Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Quick Thought: Prayer

I often see other Christians walking around wrist bands with catchy sayings or phrases encouraging them and others to engage in prayer and ask Christ to intervene in their lives. One wrist band of this type caught my the other day as I was getting a cappuccino from a particular fast-food outlet with big, golden arches, and the young lady serving me was wearing this wrist band and written on it was "PUSH". I asked the young lady what it meant and she told me, "It means 'Pray Until Something Happens'". I responded by saying, "That's a lovely message. God bless you."

As I reflected on the experience, however, I thought more about the phrase and while I believe it is well intended, I think it needs to be fine-tuned.

Isn't this exactly how we treat God sometimes? As a Father Christmas or genie of whom we only pray to when we want something or as if He has an obligation to do somethig for us to prove that He is in fact listening to us? I mean, it's perfectly fine to prayer with expectant faith when you are in need, but there is more to pray for than just the things you need. In the Catholic tradition there are four forms of prayer:

1. Praise/Adoration - In this form of prayer Christians praise the greatness of God and affirm that reliance on Him for all things and that without Him we cannot do anything. In scripture the Psalms are most well known for prayers of this form.

2. Sorrow - In prayers of sorry we acknowledge our sins and shortcomings and come to God with a contrite heart, seeking His forgivenees and mercy. The 'Act of Contrition' said before Absolution in the Sacrament of Reconciliation is an example of a prayer of sorrow.

3. Thanksgiving - This is simply a prayer of thanks. You may be grateful for good health, good results in an exam, that God has helped you through a personal struggle, etc. There are no limits to what a Christian may be thankful for. The 'Grace before meals' prayer is an example of a prayer of thanksgiving.

4. Intercession - The Communion of Saints also hear our prayers and they pray for us in Heaven; they intercede for us. It is the Lord who ultimately hears and answers our prayers but that doesn't mean we can't have others praying for us, just as you would ask a friend or family member to pray for you for a particular need. The 'Hail Mary' is a prayer of intercession; we ask the Blessed Virgin to pray for us (i.e. "Pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death...").

So as you can see there can be more than one thing to pray for or more than one reason to prayer. The important thing is that you put purpose into your prayer, but to "Pray until something happens"? Why should we stop praying (i.e. "until") when something happens? Why not just pray until you have nothing left to thank for? Yes, that's what I will leave you with for now:

Pray until you have nothing left to pray for!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Catholics and the interpretation of dreams

There was a new thread posted over at the Catholic Forum concerning the interpretation of dreams and the Catholic position on it. Here is the question as it appears in the thread:
"Last night I was at a talk about Occultism and the concept of interpretating dreams was brought up. I never really thought of dreams as being part of Occultism and often I analyse my own dreams and Google them. With regards to this, my question is whether Catholicism recognises or dismisses that dreams hold meaning, prophecy, etc. and secondly if there are ways in which you can interpret your dreams that is in line with the faith, if you dream about a particular Bible passage, for example. Should these things be dismissed as nonsense? Thanks."
The Church does not explicitly say that Catholics should not interpret dreams. On the matter related to the interpretation of dreams - divination - the Church says this:

"All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to 'unveil' the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone." - CCC, par. 2116

You could infer from that paragraph that the interpretation of dreams is one in the same with divination, but you'd need to do some mental gymnastics in order to come to that conclusion. The fact that the Catholic Church in this paragraph outlines some very clear examples on what actually constitutes as divination (e.g. "consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, etc.) and has not made mention of the interpretation of dreams, is a very clear indication that there is nothing inherently evil or immoral about making inquiries into the meaning of your dreams. That said, however, what needs be avoided is treating the dream as if it were an omen or premonition. Treating your dream(s) as an omen or premonition would indeed constitute as divination and that would be sinful.

As we read in scripture, the Lord Himself, angels, and so forth have appeared to key figures in dreams so obviously God may use our dreams communicate with us, as if to reach the deepest recesses of our conscience. Here are some examples from scripture:

"At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, 'Ask what I shall give you'". - 1 Kings 3:5

"For God speaks in one way, and in two, though man does not perceive it. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls upon men, while they slumber on their beds, then he opens the ears of men, and terrifies them with warnings, that he may turn man aside from his deed, and cut off pride from man; he keeps back his soul from the Pit, his life from perishing by the sword." - Job 33:14-18

"It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out." - Proverbs 25:2 "As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all letters and wisdom; and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams." - Daniel 1:17

"In the first year of Belshaz'zar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head as he lay in his bed. Then he wrote down the dream, and told the sum of the matter." - Daniel 7:1

"Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, 'Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.'" - Matthew 1:18-21

"... and going into the house they [the three wise men] saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way." - Matthew 2:11-12

"Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, 'Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.'" - Matthew 2:13

"But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, 'Rise, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child's life are dead.' And he rose and took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus reigned over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. And he went and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, 'He shall be called a Nazarene.'" - Matthew 2:19-23

Don't be so keen, however, to seek God in your dreams; be discerning! Because, as we know, Satan is the father of lies and may very well use your dreams to mislead you. If you have a vision and dream of God speaking to you, I would advise the following:

- write down what you saw in the dream (try to remember as much detail as you can); and
- pray, pray, and then pray some more about it!

