Faith for the Journey of Life

My Thoughts on Faith, Life, and 2,000+ Years of Catholicism / Christianity

23 December 2006

One Night in Judea

In the Roman Province of Judea a long time ago...

"Grandpa, grandpa, come quickly!" an excited young boy commanded as he rushed into the hut of his grandfather early one dark spring night. "You have to see...."
The young boy's words were cut short as he caught sight of his elderly grandfather; the countenance of the old man spoke volumes that even a young boy was able to read in an instant. "Grandpa Jacob, what's wrong?!" the boy asked, perplexed at what he had stumbled into.
The old man was seated alone on the floor by the hearth of a fireplace. A scroll lay partially unrolled in his lap. The only light in the room was that shown by a small lamp and a smoldering fire.
"It is the sad state of affairs this world is in," the old man Jacob finally confessed to his grandson. "I was just reflecting upon the history of our people and what we find ourselves in, John."
A look of bewilderment appeared on the small boy's face. Before he could ask, the old man spoke again. "For thousands of years, our people have suffered greatly at the hands of ourselves and foreign peoples," he said slowly with much lament. "The Romans are just the latest ones to have been conquered us. We have seen our lands and villages pillaged. Our sons and daughters killed or marched off into captivity. Our sacred Temple sacked and desecrated."
"We have strayed from God and suffered the consequences of our disobedience," he continued. "Time and again, prophets warned us and we ignored them. Now God is using the Romans to teach us the same lesson we have not learned so many times before. For our fate, we have no one to blame but ourselves."
"Equally distressing is the delay in our Messiah's coming," the old man continued. "Isaiah and other prophets promised his coming. He would be a light in the darkness. He would shepherd his people Israel. He would redeem us and restore God's kingdom to us. He would teach us the ways we have forgotten and ignored. But alas, it has been so long. I have lived so long, but still we wait and wait and wait." Then with a great sigh, he asked, "Oh, when will our Messiah arrive to set us captives free?"
Patiently, the young boy listened to his grandfather's lament. His face shown a mixture of confusion, but the excitement which had brought him here still shone through.
"I'm sorry, John," the old man apologized when he suddenly remembered the young boy's news which he had wanted to share. "What was it that you wanted to show me?"
"There's a big, bright new star in the sky, Grandpa!" the young boy exclaimed with much enthusiasm.
"Oh?!" the old man replied as the news jolting him out of his melancholy demeanor. "Well, show me this new star," he commanded as he rose to his feet.
The young boy grabbed his grandfather's hand and led him outside into the night. Raising an arm to the east, he pointed at a bright object in the sky. "There it is, Grandpa!" he shouted. "In the sky over Bethlehem!"

Christmas Blessings and a Question that I Cannot Answer

To our Heavenly Father, the Psalmist writes "What are humans that You are mindful of them, mere mortals that You care for them? Yet You have made them a little less than a god, crowned them with glory and honor (Psalm 8:5-6)."

It is believed that David penned these words. Here David expresses both his gratitude to God for his goodness and his puzzlement at why God is so good to mankind.

Centuries later, David's question takes on a completely new and more powerful meaning as the Son of God descends to earth. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but have eternal life," Jesus says to Nicodemus (John 3:16).

As we prepare to celebrate the birth of the Son of God, again we must ask the question with David "What are humans that You are mindful of them, mere mortals that You care for them?" and add to those words, "What are humans that You sent Your only Son to redeem them with his very life?"

Jesus's words can only partially answer that, not because of any deficieny on his part, but rather because of the limits of our own intellect and understanding. God is mindful of humans because God created them and loves them. But why God loves us so much is a question beyond my own comprehension.

God's limitless love for us is simply a truth that I accept and am grateful for.

17 December 2006

Who's Who in the Rosary (Part Four - Moses & Elijah)

While the twenty Mysteries of the Holy Rosary celebrate the life of Jesus and depict events that occurred in the times of the New Testament, the Rosary has a strong foundation in the Old Testament. To the casual observer, the Old Testament foundation is not readily apparent. Jesus Christ - the Son of God made man, the Word made Flesh, Emmanuel - is the living fulfillment of God's promises made periodically throughout the Old Testament.

