Is Christ Real to You?

Today is Epiphany. 

This feast celebrates the time when the wise men found the Christ child and offered him gifts in homage to his divinity. That is why we call it The Epiphany. Epiphany means the revelation of a divine being. In this case, it is the revelation of the divine being: God made human in the form of a baby.

The wise men, with their gifts and their homage, acknowledged this. Their action has become a symbol for more than just their own acknowledgment of Him. It also indicates what was to follow when all people, from all places, in all times, would do the same. In this sense, the wise men are you and me, the gentiles who no longer must stand outside the circle of the chosen people in their communion with God, but who, through the life and death of this baby, may enter in.

We also are chosen, along with the whole human race.

The Epiphany is the feast that memorializes the first understanding and acknowledgement of the divine being by people who were not Jews. It may also be the first time anyone besides probably Mary and Joseph, Simeon and Anna, looked at Him and knew Who He was.

The question for us in this fracturing world of ours is do we know Who He is? Do we acknowledge Him? Are we aware that He is the divine being Who is our salvation and our only hope?

Homage for us is not gifts of precious items. Our gift is, as the Psalmist says, “a broken and contrite heart.” Our homage is fidelity and devotion to Him in the face of a world that is increasingly hostile to those who refuse to deny him by the things they do and say.

Is Christ real to you on this Epiphany Sunday? Will you stand for Him in the months ahead?

It is The Epiphany, the twelfth and last day of Christmas in this liturgical year. Will you live for Him the rest of this Year of Faith?

Join the Discussions of the Year of Faith

Click here throughout the Year of Faith, as the Catholic Channel at Patheos.com invites Catholics of every age and stripe to share what they are gleaning and carrying away from this gift of timely focus.

Why I Support Hobby Lobby

A Hobby Lobby store. Photo courtesy of the Becket Fund.

“Our goal is to be a light to the world. Not to just talk the talk, but to walk the walk.”

How do you live a balanced life, honor God and keep your family while running a successful business? This inspiring discussion by the family that founded and owns Hobby Lobby answers that question. Their business practices and their courage in the face of the HHS Mandate are inspiring.

Watch it and then go buy something at Hobby Lobby. We can’t allow the government to destroy this fine business because of the Christian convictions of its owners.

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Christian Persecution: The Not-So-Merry Christmas of Persecuted Christians

The angel of the Lord woke Joseph with a dream, instructing him to take Mary and the baby Jesus into hiding. This warning saved the infant Messiah from the slaughter of little boys that we remember as the Slaughter of the Innocents.

Many present-day Christians must re-live this terror with more than memorials. Violent Christian persecution ramped up in several places this Christmas. Then and now, the devil tries to stamp out our witness to Christ with murder. And now as then, wise men still seek Him.

Here is a brief summary of some of the acts of violent persecution Christians have suffered so far this Christmas season.

 

DOZENS OF CHRISTIANS SHOT AND SLAUGHTERED IN CHRISTMAS ATTACKS IN NIGERIA

NIGERIA
Dozens of Christians were killed during church services over the Christmas period in Northern Nigeria; others were murdered in their homes in raids by suspected Boko Haram militants.

Most of the attacks took place in Borno state; Islamist group Boko Haram had earlier declared that any Christians remaining in the territory by Christmas would be killed. Although it has not been confirmed who was behind the violence, it seems likely that the militants were carrying out this threat.

On Christmas Eve, six people were killed by gunmen at a church service in Maiduguri, the capital city of Borno state.

Another six were killed and two injured in a shooting at a church service in the early hours of Christmas Day in Siri village, near Potiskum, Yobe State. Gunmen entered the midnight service and attacked the congregation; the Rev. Yohanna Simi was among those killed.

Many residents fled Siri village to the bush during the attack. Around 20 homes and the church where the shooting had taken place were torched.

