealt with war, poverty, or death of family members. Usually, or rather, in every case, I read that they were virtuous or was raised by a person of virtue. I made the general assumption that “virtue” was another word for “good.” Little did I know there was a lot more to it than just being good.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “A virtue is an habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only the ability to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself.” (CCC 1803) I can’t remember the last time I truly gave the best of myself to something. If the saints are virtuous people, that means they are giving the best of themselves ALL THE TIME. Boy, do I have a long way to go; but I guess that is the goal, to lead a virtuous life so, we can become saints and be more like God.

The Catholic Church says we have basically three types of virtues: Human, Cardinal and Theological. All of these Virtues have Gifts and Fruits – things we receive from them and things we see working through us, as a result of attaining these virtues.  Within the Human Virtues, we have Moral Virtues and these are basically achieved when one does morally good acts and allows us human beings to use all our skills and senses to be in communion with divine love; after all, God is the moral law giver. Our human effort is required to obtain these moral virtues, and anyone can do so. It makes you wonder why Atheists are moral, if the creator of Moral Virtues/Law is God, and they have no belief in such a being; but then again, we call ourselves Catholic Christians and sit in churches all the while lacking in Moral Virtues and steeped in sin. But I digress, all I know is that morality exists outside of humanity and it was created by God who wants us to be more like Him in all things.

Cardinal Virtues are virtues all other virtues are grouped around. There are 4 Cardinal Virtues which are: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance. In layman’s terms I’ll attempt to define them.

Prudence is allowing our reason to discern true good in every situation and to choose the right way of achieving it. Basically, using our conscience to guide us in moral principles and others virtues by setting up rules and guidelines which will help us avoid evil.

Justice is a moral virtue that requires a man to respect the rights of others and to treat each other justly and fairly. Also, to “Give God justice through the ‘Virtue of Religion.'” (CCC 1807)

Fortitude can also be described as courage and it requires one to have a firm resolve during difficulties in the pursuit of good. It helps us in the big and small trials of life and allows us to resist temptations, overcome fear, face persecution and even death in defense of a just cause.

Temperance allows us the ability to resist desires of pleasure and to moderate our appetites and maintain levels that are good and honorable.

The more we practice virtues, the more we are purified and elevated by God’s divine grace. “The virtuous man is happy to practice them.” (CCC 1810) We receive God’s grace by Christ’s gift of salvation. We should ask for this grace to be able to be more virtuous and if we are more virtuous, the more graces we shall be granted! I can attest to this. Once I started practicing ( often getting back up and trying again) to be more virtuous, I noticed the “fruits” of the gifts of virtues being given to me.

The last of the virtues are Theological Virtues which are Faith, Hope and Charity. Those of us Catholics recognize these three words as we pray for an increase of these virtues every time we recite the Holy Rosary. We find the very foundation of a Christian’s moral life must begin with these virtues because they directly relate to God. One cannot claim to be a Christian without believing in God, believing all He has said, and doing His will through the virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity.

We have to remember that being a member of a “Religion” which only believes in one of these Theological Virtues, or separates the virtues into individual categories without the need of uniting them, is a false religion. You cannot have faith alone or hope alone or charity/love alone – they must be intertwined.

To clarify, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “If faith is deprived of hope and love, faith does not fully unite the believer to Christ and does not make him a living member of his Body.” (1815) For “By Faith, man freely commits his entire self to God.” (CCC 1814) “Service and witness to the faith are necessary for salvation.” (CCC 1816) You might recognize this as the beginning of the Faith and Works disagreement we have with our separated brothers in Christ. They often are taught that Faith alone is sufficient for salvation and are diminishing the necessity of the virtues of Hope and Charity.

The virtue of Hope is when we desire eternal life in the kingdom of heaven and place all our trust in Christ’ promises. We cannot rely on our own strength to achieve hope eternal and that is why Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit, to strengthen us. Through the graces given to us by the Holy Spirit, we aspire to happiness through the virtue of Hope and can have faith in Jesus’ preaching, promises and love for us. We nourish our hope through a relationship with Our Lord through prayer, charity and doing his will.

