Saints Who Were Martyred While Celebrating Mass

Photo Source: Wikimedia, This reproduction is permitted under the Article 45 of the Salvadorian copyright law

Photo Source: Wikimedia, This reproduction is permitted under the Article 45 of the Salvadorian copyright law

St Oscar Romero was martyred while celebrating mass.

Can you think of a better way to go?

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What is the Most Perfect Prayer?

Photo Source: Flickr Commons. Created by Tito and Eva Marie Balangue. https://www.flickr.com/photos/titobalangue/

Photo Source: Flickr Commons. Created by Tito and Eva Marie Balangue. https://www.flickr.com/photos/titobalangue/

In keeping with my longstanding tradition of kicking over hornet’s nests, I’m going to ask a question.

What is the most perfect prayer?

Over on the Facebook page of a friend of mine, a commenter who identified himself as a priest said that the Holy Mass is the “most perfect prayer.” A Deacon of the Church responded that yes, it was.

I’ve been rolling that one around in my mind ever since I read it.

Mass is, from beginning to end, one long prayer. It is also the sacrifice of Calvary, brought into our daily lives. More than that, it brings that Sacrifice and the Lord Himself into a reliable, supremely accessible form under the guise of bread and wine.

As we would say in Oklahoma, that’s pretty stout.

But is it the most perfect prayer? Is there such a thing as a perfect prayer?

I can’t answer that, even though I raised the question myself. Instead, I will tell you what I know and why I ask the question in the first place.

I know that my personal conversion experience was a sort of eucharist. Let me describe it and explain what I mean.

I was driving in my car, on my way to make a speech. I was deeply troubled and sore at heart because of a sin I had committed against another person. Almost from nowhere, I said aloud, “Forgive me.”

The moment I said that, I felt the long years of sinfulness lift off me. It as an actual physical sensation. I also felt this Other, a Being, respond with such joy and love that words fail to describe it. In the same moment, I felt this joy and love, filling me up.

What was all this? I didn’t know at the time. It was a while into the future before I figured out that the Being I met that day and Who has never left me since was the Holy Spirit.

I never, until I read that exchange on Facebook, considered the possibility that in that moment, I became a form of Eucharist. What I mean by that is that I now believe without doubt that what I experienced was what Protestants call “the baptism of the Holy Spirit,” and what I’ve seen described in other places as the “indwelling of the Holy Spirit.”

In fact, even though I didn’t know it when it happened to me, Scripture has quite a lot to say about the Holy Spirit, dwelling within us. That Scripture is not describing a theological concept. It is talking about an absolute reality of Christian life. I suppose that what I am also describing might be what Catholics call “a state of grace.”

All I know is that God reached down into that car and loved me back to life in an instant, He came to live within me and me with Him and He has walked with me since that moment. All this happened because of a two-word prayer that I didn’t know was a prayer: “Forgive me.”

I read the comment that the mass is the most perfect prayer, and I agreed with it. But I also know that God can and does create individual Eucharists in people’s hearts every day. I was not unusual or even especially blessed by what happened to me. The reason is that God answers sincere prayers. And He can make a Eucharist, a communion, of any person, at any time.

I know of a young woman who was kidnapped off the street on her way to school. She was put in a brothel and sold over and over as a victim of human trafficking. She lived in India. She had never heard the name of Jesus, knew nothing about Him.

One day, He came to her in the tiny room where she was held when she was not being sold. She saw a light, then a vision of a man. “I am Jesus,” He told her. “I will take care of you.” This young woman now attends a Christian university here in Oklahoma in preparation for returning to India to work among trafficked women.

Her prayer was no prayer at all, at least not as we normally understand it. Her prayer was the desperation and suffering of a young girl, sold into sex slavery. It was the wounded cry of one of His children, reaching up to heaven. Her prayer was not of her own initiative. Her prayer was His love, and it came from Him to her, not the other way around.

And that is the crux of it.

I did not deserve forgiveness. I did not deserve the love and joy that He gave to me.

The goodness was all His. The need and unworthiness was all mine.

The young girl, held prisoner in a brothel, did not even know His name; she did not call to Him because she did not know Him. He came to her. Because He loved her.

