A Saint, “Who, Me?” St. Thérèse says, “Yes, YOU.”

When you were baptized, you were meant to be a saint.  You were baptized priest prophet and king, and equipped to build the Kingdom of God just by living your life, clothed in Christ.  His Holy Spirit was not only breathing natural life within you, but supernatural life of grace and power!

St Thérèse of Lisieux

How many of us know this?  How many of us live this?

From this context, I want to talk about the Little Flower, St. Thérèse of Lisieux.  I highly recommend that you read her autobiography, “The Story of a Soul”.  Thérèse was born in France in 1873, the pampered daughter of a mother who had wanted to be a saint and a father who had wanted to be monk. (They are both saints now, by the way – the only married couple to be canonized together!)  The two had gotten married but decided to be continent, that is, until a priest reminded them that their marriage Sacrament was meant to be fully lived! They must have followed his advice very well because they had nine children, of whom, five survived. The five children who lived were all daughters.

Thérèse’s mother died when she was young, and it was devastating for her.  Her sisters and Father did their best to foster a loving family atmosphere and raise little Thérèse.  They were a very devoted and faithful family.  Without realizing it, by the time Thérèse was eleven years old she had developed the habit of mental prayer. She would would pray in solitude and think about God, life, and eternity.

Thérèse was admitted to the Carmelite convent after her sisters Pauline and Marie had already joined. She never expected that her convent-life fantasies of redemptive suffering would be realized so soon. Her father suffered a series of strokes, leaving him physically and mentally impaired. He, at one time, hallucinated and grabbed for a gun as if he were going into battle. He was then taken to an asylum for the insane. Thérèse was horrified at the humiliation of the father she adored and admired, as she heard of the gossip and pity of their so-called friends. As a cloistered nun she couldn’t even visit him.

This began a horrible time of suffering.  She experienced dryness in prayer and decided that Jesus wasn’t doing much in response. She often fell asleep in prayer.  She was consoled by the truth of Jesus’ love for little children, whose mothers love them when they lie asleep in their arms!  Therefore God must love her when she falls asleep during prayer.  The philosophy of the “Little Way,” or doing little things with great love, was born.

She knew she could never do fantastic things as a Carmelite nun. “Love proves itself by deeds, so how am I to show my love?  Great deeds are forbidden me.  The only way I can prove my love is by scattering flowers and these flowers are every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least actions for love.”  She would take every chance to sacrifice, no matter how small. She smiled at the sisters she didn’t like and cared for infirm and grumpy sisters with ever so much love. When she was accused of breaking a vase she took the blame and begged forgiveness. Jesus knew of these little sacrifices done for love of Him.  Never was she told how wonderful she was for these secret humiliations and good deeds.  Because of her Little Way, Thérèse is a Doctor of the Church. Thérèse died of tuberculosis at the age of 24.  Her last words at death were, “OH!…I LOVE HIM!…MY GOD, I…LOVE…THEE!!!”  She ran to Jesus like a little child runs to her daddy.

The Little Way made her a saint, and it also can make US saints!

St. Thérèse showed us that doing little things, with love, actually makes them big things in God’s eyes!  We all have this capacity in whatever life brings us.  This is how we build the Kingdom and bring Jesus’ love to the world.

I would like to conclude with an analogy, which I hope will help the reader understand how, as Christians, everything we do can be done through, with, and in Christ. 

Suppose you are graduating from college with a mechanical engineering degree, and you have a job lined up with one of the automakers earning $80,000 per year, along with many other benefits.  You are fully equipped with your degree to act as an engineer and apply your knowledge (ie., as a Christian, you are priest and prophet — fully equipped), and in service to your company you use your skills to build not only cars but the engineering discipline through your creativity (ie., king).

All you have to do is get up in the morning, go to work, and do your job.  

You show up and do the duties that are expected of you (ie., you fulfill the precepts of the Church), but is this all you bring?  No!  You bring who you are as a person.  You build relationships as you work with others in your field of expertise.  In essence, there is no “just getting my paycheck.”  You offer yourself and you offer your knowledge.  Your small part builds the company and the body of knowledge.  Sometimes you are even asked to sacrifice.  The bottom line is, you are more to your work environment than your education or your body.  You bring your natural gifts to build your company, but you can also bring your supernatural gifts that you receive at baptism to everything you do and say.

Here is one major difference between this analogy and our Christian vocation.  God’s gift of grace and life in Him is free and unearned, and is worth so much more than even your earned degree and your experience.  This gift completes you as a person, made in the image and likeness of God.  Just as God’s Holy Spirit completes the human person, allowing him to partake of the divine nature (cf. 2 Peter 1:4), you ‘complete’ the secular world!  You are given the grace and are anointed, and it is now your decision how to live out your Baptism.  God is a generous benefactor and a generous lover, but he waits for our decision.  You are called and equipped, and you just need to go to work and do your job, serving God and serving others. 

