Sunday, November 30, 2008

Advent Reflections

I have enjoyed Advent for many years now. Even before I was Catholic, I realized that Advent presented the primary opportunity to prepare for Christmas and counter all the merchandising hoopla so prevalent during this time of the year.

Advent prepares us for the coming of the Lord. We prepare to remember His first coming at Christmas. We also prepare for His second coming in power and glory. We do not know when He will return. But Advent reminds us that we must always be ready. We must always be prepared.

I love Advent for this reason. It calls me from the hustle and bustle of modern life to remember that I am living for something much more. My home is in heaven. The love of my life is my Lord. Yet I can get so caught up in the distractions of this life. Advent calls me back. It helps me re-adjust my perspective.

There are two words that have my attention this Advent: focus, and holiness. The two naturally go together, for we are called to focus on living holy lives.

I am easily distracted. Any number of skirmishes are vying for my attention. There's anxiety over the economy and the future. There are any number of concerns about the children. There is an endless array of issues at work. I can get caught up in any number of them, or all of them together. Or, I can lay them all aside, seeing them for what they are: distractions. Then I must regain my focus. These other things are important, but not nearly as much as the focus I must have on our Lord Jesus Christ.

Then there's holiness. What do I mean by that? I mean an ongoing conversion to become more like my Lord, Jesus Christ. How do I attain it? Through prayer and the Sacraments. Both of these need to be much more than mere ceremonies. When I begin to just go through the motions, I lose the focus necessary to derive the grace provided through these means. I need to wait in God's presence and breathe in the air of heaven. I need to let Him fill me. Prayer needs to become something I do as natural as breathing.

The Sacraments offer unique encounters with Christ. He is fully present in the Eucharist. As I receive Him, I am truly transformed. In Reconciliation I am reminded again that He has not come to condemn me. He has come to forgive. He has come to show mercy, and love. I must then do likewise.

These are some of my thoughts as I embark on yet another journey into Advent. And this brings me to one last word: longing. I find that the more I draw near to Him, the more I am longing for the day of His return to deliver me from this earthly pilgrimage; this temporary exile from my true homeland.

May the Lord grant us all time to rest, reflect, and recall the reason for our being. In these times let us find Him close at hand. May all of you have a wonderfully holy Advent season!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Communion of the Saints For Protestants

I am reading a book right now called "True Devotion to Mary" by St. Louis De Montfort. This is a far cry from anything I would have read in my Protestant days. If Catholics are known for devotion to Mary, this book takes it to all new levels. In fact, among Catholics, this is known as the text for true Marian devotion. But I must confess that my Protestant upbringing still keeps me questioning it all.

When I was a Protestant, I had my favorite preachers. Leonard Ravenhill had more effect on me than anyone else through his books. Reading them at about 16 years of age revolutionized my life. He introduced me to many other great preachers through the ages. Among my favorites were Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and John Wesley, to name a few. I would read about their lives, do all I could to imitate their devotional practices, and strive to be a man of God like they were. If I could have asked them for help, advice, or their prayers, I would have. If I had the opportunity to sit at their feet and drink deeply from their teaching, I would have. And what do I recognize that as today? The Communion of the Saints.

The only essential difference between what I experienced with those men as a Protestant and what I now believe as a Catholic is that I now believe that death does not separate us from our communion with one another. As today's Gospel points out: God is God of the living, not the dead (Mt. 22:32). So those who die, continue to live in the presence of God. Those who have attained heaven are even more alive than we are here on earth. They hear our prayers and intercede on our behalf so we may eventually join them.

But there's more. Communion with the Saints is more than sentimental expression, or even an imitation of their virtues. It is what the name implies: communion- fellowship. We have the opportunity to get to know these Saints, just like knowing fellow believers here on earth. And what I am beginning to realize is that God has so constituted the Church that there can be no true devotion to God without having a devotion to others as well. This is what is behind the injunction to not forsake the assembling of yourselves together (Heb. 10:25). It is only as we are in communion with the Church that we can truly know God.

God has provided us with many examples in our lives who are worthy of imitation. He expects us to seek out mentors in our spiritual lives so that we can truly make progress. Otherwise, we devolve into our own religion. We worship a god of our own making and observe a spirituality larrgely of our own creation. It is only as we are in communion with others that we are protected from such. We follow them as they follow Christ. Catholics would refer to this as devotion. Protestants observe the principles but refer to it by other names.

