Adventure or Cautious Mediocrity

WeeklyMessageFebruary 10, 2013
Marcellino D’Ambrosio, PH.D.
Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Peter. Paul. Isaiah. Frodo Baggins. They have more in common than meets the eye.

Of course there are differences, too. Peter is a small business man, trying to wring a living for his family out of a lake in Hicksville. No one expected much from Galilee. Its inhabitants had a thick country accent that gave them away every time, like when Peter denied Christ in the high priest’s courtyard (Mat 26:73). Saul, on the other hand, was cosmopolitan, highly educated, well traveled, and even a Roman citizen. Isaiah lived seven centuries before them, in a very different social context. Frodo Baggins lived in Middle Earth, which is to say, in the imagination of J.R.R. Tolkein, and now lives in the imaginations of millions.

But here’s what they have in common. They were all minding their own business, intent on their own careers, when they were abruptly interrupted. They each had an encounter with something, Someone, much bigger than themselves, and were invited to embark upon a Great Adventure. The same vision was revealed to each of them. That behind the appearances of the humdrum of everyday life, there was a battle going on, a dramatic struggle with very high stakes. People were in bondage but D-day had come. The forces of salvation were on the move. And each of them, Peter, Paul, Isaiah, and Frodo, were called to enlist.

None of them would have been voted most likely to succeed. Isaiah thought he’d die. Peter felt so unworthy that he begged Christ to leave. Paul lamented the blood that was on his hands. Frodo staggered under the burden of his appointed task.

But they all said yes. And though they met hardship, withering resistance, and had to face the bitter disappointment of their own sin, they kept going. They left behind the familiarity of the lake, the synagogue, the shire, and embarked upon a Great Adventure. That Adventure brought them through suffering to everlasting glory and made them men that they never imagined they could be. Isaiah’s words have been sung by innumerable choirs of men and angels over two thousand years of Masses. Peter’s successor now reigns amidst the ruins of the empire that tormented the martyrs. And Frodo, the pint-sized Hobbit, completes his mission, despite his weakness, and brings down the power of the Dark Lord.

They all illustrate the words of Jesus that the last shall be first, that the least shall be greatest, that God chooses ordinary people to do extraordinary things.

Our hearts are warmed by the Gospel story. We applaud at the conclusion of the Lord of the Rings.

And then we go back to business as usual, never suspecting that we may be called, just as they were called. That the battle rages around us, as it did around them.

We are just like them. Imperfect. Unworthy. Busy with other things. The reality is that each one of us is called to the heights of sanctity, to become something beautiful and mighty for God. God has destined each one of us to change the course of history, to leave an everlasting mark on the destinies of countless people. There are different roles to be played, of course. Mary’s role was different from Isaiah’s, Magdalen’s, Paul’s, and Peter’s. Frodo, Aragorn, Pippin, Sam – all had different though equally essential roles.

But most of us will prefer reading about others exploits rather than answering the call, staying in the Shire where it is comfortable, safe, predictable. The word “pagan” means non-combatant. “Christian,” on the other hand, means anointed for combat. There really is no room for the spiritual coach potato in the Kingdom of God. Being a Christian is not about getting to heaven by the skin of your teeth after a life of cautious mediocrity. It’s about an adventure that leads to glory, but only through perilous battles. You can choose to be safe if you want. But the thoughts of who you could have become and whose lives you might have saved will always be there to haunt you.

Digest of Articles from Catholic Blogs and Websites
February 10, 2013

5th Ordinary Time: To Serve the King
The scene is set. Isaiah remembers exactly when it was–the year that King Uzziah died. He remembers what he saw: God on a throne seated in the Temple. He has royal robes on. The train of his garment is so large that it filled the Temple. There were angels there. Seraphim called out, “Holy, holy holy is the Lord of hosts. The heaven is filled with his Glory.” They were so loud that the walls shook, the massive metal door of the Temple shook. And the smoke from the incense. The smoke filled the House of God.

Like Fresh Walnuts
Bottom line: As Scripture has three senses – literal, moral and spiritual – so our relation to God has three stages: the recognition of sin, repentance and savoring the mystery of God.