Then on Sunday (30 December), gunmen killed at least 15 worshippers at a church in Chibok, Borno state. Mohammed Kana, a regional official for the National Emergency Management Agency, said that some of the victims had had their throats slit.

It is the third consecutive year of fatal attacks on services during the Christmas season in Nigeria. (Read more here.)

TANZANIA: CHURCH LEADER INJURED IN CHRISTMAS DAY SHOOTING BY SUSPECTED ISLAMISTS

A church leader was critically wounded in a Christmas Day shooting by suspected Islamist separatists in Zanzibar.
The Rev. Ambrose Mkenda was shot in the face and shoulder by two attackers on a motorcycle. The shooting took place as the church leader returned to his home in Tomondo just before 8pm. He was rushed to hospital and later transferred to intensive care as his condition deteriorated.(Read more here.)

IRAN: 50 CHRISTIANS ARRESTED AT HOUSE CHURCH GATHERING

Around 50 Christians, mostly converts from Islam, were arrested at a house church Christmas gathering in Tehran.
The raid by 15 police and security agents happened on 27 December. The Christians had to hand over their mobile phones and personal information, including passwords to their email and social media accounts, and explain how they had come to accept Christianity. (Read more here.)

INDONESIA: ROTTEN EGGS, DUNG AND URINE THROWN AT CONGREGATION DURING CHRISTMAS EVE EVENT

Members of Filadelfia Batak Christian Protestant Church (HKBP) came under attack by Muslims as they gathered in the open for a Christmas Eve service.
The assailants threw rotten eggs, dung and plastic bags full of urine at the congregation of around 200 people. HKBP had been subjected to a similar assault in May.
On Christmas Eve, the congregation gathered for a service in front of its property in Bekasi, West Java, which has been sealed off by the authorities. It was forced to flee and hold the service in the compound of a police station.
HKBP has been denied a building permit despite a Supreme Court ruling that one be granted and the site reopened. (Read more here.)

Spend a little time and a little cash at Hobby Lobby this Saturday

Spend a little time and a little cash at Hobby Lobby this Saturday.

If you don’t live near a Hobby Lobby, you can still shop at their on-line site. Also, the family that owns Hobby Lobby also owns Mardels. Mardels is a Christian office supply/book-music-Bible/homeschooling supply store.

I shopped at Mardels for curricula and supplies back when I was homeschooling. I’ve also bought several Bibles, as well as Christian gifts, cards and Christmas ornaments there. It’s a great store. You can find it online, if there’s not a Mardel’s near you.

We need to stand with other Christians when they make a courageous stand for Christ. I’m going to buy something at either Mardel’s or Hobby Lobby this week, and every paycheck I get from now on until the government attack on them is over. They are my brothers and sisters in Christ and they are being attacked by our government for their faithfulness to Him.

Here is an interesting article from Christian News concerning the wellspring of support that is building for the Green family and their fine Christian businesses.

Christians ‘Stand With Hobby Lobby’ As Company

Faces Fine of 1.3 Million Daily for Defying Obamacare

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma –  Christians across the country state that they will be standing with Hobby Lobby this weekend as the popular craft chain continues to defy the abortion pill mandate in Obamacare.

Joe Grabowski of StandWithHobbyLobby.comhas named Saturday, January 5th as the official appreciation day for the company, when supporters will shop at their local Hobby Lobby outlet to show their support.

“On Saturday, January 5th, all Americans who value freedom of religion and oppose the HHS mandate’s unfair impositions upon religious individuals and corporate entities are called upon to show their support for Hobby Lobby by shopping either at their local retail Hobby Lobby store or online,” he writes. “[T]he justices of the Supreme Court will be watching on January 5th, be assured, and they’ll know the minds and hearts of the American people as to this matter — but only if we get the word out and stand up in large enough numbers to make an impact!”

As of press time, over 4,000 people stated that they would be participating in the event.

