What is the devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe?

The title “Our Lady of Guadalupe” comes from an event in the life of St Juan Diego in Mexico in 1531. He was walking to church for Mass on the Immaculate Conception and passed by the hill of Tepeyac (near modern Mexico City). He saw a lady standing upon it, who called to him and introduced herself as the immaculate Mother of God. Mary asked for a church to be built on that hill where God could give his blessings (this was before the Christian faith was widespread in Mexico). She sent him to the bishop with the request. The bishop asked for a sign before he would accept this message, and at the same time Juan Diego’s uncle fell very sick. Juan Diego was torn by his sense of being an unworthy messenger and the needs of his uncle, and so tried to avoid the task. But, Mary encountered him again and assured him with the words, “Am I not here? Am I not your mother?” She directed him to some flowers that had bloomed on the hill (out of season for December), and so he gathered these in his tilma (a cloak made of cactus fibers) to present as the sign for the bishop. However, when he lowered the tilma to release the flowers, the image of our Lady of Guadalupe appeared upon it (the name comes from a title she was heard to say which refers to the act of crushing the head of the serpent, as in Genesis 3:15). At this, the bishop accepted the message as authentic and the church was built. Juan Diego stayed on as the caretaker, with the general public not knowing his role in the events until after his death. It became a place of great pilgrimage and the tilma with the image is still intact in the Shrine in Mexico City, despite almost five centuries (and the first few of those without any form of preservation).

The impact of this encounter was massive. It made a statement that God desired to be present here, and in communion with the people here. As in the “original Advent,” Christ was about to come to birth, and Mary was carrying his presence (see Luke 1:39-46). Mary had appeared to an indigenous, humble man. She had likewise arrived in an appearance that the people of the time would recognize, as one of them. The continued presence of the tilma throughout the centuries has corresponded with the continued faith in what it represents: God with us. It presents both a comfort and encouragement to us, and also a reminder of who we are called to be. We encounter the love of God, and then this encounter develops into a relationship. By discipleship we allow God to form us in His own image (rather than seeking to remake God in our own image). Then, we are sent out as Christ-bearers into the world.

The traditional acclamation for the day is, “¡Que viva la Virgen de Guadalupe! – ¡Que viva!” “Long live the Virgin of Guadalupe! – May she live!” (similar to the cry of ¡Viva Cristo Rey! – Long live Christ the King!). The acclamation emphasizes that this is a faith of life. Christ is no longer dead, but continues to live. The saints continue to live with Him. We are invited to enter into this same life. God continuously invites us to an encounter that can blossom into a new life. May He live in us, and us in Him. ¡Que viva!

How do you pray with the Scriptures?

The Bible is not an ordinary book. First, it is in fact a collection of many different books. Only the modern printing press allows us to conceive of them as one volume! However, these books are bound together, we believe, by a common Author working through various human authors. Therefore, it is more than just a historical record of information. The Scriptures offer us a chance to come into conversation with the God that inspired them, which we call prayer.

I first approached reading the Scriptures primarily from the perspective of “quantity.” When I sat down to read, I was looking to see how much information I could get through. This is how I read most other books. I knew people did pray with the Scriptures but wasn’t really sure how. For me, the primary change was realizing that I should have been focusing on “quality” of reading. The goal of prayer isn’t to read over as many words as possible. It is to discover riches that are hidden and to begin to savor them. This approach is classically called lectio divina (“divine reading”). It focuses on entering into the texts as a treasure house for prayer. A theological study of the Bible supports and nourishes this reading, but it stands distinct.

