Thursday, May 17, 2012

Embrace the Mission

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord into heaven.  We remember Christ being raised up by His own powers as He completed the work of our redemption. 

But may I propose that it is, in a sense, the “feast of evangelization” – of the mission ad gentes.

In today’s Gospel we read:

Jesus said to his disciples:
"Go into the whole world
and proclaim the gospel to every creature.
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved;
whoever does not believe will be condemned.
These signs will accompany those who believe:
in my name they will drive out demons,
they will speak new languages.
They will pick up serpents with their hands,
and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them.
They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover." (Mk 16: 15-18)

And the disciples went out and did exactly what Christ commissioned them to do. It was their mission.  It is our mission – the mission of all who are baptized.

Dare to take up the mission that is ours in Christ.  Trust that the same signs that accompanied the early evangelizers will accompany us.  So many do not know friendship with Christ and need our courageous and joy-filled witness as a starting point, through grace, for a journey with and ultimately to Him.

Anything less than our willing participation in this mission falls short of our baptismal call.

Embrace it.  No matter the cost.

“Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” 

By Michael Lavigne

Friday, May 11, 2012

Work and Motherhood

As Mother’s Day approaches I find myself, as a new mother, reflecting on work and motherhood. When I was pregnant, people frequently advised me on how difficult pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood would be. Occasionally people would end their ominous warnings of sleepless years, loss of personal identity, tantrums, and other trials with a penitent “But it’s all worth it in the end.” I was happily surprised, then, to discover how joyful the transition into parenthood was. I have never been happier or more grateful in my life. Some have said that my disposition is the product of mere luck- luck that my husband and I are blessed to have such an ‘easy’ baby. While there may be some truth to that, our faith and attitude play a role as well.

I read various books on parenting, both old and new, and noticed an interesting shift in attitude. Many of the older books described activities involved in mothering in positive, fun terms. The books have games, songs, and delightful ways to involve children in daily activities. Activities like cooking, cleaning, and teaching children were described with affection. Meanwhile, modern parenting books are concerned with time management, discipline, and how to endure the never ending toil. Many of these books contain persuasive arguments for activities that were once considered de rigueur. Love is present, but almost as an afterthought; a reward you might reap when all the labor is finished. People insist that being a mother is “work.” This is understandable, as there is the continual danger of undervaluing raising a child. Consequently, there is a push to compare parenting to employment. I have seen calculations of the monetary value of a “stay at home” mother. Modern society encourages women to live for themselves, and not for others. Mothers are constantly told to indulge themselves and not to give up their identity as women. However, being a mother does fundamentally change who you are- and, in my opinion, hopefully for the better. As Christian mothers, we are called to care for our children’s minds, bodies, and souls. The problem with defining parenting as “work” is that there is such a negative emphasis now. I was constantly told that being a parent would be the hardest thing I would ever do, but I haven’t found that to be true. It is the most important and valuable thing I have ever done, but I am amazed by how much I enjoy raising my daughter- and that includes the diapers, laundry, teething, and tears that go along with it. I wonder why no one ever spoke to me about the intense joy that a mother can experience every day.
When it comes down to it, parenting cannot be compared with employment. People who compare the two seek to define the worth of something that exceeds measurable value. Motherhood can be a joy and a duty of the utmost importance. We should not have to compare it to employment to understand its value. When a child is baptized, the priest says: “God the Father, through his Son, the Virgin Mary’s child, has brought joy to all Christian mothers, as they see the hope of eternal life shine on their children. May he bless the mother of this child. She now thanks God for the gift of her child. May she be one with him in thanking him forever in heaven, in Christ Jesus our Lord.” I pray that this blessing will ring true for all mothers.

By Shannon Fossett 
Shannon is a Canonist for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Rejoice Always

 “Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4).  This Scripture passage, which inspired the theme “Rejoice in the Light of Christ” for the recent Diocesan Catholic Youth Convention, is perhaps one of the most challenging exhortations in Scripture.  It certainly isn’t easy to rejoice always.  It’s not easy to rejoice when a loved one is taken from you tragically and unexpectedly.  It’s not easy to rejoice when times are tough and money is tight.  It’s not easy to rejoice when you watch your son or daughter walk away from the Lord.  It’s not easy to rejoice while burying your newborn child.  It’s not easy to rejoice when depression sets in.  It’s not easy to rejoice in suffering.  Yet St. Paul exhorts us to “rejoice always”! 

I think the key here is that we are called to rejoice in the Lord.  Only God Himself can be the true and lasting cause of our joy.  Why?  Because He never changes.  He is the same today, yesterday, and forever.  St. Alphonsus de Liguori speaks about this.  He says,

“The fool, that is, the sinner, is as changeable as the moon, which today waxes and tomorrow wanes; today he laughs, tomorrow he cries; today he is meek as a lamb, tomorrow cross as a bear.  Why? Because his peace of mind depends on the prosperity or the adversity he meets; he changes with the changes in the things that happen to him.  The just man is like the sun, constant in his serenity, no matter what betides him.  His calmness of soul is founded on his union with the will of God; hence he enjoys unruffled peace.”