“I will be there spending my $$ to back this company,” writes supporter Eric Coval. “They are one of the few who are taking a stand against a federal government that seems hell bent to trample on our liberties, and when we cry foul they tell us to be good little subjects and that we are too extreme. Hobby Lobby, fight the righteous fight!”

“We love Hobby Lobby!” commented Beth Collins. “I won’t be able to make it in person, but I will shop online that day to show my support!”

Others stated that they have never shopped at their local Hobby Lobby outlet before, but will do so this Saturday in order to make their voice heard and support the cause. (Read more here.)

 

 

Hobby Lobby Braces for Millions in Fines

Hobby Lobby braces for millions in mandate fines
By Michelle Bauman Washington D.C., Jan 2, 2013(CNA/EWTN News).-
Arts and crafts retailer Hobby Lobby says it is willing to pay fines of $1.3 million per day to follow its owners’ religious beliefs, which conflict with the federal mandate that requires coverage of abortion-inducing drugs.

“The company will continue to provide health insurance to all qualified employees,” said Kyle Duncan, general counsel for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing Hobby Lobby in the case.

“To remain true to their faith, it is not their intention, as a company, to pay for abortion-inducing drugs,” he explained.

Hobby Lobby’s founder and CEO, David Green, has said that his family – which has owned the company since its 1972 founding – will continue seeking to serve God through their business decisions.

In addition to making significant charitable donations, the company closes all of its stores on Sundays so that its employees can have time to worship and rest with their families.

However, the Greens’ ability to run their company in accordance with their religious beliefs is being threatened by the contraception mandate, which was finalized by the Department of Health and Human Services in Jan. 2012. (Read more here.)

Bishops Issue a call to prayer for life, marriage and religious liberty

Our bishops are calling us to incorporate their call for penance, prayer and sacrifice for life, marriage and religious liberty into our activities for the Year of Faith.

I have already been praying about these things. I’ve prayed every day for a long time about abortion. I plan to add one of the bishop’s ideas. My focus for this will be religious liberty.

I don’t think most Catholics realize the gravity of the threat to our liberties that the HHS Mandate represents. This threat is not just to Catholics, or even to religious people. If the government can attack the First Amendment so easily, then none of the freedoms Americans hold dear are safe.

I am going to publish the bishops’ full message concerning this call for penance, prayer and sacrifice to make it easy for you to read it. You can find a wealth of additional ideas, prayers and more detailed information at the USCCB website. I haven’t decided yet which of their suggestions I’m going to take. Which one of them will you do?

Here’s the statement from the USCCB website:

Call To Prayer For Life, Marriage, And

Religious Liberty

 The pastoral strategy is essentially a call and encouragement to prayer and sacrifice - it’s meant to be simple. … Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty are not only foundational to Catholic social teaching but also fundamental to the good of society. - Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone, from the news releaseabout the Call to Prayer

Join the Movement

  • What: The U.S. bishops have approved a pastoral strategy to advance a Movement for Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty. It is essentially a call to prayer, penance, and sacrifice for the sake of renewing a culture of life, marriage, and religious liberty in our country. Click here for a one-page handout about the Call to Prayer that is suitable for use as a bulletin insert or flyer.

Unprecedented challenges call for increased awareness and formation, as well as spiritual stamina and fortitude among the faithful.

  • Why: The well-being of society requires that life, marriage, and religious liberty are promoted and protected. Serious threats to each of these goods, however, have raised unprecedented challenges to the Church and to the nation. Two immediate flashpoints are the following:First is the HHS Mandate, which requires almost all employers, including Catholic employers, to pay for employees’ contraception, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs regardless of conscientious objections. This is a clear affront to America’s first freedom, religious liberty, as well as to the inherent dignity of every human person.Second, current trends in both government and culture are moving towardredefining marriage as the union of any two persons, ignoring marriage’s fundamental meaning and purpose as the universal institution that unites a man and a woman with each other and with the children born from their union. These challenges call for increased awareness and formation, as well asspiritual stamina and fortitude among the faithful, so that we may all be effective and joyful witnesses of faith, hope and charity.
  • When: In this Year of Faith, starting on the feast of the Holy Family (Dec. 30, 2012) until the feast of Christ the King (Nov. 24, 2013)
  • Who: All of the Catholic faithful are encouraged to participate
  • Where: Throughout the entire country; at your local parish, cathedral, school or home