If we look deeper into the Mysteries of the Rosary, we can see the Old Testament antecedents from which they spring. For example, laying the groundwork for the Nativity when Christ is born into this world, Isaiah had previously prophesied that "the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel (Isaiah 7:14)."

Inspired by God's Holy Spirit, Isaiah prophesies at length about the promised Messiah. Most notably, Isaiah prophesies the Messiah's Passion in what is known as the four "Servant of the Lord" oracles. "But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins, upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed," says Isaiah (53:5). This words are fulfilled at Calvary.

The strongest and most obvious connection to the Old Testament found in the Holy Rosary occurs in the Fourth Luminous Mystery - "The Transfiguration." And it is in this Mystery that we find the only two Old Testament figures to appear in the Rosary: Moses and Elijah.

During the Fourth Luminous Mystery, Jesus takes St. Peter, St. John and St. James up a mountain to pray. In their midst, Jesus becomes Transfigured before them in a heavenly radiance far surpassing any human glory. Elijah and Moses appear to converse with Jesus. Amazed at the sight before him, St. Peter offers to build shelters for Jesus as well as Elijah and Moses. Then God speaks from heaven: "This is my chosen Son; listen to him (Luke 9:35)."

Moses and Elijah are two of the most important persons in the Old Testament and their presence at the Transfiguration is further proof that Jesus is the living fulfillment.

It was Moses that led the people of Israel out of Egypt and through the 40 years in the desert under God's direction. Through Moses, God communicated His Ten Commandments and his directives on how the Israelites should live and worship Him. Just short of reaching the Promised Land, God calls Moses home to Him.

Elijah is one of the most important prophets in the Old Testament. He is a great miracle worker. He brings the widow's son back to life. He defeats Baal's prophets on Mount Carmel. He preaches God's word with great courage. Then God summons him to heaven on a fiery chariot.

Like the Jewish people of our own day, the Jews of Jesus's day expected Elijah to return preceding the appearance of the long-awaited Messiah and to play a major role in the establishment of God's kingdom. But as Jesus points out, "I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him but did to him whatever they pleased (Matthew 17:12)." St. John the Baptist fulfills this role.

This extraordinary meeting between Jesus and Elijah and Moses dramatically proclaims that Jesus the Son of God is infinitely of greater importance than either of these great human servants of God. Elijah and Moses's service was vitally important as a preparation for the Christ's mission. Now God sends His own Son to guide all of His people. Now Jesus is going to lead all of God's people out of the wilderness of sin and into the Promised Land of God's kingdom. Now Jesus is going to suffer and die for our sins and be raised triumphantly three days later to destroy death.

10 December 2006

Who's Who in the Rosary (Part Three - The Angels)

They are the spiritual beings that serve God and humanity. The Catechism of the Catholic Church declares "with their whole beings the angels are servants and messengers of God (329)." The Catechism further states that "Angels are spiritual creatures who glorify God without ceasing and who serve his saving plans for other creatures (350)."

Accordingly, the Angels play an important role in the Rosary as well. They appear in two Joyful Mysteries, one Sorrowful Mystery and three Glorious Mysteries.

At the very beginning of the Rosary journey, the archangel St. Gabriel appears to the Blessed Virgin Mary and announces that she will bear the Son of God. "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God," St. Gabriel assures her (Luke 1:30).

The angels appear next in the Third Joyful Mystery - the Nativity. They appear to the shepherds and announce the birth of the Saviour. "Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people," says the Angel of the Lord. After telling the shepherds where to find the newborn Messiah, a great heavenly host appears in the sky above the shepherds proclaiming "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests" (Luke 2:9-14).

During Jesus's agony in the Garden of Gethsemane (the First Sorrowful Mystery), an angel appears to help strengthen Jesus for his upcoming Passion (Luke 22:43).

Angels appear in three of the Glorious Mysteries: the Resurrection, the Ascension and the Crowning of Mary.

On Easter morning, angels are there at the Empty Tomb to announce Jesus's Resurrection. In one of the most memorable statements ever recorded in the Bible, the angels tell the astonished women at the tomb, "Why do you seek the living one among the dead? He is not here, but he has been raised." (Luke 24:1-10).

We next see angels at Jesus's Ascension. As the Apostles stare up into the sky in amazement, two angels appear with them and say, "Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven." (Acts 1:11).