Charity is “The virtue by which we love God above all things for His own sake and  our neighbor as ourselves, for the love of God.”  (CCC 1822) The Apostle Paul often spoke of the virtue of Charity and said, “Out of the virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity, the greatest of these is Charity.” ( 1 Cor 13:13) “Charity binds everything all together in perfect harmony.” (Col 3:14) Charity helps us to love one another as God loves us. It is the command that Jesus gave to us when He implored us to love our enemies rather than just those who love us in return. “We experience a purifying of our human ability to love and raise it to the supernatural perfection of Divine love” (CCC 1827) when we reach this goal of Christian life.

We are so lucky that our Catholic Faith teaches us these concepts of virtue and how they should be woven into our daily thoughts, feelings and actions. I feel that those outside our faith aren’t told about the necessity of infusing the virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity/Love together into their lives. For those who are taught that all they need for salvation is Faith alone, they aren’t able to rely on the Spiritual freedom we receive from God when we practice these virtues so, they often use the Calvinist theory of being hidden (from the wrath of God) by the blood of Christ in order to be “saved.”

“If we turn away from evil out of the fear of punishment, we are in the position of slaves. If we measure the enticement of wages, we resemble mercenaries. Finally, if we obey for the sake of the good itself and out of love for him who commands it, we are in the position of children.” (St. Basil) “If children, then heirs, heirs of God, and fellow heirs with Christ.” (Rom 8:14, 17) Thus, there is no need to be hidden in the sight of God. God is love itself. St. Augustine once said, “We enjoy the “fruits” of Charity which are joy, peace and mercy. Love is itself fulfilled in all our works. There is the goal; that is why we (Catholics) run toward it, and once we reach it, in it we shall find rest.”

Saints really get it. Often, they have gone through both physical and spiritual trials and without the Holy Spirit to strengthen them, they might not have made sainthood. We are given the “Gifts of the Holy Spirit” to help us complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them. Those “gifts” are: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. “When we receive these gifts, we can achieve perfections which the Holy Spirit from in us through ‘fruits.’  These ‘fruits’ are charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control and chastity.” (CCC 1832)

As we practice the virtues of a moral life, we may begin to notice the “gifts and fruits” of the Holy Spirit and grow in holiness. For some of us, it may take longer than others; however, if we persevere, we shall surely be rewarded when we stand before our Loving Father and hear the words we long to hear, “Well done good and faithful servant.” (Matt 25:23)

 

 

 

 

This Bread is Our Life

I used to consider going to Mass an obligation that took an hour ( if I had a short-winded priest) of my Sunday or Saturday evening. I wouldn’t put it past me to miss Mass if something better came up or if I had stayed out too late the night before, and just couldn’t rouse myself in time for even the latest Mass of the morning. I know that sounds horrible and, at the time, I didn’t even know that knowingly missing Mass was a sin and yet, my life was a mess. I was stressed, anxious and depressed and looking back, it’s not hard to see why.

We have Seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church and these Sacraments are seven special means, instituted by Jesus Christ by which God reaches down to us and shares His Divine Life with us through Baptism, Confirmation, The Eucharist, Penance, The Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders and Matrimony. They help us in our journey through life and give us special graces to handle the stressors, worries, and anxieties of living and the more we participate, the more graces we receive. Needless to say, I didn’t participate much and the graces were lacking.

The one Sacrament we have the ability to participate in almost daily is the Eucharist. It is the one Sacrament that all others are oriented. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, ” The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life by the invocation of the Holy Spirit and with bread and wine and the very words of Christ repeated by an ordained priest, become Christ’s own body, blood, soul and divinity.” CCC 1324  In other words, Christ is fully present through a process called Transubstantiation.  If you break down that word, Trans means “to change,” and Substance means “the very essence of a thing.” Even though the outward appearances still resemble ordinary bread and wine, through the words given to the apostles by Jesus to ” Do this in memory of me,” transubstantiation changes the essence.