How To Participate: 5 Ways

1. Host or attend a Eucharistic Holy Hour on the last Sunday of each month

5 Ways to Participate:
1) Monthly Holy Hour
2) Daily Rosary
3) Prayers of the Faithful
4) Fasting & Abstinence
5) Fortnight for Freedom 2013

2. Pray a daily Rosary

3. Prayers of the Faithful at daily and Sunday Masses

4. Abstain from meat on Fridays and fast on Fridays

  • For the intention of the protection of life, marriage and religious liberty
  • The practice of fasting: The general practice of fasting allows a person to eat one full meal. Two smaller meals may be taken, not to equal one full meal.
  • “The seasons and days of penance in the course of the liturgical year (Lent, and each Friday in memory of the death of the Lord) are intense moments of the Church’s penitential practice.” - Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1438
  • For more information on fasting and abstinence, see the USCCB Fast & Abstinence page

5. Participate in the 2nd Fortnight for Freedom (June/July 2013)

  • Goal: A visible, vibrant reminder of the God-given nature of religious liberty, the right to bring our faith into the public square, and the rights of individuals and institutions to conduct their professional lives according to their religious convictions
  • Key issue: Potential Supreme Court rulings on marriage in June 2013
  • Key issue: The need for conscience protection in light of the August 1, 2013 deadline for religious organizations to comply with the HHS mandate
  • Key issue: Religious liberty concerns in other areas, such as immigration, adoption, and humanitarian services

 

Join the Discussions of the Year of Faith

Click here throughout the Year of Faith, as the Catholic Channel at Patheos.com invites Catholics of every age and stripe to share what they are gleaning and carrying away from this gift of timely focus.

Missing Your Blessing

I’ve refrained from answering comments about my post on liturgical abuse because I wanted to see what people would say.

It’s been a sad sort of education. Evidently, all that’s necessary for a person to be labelled self-righteous, heretical and told to leave the Church is to say that the Real Presence and healing graces of the mass are more important than liturgical irregularities.

Before I go further with this post, I want to make something clear. Those who say that I am not worthy to be a Catholic are correct. I am not worthy. And I know it. But I don’t think I’m unworthy because I refuse to boil my pastor in oil for allowing applause during the after-mass announcements for the people who put up Christmas decorations.

I am unfit for far more substantial reasons than that. In truth, I never walk into a Catholic Church that I don’t feel just how unworthy I am. Even after all these years, I am grateful — and astonished — that anybody ever let me in. So, if this debate is going to devolve down to me and my sinful, unworthy-to-be-Catholic state, I will short-circuit it by telling you right up front that you are right. I have no business standing in the presence of God. None.

I can only do it because of the Catholic Church and its forgiveness. I am here by the grace of God working through the totally unwarranted kindness that a priest extended to me once upon a time. He just opened the doors and let me in, something I’m sure the liturgy cops would want him punished or censured for doing.

I understand that the Church (not you; not me; but the Church) is responsible for keeping the liturgy whole and handing it forward intact to future generations. I know that conformity to the rubrics is part of this. I’m not arguing with that. I just don’t think it’s the laity’s job to police the liturgy.

I also think that some of the articles I’ve read about this are mean-spirited and hateful (as were a couple of the comments on this blog) and that our priests do not deserve this kind of treatment. I don’t look for mistakes in how my priest says the mass, just as I don’t ask to stay awake during surgery so I can birddog my surgeon.