I’d like to begin with something that applies both to our overall study of the Bible and specifically to this Sunday’s readings. In one of his Wednesday audiences Pope Benedict spoke the three senses of Scripture:

First comes the “literal” sense, what the words actually mean. That is our starting point, but as the Holy Father points out, the literal sense “conceals depths that are not immediately apparent.” Beneath the literal sense is a “moral” sense – what we must do to live the Word. Finally, we come to “spiritual” sense – “the unity of Scripture which throughout its development speaks of Christ.”

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The readings today are all about vocation; the vocations of Isaiah, Paul and the Apostles. Each one of us has a vocation, a calling from the Lord. Each one of us is commissioned to be an Apostle of Christ in the world. Each one of us has been given the task of proclaiming the Good News.
The first step in this mission of ours is to be sure that we understand it, that we know what our mission is and to be sure that we comprehend the content of the message that we are being asked to communicate with others.

What St. Paul saw on the road to Damascus, and what mystics see
5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
[Christ] appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. After that, Christ appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once […] After that he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me.

As St. Paul was traveling to Damascus in order to persecute the Church of Christ there, he experienced a most unique encounter with the Risen Jesus. As this event changed his own life, so too did it change both the Church and the world forever – since it was through St. Paul that God brought the Gospel to the nations.

Mary – the Ark of the Covenant
From the earliest times, the Church has believed and taught that the Blessed Virgin Mary is the fulfilment of the Ark of the Covenant. For example:

“…the Saviour appeared and showed His own body to the world, born of the Virgin, who was the Ark overlaid with pure gold, with the Word within and the Holy Spirit without; so that the truth is demonstrated, and the Ark made manifest.” – St. Hippolytus (d. 236AD), Second Fragment on Daniel, Chapter 6
“Arise, O Lord, into Your rest; You, and the Ark of Your Sanctuary. For the Holy Virgin is in truth the Ark, wrought with gold both within and without, that has received the whole treasury of the Sanctuary.” – St Gregory Thaumaturgus (d. 275AD), Homily On the Annunciation

Call to Prayer: Seven Resources for your Lenten Journey
One of the countless joys of the Church is the recurring open invitation to move deeper into the life of grace. These invitations come in a thousand ways, through the lives of the saints, through the sacraments and especially through our liturgical seasons. As Lent begins to rise on the horizon, we are again faced with another divine beckoning to move into a deeper relationship with Christ and His Church.

Lent, Ash Wednesday and getting ‘real’
Why is it that Ash Wednesday and Lent remain relatively popular even in highly secularized times like these? It’s a serious question that touches on matters deeper than might at first be supposed.

The popularity I speak of can be seen year after year on Ash Wednesday, when people – some of them perhaps not all that often in church – stream up the aisle to get their ashes. Not a few then return for Mass or Stations of the Cross on weekdays during Lent. How come?

Lent and Fasting From Meat on Fridays
Abstinence forbids the use of meat, but not of eggs, milk products or condiments made of animal fat.

Abstinence does not include meat juices and liquid foods made from meat. Thus, such foods as chicken broth, consomme, soups cooked or flavored with meat, meat gravies or sauces, as well as seasonings or condiments made from animal fat are not forbidden. So it is permissible to use margarine and lard. Even bacon drippings which contain little bits of meat may be poured over lettuce as seasoning.

Lenten Rookie Mistakes
Apparently the number of “active Catholics” declined by 5% recently. I suspect that one reason for this is that, thanks in part to our suddenly more vocal bishops, at least 5% of Catholics have suddenly become aware of what it actually means to be an active Catholic — and have realized that they don’t actually want any part of that.
Either way, I feel like I can’t walk ten feet without bumping into an enthusiastic new convert, which is delightful, and so encouraging! Welcome, everybody! We papists have a little saying: Venite intus; horribilis est!

Heh. Anyway, you may be looking forward to your first Lent with enthusiasm but some trepidation. If so, you’re ahead of the game: it should be something to get excited about. Lent can be a wonderful source of grace. But as such, it can be a real mine field of screw-ups, especially for rookies. Here are some typical rookie mistakes during Lent:

The Virtue of Blind Obedience
St. Louis-Marie de Montfort writes in his True Devotion To the Blessed Virgin Mary, Nos. 106-110, that her ten principal virtues are: deep humility, lively faith, blind obedience, unceasing prayer, constant self-denial, surpassing purity, ardent love, heroic patience, angelic kindness, and heavenly wisdom. Nine of those are easy to understand as virtues, but blind obedience?