Lastly, as the Rosary comes to a close, the angels sing in jubilation at the Crowning of Mary as Queen of the Universe by the Thrice Holy God.

Angels appear periodically in the mysteries of the Rosary. Just as they journey with Jesus and Mary through the Rosary, they journey with us through our own lives. They announce God's Good News to us. They are their to strengthen us in difficult times and they are there to share in our good fortune. They praise God and help us to know him better. Through contemplation in their roles in the Rosary, we can better understand how God works through them in our own lives.

Angel of God, my Guardian dear
to whom God's love commits me here.
Ever this day be at my side,
To light and guard, to rule and guide.

Vivat Jesus!

07 December 2006

Remember Pearl Harbor

Sunday, December 7th, 1941 began as a peaceful, sunny morning in Oahu, Hawaii. The battleships and other warships of the U.S. Pacific Fleet lay at anchor in Pearl Harbor. At bases all across the island, soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines were all enjoying a relaxing morning in this tropical paradise. Just before 0800, Father William Maguire, Chaplain of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, was about to board a motor launch to take him to the battleship USS California for Sunday Mass.

Then suddenly without warning, dozens of Japanese warplanes screamed down out of the sky, raining death and destruction upon the American forces caught by surprise on the land and ships below.

“Standing there with my foot on the gunwale of the boat, I felt stunned and strangely sick,” Chaplain Maguire later wrote. “The only words that came were: ‘God help us --- we’re in it!’”

Despite the dangers, Chaplain Maguire made it over to USS California. He offered a General Absolution to the crew and ministered to the wounded and dying until the ‘Abandon Ship’ order was issued. After that, the Chaplain helped organize the evacuation of wounded to hospitals ashore and continued his ministry there.

Nearby, the battleship USS Oklahoma was struck by several aerial torpedoes which opened up her side and caused her to capsize. Aboard USS Oklahoma, Catholic Chaplain Father Aloysius Schmitt helped a number of sailors to escape from the ship via a porthole. Unable to escape himself, Chaplain Schmitt drowned; witnesses later reported that his final words were “Please let go of me, and may God bless you all.”

Most of the casualties suffered that horrible day occurred aboard the battleship USS Arizona when a bomb exploded one of her magazines. Protestant Chaplain Thomas Kirkpatrick was one of the sailors and Marines who were killed aboard Arizona.

The surprise attack was devastating. Twenty-one Navy ships were sunk or damaged. Four of the Pacific Fleet’s battleships were sunk; the other four were all damaged to varying degrees. “Pearl Harbor was a scene of desolation,” wrote Chaplain Maguire. “Battleship Row was a sight to break a sailor’s heart.” On the military and naval airfields around Oahu, 188 American aircraft had been destroyed and another 159 damaged. Altogether 2,403 Americans had been killed and another 1,178 Americans wounded.

This week, America remembers the 65th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Let us remember as well and thank God for those lives whom He saved that day and the freedom we enjoy today.

See also...
Donald F. Crosby, S.J. Battlefield Chaplains: Catholic Priests in World War II. (Lawrence, KS: U of Kansas P, 1994).

William A. Maguire, CAPT, CHC, USN. The Captain Wears a Cross. (NY: Macmillan, 1943).

05 December 2006

Welcome Home Holy Father!

Last week, Pope Benedict XVI completed a successful and peaceful trip to Turkey and for that, let us thank God in Heaven.

A lecture that the Pope gave back in September was seized upon by many Muslims as an excuse to launch hateful and erroneous attacks upon him. Violence erupted in various places of the world and death threats were made against him. Many in the West rose in the Pope’s defense and he even clarified his official position on Islam. Nevertheless fears for his safety while he was in Turkey were justified.

So in thanksgiving for Pope Benedict XVI’s successful and safe trip to Turkey, I offer the words of the Psalmist…

“I will exalt you, O LORD,
for you lifted me out of the depths
and did not let my enemies gloat over me.
O LORD my God, I called to you for help
and you healed me.
O LORD, you brought me up from the grave;
you spared me from going down into the pit.
Sing to the LORD, you saints of his;
praise his holy name.” (Psalm 30:1-4)

For more about the Pope’s trip, visit Catholic News Service at