I have a friend who spent years trapped in the sins of prostitution, drug dealing,  alcoholism and addiction. For a long time, she would visit one of our Catholic churches here in Oklahoma City. She didn’t go there during mass. She sat at the back of the sanctuary alone, when it was empty. Her reason for being there was that Christ in the Eucharist was calling her to Him. She went there because He called her to Himself.

Her prayer was shame and a sense of unworthiness. It was isolation and alienation and aloneness. It was believing that the good people of the parish would never have her there, but knowing, because He called her, that she had to be there. With Him.

The perfect prayer is a mother, sitting up at night in a steamy bathroom with a croupy baby. The perfect prayer is a father, going to a job he hates and taking all manner of humiliation in order to support his family. It is the rape victim who chooses life for her baby and the cop who follows the evidence rather than just cooking up a case against the most likely.

The perfect prayer is to look at insurmountable problems and terrible insults, to stare in the face of your deepest terror and say, “Lord Jesus, I trust You.”

The mass is a gift, but it is not a gift we give to Him. It, along with the Church, is a gift that He gives to us. The Eucharist is a gift, a covenant, a bond and a promise that He is, as St Paul said, able to keep that which we have entrusted to Him against that day.

The Eucharist heals, gives life, and assures us that at the other end of this earthly passage, in the words of Julian of Norwich, all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.

The Eucharist comes from Him, to us. Not the other way around. In like manner the perfect prayer is always His prayer in us. The mass is prayer. A simple forgive me is prayer. Desperation and fear are prayers. Shame and sin sickness are prayers. Love, fidelity, courage are prayers.

Grace is a gift. Mercy is a gift. Salvation is a gift. The Eucharist is a gift. Life is a gift.

They are gifts to us from Him.

The only gift we have to give Him is our love. Everything else, including obedience, comes from that.

What is the most perfect prayer? I think it is to take the whole of our selves, including the pits and stains, welts and scars, lay them down in peace, and say with the confidence of a child talking to her Daddy, “Lord Jesus, I trust in you.”

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Is the Liturgy Really That Bad?

Photo Source: Flickr Commons. Uploaded by Michael 1952.

Photo Source: Flickr Commons. Uploaded by Michael 1952.

We’ve recently had a dust-up here on Public Catholic because I had the temerity to (1) disagree rather strongly with Cardinal Burke, and (2) come out in support of altar girls.

You would think that I had  barbecued a kitten.

I deleted a ton of hate-women comments in the course of this discussion. I also deleted another ton of hate-Rebecca comments. According to a good number of commenters, I’ve got myself a ticket to a first-class seat in that proverbial hand bucket headed to hell, all because I think we should have altar girls.

I had to delete that claptrap. If I had let it through, any self-respecting woman would have walked away wondering why she, or any other female person, would want to be part of the Catholic Church. At the same time, someone who didn’t actually go to mass on a regular basis might think that we’re running a carny show, complete with clown suits and balloons, behind the altars of our churches.

Of course, both assumptions would be off the mark. I’m going to set aside the woman question for a moment. That will give time for all those folks who dislike the fair sex so very much to draw a breath and gather themselves for the next attack.

I am instead going to stick my head into the liturgy hay bailer.

My question is simply this: Is the liturgy really that bad?

I mean, I go to mass on a regular basis and Jesus Christ the Lord is there every single time. You can count on it. He is there.

I remember wandering back into the sanctuary after Holy Thursday service one Tridium;  after we’d stripped the altar, removed the Host and doused the flame. The difference was stark. That sanctuary, which had always held a warm Presence every time I entered it, had been transformed into an empty, echoey room. There was no Jesus in that place, and the lack thereof was palpable.

So now we have a Cardinal, a prince of the Church, telling us that the liturgy is all messed up and driving men away from the Church because it has been “feminized.” Evidently, there are a lot of people out there who agree with him.

Public Catholic was deluged with angry commenters, swooping in to announce that the liturgy at our masses — the same liturgy that soothes my soul and brings me in direct contact with my Lord — is straight from the infernal regions. It makes me wonder if they and I are members of the same Catholic Church.

As I’ve already said, and will be happy to say again at any time, I think the Cardinal is playing the blame game. I think that for a Catholic Cardinal to blame anything about the liturgy on women, is, well, almost comical. He is the cardinal. If there is a problem with the liturgy, it’s his responsibility, not that of the womenfolk who sit at the back of the hierarchical bus.