Divine reading begins by selecting a text. Again, the goal isn’t quantity, but quality. We read over a section and continue until we come across an idea or phrase that strikes us. It is important to be watchful, because we do not know when the Lord will speak! We begin to meditate and reflect on this. Maybe we imagine ourselves in the scene. We think of the way that it gives insight into our past, present, or future. We think of its implications for us. But, prayer can’t remain at only the level of personal consideration. When we turn this reflection into a conversation with God, it becomes prayer. Maybe the meditation inspires us to expression of praise or thanksgiving; maybe petition and intercession; or, maybe even to express sorrow for some event. We speak to God about our meditation on this passage. Then, we listen for a response. Contemplation refers to this phase of God’s response to our prayer. It is important to have some times of silence. Our goal isn’t just to fill up the space with our own thoughts and words. We need room for God to work. There is a need to be open if God is going to direct our prayer somewhere, and not to try to force the conclusion we want. If we find our attention wavering, we can return to the earlier steps and move back and forth. This cycle of reading, meditating, praying, and contemplating forms the structure of lectio divina. It may happen over the course of five minutes, or an hour. In this, the riches of the Scriptures can be opened to us in a new way.

I’d like to end with one final note. While these four steps form the classic structure, there is an implicit fifth step that is contained in the practice. True prayer gives us inspiration for action. It doesn’t always mean starting some new routine—perhaps it might just be encouragement to persevere in our spiritual life. But, at the end of the time of prayer, it is very helpful to make a practical resolution. I think a lot of problems can come up if we ignore this. Often it leads to a separation between prayer and life. Going to prayer might become something completely divorced from everyday life, which is not healthy. Instead, I encourage you to end your prayer by asking God for a practical resolution. This resolution could be to continue a practice, change a habit, take a particular action, or even seek the answer to a question that arose during the time. It might mean some study or speaking to a spiritual director. In this final step, though, we can let the graces given through prayer take root and bear fruit.

A great resource if you would like to learn more about this form of prayer is Praying Scripture for a Change by Tim Gray. I highly recommend it.

God bless!

Who was Blessed Miguel Pro?

Miguel Pro was born in the state of Zacatecas in Mexico in 1891. He entered the seminary to study to be a priest in 1911, but had to leave when anti-Catholicism in Mexico caused the seminary to close in 1914. He snuck out of the country and was able to complete his studies in Spain. His family wasn’t able to attend his ordination and so after the Mass he blessed pictures of his family instead.

In 1926 he was allowed to return to Mexico, despite the fact that President Plutarco Calles had effectively outlawed practicing the Catholic faith. Miguel Pro had been known for his sense of humor, and began to use his skill at disguises to continue his priestly ministry. He would dress as a janitor or other worker to gain entrance to houses. My favorite ruse was that he carried a police officer’s uniform and at times was able to change into it when the authorities arrived, and escape by joining in on his own search!

Eventually, however, Calles created false charges that he had been involved in an assassination attempt on one of his officials. He arrested Miguel and had him executed by firing squad without trial. Calles even had each step of the execution photographed in an attempt to scare off others protesting his persecution of the Church. Miguel asked for permission for time to kneel and pray, forgave his executioners, and then stood facing them with his arms outstretched in the form of a cross (holding a crucifix and rosary in his hands). He declined a blindfold and died proclaiming the motto of the Cristero movement: “¡Viva Cristo Rey! – Long live Christ the King! Forty-thousand people attended his funeral. Rather than crushing opposition to Calles’ rule, Miguel served as a powerful witness against him. He was declared “blessed” (the step before sainthood) as a martyr by Pope John Paul II in 1988.

It can be difficult to imagine why someone dedicated to the simple life of celebrating the sacraments for his people should have met with such firm resistance and a brutal death. Unfortunately, all too often Christ’s words have proven true: “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). Christianity calls its members to serve as “salt and light” in the world, but history is full of times that governments have found this way of life unacceptable. Why is this? There are different reasons at different times, but we see the patter of Christ’s life repeating in them. By proclaiming a limit to human authority the Gospel stands as something opposed to absolute claims of power made in this world. It challenges every one of us to examine our own heart, and then proposes this challenge to the culture at large. Miguel’s love for Christ over-flowed into sacrificial love for his people. May his example continue to shine for us.