If there is something that God wants to reveal to you in your dreams, it will become more apparent after you speak personally and deeply with him. This will also ensure that it is indeed God speaking to you and that you are not being tricked by the devil. Be vigilant, be on your guard, and always turn to God in prayer if in doubt.

"Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened." - Matthew 7:7


Monday, November 14, 2011

Grace: The gifts that keep on giving

I'm willing to put money on the fact that most Catholics' familiarity with the word "grace" correlates to the prayer we say before each meal, but why do we call that prayer "Grace"? "Grace" comes from the Latin word "gratia" which translates to "gratitude, favour, or gift". So as we say the prayer of Grace, i.e. "Grace before meals", we are thanking (expressing gratitude) God for the gift/favour of the meal.

We could spend all day talking about etymology but my fear would be that only one of us would enjoy it (i.e. me), so instead I'm going to get straight to the heart of this blog entry: Christians will often talk about "grace" and use the word differently depending on the context, and I believe it's my duty at this moment to provide an understanding of how to correctly identify the type of grace one may be talking about when it comes to Christian-speak.

Firstly, there are two types of "grace"; let's identify them:

1.) Actual grace; and
2.) Sanctifying grace.

Now let's define them:

Actual Grace: This is a share, if you will, in the life of God; God acting upon you and drawing you to Him, hence "Actual Grace". Grace of this nature is received at or works from the very beginnings of a person's conversion and works throught and towards the person's sanctification. Grace moving you towards God is akin to being inspired by the Holy Spirit. In short: Actual Grace is the grace that enables us to act in a manner that is pleasing to God, i.e. to do good and to avoid all evil (CCC, par. 1777) and to do as Christ taught us (in essence: Matthew 5:48).

Sanctifying Grace: This is what you need to get into Heaven and to be with God for eternity; the soul needs to be "clean" before it can come before our heavenly Father (Revelation 21:27). To die in a state of grace is to die with Sanctifying Grace (grace that sanctifies you; grace that makes you fully and completely holy), i.e. there is no mortal sin or trace of it upon your soul. Sanctifying Grace allows us to share in the life and love of God in Heaven, sometimes referred to as the Beatific Vision. We first receive Sanctifying Grace at Baptism and later through the other sacraments. We can have no Sanctifying Grace in us if we are not in a state of grace, i.e. if we have committed Mortal Sin (1 John 5:16-17). However, making a good confession can restore Sanctifying Grace within us.

Think of Actual Grace and Sanctifying Grace this way: Actual Grace is the magnetic force that draws the needle in the compass; Sanctifying Grace is the key that opens the treasure chest... don't lose it!

"Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." - Philippians 2:12-13


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Movember: I ask you to prayerfully consider...

Earlier this year I battled my own demons with depression, and while I was fortunate enough to avoid being clinically diagnosed with the condition I know first-hand the difficulties an individual goes through to attain good mental health. Things get better but the battle doesn't end easily; it takes more than just "positive thinking". If left unchecked and unacknowledged, depression can have devastating effects not just on the individual, but on their families and other loved ones. 

My motivation for getting things together spiritually, mentally/intellectually and physically, was my wife, my children, the rest of my family, and the students that I teach. I want to be a good man of God for them; one's mental health is pivotal if you are going to play a pivotal role in the lives of others. Primarily I recognise as a Christian that seeking refuge in our Lord Jesus Christ is the first step. Without Him we are helpless:

"Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." - Matthew 11:28-30

This is the first time I have spoken openly about this to anyone apart from my wife and my parents and this year my involvement in Movember is more than just about raising money: it's personal. I have put my full weight behind this cause this month. Please give generously; the more we know about about this condition the easier it will be to identify and treat.

Donations can be made via my "MoSpace" page found here (click on the 'Donate' button):

Thank you for your support.

God bless.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Ecumenism: What it is and what it's not

Last week I attended a function organised by a colleague of mine that was to award and recognise individuals who have made extraordinary efforts in Religious Education. Don't get me wrong; I was very pleased to be there, but there were one or two things that made me cringe and made me want to pull my hair out.