Now, I’m going to take on those poor sad Catholics who seem to live to criticize our Church and its liturgy. As I said, I go to mass on a regular basis. I’ve also gone to mass in a number of places. I’ve never attended mass on the East Coast of the United States, so maybe that’s where the priests in clown suits and tap-dancing altar servers show up to do their do. I don’t know.

All I know is that I’ve never seen it. I have gone to mass in (gasp!) San Francisco, and (another gasp!) Seattle. What I encountered there was the same mass — about half of whose attendees were male, btw — that I saw at various points around the globe, as well as here in God’s country, otherwise known as Oklahoma.

Every mass has had some sort of fumble or titter from the pews. Sometimes a cell phone rings and is then hastily silenced. Babies cry, babies crow, little old ladies belch, the priest gets the words slightly wrong, or the altar server stumbles. I’ve seen people drop the Host and people keel over in a faint and priests trip.

I’ve seen priests who couldn’t stand, sit throughout their homilies and then totter to the altar and, ever so shakily, consecrate the Host and barely lift it up.

I’ve heard applause, and seen people hold hands during the Our Father, and other people get all sniffy about holding hands during the Our Father and transsexuals looking downright odd in their wigs and lipstick and truck driver arms and tattoos. I’ve seen women in saris and men in golfing shorts, and knelt in pews beside folks who needed a bath. I’ve heard mass in Spanish, Portuguese, Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean and English. I’ve attended quick daily masses that took about 20 minutes, and full-on masses that lasted for an hour and a half or more.

Every liturgy I ever attended was unworthy of Christ the Lord. I know that every liturgy I ever attend will be unworthy of Him, as well. What I have never seen, not once, was a liturgy that was unworthy of me.

I’ve attended mass in living rooms, hotel basements, and once, on a mountaintop with the ocean spread in a 360 degree arc at its base. Every place I’ve gone, every mass I attended, I encountered Christ the Lord.

I didn’t encounter a Django Jesus, standing beside the altar with a baseball bat, ready to smack down the unworthies who try to approach Him. The Jesus I meet in the Eucharist of every Catholic mass is the Good Shepherd, the Jesus of the Cross, Who lays down His life for His sheep.

I have never walked away from the Eucharist feeling condemned. In fact, that encounter with Christ washes away the self-condemnation I so often bring with me when I approach it. I reach out and touch the living Christ, hiding in a wafer, and I walk away feeling accepted and loved.

Considering what sinful people we all are, I don’t see how anyone can approach God with hearts seething with condemnation of the people around them. Do these folks really go to mass and sit there, pick, pick, picking away at the priest, the liturgy, the music?

That is a horrible thought to me. Do you folks of the liturgy cops really, truly enter the Presence of the Lord with hearts full of rage and condemnation?

Don’t you know that you can not enter into the Presence of the Lord that way?

That, and not whether or not people hold hands during the Our Father, or the mass is in Latin or English, or if the people around you are properly reverent, is what can separate you from God.

I feel sorry for these people who spend all their time gnashing their teeth and getting all lathered up over what they see as the terrible liturgy. They are not only missing their blessing, they are taking their blessing and throwing it back into Jesus’ face.

I thank God that we have priests who bring us Jesus at every mass, who consent to be conduits of grace. I have no desire to pick at them over how high they lift the chalice, if they allow applause and whether or not they pray the liturgy with the “proper” amount of gravitas.

I don’t go to mass to find fault. I go to find Jesus.

The truth of life is that no matter what the situation, the occasion, or the event, if you want to sit back and find fault with it, you always can. If you want to go to mass and sit there, ready to carp and complain and pick away at the seams of the thing, you can do it. But if you do that, Jesus Christ will pass right by you and you won’t see Him.

On the other hand, if you go to mass to find Jesus, you will find Him. Because He is there.

My question is this: If Christ the Lord deigns to come to these imperfect masses and give Himself away to the even more imperfect people who worship there, then who are we to criticize?

If the mass and the liturgy are good enough for Jesus to be there, if we, with all our imperfections, are good enough for Him to love us and share Himself with us, then what’s our complaint?

I go to mass to find Jesus, and — this is the miracle — I find Him.

Every mass is a miracle. It is not a miracle of silk, lace and candles. It is a miracle wrought in suffering and blood.

Before we get too worked up about the particulars of the mass, we need to remember that Our Lord uses the most common things to do His work. He began with spit and dirt.