What does the word “Eucharist” mean?

One of the perhaps strangest words that we often use as Catholics is “Eucharist.” It might not even be obvious how to pronounce it if you haven’t heard it before (YOO-ka-rist). Once you master that you can try the Spanish version: Eucaristía (a hint, it has six syllables!).

In itself, it is a Greek word meaning “thanksgiving.” It was used in the early Church, though, to give name to the celebration surrounding the sacrament of the Last Supper (for example, in the excellent accounts given by St Justin Martyr). From there it developed a number of related uses. So, “the Eucharist” may refer to the bread and wine that has become the Body and Blood of Christ. In this case it would be similar to the words “Holy Communion,” “the Most Holy Sacrament,” or the Host/Chalice. Additionally, “celebrating the Eucharist” may be used as an equivalent of Mass, referring to the whole ceremony that is carried out in church. It might seem odd to refer to the consecrated Host as “the Eucharist” (ie “the Thanksgiving”), but it flows from remembering the spirit of thanks that should surround this sacramental gift.  Our prayer is often filled with expressions of “please” and “I’m sorry.” Let this word be a reminder to also fill them with the words “thank you!”

What is Catholic about Halloween?

On the surface there isn’t much that looks Catholic (or even religious) about Halloween. One of the most basic elements is, though—the name! It is a shortening of the phrase “All Hallows’ Eve” (“e’en” and “eve” are both short forms of “evening”), which in turn indicates that it is the evening before All Saints’ Day (“hallowed” is another way to say “holy,” as in the Our Father “hallowed be Thy name”). It forms part of what might be called the Fall Holy Week! Like the celebration of Easter in the Spring, we have a whole run of special days.

October 31st, as the vigil for a major feast day, is a time in the Catholic liturgical cycle to prepare and/or begin to celebrate the coming day. Parts of the current cultural celebration flow from other sources, but still the opportunity remains to keep this context in mind. A classic way would be to spend the first part of the day as a time of preparation (maybe by setting aside time for prayer/reflection, making a sacrifice for the day, or doing work of mercy), and then spending the latter part with a celebration/thanksgiving!

On November 1st (a holy day of obligation for us) we take a moment to commemorate all of the saints in heaven—named or unnamed. We give thanks God for the gift of their holiness, we ask for their prayers, and we seek to learn from their lives. I’ve already mentioned this a number of other times on this blog, but I have found the communion of saints to be a tremendously strong help in the spiritual life!

November 2nd is generally referred to as All Souls’ Day in the US (or Día de los Muertos in Spanish), and on it we commemorate all of the faithful departed. We pray that by the purifying power of the Redemption of Christ they may enter into the full company of the saints (I’ll have to post more about praying for the deceased another time!). Black vestments may be used, which is not to signify despair but rather compassion for the solemnity of the loss of a loved one (like waiting with them during the night for the dawn). As with a funeral, the priest may also wear white vestments (signifying the Resurrection) or purple (which we wear in times of purification or petition). There is a special indulgence (again, something for another post!) if we visit a cemetery to pray for the deceased in the week following. Finally, in this spirit of compassion, many places also include prayers for those who have lost loved ones in the past year on this day. All Souls’ is a fitting time since it falls just before the start of the holiday season (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, etc), which can be especially difficult after a significant loss. Consider reaching out to someone you know that might be in need of support, or searching for support if you are struggling.

I encourage you to enter into these holy days. The liturgical calendar of celebrations gives a powerful way to let our daily life enter into harmony with our life of faith! It gives us moments to renew our devotion or to focus on particular needs. May we support each other this week through the Communion of Saints!

How do you conduct a disputation?

Disagreements are often… disagreeable. Some people seem to like conflict too much and others avoid it at all costs. Jesus was a master of handling those that tried to trap him in speech (e.g. the question on paying the tribute to Caesar, Matthew 22:15-21). I thought today we might look at some tips on handling disputations ourselves.