If our joy and our peace are dependent upon the things that happen to us, then of course it will be impossible to rejoice always.  If, however, we allow the source of our joy to be God Himself – and the gift of relationship with Him that he offers us – then we can succeed in rejoicing always.

Look at what St. Paul goes on to say: “The Lord is near.” (Philippians 4:5).  We are able to rejoice always precisely because the Lord is near.  We have a God who suffers with us, who makes himself present to us in the midst of the suffering.  This is why we can rejoice at all times.  When we seek God at our darkest time – in the pain of laying in the grave a life cut too short, in the hopelessness of a lost job and bills to pay, in the heartache that results from bad choices, in the dark tunnel of despair – he reveals His face to us.  Our God is a God of life and light.  The hope that we have in the light of the Resurrection is cause for rejoicing!  So let us this Easter season, be reminded of the truth that the power of the Resurrection always wins out over the darkness of sin and death and suffering, and remembering that, let us be encouraged to rejoice always!  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

By Sarah Houde

Friday, April 6, 2012

A Glimpse into the Humility of Christ

So when he had washed their feet
and put his garments back on and reclined at table again,
he said to them, "Do you realize what I have done for you?
You call me 'teacher' and 'master,' and rightly so, for indeed I am.
If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet,
you ought to wash one another's feet.
I have given you a model to follow,
so that as I have done for you, you should also do."
(John 13:12-15)

I was reminded last night, at our parish's Mass of the Lord's Supper, of the reality that learning about our beautiful Catholic faith is a lifelong journey. And the opportunities to have our eyes opened and our hearts changed seem to come when we least expect them.

As I sat in my office yesterday morning I received an e-mail from my wife asking if I would be willing to have my foot washed during the Mass as they needed one more person and did not know who else to ask at such a late hour.  To be honest my first reaction was one of inconvenience, "I don't want to have my feet washed. I'll have to show up early.  Do I really have to get up in front of a full church and take my shoe and sock off? Ugh."  Truth be told, as I reflect on my initial reaction, it was one of pride.  

But my wife persisted and told the parish "yes" for me.  I am thankful that she did.

After the homily, as it happens at all churches during this Mass, twelve of us approached the sanctuary to sit on stools to await the washing of our feet.  As I removed my sock and shoe I became dismayed that "everybody is looking at me and my bare foot." That brief and little moment of insecurity faded away as I began to watch my pastor wash the feet of those before me.  

I have been attending Mass on Holy Thursday for over thirty years, but I don't recall ever seeing a priest wash the feet as he did on this evening.  His sincerity - his humility - his love of his people was so evident as he took each foot, poured water over it, dried it and kissed it.  Yes, he kissed each of our feet. And after he kissed my foot he said, "Thank you."  He said thank you to me after his beautiful and moving act of humility.

The truth is I owe my pastor, Msgr. Mathieu, gratitude for his act of humility because it truly offered me a glimpse into the humility of Christ.  On this night the Lord, through his priest, allowed me to go a little deeper - to gain more insight into what Christ did for his disciples - did for us - on that first Holy Thursday.

"I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do." It struck me later that night as I knelt in adoration of the Real Presence of Christ that the disciples must have been in awe of the sight of Christ washing their feet, as I was of my pastor.  No wonder Peter's resolute stance against Jesus, the master, humbling himself in such an undignified way.  

Of course, His act of humility on that night was only a precursor to the ultimate act of humility He was to offer the next day as He humbled Himself to death, death on a cross. 

"I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do."  These words have taken on more meaning for me this year in light of my blessed experience of having my foot washed, dried, and kissed.  I pray, on this Good Friday, that I might learn to humble myself more and more - to give myself completely - to die to myself for the sake of those I love that I too might offer others a glimpse of the humility of Jesus Christ.


By Michael Lavigne

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Like the Apostles

It’s Holy Week and I’ve been thinking about the Jesus and his Passion to some degree but I’ve also been thinking about the Apostles.  These people, these men, were chosen by Jesus to be his followers.   I’m sure they were good men who, like the rest of us, were imperfect. And I can’t help but see myself in them. 

I believe I have been called by Christ to serve his people, to proclaim the Good News. And, like his Apostles, I am a very poor example of what it means to be a Christian. St. Peter was short tempered and rough around the edges. Judas was the money keeper and worried about having more money for the coffers. Two other disciples wanted a position of prestige in Jesus’ kingdom.  Peter denied him. Judas betrayed him. And when Jesus was arrested, they stood by and watched.  Another of the disciples ran away in fear he would also be arrested.  I fit in very well with this motley group. 

I keep trying to remember that the Lord filled his Apostles to overflowing with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the apparent weaknesses of the “pre-Pentecost” apostles seemed to vanish.  I like to believe that the Lord used their weaknesses to the benefit of the Kingdom.  If the Lord can transform these men into powerful witnesses and proclaimers of the Gospel then there’s some hope for me in my little corner of the world.

May the Risen Christ fill our lives with hope.