Both Scripture and Tradition tell us this is Christ fully present with us. God of the Universe can do what we can’t comprehend; yet, he doesn’t want to overwhelm our measly, little brains by coming to us in all his omnipotence and power. In the Bible, He appears to men in ways they could handle; like a burning bush, a cloud, or a still small voice. He was often called upon by the Israelites when they cried out to him when they feared they would starve. He sent Manna (which in Aramaic means, “what is it”) to them from Heaven to be gathered and eaten. The Jews ancestors were nourished by this “bread” while on their journey out of Egypt; however, they ultimately died. Jesus was sent by God to become the living bread, and whoever ate this bread would never die. But, why bread?

Bread is found throughout the Old Testament and, in many cultures today, it is a staple of one’s diet. We even have popularized terms like, “breaking bread,” for anything having to do with gathering to eat or, “gonna go make some bread,” for acquiring money to live. Isn’t it interesting that to live and eat are often associated with the word bread?

When poorly Catechized Catholics or non-Catholics attend Holy Mass and look at the bread and wine, I’m sure they ask themselves, “What is it?” and don’t fully understand their question should be “Who is it?” because the God of the Universe chose to appear to us in the form of bread and wine.

I’m sure you are still saying, “It still looks the same,” or, “I don’t see any changes in its appearance,” and that is because the outward appearance is still the same chemical make-up of bread and wine. What is really taking place during transubstantiation is underneath the outward appearances of the consecrated host; we believe Jesus is truly present by changing into the body, blood, soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our Lord told us at the last supper when, “He took bread, said the blessing, broke it and gave it to his disciples saying, this is my body which will be given up for you, do this in memory of me.” Luke 22:19

Dr. Sean Innest says, ” All the Sacraments are all profound mysteries and their outward signs, their appearances, are usually very humble.” They are signs – visible realities which point to the invisible, to a divine grace. For instance, when water is poured over someone during Baptism, it represents cleansing of ones soul, and in Confirmation, when we profess our beliefs in the Catholic Churches teachings and promise to live them out, we are anointed with oil to make us witnesses for our beliefs. When we participate in the Mass and receive the Eucharist, we eat bread that is sustenance for us, both physically and spiritually. These are natural things pointing to the supernatural.

When we share in the Eucharist during the celebration of Holy Mass, we are in effect sharing a table. We can find the importance of sharing a table (meal) in Biblical times, as well as, our own special holiday celebrations where those closest to us, come to celebrate a meal and bond with one another. God wants an intimate, profound union with us and has since He originally created us. The Eucharist is the uniting of Our Lord’s body, blood, soul and divinity with us, and in us. How awesome is that?

The Father’s of the Church said that the Son of God became the Son of Man so that the sons of men become the sons of God. This is the ultimate goal of God; He loves us so much He wants to be with us in all aspects of our life. He is just waiting for us to come to Him through the Sacrament of the Holy Mass and the source and summit of our faith- The Holy Eucharist.

Why not make a visit to Our Lord, today?

 

 

 

Knowing What You’re Yearning For

Things of this world don’t seem to satisfy us for very long. Everyone is always looking for more, striving for something better, or having more meaning; yet, we never seem to satiate those deep hungers our hearts are yearning for. Many people have often sought out material dreams or passing relationships, when what they are really looking for is  peace and contentment; which, only God can provide.

Often, people who are both religious and non-religious complain of not “feeling God” in their lives when they are living as “good people,” or attend church regularly. They often question their continuing practice of praise and worship or even believing in a god that doesn’t seem to “show Himself” or have influence in their life. They believe that their lives are what they make of it, their rules are determined by a moral relativism that is different for everyone and no one should be intolerant to another or another’s viewpoint. This relativistic theory and belief of those living this way, doesn’t allow for truth of the moral laws instituted by God.