I want to take St Thomas Aquinas as a model to examine. He studied/taught at the University of Paris in the 13th Century, where “disputation” was a technical term for a form of debate. He used this as the structure for his main writing, the Summa Theologiae (a summary of theology). A disputation would begin by stating a question (e.g. “Whether baptism is a sacrament”). Objections would be raised, and then responses given—a statement of authority, the author’s own reply, and then responses to the individual objections.

This structure makes reading his work a little different from something written in prose, but is very helpful for working through a problem. It pursues truth while maintaining charity and fairness to the opponent. Many of these points may strike us as common sense, but it’s good to review them from time to time! Let’s break down his steps and see what can be gained from them:

  1. A disputation remains focused on a single question. A common problem in arguments is to continue to raise more and more points and not allow the other side to respond. This stops being a search for truth and instead becomes an attempt to bury the opponent in words. Stay on topic!
  2. Second, by examining objections, it takes the time to understand the other person. Listing the objections is not supposed to be an exercise in distorting them! Aquinas would seek to put himself in the shoes of his objectors and be fair to their argument. Again, this is an extremely common mistake that ruins discussions. We need to understand what others are saying and not turn their statement into a “straw man” (the term for misrepresenting the opponent to weaken their argument). Aquinas studied pagan, Jewish, and Muslim authors as part of his philosophical/theological investigations as well. He wanted to seek truth and to think clearly about the places of disagreement. Otherwise, the step of listing objections will not bear any fruit.
  3. Third, Aquinas would quote a text that he held as an authority (usually Scripture or another saint). Citing an authority isn’t always convincing (e.g. your interlocutor may not accept the same authorities), but it does remind us of the importance of doing our research. Sometimes the better answer is to pause the discussion and say, “I do not know” or “I’ll look that up” rather than to just make something up that sounds good!
  4. Fourth, Aquinas would give his own answer to the question in a simple, logical fashion. He didn’t rely upon emotional pressure or insulting attacks. This might be another time where we defer to a later time so that we have a chance to get our thoughts in order before offering an immediate response.
  5. Finally, he went back and responded to the specific concerns of his interlocutor. Like before, there is a temptation here to lose track of the actual point of the conversation. We might give an answer to an imaginary objection rather than the concerns of the person we are actually speaking with. Even if we do respond to them, it may be the case that they still aren’t convinced of our point. We need to have patience and not feel like every conversation is a matter of life or death. We can’t forget to leave time for thought, reflection, and future discussions. Our goal isn’t just to “win” a disagreement but to be faithful to truth and charity, and to leave the rest to God.

I know that I myself don’t always put this into practice perfectly, but studying Aquinas certainly helped! I highly encourage anyone who wants to think clearly (and dispute charitably) to spend some time studying his work. God bless!

Baptism and the Parable of the Wedding Feast

Jesus tells a parable in Matthew 22:1-14 describing a king that is hosting a wedding banquet for his son. The initial guests do not respond positively and so servants are sent out to the all the edges of the kingdom to invite everyone they find. The feast is filled with people, but there is one more step in the parable. The king encounters one guest without a wedding garment. The guest cannot explain why he is lacking one, and so is removed from the party. This parable can actually give us some powerful insights into our baptism! (This is a longer post, so if you just want the summary, jump to the bottom…)

Baptism is the first sacrament one receives in the Catholic Church, and is the gateway to all of the others. It restores the wound of original sin, forgives personal sin, and elevates us to supernatural life. We speak of ourselves as a child of God the Father, a brother or sister of Christ, and a temple of the Holy Spirit. However, over the years some have raised objections to our practice of baptism, so let’s look at how we might use this parable to clear up confusion.

First, some have objected to the idea of baptism as emphasizing human action in salvation—in other words, that *we* save them by baptism rather than God. Instead, they would argue we are saved by faith alone. Giving this much importance to baptism was a later corruption from the Gospel teaching. It would be like inviting ourselves to the king’s banquet.