We (that’s YOU and ME) have been exhorted by the Church at Vatican II: “by [our] competence in secular training and by [our] activity, elevated from within by the grace of Christ, let [us] vigorously contribute [our] effort, so that created goods may be perfected by human labor, technical skill and civic culture for the benefit of all men according to the design of the Creator and the light of His Word.”  This is how we as baptized Christians exercise our priestly ministry.  The more we do this, in anything and everything, every moment of every day, we live out our baptismal call.  

“Christ has communicated [His] royal power to His disciples that they might be constituted in royal freedom and that by true penance and a holy life they might conquer the reign of sin in themselves.”  Every time we celebrate together the Holy Mass, offering the sacrifice of our lives with Jesus to our Heavenly Father, Jesus nourishes us and strengthens us with His Body and Blood for the mission.  In our vocation to marriage or the religious life we offer ourselves in daily activities to the glory of God.  As prophets God gives us “understanding of the faith (sensus fidei) and an attractiveness in speech so that the power of the Gospel might shine forth in [our] daily social and family life.”  As kings we participate in spiritual combat with the flesh, overcoming the sin in ourselves and in the world.  We are co-creators with the Creator, who gave us “dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that crawl on the earth” (Gen 1:28).  By our baptism we are renewed, redeemed, and equipped to order the world for the good of humanity to the glory of God.  

You have been given your mission!  Are you ready?  It is as simple as doing that first little thing, with love.

St. Thérèse, pray for us!

(All Vatican II quotes from Lumen gentium, 36).

Baptism, Confession, and Wine Skins

One of the best ways to grow in prayer as a Christian is to pray with the Word everyday.  In the Catholic Church we are given daily Mass readings that take us through the liturgical year in cycles.  Right now we are in “ordinary time.”  We have special choices of readings during the Advent, Lent, and Easter seasons. Currently we are reading First Corinthians and the Gospel of Luke.  The Scriptures always seem to apply to the times that we are in!  I am convinced, that when Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear,” (Mt 11:15, 13:9, 13:43; Mark 4:9; Luke 8:8, Luke 14:35), He was not only echoing the prophets, (Is 6:10, 30:21, 35:5, 43:8; Zech 7:11; Jer 7:24, 35:15), but He was speaking to us.  He does this everyday in the Mass readings, and I will venture to say… 

It is essential for a Christian to read and pray with the Word of God everyday.

This week, in particular, I was struck by Jesus’ parable about the new cloak and the new wineskins.  He says:

“No one tears a piece from a new cloak to patch an old one.

Otherwise, he will tear the new

and the piece from it will not match the old cloak.

Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins.

Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins,

and it will be spilled, and the skins will be ruined.

Rather, new wine must be poured into fresh wineskins.

And no one who has been drinking old wine desires new,

for he says, ‘The old is good.’” (Lk 5:36-39).

This reminded me of something I read in my ESV Study Bible (a Protestant Bible) last week, commenting on 1 Cor 1:17, in which Paul said, “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the Gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”  The comment in my ESV Study Bible was, “Hearing and believing in the Gospel, unlike baptism, is essential to salvation.”

My goodness.  If we take the words “unlike baptism” out then this statement is true.  One thing we like to say in the Catholic Church is, “Both/And.”  It is both baptism and hearing and believing in the Gospel!  Baptism is clearly required as the normal means of salvation.  Jesus told His disciples to baptize all in Matthew 28:19.  Baptism was done throughout the Acts of the Apostles so that the Holy Spirit would come upon all who believe.  Does God need Baptism to infuse the Holy Spirit?  No.  But we do, because Jesus told us to do this! God is so loving and powerful that He can and will dwell in His people (Abraham, Moses, David, Daniel, the prophets…etc!) for the purpose of drawing all to Himself in love.  We assent to this teaching of Christ and the apostles that we are to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins and we then receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

You may be wondering what this has to do with new/old cloaks and new/old wineskins.

The new wine is the new covenant.  It is the Gospel!  In order to receive the Gospel we must be cleansed through Baptism.  When we are baptized we are completely cleansed from Original Sin.  We put on the white garment of Christ and receive His light and truth, living in the Holy Spirit. Our old wine skins are made new, so to speak. The salvation that Jesus won for us through His death and Resurrection is ours.  The blessed Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – make their dwelling within us. (see Jn 14:15-17). We belong to the family of God.  We are anointed priest, prophet and king. Living in Christ, we offer our lives to God as priest, (this is the universal priesthood of the faithful that all the baptized share), we live and proclaim the Word as prophet, and in freedom, we direct our lives towards Heaven through our daily choices as king. 

This is our birthright as the baptized faithful.

We cannot receive the fullness of Gospel unless we are baptized.  We cannot receive the truth that Jesus laid down His life for us in freedom and that He forgives us all our sins.  We hide.  We are afraid.  In baptism we are claimed for Christ.  His divine life is poured into us through the symbolic action of water pouring on our heads.  His Cross is on our foreheads (see Rev 7:3).  We never need to fear again.  Jesus’ own baptism is a theophany event in the three Synoptic Gospels (Mt 3:13-17; Mk 1:9-11; Lk 3:21-22), in which the Father and the Spirit are manifest.  Further, Jesus tells Nicodemus in the Gospel of John, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:5).  In the same discourse of Paul that is mentioned above, he says, “For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me” (1 Cor 4:15b-16).  His clear teaching throughout the discourse is that it is Christ who baptizes and sends the Holy Spirit — not the minister — and that he has become their spiritual father, in Christ.  If we are to imitate Paul, are we not, also, to imitate Christ?