Tolerance was a Christian invention. I bet that would surprise many people, but I digress. Christians taught that we needed to be tolerant of those who differ both legally and socially. Governments cannot legally force certain religious beliefs on their citizens and we as Catholic Christians must continue to defend the rights of people to practice their religious beliefs no matter if their beliefs are the truth or not. However, it is our duty to proclaim Christ’s truth, in love, to them. Social tolerance is an ancient practice that Jesus instituted by calling on us to love our neighbors as ourselves, and that includes our enemies and those who are of a different religion, ethnicity, race and moral beliefs. We are always called to pray for those who haven’t come to the fullness of truth into the Catholic Church and while we can be tolerant of others viewpoints and beliefs, we don’t have to agree with them. Also, we often hear the saying, “I don’t judge.” Judging the actions of others that go against the moral law is righteous; however, judging the state of one’s soul ( “he’s going to hell”) is unrighteous, as we never truly know the state of a person’s soul in the last minutes of their life.

God’s law is like an instruction manual for human beings. Knowing that our human nature would run amok without rules for living, we are given the moral laws and if we break God’s laws, we will experience brokenness and consequences for our actions. Just like a loving parent institutes rules for their children, God laws are meant to help his people avoid mistakes that lead to brokenness and sin, not just to restrict them and cause punishment. Unfortunately, many people see these laws as not pertaining to today’s culture and are too restrictive to apply to daily lives; so, those same people, when experiencing hardship or trauma, cry out and curse God because He doesn’t seem to be there for them, in their times of need. How can we push God and his moral laws out of our lives one minute and blame Him for not being there in the next?

When Adam and Eve said no to God’s laws, sin was introduced into the world; however, God didn’t give up on us. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him. John 3:17 God is love and he loves us unconditionally. We can only love if we are free and God gave us the ability to say yes or no to Him and His laws. The freedom of our wills to love is the essence of our purpose in life and eternity. God wants to have a relationship of love with us so we may have eternal life with Him, through our belief in His only Son, Jesus Christ.

Faith is a personal gift from God. Believing what He has revealed in our hearts through the Holy Spirit and to love, trust and have confidence in Him during all the times in our life, whether we can “feel” His presence or not. “Faith seeks understanding: It is intrinsic to faith that a believer desires to know better the One in whom he has put his faith and to understand better what He has ‘revealed’, a more penetrating knowledge will in turn call forth a greater faith, increasingly set afire by love” CCC no.158

So, let us yearn for God’s love and unending mercy for us sinners. We can never be perfect; however, we can continue to grow in holiness by following the moral laws, learning more about our faith, and continuing to build a relationship with Our Lord through the Church that Jesus Christ founded.

 

 

 

 

 

Suffering Innocence

Right now, there is a toddler named Alfie who is suffering terribly. As many of you may know, his parents are being denied the right to remove him from the hospital – which discontinued his life support, after it was determined by his physicians that he was a “lost cause” and there wasn’t anything more they could do for him. He was expected to live less than 3 minutes once the support was removed; however, it’s been over 2 days since he was left to die and he is still fighting for his life.

When someone has to suffer, whether it be young or old, people always question why. Even Job, from Biblical times, cried out to the Lord as to why those who did no good never seemed to have to suffer.  Many will become angry at God or even question if there is a god. Even those who believe, have their faith truly tested during those times of trials and suffering of loved ones. Non-Christians struggle with the thoughts as to why a god would allow suffering of people, especially the young and innocent.

We know that God created us out of love and made the perfect home for us. There was no suffering, pain, or torment only the highest value in the universe: Love. God gave us the ability to love – willingly so we can decide whether or not to love, because love is a choice. We have been given free will but chose to reject God and turn from Him toward our own selfish ways. Obviously, this is where evil comes in.

It is often said that where good and evil are present, there will be suffering. Though suffering isn’t good, God can use it to accomplish good. God is present during all suffering and He is full of compassion to comfort those in the midst of their tears. Romans 8:28 says, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Notice God says in all things he work for the good of THOSE WHO LOVE HIM, not everyone loves God, and he respects their wishes and doesn’t interfere; however, he doesn’t cause evil.