In contrast, we believe that God’s action is actually primary in baptism. God freely sends forth the invitation, and baptism is our response. What’s more, baptism isn’t a response that we created. It is the covenant sign that God has instituted to give this grace. Christ clearly teaches it before the Ascension (Matthew 28:19), and it is the instruction that Peter gives on Pentecost when the people ask what they should do: “repent and be baptized” (Acts 2:37-38). Likewise, after hearing Philip explain the Gospel, the Ethiopian’s first response is to ask if he can be baptized (Acts 8:35-36). Baptism was included as part of the essential preaching in this first generation of the Church. Additionally, they speak of baptism as more than just a sign. It contains power to save: “This prefigured baptism, which saves you now. It is not a removal of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21). Again, the importance we give to baptism flows from the Gospel, not just human custom. It is by baptism that God gives us the “wedding garment” (to use the image of the parable). It isn’t based on superstition (saying certain actions will force God to do something), but based on God’s covenantal promise (in which he has said he will be faithful to this sacrament). The grace of the sacrament comes from God, not the human minister.

Another question that often comes up is about infant baptism. Why do we baptize those who cannot understand the meaning or assent? Here is another place that we can see the Catholic emphasis on the divine initiative. The grace God sends is his free gift, and Scripture gives us evidence of his willingness to even bless little children. Jesus rebukes his disciples from preventing little children from coming to him for a blessing (Mark 10:13). Scripture witnesses to entire families being baptized (e.g., Acts 16:33, Acts 18:8). Paul also draws a parallel with circumcision (cf. Colossians 2:11-12), which was celebrated on the eighth day after birth. Last, we can also look at the witness of the early Church, where infant baptism was clearly practiced without raising the objection that this was contrary to the teaching of the apostles.

A final objection may flow from this: what about the freedom of the child? Or, similarly, the freedom of an adult that has been baptized? If it is a gift that God freely gives, is it possible for us to lose it? This claim is often described as holding “once saved, always saved.”

Here the final section of our wedding banquet parable comes into play—in which the king removes a guest for lacking a wedding garment. The king approaches the guest and gives him an honest chance to explain himself, but the guest is reduced to silence. It is not that he has been unable to purchase a garment because of need (the king gave it to him), or that it was stolen by another against his will (true sin requires freedom). The guest is reduced to silence because the truth is that he has consented to its loss. He did not value it highly enough among his other concerns. Likewise, the grace of baptism is a relationship that is entrusted to us. It is represented in the baptism ceremony by the white garment the person wears—a direct connection with the “wedding garment.” We do not baptize those without a hope that they will be brought up in an environment to foster this relationship. A child is free to consent to this grace or reject it later in life. An analogy would be that we do not fault parents for seeking to start an infant on a healthy diet, even if that child might later reject it and choose junk food. A parent can’t choose to raise a child in an empty context, and so baptism provides a context of grace and blessing that can later be embraced or not by the individual.

We also do not re-baptize someone that has “lost” this garment. Rather, we believe that it is restored through repentance—especially in the sacrament of Reconciliation/Confession, which was sometimes called the “baptism of tears.” This emphasis on a single baptism was even included in the Creed written by the early Church. Like marriage, baptism begins a relationship that must be continued. A couple is going to have trouble if they think the relationship won’t require more work after the wedding! They renew their promises day after day, but don’t need to re-marry each other after a fight. Baptism establishes a permanent relationship, but one that still respects our freedom and calls for a response.

To summarize, the parable of the wedding banquet gives a great analogy for our understanding of baptism. God has freely invited us to partake of his life (invited us to the feast). He has instituted this sacred sign (sacrament) to give us this life (the wedding garment). This is not a gift to neglect or forget, but a relationship to be lived and nourished (a garment to be worn, not to be lost). May God renew us in this grace daily!