The mass as it is actually said in parishes all over the world is bound to be imperfect because human beings are imperfect. That is how things are, and how they will continue to be until we share in the banquet of the Great High Priest in Heaven. There is no amount of criticism or angry denouncing that can change this.

People who stand before the miracle of the love of Christ and only see the faults and failings of the priest who has given his life to bring Christ to them in the sacraments confound me. They are blinding themselves to the miracle.

The mass is a living re-enactment of Calvary. It is heaven come down to earth, so that we can be in communion with heaven while we are still here on earth and experience the healing power of the living Christ in the Eucharist. In my opinion, standing before the throne of God and engaging in a petty snipe-fest about this or that “abuse” is itself an abuse.

We cannot experience the miracle of Christ in front of us and indulge our angry obsessions over the faults we see in the liturgy both at the same time. Our brains just aren’t made that way. We will do one. Or we will do the other. Worship Christ, or critique the priest: That is the choice. Those who critique the priest are missing their blessing.

I don’t honestly know if this over-concern with the real and imagined faults of our priests is a genuine concern for the liturgy and a miss-placed attempt at devotion or if it’s an expression of anger over other things. What I do know is that we can trust the Church to do this job of defending the liturgy. The Holy Spirit is going to protect the Church from failing in this regard.

I also know that this is not my job, and it’s not yours. Our job as laity is to worship Christ at the mass; to let the love that is there heal us, and then to go out from there to change the world. We are God’s great change agents for a suffering world. When we indulge these obsessions with what we think the priest is doing wrong, we block ourselves from receiving the graces that are there for us in the mass and unfit ourselves for the battle we were made to fight.

If you walk out of mass seething and angry rather than loved and healed, then you’ve done something wrong while you were there.

I’ve often said that if people were the ones who decided who would go to heaven, then none of us would go. We would all judge one another and send each other to hell. I’m going to amend that to say that if the liturgy cops were the ones who determined who goes to heaven, the rest of us wouldn’t want to go there. These people remind me of the Puritans who first settled this country and who, I’ve read, used to walk up and down during church services with sticks so they could jab anyone who dozed off.

I am not fit to stand before God under any circumstance. And yet I do stand before Him and receive Him in the Eucharist as a free and totally undeserved gift of grace. The Catholic Church makes that possible; the real Catholic Church that is full of imperfect priests who sometimes commit errors while ministering to the confused and imperfect people who sit in the pews.

We are all of us standing before the cross in the solidarity of our sins and lostness. If that isn’t true, then why do we even need the Eucharist? Perfect people have no need of the sacraments or a Church to preserve those sacraments. Perfect people don’t need any Savior but themselves.

If you spend your time in mass looking for faults and picking things apart, then you’re impoverishing yourself with a second rate experience. You’re like a child who refuses to open his present because the bow is crooked.

Do you have any idea what is happening in the world? Do you understand that Christianity is under attack, that the world is a butcher shop, and that these priests bring us the only hope there is? Priests are human beings. I’ve sometimes gotten exasperated with one or another of them, as, I assure you, they have with me. I’ve had disagreements, and rather heated ones, with priests I know. But not over their advice to me about spiritual things.

I have never felt anything but awe when one of these very human men looks down at that wafer and says “This is My body,” and by saying that, makes it so. They bring us Christ in the Eucharist, and, my experience has been, when you’re in trouble and you call them, they come.

When I talk about the people who were at the Christmas Eve mass, I am talking about living miracles of grace. The pillars of the community, illegal immigrants, the gay man, the transsexual, the gabbling ladies, the cop who was supposed to never walk again, and, yes, incredible as it is to say, me. We are all miracles.

The only reason I can say that I am Catholic is because of the love of Christ and the kindness of a priest who helped me when I needed it badly.

This dear priest is also one of the most quick-tempered, sometimes difficult people that I know a big part of the time. But he is God’s man and he, like most of his other brother priests, does his best. I’ve seen God reach right through these men and into suffering people, have experienced it myself, again and again.