The function begain with an "ecumenical prayer service". A what?!? Yeah, an "ecumenical prayer service", and this entailed an acknowledgement of other faith traditions and a thanksgiving for their presence in the world. I'm all for inter-faith dialogue and praying to the same God as say our Jewish brothers and sisters do and our non-Catholic Christian brethren, but this is not ecumenical; it is not ecumenism!

So just what is Ecumenism? The Catholic Church defines Ecumenism this way (emphasis added):
"'The sole Church of Christ [is that] which our Saviour, after his Resurrection, entrusted to Peter's pastoral care, commissioning him and the other apostles to extend and rule it. . . . This Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in (subsistit in) the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him.' 
The Second Vatican Council's Decree on Ecumenism explains: 'For it is through Christ's Catholic Church alone, which is the universal help toward salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained. It was to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, that we believe that our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant, in order to establish on earth the one Body of Christ into which all those should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the People of God.'" - Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 816
In layman's terms: The Catholic Church is the one true church; the fullness of truth. There are to be no divisions; the Body of Christ cannot be divided for it is one. It is a moral responsibility of the Church today that it stand united and undivided (John 17:21). It is for this reason that the Church must make efforts to reach out to our separated brethren and bring them to full communion with the Catholic Church; "If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand" (Mark 3:24). Ecumenism is an act of evangelisation.

When is it not Ecumenism? Take for instance this inter-faith prayer service that I attended. There was no effort or intention to have representatives of other faith traditions evangelised and be received into the Catholic Church. It was an inter-faith prayer service; nothing more and nothing less. Even if the Catholic Church was to invite representatives of different faith traditions (presumably non-Catholic Christians) together, it does not necessarily mean there's anything ecumenical going on. If the Holy See is, however, working to dialogue with these representatives in order to bring them into full communion with the Catholic Church, then yes: you have Ecumenism!

We saw a classic example of the result of Ecumenism take place in late 2009 and last year where several Anglican communities around the world asked for a Catholic Ordinariate, which whereby these Anglican churches are received into full communion with the Catholic Church but are able to preserve elements of their distinctive Anglican spiritual and liturgical patrimony. Those Anglican churches (now known as "Anglo-Catholics" or "Anglican-Catholic") profess the Catholic Church's principles and doctrines in their entirety and maintain fidelity to the leadership of the Pope. This could only take place as a result of ecumenical dialogue led by the Holy See; Pope Benedict XVI made it possible for these Anglican communities around the world to be received in full communion with the Catholic Church.

Ecumenical dialogue is always done with the intention of leading others from other Christian faith traditions into full communion with the Catholic Church. It's not an opportunity to get all "warm and fuzzy" with other Christians, talk about how different we are and that it's our differences that make us special... fooey! As St. Paul said in his letters to the Corinthians:

"I urge you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose." - 1 Corinthians 1:10 

But hey, by all means let's all get together in a spirit of unity and share in Christian prayer together, but understand that to call it "ecumenical prayer" is misleading and by definition inappropriate. I'm all for sharing a prayer with a Baptist, Methodist, Calvinist, or Lutheran (I dare you to invite them to pray the Rosary together), but ultimately it is my duty as a Catholic-Christian to evangelise people of these faith traditions and - at the very, very least - make them Catholic on an intellectual level. The rest is up to the Holy Spirit; a conversion of heart and soul.

Was that too much of a rant? If anything I'm glad it's off my chest now.

Deus vobiscum!

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Do babies go to Hell if they die before they are baptised?

My students know how to ask good questions, and questions that often deal with issues that are very delicate. So do unbaptised babies go to Hell if they die?

To first answer that question, we need to answer this question: what does a person have to do to go to Hell? Commit a Mortal Sin, right? Furthermore, you would need to be unrepentant of that Mortal Sin in order to go to Hell. And when is a sin considered to be "mortal"? It has to meet these three criteria:

1.) Mortal sin is a sin of grave matter;
2.) Mortal sin is committed with full knowledge of the sinner; and
3.) Mortal sin is committed with deliberate consent of the sinner

Scripture tells us:

"The soul that sins shall die." - Ezekiel 18:20a

And now, this question: can a baby commit a Mortal Sin? The answer very simply is 'no'. A baby does not have the intellectual capacity to know what sin is nor the faculties to commit sin personally. In fact it may not even be possible for a child up to the age of seven years to commit a Mortal Sin as they have only reached the age of reason at this particular stage.

So does this mean that a baby will go to Heaven if they should die before being baptised? This is what our holy and most wonderful Catholic Church teaches us:

"As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus' tenderness toward children which caused him to say: 'Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,' allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church's call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism." - Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 1261

What we have, in conclusion, is absolute certainty that if a baby should die before it is baptised it will not end up in Hell, for God is merciful and desires that all should be saved (1 Timothy 2:4).

You can read more about Mortal Sin over at this blog entry.