The parallels between the innocent child Alfie sentenced to death by his doctors because he is a “lost cause” and the sentence of death for our innocent Lord Jesus Christ for the “lost cause” of mankind isn’t lost on me. Their sufferings have brought many people together, united in protest, outrage and sorrow; however, we are seeing the virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity already emerging from Alfie’s situation. We know the death and resurrection of our Lord allowed the fullness of those virtues and graces to be infused into our lives through the Holy Spirit.

We can only pray that through this modern suffering of innocence, we will see the outcome of good if many more come to Our Lord and renew or start their relationship with God who is love incarnate. Let’s not give up the Hope.

 

Mary and The Rosary – what’s that all about?

Growing up Catholic, I remember receiving a Rosary for my First Communion. It was pretty, white, and came in a neat little case which I kept safely closed for decades. I never knew there was a specific way to pray the Rosary other than the little beads were the Hail Marys and the bigger ones were the Our Fathers. I think I had it in the back of my mind, that those beads were for little old ladies who came to Mass way early and were mouthing a zillion Hail Marys before Mass started, because they were close to dying and wanted to get some extra prayer credit of some sort. Other than that, I actually forgot about it, I’m ashamed to say.

Interestingly, after my miraculous blessing and feeling like I needed to make some sort of commitment to God as a form of gratitude, something nudged me to look for my Rosary. You have to know that I have purged and moved 12 times in my lifetime and some of them were major moves across the country so, I had little hope in finding it. Unbelievably, I actually found it and, like I had mentioned, it was safely closed inside its little case. I pulled it out and looked at it; it looked brand new. Ironically, my Mother-in-law makes Rosaries and I remembered she had given one to my husband and I when we had gotten married a few years prior and it came with directions! I found them and looked at how I was to pray the Rosary and I was bound and determined to memorize the order of the prayers and all the Mysteries. I think it took me every lunch hour for one summer to be able to recite everything without looking at my “cheat sheet.” That was all well and good; however, I wasn’t really focusing on the true meaning of each mystery and how they would bring you closer to Jesus by meditating on His life through those mysteries.

I think many Protestants (and many Catholics) don’t understand the honor we bestow on Our Blessed Mother for saying yes to becoming the “Theotokos,” which is Greek for “God Bearer” or “Mother of God.” I know, many people ask the question, how can a human be the mother of God? Here is where some really cool Biblical Typology comes in. I couldn’t wait to say that word, Typology. It means when a person or event in the Old Testament foreshadows (to suggest in advance) a person or event in the New Testament. I will be using a lot of Typology in my Blog because it is just mind-blowing when you understand just how much of it happens in the Bible.

In Trent Horn’s book, “Why We’re Catholic,” he mentions, “Mary is praised above all of God’s creatures because she has the most intimate relationship with God.” If you think about it, would the God of the Universe want someone to bear His son within her womb who wasn’t perfect in every way and without sin? Since the Lord pre-existed his own mother, and He isn’t confined to time and space like we are, He could make His perfect mother free of original sin, through His death on the cross. He poured out His abundant graces upon His mother at her conception; thus, she is called The Immaculate Conception.  The Ark of the Covenant carried God’s words written on stone tablets. Mary, The NEW Ark of the Covenant carried within her body, the word of God made flesh – Jesus Christ.

Mary is also called, “The New Eve” just as Jesus is called “The New Adam.” Eve was the mother of all of the living and Mary is the mother of all who obey the commandments and bear testimony to her Son (Rev 12:17) Another Biblical Typology reference is the fact that Eve said yes to the Serpent/Lucifer allowing sin to enter the world while Mary said yes to Gabriel, allowing salvation to enter the world through her cooperation. After coming to realize the true gift Mary gave us by saying yes, we have no other option but to honor her.