They are my brothers in Christ. We, all of us, owe them a debt of gratitude.

 

 

Support Hobby Lobby Day

Support Hobby Lobby: Send a Thank You Note to the Green Family

Support Hobby Lobby in The Fight for Religious Liberty.

The Green family isn’t only fighting for its right to religious liberty, but ours, too. Send a thank you note to the Greens letting them know you’re standing by their side.

Government forced Hobby Lobby to choose:
Violate your conscience and stay in business or remain faithful to your conscience and be penalized up to 1.3 million dollars per day. Hobby Lobby chose to sue the government for their right – and ours – to operate their business in full accord with their faith. Read more about the case here.

 

The Hobby Lobby success story is a true example of the American dream.  Now the Greens want to live another American dream–to be free to do business according to their beliefs.

Support Hobby Lobby:

Send a THANK YOU NOTE TO THE GREEN FAMILY

Jesus was There

I attended mass on Christmas Eve.

There may have been liturgical abuses, were, in fact, according to several articles I’ve read this week by prominent Catholics.

These people evidently bring a spreadsheet to mass so they can tally all the disrupting liturgical abuses they find there. I don’t know how they have time to worship during all the liturgical-abuse minding they must do. I would imagine that a priest, on seeing one of these folks enter his church, must feel the same anxiety that a young bride feels when her mother-in-law comes to call.

It would be difficult to get on the right side of parishioners like these. One of the sadnesses of these articles is that they find such a ready audience among people who evidently go to mass to carp rather than to pray.

Let my tell you what I found at my church on Christmas Eve.

I saw a church that was packed to overflowing with people of every description. There was the rail-thin gay man who almost certainly is suffering with HIV, the odd-looking transexual whose bulging forearms belie the surgeon’s work, the families with screaming babies, the elderly ladies who sat behind me and gabbled their way through the mass, the deaf man who sat next to me and watched intently but never spoke, the young man with gang insignia on his arms, the young police officer who was injured in the line of duty and was never supposed to walk again but who walked, albeit slowly, into church that night. There were pillars of the community and illegal immigrants, packed into the pews together. Last, but not least, there was me and mine.

We (shudder) held hands during the our father, (gasp) applauded the folks who’d spent hours decorating the church and (can you believe this) got up after mass and talked to one another on our way out of the sanctuary.

It was enough to make a liturgical abuse cop foam at the mouth and fall over in a dead faint.

But do you know who else was there?

Jesus was there.

He was there in the eucharist. He was there in the tired, screaming babies, the gabbling ladies, the odd-looking transsexual, the deaf man who couldn’t hear the mass but felt it anyway, the sad, tired HIV sufferer, the miraculously walking police officer and all the chitter-chattering celebrants as they exited to the Narthex. He was there in the priest whose lunch I once interrupted with a call when my mother was ill, and who came immediately to the hospital.

He was there when we held hands during the Our Father, during the applause and the Christmas carols. He was there in the faith and trust of people who don’t give a care about liturgical abuses but who left their homes on a blustery Christmas Eve to go be together before the Lord because they know He is real, He is present and when they enter that sanctuary, He is there.

These are people who have followed Jesus across the rocky landscapes of their rocky lives. They’ve walked with Him through death, life and everything in between. Some of them had walked right over drug addiction, sexual disorders, terrible injuries, loneliness and fear to be there with Him. We are all riddled with sins, failings, weaknesses and shame. That is our condition. And that is why when we walk into a Catholic Church, we are not searching for liturgical abuses and laundry lists of petty crimes and misdemeanors to assure ourselves of our righteousness. We know that our righteousness resides behind that altar, in the tabernacle, because He is there.

I went to mass Christmas Eve. I didn’t go in search of liturgical perfection. I also didn’t go in search of abuses that I could call out and feel self-righteous about. I went because Jesus is there, and He alone has the words that lead to eternal life. I went to be with my Lord.

And I found Him. Because He was there.


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