With all of this in mind, Marian devotion is making a lot more sense to me. She alone is immaculate among all of God's creation. She is the perfect disciple of our Lord. Her words ring true through the ages- "Whatever He tells you, do it," (Jn. 2:5). Her purpose is not to draw attention to herself, but to our Lord. It is to direct us to the most complete union with Him. We follow her as she follows Christ. We devote ourselves to her because it really is one and the same as devoting ourselves to Him.

Now some may object saying we can go straight to God. We do not need any intermediaries. Strictly speaking, that is true. But practically speaking, it is not. For we all follow someone other than God, even if it's just ourselves. By subscribing to a devotion to a Saint, we find ourselves being mentored and brought beyond ourselves. We find ourselves drawn to God and we discover that there are many ways in which He is wholly unlike anything we would have imagined on our own.

So I see that devotion to the Saints, and especially devotion to the Blessed Mother, pleases God, and that is as it should be. I find myself more drawn to them because I am discovering there is no difference between that and devotion to our Lord.

I once longed to meet the great preachers of Protestantism. My longing was so intense, it truly was devotion to those individuals. And they led me to God. But now I continue my journey looking to the Saints of the Church, and most prominently to the Blessed Mother. And really, I am simply continuing in a path that I have been walking for many years.

"Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us that we may become worthy of the promises of Christ!"


Saturday, November 15, 2008

Some Advice For the Republicans

In these days after the election, the Republicans are still licking their collective wounds and the Democrats are still in the euphoria of their honeymoon. The question that the Republicans are asking, and many along with them, is what went wrong? What could have been done differently.

While there can be no doubt that the economy figured big in the election, as it always does, I think there are other issues needing examination as well. Foremost among those issues would be the attempt to move the Republican Party to the left, especially on moral issues such as abortion and gay rights.

George W. Bush won both his terms largely due to the support of socially conservative voters. They voted for him because they believed he would do something to stem the tide of abortion and gay rights. Bush presented himself to his constituency as a stongly pro-life, pro-family candidate.

However, the Republicans did very little to deliver on what they promised. After the mid-term elections of 2002, the Republicans gained a majority in both houses of congress. In addition, Bush appointed two members to the Supreme Court in John Roberts and Samuel Alito, both known as conservative judges. Yet, with all this in their favor, the Republicans did nothing to advance legislation aimed at curbing abortion, or even outright overturning the reprehensible decision of Roe vs. Wade. Democrats with that kind of an opportunity would not have thought twice about it. Why did our Republican representatives drop the ball?

After the recent election it would appear that the Republicans are embarrased about holding to a position that has won them elections in the past. They would rather try to become more moderate. Post election pundits are strongly suggesting that the Republicans abandon their stands on these things and focus more on the economy. What they seem to be missing is that these stands were the reasons they won before. Without them, they will fare even more poorly than they did in this election.

If the Republicans won't support the many Americans who value life and family, then we will go elsewhere to find our representation. That leaves the Republicans without the conservatives they once looked to as their bread and butter and trying to gain people who have been traditionally Democrats. Or, they could wake up to what has brought them this far and they could return to representing the people who have typically supported them.

My feeling is that the Republicans have one more shot to get this right. After that, I'm out, and I'm sure I am not alone!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

And Now A Word About Our Next President

Ah, life is settling down now that the election is over. My phone is somewhat silent as I am not being called by machines to tell me who to vote for, or not vote for, as the case may be. And in the aftermath of it all what do we learn?

First of all, I don't think there are any real surprises. President- Elect Obama won the election because people were more enamored with his view of change than anything that John McCain put forth. The question is, what will Barack Obama's presidency look like?

I must confess that I have mixed feelings as we are about to enter another era in our nation's history. We now have the first African-American President. I have to say I am thrilled about that because it indicates that, as a nation, we have taken some serious steps beyond the racism that has plagued us most of our history. Within 40 years we have seen civil rights move from equal access to public places to the White House. I am thankful to see this progress and pray that it will continue.

However, the man, Barack Obama, leaves me feeling apprehensive, most importantly because of his stand against life and family issues. I dread the passage of the Freedom of Choice Act. It will mean the death of countless more babies. It will mean the violation of countless more young and poor girls who think this is a solution when, indeed, it is really creating more problems. It will mean the further erosion of our sense of morality, decency, or even sanity, as we enact crazier laws to further immorality and injustice.

I hope and pray that in these next several days our President-Elect will think soberly, and even prayerfully, about these issues. If he truly wants to be a man of change, then I hope he will find his way to the moral high ground and do what is right rather than what is expedient, come what may.

Let us all join together in praying for this man, for his family, for their safety, for wisdom, for courage, and for a clear moral direction.