I feel that praying the Rosary honors Jesus through His Mother. Just as in the days of Solomon, when the Queen was the King’s mother (not his wife as many think), which he honored by sitting on his right side and others asked for her to intercede to the King on their behalf. We are able to ask Our Blessed Mother to intercede for us, to comfort us, and to pray for us to Her Blessed Son. What an easy thing to do in the midst of today’s world; I wish I would have started sooner.

Just Me, Myself and Why

It’s called Lukewarm. I was lukewarm. Lukewarm. That word doesn’t sound too bad; until you really think about it. It’s not quite hot, but warmer than cold. It’s not really something I’d want to submerge myself in because I’d just end up feeling kind of chilled. It’s not where I’d want to be in my faith or love of God, but there I was, LUKEWARM. I was just there; a typical American Catholic, at least I’d consider myself typical. Of course I went to Mass pretty regularly and I made it to confession my obligatory once a year.  I went to Catholic school and made all my Sacraments; however, I had no real relationship with Our Lord and no real understanding of His Church. I was just going with the flow; in other words, lukewarm.

The Bible says, “I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” (Rv 3:15-16)  As a Dental Hygienist for over 27 years, hearing that I’d be spit out of Jesus’ mouth is a visual that really had a resounding effect on me. I didn’t want to be something distasteful, or unpleasant so as to be spit out; however, I didn’t know where to begin to turn things around. I like to be orderly, organized and have a plan of action; however, I had no idea where to begin. So, I said a little prayer that had something to do with guiding me in the right direction, and then waited. Apparently, I thought I’d be given an epiphany or have some sort of revelation that would set me straight on the path of wherever I was supposed to go, yeah, not so much.

I remember during this time of wanting to do something to improve my “temperature;” that I was confronted by someone who left the Catholic Church and they gave a reference to the reformation and all the atrocities and corruption that occurred during that era. I was left feeling upset that I couldn’t refute what they were saying with any reasoning because I really didn’t know what went on during the history of the Catholic Church. So, I added the reformation to my list of things to investigate regarding the Church.

The turning point of my life and relationship with Our Lord, came during a joyous time in my life. I had re-married, this time in the Catholic Church, became a first time Grandmother, built a new home with my husband and life was the best it had ever been. Then I was slammed with news that took me down hard and fast. I won’t go into details; however, it was something that no one ever wants to hear and I was angry, resentful and filled with hate. Everything good I had in my life no longer mattered and I had to work hard to function day-to-day. My husband worried about me daily and nothing pulled me out of the pit I was in. I felt an ache in my soul that just wouldn’t go away and I was drowning. I don’t even remember if I prayed; but if I did, it was probably something like, “Help Me!”

I remember going to Mass; however, something usually set me off to crying and I’d not remember anything about what was read or any of the Homilies given by the new priest until one special Sunday. Our new priest wanted to do a special Mother’s Day blessing for all the mothers in attendance and this wasn’t unusual; however, unlike the typical blessing at the end of Mass, he wanted to do it at the beginning and he didn’t want the women to stand like we’d normally do, but he wanted the men to stand and extend their hands over the seated women while he read the blessing. This was the longest blessing I’ve ever heard. I remember feeling overwhelmed and then something like an electrical current moving from my toes to the top of my head. The current wasn’t painful but it was causing my body to shake pretty substantially. I was crying like usual and trying to wipe my nose with my tissue; however, I was shaking so badly it was difficult. I remember after the current left my head, I had a peace come over me like I’ve never felt before and I instantly stopped crying. My husband hadn’t turned around to look at me yet,  but later he said, “I thought you’d have been a bawling mess after that blessing.” I just knew that the Holy Spirit infused me with the peace and love of Our Lord at that moment and I would never be the same. My soul no longer ached, my hatred was dissolved, my heart was opened and I longed to begin my journey of loving the Lord and learning about the Church that He established by saying,  “That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell should not prevail against it.” ( Mat 16:18) In other words, I just had an infusion of some hot water and I was beginning to warm up to my Catholic faith.