One other glorious thing that is our birthright as the baptized faithful — the other Sacraments.  These are the means, instituted by Christ, to continue living in Him.  They strengthen us on our journey.  Every sacrament that we receive is like a “power-up,” if you will.  The power to live in Christ is strengthened and renewed. This now brings me to confession.  After we are baptized, of course we fail, everyday, in living out God’s will.  Proverbs tells us that even the righteous man “falls seven times and rises again” (Prov 24:16), and the Sacrament of Reconciliation is the means to “renew our wine skins,” so that the Gospel can continue to renew our hearts.  There are no greater words for a sinner than the words of absolution: “God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, + and of the Holy Spirit.”

Who absolves?  Christ.  Through the ordained minister, fulfilling the ministry of the Church.

Renew your wine skins!  Receive the Word.  Everyday!

Baptism is about Belonging

Baptism is not just a magical formula. It is not about words that mean different things to different people. Especially today we fight about particular words and their meaning: fatherhood, motherhood, marriage…are just a few. Getting their meaning right is important for communication. I mean, who would tell you that black is white?

Since the time of Christ, since the time when He actually spoke the words written in Matthew 28:19-20 [“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”] and John 14, the words of Baptism have been So Important.

(I paraphrase): “Go out and unleash the Good News of what God has done for you! Go to all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. You are my disciples. You now speak for me. You will do greater things than I have done! I and the Father are One. I will send the Holy Spirit, and we will dwell in you. Through the Holy Spirit, you are in ME and I in YOU, and we will dwell together, in LOVE, for eternity.

Jesus didn’t use these exact words. I have condensed two Gospel passages.

But the above is what I believe that He meant. And this meaning is exactly why Baptism, as the Rite of Initiation into the family of God, is so important. Jesus gave us the words. Peter elaborates in Acts 2:38, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Again, Jesus gave us the words, and now Peter gives us the person, in Whose name, they are spoken. To do anything in Jesus’ name is to make that thing happen.

Once we are baptized, we belong to God, and the words Jesus spoke to His disciples in John 14 are realized.

These words, among others, are spoken in the Catholic Rite of Baptism:

“[Name of person], the Christian community welcomes you with great joy. In its name I claim you for Christ our Savior by the sign of his cross. I now trace the cross on your forehead, and invite your parents (and godparents) to do the same. (Priest, parents, Godparents mark a cross on child’s forehead).

“[Name of person], I baptize you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” (Priest thrice pours water over person’s head).

When the priest says “I baptize you;” when anyone says “I baptize you,” with proper Trinitarian form and matter (water), the person is baptized. The newly baptized belongs to the the family of God. The Holy Spirit dwells within the person, and the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity (the life of the eternal God) are infused. All sins are forgiven, including Original Sin. The virtues, a free gift from God through this rite of baptism, will carry this person through earthly life to earthly death, and to eternal life with the Father.

This is the eternal now. Once it happens it is done for eternity. Persons are claimed for Christ. They belong.

Because God is so good, because God is so loving…He can and does work outside this Sacrament. He doesn’t need it. But we do, so that we know.

Baptism gives us the right to say, “Lord, I claim you as my FATHER.”

Baptism gives us the right to say, “Jesus, I claim you as my SAVIOR.”

We Belong!

The Spirit of Truth actually lives within us, and propels us back to Abba, no matter what we have done!  Who can forget the story of the Prodigal Son?  We often do not even consider the Father’s love; we concentrate on the son or his brother.  The Father’s love was so unconditional, the son knew he belonged, and he returned. The faith of our parents, the faith of our friends -whoever brings us to baptism – has been enough to bring us, too, into the bosom of the Father for eternity.  Who can forget the story of the paralytic, whose four friends brought him to Jesus? “And when he saw their faith, he said, ‘Man, your sins are forgiven you’” (Luke 5:20, my emphasis).

Again, because God is so good, so loving, He still calls us in our hearts back to him. Even when we haven’t been baptized, or even if the words weren’t right, He is still calling us to himself, through Baptism. He calls us to take the plunge!

This is why we Christians remind ourselves of our Baptism with Holy Water. “I claim you for Christ” now becomes our own, “Father, I claim you as my daddy!”

Many who are reading this understand that I am writing in response to the pastoral crisis in the Archdiocese of Detroit that has come about because the correct formula was not used for Baptism for many, many people. There are parents who are devastated at this news. Many have sons and daughters who now do not go to Church. For such a time is this… let us go to St. Monica and to St. Augustine to intercede for us — for all of the sons and daughters affected by this; all of the mothers and fathers — Lord, bring us back to YOU. Call us by name in our hearts. Give us the grace to return to YOU.

Amen

Please see the links for St. Monica and St. Augustine — Their feast days are Thursday and Friday of this week — August 27 and 28.