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Be Our Defense Against the Devil

I first posted this in July, 2013.

St. Michael the Archangel,

defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou,
O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan,
and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

Catholics prayed this prayer, which has always seemed like a mini-exorcism to me, at the end of mass for a period of about 75 years. 

Pope Leo XIII wrote the prayer in 1884, just a few decades before the Our Lady visited Fatima. He had just finished saying mass. I’ve read several descriptions of what happened next. Basically, the Holy Father was stricken with what appeared to onlookers to be a trance that lasted for a few minutes. When he revived, he recounted a vision he had seen or heard of Satan’s future attack on the Church.

He immediately went to his quarters and wrote The Saint Michael Prayer and gave instructions that it should be prayed at the end of every low mass throughout the world. This practice ended after the Second Vatican Council in 1964.

Pope John Paul II encouraged faithful Catholics to pray the St Michael Prayer privately, a practice that I follow. I have even altered the prayer to fit my circumstance. My prayers asking St Michael to help me have been answered many times. I am convinced that St Michael the Archangel stands ready to aid us when we are attacked by Satan, including those times when the devil sends his emissaries on two feet to attack us for him.

I am glad that Pope Emeritus Benedict and Pope Francis joined together yesterday to consecrate the Vatican to St Michael’s protection. I do not understand exactly what is going on in the Vatican, but, based on the rumblings in the press, it appears that there are troubles of some sort inside those walls, and that it is probably of an evil nature.

I do know that the Church is under attack all over the world. If you doubt that, hold your nose and spend an hour reading some of the Christian-bashing blogs floating around. Their target, always and endlessly, is the Catholic Church. The Church is vilified and pilloried in private conversations, the press, and public demonstrations somewhere in the world at every minute of the day. At the same time, some of our own priests and bishops have provided kindling for the fires with their behavior.

Whatever the immediate reasons, I believe that consecrating the Vatican to St Michael’s protection is a wise move. I entrust my own self and the lives of those I love to his protection as part of my daily prayers. I encourage you to do the same.

From Vatican Radio:

(Vatican Radio) To the joy of Vatican City State workers, Friday morning Pope Francis was joined by Pope emeritus Benedict XVI in the gardens for a ceremony during which the Holy Father blessed a statue of St Michael Archangel, at the same time consecrating the Vatican to the Archangel’s protection.
Following a brief ceremony, Pope Francis addressed those present noting how St. Michael defends the People of God from its enemy par excellence, the devil. He said even if the devil attempts to disfigure the face of the Archangel and thus the face of humanity, St Michael wins, because God acts in him and is stronger:
“In the Vatican Gardens there are several works of art. But this, which has now been added, takes on particular importance, in its location as well as the meaning it expresses. In fact it is not just celebratory work but an invitation to reflection and prayer, that fits well into the Year of Faith. Michael – which means “Who is like God” – is the champion of the primacy of God, of His transcendence and power. Michael struggles to restore divine justice and defends the People of God from his enemies, above all by the enemy par excellence, the devil. And St. Michael wins because in him, there is He God who acts. This sculpture reminds us then that evil is overcome, the accuser is unmasked, his head crushed, because salvation was accomplished once and for all in the blood of Christ. Though the devil always tries to disfigure the face of the Archangel and that of humanity, God is stronger, it is His victory and His salvation that is offered to all men. We are not alone on the journey or in the trials of life, we are accompanied and supported by the Angels of God, who offer, so to speak, their wings to help us overcome so many dangers, in order to fly high compared to those realities that can weigh down our lives or drag us down. In consecrating Vatican City State to St. Michael the Archangel, I ask him to defend us from the evil one and banish him. “
“We also consecrate Vatican City State in St. Joseph, guardian of Jesus, the guardian of the Holy Family. May his presence make us stronger and more courageous in making space for God in our lives to always defeat evil with good. We ask Him to protect, take care of us, so that a life of grace grows stronger in each of us every day. “

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What are Catholics Doing at Mass?

People all over the world look to our Holy Father for moral guidance.

More and more people are watching mass at events like yesterday’s Vigil for Peace. The mass is beautiful for those of who understand it and know what’s going on. However, it is a confusion for those who don’t.

I’m posting this video in the hope that it will increase understanding of the Holy Mass and what it means.

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