Sanctifying Gifts and Charismatic Gifts
Confirmation is ordered toward friendship with God and mission to the world.
Therefore, when you are confirmed, the Holy Spirit pours out on you two kinds of gifts — sanctifying and charismatic gifts — reflecting those twin purposes of God.
Sanctifying gifts are the gifts we get to keep. They make us into little Christs, creatures who participate in the life of the Blessed Trinity and share in the grace that makes us, in our own small ways, sons and daughters of God, filled with the Holy Spirit and conformed more and more to the life of Jesus.
Charismatic gifts are, in contrast, the gifts given to give away to others. They are given, not to build us up, but so that we might build up others and renew the face of the earth.

Setting the World Ablaze
Lukewarm Catholicism has no future; submitting to the transforming fire of the Holy Spirit is no longer optional,” George Weigel writes in his new book, Evangelical Catholicism. We live in a time when “religious faith, commitment to a religious community, and a religiously informed morality can no longer be taken for granted. . . . Evangelical Catholicism calls the entire Church to holiness for the sake of mission.” That mission involves the building up “of the community of the faithful not for the sake of the community but for the sake of a common reception of the mysteries of the faith, which in turn become the fonts of grace from which the community sets about the conversion of the world.

Love Perfects and Completes All: The Conclusion of St. Paul’s Great Treatise on Love
In the great treatise on Love of 1 Corinthians 13, St. Paul sets forth a symphony of sorts in three movements, wherein he describes the Theological Virtue of Love. Over the past two days we looked at the first two movements:

Movement I – The PRIMACY and PREREQUISITE of Love

Movement II – The PORTRAIT and POWER of Love

today we conclude with

Movement III – The PERFECTION and PERMANENCE of Love

Pope Benedict on God’s LovingCreation: ‘It Is Good to Be Human’
Even with modern scientific advances, it is still right to speak of the beginning of life as “creation” because the world’s origin is rational and motivated by love, Pope Benedict XVI said.
In today’s “age of science and technology,” the Pope asked, does it make sense to still speak of creation as Scripture does?
The Bible, he responded, “is not intended as a manual of the natural sciences; it wants to help us understand the authentic and profound truth of things. … So the Scripture tells us that the origin of the world, our origin is not irrational or out of necessity, but reason and love and freedom.”

7 Things: The Fall
Continuing our Year of Faith series “7 Things You Should Know About________,” here are 7 things you should know about the Fall:
1.The Hebrew word for serpent (nahash) can mean any long, slithery thing from a dragon to an earthworm. This explains why he’s usually understood as a snake in Genesis (3:1) but a dragon in Revelation (12:3). I wonder if we can take anything from that: while not changing from the evil nature he chose for himself, he did grow from something small into something large through the evil he caused in the world. Aside from that, here’s an amusing thought: What if the fruit of the Garden of Eve was an apple and Satan was the worm inside it?

From divorce to same-sex marriage: G.K. Chesterton’s prophetic defense of marriage
I have previously pointed out in this space that G.K. Chesterton prophetically defended marriage and the family as the foundational institution of our society against all the present attacks and degradations of it. I am now going to point it out again. With last year’s loss in Minnesota on a constitutional amendment defending marriage, and the hundreds of thousands supporting traditional marriage in France today, the importance of this topic is something that we cannot possibly emphasize too much. And when we have at our disposal Chesterton’s incisive articulation of the truth, we should pick up this sword and swing it.

Prayer for the Souls in Purgatory
Praying for the Holy Souls in Purgatory–even referring to them that way, in fact–can seem like a quaint, old-fashioned, pre-Vatican II approach to Catholicism. It can feel like a made up sort of devotion, the kind of thing you tell your kids when they don’t know what to do with themselves.
Susan Tassone’s new book, Prayers, Promises, and Devotions for the Holy Souls in Purgatory (Our Sunday Visitor, 2012), though, the latest in a long line of books devoted to the topic of praying for the souls in Purgatory, has a feel of a book that’s been passed down. That doesn’t keep it from being relevant, though, and completely accessible to modern readers.
Tassone has approached the topic in a way that those who feel rather lost by the phrase “souls in Purgatory” will appreciate. She’s also assembled prayers and devotions that aren’t often seen together.


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