By Judy Michaud

Friday, March 30, 2012

Witnesses to the Light

As we prepare ourselves to enter Holy Week I'd like to share these words of Pope Benedict XVI from the second volume of Jesus of Nazareth:

“In living out the Gospel and in suffering for it, the Church, under the guidance of the apostolic preaching, has learned to understand the mystery of the Cross more and more, even though ultimately it is a mystery that defies analysis in terms of our rational formulae. The darkness and irrationality of sin and the holiness of God, too dazzling for our eyes, come together in the Cross, transcending our power of understanding. And yet in the message of the New Testament, and in the proof of that message in the lives of the saints, the great mystery has become radiant light. 

The mystery of atonement is not to be sacrificed on the altar of overweening rationalism. The Lord’s response to the request of the sons of Zebedee for seats at his right hand and at his left remains a key text for Christian faith in general: ‘The Son of man…came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Mk 10:45)” (p. 240)

At the beginning of Lent I shared with you about my anticipation of witnessing the Lenten journey of the catechumens and candidates I have been blessed to teach this year at my parish.  God has not disappointed.  I was not surprised to see God's hand in their lives through a variety of situations as they allowed Him to prepare their hearts and minds to come into His Church. Their journeys have illuminated my own this Lent.

Just this week I was moved by the clear anticipation that they have, especially the catechumens, to die with Christ in order to rise to new life as children of God in Baptism.  Their sincerity and desire to confirm and strengthen baptismal grace through Confirmation. The patient, but passionate, anticipation of their first reception of the Eucharist - the source and summit of the Christian life.

My prayer for this Holy Week, in light of their witness, is that I might approach this season of grace with their humility - their zeal - their childlike anticipation.  I pray that I might better offer up any burdens I have to the One who came to "give his life as a ransom for many."

God bless all of you.  I pray that your and my Lenten journeys have prepared us well to celebrate these mysteries. 

By Michael Lavigne

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Cohabitation: The Elephant in the Room

In my work as a canonist, I have encountered many engaged and divorced Catholics who cohabitate. I have heard plenty of conversations about cohabitation, and one theme I have noticed is that people want to focus on the practical issues. Church ministers talk about how cohabitation makes for poor preparation for marriage, and cite statistics such as the 85% divorce rate among couples who cohabitate. Finances are another favorite topic as many couples claim that the only reason they are living together is to save money. However, the giant elephant in the room is the one issue involved in cohabitation that few people want to talk about: sex. Among people who cohabitate, sex is commonly viewed as a non-issue, for many think that nearly every dating relationship necessarily involves sex. Church ministers avoid the discussion because they fear being viewed as intolerant and judgmental, and don’t want to scare couples away from the Church.

The problem with this avoidance is that few people get around to talking about the Church’s actual teaching on sexuality. In my experience, the vast majority of couples who cohabitate have not had the opportunity to learn what the Church actually teaches. They may know that the Church prohibits all sexual activity outside of marriage, but they couldn’t tell you why. People view the Church teaching on sexuality as they view speed limit laws: a nice rule meant to keep you safe, but one that you can almost always break without penalty. Much ink has been spilled in the discussion of high divorce rates, but not as much on the correlation of cohabitation and divorce.

This is so unfortunate because, let’s face it, the practical arguments against cohabitation are not all that persuasive. You could learn these arguments from a segment on the morning news. Few couples are going to stop living together because of statistics. What is persuasive is a true understanding of the Church’s beautiful teaching on sexuality, and that’s a segment The Today Show isn’t going to be running any time soon. This teaching is complex and holistic, and takes time to learn. I remember attending a marriage preparation class, where the priest presenter was giving the talk on Blessed John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. He only had about an hour, and was clearly struggling trying to figure out how to cram this exquisite teaching into an hour talk. And who can blame him? It is impossible to do this, as you cannot understand the teaching on sexuality without an understanding of the Church’s teaching on the dignity of the person, the Trinity, and many other concepts.

When it comes to cohabitation, what is needed is honesty. Contrary to public opinion, cohabitation is not a personal choice. Couples who cohabitate are making a public statement that they reject the Church’s teaching on sexuality and marriage. Though practical issues may have been a part of the decision, when it comes down to it, cohabitation would not be an option if sexual activity wasn’t involved. Instead of blithely skimming over the issue of sex, couples should be confronted with the fact that their lifestyle is incompatible with their Catholic faith, and in fact bars them from the sacraments. This confrontation should not be angry and condemnatory. Many people have never learned what the Church actually teaches. As Fulton Sheen famously said, “There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate The Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.” Luckily, our Church leaders are recognizing this fact. Our bishop has just written a wonderful pastoral on marriage. The media has mistakenly claimed that this was written only in response to the upcoming referendum issue of redefining marriage. The truth is that the bishop, in his wisdom, has recognized that the Church’s teaching on sexuality and marriage is often lost, dismantled, and confused. We should not simply criticize people who are cohabitating, but we should challenge them to learn why the Church does not accept cohabitation and reconsider their lifestyle.

The pastoral letter can be read here:

By Shannon Fossett

Shannon is a Canonist for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland